Myths about Quotes from Generals Lee and Grant

Since we are coming up on the 154th anniversary of the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse (April 9), I thought I’d re-run this early post from 2011. It was written by Gary Adams our first guest blogger:
My name is Gary Adams and I run a Face Book group by the name of Southern Heritage Preservation. Don’t allow the name to fool you– our goal is that of  Cicero: “THE FIRST law of the historian is that he shall never dare utter an untruth. The second is that he shall suppress nothing that is true. Moreover, there shall be no suspicion of partiality in his writing, or of malice.”  After what Southroners call “the war,” events and remarks were recorded by various sources that “usually” ensured the event and quote were correct, but that was not the case during the ear in question.  We take these stories and adages and examine them and have found more than a dozen to be false and many more questionable.  If you enjoy Civil War history, please feel free to join us.  
“Tell Hill he must come up … Strike the tent.” were reported as the last words of General Robert E. Lee. There are suggestions that Lee’s autobiographer, Douglas Southall Freeman, embellished Lee’s final moments.  Lee suffered a stroke on September 28, 1870. He died two weeks later, on October 12, 1870, shortly after 9 a.m., from the effects of pneumonia. Lee’s stroke had resulted in aphasia, rendering him unable to speak. When interviewed, the four attending physicians and family members stated “he had not spoken since 28 September…”.  We had to dig through the obituary and newspaper interviews to collect this material. 
Many Southron love to post this statement attributed General Grant: “If I thought this war was to abolish slavery, I would resign my commission and offer my sword to the other side.”  They argue that this proves the war was not over slavery. While I personally agree, this is not proof as indeed, it is political lie.  We managed to track it down to a comment made by a political opponent running against Grant for President.  Here is the reference to the original newspaper and documentation. The quotation is but another myth.  (
I would like to thank Mary Theobald for allowing me to address her audience and to thank you for taking the time to visit her site.  
Gary Adams, President SHPG

14 Responses to Myths about Quotes from Generals Lee and Grant

  1. MEM says:

    Unsubscribing to this blog (which I read through a Feedbin subscription feed). Highly disappointed in Gary Adams’ comment that he agrees that the Civil War was not about slavery. The vast majority of legitimate scholars at respected educational institutions agree that the Civil War absolutely erupted over slavery. The fact that Mr. Adams buries this ignorant and inappropriate opinion in “fact” doesn’t make it ok. Unfortunately, I view this type of so-called ‘opinion’ as no different than that of holocaust deniers. Sad that this Ms. Theobald allowed this to be published in what has been to date a reasonably interesting blog.

  2. MEM says:

    Did the person who ‘republished’ Gary Adams entry even take five minutes to investigate this man or his so-called group “Southern Preservation Heritage”? The group has connections with racist hate groups and hate rallies.The ‘Facebook’ group contains horrendously racist and ignorant posts. The organization engages in horrific revisionist history. These people are NOT historians. Quit giving them a voice and DO YOUR HOMEWORK!! If you can’t take five seconds to verify the legitimacy of a guest poster on the topic of history, then you have no business attempting to educate others on history! SHAME ON YOU!!

    • Mary Miley says:

      I am well aware of the nature of this group. I was also impressed with the historical honesty of the author in his analysis of myths concerning these two Civil War generals and thought it deserving of inclusion. Did you disagree with the content, as opposed to the author’s connections?

      • MEM says:

        What part of the historical honesty were you impressed with? The place where Gary Adams engages in revisionist racist history by suggesting that the Civil War was not about slavery? As for historical accuracy, the Nazis could also be historically accurate. Are you going to quote them too? How about white supremacists? I bet you could find a few correct historical quotes from Adolf Hitler. Are you going to give him legitimacy by quoting him as well? The fact that you are well aware of this group’s “hate” connections and decided to give them a ‘plug’ on your site tells me all I need to know about who you are and the kind of people you want to associate with.

  3. Rhonda Florian says:

    I was interested in the Grant quote. I tried to click on the NYT document, but the page is not available.

    I found a fuller version of this quote attributed to the Democratic Speaker’s Handbook of 1868. I would be interested in Gary’s comment on the quote coming from this source.

    “I have no doubt in the world that the sole object is the restoration of the Union. I will say further, though, that I am a Democrat—every man in my regiment is a Democrat—and whenever I shall be convinced that this war has for its object anything else than what I have mentioned, or that the Government designs using its soldiers to execute the purposes of the abolitionists, I pledge you my honor as a man and a soldier that I will not only resign my commission, but will carry my sword to the other side, and cast my lot with that people.”
    -Ulysses S. Grant, Matthew Carey, Jr., The Democratic Speaker’s Handbook, (Cincinnati: Miami Print and Pub Company, 1868), 33.

    • Mary Miley says:

      This quote makes sense when you remember that Grant and his wife’s family (Dent) were slaveowners and not in sympathy with abolitionists.

      • John C. Simpson says:

        It’s not as simple as you make it out to be

      • Rhonda Florian says:

        I meant in terms of whether Grant actually said this or whether it was propaganda generated by a political opponent as Gary suggested.

        Since I could not get onto the NY Times article, I could not see what evidence Gary is using to back up his position that this statement was invented by a political opponent. I would really like to know the documentation on this.

    • John C. Simpson says:

      It’s a simple matter to provide a link to the document

      • Rhonda Florian says:

        Thanks! I had no idea how to find this.

        Now that I’ve read the source, it’s still unclear to me whether this is someone’s recollection of statements he had previously heard Grant make or if it is a complete fantasy on the author’s part.

        The statement attributed to Grant is consistent with the position of many northern Democrats of the time…as well as a good number of Republicans. A large number of Union officers threatened to resign after the Emancipation Proclamation, so it would not be a stretch to think that this was Grant’s view as well.

        However, I don’t think this source alone is sufficient evidence to prove or disprove that Grant actually made this statement or held this view.

  4. Mary Miley says:

    It never is. For those who want to delve more deeply into this side issue, your link is excellent! Thanks.

  5. Rhonda Florian says:

    Mary Miley, Thanks for posting this.

    I keep a collection of quotes from people of the war years. Since this is such a hotly disputed topic, I like to know what people who actually lived through it have to say about it. I figure they knew better than anybody today what it was all about.

    This quote was in my collection. I’m glad to find the original source and learn more about the quotation.

    Thanks for all your dedicated efforts to bring history to light and to dispel history myths. I never even knew there was such a thing as a history myth until I stumbled across your book. The more I learn, the more hooked I become.

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