[pg. 15] THOMAS WENTWORTH HIGGINSON ON GRANT *** A man with unusual qualifications reviewed the newly published Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grantfor The Atlantic Monthly. Thomas Wentworth Higginson is described as “minister, author, physical fitness enthusiast, agitator, naturalist, lecturer, soldier, dandy,” by Howard N. Meyer in a recent biography, Colonel of the Black Regiment. Higginson lived long enough, 1823-1911, to protest both the Mexican War and the suppression of the Philippine Insurrection, serving in between with distinction in the Civil War as Colonel of the First South Carolina Volunteers, the first Negro regiment in the Union Army. Higginson described his Civil War experiences in Army Life in a Black Regiment (1870), a minor classic reprinted three times in recent years.
Little of Higginson’s other work is still offered for sale, a result, perhaps, of the wide range of his interests. He was a “rebel with many causes,” who distributed his talents widely. Higginson once compared himself to a horse which never won a race yet established a record for running second. “He deserves to be remembered as a fighter for freedom,” Meyer concludes, and his sprightly, readable biography should help to make Higginson better known today.
Although Higginson is best remembered as a soldier, his contemporaries knew him as a man of letters. Higginson, who was born and died in Cambridge, [pg. 16] Massachusetts, was always deep in the intellectual currents of the Boston area. From 1843 to 1911 an unceasing stream of poems, essays, reviews, sermons, speeches, and books flowed from his pen, enough to fill twenty-six pages of bibliography. It is a tribute to his position in the intellectual life of New England that the shy and unknown Emily Dickinson sent him her poems for critical comment, a tribute to his judgment that he immediately recognized them as works of genius.
Because of Higginson’s position as a critic, his appraisal of Grant’s Memoirs as “one of the greatest of his victories,” and “better worth reading than any military autobiography since Caesar’s Commentaries,” did much to establish Grant’s literary reputation. Higginson reviewed the two volumes of Memoirsseparately, as they appeared, in the March and September, 1886, issues of The Atlantic Monthly, and later combined the two reviews, with only minor alterations, in a volume titled Contemporaries (l899), which furnished the text below.
When any great historical event is past, fame soon begins to concentrate itself on one or two leading figures, dropping inexorably all minor ones. How furious was the strife waged in England over West India emancipation, and then over the abolition of the corn-laws! Time, money, intellect, reputation, were freely bestowed for both these enterprises. Those great sacrifices are now forgotten; the very names of those who made them are lost; posterity associates only Wilberforce and Clarkson with the one agitation, Cobden and Bright with the other. When we turn to the war which saved the Union and brought emancipation, we find that the roll of fame is similarly narrowing. There is scarcely an American under thirty who is familiar with even the name of John P. Hale, whom Garrison called “the Abdiel of New Hampshire;” or of Henry Wilson, Vice-President of the United States, and historian of that slave power which he did so much toward overthrowing. The acute and decorous Seward, the stately Chase, the imperious Stanton, even the high-minded and commanding Sumner, with his reservoirs of knowledge,–all these are steadily fading from men’s memories. Fifty years hence, perhaps, the mind of the nation will distinctly recognize only two figures as connected with all that great upheaval,–Lincoln and Grant.Of these two, Grant will have one immeasurable advantage, in respect to fame,–that he wrote his own memoirs. A man who has done this can never become a myth; his individuality is as sure of preservation as is [pg. 17] that of Caesar. Something must of course depend upon the character of such an autobiography: it may by some mischance reveal new weaknesses only, or reaffirm and emphasize those previously known. Here again Grant is fortunate: his book is one of the greatest of his victories, and those who most criticised his two administrations may now be heard doubting whether they did, after all, any justice to the men. These memoirs have that first and highest quality both of literature and manhood, simplicity. Without a trace of attitudinizing or a suspicion of special pleading, written in a style so plain and terse that it suggests the reluctant conversation of a naturally reticent man, they would have a charm if the author had never emerged from obscurity except to write them. Considered as the records of the foremost soldier of his time, they are unique and of inestimable value.
This value is reinforced, at every point, by a certain typical quality which the book possesses. As with Lincoln, so with Grant, the reader hails with delight this exhibition of the resources of the Average American, It is not in the least necessary for the success of republican government that it should keep great men, so to speak, on tap all the time; it is rather our theory to be guided in public affairs by the general good sense of the community. What we need to know is whether leaders will be forthcoming for specific duties when needed; and in this the civil war confirmed the popular faith, and indeed developed it almost into fatalism. It is this representative character of the book which fascinates; the way in which destiny, looking about for material, took Grant and moulded him for a certain work. Apparently, there was not in him, during his boyhood, the slightest impulse towards a military life, He consented to go to West Point merely that he might visit New York and Philadelphia–that done, he would have been glad of any steamboat or railroad accident that should make it for a time impossible to enter the Academy. The things that be enjoyed were things that had scarcely the slightest reference to the career that Lay unconsciously before him. Sydney Smith had a brother, known as Bobus, who bore through life this one distinction: that he had been thrashed as a boy by a schoolmate who subsequently became the Duke of Wellington. “He began with you,” said Sydney Smith, “and ended with Napoleon.” Grant began by breaking in a troublesome horse and ended with the Southern Confederacy.
There is always a certain piquant pleasure in the visible disproportion of means to ends. All Grant’s early preparation or non-preparation for military life inspires the same feeling of gratified surprise with which we read that the young Napoleon, at the military school of St. Cyr, was simply reported as “very healthy.” At West Point, Grant was at the foot of his class in the tactics, and he was dropped from sergeant to private in the junior year. A French or German officer would have looked with contempt on a military cadet who never had been a sportsman, and did not think he should ever have the courage to fight a duel. It would seem as if fate had the same perplexing problem in choosing its man for commander-in-chief that every war governor found in his choice of colonels and captains. Who could tell, how was any one to predict, what sort of soldier any citizen would be? Grant himself, when be came to appoint three men in Illinois as staff officers, failed, by his own statement, in two of the selections. What traits, what tendencies, shown in civil life, furnished the best guarantee for military abilities? None, perhaps, that could be definitely named, except [pg. 18] habitual leadership in physical exercises. Of all positions, the captaincy of a college crew or a baseball club was surest to supply qualities available for military command. But even for athletic exercises, except so far as horses were concerned, Grant had no recorded taste.
Nor does his career in the Mexican war seem to have settled the point–and his animated sketch of that event, though one of the most graphic ever written, fails to give any signal proof of great attributes of leadership. This part of his book is especially interesting as showing the really small scale of military events which then looked large. It is hard for us to believe that General Taylor invaded Mexico with three thousand men, a force no greater than was commanded at different times by dozens of mere colonels during the war for the Union. It is equally hard to believe that these men carried flint-lock muskets, and that their heaviest ordnance consisted of two eighteen-pound guns, while the Mexican artillery was easily evaded by simply stepping out of the way of the balls. It is difficult to convince ourselves that General Taylor never wore uniform, and habitually sat upon his horse with both feet hanging on the same side. Yet it was amid so little pomp and circumstance as this that Grant first practiced war. The experience developed in him sufficient moral insight to see, all along, that it was a contest in which his own country was wrong; and the knowledge he gained of the characters of his fellow officers was simply invaluable when he came to fight against some of them. At Fort Donelson he knew that with any force, however small, he could march within gunshot of General Pillow’s intrenchments,–and when General Buckner said to him, after the surrender, that if he had been in command the Union army would not have got up to the fort so easily, Grant replied that if Buckner had been in command be should not have tried to do it in the way be did.
He was trained also by his Mexican campaign in that habit of simple and discriminating justice to an opponent which is so vital in war. The enormous advantages gained by the Americans over superior numbers during that contest have always been rather a puzzle to the reader. Grant makes it clear when be says that, though the Mexicans often “stood up as well as any troops ever did,” they were a mere mob for want of trained supervision. He adds, with some humor, “The trouble seemed to be the lack of experience among the officers, which led them, after a certain period, to simply quit without being whipped, but because they had fought enough.” He notes also that our losses in those battles were relatively far greater than theirs, and that for this reason, and because of the large indemnity paid at last, the Mexicans still celebrate Chapultepec and Molino del Rey as their victories, very much as Americans, under circumstances somewhat similar, celebrate the battle of Bunker Hill. Finally, Grant has the justice to see that, as Mexico has now a standing army and trained officers, the war of 1846-48 would be an impossibility in this generation.
When Grant comes to deal with the war for the Union itself, his prevailing note of simplicity gives a singularly quiet tone to the narrative. In his hands the tales of Shiloh and Donelson are told with far less of sound and fury than the boys’ football game in “Tom Brown at Rugby.” In reading the accounts of these victories, it seems as if anybody might have won them; just as the traveler, looking from Chamonix at the glittering slopes of Mont Blanc, feels as if there were nothing to do but to walk right up. Did any one in history ever accomplish so much [pg. 19] as Grant with so little conscious expenditure of force, or meet dangers and worries so imperturbably? “I told them that I was not disturbed.” “Why there should have been a panic I do not see.” This is the sort of remark that occurs at intervals throughout the memoirs, and usually at the crisis of affairs; and this denotes the conquering temperament. Perhaps the climax of this expression is found when Grant says incidentally, “While a battle is raging, one can see his enemy mowed down by the thousand, or even the ten thousand, with great composure; but after the battle these scenes are distressing, and one is naturally disposed to do as much to alleviate the suffering of an enemy as [of] a friend.” It is the word “composure” that is here characteristic; many men would share in the emotion, but very few would describe it by this placid phrase. Again, the same quality is shown when, in describing the siege of Vicksburg, after “the nearest approach to a council of war” he ever held, Grant pithily adds, “Against the general and almost unanimous judgment of the council, I sent the following letter,”–this containing essentially the terms that were accepted. Indeed, it is needless to point out how imperturbable must have been the character of the man who would take with him on a campaign his oldest son, a boy of twelve, and say of him at the end, “My son…caused no anxiety either to me or to his mother, who was at home. He looked out for himself, and was in every battle of the campaign.”
This phlegmatic habit made General Grant in some respect uninteresting, as compared, for instance, with the impulsive and exuberant Sherman; but it gave him some solid and admirable minor qualities. “Our army,” said Uncle Toby, “swore terribly in Flanders;” but the commander of the great Union army, by his own statement, was “not aware of ever having used a profane expletive” in his life. There is no more curious and inexplicable characteristic than the use of language. Lincoln impresses one as representing, on the whole, a higher type of character than Grant–more sympathetic, more sensitive, more poetic. Yet Lincoln would tell an indelicate story with the zest of a bar-room lounger, while Grant, by the general testimony of his staff officers, disliked and discouraged everything of the kind. There is a mediaeval tale of a monk who was asked by a peasant to teach him a psalm, and he chose that beginning with the verse, “I will take heed to my ways that I offend not with my tongue.” Having learned thus much, the peasant went away, saying that be would try and practice it before going farther; but he never returned, not having succeeded in living up to the first verse. Grant was apparently more successful.
Mere imperturbability would, however, be useless to a commander without that indefinable quality known as military instinct; and it was this which Grant possessed in a higher degree, probably, than any other man of his time. Like all instinct, it is a thing hard to distinguish from the exceedingly rapid putting of this and that together; as where Grant at Fort Donelson, finding that the knapsacks of the slain enemy were filled with rations, saw at once that they were trying to get away, and renewed the attack successfully. Again, when General Buell had some needless anxiety at Nashville and sent for large reinforcements, Grant told him, on arriving at the scene of action, that he was mistaken; the enemy was not advancing, but retreating. General Buell informed him that there was fighting in progress only ten or twelve miles away; upon which Grant said that this fighting was undoubtedly with the rear guard of the Confederates, who were trying to carry off with them all the [pg. 20] stores they could,–and so it proved. Indeed, it was from an equally prompt recognition of what was really needed that he pressed on Vicksburg at all. Sherman, usually classed as daring and adventurous, dissuaded him, and wished him to hold fast to his base of supplies Grant, usually esteemed cautious, insisted on going on, saying that the whole country needed a decisive victory just then, even if won at a great risk.
The very extent of Grant’s military command has in one respect impaired his reputation; because he marshaled more men than his opponents, he has been assumed to be less great as a soldier than they were. The “Saturday Review,” for instance, forgetting that interior lines may make a small force practically equivalent to a large one, treats Grant’s success, to this day, as merely the irresistible preponderance of greater numbers. But it was precisely here that Grant was tested as Lee was not. To say that it is easier to succeed with a larger force than a smaller one is like saying that it is easier to get across the country with a four-in-hand than in a pony phaeton: it is all very true if the road is smooth and straight and the team well broken; but if the horses are balky and the road a wilderness, the inexperienced driver will be safer with a single steed. The one thing that crushes a general of secondary ability is to have more men than he knows how to handle; his divisions simply get into one another’s way, and his four-in-hand is in a hopeless tangle. Many a man has failed with a great force who would have been superb with a Spartan band; Garibaldi himself did not fit well into the complex mechanism of a German army. “Captain,” said a bewildered volunteer naval lieutenant, accustomed to handling his own small crew upon the quarter-deck of his merchant vessel,–“captain, if you will just go below, and take two thirds of these men with you, I’ll have this ship about in no time.” It is possible that Lee might have commanded a million men as effectively as Grant did, but we shall never know, for that brilliant general had no opportunity to make the experiment. Meanwhile, it is a satisfaction to observe that the most willing European critic can impair the fame of one great American soldier only by setting up that of another.
Which is the more interesting matter of study for posterity in the career of a great general, the course of his campaigns or the development of his character? The latter half of Grant’s life may be read from either of these points of view; but probably its greatest and most lasting interest will, be from its elucidation of the personal traits that marked the man,–its biographical rather than its historical aspect. Behind the battles lay the genius or individual quality, whatever it was, which fought those battles; and which, in the tremendous competition of military selection, left this man above all his immediate competitors in his own field. Even in regard to the lives of Caesar and Napoleon, we can observe that for one person who enters into the details of the strategy, there are ten who are interested in the evolution of the man. But in the case of Grant a new and peculiar interest is developed, for this reason, that he is the first great and conquering commander developed by modern republican institutions. This makes it almost certain that he will be one of the monumental men in history; and there is therefore no problem of the kind more interesting than to consider his character in the almost unerring light thrown by autobiography, and to comprehend what manner of man it is that has been added, in our own day, to those of whom Plutarch wrote.
[pg. 21] It is noticeable, in Grant’s Personal Memoirs, that the second volume has the same simplicity which was shown in the first. It would not have been strange if the habit of writing about himself–an exercise so wholly new to Grant–had by degrees impaired this quality as the book went on; but it really characterizes the later pages as much as the earlier, and the work might, so far as concerns this feature, have been struck off at a white heat. The author never poses nor attitudinizes–never wavers for an instant from his purpose to tell plain facts in the plainest possible way. The tremendous scenes through which he has passed never overwhelm or blur his statement; he tells of the manoeuvring of hundreds of thousands of men as quietly as if he were narrating a contest of fishing-boats at Long Branch. When he describes that famous interview between himself and General Lee, in which was settled the permanent destiny of the American nation, the tale is told far more quietly than the ordinary reporter would describe the negotiations for a college rowing-match. Such a description, read in connection with Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, shows that simplicity stands first among all literary gifts; that the greater the occasion, the more apt men are to be simple; and suggests that no time or place has ever surpassed, in this respect, the examples left behind by these two modern American men.
Next to the unconscious exhibition of character given by every man in writing about himself comes the light indirectly thrown upon his own nature by his way of judging of others. In this respect, also, Grant’s quietness of tone places him at great advantage. He sometimes praises ardently, but he censures very moderately. Of Bragg’s disastrous tactics at Chattanooga he only says, “I have never been able to see the wisdom of this move.” Of Buell’s refusal to accept a command under Sherman, on the ground that he had previously ranked Sherman Grant says, “The worst excuse a soldier can give for declining service is that be once ranked the commander he is ordered to report.” Again, when a question arose between Palmer and Schofield, as to whether the latter had a right to command the former, the comment is, “If he [Palmer] did raise this question while an action was going on, that act alone was exceedingly reprehensible.”
That besetting sin of military commanders, the habit of throwing the responsibility for failure upon subordinates, never seems to tempt Grant. In speaking of Burnside’s losing an important advantage at Spottsylvania, he says, “I attach no blame to Burnside for this, but I do to myself, for not having a staff officer with him to report to me his position.” When we compare this guardedness of tone with the sweeping authoritativeness which marks many of our civilian critics of campaigns, the difference is certainly most gratifying. The only matters that rouse Grant to anything like wrath in the telling are those acts which imply crimes against humanity like the massacre of colored troops at Port Pillow; and in this case he simply characterizes Forrest’s report of the affair as something “which shocks humanity to read.” He does not even allow himself the luxury of vehemence against fate, or fortune, or inevitable destiny. Even when he describes his immense local obstacles in the country round Spottsylvania,–a heavily timbered region, full of little streams surrounded by wooded and marshy bottom lands,–he gently says, “It was a much better country to conduct a defensive campaign in than an offensive one.” The man who can speak charitably of Virginia swamps may certainly lay claim to that virtue which is chief among the blessed three.
[pg. 22] The severest test offered in Grant’s memoirs, as to his judgment on men, is in his estimate of one whom he had allowed, in the opinion of many, to be most grievously wronged,–the late Major-General Gouverneur K. Warren. The great civil war caused a vast multitude of deaths, directly and indirectly, but among all these there was but one conspicuous and unquestionable instance of broken heart,–in the case of that high-minded and most estimable man who was removed by Sheridan from the command of an army corps just before the battle of Five Forks, and who spent the rest of his life in vainly endeavoring to secure even an investigation before a Court of Inquiry. All who remember General Warren’s refined and melancholy face, with its permanent look of hopeless and crushing sorrow, must have turned eagerly to those pages of the Personal Memoirs in which his case was mentioned. Instead of evading the subject, Grant met it frankly. It has always been supposed among the friends of General. Warren that the main objection to ordering a Court of Inquiry in his case was the known affection of the commander-in-chief for Sheridan, and his willingness to let Warren be sacrificed rather than expose his favorite officer to blame. Those who have read this book will be satisfied that no such theory will suffice. It is upon himself that Grant takes the main responsibility of Warren’s displacement. He had made, as he avers, a careful study of Warren’s peculiar temperament, long before this event occurred. He had at first felt in him a confidence so great that he would have put him in Meade’s place had that officer fallen (ii. 216), but he came gradually to a very different opinion. He always regarded him as a “gallant soldier, an able man,” and always thought him “thoroughly imbued with the solemnity and importance of the duty he had to perform.” But he thus analyzes his character (ii. 214):–
“Warren’s difficulty was twofold: when he received an order to do anything, it would at once occur to his mind bow all the balance of the army should be engaged so as to properly cooperate with him. His ideas were generally good, but he would forget that the person giving him orders had thought of others at the time he had of him. In like manner, when he did get ready to execute an order, after giving most intelligent instructions to division commanders, he would go in with one division, holding the others in reserve, until, he could superintend their movements in person also,–forgetting that division commanders could execute an order without his presence. His difficulty was constitutional and beyond his control. He was an officer of superior ability, quick perceptions, and personal courage to accomplish anything that could be done with a small command” (ii. 214-15).
This certainly gives a very clear analysis of a certain type of character; and whether the observer was correct or incorrect in his diagnosis, he was bound to act upon it. It further appears that Warren was again and again a source of solicitude to Grant. In some cases he did admirably, as at Cold Harbor. “The enemy charged Warren three separate times with vigor, but were repulsed each time with loss. There was no officer more capable, nor one more prompt in acting, than Warren, when the enemy forced him into it” (ii. 266). Again, at the siege of Petersburg, Warren obeyed orders perfectly, when Burnside paid no attention to him (ii. 313). Nevertheless Grant was very much afraid,”–taking all things into consideration,–“that at the last moment he would fail Sheridan.” He accordingly sent a staff officer to Sheridan to say that, although he personally liked Warren, it would not do to let personal feeling stand in the way of success, and “if his removal was [pg. 23] necessary to success” Sheridan must not hesitate. On this authority the removal was made; and Grant only blames himself for not having assigned Warren, long before, to some other field of duty (ii. 445).
All this throws light not merely upon Grant’s sustaining Sheridan in the removal of Warren, but on his uniform refusal afterwards to order any Court of Inquiry. This was the one thing for which Warren and his friends longed; and it was always assumed, by them that it was refused merely in order to shield Sheridan. Yet it was the one thing which would have been, from Grant’s point of view, utterly useless. When an officer is removed for an actual moral fault, as cowardice, drunkenness, or disobedience of orders, a formal investigation may settle the matter; for it is then a question of definite charges. But where a man of the highest character turns out to be, from mere peculiarities of temperament, unsuited to a certain post, his displacement may be just as necessary; nor can war be carried on in any other way. The stake is too tremendous, the interests of the nation are too momentous for the matter to rest on any other basis. Nor is it essential that the superior officer should be assumed as infallible; under these circumstances he must do the best he can. Had there been a Court of Inquiry, nothing would have been established except that Grant and Sheridan honestly believed that Warren was not the man for the place, and that they therefore set him aside, as they might have done, under like circumstances, with any other officer in himself estimable,–as, for instance, Burnside. Grant may have sincerely thought that to say this before a Court of Inquiry would really hurt Warren more than Sheridan, and that it was better for the sufferer himself to let the matter rest where it lay. This was probably mistaken kindness, if kindness it was. A man smarting under a real or supposed injustice always prefers an investigation, even if the result of that tribunal is sure to be against him. Nor is it sure that it would have been technically against Warren. The considerations which influenced Grant and Sheridan were to some extent intangible, and General Humphreys has shown that on some points they were mistaken, and Warren had done rightly. But the real question is whether Grant was also mistaken in his final analysis of Warren’s character; and it is upon this, after all, that the whole thing turned.
This particular instance has been thus emphasized because it is, more than any other, a test of Grant’s habit of justice to his subordinates; a quality in which, we are bound to say, he surpasses almost all writers of military autobiographies. So far as justice to himself is concerned, he could not have well helped doing it, had he tried, for any man shows himself as he is, either willingly, or unwillingly, when he tells his own story. Nor is there any evidence that he sought to help it.
The latter part of his book bears literary marks of the tremendous strain under which it was written, but it bears no moral marks of it; and he keeps clear, from beginning to end, of all that ill-concealed enthusiasm about himself which is the common bane of autobiographies. He is perfectly content to stand for what he was,–a combination of plain and almost commonplace qualities, developed to a very high power, and becoming at length the equivalent of what we call military genius. This, at least, is the inference to be drawn from his book. Whether he was or was not, in the way of distinctive genius, a greater man than he thought himself must be left for the military historians of a future generation to determine. In any case the spectacle of an eminent commander who habitually underrates himself is rare enough to be very pleasing.
[pg. 24] This process of self-development is never, of course, directly stated, or even intimated, by Grant himself. Had it been otherwise the quality of unconsciousness would have been wanting. But the adaptation of supreme good sense to the conditions and exigencies of army life may constantly be traced here, riot merely between the lines, but in maxim after maxim, each an obiter dictum, given with a homely simplicity that half disguises its real wisdom. What Lincoln would have put into an anecdote or local proverb,–as when, for instance, he expressed his unwillingness to swap horses while crossing a stream or to cross Fox River before he reached it,–Grant condenses into some plain statement: “Accident often decides the fate of battle” (ii. 212). “It would be bad to be defeated in two battles fought on the same day; but it would not be bad to win them” (ii. 20). “It is men who wait to be selected, and not those who seek, from whom we may always expect the most efficient service” (ii. 117). “The fact is, troops who have fought a few battles and won, and followed up their victories, improve upon what they were before to an extent that can hardly be reckoned by percentage” (ii. 109). “No man is so brave that he may not meet such defeats and disasters as to discourage him and dampen his ardor for any cause, no matter how just he deems it” (ii. 419). “It had been my intention before this to remain at the West, even if I was made lieutenant-general; but when I got to Washington, and saw the situation, it was plain that here was the point for the commanding-general to be. No one else could probably resist the pressure that would be brought to bear upon him to desist from his own plans and pursue others” (ii. 116).
In each passage we see clearly the working of Grant’s mind. When once his convictions had taken shape in one of these simple formulae, it was no more necessary for him to reconsider it than for a mathematician to go behind a preceding proposition. This clear and pellucid mental habit, joined with much reticence and a good deal of obstinacy, made a very powerful combination; kept him from being entangled by his own plans or confused by those of others; enabled him to form a policy, to hold to it, to overcome obstacles, to escape depression in defeat or undue excitement in victory. With all this–and here comes in the habit of mind generated by a republic–he never forgot that he was dealing with his own fellow countrymen, both as friends and foes, and that he must never leave their wishes and demands, nor even their whims and prejudices out of sight. Many of his early risks were based upon the conviction that the friends of the Union needed a victory or two, and must have it. All his strategy, during the closing campaign, was based upon the conviction–a conviction which Wellington or Von Moltke might very probably have missed–that the Confederates were thoroughly tired of the war, and were losing more men by desertion than they could possibly gain by impressment. Even in the terms at last given to Lee, the same quality of what we may call glorified common-sense came in; and there is no doubt that the whole process of reconstruction was facilitated when Grant decided that the vanquished Confederate soldiers had better keep their horses to help them in getting in their crops. All these considerations were precisely those we should expect a republican general to apply. It would be natural for him to recognize that the war in which he was engaged was not a mere competitive test of military machines, human or otherwise, but that it must be handled with constant reference to the instincts and. habits that lay behind it. The absence of this ready comprehension helped to explain the curious failure, in our, army, of many foreign [pg. 25] officers who knew only the machine. The fact that Grant and Lincoln, however they might differ in other respects, had this mental habit in common was that which enabled them to work together so well. A striking instance of this was their common relation to the slavery question, which both had approached reluctantly, but which both accepted at last as the pivotal matter of the whole conflict. Both saw that it could be met in but one way, and both divined that the course of events was steadily about ionizing all Union men. In general, Lincoln with sympathetic humor and Grant with strong sense kept always in mind the difference between a people’s war and a mere contest of soldiers.
In other words, they were both representative Americans. So much stronger is the republican instinct among us than any professional feeling which even West Point cam create that Grant, though trained to the pursuit of arms, never looked at things for a moment merely from the soldier’s point of view. This was the key to his military successes,–the time, the place, the combatants being what they were,–and this was the key to the readiness with which, at last, both Grant and the soldiers under him laid down their arms. Here at last, Europe thought, was the crisis of danger; here was the “man on horseback,” so often prophesied as the final instrument of Providence, surely destined to bring this turbulent republic back among the mass of nations that obey with ease. The moment of fancied peril came; and it turned out that old Israel Putnam, galloping in his shirt-sleeves to the battle of Bunker Hill, was not more harmless to the liberties of America than this later man-on-horseback, Grant.
The claims of Grant to permanent fame will lie first in the fact that he commanded the largest civilized armies the world ever saw; secondly, that with these armies he saved the integrity of the American nation; thirdly, that he did all this by measures of his own initiating, rarely calling a council of war and commonly differing from it when called; fourthly, that he did all this for duty, not glory, and in the spirit of a citizen, not the military spirit, persisting to the last that he was, as he told Bismarck, more of a farmer than a soldier; then again, that when tested by the severest personal griefs and losses in the decline of life, he showed the same strong qualities still; and finally, that in writing his own memoirs he was simple as regards himself, candid towards opponents, and thus bequeathed to the world a book better worth reading than any military autobiography since Caesar’s Commentaries.
NEWS NOTES *** Howard N. Meyer, a New York City attorney, whose recent book, Colonel of the Black Regiment, furnished valuable background information for the introduction to Thomas Wentworth Higginson’s essay on Grant, has also written Let Us Have Peace: The Story of Ulysses S. Grant (1966), a biography designed specifically for teenagers. *** E. B. Long, vice chairman of the Editorial Board of the Grant Association, is Visiting Lecturer in Civil War History at the University of [pg. 26] California, San Diego at La Jolla, for the spring academic quarter of this year. *** Critic John Ciardi has written an amusing article in a recent Saturday Review (March 9, 1968) chiding the National Park Service for insisting that the New York City structure known to almost everybody as Grant’s Tomb should properly be called the General Grant National Memorial. To a National Park Service assertion that the new name will be recognized in a few years Ciardl replies: “It will not….Not In eternity.” Ciardi’s full-page condemnation, however, will undoubtedly be more effective than official pronouncements in reminding people to refer to the General Grant National Memorial whenever they mean Grant’s Tomb. *** The first volume of The Papers of Andrew Johnson, a recent publication of the University of Tennessee Press, provides a documentary record of Johnson’s life from his indenture to a tailor in 1822 to the beginning of his fifth consecutive term as United States Representative in 1851. Editors LeRoy P. Graf and Ralph W. Haskins plan nine more volumes to cover the rest of Johnson’s life. The first volume, with masterful editing and handsome printing, inaugurates a major contribution to the literature of American history.