- Historic Sites
Grant And The Politicians
It was almost election time, the unpopular war was stalemated, the casualty lists were growing, and the President’s opponents cried “Peace!” Then the new commanding general moved with consummate political as well as military skill
October 1968 | Volume 19, Issue 6
If Grant had any doubts about how the election was going to go he kept them to himself. On election night he and his staff sat up late around the campfire in front of the Commanding General’s tent, waiting for election returns, and Grant was so little worried about the outcome that he indulged in a slightly heavy-handed practical joke. According to Brigadier General M. R. Morgan, commissary general at headquarters, Grant received reports from the headquarters telegraph operator and read them out for everyone to hear; and all evening long he read telegram after telegram that showed McClellan far ahead. Most of the officers who listened to him were good Lincoln men, and some of them went off to bed dejected, convinced that Lincoln had lost. Before he himself retired, after midnight, Grant confessed (to those who had stayed up long enough to hear him) that it had all been a hoax; every report that came in, throughout the evening, had showed Lincoln in the lead.
What pleased Grant most was not merely that Lincoln had won but that this election in the middle of a civil war had gone so quietly, so much like any peacetime election, as if the country knew it was going to go on and on electing Presidents and accepting the electoral verdicts for all time to come. He expressed himself in a telegram to Secretary Stanton: “Enough now seems to be known to say who is to hold the reins of government for the next four years. Congratulate the President for me for the double victory. The election having passed off quietly, no bloodshed or riot throughout the land, is a victory worth more to the country than a battle won. Rebeldom and Europe will so construe it.” He wrote to Mrs. Grant saying that he hoped the verdict of the people would be accepted everywhere: “If there was less clamor and dissention in the North the rebellion would be much sooner put down. The hopes of the South are constantly fed by the sayings of our Northern people.”
Then he got down to the practical business at hand, and sent a wire to Halleck: “I suppose, without my saying anything about it, all the troops now in the North will be hurried to the field, but I wish to urge this as of the utmost importance. Sherman’s movement may compel Lee to send troops from Richmond, and if he goes I want to be prepared to annoy him.”
What Grant was saying was that the war was entering its final phase. General Sherman and 60,000 soldiers had left Atlanta and were beginning to march to the sea.