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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
Diligence (or Diligent , as Mr. Williams would have it) that Dana learned the situation at Satartia. Then, says Cadwallader, Grant, who had been drinking heavily, insisted on boarding the Diligence and returning to Satartia. Arriving there, Grant wanted to go ashore, but Cadwallader, who by this time had got him to bed, talked him out of the notion. Later that night the boat returned to Haynes’s Bluff.It must have been from the people on the
Now, how about those gunboats? Remember that Dana reported the next day from Haynes’s Bluff: “The gunboats were also coming down, and General Grant returned here with them.” I repeat this sentence because of the peculiar and ambiguous phrasing. Could it be that the gunboats “were coming down” all right, but they were coming down later that night, when Grant did go with them—on the Diligence ? I have tried without success to learn what gunboats were involved and to locate the log of the Diligence . But one assumption—that things happened that waywould make Dana’s report and Cadwallader’s story wholly reconcilable. If there is reason to believe that Dana was not telling Stanton the whole story, we would be justified in making that assumption. And he was not. Dana never so much as hinted to Stanton that Grant had been “ill” on the trip, even though he had been so severely “ill” according to Dana’s Recollections that he had been incapable of making decisions. The commanding general, in an intoxicated condition, had done a foolhardy thing in boarding the Diligence and ordering it back to Satartia, a town now open to the enemy, and Dana was covering up for him.
I mentioned no meeting with gunboats two miles south of Satartia, because no such meeting occurred there, and I placed Dana’s conversation with Grant about turning back at Satartia, because, if there was no meeting with gunboats on the river, it could have occurred nowhere else. But I erred when I said that Dana himself said this conversation took place at Satartia. Mr. Williams caught the error and I stand corrected on that point.
How about the Confederates at Satartia? Cadwallader says there were none in the vicinity when he arrived at that place. But then he says that if Grant had gone ashore there he might have ridden off into the enemy lines. Mr. Williams spotted an inconsistency in these statements, but they are not inconsistent. Cadwallader arrived at Satartia on June 5, probably in the afternoon or evening. Earlier that day General Kimball had driven the Confederates away. But by the time the Diligence returned to Satartia the next night, June 6, Kimball had pulled out and the Confederates were free to move in. Grant might well have ridden off into the enemy lines.
In pointing out the fallacies of Dana’s Recollections I do not mean to imply that the book is worthless. It cannot be reconciled with Dana’s report to Stanton, and it cannot be reconciled with Cadwallader’s account of the return to Satartia. But a little reading between the lines can reconcile it with Cadwallader on the all-important point of Grant’s intoxication, and also explain why it differs from Dana’s report to Stanton. Dana, in the Recollections , did report the matter of Grant’s intoxication “tactfully,” as I stated, claiming that Grant was ill. But Miss Tarbell evidently pried the secret out of him and could not resist quoting his description of Grant “the morning after”: “Grant came out to breakfast fresh as a rose, clean shirt and all, quite himself.” That is a rather flippant description of a man who has been ill, but it is wonderfully fitting for one who has made a phenomenal recovery from a hang-over. The prudent but artful Miss Tarbell was giving the perspicacious reader a peep behind the scenes. Otherwise, why should she have described this trip at all? Rule out the fact of Grant’s inebriation and it is wholly without significance. The boat went up the river, and the boat came down again.
That brings us to June 7. Grant is back at Haynes’s Bluff. That morning Dana, according to a later report to Stanton, left Grant on the boat and rode off with a detachment of cavalry to Mechanicsburg, returning from there directly to headquarters “behind Vicksburg” late the following morning. And that night, after Dana had left, Grant, again intoxicated according to Cadwallader, mounted “Kangaroo” and made his wild dash through the Union camps. Mr. Williams failed to mention the fact that his star witness was absent that night, and by reason of his absence there is no other witness to be brought against Cadwallader.
Here is further confirmation of Cadwallader’s story. Cadwallader and Dana had a mutual friend in General James H. Wilson. All three men were at Vicksburg. Wilson read Cadwallader’s manuscript and very likely talked to both Dana and Cadwallader about the Satartia trip. Later, Wilson wrote a biography of Dana, and this is what he said about the Yazoo incident: “The actual facts of this episode are given in great detail by S. Cadwallader, in an unpublished volume. … Without repeating details, the subject may be dismissed with the statement that it completed Dana’s knowledge of Grant’s character and habits from actual observation in a way which no man could gainsay.