ADAM BADEAU ON APPOMATTOX *** In late 1862, Lieutenant Colonel James Harrison Wilson was assigned to General Grant’s staff as topographical engineer. An 1860 West Point graduate, Wilson already had considerable staff experience with Generals Thomas W. Sherman, David Hunter, and George B. McClellan. In time he found that both John A. Rawlins, Grant’s chief of staff, and Grant himself were not entirely satisfied with current staff personnel.
On May 2, 1863, the day after the battle of Port Gibson in the Vicksburg campaign, Wilson first suggested to Grant that he obtain a military secretary. Grant replied that he had been thinking about that himself, and asked if Wilson had someone in mind. Wilson suggested Adam Badeau, asking if Grant recalled seeing him during the Corinth campaign. At first Grant did not, but when Wilson described him as a “short, stoop-shouldered, red-headed fellow who wore glasses,” Grant began to recall “a little pale, blue-eyed man, who wore spectacles and looked like a bent fo’-pence.” Grant soon requested that Badeau be assigned to his staff.
Badeau, the descendant of a Huguenot family, was born in New York City and had a secondary-school education in Tarrytown, New York. He wrote articles for newspapers and, in 1859, published a collection of essays, The Vagabond. The outbreak of the Civil War found him a clerk in the State Department. He accompanied the expedition to Port Royal, South Carolina, as a reporter for the New York Express. As his stay in Port Royal lengthened [pg. 2] and news for New York decreased, he organized and edited a soldier paper, the Port Royal New South, and eventually joined General Thomas W. Sherman’s staff. Even before officially joining the army he served as a volunteer aide on the staff of General Quincy A. Gillmore during the bombardment of Port Pulaski. Although Badeau’s nearsightedness and weakness were severe handicaps in military life, his intelligence and determination were compensations.
Henry Adams, who dined regularly with Badeau in Washington in 1869, described him as “exceedingly social, though not in appearance imposing. He was stout; his face was red, and his habits were regularly irregular; but be was very intelligent, a good newspaper man, and an excellent military historian.” Grant had chuckled for days at the comic sight of Badeau and his saddle lying on the ground after he had ridden his horse between two close-set trees. But Grant also turned to Badeau for his first serious talk about the significance of Appomattox.
The very day Badeau received his orders to report to Grant’s headquarters (May 27, 1863) he received a wound in his foot while accompanying General Sherman in a charge at Port Hudson. During part of a lengthy recuperation in New York City, Badeau was cared for by his old friend Edwin Booth and his brother, John Wilkes Booth. Badeau finally joined Grant at Nashville in February, 1864, shortly before Grant shifted headquarters to the Army of the Potomac. When Grant went east he took with him Rawlins, Badeau, and five other staff officers, none a regular, but the staff was soon augmented by Horace Porter and Orville E. Babcock, both young West Point graduates of considerable promise; Cyrus Comstock, an experienced engineer, rejoining the staff; Frederick Dent, Grant’s brother-in-law and roommate at West Point; and in September, Ely S. Parker, to share the duties of military secretary with Badeau. Between the winnowing away of old members of the western staff and the addition of young military pro [pg.3]fessionals, Grant had a competent and efficient staff by the close of the war.
In the meantime, the career of James Harrison Wilson had advanced with dazzling speed. In the same month in which Badeau joined the staff, Wilson left it to become Chief of the Cavalry Bureau of the War Department. After a few months there, during which he effected a complete reorganization, he led the Third Cavalry Division of Sheridan’s corps through the 1864 Virginia campaigns. In October, he was reassigned to command the cavalry corps under General W. T. Sherman, and Led the last campaign of the war which captured Selma, Montgomery, and Jefferson Davis. At the end of the war, aged 28, he was a brevet Major General of Volunteers.
Wilson never lost touch with Grant’s headquarters nor his interest in the staff. The Princeton University Library has seventy-nine letters from Badeau to Wilson, including the one printed below. Badeau wrote two printed accounts of the last days of the Civil War, neither, however, containing all the details in his letter to Wilson.
Badeau found Grant “as kind as I had anticipated” at their first meeting. The longer he knew Grant the greater grew his admiration. “As for Grant,” wrote Badeau, “I love him better every day. His magnanimity, his unselfishness, his freedom from vanity, his purity place him beyond any character in history.”
HEADQUARTERS ARMIES OF THE UNITED STATES,
Washington, May 27 1865.
Dear HarryYour deeply interesting letter containing the account of Jeff Davis’s capture reached me yesterday; I have read portions of it to a great many interested listeners, who found a great deal to admire in the style as well as in the matter. I wish you joy again and again dear Harry, of all your good fortune. All your friends here are prouder of you than ever; all but me. I am proud for you, but I felt just as proud of you years ago, when our intimacy first commenced. I have just read Gen Thomas’s flattering despatch to Gen. Grant, a copy of which was forwarded to you.1 copied the part that would delight Delie and sent it to her. You are very good to write to me so often amid all your engagements. I should have sent you full details of occurrences here had I dreamed that you were so isolated. I have however been away the last three weeks myself, on the [pg. 4] Mississippi, but got back in time to witness the review of Sherman’s army. Of course the occasion was magnificent and inspiring beyond any spectacle of modern times. The General and Shezmm seem to be as true friends as ever. Sherman put his arm around Grant’s waist, after the review, but while every body was still on the platform. And indeed Sherman now owes Grant more than ever. Public opinion stands thus. The condemnation of Sherman’s act is universal, but in consideration of his brilliant services the country is willing to forgive and forget it. Grant’s wonderful magnanimity in throwing the mantle of his protection around his ambitious subordinate is equal to the generosity he displayed to Lee. What a wonderful man he is. His goodness is greater than his greatness. History presents no such character in all her crowded pages. Sherman seems determined to make a fight with the Sec., and the more he and his partisans stir the matter the worse it will be for his fame. He cannot be defended, only excused or rather pardoned. I have no doubt whatever that I have already told you the actuating cause of his conduct. Every [man] about the General, agrees with me. He of course will not see it. But Sherman is full of fascinations, and I can concieve of nothing more interesting than to hear him tell for hours the story and incidents of his campaigns.
I like Mr. Johnson’s looks and manner very much. He impressed me as a man of character and ability; also of much dignity. All that I know of his action since his advent to power, also impresses me favorably. He does not display that bitterness which is attributed to him. He is bitter only to that pestilent doctrine which has caused all of our trouble–state sovereignty, and has no mercy for that. The General thinks he (G) has every reason to be satisfied with the support that Johnson gives him. Mrs. Grant is living in Washington, at Halleck’s former residence.
You ask me to tell you every thing, but it is two months since I have really written up to you; and the crowd of events through which I have passed in that time would take me a month more to tell of. I cant describe the campaign, with its wonders. Let me remember two or three things which you would like to know, and then I’ll tell you a little about the surrender, Lee, and Richmond. I’m afraid twill all be stale though before it reaches you. Yet only at your urgent and repeated request that I go back to it now.
First, about the news just now. We havnt heard definitely today from Kirby Smith; but expect to hear of his surrender, daily. Lee has not taken the oath, but his three sons have. W. H. Lee is raising vegetables and brought a load to market the other day. Lee is willing to take the oath, but thinks his precepts will have more weight, if not preceded by his example. The developments of the conspiracy fasten guilt very plainly upon prominent people in Canada and Richmond. Judge Campbell is especially implicated: yet I had a conversation with him in Richmond about the assassination in which he reprobated it strongly. I urged him to get up a card or something of that sort but he didnt take to the suggestion, though he said he had no objection to the use of his name. Lee too told me that he was indignant that the attempt should be made to saddle the advisor of this upon the south.
Sheridan was the fighter of the campaign. Twas his personal influence over his men that decided the fight at Five Forks. We had not been successful the day before; his own cavalry had been fighting infantry and compelled to retire before the very force which had just come from whipping Warren; Sheridan took the same troops, the 5th corps, and his own command, and overwhelmed the enemy. Then Grant rose to those magnificent proportions which he always develops in an emergency: After all his experience in assaulting works, after the year since Culpeper, it required more courage than any other man could show to order an assault all along our lines. But when he got the full news of Sheridan’s success, he did not wait a moment to con [pg.5]sider or consult; ran into his tent, wrote two or three lines; first ordering an assault that night (twas near 9 P. M.) but the corps commanders could not get ready; and then he designated daybreak as the hour. He hadn’t a doubt that we should get inside. After this, there was no pause, no hesitancy, no doubt what to do. He commanded Lee’s army as much as he did his own; caused and knew beforehand every movement that Lee made, up to the actual surrender. The marching of the troops contributed to the last and complete result as much as the fighting. There was no let up; fighting and marching, and Grant negotiating and fighting all at once. This accounts for the change in Lee’s views; at the beginning of the correspondence you remember, he said he didnt agree with Grant that surrender was inevitable, and he didn’t think so on the very morning that it occurred. Then Grant had him completely surrounded: Meade was chasing him on one road, and Sheridan with Ord and the 5th Corps were sent to head him off; outmarched him and got around him; so that after the surrender, Grant who was with Sheridan, communicated with Meade on the shortest line, thro Lee’s army. I was present at the interview which terminated in the surrender. Lee behaved with great dignity and courtesy, but no cordiality; he seemed depressed, and talked but little. Grant was perfect in his demeanor, because completely simple and natural. Lee made no demands whatever, accepted whatever Grant suggested. He asked what terms the General would allow him; Grant said the surrender of men and public property, officers and men to be paroled. Lee acquiesced, and Grant says that while putting on paper these terms, he was so touched by Lee’s absence of hauteur, in his complete acquiescence, that he inserted the paragraph allowing officers to retain their side arms and personal property. Lee then asked whether the horses of the men were to be given up, stating that in his army they were personal property. Grant said the terms included them. Lee acknowledged this, when Grant said he would not change the terms, but would instruct his officers who superintended the paroling, to allow the men to retain their horses. So that they could take them home to work their farms. Lee said this would have a very good effect.
Next day the Gen started out for a ride into the Rebel lines, with his staff, but the pickets had no instructions to allow us to enter, and an officer was sent up to Gen Lee. He came in person to the front, and he and the General had an interview of an hour and a half. Lee had nobody with him but an orderly; Grant had Sheridan Gibbon, Griffin, Merritt, and his own staff; all kept aloof in a sort of semi-circle around Grant, too far to hear the conversation. Twas on a hill just between the two armies. Both armies were in full sight. I had not got such a view of the Rebels since we left Culpeper. Appomattox is on this hill right in a long valley; on the two opposite sides of the valley lay the two armies, completely in sight of each other. Their conversation developped Lee’s views very fully. He was for peace, submission, giving up slavery and state sovereignty as having both been decided by the war. Grant was for clemency. Sheridan, Ingalls & Seth Williams got permission from Lee to go over inside of his lines meanwhile, and got back about as the interview terminated. With them came Longstreet, Gordon, Heth, Wilcox, Picket, W. H. F. Lee and others to pay their respects to Grant. All behaved with more than courtesy and cordiality. One officer said to Grant “Gen, I want to congratulate you on having wound us up” Heth told me the saddest day of his life was that on which he received his commission from Richmond; “Except yesterday”; others expressed a wish for reunion. Twas a most remarkable meeting. Ord heard me express my views at hdqrs about the policy to be carried out, and asked the Gen. to send me to Richmond with him. This was done, and I was at once sent to all the prominent people there.2Campbell, the Mayor, the judges, members of the Rebel Congress and others; all were thoroughly [pg. 6] whipped in feeling; expected to take the oath, but preferred waiting for state action. That notion still lingered; but they were soon informed that there would be no state action recognized till the individuals purged themselves of their guilt of treason. All was going on well till the terrible crime, which changed the tone of public feeling at the North. I staid a week or ten days in Richmond till Hafleck came, when I asked to be relieved, and went to the Gen in North Carolina. I had a long interview with Lee; who told me he had been opposed to Secession “till his state went out,” the old, old story; that he thought then and thinks now, “we should be better off as one country than as two.” His sons have taken the oath; one of them brought a load of vegetables to market the other day in Alexandria. Longstreet has taken the oath without knowing what it would avail him. Lee is willing to do so, but thinks he can do more good by still postponing the act. You know about the fox who lost his tail. I think the soldiers no matter how high in authority will all escape punishment. The reaction in public feeling is subsiding; vengeance is no longer demanded in such furious language. Davis however will undoubtedly pay the penalty of treason; and I am glad of it. I doubt if there are any other executions: disfranchisement, exile and confiscation will be meted out to some of the principal political leaders, and that will be all Negro suffrage is to be the next question. The quarrel about Sherman also assumes larger proportions than I like to see. I have written you a mass of indigested matter, just as I thought of anything you would like to know. I approve the tone of your orders, and your whole conduct during and after the armistice. It reflects credit on your sense as well as your heart. Posterity will acknowledge your patriotism as well as your soldierly qualities. How delighted I am that the brilliant part you have played, occurred just at the close of the war, and is therefore sure to be remembered better than exploits equally splendid of an earlier date. I hope one of these days to tell for the world what I have known about you, Harry, and make others share not only my admiration for your military genius, but my appreciation of your manliness and nobility of character which these traits never fail to extort, when they are known. There are few more superb exhibitions of these in history, my boy, than I have been loving and admiring for years in my Left Arm
I told the Gen. & Rawlins about your recommendations. They are both anxious to receive them. They havn’t reached here yet. I’ll see during the summer whether I cant pay you a visit. Just now, I dont like to ask it. I have never asked for absence except on account of sickness: there has been too much need of that sort, you know. God bless you
I was away when your staff officer was here3
- On May 23, General George H. Thomas had referred to “his own personal gallantry and ability, together with the efficient condition of his command and the eminent services lately performed by this body of heroes…” O.R. I, xlix, 2, 882-883.
- Three days after the surrender, Badeau was assigned to duty as president of the Relief Commission of Richmond, a major job since following the fall of the city some 15,000 people were in need of assistance. O.R. I, xlvi, 3, 724, 882-884.
- We are indebted to Alexander P. Clark, Curator of Manuscripts, Princeton University Library, for permission to print this letter.