Streetwise Professor

June 24, 2020

What Were the Crimes of US Grant & Hans Heg? They Were Americans–and Fighting Against Slavery Does Not Expiate the Guilt

Filed under: Civil War,History,Politics — cpirrong @ 11:00 am

You’ve probably heard of Ulysses S. Grant. He arguably did more for African Americans than anyone in American history. It is highly doubtful that the United States of America would have prevailed against the Confederate States of America without Grant. His brilliant victories in the Western Theater (most notably Vicksburg and Chattanooga) knocked the props from under the Confederacy, and his relentless, grinding campaign in Virginia in 1864 and 1865 (and his orchestration of the overall Union effort in those years) accomplished what previous generals had failed to: smashing the Confederacy’s ability to resist.

As president, he pushed a vigorous Reconstruction policy, and was largely personally responsible for crushing the first incarnation of the KKK.

Grant has long been ranked among the worst presidents. Why? Because the history profession from the 1880s-1930s was dominated by Southerners who detested his Reconstruction policies. What better endorsement could one have?

You probably haven’t heard of Hans Heg. Heg was a Norwegian immigrant to Wisconsin. He was a fierce abolitionist, and early member of the Free Soil Party and then the Republican Party. He commanded the 15th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, and was mortally wounded with a gut shot in the woody abattoir at Chickamauga on 19 September, 1863. His brigade suffered almost 50 percent casualties in fighting Bushrod Johnson’s Tennessee brigade and James Robertson’s Texas Brigade.

I have walked the ground where Heg fought and died at least a dozen times. I have also read his moving letters.

Now Grant and Heg have something in common besides fighting to end slavery in the United States. Their statues (Grant’s in San Francisco, Heg’s in Madison, WI) have been toppled in the ongoing (and indeed intensifying) frenzied assault on public historical memorials, ostensibly to remove from our sight the glorification of slavery. Poor Colonel Heg’s bronze head was separated from his body and he was tossed into Lake Monona (which is where Otis Redding perished in a plane crash in 1967, by the way).

One’s first reaction might be to condemn the utter ignorance of those who assault the memorials of those who actually fought–and in Heg’s case, died horribly–to end slavery and bring freedom and justice to African Americans.

But I think that reaction is wrong. The indiscriminate nature of the assaults on memory are not the product of ignorance: they demonstrate with incredible clarity the true motivation and impetus behind this iconoclastic moment, and the beliefs of those who carry out these deeds. They believe that America is evil, that its history is a litany of sin, and its memory must be ripped up, root and branch. The message is: these figures are evil, regardless of what they did, or what side they fought on, because they are Americans who were revered by earlier generations of sinful Americans.

It is pointless to argue facts about the acts of Grant or Heg with these people. Those facts pale into insignificance in the face of the irredeemable sin of the United States of America.

Destroying the statues of Grant or Heg (or the threatened destruction of the Emancipation Monument) make this point far more forcefully than removing the statue of a Nathan Bedford Forrest. These acts show that these people believe that nothing you have done can redeem you. Your crime is that you were an American. Your good acts are not sufficient to expiate that guilt. Thus, I expect that monuments to such individuals will become a special target for future destruction.

To argue against these people is as futile as a lifelong Bolshevik pleading his devotion to the cause when facing one of Stalin’s NKVD executioners.

This is an irreconcilable conflict of visions, and an existential one. And if people of good will, normal Americans, don’t figure that out quickly, the consequences will be catastrophic. The time to fight back is now. And hopefully now is not too late.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. The past must be eradicated to make way for the glorious future. The iconoclasts keep fiddling with the cover to the switch. One of these days they’re going to flip the switch.

    Comment by Christopher L Hunt — June 24, 2020 @ 4:52 pm

  2. Agree with what you say but the question is “how best to fight back?”. In my view a non-partisan leader needs to emerge and start demonstrations of right minded people. They may need prodding but it needs to happen soon.

    Comment by Alessandro — June 24, 2020 @ 5:30 pm

  3. @Christopher–Would that they stuck their fingers in the socket. While standing in a bucket of salt water.

    Comment by cpirrong — June 24, 2020 @ 5:38 pm

  4. The switch in question is the one that turns on the civil war.

    Comment by Christopher L Hunt — June 24, 2020 @ 6:57 pm

  5. If I may say so, there is nothing civil about a civil war. In fact civil wars show our species at its least civil and most murderous. Probably to do with our susceptibility to religion, and the certainty that comes with it that nonbelievers are evil beyond redemption, and are best sent to god for judgement. This combines nicely with our also built in tribalism to result in some serious slaughters in the past, and undoubtedly the future.

    Comment by Peewhit — June 24, 2020 @ 11:57 pm

  6. I like your argument. I’ve been thinking too narrowly in terms of this being a religious persecution and whiteness being Original Sin. It’s a wholesale ideological revolt against the existing order.

    Comment by Michael van der Riet — June 25, 2020 @ 3:18 am

  7. @Peewhit That’s why it’s so distressing to see them playing with the cover. The switch is either off or on. They seem determined to flip it. No rational person wants to see civil war.

    Comment by Christopher L Hunt — June 25, 2020 @ 3:59 am

  8. So… the notion about the Second Amendment existing to protect the First does not seem to work as intended, does it?

    Comment by LL — June 25, 2020 @ 5:16 am

  9. Of course, topping a statue is a much worse crime and societal problem than police killings.

    Comment by lib — June 25, 2020 @ 7:33 am

  10. “Your crime is that you were an American”.

    Blogger, you’ve analysed the what. What about the why?

    Comment by dearieme — June 25, 2020 @ 11:44 am

  11. @dearieme. Oi. That’s a huge subject. In a nutshell, there has always been an intensely anti-American current in US society. Hell, my great-grandfather was a Socialist Party elector for Eugene Debs in 1916 (true story!). But the rise of the New Left, and the cultural left in particular, injected a particularly virulent strain of anti-Americanism into the US body politic. Moreover, this has been increasingly mainstreamed in education, especially university education but also secondary and even primary education. The Zinnification of the teaching of American history, and the rise of Marxist and crypto-Marxist and cultural-Marxist “disciplines” within academia have wreaked havoc. This has had a particularly marked effect in journalism, and in foundations. In brief, the March Through the Institutions has been wildly successful, and has prepared the battlespace for the final assault against the very idea of America.

    Comment by cpirrong — June 25, 2020 @ 1:17 pm

  12. @lib–Toppling statues is a symbolic assault on the US. The reason it is ominous is that it is a revealing tell about a mindset, and a harbinger of violence against people and institutions. Indeed, this iconoclasm is often merely an accompaniment to assaults against people and institutions.

    If you want to have a debate over the statistics on “police killings” I am more than glad to do so. A warning though–you’ll lose. Badly.

    You can bugger off now.

    Comment by cpirrong — June 25, 2020 @ 1:22 pm

  13. @Peewhit. Or should I call you Axl? .

    More seriously, I agree. Civil wars are the most vicious of human conflicts.

    I lived in Missouri for a long time. Read about the history of the US Civil War on the Missouri-Kansas border. Beyond vicious. And it extended beyond Appomattox. Cf., the James Gang.

    Comment by cpirrong — June 25, 2020 @ 1:25 pm

  14. @dearieme–Here’s a pretty good diagnosis.

    Comment by cpirrong — June 25, 2020 @ 1:40 pm

  15. @dearieme–Here’s a good summary

    Comment by cpirrong — June 25, 2020 @ 1:41 pm

  16. Thank you.

    I’m old enough to remember the French événements of 1968. There were two reactions that I remember. (i) Mine – I was much the same age as many of the protesters and had spent part of the previous summer in Paris. I immediately understood that there was a lot of self-indulgent play-acting going on. There was, in my view from a distance, no risk to the Republic. (ii) President de Gaulle’s: he took fright and fled to a French army base in Germany. De Gaulle was a man of real stature – how did he so misread events? Age, partly, I suppose. He just had no idea of the cast of mind of the young.

    So to my question: who is there in office in the US who seems capable of grasping the cast of mind of the protesters/looters/arsonsists/iconoclasts/… ? And then deciding what to do about them? And then taking action? Successfully.

    Comment by dearieme — June 25, 2020 @ 4:38 pm

  17. Well you haven’t written anything about police brutality, so would be interesting to hear you POV.

    Most of the stuff you write I disagree with, still find it interesting to read what you have to say.

    Comment by Lib — June 25, 2020 @ 8:15 pm

  18. @deari – I think the good Prof is a man of words not action. Three calls to arms so far on this topic (so far), but I doubt he’s actually put himself in harms way and gone out to defend one of these statues, you know, walk the walk and all that. Even he would recognise the inherent futility – and silliness – of such an act.

    I did note his ilk were out in force (farce?) in Nuneaton a week or two back, ‘defending’ the statue of George Eliot from a non-existent rampaging mob… Maybe they thought young George was some plucky hero from WW1. Or maybe, just maybe, they were sympathising with the feminist cause, and/or defending peoples’ right to self expression and cross-dressing?

    Comment by David Mercer — June 26, 2020 @ 4:34 am

  19. @David (or is it Catherine?). GFY (because no one else will). But that’s a standing order.

    I further note the inherent contradiction in your drivel. If “my ilk” is out in force, why am I not there? If I’m not there, they’re not “my ilk” are they?

    And you never know.

    Comment by cpirrong — June 26, 2020 @ 1:16 pm

  20. I did. During earlier spasms of this idiocy.

    A few summary comments.

    1. This is a nation with ~330 million people, and ~700k police (if memory serves). Of course there will be episodes of brutality. The optimal number is not zero. It almost never is.
    2. I don’t know how old you are, but police today are nothing compared to those back in the day. I witnessed Chicago cops give brutal beatdowns on two occasions in my youth. The likes of that seldom happens today. I saw a video from 5/30 or 5/31 that showed Chicago cops going fetal when confronted by a mob. In the 60s/70s/80s, the night sticks would have been out, and everyone confronting those cops would have had their heads busted wide open. But knowing that, no one would have confronted the cops.
    3. The number of shooting of unarmed (but not necessarily un-dangerous) people is down dramatically. The number of police shootings as a whole is down dramatically.
    4. Controlling for rates of criminality, and hence likelihood of being confronted by law enforcement, blacks are actually less likely to be killed by police than whites.
    5. If you neuter police in order to reduce even further the already low rate of unjustified police shootings, more people will die. And more black people will die in particular. The example of Chicago in my post is illustrative, but by no means unique. Police withdrew, and mayhem ensued, resulting in the deaths of more black people in Chicago alone on a single day than killings of unarmed black people by police in the entire US in all of 2019. Pick your poison. Life is about trade-offs.

    Comment by cpirrong — June 26, 2020 @ 1:25 pm

  21. @dearieme–My pleasure. I call the “soixante-huitards” the “soixante-retards.” 😛

    Re de Gaulle–yes, an old man who was completely flummoxed by the nihilism of the pampered.

    In office? Hardly anyone. The Republicans are as firm as bowl of overcooked pasta. The only person that I can think of is Ted Cruz. He is smart and understands the mindset, having been through the Ivy League (Princeton, Harvard Law) while avoiding being changed by it.

    But he’s just one senator. Tom Cotton and Hawley (MO) get it too. But “taking action” is impossible from the Senate.

    There are a few stalwart governors, but not in big states (with the possible exception of DeSantis in Florida).

    I think Trump intuits the mindset, but has proven woefully unsuccessful in articulating it in ways that will resonate with most Americans, even those who are predisposed to agree. Of course, expecting Trump to articulate anything is futile.

    Comment by cpirrong — June 26, 2020 @ 1:38 pm

  22. Something we don’t know about yet. How many rapes have occurred during the riots?
    My suspicion is that a dozy white chick raped once will keep quiet about it. Being gang raped is a different matter.

    Comment by philip — June 26, 2020 @ 3:16 pm

  23. I meant your political ilk, Craig, but of course your right, they’re nothing like you given they’ve actually gone out and done something about it, albeit for a statue no-one really gives a flying f*** about.

    Honestly, if your so vexed over this, go and make stand – there must be a statue in Houston worthy of your time. Oh, and don’t forget to post a selfie on Twitter, to prove you actually did it.

    Comment by David Mercer — June 26, 2020 @ 3:39 pm

  24. My, my, David, such projection. You must be a mountain of tumescence after such a majestic peroration.

    Comment by Christopher Hunt — June 26, 2020 @ 5:15 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress