MILITARY ORDER OF THE LOYAL LEGION OF THE UNITED STATES

War Papers


ULYSSES S. GRANT
FROM OBSCURITY TO LIEUTENANT-GENERAL

By
Frederick C. Winkler, Colonel 26th Wisconsin Infantry,
Brevet Brigadier General U.S. Vols
Original Member of the Wisconsin Commandery, Insignia Number 1857
Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States
Read March 25, 1906 (First Published 1914)
(August 2003)


Transcribed by Douglas R. Niermeyer, Commander, Missouri Commandery
Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the U.S.
momollus@sbcglobal.net
(August 2002)

ULYSSES S. GRANT was born in humble life in southern Ohio on the 27th of April, 1822, and was, at the age of seventeen, apparently without solicitude or elation on his part', appointed a cadet to the military academy at West Point. It has been said of him by a not unkindly critic that "he remained markedly unmilitary throughout his course," that "he was much beloved and respected as an upright, honorable and loyal young fellow," and that "he was the finest horseman in the academy." Otherwise he was in no wav distinguished. He was graduated in 1843 about the middle of his class, which numbered thirty-nine. He coveted a place in the cavalry, but was assigned to the 4th Infantry. He did creditable service in the Mexican War as second lieutenant, and was twice promoted for gallantry. He was married in 1848, but remained in the army, serving in the south, in the west, and on the Pacific coast until the summer of 1854, when he resigned, having in the previous year gained the rank of captain. He had lost money in unfortunate ventures, and left the army poor. For four years he labored on a little farm of his wife's, some ten miles from St. Louis. He named it "Hardscrabble,"' and a hard scrabble it was. Man a time the future general and president hauled a load of firewood for sale to the market in St. Louis. It cannot be said that the effort at farming and woodselling was a success. He moved to St. Louis. In his modest way he sought public employment as an engineer, but without avail. He tried real estate business. it failed to flourish. Finally, in 1860, he removed to Galena, Illinois, to take a position in a leather store which his father, then a tanner at Covington, Kentucky, had there established for his sons. Here the outbreak of the Rebellion found him, a man of thirty-nine, in humble employment, and the enjoyment of a salary of six hundred dollars a year.

Nor did the opening conflict seem to arouse his personal ambition. He did, indeed, when the first levy of volunteers was called, preside at a war meeting and then gave active aid to drill and organize a company. He declined its captaincy, but accompanied it to Springfield, so far as is known with no thought of seeking a position for himself. Here his familiarity with military methods, however, was noticed, and he was given temporary employment in the mustering of troops under the governor of the state. These duties coming toward a close, he wrote to the adjutant-general of the army from Galena on the 24th of May, 1861, referring to his West Point training and army experience and tendering his service, saying that he believed himself "competent to command a regiment. The letter was unheeded; indeed, seems first to have received attention after the close of the war. In June, with nothing else to do, he went on a week's visit to his parents in Covington, possibly to discuss with his father the prospects of the Galena store.

True it is, indeed, as has been said, that "nothing in history exceeds the contrasts in the life of Ulysses Grant." While he was on this visit on the 17th of June, more than two months after the commencement of hostilities, the governor of Illinois appointed him to the command of a volunteer regiment. He promptly accepted, and entered upon his command without having had time to procure sword, sash or uniform. If he had hitherto seemed languid he at once showed force and activity. He proceeded to Missouri and proved himself "competent to command a regiment." The first days of September brought him back to Illinois a brigadier general assigned to command at Cairo, then the most critical point in the whole Mississippi country. The enemy was establishing himself in strong force and fortifying point, on the river in Kentucky. Grant came and saw, and forthwith set out with an expedition on transports and seized the important point of Paducah. Here he fortified, as well as at Cairo, and thus held the mouths of the two great rivers, the Ohio and the Tennessee. By early winter Commodore Foote's gunboat flotilla was ready for service. After some solicitation Grant obtained General Halleck's consent to a joint naval and land attack on Fort Henry, a rebel fortification on the Tennessee. Fort Henry fell on the 6th of February. Grant at once turned his face to Donelson, a strong fortress fifteen miles to the east, where it barred the Cumberland river. The wired his superior: "I shall take and destroy Fort Donelson on the 8th and return to Fort Henry." It was an index of his energy and resolution, although he could not literally perform the promise. Rising rivers and flooded roads rose against him. But he went to Donelson. It was at once found that by reason of the conformation of the river banks Commodore Foote's gunboats could be of no aid to him here. It was a disappointment, but disappointment never chilled General Grant's persistency. Through rain and snow and frost he pushed his lines against this stronghold of fortification, and on the 16th of the month electrified the country by forcing what the rebel commander called the "unchivalrous terms" of "unconditional surrender" of fortress, armament and fifteen thousand prisoners.

I cannot stop to point the effect of this great victory. Nor can I follow General Grant step by step through his campaigns. I pass Shiloh and all its incidents and surroundings. Points of climax only engage my attention.

The opening of the year 1863, found General Grant in front of Vicksburg in command of the department and with substantially free hand. Many abortive efforts had been made to reduce and to circumvent this formidable fortress.

Spring came; the roads were drying and the general entered upon a new campaign. With bold resolve he cut loose from his base, determined to make his attack from the south. He sent first one corps, ultimately his whole army, far down the river on the west side, intending to cross at o r near Grand Gulf and thence operate along the Big Black River to the rear of Vicksburg. Porter with hearty co-operation, under the cover of night, ran his gunboats and transports, laden with supplies, past the batteries to the river below. Grand Gulf was found strongly entrenched, and a landing and crossing being there impossible, were effected some miles below at Bruinsburg. By noon of the 30th of April, one corps was safely across and had found a firm footing on the east side of the river. Other troops promptly followed, and all were as promptly pushed forward toward Port Gibson. An opposing force, well posted on difficult ground, was encountered the next day, and after a sharp action driven from the field. As a consequence Grand Gulf was abandoned, fell into Union hands and became a temporary base. Grant had been advised from Washington, after effecting a landing below Vicksburg, to go to the aid of General Banks at Port Hudson, and had communicated with the latter on the subject. But he now clearly perceived that his way to victory lay in another direction. By feints to the north of Vicksburg he had kept the enemy's forces divided. The celerity of his movements had disconcerted them, and he was able by rapid marches to interpose between Pemberton at Vicksburg and Johnston in and about Jackson. Celerity became the animating principle of his campaign. With his army admirably in hand he pushed onward. He fought and won four battles in six days, facing toward the east near Raymond on the 12th, and at Jackson on the 14th, capturing that city with many guns and much material. Leaving one corps to destroy the railroad and military depots, he turned square to the west, and on the 16th met and inflicted disastrous defeat on Pemberton at Champion's Hill. Another stand was made at the fortified point of Big Black Bridge the next day, but Pemberton's demoralized men could not long resist the Union onset. His whole army sought and for the moment found refuge within the entrenchments of Vicksburg. On the field of this last battle, the sealing struggle of his brave campaign, May 17th, General Grant received a belated order from General Halleck, dated the 11th of May, directing him in positive terms to return to Grand Gulf, to co-operate from there with General Banks against Port Hudson, and then return with their combined forces to besiege Vicksburg. Did ever military order meet a more fortunately disastrous delay? As to what had been done I quote from a military authority:

"It was now eighteen days since Grant had secured a footing on the east bank of the Mississippi by the battle of Port Gibson. In that time he had marched about 200 miles, and by keeping his army together had defeated the enemy's scattered detachments in four engagements, at Raymond, Jackson, Champion's Hill, and Big Black, all fought within six days; he had inflicted a loss upon them of 8,000 in killed, wounded and missing, had captured 88 pieces of their artillery, and finally, had driven them into the narrow defenses of Vicksburg , causing their outworks at Haines' Bluff, Warrenton, and Grand Gulf to be abandoned, and establishing his own base on the Yazoo River in easy and safe reach of his gunboats and transports. He had not only prevented the junction of the enemy's detachments, but had still further scattered their forces, so that they had fully 14,000 less men available in Vicksburg at the close of this period than at the beginning. During these eighteen days Grant's men bad had but five days' rations, having lived for the rest on the country, their own losses had been a little less than 3,000. We must go back to the campaigns of Napoleon to find equally brilliant results accomplished in the same space of time- with such small loss."

The prize, to be sure, was not yet won. A strenuous siege succeeded, pushed with relentless vigor. On the fourth of July, the Nation's birthday, General Grant had the almost unspeakable satisfaction of announcing another unconditional surrender-surrender of the bristling fort of all its guns and what remained of its resources and over 30,000 prisoners. The news ran wildly through the country and reached another field of battle just when, after three days of intense anxiety, the rebel hordes, beaten and discouraged, were rolling back from the heights of Gettysburg. Oh, it was a glorious 4th of July!

Great were the praises now showered upon General Grant. None I take it, touched him as did the words which Abraham Lincoln, our president, wrote him-not so much officially as from the warmth of his honest heart:

    Executive Mansion,
    July 13, 1863.
    Major General Grant.

    My Dear General:

    I do not remember that you and I ever met personally. I write this now as a grateful acknowledgment of the almost inestimable service you have done the country. I wish to say a word further. When you first reached the vicinity of Vicksburg, I thought you should do what you finally did,-march the troops across the creek, run the batteries with the transports and then go below. . . . When you got below and took Port Gibson, Grand Gulf and vicinity, I thought you should go down the river and join General Banks, and when you turned northward, east of the Big Black, I feared it was a mistake. I now wish to make the personal acknowledgment that you were right and I was wrong.

    Yours very truly,
    A. Lincoln.

It is said that this campaign was "full of dangers and risks." I answer, alas for the soldier who will not take risks; who, before he will fight a battle or enter on a campaign, seeks to hold in his hands demonstrable assurance of success. He may do good service, but he will never achieve greatness.

The courage of a great commander does not, like that of the rank and file, consist of disregard of personal danger. It is the self-reliant calm which, while it feels and appreciates, is not appalled by risk or danger. Such a commander knows his resources, has faith in his power of using them, clearly perceives his aim, and asks himself, "Is it feasible?" This determined, he takes no counsel of his fears. It is his time to act! Doubt and hesitation are dismissed and he bends all his power to the end he has determined to accomplish. Herein lies the quality of greatness. It is bred in the bone of him who possesses it. It marked all of General Grant's campaigns.

I pass the immediate events following the fall of Vicksburg. Another scene rises to our view. The battle of Chickamauga had been fought. General Rosecrans and his army had retired to Chattanooga. The enemy had taken strong and threatening positions commanding all his communications save a precarious, circuitous wagon track over a mountain range. The army was in the greatest possible danger. The administration and the general-in-chief, we are told by General Grant, were almost frantic with anxiety over the situation. Help was sent from the Potomac. Help was on the way from the Army of Vicksburg. But that was not all that was wanted. In the first days of October it seems to have been determined in Washington to confer the chief command upon General Grant. No intimation of it was given to him. Some days later his personal presence was requested at Cairo, whence he was to report by telegraph. The secretary of war, like the president, had never met General Grant. Perhaps he was unwilling to commit the great power he was about to bestow without having first seen the man. Moreover, the intensity of the situation doubtless seemed to him to call for a thorough and unreserved exchange of views. At all events, having wired him to come north, be hastened to the west seeking an interview. The two men Edwin M. Stanton and Ulysses S. Grant, first met on a train between Indianapolis and Louisville. Here the secretary, without delay, personally placed in General Grant's hands an order giving him command of the entire territory and all the troops between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi, excepting only the portion under General Banks in southern Louisiana. Conforming to the urgency of the secretary, be took charge immediately. The field of his activity was thus transferred from Vicksburg to Chattanooga. He at once proceeded to the latter place. On the day of his arrival, he issued orders for a movement, already but not begun, which resulted in opening a line of communication along Lookout Valley, by which sorely needed supplies were obtained, fully relieving the immediate necessities of the army. Then he collected his forces for attack. Hooker's contingent from the Army of the Potomac was already on the ground. Sherman brought a powerful reinforcement from the west. In the battles of November 23rd, 24th, and 25th, Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge were swept, Braxton Bragg driven in confusion from his defiant position and made to seek refuge in fastnesses beyond. A strong column was sent up the river to Knoxville, relieving General Burnside, who had been severely and dangerously pressed by General Longstreet in that place. The tables were turned. The rebellion was put at bay. The year closed with promising reassurance for the Union cause.

At last the idea of concentration of military command, ensuring thoroughness of co-operation, had come to take possession of the public mind. It found expression in a new statute, under which, on the 9th of March, 1864, Ulysses S. Grant became lieutenant general, and assumed command of all the armies of the United States.

Here he stood, with a command that covered a continent, and whose muster-rolls counted over a million of men. More than that, he had command of the full confidence of his country. His slightest word was an order that found instant obedience. His every suggestion within the range of his duties (and he made no others) was bowed to by president and cabinet.

Less than three years before he had been the simple, obscure leather dealer at Galena. No motive of personal favoritism had-contributed to a- single step of his advancement. All had come to him because he was always unmistakably the man of the hour.

Of his further career, his achievements in supreme command, the mighty struggle of 1864, and the final triumph in 1865, the hosannas and honors showered upon him by a grateful people, I do not mean to speak.

They but confirm the unerring judgment which in the midst of peril, in the crisis of our fate, singled him out as unmistakably the man of the hour, and conferred upon him the degree and the power and the responsibility of Lieutenant General.

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Source:
Winkler, F.C. 1914. ULYSSES S. GRANT: FROM OBSCURITY TO LIEUTENANT-GENERAL, War Papers Read before the Commandery of the State of Wisconsin, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States. Burdick and Allen, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Volume 4.

Copyright © 2003 Douglas Niermeyer, Missouri Commandery, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States


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