General Ulysses S. Grant came to the attention of President Lincoln and the nation when in February 1862 Grant captured two Confederate garrisons on the Tennessee River, Fort Henry and Fort Donelson. "U. S." Grant got the nickname "Unconditional Surrender" Grant after he demanded unconditional surrender from the Confederate commander of Fort Donelson. When his superior in the West, General Henry W. Halleck, was transferred to Washington that summer, Grant took over command of the Union Army along the Mississippi River and began his career trajectory to command of the entire Union army in 1864.
General Grant and President Lincoln were both pragmatists - willing to do whatever was necessary to win the war. "Better than any Civil War general, Grant recognized the battlefield was in flux. By not specifying movements in detail, he left his subordinate commanders free to exploit whatever opportunities developed," wrote Grant biographer Jean Edward Smith.1
"Versatility and flexibility marked [Grant's] reaction to military problems," wrote historian John Y. Simon. "Unlike officers well trained in the art of war, he reacted to military situations with logic rather than formula."2. Like Mr. Lincoln, Grant was a serious man not given to concern about appearances. Like Mr. Lincoln, he loved animals and refrained from hunting. "I had never been a sportsman in my life; had scarcely ever gone in search of game, and rarely seen any when looking for it..." wrote Grant.3 Like Mr. Lincoln, Grant refrained from cursing. Nor was Grant a war romantic. He knew that war was hell and that the only way to end the war was to make it more hellish. There were other points of comparison:
John Eaton, an Army chaplain whom Grant put in charge of efforts to help black slaves who came through Union lines, wrote: "In my association with Lincoln and with Grant, I think what impressed me most was the fact that their greatness rested in both cases upon the simple and fundamental elements of character. Both were essentially sane in morals and intellect. Both were normal men first and great men afterwards. They met as adequately the demands of their private, personal relationships as they did the exactions of the great National issues with which the genius of each contended. They were the same magnanimous, self-sacrificing, noble, and tender-hearted men wherever and by whomsoever they were met."4 These were qualities which President Lincoln could appreciate. Grant military aide Adam Badeau noted: "In battle, the sphinx awoke. The outward calm was even then not entirely broken; but the utterance was prompt, the ideas were rapid, the judgment was decisive, the words were those of command. The whole man became intense, as it were, with a white heat."5
Both President Lincoln and General Grant had an unaffected way of dealing with people. Grant biographer John Mosier wrote: "Grant was not the sort of man who tried to browbeat people by parading his superior knowledge of military history, or by intimidating others with some abstruse theory of warfare."6 Historian Joan Waugh wrote: "many lower-ranking officers and enlisted men...liked Grant's casual style and his way of getting things done quickly and quietly."7 Neither leader was by nature especially martial. Grant's father, Jesse, had arranged to send "Sam" to West Point without consulting his son. Grant biographer William S. McFeely wrote: "Ever since Ulysses was a boy managing not to be around the tanyard very much, Jesse had known that he had no sense for business. He had gotten him into the army in the first place because he did not know what else to do with him." Other than the army, Grant never found his niche in life. He was certainly not a farmer or businessman. In 1858-59 he became a bill collector. In 1859 he lost his farm. In the middle of 1860 he moved to Galena, Illinois, and joined his family's leather goods store. His army experiences in California caused him to "remain steadfastly unromantic aboutsolitary adventurers in the West for the rest of his life."8
While in California he experienced some disastrous attempts at potato farming. As historian James McPherson wrote: "Grant's early career gave little promise of future greatness."9 Yet, noted historian Bruce Catton, "Grant and Lincoln shared something...They were westerners, lacking in polish, unable to impress the cultivated easterners."10 Having tasted failure, both were also persistent. After Grant's appointment as the top Union commander, Confederate General James "Pete" Longstreet observed: "I was with him for three years at West Point, I was present at his wedding, I served in the same army with him in Mexico, I have observed his methods of warfare in the West, and I believe I know him through and through. And I tell you we cannot afford to underrate him and the army he now commands. We must make up our minds to get into line of battle and stay there, for that man will fight us every day and every hour till the end of this war. In order to whip him we must outmaneuver him, and husband our strength as best we can."11
There was also a reserve about both men, but it was more marked with General Grant. Biographer Jean Edward Smith noted: "An acquaintance described him at the time as 'a man who could remain silent in several languages.' [General George] Meade noted that he was 'very reticent and somewhat ill at ease among strangers; hence a first impression is never favorable.'" Historian James M. McPherson wrote: "Shy with strangers, uncomfortable in the limelight, notoriously taciturn, Grant earned a reputation as 'the American Sphinx.' Yet wherever he went, things got done - quietly, efficiently, quickly, with no wasted motion. In crisis situations during combat, Grant remained calm. He did not panic. He persevered, and he never accepted defeat even when he appeared to be beaten."12
There was a reticence to both men. Grant telegraph operator Samuel H. Beckwith wrote that Grant "was one of the most reserved men I have ever known. The faculty of restraint both in speech and in expression of the feelings was pronounced; and this faculty frequently induced the impression among those who met him that he was cold and untutored in the ways of the socialable world. I don't believe that this manner was in any degree assumed; he couldn't help it any more than Lincoln could forego his humor or his tenderness of heart. Many a time did the General order me to accompany him upon his rides (he and I along); for I am proud to say that he seemed to find in me an agreeable comrade; and side by side we would cover mile after mile without the interchange of a word, he evidently pondering the varied problems of the campaign, while I, accustomed to his habits, preserved a sympathetic silence."13
Grant had a better education than Lincoln although he had been not enthralled by his studies at West Point. He wrote in his memoirs: "A military life had no charms for me, and I had not the faintest idea of staying in the army even if I should be graduated, which I did not expect," Wanted to "prepare myself for a professorship in some college."14 Although he had a technical bent, Grant admitted: "Much of my time, I am sorry to say, was devoted to novels, but not those of a trashy sort....Mathematics was very easy to me."15 President Lincoln attacked mathematics much later in life. He was a middle-aged lawyer before he decided diligently to conquer Euclidean geometry.
When the Civil War began, Grant had been a store clerk in Galena, Illinois. Unlike most West Point graduates, Grant had not kept up the contacts which could have landed him a good military commission at the war's outset. Grant was even snubbed by George B. McClellan who would become the Union's commanding general in 1861. Illinois Congressman Elihu B. Washburne, however, took Grant to Springfield, Illinois, to get a military commission. Grant's first jobs were getting Illinois troops ready for war. He was ambitious for command but not for glory. "I am sure that I have but one desire in this war, and that is to put down the rebellion," Grant wrote his father in 1862. He generally stayed away from the politics of slavery, although he once had employed his wife's slaves. "I have no hobby of my own with regard to the Negro, either to effect his freedom or to continue his bondage. If Congress pass any law and the President approves, I am willing to execute it," Grant wrote.16
But Grant was an astute observer and analyst. Asked to estimate how many wolves in a howling pack, Grant said "about twenty." "In a minute we were close upon them, and before the saw us. There were just two of them. Seated upon their haunches, with their mouths close together, they had made all the noise we had been hearing for the past ten minutes. I have often thought of this incident since when I have heard the noise of a few disappointed politicians who had deserted their associates. There are always more of them before they are counted."17
Like Mr. Lincoln and very much unlike General McClellan, Grant did not value appearances. While McClellan tried to make himself into a larger-than-life figure, Grant seemed rather to make himself smaller than life. "In October 1861, wearing the regulation uniform of a brigadier general, including three black ostrich plumes in his hat, Grant sat for a photographer," wrote historian John Y. Simon. "An ornamental sword lay across his lap. Perhaps he appeared in full dress to prove to his family that he was a general. It was his first and nearly last appearance in regulation garb. Photographed frequently afterward, he rarely displayed weapons, regulation uniform, or any signs of rank beyond the requisite shoulder stars. Grant was simply too unmilitary to dress like a proper officer."18
General Grant was a source of admiration and source of concern at the White House. Of particular concern was Grant's reputed fondness for liquor. He began to drink seriously when posted by the army in California. Biographer William S. McFeely wrote "Without friends, without Julia and the two boys, without any responsibilities on the base, he was at the danger point....Grant did not leave the army because he was a drunk. He drank and left the army because he was profoundly depressed."19 Concern about Grant's drinking surfaced in late 1861. In Galena, Grant had met his future aide, John A. Rawlins. Rawlins was only person besides Grant's wife who could protect him from demon whiskey. Historian Kenneth P. Williams wrote: "On December 30 Rawlins found time to write a very long and important letter. It was an answer to one of the 21st from Congressman Washburne, who was much disturbed by reports that Grant was intemperate. Rawlins said that he had found Grant 'a strict abstinence man' when he himself reached Cairo, and he had been told by men who knew Grant well that such had been his habit for the past five or six years."20 Historian James McPherson noted that "Grant probably drank less than his peers, but he could not hold his liquor well."21
Washington could not hold rumors well. Historian Brooks Simpson wrote that "Grant was finding out that his status was a cause of concern with the arrival at headquarters of several visitors from Washington." A number of military and civilian visitors were dispatched to check up on Grant and report back to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and President Lincoln. Among these were former New York Tribune editor Charles Dana, Congressman Elihu Washburne, and Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas - as well as a team of doctors. Rather than taking offence at these visits, Grant received the visitors cordially - realizing that in so doing he could control the substance and tone of their reports. Brooks Simpson wrote: "The positive reports of Dana, Thomas, and the medical officer reassure Lincoln about Grant's ability." Lincoln however worried about Grant's strategy - until he started repulsing and containing the Confederates. Simpson wrote: "Lincoln believed the campaign 'one of the most brilliant in the world.' The six weeks of siege that followed, coming at a time when Robert E. Lee's army was moving northward into Maryland and Pennsylvania, caused Lincoln some concern, but in the main he was relieved. 'I rather like the man,' he told one visitor. "I think I'll try him a little longer.'"22
For the first two years of the war, President Lincoln and General Grant had to size each other up from a distance. Historian William B. Hesseltine contended: "With his work as a military administrator adding nothing to his reputation, Grant's rise to success was hampered by many difficulties. Contrary to later legend, Lincoln was slow to [perceive] Grant's fighting qualities."23 Historian John Y. Simon wrote: "While Grant fought the war in the West, his only contact with Lincoln came through correspondence, and there was no great amount of it. Yet the man in the White House kept a careful eye on Grant, who held a series of posts so vital that mismanagement would have been fatal," wrote historian John Y. Simon.24
What marked Grant for promotion by the President was the surrender and capture on July 4, 1863, of Vicksburg, Mississippi, the last remaining Confederate citadel on the Mississippi River. If one way didn't work, Grant tried another to attack the city. President Lincoln had been doubtful about Grant's strategy, but grateful that it worked. The chief executive followed Grant's progress on the maps he kept in his office. On July 13, President Lincoln wrote Grant: "I do not remember that you and I ever met personally. I write this now as a grateful acknowledgement for the almost inestimable service you have done the country. I wish to say a word further. When you first reached the vicinity of Vicksburg, I thought you should do, what you finally did--march the troops across the neck, run the batteries with the transports, and thus go below; and I never had any faith, except a general hope that you knew better than I, that the Yazoo Pass expedition, and the like, could succeed. When you did get below, and took Port-Gibson, Grand Gulf, and vicinity, I thought you should go down the river and join Gen. [Nathaniel] Banks; and when you turned Northward East of the Big Black, I feared it was a mistake. I know wish to make the personal acknowledgement that you were right, and I was wrong."25 As historian James M. McPherson tersely observed: "Grant was...Lincoln's man the rest of the war."26
When Grant aide and army chaplain John Eaton visited the White House in 1863, "Mr. Lincoln immediately began to ask me questions about his 'fighting General,' as he already called Grant, passing from him to the consideration of other men whom he trusted, - to the personal characters of various subordinate officers, and what they did and said. The searching inquiries never for a moment became trivial; the motive behind each was too formidable for that. During the whole of my acquaintance with the President, he seemed to me to be doing all in his power to measure the personal character of prominent men. He gauged the strength of his armies by their leaders. He seemed constantly to be taking these measurements, and when he had taken them, to lay them aside in that wonderful brain of his for future use."27 Historian E. B. Long wrote "that all through 1863 Grant shows up more and more as a great organizer of war, a side of his genius too often submerged because of the more spectacular events he engineered." Long argued that "Lincoln recognized this ability when he ordered Grant east to take command of all the armies and to direct the total war strategy. Lincoln needed a general who could fight, but, even more, one who could coordinate."28
Lincoln wanted a military commander who could direct the entire Union military effort - but not be tempted like Generals George B. McClellan and John C. FrÃ©mont - into trying to direct the nation from the White House. Grant scholar John Y. Simon wrote of Lincoln : "Before appointing Grant lieutenant general, he wanted assurance that the new rank would not be used as a springboard to the White House. Two close friends of Grant from Galena were interviewed and gave full assurance that Grant's interests were purely military. Only then did Lincoln proceed with the appointment."29 One of those Galena friends was Congressman Elihu B. Washburne, a longtime Lincoln associate who often acted as a go-between for Grant and Mr. Lincoln during the Civil War. Washburne represented Galena, Grant's hometown at the outset of the Civil War. "About all I know of Grant I have got from you," President Lincoln told Washburne. "I have never seen him. Who else besides you knows anything about Grant?"30 Writing to Congressman Washburne in August 1863, Grant wrote: "The people of the North need not quarrel over the institution of Slavery. What Vice President [Alexander H.] Stephens acknowledges the Corner Stone of the Confederacy is already knocked out. Slavery is already dead and cannot be resurrected. It would take a standing army to maintain slavery in the South if we were to make peace today, guaranteeing the South all their former Constitutional privileges. I never was an Abolitionist, not even what could be called anti-slavery, but I try to judge to fairly and honestly and it became patent to my mind early in the rebellion that the North & South could never live at peace with each to except as one Nation, and that without slavery. As anxious as I am to see peace reestablished I would not therefore be willing to see any settlement until this question is forever settled."31
Washburne heard from some of Grant's many critics who were appalled by his leadership at bloody battles like Shiloh in April 1862. Chicago Tribune editor Joseph Medill wrote to Washburne in February 1863 that "No man's career in the army is more open to destructive criticism than Grant's. We have kept off him on your account. We could have made him stink in the nostrils of the public like an old fish had we properly criticised his military blunders."32 In the face of such criticism of Grant, Congressman Washburne labored for his promotion, which became easier after the Union victory at Chattanooga. General James Harrison Wilson, an erstwhile Grant aide who served in Washington at the beginning of 1864, recalled Washburne's efforts on Grant's behalf: "Notwithstanding his tremendous success, Grant was but little known in Washington, and there was among the leading members of the cabinet and of the Senate a lingering of the cabinet and of the Senate a lingering doubt as to his entire trustworthiness. Immediately after arriving in Washington I was consulted by such senators and representatives as I knew or chanced to meet in regard to his fitness for promotion and for the great power which it would place in his hands. Washburne, the member of congress from his district, was the most potent and aggressive factor in the scheme of reviving the lieutenant generalcy and giving it to Grant. He was bold, active, and persistent in advocating the measure, and was, besides, the firm friend of [Grant aide John A.] Rawlins and his close ally in every measure for Grant's advancement. I boarded at the same house with him, and from the date of my arrival gave him and the measure he was advocating my most active and unqualified support. We conferred about it in every possible aspect. He, of course, had known from the western press, that a serious doubt had been cast upon Grant's sobriety, but he also knew that, with Rawlins' support, the modest general had in no serious degree lapsed from that propriety of conduct necessary for his success. He knew from Dana, Rawlins, and myself the real facts of his case, and that in no instance had he yielded to such an extent as to imperil the safety of his army or the success of his campaigns. But above all Washburne knew that, so long as Rawlins stood by him as guide, philosopher, and friend, the combination would continue to be successful. Therefore, while providing for Grant's promotion, he provided also for Rawlins' further advancement by getting Congress to create the office of chief-of-staff for him. Thus the union between them was perpetuated."33 But, according to Brooks D. Simpson, there was some jealousy in Wilson, who was heading the army's cavalry bureau at the time: "Wilson kept Grant informed of the rumor mill. Washburne, he reported, was attempting to gather support for the bill by claiming that its passage (and Grant's securing the promotion) would reward the hero of Vicksburg for not entering the field as a presidential candidate. Wilson judged that Washburne had gone too far in presenting himself as Grant's guardian, adviser, and confidant (all positions Wilson desired for himself)."34
Historian E. B. Long wrote "that all through 1863 Grant shows up more and more as a great organizer of war, a side of his genius too often submerged because of the more spectacular events he engineered." Long argued that "Lincoln recognized this ability when he ordered Grant east to take command of all the armies and to direct the total war strategy. Lincoln needed a general who could fight, but, even more, one who could coordinate."35 The Union victory at Chattanooga on November 23-25, 1863 determined Grant's fate. Historian William B. Hesseltine wrote: "When the news of Chattanooga was received in Washington Congress was just assembling for its long session. On the first day of the session Washburne rose to introduce a bill to revive the grade of lieutenant-general. In a laudatory oration he described the rise of General Grant, with a clear appreciation of the nation's disgust with commanders who appeared to better advantage on the parade ground than on the battlefield, he made a contribution to the rapidly growing legend of Grant's simple and democratic bearing."36
Against his wishes, Grant was named General-in-Chief of the Army in March 1864, in which capacity he served until 1869 when he took office President. After Congress passed the legislation allowing for appointment of a lieutenant general, Grant was summoned to Washington to meet with President Lincoln. In his memoirs, Grant wrote: "I never met Mr. Lincoln until called to the capital to receive my commission as lieutenant-general. I knew, however, very well and favorably from the accounts given by officers under me at the West who had known him all their lives. I had also read the remarkable series of debates between Lincoln and Douglas a few years before, when they were rival candidates for the United States Senate. I was then a resident of Missouri, and by no means a 'Lincoln man' in that contest; but I recognized then his great ability."37 Grant came to Washington with his son Fred, then 13, and reached the capital without fanfare. Historian Jean Edward Smith wrote: "The White House had designated a welcoming committee to meet the train and escort him to his hotel, but the arrangements fell through and no was on hand when he arrived on the afternoon of March 8...."38 Journalist Noah Brooks reported that Grant "went very quietly to Willard's [Hotel], and it was not until he had half-finished his dinner that people knew that he was in town. As soon as it was discovered that he was at the table, eating his dinner, just like ordinary mortals, there was a shout of welcome from all present, an immense cheer going up from the crowd in the dining-room."39
Grant received a message asking him to proceed to the White House a few blocks away where a regular-scheduled reception was underway that evening. Several witnesses recorded what happened. Grant's son remembered: "As my father entered the drawing-room door at the White House, the other visitors fell back in silence, and President Lincoln received my father most cordially, taking both his hands, and saying, "I am most delighted to see you, General." I myself shall never forget this first meeting of Lincoln and Grant. It was an impressive affair, for there stood the Executive of this great nation, welcoming the Commander of its armies. I see them now before me - Lincoln, tall, thin, and impressive, with deeply lined face, and his strong sad eyes - Grant, compact, of good size, but looking small beside the President, with his broad, square head and compressed lips, decisive and resolute. This was a thrilling moment, for in the hands of these two men was the destiny of our country. Their work was in cooperation, for the preservation of our great nation, and for the liberty of men.
They remained talking together for a few moments, and then General Grant passed on into the East Room with the crowd which surrounded and cheered him wildly, and all present were eager to press his hand. The guests present forced him to stand upon a sofa, insisting that he could be better seen by all. I remember that my father, of whom they wished to make a hero, blushed most modestly at these enthusiastic attentions, all present joining in expressions of affection and applause. Soon a messenger reached my father calling him back to the side of Mrs. Lincoln, and with her he made a tour of the reception rooms, followed by President Lincoln, whose noble, rugged face beamed with pleasure and gratification.
When an opportunity presented itself for them to speak privately, President Lincoln said to my father, "I am to formally present you your commission to-morrow morning at ten o'clock, and knowing, General, your dread of speaking, I have written out what I have to say, and will read it; it will only be four or five sentences. I would like you to say something in reply which will soothe the feeling of jealousy among the officers, and be encouraging to the nation." Thus spoke this great and noble peacemaker to the general who so heartily coincided with him in sentiments and work for union and peace."40.
Grant aide Horace Porter recalled: "On the evening of March 8 the President and Mrs. Lincoln gave a public reception at the White House, which I attended. The President stood in the usual reception-room, known as the 'Blue Room,' with several cabinet officers near him, and shook hands cordially with everybody, as the vast procession of men and women passed in front of him. He was in evening dress, and wore a turned down collar a size too large. The necktie was rather broad and awkwardly tied. He was more of a Hercules than an Adonis. His height of six feet four inches enabled him to look over the heads of most of his visitors. His form was ungainly, and the movement of his long, angular arms and legs bordered at times upon the grotesque. His eyes were gray and disproportionately small. His face wore a general expression of sadness, the deep lines indicating the sense of responsibility which weighed upon him; but at times his features lighted up with a broad smile, and there was merry twinkle in his eyes as he greeted an old acquaintance and exchanged a few words with him a tone of familiarity. He had sprung from the common people to become one of the most uncommon of men. Mrs. Lincoln occupied a position on his right. For a time she stood on a line with him and took part in the reception, but afterward stepped back and conversed with some of the wives of the cabinet officers and other personal acquaintances who were in the room. At about half-past nine o'clock a sudden commotion near the entrance to the room attracted general attention, and, upon looking in that direction, I was surprised to see General Grant walking along modestly with the rest of the crowd toward Mr. Lincoln. He had arrived from the West that evening, and had come to the White House to pay his respects to this President. He had been in Washington but once before, when he visited it for a day soon after he had left West Point. Although these two historical characters had never once met before, Mr. Lincoln recognized the general at once from the pictures he had seen of him. With a face radiant with delight, he advanced rapidly two or three steps toward his distinguished visitor, and cried out: 'Why, here is General Grant! Well, this is a great pleasure, I assure you,' at the same time seizing him by the hand, and shaking it for several minutes with a vigor which showed the extreme cordiality of the welcome."
"The scene now presented was deeply impressive. Standing face to face for the first time were the two illustrious men whose names will always be inseparably associated in connection with the war of the rebellion. Grant's right hand grasped the lapel of his coat; his head was bent slightly forward, and his eyes upturned toward Lincoln's face. The President, who was eight inches taller, looked down with beaming countenance upon his guest. Although their appearance, their training, and their characteristics were in striking contrast, yet the two men had many traits in common, and there were numerous points of resemblance in their remarkable careers. Each was of humble origin, and had been compelled to learn the first lessons of life in the severe school of adversity. Each had risen from the people, possessed an abiding confidence in them, and always retained a deep hold on their affections."41
Porter, who would become a top aide to Grant, later wrote: "The statesman and the soldier conversed for a few minutes, and then the President presented his distinguished guest to Mr. Seward. The Secretary of State was very demonstrative in his welcome, and after exchanging a few words, led the general to where Mrs. Lincoln was standing, and presented him to her. Mrs. Lincoln expressed much surprise and pleasure at the meeting, and she and the general chatted together very pleasantly for some minutes. The visitors had by this time become so curious to catch a sight of the general that their eagerness knew no bounds, they became altogether unmanageable. Mr. Seward's consummate knowledge of the wiles of diplomacy now came to the rescue and saved the situation. He succeeded in struggling through the crowd with the general until they reached the large East Room, where the people could circulate more freely. This, however, was only a temporary relief. The people by this time had worked themselves up to a state of uncontrollable excitement. The vast throng surged and swayed and crowded until alarm was felt for the safety of the ladies. Cries now arose of 'Grant! Grant! Grant!' Then came cheer after cheer. Seward, after some persuasion, induced the general to stand upon a sofa, thinking the visitors would be satisfied with a view of him, and retire; but as soon as they caught sight of him their shouts were renewed, a rush was made to shake his hand. The President sent word that he and the Secretary of War would await the general's return in one of the small drawing rooms, but it was fully an hour before he was able to make his way there, and then only with the aid of several officers and ushers."42
Navy Secretary Gideon Welles wrote in his diary the next day: "Went last evening to the Presidential reception. Quite a gathering; very many that are not usually seen at receptions were attracted thither, I presume from the fact that General Grant was expected to be there. He came about half-past nine. I was near the centre of the reception room, when a stir and buzz attracted attention, and it was whispered that General Grant had arrived. The room was not full, the crowd having passed through to the East Room. I saw some men in uniform standing at the entrance, and one of them, a short, brown, dark-haired man, was talking with the President. There was hesitation, a degree of awkwardness in the General, and embarrassment in that part of the room, and a check or suspension of the moving column. Soon word was passed around for 'Mr. Seward.' 'General Grant is here,' and Seward, who was just behind me, hurried and took the General by the hand and led him to Mr. Lincoln, near whom I was standing. The crowd gathered around the circle rapidly, and, it being intimated that it would be necessary the throng should pass on, Seward took the General's arm and went with him to the East Room. There was clapping of hands in the next room as he passed through and all in the East Room joined in it as he entered. A cheer or two followed. All of which seemed rowdy and unseemly. An hour later the General and Mr. Seward and Stanton returned. Seward beckoned me and introduced me and my two nieces."43
When they talked that night, President Lincoln advised Grant: "All he wanted or had ever wanted was someone who would take the responsibility and act, and call on him for all of the assistance needed, pledging himself to use all the power of the government in rendering such assistance. Assuring him that I would do the best I could with the means at hand, and avoid annoying him or the War Department, our first interview ended."44 . Grant later told aide Horace Porter about his first private meeting with Mr. Lincoln: "In the first interview I had with the President, when no others were present, and he could talk freely, he told me that he did not pretend to know anything about the handling of troops, and it was with the greatest reluctance that he ever interfered with the movements of army commanders; but he had common sense enough to know that celerity was absolutely necessary; that while armies were sitting down waiting for opportunities to turn up which might, perhaps, be more favorable from a strictly military point of view, the government was spending millions of dollars every day; that there was a limit to the sinews of war, and a time might be reached when the spirits and resources of the people would become exhausted. He had always contended that these considerations should be taken into account as well as purely military questions, and that he adopted the plan of issuing his 'executive orders' principally for the purpose of hurrying the movements of commanding generals; but that he believed that I knew the values of minutes, and that he was not going to interfere with my operations. He said, further that he did not want to know my plans; that it was perhaps, better that he should not know them, for everybody he met was trying to find out from him something about the contemplated movements, and there was always a temptation 'to leak.'"45
Clearly, Lincoln trusted Grant whereas he never had seemed to trust General George B. McClellan. The President trusted that Grant would protect Washington and allowed him to strip the Capital's defenses -- whereas he prevented McClellan from doing the same. But Grant helped create that atmosphere of trust -- not by telling Lincoln of his plans but by telling him of his movements. Grant biographer Jean Edward Smith observed: "Lincoln, who had dealt with Napoleonic figures like FrÃ©mont and McClellan, blustery show-offs like Hooker and Pope, and academic strategists like Halleck, was relieved to find a plain, direct, unassuming commander who eschewed the trappings of command, who never raised his voice, and who shared his view that the quickest way to end the war was to defeat the Confederate army."46
According to John Nicolay, President Lincoln said to Grant: "There are two points that I would like to have you make in your answer, first, to say something which, shall prevent or obviate any jealousy of you from any of the other generals in the service, and second, something which shall put you on as good terms as possible with the army of the Potomac. Now, consider whether this may not be said to make it of some advantage; and if you see any objection whatever to doing it, be under no restraint whatever in expressing that objection to the Secretary of War, who will talk further with you about it."47 Biographer Brooks D. Simpson noted: "Grant said nothing. He returned to his hotel to work out his reply, Fred hovering over his shoulder. The next day, with Fred, Rawlins, and Comstock in tow, he made his way first to Halleck's office, then to Stanton's, and then back to the White House, arriving in time for the one o'clock ceremony."48 Grant followed his own script. Grant aide Porter wrote: "The next day, March 9, the general went to the White House, by invitation of Mr. Lincoln, for the purpose of receiving his commission from the hands of the President. Upon his return to Willard's Hotel, I called to pay my respects. Curiosity led me to look at the hotel register, and the modesty of the entry upon the book, in the general's handwriting, made an impression upon me. It read simply, 'U.S. Grant and son, Galena, Ill.'"49 Lincoln aide Edward Duffield Neill, who worked on the second floor of the White House, wrote: "About two o'clock in the afternoon of the 9th of March, 1864, a messenger told me to look out of the window of my room and I would see General Grant. I went, and saw a plain, round-shouldered man in citizen's dress, with a lad, his eldest son, by his side, walking away from the house, where he had been to pay his first visit to the President. To gratify the public and appease the reporters, the President wrote the few words which he had spoken when he gave the General his commission upon a piece of paper, partly torn, and Grant penned a brief reply."50
Fred Grant later recalled: "I see them now before me, Lincoln, tall, thin and impressive, with deeply lined face, and his strong, sad eyes: Grant, compact, of good size...with his broad, square head and compressed lips - decisive and resolute. This was a thrilling moment, for in the hands of these two men was the destiny of our country....'"51
Gideon Welles wrote in his diary that night: "To-day I received a note from the Secretary of State to be at the Executive Mansion quarter before 1 P.M. The Cabinet was all there, and General Grant and his staff with the Secretary of War and General Halleck entered. The president met him and presented to the General his commission with remarks, to which the latter responded. Both read their remarks. General Grant was somewhat embarrassed." Welles added: "A conversation of half an hour followed on various subjects, but chiefly the war and operations of Sherman."52
Black abolitionist Frederick Douglass recalled a story that General Grant told him: "When I came to Washington first, one of the first things that Lincoln said to me was, 'Grant, have you ever read the book by Orpheus C. Kerr?' 'Well, no, I never did,' said I. Mr. Lincoln said: 'You ought to read it, it is a very interesting book. I have had a good deal of satisfaction reading that book. There is one poem there that describes a meeting of the animals. The substance of it being that the animals and a dragon, or some dreadful thing, was near by and had to be conquered, and it was a question as to who would undertake the job. By and by a monkey stepped forward and proposed to do the work up. The monkey said he thought he could do it if he could get an inch or two more put on his tail. The assemblage voted him a few more inches more to his tail, and he went out and tried his hand. He was unsuccessful and returned, stating that he wanted a few more inches put on his tail. The request was granted, and he went again. His second effort was a failure. He asked that more inches be put on his tail and he would try a third time.' 'At last,' said General Grant, 'it got through my head what Lincoln was aiming at, as applying to my wanting more men, and finally I said: 'Mr. Lincoln, I don't want any more inches put on my tail.'"53
War Department telegraph operator Samuel H. Beckwith recalled that Grant "was selected as Lincoln's last hope, and when the President knew his worth and saw his handiwork, he placed the army in his keeping and backed the intrepid solider in his every move. And Grant appreciated highly the cooperation and loyal support given him from Washington. Unlike McClellan and his successors, he did not bombard the Capitol with petitions and remonstrances and criticisms and appeals for reenforcements. He knew that the country was sending him all the men available; he knew that he had the confidence of the Executive and his Cabinet; he knew what was expected of him; and he did it as best, as quickly as he could, without complaint or boasting or vain display." Beckwith added: "While there was no close friendship between Lincoln and his General, born of personal relationship and intercourse, there was a reciprocal regard that was perhaps even better. When the news of the President the news of the President's reelection in November, 1864, reached City Point, Grant was deeply gratified. Naturally he construed the verdict of the people as a cordial ratification of his own leadership in the field, which was part and parcel of the Administration policy."54
The relationship between President Lincoln and General Grant was an unusual one for both men - based on respect, trust, and their deep commitment to American union. Mr. Lincoln had faith in what he called "the dogged pertinacity of Grant." Grant's admiration for the President Lincoln was unbounded, according to journalist John Russell Young. He recalled Grant's estimate of President Lincoln as "[t]he greatest I have ever known and the day of his death the darkest of my life."55 Grant said: "The President is one of the few visitors I have had who have not attempted to extract from me a knowledge of my movements, although he is the only one who has a right to know them."56 Undoubtedly, part of the key to the Lincoln-Grant relationship was that General Grant often sent good news to the Commander-in-Chief. Internal Revenue Commissioner George S. Boutwell recalled in his memoirs:
During the autumn and winter of 1862-3, I was in the habit of calling at the War Office for news, when I left the Treasury - usually between nine and eleven o'clock. Not infrequently I met Mr. Lincoln on the way or at the department. When the weather was cold he wore a gray shawl, muffled closely around his neck and shoulders. There was a great anxiety for General Grant in 1863, when he was engaged in the movement across the Mississippi. At that time I went to the War Office daily. One evening I met the President in front of the Executive Mansion, on his way back from the War Department. I said:
"Any news, Mr. President?"
"Come in and I will tell you!"
I knew from the tone of his voice that he had good news. He read the dispatch, and then by the maps he followed the course that Grant had taken. The news he had received was from Grant himself. From the 4th of March, 1861, I had not seen Mr. Lincoln as cheerful as he was when he read the dispatch, and traced the campaign on the map. He felt, evidently that the end was approaching - although it was nearly two years away."57
Grant proved to be the general that Lincoln had been looking for. Historian David Coffey wrote: "Throughout the war, Lincoln had placed his faith and the armies of the United States in the hands of dozens of men - [George B.] McClellan, John Pope, Ambrose Burnside, Joseph Hooker, Henry Halleck, Don Carlos Buell, and William S. Rosecrans to name but a few - all of whom he found wanting in drive and, most important, in success. Even George Meade, who commanded at Gettysburg, had ultimately disappointed. By the end of 1863, Lincoln knew of only one man who had delivered consistently the kind of performance the president needed so desperately to see - Ulysses S. Grant."58 Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote: "As he was forced to deal with quarreling generals on almost every front, it is little wonder that Lincoln developed such respect and admiration for Ulysses S. Grant."59 According to Sir Frederick Maurice, "Most of Lincoln's correspondence with Grant begins with the words, 'I have seen,' or, 'I have read your dispatch,' and as proof that very little escaped the President's eye it may be mentioned that once when during the siege of Petersburg the usual supply of Richmond newspapers did not reach Washington, Lincoln promptly telegraphed to know the reason for the intermission. Grant was well aware that there was in Washington one ready to support him when needed help, to give him a hand if he tripped, to remove him if he failed. Lincoln left Grant to his task but he did not leave him without control and assistance."60
Grant was a fighter, but one who understood the political imperatives which a commanding general must recognize. Worried about his competence, drinking and political ambitions, President Lincoln had him checked out - repeatedly. Historian Thomas J. Goss wrote: "Lincoln did not wholly entrust the prosecution of the war to one of his generals until he developed the faith that Grant was not a political threat and would conform to the administration's vision of the proper objectives and course of the war. He had to have proof that Grant was not a presidential candidate for fear that the general might change the course of the war effort or influence ongoing operations based on his own set of political priorities."61 Lincoln did not want to direct the war effort, but he wanted a general with whom he could converse directly and frankly about that effort.
Contrary to what Grant later wrote, most historians have concluded that President Lincoln kept his hands on military affairs as commander-in-chief. Historian James G. Randall wrote: "Too much should not be made of Lincoln's statement to Grant, as to other generals, disclaiming military expertness while leaving the field commander to act as the effective military leader. It is true that on the eve of the Virginia campaign the wrote: 'The particulars of your plans I neither know nor seek to know.' In his Memoirs Grant records that Lincoln 'told me he did not want to know what I proposed to do.' (This was probably a misinterpretation of the Chief's statement that he did not seek to know the 'particulars' of the general's plans.)"62 Historian James A. Rawley wrote that "Grant's understanding of Lincoln's words may be a misinterpretation. On the same day that Lincoln wrote to Grant, John Hay recorded in his diary that Grant's plan agreed with Lincoln's own ideas of using our great superiority of numbers and making all units of the Union lines useful - 'those not fighting could help the fighting,' Grant had explained. Delighted with this strategy of a congenial mind, Lincoln exclaimed in a rural analogy, 'Those not skinning can hold a leg.'"63 William Gienapp wrote that "Grant's claim in his Memoirs that Lincoln left all military decisions to him is demonstrably false. He demurred from Grant's plan to make an overland push against Mobile and showed no interest in the general's idea of a seaborne invasion of North Carolina to disrupt Richmond's communications (Lincoln continued to insist, correctly, that Lee's army should be the Union's target in the eastern theater)."64
After Grant got approval for General Phillip Sheridan to lead the Union army in the Shenandoah Valley, President Lincoln expressed his doubts in a telegram to General Grant that Grant described in his memoirs as a "very characteristic dispatch."65 President Lincoln wrote: "I have seen your despatch in which you say 'I want Sheridan put in command of all the troops in the field, with instructions to put himself South of the enemy, and follow him to the death. Wherever the enemy goes, let our troops go also.' This, I think, is exactly right, as to how our forces should move. But please look over the despatches you may have received from here, ever since you made that order, and discover, if you can, that there is any idea in the head of any one here, of 'putting our army South of the enemy' or of following him to the death' in any direction. I repeat to you it will neither be done nor attempted unless you watch it every day, and hour, and force it."66 In response, Grant indicted his willingness to exercise personal supervision: "I start in two hours for Washington & will spend a day with the Army under Genl Hunter."67
The President and his general were generally in strategic agreement. Historian Richard N. Current wrote: "If as a rule the President let Grant have his own way, that was due to the fact that, as a rule, Grant's way was also the President's. But Grant was not always left to do as he pleased." Current added: "Lincoln overruled Grant less often than McClellan, but that was only because Grant was more willing to fight the war along Lincolnian lines than McClellan had been."68 Historian Ethan Rafuse wrote "Grant did not enjoy complete liberty in managing the war, but neither was he stuck in the role of mere advisor to the president. He understood that his promotion brought with it the expectation that he would exercise his office in the field (Northerners would have been outraged if he had sat at a desk in the capital) and solve the previously unsolvable problem of Robert E. Lee. Out in the field, Grant realized, he would be more or less free to command as he saw fit. At the same time, he made a point of gratifying Lincoln by keeping Halleck in the advisory role he had been playing since 1862."69
Grant was careful to preserve the prerogatives of command. Historian R. Steven Jones wrote: "An exchange between Grant and Abraham Lincoln on March 29, 1864, shows just how adamant Grant was that his new staffers be well qualified. Lincoln had recommended a friend, a Captain Kinney, for a position on Grant's staff. Grant, mistakenly calling the man Kennedy, refused. 'I would be glad to accommodate Capt. Kennedy but in the selection of my staff I do not want any one whom I do not personally know to be qualified for the position assigned them.'"70 Nevertheless, Grant appointed Lincoln's son to his staff in early 1865. President Lincoln attempted to avoid putting too much pressure on Grant although expectations arose that triumphs in the East would come as easily as they seemed to come under Grant in the West. Journalist Noah Brooks reported that the President said to him: "To me the most trying thing of all this war is that the people are too sanguine; they expect too much at one. I declare to you sir, that we are today farther ahead than I thought, one year and a half ago, that we should be....As God is my judge, I shall be satisfied if we are over with the fight in Virginia within a year."71
Off the battlefield Grant proved more diplomatic than expected. Biographer Brooks D. Simpson wrote: "By showing forbearance and refraining from criticism, Grant did not offend the president; in turn, Lincoln seeing that Grant agreed with him about fundamentals - notably the concept of simultaneous, coordinated advances - allowed the general leeway in implementing them."72 Historian William B. Hesseltine wrote: "In handling the problems incident to his new position, Grant demonstrated the extent of his growth since the beginning of the war. The tact he displayed in making his arrangements showed that his two years of experience in handling men had taught him many lessons. Essentially kindhearted, he himself had suffered much humiliation, and he sought to avoid giving offense to the Eastern armies and their commanders."73 Unexpectedly, he retained General George Meade as commander of the Army of the Potomac - and thus procured Meade's gratitude and admiration. Historian Ethan Rafuse wrote that Grant "made a point of gratifying Lincoln by keeping [Henry W.] Halleck in the advisory role he had been playing since 1862. The move was a fine example of the skillful maneuvering that enabled Grant to establish a good relation with Lincoln."74
Grant understood political objectives even if he didn't meddle in politics. Historian William E. Gienapp wrote: "Taking the term commander-in-chief literally, [Grant] assumed an active role in the conduct of the war, both in the selection of commanders and in the determination of strategy." Biographer McFeely wrote: "Lincoln was remarkably indulgent toward the political urges of his generals. He even indulged Hooker's delusions about the need for a dictator, saying he could live with such an idea if the general could produce a victory (He had no need to worry.) But Grant, with a keen grasp of the realities of politics, understood that Lincoln would be uneasy with any man who appeared to be trying to unseat him."75
In effect, President Lincoln trusted but verified. He continued to use emissaries to check out Grant's political intentions. One early emissary was Congressman Elihu B. Washburne, who warned Grant about those talking about him for the presidency. Washburne reflected on the way in which Grant had been criticized for his command at the bloody Battle of Shiloh: "Mr. Lincoln stood like a wall of fire between you and it, uninfluenced by the threats of Congressmen and the demands of insolent cowardice'"76 Washburne arranged to leak a letter from Grant to him dated August 30, 1863 - in which Grant spoke of the need to destroy slavery. Until then, Democrats had considered Grant as their own possible presidential nominee, but Ohio Congressman Samuel S. Cox told Lincoln aide John Hay: "We cant take him after his letter to Washburne. But for that we might have taken him. The Republicans wont take him either. They have got his influence and have no further use for him."77
Another emissary from Lincoln was J. Russell Jones, the U.S. Marshal in Chicago, who knew Grant in Galena. Jones "visited us frequently in the Army, and although far from a military genius and somewhat of a Miss Nancy, he was always welcome," recalled James Harrison Wilson.78 President Lincoln reportedly told Congressman Washburne: "about all I know of Grant I have got from you. I have never seen him. Who else besides you knows anything about him?" Washburne recommended Jones, who was already urging Grant to clarify his political position. "I already have a pretty big job on my hands," Grant responded to Jones, adding that "nothing could induce me to think of being a presidential candidate, particularly so long as there is a possibility of having Mr. Lincoln re-elected."79 Speaking to Jones at the White House after he reported to the President on Grant's political ambitions, President Lincoln remarked: "My son, You will never know how gratifying that it is to me. No man knows, when that Presidential grub gets to gnawing at him, just how deep it will get until he has tried it; and I didn't know but what there was one gnawing at Grant."80
President Lincoln trusted Grant - but he repeatedly sought verification that he did not have a political virus that would interfere with reaching military objectives. Grant made his attitude toward politics clear to anyone who would listen. As Admiral David D. Porter wrote Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus V. Fox: "Grant could not be kicked into the Presidency, he would not have it at [$]40,000 per year, he don't like anything but fighting and smoking, and hates politics as the devel [sic] does holy water - he don't want even to be a Lieut. General until the war is over."81 When John Eaton went to Washington to report on the condition of freedmen, he recognized that Mr. Lincoln's "close questioning in regard to Grant was the most remarkable feature of the interview, From that day to this there has been a growing conviction in my mind that the President meant to find out what his 'fighting General' thought of his policy. What Lincoln thought of Grant was pretty well determined, but true to his habit he let slip no opportunity by which he might gain a clearer view of the character of the man he was dealing with or of the march of those events which in so great a measure he himself controlled."82. The President quizzed John Eaton on the ambitions of General Grant in mid-1864:
"Do you know," queried the President, "what General Grant thinks of the effort now making to nominate him [Grant] for the presidency? Has he spoken of it to you?"
I answered that I knew nothing; that I had been so far away from Grant since the opening of the campaign that I had not heard what he thought.
"Well," said Lincoln, "the disaffected are trying to get him to run, but I don't think they can do it. If he is the great General we think he is, he must have some consciousness of it, and know that he cannot be satisfied with himself and secure the credit due for his great generalship if he does not finish his job. I do not believe," he repeated, "that they can get him to run."
The President then asked me if I would go to Grant headquarters at City Point and learn what he had to say about the campaign. He seemed to feel that Grant trusted me and would be likely to talk to me. I had no idea what the result of such a mission might be, and said so, but declared myself ready to go if Mr. Lincoln desired it.
It was distinctly not the personal rivalry with Grant which Mr. Lincoln dreaded, but rather the loss which our cause would suffer if Grant could be induced to go into politics before the military situation was secure. This the President made unmistakably plain to me. His confidence in Grant was one of the finest things I have ever witnessed. The generals, he said, had failed him, one after another, until Grant had come to the front.83
Eaton went to City Point outside Richmond and with some difficulty, he interviewed Grant about the subject President Lincoln had asked him to discuss: "Finally a conversation I had had with several men on the train, when on my way to Washington, occurred to me as a possible means of bringing about the discussion I wanted. These men having previously seen me with General Grant during the earlier days in the Valley, and probably thinking that I might know something of Grant's political bias, asked me if I thought the General could be induced to run as a citizen's candidate for the Presidency. I repeated this conversation now to the General. 'The question is,' said I, 'not whether you wish to run, but whether you could be compelled to run in answer to the demand of the people for a candidate who should save the Union.' We had been talking very quietly, but Grant's reply came in an instant and with a violence for which I was not prepared. He brought his clenched fists down hard on the strap arms of his camp-chair. 'They can't do it! They can't compel me to do it!'
Emphatic gesture was not a strong point with Grant, and what I had just witnessed showed me that he had been stirred profoundly.
"Have you said this to the President?" I asked.
"No,' said Grant "I have not thought it worth while to assure the President of my opinion. I consider it as important for the cause that he should be elected as that the army should be successful in the field."
Early the next morning we parted, and he sent me to Norfolk on the headquarters boat. From thence I went as quickly as possible to Washington. When I again entered Mr. Lincoln's room, he greeted me with an eager question:
"Well," said he, "what did you find?"
"You were right," I said, and repeated the emphatic answer Grant had made to the proposition.
The President fairly glowed with satisfaction. "I told you," said he, "they could not get him to run until he had closed out the rebellion."84
Pennsylvania Republican leader Alexander K. McClure was a vocal rant critic who often voiced his complaints to President Lincoln. The high casualty rate suffered but the Union army in the spring of 1864 generated much criticism. Civil War scholar Edward H. Bonekemper wrote:"The pace toward victory, accompanied by an increase in casualties, quickened in 1864 as Grant aggressively pursued Lee and sought to ensure Lincoln's reelection. Meade's Army of the Potomac, under the personal supervision of Grant, did suffer high casualties during its drive to Petersburg and Richmond. However, it imposed an even higher percentage of casualties on Lee's army.'"85 McClure recalled: "I doubt whether Grant ever understood how Lincoln, single and alone, protected him from dishonor in the tempest of popular passion that came upon him after the disaster at Shiloh. Grant never was in Washington until he was summoned there early in 1864 to be commissioned as Lieutenant-General, and he was entirely without personal acquaintance with Lincoln. After he became Commander-in-Chief he made his headquarters in the field with the Army of the Potomac, and was rarely in Washington after he crossed the Rapidan and opened the campaign by the battles of the Wilderness. That he frequently saw Lincoln between February and May while perfecting his plans for army movements is well known, but Grant was one of the most silent men and most of all reluctant to talk about himself, while Lincoln was equally reserved in all things pertaining to himself personally. Especially where he had rendered any service to another he would be quite unlikely to speak of its himself. Judging the two men from their chief and very marked characteristics, it is entirely reasonable to assume that what Lincoln did to save Grant from disgrace was never discussed or referred to by them in personal conversation. Grant never, in way known to the public, recognized any such obligation to Lincoln, and no utterance ever came from him indicating anything more than the respect for Lincoln due from a general to his chief."86. McClure undoubtedly exaggerated. Shortly after the 1864 election, Lincoln aide John Hay wrote in his diary that Grant "is deeply impressed with the vast importance and significance of the late Presidential election. The point which impressed him most powerfully was that which I regarded as the critical one - the pivotal centre of our history - the quiet and orderly character of the whole affair. No bloodshed or riot - few frauds and those detected and punished in an exemplary manner."87
Lincoln and Grant understood that the war must be won before a possible Democratic administration took office and took over the war. Grant biographer John Mosier wrote: "The grand strategic problem Grant faced was...[the] Confederacy was down to an intractable core with substantial forces in the field, and showed no signs of being ready to quit, while the Union electorate was increasingly wobbly. There was a very real chance that the Democrats would prevail in the fall elections, and end the war on any terms they could." 88 Bruce Catton wrote: "Whether Grant and Lincoln were right or wrong in the belief that the war would be lost if a Democratic administration took control of it, they obviously did believe it, and they were quite right in arguing that the war had to be won politically as well as on the battlefield. That was what made it necessary to put up with [Benjamin] Butler's incompetence in command at Bermuda Hundred at the same time that it was necessary to get rid of incompetence in command on the upper Potomac - and that, in the end, was why there could not be a general in high command who was genuinely nonpartisan."89 Victory was not easy or pretty, but as historian James McPherson noted, "Lincoln's reelection and Grant's determination to stay the course brought victory in end."90 After the election, Grant wired General Henry W. Halleck: "Congratulate the President for me for the double victory. The election having passed off quietly, no bloodshed or riot throughout the land, is a victory worth more to the country than a battle won."91
Civil War scholar Edward H. Bonekemper wrote: "In sharp contrast to Lee and McClellan, Grant rarely pleaded for reinforcements....Even when he could have used more troops, he made do with what he had. Lincoln confirmed this when he said, "General Grant is a copious worker and fighter, but a very meager writer or telegrapher. [Grant] doesn't worry and bother me. He isn't shrieking for reinforcements all the time. He take what troops we can safely give him...and does the best he can with what he has got."92 Presidential aide William O. Stoddard recalled President Lincoln telling him that Grant was different from other generals. "You see, when any of the rest set out on a campaign, they'd look over matters and pick out some one thing they were short of and they knew I couldn't give 'em, and tell me they couldn't hope to win unless they had it, and it was most generally cavalry....Now when Grant took hold, I was waiting to see what his pet impossibility would be, and I reckoned it would be cavalry, as a matter of course, for we hadn't horses enough to mount even what men we had. There were 15,000 or thereabouts, up near Harper's Ferry, and no horses to put them on. Well, the other day, just as I expected, Grant sent to me about those very men; but what he wanted to know was whether he should disband 'em or turn 'em into infantry. He doesn't ask me to do impossibilities for him, and he's the first general I've had that didn't."93 Grant's insight into the strains of Lincoln's position was reflected in July 1863 when he sent a letter of introduction for a meeting with his top aide John Rawlins: "I know in asking this you will feel relieved when I tell you he has not a favor to ask for himself or any other living being. Even in my position it is a great luxury to meet a gentleman who has no 'Axe to grind' and I can appreciate that it is infinitely more so in yours."94
According to Stoddard, years later Grant listened to "a report of this very conversation" and commented: "Well, it gives about my idea of the truth of what they call Lincoln's interference with military plans. He never interfered with me from the beginning to the end." Stoddard wrote that President Lincoln said: "As soon as I put a man in command of the army he'd come to me with a plan of campaign and about as much as says, 'Now, I don't believe I can do it, but if you say so I'll try it on.'"95 President Lincoln wrote Grant in April 1864:
Not expecting to see you again before the Spring campaign opens, wish to express in this my entire satisfaction with what you have done up to this time, as far as I understand it. This particulars of your plans I neither know nor seek to know. You are vigilant and self-reliant; and, pleased with this, I wish not to obtrude any constraints or restraints upon You. While I am very anxious that any great disaster, or the capture of our men in great numbers, shall be avoided, I know these points are less likely to escape your attention than they would be mine. If there is anything wanting which is within my power to give, do not fail to let me know it. And now with a brave army, and a just cause, may God sustain you. 96
In response General Grant wrote: "The confidence you express for the future and satisfaction for the past in my military administration is acknowledged with pride. It shall be my earnest endeavor that you and the country shall not be disappointed. From my first entrance into the volunteer service of the country to the present day, I have never had cause of complaint -- have never expressed or implied a complaint against the Administration or the Secretary of War, for throwing any embarrassment in the way of my vigorously prosecuting what appeared to be my duty. And since the promotion which placed me in command of all the armies, and in view of the great responsibility an the importance of success. I have been astonished at the readiness with which everything asked for has been yielded, without even an explanation being asked. Should my success be less than I desire and expect, the least I can say is, the fault is not with you."97
Although he disdained politics, Grant had his own set of useful political instincts when it came to dealing with the President. Biographer William S. McFeely wrote: "Unlike countless other generals, Grant always remembered to defer to Washington, D.C., even in times of exultation or desperation. Grant sensed that by doing so he could give the politicians victories."98 Grant, however, did not like political generals - especially Generals Benjamin Butler and Nathaniel Banks. He had plenty of opportunity to observe Banks' failures in Louisiana. He wrote: "I have been satisfied to the last nine months that to keep General Banks in command was to neutralize a large force and to support it most expensively."99 But Grant's reputation with the President was sufficiently strong that in 1863 he could fire General John McClernand, an important Illinois Democrat and personal friend of Mr. Lincoln. The President sustained Grant - even though it was months before the two men were actually to meet in March 1864.
Lincoln friend Henry C. Whitney contended that Grant did no more than necessary to assist in the reelection of President Lincoln in 1864. In his memoirs, Whitney quoted Grant's orders regarding soldier suffrage in the 1865 election: "The exercise of the right of suffrage by an army in the field has generally been considered dangerous to constitutional liberty, as well as subversive to military discipline. But our circumstances are moral and exceptional. A very large proportion of the legal voters of the United States are now either under arms in the field, or in hospitals, or otherwise engaged in the military service of the United States. Most of these men, if not regular soldiers, in the strict sense of the term, still less are they mercenaries, who give their services to the government simply for its pay, having little understanding of political questions, or feeling little or no interest in them. On the contrary, they are American citizens, having still their homes and social and political ties binding them to the states and districts from which they came, and to which they expect to return." According to Whitney, "There is much in this document, in the highest degree, commendable; and in a time of peace, probably no exception could be taken to it, in any way: but in view of the close affinity between the leading supporters of the McClellan ticket and the Jeff. Davis government: in view of the fact, that the success of that ticket meant a stoppage of the war when that administration should arrive at power, and the demoralization of our army meanwhile, in the case of its success; it is an indefensible document. It goes on the assumption that this election was an ordinary one, with ordinary results: which was not the case."100
Although Whitney noted that Grant congratulated President Lincoln after his reelection, he observed that President Lincoln himself said: "I have no reason to suppose that General Grant desires my election any more than he does that of McClellan." Whitney argued that "Lincoln was the most astute man of his time, and evidently had abundant reason for not asking aid from Grant, in the salvation of the nation at the polls, which he readily asked of Sheridan and Meade."101 Nevertheless, when Congressman Washburne had requested Grant's permission to use a letter Grant had written President Lincoln in the fall campaign, Grant had written: "I have no objection to the President using any thing I have ever written to him as he sees fit - I think however for him to attempt to answer all the charges the opposition will bring against him will be like setting a maiden to work to prove her chastity- "102 Grant steered clear of direct involvement in the fall political campaign, but he and General William T. Sherman facilitated leave for soldiers to vote in key states like Indiana. Whitney clearly thought Grant was somewhat of an ingrate, but the evidence seems to suggest otherwise.
The best way that Grant could repay Lincoln was with military victory over Confederate forces. Historian Richard J. Carwardine wrote: "In Ulysses S. Grant Lincoln had a commander whose aggressive strategy and overall plan bore striking parallels to his own. Grant understood the need to synchronize the activity of the Union forces in the eastern and western theaters; to put the destruction of the enemy's armies before occupying strategic positions; to advance across the whole front; and to turn those troops passively occupying captured territory into active raiders. He discussed his thinking with Lincoln, explaining that 'it was his intention to make all the line useful - those not fighting could help the fighting'. According to Hay, the president 'recognized with especial pleasure' his own ideas, remarking, 'those not skinning can hold a leg.'"103 Lincoln wanted every Union resource brought to bear on the defeat of the Confederacy.
Unlike McClellan, Grant was smart enough to let the President know about military developments. Historian James G. Randall wrote: "Grant kept him informed by frequent telegrams, which Lincoln forwarded to Stanton at the war department, with his own summaries and comments. But Grant, according to his memoirs, did not confide to Lincoln the fullness of his intentions, which were to capture Richmond and Petersburg and dispose of Lee's army without waiting for Sherman's men to join in the final assault."104 Historian Bruce Catton wrote: "Grant once remarked that of all the headquarters visitors he ever had, Lincoln was the only one (except for Secretary Stanton) who had a right to ask what his plans were, and that Lincoln was the only one who never asked about them. In his Memoirs, Grant explained: "I would have let him know what I contemplated doing, only while I felt a strong conviction that the move was going to be successful, yet it might not prove so; and then I would only have added another to the many disappointments he had been suffering for the past three years."105
President Lincoln visited General Grant at his headquarters at City Point on June 21, 1864. Grant's drive to take Richmond had stalled after bloody Union defeats at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor. Grant biographer Brooks D. Simpson wrote: "Abraham Lincoln had decided to see matters for himself. Only a week earlier he had been confident that Grant's crossing of the James would achieve great things. 'I begin to see it,' he wired Grant. 'You will succeed. God bless you all.'"106 Grant aide Horace Porter wrote his wife: "A few days ago we were sitting in front of the general's tent when there appeared very suddenly before us a long, lank looking personage, dressed all in black, and looking very much like a boss undertaker. It was the President. He said, after shaking hands with all, 'I just thought I would jump aboard a boat and come down and see you.'I don't expect I can do much good, and in fact I'm afraid I may do some harm, but I'll just put myself under your orders and if you find me doing anything wrong just send me away[.]' Gen. Grant informed him bluntly that he certainly would do that. The old fellow remained with us till the next day, and told stories all the time."
Historian Freeman Cleaves wrote that "the President could show that he was mindful of the welfare of his fighting men, and he could relax in the informal atmosphere of General Grant's camp, the national headquarters. He had no strategic ideas to offer, but when more fighting was mentioned, he earnestly remarked, 'I cannot pretend to advise, but I do sincerely hope that all may be accomplished with as little bloodshed as possible.' Saddened by the heavy casualty lists, Lincoln had lost interest in battles as such. Nevertheless, perfect faith still prevailed between him and his General in Chief, a great alliance in history."108 Brooks Simpson noted: "Not everyone there was happy to see the visitor. 'No one knows what he came for,' Meade's son, an aide, complained." 109
The visit to the front may not have been good for the army, but it was good for Lincoln. Riding back from a review of the Army of the Potomac, according to Adam Badeau, the President "passed through the black troops of the Eighteenth corps, which had fought so gallantly in the first assaults on Petersburg. They crowded around him, anxious to see the man who had liberated them, and cheers and cries of joy and affection arose on every hand. These men who had been slaves, pressing up in the garb of soldiers, to bless and look upon him who was now their President and chief, made a sight to impress the dullest imagination."110 On June 23, Hay wrote in his diary: "The President arrived today from the front, sunburnt and fagged but still refreshed and cheered. He found the army in fine health good position and good spirits; Grant quietly confident: he says quoting the Richmond papers, it may be a long summer's day before he does his work but that he is as sure of doing it as he is of anything in the world."111 Despite the stalemate encountered by the Union forces outside Richmond, President Lincoln maintained his faith in Grant. In reply to a Grant message in August, President Lincoln replied: "I have seen your despatch expressing your unwillingness to break your hold where you are. Neither am I willing. Hold on with a bull-dog gripe, and chew & choke, as much as possible."112 John Eaton went to Washington to report on the condition of freedmen, but he recognized that Mr. Lincoln's "close questioning in regard to Grant was the most remarkable feature of the interview, From that day to this there has been a growing conviction in my mind that the President meant to find out what his 'fighting General' thought of his policy. What Lincoln thought of Grant was pretty well determined, but true to his habit he let slip no opportunity by which he might gain a clearer view of the character of the man he was dealing with or of the march of those events which in so great a measure he himself controlled."113
By the beginning of 1865, wrote biographer Brooks D. Simpson, "What had begun as a sometimes uneasy alliance now showed signs of blossoming into a true friendship."114 On January 19, 1865, the President wrote General Ulysses S. Grant: "Please read and answer this letter as though I was not President, but only a friend-- My son, now in his twenty-second year, having graduated at Harvard, wishes to see something of the war before it ends; I do not wish to put him in the ranks, nor yet to give him a commission, to which those who have already served long are better entitled, and better qualified to hold. Could he, without embarrassment to you, or detriment to the service, go into your Military family with some nominal rank, I, and not the public, furnishing his necessary means? If no, say so without the least hesitation, because I am as anxious & as deeply interested, that you shall not be encumbered, as you can be yourself-"115 Grant responded: "I will be most happy to have him in my Military family in the manner you propose."116 Robert joined General Grant's staff in February. Biographer Goff wrote: "Before leaving home Robert purchased a riding horse. The seller brought the animal to the White House and at first demanded $200, although the President thought it was worth only $150. The sale was eventually made at the lower figure, while an observer listened 'to the comments of the quiet, businesslike father and the more enthusiastic son.'"117
The Grant-Lincoln relationship continuing to strengthen as the end of the war neared. On March 20, General Grant invited Lincoln to visit the Union troops closing in on Petersburg and Richmond: "Can you not visit City Point for a day or two? I would like very much to see you and I think the rest would do you good."118 Julia Grant recalled in her memoirs: "While I was at headquarters in March, 1865, the papers daily announced the exhausted appearance of the President. On more than one occasion, I petitioned the General with hospitable intent to invite Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln down to visit the army; so many people were coming, and the weather was simply delightful. The General would always reply to my request: 'If President Lincoln wishes to come down, he will not wait to be asked. It is not my place to invite him.' 'Yes,' I urged, 'it is. You know all that has been said about his interference with army movements, and he will never come for fear appearing to meddle with army affairs.' But the General did not invite them. One day, Captain Robert Lincoln, in reply to my inquiries about his father's health and my asking why his father and mother did not come down on a visit, said: 'I suppose they would, if they were sure they would not be intruding.'"119
The President immediately responded and soon departed by ship for Grant's headquarters at City Point. White House guard William H. Crook recalled "It was known at Grant headquarters that the President was coming, and a lookout had been kept. As soon as the River Queen was made fast to the wharf, General Grant with some members of his staff came aboard. They had a long consultation with the President, at the end of which Mr. Lincoln appeared particularly happy. General Grant had evidently made him feel that the end of the conflict was at hand, nearer than he had expected." The next day, Crook recalled: "We all went ashore and visited General Grant's headquarters. After the greetings, General Grant invited the President to take a ride to the front, where General Meade was in command. When we started, Mr. Lincoln was seen to be on a black pony belonging to General Grant. The name of the animal was Jeff Davis. Everybody laughed at the idea, and at the sight, too, for the President's feet nearly touched the ground."120
General Grant asked the President to visit Petersburg after it was captured. Lincoln bodyguard William H. Crook recalled: "At the end of fifteen miles we reached Petersburg, and were met by Captain Robert Lincoln, of General Grant's staff, who, with some other officers, escorted us to General Grant. We found him and the rest of his staff sitting on the piazza of a white frame house. Grant did not look like one's idea of a conquering hero. He didn't appear exultant, and he was as quiet as he had ever been. The meeting between Grant and Lincoln was cordial; the President was almost affectionate."121 After President Lincoln returned from his tour of Petersburg with General Grant, he reported to Mrs. Grant - "calling to me he had left General Grant looking well and full of hope."122
Historian Bruce Catton wrote: "According to a famous account written long afterward by Adam Badeau, Mrs. Lincoln made an unpleasant scene because she felt that Mrs. Ord, accompanying the official party on horseback, rode a little too close to President Lincoln. (Julia didn't remember it that way at all. She said Mary Lincoln displayed no jealousy and make no complaint except to remark quietly: "Mrs. Ord is making the President a little ridiculous. I wish the President wouldn't do that.")123 Mrs. Grant's recollections of the meeting between the Lincolns were much less sensational that related by Grant aide Badeau in his memoirs. Julia recalled that Robert Lincoln "entered our cabin and announced in happy haste the arrival of the President and Mrs. Lincoln. We immediately proposed calling on them in their boat. The Captain volunteered to escort us. He had already seen them. I suppose the President's arrival was kept quiet for a purpose, but I was not satisfied, not being able to divest myself of the idea that I was somehow hostess, and so I urged not only a flourish of trumpets, but a grand salute to these guests, so distinguished and so honored."3
Our gracious President met us at the gangplank, greeted the General most heartily, and, giving me his arm, conducted us to where Mrs. Lincoln was awaiting us. She received us most cordially, and as soon as a few words of greeting had passed, the President said: 'Now, I am going to leave you two ladies together while the General and I go for a few moments to my room where we can have a little talk without being interrupted. Eh, General?'"
On the departure of the gentlemen, Mrs. Lincoln politely pointed to the little sofa from which she had arisen and invited me to be seated. As I was standing near her, I seated myself beside her on this small sofa; then, seeing a look of surprise from Mrs. Lincoln, I immediately started up, exclaiming, 'I crowd you, I fear.' She kindly extended her hand to detain me, saying, 'not at all.' So I remained where I was for a few moments and then quietly took a chair near her. On my return to camp, in reply to inquiries as to my visit, I related this very awkward mistake on my part, and from this little incident innocently related, and, as I remember, casting blame on myself if there was any, saying, 'I was a trifle embarrassed, or I would not have taken that seat,' is woven the sensational story so recently published."124
In the Badeau narrative to which Mrs. Grant referred, the dialogue was much harsher. "How dare you be seated, until I invite you," Mrs. Lincoln supposedly told Mrs. Grant.125
During this visit, President Lincoln met with Admiral Porter and Generals Grant and William T. Sherman. Horace Porter wrote: "It was in no sense a council of war, but only an informal interchange of views between the four men who, more than any others, held the destiny of the nation in their hands. Upon the return of the generals and the admiral to headquarters."126 After the conference of military leaders at City Point, Sherman wrote his wife: "Grant is the same enthusiastic friend. Mr. Lincoln at City Point was lavish in his good wishes and Since Mr. Stanton visited me at Savannah he too has become the warmest possible friend."127 Porter recalled: "About 8:30 Mr. Lincoln came ashore to say good-by. We had the satisfaction of hearing one good story from him before parting. General Grant was telling him about the numerous ingenious and impracticable suggestions that were made to him almost daily as to the best way of destroying the enemy, and said: 'The last plan proposed was to supply our men with bayonets just a foot longer than those of the enemy, and then charge them. When they met, our bayonets would go clear through the enemy, while theirs would not reach far enough to touch our men, and the war would be ended."128 However, historian Richard N. Current noted: "Almost to the end, Grant continued to keep secrets from the President. The latter was nearby, at City Point, when Grant launched the final push that drove the defenders out of Richmond and Petersburg. 'I would have let him know what I contemplated doing,' Grant wrote afterward, 'only while I felt a strong conviction that the move was going to be successful, yet it might not prove so; and then I would have only added another to the many disappointments he had been suffering for the past three years."129
Grant was certainly preparing for the final push by the Army of the Potomac. According to Horace Porter, "The general soon after bade an affectionate good-by to Mrs. Grant, kissing her repeatedly as she stood at the front door of his quarters. She bore the parting bravely, although her pale face and sorrowful look told the sadness that was in her heart. The party, accompanied by the President, then walked down the railroad-station. Mr. Lincoln looked more serious than at any other time since he had visited headquarters. The lines in his face seemed deeper, and the rings under his eyes were of a darker hue. It was plain that the weight of responsibility was oppressing him. Could it have a premonition that with the end of this last campaign would come the end of his life? Five minutes' walk brought the party to the train. There the President gave the general and each member of the staff a cordial shake of the hand, and then stood near the rear end of the car while we mounted the platform. As the train was about to start we all raised our hats respectfully. The salute was returned by the President, and he said in a voice broken by an emotion he could ill conceal: 'Good-by, gentlemen. God bless you all! Remember, your success is my success.' The signal was given to start; the train moved off; Grant's last campaign had begun."130
After Grant received the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox on April 9, the Grants traveled to Washington. They arrived on Thursday, April 13 in time for a "Grand Illumination" of the city in honor of the Confederate surrender earlier that week. The Grants had expected to view the illumination with Secretary of War Stanton and his wife. Mary Lincoln sent them an invitation to visit the White House and then toured with the Lincolns. President Lincoln, however, was ill and instead only conferred with Grant and Stanton at the White House. Charles Bracelen Flood wrote that after touring with the Stantons and attending a reception at their house, General Grant returned to the White House to "escort the wife of our President to see the illumination."131
Julia Grant recalled that a message came to her at the Willard's Hotel at mid-day on Friday, April 14, informing her that Mrs. Lincoln would pick up the Grants at 8 P.M. to go to the theater. "Mrs. Lincoln sends me, Madam, with her compliments, to say she will call for your at exactly eight o'clock to go to the theater." Mrs. Grant did not like the tone of the invitation. She sent her regrets to the White House. Then, she "dispatched a note to General Grant entreating him to take me home [to New Jersey] that evening; that I did not want to go to the theater; that he must take me home. I not only wrote to him, but sent three of his staff officers who called pay their respects to me to urge the General to go home that night. I do not know what possessed me to take such a freak, but go home I felt I must. The General sent me word to have my trunks ready and for Jesse and me to have our luncheon, and, if he could be in time, we would take the late afternoon train for Philadelphia."132 Grant aide Horace Porter wrote: "The general... had been so completely besieged by the people since his arrival, and was so constantly the subject of outbursts of enthusiasm, that it had become a little embarrassing to him, and the mention of a demonstration in his honor at the theater did not appeal to him as an argument in favor of going."133 Early that evening, the Grants went to the train station. That night, President Lincoln was assassinated. Afterwards, Julia Grant lamented: ""With my heart full of sorrow, I went many times to call on dear heart-broken Mrs. Lincoln, but she could not see me."134
What the general and the President shared was a determination to pursue the Civil War to victory. President Lincoln told artist Francis Carpenter: "The great thing about Grant, I take it, in his perfect coolness and persistency of purpose. I judge he is not easily excited, which is a great element in an officer, and has the grip of a bulldog. Once let him get his teeth in and nothing can shake him off."135 The simplicity that characterized was reflected in the message that Grant had sent the commander of Fort Donelson: "No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works."136 Historian Allan Nevins wrote that Grant's "principal gift was that which English-speaking peoples have always esteemed most, strength of character...For the work of the fighter, however, he had better qualities than those of the cerebral gymnast. One was logical vision. He was a clear, simple, thinker, with the power of sorting out from many facts the few that were vitally important, of seeing in a complex situation the basic outline...His soundness of judgment was supported, like Lee's and Wellington's, by traits that helped make him a great captain. First of the these was his decisive promptness. Having made up his mind about a situation, he moved. He did not wait for perfection in training and equipment, an impeccable plan, or overwhelming numerical superiority....Second, was his nerve; in tight squeezes he kept his head...A third trait was his tenacity. He never knew when he was beaten, for he had the bulldog instinct to hold fast....And another invaluable trait was his strong instinct for obedience to the civil war...Much might also be said about his modesty, contrasting with the strut of other generals; his avoidance of loose language and profanity; his Spartan regimen, a weakness for liquor at relaxed moments excepted; and his generosity to the foe..."137
The partnership of Ulysses S. Grant and Abraham Lincoln saved the Union. Grant biographer Jean Edward Smith wrote: "Lincoln and Grant deserve the nation's credit for saving the United States, eradicating slavery, and striving to provide equality for the freedman. One could not have succeeded without the other. And while Lincoln set the course, it was Grant who sailed the ship."138