Sid Salter Column

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 6, 2009


Salter: Keenum notes irony of MSU as repository of U. S. Grant’s papers

How do many Mississippians remember the military career and presidency of Ulysses S. Grant?

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Let’s put it this way — Union Gen. Grant’s first major battle of the Civil War was the 1862 Battle of Shiloh on April 6-7, 1862, in Tennessee, when he engaged Confederate forces led by Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston. The Confederate forces attacked Grant’s army from their base in nearby Corinth, Mississippi.

My great-great grandfather, Confederate Pvt. Stephen Hammack, was killed in a skirmish with troops under Grant’s command at Farmington during the Battle of Corinth in October 1862.

In 1863, Grant’s army won a series of battles in Mississippi that culminating in a bloody siege at Vicksburg that ended in Confederate  surrender on July 4, 1863. The lessons of Grant’s Vicksburg campaign are still taught at military academies — but all the same, tradition held that the Fourth of July was not celebrated in Vicksburg until well after World War II.

One of the combatants who fought Grant and his forces during the Vicksburg campaign was Confederate Gen. Stephen Dill Lee. Lee was wounded in the shoulder at the Battle of Champion Hill.

After the war, Lee would become the first president of Mississippi Agricultural & Mechanical College in Starkville — now Mississippi State University.

Dr. Mark Keenum, MSU’s current president, reflected on that irony during remarks at a Jan. 30 ceremonies honoring the official presentation of Grant’s papers to MSU’s Mitchell Memorial Library by the Ulysses S. Grant Association. Nationally prominent Civil War scholar, author and MSU professor emeritus of history John F. Marszalek has assumed the duties of executive director and managing editor of the association.

“It’s very fitting that President Grant’s papers be hosted and studied here in Mississippi,” said Keenum. “Not another state in the  union had more to do with propelling Ulysses S. Grant in his military career and in propelling him to two terms in the White House as this nation’s 18th president.”

Keenum noted that with donation of the Grant papers, MSU now joins the University of Virginia (Thomas Jefferson) and Princeton (Woodrow Wilson) as universities designated as repositories of presidential papers.

The irony of the Mississippi university first led by a Confederate general gaining control of the papers of the Union general who laid siege to Vicksburg was not lost on the most active group dedicated to the historic preservation of the Confederate legacy.

Dr. Cecil F. Fayard Jr. of Duck Hill,  national chaplain-in-chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and pastor of the Elliott Baptist Church near Camp McCain, expressed mixed feelings.

“Personally, since the (Grant) papers are here, it will give Southern scholars an opportunity to actually see who Grant really was, to compare his words and his deeds and get a sense of his presidency from his perspective,” said Fayard.

“There is somewhat of an irony here, as if Gen. Stephen D. Lee finally in a sense captured Grant. It’s true that some in the Sons of Confederate Veterans are not overly thrilled about Grant’s papers being here, but the scholarship aspect is good for Mississippi, good for Mississippi State and ultimately, I think, good for the SCV and others with a sincere interest in history.”

Fayard said he believes the Grant papers collection at MSU would spur “a new interest in Grant and give scholars a chance to compare him to Gen. Robert E. Lee” and other leaders of the era. The minister said that new scholars will learn that when Grant resigned from the regular Union army in 1854, his resignation was approved by then-Secretary of War Jefferson Davis — later the CSA’s president and commander-in-chief.

“I just wish he’d stayed resigned,” laughed Fayard.

(Contact Perspective Editor Sid Salter at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail Visit his blog at