Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant

The city was filled with Union fugitives who had been driven by
guerilla bands to take refuge with the National troops. They
were in a deplorable condition and must have starved but for the
support the government gave them. They had generally made their
escape with a team or two, sometimes a yoke of oxen with a mule
or a horse in the lead. A little bedding besides their clothing
and some food had been thrown into the wagon. All else of their
worldly goods were abandoned and appropriated by their former
neighbors; for the Union man in Missouri who staid at home
during the rebellion, if he was not immediately under the
protection of the National troops, was at perpetual war with his
neighbors. I stopped the recruiting service, and disposed the
troops about the outskirts of the city so as to guard all
approaches. Order was soon restored.

I had been at Jefferson City but a few days when I was directed
from department headquarters to fit out an expedition to
Lexington, Booneville and Chillicothe, in order to take from the
banks in those cities all the funds they had and send them to St.
Louis. The western army had not yet been supplied with
transportation. It became necessary therefore to press into the
service teams belonging to sympathizers with the rebellion or to
hire those of Union men. This afforded an opportunity of giving
employment to such of the refugees within our lines as had teams
suitable for our purposes. They accepted the service with
alacrity. As fast as troops could be got off they were moved
west some twenty miles or more. In seven or eight days from my
assuming command at Jefferson City, I had all the troops, except
a small garrison, at an advanced position and expected to join
them myself the next day.

But my campaigns had not yet begun, for while seated at my
office door, with nothing further to do until it was time to
start for the front, I saw an officer of rank approaching, who
proved to be Colonel Jefferson C. Davis. I had never met him
before, but he introduced himself by handing me an order for him
to proceed to Jefferson City and relieve me of the command. The
orders directed that I should report at department headquarters
at St. Louis without delay, to receive important special
instructions. It was about an hour before the only regular
train of the day would start. I therefore turned over to
Colonel Davis my orders, and hurriedly stated to him the
progress that had been made to carry out the department
instructions already described. I had at that time but one
staff officer, doing myself all the detail work usually
performed by an adjutant-general. In an hour after being
relieved from the command I was on my way to St. Louis, leaving
my single staff officer(*6) to follow the next day with our
horses and baggage.

The “important special instructions” which I received the next
day, assigned me to the command of the district of south-east
Missouri, embracing all the territory south of St. Louis, in
Missouri, as well as all southern Illinois. At first I was to
take personal command of a combined expedition that had been
ordered for the capture of Colonel Jeff. Thompson, a sort of
independent or partisan commander who was disputing with us the
possession of south-east Missouri. Troops had been ordered to
move from Ironton to Cape Girardeau, sixty or seventy miles to
the south-east, on the Mississippi River; while the forces at
Cape Girardeau had been ordered to move to Jacksonville, ten
miles out towards Ironton; and troops at Cairo and Bird’s Point,
at the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, were to hold
themselves in readiness to go down the Mississippi to Belmont,
eighteen miles below, to be moved west from there when an
officer should come to command them. I was the officer who had
been selected for this purpose. Cairo was to become my
headquarters when the expedition terminated.

In pursuance of my orders I established my temporary
headquarters at Cape Girardeau and sent instructions to the
commanding officer at Jackson, to inform me of the approach of
General Prentiss from Ironton. Hired wagons were kept moving
night and day to take additional rations to Jackson, to supply
the troops when they started from there. Neither General
Prentiss nor Colonel Marsh, who commanded at Jackson, knew their
destination. I drew up all the instructions for the contemplated
move, and kept them in my pocket until I should hear of the
junction of our troops at Jackson. Two or three days after my
arrival at Cape Girardeau, word came that General Prentiss was
approaching that place (Jackson). I started at once to meet him
there and to give him his orders. As I turned the first corner
of a street after starting, I saw a column of cavalry passing
the next street in front of me. I turned and rode around the
block the other way, so as to meet the head of the column. I
found there General Prentiss himself, with a large escort. He
had halted his troops at Jackson for the night, and had come on
himself to Cape Girardeau, leaving orders for his command to
follow him in the morning. I gave the General his orders–which
stopped him at Jackson–but he was very much aggrieved at being
placed under another brigadier-general, particularly as he
believed himself to be the senior. He had been a brigadier, in
command at Cairo, while I was mustering officer at Springfield
without any rank. But we were nominated at the same time for
the United States service, and both our commissions bore date
May 17th, 1861. By virtue of my former army rank I was, by law,
the senior. General Prentiss failed to get orders to his troops
to remain at Jackson, and the next morning early they were
reported as approaching Cape Girardeau. I then ordered the
General very peremptorily to countermarch his command and take
it back to Jackson. He obeyed the order, but bade his command
adieu when he got them to Jackson, and went to St. Louis and
reported himself. This broke up the expedition. But little
harm was done, as Jeff. Thompson moved light and had no fixed
place for even nominal headquarters. He was as much at home in
Arkansas as he was in Missouri and would keep out of the way of
a superior force. Prentiss was sent to another part of the

General Prentiss made a great mistake on the above occasion, one
that he would not have committed later in the war. When I came
to know him better, I regretted it much. In consequence of this
occurrence he was off duty in the field when the principal
campaign at the West was going on, and his juniors received
promotion while he was where none could be obtained. He would
have been next to myself in rank in the district of south-east
Missouri, by virtue of his services in the Mexican war. He was
a brave and very earnest soldier. No man in the service was
more sincere in his devotion to the cause for which we were
battling; none more ready to make sacrifices or risk life in it.

On the 4th of September I removed my headquarters to Cairo and
found Colonel Richard Oglesby in command of the post. We had
never met, at least not to my knowledge. After my promotion I
had ordered my brigadier-general’s uniform from New York, but it
had not yet arrived, so that I was in citizen’s dress. The
Colonel had his office full of people, mostly from the
neighboring States of Missouri and Kentucky, making complaints
or asking favors. He evidently did not catch my name when I was
presented, for on my taking a piece of paper from the table where
he was seated and writing the order assuming command of the
district of south-east Missouri, Colonel Richard J. Oglesby to
command the post at Bird’s Point, and handing it to him, he put
on an expression of surprise that looked a little as if he would
like to have some one identify me. But he surrendered the office
without question.

The day after I assumed command at Cairo a man came to me who
said he was a scout of General Fremont. He reported that he had
just come from Columbus, a point on the Mississippi twenty miles
below on the Kentucky side, and that troops had started from
there, or were about to start, to seize Paducah, at the mouth of
the Tennessee. There was no time for delay; I reported by
telegraph to the department commander the information I had
received, and added that I was taking steps to get off that
night to be in advance of the enemy in securing that important
point. There was a large number of steamers Iying at Cairo and
a good many boatmen were staying in the town. It was the work
of only a few hours to get the boats manned, with coal aboard
and steam up. Troops were also designated to go aboard. The
distance from Cairo to Paducah is about forty-five miles. I did
not wish to get there before daylight of the 6th, and directed
therefore that the boats should lie at anchor out in the stream
until the time to start. Not having received an answer to my
first dispatch, I again telegraphed to department headquarters
that I should start for Paducah that night unless I received
further orders. Hearing nothing, we started before midnight and
arrived early the following morning, anticipating the enemy by
probably not over six or eight hours. It proved very fortunate
that the expedition against Jeff. Thompson had been broken up.
Had it not been, the enemy would have seized Paducah and
fortified it, to our very great annoyance.

When the National troops entered the town the citizens were
taken by surprise. I never after saw such consternation
depicted on the faces of the people. Men, women and children
came out of their doors looking pale and frightened at the
presence of the invader. They were expecting rebel troops that
day. In fact, nearly four thousand men from Columbus were at
that time within ten or fifteen miles of Paducah on their way to
occupy the place. I had but two regiments and one battery with
me, but the enemy did not know this and returned to Columbus. I
stationed my troops at the best points to guard the roads leading
into the city, left gunboats to guard the river fronts and by
noon was ready to start on my return to Cairo. Before leaving,
however, I addressed a short printed proclamation to the
citizens of Paducah assuring them of our peaceful intentions,
that we had come among them to protect them against the enemies
of our country, and that all who chose could continue their
usual avocations with assurance of the protection of the
government. This was evidently a relief to them; but the
majority would have much preferred the presence of the other
army. I reinforced Paducah rapidly from the troops at Cape
Girardeau; and a day or two later General C. F. Smith, a most
accomplished soldier, reported at Cairo and was assigned to the
command of the post at the mouth of the Tennessee. In a short
time it was well fortified and a detachment was sent to occupy
Smithland, at the mouth of the Cumberland.

The State government of Kentucky at that time was rebel in
sentiment, but wanted to preserve an armed neutrality between
the North and the South, and the governor really seemed to think
the State had a perfect right to maintain a neutral position. The
rebels already occupied two towns in the State, Columbus and
Hickman, on the Mississippi; and at the very moment the National
troops were entering Paducah from the Ohio front, General Lloyd
Tilghman–a Confederate–with his staff and a small detachment
of men, were getting out in the other direction, while, as I
have already said, nearly four thousand Confederate troops were
on Kentucky soil on their way to take possession of the town.
But, in the estimation of the governor and of those who thought
with him, this did not justify the National authorities in
invading the soil of Kentucky. I informed the legislature of
the State of what I was doing, and my action was approved by the
majority of that body. On my return to Cairo I found authority
from department headquarters for me to take Paducah “if I felt
strong enough,” but very soon after I was reprimanded from the
same quarters for my correspondence with the legislature and
warned against a repetition of the offence.

Soon after I took command at Cairo, General Fremont entered into
arrangements for the exchange of the prisoners captured at Camp
Jackson in the month of May. I received orders to pass them
through my lines to Columbus as they presented themselves with
proper credentials. Quite a number of these prisoners I had
been personally acquainted with before the war. Such of them as
I had so known were received at my headquarters as old
acquaintances, and ordinary routine business was not disturbed
by their presence. On one occasion when several were present in
my office my intention to visit Cape Girardeau the next day, to
inspect the troops at that point, was mentioned. Something
transpired which postponed my trip; but a steamer employed by
the government was passing a point some twenty or more miles
above Cairo, the next day, when a section of rebel artillery
with proper escort brought her to. A major, one of those who
had been at my headquarters the day before, came at once aboard
and after some search made a direct demand for my delivery. It
was hard to persuade him that I was not there. This officer was
Major Barrett, of St. Louis. I had been acquainted with his
family before the war.



From the occupation of Paducah up to the early part of November
nothing important occurred with the troops under my command. I
was reinforced from time to time and the men were drilled and
disciplined preparatory for the service which was sure to
come. By the 1st of November I had not fewer than 20,000 men,
most of them under good drill and ready to meet any equal body
of men who, like themselves, had not yet been in an
engagement. They were growing impatient at lying idle so long,
almost in hearing of the guns of the enemy they had volunteered
to fight against. I asked on one or two occasions to be allowed
to move against Columbus. It could have been taken soon after
the occupation of Paducah; but before November it was so
strongly fortified that it would have required a large force and
a long siege to capture it.

In the latter part of October General Fremont took the field in
person and moved from Jefferson City against General Sterling
Price, who was then in the State of Missouri with a considerable
command. About the first of November I was directed from
department headquarters to make a demonstration on both sides of
the Mississippi River with the view of detaining the rebels at
Columbus within their lines. Before my troops could be got off,
I was notified from the same quarter that there were some 3,000
of the enemy on the St. Francis River about fifty miles west, or
south-west, from Cairo, and was ordered to send another force
against them. I dispatched Colonel Oglesby at once with troops
sufficient to compete with the reported number of the enemy. On
the 5th word came from the same source that the rebels were about
to detach a large force from Columbus to be moved by boats down
the Mississippi and up the White River, in Arkansas, in order to
reinforce Price, and I was directed to prevent this movement if
possible. I accordingly sent a regiment from Bird’s Point under
Colonel W. H. L. Wallace to overtake and reinforce Oglesby, with
orders to march to New Madrid, a point some distance below
Columbus, on the Missouri side. At the same time I directed
General C. F. Smith to move all the troops he could spare from
Paducah directly against Columbus, halting them, however, a few
miles from the town to await further orders from me. Then I
gathered up all the troops at Cairo and Fort Holt, except
suitable guards, and moved them down the river on steamers
convoyed by two gunboats, accompanying them myself. My force
consisted of a little over 3,000 men and embraced five regiments
of infantry, two guns and two companies of cavalry. We dropped
down the river on the 6th to within about six miles of Columbus,
debarked a few men on the Kentucky side and established pickets
to connect with the troops from Paducah.

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