21 January 2007 by Published in: General musings 16 comments

In 1971, when I was ten years old, I met Muhammad Ali at a hotel in Philadelphia. We were there for some family occasion, either a wedding or a Bar Mitzvah. I honestly don’t remember which; it’s been 35 years, after all. It was just a few months after his legendary first fight with Joe Frazier, in which he took a beating and lost to Smokin’ Joe in what is often called “The Fight of the Century”. Ali took time to sit and talk to me, a Jewish kid from the suburbs, and sat me in his lap while he did. He signed a postcard for me twice–one in his normal signature, and once in what he described as his “pretty” signature. I still have that postcard. It’s in a photo album upstairs, along with the rest of my collection of sports autographs. It’s one of my prized possessions.

From that moment on, I became a boxing fan. I love watching boxing. There’s nothing like it in the world–one-on-one combat. Just two boxers in the ring with nothing but their skills and their wits, and may the better man win. Some view it as barbaric. I view it as a thing of beauty. I’ve become something of a student of the game, but with so many weight divisions and so many governing bodies with so many watered-down championships, it’s difficult to keep it all straight. Still, though, I thoroughly enjoying watching a good fight.

Last night was devoted to boxing. Columbus is a pretty good boxing town. This is Buster Douglas’ home town, and Jerry Page, 1984 Olympic gold medalist has spent his entire life here. When Buster went through the motions of training for his only title defense–a loss to Evander Holyfield–I would see him running in the neighborhood where I lived at the time. Buster could have been a great one, but he had only one great fight in his heart. He just didn’t want it badly enough to be able to muster more than that one truly magnificent fight against Mike Tyson.

A local boxing promoter had a slate of professional bouts last night, and a client of mine sponsored the event and got ringside seats for doing so. My client knows I love boxing and invited me to come along. Susan and I went and saw eight fights. We then got home and saw a bout and a half on HBO. For a boxing fan, it was a great evening.

While driving home, I started thinking about what might have happened if some of the leading protagonists of the Civil War had donned the gloves. Just for fun, I started coming up with some pairings. Here are a handful of them.

In a heavyweight match, veteran defensive specialist and counterpuncher James “Old Pete” Longstreet takes on Winfield Scott “Winnie” Hancock, the aggressive but effective slugger from Pennsylvania.

In a middleweight bout, James Ewell Brown “Beauty” Stuart, the flashy and speedy technician, meets John “Old Reliable” Buford, the steady and hard-hitting fighter who is equally proficient with both hands.

William T. “Cump” Sherman, the enigmatic and inconsistent tactician, takes on defensive specialist Joe Johnston, who specializes in the rope-a-dope, in a welterweight match-up.

George “Slow Trot” Thomas, slow-moving but hard-hitting, takes on grizzled and unpopular veteran Braxton Bragg in a contest of two journeymen.

Judson “Little Kil” Kilpatrick, small, wiry, and aggressive, and clad in only his nightshirt, takes on big, hard-hitting veteran Wade Hampton in a seemingly uneven match between different weight classes.

And, in the main event, Robert E. “Gray Fox” Lee, the crafty, unpredictable and hard-to-hit veteran southpaw takes on Ulysses S. “Butcher” Grant, the aggressive and relentless slugger from Illinois, in a twelve-round title match.

Feel free to add some match-ups of your own. It really is a lot of fun.


Scridb filter


  1. Randy Sauls
    Sun 21st Jan 2007 at 8:04 pm


    Another high profile bout might feature Abe “The Springfield Survivor” Lincoln versus Jefferson “The Chin” Davis. This fight features two grizzled veterans plagued by restless fans and enterouges liberally sprinkled with doubters and incompetents. T

  2. Sun 21st Jan 2007 at 9:22 pm


    I think you need a nice, long nap. I really do ๐Ÿ™‚

    I watched the Kilpatrick-Hampton fight tonite. Hampton, after holding off little Kil for 3 rounds, tore off the Celt’s nightshirt. Embarrassed, Kilpatrick grabbed some woman in the audience and ran away. Phil Sheridan, who was in the audience, jumped into the ring but was knocked out by Hampton’s first blow.

    Not real entertaining, if you ask me. But the peanuts were good.


  3. Sun 21st Jan 2007 at 9:46 pm


    That’s a good one–that would be an amusing fight indeed.

    JD, I think you’re right–I definitely could use a long nap….

    Now, Sheridan vs. Kilpatrick….that’s one I would enjoy watching….


  4. Steve Basic
    Mon 22nd Jan 2007 at 1:09 am


    ๐Ÿ™‚ Sickles versus John Bell Hood. Know it could not be a boxing match, but would be an interesting jousting event. ๐Ÿ™‚

    You may need a nap, but am sure I need some help. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Hope all is well.


  5. Rick Allen
    Mon 22nd Jan 2007 at 3:09 pm

    Hobart ” The Hammer” Ward vs Regis “The Fighting Frog” DeTrobriand in a ten round light middlewieght bout would be cool………


    David “The Bell” Birney vs “Palmetto Joe” Kershaw in a bantamweight match of epic proportion…….

    Or……last but not least….in the heavyweight category…..”Hammerin Hank” Hunt vs Jim “From The Wrongstreet” Longstreet………..its a steel cage match broadcast live from Cameroon…………

    Ah. the list could go on forever…….

    Fun stuff.



  6. Steve H
    Mon 22nd Jan 2007 at 10:10 pm

    How about George McClellan versus John Pemberton-a fight for the timid and those who don’t want to get hurt too badly.

    Stephen Dodson Ramseur versus Emory Upton-two hard hitting fighters willing to mix it up.

  7. Rob Wick
    Tue 23rd Jan 2007 at 1:10 pm

    Now guys, this is the 21st century, so let’s not be sexist!

    How about Mary “stop complaining about my shopping habits” Todd Lincoln vs. Varina “I can’t think of anything clever to say about her” Davis. Now there’d be one whale of a battle.


  8. Steve H
    Tue 23rd Jan 2007 at 9:55 pm

    Okay for the ladies-point taken.

    How about Belle Boyd versus Clara Barton?

  9. histfan
    Sun 16th Dec 2007 at 5:59 pm

    The following is a slightly changed version of a posting I made at the History Channel website in 2004.

    Grant had one of the most important attributes of a fighter, determination.
    “Grant fights” said his manager, President Lincoln. U.S., or “unconditional surrender”, Grant had starting gaining attention in Tennessee, winning some
    undercard bouts in 1862 at Fort Donelson and Fort Henry and stepping up in class by a win at Shiloh that spring. During that encounter, he had lost a lot of blood, it being the costliest victory for the Union at that time. In 1863
    he became a contender for the title by taking Vicksburg. The north then had control of the Mississippi River. At the same time, Meade had won a major fight at Gettysburg. But it was only a decision against the south’s most clever boxer, Lee, although an important one. Meade had been helped by the death of Lee’s trusted cornerman, Stonewall Jackson, two months before. But Meade had disappointed the manager Lincoln by not pursuing Lee. Grant got a higher rating as a contender later in 1863 with his victory at Chattanooga, Tennessee.

    In March 1864, Lincoln showed gratitude for Grant’s persistence and for being the best boxer in his stable of gladiators by making him commander of the Union Army. He was now ready for the title bout with Lee.

    Lee landed hard punches in the Wilderness Campaign and Spotsylvania Courthouse. His one terrific punch was a powerful cross to Grant’s head at Cold Harbor. Grant went down for the count. He got up before five and went to his corner, dazed and weak. Lee had stood in a neutral corner during the count with a concerned look on his face. He had given this guy his best shots but had not been able to stop him.

    Despite being disappointed that his strategy of massive agression had resulted in a great loss of life, Grant was determined to fight the only way he knew how, just surging forward. When the bell rang for the next round
    Grant, revitalized, charged after Lee, who backpedaled. Then, Lee made the worst mistake a boxer can make, he got cornered. MORE LATER

  10. histfan
    Mon 17th Dec 2007 at 9:28 pm


    When I wrote that “Lee made the worst mistake a boxer can make, he got cornered”, it was a reference to the seige of Petersburg. In the previous round, Grant had taken such a terrific drubbing at Cold Harbor that he was gushing blood from his nose and the corner of his eye even before being downed. But his manager, Lincoln, showed his faith in his best fighter by refusing to throw in the towel. He felt that his group of boxers couldn’t spare Grant. After a string of mediocre types, who hadn’t shown Grant’s
    heart in the ring, he knew he couldn’t spare him. That was true even when
    his favorite fighter broke training by drinking. Lincoln depended more on Grant now then ever. One of the previous disappointments was McClellan, who was very timid in the ring and waited too long to throw punches. Lincoln had once had high hopes for McClellan. But after the general had won a mixed decision against Lee at Antietam and had shown no desire to fight him again, Lincoln fired him. Now, in the election year of 1864, McClellan was getting his revenge by trying to take control of Lincoln’s business of managing fighters away from him. If Grant could win a knockout, he would save Lincoln. He was also hoping that his two other outstanding pugilists, Sherman and Sheridan, would come to his rescue. But Lee was a clever boxer, as contrasted to Grant’s sheer aggressiveness. There would be no such matching until over sixty years later, when the boxer Gene Tunney fought the merciless mauler, Jack Dempsey.

    Lee was also showing the effects of the last round, as well as this one. Grant laid punch after punch on Lee’s head and body. When going for an uppercut to Lee’s jaw, Grant accidentally hit himself. That was the Crater fiasco. Neither boxer was achieving an advantage and was using up a lot of energy, although Lee was tiring faster. He’d never been up against a slugger like Grant. Lee felt like he was fighting two men. Eventually, Lee was able to escape from the corner. But he was now bloody and his legs were wobbling.

    Yelling”No Mas!”, Lee acknowledged defeat. Being the gentleman he is, he raised Grant’s arm. The two shake hands and Lee tells Grant he is the superior fighter and that they should never fight again. This is Appomattox.
    In the audience , Lee’s manager, Jefferson Davis, shouts angrily at Lee for giving up. In the dressing room, Davis pleads with Lee that on the street they should jump Grant and his cornermen. That is Davis’ suggestion of guerilla warfare. MORE LATER

  11. Mon 17th Dec 2007 at 10:01 pm

    This is great stuff….please keep going…..


  12. histfan
    Tue 18th Dec 2007 at 6:05 pm

    Lee, once again being a gentleman, but also a realist, refuses the offer.

    Only months earlier, the other two members of Lincoln’s triumvirate of champions, Generals Sherman and Sheridan, had also justified his faith in them. Sherman had KOd his opponent, Gen. Joseph Johnston, at Atlanta. He then made his “march to the sea”, and took the coastal city of Savannah, which he gave to his manager as a Christmas gift. There was no opposition to him, no more Confederate fighters up to his caliber. He would be called a new type of fighter, one who practiced what would be called “total war”.
    Those who cheered for his opponents in the ring would compare it to kicking a man while he was down. But Sherman won his fights while Grant was still still exchanging blows with Lee at Petersburg, when the outcome of that match was undetermined.

    Meanwhile, General Sheridan, in a bout at a different arena, close by to where Grant was battling Lee, was showing some great successes in the Wilderness Campaign. He beat General Jeb Stuart, giving him a fatal injury.
    He then KOd Gen. Jubal Early and had no more challenges in the Shenandoah Valley. MORE LATER

  13. histfan
    Tue 18th Dec 2007 at 9:55 pm


    Sheridan and other of Lincoln’s fighters charged into the auditorium where Lee and Grant were having their long, exhausting slugfest. Grant, looking over Lee’s shoulder, yelled to Sheridan to attack the Confederate boxer’s cornermen. Sheridan, with one-mindedness and skill that had helped him recover after running away from the ring where he had worked the corner for Rosecrans, when he had been knocked out at Chickamauga, sprang into action. He and his fellow fighters ran into Lee’s trainer and cutman, fists flying, knocking them on the floor. Lee, seeing this happen, decided that his legs, as weak as they were, could be of more help than his fists. He managed to duck Grant’s punches for a few seconds and finally get out of
    the corner where Grant had had him trapped.

    Both Sheridan and Sherman had employed the new tactic of total war that I mentioned before. After defeating their opponents in the ring, they and their cornermen had gone into the part of the audiences where their opponents had cheering sections. There, they had robbed people of their wallets, watches and jewelry, and some clothing. They also took with them some people who had been forced to work for these spectators without pay.
    Sheridan and Sherman wanted to make it clear who had won and that those people in the audience whom they attacked would never cheer for the losing southern fighters again.

    So demoralized were the fighters managed by Jefferson Davis that Sherman, continuing his path of destruction from Georgia into South Carolina, was able to get easy, first round KOs. Weeks after Appamattox,
    Sherman met with a tired, battered southern general, Joseph Johnston. The latter was convinced that he and no other Confederate boxer could go the length of a fight with Sherman. Against the wishes of his manager, Davis, Johnston negotiated an armistice with Sherman.

    Perhaps the best example of perserverance students are taught is Thomas Edison inventing the light bulb. But Grant is an equally good way of showing that determination can pay off. Both Grant and Lee had learned boxing at the same gym,. West Point. But Grant had advantages that Lee, with his priveleged background, lacked. He was like a fighter who came up from the slums, who knew failure and struggling. There was his frustrating first time in the army. There were the failed careers, one of them as an insurance salesman. There was the farm his wife called Hardscrabble. Here was someone whose butt had already become familiar with the ground.

  14. histfan
    Wed 19th Dec 2007 at 5:45 pm

    from Tom (histfan)
    Regarding Joseph Johnston being “tired, battered”, I don’t know what exactly was going through his mind when he agreed to meet with Sherman. But I think he knew it was to time to hang up the gloves. Davis, who was away from the battles and killing, was more eager for a rematch.

  15. histfan
    Mon 07th Jan 2008 at 5:27 pm

    As some of you may have noticed, there is an error in my wording of the sentence about Johnston meeting with Sherman. The sentence is “The latter was convinced that he and no other Confederate boxer could go the length of a fight with Sherman.”

    It should read The latter was convinced that neither he or any other Confederate boxer could go the length of a fight with Sherman.

    Also, some readers may wonder why I described Meade’s victory at Gettys-
    burg as a decision and not a KO. Lincoln pleaded with Meade, after Lee’s retreat, to go after him. But after three days of fierce fighting, the Union troops were exhausted. Many of them had to recover from wounds. Meade understood this fact in a way Lincoln couldn’t. The President was then being as unrealistic as Davis was when the southern leader proposed guerilla warfare to Lee. Until rather recently, I had agreed with Lincoln, wondering why didn’t Meade chase Lee’s army? But when a member of the History Channel discussion board explained why, it became clear to me.

    So, in the third round of the Gettysburg bout, you could envision Meade knocking down Lee when the latter jabbed at him with Pickett’s charge. But he missed that brief chance of giving him a harder hit when the weakened Lee got to his feet because Meade was as tired as Lee.

    The metaphor of being too timid in the ring was what I used for McClellan.
    If one could defend Meade’s decision not to pursue Lee after Gettysburg, is it fair to criticize McClellan for the same reason after Antietam? On one side of the argument, more Americans died in one day at Antietam than any other day. But that takes into consideration the totals for both armies. Meade won at Gettysburg after three days, Antietam lasted one day.

  16. histfan
    Mon 07th Jan 2008 at 5:32 pm


    What perhaps also should be taken into account, is that the total war strategy of Sherman had not started yet. Those other than myself know more about military history than I do. But in the Civil War did generals often chase defeated armies?

Comments are closed.

Copyright ยฉ Eric Wittenberg 2011, All Rights Reserved
Powered by WordPress