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Fields, as Grant, gets warm welcome

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 6, 2014

Gen. Grant sure got a warmer welcome this weekend than the first time he came to town.

Dr. Curt Fields, a professor from Memphis with a doctorate in education, was in town Friday and Saturday portraying Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in Vicksburg National Military Park, he said Vicksburg always greets him with hospitality.

“People treat me with warmth and kindness and say we are glad to have you here,” Fields said. “It was nothing less than wonderful. The crowds were better than what we hoped for and anticipated.”

Fields spent two days in the park sharing the history of Grant, the man who captured the fortress city of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863. The victory came after more than 10,000 Union casualties and just over 9,000 Confederate killed, wounded or missing.

It had been a bloody fight to keep Grant out of Vicksburg, and to say the city was unhappy to see him is perhaps the biggest understatement in history. Grant’s success here and at Fort Donaldson and Fort Henry propelled him to success.

“It cinched his rise to fame,” Fields said.

They bear a striking resemblance to each other. Fields is Grant’s approximate height and weight. No, Fields tells visitors almost every day, Grant wasn’t a large man. He was only about 5’7”.

“I portray Grant because I look like Grant. It’s about the history,” Fields said. “If I had looked like Braxton Bragg, I would have done him.”

Beyond their appearance though, the men couldn’t be much further apart.  Grant was a meek, soft-spoken man who preferred to sit and listen quietly, while Fields is quite the storyteller.

“I like nothing better than Q&A on the field,” said Fields, who has been a professor at the University of Memphis, Michigan State and Belhaven. He is regarded by many as one of the South’s U.S. Grant authorities.

Fields’ ancestors fought against Grant and the Union army.

“I’m the only Grant who is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans,” Fields said.

For his choice of becoming what he calls “a walking, talking, three-dimensional teaching tool” about the famed Union general, Fields has taken some good-hearted ribbing from a number of his fellow SCV members.

The most common questions he hears from people – other than about Grant’s size – are about rumors of the general’s drinking habit. Grant was fond of Old Crow whiskey but  was not known to drink to excess often.

“No, Grant was not an alcoholic. He was simply someone who couldn’t hold his liquor. We all know someone like that,” Fields said.

Grant also suffered from migraines, which would leave him out of action for weeks at a time when he was supposedly drunk, Fields said.

He’s also asked a lot if Grant ordered Gen. William T. Sherman to burn Atlanta – the answer is no — if he was surprised at Shiloh, to which Fields responds that Grant was shocked and if Grant ever owned slaves, which is yes.

It’s an honest view focused on breaking the old Grant stereotypes, said Fields, who stays in character as Grant while wearing the general’s uniform. It also helps merge what Fields calls the “personal Grant” and the “photographic Grant.”

“I want them to leave saying ‘My gosh. I just met Gen. Grant. They won’t remember who Curt Fields is. It’s not about Curt Fields. It’s all about Gen. Grant — who he was, what he was and how he was,” Fields said.