A Night At The Museum 2

Grant "cleaned up" for Appomattox

Grant "cleaned up" for Appomattox

I was thinking about my previous post “A Night At The Museum?” in which I described the misplacement of the wax figures of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln in the Ford’s Theater diorama exhibit in an unnamed (by me) museum. I realized that there had actually been another situation encountered that visit in the same museum pertaining to another of it’s dioramas. I’m referring to the ‘surrender at Appomattiox’ scene. Obviously, as one follows the progression of the dioramas as set up in the museum, the surrender scene precedes the Ford’s Theater scene. They got that part right!

The Appomattox scene displayed what I expected to be there. Lee and Grant were sitting in the room (of the Mclean house) each in uniform. History records that the terms of surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia were discussed and finalized there. It was Palm Sunday, 1865. The surrender meant, for all practical purposes, the end of the Civil War. As my eyes gazed upon General Lee, I saw his resplendent uniform. I am reminded that Lee looked in everyway the magnificent officer, soldier, and leader that he was. My eyes then moved over to General Grant. Ah, there he was sitting by a little table looking like he was writing out the terms of surrender. Yes, thats what happened, indeed. I saw also that Grant was wearing his officer’s uniform. His officer’s uniform? No, that is not what Grant wore to Appomattox that day!  Wrong! In point of fact, Grant wore a Private’s uniform with his rank sewn on.  And in stark contrast to the “spit and polish” of General Lee, Grant was quite the opposite in his appearance.  The following is what General Horace Porter, Brevet Brigadier General, U.S.A. had to say:

“The contrast between the two commanders was striking, and could not fail to attract marked attention as they sat ten feet apart facing each other. General Grant, then nearly forty-three years of age, was five feet eight inches in height, with shoulders slightly stooped. His hair and full beard were a nutbrown, without a trace of gray in them. He had on a single-breasted blouse, made of dark-blue flannel, unbuttoned in front, and showing a waistcoat underneath. He wore an ordinary pair of top-boots, with his trousers inside, and was without spurs. The boots and portions of his clothes were spattered with mud. He had had on a pair of thread gloves, of a dark-yellow color, which he had taken off on entering the room. His felt “sugar-loaf ” stiff-brimmed hat was thrown on the table beside him. He had no sword, and a pair of shoulder straps was all there was about him to designate his rank. In fact, aside from these, his uniform was that of a private soldier.”

Furthermore, General Porter had the following to say about General Lee’s appearance:

“Lee, on the other hand, was fully six feet in height, and quite erect for one of his age, for he was Grant’s senior by sixteen years. His hair and full beard were a silver-gray, and quite thick, except that the hair had become a little thin in front. He wore a new uniform of Confederate gray, buttoned up to the throat, and at his side he carried a long sword of exceedingly fine workmanship, the hilt studded with jewels. It was said to be the sword that had been presented to him by the State of Virginia. His top-boots were comparatively new, and seemed to have on them some ornamental stitching of red silk. Like his uniform, they were singularly clean, and but little travel-stained. On the boots were handsome spurs, with large rowels. A felt hat, which in color matched pretty closely that of his uniform, and a pair of long buckskin gauntlets lay beside him on the table. We asked Colonel Marshall afterward how it was that both he and his chief wore such fine toggery, and looked so much as if they had turned out to go to church, while with us our outward garb scarcely rose to the dignity even of the ‘shabby-genteel’.”

So as I pondered how the museum had posted for display a “cleaned-up” wax figure of General Grant, I wondered:  “How could the museum do this?” and  “Who didn’t do their homework?” In the fancy of my imagination, I speculated that the museum must have decided that Grant needed an ‘extreme makeover,’ like the kind from that TV show with houses. After all, in many people’s eyes, Grant is thought of as a cigar chomping drunken ‘loser’ of a General who was sort of at the ‘right place at the right time’ and ended up on the winning side. So, with the best intention of the museum staff, Grant’s public image would be remade. It would be a campaign like none he ever embarked on. It would be a PR campaign. Grant would appear more respectable in a fresh officer’s uniform. He would be ‘squeeky clean’ with shined boots and combed hair.

Then I left my imaginary scenario and returned to what was the reality. The museum, for whatever reason, had made an error somehow. I’m sure it meant no harm. There was no real effort to ‘clean-up’ Grant’s image. I walked away thinking that the really fascinating part of the ‘surrender story’ (for me anyway), were the visable contrasts between the two Generals. Unfortunately, uninformed museum goers will completely miss that angle as they look for a moment at the museum diorama.  That is truly sad, indeed.


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