The General And The Bottle

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We were constantly receiving news that Gen. Johnston was advancing to raise the siege. Gen. Frank P. Blair made a reconnaissance in force for fifty miles without encountering any Confederate troops. Reinforcements began to arrive from the north. On the third of June Gen. [Nathan] Kimball’s brigade from Hurlbut’s Command at Memphis arrived and pushed out ten or twelve miles northeast of Haynes’s bluff; some cavalry was posted near him also; and these troops were charged with the duty of patroling the country within their reach; to forage upon the country to the fullest extent; bringing in all food, grain and live-stock found, if possible, and to destroy the balance; and to tear up bridges and obstruct roads should an enemy appear. Some light-draught transports, two or three dispatch boats, and an occasional gun boat from Admiral Porter’s were running irregularly between Chickasaw Bayou and Satartia, about one hundred miles up the Yazoo by water.

During the first week in June (I think it was, although I cannot fix the precise date because all my correspondence was destroyed in the great Chicago fire) I ran up to Satartia, to satisfy myself concerning affairs in that quarter, in the steamboat Diligence , Capt. Harry McDougall of Louisville, Kentucky, commander. Everything was quiet. So far as I could learn no one was expecting Gen. Johnston’s arrival, and no Confederate troops were in the vicinity.

On the return trip next day we met another steamboat, having on board Gen. Grant, and a small cavalry escort, under Capt. Osband, on their way to Satartia also. Grant was acquainted with Capt. McDougall (having used the Diligence on other occasions) and concluded to transfer to it, and order it back to Satartia again. As the vessels approached each other we were signalled to stop, the other boat ran alongside of the Diligence , and Grant with those accompanying him, came aboard the latter vessel. She was turned about and started up stream at once.

I was not long in perceiving that Grant had been drinking heavily, and that he was still keeping it up. He made several trips to the bar room of the boat in a short time, and became stupid in speech and staggering in gait. This was the first time he had shown symptoms of intoxication in my presence, and I was greatly alarmed by his condition, which was fast becoming worse.

Lieut. H. N. Towner, of Chicago, acting A.D.C., was the only staff representative aboard. I tried to have Towner get Grant into his stateroom on some pretense, and not allow him to come out till sober. But he was timid, and afraid the General would resent it, and punish him in some way, for his interference. I then went to Capt. McDougall to have him refuse the general any more whiskey, in person, or on his order. This the Captain said he could not do—that Gen. Grant was department commander with full power to do what he pleased with the boat, and all it contained.

Finding persuasions unavailing, I commenced on McDougall with imprecations and threats. I assured him that on my representations he would, and should, be sent out of the department in irons if I lived to get back to headquarters. He knew something of the vindictive feelings Rawlins had for those who supplied Grant with liquor, and finally closed the bar room, and conveniently lost the key in a safe place, till we left the boat.

I then took the General in hand myself, enticed him into his stateroom, locked myself in the room with him (having the key in my pocket), and commenced throwing bottles of whiskey which stood on the table, through the windows, over the guards, into the river. Grant soon ordered me out of the room, but I refused to go. On finding himself locked in he became quite angry and ordered me peremptorily to open the door and get out instantly. This order I firmly, but goodnaturedly declined to obey. I said to him that I was the best friend he had in the Army of the Tennessee; that I was doing for him what I hoped some one would do for me, should I ever be in his condition; that he was not capable in this case of judging for himself; and that he must, for the present, act upon my better judgment, and be governed by my advice. As it was a very hot day and the State-room almost suffocating, I insisted on his taking off his coat, vest and boots, and lying down in one of the berths. After much resistance I succeeded, and soon fanned him to sleep.

Before he had recovered from his stupor we reached Satartia, when another source of trouble arose. He was determined to dress and go ashore; and ordered Capt. Osband to debark the escort men and horses. Poor Osband was now in a dilemma. To obey orders and land just at night in such a miserable little hamlet, filled with desperadoes and rebel sympathisers, with but a handful of troopers to protect the general, seemed suicidal. To disobey would lead to—he knew not what. I came to his help by promising to take upon myself the responsibility of shooting or hamstringing every horse on the vessel. We soon agreed that under no conditions whatever would we go ashore ourselves, or permit the General to do so.