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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
A correspondent first for the Chicago Times and later for the New York Herald, Sylvanus Cadwallader was attached to Grant’s headquarters during the greater part of the war. Years after the war ended he wrote his memoirs. They offer a highly intimate picture of the famous general, and if Cadwallader’s recital is accepted as authentic they constitute a source which no student of Federal army operations in the Civil War can afford to overlook.
They were not, however, published during the lifetime of any of the figures involved. Cadwallader wrote them after he had left newspaper work and had retired to a remote village in California; the manuscript somehow failed to find its way to a publisher, was acquired some years after Cadwallader’s death by the Illinois State Historical Library, and went largely unread until Mr. Thomas arranged for its publication last fall. In its October, 1955, issue AMERICAN HERITAGE printed a portion of the book.
Obviously, a newspaperman who spent most of the Civil War in the company of General Grant had an ideal vantage point for observation. The question that is raised by the Cadwallader book, however, is the perennial one which attaches to any document written long after the events which are described: how accurate was the man’s memory? Can an eyewitness account, set down after a lapse of three decades, be accepted as wholly reliable? May not a man’s memory play tricks on him? To what extent will we be justified in following Cadwallader’s account of events when confirmation of his story from some independent source is lacking?
There is room for two opinions on these points, clearly; and a particular interest attaches to the Cadwallader memoirs because of his extreme frankness in discussing Grant’s alleged fondness for whisky. In his account of the Vicksburg campaign, Cadwallader describes a spree of Gargantuan proportions, which he asserts that he himself witnessed and from which, according to his memoirs, he extricated the General with considerable difficulty. Is this account, then, to be taken as accurate, or should it simply be added to the mass of unverified legends about Grant?
Because of the attention which has centered on this episode, and because the whole question of the value of after-the-event memoirs is central to the problems that confront the historian, AMERICAN HERITAGE herewith presents three letters bearing on the matter. The first is from General Grant’s grandson, a distinguished soldier in his own right. The following two letters, analyzing the Cadwallader story in detail, are from well-known American historians. Kenneth P.Williams, who attacks Cadwallader, is the author of Lincoln Finds a General, a three-volume work which is winning acceptance as a definitive study of the operations of the Union armies during the Civil War. Benjamin P. Thomas, who replies to the criticism, edited the Cadwallader memoirs for publication.
To the Editor, AMERICAN HERITAGE :
I was shocked and chagrined to find you had thought fit to publish even the most fantastically untrue and scurrilous parts of Cadwallader’s imaginative reminiscences in AMERICAN HERITAGE . Heretofore I have, as doubtless many others, trusted AMERICAN HERITAGE to reproduce only authentic information. Of course, I realize that you cannot check the accuracy of everything that goes into your magazine, but it seems to me the Cadwallader story is so fantastic and so unlike the subject of it that it might have been put aside for investigation, before defaming unjustly one of our country’s great men.
U. S. Grant, III Washington, D.C.
To the Editor, AMERICAN HERITAGE :
As the centennial of the Civil War approaches, it is disturbing to see such a story as Sylvanus Cadwallader’s account of an alleged two-day spree by U. S. Grant published without any questioning of its truthfulness. It indicates an almost greedy eagerness for the sensational and a readiness to put the label of praiseworthy candor on what should be suspected as being smoothly written falsehoods.
In an address delivered about a year before his death, and which fittingly was used as the first piece in the first number of Civil War History , Douglas Southall Freeman warned about recollections written long after the event. Freeman surely knew that there had been old soldiers who gave circumstantial accounts of battles in which they had not participated, and he cautioned particularly about the veteran who had become a public lecturer. Equally open to suspicion, or even more so, are the memoirs of a former newspaper correspondent who had become a completely forgotten man after the war, and who in his declining days wrote a book that portrays him in one instance as a great hero.
In the introduction to Three Years with Grant —the Cadwallader recollections—the editor, Benjamin P. Thomas, notes that he has dropped a year from Cadwallader’s title [ Four Years with Grant ] “for the sake of accuracy.” It is a little amusing that the editor apparently believed that Cadwallader did not distort or magnify until he was ready for the title page of his manuscript. Three Years, in fact, contains so many and such serious errors unnoticed by the editor that nothing in it can be accepted that is not already known to be true. Thus it really adds nothing to our knowledge.
The letter that appears on the first page, dated August 8, 1862, from Grant to Sherman, looks like a fake. The place of writing does not appear, which would be a very unusual omission for Grant. The heavy formal beginning and ending are suspicious in a short note from Grant to his good friend Sherman, and Cadwallader has Grant’s style of abbreviation in reverse, abbreviating where Grant generally spelled out and spelling out where Grant habitually abbreviated. And how, one must ask, did Cadwallader ever get the letter, and how did it happen that he had it in the mid-Nineties when he says that his correspondence was destroyed in the great Chicago Fire?
The sprightly story that Cadwallader tells about Charles A. Dana [first assistant secretary of war] being sent to Vicksburg in the early spring of 1863 because Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas was failing in the primary part of a mission given him—that of observing Grant with the idea of removing him—is reduced to nonsense by mere dates. Thomas was ordered to the west two weeks after Dana.
It is safe to say that Cadwallader’s work would never have been published if it were not for the sensational account about the alleged Grant spree. To appraise this story, which has been avidly picked up and disseminated, a little background is needed.
When Grant drove Pemberton into Vicksburg on May 18, 1863, he had insufficient troops to complete the investment, there being a big gap from the left of his line to the river below the city. Furthermore, to the northeast, in the vicinity of Canton, General Joseph E. Johnston was collecting a force to raise the siege. To find out more about Johnston, Grant in late May dispatched a reconnoitering force to the vicinity of Mechanicsburg, a village some four miles east of Satartia, a town upon the Yazoo River, the considerable stream that emptied into the Mississippi a little above Vicksburg and on which Grant had his base.
Because of what was learned, Grant on June 3 sent Brigadier General Nathan Kimball to Mechanicsburg with troops he had just brought from Memphis, and the next day he cautioned Kimball about new reports of the enemy’s strength, saying he wanted no risks run. It was probably on the fifth that Grant received a dispatch that Kimball wrote at 4 P.M. of the fourth reporting a clash with the enemy in Mechanicsburg; a postscript asking for reinforcements showed that Kimball was uneasy.
On the sixth Grant sent this message to each of his three corps commanders: “I am going up to Mechanicsburg. Cannot be back before to-morrow night. Make all advance possible in approaches during my absence. Communications signaled to Haynes’ Bluff will reach me.”
Dana, on his part, sent an important dispatch to Secretary of War Stanton, continuing what he had reported the day before about the sending of Kimball to observe Johnston. After giving the news of Kimball’s clash at Mechanicsburg, Dana said, “General Grant has just started for the place, deeming it necessary to examine the situation there himself. I go with him.”
It would appear that Earl Schenck Miers [who had used some of the Cadwallader material in his The Web of Victory] thought Cadwallader’s account of Grant’s Yazoo trip lacked motivation, so he supplied it in his book by saying that Grant was moody and melancholy because it was some time since he had seen his wife. His legs grew itchy, and so—says Miers—Grant one day “disappeared.”
Grant’s message to his subordinates shows he had a peculiar formula for disappearing; in taking Dana along he chose a strange companion for a bacchanalian adventure.
Cadwallader states that Satartia was about a hundred miles up the Yazoo and that he was coming down the river on the Diligence after an unsuccessful expedition in search of news when they met a boat flying Grant’s flag. Actually it was only about fifty miles to Satartia from the Yazoo’s mouth and no Diligence is mentioned in the published Official Records of the Army or the Navy, though the Diligent is. Cadwallader does not fix the exact date (nor, strangely, does his editor) but his account clearly places him in Satartia the previous day, which would be June 5, the day after Kimball’s clash at Mechanicsburg, and the day after the Confederates, supported by some five hundred cavalry, had put two guns in position and shelled the transports at Satartia until driven away by gunboats. Back in Satartia on the fifth, Kimball reported that the enemy was in force at Yazoo City, not far above Satartia, and had 8,000 men only six miles away. But Cadwallader states that there were no Confederate troops in the vicinity of Satartia.
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.
On the night of April 8, 1865, the day before Lee’s surrender, Grant was so sick with a headache that he was unable to reply to a message that came from the Confederate commander a little before midnight. The description that Cadwallader gives of that night is totally at variance with the one in Horace Porter’s reliable Campaigning with Grant , and he says not a word about Grant’s illness. Cadwallader turns the spotlight on himself and explains how he was sleeping securely in a corner on the parlor floor and not dangerously in front of the door when Lee’s message arrived.
Cadwallader’s description of the surrender at Appomattox is grossly inaccurate, though the most his editor could say was that it disagrees in some minor details with that given by Freeman in R. E. Lee . It differs significantly from what Cadwallader wrote in a dispatch to the New York Herald a few hours after the surrender, a dispatch that Editor Thomas evidently did not trouble himself to consult.
In Three Years, Cadwallader has himself called into the surrender room and presented to Lee along with Grant’s staff—asserting that Grant personally came to the door of the house and called them in. In his dispatch he says merely that the staff officers were called in. As Cadwallader was not a staff officer, the later inclusion of himself must be regarded as an embellishment of passing years—precisely the thing Freeman warned about. If Cadwallader was actually present, he was a very poor reporter (”a superb reporter” Thomas calls him without assuring us that he ever read a single one of his dispatches) when he wrote in his dispatch in a way to imply that a document had been drawn up and signed by both Grant and Lee. The surrender, it will be recalled, was accomplished by an exchange of letters.
Because of the highly sensational character of the Satartia story, Cadwallader’s recollections should have been thoroughly and carefully edited from beginning to end, with all errors and suspicious claims pointed out. No special pleading was needed for Grant. But elementary justice for a great American general, whose habitual kindness and consideration for others is a precious part of the American heritage, required that the reader be put in a position to form an intelligent idea about Cadwallader’s credibility.
Kenneth P. Williams, Bloomington, Indiana
To the Editor, AMERICAN HERITAGE :
Mr. Williams makes some pretty severe statements in his letter, and I appreciate your offering me the opportunity to answer him. Some of his criticisms arise out of the fact that he and I differ on the functions of an editor. He thinks I should have imparted to Cadwallader’s recollections, when edited, the sanctity of Holy Writ. I worked from a different premise.
Whenever I discovered that Cadwallader had made a misstatement, I called the reader’s attention to the error. Some errors I no doubt missed. When Cadwallader expressed an opinion, I usually let it stand, believing that the intelligent reader would accept it or reject it, as he chose. There is no question that Cadwallader was something of a braggart; and I assumed that a reader of ordinary discernment would allow for that fact, and make his judgments accordingly. It would be absurd to think that Cadwallader was always correct to the minutest detail. Nor did I expect a reader to conclude, when editorial comment was lacking, that I endorsed Cadwallader’s every word. I left room for the reader to exercise common sense.
On the other hand, it is scarcely fair of Mr. Williams to condemn Cadwallader because descriptions of happenings by other observers do not always coincide with his. Almost every court trial proves that no two witnesses see or describe things in exactly the same way. Nor is either of them necessarily a liar. Even the hallowed Official Records contain contradictions, inconsistencies, and inaccuracies.
On this point, Mr. Williams criticizes Cadwallader on the ground that his description of the night before Appomattox is at variance with General Porter’s. I should be surprised if it were not. I should not want to vouch for either man’s account as being scripturally accurate. Even Freeman’s description of the surrender may have flaws, great historian though he was, and there are other accounts besides Cadwallader’s, by no means considered worthless, that do not wholly agree with Freeman.
Mr. Williams quibbles when he points out that Cadwallader in his terse report to the Herald says that Grant’s staff were called into the surrender room (incidentally I have read a great number of Cadwallader’s reports), whereas, in the longer account in his recollections he says that Grant himself called the staff into the room. And there is really no cause for Mr. Williams’ indignation at “Editor Thomas” for allowing Cadwallader to get away with the statement that he went into the room with the staff. Two letters in Cadwallader’s manuscript bear upon this point. The first is from Grant’s own cousin, Captain Orlando H. 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 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.
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. It must have been from the people on the 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.
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. It is a curious circumstance that neither Grant nor Dana ever made to the other the slightest reference to the peculiar feature of the excursion, nor, so far as the records show, did Dana report them to Stanton. On the other hand, nothing can be more certain than that every circumstance connected with it became known at once to the leading officers of Grant’s army.”
That brings us to the letter of Rawlins’ which alludes to the subject of Grant’s drinking. Mr. Williams states that it bears the date of June 6, 1 A.M. , which is correct, and that in it Rawlins voices some “suspicions” that Grant had drunk a glass of wine or two. Neither Mr. Williams nor I gave the whole content of the letter, and since neither of us would wish to be accused of suppressing adverse evidence, let us examine it further. As a matter of fact, Rawlins mentioned only one glass of wine that he suspected Grant of drinking, and then told Grant he had found a whole box of wine near Grant’s tent. But here is the most significant part of the letter. Rawlins wrote: ”… and tonight, when you should, because of the condition of your health, if nothing else, have been in bed, I find you where the wine bottle has been emptied, in company with those who drink and urge you to do likewise; and the lack of your usual promptness and decision, and clearness of expressing yourself in writing, conduces to confirm my suspicions.” Then Rawlins reminds Grant of his great responsibilities and of a promise made to Rawlins to refrain from drinking. Rawlins affirms that it is his duty to make Grant live up to that pledge and asks to be relieved from duty if Grant does not intend to do it.
Mr. Williams accuses me of representing this letter as having been written two days after the date it bears, that is, on June 8. It must have been written on June 8. If it was written on June 6 at i A.M., it referred to happenings on the night of June 5 (the night before Grant left for Satartia), and since it clearly indicates that Grant was in a shaky condition that night, to accept that date would be to have Grant inebriated before he even started on the trip. I prefer to believe that the date June 6 is incorrect, and there is evidence to support that conclusion.
General Wilson printed this letter in his life of Rawlins, using a retained copy from the Rawlins family papers. Rawlins, in his excitement, may have misdated the letter, or it may have been misdated when copied for publication. Wilson, though failing to note the error in date, stated that Rawlins wrote the letter an hour or more after he learned from participants the details of what had happened on the Yazoo, which would have been shortly after Cadwallader got Grant back to headquarters after the General’s wild night ride.
I said Rawlins wrote the letter “that morning,” that is, the morning after Grant’s escapade, which makes sense, because Grant had been consorting with wine-bibbers the night before, as Rawlins charged. That was the night Cadwallader found Grant on the large steamboat at Chickasaw Bayou that “Wash” Graham used as a sutler’s boat, drinking with a crowd of officers in the ladies’ cabin. I am sure that Mr. Williams will agree that the letter simply must have been misdated. Otherwise, he will have Grant drunk on three nights instead of two.
In conclusion, let me say that it is quite true that my attention was first drawn to Cadwallader’s manuscript by Lloyd Lewis’ vivid retelling of Cadwallader’s description of the Yazoo incident in the small volume Letters from Lloyd Lewis , published in 1950. But I should have had no interest whatever in editing the manuscript for publication if it merely disparaged Grant. I admire Grant as much as Mr. Williams does, and Cadwallader’s portrayal of him, rising above a human weakness, has increased my admiration for him. It is a great commander, a compelling human figure, and a man of enhanced stature who emerges from this book. This has been the reaction of almost all reviewers and of practically every person who commented on the book to me.
I really doubt that Grant’s fame will be affected one way or the other by the outcome of this controversy between Mr. Williams and me, and I am quite ready to reject Cadwallader’s account of the Yazoo incident whenever I am convinced that it is untrue. But in order to convince me Mr. Williams will have to dispose satisfactorily of the four points I have raised in this letter: first, the fact that Dana’s ghostwritten Recollections , in so far as they can be trusted, confirm Cadwallader’s story by indicating, if not proving, that Grant had been intoxicated on the trip to Satartia; second, the strong probability that Dana in his reports to Stanton was covering up for Grant; third, the fact that Dana was not present on the night of Grant’s wild ride, and hence that Cadwallader’s account of it remains uncontradicted; and fourth, the fact that Rawlins’ admonitory letter to Grant either supports Cadwallader’s story or shows that Grant was tipsy on another occasion.
Benjamin P. Thomas, Springfield, Illinois