Ulysses S. Grant Launched an Illegal War Against the Plains Indians, Then Lied About It

Smithsonianmag.com just published an article by Peter Cozzens:

Ulysses S. Grant Launched an Illegal War Against the Plains Indians, Then Lied About It The president promised peace with Indians — and covertly hatched the plot that provoked one of the bloodiest conflicts in the West


In this article, Cozzens cogently argues—and his deep-delving research proves it—that modern biographers of Ulysses S. Grant “have either misinterpreted the beginnings of the Lakota war or ignored them altogether, making it appear that Grant was blameless in the greatest single Indian war waged in the West.”

Although his biographers readily defend Grant’s supposedly sterling character, Cozzens asserts that, “Four documents, held at the Library of Congress and the United States Military Academy Library, leave no doubt: The Grant administration launched an illegal war and then lied to Congress and the American people about it.”

Cozzens’ article illustrates how Grant had his favorites, passed orders outside the chain of command, engaged in immoral (if not positively genocidal) activity, and falsified the historical record.

In his implication that Grant was otherwise “not a warmonger,” however, Cozzens overlooks another of Grant’s untruths. Despite portraying the Mexican War in his Personal Memoirs “as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation,” his contemporary letters revealed no such remorse, illustrating instead a quite contrary attitude. Any concern over the war’s iniquity was only expressed long afterward. Much worse, as the American Civil War was winding down, General-in-Chief Grant was fomenting war with the French, who had invaded Mexico. He didn’t want to wait until negotiations—which eventually did the trick—could make the French depart. Despite avowals that he never “advocated war,” that “no one dreaded war more than I did,” and that “war is so terrible that I can conceive of no reason short of a defense of the national honor or integrity that can justify it,” Ulysses S. Grant was spoiling for a fight.

My new book, Grant Under Fire, extends Cozzens’ criticism of both Ulysses Grant and of his biographers. Leopards are not known for changing their spots, and Grant was the same man as a general and as a president and as a citizen. He was far from being the military genius or the competent chief executive or the reliable chronicler of the Civil War that so many depict.

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