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.

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.

My next anxiety was to communicate with the escort. They were spread out over the bottom for a half mile circling about in search of the general, fully expecting to find him lifeless. One of the men at last came within hailing distance (John Walters if my memory is accurate) and answered my call. I ordered him to proceed directly to headquarters and report at once to Rawlins—and to no one else—and say to him that I wanted an ambulance with a careful driver, sent to me immedately—and that he (Walters) must guide them back to me as soon as it could be done. It was entirely dark by this time and I had no fear of discovery except from some straggling bummer, but I was prepared to cut off his shoulder-straps instantly if anyone approached. After an hour’s sleep he arose and wanted to start to Camp. I took him by the arm, walked him back and forth, and kept up a lively rather onesided conversation, till the ambulance arrived.

This became another source of contention. The general refused to get in it, and insisted on riding to camp on horseback. We compromised the question by my agreeing to ride in the ambulance also, and having our horses led by the orderly. On the way he confessed that I had been right, and that he had been wrong throughout, and told me to consider myself a staff officer, and to give any orders that were necessary in his name.

We reached headquarters about midnight, and found Rawlins and Col. John Riggin waiting for us at the driveway. I stepped out of the ambulance first, and was followed promptly by Grant. He shrugged his shoulders, pulled down his vest, “shook himself together,” as one just rising from a nap, and seeing Rawlins and Riggin, bid them good-night in a natural tone and manner, and started to his tent as steadily as he ever walked in his life.

My surprise nearly amounted to stupefaction. I turned to Rawlins and said I was afraid that he would think I was the man who had been drunk.

But he replied in suppressed tones through his clenched teeth: “No, No. I know him, I know him. I want you to tell me the exact facts—and all of them—without any concealment. I have a right to know them, and I will know them.” The whole appearance of the man indicated a fierceness that would have torn me into a thousand pieces had he considered me to blame.

So I began with Grant’s transfer to the Diligence , stated his condition and my fruitless endeavors to prevent his getting liquor, and told him fully and truthfully of my usurpation of authority. I said to him that I knew it to be in violation of all military rights and rules—that I considered these in the outset and deliberately resolved to do as I had done, and to accept the personal consequences, whatever they might be. That Gen. Grant could send me out of the Department in disgrace—possibly would do so—but that I had treated him precisely as I would thank anyone for treating me, should I ever be found in a similar condition.

“He will not send you out of the department while I remain in it,” was the reply to this. After asking me questions in detail, and having me repeat some of my statements, as if to fasten them in his memory, Rawlins thanked me warmly for what I had done; told me to dismiss all fear of disagreeable consequences to myself on that account; and bidding me “good night,” walked away to his tent.

But in spite of these assurances I was somewhat in doubt as to the view of the matter Gen. Grant would take next day. I slept very little that night rather expecting to be summoned to his presence next day. I purposely kept out of his way for twenty-four hours to spare him the mortification I supposed he might feel, or the necessity for any explanation or apology. The second day afterward I passed in and out of his presence as though nothing unusual had occurred. To my surprise he never made the most distant allusion to it then, or ever afterward.

There was a perceptible change in his bearing towards me. I was always recognized and spoken to, as if I had been regularly gazetted a member of his staff. My comfort and convenience was considered; a tent pitched and struck for me whenever and wherever I chose to occupy it; in all provisions for transportation and subsistence I was counted as a member of the staff; on several occasions he introduced me to others as a member of his personal staff; later on I often performed staff duty in carrying orders and dispatches; and was also later on furnished with orders to all guards and all picket guards, in all the armies of the United States, to pass me at any hour of the day or night, with horses and vehicles; to all Quartermasters of transportation to furnish me transportation on demand for myself, horses and servants; and to all Commissaries of subsistence to furnish me subsistence on demand for myself, horses and servants. (These orders, or passes, still exist among a few of my precious possessions.)

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.