[pg. 17] GRANT AND ABSALOM H. MARKLAND *** Fourteen-year-old Ulysses S. Grant first met Absalom H. Markland, three years younger, when both were attending Maysville Seminary in Maysville, Kentucky. Grant was in Maysville for less than a year, and they did not meet again until fall, 1861, when Markland, recently an attorney in Washington, D. C., arrived in Cairo as special agent of the Post Office Department to weed out disloyal employees. As he left for the Tennessee River expedition in February, 1862, Grant placed Markland in charge of delivering mail to his army.1 Through the remainder of the Civil War Markland continued as special agent of the Post Office, forwarding mail to armies in the field, earning the honorary title of colonel and the gratitude of many officers, especially Grant and William T. Sherman,2 who appreciated the effect on soldier morale of prompt mail delivery.
As an old and close friend of Grant, Markland was sought out in 1885 to comment on a recent letter of Dr. Edward Kittoe of Galena, Ill., who had entered the Civil War in 1861 as a volunteer surgeon and left it as a brevet colonel in 1865 after serving as medical director on Grant’s staff.
Galena, Ill., Jan. 26.
I noticed a short paragraph a few days since referring to Gen. Grant’s profanity. I happen to know the General pretty well, having
[pg. 18] been with him as one of his staff at different times during the war, and I never but once heard him make use of any word that could be called profane, and that was “dog on it.” The article reminded me of a little incident that came to my notice at Memphis just previous to the General’s going to Young’s Point, above Vicksburg. I was smoking a cigar with the General in his room when a dispatch arrived which provoked Gen. Rawlins, the chief of staff, and which Rawlins read to the General, and with some pretty rough oaths urged him to take sunmary measures with a prominent General who had, I believe, disobeyed or transcended orders. The General, in his good-humored way turned to me and asked: “Do you know what I keep Rawlins for?” I replied no, unless it was on account of his valuable services. “I’ll tell you what for. I never swear myself, so I keep him to do it for me when occasion needs.” The time I refer to when he said “dog on it” was at Lexington, Ky., on our ride from Knoxville, when a certain mule contractor wanted to escort the General through the town with a band of music, to avoid which we got out of the hotel by a back way and drove incognito to the Louisville train. After being seated in the car the man came and undertook to remonstrate with Gen. Grant for giving him the slip. The General was angry and annoyed, and said: “Dog on it, Sir, do you want to show me around like a circus?” Very respectfully,
EDWARD D. KITTOE, M. D.3
The reporter who spoke to Markland conscientiously recorded that “we chatted for an hour about Grant. It was not an interview, but it was so Interesting that I will reproduce some parts of It as far as I can remember.”
“Gen. Grant never swore, and in my long connection with him I have never heard him utter a profane word. I have been with him on many occasions in which, perhaps, the use of profanity would have been pardonable. I have heard him tell in social circles stories in which oaths have been always used, but in retelling them he would not quote the oaths. He was freer from using unkind expressions toward his fellow-man than any one I have ever known. And the chief misfortunes of his life have arisen from his misplaced confidence in his fellow-man. Speaking of profanity, I remember one or two occasions on which Grant should have sworn, and I think would have sworn if he could. One was while we were at Young’s Point, with headquarters on the steamboat Magnolia. Two of the staff officers had been sent North under orders, leaving their rooms on the boat vacant. Gen. Grant invited two officers on board one night for consultation. During the consultation a violent rainstorm came up, and Gen. Grant asked these officers to remain on board over night, saying that he had two rooms and that it would be more pleasant for them to stay there than to go to their camp in the storm. The time for retiring arrived and the officers were shown to their rooms. When the doors were opened, however, it was found that the beds were occupied by the colored servants of the officers who were absent. Gen. Grant was very angry, but his [pg. 19] indignation did not find vent in oaths; he merely ordered these servants out on shore into the rain, and in a short time, his indignation having cooled, he sent an orderly to tell them they could come back upon the boat.”
“How did you become acquainted with Gen. Grant?” I asked.
“I knew him as a boy at school. My home was at Maysville, Ky., and young Grant came there a boy of 12 or 13 to attend the academy. He lived with his aunt in Maysville, and was a very quiet, retiring, and studious boy. As I remember him he was a little chubby fellow with a round, freckled face and sandy hair. He was a good-natured boy and went by the name of ‘Lyss.’ Shortly after he left school he went to West Point, and from that time I did not meet him again until in the Fall of 1861 I was sent West in connection with the Post Office Department. In attending to my business I was thrown in with Gen. Grant at Cairo at about the time he took command. Here I got my first glimpse of him as a man. As an instance of his remarkable memory of features, though he could not have known I was coming to Cairo, he recognized me at once one day when I was passing the window of his headquarters. I did not recognize him. It did not take us long to revive our old school fellowship, and we became great friends. I remained about Cairo in my connection with the Post Office Department until about the time of the movement on Fort Henry. At this time Gen. Grant asked me if I did not want to see a fight, and invited me to go to Fort Henry with him. On the way to Fort Henry, on the headquarters steamer New Uncle Sam, knowing that I was an officer of the Post Office Department, he suggested to me, or rather inquired if it were not possible, to keep the mail up to the army and to take the soldiers’ letters home. On my answering that I thought that this could be done, he gave me that branch of the service, and from that beginning sprang the great army mail service of the war, and to Gen. Grant the credit of originating that service belongs. The army mail service developed the fact that the mails could be distributed in railway cars, and on the top of railway cars going at the rate of 30 miles an hour. In wagons, ambulances, and even on horseback mails were frequently distributed and delivered under the murderous fire of the enemy, and it may be said that the perfect railway mail service of to-day is the outgrowth of the army mail service.”
“What about Shiloh?” I asked.
“That is a question of controversy which any impression I may have will not settle. Gen. Grant has recently published his views of that battle. Whether they will settle the question or not is uncertain. Stories of battles are not told until all the actors are dead. It is sufficient that the battle was fairly won by the Federal troops. And there should have been no difficulty in dividing the honors of the victory.”
“Do you think Gen. Grant was surprised?” said I.
“I state with positiveness, no Sir. Gen. Grant was never surprised. No man ever saw Gen. Grant speak or act as if he were surprised. His staff officers would try to see if they could not get him to exhibit surprise or astonishment at some of their stories or by extravagant statements. They never succeeded. When every one else was surprised he never gave any indication that the matter of the surprise was not perfectly familiar to him. In the most trying times he was the coolest and most self-possessed.
[pg. 20] On one occasion 200 tons of powder in a barge lying at the water’s edge in the James River, immediately opposite Grant’s headquarters at City Point, was exploded by an infernal machine of the Confederates, blowing the bodies of men and mules and the débris of the Quartermaster’s department into his camp, so that the air was thick with smoke and falling bodies, add [and] every one was frightened. Grant did not move a facial muscle. With imperturbable gravity he said to a staff officer, ‘Babcock, go out and see what is the matter.’ Nothing ever disturbed Grant’s equanimity. He never lost his head. You might tell him the most startling news in regard to the enemy, but his face would never indicate that it was news to him. If he was ignorant of a matter about which you were talking, he would draw you out in such a quiet way that you would never imagine that the whole matter was not perfectly familiar to him.”
“How about the time when they talked of relieving him of the command about Vicksburg? Did Gen. Grant manifest any feeling on that subject?”
“By no means. He was apparently the most indifferent of all men upon that subject. I remember on one occasion at this time I asked him what he would do if he were relieved. He said that he would ask for the command of a corps or a division or a brigade, saying, ‘This war must be put down,’ and showing his consciousness of the fact that he would be a feature of the war at its close.”
“I see that Mr. Childs, of Philadelphia, in an interview recently printed, says that Gen. Grant was promised by Senator Wilson, of Massachusetts, then Chairman of Military Affairs in the Senate, that if he would become a candidate of the Republican Party he would be elected, and that the place of General of the Army would be kept open, so that he could resume that position at the end of his term. Do you know anything about that?”
“I do not, but I don’t doubt its accuracy, for this reason: A number of very prominent Democratic politicans came to this city just before the meeting of the Democratic Convention of 1868 to see if it could not be arranged to make Gen. Grant the candidate of that convention by acclamation. When the subject was broached to Gen. Grant in a very delicate way he threw cold water on that and on all other plans to nominate him by saying that he did not want the nomination from either party, because if he were nominated and elected he would be out of employment when his term expired, therefore he preferred to remain in the army. It was then suggested by this Democratic delegation that the Democrats would see that the rank of General of the Army was kept open for him. I was present when this statement was made to Gen. Rawlins that he might communicate it to Gen. Grant. Rawlins replied that he was sure that Gen. Grant would not accept the nomination, and it would be no use to tell him about holding the Generalship open for future occupancy by him. I think there are some other gentlemen now living, though not in public life, who know something of the effort made to have Gen. Grant become the candidate of the Democracy in 1868.”
“Do you think he would have been elected if the Democrats had nominated him?”
“Certainly, he would have been elected without a party nomination if he had declared himself a candidate.”
“To what do you attribute the decline in the popularity of Grant’s political administration? His military administration was successful.”
[pg. 21] “Private secretaries, my young friend, private secretaries, and the numbers of weak men who played the sycophant that they might hold office. The same influences have brought disaster upon other Administrations. Statesmanship cannot be filtered through such private secretaries as we have had of late years.”4
Less than six months later Grant was dead, and Markland was again asked to comment on his friendship. The reporter, quite likely the same one, again noted that the remarks were made in the course of conversation and were not printed verbatim.
He was my schoolmate and playfellow in boyhood days. At school he was a quiet, studious boy, rarely on the playground during recess, but then engaged in study. He was exceedingly kind in prompting those of his classmates who were a little negligent and behind in their recitations. He was very popular as a schoolboy, being even tempered, gentle, and generous. He was a member of the Philomathean Society, to which I belonged, and he was a good debater at that time for one of his age. As an executive officer of that society he displayed many of the traits which were prominent in him in after life. It was not in Gen. Grant’s nature to give personal offense by word or act unless he felt that his kind feelings and good name had been willingly trifled with, and then he did not hesitate to resent such trifling in a firm and unmistakable way. He was never boisterous in words, but very decided in word and act. The governing, overshadowing trait of his character was kindness for others. For his bitterest personal enemy he would try to make excuse. When excuses were not gratified he severed friendly relations promptly and as quietly as the circumstances would admit. He was very slow to believe that any one would take advantage of his confidence or do him a wrong.
At Cairo, in 1861, it was reported to Gen. Grant that a young officer, who was stationed at Fort Holt, across the Ohio River, in Kentucky, had been culpably derelict in the discharge of some delicate duty. The General was much angered, and directed Col. Webster to bring the officer to him in irons. Capt. Rawlins, the Adjutant, said, “What is the use of Gen. Grant giving Webster such an order as that? If Webster brings that man here in irons Grant will reprimand Webster and recommend the officer for promotion.” When Col. Webster went to Fort Holt and discovered that the officer had been misrepresented to Gen. Grant he simply asked the officer to return with him to the General’s quarters and make his statement of the case. When the officer came into the presence of Gen. Grant he was received with much kindness, and when he had told his story the General apologized for having caused his arrest and mortification. Not long after that the General did recommend his promotion, as Rawlins had predicted, and he found in him a valuable officer during the war.
The General’s sympathies were always with the private soldier and that class of officers who had not received a military education and training. At Fort Donelson, after the surrender, a complaint was made to him that an officer was not diligent in enforcing discipline. The
[pg. 22] General replied: “He inspired them to fight at the right time and in the right way; that is the kind of discipline we want.” At the same time a German officer who commanded a battery of fine new guns came and reported to the General that his battery had been captured. The General asked him if he spiked the guns before they were captured. The officer astounded the General by exclaiming: “What spike those good guns? My God! no.” The General smiled and said: “I am satisfied that the Captain fought his guns to the last, and would have taken care of them as public property, if for no other reason.”
When President Grant was about to appoint a prominent gentleman to the position of Commissioner of the District of Columbia his attention was called to the fact that the gentleman in question had slighted him when in his poverty and want of employment and had assailed his private character in the darkest period of his command during the war. Gen. Grant replied: “He was mistaken then, and he knows his mistake now. He has qualities that fit him for the place, and I am going to appoint him,’ and he did appoint him.
When I first met Gen. Grant at Cairo I had gone out from this city, and he was much interested in knowing the feeling here as to a vigorous prosecution of the war or a hope of some kind of a compromise. He said: “I see by the papers that Gen. McClellan is having big reviews and that sort of thing. I think this is a mistake. A compromise at this stage is impossible. It will have to be fought out, and I intend to make it as hot as I can, so that it won’t last long.”
Gen. Grant was absolutely fearless. He had a boundless faith in his judgment and luck. He and his staff viewed the naval fight at Fort Henry from the deck of a small tugboat, which was more nearly in the range of the guns of the fort than were the ironclads and gunboats. Gen. Tilghman told me after the surrender that if he had known that Gen. Grant was on that tug during the fight he would have blown it out of the water and deprived the Yankees of one of the best men they had. The soldiers of the South who had been in the Mexican war knew Grant’s value as a fighter. When he left Corinth for Grand Junction and Jackson he went on a platform car, wholly unprotected, and passed through a section of country infested by guerrillas. The non-combatants who visited his headquarters, and who were proud to ride around the lines with him, will remember that they never wanted to go with him but once. He always managed, somehow or other, to get under fire. From Cairo to Appomattox he took the chances of war in every form, fairly and squarely. He did not ask others to take risks that be was not willing to take himself. He had the faith which prompted him to say: “When the head of my army is whipped the whole body is gone.” He meant by that that he had confidence in the courage and persistency of his whole command.
I don’t think that Gen. Grant ever had any one about him that he did not have confidence in. That applies to staff officers, clerks, sentry guards, and visitors. He was only suspicious of the movements of the enemy, and in that he rarely betrayed his suspicion in any other way than by his orders. His staff officers had his full confidence in the lines in which their official duties were required to be performed. To some he gave a character of confidence not necessary to be given to others and not withheld from distrust, but because it had had no relation to official
[pg. 23] duties and might not be interesting otherwise. I never saw Gen. Grant whisper or speak in low tones, as if he was unwilling that all present might not hear. Of all men I ever knew, he was the one who knew what to say and what to leave unsaid. He told what he wanted you to know, and it was useless to try to gain further information from him by questions. He joined freely with his staff officers, and such others as might be about his headquarters, in conversation, and always added to the interest of the occasion. I never knew him to speak harshly or petulantly to a staff officer. His living staff officers, wherever they may be, will have no more pleasant a remembrance of him than of his polite language and genial manner to them.
Gen. Grant had one friend outside his family who stood far above all the rest, as many and as devoted friends as he had. From Cairo to Appomattox and after, Abraham Lincoln never faltered in his friendship for or his confidence in Gen. Grant. Whoever else may have doubted and weakened, Abraham Lincoln never did. He once doubted, but he did not weaken, and afterward he apologized for the doubt. I know that in the darkest hours Mr. Lincoln sent to Gen. Grant many words of cheer.5
1. The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant (Carbondale and Edwardsville, Ill., 1967-), 4, 204n-205n.
2. Markland’s recollections of Sherman are in a letter of Sept. 8, 1885, printed in Report of the Proceedings of the Society of the Army of the Tennessee … 1885(Cincinnati, 1893), 162-71, and in an apparently unpublished manuscript, “A Chapter of War History,” The Filson Club, Louisville, Ky.
3. New York Times, Feb. 7, 1885.
4. Ibid., Feb. 16, 1885. Reprinted from the Cleveland Leader.
5. New York Times, Aug. 4, 1885. Reprinted from the Washington Star, Aug. 1, 1885.
NEWS NOTES *** Southern Illinois University Press plans publication of volume 5 of The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant in October. The battle of Shiloh provides the major focal point of this volume, which covers correspondence from April through August, 1862. *** David L. Wilson, a doctoral candidate in American history at the University of Tennessee, is currently working for the Grant Association as a part-time researcher.
[pg. 24] Funds for his employment were contributed by the Civil War Centennial Association (through Ralph G. Newman and Carl Haverlin), matched by the Office of Research and Projects, Southern Illinois University. *** T. Harry Williams, chairman of the editorial board of the Grant Association, Is the 1912-1973 president of the Organization of American Historians. His presidential address, delivered In Chicago, dealt with “Huey, Lyndon, and Southern Radicalism.” *** Earl S. Miers died on November 17, 1972, at the age of sixty-two, shortly after publication of his The Last Campaign: Grant Saves the Union. A prolific author, Miers had written of Grant frequently, and was best known in this field for The Web of Victory: Grant at Vicksburg (1955). *** Books expected soon Include Johnson, Grant, and Reconstruction Politics by Martin E. Mantell from Columbia University Press, and The Captain Departs: Ulysses S. Grant’s Last Campaign by Thomas M. Pltkln, scheduled for September publication by Southern Illinois University Press.