By Benjamin O. Sperry/Special to the Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – It may seem a bit ironic that Ulysses S. Grant, the Union general who probably did more than any other soldier to lay waste to Mississippi during the Civil War, would be (in a sense) spending perpetuity here.
No, he is not buried here – every schoolchild knows the riddle about Grant’s Tomb in New York. But his legacy does now have a permanent home amid the 15,000 linear feet of Grant papers available to scholars at the Mississippi State University library.
The Grant material was moved to Starkville in December 2008 from its longtime location at Southern Illinois University. John F. Marszalek, the director of the Ulysses S. Grant Association which owns and manages the collection, chuckles at the unusual juxtaposition.
“When you think about it, it’s very appropriate that Grant end up here, in the heart of the Confederacy,” he said. “His actions in Mississippi during the war made Grant a household name.”
Unlike 1862-1863, this time Mississippi authorities embrace Grant’s presence here and are going to great lengths to ensure that the collection stays. To accommodate the material, plans are under way to add a floor – or perhaps two floors – to the Mitchell Memorial Library, where the Grant papers currently occupy a substantial part of the basement.
As envisioned, the facility will be equivalent in function to modern-day presidential libraries.
The collection at Mitchell includes a smattering of memorabilia – Julia Grant’s opera shawl, the Grant family bible, Grant’s death mask, etc. – but it is primarily a unique resource for historians and other scholars.
“It is the greatest collection of Grant material anywhere in the world,” Marszalek said. “We have copies of every known letter he ever wrote.”
Marszalek also noted that the Grant Association has digitized all 31 volumes (so far) of The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant.
Earlier in his career, Marszalek, an emeritus professor of history at Mississippi State, wrote extensively about William Tecumseh Sherman, among other topics, so he is experienced at explaining and defending Union commanders to potentially skeptical Southerners.
As to Grant, “it didn’t matter what obstacle he faced in war,” Marszalek said. “He figured out some way to do it. He wouldn’t stop when he had a setback. He kept marching forward.” And as to both men, “Grant’s friendship with Sherman won the Civil War,” he said.
About the series
On Sunday, the Daily Journal published a special section on Northeast Mississippi’s role in the Civil War in this first year of the war’s sesquicentennial observance. This is the first in a periodic series of articles related to the war that will run over the next few months.