It is somewhat troubling that as we try to understand leaders and leadership we are confronted with the problem that our knowledge of central historical events is highly subject to the differing perspectives of various scholars. What can we know? How can we know it?
This chapter considers these questions by examining the implications of a particular variation on the general problem of differing historical perspectives. That is, how do we weigh autobiographical accounts of events by the actors themselves? Is there something distinctive about these accounts, or are they best thought of as just one more rendering of history, to be compared on an equal footing with treatments by other writers? We will approach these questions by considering one of the most famous autobiographies in American history, the aforementioned Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant. Its treatment of Lee's surrender at Appomattox is fascinating in its own right, but it also stands in interesting comparison to those of other biographers, of Lee as well as Grant, and of various Civil War historians.
In considering these accounts the overall aim of the chapter is to address two sets of questions. First, what can we learn about what Grant thought, felt, and did on that historic day, and what can we learn more generally about Grant as a leader and about leadership itself? Second, in our efforts to learn these things, what challenges are posed by the existence of so many different accounts of what took place at Appomattox? We will proceed as follows. First, Grant's Memoirs will be described briefly. Second, we will compare several aspects of his account of meeting Lee at Appomattox with other accounts. Third, we will do our best to address the questions above about Grant and about the problems of learning about Grant. Finally we will discuss the implications of our efforts.
Copyright © 2008 Joanne B. Ciulla, Donelson R. Forsyth, Michael A. Genovese, George R. Goethals, Lori Cox Han, and Crystal Hoyt. All rights reserved. This book chapter first appeared in Leadership at the Crossroads: Leadership and the Humanities. Reproduced with permission of ABC-CLIO, LLC, Santa Barbara, CA.
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Goethals, George R. "Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, and Alternative Accounts of Lee's Surrender at Appomattox." In Leadership at the Crossroads: Leadership and the Humanities, edited by Joanne Ciulla, 69-89. Vol. 3. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2008.