EMMA DENT CASEYOf course, we had the other pleasures of country life at that time, too. There were picnics and dances, but naturally I do not remember much of these. However, I do recall very well the day when Julia and the Lieutenant and a party of their friends went to a camp meeting and were caught in a terrible thunderstorm that overtook them on their way home.
The party went to the camp meeting in a big lumbering farm wagon filled with straight-back chairs and plenty of hay to sit on. Brother John and Nelly were of the crowd, but my presence did not seem to be required. At least three of that gay young party were to help make history. There were Lieutenant Grant and sister Julia; Lieutenant Longstreet, afterward the Confederate general and one of Grant’s warmest friends, and Miss Fanny Morrison, who was the daughter of old General Morrison; and there was Hazlitt–the brilliant, dashing Hazlitt–and a young widow, a Mrs. Porter, who had been Miss Betty Beale, young Gordenier [Gardenier], John and Nelly.
A merry party they made, and they stayed until the last hymn was sung. It was on their way home that a terrific thunderstorm came up. They had no time to find shelter, as there were no houses near and the girls were afraid to seek the shelter of the trees while the lightning played like the forked tongues of serpents against the black sky. There was a great, heavy tarpaulin in the wagon, but no frame to stretch it over. A frame had to be improvised; the tall, polelike Hazlitt was chosen for the victim. Standing him up in the center of the wagon they used him as a tent pole to hang the tarpaulin on, and the girls crawling under it managed to keep comparatively dry. All the boys but Hazlitt were thoroughly soaked, because the tarpaulin was only large enough to cover the girls.
This was not to be the last time that Lieutenant Grant was to get a good wetting. Just before the outbreak of the Mexican War his regiment was ordered South into Louisiana. The day his regiment received its orders to move from Jefferson Barracks the Lieutenant apparently discovered that he was not quite ready to go to war. There was something he needed, which many another soldier has needed, to make him do his best on the battlefield. That very night he mounted his horse and rode over to White haven. It was a terrible night; [pg. 2] nothing lees than a mission of some great import could have lured or driven a man out on such a night and for such a ride. The rains had been drenching the earth like a deluge for several days and the creeks were swollen and raging. When the young officer reached the banks of the Graviose he found it a mad, muddy torrent, which had torn trees and bridges from its banks and was carrying them, with a roar of waters through the valley to the river. But what was that to daunt a lover’s ardor! Like the hero of the legend, “he spurred his steed and plunged in.” But he plunged in over his head, with his horse under him. When they arose to the surface there was no turning back in that wild flood of foam-flecked water; there was nothing to do but go forward, and forward they went, the Lieutenant swimming at the side of his horse, sturdily breasting the swollen current until they landed safely upon the other side.
It was a bedraggled swain that stood in the presence of his lady-love a few moments afterward. We all enjoyed heartily the sight of his ridiculous figure with his clothes flopping like wet rags around his limbs, and none laughed more heartily than my sister Julia. Lieutenant Grant took it all good humoredly enough, but there was a sturdy seriousness in his usually twinkling eyes that must have suggested, perhaps, to Julia that be had come on more serious business, for the teasing did not last long. John carried him off to find some dry clothes, and when he returned the usually natty soldier looked scarcely more like himself than he had when he came out of his bath. John was taller and larger than Grant, and his clothes did not fit the Lieutenant “soon enough.” Of course, this roused more laughter, which the soldier took in the same good part, but those rosy telltale cheeks of his reddened, as usual with him when the inward state of his feelings did not agree with his outward composure.
I think it shows something of the character of the man that Lieutenant Grant should not have allowed his rather outre appearance at the house of his sweetheart that night to have unsteadied his purpose in coming there. When he left the barracks he had it in his mind to offer the lady his hand and heart. He offered it. Nothing in the world could have prevented him, probably, since he had once had it in mind. It was characteristic of the man, as his campaign of after-years from Spottsylvania to Appomattox showed. Grant was often most slow and hesitating in his efforts to come to a decision, but when that decision was once made it was irrevocable and acted upon immediately.
It is, perhaps, not necessary to say that when Lieutenant Grant rode away from White Haven the morning after, he took with him what he had gone for.
The next question the Lieutenant disposed of with equal promptness. It was, of course, the customary interview, with my father. We were all very fond of the soldier by this time, and I am sure had the rest of us been taken into the young people’s confidence we should have sympathized with him. But there was no such surety about the stand of my father. That my father liked him as a man Grant knew very well, but as a son-in-law–that was a different matter. My father had been strongly opposed to Julia’s marrying into the army. She was his favorite daughter, and her health had never been strong. My father knew how arduous, pinched [pg. 3] and restless was army life and how it provided few of the home comforts and opportunities for care which a woman in delicate health might require. For that reason I feel sure that he had made up his mind, if he had thought about the matter at all, to refuse his consent to their marriage in case the Lieutenant should ask him for Julia.
However, be might have spared himself the pains of any thoughts upon the subject at all. For Julia, once having said yes, had made his decision for him. When Julia wanted a thing of my father she usually got it.
But father did not know that Julia wanted Lieutenant Grant, however, and the Lieutenant did not know that Julia always got what she wanted. On the day he came to ask her father for bet hand, after greeting the rest of us on the porch, he strode quietly and resolutely into the sitting-room where our parents were. My mother glanced at him, and in spite of his calm bearing she guessed his errand and slipped out. The determined young soldier stood straight before my father and looked him in the eye.
“Mr. Dent,” he said, “I want to marry your daughter, Miss Julia.”
My father looked back at him and smiled. I was peeping through the shutters.
For a minute the older man did not answer but sat soberly thinking. The soldier boy awaited his answer, unmoved.
“Mr. Grant,” my father spoke at last, “if it were Nelly you wanted, now, I’d say ‘Yes.'”
“But I don’t want Nelly,” said the soldier, bluntly. “I want Julia.”
“Oh, you do, do you? … Well, then, I s’pose it’ll have to be Julia.”
We were all gathered on the porch when father came out and told us about it. The Lieutenant’s frankness had pleased him and had, I think, won him over in spite of himself.
Nothing else happened beyond the ordinary news and duties of our daily life at White Haven, that I can remember, during the full course of the Mexican War. Of course, when the war was over, this soldier–he was Captain Grant now–hastened to White Haven as soon as he could obtain [pg. 4] his leave. The ardors of the campaign in Mexico had changed him very little so far as we could discern. His face was more bronzed from the exposure to the sun, and he wore his captain’s double-barred shoulder straps with a little more dignity then he had worn the old ones, perhaps. His shoulders had broadened some, and his body was stouter, and it may be that he had grown a little more reserved in manner. But what change there was in him was certainly little enough, considering all that he had gone through with the others of his regiment. The most striking thing to my childish mind was that he was now burned to a rich brown where he had once been so rosy fair, and that he was, still smooth-shaven of cheek and lip, whereas most of the young officers of the time rejoiced proudly in some curiosity or other of hirsute ornamentation.
Captain Grant had not long returned from the duties of the field before he and Julia concluded to have their wedding day. They decided to be married in St. Louis, and accordingly we moved into our city house.
The Captain was now almost constantly at our home. He showed his future bride the most devoted, yet quiet, attention, and these were happy days for us all. I remember them particularly, because the Captain frequently took me and Julia to the theater during these happy prenuptial days, and the theater was an enjoyment of which I had not, at that time, had enough.
Our house was filled with a gay company, for both my sister and the Captain were very popular in St. Louis, but as I spent the most of my days in the school, I did not see so much of the visitors as the other members of my family. I remember that the handsome James Longstreet and the charming Miss Garland, who afterward became the dashing Confederate general’s wife, were among our most frequent visitors. Longstreet and Grant were always the closest of friends, and even the Civil War did not alter their deep personal regard for each other. Longstreet was our cousin on my mother’s side, and a great favorite with us. Miss Garland, too, was also a favorite with us, and with Captain Grant, because of her personal grace and the beauty of her character.
The marriage of Captain Grant and Julia took place in 1848, at our St. Louis home. There was nothing unusually striking about it which I can call to mind. It was just a sweet, old-fashioned home wedding, without ostentation or any fanfare of hymeneal trumpets. It was one of those weddings which the newspapers of to-day would call “very quiet,” but the house was filled with young people and our many friends. The ceremony took place at eight o’clock in the evening, in the large double parlors, which had been decorated for the occasion. The Captain’s groomsmen were all army officers but, lest I be inaccurate, I will not attempt to mention them by name. My sister’s bridesmaids were Miss O’Fallon, Miss Sherds [Shurlds], Miss Louise Pratt, and, perhaps, Miss Fanny Walsh.
The couple spent that night at our home, and left the next day for a visit to Captain Grant’s people. They returned again after a few weeks, and the Captain was ordered to join his regiment, the Fourth Infantry, at Detroit. From there they went to Sacket Harbor, and we saw them only once or twice, when they came on brief visits to us, during the next two or three years. It was during one of these visits, in the simmer of 1850, that little Fred, now Major-General Frederick Dent Grant, was born. This event took place at White Haven.
In 1853 Captain Grant was ordered to California. The trip was too long and arduous for his wife to undertake, and she tame to live with us in St. Louis. She also visited a good deal with Captain Grant’s parents, who were at Bethel, Ohio, and it was while she was there that their second son, Ulysses–whom we called Buck, because he was born in the Buckeye State–appeared upon the scene. At the hour when Buck first opened his uncomprehending eyes on the Ohioan landscape his father was crossing the Isthmus of Panama bound for his duties on the Pacific Coast.
Captain Grant did not enjoy life beyond the Rockies. His post was not a congenial one, and he and his superiors did not always agree. This is a matter of history, but it was not for this that he asked for a leave of absence in 1854. It was because be had become homesick for a sight of his wife and little son, and the new little one whom he had never seen. The war department graciously refused him his leave. He asked again. Other men less entitled to furloughs were receiving than every day for the mere asking, but again Captain Grant’s request was denied–this time a bit more sharply. It is not true, as has been stated, that the Captain’ s personal habits at that time led him into such difficulties that he was asked to resign.
One day in the late simmer of 1854, while young Fred and the tiny toddler, Buck, were playing on the long front porch at White Haven, a man drove up in a buggy. As he threw the lap robe over the dashboard in preparing to climb out the children stared at this dark-bearded stranger with eyes of astonishment. Who could he be? They were even a little afraid of him. Then one of the darky women came running out of the house waving her arms and crying:
“Fo’ de Lawd’s sake! Hyar am Mars Grant!”
The Captain visited with us for awhile, but be could not be long idle. He was a man whose whole nature demanded work. He did not know how to be lazy. He resolved to become a farmer. At the time of her marriage my father had given Julia eighty acres of land, a part of the White Haven estate, and situated only about half a mile from our dwelling. On this land the Captain and Mrs. Grant decided to build their home. It was good land, and with the aid of the three slaves which father had given Julia they had no fear of not earning a living.
Perhaps I ought to explain something about those slaves. For two generations the story has been current in certain parts of the country that Captain Grant himself was a slave owner. He never was, but his wife was. The Dents had owned slaves from the date of their settlement in this country. At the time I was growing up my father owned about thirty slaves, of all sizes and sexes. Either at birth, or as we grew older, he gave to each of his three girls three negroes. These, with the parcels of the homestead which he gave us as his bridal present, were supposed to be our dot. When Julia was born father gave her the girl Eliza, little ginger-colored Julia Ann, and Dan, who was about the most polished specimen of human ebony you ever saw. They were to serve her as maid, cook, and house boy. My sister Nelly, who afterward became Mrs. Sharp, had Phyllis, Susy, and John. As for me, I was given Mary, my old nurse, Lucy, Louise, and Jeff.
Thus, we were each provided with our slaves, and at her marriage Julia, of course, brought her three to Captain Grant. And although I know that he was opposed to human slavery as an institution I do not think that he was at any time a very rank abolitionist or that he opposed it so violently that the acceptance of Julia’s slaves had to be forced upon him.
The house that the Grants built was of logs. The logs for it were cut and shaped by the Captain himself. It was planned by Mrs. Grant, and was both fashioned and furnished with an eye to the artistic, as well as for comfort and coziness. Though not pretentious to modern eyes it was not the mean, ramshackle hut that the popular mind supposes it to have been. It had five good rooms and a halls which furnished all the space the Grants needed at that time. I know that it was on exhibition at the World’s Fair in St. Louis, and it looked anything but elegant there, amid its more garish surroundings. But it had been built fifty years before, and it had not been lived in for a great many of those years.
The Captain’s father, Jesse Grant, gave him one thousand dollars to furnish it with, besides a team and a wagon. With this team of two white horses, a cow, the three slaves, the eighty acres of land, and the log house the Grants began life as civilians.
A very prominent man has recently said on a public occasion that General Grant’s life at this time was a failure. It is difficult for those who knew him intimately in those later fifties to regard it as such. It is true fame had not yet come to him, nor had riches, but he had never shown greater strength of character, greater fortitude under adverse circumstances, nor more determination than he did at this time–nor do I think that anything he did in the Civil War is more to his credit [pg. 7] as a man than these simple days of hard work on his Missouri farm. If earning and winning the reputation of being one of the best farmers in a country of farmers is to be a failure; then, perhaps, the ex-army officer at that period was a failure. He worked early and late; his crops were put in always at the right time, and cultivated at the right time; they turned out better than the crops of his neighbors. He had Dan to help him, and in busy seasons he hired other help, but the bulk of the work he did himself. He was not ashamed of rough work on the farm, and, in fact, he liked it. Grant turned farmer after he left the army, not because he couldn’t do anything else, but because he wanted to be a farmer. That he later left the farm and became a storekeeper was not due to any vacillation of character, but to ill health, and a clearsighted endeavor to better his finances.
At this point I must say a word concerning the general belief in the Grants’ abject poverty at this time. The Grants were not poor. They were not rich, but they were in comfortable circumstances, with plenty to eat and plenty to wear and no dependence upon their relatives or any others. There is the famous story of Captain Grant living in such poverty that he had to haul his poor little faggots of wood through the city with an ox-team and blow on his ungloved fingers to keep them from freezing. Mr. Winston Churchill, the novelist, has done Captain Grant the honor of depicting him as a sort of run-down-at-the-heels countryman of the ne’er-do-well and ill-luck class, as one whose wood peddling was barely able to keep his meager clothes upon his meager body. It is a very interesting picture but it is not true. He never peddled wood about the streets.
The truth is that he and his negroes cut the wood and he often sent one of them to the city with a load to sell to the families of a Mr. Blow and Mr. Bernard [William D. W. Barnard]. Mr. Bernard was the brother of my brother John’s wife. During the Christmas holidays one winter the negro who generally drove the team for Captain Grant was ill and there was no one to send in his place. The Captain’s St. Louis friends sent him word that they were out of wood, and, accordingly, he hitched up his team of white horses to his big wagon, loaded on the wood, and hauled it to the city himself. He probably hauled several loads in this way. I do not know how many. Any other man with the same temper of spirit and the same lack of false pride would have done the same.
On one of these trips, as the Captain was driving along seated on his load of wood, be suddenly came face to face with General Harney and his staff. The General, resplendent in a new uniform and gold trimmings, eyed the figure of the farmer on the wagon with astonishment. Then he drew in his horse, Grant stopped his team, and the pair smiled into each other’s eyes.
“Why, Grant, what in blazes are you doing?” exclaimed Harney.
“Well, General, I am hauling wood.”
The thing was so obvious and Grant so naive that General Harney and his staff roared with laughter. They shook his hand and joked with him and finally carried him off to dine with then at the Planters’ Hotel. That is the true story of Captain Run-down-at-the-heels Grant peddling wood for a pittance in the streets.
The next two or three years formed a period of change and unrest for the Dent and Grant families, just as they did for the country at large. About 1858 the Grants traded their farm for a cottage in St. Louis. The Captain’s health had broken under the ardors of farm work and he felt compelled to seek something else. They lived in this cottage until about 1860, when the Captain’s father offered him a share in the elder Grant’s country store at Galena, Ill. Captain Grant went to Galena first and Julia followed him some months later. Now, for the first time in their wanderings, they were obliged to leave their slaves at home, for Illinois was a free State.
It was some time before I saw much more of my sister and her husband. On February 14, 1861, I was married to Mr. James F. Casey, of Caseyville, Ky., and we went South for the winter. At that time mutterings of the coming storm were already resounding in our ears like sullen peals of thunder, and we all knew that the Irrepressible Conflict was close at hand.
All the world knows how Grant was at Galena when Sumter was fired on, how the affair at Camp Jackson led him to offer his services to the cause of the Union, and how they were accepted. During the conflict that followed the Grants made their headquarters at Cairo as much as possible, and when Mrs. Grant was not there or in the field with her husband she was visiting at her old home. Sometimes the General himself would come up for a day or so at a tine from the South to see his family and enjoy a breath of rest.
Perhaps I ought to have said before–though it will apply equally as well here–that during all the time I knew Grant, between his return from California in 1854 to the fall of Vicksburg, I never saw him intoxicated. I never saw him under the influence of liquor. If he ever was it was not known to the members of his immediate family. Charges that he was a heavy drinker were made in those days, and have been made since. General Grant never gave them any notice. Mrs. Grant also ignored them, though she felt deeply cut by the injustice of them, and, perhaps, it is not my place at this late date to resent the recent statements made by a prominent man in public life, under the very shadow of Grant’s tomb. Therefore, I will content myself with saying again, that if General Grant was ever a victim of the liquor habit it was a condition which he happily concealed from those nearest his heart, closest in their association with him, and who loved him best.
Perhaps, altogether, I saw General Grant at White Haven half a dozen times during the Civil War, when he came to spend a few days with his wife and children. On the occasion of these visits nothing of particular interest ever happened. Nor did the General ever discuss his campaigns with us, or any matters of the field. He believed from the first, however, in the certainty of the final triumph of the North, and was one [pg. 9] among the misguided many who, at the beginning, expected the end to come within ninety days. However, he seldom discussed these things with us. My father-in-law and he remained the best of personal friends, and it was my father’s constant wish that, if the South must yield, she should yield to Grant. When Vicksburg fell my father expressed himself, on the morning that the news reached us at the breakfast table, as being sorry for the South, but mighty glad for “Dudy’s sake.” Dudy was Mrs. Grant’s pet name for her husband, and she never called him any other.
I close my narrative with the recital of an incident which I suppose has been forgotten by every living person except myself. It was a long time after it occurred before General Grant knew it, and if Fred Grant remembers it I have never heard him speak of it. We were living near Caseyville, Ky., at this time, not far from the banks of the Ohio, and the Grants were at Cairo, Ill. The General, of course, was in the South. He was engaged in the campaign which ended at Vicksburg. His son Fred came to Caseyville to visit Mr. Casey and myself for a week or ten days. He was very fond of us and we of him.
He had been there several days when one morning he went with his uncle, Mr. Casey, on horseback to Caseyville, which was not more than two miles distant. There were a good many bands of guerillas prowling about the country at the time, as well as several other bands of irregular Confederate soldiers, but, as they never molested us, we were scarcely aware of their presence, and it had never occurred to us that they could have any reason to honor us with a call. The very morning that Mr. Casey and Fred went to town, however, a man dressed in the tattered uniform of a Confederate officer rode into the yard and asked me for a drink of water. I gave it to him, and as he lifted the cup to his lips he said, casually:
“I guess Fred Grant is visiting you, isn’t he?”
Instantly a cold suspicion struck me like a dart through the heart, and I answered him as casually as be had questioned me:
“Oh!” he said, “isn’t he?”
“No. He’s gone.”
“Gone, has he? Is that so?” He looked at me with a smile slowly breaking out over his face. “Surely, he has,” he said again, as if speaking to himself. Then he remounted his horse, took off his hat, made me a sweeping bow, and rode away.
I did not lose a moment, but as quick as one of the horses could be caught out of the pasture, I put a black boy on his back and sent him to find my husband. I sent Mr. Casey word to put Fred on a coal boat and get his down the river to Cairo as fast as ever he could. I also suggested that if he could communicate with a gunboat on the river it might be very well.
About eleven o’clock another man rode up to the front door. His horse had been hard ridden, and both were in need of water. He too, as he drank, spoke to me with seeming indifference.
“You have a boy here, have you not?”
“No,” I answered, “the boy has gone.”
The man smiled as the other one had done, and said, “Well, I suppose a hint to the wise is sufficient.”
That afternoon, about four o’clock, a squad of eight hard-riding, grim-looking, and tattered cavalrymen rode up to the gate. One of them, heavily armed, and looking as fierce as a Greek bandit, came up to the porch.
“Is this Mr. Casey’s?” he asked, politely. I told him that it was.
“Isn’t there a boy visiting here?”
“No. He has gone back to his mother, at Cairo.”
“Are, you sure?”
“Yes. And I think there is likely to be some gunboats coming up the river very shortly, looking for some one. Perhaps you gentlemen will be interested in seeing them.”
The fierce-looking bandit laughed pleasantly, said that it was a nice day, and rejoined his companions at the gate. They talked in low voices for awhile, then sprang on their horses, waved their hats at me, and rode away. There is no doubt, of course, that they were looking for Fred, and had they found him they would certainly have dealt his father a hard blow. It is mere speculation to consider what effect this might have had on the cause of the Union.
Not long after that my husband and I went south to a plantation owned by my brother, at Friar’s Point, Miss. And from then until long after the war we lived in the South, spending most of the years from 1864 to 1880 in New Orleans.
I visited the Grants occasionally during the war and, later, at the White House, and life holds many memories of pleasant scenes in which the General and his wife figure, but having set myself the limit of the story of his courtship and their early married life I bring these recollections to an end.
[from pg. 1] * This is the conclusion of an article begun in the last issue.
NEWS NOTES *** Major General Ulysses S. Grant 3rd died at the end of August at the age of eighty-seven in his home in Clinton, New York. General Grant, a director of the Grant Association, always had a keen and helpful interest in the publication of the papers of his grandfather. After serving more than forty years In the U. S. Army, General Grant became increasingly involved in historical projects. His biography of his grandfather, completed shortly before his death, is scheduled for publication in November.
[pg. 11] GRANT’S FIRST NEWSPAPER CONTROVERSY *** “You have probably seen dearest Julia a publication reflecting upon the officers of the 4th Inf.y while crossing the Isthmus…. It is stated that even Capt. Grant ran off, and left the men to take care of themselves.” In reporting this to his wife from Oregon Territory in 1852, Ulysses S. Grant added that he had just attended a meeting of the indignant officers of the regiment and that “You will soon see in the papers a very flat contradiction, with the actual facts given.”1 Unfortunately, Grant did not supply enough clues to permit either article to be exhumed. Just recently, Karl L. Trever, whose remarkable work in searching the National Archives for Grant documents has supplied unexpected riches for the Grant Association, was working with the files of the adjutant general in the somewhat less noble endeavor of locating documents concerning Jefferson Davis when he happened upon an unidentified newspaper clipping which supplied the essential clues to the entire controversy.
The Panama Herald, a newspaper published on the Pacific side of the Isthmus, turned out to be the culprit, and it began its criticism with an editorial on July 27, 1852.
During all the week the troops of the United States, accompanied in many instances with the families of the soldiers, have been pouring into this city and passing on board the Golden Gate en route for California. A portion of these troops came through in good time, and apparently in the enjoyment of health. A goodly number, however, sickened and died on the road, very many suffered all but death, especially the women and children.[pg. 12] We have no account of the number who have died on the road, and after their arrival in this city, but it must have been considerable. Many children have been left without fathers or mothers and but for the kind attention of casual friends must have perished.
There is great fault somewhere, and just censure should be meted out to the government or to individuals for the manner in which these troops have been treated while on the Isthmus. Nearly all have had to endure hardship on account of neglect, in some quarter, to make necessary provisions for their sustenance and comfort between this and Cruces. No provision appears to have been made for the sick and disabled to reach this city, and if they got on at all it was by the assistance of their comrades. Some were left in a dying state in the road to the tender mercies of the natives.
The whole business reflects great discredit upon the United States, because things were conducted in such haste, as it would appear, that no places were provided where proper refreshments could be obtained along the road and attention in cases of sickness. A little care and expense would have erected tents or some shelter on the line of travel at which food and rest might have been obtained, and a few animals might have been hired for the conveyance of the sick, and arrangements made for medical attention. A proper agent sent in advance could have made every arrangement at a very trifling expense to the United States, and the result would have doubtless saved many lives.
This government should have been officially informed of the intention of the United States to send these troops by way of the Isthmus, and had such been the case every thing would have been done in the power of the authorities here to facilitate the object.
On August 17, however, the Panama Herald shifted its attack from the government to the officers of the regiment. Although the conduct of all the officers was generally condemned, only Grant was specifically excoriated.
On the 5th of July, eight companies of the Fourth Regiment of United States Infantry under the command of Lieut. Colonel BONNEVILLE, left New York en route for California via the Isthmus. These companies consisted each of about one hundred men and officers, with an unusual large number of women and children. The officers were:Lieut. Col. Bonneville, Col. Wright, Major Alvord, Capt. Grant, Regimental Quartermaster, Lieut[.] Montgomery; Capt. McConnell, Adjutant; Lieuts. E. Russel, Scott, Underwood, Collins, Bonneycastle, Slaughter, Withers, Bates, Macfeely, and Hodges[;] Dr. Tripler, Surgeon of the command.
Mrs. Gore, Mrs. Wallen, Mrs. Collins, and Mrs. Slaughter accompanied their husbands.
These troops were ordered to various posts in Oregon, if the Commander of the Pacific division at San Diego, where the steamer was to stop, should not requre their services in the southern section of Colifornia. The other two companies of the regiment under command of Major Rains, [pg. 13] were to leave in the United States store-ship Fredonia, to sail round the Horn.
At the time these companies left New York no appropriation had been made by Congress for their transportation to the place of their destination. By the request, as we understand the matter, of the heads of the War Department in the United States, the U. S. Mail Steamship Company on the Atlantic and the Pacific Mail Steamship Company on the Pacific, agreed to convey these troops and their officers over the Isthmus to California for the sum of $120,000 and wait the action of Congress in making the appropriation to pay them. The troops embarked under the contract and reached Navy Bay in good health and without the loss of a single man! Before leaving the steamer Falcon, at Navy Bay, four days provisions were prepared for each soldier by the officers of the Steamer, and these rations were served out for their sustenance on the Isthmus.
On their way over the Isthmus the hardships and troubles of these poor soldiers commenced. Deserted, as we believe, by every commissioned officer, and left alone in command of the non-commissioned officers, it is no wonder that they gave way, to every species of indulgence. The rations which had been prepared on the steamer at Navy Bay were either thrown or given away, or sold for liquor by those who were too lazy or too feeble to carry them on the road. Coming, as these men did, from a temperate, at once in a torrid zone, their systems, unless properly cared for, were susceptable of contracting any disease. Without officers, and consequently without discipline, they were their own ignorant guide, reckless of consequences, sleeping in the open air on the damp ground, drinking noxious and poisonous liquors, and going without food, excepting fruit, it is no wonder that something like the cholera broke out among them. On the road over the Isthmus some died by the road side, some in the rude huts of the natives, without medicine or medical attention. One soldier and his wife died on the road, leaving four or five little children, the oldest not over five years of age, the youngest a nursing babe! The woman was left in a native hut in a dying condition! The mortality on the Isthmus was not great, but the seeds were sown which ripened their deadly fruit in Panama Bay.
The officers and their wives came over in the usual time, on mules, in good health and condition. Even the regimental Quartermaster, Capt. GRANT, could not tarry to attend to his duty, but must come through and await the arrival of the troops on this side!–Many of these troops came in, three days or more after leaving Cruces, wet, and almost famished, having had nothing to eat for twenty-four hours, but probably plenty to drink. It may be said it was their own fault; so it was, still had the officers remained at their posts they could have kept them in order and prevented their running into such excesses, but this, the sequel will show, they had no desire to do.
On the fact being known at the office of the P. M. Steamship Company, in this city, that sickness and distress existed among the troops on their way over, the Agent, Mr. Edward Flint, of the Company here, humanely despatched mules and provisions to those sick and famishing; thus a number of women and children were saved from a horrid death. Comforts were provided in some instances by the agent after their arrival in this city.
[pg. 14] The whole force was embarked upon the Golden Gate, but disease had been engendered on the Isthmus, and in the face of every attention and care from the officers of the Gate it spread to such an extent that fears began to arise among the officers and others in the cabin of the steamer, that it would reach them, and Capt. PATTERSON conceived that all would be benefitted by disembarking the soldiers on Flamenco Island, which was accordingly done. Here again the neglect and unofficerlike conduct of the commissioned officers was conspicuous. None could be found willing to perform his duty at the Island by taking command; and if any were detailed for such service, sudden indisposition prevented their fulfilling the task.
To Captain Patterson, of the Golden Gate, and his officers and the surgeon Of the ship, too high a meed of praise cannot be awarded; he and they were assiduous in their attention to the sick on board and at the Island, while the soldiers were almost wholly deserted by their officers. The acknowledged mortality was fearful in the extreme. One hundred are said to have died out of the seven hundred enlisted in New York! Only one of the commissioned officers died.2 While seven per cent. of the poor soldiers lost their lives–only one per cent. among the officers laid their bones in this place. This we rejoice at, and only allude to it to show that proper care and attention would have ensured a much smaller bill of mortality among the common soldiers. The survivors and their officers are now on their way to Binecia, California; where we think a court martial should be convened at once to try the officers above named for their dereliction of duty.
With Quartermaster GRANT, we have not done: Unfitted by either natural ability or education for the post he occupied, he evinced his incapacity at every movement. Totally inefficient himself he left his business to his Sergeant, and then repudiated the expense he had incurred at a Hotel for necessary comfort and attention to sick men, women and children, though promising to settle the account before he left, yet in the end sneaking off on board without even calling at the Hotel to see the bill, and when caught on board the steamer, refusing to pay but a moiety of the expenses ordered by his official! But the most brutal neglect is yet to be mentioned. The report was handed to the agent of the P. Mail Steamship Company, that the soldiers were all over the Isthmus, while one poor fellow had been left in Cruces in charge of the government property; this man was taken sick, and had to lay himself down in a deserted hut on some of the tent-poles and the tent-cloths, without any one to bring him a drink of water. In this condition he was found by a benevolent physician of this city who administered to his wants at his own expense, and left him on his return here in somewhat improved condition, feeling assured that he would die from necessity in Cruces,–he believed his life might be saved if brought to this city. The facts were communicated to Mr. Corwine, U. S. Consul, who immediately let them be known in the proper quarter, but no effort was made by any of the officers here to procure any attention for the sick man or have him brought across the Isthmus[.] He lived three or four days, as we are informed, and then expired from want of proper medicical and other attention. Thus has ended a fearful tragedy, which we hope may never be enacted on this Isthmus, or any other place.
[pg. 15] The Mail Companies on either Ocean, performed their whole duty as far as we could learn, and here, we feel confident the Agent and the officers of the Golden Gate done more than was required or could have been expected from them under the circumstances.
The resolutions drawn up by the indignant officers of the 4th were apparently first printed in the San Francisco Herald on November 1, 1852.
At a meeting of the Officers of the Fourth Regiment of United States Infantry, at the headquarters of the regiment, Columbia Barracks, Oregon, the following preamble and resolutions were adopted:–Whereas, An article has appeared in the New York Express, copied from the Panama Herald of August 17th stating that while the Fourth Regiment of Infantry was crossing the Isthmus of Panama, in July, the men were “deserted by every commissioned officer, and left alone in command of the non commissioned officers;” that the men “gave way to every species of indulgence[;]” that “the rations which had been prepared on the steamer at Navy Bay were either thrown away or sold for liquor by those who were too lazy or too feeble to carry them on the road[;]” that at Flamenco Island “the neglect and unofficerlike conduct of the commissioned officers was conspicuous,” &c., thereby intending to reflect injury on [t]he character of the officers–Therefore,
Resolved, First–That the article which appeared in the Panama Herald of August 17th in reference to the Fourth Infantry is a scandalous and malicious falsehood.
Resolved, Second–That the following are the facts concerning the passage of the troops across the Isthmus:–
1st The Pacific Mail Steamship Company received the contract for transporting the troops from New York to California, but failed to transport the baggage of the regiment from Cruces to Panama. In consequence of this failure the Quartermaster of the regiment was obliged to enter into a contract for its transportation with the Alcalde of Cruces,3 and while the troops left with the baggage were waiting at Cruces, a number of them died of cholera.
2d. All the officers of the regiment with the exception of three–one who was sick, another who escorted the families of the officers, and the Regimental Quartermaster, who was detained at Cruces to take charge of the baggage–accompanied the troops, and slept with them “in the open air and on the damp ground,” and shared with them the fatigues of the march.
3d. Every possible effort was made to prevent the troops from indulging in eating fruit or drinking liquor, and in but few instances were these efforts unsuccessful.4
4th. The Regimental Quartermaster was the last officer who left Cruces, he having been obliged to stay there five days in the discharge of his official duties.
5th. Two officers, besides a physician, staid with the sick at Flamenco Island night and day. As several of the officers were sick, one of whom died, this duty was in every instance cheerfully performed by those who were well.
[pg. 16] Resolved, Third–That these resolutions be forwarded to the Adjutant General, with the request that they be published in the National Intelligencer, and that we deem it justice to the regiment that they be published by the New York Express, and other papers into which the article from the Panama Herald has been copied.
H. D. WALLEN, Capt. 4th Infantry,
President of the meeting.
THOS. R. MC CONNELL, Adj’t 4th Infantry, Sec’y.
Thus ended what seems to be the earliest newspaper controversy involving Grant. Though undoubtedly pleased that his fellow officers defended him, Grant did not publish a word in his own behalf, a pattern he invariably followed in later controversies. It was ironic that the Panama Herald should have condemned Grant for his conduct on the Isthmus, for he probably displayed more personal bravery and calm thinking in the fever-ridden backwater of Cruces than was called for on the major battlefields of the Civil War. It was understandable, however, that the paper would try to place the blame for the disastrous loss of life on the Isthmus on something other than the unhealthy climate or local business interests; the paper could lose heavily if the experience of the 4th Infantry influenced future travelers to use other routes to the Pacific Coast. The charges against Grant served a temporary purpose, then were forgotten so completely that they eluded Grant’s political foes and his biographers as well. Finally there was only one man who remembered, and this may explain why the crossing of the Isthmus is the only event between the Mexican War and Civil War discussed at length by Grant in his Memoirs. 1. Oct. 26, 1852, The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant (Carbondale and Edwardsville, Ill., 1967), 1, 270-271. Hereafter Papers.
2. Brevet Major John H. Gore died on Aug. 1, 1852. The death of one officer does not, of course, justify the statement that one per cent of the officers died.
3. Printed in Papers, 1, 249-250.
4. Surgeon Charles S. Tripler reported that the order to avoid fruit and liquor was not observed. Ulysses S. Grant Association Newsletter, V, 1 (Oct., 1967), 3.
[pg. 17] REMINISCENCES OF GENERAL FREDERICK DENT GRANT *** General Frederick Dent Grant always regretted that he was unable to find time In his busy life to write a biography of his father. As the oldest of the four children of Ulysses S. Grant, born in 1850, Frederick Grant had memories stretching back farther than those of the other children, and was the only child to have been with his father in the field during the Civil War. In the last year of his father’s life Frederick had assisted in the writing of the Memoirs by checking statements of fact, and his concern for a factual record of his father’s life was shown by his preparation of an annotated edition of the Memoirs ten years after the appearance of the original edition.
Frederick Grant served four years as President Benjamin Harrison’s minister to Austria-Hungary, later for two years as police commissioner of New York City. When the Spanish-American War began he entered the volunteer service as a colonel and while in the Philippines was appointed a brigadier general in the regular army. He remained in the army until his death in 1912. His unanticipated return to the army upset any plans for a biography of his father.
Although Frederick Grant never found time for the biography of his father he hoped to write, he still created a significant body of materials for Grant research. He was frequently asked for speeches, articles, and interviews, and here he recorded memories of his father. In this newsletter some of Frederick Grant’s reminiscences of his father have been assembled. Others will follow in future issues.
I feel a delicacy in speaking of my father as he appeared to his family and to his intimate friends, and I may say at the beginning that I can throw no new light upon his character. In private and in public life he was a plain, dignified, undemonstrative man, with a quiet, self-controlled manner which never left him, shoving a consideration in all his actions and words towards others which I have never seen equalled. If I speak of him too warmly, it may be pardoned, for to me my father is a sacred character.In my recollections of him, which extend over an intimate intercourse of thirty-five years, there is no blur, no shadow. I had the happiness as a child and as a man of being his constant companion in peace and in war. The admiration which I felt as a boy for him only deepened and strengthened with increasing years. It must have been the same with all others who saw him and knew him as well as I did.
His First Recollections.My first recollection of my father dates back to 1852, when I was a child two years old. The picture that comes before me is apparently distinct. I can see the crowds coming and going in the bustle of departure. I can hear the hissing of the steam as it escapes from the boat’s boiler. I am a little chap in my father’s arms, and he, a young officer, is saying good-by to my mother and to me. I can see the sorrowful faces of my parents as they are parting, he to go to far-away California with his regiment and my mother to take me first to his father’s home in Ohio, and later to the home of her father in St. Louis, Mo., there to await the time when her husband could send for his family to join him in California. It is just possible that I recall this scene because I have heard it described so often, but it seems to me a vivid memory. Alas, he never realized these hopes, for the expense of the journey and the cost of living in California were so great that the pay of a lieutenant did not enable him to maintain his family and save sufficient to defray their transportation to the Pacific coast. So, after two years of waiting and efforts on his part, his great desire to be with his family made further separation unbearable, and he resigned his commission in the army and returned home, preferring to take his chances in a civil career, where he could be with wife and children, for there were two of us now, my brother Ulysses having been born at Georgetown, O., a month or two after my father’s departure for the Pacific coast in 1852.I next remember seeing my father when he returned to my Grandfather Dent’s house, near St. Louis. That was in September, 1854. I was standing on the back porch of old White Haven when a man drew up near the back gate, in a buggy drawn by a white horse. One of the colored servants exclaimed, “La, there’s Mr. Grant!” In another moment my father sprang forward and took his two children in his arms. Grant as a Farmer.From 1854 on to the end of his life memories of my father crowd upon me. During the four years following his return from California we lived [pg. 19] upon my Grandfather Dent’s farm, occupying a pretty little English cottage known as Wish-ton-Wish. My father cultivated that portion of the old farm which my grandfather had given to my mother. He raised crops successfully, and spent his evenings with his family. I, being the eldest, was permitted to accompany him about the farm, and he began to teach me, at an early age, to ride and to swim. I can see myself now, a chubby little chap, sitting on the back of one of the farm horses and holding on for dear life, my father urging me to be brave. He would not tolerate timidity in his small boy, and a display of it meant an unhappy hour for him, and me also. To teach me to swim he would go into the water, place his hand under my breast or under my chin, and coax me to strike out, most patiently holding my nose and mouth above the water, and encouraging me in every way.My father was a strict disciplinarian with his children, although most kind and gentle, and always thoughtful of our happiness. While it became necessary on a few occasions to severely punish some of us, his usual method of correction was to show disapproval of our action by his manner and quiet words. This was far more effective with us than scoldings or whippings from others would have been. We all felt consternation and distress when he looked with disapproval upon what we had done. His Relations with his Children.I may mention here that the first lesson his children learned was that our father’s decision in any matter was absolutely final, and that the fulfillment of any promise he made was as certain as the coming of another day. Often on the days when he would go to the city he would promise his children that if they behaved well he would give them on his return candies or some little present. The promised articles were invariably brought home, and just as invariably were given to the children who had been good. The unfortunate youngster who had forgotten himself and had been mischievous during his absence received nothing except his disapproval. He was very careful about making a promise, but he never broke one after making it. No one in the world can say that my father led him to expect anything which was not forthcoming. A kindness rendered to my father was never forgotten, and was surely returned many fold by him when the opportunity arrived. As his children grew older and were able to realize fully what manner of man their father was, one of the qualities they most admired in him was his loyalty. He was loyal to his family, to his friends and to his country. If he believed in and trusted a man whose worthiness he considered proven nothing said or done by others could change his opinion. In political life the more bitterly his friends were attacked the more stoutly he clung to than. This was at times most unfortunate. At home or abroad he would tolerate no small gossip, no malicious scandal. If we had anything to say that was unpleasant to others we did not dare to repeat it before our father. We knew better than to bring anything that savored of unkindness to others before him; yet, generous as he was, he would not permit himself to be imposed upon, and he never forgot an injury.[pg. 20] How Grier Became a Colonel.A good illustration of how he appreciated a kindness may be given in his thoughtfulness of Lieut. (afterwards Col.) Grier, who was a tactical officer at West Point when my father was a cadet. My father occupied a room with Cadet Deshon, who is now a priest in the Paulist Church in New York. Upon one occasion Deshon ventured forth upon a foraging expedition and brought back a turkey, and my father and he were cooking this treasure in their room when Lieut. Grier came in upon them while making a tour of inspection. The odor of roasting turkey was strong in the room and must have smote the officer in his nostrils before he crossed the threshold. He walked around, keeping his eyes continually upon the ceiling, and announced with ostentatious severity: “Gentlemen, it seems to me I can smell something cooking.” Grier carefully avoided looking at the guilty faces of the two young fellows or towards the fowl on their hearth. It was perfectly clear that he had not the faintest intention of reporting them, and he did not do so. Of course he should have reported them, for their’s was a serious offense. His consideration saved the boys a great deal of trouble, and possibly from dismissal from the corps of cadets, and in after years, when the reorganization of the army took place, my father remembered the favor shown to him by Grier, and he did not allow the pressure brought by the friends of other officers to secure them places in the new army list to overweigh the just and proper claims of one who had rendered a kindness to him in his early life. Grier, who was a brave and efficient officer, became a Colonel.2 An Undemonstrative Man.As I said before, father was an undemonstrative man, although in his family life most affectionate and gentle, and there was never a moment that one of us doubted his devotion and thoughtfulness of us. Of his children, my sister was probably the most petted, and, in his quiet way, he anticipated every childish wish of hers. In fact, he was apt to show his affection for each of us in deeds rather than in words.He was anxious that his boys should be strong and manly, and took the greatest interest in all our sports and pleasures. If one of us was ill he would quietly enter the sick room and ask about the patient with marked solicitude. He would remain near the ill one, rendering every service possible, and seemed to be most patiently watchful. He showed great happiness when the child recovered and rejoined the family circle.
As I grew older my father had some serious talks with me, varying according to the subject and occasion, but he never failed to include advice, which might be summed up in the motto, “Let your actions be such that you will respect yourself, and thereby deserve the respect of others.” He also taught purity, honesty, truthfulness, loyalty and consideration of others, and in all these things his own example was better than sermons. I never heard him use a profane word, though I have been with him hundreds of times when the provocation was not lacking. He never told, or listened to, a vulgar or improper story. I have known him to interrupt such stories in the beginning of their telling, and explain that he considered them out of place even among men.
His Adaptability.I may here mention the fact that my father had a different way of dealing with each of his children. He showed us uniform affection and kindness, but he adapted himself to the individual character of each child. I, being the eldest, was treated by him always as if I were already a man, and was permitted to do many things that would have been considered too dangerous for the other children. For instance, he allowed me to accompany him during much of the war. I was with him in five great pitched battles before I reached my thirteenth birthday. My brother Ulysses, who was next to me in age, was, though brave, a very gentle and exceedingly sensitive boy. Father never failed to remember this, and was careful not to hurt his feelings in any way. He was considerate of my brother’s opinions and his wishes, and shoved appreciation of his actions. My sister, as I have indicated, was his darling, and father was exceedingly tender with her. The youngest boy, Jesse, was very jolly and was inclined to be something of a wit. My father enjoyed this very much and frequently addressed him facetiously, and the two had many laughs together.When I was very young my father gave me a series of home lessons, instructing me in the evening. I could not go to school for a time, because we were in the country, and so he taught me arithmetic, reading and spelling. Later, when we moved into the city of St. Louis, and there was a public school that his children could attend, he did not attempt to give any of us instruction, but in the evenings would read aloud to the family. I distinctly remember that one of the periodicals which he used to read was the Weekly New York World, and another was Harper’s Magazine, which was then publishing in serial form the works of Charles Dickens. My father read these stories aloud to us, and I have yet a vivid recollection of “Little Dorrit” and other tales. We all used to wait with the greatest eagerness for the next instalment of these interesting stories. Besides the serial stories, he read to us “Oliver Twist” and many books by standard authors. Characteristic Incident.In speaking of these pleasant evening readings I am reminded of a little incident which occurred many years later. While my father was President, during his second term, he was given a dinner in New Haven, Conn. Next to him at the table sat Prof. S., of Yale College, in whom my father did not feel a great interest, but Prof. S. persisted in talking steadily, in a gentle way. Father happened to be intensely engrossed in the conversation of several distinguished men of affairs, who sat on the other side of him, and who were talking of matters which especially appealed to him at that time. He answered Prof. S. rather absently from time to time, straining his ears to follow the other gentlemen, and feeling rather annoyed at being disturbed. Prof. S. chatted on, and finally asked father how he liked “Oliver Twist.” By this time father’s attention was concentrated wholly on the conversation of the others, and feeling annoyed, he turned to Prof. S. and asked, facetiously, “Who is Oliver Twist?” Prof. S. told the story, of course, many times afterwards, and tried to create a general impression that Gen. Grant had never [pg. 22] heard of Dickens’s book. I smiled when the story reached me, for I recalled the little white cottage in St. Louis, and the cosy sitting room, in which our family gathered around the centre-table, while my father sat and read “Oliver Twist,” much to our childish delight. I saw again the face of my mother as she busied herself with her needle, and the children listening for the first time to the varied adventures of this hero of Dickens. I could hear again the quiet laugh with which my father accentuated the telling points, and I laughed myself at Prof, S.’s absurd story, which so many persons accepted as true. How Grant Suppressed his Colonel.In 1860 father moved to Galena with his family. As I remember him in those early days he was serious and thoughtful, much as the public afterwards knew him. He was a sensitive and retiring man, but behind his modesty was a fair estimate of his own worth. He tolerated no disrespect and was most determined. One incident in his career, as a young lieutenant, and before the Mexican war, will illustrate this characteristic. He was drilling his company at Jefferson Barracks, when the commanding officer, Col. and Brevet Brig.-Gen. G., who was commander of the post, walked past him with a company of gentlemen, who were visiting him from St. Louis. The General was showing all of his post to his visitors, and was desirous of showing his authority at the same time. So when he passed my father, who was drilling his company on the parade ground, he said abruptly: “Lieutenant, many of your men are absent, sir!” My father halted his company, brought them to a “Present arms!” and then saluting the General, replied: “Yes, sir, some are absent with your permission.” “That is untrue sir,” shouted the General, “I have given no leaves of absence to your men. Lieut. Grant then turned to his company, and said, “Sergeant, take command of this company!” Thus being relieved of his command, he turned to Gen. G., and presented his sword to his breast, saying: “Sir, you have disputed my word in the presence of these gentlemen. You will apologize instantly or I will run you through.” The apology was immediately forthcoming. My father was but a brevet second lieutenant, and addressing a colonel and brevet brigadier-general. His action was audacious, to put it mildly, but Gen. G. appreciated the character of his young lieutenant, and was forever after his warm and devoted friend.3 His Keen Sense of Humor.My father had quite a sense of humor, and was fond of illustrating his opinions with apt stories and anecdotes. He rarely laughed aloud, but his eyes would twinkle over a good bit of wit, and occasionally, when very much pleased, he would utter a gentle laugh, which held the essence of mirth. He seemed especially fond of quoting from Dickens’s works, and Sam Weller, Capt. Cuttle, Joe Bagstock, Pickwick and Bunsby are all familiar characters to those who talked much with him.Of father’s services during the war and in official life I need not, of course, speak here. They are a part of the history of our country, and every schoolboy should know them well. I will only say that as honors crowded upon him they wrought no change in him. As the President [pg. 23] of the United States he was the same sensitive, modest, retiring and considerate gentleman that he had been when a young officer, a farmer in Missouri and a merchant in Illinois.
The dread of seeing physical suffering in others, which I noticed in him during the war, was only equalled by his care and consideration of the feelings of others during his political life. In battle I have seen him turn hurriedly from the sight of blood, and look pale and distressed when others were injured.
His Sympathetic Nature.At Shiloh, after the first day’s battle, he remained out in the rain all night long rather than accept the shelter which the hospital afforded among the wounded. Though giving his orders and preparing for the battle which he knew must be continued the next day he could not endure witnessing the sufferings and hearing the moans of the wounded, yet he himself at that time was suffering from a leg that had been crushed by the fall of his horse, and at the end of the battle the following day his boot and trousers had to be cut from his limb, owing to its bruised and swollen condition. He had endured his own suffering without a murmur. On one occasion when a machine gun was being fired, a copper-cased cartridge exploded and flew back and struck him in the thumb, causing a very painful though not a serious wound. As the surgeon dressed it, I heard my father remark that he suffered far less pain when he was wounded himself than when he saw others injured, and so, in his public career, be never knowingly said or did a thing which would wound the sensitive feelings of others.The world thinks of my father as the man who would accept no terms but unconditional surrender at Donelson, as the dashing officer who, with a smaller army, by his strategy and celerity of action captured Vicksburg, who planned and fought the great tactical battle of Chattanooga, whose determination forced the way through the Wilderness, but my admiration for him is more because of the fortitude with which he bore his own mental and physical sufferings. How patiently he endured those sufferings the whole world knows. He never turned his face to the wall and rebelled against his fate. To the last his consideration for others still outweighed all thought of self. For my mother’s sake he was determined to finish his Memoirs. With him it was a race against death, and he won. The book finished, there was nothing to do but wait, and be was never so thoroughly the man and the soldier as during this patient waiting for the end.
- This article originally appeared in the New York World Sunday Magazine, April 25, 1897.
- William N. Grier of Pennsylvania, who served as assistant instructor of infantry and cavalry tactics at West Point in 1840-1841, was appointed colonel, 3rd Cavalry, on Aug. 31, 1866.
- Col. Stephen Watts Kearny commanded Jefferson Barracks when Grant was stationed there. Frederick Grant may refer to Lt. Col. John Garland, later brevetted brigadier general in the Mexican War.
[pg. 24] NEWS NOTES *** Mrs. Gordon Singles of Arlington, Virginia, has given Southern Illinois University the papers of her great-grandfather General Frederick Tracy Dent. Grant’s West Point roommate, brother-in-law, Civil War staff officer, and White House secretary, Dent served in the U. S. Army for more than forty years. Some two hundred items in the collection represent his entire career, but most date from the years he served in the White House. *** Roger D. Bridges, assistant professor of history at the University of South Dakota and a doctoral candidate at the University of Illinois, has been awarded a Fellowship in Advanced Historical Editing for 1969-1970 by the National Historical Publications Commission. He will spend the year with the Ulysses S. Grant Association learning about editing by helping to prepare The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant.
[pg. 25] Bruce Catton, GRANT TAKES COMMAND. (Boston and Toronto: Little Brown and Company, 1969. Pp. 556. $10.00)
reviewed by John A. Carpenter
Bruce Catton’s Grant Takes Command achieves high distinction in the field of military biography. The third in the series started so admirably almost two decades ago with Captain Sam Grant by Lloyd Lewis, and continued with Mr. Catton’s supplementary volume, Grant Moves South, this most recent work by the man who has done so much to reinterpret the Civil War to a wide audience equals or surpasses its two predecessors in style, depth of research, and perceptive insights. It covers only a brief period in Grant’s career from the close of the Vicksburg campaign in mid-1863 to the end of the war. But these two years took in the Chattanooga, Virginia, and Appomattox campaigns and saw Grant’s career reach a climax when he became commander of all the Union armies.
What one thinks of first of all in Bruce Catton’s writing is his style, which happily is in the tradition of Lloyd Lewis and which helps to account for his numerous readers. He has a way with words. Finding examples is no problem; open the book at just about any page and you will find this kind of writing: “Final triumph was in sight. It was coming down to the sea with [pg. 26] Sherman, moving under fire and smoke across the rice fields towards Savannah, destined to come on up the coast across the Carolinas until the Army of the Potomac would have to do no more than reach out its hand in order to grasp it firmly, and it seemed that nothing could stop it except some inexplicable disaster far off to the west.”
The quality of writing in Grant Takes Command is superior to anything Catton has turned out thus far. It is more restrained, less prone to be marred by the flowery phrases which characterized some of his earlier work, and the occasional modernisms (“. . . by March 24 he had his spring offensive taped and ready to use.”) do not offend.
What is equally impressive about Catton’s work is its depth of scholarship. Based to a large extent on primary sources, including the Grant letters in the private possession of the recently deceased U. S. Grant 3rd, this, with its two companion volumes, must stand as the definitive biography of Grant (exclusive of the years after 1865). It is in every sense the work of a scholar with the added dimension of readability.
While there are relatively few surprises in Grant Takes Command in the way of novel interpretation, Catton does argue convincingly for Grant the sophisticated military tactician and strategist as opposed to the unimaginative, dull leader who was fortunate enough to have material strength and the advantage of numbers on his side.
He credits Grant with skill as a tactician, both at Chattanooga and in the Virginia campaign of 1864 from the crossing of the Rapidan to the siege of Petersburg. The usual assumption is that Grant always had the advantage of overwhelming numbers and could obtain as many reinforcements [pg. 27] as he needed. Catton reveals that this was not really so, that Grant did not make good his losses in the heavy fighting of May and June and his numerical advantage was never as great as most students of the Civil War have been led to believe. Thus Grant’s campaign was not merely a slugfest, a war of attrition. Rather, he continued to rely on tactical maneuvers to force Lee to fight at a disadvantage. His inability to do that does not detract from the fact that the kind of campaign he fought was a campaign of maneuver and not one of unimaginative fighting with the sole purpose of killing as many Confederates as possible.
Grant made his initial thrust at Lee’s right in the Wilderness, fought an inconclusive but bloody battle there, moved on by his left flank to Spotsylvania Court House, fought another engagement and, unable to dislodge Lee, resumed his leftward sliding maneuver to North Anna, to Cold Harbor, and at length, in accordance with plans made at the start of the campaign, crossed the James.
Cold Harbor, Catton asserts, was not the overwhelming defeat it has invariably been depicted. It did not seriously affect army morale and the losses, while high, were not excessive as compared with those of other engagements that spring. Besides, there was at the time, good reason for making the assault and, had it been made at the time originally ordered, might have succeeded.
The crossing of the James was a masterpiece of the tactician’s art and if Butler and W. F. Smith had performed as they should have, Petersburg could easily have been taken in June instead of the following April. Here Catton is easier on Grant than he might have been, for the [pg. 28] commanding general has to be responsible for the actions of his subordinates, and Grant was not on hand in this instance to see that his orders were carried out.
But Grant did more than simply direct the movements of the Army of the Potomac in 1864. He had the command of all Union armies in several different theatres and here Grant’s comprehension of overall strategy and the nature of the war receives full attention from Catton who, in other works, has emphasized this quality in Grant. What Grant understood (as did Lincoln) was the need for subjecting the Confederacy to systematic and constant application of pressure in as many different places as possible. Specifically, in the spring of 1864, Grant ordered simultaneous advance of the forces in the East commanded by Meade, Butler, and Sigel, and in the West, by Sherman and Banks. Unfortunately for the success of Grant’s plans, only Meade’s Army of the Potomac and Sherman’s forces fulfilled the parts assigned them. Especially disappointing was Butler’s Army of the James operating against Richmond.
Grant’s plan of operations embraced not only application of pressure against enemy armies, but also on enemy supply lines, as for instance the railroads feeding into Richmond and Petersburg, and on sources of food for the Confederate armies, such as the Shenandoah Valley area. This would also apply to Sherman’s march across Georgia and northward through the Carolinas. Grant understood how these campaigns would disrupt the internal communications system of the Confederacy.
Catton, in appreciating Grant’s basic strategy and concept of war, has given us nothing which has not been said before. Where he does come [pg. 29] up with a new interpretation is in his treatment of the battle of Missionary Ridge, one of the component parts of the Chattanooga engagement in November 1863. The older interpretation, and one which Catton himself in earlier works accepted (for good reason), was that Thomas’ men made the attack on the center of the Confederate position entirely without orders from their officers, and certainly not from Thomas or Grant. A closer examination of all the evidence has led the author to conclude that, “In unromantic fact they made the attack for the most ancient and universal of military reasons–because their officers told them to.” He has thus restored to Grant most of the credit for the Chattanooga victory which had, for some, previously gone to the rank and file.
After Chattanooga, and before the 1864 spring campaign, Congress recreated the rank of lieutenant general with the idea that Grant would be appointed to that rank. Lincoln fell in with the idea and in March presented Grant with his new commission which put him in command of all the Union armies and raised him above all other general officers. This put an uncommon burden on one man but Grant seems not to have hesitated at assuming his new responsibility. Indeed Catton stresses Grant’s confidence in his own ability and his resentment of the assumption some people made that he owed his success to his chief of staff, John A. Rawlins.
One thing which would now confront him was the need to find the right men to hold the subordinate positions, especially the commanders of the various armies. Sherman got the western command and he was [pg. 30] Grant’s own choice. There was never any problem with him. But, for political reasons in this election year, 1864, Grant agreed to the retention of Banks in Louisiana, Butler on the James below Richmond, and Franz Sigel in the Shenandoah Valley. Catton goes thoroughly into the Butler episode and rejects the story that Butler had a hold on Grant.
The Army of the Potomac was a special problem all its own which Grant met in a way which proved unsatisfactory but which was probably the best that could be done under the circumstances. He left Meade in command but assumed general supervision over its operations leaving most tactical matters to Meade. It was an awkward arrangement at best, complicated still further by the arrival of Burnside’s IX Corps (Burnside outranked Meade).
Within the Army of the Potomac itself were personnel problems which caused Grant considerable difficulty. One of the more sensitive officers in that army was Gouverneur Kemble Warren, a good but meddlesome corps commander, who just did not come up to Grant’s standards. At the decisive battle of Five Forks on April 1, 1865, Sheridan, with authority from Grant, relieved Warren of his command for reasons which were not altogether justified. Cotton assumes a neutral position in this controversy.
Sheridan, even more than Sherman, was Grant’s favorite subordinate. Grant had unwavering confidence in Sheridan’s military abilities, gave him independent command in the Shenandoah Valley in the summer of 1864, and entrusted him with the task of cutting off Lee’s retreat in the Appomattox campaign. The confidence was well placed.
[pg. 31] Catton explains carefully Grant’s appreciation of the political problem, offers this as the explanation for his retention of Butler till after the presidential election of 1864, and for his unwillingness to relieve Banks. Grant also understood clearly his role as a military man, one who was not authorized to intrude into strictly political matters. He also had a proper relationship with his superiors which stemmed to a large degree from his complete dedication to the cause and willingness to do the best job he could with the materials and manpower available to him.
Catton does not neglect the personal side of Grant’s life. He brings out the simplicity of the man, his unsophisticated, down-to-earth manner and somewhat naive inability to see himself as anything above the ordinary. Grant had a deep affection for his wife who spent a fair amount of time with the general at his headquarters, especially during the siege of Petersburg. And even in the midst of a trying military campaign he had time to concern himself with the education of his children. Catton also devotes some time discussing the inevitable question of Grant’s drinking and concludes that most of the stories of too great a fondness for liquor were unfounded and in part the result of John Rawlins’ overzealous concern.
What we get, then, from this fine book is a better understanding of the man who brought victory to the Union cause through his military skill, his dogged determination, and unflagging belief in ultimate victory. Catton has climaxed a distinguished career devoted to the history of the Civil War and we are more in his debt than ever before.
[pg. 32] NEWS NOTES *** The Ulysses S. Grant Association has received a grant of $10,000 from the National Historical Publications Commission for the coming fiscal year. *** The Winter, 1968, issue of the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society included “The Grant Papers: A Review Article” by Haskell Monroe of Texas A & M University. Monroe discussed the nature of the project, reviewed the first volume, and commented on other reviews of this volume. Reprints of the article are available from the Grant Association. *** The second volume of The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, covering the period April-September, 1861, will be published this summer by Southern Illinois University Press. *** John A. Carpenter, associate professor of history at Fordham University, who reviews Bruce Catton’s Grant biography in this Newsletter, is himself at work on a Grant biography which will be published by Twayne. *** At a Grant Association board meeting in March, Edith Grant Griffiths of Arlington, Va., was elected a director to replace her father, the late Ulysses S. Grant 3rd. *** Philip R. Moran’s Ulysses S. Grant: Chronology-Documents-Bibliographical Aids was recently published by Oceana Publications, Inc., Dobbs Ferry, N. Y. The bulk of the 114 pages contains Grant presidential messages. The book is apparently designed for reference use in high school libraries, but could be useful to anybody lacking ready access to the Richardson compilation of presidential messages.