Simpson, Brooks D.
SIMPSON, Brooks D.
PERSONAL: Male. Education: University of Wisconsin—Madison, Ph.D., 1989.
ADDRESSES: Office—Department of History, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Educator, editor, and author. Arizona State University, professor of history.
(Editor, with Leroy P. Graf and John Muldowny) Advice after Appomattox: Letters to Andrew Johnson, 1865-1866, University of Tennessee Press (Knoxville, TN), 1987.
Let Us Have Peace: Ulysses S. Grant and the Politics of War and Reconstruction, 1861-1868, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 1991.
America's Civil War, Harlan Davidson (Wheeling, IL), 1996.
(Editor, with David W. Blight) Union and Emancipation: Essays on Politics and Race in the Civil War Era, Kent State University Press (Kent, OH), 1997.
(Editor) Think Anew, Act Anew: Abraham Lincoln on Slavery, Freedom, and Union, Harlan Davidson (Wheeling, IL), 1998.
The Reconstruction Presidents, University of Kansas Press (Lawrence, KS), 1998.
(With Mark Grimsley) Gettysburg: A Battlefield Guide, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1999.
(Editor, with Jean V. Berlin) Sherman's Civil War: Selected Correspondence of William T. Sherman, 1860-1865, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 1999.
Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph over Adversity, 1822-1865, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2000.
(Editor, with Mark Grimsley) The Collapse of the Confederacy, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2001.
SIDELIGHTS: U.S. historian Brooks D. Simpson has written and edited a number of scholarly volumes that give insight into the political and military aspects of the American Civil War era. Simpson is a professor of history at Arizona State University, and has been publishing his work since the late 1980s, beginning with Advice after Appomattox: Letters to Andrew Johnson, 1865-1866. This critically praised book, which Simpson coedited with Leroy P. Graf and John Muldowny, contains correspondence and advice directed to U.S. President Andrew Johnson during America's postwar Reconstruction period. Throughout the 1990s Simpson continued to produce related projects, including America's Civil War, Union and Emancipation: Essays on Politics and Race in the Civil War Era, The Reconstruction Presidents, and Gettysburg: A Battlefield Guide. In 2000 Simpson published Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph over Adversity, 1822-1865, a biography covering the upbringing and military exploits of America's eighteenth president. Simpson, an admirer of Grant, had previously written about the Union's military hero in Let Us Have Peace: Ulysses S. Grant and the Politics of War and Reconstruction, 1861-1868, as well as in several other volumes. In most cases, literary critics have lauded Simpson's efforts, including his historiography and writing ability.
After the conclusion of the U.S. Civil War, President Johnson had to decide on ways to rebuild the shattered South, and he courted the advice of several close friends and colleagues in order to help him in the process. In Advice after Appomattox, Simpson and his coeditors compiled the letters that these men wrote to Johnson over the course of about one year, in 1865. The men, including Ulysses S. Grant, Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, journalists Carl Schurz and Benjamin C. Truman, and friend Harry M. Watterson, provided Johnson with varying expertise and viewpoints. Robert G. Mangrum, in the Journal of Southern History, explained that Simpson provided brief introductions about each man in an effort to "'present to the reader, as they did to President Johnson, the opportunity to evaluate differing opinions on the attitudes and conditions of the post-Appomattox South.'" Critics, including Michael Les Benedict in Journal of American History, who felt Simpson has contributed "insightful introductory essays," praised the book. J. Mushkat of Choice believed the editors put together an "excellent compilation of contemporary documents," which describe "the nature and ambiguities of postwar southern life." Mangrum was also impressed with the effort. "This volume will be of great value to historians and students of the post-Civil War era concerning attitudes and problems in the disrupted South," he wrote.
Simpson's next effort, Let Us Have Peace, concentrates on Grant's political development between 1861 and 1868, which was the year he was elected president.
The period includes his time as a general in the Union army, during which Simpson believes he began thinking in political as well as military terms. Choice's J. P. Sanson quoted Simpson as saying, "'Grant was both soldier and politician for military and civil policy were inevitably intertwined.'" Simpson examines the relationships Grant had with presidents Abraham Lincoln and Johnson, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and other politicians of the period. The book also looks at Grant's views on Reconstruction and the freed slaves. Sanson felt Simpson does an admirable job looking at material that other historians had already written about. "Other historians have touched on this aspect of Grant's career, but Simpson's work surpasses them all," Sanson wrote. Calling the book "well written," W. Walter Wicker, who reviewed the book for Library Journal, went on to write that it fills "a void in our understanding" of Grant. Simpson further examines Grant's life in both The Reconstruction Presidents and Ulysses S. Grant. In the former, Simpson discusses how Reconstruction policies evolved during the terms of four presidents, beginning with Lincoln and Johnson, moving through Grant's eight years in office, and culminating with the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes. According to Simpson, each president approached rebuilding the South differently. Grant, for example, did little to secure the rights of former slaves, because he thought doing so would undermine the support for his presidency in the South. Simpson paints Reconstruction as a failure that ultimately died during Hayes's presidency. Again, critics lauded Simpson's work. Calling it "an excellent study of presidential decision making," Michael Les Benedict of the American Historical Review praised the author's "concise analytic narrative." Benedict concluded that The Reconstruction Presidents would "be consulted not only by specialists but by anyone interested in the history of the Civil War, American race relations, and American government." Reviewer M. Morrison of Choice felt the book provides "a needed corrective to Reconstruction historiography."
In Ulysses S. Grant, which a contributor for Publishers Weekly called "an eminently informed and finely balanced portrait," Simpson attempts to separate Grant from the many caricatures that have dogged his legacy. As he tracks Grant's "triumph over adversity," Simpson does not leave out Grant's many shortcomings, but he does give the Civil War hero more credit than many historians have tended to do. Included in the book is a discussion of Grant's upbringing in rural Ohio and his enrollment at the Military Academy, his business failures and tours of military duty, and especially the Civil War, which saw Grant rise to take command of the entire Union Army. Despite the common notion that Grant was a military butcher who lacked compassion for human life, Simpson paints the man as someone who actually hated warfare and saw it as a necessary evil. He quotes Grant as having said that war was "at all times a sad and cruel business . . . and nothing but imperative duty could induce me to engage in its work or witness its horrors." The work earned praise from most critics, though some felt Simpson goes too far in praising Grant. John Carver Edwards of Library Journal called the work "a finely nuanced view of Grant" that contains an "excellent afterword." Although he believed Simpson does "a masterly job for the most part," Robert V. Remini of the New York Times Book Review did find some shortcomings. "Unfortunately, what Simpson fails to do in this book is adequately place Grant in the context of his times," Remini wrote. "The narrative is too tightly focused on its subject." David E. Long of the Civil War Times felt "every section of Simpson's book contains labored generalizations that the author constructs to defend his hero."
Simpson has also written several volumes focusing solely on various aspects of the Civil War, including America's Civil War and Gettysburg: A Battlefield Guide, the latter of which he coauthored with Mark Grimsley. He also coedited Sherman's Civil War: Selected Correspondence of William T. Sherman, 1860-1865 with Jean V. Berlin. In America's Civil War, part of the "Harlan Davidson American History" series, Simpson cites a number of primary and secondary sources, and uses them to describe the political, social and military aspects of the war. Critic G. T. Edwards of Choice said Simpson refers to the Civil War as the "'central event of American history.'" Simpson divides the war into several distinct phases. In his view, the crucial moment of the war was the fall of Atlanta in September of 1864, because of the political ramifications the event caused in the South. In Simpson's concluding chapter, titled "Why the Union Won," he theorizes about causes that led to the fall of the Confederacy. Included in the book are a number of maps and a bibliographic essay. G. T. Edwards called the book "a lively and interpretive history." Mary A. DeCredico of the Journal of Southern History enjoyed Simpson's "fast-paced narrative that included some good analysis and current historiography." However, DeCredico felt Simpson has not presented anything "dramatically new," and that the work lacks "detail on certain key issues."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Historical Review, December, 1999, pp. 1675-1676; June, 2002, Michael B. Ballard, review of The Collapse of the Confederacy, p. 883; February, 2001, Michael Fellman, review of Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph over Adversity, 1822-1865, p. 174.
American History, August, 2000, Eric Ethier, review of Ulysses S. Grant, p. 68.
American Spectator, June, 2000, John A. Barnes, review of Ulysses S. Grant, p. 73.
Biography, winter, 2001, Peter J. Parish, review of Ulysses S. Grant, p. 329.
Choice, April, 1992, p. 1291; September, 1996, p. 199; July-August, 1998, pp. 1742, 1917; January, 1999, p. 956; September, 2000, N. J. Hervey, review of Ulysses S. Grant, p. 206.
Civil War History, March, 2001, Joan Waugh, review of Ulysses S. Grant, p. 71.
Civil War Times, May, 2000, p. 10.
Journal of American History, December, 1991, pp. 1094-1095; March, 1998, p. 1515.
Journal of Southern History, November, 1989, p. 734; May, 1997, pp. 410-411; November, 2002, Emory M. Thomas, review of The Collapse of the Confederacy, p. 962.
Journal of Military History, October, 2001, Steven E. Nash, review of The Collapse of the Confederacy, p. 1103.
Library Journal, October 15, 1991, p. 96; June 15, 1998, p. 96; December, 1999, p. 152.
New York Times Book Review, March 12, 2000.
Publishers Weekly, January 10, 2000, p. 53.
Times Higher Education Supplement, June 15, 2001, Brian Holden Reid, review of Ulysses S. Grant, p. 32.*