- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2009


Mississippi might seem like an unlikely place to honor Ulysses S. Grant.

After all, the Union general’s military victory at Vicksburg helped turn the tide of the Civil War against the state and the rest of Dixie.

But after a legal dispute with an Illinois school, Mississippi State University has become the new home of 90 file cabinets stuffed with hundreds of thousands of pages of documents and memorabilia about Grant and some of his descendants.

The collection, one of the biggest involving Grant, had been a source of pride for Southern Illinois University for more than four decades until a falling out between that Carbondale school and the group that owns the items, prompted by sexual-harassment claims against the man who oversaw the collection.

Mississippi State considers the stash a big deal when it comes to bragging rights. Presidential libraries didn’t begin springing up until the mid-20th century, making certain universities home to the papers of the earlier presidents, including those of Grant, a Republican and the nation’s 18th commander in chief.

“It’s an incredible collection of amazing things,” ranging from original Grant documents to the Grant family’s Bible, said John Marszalek, a Civil War scholar and Mississippi State history professor emeritus who’s now shepherding the collection.

“All my colleagues are just beside themselves, saying, ‘Man, how’d you get so lucky?’” added Mr. Marszalek, a biographer of William Sherman, the Union general who was among Grant’s closest friends.

“This Grant collection is going to be a star on campus.”

That’s what it used to be at Southern Illinois, just 50 miles north of the Ohio River outpost of Cairo, Ill., Grant’s headquarters in the Civil War’s early years before he thrust Union troops into the South.

At Southern, John Y. Simon began overseeing the collection in the early 1960s for the nonprofit Ulysses S. Grant Association.

Mr. Simon eventually edited 30 volumes of Grant’s papers as the association’s executive director, transforming himself into an academic force in Civil War history while teaching about that period at the school for 44 years.

But his relationship with the university soured after the school began investigating him last year for purported sexual harassment of some female co-workers, claims Mr. Simon disputed until his death last summer at the age of 75.

The university wouldn’t discuss the harassment case, calling it a personnel matter. Mr. Simon was employed by the university until his death.

In August, Mr. Marszalek accepted the nonprofit’s request that he take Mr. Simon’s place, and the push to move the Grant papers to Mississippi picked up steam.

David Carlson, Southern’s dean of library affairs, acknowledges the collection was a source of pride for the Illinois school. But he said much of the collection’s most tantalizing stuff is featured in the 30 volumes now widely held by many academic libraries.

The fact that a collection about a Union hero who helped topple the Confederacy has wound up in Dixie is not lost on Mr. Marszalek.

“There’s an irony in it,” he said with a laugh. “People recognize this for its scholarly worth, and I think what has happened over time is that people have come to realize that the Civil War is over, and we’re a united nation again.”

Still, Grant’s return to the South doesn’t thrill Cecil Fayard Jr., the Mississippi-based leader of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

“U.S. Grant is not beloved in the state of Mississippi. Southern folks remember well his brutal and bloody tactics of war, and the South will never forget the siege of Vicksburg,” he said.

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