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General Grant escapes the swamps and a War Department move to relieve him of command
October 1955 | Volume 6, Issue 6
Gen. Grant had been apprized by friends of Mr. Dana’s visit and its probable object. A conference of Staff officers was held, the situation was explained by Rawlins, and a line of procedure agreed upon. The paramount object was to keep Mr. Dana quiet until Grant could work out his campaign. Several of the staff could scarcely be restrained from open manifestations of their hostility, but wiser counsel prevailed. Col. [William S.] Duff, chief of artillery, pronounced him a government spy, and was more inclined to throw him in the river, than to treat him with common civility. But Rawlins took a sensible practical view of the situation, and said: “I am surprised, Col. Duff, at your discourteous and unmilitary remarks. Mr. Dana is the First Assistant Secretary of War, and an official representative of the government. He should not be left in a moment’s doubt as to the cordiality of his reception. He is entitled to as much official recognition as Mr. Stanton, or any other high public functionary. I shall expect you to see that a tent is always pitched alongside Gen. Grant’s, for Mr. Dana’s use as long as he remains at headquarters—that sentries are placed in front of it—that orderlies are detailed for his service—and a place at mess-table specially reserved for him.”
A suitable horse and equipments were provided for Mr. Dana’s use and the entire staff, including Col. Duff, were properly deferential. Dana was not long in becoming an enthusiastic admirer of Gen. Grant’s military ability, and remained his staunch friend till the war ended. Thus again was imminent danger averted by the wisdom and tact of Rawlins, and Grant spared to become the greatest military chieftain his generation produced.
Mr. Dana was shrewd enough to see that much which had been urged against Gen. Grant was untrue, or unjust, and undoubtedly thought it would be unwise to remove him from command on the eve of important movements, or in the middle of a campaign. This authority could be exercised later on should failure seem to justify it. Should the campaign prove successful, his delay would be completely vindicated. He therefore sacrificed personal comfort, adapted himself to the situation, shared the fatigues and deprivations of the march, and remained at headquarters till Vicksburg surrendered.
[With Grant’s army posted on the west bank of the Mississippi below Vicksburg, Porter brought his ironclads and transports down past the dangerous batteries by night, and on April 30 ferried Grant’s troops to the east bank. A sharp fight took place at Port Gibson, but the Confederates fell back, and Grant set up his headquarters at Grand Gulf. Then, cutting loose from his base and subsisting on the country, Grant began his advance on Vicksburg by way of Raymond.]
The stories and anecdotes circulated, then and since, relating to Gen. Grant’s being separated from his Headquarters train for days at a time, depending on borrowed horses for passing from one command to another, sleeping on the ground without blankets or covering of any kind; and having no baggage but a toothbrush, are so literally true that no exaggeration is possible. The headquarters train could not be brought to the front for several days after the battle of Port Gibson, and his horses, servants, mess-chest, and clothing, except what he had on, were too far behind for any communication. He rode a naked saddle tree for a week which had nothing but stirrups for upholstery.
During a delay at Hankinson’s Ferry, Gov. Oglesby • of Ill. and Hon. Elihu B. Washburne, member of Congress from the Galena District of that state, arrived at headquarters on a very short visit. The governor brought with him a barrel of whiskey which was generously distributed by the drink (or canteenful in a few instances). On leaving, the governor turned over to Col. Duff and myself all that remained in the barrel with the jocular remark that we seemed to be the only persons who could be safely trusted with such a valuable commodity. We filled and secreted as many canteens and bottles as we could obtain, and had a small store in reserve when the barrel was finally emptied. This reserve lasted us, and a few of our friends, until the morning of the investment of Vicksburg, May 18th.
• Richard J. Oglesby was not elected Governor of Illinois until November, 1864. The visitor was Governor Richard Yates, who reviewed Grant’s Illinois troops and delivered a speech. See Charles A. Dana’s letter to Stanton of April 2, 1863, Stanton Papers, Library of Congress.
It will give some insight into the habits and character of Gen. John A. Logan, at that time, to state that he often rode from his headquarters to ours, at night, after his troops had gone into camp, a distance varying from five to ten miles, attended by a single staff officer or orderly, ostensibly on some business with Gen. Grant, but in reality to have a convivial hour with Col. Duff. He was, as yet, not up to the conventional requirements of a Brigadier General. A great change came over him in after life, when I think he renounced his earlier political habits of drinking and swearing. He was developed and broadened by the times, and grew up to requirements of the eminent military and civil positions he afterwards held.