Ulysses S. Grant
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
In an obscure town in Clermont, Ohio, on the 27th of April, 1822, a hero was born. Into the family of a leather merchant of moderate circumstances came this child, who was destined to become world-famous. In his christening he received the name of the great Greek warrior, who fought at Troy and wandered over' the world in that famous voyage among the islands of the sea. It would not be difficult to trace a resemblance between the ancient Ulysses, "the man of many' counsels," and the modern namesake, who fought his country's battles, ruled over her government in peace, and travelled to the world's end to proclaim her honor and her greatness.
The boyhood and youth of this illustrious man was passed at Georgetown, in the Buckeye State. His parents were well-to-do, and the boy had such social and educational advantages as could be obtained in a small Ohio town forty years ago. At the age of seventeen he entered the Military Academy at West Point, to learn the trade of war. He remained there four years, and at the completion of his course was commissioned brevet second lieutenant in the regular army. At school he showed little proficiency and is a most notable example of a man whose school days did not foreshadow the greatness and high ability of after life. He had no fondness for the soldier's profession, and showed no aptness in study. He was careless of dress and etiquette and treated the shams of West Point with the same indifference that he afterwards exhibited on many a well-fought field of the Civil War. In 1843 he graduated twenty-first in a class of thirty-nine—not a very promising record for the man who was to be the foremost general of modern times.
In the struggle with Mexico, Lieutenant Grant was attached to General Taylor's division until the capture of Monterey. He was then transferred to Scott's command and is said to have taken part in every battle of the campaign from Vera Cruz to the capital of the Montezumas. Here more than once he exhibited that fearlessness and coolness of demeanor that always characterized his conduct when in the face of peril. As the army was approaching Mexico, fighting their way into the old city, with a few others he mounted a howitzer in a church steeple and drove the Mexicans from all the parapets in the vicinity. This exploit was accomplished without orders and was a masterly piece of skillful manceuvering. It won the congratulations of his superior officers and probably caused the surrender of the Garita San Cosme.
In 1848 Lieutenant Grant was married to Julia Dent, daughter of Frederick Dent, a prominent merchant of St. Louis. This union was a long and happy one and of more than ordinary affection. It was blessed with loving children and broken by heroic death when both were old and chastened by the world's sorrows. We are told that this gruff, quiet man, always so undemonstrative and unpretentious, had a most tender heart within him and loved his wife and family more than other men. He was never so happy as when, away from the noise of battle and the strife of -political faction, he could gather his beloved family about him at the hearth-fire.
In 1854, after a continuous service in the army of eleven years, and after obtaining a captain's commission, he resigned his position and became a ,quiet farmer a few miles from the city of St. Louis. This venture was not successful and in 186o he sought employment with his father and brothers at Galena, Ill., in the leather trade. Thus, through various vicissitudes of life, through wide and varied experiences, the young soldier had come, fully prepared, to meet the new duties that now came to his hand. The fairest land beneath the sun was plunged into fratricidal strife. A strong hand, a level head, a fearless heart, a man of quick and decisive action was needed to lead the armies of the Union and plan her great campaigns. That one was found in the man who had graduated twenty-first in his class—who had failed at farming and had been only an indifferent soldier. Through all the years a great man had been waiting for a great occasion and now it was at hand.
On the 11th of April, 1861, the flag of a free nation was trailed in the dust at Fort Sumter. A thrill of horror shot through the Northern States. On the 15th the call of President Lincoln was read in the streets of Galena. On the 19th Captain Grant was drilling a company, and on the 26th he lead them to Springfield one of the first offerings to a loyal country's cause. In June he was placed in command of a regiment. In August he was made Brigadier General, with headquarters at Cairo, on the Mississippi. Two days after he assumed command of the post, the enemy invaded Kentucky and sought to capture Paducah, at the mouth of the Tennessee. Without orders, and almost without communications with his superior officers, he advanced to Paducah, seized it and saved Kentucky to the Union cause. This exploit revealed the character of the man and has been called "the key-note to his military career." With characteristic shrewdness he saw the strategical importance of Paducah as a military post; with similar insight, he beheld the necessity of prompt and decisive action ; and with that sublime confidence in his ability to achieve, he executed quick movements and carried out his plans to the letter. In this lies an inspiration and is the practical lesson of this man's life to the world.
Early in November, Grant was ordered to make a demonstration toward Belmont, a small military station sixteen miles below Cairo. He received orders to move on the fifth ; on the sixth his force of 3,000 men was under way ; on the seventh he landed at Belmont, drove off the Confederates and destroyed the camp under a heavy fire from Columbus, on the opposite side of the river. On his way back to the transports, his way was intercepted by the rallying enemy, and he was obliged to "cut his way out" with raw troops and undisciplined officers His calm courage was contagious, and his army of farmers and Northern laborers "whipped 'em again" and reached the transports and Cairo with the loss of only men. With the opening of the year 1862 began that series of successes that placed the name of Grant so high in the annals of our country. Who has not read with kindling enthusiasm of this persistent man, as he led his army to Henry, and Donaldson, and Shiloh, and Corinth, and into the environs of Vicksburg? The story has been so often told that no one can hope to do more than repeat what others have said so well. He was ordered to Fort Henry on the last day of January. He started the next day, and before his troops had arrived upon the field, Commodore Foote had driven the enemy from Fort Henry. On the sixth of February he announced the victory to General Halleck and at the same time signified his determination to move at once upon Fort Donaldson. Without waiting for orders or General Halleck's "pickaxes and shovels," he called for heavy ordnance and marched at once to Donaldson. On the twelfth he began the siege. For three days there was incessant fighting and incessant wounds and slaughter. On the fifteenth, when the enemy were despairing and his own men were exhausted, this man, who had been berated for his rashness by superior officers, ordered an assault upon the enemy's left. The weary men obeyed the stern leader's command, and before night the fate of Donelson was sealed. The following day General Buckner and his entire command surrendered unconditionally. While General Halleck was sending his dispatches up the Cumberland, urging his subordinate "not to be too rash," Grant sent the news of the fall of Fort Donaldson and the surrender of its garrison. There must have been a quiet surprise at headquarters that day in February when the news came in.
In March.. this rapidly rising leader received orders to move up the Tennessee toward Corinth, where the enemy were gathering a large army. He immediately started and disembarked his troops at Pittsburg Land-ing. While waiting here for Buell's Division, the Confederates attacked him at Shiloh Church, on the sixth, with vastly superior forces. With 3,800 men he held 5,000 of Beauregard's forces at bay, until night came to shield his mutilated and exhausted army. During the night reinforcements arrived, and on the seventh the enemy was beaten back to Corinth, with the loss of 10,000 men and one of the bravest of Southern leaders. On both sides the loss was fearful, and never before had such a harvest of death been gathered in the new world.
After the capture of Fort Donaldson, Grant was made-Major-General, under the immediate command of General Halleck. In July, 1862, he fought the battle of Iuka, where the incompetence of one of his staff nearly cost him defeat. In October came the battle of Corinth, and thus the way was opened to the siege of Vicksburg. This was begun under the greatest difficulties that ever stared a general in the face. But, one by one, these difficulties melted away under the cool persistency of this man, who never gave up, and who was never beaten in a single campaign upon which he entered. After months of continuous bombardment, the watch-tower of the Mississippi fell, on the same day that the valiant Lee was driven from the field of Gettysburg.
For heroic service, Grant was now given' command of the armies of the Cumberland, and the presence of the great leader was immediately demanded at Chattanooga. Thither he went, to plan and fight the greatest battle of the war. General Bragg's forces were strongly entrenched on Lookout Mountain. His position seemed impregnable. But the enthusiastic forces of Hooker scaled the rough mountain's side, and carried their flag to the stars in the face of a murderous fire from the Confederate guns. They were driven from Lookout to Missionary Ridge, and again, the following day, the same tactics were carried out, and the Confederate forces were driven from their place above the clouds by the man who could out-general them even there.
In February, 1864, a Ioving people honored their greatest hero by a new name. The rank of Lieutenant-General was bestowed upon him, and he was given sole command of the armies of the Union, and upon him fell the task of closing the long and bloody conflict that had so nearly exhausted the resources and patience of the nation. There was need of the high-est power of generalship. Greater abilities than he had yet displayed must come from that character that had not yet been tried to its utmost. Plans upon a larger scale than he had yet matured must be carried into execution while the command of distant armies, as well as that under his immediate control, laid upon him the greatest responsibilities that had ever been assumed by any leader in the annals of warfare. Great as his success had been, still greater success or failure lay before him. Brilliantly as his genius had shown forth, still more splendidly must his great abilities shine in the dreadful emergencies yet to come. Irrepressible as his determination had, been at Donaldson, Shiloh, and Vicksburg, it was only a foreshadowing of that pluck that was neccessary in the exhausting campaign of the Wilderness and before the hard fought trenches of Petersburg. In the West, he had fought with some of the best generals that, the Confederacy had sent into the field ; but now he was to meet the " foeman worthy of his steel," and conquer one of the greatest men of modern times. In the centuries that are to come, when partisan views have subsided, and partisan pens have ceased to tell the story of the Wilderness and the fall of Richmond, the most magnificent spectacle of brilliant generalship in the annals of time will be found in that closing campaign of the Civil War of the States, where U. S. Grant and Robert E. Lee played the last desperate game of that fratricidal strife ; where the splendid powers of the one were set over against the almost unexampled abilities of the other. Truly, the Titans were found warring together.
The limits of this sketch forbid our following the armies of the Union in their bloody march from the Rappidan to the James. We cannot even trace the route from Manassas to Appomatox. We all know how Lee and his leaders were hemmed in until their cause was lost, and with bursting hearts they were compelled to give up the strife, a conquered foe; but to them the magnanimous terms of Appomattox must have touched a chord that has echoed since.
As long as the story of the Civil War shall be read, the great question will no doubt arise, which of these two warriors was the greater general ? Would Grant have conquered Lee with equal resources at his command ? Would Lee have driven Grant down the Wilderness to Richmond and Appomattox, if the Titans had changed places. Aside from all invidious comparisons, these are interesting questions. But they are questions for the military school and the student of tactics rather than for the quiet citizen in the time of peace.
Grant's genius was essentially aggressive. He could not fight upon the defensive. Whether from chance or otherwise he was never called upon to do so. If hard pressed and beaten at one point, he immediately made a stubborn attack upon some other; and turned the battle of defence into an instantaneous, ag gressive victory. Lee was more wily, more cautious, more careful of his resources. He was a master of strategy and defense, and, with reasonable resources at his command, the tide of war might have turned more than once as he was being driven back from Gettysburg and hemmed in on the James. The ad-vantages of chosen position and defense belonged to Lee. The advantages of superior resources and aggressive warfare belonged to Grant. Both were. very great generals, but which the greater remains an open question.
After the war Grant returned quietly to Galena: to rest awhile from his fierce work. He laid. aside all pomp, and became the simple, unpretentious man that had sold leather four years before. But his name had gone round the world; his popularity knew no bounds, and when the United States came to choose a president after the fearful days of Reconstruction, all eyes were turned to the great man of the nation. His honored rule of eight years is in the memory of my readers. The tour around the world, which was a continual ovation from New York eastward to the Golden Gate, is an event of yesterday. No man ever received such signal marks of respect and so many tokens of regard as did this modern Ulysses in his long wanderings.
After this a quiet household was set up in the eastern metropolis, and the greatest man of the nation became a quiet citizen of the republic, earning his living in honorable business life. With something of the skill exhibited on battlefields, he entered the vicissitudes of trade and sought to win victories in Wall Street, as he had won them on Southern plains. Yielding to the importunities of friends, with the shadow of coming death upon him, he at last took up his pen to tell in simple phrase, the story of his strange career. As we write the world is reading that interesting tale.
Hardly a year has passed since the great warrior entered upon his last campaign. He was smitten by the herald of death and through months of unspeakable suffering, bravely borne, he went to his death, July twenty-third 1885. Out of a baptism of suffering he has gone to his rest ; but his name will live forever in the history of this free and loyal people.
Energy, tenacity of purpose, tact, adroitness and self-reliance carried this man through the greatest achievements of this or any other age. These qualities of character made the history of Ulysses S. Grant.
" It is, however, the intellectual side of him that is least under-stood. I never saw anything more curious than his intellectual growth. His faculties had never been exercised upon any large matters, or on any large scale, until the war; then they expanded into the practical career of a soldier. All his military greatness came of the plainest possible qualities, developed to an astounding degree. The clearness of his judgment, the control of his emotions, his quick insight into a subject, his large grasp, his determined will—these are faculties that any one might possess in an ordinary degree without exciting wonder. But these he carried into the most extraordinary circumstances and applied on the grandest possible theatre.
" When he went to Washington and was thrown into contact with men trained in the political and social arena, at first he was very shy. He did not like the atmosphere ; he was not at home in it. He avoided the world, so far as he, at the core and top of the world, could avoid it. He disliked politics and society, but soon perceived that his duty and his position threw him into both politics and society, and though he never seemed to be observing, he watched closely. He very soon conformed to etiquette, which had been, at first, not only unfamiliar, but distasteful. He learned to understand the ways of men and women long used to arts and artifices. He never himself became a skilled simulator, but he could dissimulate as well as any man that ever lived.
" I saw him almost to the last in his grim struggle with the greatest of all foes. And there too I recognized that the massive qualities of the man, though on so grand a scale, were after all very human—the simple, natural traits that he shared with us all. He was a typical man, with his faults and virtues, only surpassing the rest by his achievements and his developed powers."—ADAM BADEAU, in New York Tribune