President Ulysses S. Grant, a former Union Army general, gets a library in the deep south

A former president and general who helped defeat the Confederate south during the Civil War will soon get a presidential homecoming in Mississippi. 

President Ulysses S. Grant, who is perhaps best known for leading Union troops during the siege of Vicksburg, Miss., will soon have a presidential library in his honor. The Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library will open to the public on the campus of Mississippi State University (MSU) in Starkville later this month.

Grant, who was born in Ohio and lived in Illinois and New York, spent most of his time at war in Mississippi, according to the library’s executive director John Marszalek. 

“His connection with Mississippi is during the Civil War fighting battles here, then later after the war he passed through here on part of his world tour,” Marszalek told Fox News inside the newly expanded library. 

Marszalek is an expert on the 18th president of the United States and also serves as the executive director of the Grant Association, which collects copies of Grant’s letters and other writings. 

Grant, who served as president of the United States from 1869 to 1877, played a pivotal role in the siege of Vicksburg in 1863. The battle split up the Confederate states and helped win the war for the Union Army. Marszalek says the Grant family became close friends with the descendants of a Confederate general named Stephen D. Lee. Lee was the first president of Mississippi State University. 

“[Lee’s] family and the Grant family became quite friendly after the war was over,” Marszalek said. “When the statue of Stephen D. Lee was being established at Vicksburg, it was Fred Grant, Grant’s first born son, who gave the keynote address.”

Marszalek notes the decision to place the library at MSU was up to the Grant Association and its board of directors. He says the university was able to convince the association and its president, former Rhode Island Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank Williams, to move the collection of Grant artifacts to the university in 2008. Since then, the library was housed in a small space for researchers.  

Curators and those in charge of the museum admit that there is a sense of irony that the library is located in Mississippi but also note that it will give visitors and researchers a unique opportunity to visit historic Civil War sites in the region. 

Over 1,200 artifacts and manuscripts are held at the library. There are also 200,000 documents and 13,000 volumes of books related to Grant stored on-site. Curators have also added notes to many of the letters to give modern-day context to visitors and researchers. Visitors will also get a chance to try out TV-size interactive touchscreens with facts and information about Grant. 

“As a part of the museum [we’ve] developed several different interactive [screens] that students will be able to use as they’re coming through the museum,” said Stephen Cunetto, the associate dean for university libraries at MSU. “It really gives them the history [and] the background of Grant and it’s actually narrated by James Earl Jones.”

As for any sour feelings toward President Grant after the Civil War, Marszalek says that’s not really the case.  

“Is there some hard feelings? Sure, there always are hard feelings,” Marszalek said. “Generally speaking, our acceptance here at Mississippi State and in the state of Mississippi [among] governors and politicians and just the average person has just been wonderful.” 

Members of the Grant Association, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant and guests from the United States National Archives are expected to attend an opening ceremony for the library on November 30th.

Willie James Inman is a Fox News multimedia reporter based in Jackson, Mississippi. Follow him on twitter: @WillieJames