If you’re looking for the Grant Presidential Library, you won’t find it in southern Ohio where Grant was born and raised, nor in St. Louis, home of both his first army posting and his early marriage years with his wife Julia, nor in Galena, the Illinois town that launched Grant on his Civil War career.
In fact, you won’t find the Grant Library anywhere in Yankeedom. Instead, you’ll need to cast your glance southward. Deep South, that is, far from the Land of Lincoln and way down south to the home state of Jefferson Davis.
How did the Grant Presidential Library wind up in Mississippi of all places?
It’s a question that John Marszalek, who just stepped down as head of the Grant Library as well as the Ulysses S. Grant Association, used to get all the time. His answer was that, when the two Grant-related groups decided to relocate from their former base at a state university in Illinois, they sought interest from other colleges. The best offer came from Mississippi State. That’s all there was to it.
Maybe that’s more appropriate than it seems at first glance. After giving Lee lenient terms of surrender at Appomattox, Grant remained a champion of reconciliation between North and South for decades, right up until his death in 1885 (see my video dramatization in costume showing how Grant predicted a “golden age” of sectional reconciliation).
If you planned a road trip from the Shiloh battlefield in Tennessee to the city of Vicksburg — scenes of Grant’s two most famous battles in the western theater of the Civil War — about half way between the two you’d wind up in the town of Starkville, home to the MSU campus. In the university’s Mitchell Memorial Library, you’d find the Grant Library collection and the offices of the Association, along with a museum on Grant’s life open to the public.
The move allowed the nation’s leading scholars of Grant’s life and career to continue their work preserving his legacy. Under Marszalek’s leadership and that of his predecessor, pioneering Grant scholar John Y. Simon, the two Grant organizations published 32 volumes of Grant’s writings; collected many original letters written by Grant, his associates and family; and acquired more than 200,000 photocopies of every known letter written by Grant and other documents.
In 2017, the USGA and Presidential Library staff edited The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant: The Complete Annotated Edition published by Harvard University Press.
After 12 years at the helm, Marszalek is handing off leadership of both the Grant Library and Association to Anne Marshall, history professor at MSU since 2006. Marshall’s research interests include the nineteenth century U.S. South, the Civil War in historical memory, women, and cultural history. Marszalek remains on the Grant groups’ board of directors and will continue work to complete the annotated memoirs of Civil War General William T. Sherman.
“Dr. John Marszalek’s longtime involvement with and leadership of the USGA and the university’s Grant Presidential Library have helped put Mississippi State on the map as a national center of excellence for the study of Civil War-era history. With Dr. Marshall’s proven track record of research, teaching and outreach, I’m confident she will continue to build upon the USGA and Grant Library’s strong momentum and expand their reach and impact,” said MSU President Mark Keenum in a news release.