Ulysses S. Grant
It is poor business measuring the mouldered ramparts and counting the silent guns, marking the deserted battlefields and decorating the grassy graves, unless we can learn from it some nobler lesson than to destroy. Men write of this, as of other wars, as if the only thing necessary to be impressed upon the rising generation were the virtue of physical courage and contempt of death. It seems to me that is the last thing we need to teach; for since the days of John Smith in Virginia and the men of the Mayflower in Massachusetts, no generation of Americans has shown any lack of it. From Louisburg to Petersburg-a hundred and twenty years, the full span of four generations-they have stood to their guns and been shot down in greater comparative numbers than any other race on earth. In the war of secession there was not a State, not a county, probably not a town, between the great lakes and the gulf, that was not represented on fields where all that men could do with powder and steel was done and valor exhibited at its highest pitch…There is not the slightest necessity for lauding American bravery or impressing it upon American youth. But there is the gravest necessity for teaching them respect for law, and reverence for human life, and regard for the rights of their fellow country-men, and all that is significant in the history of our country…These are simple lessons, yet they are not taught in a day, and some who we call educated go through life without mastering them at all.
Rossiter Johnson, Campfire and Battlefield, 1884
I have always thought it appropriate that the national nightmare we call the Civil War ended during Holy Week 1865. Two remarkably decent men, Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant, began the process of healing so desperately needed for America on Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865 at Appomattox. We take their decency for granted, but it is the exception and not the rule for the aftermath of civil wars in history. The usual course would have been unremitting vengeance by the victors, and sullen rage by the defeated, perhaps eventually breaking out in guerilla war. The end of the Civil War could so very easily have been the beginning of a cycle of unending war between north and south. Instead, both Grant and Lee acted to make certain as far as they could that the fratricidal war that had just concluded would not be repeated. All Americans owe those two men a large debt for their actions at Appomattox.
Grant in his memoirs wrote, “When Lee and I separated he went back to his lines and I returned to the house of Mr. McLean. Here the officers of both armies came in great numbers, and seemed to enjoy the meeting as much as though they had been friends separated for a long time while fighting battles under the same flag.”
Lee so appreciated the generosity of the terms of surrender given by Grant, that for the remainder of his life he would never allow a word of denigration about Grant to be spoken in his presence.
As news spread of the abortive Hampton Roads Conference, members of Congress demanded to know what was said. Lincoln sent the following telegraph to Grant on February 8, 1865:
City Point, Va. Washington, Feb. 8. 1865
I am called on by the House of Representatives to give an account of my interview with Messrs. Stephens, Hunter & Campbell; and it is very desireable to me to put in your despatch of Feb. 1st. to the Sec. of War, in which among other things you say “I fear now their going back without any expression from any one in authority will have a bad influence” I think the despatch does you credit while I do not see that it can embarrass you. May I use it?
Here is the message from Grant to Stanton on February 1:
CITY POINT, VA., February 1, 1865-10.30 p.m.
Honorable EDWIN M. STANTON,
Secretary of War:
Now that the interview between Major Eckert, under his written instructions, and Mr. Stephens and party has ended, I will state confidentially, but not officially to become a matter of record, that I am convinced, upon conversation with Messrs. Stephens and Hunter, that their intentions are good and their desire sincere to restore peace and union. I have not felt myself at liberty to express even views of my own or to account for my reticence. This has placed me in an awkward position, which I could have avoided by not seeing them in the first instance. I fear now their going back without any expression from any one in authority will have a bad influence. At the same time I recognize the difficulties in the way of receiving these informal commissioners at this time, and do not know what to recommend. I am sorry, however, that Mr. Lincoln cannot have an interview with the two named in this despatch, if not all there now within our lines. Their letter to me was all that the President’s instructions contemplated, to secure their safe conduct, if they had used the same language to Major Eckert.
U. S. GRANT,
Lieutenant-General. Continue reading
The culmination of the Chattanooga campaign, the battle began in the morning on November 25 with Sherman attempting to take Tunnel Hill. His attacks met with no success in the face of fierce Confederate resistance.
Grant ordered the Army of the Cumberland to advance against Missionary Ridge, and the attack began at 3:30 PM. Grant, doubting that the heavily fortified Missionary Ridge could be taken by a frontal assault, ordered that only the rifle pits at the base of the ridge be taken, with the troops to await further orders. Thomas launched a four division attack, about 23,000 men. The rifle pits were taken, and the Union troops began to come under heavy fire from Confederate positions on Missionary Ridge. They immediately began a charge up the ridge to the astonishment of Grant:
Our men drove the troops in front of the lower line of rifle-pits so rapidly, and followed them so closely, that rebel and Union troops went over the first line of works almost at the same time. Many rebels were captured and sent to the rear under the fire of their own friends higher up the hill. Those that were not captured retreated, and were pursued. The retreating hordes being between friends and pursuers caused the enemy to fire high to avoid killing their own men. In fact, on that occasion the Union soldier nearest the enemy was in the safest position. Without awaiting further orders or stopping to reform, on our troops went to the second line of works; over that and on for the crest—thus effectually carrying out my orders of the 18th for the battle and of the 24th for this charge.
I watched their progress with intense interest. The fire along the rebel line was terrific. Cannon and musket balls filled the air: but the damage done was in small proportion to the ammunition expended. The pursuit continued until the crest was reached, and soon our men were seen climbing over the Confederate barriers at different points in front of both Sheridan’s and Wood’s divisions. The retreat of the enemy along most of his line was precipitate and the panic so great that Bragg and his officers lost all control over their men. Many were captured, and thousands threw away their arms in their flight.
The battle of Missionary Ridge was the most stunning example in the War of a frontal attack against a fortified position succeeding. Bragg’s center was broken and his army routed, with headlong retreat being the only course of action open to him. Confederate and Union casualties were each about 10,000 with another 4000 Confederates taken prisoner. Many of the Army of the Cumberland Union troops went into battle yelling “Chickamauga! Chickamauga!” That defeat was now well avenged, and the Chattanooga Campaign was at an end. Here is the report of Major General George Thomas, commander of the Army of the Cumberland: Continue reading
Battle Above the Clouds, the song in the above video, commemorates the battle of Lookout Mountain fought 150 years ago yesterday, part of a series of Union attacks that drove the Confederate Army of Tennessee reeling in retreat from its positions around Chattanooga that it had occupied in the aftermath of the Confederate victory of Chickamauga in September of 1863.
Major General Joseph Hooker was assigned the task of attacking the Confederate position on Lookout Mountain. Grant was dubious that the Confederate positions on Lookout Mountain could be taken, and told Hooker to take the mountain only if it seemed practicable to do so. Hooker had three divisions, ten thousand men, not a much greater force than the 8,000 Confederates that held the position.
Hooker, intent on regaining his reputation as a field commander, pressed the assault. The Confederate defense was hampered by the rough terrain and lackluster commanders who put up a feeble defense. By midnight the mountain was quiet with the Confederates withdrawing in the wee hours of November 25, aided by a lunar eclipse. The battle electrified the North, being hailed as the battle above the clouds, a reference to the mists that clung to the slopes of Lookout Mountain.
Brigadier General John W, Geary, who led one of Hooker’s three divisions, shared the excitement, writing to his wife:
I have been the instrument of Almighty God. … I stormed what was considered the … inaccessible heights of Lookout Mountain. I captured it. … This feat will be celebrated until time shall be no more.
In some ways the battle was actually more of a skirmish. Casualties were light for the Union, only 408. Confederate casualties were higher, totaling 1251, with an additional 1064 captured or missing.
Grant, who had never had any use for Hooker, in his memoirs denigrated the “battle”:
The Battle of Lookout Mountain is one of the romances of the war. There was no such battle and no action even worthy to be called a battle on Lookout Mountain. It is all poetry.
The Union troops who participated in taking Lookout Mountain would beg to differ. After the fighting around Chattanooga was over many of them had photographs taken on Lookout Mountain, clearly proud of their accomplishment:
Here is Hooker’s report of the battle: Continue reading
Something for the weekend. The Chattanooga Boy’s Choir singing The Battle Cry of Freedom. An appropriate selection as 150 years ago the battle of Chattanooga began which resulted in a complete Union victory. Actually three battles: Orchard Knob, November 23; Lookout Mountain, November 24; and Missionary Ridge, November 25; these engagements were the culmination of the Chattanooga campaign that began when Bragg and his Army of Tennessee, put the Army of the Cumberland under siege in Chattanooga in the aftermath of the Confederate victory at Chickamauga.
With strong Union reinforcements, and with Grant placed in overall command, the siege was effectively broken on October 28, 1863 with the Union establishing the “cracker line” to bring supplies into Chattanooga. With the lifting of the siege and with the Union forces opposing him growing ever stronger, Bragg made the strategic blunder of keeping his main force in place confronting Chattanooga and sent Longstreet’s Corps, 11,000 men, on an ultimately futile campaign to capture Knoxville.
Bragg doubled down on this error by ordering two divisions to withdraw from the lines around Chattanooga and march to the rail head to be transported to reinforce Longstreet on November 22. Seeing the movement of the Confederate forces, Grant decided to launch the long planned offensive against the Confederate positions around Chattanooga, partially to prevent Bragg from reinforcing Longstreet.
Grant ordered 14,000 Union soldiers to seize Orchard Knob, a position held by 600 Confederates in front of the main Confederate defensive lines along Missionary Ridge. The position was taken with light casualties, and it did cause Bragg to cancel the movement of one of the divisions he had intended to send to Longstreet.
Here is Grant’s description of the engagement in his Memoirs: Continue reading
By the swollen flood
Of the Mississippi, stumpy Grant is a mole
Gnawing at Vicksburg. He has been blocked four times
But he will carry that beaver-dam at last.
There is no brilliant lamp in that dogged mind
And no conceit of brilliance to shake the hand,
But hand and mind can use the tools that they get.
This long way out of Galena.
Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body
Something for the weekend. The song I Left my Love from the movie The Horse Soldiers (1959) a fictionalized account of Grierson’s Raid.
Perhaps the most daring and successful Union cavalry raid of the war, Brigadier General Benjamin Grierson, a former music teacher who, after being bitten by a horse at a young age, hated horses, led 1700 Illinois and Iowa troopers through 600 miles of Confederate territory from southern Tennessee to the Union held Baton Rouge. Grierson and his men ripped up railroads, burned Confederate supplies and tied down many times their number of Confederate troops and succeeded in giving Grant a valuable diversion as he began his movement against Vicksburg. The one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the raid will occur on April 17th.
With his victories at Fort Henry, Fort Donelson and Shiloh, for a time it seemed in 1862 that Grant was spearheading a Union drive that would lead to an unraveling of the Confederacy in the West and a rapid end to the War. Instead Grant was stymied since December by Vicksburg, which was earning its nickname of the Gibraltar of the West. Located on high bluffs overlooking the Mississippi at a horseshoe bend, the heavily fortified city prevented Union control of the Mississippi, vital for the Union war effort in cutting away from the main Confederacy, Arkansas, Texas and most of Louisiana, while restoring the Father of the Waters to the Union for commerce.
The heavily fortified city, garrisoned by a Confederate army, seemed impregnable. Union fleets trying to run the batteries of the City faced potentially ruinous losses. The Mississippi Delta north and east of the city, 200 miles of largely trackless swamp, made it impossible to march an army from the north and take Vicksburg by land assault. Somehow Grant needed to get his fleet south of Vicksburg so he and his army could cross the Mississippi. To accomplish this Grant made five efforts prior to mid-April of 1863, all of which ended in frustration: Continue reading
I have always thought it appropriate that the national nightmare we call the Civil War ended during Holy Week 1865. Two remarkably decent men, Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant, began the process of healing so desperately needed for America on Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865 at Appomattox. We take their decency for granted, but it is the exception and not the rule for the aftermath of civil wars in history. The usual course would have been unremitting vengeance by the victors, and sullen rage by the defeated, perhaps eventually breaking out in guerilla war. The end of the Civil War could so very easily have been the beginning of a cycle of unending war between north and south. Instead, both Grant and Lee acted to make certain as far as they could that the fratricidal war that had just concluded would not be repeated. All Americans owe those two men a large debt for their actions at Appomattox. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. Grant, Grant, Grant the campaign song for Ulysses S. Grant when he ran for President in 1868. Unsurprisingly Civil War themes were hit hard, along with Republican rage against what they perceived as the soft Reconstruction that Andrew Johnson attempted to give to the South. The song is sung to the tune of Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, the Boys are Marching!, (Originially entitled Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (The Prisoner’s Hope) which would have had huge emotional connotations in the North as that song was written in 1864 to give hope in ultimate liberation to Union POWs. Continue reading
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.
So many letters come to a War Department,
One can hardly bother the clerks to answer them all–
Then a Volunteer colonel, drilling recruits with a stick,
A red bandanna instead of an officer’s sash;
A brigadier-general, one of thirty-seven,
Snubbed by Halleck and slighted by fussy Frémont;
And then the frozen February gale
Over Fort Henry and Fort Donelson,
The gunboats on the cold river–the brief siege–
“Unconditional surrender”–and the newspapers.
Stephen Vincent Benet
The taking of Fort Henry by Ulysses S. Grant on February 6, 1862, was important for a number of reasons:
1. It opened the Tennessee River to Union gunboats and transports down through northern Alabama, effectively allowing the Union to outflank Confederate
defenses in Memphis and throughout eastern Tennessee. Continue reading
The most recent poll by Gallup matching Newt Gingrich against Obama has Obama up by a whopping two points: 48-50. This, after a week when Gingrich has had a concerted attack by ABC to take him out as a candidate after the Marianne Gingrich non-revelation that Newt cheated on her, as she had cheated with Newt while he was married to his first wife. Gingrich has gained 4 points in the trial heat.
Of course polls of the general election at this point in a presidential election year don’t mean spit, as President Carter could attest, as he led Ronald Reagan, often by vast margins, in the trial heat polls almost all of the year in 1980. I bring up this poll now to counter-act some of the “woe is us” commentary too often seen in GOP circles currently. Obama has presided over a disastrous first term, and will likely go down to defeat in the fall. All the signs are there. To listen to some of the Republican caterwauling at the present time, one would think that Obama was a shoo-in for a second term. He isn’t and I am getting tired of the doom and pessimism brought on by a perfectly normal contested presidential nomination race. This reminds me of an event in the Battle of the Wilderness in May of 1864: Continue reading
I feel that we are on the eve of a new era, when there is to be great harmony between the Federal and Confederate. I cannot stay to be a living witness to the correctness of this prophecy; but I feel it within me that it is to be so. The universally kind feeling expressed for me at a time when it was supposed that each day would prove my last, seemed to me the beginning of the answer to “Let us have peace.”
Ulysses S. Grant, written just before his death
Something for the weekend. Quotations from Ulysses S. Grant to the Beatles song In My Life. A follow up to my post on Robert E. Lee, the Beatles and the Internet. Another demonstration of what a wild and wacky place the internet truly is!
Few men in American history have gone from complete obscurity to being a central figure in the life of the nation faster than Ulysses Simpson Grant. Known as Sam Grant by his West Point friends, his first two initials making Sam an inevitable nickname, Grant had an unerring ability to fail at everything he put his hand to, except for war, his marriage and his last gallant race against the Grim Reaper, as he was dying of cancer, to finish his memoirs and provide financially for his wife and children. Most great figures in our history have known success more than failure. Not so Sam Grant. He would encounter humiliating defeats throughout his life, from beginning to end.
At the beginning of the Civil War, he was a clerk, barely able to support his family. Seemingly a dull plodder, but possessed of iron determination and an uncanny ability to never let the trees obscure the forest; happily married and a firm believer in God, but subject to bouts of depression when he would grasp for the bottle; the shabby little man who, incredibly, ended up winning the greatest war in American history.
His men didn’t hold him in awe as Lee’s men did Lee; Grant was far too common and prosaic a figure for that. However, they did respect him, as this section of Stephen Vincent Benet’s epic poem on the Civil War, John Brown’s Body, indicates: Continue reading
Paul Zummo, the Cranky Conservative, and I run a blog on American History: Almost Chosen People. Yesterday Paul raised the question: Is Robert E. Lee Overrated?
Yeah, the post title is somewhat deliberately provocative, but it’s also meant to be a serious question that I hope will spark some discussion. I was going to ask it in the comments to Donald’s post below, but thought it might be useful fodder for debate in its own right.
Hattip to commenter Dennis McCutcheon for giving me the idea for this post. We Americans today view the Civil War as part of our history. If different decisions had been made at the end of that conflict, the Civil War could still be part of our current reality. Just before the surrender at Appomattox, General Porter Alexander, General Robert E. Lee’s chief of artillery, broached to Lee a proposal that the Army of Northern Virginia disband and carry out a guerrilla war against the Union occupiers. Here history balanced on a knife edge. If Lee had accepted the proposal, I have little doubt the stage would have been set for an unending war between the North and the South which would still be with us. Douglas Southall Freeman, in his magisterial R. E. Lee, tells what happened next, based upon Alexander’s memoirs, Fighting for the Confederacy.
“Thereupon Alexander proposed, as an alternative to surrender, that the men take to the woods with their arms, under orders to report to governors of their respective states.