Interview with Joan Waugh, author of “U.S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth”

Joan Waugh, author of "U.S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth"I visit the University of North Carolina Press website on a very regular basis.  It is one of my favorite publishers of Civil War titles and biographies.  Several months back, I was perusing their website and saw that noted UCLA history professor, and historian, Joan Waugh had a new biography coming out on Ulysses S. Grant.  I was quite intrigued as I had seen Ms. Waugh on the documentary, “Ulysses S. Grant: Warrior * President,” a PBS American Experience production.  Ms. Waugh specializes in 19th Century History, the Civil War, Reconstruction and the Gilded Age.  As I have an unending fascination with U.S. Grant, I asked my friends at UNC Press to put me on the review list for Waugh’s new book.  When the book arrived, a few weeks ago, I pushed it towards the top of my review queue.  Ironically enough, I finished reading the book on my recent trip to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic – a country that U.S. Grant tried desperately to annex during his presidency. 

First, let me tell you what the book is not – it is not a complete biography of our 18th president and famed Civil War general.  However, it does provide enough detail for the reader to feel they really knew Grant.  Waugh states that her goals, in writing this book, are to elevate the reader’s understanding of Grant and to brush away many of the misconceptions that have continued to propagate within academia and historical literature.  While many recent biographies on Grant have been more praiseworthy of his accomplishments, Grant has not fully escaped the caricatures of being dumb, overly trustworthy and a butcher during the Civil War.  Ms. Waugh’s book attacks these misconceptions and successfully places Grant in a new light.  She covers a lot of ground in her book: from his youth, to West Point, the Mexican War, his Civil War career, his presidency, his world tour, his twilight years, his death and his state funeral.  While not glossing over his mistakes, she adroitly puts them into the context of the 19th century – the only fair way you can judge him.  To give one example, Waugh asserts, “….like Lincoln, (Grant was) a war president, ‘He was commander in chief during the Reconstruction phase of the continuing Civil War.’”(i)

U.S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth” is delivered in two parts.  The biographical sketch of Grant is covered in the first three chapters.

  1. Youth
  2. The Magnanimous General
  3. A Great Soldier Might Be a Baby Politician

Following the biographical section is the “Interlude,” appropriately titled “The Most Famous Living American.”  For most Americans in the 21st Century, Abraham Lincoln is far and away the most famous person from the 19th Century.  However, to one who lived during the Civil War, and the Postbellum years, General Grant was the most famous American.  But, with the rock-star level of fame that Grant enjoyed comes controversy and misconception – followed by myth.  This is the target of the second section of Waugh’s book.  And this is where her analysis shines.  This section includes the following chapters.

  1. Historian of the Union Cause
  2. Pageantry and Woe: The Funeral of U.S. Grant
  3. The Nation’s Greatest Hero Should Rest in the Nation’s Greatest City
  4. Epilogue: Who’s [Really] Buried in Grant’s Tomb?

This is a book that should be in any serious Civil War enthusiast’s collection.  Ms. Waugh writes in flowing prose that makes the pages fly by.  There is plenty to learn for the casual reader and more than enough material to satisfy serious scholars of Ulysses S. Grant.

I was able to speak with Ms. Waugh recently.  In our interview she provided a great amount of background information on her new book.  Additionally she gives a glimpse into her solid arguments on why Grant’s life needs to be reevaluated and his legacy needs to be revived.

Buy US Grant: American Hero, American Myth at Amazon.comDetails about “U.S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth
Written by: Joan Waugh
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: University of North Carolina Press
Date of First Edition: October 15, 2009
ISBN-10: 0807833177


Joan Waugh Interview – 8 Parts
Total Time: 48 minutes 33 seconds

Part 1: Joan Waugh Interview Part 1
Time: 7:26
Contents: Welcome and introductions | About Joan Waugh and her interest in 19th Century history | Waugh’s early books on the 19th Century | Joan’s teaching interests at UCLA | Why “U.S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth?”

Part 2: Joan Waugh Interview Part 2
Time: 7:52
Contents: Waugh’s evaluation of Grant’s entrance into West Point and his early military career | Grant’s actions versus his words | Grant’s belief that the Mexican War made the Civil War inevitable

Part 3: Joan Waugh Interview Part 3
Time: 4:56
Contents: Waugh’s argument against William B. Hesseltine and William McFeely’s assertions that Grant was a failure | Grant’s writings and letters dispel much of the old caricatures of the general | McFeely’s anti-war stance and its potential to cloud his judgment on Grant

Part 4: Joan Waugh Interview Part 4
Time: 3:52
Contents: Grant as a war president was essential for the U.S. after the Civil War

Part 5: Joan Waugh Interview Part 5
Time: 7:48
Contents: Grant’s presidential policies towards the American Indians | The long term effect of the 1862 Homestead and Transcontinental Railroad Acts on future American Indian policies | Did Western expansion doom Grant’s Indian policies | Academia’s view of Grant’s Indian policy as genocide

Part 6: Joan Waugh Interview Part 6
Time: 7:59
Contents: Grant’s reaction to hostilities in the deep South after the passage of the 15th Amendment | The impact of U.S. Grant’s humble presidential farewell address | The changing perception of Grant’s Reconstruction policies based on new historical works

Part 7: Joan Waugh Interview Part 7
Time: 5:52
Contents: Grant’s reaction to the growing acceptance of the Confederacy’s “Lost Cause” movement – Was it effective? | Grant’s twilight years after his throat cancer diagnosis | The literary and historical significance of Grant’s Memoirs with regards to his legacy

Part 8: Joan Waugh Interview Part 8
Time: 2:48
Contents: Continued discussion on Grant’s Memoirs | Joan’s future projects | Wrap up and closing

Check out other great titles by Joan Waugh

Buy War Within a War: Controversy and Conflict over the American Civil War at Amazon.comDetails about “Wars Within A War: Controversy and Conflict over the American Civil War”
Written by: Joan Waugh (editor) and Gary W. Gallagher (editor)
Hardcover: 328 pages
Publisher: University of North Carolina Press
Date of First Edition: May 8, 2009
ISBN-10: 0807832758


Buy Life and Letters of Charles Russell Lowell at Amazon.comDetails about “Life and Letters of Charles Russell Lowell”
Written by: Edward Waldo Emerson and Joan Waugh (Introduction)
Paperback: 496 pages
Publisher: University of South Carolina Press
Date of this Edition: July 1, 2005
ISBN-10: 1570035946

Buy The Memory of the Civil War in American Culture at Amazon.comDetails about “The Memory of the Civil War in American Culture”
Written by: Joan Waugh (editor) and Alice Fahs (editor)
Hardcover: 296 pages
Publisher: University of North Carolina Press
Date of First Edition: November 2, 2003
ISBN-10: 0807829072


Buy Unsentimental Reformer: The Life of Josephine Shaw Lowell at Amazon.comDetails about “Unsentimental Reformer: The Life of Josephine Shaw Lowell”
Written by: Joan Waugh
Hardcover: 296 pages
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Date of First Edition: January 15, 1998
ISBN-10: 0674930363



(i) Waugh, Joan, U.S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth, published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2009, Pg. 111.

About Michael Noirot

I grew up in the Central Illinois farming community, of Dunlap. Growing up, I played sports, tinkered with cars and enjoyed photography. While I did well in school, I did not become passionate about history until my early 30's. I have built a large library, of books on early America, politics and the Civil War. I am an avid reader. Fortunately, I have had plenty of opportunities to travel, over the years, and have been to most of the Civil War battlefields. I work while I travel, so more often than not, I am up, in the middle of the night, to get sunrise pictures, or I will be out until well after dark, exploring Civil War battlefields. I have other hobbies, and passions, that I really enjoy. Number one on the list would be guitar. I play my guitars on a regular basis, and enjoy the Bluegrass, and Contemporary Christian (CCM) genres. I play a style of guitar, called FLATPICKING, where using a flat pick, you play lead solos, similar to the way a fiddle would have been played during the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Laura, my wife, and I also enjoy scuba diving, travel and spending time at our property, in the country. Lastly, we spend as much time with our families, as possible. Thanks for stopping by.
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2 Responses to Interview with Joan Waugh, author of “U.S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth”

  1. George H. Johnson says:

    I’d like to hear the Joan Waugh interview, but can’t see what to click on to start. I’m using Firefox, which handles everything else I’ve tried.

  2. George.
    I am unaware of any issues with Firefox. The streaming audio player should provide a play button, with an arrow on it, with each interview part. If you can’t find that, I would suggest you go to the “download” tab and download the entire interview. Thank you for reading my blog.

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