Reading, Writing And History
Few memoirs in recent years have drawn more attention, or stirred up more of a controversy, than the book Three Years with Grant , written by Civil War newsman Sylvanus Cadwallader and edited by Benjamin P. Thomas.
August 1956 | Volume 7, Issue 5
According to Cadwallader, Grant transferred to the Diligence, presumably because it was the faster boat. He asserts that Grant had been drinking heavily and says the General made several trips to the bar of the Diligence. Then Cadwallader rose to the occasion and succeeded in getting Grant into a stateroom, got his coat, vest, and boots off, and fanned him to sleep.
Cadwallader has the Diligence actually reach Satartia, and he asserts that Grant insisted on going ashore. Again Cadwallader was equal to the moment and persuaded Grant not to do so—but only after considerable effort. Cadwallader the hero then emerges: “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.”
Whence the Confederates had so suddenly come is not explained. Nor is anything said about Dana, the only person who for certain is known to have been with Grant that day.
The opening sentence of the dispatch that Dana sent Stanton the next morning from Haynes’s Bluff shows that he and Grant did not reach Satartia. After speaking of meeting transports when two miles below the town and saying that Kimball had retreated, Dana added, “The gunboats were also coming down, and General Grant returned here with them.” (A sudden fall of the river had made the gunboats’ officers fear they could not get their boats across a mud bar if they remained at Satartia.)
In his Recollections of the Civil War, written at about the time that Cadwallader wrote his memoirs, Dana clearly states that they met two gunboats when two miles below Satartia. After telling that Grant had invited him to accompany him while at breakfast and describing the ride to Haynes’s Bluff, where they embarked, he said that Grant was ill and soon went to bed. Upon the insistence of the gunboat officers who came aboard Grant’s boat when they saw his flag, Dana called Grant to tell him it would be unsafe to proceed. Being too sick to decide, Grant left the matter with Dana, and Dana wrote, “I immediately said we would go back to Haynes Bluff, which we did.”
An editorial note in Three Years makes no reference to the official dispatch that Dana sent to Stanton the next morning and says that Dana reported “tactfully” on the trip in his Recollections . What historical canon gave the basis for that pronouncement is not clear, especially when it is recalled that Dana had been a disappointed office-seeker when Grant became President. Still harder to explain is the editor’s failure to mention the meeting with the gunboats and his statement: “Dana says that when the boat reached Satartia , he knocked on Grant’s door. …” (Emphasis supplied.)
Anyone who has difficulty believing that Cadwallader could have made up his story out of nothing should reflect a little on the purely fictional introduction that Miers gave it, and even more on the false statement that Thomas—a trained historian—put in Three Years, and a second note that portrays a letter as written two days after the date it bears. It was a letter that John A. Rawlins, Grant’s fanatically dry adjutant, wrote at 1 A.M., June 6, stating some suspicions that Grant had recently had a glass or two of wine. Thomas has the letter written the morning after Cadwallader alleges he took Grant back to camp in an ambulance about midnight of June 7-8, and he clearly implies that Rawlins reproached Grant for what Cadwallader claims he had told him about the Yazoo trip. To say that the note is mischievous is understatement.
It is impossible to harmonize Dana’s story and that of Cadwallader, not only with regard to reaching Satartia but with regard to a change of boats by Grant. In his Bohemian Brigade, Louis M. Starr (who had used the Cadwallader manuscript) avoids the transfer by having Grant and Dana embark on the Diligence! Cadwallader’s presence is not explained nor is anything said about meeting the gunboats, and it is at Satartia that Starr has Dana knock at Grant’s door.
In evaluating Dana’s statement that Grant was ill, one must remember that Grant was a victim of migraine headaches. In his important book, Grant, Lincoln, and the Freedmen, John Eaton (who really knew Grant, and did not sink into insignificance after the war) relates that at Memphis—probably in January, 1863—a young Cincinnati dentist on duty with one of the sanitary commissions told him one day that he was certain that Grant had been drinking the night before. Eaton could inform him that he had spent the evening with Grant and his wife and had seen the General suffering from one of his severe headaches, and he described the efforts that Mrs. Grant had made to bring relief.