General Ulysses S. Grant
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.
Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body
One hundred and fifty years ago the campaigning season in the bloodiest year of the Civil War was about to begin, and plans were being completed for what both sides hoped would be a decisive year. A moment of comedy before the grim business gets underway. Sherman in his memoirs recalled an incident on March 18, 1864 when Grant was presented a sword by the mayor of his hometown of Galena, Illinois:
On the 18th of March I had issued orders assuming command of the Military Division of the Mississippi, and was seated in the office, when the general came in and said they were about to present him a sword, inviting me to come and see the ceremony. I went back into what was the dining-room of the house; on the table lay a rose-wood box, containing a sword, sash, spurs, etc., and round about the table were grouped Mrs. Grant, Nelly, and one or two of the boys. I was introduced to a large, corpulent gentleman, as the mayor, and another citizen, who had come down from Galena to make this presentation of a sword to their fellow-townsman. I think that Rawlins, Bowers, Badeau, and one or more of General Grant’s personal staff, were present. The mayor rose and in the most dignified way read a finished speech to General Grant, who stood, as usual, very awkwardly; and the mayor closed his speech by handing him the resolutions of the City Council engrossed on parchment, with a broad ribbon and large seal attached. After the mayor had fulfilled his office so well, General Grant said: “Mr. Mayor, as I knew that this ceremony was to occur, and as I am not used to speaking, I have written something in reply.” He then began to fumble in his pockets, first his breast-coat pocket, then his pants, vest; etc., and after considerable delay he pulled out a crumpled piece of common yellow cartridge-paper, which he handed to the mayor. His whole manner was awkward in the extreme, yet perfectly characteristic, and in strong contrast with the elegant parchment and speech of the mayor. When read, however, the substance of his answer was most excellent, short, concise, and, if it had been delivered by word of mouth, would have been all that the occasion required.
I could not help laughing at a scene so characteristic of the man who then stood prominent before the country; and to whom all had turned as the only one qualified to guide the nation in a war that had become painfully critical. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
After his successes at Jackson, Champion Hill and Big Black River, Grant assumed that Confederate morale might be low enough that Vicksburg could be taken by assault and avoid a time consuming siege. In that he was mistaken. The Confederates lacked the strength to defeat him in open battle. but they had both the strength, and the morale, to hold Vicksburg. The first assault by Grant occurred on May 19, 1863 and was aimed at the Stockade Redan. Continue reading
It is rare for any soldier to attain the rank of general, but Albert Sidney Johnston managed that feat in three armies: rising from private to brigadier general in the army of the Republic of Texas, brevet brigadier general in the United States Army, and full general in the Confederate States Army. On April 3, 1862 he led his newly created Army of Mississippi out of the town of Corinth, Mississippi and began the march which would end in the surprise Confederate attack in the early morning of April 6, 1862, the beginning of the two day mammoth battle known to history as Shiloh.
The battle would result in the death of Johnston, his dying caused probably by his act of mercy in dispatching his personal surgeon to attend a wounded Union officer and none of his remaining staff having the presence of mind to fashion a tourniquet to stanch Johnston’s bleeding after he was wounded, and the fighting would inflict over 23,000 total Union and Confederate casualties, exceeding in two days all of the battlefield casualties in all of America’s wars prior to the Civil War. Shiloh told the nation, North and South, that this was going to be a very grim war, and that their adversary would fight it with all the strength and will that they could muster. After Shiloh the myth of a quick victorious war died on both sides. Continue reading