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On the Trail of Grant and Lee by Frederick Trevor Hill

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On the Trail of Grant and Lee

By Frederick Trevor Hill

To Howard Ogden Wood, Jr.


During the early years of the Civil War someone tauntingly asked
Mr. Charles Francis Adams, the United States Minister to England,
what he thought of the brilliant victories which the confederate
armies were then gaining in the field. "I think they have been
won by my fellow countrymen," was the quiet answer.

Almost half a century has passed since that reproof was uttered,
but its full force is only just beginning to be understood. For
nearly fifty years the story of the Civil War has been twisted to
suit local pride or prejudice in various parts of the Union, with
the result that much which passes for American history is not history
at all, and whatever else it may be, it is certainly not American.

Assuredly, the day has now arrived when such historical "make-believes"
should be discountenanced, both in the North and in the South.
Americans of the present and the coming generations are entitled
to take a common pride in whatever lent nobility to the fraternal
strife of the sixties, and to gather equal inspiration from every
achievement that reflected credit on American manhood during those
years when the existence of the Union was at stake. Until this is
rendered possible by the elimination of error and falsehood, the
sacrifices of the Civil War will, to a large extent, have been
endured in vain.

In some respects this result has already been realized. Lincoln
is no longer a local hero. He is a national heritage. To distort
or belittle the characters of other men who strove to the end that
their land "might have a new birth of freedom," is to deprive the
younger generations of part of their birthright. They are entitled
to the facts from which to form a just estimate of the lives of
all such men, regardless of uniforms.

It is in this spirit that the strangely interwoven trials of Grant
and Lee are followed in these pages. Both were Americans, and
widely as they differed in opinions, tastes and sympathies, each
exhibited qualities of mind and character which should appeal to
all their fellow countrymen and make them proud of the land that
gave them birth. Neither man, in his life, posed before the public
as a hero, and the writer has made no attempt to place either of
them on a pedestal. Theirs is a very human story, requiring neither
color nor concealment, but illustrating a high development of those
traits that make for manhood and national greatness.

The writer hereby acknowledges his indebtedness to all those
historians whose scholarly research has made it possible to trace
the careers of these two great commanders with confidence in the
accuracy of the facts presented. Where equally high authorities
have differed he has been guided by those who, in his judgment, have
displayed the most scrupulous impartiality, and wherever possible
he has availed himself of official records and documents.

The generous service rendered by Mr. Samuel Palmer Griffin in testing
the vast record upon which these pages are based, his exhaustive
research and scientific analysis of the facts, have given whatever
of authority may be claimed for the text, and of this the writer
hereby makes grateful acknowledgment. To Mr. Arthur Becher he is
likewise indebted for his careful studies at West Point and elsewhere
which have resulted in illustrations conforming to history.

Frederick Trevor Hill.

New York, September, 1911.


Chapter Page
I.--Three Civil Wars . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
II.--Washington and Lee . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
III.--Lee at West Point . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
IV.--The Boyhood of Grant . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
V.--Grant at West Point . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
VI.--Lieutenant Grant Under Fire . . . . . . . . 35
VII.--Captain Lee at the Front . . . . . . . . . . 44
VIII.--Colonel Lee After the Mexican War . . . . . 52
IX.--Captain Grant in a Hard Fight . . . . . . . 59
X.--Grant's Difficulties in Securing a Command . 67
XI.--Lee at the Parting of the Ways . . . . . . . 75
XII.--Opening Moves . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 83
XIII.--Grant's First Success . . . . . . . . . . . 93
XIV.--The Battle of Shiloh . . . . . . . . . . . . 106
XV.--Lee in the Saddle . . . . . . . . . . . . . 116
XVI.--A Game of Strategy . . . . . . . . . . . . . 125
XVII.--Lee and the Invasion of Maryland . . . . . . 133
XVIII.--The Battle of Antietam or Sharpsburg . . . . 141
XIX.--Lee Against Burnside and Hooker . . . . . . 148
XX.--In the Hour of Triumph . . . . . . . . . . . 163
XXI.--Grant at Vicksburg . . . . . . . . . . . . . 171
XXII.--The Battle of Gettysburg . . . . . . . . . . 180
XXIII.--In the Face of Disaster . . . . . . . . . . 193
XXIV.--The Rescue of Two Armies . . . . . . . . . . 201
XXV.--Lieutenant-General Grant . . . . . . . . . . 213
XXVI.--A Duel to the Death . . . . . . . . . . . . 224
XXVII.--Check and Countercheck . . . . . . . . . . . 238
XXVIII.--The Beginning of the End . . . . . . . . . . 248
XXIX.--At Bay . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 256
XXX.--The Surrender . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 269
XXXI.--Lee's Years of Peace . . . . . . . . . . . . 280
XXXII.--The Head of the Nation . . . . . . . . . . . 294

List of Illustrations

Illustrations in Color

Grant running the gauntlet of the Mexicans at Monterey
in riding to the relief of his comrades . . Frontispiece
September 23, 1846.

Lee with Mrs. Lewis (Nellie Custis) applying to General
Andrew Jackson to aid in securing his cadetship at
West Point . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10

Grant on his horse, "York," making exhibition jump in
the Riding Academy at West Point . . . . . . . . . . 32
June, 1843.

Lee sending the Rockbridge battery into action for the
second time at Antietam or Sharpsburg . . . . . . . 144
September 17, 1862.

Lee rallying his troops at the Battle of the
Wilderness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 232
May 6, 1864.

Grant at the entrenchments before Petersburg . . . . . 260
March, 1865.

Illustrations in the Text

Signature of Grant on reporting at West Point . . . . 25
(From the original records of the U. S. Military

First signature of Grant as U. S. Grant . . . . . . . 27
(From the original records of the U.S. Military

Grant's letter demanding unconditional surrender of
forces at Fort Donnelson . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 103

Diagram map (not drawn to scale) showing strategy of
the opening of the Battle of Chancellorsville, May
1 and 2, 1863 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 157

Diagram map (not drawn to scale) showing Grant's series
of movements by the left flank from the Wilderness
to Petersburg . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 229

Facsimile of telegraphic message drafted by Lieutenant-
General Grant, announcing Lee's surrender, May 9,
1865 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 275

Lee's letter of August 3, 1866, acknowledging receipt of
the extension of his furlough . . . . . . . . . . . 283

Chapter I

Three Civil Wars

England was an uncomfortable place to live in during the reign
of Charles the First. Almost from the moment that that ill-fated
monarch ascended the throne he began quarreling with Parliament;
and when he decided to dismiss its members and make himself the
supreme ruler of the land, he practically forced his subjects into
a revolution. Twelve feverish years followed--years of discontent,
indignation and passion--which arrayed the Cavaliers, who supported
the King, against the Roundheads, who upheld Parliament, and finally
flung them at each other's throats to drench the soil of England
with their blood.

Meanwhile, the gathering storm of civil war caused many a resident
of the British Isles to seek peace and security across the seas,
and among those who turned toward America were Mathew Grant and
Richard Lee. It is not probable that either of these men had ever
heard of the other, for they came from widely separated parts of
the kingdom and were even more effectually divided by the walls of
caste. There is no positive proof that Mathew Grant (whose people
probably came from Scotland) was a Roundhead, but he was a man of
humble origin who would naturally have favored the Parliamentary
or popular party, while Richard Lee, whose ancestors had fought
at Hastings and in the Crusades, is known to have been an ardent
Cavalier, devoted to the King. But whether their opinions on
politics differed or agreed, it was apparently the conflict between
the King and Parliament that drove them from England. In any event
they arrived in America at almost the same moment; Grant reaching
Massachusetts in 1630, the year after King Charles dismissed his
Parliament, and Lee visiting Virginia about this time to prepare
for his permanent residence in the Dominion which began when actual
hostilities opened in the mother land.

The trails of Grant and Lee, therefore, first approach each other
from out of the smoke of a civil war. This is a strangely significant
fact, but it might be regarded merely as a curious coincidence were
it not for other and stranger events which seem to suggest that
the hand of Fate was guiding the destinies of these two men.

Mathew Grant originally settled in Massachusetts but he soon moved
to Connecticut, where he became clerk of the town of Windsor and
official surveyor of the whole colony--a position which he held for
many years. Meanwhile Richard Lee became the Colonial Secretary and
a member of the King's Privy Council in Virginia, and thenceforward
the name of his family is closely associated with the history of
that colony.

Lee bore the title of colonel, but it was to statesmanship and not
to military achievements that he and his early descendants owed
their fame; while the family of Grant, the surveyor, sought glory
at the cannon's mouth, two of its members fighting and dying for
their country as officers in the French and Indian war of 1756. In
that very year, however, a military genius was born to the Virginia
family in the person of Harry Lee, whose brilliant cavalry exploits
were to make him known to history as "Light Horse Harry." But
before his great career began, the house of Grant was represented
in the Revolution, for Captain Noah Grant of Connecticut drew his
sword in defense of the colonies at the outbreak of hostilities,
taking part in the battle of Bunker Hill; and from that time
forward he and "Light Horse Harry" served in the Continental army
under Washington until Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown.

Here the trails of the two families, AGAIN DRAWN TOGETHER BY A
CIVIL STRIFE, merge for an historic moment and then cross; that of
the Grants turning toward the West, and that of the Lees keeping
within the confines of Virginia.

It was in 1799 that Captain Noah Grant migrated to Ohio, and during
the same year Henry Lee delivered the memorial address upon the
death of Washington, coining the immortal phrase "first in war,
first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen."

Ulysses Grant, the Commander of the Union forces in the Civil War,
was the grandson of Captain Grant, who served with "Light Horse
Harry" Lee during the Revolution; and Robert Lee, the Confederate
General, was "Light Horse Harry's" son.

Thus, for the THIRD time in two and a half centuries, a civil
conflict between men of the English-speaking race blazed the trails
of Grant and Lee.

Chapter II

Washington and Lee

"Wakefield," Westmoreland County, Virginia, was the birthplace of
Washington, and at Stratford in the same county and state, only
a few miles from Wakefield, Robert Edward Lee was born on January
19, 1807. Seventy-five years had intervened between those events
but, except in the matter of population, Westmoreland County remained
much the same as it had been during Washington's youth. Indians,
it is true, no longer lurked in he surrounding forests or paddled
the broad Potomac in their frail canoes, but the life had much of
the same freedom and charm which had endeared it to Washington.
All the streams and woods and haunts which he had known and loved
were known and loved by Lee, not only for their own sake, but because
they were associated with the memory of the great Commander-in-Chief
who had been his father's dearest friend.

It would have been surprising, under such circumstances, if Washington
had not been Lee's hero, but he was more than a hero to the boy.
From his father's lips he had learned to know him, not merely as
a famous personage of history, but as a man and a leader of men.
Indeed, his influence and example were those of a living presence
in the household of "Light Horse Harry;" and thus to young Lee
he early became the ideal of manhood upon which, consciously or
unconsciously, he molded his own character and life. But quite
apart from this, the careers of these two great Virginians were
astonishingly alike.

Washington's father had been married twice, and so had Lee's; each
was a son of the second marriage, and each had a number of brothers
and sisters. Washington lost his father when he was only eleven
years old, and Lee was exactly the same age when his father died.
Mrs. Washington had almost the entire care of her son during his
early years, and Lee was under the sole guidance of his mother until
he had almost grown to manhood. Washington repaid his mother's
devotion by caring for her and her affairs with notable fidelity,
and Lee's tenderness and consideration for his mother were such that
she was accustomed to remark that he was both a son and a daughter
to her.

Washington's ancestors were notable, if not distinguished, people
in England; while Lee could trace his descent, through his father,
to Lancelot Lee, who fought at the battle of Hastings, and through
his mother to Robert the Bruce of Scotland. Neither man, however,
prided himself in the least on his ancestry. Indeed, neither of
them knew anything of his family history until his own achievements
brought the facts to light.

Washington was a born and bred country boy and so was Lee. Both
delighted in outdoor life, loving horses and animals of all kinds
and each was noted for his skillful riding in a region which was
famous for its horsemanship. There was, however, a vast difference
between Washington's education and that of Lee. The Virginian schools
were very rudimentary in Washington's day; but Lee attended two
excellent institutions of learning, where he had every opportunity,
and of this he availed himself, displaying much the same thoroughness
that characterized Washington's work, and the same manly modesty
about any success that he achieved.

By reason of his father's death and other circumstances Washington
was burdened with responsibility long before he arrived at manhood,
making him far more reserved and serious-minded than most school
boys. This was precisely the case with Lee, for his father's
death, the ill health of his mother and the care of younger children
virtually made him the head of the family, so that he became unusually
mature and self-contained at an early age. Neither boy, however,
held aloof from the sports and pastimes of his schoolmates and
both were regarded as quiet, manly fellows, with no nonsense about
them, and with those qualities of leadership that made each in turn
the great military leader of his age.

Never has history recorded a stranger similarity in the circumstances
surrounding the youth of two famous men, but the facts which linked
their careers in later years are even stranger still.

Chapter III

Lee at West Point

As his school days drew to a close, it became necessary for Lee to
determine his future calling. But the choice of a career, often so
perplexing to young men, presented no difficulty to "Light Horse
Harry's" son. He had apparently always intended to become a soldier
and no other thought had seemingly ever occurred to any member of
his family. Appointments to the United States Military Academy
were far more a matter of favor than they are to-day, and young
Lee, accompanied by Mrs. Lewis (better known as Nellie Custis, the
belle of Mount Vernon and Washington's favorite grandchild), sought
the assistance of General Andrew Jackson. Rough "Old Hickory" was
not the easiest sort of person to approach with a request of any
kind and, doubtless, his young visitor had grave misgivings as to
the manner in which his application would be received. But Jackson,
the hero of the battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812, only
needed to be told that his caller was "Light Horse Harry's" son to
proffer assistance; and in his nineteenth year, the boy left home
for the first time in his life to enroll himself as a cadet at West

Very few young men enter that institution so well prepared for military
life as was Lee, for he had been accustomed to responsibility and
had thoroughly mastered the art of self-control many years before
he stepped within its walls. He was neither a prig nor a "grind,"
but he regarded his cadetship as part of the life work which he
had voluntarily chosen, and he had no inclination to let pleasure
interfere with it. With his comrades he was companionable,
entering into all their pastimes with zest and spirit, but he let
it be understood, without much talk, that attention to duty was a
principle with him and his serious purpose soon won respect.

Rigid discipline was then, as it is to-day, strictly enforced at
West Point, and demerits were freely inflicted upon cadets for even
the slightest infraction of the rules. Indeed, the regulations
were so severe that it was almost impossible for a cadet to avoid
making at least a few slips at some time during his career. But
Lee accomplished the impossible, for not once throughout his entire
four years did he incur even a single demerit--a record that still
remains practically unique in the history of West Point. This and
his good scholarship won him high rank; first, as cadet officer of
his class, and finally, as adjutant of the whole battalion, the
most coveted honor of the Academy, from which he graduated in 1829,
standing second in a class of forty-six.

Men of the highest rating at West Point may choose whatever arm
of the service they prefer, and Lee, selecting the Engineer Corps,
was appointed a second lieutenant and assigned to fortification
work at Hampton Roads, in his twenty-second year. The work there
was not hard but it was dull. There was absolutely no opportunity
to distinguish oneself in any way, and time hung heavy on most of
the officers' hands. But Lee was in his native state and not far
from his home, where he spent most of his spare time until his mother
died. Camp and garrison life had very little charm for him, but
he was socially inclined and, renewing his acquaintance with his
boyhood friends, he was soon in demand at all the dances and country
houses at which the young people of the neighborhood assembled.

Among the many homes that welcomed him at this time was that of
Mr. George Washington Parke Custis (Washington's adopted grandson),
whose beautiful estate known as "Arlington" lay within a short
distance of Alexandria, where Lee had lived for many years. Here
he had, during his school days, met the daughter of the house and,
their boy-and-girl friendship culminating in an engagement shortly
after his return from West Point, he and Mary Custis were married
in his twenty-fifth year. Lee thus became related by marriage to
Washington, and another link was formed in the strange chain of
circumstances which unite their careers.

A more ideal marriage than that of these two young people cannot be
imagined. Simple in their tastes and of home-loving dispositions,
they would have been well content to settle down quietly to country
life in their beloved Virginia, surrounded by their family and
friends. But the duties of an army officer did not admit of this,
and after a few years' service as assistant to the chief engineer
of the army in Washington, Lee was ordered to take charge of
the improvements of the Mississippi River at St. Louis, where, in
the face of violent opposition from the inhabitants, he performed
such valuable service that in 1839 he was offered the position of
instructor at West Point. This, however, he declined, and in 1842
he was entrusted with the task of improving the defenses of New
York harbor and moved with his family to Fort Hamilton, where he
remained for several years. Meanwhile, he had been successively
promoted to a first lieutenancy and a captaincy, and in his
thirty-eighth year he was appointed one of the visitors to West
Point, whose duty it was to inspect the Academy and report at stated
intervals on its condition. This appointment, insignificant in
itself, is notable because it marks the point at which the trails
of Grant and Lee first approach each other, for at the time that
Captain Lee was serving as an official visitor, Ulysses Grant was
attempting to secure an assistant professorship at West Point.

Chapter IV

The Boyhood of Grant

Deerfield, Ohio, was not a place of any importance when Captain Noah
Grant of Bunker Hill fame arrived there from the East. Indeed, it
was not then much more than a spot on the map and it has ever won
any great renown. Yet in this tiny Ohio village there lived at one
and the same time Owen Brown, the father of John Brown, who virtually
began the Civil War, and Jesse Grant, the father of Ulysses Grant,
who practically brought it to a close.

It is certainly strange that these two men should, with all the
world to choose from, have chanced upon the same obscure little
village, but it is still stranger that one of them should have become
the employer of the other and that they should both have lived in
the very same house. Such, however, is the fact, for when Jesse
Grant first began to earn his living as a tanner, he worked for
and boarded with Owen Brown, little dreaming that his son and his
employer's son would some day shake the world.

It was not at Deerfield, however, but at Point Pleasant, Ohio,
that Jesse Grant's distinguished son was born on April 27, 1822, in
a cottage not much larger than the cabin in which Abraham Lincoln
first saw the light. Mr. and Mrs. Grant and other members of
their family differed among themselves as to what the boy should
be called, but they settled the question by each writing his or
her favorite name on a slip of paper and then depositing all the
slips in a hat, with the understanding that the child should receive
the first two names drawn from that receptacle. This resulted in
the selection of Hiram and Ulysses, and the boy was accordingly
called Hiram Ulysses Grant until the United States government
re-christened him in a curious fashion many years later. To his
immediate family, however, he was always known as Ulysses, which
his playmates soon twisted into the nickname "Useless," more or
less good-naturedly applied.

Grant's father moved to Georgetown, Ohio, soon after his son's
birth, and there his boyhood days were passed. The place was not
at that time much more than a frontier village and its inhabitants
were mostly pioneers--not the adventurous, exploring pioneers who
discover new countries, but the hardy advance-guard of civilization,
who clear the forests and transform the wilderness into farming
land. Naturally, there was no culture and very little education
among these people. They were a sturdy, self-respecting, hard-working
lot, of whom every man was the equal of every other, and to whom
riches and poverty were alike unknown. In a community of this sort
there was, of course, no pampering of the children, and if there
had been, Grant's parents would probably have been the last to
indulge in it. His father, Jesse Grant, was a stern and very busy
man who had neither the time nor the inclination to coddle the boy,
and his mother, absorbed in her household duties and the care of a
numerous family, gave him only such attention as was necessary to
keep him in good health. Young Ulysses was, therefore, left to
his own devices almost as soon as he could toddle, and he quickly
became self-reliant to a degree that alarmed the neighbors. Indeed,
some of them rushed into the house one morning shouting that the
boy was out in the barn swinging himself on the farm horses' tails
and in momentary danger of being kicked to pieces; but Mrs. Grant
received the announcement with perfect calmness, feeling sure that
Ulysses would not amuse himself in that way unless he knew the
animals thoroughly understood what he was doing.

Certainly this confidence in the boy's judgment was entirely
justified as far as horses were concerned, for they were the joy
of his life and he was never so happy as when playing or working
in or about the stables. Indeed, he was not nine years old when
he began to handle a team in the fields. From that time forward
he welcomed every duty that involved riding, driving or caring for
horses, and shirked every other sort of work about the farm and
tannery. Fortunately, there was plenty of employment for him in
the line of carting materials or driving the hay wagons and harrows,
and his father, finding that he could be trusted with such duties,
allowed him, before he reached his teens, to drive a 'bus or
stage between Georgetown and the neighboring villages entirely by
himself. In fact, he was given such free use of the horses that
when it became necessary for him to help in the tannery, he would
take a team and do odd jobs for the neighbors until he earned enough,
with the aid of the horses, to hire a boy to take his place in the
hated tan-yard.

This and other work was, of course, only done out of school hours,
for his parents sent him as early as possible to a local "subscription"
school, which he attended regularly for many years. "Spare the
rod and spoil the child" was one of the maxims of the school, and
the first duty of the boys on assembling each morning was to gather
a good-sized bundle of beech-wood switches, of which the schoolmaster
made such vigorous use that before the sessions ended the supply
was generally exhausted. Grant received his fair share of this
discipline, but as he never resented it, he doubtless got no more
of it than he deserved and it probably did him good.

Among his schoolmates he had the reputation of talking less than
any of the other boys and of knowing more about horses than all of
them put together. An opportunity to prove this came when he was
about eleven, for a circus appeared in the village with a trick
pony, and during the performance the clown offered five dollars to
any boy who could ride him. Several of Ulysses' friends immediately
volunteered, but he sat quietly watching the fun while one after
another of the boys fell victim to the pony's powers. Finally,
when the little animal's triumph seemed complete, Grant stepped
into the ring and sprang upon his back. A tremendous tussle for
the mastery immediately ensued, but though he reared and shied and
kicked, the tricky little beast was utterly unable to throw its
fearless young rider, and amid the shouts of the audience the clown
at last stopped the contest and paid Ulysses the promised reward.

From that time forward his superiority as a horseman was firmly
established, and as he grew older and his father allowed him to
take longer and longer trips with the teams, he came to be the most
widely traveled boy in the village. Indeed, he was only about
fifteen when he covered nearly a hundred and fifty miles in the
course of one of his journeys, taking as good care of his horses
as he did of himself, and transacting the business entrusted to him
with entire satisfaction to all concerned. These long, and often
lonely, trips increased his independence and so encouraged his
habit of silence that many of the village people began to think
him a dunce.

His father, however, was unmistakably proud of the quiet boy who
did what he was told to do without talking about it, and though
he rarely displayed his feelings, the whole village knew that he
thought "Useless" was a wonder and smiled at his parental pride.
But the smile almost turned to a laugh when it became known that
he proposed to send the boy to West Point, for the last cadet
appointed from Georgetown had failed in his examinations before he
had been a year at the Academy, and few of the neighbors believed
that Ulysses would survive as long. Certainly, the boy himself had
never aspired to a cadetship, and when his father suddenly remarked
to him one morning that he was likely to obtain the appointment,
he receive the announcement with uncomprehending surprise.

"What appointment?" he asked

"To West Point," replied his father. "I have applied for it."

"But I won't go!" gasped the astonished youth.

"I think you will," was the quiet but firm response, and Grant, who
had been taught obedience almost from his cradle, decided that if
his father thought so, he did, too.

But, though the young man yielded to his parent's wishes, he had
no desire to become a soldier and entirely agreed with the opinion
of the village that he had neither the ability nor the education
to acquit himself with credit. In fact, the whole idea of military
life was so distasteful to him that he almost hoped he would not
fulfill the physical and other requirements for admission. Indeed,
the only thought that reconciled him to the attempt was that
it necessitated a trip from Ohio to New York, which gratified his
longing to see more of the world. This was so consoling that it
was almost with a gay heart that he set out of the Hudson in the
middle of May, 1839.

For a boy who had lived all his life in an inland village on the
outskirts of civilization the journey was absolutely adventurous,
for although he was then in his eighteenth year, he had never even
as much as seen a railroad and his experiences on the cars, canal
boats and steamers were all delightfully surprising. Therefore,
long as the journey was, it was far too short for him, and on May
25th he reached his destination. Two lonely and homesick weeks
followed, and then, much to his astonishment and somewhat to his
regret, he received word that he had passed the examination for
admission and was a full-fledged member of the cadet corps of West

Chapter V

Grant at West Point

Grant's father had obtained his son's appointment to the Academy
through the intervention of a member of Congress, who, remembering
that the boy was known as Ulysses and that his mother's name before
her marriage was Simpson, had written to the Secretary of War at
Washington, requesting a cadetship for U. S. Grant. This mistake
in his initials was not discovered until the young man presented
himself at West Point, but when he explained that his name was
Hiram Ulysses Grant and not U. S. Grant, the officials would not
correct the error. The Secretary of War had appointed U. S. Grant
to the Academy and U. S. Grant was the only person they would
officially recognize without further orders. They, therefore,
intimated that he could either enroll himself as U. S. Grant or
stay out of the Academy, making it quite plain that they cared very
little which course he adopted. Confronted with this situation,
he signed the enlistment paper as U. S. Grant and the document,
bearing his name, which thus became his, can be seen to-day
among the records at West Point. This re-christening, of course,
supplied his comrades with endless suggestions for nicknames and
they immediately interpreted his new initials to suit themselves.
"United States," "Under Sized" and "Uncle Sam" all seemed to be
appropriate, but the last was the favorite until the day arrived when
a more significant meaning was found in "Unconditional Surrender"

The restrictions and discipline of West Point bore much more harshly
on country-bred boys in those years than they do to-day when so
many schools prepare students for military duties. But to a green
lad like Grant, who had been exceptionally independent all his
life, the preliminary training was positive torture. It was then
that his habitual silence stood him in good stead, for a talkative,
argumentative boy could never have survived the breaking-in process
which eventually transformed him from a slouchy bumpkin into a smart,
soldier-like young fellow who made the most of his not excessive
inches. Still, he hated almost every moment of his first year and
ardently hoped that the bill for abolishing the Academy, which was
under discussion in Congress, would become a law and enable him
to return home without disgrace. But no such law was passed and
more experience convinced him that West Point was a very valuable
institution which should be strengthened rather than abolished. He
had not reached this conclusion, however, at the time of his first
furlough, and when he returned to his more and found that his
father had procured a fine horse for his exclusive use during his
holiday, it was hard to tear himself away and resume his duties.
Nevertheless, he did so; and, considering the fact that he was not
fond of studying, he made fair progress, especially in mathematics,
never reaching the head of his class, but never quite sinking to
the bottom. Indeed, if he had not been careless in the matter of
incurring demerits from small infractions of the rules, he might
have attained respectable, if not high rank in the corps, for he
was a clean living, clean spoken boy, without a vicious trait of
any kind. Even as it was, he became a sergeant, but inattention
to details of discipline finally cost him his promotion and reduced
him again to the ranks. At no time, however, did he acquire any
real love for the military profession. His sole ambition was to
pass the examinations and retire from the service as soon as he
could obtain a professorship at some good school or college. At
this, he might easily have succeeded with his unmistakable talent
for mathematics, and it is even conceivable that he might have
qualified as a drawing master or an architect, if not as an artist,
for he was fond of sketching and some of his works in this line
which have been preserved shows a surprisingly artistic touch.

Graduation day at the Academy brought no distinguished honors to
Grant, where he stood twenty-first in a class of thirty-nine, but
it did win him one small triumph. As almost everyone knows, the
West Point cadets are trained for all arms of the service, sometimes
doing duty as infantry, sometimes as artillery and at other times
acting as engineers or cavalry; and during the closing week of the
year, they give public exhibitions of their proficiency before the
official visitors. On this particular occasion the cavalry drill
was held in the great riding hall, and after the whole corps
had completed their evolutions and were formed in line ready to
be dismissed, the commanding officer ordered an extraordinarily
high hurdle to be placed in position, and while the great throng
of spectators were wondering what this meant they heard the sharp
command, "Cadet Grant."

A young man of slight stature, not weighing more than a hundred
and twenty pounds, and mounted on a powerful chestnut horse, sprang
from the ranks with a quick salute, dashed to the further end of
the hall and, swinging his mount about, faced the hurdle. There
was a moment's pause and then the rider, putting spurs to his steed,
rushed him straight at the obstruction and, lifting him in masterly
fashion, cleared the bar as though he and the animal were one. A
thunder of applause followed as the horseman quietly resumed his
place in the ranks, and after the corps had been dismissed Grant
was sought out and congratulated on his remarkable feat. But his
response was characteristic of the boy that was, and the man that
was to be. "Yes, 'York' is a wonderfully good horse," was all he

A lieutenancy in the engineers or cavalry was more than a man of
low standing in the Academy could expect, and Grant was assigned
to the Fourth Infantry, with orders to report for duty at Jefferson
Barracks, St. Louis, Missouri, at the end of a short leave of
absence. The prospect of active service, far from his native state,
was anything but pleasing to the new officer; but he had come home
with a bad cough, and had he not been ordered to the South, it is
highly probable that he would have fallen a victim to consumption,
of which two of his uncles had already died. The air of Camp
Salubrity, Louisiana, where his regiment was quartered, and the
healthy, outdoor life, however, quickly checked the disease, and
at the end of two years he had acquired a constitution of iron.

Meanwhile, he had met Miss Julia Dent, the sister of one of
his classmates whose home was near St. Louis, and had written to
the Professor of Mathematics at West Point, requesting his aid in
securing an appointment there as his assistant, to which application
he received a most encouraging reply. Doubtless, his courtship
of Miss Dent made him doubly anxious to realize his long-cherished
plan of settling down to the quiet life of a professor. But all
hope of this was completely shattered by the orders of the Fourth
Infantry which directed it to proceed at once to Texas. Long
before the regiment marched, however, he was engaged to "the girl
he left behind him" and, although his dream of an instructorship
at West Point had vanished, he probably did not altogether abandon
his ambition for a career at teaching. But Fate had other plans
for him as he journeyed toward Mexico, where the war clouds were
gathering. Lee was moving in the same direction and their trails
were soon to merge at the siege of Vera Cruz.

Chapter VI

Lieutenant Grant Under Fire

The movement of the United States troops towards Mexico did not take
the country by surprise. It was the direct result of the action
of Congress admitting Texas to the Union. Ever since it had won
its independence from Mexico, Texas had been seeking to become part
of the United States; but there had been violent objection in the
North to the admission of any new slave state, and this opposition
had effectually prevented its annexation. At the last election
(1844), however, a majority of the voters apparently favored the
admission of Texas, which was accordingly received into the Union,
and the long-standing dispute which it had waged with Mexico as to
its proper boundaries was assumed by the United States.

Texas claimed to own far more territory than Mexico was willing to
concede, but the facts might easily have been ascertained had the
United States government desired to avoid a war. Unfortunately, it
had no such desire, and General Zachary Taylor was soon ordered to
occupy the disputed territory with about 3,000 men. This force,
of which Grant's regiment formed a part, was called the Army
of Observation, but it might better have been called the Army of
Provocation, for it was obviously intended to provoke an attack
on the part of Mexico and to give the United States an excuse for
declaring war and settling the boundary question to suit itself.

Probably, there were not many in the army who thought much about
the rights or the wrongs of the impending war. There had been no
fighting in the United States for more than thirty years, and most
of the officers were more interested in seeing real service in the
field than they were in discussing the justice or injustice of the
cause. Grant was as anxious for glory as any of his comrades, but
he cherished no illusions as to the merits of the dispute in which
his country was involved. With the clear vision of the silent
man who reads and thinks for himself, he saw through the thinly
disguised pretenses of the politicians and, recognizing that force
was being used against a weaker nation in order to add more slave
states to the Union, he formed a very positive opinion that the war
was unjustifiable. But though he was forced to this disagreeable
conclusion, the young Lieutenant was not the sort of man to
criticize his country once she was attacked, or to shirk his duty
as a soldier because he did not agree with his superiors on questions
of national policy. He thought and said what he liked in private,
but he kept his mouth closed in public, feeling that his duties as
an officer were quite sufficient without assuming responsibilities
which belonged to the authorities in Washington.

War was inevitable almost from the moment that Texas was annexed,
but with full knowledge of this fact neither the President nor
Congress made any effective preparations for meeting the impending
crisis, and when hostilities actually began, General Taylor was
directed to advance under conditions which virtually required him
to fight his way to safety. Indeed, he was practically cut off
from all hope of reŽnforcement as soon as the first shot was fired,
for his orders obliged him to move into the interior of the country,
and had his opponents been properly commanded, they could have
overwhelmed him and annihilated his whole force. The very audacity of
the little American army, however, seemed to paralyze the Mexicans
who practically made no resistance until Taylor reached a place
called Palo Alto, which in Spanish means "Tall Trees."

Meanwhile Grant had been made regimental quartermaster, charged
with the duty of seeing that the troops were furnished with proper
food and caring for all property and supplies. Heartily as he
disliked this task, which was not only dull and difficult, but also
bade fair to prevent him from taking active part in the prospective
battles, he set to work with the utmost energy. By the time the enemy
began to dispute the road, he had overcome the immense difficulty
of supplying troops on a march through a tropical country and
was prepared to take part in any fighting that occurred. But the
Mexicans gathered at TALL TREES on May 8, 1846, were not prepared
for a serious encounter. They fired at the invaders, but their
short-range cannon loaded with solid shot rarely reached the
Americans, and when a ball did come rolling towards them on the
ground, the troops merely stepped to one side and allowed the missile
to pass harmlessly through their opened ranks. After the American
artillery reached the field, however, the enemy was driven from its
position and the next day the advance was resumed to Resaca de la
Palma, where stronger opposition was encountered.

Grant was on the right wing of the army as it pressed forward through
dense undergrowth to drive the Mexicans from the coverts in which
they had taken shelter. It was impossible to give any exact orders
in advancing through this jungle, and the men under Grant's command
struggled forward until they reached a clearing where they caught
sight of a small body of Mexicans. The young Lieutenant instantly
ordered a charge and, dashing across the open ground, captured the
party only to discover that they were merely stragglers left behind
by other American troops who had already charged over the same
ground. No one appreciated the humor of this exploit more than
Grant. It reminded him, he said, of the soldier who boasted that
he had been in a charge and had cut off the leg of one of the
enemy's officers. "Why didn't you cut off his head?" inquired
his commander. "Oh, somebody had done that already," replied the
valiant hero.

Slight as the fighting was at Resaca, it completely satisfied the
Mexicans, and for over three months they left the Americans severely
alone. Meanwhile, General Taylor received reŽnforcements and in
August, 1846, he proceeded against the town of Monterey, which the
enemy had fortified with considerable skill and where they were
evidently prepared to make a desperate resistance. Grant was again
quartermaster, and the terrific heat which forced the army to do
its marching at night or during the early hours of the morning,
greatly increased his labors and severely tested his patience.
Almost all the transportation animals were mules, and as very few
of them were trained for the work, they were hard to load and even
harder to handle after their burdens were adjusted. One refractory
animal would often stampede all the rest, scattering provisions
and ammunition in their tracks, driving the teamsters to the point
of frenzy and generally hurling confusion through the camp. Even
Grant, who never uttered an oath in his life, was often sorely
tried by these exasperating experiences, but he kept command of his
temper and by his quiet persistence brought order out of chaos in
spite of beasts and men.

His disappointment was bitter, however, when the attack on Monterey
began and he found himself left without any assignment in the field.
Lieutenant Meade, destined at a later date to command the Union
forces at Gettysburg, was one of the officers entrusted with the
preliminary reconnoissance against the city, and when the fighting
actually commenced on September 21st, 1846, the deserted Quartermaster
mounted his horse and rode to the scene of the action, determined to
see something of the battle even if he could not take part in it.
He arrived at the moment when his regiment was ordered to charge
against what was known as the Black Fort, and dashed forward
with his men into the very jaws of death. Certainly "someone had
blundered," for the charge which had been intended merely as a
feint was carried too far and scores of men were mowed down under
the terrible fire of the enemy's guns. Temporary shelter was at
last reached, however, and under cover of it the Adjutant borrowed
Grant's horse; but he fell soon after the charge was renewed and the
Colonel, noticing the impetuous Quartermaster, promptly appointed
him to take the fallen officer's place. By this time the troops
had fought their way into the town and the enemy, posted in the
Plaza or Principal Square, commanded every approach to it. As long
as the Americans kept in the side streets they were comparatively
safe, but the moment they showed themselves in any of the avenues
leading to the Plaza, they encountered a hail of bullets. This
was serious enough; but at the end of two days the situation became
critical, for the ammunition began to run low, and it was realized
that, if the Mexicans discovered this, they would sweep down and
cut their defenseless opponents to pieces. Face to face with this
predicament, the Colonel on September 23rd, called for a volunteer
to carry a dispatch to Headquarters, and Grant instantly responded.

To reach his destination it was necessary to run the gantlet of the
enemy, for every opening from the Plaza was completely exposed to
their fire. But trusting in the fleetness of his horse, the young
lieutenant leaped into the saddle and, swinging himself down, Indian
fashion, on one side of his steed so as to shield himself behind
its body, he dashed away on his perilous mission. A roar of muskets
greeted him at every corner, but he flashed safely by, leaping
a high wall which lay across his path and then, speeding straight
for the east end of the town, reached the commanding General and
reported the peril of his friends.

Meanwhile the Americans began one of the most curious advances
ever made by an army, for General Worth, finding that he could not
force his troops through the streets leading to the Plaza without
great loss of life, ordered them to enter the houses and break down
the intervening walls, so that they could pass from one adjoining
house to another under cover, directly to the heart of the city.
This tunneling maneuver was executed with great skill, and when
the walls of the houses nearest the Plaza were reached and masses
of men stood ready to pour through the openings into the Square,
its astonished defenders gave up the fight and promptly surrendered
the city.

Chapter VII

Captain Lee at the Front

Astonishing as General Taylor's success had been, the authorities
at Washington decided, largely for political reasons, to appoint
a new commander, and three months after the battle of Monterey,
General Winfield Scott, the Commander-in-Chief of the United States
army, was ordered to the seat of the war.

It would be impossible to imagine two officers more utterly different
than Taylor and Scott, but each in his own way exerted a profound
influence upon the careers of Grant and Lee. Taylor was a rough,
uncultivated man, fearless, shrewd and entirely capable, but with
nothing to suggest the soldier in his appearance, dress or dignity.
On the contrary, he usually appeared sitting slouchily on some
woe-begone old animal, his long legs dangling on one side of the
saddle, the bridle rein looped over his arm and a straw hat on his
head, more like a ploughman than an officer of high rank. Indeed,
he seldom donned a uniform of any description, and his only known
appearance in full dress occurred during an official meeting with
an admiral, when, out of regard for naval etiquette, he attired
himself in his finest array. But this effort at politeness was not
calculated to encourage him, for the admiral, knowing his host's
objection to uniforms, had been careful to leave his on his ship
and appeared in civilian attire.

Scott, on the other hand, was a fussy and rather pompous individual,
who delighted in brass buttons and gold lace and invariably presented
a magnificent appearance. But, like Taylor, he was an excellent
officer and thoroughly competent to handle an army in the field.
He was, moreover, entirely familiar with the material of which the
American army was composed, and his first move on assuming command
was to order practically all the regular United States troops and
their officers to join him near Vera Cruz, leaving Taylor virtually
nothing but volunteer regiments. The Fourth Infantry accordingly
parted with its old commander and reported to Scott, where it was
assigned to the division of General Worth, and for the first time
Grant met many of the men with and against whom he was to be thrown
during the Civil War.

It was certainly a remarkable body of officers that Scott gathered
about him at the outset of his campaign, for it included such men
as Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis, McClellan, Joseph Johnson,
Jubal Early, A. P. Hill, Meade, Beauregard, Hooker, Longstreet,
Hancock, Thomas and, last but not least, Ulysses Grant and Robert
Lee. Lee had arrived in Mexico soon after the battle of Monterey,
but he had no opportunity for distinction until the spring of 1847,
when preparations were begun for the siege of Vera Cruz. He had,
however, already demonstrated his ability as an engineer, and with
Lieutenant Beauregard who, fourteen years later, commanded the
attack on Fort Sumter, he was entrusted with posting the American
batteries at Vera Cruz. This he did to such advantage that they
made short work of the city which fell into the invaders' hands,
March 29, 1847, after a week's siege. Scott was quick to recognize
the merit of officers, and Lee was straightway attached to his
personal staff, with the result that when the army began its forward
movement most of the difficult and delicate work was confided to
his care.

Scott's object was the capture of the City of Mexico, the capital
of the Republic, and against this stronghold he moved with energy
and skill. At Cerro Gordo the Mexicans opposed him with considerable
force, but maneuvers, suggested by Lee, enabled him to outflank the
enemy and drive them, without much trouble, from his path. Again
at Contreras a check occurred, part of the army having advanced
over a well-nigh impassable country and lost touch with the
Commander-in-Chief. One after another seven officers were dispatched
to carry the necessary orders, but all returned without effecting
their purpose. But at midnight, in the midst of a torrential storm
Lee arrived from the front, having overcome all difficulties--an
achievement which Scott subsequently described as "the greatest
feat of physical and moral courage performed by any individual in
my knowledge, pending the campaign."

But Lee was more than merely brave and daring. He was thorough.
When work was entrusted to his care he performed it personally,
never relying on others further than was absolutely necessary, and
never resting satisfied until he was certain that he had accomplished
his task. On one of his most important reconnoissances he rode
into the interior of the country at night to locate the position
of the enemy, and after he had proceeded a considerable distance
his guide informed him that if he went any further he would be a
prisoner, for the whole Mexican army lay directly in his path. He,
accordingly, advanced more cautiously, but the guide again begged
him to halt, declaring that he could already see the enemies' tents
lying on the hillside below. Peering through the darkness in the
direction indicated, Lee discovered what appeared to be an encampment
of many thousand men, and for the moment he was tempted to accept
his companion's conclusion that this was the main force of the
Mexicans. Second thoughts, however, convinced him that he ought
not to make a report based upon the eyes of the guide, and, despite
the man's frightened protests, he decided to stay where he was and
see the situation for himself by daylight. But, before the morning
fairly dawned, it was apparent that the supposed army of Mexicans
was nothing but a huge flock of sheep and, galloping back with the
news that the road was clear, he led a troop of cavalry forward and
located the enemy posted many miles away in an entirely different

The Mexicans stubbornly, though unsuccessfully, resisted the American
army as it pushed toward their capital, and in the battles which
ensued Lee was so active that his gallant conduct was praised in
almost every dispatch of his Chief, who subsequently attributed much
of his success "to the skill and valor of Robert E. Lee," whom he
did not hesitate to describe as "the greatest military genius in
America." Continuous praise from such a source would have been
more than sufficient to turn the average officer's head, but Lee
continued to perform his duties without showing the least sign of
vanity or conceit. Quiet, thoughtful, quick to take advantage of
any opportunity, but greedy of neither honors nor personal distinction
of any kind, he won the admiration of his comrades as well as the
confidence of his superiors, and his promotion, first to the rank
of major and then to that of lieutenant-colonel, was universally

Meanwhile, Grant had been acquitting himself with high credit in
all the work which fell to his share. He was in no position to
render service of anything like the importance of Lee's, but he
did what he was ordered to do and did it well, being brevetted a
first lieutenant for conspicuous gallantry at the battle of Molino del
Rey, September 8, 1847. Again, on September 13, in the fighting
around Chapultepec, where Lee, though wounded, remained in the saddle
until he fell fainting from his horse, Grant gained considerable
distinction by his quick action in relieving a dangerous pressure
on part of the American lines by posting a small gun in the belfry
of a church and galling the enemy with his deadly accurate fire.
It was characteristic of the man that when complimented upon this
achievement and told that a second gun would be sent to him, Grant
merely saluted. He might, with truth, have informed his commanding
officer that the belfry could not accommodate another gun, but it
was not his habit to talk when there was no need of it, or to question
the wisdom of his superior officer. He, therefore, quietly accepted
the praise and the superfluous gun and, returning to his post,
resumed his excellent service. This and other similar conduct won
him further promotion, and on September 14, 1847, when the Americans
marched triumphantly into the Mexican capital, he was brevetted a

The war practically ended with this event and within a year Grant
was married to Miss Julia Dent and stationed at Sackett's Harbor,
New York, while Lee was assigned to the defenses of Baltimore, not
far from his old home.

Chapter VIII

Colonel Lee After the Mexican War

It is probable that Lee would have been well content to remain
indefinitely at Baltimore, for his duties there enabled him to be
more with his family than had been possible for some years. To his
boys and girls he was both a companion and a friend and in their
company he took the keenest delight. In fact, he and his wife
made their home the center of attraction for all the young people
of the neighborhood, and no happier household existed within the
confines of their beloved Virginia.

It was not to be expected, however, that an officer of Lee's reputation
would be allowed to remain long in obscurity, and in 1852, he was
appointed Superintendent at West Point. A wiser selection for this
important post could scarcely have been made, for Colonel Lee,
then in his forty-sixth year, possessed rare qualifications for
the duties entrusted to his charge. He was not only a man whose
splendid presence, magnificent physique and distinguished record
were certain to win the admiration and respect of young men, but
he combined in his character and temperament all the qualities of
a tactful teacher and an inspiring leader. Quiet and dignified,
but extremely sympathetic, he governed the cadets without seeming
to command them and, as at his own home, he exerted a peculiarly
happy influence upon all with whom he came into personal contact.
Among the cadets during his service at West Point were J. E. B.
Stuart, who was to prove himself one of the greatest cavalry leaders
that this country has ever produced, and his elder son, Custis Lee,
who, improving on his father's almost perfect record, graduated
first in his class.

About this time certain important changes were effected in the
organization of the regular army, and the popular Superintendent
of West Point was immediately appointed Lieutenant-Colonel of the
newly formed Second Cavalry, with orders to proceed to Texas and
protect the settlers against the attacks of hostile Indians. It
was with keen regret that Lee received this assignment, for, though
intended as a promotion, it removed him from the corps of engineers
to which he had always been attached and obliged him to break all
his home ties for what was practically police duty in the wilderness.
Nevertheless, no thought of resigning from the army apparently
crossed his mind. He soon joined his regiment in Texas, where, for
almost three years, he patrolled the country, ruling the Indians
by diplomacy or force, as occasion required, practically living in
the saddle and experiencing all the discomforts and privations of
garrison life at an outpost of civilization.

Almost his only relaxation during this lonely and exhausting service
was his correspondence with his wife and children, and his letters
to them, written in rough camps and on the march, show that his
thoughts were constantly with his home and loved ones. "It has
been said that our letters are good representations of our minds,"
he wrote his youngest daughter from Texas in 1857; and certainly
Lee's correspondence, exhibiting as it does, consideration for
others, modesty, conscientiousness, affection and a spirit of fun,
affords an admirable reflection of the writer.

"Did I tell you that 'Jim Nooks,' Mrs. Waite's cat, was dead?" he
wrote one of his girls. "He died of apoplexy. I foretold his end.
Coffee and cream for breakfast, pound cake for lunch, turtle and
oysters for dinner, buttered toast for tea and Mexican rats, taken
raw, for supper! He grew enormously and ended in a spasm. His beauty
could not save him.... But I saw 'cats as is cats' at Sarassa....
The entrance of Madame [his hostess] was foreshadowed by the
coming in of her stately cats with visages grim and tails erect,
who preceded, surrounded and followed her. They are of French
breed and education, and when the claret and water were poured out
for my refreshment they jumped on the table for a sit-to.... I
had to leave the wild-cat on the Rio Grande; he was too savage and
had grown as large as a small sized dog. He would pounce on a kid
as Tom Tita [his daughter's cat] would on a mouse and would whistle
like a tiger when you approached him."

But it was not always in this chatty fashion that he wrote, for
in 1856, when the question of slavery was being fiercely discussed
throughout the country, he expressed his views on the subject with
a moderation and broadmindedness exceedingly rare in those excited

"In this enlightened age," he wrote his wife, "there are few,
I believe, but will acknowledge that slavery as an institution is
a moral and political evil in any country. I think it, however,
a greater evil to the white than to the black race; and while
my feelings are strongly interested in behalf of the latter, my
sympathies are stronger for the former. The blacks are immeasurably
better off here than in Africa--morally, socially and physically.
The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their
instruction as a race and I hope it will prepare and lead them to
better things. How long this subjection may be necessary is known
and ordered by a wise and merciful Providence. Their emancipation
will sooner result from a mild and melting influence than from the
storms and contests of fiery controversy. This influence though
slow is sure."

Such were the views of Robert Lee on this great question of the day,
and even as he wrote the country was beginning to notice a country
lawyer named Abraham Lincoln, who was expressing almost identically
the same opinions in no uncertain terms.

But the calm advice of Lincoln and Lee did not appeal to the hot-heads
who were for abolishing slavery instantly at any and every cost.
In October, 1859, when Lee was on a short visit to Arlington, John
Brown, whose father had once lived with Grant's father, attempted
to take the whole matter into his already blood-stained hands.
It is a strange coincidence that Lee should have chanced to be in
Virginia just at this particular crisis, and still stranger that
the errand which had called him home should have related to the
emancipation of slaves. But the facts were that Mr. Custis, his
father-in-law, had died a few weeks previously, leaving him as the
executor of his will, which provided, among other things, for the
gradual emancipation of all his slaves. Lee had accordingly obtained
leave of absence to make a flying trip to Virginia for the purpose
of undertaking this duty, and he was actually making arrangements
to carry out Mr. Custis's wishes in respect to his slaves when
the news of John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry reached Arlington.
Word of this reckless attempt to free the slaves by force reached
him in the form of a dispatch from the Secretary of War, ordering
him to take immediate charge of the United States marines who were
being hurried to the scene of action. He instantly obeyed and,
with Lieutenant J. E. B. Stuart as his second in command, hastened
to Harper's Ferry and, directing his troops to storm the engine-house
where Brown and his followers had taken refuge, effected their
capture almost without striking a blow. Then, after delivering
his prisoners to the proper authorities, he completed his work at
Arlington and returned to Texas and the rough life of guarding the
frontier line.

From this duty he was recalled to Washington in March, 1861, when
the Southern States were rapidly forming the Confederacy, the
whole country was in wild confusion and the nation was facing the
prospect of a terrific civil war.

Chapter IX

Captain Grant in a Hard Fight

Meanwhile, what had become of Grant? The War Department did not
know and apparently did not care. Jefferson Davis, the Secretary
of War, responded to his father's anxious inquiry that Captain
U. S. Grant had resigned from the army in July, 1854, but that he
had no official knowledge as to why he had taken this action. Mr.
Grant, however, soon learned the facts from other sources, and in
his bitter disappointment was heard to exclaim that "West Point
had ruined one of his boys for him."

It was natural enough that the stern and proud old gentleman
should have blamed West Point for the heart-breaking failure of
his favorite son, but, as a matter of fact, West Point was in no
way responsible for what had occurred. Neither during his cadetship
at the Academy nor for some years after his graduation from that
institution had Ulysses Grant touched wine or stimulants in any
form. He had, indeed, tried to learn to smoke during his West
Point days but had merely succeeded in making himself ill. During
his hard campaigning in Mexico, however, he had learned not only
to smoke, but to drink, though it was not until some years after
the war closed that he began to indulge to excess. As a matter
of fact, he ought never to have touched a drop of any intoxicant,
for a very little was always too much for him, and the result was
that he soon came to be known in the army as a drinking man. Had
he been at home, surrounded by his wife and children and busily
engaged, perhaps he might not have yielded to his weakness. But
his orders carried him to lonely posts on the Pacific, many hundreds
of miles away from his family, with no duties worthy of the name,
and the habit grew on him until the exasperated Colonel of his regiment
at last gave him the choice of resigning or being court-martialed
for conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. Face to face
with this ugly alternative, he chose resignation, and the army,
officially, knew him no more.

It was not only social and professional disgrace, but financial
ruin which confronted the broken officer as he bade good-bye to
his regiment at its desolate quarters in California, after fifteen
years of service to the army. He was absolutely without money
and, at the age of thirty-two, it was by no means easy for him to
begin life all over again and earn his own living at a new calling.
His fellow officers provided him with enough cash for his immediate
wants, and with their help he managed to find his way back to
Sackett's Harbor, New York, where there was a little money owing
him. But he failed to collect this and remained hopelessly stranded
until another officer came to his rescue and provided him with
sufficient funds to take him to his home. This friend in time of
need was Simon B. Buckner, whom he was to meet again under strange
and dramatic circumstances.

It was hardly to be expected, under such conditions, that stern
old Jesse Grant would welcome the home-coming of his eldest son.
Nevertheless, he helped him on his way to his wife and children,
and, sick at heart and broken in health, the young man joined his
family and began a desperate struggle to earn his own living. Mrs.
Grant's father was a slave owner and a sympathizer with the South
in the growing trouble between that section of the country and the
North. But the quarrel had not yet reached the breaking point,
and although he did not approve of his son-in-law's northern views
and heartily disapproved of his conduct, he gave him a start as a
farmer and then left him to work out his own salvation.

Farming was the only occupation at which Grant could hope to make
a living, but he soon found that he did not know enough about this
to make a success of it, and gradually fell back on his youthful
experience as a teamster, hauling wood to the city where he sold
it to the railroad or to anyone that would buy. At this he was
fairly successful and, encouraged by his wife who stood bravely by
him, he built a house with his own hands, which, although it was
not much more than a log cabin, was sufficiently large to shelter
his small family. All this time he was making a hard fight to
conquer his drinking habits, but the vice had taken a terrible hold
on him and he could not easily shake it off. It was only a matter
of time, therefore, before his experiment at farming failed and with
the aid of his father-in-law he entered business as a real estate
broker in St. Louis. But for this calling he had no qualification
whatsoever, and after a disheartening experience in attempting
to secure the post of county engineer, he accepted his father's
suggestion that he join his brothers in the leather business in
Galena, Illinois, and retired there with his family in the spring
of 1860.

The position which his father had made for him was not much more
than a clerkship and the work was dull for a man who had been
accustomed to active, outdoor life; but he was received with tact
and kindness, no reference was made to his past record of failure
and all this helped him to continue the successful struggle which
he was making to regain control of himself and his habits.

Indeed, from the time he began his residence in Galena he already
had the battle well in hand and he fought it out with such grim
resolution that before a year had passed his victory was complete.
Scarcely anyone in the little town knew of this silent struggle for
self-mastery. Indeed, very few people knew anything at all about
the newcomer, save that he was a quiet, hard-working man who
occasionally appeared on the streets wearing a blue army overcoat
which had seen rough service. This weather-stained garment,
however, forced Grant to break his habitual silence, for he fully
shared General Taylor's prejudice against a uniform and felt
obliged to apologize for wearing even part of one. So one day he
explained to a neighbor that he wore the coat because it was made
of good material and he thought he ought to use it as long as
it lasted. That was all the citizens of Galena then learned of
the record of the man who had served with high honor in well-nigh
every battle of the Mexican War. Had it depended upon him, their
information would probably have begun and ended there.

During all this time the feeling between the North and the South
was growing more and more bitter, but Galena was a town divided
against itself on the slavery question. Grant himself was a Democrat.
If he was not in favor of slavery, he certainly was not opposed to
it, for he favored Douglas and not Lincoln in the contest for the
Presidency, and Douglas was strongly against any interference with
slavery. Indeed, it is a curious coincidence that at or about the
time when Lee's family was ceasing to own slaves, Grant's family
acquired some. Such, however, is the fact, for on the death of
her father, Mrs. Grant inherited several Negroes and there is some
evidence that Grant himself sold or attempted to sell them.

But, though he was at that time no champion of the black race, Grant
was always a strong Union man, opposed heart and soul to secession.
Indeed, when news of the attack upon Fort Sumter arrived in Galena,
he arrayed himself with the defenders of the flag gathered at a
mass meeting held in the town to form a company in response to the
President's call for 75,000 volunteers. Moreover, this meeting
had no sooner been called to order than someone proposed him as
chairman, and to his utter astonishment, he found himself pushed
from the rear of the room to the front and from the front to the
platform. Probably few in the audience knew who or what he was,
and his embarrassment was such that for a few minutes no words came
to his lips. Finally, however, he managed to announce the object
of the meeting, warning those who intended to enlist that they would
be engaged in serious business involving hard work and privation,
expressing his willingness to aid in forming the Galena Company
and ending with a simple statement of his own intention to reŽnter
the army.

There was nothing eloquent about his short speech but it had the
tone of a man who knew what he was talking about, and the audience,
availing itself of his military experience, immediately voted
to entrust the organization and drilling of the volunteers to his
care, and from that moment he never again entered his father's
place of business.

Chapter X

Grant's Difficulties in Securing a Command

The command of the local company was, of course, offered to Grant
as soon as it was formed, but he declined, believing himself
qualified for somewhat higher rank than a captaincy of volunteers.
Nevertheless, he did all he could to prepare the recruits for active
service in the field and when they were ordered to Springfield,
the capital of Illinois, he journeyed there to see them properly
mustered into the service of the state.

Springfield was a hubbub of noise and a rallying point for well-meaning
incompetence when he arrived upon the scene. New officers in new
uniforms swaggered in every public meeting place, bands of music
played martial airs at every street corner and volunteers sky-larked
and paraded in all sorts of impossible uniforms and with every form
of theatric display. But system and order were absolutely lacking,
and the adjutant-general's office, littered with blanks and well-nigh
knee deep with papers, was the most helpless spot in the welter of
confusion. All the material for a respectable army was at hand,
but how to form it into an effective force was more than anyone
seemed to know. The mass of military forms and blanks intended
for that purpose was mere waste paper in the hands of the amiable
but ignorant insurance agent who bore the title of adjutant-general,
and no one of the patriotic mob had sufficient knowledge to instruct
him in his duties. In the midst of all this hopeless confusion,
however, someone suggested that a man by the name of Grant, who had
come down with the Galena Company, had been in the army and ought
to know about such things. The Governor accordingly sought out
"the man from Galena" just as he was starting for his home, with
the result that he was soon at a desk in the adjutant's office,
filling out the necessary papers at three dollars a day, while the
brand new captains, colonels and generals posed in the foreground
to the tune of popular applause.

From this time forward order gradually took the place of chaos and
the political generals and comic-opera soldiers were slowly shifted
from the scene. But scarcely anyone noticed the silent man, hard
at work in his shirt sleeves in a corner of the adjutant's room, and
such inquiries as were made concerning him elicited the information
that he was a cast-off of the regular army, with a dubious reputation
for sobriety, who had been hired as a clerk. But the Governor
of Illinois was an intelligent man, and he was well aware of the
service which the ex-Captain of regulars was performing for the
State, and on the completion of his work in the adjutant's office
Grant was given a nominal title and assigned to visit the various
regiments at their encampments to see that they were properly
mustered in. He, accordingly, straightway set to work at this
task, and his brisk, business-like manner of handling it made an
impression upon those with whom he came in contact, for one of the
temporary camps became known as Camp Grant.

Meanwhile, seeing his duties coming to an end without much
hope of further employment, he wrote the following letter to the
Adjutant-General of the United States Army at Washington:


"Having served for fifteen years in the regular army, including four
years at West Point, and feeling it the duty of every one who has
been educated at the Government expense to offer their services for
the support of that Government, I have the honor, very respectfully,
to tender my services until the close of the war in such capacity
as may be offered. I would say in view of my present age and length
of service, I feel myself competent to command a regiment, if the
President, in his judgment, should see fit to entrust one to me.
Since the first call of the President I have been serving on the
staff of the Governor of this State, rendering such aid as I could
in the organization of our State militia, and am still engaged in
that capacity. A letter addressed to me at Springfield, Ill., will
reach me."

But the authorities at Washington took no notice whatsoever of
this modest letter, which was evidently tossed aside and completely
forgotten. Indeed, it was so completely buried in the files of
the War Department that it disappeared for years and, when it was
at last discovered, the war was a thing of the past.

This silent rebuff was enough to discourage any sensitive man and
Grant felt it keenly, but he did not entirely despair of accomplishing
his end. He tried to gain an interview with General Frťmont who
was stationed in a neighboring state and, failing in this, sought
out McClellan, his comrade in the Mexican War, who had been made a
major-general and was then in the vicinity of Covington, Kentucky,
where Grant had gone to visit his parents. But McClellan either
would not or could not see him. Indeed, he had about reached the
conclusion that his quest was hopeless, when he happened to meet a
friend who offered to tell the Governor of Ohio that he wished to
reenter the army, with the result that before long he was tendered
the colonelcy of an Ohio regiment. In the meantime, however, he
had unexpectedly received a telegram from the Governor of Illinois,
appointing him to the command of the 21st Illinois regiment, and
this he had instantly accepted. Had he known the exact circumstances
under which this post was offered him, perhaps he might not have
acted so promptly, but he knew enough to make him aware that the
appointment was not altogether complimentary and it is quite likely
that he would have accepted it in any event.

The facts were, however, that the Colonel of the 21st Regiment had
proved to be an ignorant and bombastic adventurer, who had appeared
before his troops clothed in a ridiculous costume and armed like
a pirate king, and there was such dissatisfaction among both the
officers and men that a new commander was urgently demanded. Of
this Grant already knew something, but he was not advised that
the regiment had become so utterly demoralized by its incompetent
leader that it was nothing less than a dangerous and unruly mob,
of which the Governor could not induce any self-respecting officer
to take charge. He had, indeed, offered the command to at least
half a dozen other men before he tendered it to Grant, and he must
have been intensely relieved to receive his prompt acceptance.

The new Colonel did not wait to procure a new uniform before reporting
for duty, but, hastening to the Fair Grounds close to Springfield
where his troops were stationed, ordered them to assemble for
inspection. But incompetent leadership had played havoc with the
discipline of the regiment, and the men shambled from their tents
without any attempt at military formation, more from curiosity than
in obedience to orders.

The new Colonel stepped to the front, wearing a rusty suit of
civilian's clothes, his trousers tucked into his dusty boots, a
battered hat on his head, a bandanna handkerchief tied around his
waist in place of a sash and carrying a stick in place of a sword.
Altogether he presented a most unimpressive figure and it would
not have been surprising if a wild guffaw of laughter had greeted
him, but the troops, studying his strong, calm face, contented
themselves with calling for a speech. Then they waited in silence
for his response and they did not have to wait long.

"Men!" he commanded sharply. "Go to your quarters!"

The regiment fairly gasped its astonishment. It had never heard
a speech like that before and, taken completely by surprise, it
moved quietly from the field.

Sentries were instantly posted, camp limits established and
preparations made for enforcing strict discipline. It was not to
be supposed that such prompt reforms would pass unchallenged, but
arrests followed the first signs of disobedience and punishment
swiftly followed the arrests.

"For every minute I'm kept here I'll have an ounce of your blood!"
threatened a dangerous offender whom the Colonel had ordered to be
tied up.

"Gag that man!" was the quiet response. "And when his time is up
I'll cut him loose myself."

Before night, all was quiet in the camp of the 21st Regiment of
Illinois Volunteers.

Grant was in command.

Chapter XI

Lee at the Parting of the Ways

While Grant was thus striving to reŽnter the army, Lee was having
a struggle of a very different sort. Summoned from his distant
post in Texas, where only an occasional rumble of the coming tempest
reached his ears, he suddenly found himself in the center of the
storm which threatened to wreck the Republic. In the far South seven
states had already seceded; in Washington, Congressmen, Senators,
and members of the Cabinet were abandoning their posts; in the army
and navy his friends were daily tendering their resignations; and
his own state, divided between love for the Union and sympathy with
its neighbors, was hovering on the brink of secession.

The issue in Lee's mind was not the existence of slavery. He had
long been in favor of emancipation, and Virginia had more than once
come so close to abolishing slavery by law that its disappearance
from her borders was practically assured within a very short period.
All his own slaves he had long since freed and he was gradually
emancipating his father-in-law's, according to the directions of
Mr. Custis's will. But the right of each state to govern itself
without interference from the Federal Government seemed to Lee
essential to the freedom of the people. He recognized, however, that
secession was revolution and, calmly and conscientiously examining
the question, he concluded that, if force were used to compel any
state to remain in the Union, resistance would be justifiable.
Most Virginians reached this decision impulsively, light-heartedly,
defiantly or vindictively, and more or less angrily, according to
their temperaments and the spirit of the times, but not so Lee. He
unaffectedly prayed God for guidance in the struggle between his
patriotism and his devotion to a principle which he deemed essential to
liberty and justice. He loved his country as only a man in close
touch with its history and with a deep reverence for its great
founder, Washington, could love it; he had fought for its flag; he
wore its uniform; he had been educated at its expense; and General
Scott, the Commander of the army, a devoted Union man, was his
warm personal friend. Patriotism, personal pride, loyalty and even
gratitude, therefore, urged him toward the support of the Union,
and only his adherence to a principle and the claims of his kinsmen
and friends forbade.

For a time Virginia resisted every effort to induce her to cast
her lot with the Confederacy. Indeed she actually voted against
secession when the question was first presented. But when Fort
Sumter resisted attack on April 12, 1861, and the President called
upon the various states to furnish troops to enforce the national
authority, practically all affection for the Union disappeared and
by a decisive vote Virginia determined to uphold the Southern cause.

At that crisis President Lincoln made a strong effort to induce
Lee to support the Union, for he actually offered him the command
of the United States Army which was about to take the field. The
full force of this remarkable tribute to his professional skill
was not lost upon Lee. He had devoted his whole life to the army,
and to be a successor of Washington in the command of that army
meant more to him than perhaps to any other soldier in the land.
Certainly, if he had consulted his own ambition or been influenced
by any but the most unselfish motives, he would have accepted the
call as the highest honor in the gift of the nation. But to do
so he would have been obliged to surrender his private principles
and desert his native state, and it is impossible to imagine that
a man of his character would, even for an instant, consider such a
course. Gravely and sadly he declined the mighty office, and two
days later he tendered his resignation from the service he had
honored for almost six and thirty years.

For this and his subsequent action Lee has been called a traitor and
severely criticized for well-nigh fifty years. But, when a nation
has been divided against itself upon a great issue of government,
millions upon one side and millions upon the other, and half a
century has intervened, it is high time that justice be given to
the man who did what he thought right and honorably fought for a
principle which he could have surrendered only at the expense of his
conscience and his honor. Lee was a traitor to the United States
in the same sense that Washington was a traitor to England. No more
and no less. England takes pride to-day in having given Washington
to the world. Americans deprive their country of one of her claims
to greatness when they fail to honor the character and the genius
of Robert Lee.

It was in a letter to his old commander, Scott, that Lee announced
his momentous decision, and its tone well indicated what the parting
cost him.

"Arlington, Va., April 20, 1861.


"Since my interview with you on the 18th inst., I have felt that I
ought not longer to retain my commission in the army. I, therefore,
tender my resignation, which I request you will recommend for
acceptance. It would have been presented at once but for the struggle
it has cost me to separate myself from a service to which I have
devoted the best years of my life and all the ability I possessed.
During the whole of that time...I have experienced nothing but
kindness from my superiors and a most cordial friendship from my
comrades. To no one, General, have I been as much indebted as to
yourself for uniform kindness and consideration.... Save in the
defense of my native State, I never desire again to draw my sword."

Lee was fully aware of the serious nature of the conflict in which
the country was about to engage. Americans were to be pitted
against Americans and he knew what that meant. Wise men, both North
and South, were prophesying that the war would not last more than
ninety days, and foolish ones were bragging of their own powers and
questioning the courage of their opponents, quite oblivious of the
adage that when Greek meets Greek there comes a tug of war. But Lee
did not concern himself with such childish exhibitions of judgment
and temper.

"Do not put your faith in rumors of adjustment," he wrote his wife
before serious fighting had begun. "I see no prospect of it. It
cannot be while passions on both sides are so infuriated. MAKE
YOUR PLANS FOR SEVERAL YEARS OF WAR. I agree with you that the
inflammatory articles in the papers do us much harm. I object
particularly to those in the Southern papers, as I wish them to
take a firm, dignified course, free from bravado and boasting. The
times are indeed calamitous. The brightness of God's countenance
seems turned from us. It may not always be so dark and He may in
time pardon our sins and take us under his protection."

Up to this time his son Custis, who had graduated first in his class
at West Point, was still in the service of the United States as
a lieutenant in the Engineers and of him Lee wrote to his wife in
the same comradely spirit that he had always shown toward his boys.
"Tell Custis he must consult his own judgment, reason and conscience,
as to the course he may take. The present is a momentous question
which every man must settle for himself, and upon principle. I do
not wish him to be guided by my wishes or example. If I have done
wrong let him do better."

Virginia was not slow in recognizing that she had within her borders
the soldiers whom the chief general of the United States described
as the greatest military genius in America, and within three days
of his resignation from the old army, Lee was tendered the command
of all the Virginia troops. Convinced that the brunt of the heavy
fighting would fall on his native state, to whose defense he had
dedicated his sword, he accepted the offer and thus there came to
the aid of the Confederacy one of the few really great commanders
that the world has ever seen.

Chapter XII

Opening Moves

It was to no very agreeable task that Lee was assigned at the
outset of his command. The forces of the Confederacy were even
less prepared to take the field than those of the United States,
and for three months Lee was hard at work organizing and equipping
the army for effective service. This important but dull duty
prevented him from taking any active part in the first great battle
of the War at Bull Run (July 21, 1861), but it was his rare judgment
in massing the troops where they could readily reŽnforce each other
that enabled the Confederate commanders on that occasion to form
the junction which resulted in the overwhelming defeat of the Union
army. This fact was well recognized by the authorities and, when
the situation in western Virginia assumed a threatening aspect, he
was ordered there with the highest hopes that he would repeat the
success of Bull Run and speedily expel the Union forces from that
part of the state.

A more unpromising field of operation than western Virginia could
scarcely have been selected for the new commander. The people of
that region generally favored the Union, and the Federal troops
had already obtained possession of the strongest positions, while
some of the Confederate commanders were quarreling with each other
and otherwise working at cross purposes. For a time, therefore,
Lee had to devote himself to smoothing over the differences which
had arisen among his jealous subordinates, but when he at last
began an aggressive movement, bad weather and a lack of coŲperation
between the various parts of his small army defeated his designs,
and in October, 1861, the three-months' campaign came to an inglorious

This complete failure was a bitter disappointment to the Confederate
hopes and Lee was severely blamed for the result. Indeed, for the
time being he was regarded as an overrated individual who had had
his opportunity and had proved unequal to the task of conducting
military operations on a large scale. It was not easy to suffer
this unjust criticism to pass unnoticed, but the discipline of
the army life had taught Lee to control his tongue, and he made
no protest even when he found himself removed from the front to
superintend the fortifying of the coast. A small-minded man would
probably have retired in sulky silence under such circumstances, but
Lee entered upon his new duties with cheerful energy, and in four
months he devised such skillful defenses for Charleston, Savannah
and other points on the Confederate coast line, that they were
enabled to defy all assaults of the Union army and navy until
almost the close of the war. This invaluable service attracted no
public attention, but it was fully appreciated by the Confederate
authorities, who in no wise shared the popular opinion concerning
Lee's talents. On the contrary, President Jefferson Davis, himself
a graduate of West Point, continued to have the highest regard for
his ability, and in March, 1862, he reappointed him as his chief
military adviser at Richmond.

It was about this time that the roar of cannon in the West attracted
the attention of the country, making it realize for the first time
how far flung was the battle line of the contending armies; and
on hard-fought fields, hundreds and hundreds of miles away from
Washington and Richmond, the mud-splashed figure of Grant began to
loom through heavy clouds of smoke.

It was by no brilliant achievement that Grant regained his standing
in the army. The unruly 21st Illinois had been sufficiently
disciplined within a fortnight after he assumed command to take
some pride in itself as an organization and when its short term of
service expired, it responded to the eloquence of McClernand and
Logan, two visiting orators, by reŽnlisting almost to a man. Then
the Colonel set to work in earnest to make his regiment ready for
the field, drilling and hardening the men for their duties and
waiting for an opportunity to show that this was a fighting force
with no nonsense about it. The opportunity came sooner than he
expected, for about two weeks after he had assumed command, his
regiment was ordered to northern Missouri, and a railroad official
called at his camp to inquire how many cars he would need for
the transportation of his men. "I don't want any," was the bluff
response; and, to the astonishment of the local authorities who,
at that period of the war, never dreamed of moving troops except
by rail or river, the energetic Colonel assembled his regiment
in marching order and started it at a brisk pace straight across

But, though he had moved with such commendable promptness, Grant
was not nearly so confident as his actions seemed to imply. In
fact, before he reached his destination, he heartily wished himself
back again, and by the time he arrived at the point where the enemy
was expected his nerves were completely unstrung. It was not the
fright of cowardice that unmanned him, but rather the terror of
responsibility. Again and again he had braved death in battle but
now, for the first time, the safety of an entire regiment depended
solely upon him as he approached the summit of the hill from which
he expected to catch sight of his opponents he dreaded to fight
them, lest he prove unequal to the emergency. But, while he was
tormenting himself with this over-anxiety, he suddenly remembered
that his opponent was just as new at his duties as he was and
probably quite as nervous, and from that moment his confidence
gradually returned. As a matter of fact, Colonel Harris, who
commanded the Confederate force, displayed far more prudence than
valor, for, on hearing of the advance of the Union troops, he
speedily retreated and the 21st Illinois encountered no opposition
whatever. But the march taught Grant a lesson he never forgot and,
thereafter, in the hour of peril, he invariably consoled himself
by remembering that his opponents were not free from danger and
the more he made them look to their own safety the less time they
would have for worrying him.

It was in July, 1861, when Grant entered Missouri, and about a month
later the astonishing news reached his headquarters that President
Lincoln had appointed him a Brigadier General of Volunteers. The
explanation of this unexpected honor was that the Illinois
Congressmen had included his name with seven others on a list of
possible brigadiers, and the President had appointed four of them
without further evidence of their qualifications. Under such
circumstances, the promotion was not much of an honor, but it placed
Grant in immediate command of an important district involving the
control of an army of quite respectable size.

For a time the new General was exclusively occupied with perfecting
the organization of his increased command, but to this hard, dull
work he devoted himself in a manner that astonished some of the other
brigadiers whose ideas of the position involved a showy staff of
officers and a deal of picturesque posing in resplendent uniforms.
But Grant had no patience with such foolery. He had work to do
and when his headquarters were established at Cairo, Illinois, he
took charge of them himself, keeping his eyes on all the details
like any careful business man. In fact he was, as far as appearances
were concerned, a man of business, for he seldom wore a uniform and
worked at his desk all day in his shirt sleeves, behind ramparts
of maps and papers, with no regard whatever for military ceremony
or display.

A month of this arduous preparation found his force ready for active
duty and about this time he became convinced that the Confederates
intended to seize Paducah, an important position in Kentucky at
the mouth of the Tennessee River, just beyond the limits of his
command. He, accordingly, telegraphed his superiors for permission
to occupy the place. No reply came to this request and a more
timid man would have hesitated to move without orders. But Grant
saw the danger and, assuming the responsibility, landed his troops
in the town just in time to prevent its capture by the Confederates.
Paducah was in sympathy with the South, and on entering it the Union
commander issued an address to the inhabitants which attracted far
more attention than the occupation of the town, for it contained
nothing of the silly brag and bluster so common then in military
proclamations on both sides. On the contrary, it was so modest
and sensible, and yet so firm, that Lincoln, on reading it, is said
to have remarked: "The man who can write like that is fitted to

Paducah was destined to be the last of Grant's bloodless victories,
for in November, 1861, he was ordered to threaten the Confederates
near Belmont, Missouri, as a feint to keep them from reŽnforcing
another point where a real assault was planned. The maneuver was
conducted with great energy and promised to be completely successful,
but after Grant's raw troops had made their first onslaught and
had driven their opponents from the field, they became disorderly
and before he could control them the enemy reappeared in overwhelming
numbers and compelled them to fight their way back to the river
steamers which had carried them to the scene of action. This they
succeeded in doing, but such was their haste to escape capture
that they actually tumbled on board the boats and pushed off from
the shore without waiting for their commander. By this time the
Confederates were rapidly approaching with the intention of sweeping
the decks of the crowded steamboats before they could get out of
range, and Grant was apparently cut off from all chance of escape.
Directly in front of him lay the precipitous river bank, while below
only one transport was within hail and that had already started
from its moorings. Its captain, however, caught sight of him as
he came galloping through a corn field and instantly pushed his
vessel as close to the shore as he dared, at the same time throwing
out a single plank about fifteen feet in length to serve as an
emergency gangway. To force a horse down the cliff-like bank of the
river and up the narrow plank to the steamer's deck, was a daring
feat, but the officer who was riding for his life had not forgotten
the skill which had marked him at West Point and, compelling his
mount to slide on its haunches down the slippery mud precipice, he
trotted coolly up the dangerous incline to safety.

The battle of Belmont (November 7, 1861), as this baptism of fire
was called, is said to have caused more mourning than almost any
other engagement of the war, for up to that time there had been but
little loss of life and its list of killed and wounded, mounting into
the hundreds, made a painfully deep impression. In this respect,
it was decidedly ominous of Grant's future record, but it accomplished
his purpose in detaining the Confederates and he was soon to prove
his willingness to accept defeats as necessary incidents to any
successful campaign and to fight on undismayed.

Chapter XIII

Grant's First Success

Up to this time the war in the West had been largely an affair of
skirmishes. A body of Union troops would find itself confronting
a Confederate force, one of the two commanders would attack and
a fight would follow; or the Confederates would march into a town
and their opponents would attempt to drive them out of it, not
because it was of any particular value, but because the other side
held it. "See-a-head-and-hit-it" strategy governed the day and no
plan worthy of the name had been adopted for conducting the war on
scientific principles.

But Grant had studied the maps to some purpose in his office at
Cairo and he realized that the possession of the Mississippi River
was the key to the situation in the West. As long as the Confederates
controlled that great waterway which afforded them free access to
the ocean and fairly divided the Eastern from the Western States,
they might reasonably hope to defy their opponents to the end of
time. But, if they lost it, one part of the Confederacy would be
almost completely cut off from the rest. Doubtless, other men saw
this just as clearly and quite as soon as Grant did; but having
once grasped an idea he never lost sight of it, and while others
were diverted by minor matters, he concentrated his whole attention
on what he believed to be the vital object of all campaigning in
the West.

The Tennessee River and the Cumberland River both flow into the
Ohio, not far from where that river empties into the Mississippi.
They, therefore, formed the principal means of water communication
with the Mississippi for the State of Tennessee, and the Confederates
had created forts to protect them at points well within supporting
distance of each other. Fort Henry, guarding the Tennessee River,
and Fort Donelson, commanding the Cumberland River, were both
in Grant's district, and in January, 1862, he wrote to General
Halleck, his superior officer in St. Louis, calling attention to
the importance of these posts and offering suggestions for their
capture. But Halleck did not take any notice of this communication
and Grant thereupon resolved to go to St. Louis and present his
plans in person. This was the first time he had been in the city
since the great change in his circumstances and those who had
known him only a few years before as a poverty-stricken farmer and
wagoner could scarcely believe that he was the same man. He had,
as yet, done nothing very remarkable, but he held an important
command, his name was well and favorably known and he had already
begun to pay off his old debts. All this enabled his father and
mother to regain something of the pride they had once felt for
their eldest son, and his former friends were glad to welcome him
and claim his acquaintance.

Pleasant as this was, the trip to St. Louis was a bitter disappointment
in other respects, for Halleck not only rejected his subordinate's
proposition for the capture of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, but
dismissed him without even listening to the details of his plan.
Most officers would have been completely discouraged by such
treatment, but Grant had been accustomed to disappointments for
many years and did not readily despair. Meeting Flag-Officer Foote
who had charge of a fleet of gun boats near Cairo, he explained
his idea and finding him not only sympathetic, but enthusiastic,
he and Foote each sent a telegram to Halleck assuring him that Fort
Henry could be taken if he would only give his consent. These
messages brought no immediate response, but Grant continued to
request permission to advance until, on the 1st of February, 1862,
the necessary order was obtained and within twenty-four hours the
persistent officer had his expedition well upon its way.

His force consisted of some 15,000 men and seven gun boats, and
Halleck promised him reŽnforcements, sending a capable officer to
see that they were promptly forwarded. This officer was Brigadier

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