The General And The Bottle


When in front of Richmond I might have visited Jefferson Davis daily, so far as our own troops were concerned, and often did pass through Weitzell’s [Major General Godfrey Weitzel’s] corps to the front to exchange Federal for Confederate newspapers. I could take possession of any vessel, from a tug to the largest government transport, allow no one but myself on board, and proceed wherever I pleased. I frequently used tugs or small dispatch boats, and on one or two occasions used fast steamboats between City Point, Fortress Monroe and Baltimore. On another occasion the regular packet from City Point was held at Fortress Monroe six hours to enable a fast dispatch boat to overtake it bearing my account of the celebrated “African Church meeting” in Richmond. At a time too when President Lincoln’s permits to civilians to visit the Army of the Potomac were ruthlessly disregarded by order of Secretary Stanton, I constantly carried three or four passes, signed up by Gen. Grant, with blank spaces to fill with the names of any persons I wished to bring to the front.

From the date of this Yazoo-Vicksburg adventure until the end of the war, and during my semi-connection with Grant’s headquarters in Washington City, ending in the fall of 1866, my standing with the general and his staff became stronger month by month. I constantly received flattering personal and professional favors and attentions shown to no one else in my position.

So far as I know Gen. Grant did not touch any intoxicants afterward until his visit to Gen. Banks at New Orleans.• I was at Memphis and Cairo at that time and can only speak upon information obtained at Headquarters on my return, which was to the effect that his being thrown from his horse on his return from a review of Gen. Banks’s troops, was solely due to his drinking. He narrowly escaped instant death, and did not recover from his injuries for several months. From this time on till our arrival at City Point, he was perfectly abstemious so far as I knew. But on several occasions during the summer, and prior to Jan. 1st 1865, he caused much solicitude in the small circle of sincere friends who realized his danger, and had constituted themselves a body-guard to prevent his drinking.

• Grant’s visit to Banks occurred in mid-August, 1863.

Rawlins quietly but relentlessly exercised his personal and official influence and authority. It came to be well understood that any staff officer who furnished Gen. Grant a single drink; or drank with him when away from headquarters; or in any way whatever connived at, or concealed, the general’s drinking, would be summarily ordered to his proper command, or be disgraced, broken in rank, or run out of the service, if in his power to accomplish it. His authority was unquestioned. His control over Grant was fully recognized. More than one staff officer was barely given the option of resigning, or of being crushed by the iron hand of the great Chief of Staff.