- Historic Sites
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
Herald correspondent.” I deleted these letters from Three Years with Grant for a reason that Mr. Williams will never believe, I fear. Both of them testified to the “great” and “unknown” service that Cadwallader had rendered Grant during the Vicksburg campaign, on the occasion of his spree, and to have included them would have meant dwelling on that incident at what I considered undue length.Ross, who affirms that Cadwallader “virtually became a member of Grant’s staff.” The second is from General James H. Wilson, who wrote: “You were regarded as practically a member of the staff, as you were in fact and deed, although you held no commission except that of
Before passing on to the spree I want to straighten out Mr. Williams on my reason for changing the title of Cadwallader’s manuscript. Cadwallader called his manuscript “Four Years with Grant,” because it not only covered his wartime service at Grant’s headquarters, but also the postwar period, during which he was still with Grant, covering his headquarters in Washington as Herald correspondent. Since I deleted this postwar portion of the manuscript from the book, I dropped a year from Cadwallader’s title “for the sake of accuracy.” The change of title was not a belated admission on my part that Cadwallader distorted and magnified.
A word about that letter from Grant to Sherman of August 8, 1862. I suspect that Mr. Williams’ real reason for doubting its authenticity is that he could not find it in the Official Records . Neither could I. Where Cadwallader saw it, I have no idea. But he never claimed to have had it in his possession during the mid-Nineties or at any other time, as Mr. Williams implies. It is not quite fair to make a liar out of a man by putting words in his mouth.
Now for Grant’s spree. I do not know of a reviewer who criticized my editing of this book, and many of them praised it, including reviewers for scholarly journals. Mr. Williams is a minority of one. But I am going to violate all the canons of self-defense by admitting that in so far as this incident is concerned his criticism is valid. I could and should have done a better job of editing with respect to it. I also admit that some of his findings and criticisms have afforded me enlightenment. On the other hand, I have information which I did not use, which may be enlightening to him. Though Mr. Williams’ letter seemed nastier than was necessary, I am going to assume that he and I are interested primarily in the same thing—the truth about this Yazoo incident. From what he knows and what I know, perhaps we can determine whether Grant was drunk or not. And if Cadwallader turns out to be a liar, I’ll admit to being a dupe.
Mr. Williams bases his attempted refutation of Cadwallader’s story on Charles A. Dana’s reports to Stanton, and on statements made by Dana in his Recollections of the Civil War . Dana’s reports to Stanton can be reconciled with Cadwallader’s account, allowing for the probability that, if Grant was intoxicated, Dana, a great admirer of Grant’s, would have tried to conceal that fact from Stanton. But I’m afraid that Mr. Williams has been led astray by Dana’s Recollections . After devoting a whole paragraph of his letter to the editor to a homily on the dangers of trusting old men’s reminiscences, he should have regarded them more critically. For how old was Dana when those Recollections were written? They were published shortly after his death, and he died at 78.
But that is by no means all. Those Recollections were ghostwritten. Ida M. Tarbell was the ghost. Mr. Williams will find her confession of authorship on pages 174 to 177 of her autobiography, where she tells how, after gathering material on Dana’s life, she held a number of consultations with him. “Dana never volunteered a word in all the interviews I had with him,” she wrote, “except on the subject in hand, and that in answer to my questions.” And Dana had read only her first chapter when he died.
It is in these ghostwritten Recollections that we get the story of Grant’s being “ill” soon after the boat pulled away from Haynes’s Bluff on the way to Satartia, the meeting with the gunboats two miles below the town, the conversation between Dana and the officers of the gunboats, Dana’s visit to Grant’s cabin to learn whether they should turn back, and Grant, too “ill” to decide, leaving the matter to Dana, who ordered the vessel to return to Haynes’s Bluff.
But does Dana say all this in his onthe-spot report to Stanton? This is what he says. The report was written from Haynes’s Bluff the following morning. “On approaching to within two miles of Satartia last evening, we found that N. Kimball had retreated to Oak Ridge Post Office, sending the commissary stores and baggage by the river to this place. The gunboats were also coming down, and General Grant returned here with them.”
First of all, how did Dana learn on approaching Satartia that the Union troops had abandoned the place? Not from the gunboats. Dana makes no mention of any contact with them. Cadwallader says that going down the river from Satartia on the Diligence , he met a boat with Grant aboard, coming up the river.