The General And The Bottle

PrintPrintEmailEmail

I returned hurriedly to Grant and in the end persuaded him to abandon all thought of going ashore that night. His first intention was to mount and return overland to his headquarters in front of Vicksburg, through a section of country as hostile as any in the Confederacy, and without any knowledge whatever of the roads traversing it. I have never doubted but he would have ridden off into the enemy’s lines that night if he had been allowed to do so. During the night the boat started down stream on the return trip—tied up once for a short time till the moon rose, and was at Haynes’s Bluff in the morning.

Grant was duly sober by this time I think and sent a part of the escort out to Gen. Kimball’s camp (or it may have been Gen. Cadwallader C. Washburne’s [Washburn’s] camp) to obtain news from [there]. The Diligence tied up at the landing to await their return. I supposed all necessity for extra vigilance on my part had passed, and was almost “thunderstruck” at finding an hour afterward that Grant had procurred another supply of whiskey from on shore and was quite as much intoxicated as the day before. The same tactics were resorted to, but I encountered less fierce opposition. On the return of the escort, Grant ordered the boat to proceed to Chickasaw Bayou.

If we had started then we would have arrived at the Bayou about the middle of the afternoon, when the landing would have been alive with officers, men and trains from all parts of the army. To be seen in his present condition would lead to utter disgrace and ruin. Capt. McDougall was also alarmed, as to the consequences to himself. He was now very willing to take orders from me: First, not to start immediately, making the pretext of low fires, green wood, &c. Next, to not start until I assented.

An hour or two was thus consumed. When Grant’s impatience at last threatened to burst all restraints I could put upon him, McDougall was directed to start, but to look out for a safe sandbar or beach to stick on for awhile. This was done. We finally arrived at Chickasaw Bayou about sundown and ran into the landing alongside of a large steamboat used by “Wash” Graham, as a headquarter Sutler boat. Graham kept open house to all officers and dispensed free liquors and cigars generously.

I climbed over the guards; saw Graham; cautioned him against allowing Grant to have any liquor because he had been drinking heavily, and had not recovered from its effects; received his promise that the General should not have a drop of anything intoxicating on his boat; and then hurried back to assist in getting the horses off the Diligence . This was soon effected, but when ready to mount the general could not be found.

Suspecting that he had gone aboard Graham’s boat, I went to its office on the bow, but no one had seen Grant. I started aft in search of him, and soon heard a general hum of conversation and laughter proceeding from a room opening out of the ladies’ cabin. Pushing in among a crowd of officers, of all ranks, I found Graham in front of a table covered with bottled whiskey and baskets of champagne, and Grant in the act of swallowing a glass of whiskey. I was thoroughly indignant and may have shown rather scant ceremony in saying to him that the escort was waiting, and that it would be long after dark before we could reach headquarters. He was not very well pleased by my interruption, and urgency in starting.

He had taken on this trip for his own use a horse belonging to Col. Clark B. Lagon called “Kangaroo,” from his habit of rearing on his hind-feet and making a plunging start whenever mounted. On this occasion Grant gave him the spur the moment he was in the saddle, and the horse darted away at full speed before anyone was ready to follow. The road was crooked and tortuous, following the firmest ground between sloughs and bayous, and was bridged over these in several places. Each bridge had one or more guards stationed at it, to prevent fast riding or driving over it; but Grant paid no attention to roads or sentries. He went at about full speed through camps and corrals, heading only for the bridges, and literally tore through and over everything in his way. The air was full of dust, ashes, and embers from camp-fires, and shouts and curses from those he rode down in his race.

Fortunately horse and rider escaped impalement from bayonets, and equally fortunately were not fired upon by the guards. I took after him as fast as I could go, but my horse was no match for “Kangaroo.” By the time the escort was mounted Grant was out of sight in the gloaming. After crossing the last bayou bridge three-fourths of a mile from the landing, he abandoned his reckless gait, and when I caught up with him was riding in a walk.

I seized his bridle rein and urged the danger to himself and others in such racing, on such roads; told him the escort could not even keep in sight in the dust and dusk of the evening. He tried to snatch the rein from my hand, but in the scuffle I got the long flowing double-rein from over the horse’s head and told him very firmly that he should ride as I directed. I secured his bridle rein to my own saddle and convinced him that I was master of the situation. His intoxication increased so in a few minutes that he became unsteady in the saddle. The escort was not in sight. Fearing discovery of his rank and situation, I turned obliquely to the left away from the road and took refuge in a thicket near the foot of the bluff. Here I helped him to dismount, secured our horses, stripped the saddle from “Kangaroo,” and induced the General to lie down on the grass with the saddle for a pillow. He was soon asleep.