[pg. 7] GRANT AND LONGSTREET *** One year ahead of Ulysses Grant at West Point was James Longstreet, a tall Georgian who graduated third from the bottom of his class and then was assigned to the Fourth Infantry at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis. Nearby lived his kinsman, Frederick Dent, related to Longstreet’s mother, Mary Anne Dent, since they were descended from two brothers, George and Peter Dent of Charles County, Maryland.1 The Dents were a hospitable family with a comfortable estate, White Haven, a few miles outside St. Louis, and children close to Longstreet in age: one son, Fred, was at West Point in the class one year behind Longstreet.
After Longstreet had been in St. Louis for one year, the next West Point class provided additional officers for Jefferson Barracks. Fred Dent had gone elsewhere, but his roommate, a shy and frail brevet second lieutenant named Grant, soon was introduced to the comforts of White Haven. Grant made frequent visits and heard much about the Dent’s oldest daughter, Julia, who was spending the winter in St. Louis with friends of the family so that she could enjoy a fuller social life than could be found at White Haven. When she returned, she and Grant fell in love. Longstreet’s recollection that he introduced Grant to his future wife was probably incorrect; yet he had been a close friend of [pg. 8] both during their courtship.2
Grant and Longstreet were also together when the Fourth Infantry was sent to the Southwest before the Mexican War. Longstreet remembered the theatricals designed to break the tedium at Corpus Christi in which Grant was to play Desdemona until the proposed Othello insisted that an actress be brought from New Orleans.3
Grant’s first opportunity to meet Longstreet in battle would have come at Chattanooga in 1863 had not Bragg unwisely detached his force for a drive on Knoxville. By the end of the year Bragg had been thrown back into Georgia while Longstreet still caused consternation in Tennessee. Grant’s Christmas visit with his wife in Nashville was cut short by news of Longstreet. “Now Ulysses,” said Julia, “you know that you are not going to hurt Longstreet.” “I will if I can get him,” was the reply, “he is in bad company.”4 But Longstreet was able to rejoin Lee with his army intact; the first encounter came in the Wilderness, where Longstreet was so severely wounded that he was unable to rejoin Lee until late in the war.
Grant remembered Longstreet in Mexico as “a fine fellow and one of the best of the young officers.” In contrasting Longstreet with Bragg, Grant called him “brave, honest, intelligent, a very capable soldier, subordinate to his superiors, but jealous of his own rights which he had the courage to maintain.”5
In later years Longstreet often spoke admiringly of Grant’s generalship. As the most prominent Confederate to join the Republican Party and hold office under the Grant administration, Longstreet was on bad terms with his former associates, and his praise of Grant balanced criticism of Lee. Years after the war, Longstreet told Grant’s former staff officer, Horace Porter, that when news was received at Lee’s headquarters that Grant would assume personal [pg. 9] direction of the Army of the Potomac, he had said, “We cannot afford to underrate him.”6 At the time, however, Longstreet had done just that, telling Lee, “I do not think that he is any better than Pope.”7
Indeed, many of Longstreet’s recollections of Grant appear to be colored by his postwar role. Of the prominent Confederate leaders Longstreet surrendered most abjectly (albeit profitably) to his former foes.8 Immediately after Grant’s death in 1885, Longstreet gave an interview to The New York Times which is reprinted below with notes referring to other reminiscences of the same incidents by Longstreet.9
“He was the truest as well as the bravest man that ever lived,” was the remark made by Gen. James Longstreet, when he recovered to-day from the emotion caused by the sad news of Gen. Grant’s death. Gen. Longstreet lives in a two-story house of modern style about three miles from Gainesville, where, amid his vines and shrubs, he was seen by The Times’s correspondent. He was dressed in a long and many colored dressing gown; his white whiskers were trimmed after the pattern of Burnside’s, and he looked little like the stalwart figure which was ever in the thickest of the fight during the bloody battles of the late war.”Ever since 1839,” said he, “I have been on terms of the closest intimacy with Grant. I well remember the fragile form which answered to his name in that year. His distinguishing trait as a cadet was a girlish modesty; a hesitancy in presenting his own claims; a taciturnity born of his modesty; but a thoroughness in the accomplishment of whatever task was assigned him. As I was of large and robust physique I was at the head of most larks and games. But in these young Grant never joined because of his delicate frame.l0 In horsemanship, however, he was noted as the most proficient in the Academy. In fact, rider and horse held together like the fabled centaur.
“In 1842 I was attached to the Fourth Infantry as Second Lieutenant. A year later Grant joined the same regiment, stationed in that year at Fort Jefferson, 12 miles from St. Louis. The ties thus formed have never been broken; but there was a charm which held us together of which the world has never heard. My kinsman, Mr. Frederick Dent, was a substantial farmer living near Fort Jefferson. He had a liking for army officers, due to the fact that his son Fred was a pupil at West Point. One day I received an invitation to visit his house in order to meet young Fred, who had just returned, and, I asked Grant to go with me. This he did, and of course was introduced to the family, the last one to come in being Miss Julia Dent, the charming daughter of our host. It is needless to say that we saw but little of Grant during the rest of the visit. He paid court in fact with such assiduity as to give rise to the hope that he had forever gotten over his diffidence. Five years later, in 1848, after the usual uncertainties of a soldier’s courtship, Grant returned and claimed Miss Dent as his bride. [pg. 10] I had been married just six months at that time, and my wife and I were among the guests at the wedding.11 Only a few months ago Mrs. Grant recalled to my memory an incident of our Jefferson life that was connected with Gen. Grant’s courtship. Miss Dent had been escorted to the military balls so often by Lieut. Grant that, on one occasion, when she did not happen to go with him, Lieut. Hoskins went up to her and asked, with a pitiful expression on his face: ‘Where is that small man with the large epaulets?’12
“In 1844 the Fourth Regiment was ordered to Louisiana to form part of the army of observation. Still later we formed part of the army of occupation in Corpus Christi, Texas. Here, removed from all society without books or papers, we had an excellent opportunity of studying each other. I and every one else always found Grant resolute and doing his duty in a simple manner. His honor was never suspected, his friendships were true, his hatred of guile was pronounced, and his detestation of tale bearers was, I may say, absolute. The soul of honor himself, he never even suspected others either then or years afterward. He could not bring himself to look upon the rascally aide of human nature.
“While we remained in Corpus Christi an incident illustrating Grant’s skill and fearlessness as a horseman occurred. The Mexicans were in the habit of bringing in wild horses, which they would sell for two or three dollars. These horses came near costing more than one officer his life. One day a particularly, furious animal was brought in. Every officer in the camp had declined to purchase the animal except Grant, who declared that he would either break the horse’s neck or his own. He had the horse blindfolded, bridled, and saddled, and when firmly in the saddle he threw off the blind, sunk his spurs into the horse’s flanks, and was soon out of sight. For three hours he rode the animal over all kinds of ground, through field and stream, and when horse and rider returned to camp the horse was thoroughly tamed.13 For years afterward the story of Grant’s ride was related at every camp fire in the country. During the Mexican war we were separated, Grant having been made Quartermaster of the Fourth Regiment, while I was assigned to duty as Adjutant of the Eighth. At the Battle of Molino del Rey, however, I had occasion to notice his superb courage and coolness under fire. So noticeable was his bearing that his gallantry was alluded to in the official reports.14
“In the long days of our stay in Louisiana and Texas,” continued Gen. Longstreet, “we frequently engaged in the game of brag and five-cent ante and similar diversions. We instructed Grant in the mysteries of these games, but he made a poor player. The man who lost 75 cents in one day was esteemed in those times a peculiarly unfortunate person. The games often lasted an entire day. Years later, in 1858, I happened to be in St. Louis, and there met Capt. Holloway and other army chums. We went into the Planters’ Hotel to talk over old times, and it was soon proposed to have an old-time game of brag, but it was found that we were one short of making up a full hand. ‘Wait a few minutes,’ said Holloway, ‘and I will find some one.’ In a few minutes he returned with a man poorly dressed in citizen’s clothes and in whom we recognized our old friend Grant. Going into civil life Grant had been unfortunate, and he was really in needy circumstances. The next day I was walking in front of the Planters’, when I found myself face to face again with Grant who, placing in the palm of my hand a five-dollar gold piece, insisted that I should take it in payment of a debt of honor over 15 years old. I peremptorily declined to take it, alleging that he was out of the service and more in need of it than I. ‘You must take it,’ [pg. 11] said he, ‘I cannot live with anything in my possession which is not mine.’ Seeing the determination in the man’s face, and in order to save him mortification, I took the money, and shaking hands we parted.
“The next time we met,” said Gen. Longstreet, “was at Appomattox, and the first thing that Gen. Grant said to me when we stepped [a]side, placing his army in mine, was: ‘Pete, (a sobriquet of mine,) let us have another game of brag, to recall the old days which were so pleasant to us all.’ Great God! thought I to myself, how my heart swells out to such a magnanimous touch of humanity! Why do men fight who were born to be brothers?
“During the war my immediate command had engaged the troops of Grant but once–at the battle of the Wilderness. We came into no sort of personal relations, however. In the Spring of 1865, one day, while awaiting a letter from Gen. Grant, Gen. Lee said to me, ‘There is nothing ahead of us but to surrender.’ It was as one of the Commissioners appointed to arrange the terms of peace that I met Gen. Grant at Appomattox. His whole greeting and conduct toward us was as though nothing had ever happened to mar our pleasant relations.15
“In 1866 I had occasion to visit Washington on business, and while there made a call of courtesy on Gen. Grant at his office. As I arose to leave he followed me out into the hallway, and asked me to spend an evening with his family. I thanked him, promising compliance, and passed a most enjoyable evening. When leaving Grant again accompanied me into the hallway and said: ‘General, would you like to have an amnesty?’ Wholly unprepared for this I replied that I would like to have it, but had no hope of getting it. He told me to write out my application and to call at his office at noon the next day, and in the meantime he would see President Johnson and Secretary of War Stanton on my behalf. When I called he had already seen these men, and assured me that there was not an obstacle in the way. He indorsed my application by asking that it be granted as a special personal favor to himself.
“In the January before he was inaugurated President for the first time I paid him a passing friendly visit. He then said to me: ‘Longstreet, I want you to come and see me after I am inaugurated, and let me know what you want.’ After the inauguration I was walking up the avenue one day to see him when I met a friend who informed me that the President had sent in my name for confirmation as Surveyor of the Port of New-Orleans. For several weeks the nomination hung in the Senate, when I went to Grant and begged him to withdraw the nomination, as I did not want his personal friendship for me to embarrass his Administration. ‘Give yourself no uneasiness about that,’ he said, ‘the Senators have as many favors to ask of me as I have of them, and I will see that you are confirmed.”
“From what I have already told you,” said Gen. Longstreet, in conclusion, “it will be seen that Grant was a modest man, a simple man, a man believing in the honesty of his fellows, true to his friends, faithful to traditions, and of great personal honor. When the United States District Court in Richmond was about to indict Gen. Lee and myself for treason, Gen. Grant interposed and said: ‘I have pledged my word for their safety.’ This stopped the wholesale indictments of ex-Confederate officers which would have followed. He was thoroughly magnanimous, was above all petty things and small ideas, and, after Washington, was the highest type of manhood America has produced.”
[pg. 12] On April 24, 1899, Mrs. Mary Louise Littleton spoke to Longstreet about Grant and transcribed his comments. Some years later, Mrs. Littleton sent her interview to Major-General Ulysses S. Grant, 3rd, who has supplied a copy to the Newsletter.
The fame of Grant is of the kind that endures. Times will reveal more distinctly the strong, simple, massive grandeur of his character and career. The 20th century will nationalize more and more its heterogeneous civilization and will nationalize its heroes, and Grant will hold a place with Washington in the hearts of his countrymen. His military genius was of the highest order. He is of the class and kind of Julius Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte, superior to them in that his military achievements were actuated by the purest patriotism. The victorious leader of a mighty army, he was guilty of none of the excesses of Napoleon; “Let us have Peace” were words of sincerity–spoken by one who accomplished mighty deeds without ostentation, content with having done his duty. My friendship for Grant began at West Point and continued unbroken even by the Civil War to the day of his death. At West Point he concealed under an excessive modesty those qualities which later led to eminence in peace and war. Personally Grant was a warm-hearted, lovable friend, a magnanimous opponent. More than any man of the century he embodied in his character the genius of the American people; loyalty to the Constitution, tireless activity, executive power and swiftness and profound respect for American citizenship. His greatness was marked by a modesty of mind and manner that never forsook him, a modesty so noticeable as to win for him the appellation of ‘the silent man of destiny.” His life taken as a whole was rounded and complete. Victorious as a soldier, eminent as a statesman, honored as a private citizen with the salutations of the world, happy in his domestic relationship, he closed his long and brilliant career as the historian of the era he so largely shaped.
1. Donald Bridgman Sanger and Thomas Robson Hay, James Longstreet (Baton Rouge, La., 1952), 6.
2. James Longstreet, From Manassas to Appomattox (Philadelphia, 1896), 18.
3. Ibid., 20.
4. Helen D. Longstreet, Lee and Longstreet at High Tide (Gainesville, Ga., 1904), 196.
5. John Russell Young, Around the World with General Grant (N.Y., 1879), II, 212; Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (N.Y., 1885-1886), II, 86-87.
6. Horace Porter, Campaigning with Grant (N.Y., 1897), 46-47.
7. Longstreet to Lee, April 2, 1864, O.R., I, XXXII, 3, 737.
8. An account of Grant-Longstreet postwar relations will appear in a future Newsletter.
9. Printed July 24, 1885.
10. James Grant Wilson, General Grant (N.Y., 1897), 29-30.
11. Longstreet, Lee and Longstreet, 101. See Lloyd Lewis, Captain Sam Grant (Boston, 1950), 285; Sanger and Hay, Longstreet, 13.
12. Longstreet, Manassas to Appomattox, 18.
13. Wilson, General Grant, 69-7l; Longstreet, Lee and Longstreet, 140-141.
14. See Speech of Senator Pomerene, Ohio Archaeological and Historical Quarterly, XXXI, 3 (July, 1922), 268.
15. Longstreet, Manassas to Appomattox, 630; Longstreet, Lee and Longstreet 102-103.