March 2, 1864: Grant Confirmed as Lieutenant General

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 154 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

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.


  1. The quote that encapsulates Grant’s leadership:

    “Oh, I am heartily tired of hearing about what Lee is going to do. Some of you always seem to think he is suddenly going to turn a double somersault, and land in our rear and on both of our flanks at the same time. Go back to your command, and try to think what we are going to do ourselves, instead of what Lee is going to do.”

  2. This article would have been better if it went into the reason Lincoln nominated Grant and the nomination debates over whether this man deserved the military reverence of Gen Washington. Theres a great story there that should be explored. Especially given recent times where Generals (all flag ranks really) are made for simply sticking around long enough and not causing scandal (i.e. support the pigs who are are equal than others).

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