March 2, 1864: Grant Confirmed as Lieutenant General

lieutenant general grant

I can’t spare this man, he fights!

Lincoln’s response to calls for Grant’s removal from command after Shiloh.

 

 

Few men in American history have had a more meteoric rise than Ulysses S. Grant.  In March 1861 at age 38 he was a clerk in a tanning store owned by his father.  A former Army officer, he was a complete failure in trying to support his family, going from one unsuccessful business venture to the next.  He had a happy marriage, and that was fortunate, because that appeared to be the only success he was going to enjoy in this world.

A scant three years later he was general-in-chief of the vast Union armies, and on this day 150 years ago the Senate confirmed the nomination of Lincoln to make Grant Lieutenant General, a rank only held before Grant by two men:  George Washington and Winfield Scott.

Whatever 1864 would bring for the Union in regard to the Civil War was largely up to Grant and the plans and decisions he would make.  Skeptical men and officers of the Army of the Potomac, who assumed Grant would lead them in the upcoming campaign, remarked that only time would tell whether the first name of this latest commander would be Ulysses or Useless.  North and South, most Americans realized that 1864 would likely be the decisive year of the War.  At this pivot point in their history all Americans looked at the failure from Galena, Illinois, who now had the destiny of two nations in his hands, and wondered what he would do with this completely unexpected role on the stage of History that Fate, and Grant’s innate ability as a soldier, had bestowed upon him.

Fate has a way of picking unlikely material,

Greasy-haired second lieutenants of French artillery,

And bald-headed, dubious, Roman rake-politicians.

Her stiff hands were busy now with an odd piece of wood,

Sometime Westpointer, by accident more than choice,

Sometime brevet-captain in the old Fourth Infantry,

Mentioned in Mexican orders for gallant service

And, six years later, forced to resign from the Army

Without enough money to pay for a stateroom home.

Turned farmer on Hardscrabble Farm, turned bill-collector,

Turned clerk in the country-store that his brothers ran,

The eldest-born of the lot, but the family-failure,

Unloading frozen hides from a farmer’s sleigh

With stoop-shouldered strength, whittling beside the stove,

And now and then turning to whiskey to take the sting

From winter and certain memories.

It didn’t take much.

A glass or two would thicken the dogged tongue

And flush the fair skin beneath the ragged brown beard.

Poor and shabby–old “Cap” Grant of Galena,

Who should have amounted to something but hadn’t so far

Though he worked hard and was honest.

A middle-aged clerk,

A stumpy, mute man in a faded army overcoat,

Who wrote the War Department after Fort Sumter,

Offering them such service as he could give

And saying he thought that he was fit to command

As much as a regiment, but getting no answer.

John Brown’s Body,

Stephen Vincent Benet

3 Responses to March 2, 1864: Grant Confirmed as Lieutenant General

  • “… in a tanning store owned by his father…”

    Couldn’t help but wonder what a modern teenager will think this store was.

    More seriously…thanks for the good post. i had not known this background about USG.

  • I have always found Grant fascinating. He was great at War and marriage, and a failure at everything else in his life, except for his last gallant, and successful, race against the Grim Reaper to complete his superb memoirs and provide for his family.

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