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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
But during this same campaign I saw him on one occasion (after he became a brigadier general), with nothing on him in the way of clothing but his hat, shirt and boots, sitting at a table on which stood a bottle of whiskey and a tin cup, and playing on the violin for a lot of darky roustabouts to dance. When the exercise began to flag, which it generally did at short intervals in the face of such temptations, potations were indulged in by player and dancers. Yet he was never accused of drunkenness—was not intoxicated from the beginning to the end of the war, so far as came to my knowledge.
The night of May 12th was spent by me on an army cot in Col. Duff’s tent. About midnight, or soon thereafter, Gen. Grant came into the tent alone, in the dark, and requested a drink of whiskey. Col. Duff drew a canteen from under his pillow and handed it to him. The general poured a generous potation into an army tin cup and swallowed it with great apparent satisfaction. He complained of extraordinary fatigue and exhaustion as his excuse for needing the stimulant, and took the second, if not the third drink, before retiring.
A light was struck upon his entrance, so that he knew of my presence; but he made his request, and drank the whiskey in an ordinary manner, as if it was a matter of fact procedure which required no particular apology. His stay in the tent did not exceed twenty or thirty minutes. He sat on the edge of Duff’s cot, facing mine, and apparently addressed himself to me as much as to Duff.
This was the first time I ever saw Gen. Grant use any spirituous liquor, and I was a little surprised by his openness in asking for it, and drinking it, before me. My intercourse with him to that time had been casual or accidental rather than intimate and confidential as it afterwards became; yet there was nothing evinced in word or behavior, from which I could infer that he desired the slightest secrecy or concealment concerning the object of his midnight call. The occurrence was never mentioned by me, excepting perhaps to Rawlins, until after the close of the rebellion. I think Col. Duff did suggest to me after the general’s exit from the tent, that in view of Grant’s reputation for excessive drinking, and his peculiar surroundings at that time, the affairs of state as well as my personal interests, might be best promoted by discreet silence, inasmuch as the general did not know that anyone occupied the tent with him until concealment was out of the question.
But I put a different construction upon his indifference, which was fully borne out by after events. The general knew that Gov. Oglesby had left nearly a half barrel of whiskey in the joint care of Col. Duff and myself on taking his departure from headquarters a few days before. I also subsequently learned that Duff had catered to Grant’s inordinate desire for stimulants long before this, and continued to do so till his “muster-out” at City Point. Rawlins suspected him of doing so, but had no positive proof of the fact for more than a year after this. Duff did not rise from his cot during Grant’s stay that night, but lay stretched out at full length, except when he half rose on one elbow to join the General in his drinks, and to volunteer “success to our campaign, and confusion to the Whole Confederacy.” But little was said by Grant in response to these sentiments, beyond an expression of satisfaction at what he had thus far accomplished, and a cheerful hope and belief that Vicksburg would soon be ours.
[In a swift and dazzling campaign, Grant moved east from the Mississippi, drove General Joseph E. Johnston’s forces out of Jackson, defeated Pemberton’s men in a sharp fight at Champion’s Hill, and compelled them to retreat into their trenches at Vicksburg. He drew his own army up in trenches that completely cut Pemberton’s army off from hope of relief, and then launched an all-out assault in the hope of capturing city and army without a siege. Unfortunately, the assault was an expensive failure, and the siege became necessary.]