Three Years With Grant

PrintPrintEmailEmailDuring the forepart of 1862 I was city editor of the Milwaukee Daily News, badly broken down in health, and seeking some less exhausting occupation. The following Special Order from Gen. Grant commanding the Department of the Tennessee, to Gen. Sherman, commanding the District of Memphis, afforded me the first opportunity for doing so:

August 8th 1862. General: — Herewith I send you an article credited to the Memphis correspondent of the Chicago Times, which is both false in fact and mischievous in character. You will have the author arrested and sent to the Alton Penitentiary, under proper escort, for confinement until the close of the war, unless sooner discharged by competent authority. I am very respectfully Your Obedient Servant. U. S. Grant, Major General &C.

The correspondent alluded to was Mr. [Warren P.] Isham, a brother to the wife of Wilbur F. Storey, the great editor of the Chicago Times. He had been a writer for the Times, and upon the breaking out of hostilities was sent to the field as a war correspondent. The Times had an immense circulation in the armies of the southwest and was very sensational in character. It delighted in seeing how near it could approach the line of actual disloyalty without incurring the penalty. Mr. Isham was considered one of the most brilliant correspondents in that department, but was never sufficiently careful and guarded in his statements. He had been cautioned by General Grant once or twice before this against giving such free range to his imagination. This last offense was that of sending off for publication a “cock and bull” story about a fleet of rebel ironclads at Pensacola, which he claimed to have received by “grape-vine” telegraph through the Southern Confederacy.

About the middle of October 1862 I received at my home in Milwaukee, the following telegram:

“Can you go to the army of the Tennessee for us?” signed Storey & Worden.•

• Storey and Ananias Worden were co-owners of the Times.

I replied: “Yes.”

The second dispatch of same date inquired: “When?”

To which I answered: “Immediately.”

“Come to Chicago by the first train,” was the final dispatch for that day.

On arriving at the Times office I was put in possession of the facts concerning Isham’s arrest and imprisonment, and informed that the object of my trip would be to secure his release, if possible. I had never seen either Storey or Worden till then; knew nothing of Mr. Isham but what I learned from them in this conversation; had no acquaintance either with Gen. Grant or any member of his staff; and at first objected to the undertaking. The interview ended, however, in my starting at once for Jackson, Tennessee, where Gen. Grant’s headquarters then were, as a duly accredited correspondent of the Times, to avoid betraying the chief object I had in view.

On arriving at Jackson, Tenn., I consumed twentyfour hours in deciding upon some systematic line of procedure to obtain Mr. Isham’s release. I was supplied with more letters and petitions uniting in the request, than such a person as Gen. Grant could ever be induced to examine. I soon decided to not unmask this budget of correspondence at present, and to make any future use of it depend upon conditions and circumstances which should arise later on.

I was first of all (to outward appearance at least) a correspondent of the Chicago Times. To maintain this character I must visit Gen. Grant’s Headquarters and obtain permission to remain within the military lines of his Department, with authority to pass from place to place as an army correspondent. So assuming a confidence very much beyond what I really felt, I presented myself to Major [John Aaron] Rawlins [Grant’s adjutant general] and handed him my letter of credence from Storey and Worden. He was ceremoniously polite—altogether too polite and formal I felt, to promise well for the chief mission on which I had been sent. After a few commonplace remarks concerning newspapers and war-correspondents in general, Major Rawlins relieved himself from the burden of my further entertainment, by politely and formally introducing me to such members of the staff as were present.