“The worst thing I have heard about him is that he smokes, and likes a good horse.” Unknown commentator on Ulysses S. Grant, quoted in Rule and Tarwater’s “Knoxville Chronicle,” April 6, 1870
President Ulysses S. Grant might have slipped these earthly bonds in 1885, but he still has a lot to say. Living historian Dr. E.C. “Curt” Fields regularly portrays Grant – and speaks from his voluminous memoirs about his war campaigns – at symposiums, conferences and even on film. He will be at Bearden Banquet Hall tonight (2/12) to present the program “40 Days of Hell: Grant’s Overland Campaign” to the Knoxville Civil War Roundtable.
The roundtable typically meets on the second Tuesday of every month, says Tim Vane, director of community activities for the not-for-profit. There’s dinner followed by a speaker of interest. (Dinner reservations are closed for tonight, but the 7:30 presentation by Fields is open. Cost is $5 for members and $8 for nonmembers.)
“What’s different about Dr. Fields is that he becomes General Grant for the time that he’s talking to the audience,” Vane says of the retired educator, who now works as an educational consultant when he’s not sharing his talents as a living historian. Fields holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from the University of Memphis and a master’s degree in secondary education and a doctorate in educational administration and curriculum from Michigan State University.
A lifelong student of the Civil War, Fields is a member of the Tennessee Historical Society, the West Tennessee Historical Society, the Shelby County Historical Society, the Tennessee Civil War Preservation Association, the Appomattox 1865 Foundation, the Civil War Trust and the Ulysses S. Grant Association, among others.
Fields portrayed Grant at the 150-year anniversaries of the battles of Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Vicksburg and Appomattox. He is also the official Grant portrayer at Grant’s boyhood home in Ohio. Fields’ topic tonight, the Overland Campaign, refers to the grinding battles that were waged between Grant’s and Robert E. Lee’s armies from May 4 through June 12, 1864. The mass casualties that took place earned Grant a reputation as a “butcher,” Vane says, but the only way for the Union Army to defeat the Southern forces was “to exert constant pressure.”
The Knoxville Civil War Roundtable has been around for 35 years and has about 250 members. About 100 typically turn out for meetings. Up in March is Dr. Nancy McEntee, who has written extensively about life in East Tennessee in the late 18th and the 19th centuries, particularly the lives of women. April brings attorney and historian Sam Elliott of Chattanooga to talk about Confederate General Alexander Stewart.
Vane says Civil War history around East Tennessee is particularly rich. In addition to well-known battles, like that of Fort Sanders and the one at Campbell’s Station, there were lesser-known skirmishes across the countryside, in places like New Market and Mossy Creek.
“We want people to be aware of the history they’re sitting on,” Vane says.