Ulysses S. Grant Heads To Dixie
JACKI LYDEN, host:
In 1863, General Ulysses S. Grant led Union forces into the Confederate city of Vicksburg, Mississippi and won a decisive victory that helped turn the tide in the Civil War.
Well, it's been a while, but Grant's back in Mississippi. The largest collection of Ulysses S. Grant papers and memorabilia has been acquired by Mississippi State University. That's right, Grant has once, again, stormed into the heart of Dixie.
John Marszalek is Professor Emeritus of History at Mississippi State, and he's in charge of the collection. And we reached him at his office. Hello, there.
Dr. JOHN MARSZALEK (Professor Emeritus of History, Mississippi State University): How are you?
LYDEN: Just fine, thanks. So, this collection used to be housed at Southern Illinois University. What's the story behind the move to Mississippi?
Dr. MARSZALEK: John Y. Simon, who was a professor at Southern Illinois and was really the driving force in the creation of this collection, died in July. And about a month after his death, the Grant Association asked me if I would - not take his place, but try to take his place.
And in December, the Ulysses S. Grant Papers, some 10,000 linear feet of material, arrived at Mississippi State. And we've been spending a lot of time getting it organized.
LYDEN: I would imagine that the last place anyone would have thought these papers would wind up would be in Mississippi. The last time Grant was there, he wasn't a very popular guy.
Dr. MARSZALEK: (Laughing) Right. Well, I think in many ways it's symbolic of the changes that have taken place in the state. Unfortunately, there are still many stereotypes about Mississippi, but I can tell you, there has been a tremendous amount of support from all over the state.
LYDEN: Now, you mentioned 10,000 linear feet. What's in it?
Dr. MARSZALEK: Well, what we have basically is what John Y. Simon and his staff of editors over 40-some years did was search every nook and cranny of the world to find letters to Grant, letters from Grant, books, articles, papers and brought them together in a central location. So, most of these are not originals that we have, but this is - I guess you could say the one-stop-shopping when it comes to Ulysses S. Grant.
LYDEN: Do you have a favorite piece of Grant's writing?
Dr. MARSZALEK: Yes. I've got one and there are so many. Grant was a marvelous writer, but near the end of his life as he was dying, one of his opponents during the Civil War, a man named Simon Buckner, in fact, he was the man that surrendered to Grant at Fort Donelson when Grant made that demand for unconditional surrender.
But Grant is dying of throat cancer in 1885 and Buckner comes for a visit. And Grant replies in a brief letter, and I will read this. It's not long.
Quote, "I have witnessed, since my sickness, just what I have wished to see ever since the war, harmony and good feeling between the sections. I've always contended that if there had been nobody left but the soldiers, we would have had peace in a year. The great majority, too, of those who did not go into the war have long since grown tired of the long controversy. We may now well look forward to a perpetual peace at home and a national strength - a strength that will secure us against any foreign complication. I believe myself that the war was worth all it cost us, fearful as that was."
And U.S. Grant died 13 days later.
LYDEN: Wow. One wonders what he would have made of his papers residing, ultimately, in Mississippi?
Dr. MARSZALEK: I think he would have been pleased because he also made a very famous statement - when he accepted the nomination for the presidency in 1868, he closed his acceptance letter with a very famous four-word comment that's actually on his tomb in New York City, and that comment is, "Let us have peace."
LYDEN: Professor Marszalek, thank you very much and good luck with the collection.
Dr. MARSZALEK: Thank you so much.
LYDEN: John Marszalek is Professor Emeritus of History at Mississippi State University. He's overseeing the transfer of the Ulysses S. Grant Papers to their new home deep in Dixie.