The memoirs of Civil War correspondent SYLVANUS CADWALLADER were recently discovered and edited by Lincoln biographer Benjamin Thomas
As a newspaper correspondent with the Union armies in the Civil War, Sylvanus Cadwallader occupied a position of privilege such as few journalists have enjoyed before or since. He had orders from General Grant permitting him to pass any lines at any hour of the day or night and to commandeer any transportation, up to and including an Army transport, for his personal use.
Cadwallader’s extraordinary privilege had its origin during the Vicksburg campaign in a steamer on the Mississippi River when he saved General Grant from public disgrace as a drunkard. From that day on he lived virtually as a member of the general’s staff. His memoirs, written years later, present a new, intimate picture of the famous general which is not only a lively human-interest document but a highly important contribution to history.
Cadwallader’s memoirs were never published, and for years the manuscript lay, unnoticed, on the shelves of the Illinois State Historical Library at Springfield. The late Lloyd Lewis found it there in 1945, exulted that it contained “quantities of wonderful stuff,” and prepared to use it in his projected biography of General Grant—a work which his untimely death prevented him from completing. More recently, Benjamin P. Thomas re-discovered the manuscript, brought it out into the light of day, and edited it for publication.
1. THREE YEARS WITH GRANT
During 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:
Your Obedient Servant.
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. [Note: 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 twenty-four 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.
At that time nearly all army correspondents were in bad odor at all army headquarters, and were always secretly held to be a species of nuisance that needed abating. In many cases official hostility was openly expressed, and hindrances put in their way as to collecting and transmitting army news. This unfriendliness was especially prevalent among “West Pointers” and U.S.A. officers. The war was half over before Gen. Sherman could forbear being rude, if not positively insulting, to every correspondent with whom he was thrown in contact, unless the individual came into his presence bearing the unqualified indorsement of some of the general’s influential friends, and studiously kept the nature of his avocation in the background.
In view of this status of army correspondents, I resolved upon an entirely new line of procedure. This was first to sustain my own self respect and secondly, to so govern my intercourse with military men in the Dept. as to deserve theirs. I decided to procure my own outfit, to ride my own horses and pay my own expenses liberally rather than parsimoniously. That if the exigencies of the service required me to enter a military “mess,” to pay my full pro-rate share of all its expenses and to accept no hospitalities on any other conditions. I also decided to make all calls at Regimental, Brigade, Division, Corps & Army headquarters rather formal than otherwise at the outset; to make them brief, and never allow them to interrupt official business.
My calls at Army h.d.q. were therefore regular and very short ones. I simply inquired if there was any news suitable for publication that they were at liberty to give me; asked for copies of special or general orders; and bowed myself out at once. I never allowed myself to hang around as if to gather news by eavesdropping on official conversations, and never presumed to take a seat without urgent invitation. It was not long before I began to observe the effect of this conduct in more cordial receptions and more extended conversations.
In the meantime I had made the acquaintance of Col. Thomas Lyle Dickey,• then chief of cavalry in that Dept., from Ottawa, Ill. I was surprised to find him a son of the Rev. Wm. Dickey of Bloomington, Ohio; a nephew of Rev. James [Henry] Dickey for many years pastor of the Presbyterian church at South Salem, Ross Co., Ohio; and nephew also to Mr. James Dean of the same place with whose family I was intimately acquainted while at the Academy there. He was surprised and pleased to make the personal acquaintance of one so often mentioned in correspondence between himself and his relations. We had many mutual acquaintances and friends which led to intimacy and friendship between ourselves.
• Dickey’s first name was Theophilus, not Thomas. He was a lawyer and Democratic politician, and the son, not the nephew, of James Henry Dickey.
This seemed to open a way for my approaching General Grant upon the real object of my mission to his headquarters. So inviting Col. Dickey to dine with me I made him my confidant; exhibited my petitions, letters, &c.; and said to him frankly that were I in Gen. Grant’s place I would never read such a mass of matter. The facts were simply these: Isham had been imprisoned for misbehavior; the Times did not question the propriety of his imprisonment, and admitted Gen. Grant’s right to decide what was fit matter for newspaper publication concerning military affairs within his Department. Mr. Isham’s friends asked for his release solely on the grounds that he had been sufficiently punished. His family needed his earnings for its support and were then dependent on others for their daily subsistence. If, as the Times believed. Gen. Grant’s only desire was to stop literary buccaneering in his army by making an example of some representative man, it had certainly been accomplished by Mr. Isham’s incarceration which must convince all concerned that such conduct as his would not be tolerated.
Col. Dickey agreed with all of this and was pleased to learn that the Times took a reasonable view of the matter. It was arranged between us that I was to keep all these letters and petitions in my own custody until he had an opportunity of presenting the case to the general. This occurred the next day when on a ride to Gen. [John A.] Logan’s headquarters, Dickey introduced the subject to Grant. The latter inquired how long Isham had been in the Alton Military Prison and on learning that it was two or three months, admitted it to be a severe discipline for the offense. A staff officer was sent northward the next day charged with the duty of releasing Isham from custody.
2. OUTSIDE VICKSBURG
General Grant escapes the swamps and a War Department move to relieve him of command.
[Early in 1863 Grant came down to take personal charge of the operations against Vicksburg. Various expedients were tried. Upstream from the fortress there was a network of bayous and backwaters leading into the Yazoo River, which flows into the Mississippi just above Vicksburg, and two separate amphibious expeditions were sent into that tangled area in an effort to come down on Vicksburg from the north. Both of these failed; the area proved to be too swampy, roadless and generally favorable to the defense to permit successful offensive operations. Grant also busied himself with a project for cutting a canal across the neck of land opposite Vicksburg, in the hope that the Mississippi could be diverted and leave the city and its fortifications high and dry. He sent Captain F. E. Prime and Lieutenant James H. Wilson, engineers on his staff, down to look into this project to see whether it offered a feasible method of getting south of Vicksburg without braving the fire of its heavy batteries.]
I accompanied these two officers on the little steamer Catahoula and arrived there Jan. 28 (I think) and proceeded in their company to the upper end of the canal and followed it clear through to its mouth, a few miles below the fortifications on the opposite shore. The river at that time was moderately full, barely high enough to fill the shallow ditch, but not high enough to decide positively upon the practicability of its use. It was standing full of still water, without any current whatever and quite as much inclined to empty itself into the river above Vicksburg as below it. My first feeling was one of great disappointment. The canal was shallow and narrow, and not one-tenth part of the work had been expended on it which I foresaw would be necessary for heavy transports, to say nothing of [Admiral David] Porter’s ironclads. The valuable part of the work consisted in clearing its course through the timber and underbrush. This was well done for a considerable distance on each side of the actual excavation and rendered the after task of widening it, if need be, a comparatively easy one.
Its radical defect was that it left the river at its upper end nearly at a right angle with the current which ran close to the shore at that place, and very little force of the current swept into the canal. Another defect, perhaps even more important, was that unless it was doubled in depth, any subsequent rise of the river would overflow the whole country before water sufficient to float the transports would enter the canal.
Gen. Grant’s inspection of the canal on the day of his arrival must have satisfied him that its plan was defective, for orders were immediately given to the troops arriving daily to commence some important alterations of it. One of these was to commence from a half mile to a mile above its head, and take it into the river at an acute angle with the current, and also to widen and deepen it throughout. This work was pressed forward with all the force that could work at it, until the rise of the river, which came soon after, did actually overflow about all of Young’s Point and rendered its further prosecution impossible. It had been so nearly completed that one or two light draft vessels had traversed nearly its entire length. Our delay in completing the work had been so great that the Confederates had planted batteries on the opposite shore exactly opposite its mouth by which an enfilading fire could destroy vessels in the lower two-thirds of its length. As a matter of historical interest it may be stated that very little water ever ran through it, and the theory that a small stream once diverted into it would soon widen and deepen it, until it became the main channel of the river, was completely exploded.
The overflow of the Mississippi that winter and spring was extraordinary in volume and extent. The troops in front of Vicksburg were soon driven from their camps to the levee which became the only ground above water for many miles. The army was compelled to retire to Milliken’s Bend, twelve miles up stream. Military operations were necessarily suspended except in attempts to secure new lines of approach to Vicksburg through the numerous bayous and waterways which this phenomenal overflow seemed to make practicable.
It does not appear from any of Gen. Grant’s orders, communications to Washington, or from his private or public utterances then or afterward, that he ever placed much reliance upon any of these inland transportation schemes; but he foresaw that the stage of high water would last for months, and that the army would be in better condition by reason of such temporary work and occupation than by laying idle in camp. The public sentiment at the north gave outbursts of impatience at the delay; and intrigues were at work to remove Grant, and place McClernand or someone else in his place. It was apparent that continued activity was the only condition on which he could hold his position.
The Yazoo Pass expedition, the most celebrated perhaps of all, was undertaken about March 1st • by which it was intended to transport a heavy body of troops from its upper end, eight miles below Helena, Ark., eastward into Moon Lake, which emptied into Coldwater river, and this into the upper Yazoo. The shallowness of the water prevented the passage of fully half the transports and ironclads, and occasioned delays that enabled the Confederates to erect an exceedingly strong fortification, known as Ft. Pemberton, at the junction of the Tallahatchie and Yalobusha rivers. This fort was entirely surrounded by water for several miles when our transports arrived in its vicinity. There was absolutely no road by which infantry could reach it. It was too strong to be reduced by the force which could be brought to bear upon it; and the ironclads could not get close enough to do the work. Part of the troops commenced the return trip to the Mississippi on March 21st arriving at Milliken’s Bend on the 23rd.
• Work on this waterway was started several weeks before March 1, and the attempt to pass troops through it began on February 24.
The next attempt of importance, if not in the order of date, was known as that of Steele’s Bayou. This bayou debouched from the west, or right, bank of the Yazoo about halfway from its mouth to Haynes’s Bluff; and extended northward about seventy-five miles. It was very tortuous, filled with logs of decaying trees, overhung with cypress and tangled growths, and found to be exceedingly difficult to navigate. Gen. Sherman was in command; and two gunboats from Admiral Porter’s fleet led the procession up the Bayou.
On emerging into the Deer Creek plantations, we found the Bayou so narrow and shallow that persons could jump from the boats to dry land on either side. As usual the Confederates began to appear in the distance and to show a determination to stop our advance, if possible. Porter’s “ironclads” finally were several miles ahead of the infantry transports. Soon firing was heard in the extreme advance, and it became apparent that the enemy were trying to impede and harass the gunboats. No fears were entertained for their safety however until an appeal for aid came from Porter to Sherman.
The infantry made a forced march to their relief and found them in what seemed to the “dough-boys” a ridiculous predicament. The Confederates had dumped one or two kilns of brick into the channel in front of the boats so it was impossible for them to proceed; and had then gone deliberately to work felling trees in the creek in the rear. Sharpshooters were in tree tops commanding the ironclads and every one who appeared on deck was a target for prize shooting. The Admiral and his boats were at their mercy and would have been starved into a surrender beyond all question without outside aid!
Gen. Sherman raised the siege, helped to remove obstructions in the rear, and enabled the fleet to back out. A reconnaissance showed that Deer Creek and the Sunflower would not permit the passage of vessels, and the expedition was considered a failure, and the return commenced.
Up to this time nearly every projected movement on Vicksburg had proven a decided failure. The army was becoming discouraged; and during its stay in the swamps and bayous of Young’s Point and Milliken’s Bend had lost heavily from the unsanitary condition of its camps. Public feeling in the North had also become excited and troublesome. The cry of “On to Vicksburg” was as common as “On to Richmond.” Gen. Grant’s enemies were industrious and persistent in their efforts to have him removed from command. Many leading newspapers were openly demanding it. Public opinion had set so strongly in this direction because of the great length of time spent at Young’s Point and Milliken’s Bend, fruitlessly as it seemed to the nation at large, that his staunchest friends found it difficult to defend him.
The government was finally almost compelled to take some action in the premises. Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas was thereupon sent from Washington City to the theater of Grant’s operations on a double mission. One of these was to examine the condition of the “contraband” camps on the Mississippi river, and if possible organize Negro regiments there. The other, and most important, duty assigned him was to investigate affairs about Vicksburg with a view to Grant’s removal. It was asserted in some quarters that he came clothed with authority to do this, if in his opinion it seemed advisable.
Contrary to public expectation Gen. Thomas became so interested in Negro regiments that he seemed unlikely to reach Grant’s headquarters before midsummer. He stopped at nearly every landing on the river and spent what seemed to be an unnecessary time at each, until he was suspected of purposely evading the disagreeable subject. However this may have been, the impatience at the capital became so great that Hon. Charles A. Dana, First Assistant Secretary of War, soon followed Gen. Thomas with full power to carry out the instructions previously given to the former so far as Gen. Grant was concerned.
Gen. Grant had been apprized by friends of Mr. Dana’s visit and its probable object. A conference of Staff officers was held, the situation was explained by Rawlins, and a line of procedure agreed upon. The paramount object was to keep Mr. Dana quiet until Grant could work out his campaign. Several of the staff could scarcely be restrained from open manifestations of their hostility, but wiser counsel prevailed. Col. [William S.] Duff, chief of artillery, pronounced him a government spy, and was more inclined to throw him in the river, than to treat him with common civility. But Rawlins took a sensible practical view of the situation, and said: “I am surprised, Col. Duff, at your discourteous and unmilitary remarks. Mr. Dana is the First Assistant Secretary of War, and an official representative of the government. He should not be left in a moment’s doubt as to the cordiality of his reception. He is entitled to as much official recognition as Mr. Stanton, or any other high public functionary. I shall expect you to see that a tent is always pitched alongside Gen. Grant’s, for Mr. Dana’s use as long as he remains at headquarters—that sentries are placed in front of it—that orderlies are detailed for his service—and a place at mess-table specially reserved for him.”
A suitable horse and equipments were provided for Mr. Dana’s use and the entire staff, including Col. Duff, were properly deferential. Dana was not long in becoming an enthusiastic admirer of Gen. Grant’s military ability, and remained his staunch friend till the war ended. Thus again was imminent danger averted by the wisdom and tact of Rawlins, and Grant spared to become the greatest military chieftain his generation produced.
Mr. Dana was shrewd enough to see that much which had been urged against Gen. Grant was untrue, or unjust, and undoubtedly thought it would be unwise to remove him from command on the eve of important movements, or in the middle of a campaign. This authority could be exercised later on should failure seem to justify it. Should the campaign prove successful, his delay would be completely vindicated. He therefore sacrificed personal comfort, adapted himself to the situation, shared the fatigues and deprivations of the march, and remained at headquarters till Vicksburg surrendered.
[With Grant’s army posted on the west bank of the Mississippi below Vicksburg, Porter brought his ironclads and transports down past the dangerous batteries by night, and on April 30 ferried Grant’s troops to the east bank. A sharp fight took place at Port Gibson, but the Confederates fell back, and Grant set up his headquarters at Grand Gulf. Then, cutting loose from his base and subsisting on the country, Grant began his advance on Vicksburg by way of Raymond.]
The stories and anecdotes circulated, then and since, relating to Gen. Grant’s being separated from his Headquarters train for days at a time, depending on borrowed horses for passing from one command to another, sleeping on the ground without blankets or covering of any kind; and having no baggage but a toothbrush, are so literally true that no exaggeration is possible. The headquarters train could not be brought to the front for several days after the battle of Port Gibson, and his horses, servants, mess-chest, and clothing, except what he had on, were too far behind for any communication. He rode a naked saddle tree for a week which had nothing but stirrups for upholstery.
During a delay at Hankinson’s Ferry, Gov. Oglesby • of Ill. and Hon. Elihu B. Washburne, member of Congress from the Galena District of that state, arrived at headquarters on a very short visit. The governor brought with him a barrel of whiskey which was generously distributed by the drink (or canteenful in a few instances). On leaving, the governor turned over to Col. Duff and myself all that remained in the barrel with the jocular remark that we seemed to be the only persons who could be safely trusted with such a valuable commodity. We filled and secreted as many canteens and bottles as we could obtain, and had a small store in reserve when the barrel was finally emptied. This reserve lasted us, and a few of our friends, until the morning of the investment of Vicksburg, May 18th.
• Richard J. Oglesby was not elected Governor of Illinois until November, 1864. The visitor was Governor Richard Yates, who reviewed Grant’s Illinois troops and delivered a speech. See Charles A. Dana’s letter to Stanton of April 2, 1863, Stanton Papers, Library of Congress.
It will give some insight into the habits and character of Gen. John A. Logan, at that time, to state that he often rode from his headquarters to ours, at night, after his troops had gone into camp, a distance varying from five to ten miles, attended by a single staff officer or orderly, ostensibly on some business with Gen. Grant, but in reality to have a convivial hour with Col. Duff. He was, as yet, not up to the conventional requirements of a Brigadier General. A great change came over him in after life, when I think he renounced his earlier political habits of drinking and swearing. He was developed and broadened by the times, and grew up to requirements of the eminent military and civil positions he afterwards held.
But during this same campaign I saw him on one occasion (after he became a brigadier general), with nothing on him in the way of clothing but his hat, shirt and boots, sitting at a table on which stood a bottle of whiskey and a tin cup, and playing on the violin for a lot of darky roustabouts to dance. When the exercise began to flag, which it generally did at short intervals in the face of such temptations, potations were indulged in by player and dancers. Yet he was never accused of drunkenness—was not intoxicated from the beginning to the end of the war, so far as came to my knowledge.
The night of May 12th was spent by me on an army cot in Col. Duff’s tent. About midnight, or soon thereafter, Gen. Grant came into the tent alone, in the dark, and requested a drink of whiskey. Col. Duff drew a canteen from under his pillow and handed it to him. The general poured a generous potation into an army tin cup and swallowed it with great apparent satisfaction. He complained of extraordinary fatigue and exhaustion as his excuse for needing the stimulant, and took the second, if not the third drink, before retiring.
A light was struck upon his entrance, so that he knew of my presence; but he made his request, and drank the whiskey in an ordinary manner, as if it was a matter of fact procedure which required no particular apology. His stay in the tent did not exceed twenty or thirty minutes. He sat on the edge of Duff’s cot, facing mine, and apparently addressed himself to me as much as to Duff.
This was the first time I ever saw Gen. Grant use any spirituous liquor, and I was a little surprised by his openness in asking for it, and drinking it, before me. My intercourse with him to that time had been casual or accidental rather than intimate and confidential as it afterwards became; yet there was nothing evinced in word or behavior, from which I could infer that he desired the slightest secrecy or concealment concerning the object of his midnight call. The occurrence was never mentioned by me, excepting perhaps to Rawlins, until after the close of the rebellion. I think Col. Duff did suggest to me after the general’s exit from the tent, that in view of Grant’s reputation for excessive drinking, and his peculiar surroundings at that time, the affairs of state as well as my personal interests, might be best promoted by discreet silence, inasmuch as the general did not know that anyone occupied the tent with him until concealment was out of the question.
But I put a different construction upon his indifference, which was fully borne out by after events. The general knew that Gov. Oglesby had left nearly a half barrel of whiskey in the joint care of Col. Duff and myself on taking his departure from headquarters a few days before. I also subsequently learned that Duff had catered to Grant’s inordinate desire for stimulants long before this, and continued to do so till his “muster-out” at City Point. Rawlins suspected him of doing so, but had no positive proof of the fact for more than a year after this. Duff did not rise from his cot during Grant’s stay that night, but lay stretched out at full length, except when he half rose on one elbow to join the General in his drinks, and to volunteer “success to our campaign, and confusion to the Whole Confederacy.” But little was said by Grant in response to these sentiments, beyond an expression of satisfaction at what he had thus far accomplished, and a cheerful hope and belief that Vicksburg would soon be ours.
[In a swift and dazzling campaign, Grant moved east from the Mississippi, drove General Joseph E. Johnston’s forces out of Jackson, defeated Pemberton’s men in a sharp fight at Champion’s Hill, and compelled them to retreat into their trenches at Vicksburg. He drew his own army up in trenches that completely cut Pemberton’s army off from hope of relief, and then launched an all-out assault in the hope of capturing city and army without a siege. Unfortunately, the assault was an expensive failure, and the siege became necessary.]
3. THE GENERAL AND THE BOTTLE
Cadwallader locks Grant in his stateroom when he goes on a lengthy drinking spree
We were constantly receiving news that Gen. Johnston was advancing to raise the siege. Gen. Frank P. Blair made a reconnaissance in force for fifty miles without encountering any Confederate troops. Reinforcements began to arrive from the north. On the third of June Gen. [Nathan] Kimball’s brigade from Hurlbut’s Command at Memphis arrived and pushed out ten or twelve miles northeast of Haynes’s bluff; some cavalry was posted near him also; and these troops were charged with the duty of patroling the country within their reach; to forage upon the country to the fullest extent; bringing in all food, grain and live-stock found, if possible, and to destroy the balance; and to tear up bridges and obstruct roads should an enemy appear. Some light-draught transports, two or three dispatch boats, and an occasional gun boat from Admiral Porter’s were running irregularly between Chickasaw Bayou and Satartia, about one hundred miles up the Yazoo by water.
During the first week in June (I think it was, although I cannot fix the precise date because all my correspondence was destroyed in the great Chicago fire) I ran up to Satartia, to satisfy myself concerning affairs in that quarter, in the steamboat Diligence , Capt. Harry McDougall of Louisville, Kentucky, commander. Everything was quiet. So far as I could learn no one was expecting Gen. Johnston’s arrival, and no Confederate troops were in the vicinity.
On the return trip next day we met another steamboat, having on board Gen. Grant, and a small cavalry escort, under Capt. Osband, on their way to Satartia also. Grant was acquainted with Capt. McDougall (having used the Diligence on other occasions) and concluded to transfer to it, and order it back to Satartia again. As the vessels approached each other we were signalled to stop, the other boat ran alongside of the Diligence , and Grant with those accompanying him, came aboard the latter vessel. She was turned about and started up stream at once.
I was not long in perceiving that Grant had been drinking heavily, and that he was still keeping it up. He made several trips to the bar room of the boat in a short time, and became stupid in speech and staggering in gait. This was the first time he had shown symptoms of intoxication in my presence, and I was greatly alarmed by his condition, which was fast becoming worse.
Lieut. H. N. Towner, of Chicago, acting A.D.C., was the only staff representative aboard. I tried to have Towner get Grant into his stateroom on some pretense, and not allow him to come out till sober. But he was timid, and afraid the General would resent it, and punish him in some way, for his interference. I then went to Capt. McDougall to have him refuse the general any more whiskey, in person, or on his order. This the Captain said he could not do—that Gen. Grant was department commander with full power to do what he pleased with the boat, and all it contained.
Finding persuasions unavailing, I commenced on McDougall with imprecations and threats. I assured him that on my representations he would, and should, be sent out of the department in irons if I lived to get back to headquarters. He knew something of the vindictive feelings Rawlins had for those who supplied Grant with liquor, and finally closed the bar room, and conveniently lost the key in a safe place, till we left the boat.
I then took the General in hand myself, enticed him into his stateroom, locked myself in the room with him (having the key in my pocket), and commenced throwing bottles of whiskey which stood on the table, through the windows, over the guards, into the river. Grant soon ordered me out of the room, but I refused to go. On finding himself locked in he became quite angry and ordered me peremptorily to open the door and get out instantly. This order I firmly, but goodnaturedly declined to obey. I said to him that I was the best friend he had in the Army of the Tennessee; that I was doing for him what I hoped some one would do for me, should I ever be in his condition; that he was not capable in this case of judging for himself; and that he must, for the present, act upon my better judgment, and be governed by my advice. As it was a very hot day and the State-room almost suffocating, I insisted on his taking off his coat, vest and boots, and lying down in one of the berths. After much resistance I succeeded, and soon fanned him to sleep.
Before he had recovered from his stupor we reached Satartia, when another source of trouble arose. He was determined to dress and go ashore; and ordered Capt. Osband to debark the escort men and horses. Poor Osband was now in a dilemma. To obey orders and land just at night in such a miserable little hamlet, filled with desperadoes and rebel sympathisers, with but a handful of troopers to protect the general, seemed suicidal. To disobey would lead to—he knew not what. I came to his help by promising to take upon myself the responsibility of shooting or hamstringing every horse on the vessel. We soon agreed that under no conditions whatever would we go ashore ourselves, or permit the General to do so.
I returned hurriedly to Grant and in the end persuaded him to abandon all thought of going ashore that night. His first intention was to mount and return overland to his headquarters in front of Vicksburg, through a section of country as hostile as any in the Confederacy, and without any knowledge whatever of the roads traversing it. 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. During the night the boat started down stream on the return trip—tied up once for a short time till the moon rose, and was at Haynes’s Bluff in the morning.
Grant was duly sober by this time I think and sent a part of the escort out to Gen. Kimball’s camp (or it may have been Gen. Cadwallader C. Washburne’s [Washburn’s] camp) to obtain news from [there]. The Diligence tied up at the landing to await their return. I supposed all necessity for extra vigilance on my part had passed, and was almost “thunderstruck” at finding an hour afterward that Grant had procurred another supply of whiskey from on shore and was quite as much intoxicated as the day before. The same tactics were resorted to, but I encountered less fierce opposition. On the return of the escort, Grant ordered the boat to proceed to Chickasaw Bayou.
If we had started then we would have arrived at the Bayou about the middle of the afternoon, when the landing would have been alive with officers, men and trains from all parts of the army. To be seen in his present condition would lead to utter disgrace and ruin. Capt. McDougall was also alarmed, as to the consequences to himself. He was now very willing to take orders from me: First, not to start immediately, making the pretext of low fires, green wood, &c. Next, to not start until I assented.
An hour or two was thus consumed. When Grant’s impatience at last threatened to burst all restraints I could put upon him, McDougall was directed to start, but to look out for a safe sandbar or beach to stick on for awhile. This was done. We finally arrived at Chickasaw Bayou about sundown and ran into the landing alongside of a large steamboat used by “Wash” Graham, as a headquarter Sutler boat. Graham kept open house to all officers and dispensed free liquors and cigars generously.
I climbed over the guards; saw Graham; cautioned him against allowing Grant to have any liquor because he had been drinking heavily, and had not recovered from its effects; received his promise that the General should not have a drop of anything intoxicating on his boat; and then hurried back to assist in getting the horses off the Diligence . This was soon effected, but when ready to mount the general could not be found.
Suspecting that he had gone aboard Graham’s boat, I went to its office on the bow, but no one had seen Grant. I started aft in search of him, and soon heard a general hum of conversation and laughter proceeding from a room opening out of the ladies’ cabin. Pushing in among a crowd of officers, of all ranks, I found Graham in front of a table covered with bottled whiskey and baskets of champagne, and Grant in the act of swallowing a glass of whiskey. I was thoroughly indignant and may have shown rather scant ceremony in saying to him that the escort was waiting, and that it would be long after dark before we could reach headquarters. He was not very well pleased by my interruption, and urgency in starting.
He had taken on this trip for his own use a horse belonging to Col. Clark B. Lagon called “Kangaroo,” from his habit of rearing on his hind-feet and making a plunging start whenever mounted. On this occasion Grant gave him the spur the moment he was in the saddle, and the horse darted away at full speed before anyone was ready to follow. The road was crooked and tortuous, following the firmest ground between sloughs and bayous, and was bridged over these in several places. Each bridge had one or more guards stationed at it, to prevent fast riding or driving over it; but Grant paid no attention to roads or sentries. He went at about full speed through camps and corrals, heading only for the bridges, and literally tore through and over everything in his way. The air was full of dust, ashes, and embers from camp-fires, and shouts and curses from those he rode down in his race.
Fortunately horse and rider escaped impalement from bayonets, and equally fortunately were not fired upon by the guards. I took after him as fast as I could go, but my horse was no match for “Kangaroo.” By the time the escort was mounted Grant was out of sight in the gloaming. After crossing the last bayou bridge three-fourths of a mile from the landing, he abandoned his reckless gait, and when I caught up with him was riding in a walk.
I seized his bridle rein and urged the danger to himself and others in such racing, on such roads; told him the escort could not even keep in sight in the dust and dusk of the evening. He tried to snatch the rein from my hand, but in the scuffle I got the long flowing double-rein from over the horse’s head and told him very firmly that he should ride as I directed. I secured his bridle rein to my own saddle and convinced him that I was master of the situation. His intoxication increased so in a few minutes that he became unsteady in the saddle. The escort was not in sight. Fearing discovery of his rank and situation, I turned obliquely to the left away from the road and took refuge in a thicket near the foot of the bluff. Here I helped him to dismount, secured our horses, stripped the saddle from “Kangaroo,” and induced the General to lie down on the grass with the saddle for a pillow. He was soon asleep.
My next anxiety was to communicate with the escort. They were spread out over the bottom for a half mile circling about in search of the general, fully expecting to find him lifeless. One of the men at last came within hailing distance (John Walters if my memory is accurate) and answered my call. I ordered him to proceed directly to headquarters and report at once to Rawlins—and to no one else—and say to him that I wanted an ambulance with a careful driver, sent to me immedately—and that he (Walters) must guide them back to me as soon as it could be done. It was entirely dark by this time and I had no fear of discovery except from some straggling bummer, but I was prepared to cut off his shoulder-straps instantly if anyone approached. After an hour’s sleep he arose and wanted to start to Camp. I took him by the arm, walked him back and forth, and kept up a lively rather onesided conversation, till the ambulance arrived.
This became another source of contention. The general refused to get in it, and insisted on riding to camp on horseback. We compromised the question by my agreeing to ride in the ambulance also, and having our horses led by the orderly. On the way he confessed that I had been right, and that he had been wrong throughout, and told me to consider myself a staff officer, and to give any orders that were necessary in his name.
We reached headquarters about midnight, and found Rawlins and Col. John Riggin waiting for us at the driveway. I stepped out of the ambulance first, and was followed promptly by Grant. He shrugged his shoulders, pulled down his vest, “shook himself together,” as one just rising from a nap, and seeing Rawlins and Riggin, bid them good-night in a natural tone and manner, and started to his tent as steadily as he ever walked in his life.
My surprise nearly amounted to stupefaction. I turned to Rawlins and said I was afraid that he would think I was the man who had been drunk.
But he replied in suppressed tones through his clenched teeth: “No, No. I know him, I know him. I want you to tell me the exact facts—and all of them—without any concealment. I have a right to know them, and I will know them.” The whole appearance of the man indicated a fierceness that would have torn me into a thousand pieces had he considered me to blame.
So I began with Grant’s transfer to the Diligence , stated his condition and my fruitless endeavors to prevent his getting liquor, and told him fully and truthfully of my usurpation of authority. I said to him that I knew it to be in violation of all military rights and rules—that I considered these in the outset and deliberately resolved to do as I had done, and to accept the personal consequences, whatever they might be. That Gen. Grant could send me out of the Department in disgrace—possibly would do so—but that I had treated him precisely as I would thank anyone for treating me, should I ever be found in a similar condition.
“He will not send you out of the department while I remain in it,” was the reply to this. After asking me questions in detail, and having me repeat some of my statements, as if to fasten them in his memory, Rawlins thanked me warmly for what I had done; told me to dismiss all fear of disagreeable consequences to myself on that account; and bidding me “good night,” walked away to his tent.
But in spite of these assurances I was somewhat in doubt as to the view of the matter Gen. Grant would take next day. I slept very little that night rather expecting to be summoned to his presence next day. I purposely kept out of his way for twenty-four hours to spare him the mortification I supposed he might feel, or the necessity for any explanation or apology. The second day afterward I passed in and out of his presence as though nothing unusual had occurred. To my surprise he never made the most distant allusion to it then, or ever afterward.
There was a perceptible change in his bearing towards me. I was always recognized and spoken to, as if I had been regularly gazetted a member of his staff. My comfort and convenience was considered; a tent pitched and struck for me whenever and wherever I chose to occupy it; in all provisions for transportation and subsistence I was counted as a member of the staff; on several occasions he introduced me to others as a member of his personal staff; later on I often performed staff duty in carrying orders and dispatches; and was also later on furnished with orders to all guards and all picket guards, in all the armies of the United States, to pass me at any hour of the day or night, with horses and vehicles; to all Quartermasters of transportation to furnish me transportation on demand for myself, horses and servants; and to all Commissaries of subsistence to furnish me subsistence on demand for myself, horses and servants. (These orders, or passes, still exist among a few of my precious possessions.)
When in front of Richmond I might have visited Jefferson Davis daily, so far as our own troops were concerned, and often did pass through Weitzell’s [Major General Godfrey Weitzel’s] corps to the front to exchange Federal for Confederate newspapers. I could take possession of any vessel, from a tug to the largest government transport, allow no one but myself on board, and proceed wherever I pleased. I frequently used tugs or small dispatch boats, and on one or two occasions used fast steamboats between City Point, Fortress Monroe and Baltimore. On another occasion the regular packet from City Point was held at Fortress Monroe six hours to enable a fast dispatch boat to overtake it bearing my account of the celebrated “African Church meeting” in Richmond. At a time too when President Lincoln’s permits to civilians to visit the Army of the Potomac were ruthlessly disregarded by order of Secretary Stanton, I constantly carried three or four passes, signed up by Gen. Grant, with blank spaces to fill with the names of any persons I wished to bring to the front.
From the date of this Yazoo-Vicksburg adventure until the end of the war, and during my semi-connection with Grant’s headquarters in Washington City, ending in the fall of 1866, my standing with the general and his staff became stronger month by month. I constantly received flattering personal and professional favors and attentions shown to no one else in my position.
So far as I know Gen. Grant did not touch any intoxicants afterward until his visit to Gen. Banks at New Orleans.• I was at Memphis and Cairo at that time and can only speak upon information obtained at Headquarters on my return, which was to the effect that his being thrown from his horse on his return from a review of Gen. Banks’s troops, was solely due to his drinking. He narrowly escaped instant death, and did not recover from his injuries for several months. From this time on till our arrival at City Point, he was perfectly abstemious so far as I knew. But on several occasions during the summer, and prior to Jan. 1st 1865, he caused much solicitude in the small circle of sincere friends who realized his danger, and had constituted themselves a body-guard to prevent his drinking.
• Grant’s visit to Banks occurred in mid-August, 1863.
Rawlins quietly but relentlessly exercised his personal and official influence and authority. It came to be well understood that any staff officer who furnished Gen. Grant a single drink; or drank with him when away from headquarters; or in any way whatever connived at, or concealed, the general’s drinking, would be summarily ordered to his proper command, or be disgraced, broken in rank, or run out of the service, if in his power to accomplish it. His authority was unquestioned. His control over Grant was fully recognized. More than one staff officer was barely given the option of resigning, or of being crushed by the iron hand of the great Chief of Staff.
4. IN THE WILDERNESS
A campfire meeting restores Cadwallader’s wavering faith in Grant’s military genius
[Vicksburg fell on July 4, 1863. Later, Grant was given control over all western operations, won the great Battle of Chattanooga in the fall of the year, and in the spring of 1864 was made lieutenant-general in command of all the Union armies. Cadwallader, having given up his Chicago connection, in that spring was retained by James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald, and at the beginning of May, 1864, went down to the Rapidan to cover the advance of the Army of the Potomac, with which Grant was making his headquarters.]
I took with me from Washington City, a good army saddle, pouches, and horse equipments, in addition to my blankets. It was the evening of May 2d, and the whole army was astir with preparations for the movement ordered for May 4th. The next day I bought a fine sorrel horse of Col. Wm. L. Duff, Chief of Artillery, which he was afraid to ride, for two hundred and fifty dollars in gold; visited the cavalry outposts; learned all I could about the proposed line of march; the topography of the country; and felt myself in readiness for hard field work.
The day and night of May 3d was probably the busiest period I witnessed during the war. Officers and clerks at all general headquarters worked without intermission. Quartermaster and Commissary departments were taxed to the utmost. Ordnance and ammunition supplies had to be provided for every exigency. Cartridge boxes, haversacks and caissons were all filled, fires were burning day and night for many miles in all directions, troops and trains were taking their assigned positions, staff officers and orderlies were galloping in hot haste carrying orders, whilst the rumble of artillery wheels, the rattling and clanking of mule teams and the shouting, song, and laughter of thousands of men, were “faint from farther distance borne.”
All things being in readiness, on the morning of May 4th, the tents were struck at daylight, and the whole army was in motion soon after sunrise, by the various routes assigned them, leading to Germanna and Ely’s fords across the Rapidan. [Col. J. H.] Wilson’s division of Cavalry had kept the country well patrolled from our front to the north bank of the latter stream, for several days. It now took the advance prepared to force a passage of the river, and had with it all necessary appliances for laying ponton bridges at each crossing by the time the infantry and artillery should arrive.
Grant’s headquarters the night of Wednesday, May 4th, was on a knoll on the south bank of the Rapidan, only a few hundred yards from Germanna ford. Troops and trains were hurrying past us all night, and by sunrise next morning the federal army was fairly in position for the great drama which commenced before noon.
It is well to understand that in this campaign Grant decided to operate without any well defined base, as he did in that of Vicksburg. On leaving Culpeper he abandoned his railroad connection with Washington City. He kept in position to make a new base at Fredericksburg if it became necessary or convenient; and transports were loaded with needful supplies at the capital and ordered down the Potomac, in readiness to move up the Rappahannock, or any other navigable stream, as future exigencies might demand. Rations and ammunition were taken with the army, to last till one battle at least had been fought, and the strength of the enemy ascertained. . . .
On taking the positions assigned them, each corps began the hasty construction of field breastworks in front of its first line of battle, and soon had them capable of offering formidable resistance. The face of the country, and character of the growing timber, was found to be the most unfavorable imaginable for offensive operations. The roads were very narrow and tortuous; bounded on both sides with a dense growth of young pine, chinkapin and scrubby oak that rendered the forests in many places almost impenetrable. The pines were low-limbed and scraggy, and the chinkapins the stiffest and bristliest of their species. An advance in line of battle was nearly impossible. Artillery could not be brought into action at all. A few places on the road where there was a small break in the timber were the only places possible for planting batteries. Over three hundred of our cannon lay idle during the whole of this day’s fighting.
The position was admirable for defense, and was selected by Lee instantly on learning that Grant had outmaneuvered him, and gained a crossing of the river without a battle. Many of the ravines were deep and impassable, but a majority of them were not so precipitous but what infantry could cross. The main obstacles the Union troops had to contend against were the thick growth of scrubby timber and the undergrowth of hazelbrush. These prevented the proper handling and alignment of our men, and concealed the enemy’s presence, and the disposition of his forces.
[Cadwallader’s account of the bloody but indecisive Battle of the Wilderness, May 5-7, 1864, adds nothing to what is known about it, except that he questions Grant’s statement that by the 7th Lee had withdrawn within his entrenchments and that nothing but skirmishing took place on that date.]
The Union losses at the Wilderness could not have been less than fifteen thousand, and probably readied twenty thousand. I have no official records at hand and base this estimate on recollection, and on the fact that at noon of Saturday, May 7th, I had transcripts from the books of all field hospitals to that date, giving the name, state, regiment and rank of every wounded man received. The number of these was between eight and nine thousand. The killed, the slightly wounded, the dead and the prisoners, would almost certainly be that many more. The Confederate loss probably did not exceed one-half of ours. We often fought, knowing our losses were two or three to one; but had to wage the battle on Lee’s terms, or leave the field.
After everyone at headquarters had retired for the second time, to get some rest and sleep if possible before daylight, I sat down by a smouldering fire in front of Grant’s tent, and found myself distressingly wideawake. Unpleasant thoughts ran riot through my mind. We had waged two days of murderous battle, and had but little to show for it. Judged by comparative losses, it had been disastrous to the Union cause. We had been compelled by Gen. Lee to fight him on a field of his own choosing, with the certainty of losing at least two men to his one, until he could be dislodged and driven from his vantage ground. We had scarcely gained a rod of the battlefield at the close of a two days’ contest. And now had come the crowning stroke of rebel audacity in furiously storming the center of our line, and achieving temporary success.
For minutes that seemed hours, for the first and only time, during my intimate and confidential relations with Gen. Grant, I began to question the grounds of my faith in him, so long entertained, and so unqualifiedly expressed. Could it be possible that that I had followed Gen. Grant through the Tallahatchie Expedition; the operations against Vicksburg; the campaign at Chattanooga; and finally to the dark and tangled thickets of the Wilderness; to record his defeat and overthrow, as had been recorded of every commander of the Army of the Potomac? But my faith in the man rose superior to all these calamitous surroundings, and I still believed in his transcendent military genius, despite this momentary weakness of fear and unbelief.
About the time I had arrived at this comforting conclusion, I happened to look obliquely to the right, and there sat Gen. Grant in an army chair on the other side of the slowly dying embers. His hat was drawn down over his face, the high collar of an old blue army overcoat turned up above his ears, one leg crossed over the other knee, eyes on the ashes in front, causing me to think him half asleep. My gloomy thoughts of but a few minutes were instantly chased away by my study of the figure before me. His nervous changing of one leg over the other showed he was not asleep. His whole attitude showed him to be in a brown study.
In a short time, however, he straightened up in the chair and finding that I was not asleep, commenced a pleasant chatty conversation upon indifferent subjects. Neither of us alluded to what was uppermost in our mind for more than a half hour. I then remarked that if we were to get any sleep that night, it was time we were in our tents; and that it was a duty in his case to get all the rest he could. He smilingly assented, spoke of the sharp work Gen. Lee had been giving us for a couple of days, and entered his tent. It was the grandest mental sunburst of my life. I had suddenly emerged from the slough of despond, to the solid bed-rock of unwavering faith.
Of the marching and fighting from the Wilderness to Spotsylvania I shall attempt no detailed information, as I was not present. It is well known, however, that Grant’s order to Meade on the morning of May 6th, was carried out to the letter. The different corps moved by the routes specifically named in the order, and met no serious impediment till they had passed the line of Todd’s Tavern, where they emerged from the Wilderness and entered the open country between there and Spotsylvania. Gen. Lee had fallen back precipitately to the cover of the strong earthworks and abatis previously constructed, only leaving sufficient cavalry and infantry outside to harass and obstruct our advance.
By the morning of the 9th, the place was invested on the north and west, and a deadly struggle commenced.
I was not on the ground till Friday, May 13, too late to witness the operations of that day. But I soon learned at headquarters that the glorious news of Union successes on the 12th was not overestimated.
Grant decided at the end of the second day of battle at Spotsylvania that it could not be taken by assault, or regular approaches, without a loss of life far beyond its value. Lee’s army was his objective point, and he knew that this wary general would withdraw in time to save the bulk of his forces. He decided to flank him out of his defenses, instead of fighting against such odds, by moving on Richmond. But the lack of supplies, and the terrible condition of roads, delayed this, for several days. The rain finally ceased, the sun shone out, the mud began to dry, and orders were given for another start.
So much has been said and written of the widespread desolation the war caused in Virginia, that it may not be out of place to state some facts which came under my observation. From Spotsylvania to North Anna we marched through a section of country abounding in large farms, with elegant residences and commodious outbuildings. Many of these plantations were under a high state of cultivation. The soil was rather light and sandy in the lowlands along the watercourses, and seemed nearly worthless on the ridges and highlands that intervened. Yet even the latter were sown and planted, and promised to yield a handsome reward for the labor. Fields of waving grain, stretched away from the roads for miles. Wheat stood thin on the ground, but was well advanced for the season. But little rye, oats or clover was seen, but a large acreage of corn was planted. The fencing was better than expected. Every farmhouse had an extensive kitchen garden well filled with growing esculents, and the people in general did not have the starved and destitute appearance of those in parts of Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia where I had previously campaigned. Ice houses and ice plentiful. Old corn fodder at every house not on some main road. Livestock and poultry were abundant, the scarcity of mules and horses only being apparent. The finest natural leaf Virginia tobacco abounded, and our soldiers no longer had to pay two dollars a plug for it. Each had his pockets and pouches crammed with it, and hundreds had bundles of it dangling to their muskets as they trudged along.
[Swinging southward across the Pamunkey River, Grant found Lee strongly posted at Cold Harbor. On June 3, he hurled his army forward in one of the most desperate assaults of the war, and within a few hours had lost 10,000 men. A lull in the fighting followed.]
Taking advantage of a few days of foreseen inaction after our last assault on Cold Harbor I made a hurried trip to Washington and back by steamer. During my absence a circumstance transpired that caused considerable comment. It seems that Mr. Edward Crapsey, correspondent of the Philadelphia Inquirer , made some remarks about Gen. Meade in his published accounts about the battle of the wilderness, to which Meade, and staff, took great exceptions. I cannot give the exact language, but its substance was, that at the end of the second day’s fighting there, Gen. Meade was in favor of withdrawing the Union army back to the north bank of the Rapidan; and that this would have been done, had Meade been in supreme control, instead of Grant.
[On June 7, when Meade learned that Crapsey had rejoined the army after an absence in the North, he ordered that the correspondent be arrested, marched through the camp wearing a placard marked “Libeller of the Press,” and then put outside the army lines and forbidden to return.]
Perhaps nothing in this campaign was so pleasing and so gratifying to the whole nature of the man, as the execution of this order was to the brutal, tyrannical nature of Marsena R. Patrick, Provost Marshal-General. That the order was executed far beyond its letter need not be said to those who knew this “Squeers” of the military profession. To its letter was added every indignity and insult, which Patrick could devise. Crapsey was mounted and tied on the sorriest looking mule to be found, with his face to the mule’s tail; when preceded by a drum corps beating the “Rogues March,” he was literally paraded for hours through the ranks of the army. . . . Previous to this Patrick caused Gen. Meade’s order to be read to every regiment he could reach, and the affair was treated with as much importance as if it had been the announcement of the collapse of the rebellion.
The consequences of Meade’s act extended farther than he expected. Every newspaper correspondent in the Army of the Potomac, and in Washington City, had first an implied, and afterward an expressed understanding, to ignore Gen. Meade in every possible way and manner. The publishers shared their feelings to a considerable extent, and it was soon noticed that Gen. Meade’s name never appeared in any army correspondence if it could be omitted. If he issued an official or general order of such importance as to require publication, it would be printed without signature, prefaced with the remark: “The following order has just been issued,” &c. From that time till the next spring, Gen. Meade was quite as much unknown, by any correspondence from the army, as any dead hero of antiquity.
He was not slow to observe this, and first treated the neglect contemptuously. But at length it became irritating—then serious, but irremediable. The dignity of a major-general forbade complaints, and his individual pride prevented any acknowledgements. But some of his staff, who must rise or fall with their chief in public estimation, made some overtures towards a reconciliation. But nothing was accomplished. I had protested—mildly—against this conspiracy, for it was a conspiracy, on the ground that the position was entitled to more respect, if the man was not. I finally wrote privately to the Herald , recalling and recounting all the facts, and stating that I thought it had been carried far enough. Mr. Hudson replied, saying that he felt as I did, and hoped I would treat Gen. Meade with the consideration his military services and present position deserved. This was during the winter of 1864-5, and circumstances soon enabled me to “abandon the blockade” against him, without solicitation from myself, or any friend of his.
5. A RUDE RECEPTION
A tall stranger, told to keep out of the general’s tent, turns out to be Lincoln
Gen. Grant having decided to transfer his army to the James River, preparations began at once. . . . On Tuesday morning, June 14th, Warren crossed [the Chickahominy] at Long Bridge, with Hancock following him. Burnside and Wright crossed at Jones’ Bridge four miles below Long Bridge. The advance of the army reached the James before night, and commenced laying pontons immediately. The crossing was effected near Charles City Court House on the north side, and Fort Powhattan on the south side of the James.
Generals Grant and Meade broke camp near Cold Harbor at 3:00 P.M. , Sunday, June 12th, and settled for the night at Summit Station. At six o’clock both were in the saddle, on their way to James River. On Tuesday afternoon, June 14th, Grant telegraphed from Bermuda Landing to Secretary Stanton, that the army was then crossing the river below, and that our movement from Cold Harbor had been made with great celerity and without loss.
I remained at Charles City Court House, while Gen. Grant ran up by boat to Bermuda Landing for a conference with Gen. Butler. The view from the front of my tent was among the most imposing I ever witnessed. As soon as the work of laying ponton bridges commenced, all navigation temporarily stopped. Vessels and transports of every description, loaded with army supplies, cast anchor and floated idly on the placid bosom of the James so far downward as the eye could reach, and still they kept coming. Many hundreds accumulated while the army was crossing. The troops were thrown across as rapidly as they could be moved, day and night, till all were safely landed on the south side of the river. As fast as they crossed by organizations, they pushed onward towards Petersburg with the hope of assisting to capture that place before Gen. Lee could send troops for its defense.
[The attack on Petersburg on June 15 was bungled, and Confederate reinforcements, arriving just in time, repulsed subsequent attacks with heavy losses. So Grant settled down to a siege. His army was now posted east and south of Richmond, and, with a numerical superiority of almost two to one, he pushed his lines steadily westward, forcing Lee to extend his thinner lines, until the two armies faced one another along a thirty-five-mile front.]
Gen. Grant’s headquarters were established at City Point on the evening of June 15th and a few tents pitched for the officers. My own tent was under the umbrageous branches of a large mulberry tree which afforded protection from the blistering sunshine, until it had to be removed to conform to the general camp arrangement. By night of the 16th all was regularly laid out and adjusted. Headquarters proper were in the form of a parallelogram, with the two ends, and the north side closely filled with tents. The south side was open. The west end extended to the bluff bank of the Appomattox, perhaps fifty to sixty feet in height.
From the 17th to the 20th the James was covered with vessels and transports which had followed the army with supplies, and with them came swarms of civilians—employees of the Sanitary and Christian Commissions—sutlers—pretended volunteer nurses—and greedy sight-seers who managed to get there to gratify their morbid curiosity. They swarmed around the wharves, filled up the narrow avenues at the landing between the six-mule teams which stood there by the acre, plunged frantically across the road in front of your horse wherever you rode, plied everybody with ridiculous questions about “the military situation,” invaded the privacy of every tent, stood around every mess-table till invited to eat unless driven away, and wandered around at nearly all hours.
They congregated especially in the vicinity of headquarters, standing in rows just outside of the guardline, staring at Gen. Grant and staff, pointing out the different members of the latter to each other, and seizing upon every unfortunate darky belonging to headquarters who came within their reach, and asking all manner of impertinent questions: “Does Gen. Grant smoke? Where does he sleep and eat? Does he drink? Are you sure he is not a drinking man? Where’s his wife? What became of his son that was with him at Vicksburg? Which is Gen. Grant? What? Not that little man?” And so on by the hour. For several days headquarters resembled a menagerie.
On June 21st about one o’clock P.M. , a long, gaunt bony looking man with a queer admixture of the comical and the doleful in his countenance that reminded one of a professional undertaker cracking a dry joke, undertook to reach the general’s tent by scrambling through a hedge and coming in alone. He was stopped by a hostler and told to “keep out of here.” The man in black replied that he thought Gen. Grant would allow him inside. The guard finally called out: “No sanitary folks allowed inside.” • After some parleying the man was obliged to give his name, and said he was Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, seeking an interview with Gen. Grant! The guard saluted, and allowed him to pass. Grant recognized him as he stepped under the large “fly” in front of his tent, rose and shook hands with him cordially, and then introduced him to such members of the staff as were present and unacquainted.
• The reference is to personnel of the U.S. Sanitary Commission.
It transpired that the President had just arrived on the City of Baltimore , and was accompanied by his son “Tad”; Asst. Sec. of the Navy, [Gustavus Vasa] Fox; Mr. Chadwick, proprietor of the Willard Hotel, as purveyor for the party; and the Marine Band. The conversation took a wide, free-and-easy range until dinner was announced. The President was duly seated, ate much as other mortals, managed to ring in three capital jokes during the meal, and kept everybody on the lookout for others, till the party rose.
He was naturally desirous of riding to the front, so at four o’clock horses were brought up. Mr. Lincoln was mounted on Grant’s thorough-bred “Cincinnatus,” the general on “Egypt,” and “Tad,” on Grant’s black pacing pony “Jeff Davis.” Accompanied by a large proportion of the staff, and a cavalry escort, the party rode to Gen. Wright’s headquarters, where Gen. Meade and staff met them. The location commanded as good a view of Petersburg as could then be had from our lines. Maps were examined, the position of the army explained, its future operations discussed, the steeples and spires of the city observed as well as the dust and smoke would allow, national airs were played by the bands, the enemy’s works on the opposite side of the Appomattox inspected, and after a stay of an hour and a half the party started on its return to headquarters.
On the way out many persons recognized Mr. Lincoln. The news soon spread, and on the return ride, the road was lined with weather-beaten veterans, anxious to catch a glimpse of “Old Abe.” One cavalry private had known him in Illinois. Mr. Lincoln shook him by the hand, as an old familiar acquaintance, to the infinite admiration of all bystanders.
6. THE POWER OF A WOMAN
A persistent soldier’s wife induces Grant to save her husband from the firing squad
[The operations in front of Petersburg quickly developed into a stalemate, with both armies solidly entrenched. Direct assault was out of the question. Late in June, 1864, it was decided to dig a tunnel under a Confederate strongpoint at the center of the line, explode a mine there, and see if an infantry breakthrough could not be made after the explosion. The mining was entrusted to the 48th Pennsylvania infantry, a regiment largely made up of coal miners.]
On June 25th work was commenced on the Petersburg mine, which obtained great celebrity at the time. It commenced in a ravine in front of the Ninth corps, and fell properly under Burnside’s oversight. It was dug under great difficulties, such as lack of suitable mining tools, and the excavation was completed on July 23d. Two [four] days more were consumed in charging it with powder. . . . Orders were given for its explosion at a little after three o’clock on the morning of July 30th, but the fuse was not actually fired until after four o’clock. Then owing to splices and other imperfections in the fuse it failed to go off. Two volunteers followed the line of fuse in to the faulty place at which it had gone out, relighted it, and a few minutes before five o’clock, the whole mine exploded with a thundering roar that shook the earth and the heavens.
So far as the mine was concerned, it proved a great success. So far as results are considered it was a stupendous failure. Its cost in labor and money had been heavy. Its cost in killed, wounded and missing was set down at four thousand and three.• The enemy’s loss in men was trifling. His loss in ground nothing. His prestige in successfully resisting the attack was deservedly great. • The Union losses were all incurred in the attack following the explosion of the mine, and in the Confederate counterattack in the crater and other nearby points where the Union troops took refuge. But the Confederate loss of 1,500 can scarcely be called trifling.
The entire failure of this enterprise keenly disappointed Gen. Grant. He should have known better, however, than to have trusted any necessary preparations to such an incompetent officer as Burnside had proved himself to be long before that. For this he deserves great blame. The selection of Gen. [James H.] Ledlie to lead the assault, was as bad as could have been made. He did not even accompany his men, but remained behind in a safe place, and was written down coward by all from that time forth.
It is needless to describe the carnage that reigned in and around the crater formed by the explosion; nor the death that was in the air to all who attempted retreat or escape from it. In fact its horrors were far beyond any description which could be made in cold blood years afterward. Seeing that it was a failure Burnside was ordered about nine in the forenoon to extricate his troops as he best could, as soon as he could, and return to his old lines.
Mine explosions are rarely successful. They are subject to too many accidents and miscarriages. They can only be resorted to when the lines of the opposing forces are in close proximity. An observant enemy generally suspects the intention, and prepares for it, in great measure, by counter-mining and extra precautions. The precise point of danger may be a matter of conjecture; but able engineers can always determine certain limits within which such attempts must be made, if at all. If the explosion should meet the expectation of its projectors, its final results depend upon the action instantly taken in the offensive. On the other hand there is in most cases, perhaps, an indefinable dread of such explosions out of all proportion to their real dangers.
The scenic effects often surpass all powers of description. We stood, or sat, around in groups, on an eminence overlooking the field, for nearly two hours, waiting in painful silence, for the grand denouement in front of Petersburg. I happened to be looking directly at it when the enormous mass of powder was at last ignited. Contrary to the usual expectation, the noise and roar of the concussion is not the first thing to break on the senses, but comes a few seconds later. My first perception was that of seeing the earth commencing to rise on a line a hundred yards in length; then to split open by fissures, from which emerged a dense volume of smoke, dirt and dust; followed by sulphurous flames, as if the whole center of the globe was belching forth some monstrous volcanic masses. The smoke and flames rose perpendicularly at first; then spread out into a great sheet; and commenced slowly to fall in the form of a great water spout. This was soon followed by the detonation of the combustibles. The sound of the explosion did not equal my expectations, and came so late that those whose eyes were not turned that way missed much of its sublimity. As in all such cases, a large proportion of the upheaved material fell back near to the place from which it was hoisted upward. The crater formed was probably one hundred and fifty yards long, and of course deepest in the center.
Then commenced a furious cannonading from the Union line for a mile to the right and left, under cover of which the assault was to be made. It is believed that no such thunder of cannon was ever heard on the American continent, and probably not in the world, as on that occasion.
One good result followed not long after. Gen. Burnside ceased to command the Ninth Corps, which was placed under Gen. [John G.] Parke.
By the end of October, or middle of November, everything in front of Richmond also settled down in a monotonous procedure which showed that active hostilities in any extended sense were over for that year. Skirmishing along the lines; some demonstrations against exposed rebel positions, enlivened by an occasional iron-clad or gunboat collision on the James, occupied the fall and winter.
For my own convenience in passing the headquarter guard-line by day or night, I had my tent pitched squarely on it, so that the front door of the tent opened inside the line, and the back door outside. One bright forenoon on returning to my tent a woman with an infant in arms was sitting at the back door waiting to see me. She was deeply veiled, poorly dressed, and evidently in great distress. She wanted to see Gen. Grant. I directed her to the proper headquarter entrance, told her to send her name to Gen. Grant by one of the guards, and perhaps she would be admitted. She said she had been told to come to me, and to no one else. I questioned her as to her business with the general, her name, her residence, by what means she had reached the front at a time when so few women were given this permission, and especially as to who had sent her to me. To all this her only reply was that she wanted to see Gen. Grant, and that she could only hope to do this through my friendly mediation. She was downcast, tearful and importunate.
I spent considerable time in explaining the unreasonableness of such a request to me, tried to have her go away and send some acquaintance who could and would intercede for her. But all to no purpose. “Wanted to see Gen. Grant.” “Wanted to see Gen. Grant” was her continual refrain, interrupted only by fits of weeping. I next essayed some rougher talk—told her I could not have her sitting there all day—that I hoped she would not compel me to have her forcibly taken away by a file of soldiers, &c. But she would neither go, nor enter into explanations. Somewhat provoked I left for awhile, expecting she would leave when she found I was obdurate. On returning an hour afterwards she was still there. Her dumb grief mastered my resolutions. So bringing her through my tent to the inside of the guard line, I pointed out the Adjutant’s tent, and told her to ask for Col. Bowers.
Bowers tried to make her understand that Gen. Grant was too busy to give personal attention to business matters—that his staff officers attended to most of it—that if she did see Gen. Grant she would probably be sent back to him at once—begged of her to state her errand, and if possible he would attend to it promptly. To all this she had but the one answer, she “Wanted to see Gen. Grant.” Bowers finally gave up the attempt of getting information from her, and went about his office duties, after telling her that Gen. Grant had ridden away and would not return till night. His efforts to get her to leave had been as futile as mine.
At noon Bowers had provided her a good dinner. At three or four o’clock in the afternoon Grant returned. After a lunch he lighted a cigar and seated himself under his marquee for a smoke. Bowers pointed him out to the woman and said: “Madam, that is Gen. Grant.” I witnessed the performance, and asked him why he sent that woman to Gen. Grant? He replied: “To get rid of her myself.” His good humor was restored. We soon learned that she was the wife of a federal soldier who had deserted to the enemy, been captured armed and in rebel uniform, had been court-martialed and sentenced to be shot; and was then at the front awaiting execution. She came to plead for his life. Gen. Grant spent an hour in trying to show her how impossible it was to grant her request. Desertion was an unpardonable military offense; but when it was aggravated by taking up arms in the enemy’s ranks, every civilized country in the world inflicted the death penalty. He expressed his sympathy for her, and urged her to return to her home and friends, and try to forget the man who had shown himself to be so unworthy of the affection and love of any good woman—that a man who could so far forget his wife, child and country, would never prove a good husband and father. She listened stolidly; but said over and over again that he had always been a good husband to her. She made no apologies for his conduct, but kept on repeating he had always been a good husband, and begging him to spare his life.
The General left her sitting at his tent door, strolled around headquarters awhile in silence, chewing and pulling at his cigar abstractedly, interviewed Bowers, and again endeavored to get her away from camp without violence. She absolutely refused to leave. Supper time came on, but there she sat. He then ordered a servant to provide her with a supper. By this time Grant was reduced to about the same extremity as Bowers and myself had been. He finally telegraphed Gen. Meade to review the court-martial proceedings and see if there were any technical informalities in them which would justify a review, or a commutation or suspension of sentence. Meade replied that he could find no errors or informalities of any kind. Grant then telegraphed to the President, and received full authority to do as he pleased in the matter. His next order was to Gen. Meade to send the man to his headquarters under guard. He arrived in an ambulance, strongly guarded, about daylight in the morning. The husband and wife were brought together. The former made no attempt to justify his conduct; but was greatly affected at meeting his wife under such circumstances. It was a total surprise to him, as he had not been informed of her presence, and broke him down completely.
Grant gave him a lecture of unusual severity—scored him unmercifully—told him he richly deserved a thousand deaths, for one such act often led to the deaths of thousands of innocent men—told him he could stand by and witness his execution without a single emotion of pity for him—but concluded it all by telling him that out of sorrow for his wife, who had proven herself so true and so good a woman, he would give him one chance for his life. He would not pardon him, nor in any way release him from the verdict pronounced against him, except to delay the day of his execution. He would order him to be restored to the ranks of the company from which he had deserted, subject to further orders in the matter. He told him plainly he would be under daily and hourly surveillance, and upon the first dereliction of duty in any way, he would order him to be shot within twenty-four hours. After breakfast the husband was returned to the front, and the wife placed on the ten o’clock forenoon mailboat for Washington City. I made inquiries about the soldier for a while afterwards; then lost all track of him. He probably served out his enlistment; and may be drawing a fat pension.
On Christmas eve, 1864, I was restless, discontented and homesick. On going to my tent about ten o’clock P.M., I sat for an hour brooding over the pleasures of past anniversaries and the gloominess of the present. Filling my pocket with cigars I walked to the Adjutant’s tent, where a light was still burning, and found Col. Bowers stretched out in a large camp-chair in front of the fire, and wearing a subdued, downcast countenance. To my inquiries as to what was the matter, he replied that he had been thinking of his mother, his home, and the difference between his present cheerless surroundings, and those of happier times.
We had chatted but a few minutes when Gen. Rawlins entered and wanted to know if we had not heard the bugle blow “taps,” and “lights out,” and whether he should be obliged to put us under arrest for such flagrant violation of army regulations? We turned the tables on him by inquiring why he was wandering about camp at that time of night? He made his excuses similar to those of Col. Bowers. Within five minutes we heard the tread of some one else approaching, and Gen. Grant walked in. We all greeted him with a burst of laughter, and requested honest confession. He went over the same string of sentimental expressions. But conversation soon took a wide and pleasant range, and we talked for more than an hour about everything uppermost in our minds, excepting war; and until all my cigars had been consumed.
Asking us to keep our seats a few minutes, Grant went to his tent and returned with an unopened box of large, excellent cigars which some one had just sent him from New York. We smoked one or two, each, from this box, when it was agreed that we ought to be in bed. The general insisted on our taking one more smoke before breaking up. Instead of lighting mine I put it in my pocket, and said I would smoke it the next Christmas Eve in memory of that one. I had to take another, however, and smoke them.
One year from that night we were all in Washington City. Remembering my promise I drove out to Gen. Grant’s home, and timed my arrival so exactly that I met him in the hall, on his way from the dining-room to the library. I was ushered into the latter, where the general commenced pushing papers about on the table, set cigars and matches within reach, and invited me to take a cigar. I pulled one slowly and deliberately out of my pocket as if to light it.
He stared at me a moment and asked me if I was afraid of the quality of his. I replied by asking if he remembered where we were one year ago that night. “Yes, at City Point.” “Don’t you remember that I pocketed one of your cigars then, promising to smoke it in memoriam ?” A smile lighted up his face. “Yes, but you have not saved that cigar till now?” “This is the identical cigar, general, and I am here to fulfill my promise.” “Oh well, if you have kept it so long, smoke out of the box tonight, and save it another year.” I complied, saved it another year, and all the succeeding years, from that to this. It lies in my house, safely incased in glass, a sentimental reminder of those days so long past, and where I hope it will continue to lie, till I too have joined “the bivouac of the dead.” Bowers, Rawlins and Grant have gone to “fame’s eternal camping ground.”
7. A LINCOLN FAMILY VISIT
The President tells funny stories at camp until his angry wife sends Tad to fetch him
The months of January, February and March were devoid of much public interest till towards the close of the latter when a few exciting things took place. Generals Grant and Rawlins sent for their wives to spend a few weeks at City Point, and I thereupon sent for mine to visit me at the same time. They all arrived early in January, and passed an enjoyable time till a start was made on our final campaign against Gen. Lee the last of March. Mrs. Grant went on the headquarter boat, anchored in the river, and remained there a week or two longer. But having no gunboats or iron clads for my wife’s protection, I started her home the day before we broke camp at City Point.
During the last six months of the war, Mr. Lincoln and family made several short visits to City Point on a small steamboat, the River Queen , which he was in the habit of taking for such purposes. On one of these visits, their youngest son familiarly called “Tad,” came with them. The boat always anchored out in the river, and Mrs. Lincoln rarely came ashore. But the President, and “Tad,” landed in a tug regularly every morning, soon after breakfast.
Mr. Lincoln would go directly to the Adjutant’s Office to hear all the news from the front which had been received during the night; and would often have long conferences with Gen. Grant and others concerning prospective operations. When these subjects had been exhausted the chat would take another turn, and Mr. Lincoln’s propensity for story telling would be given free-play, and be encouraged to the utmost. His faculty in this way was absolutely marvelous. It has never been exaggerated, and never can be. He abounded in apt illustrations, and his stories were sidesplitting. He would occasionally join as heartily as any one else in the laughter his stories provoked; and enjoyed these seasons of relaxations in a way that was charming to all who were present.
Mrs. Lincoln seemed insanely jealous of every person, and everything, which drew him away from her and monopolized his attention for an hour. She would send “Tad” with a message to come to the boat, nearly every day. At one time “Tad” found his father enjoying himself in animated conversation, and a little oblivious it may have been to his wife’s message. “Tad” went back to the boat but soon returned with a more urgent command, which he kept repeating loud enough for all to hear. He finally burst out: “Come, come, come now, mama says you must come instantly.” Mr. Lincoln’s countenance fell from unconstrained good-humor and gayety, to the sober, careworn, lugubrious expression so common to him in those days. After a moment’s silence he rose, saying: “My God, will that woman never understand me”; and departed meekly, and sadly, convoyed by “Tad.”
On another occasion—the first one of her visits after Mrs. Grant’s arrival in January—Mrs. Grant, Mrs. Rawlins and Mrs. Cadwallader had a conference as to the propriety of their making a joint call on her aboard the River Queen anchored in the river. It was finally decided that as none of them had ever met her, and in view of the exalted opinions she was known to hold as to what was due to her as wife of the President of the United States, it might be better for Mrs. Grant to make her first call a very formal and semi-official one. She would go as the wife of the Lieut. Gen., and present her respects to the wife of the President. This would be a safe and warranted procedure, and the after presentation of the other two, should be left to Mrs. Lincoln’s wishes.
Mrs. Grant accordingly made what I suspect to have been as near a “state call,” as any in her life. She was received coldly, rather haughtily, and in a manner and spirit which convinced her that Mrs. Lincoln felt it a condescension to receive her. Mrs. Grant returned displeased. It was her first and only call on the Lady of the White House, so far as I ever knew. Mrs. Rawlins and Mrs. Cadwallader never ran the risk of being snubbed, and kept away.
January 31st, 1865, some stir was created at headquarters, which extended all over the north, by the arrival of a Peace Commission, under a flag of truce, consisting of Alexander H. Stephens, vice-president of the Southern Confederacy; Judge [John A.] Campbell, Assistant Secretary of War; and R. M. T. Hunter, formerly United States Senator from Virginia, and then a member of the Confederate Senate. They arrived about night, and after a short interview with Gen. Grant, were quartered aboard the Mollie Martin , till the Washington authorities could be informed and orders received as to what should be done with them.
On the second of February they were sent to Fortress Monroe, when Mr. Lincoln and Secretary Seward met them unofficially, but nothing resulted from the conference except Mr. Lincoln’s declaration that the only terms of peace which the U.S. government would entertain for a moment, were: A recognition of the abolition of slavery by the Confederate government; an immediate laying down of its arms and cessation of hostilities; and a return to the Federal Union. These conditions the gentlemen were not prepared to accept, so they returned to Richmond in a few days.
Gen. Grant’s magnanimity at Appomattox Court House to Lee’s defeated, starving army, was foreshadowed at City Point by his treatment of these Peace Commissioners. They were given the best accommodations which could be provided; no guards were placed over them, or around them; no restraints prevented their wandering about as they pleased on shore through the day; no promises, nor paroles, of any kind, were exacted from them; and they came freely to the general’s headquarters every day for conversations and conferences.
March 27th, Gen. Sherman arrived at City Point for a conference with Gen. Grant, and found the President there also. His march from Atlanta to Savannah, and subsequent progress northward, had made him the favorite of the hour, and every one was glad to meet him. I cannot better describe his visit perhaps than I did to Mr. A. D. Richardson in the winter of 1867-8, for use in his Personal history of U. S. Grant, pages 455-7: “Several general officers met him at the wharf and escorted him to headquarters where many more awaited him. ‘How are you Grant?’ ‘How are you Sherman,’ with cheery smiles on the face of each, comprised about all formal salutations. Sherman said: ‘I didn’t expect to find all you fellows here. You don’t travel as fast as we do.’
“No time was spent in compliments. Sherman sat down in Grant’s stockade cabin with the general and his staff, and asked for a map. He was given to poring over maps. ... A large one was brought, and Sherman began to point out what he proposed to do. His plan was to bring his army up to Weldon, where it would be within supporting distance and could either join Grant, or go west to Burke’s Station to intercept Lee. When Sherman was through Grant said: ‘Well Sherman, I am going to move up to Dinwiddie on the 29th, and think that will force Lee out of his lines to give me battle there, which will be all I want; or so weaken his lines that I can attack him.’
“ ‘A big banter A big banter,’ said Sherman, ‘but we can make things perfectly sure.’
“ ‘Well,’ said Grant, ‘if we don’t succeed here, probably I can keep him from drawing back till you come up.’
“Sherman remained two days. Grant’s fear was that Lee might escape and join Johnston. He was anxious that the Army of the Potomac, which had fought so many battles for such slight compensations, should win a final triumph. To every suggestion from Sherman, or others, that the western army should be brought to cooperate in defeating Lee, he invariably replied, in substance as follows: ‘No. Some western men, or commands, would taunt this army with: “We had to come to your assistance before you could whip Lee, or end the war.” It will be better for the future peace of the country that the Army of the Potomac should finish the job.’ Mr. Lincoln, who at first favored Sherman’s joining Grant, was greatly impressed by the latter’s reasoning, and heartily approved it.”
8. THIS IS VICTORY
The city fathers of Petersburg surrender their rebel town to a war correspondent
Before it was fairly light on the morning of March 29th 1865, Meade, Ord and Sheridan had all broken camp, and the army was once more in motion. Sheridan’s cavalry, nine thousand strong reached Dinwiddie before dark, and camped for the night. On the morning of the 31st he held Five Forks, but was obliged to fall back temporarily.
After breakfast on the 29th, Grant and most of the staff left for the front, distant about twenty miles. I remained behind till the middle of the afternoon, and then accompanied by George Alfred Townsend (“Gath”) rode to Gen. Meade’s headquarters for the night. On the 30th, Meade’s and Grant’s headquarters were within a half mile of each other on Gravelly Run, and remained there till Richmond and Petersburg were evacuated on the night of May 2d.
Warren’s Fifth Corps advanced on White Oak road, [Samuel W.] Crawford’s Division leading the attack. It was severely repulsed in the forenoon and driven back in great confusion. While Crawford was attempting to reform and renew the fighting, Gen. Warren rode up white with rage, and without waiting for explanations, commenced the most abusive tirade on Crawford that a mortal ever listened to. He called him every vile name at his command, in the presence of officers and privates, and totally forgot what was due to his self-respect as an officer and a gentleman. Crawford sat on his horse, stolid as a block of marble, and so far as I can remember, did not utter a syllable in reply. When he had emptied his last vial of abuse on Crawford, Warren rode away, and I never saw him afterwards.
That afternoon Sheridan rode to Grant’s headquarters to see about the infantry reinforcements which had been promised him, to retake Five Forks, destroy [George E.] Pickett’s command, and thus completely turn the enemy’s right flank. He had asked for Wright’s Sixth Corps to be sent to his assistance. But Grant had other work laid out for Wright and notified Sheridan that Warren would be sent to him. To this Sheridan had strong objections and came to headquarters to express them.
His plea was that the Sixth Corps had been with his cavalry in the Shenandoah Campaign; officers and men knew and trusted each other; that the Fifth Corps were strangers; and when hard pressed said he had no confidence in Warren, under such circumstances. He would not like to be subordinated to him (Sheridan) and he expected nothing but trouble. Grant explained to him the impossibility of moving Wright so far within the time required, whereas Warren was on our extreme left but a few miles from Five Forks, and was, on every account the suitable one to be detached for that service. Noting Sheridan’s dissatisfied countenance, Grant said: “Gen. Warren will be ordered to report to you for duty,” speaking slowly and emphasizing every word.
Warren was ordered to move to Sheridan’s support on the night of March gist, so as to cooperate with Sheridan by nine o’clock next morning, at the latest. He reported to Sheridan about eleven o’clock in the forenoon of April 1st, but his corps did not arrive on the field, so as to go into battle, till late in the afternoon. All this time Sheridan was waiting, fuming, and fighting. The chances of success were growing fainter hourly. The enemy was changing his position, and might escape unhurt.
To add to this Sheridan’s aides who had been sent to hurry up Warren’s infantry, and lead them into position, claimed to have received scant courtesy on delivering their orders; and when Warren’s Corps finally arrived, instead of moving forward into line as ordered by Sheridan, it was halted until Warren actually rode over the ground to inspect it personally, as if distrusting Sheridan’s judgment, and rebelling against his authority. Warren’s tardy arrival, his apparent unwillingness to render cheerful obedience so incensed Sheridan that he removed him from command on the spot, sent him to the rear to await orders and placed Gen. Griffin, next in rank, in command. The whole corps was rushed into battle and nothing but the lateness of the attack prevented the capture of the entire rebel force.
There is no doubt but his removal from command of the corps with which he had been so long identified, came like a clap of thunder to Gen. Warren. I have reason to know that such a possibility had never entered his mind. He had a good opinion of himself, and so far as such thoughts ever projected themselves into his reflections, considered his position as secure as that of Meade, Sheridan, or even Grant. And for a while afterward, he never seemed to doubt that he would be vindicated, restored to command, and Sheridan be in some manner reprimanded for his action. It was a pitiful chapter in the war; and Gen. Warren was driven to a premature grave, as his friends always believed, by what he felt to be an undeserved punishment. The close of the war turned public attention away from individual cases. Grant, Sheridan, Sherman and others were the popular idols, and many deserving officers and men were overlooked and forgotten.
Late in the afternoon of April 1st, I returned from the Union front, tired, muddy and hungry. Gen. Grant said his staff were all away on duty, scattered in all directions, and asked me if I felt equal to a ride to City Point. I answered in the affirmative, as a matter of course. He said Sheridan had just sent him a number of regimental and Confederate battle flags, captured during the day at Five Forks, which he wished me to carry to the President, with his compliments, as an evidence of the good work which had been done in that quarter. I swallowed a hasty lunch, changed my saddle to the back of my favorite horse which had been held in reserve for any unexpected emergency, and soon mounted and started, with a heavy armful of captured colors. The roads were execrable, filled with moving troops and trains, and the ride a distressing one to myself and horse.
Reaching the City Point landing between sundown and dark, Mr. Lincoln (who had been notified of my coming by telegraph) sent his tug to the shore, and on its return met me at the hatchway of the lower deck with a beaming countenance and outstretched arms. As soon as I could convey my orders, he seized the flags, unfurled them one by one, and burst out: “Here is something material—something I can see, feel, and understand. This is victory.”
Taking me up into the after cabin of the River Queen , he had me repeat over and over, my message from Gen. Grant—what I knew about affairs at the front—what I had personally witnessed—and manifested the joy of a schoolboy, as I narrated each bit of good news. Turning to some large maps spread out on the tables, where he had marked the lines of Union and Confederate forces with red-headed and blackheaded pins, with such changes as our rapid movements had made to the date of his last dispatch from the front, he asked me to go over them with him, and correct them, wherever I knew them to be faulty. An hour or two was spent with him, when I went ashore; saw my horse attended to; stretched myself on a cot for rest, and sleep if possible; gave strict orders to be called at a certain hour; and was at headquarters again on Gravelly Run soon after daylight, April 2d.
Sometime during the day of April 2d, headquarters were moved up to within four or five miles of the Petersburg public square. By night of that day, the entire outer line of the city’s intrenchments, had [been] carried by our troops, and the Union army lay strongly posted from the Appomattox river below Petersburg, to the river above it. Sheridan had cut off large detachments of rebel troops, as he followed up his victory at Five Forks, which had been driven up the river towards Burkesville Junction, or across it to join Lee towards Richmond. Our troops went into camp at night, with orders to assault everywhere as soon after daylight next morning, as they could be put in motion.
The noise and commotion in Petersburg that night, gave positive assurance that Gen. Lee was evacuating. I started into the city alone, on the morning of April 3d, at daylight. When I reached the head of the main street leading to the center of the city from that side, I saw a procession of old men, in homespun, butternut clothing, coming towards me on the sidewalk, bearing an improvised flag of truce that looked suspiciously like a dirty linen table cloth. They came along at a sober gait, as if attending a funeral. Seeing me approaching, with staff equipments on my horse, they faced to the curbstone, made an awkward attempt to give me a military salute, when their spokesman began a pompous official address, stating: “That on behalf of the municipal government, and the people of the City of Petersburg, he had the honor of tendering the formal surrender of the place, &c., &c.”
The hour, the place, the simple ignorance of these town councilmen—for such they declared themselves to be—the apparent honesty of their intentions—their mistake in supposing such an humble individual as myself to be in position to receive the surrender of a city—conspired to make it the most ridiculous event of my life. They were very slow to believe that so jaunty and self-possessed a horseman as I evidently was that morning, was not clothed with a large measure of military and civil authority.
With more impatience of manner, perhaps, than their simplicity deserved, I told them I should have been glad to have met them on that errand at any time for many months last past; but it was now too late—that we were already in possession of the city—no surrender had been asked for, nor would be formally received by Gen. Grant, or anyone else—and advised them to hurry to their respective domiciles—to remain closely in their own premises—and there await future events. “But,” they enquired, “was property not to be respected and the rights of unarmed citizens observed?” I was obliged to ride away from their questionings and protests. By the time I reached Jarratt’s Hotel, Union cavalry were swarming through the streets, soon followed by infantry, and thus I have always jestingly claimed, this celebrated rebel stronghold was officially surrendered to me.
9. SURRENDER AT APPOMATTOX
Cadwallader watches the meeting between the disheveled Grant and the courtly Lee
Accompanying Grant and his escort as they sought to keep pace with the flying Union columns, Cadwallader sent dispatches to the Herald at every opportunity. On the morning of April 5 the party entered the dilapidated village of Nottaway Court House.
While Grant was viewing the place a staff officer arrived with dispatches from Sheridan, stating that he had captured a large number of prisoners, artillery, part of a wagon train, had driven the enemy’s advances back with considerable loss.
Soon after receiving this dispatch two trusty scouts arrived from Sheridan with additional news, and urging Gen. Grant to come to that place and capture Lee’s whole army. The general sent a staff officer to read this news from Sheridan at the head of every brigade in the line of march. Although the men had already tramped over twenty miles that day and were hoping to camp for the night, this news encouraged them to make several miles before stopping.
We reached Sheridan’s headquarters [near the town of Jetersville] between eleven and twelve at night and found them in a small log cabin in the middle of a tobacco patch. Some of his staff were at work by candlelight, the general was trying to sleep in a loft above on a clapboard floor, and came scrambling down a ladder as soon as we were announced with no clothing but a shirt, pants and boots. He commenced by pointing out on the maps the position of the enemy at nightfall, the positions held by his own troops, the lines of retreat which Lee was now compelled to adopt along different roads, the combinations and marches which could be made to cut him off, and ended by declaring this to be the final battle ground. Meade’s troops must be forced to certain positions during the night, and then not a man of Lee’s army could escape. He was enthusiastic, positive and not a little profane in expressing his opinions.
Grant was all this time brimming over with quiet enjoyment of Sheridan’s impetuosity, but finally said the Confederate army was certainly in a bad predicament; it would be compelled to abandon its intended line of retreat; that it would unquestionably be further demoralized by this; but if he was in Gen. Lee’s place he thought he could get away with part of his army, and he supposed Gen. Lee would. Sheridan didn’t believe a single regiment could escape and reiterated the opinion many times. Grant said in his quiet, pleasant way that we were doing splendidly; everything was now in our favor; but we must not expect too much. We would do all in our power, but it was too much to expect to capture the whole :Confederate army just then, &c., &c.
Gen. Grant left Jetersville at five o’clock P.M. of April 6th, and rode to Burkeville Junction, where his headquarter train had orders to await him at night. Soon after reaching that place a staff officer arrived from Sheridan with the glorious news of the day’s work at Sayler’s Creek, and the taking of thirteen thousand prisoners, and several hundred wagons.
[On April 7 Grant sent a note to Lee suggesting that further resistance was useless and that the Army of Northern Virginia ought to be surrendered. Lee countered with a note in which he denied that the time for surrender had come, but in which at the same time he asked what terms Grant would offer if surrender did become necessary. Grant replied with a note inviting the surrender of Lee’s army, and offering to meet with him to arrange terms. While an answer was being awaited, the two armies moved toward the west and south, with the Army of the Potomac straining every nerve to head Lee off from any possible avenue of escape. Part of the Army, led by Sheridan’s cavalry, raced to get in front of Lee; the rest, under Meade, followed closely in Lee’s rear.]
We moved leisurely along all day [April 8] expecting every hour to hear something further from Gen. Lee. Nothing came but night, which found us twentyfive miles from the headquarter train; and without any accommodations for ourselves or horses. Gen. Meade established his headquarters for the night near an old country homestead known as the Clifton House, and invited us all to supper. The Clifton House had been deserted on our approach and most of the household effects hauled away. Some old house servants were left behind to look after the premises as well as they could, and from them it was learned that one bed remained standing in good condition in an upper chamber. After supper with Gen. Meade, we all went to the Clifton House. Grant and Rawlins took possession of the one bed, upstairs, and the staff threw themselves on the parlor floor for rest and sleep. I “retired” early and selected the best place on the floor for my own occupancy. With my field-glasses for a pillow I slept soundly till towards midnight, when the challenge of the guard outside awoke us all. The sound of jingling spurs and clanking saber was next heard, and then the announcement: “Dispatches for General Grant.” We were instantly on the alert. When the dispatch had been carried upstairs to Gen. Grant, we threw the parlor door wide open at the foot of the stairway, and it must be confessed, played the part of privileged eavesdroppers.
A light was soon struck upstairs when Rawlins opened and read the dispatch in so loud a tone that we heard the most of it. It ran as follows:
April 8th, 1865. General: —I received at a late hour your note of today. I did not intend to propose the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, but to ask the terms of your proposition. To be frank, I do not think the emergency has arisen to call for the surrender. But as the restoration of peace should be the sole object of all, I desire to know whether your proposals would tend to that end. I cannot, therefore meet you with a view to the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia; but as far as your proposition may affect the Confederate state forces under my command, and tend to the restoration of peace, I should be pleased to meet you at ten A.M. tomorrow, on the old stage road to Richmond, between the picket lines of the two armies. Very Respectfully Your Obedient Servant. R. E. Lee, General C.S.A. To Lieutenant-General Grant; Commanding Armies of the United States.•
• The text of this note given by Cadwallader is essentially though not absolutely correct. See Douglas Southall Freeman: R. E. Lee (New York. 1947, 1949), IV, 133, for the exact text.
The reading of this cool disingenuous dispatch threw Gen. Rawlins into unusually bad temper, and he began at once: “He did not propose to surrender,” he says. “Diplomatic but not true. He did propose, in his heart, to surrender. He now tries to take advantage of a single word used by you, as a reason for extending such easy terms. He now wants to entrap us into making a treaty of peace. You said nothing about that. You asked him to surrender. He replied by asking what terms you would give if he surrendered. You answered, by stating the terms. Now he wants to arrange for peace—something beyond and above the surrender of his army—something to embrace the whole Confederacy, if possible. No Sir! No Sir. Why it is a positive insult; and an attempt in an underhanded way, to change the whole terms of the correspondence.”
Then came Grant’s soft, moderate, persuasive, and apologetic voice: “Some allowance must be made for the trying position in which Gen. Lee is placed. He is compelled to defer somewhat to the wishes of his government, and his military associates. But it all means precisely the same thing. If I meet Lee, he will surrender before I leave.”
By previous invitation we all breakfasted with Gen. Meade, before daylight, Sunday morning, April 9th, 1865. We started as soon as it was light enough to do so safely, to ride around the right flank of the rebel army to join Sheridan, whom we knew to be squarely in Lee’s front, somewhere near Appomattox Court House. We had to make a wide detour, to avoid running into Confederate pickets, flankers and bummers. It proved to be a long rough ride, much of the way without any well-defined road; often through fields and across farms; over hills, ravines and “turned out” plantations; across muddy brooks and bogs of quicksand. About eleven o’clock A.M. we halted for a few minutes to breathe our horses, in a new “clearing” where a number of log heaps were on fire. At one of these the party mainly dismounted, and lighted cigars from the blazing logs.
While there some one chanced to look back the way we had come, and saw a horseman coming at full speed, waving his hat above his head, and shouting at every jump of his steed. As he neared us we recognized him as Major [Lieutenant Charles E.] Pease, of Gen. Meade’s staff, mounted on a coal black stallion, white with foam, from his long and rapid pursuit of us.
Major Pease rode up to Gen. Rawlins, saluted, and handed him the sealed envelope. Rawlins tore one end open slowly, withdrew the inclosure, and read it deliberately. He then handed it to Gen. Grant, without a word of comment. The staff were all expecting Lee to surrender, and searched the countenance of Gen. Rawlins eagerly for some clue to the contents of the package. There was no exultation manifested—no sign of joy—and instead of flushing from excitement, he clenched his teeth, compressed his lips, and became very pale. Grant read it through mechanically, and handed it back to Rawlins, saying in a common tone of voice: “You had better read it aloud General.” The immovable expression of countenance in these two prominent actors in the great drama drawing to a close, was rather discouraging to the onlookers. Rawlins showed nothing but extra paleness. There was no more expression in Grant’s countenance than in a last year’s bird’s nest. Grant’s face was like the face of a Sphinx.
Rawlins drew a long breath, and in his deep sepulchral voice, a little tremulous by this time, read the following dispatch from Lee:
9th April, 1865. General: —I received your note of this morning on the picket line, whither I had come to meet you, and ascertain definitely what terms were embraced in your proposal of yesterday with reference to the surrender of this army. I now ask an interview, in accordance with the offer contained in your letter of yesterday, for that purpose. R. E. Lee, General. Lieut. Gen. U. S. Grant.•
• Except for punctuation, the text of this letter is correct. See Freeman: R. E. Lee , IV, 127.
A blank silence fell on everybody for a minute. No one looked his comrade in the face. Finally Col. Duff, chief of Artillery, sprang upon a log, waved his hat, and proposed three cheers. A feeble hurrah came from a few throats, when all broke down in tears, and but little was said for several minutes. All felt that the war was over. Every heart was thinking of friends—family—home.
Presently Grant turned to Rawlins with a smile and said: “How will that do Rawlins?” to which the latter replied: “I think that will do” laying strong emphasis on the word “that.”
Gen. Ely S. Parker, Chief of the Six Nations, then military Secretary to Gen. Grant, was directed to write the following note to Gen. Lee:
April 9th 1865. Gen. R. E. Lee: — Yours of this date is but this moment (fifty minutes past eleven) received, in consequence of my having passed from Richmond and Lynchburg to the Farmville and Richmond road. Am at this writing about four miles west of Wallace Church, and will push forward to the front for the purpose of meeting you. Notice sent to me on this road where you wish the interview to take place will meet me here.•
• The correct text of this note—approximately the same as in Cadwallader’s version—can be found in the Official Records, Series I, Vol. XLVI, Part 3, p. 665.
After dispatching this last note to Lee, Grant and staff rode on towards the Court House. The firing, which had been heavy through the early forenoon gradually died away, until it wholly ceased. The news of the pending negotiations for the surrender spread rapidly through both armies. As we came out on the open ground near the village [Appomattox], both armies were in plain view. The soldiers of each were in line of battle, and ready to renew the contest on short notice. Officers were galloping in all directions, colors were flying, and it had more the appearance of a grand review of troops, than of two contending hosts. A nearer view, however, disclosed dirty, tattered, ranks of soldiers, none of them well clad, and nearly all officers in fatigue dress.
We struck the upper or south end of the principal [street] of the village, and turned northward to the Court House. Lee’s army still lay north and east of the town. A close lookout was kept for Gen. Lee. When nearly in front of a two-story brick house on the right, or east side of the street, an orderly in rebel uniform was seen holding a couple of horses near the north end of the building. One was a dapple-gray, with a Grimsley saddle and plain single-reined bridle on him, without anything to denote rank.
A staff officer dashed across the open blue grass yard and inquired whose horses they were. The orderly said they belonged to Gen. Lee, who was in the house. The house stood back several rods from the street. The front fence was wholly down, and mostly carried away. So Gen. Grant rode across the yard to the front entrance to a long porch which extended the whole length of the house, dismounted, ascended a half dozen steps onto the porch, and was about to enter the half-open door of a wide hall which separated the ground floor into two suites of rooms, when Gen. Lee met him, exchanged salutations, and conducted him into the front room on the left side of the hall. The staff all remained on their horses. In a few minutes Gen. Grant came to the front, and beckoned to us to come in. All were formally presented to Gen. Lee, and Colonel [Charles] Marshall of Baltimore, one of his Aides, who was the only member of his staff that came with him.
The conversation was short and commonplace from necessity. After the ordinary civilities were exchanged, the military secretaries were set to work to reduce the terms of the capitulation into proper form. This did not take long. The terms being fully understood and agreed to, were written out in duplicate by Col. Ely S. Parker, in whose possession I saw the original, written on yellow manifold paper, in 1890.
The time occupied in making duplicates of the foregoing letters gave an excellent opportunity for studying the two principal actors in the great drama. Gen. Grant had been separated from his headquarter train about forty-eight hours. He was compelled to meet Gen. Lee in the ordinary fatigue blouse, a hat somewhat the worse for wear, without a sword of any kind (as he seldom wore one on a march) and with no insignia of rank excepting the Lieutenant-General’s shoulder straps on the outside of his blouse to designate him to his own troops. His appearance, never imposing, contrasted strongly with that of Gen. Lee. But his quiet, unassuming deportment rarely failed to impress everyone with his force of character, no matter what his surroundings might chance to be.
Gen. Lee was older in appearance, but soldierly in every way. He was over six feet in height, rather heavily built in these later years of his life, neatly dressed in the full uniform of his rank, and wearing an elegant costly sword by far too valuable for field service, or for any but ceremonious occasions. I afterwards learned it was one presented to him by the State of Virginia. He wore his hair and whiskers cut short, both of which were iron gray in color. He was rather stout and fleshy than otherwise; with bronzed face from exposure to storm and sun; but showing a remarkably fine white skin above the line of his hatband when uncovered. His manners and bearing were perfect, and stamped him a thoroughbred gentleman in the estimation of all who saw him. His position was a difficult and mortifying one to a proud and sensitive man; yet he comported himself with that happy blending of dignity and courtesy so difficult to describe, but so befitting to the serious business he had in hand. There was no haughtiness or ill-humor betrayed on the one hand; nor affected cheerfulness, forced politeness, nor flippancy on the other. He was a gentleman —which fully and wholly expresses his behavior.
The belief seemed widespread among Confederate officers that the United States government had pledged itself to grant no amnesties for treason, and that “they must all hang together, or hang separately.” On learning that Gen. Grant had taken no advantage of their desperate situation, but had voluntarily extended to them the same magnanimous terms offered two days before, and refused by Gen. Lee, they expressed their extreme gratitude. Discussion among themselves strengthened this feeling. All admitted that their army had no further power of resistance, and that it was obliged to surrender on our own terms. They seemed surprised to find no appearance of vindictiveness on our part. Judging from their hearty confessions of generous treatment, one would conclude that they had expected to be chained together as felons, to grace the triumphal march of our victorious army. No one who witnessed the behavior of the rebel officers and listened to their conversation, could long doubt the wisdom of Grant’s policy. Their first questions had been: “Well, what are you going to do with us?” showing extreme anxiety. The feeling of relief from all suspense was universal.
The appointment of officers to carry out the details of the surrender were made during the night by Grant and Lee, respectively. On our part, Gen. John Gibbon was the ranking officer.
At ten o’clock A.M. , Monday, April 10th, 1865, the two generals met by appointment on the brow of a hill north of the Court House. Grant and staff had barely arrived when Lee, accompanied by an orderly came galloping up the slope, and wheeled to the side of the Lieutenant-General who sat on his horse a few rods in advance of the line of the staff. Their conversation lasted nearly an hour, in a drizzling rain which had just set in. During this conference Lee stated that if Grant had assented to a meeting which he had proposed some weeks before, peace would undoubtedly have resulted therefrom. The conversation between them was unheard by others; but enough was gleaned from Gen. Grant to know that Lee acknowledged his army to be completely beaten; the Confederacy about destroyed; and further prolongation of the war impossible. Johnston was expected to surrender to Sherman without firing another gun.
While this interview was carried on, a study of the surroundings interested me. Meade and staff, Sheridan and staff, Ord and staff, and a large concourse of general officers were ranged in semi-circular line in the background, presenting a tableaux not often witnessed. Back of us lay the Federal troops compactly massed, and many of them in view. In front of us across a ravine which separated the two armies, lay the shattered remnants of Lee’s grand army of invasion, which had carried consternation to the north until Antietam and Gettysburg had driven them from our borders. Grant’s staff, whilst nominally the ranking one, was by no means the most pretentious in appearance.
About eleven o’clock, Lee saluted, rode down the hill, crossed the ravine, entered his tent, packed his traveling portmanteau, and left the same day, attended by a single servant, to join his family in Richmond.
Gen. Grant turned the head of his thoroughbred horse “Cincinnatus” towards the Court House; gave directions to the staff quartermaster to take the headquarter train to Prospect Station for that night; to move it from there back to City Point by easy marches; and started with some of his staff for Washington to stop the draft then progressing.
We had some delays along the road in the afternoon, and did not reach Prospect Station till dark. The headquarter train arrived soon after, when tents were pitched, supper prepared and eaten; and all assembled in front of a roaring log fire; ankle deep in mud, but exalted above most earthly discomforts by the crowning success of the campaign.