Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant

With a war in prospect, and belonging to a regiment that had an
unusual number of officers detailed on special duty away from
the regiment, my hopes of being ordered to West Point as
instructor vanished. At the time of which I now write, officers
in the quartermaster’s, commissary’s and adjutant–general’s
departments were appointed from the line of the army, and did
not vacate their regimental commissions until their regimental
and staff commissions were for the same grades. Generally
lieutenants were appointed to captaincies to fill vacancies in
the staff corps. If they should reach a captaincy in the line
before they arrived at a majority in the staff, they would elect
which commission they would retain. In the 4th infantry, in
1844, at least six line officers were on duty in the staff, and
therefore permanently detached from the regiment. Under these
circumstances I gave up everything like a special course of
reading, and only read thereafter for my own amusement, and not
very much for that, until the war was over. I kept a horse and
rode, and staid out of doors most of the time by day, and
entirely recovered from the cough which I had carried from West
Point, and from all indications of consumption. I have often
thought that my life was saved, and my health restored, by
exercise and exposure, enforced by an administrative act, and a
war, both of which I disapproved.

As summer wore away, and cool days and colder nights came upon
us, the tents We were occupying ceased to afford comfortable
quarters; and “further orders” not reaching us, we began to look
about to remedy the hardship. Men were put to work getting out
timber to build huts, and in a very short time all were
comfortably housed–privates as well as officers. The outlay by
the government in accomplishing this was nothing, or nearly
nothing. The winter was spent more agreeably than the summer
had been. There were occasional parties given by the planters
along the “coast”–as the bottom lands on the Red River were
called. The climate was delightful.

Near the close of the short session of Congress of 1844-5, the
bill for the annexation of Texas to the United States was
passed. It reached President Tyler on the 1st of March, 1845,
and promptly received his approval. When the news reached us we
began to look again for “further orders.” They did not arrive
promptly, and on the 1st of May following I asked and obtained a
leave of absence for twenty days, for the purpose of visiting–
St. Louis. The object of this visit has been before stated.

Early in July the long expected orders were received, but they
only took the regiment to New Orleans Barracks. We reached
there before the middle of the month, and again waited weeks for
still further orders. The yellow fever was raging in New Orleans
during the time we remained there, and the streets of the city
had the appearance of a continuous well-observed Sunday. I
recollect but one occasion when this observance seemed to be
broken by the inhabitants. One morning about daylight I
happened to be awake, and, hearing the discharge of a rifle not
far off, I looked out to ascertain where the sound came from. I
observed a couple of clusters of men near by, and learned
afterwards that “it was nothing; only a couple of gentlemen
deciding a difference of opinion with rifles, at twenty paces.
“I do not remember if either was killed, or even hurt, but no
doubt the question of difference was settled satisfactorily, and
“honorably,” in the estimation of the parties engaged. I do not
believe I ever would have the courage to fight a duel. If any
man should wrong me to the extent of my being willing to kill
him, I would not be willing to give him the choice of weapons
with which it should be done, and of the time, place and
distance separating us, when I executed him. If I should do
another such a wrong as to justify him in killing me, I would
make any reasonable atonement within my power, if convinced of
the wrong done. I place my opposition to duelling on higher
grounds than here stated. No doubt a majority of the duels
fought have been for want of moral courage on the part of those
engaged to decline.

At Camp Salubrity, and when we went to New Orleans Barracks, the
4th infantry was commanded by Colonel Vose, then an old gentleman
who had not commanded on drill for a number of years. He was not
a man to discover infirmity in the presence of danger. It now
appeared that war was imminent, and he felt that it was his duty
to brush up his tactics. Accordingly, when we got settled down
at our new post, he took command of the regiment at a battalion
drill. Only two or three evolutions had been gone through when
he dismissed the battalion, and, turning to go to his own
quarters, dropped dead. He had not been complaining of ill
health, but no doubt died of heart disease. He was a most
estimable man, of exemplary habits, and by no means the author
of his own disease.

CHAPTER IV.

CORPUS CHRISTI–MEXICAN SMUGGLING–SPANISH RULE IN
MEXICO–SUPPLYING TRANSPORTATION.

Early in September the regiment left New Orleans for Corpus
Christi, now in Texas. Ocean steamers were not then common, and
the passage was made in sailing vessels. At that time there was
not more than three feet of water in the channel at the outlet
of Corpus Christi Bay; the debarkation, therefore, had to take
place by small steamers, and at an island in the channel called
Shell Is land, the ships anchoring some miles out from shore.
This made the work slow, and as the army was only supplied with
one or two steamers, it took a number of days to effect the
landing of a single regiment with its stores, camp and garrison
equipage, etc. There happened to be pleasant weather while this
was going on, but the land-swell was so great that when the ship
and steamer were on opposite sides of the same wave they would
be at considerable distance apart. The men and baggage were let
down to a point higher than the lower deck of the steamer, and
when ship and steamer got into the trough between the waves, and
were close together, the load would be drawn over the steamer and
rapidly run down until it rested on the deck.

After I had gone ashore, and had been on guard several days at
Shell Island, quite six miles from the ship, I had occasion for
some reason or other to return on board. While on the Suviah–I
think that was the name of our vessel–I heard a tremendous
racket at the other end of the ship, and much and excited sailor
language, such as “damn your eyes,” etc. In a moment or two the
captain, who was an excitable little man, dying with
consumption, and not weighing much over a hundred pounds, came
running out, carrying a sabre nearly as large and as heavy as he
was, and cry ing, that his men had mutinied. It was necessary to
sustain the captain without question, and in a few minutes all
the sailors charged with mutiny were in irons. I rather felt
for a time a wish that I had not gone aboard just then. As the
men charged with mutiny submitted to being placed in irons
without resistance, I always doubted if they knew that they had
mutinied until they were told.

By the time I was ready to leave the ship again I thought I had
learned enough of the working of the double and single pulley,
by which passengers were let down from the upper deck of the
ship to the steamer below, and determined to let myself down
without assistance. Without saying anything of my intentions to
any one, I mounted the railing, and taking hold of the centre
rope, just below the upper block, I put one foot on the hook
below the lower block, and stepped off just as I did so some one
called out “hold on.” It was too late. I tried to “hold on”
with all my might, but my heels went up, and my head went down
so rapidly that my hold broke, and I plunged head foremost into
the water, some twenty-five feet below, with such velocity that
it seemed to me I never would stop. When I came to the surface
again, being a fair swimmer, and not having lost my presence of
mind, I swam around until a bucket was let down for me, and I
was drawn up without a scratch or injury. I do not believe there
was a man on board who sympathized with me in the least when they
found me uninjured. I rather enjoyed the joke myself The captain
of the Suviah died of his disease a few months later, and I
believe before the mutineers were tried. I hope they got clear,
because, as before stated, I always thought the mutiny was all in
the brain of a very weak and sick man.

After reaching shore, or Shell Island, the labor of getting to
Corpus Christi was slow and tedious. There was, if my memory
serves me, but one small steamer to transport troops and baggage
when the 4th infantry arrived. Others were procured later. The
distance from Shell Island to Corpus Christi was some sixteen or
eighteen miles. The channel to the bay was so shallow that the
steamer, small as it was, had to be dragged over the bottom when
loaded. Not more than one trip a day could be effected. Later
this was remedied, by deepening the channel and increasing the
number of vessels suitable to its navigation.

Corpus Christi is near the head of the bay of the same name,
formed by the entrance of the Nueces River into tide-water, and
is on the west bank of that bay. At the time of its first
occupancy by United States troops there was a small Mexican
hamlet there, containing probably less than one hundred souls.
There was, in addition, a small American trading post, at which
goods were sold to Mexican smugglers. All goods were put up in
compact packages of about one hundred pounds each, suitable for
loading on pack mules. Two of these packages made a load for an
ordinary Mexican mule, and three for the larger ones. The bulk
of the trade was in leaf tobacco, and domestic cotton-cloths and
calicoes. The Mexicans had, before the arrival of the army, but
little to offer in exchange except silver. The trade in tobacco
was enormous, considering the population to be supplied. Almost
every Mexican above the age of ten years, and many much younger,
smoked the cigarette. Nearly every Mexican carried a pouch of
leaf tobacco, powdered by rolling in the hands, and a roll of
corn husks to make wrappers. The cigarettes were made by the
smokers as they used them.

Up to the time of which I write, and for years afterwards–I
think until the administration of President Juarez–the
cultivation, manufacture and sale of tobacco constituted a
government monopoly, and paid the bulk of the revenue collected
from internal sources. The price was enormously high, and made
successful smuggling very profitable. The difficulty of
obtaining tobacco is probably the reason why everybody, male and
female, used it at that time. I know from my own experience that
when I was at West Point, the fact that tobacco, in every form,
was prohibited, and the mere possession of the weed severely
punished, made the majority of the cadets, myself included, try
to acquire the habit of using it. I failed utterly at the time
and for many years afterward; but the majority accomplished the
object of their youthful ambition.

Under Spanish rule Mexico was prohibited from producing anything
that the mother-country could supply. This rule excluded the
cultivation of the grape, olive and many other articles to which
the soil and climate were well adapted. The country was governed
for “revenue only;” and tobacco, which cannot be raised in Spain,
but is indigenous to Mexico, offered a fine instrumentality for
securing this prime object of government. The native population
had been in the habit of using “the weed” from a period, back of
any recorded history of this continent. Bad habits–if not
restrained by law or public opinion–spread more rapidly and
universally than good ones, and the Spanish colonists adopted
the use of tobacco almost as generally as the natives. Spain,
therefore, in order to secure the largest revenue from this
source, prohibited the cultivation, except in specified
localities–and in these places farmed out the privilege at a
very high price. The tobacco when raised could only be sold to
the government, and the price to the consumer was limited only
by the avarice of the authorities, and the capacity of the
people to pay.

All laws for the government of the country were enacted in
Spain, and the officers for their execution were appointed by
the Crown, and sent out to the New El Dorado. The Mexicans had
been brought up ignorant of how to legislate or how to rule.
When they gained their independence, after many years of war, it
was the most natural thing in the world that they should adopt as
their own the laws then in existence. The only change was, that
Mexico became her own executor of the laws and the recipient of
the revenues. The tobacco tax, yielding so large a revenue
under the law as it stood, was one of the last, if not the very
last, of the obnoxious imposts to be repealed. Now, the
citizens are allowed to cultivate any crops the soil will
yield. Tobacco is cheap, and every quality can be produced. Its
use is by no means so general as when I first visited the
country.

Gradually the “Army of Occupation” assembled at Corpus
Christi. When it was all together it consisted of seven
companies of the 2d regiment of dragoons, four companies of
light artillery, five regiments of infantry–the 3d, 4th, 5th,
7th and 8th–and one regiment of artillery acting as
infantry–not more than three thousand men in all. General
Zachary Taylor commanded the whole. There were troops enough in
one body to establish a drill and discipline sufficient to fit
men and officers for all they were capable of in case of
battle. The rank and file were composed of men who had enlisted
in time of peace, to serve for seven dollars a month, and were
necessarily inferior as material to the average volunteers
enlisted later in the war expressly to fight, and also to the
volunteers in the war for the preservation of the Union. The
men engaged in the Mexican war were brave, and the officers of
the regular army, from highest to lowest, were educated in their
profession. A more efficient army for its number and armament, I
do not believe ever fought a battle than the one commanded by
General Taylor in his first two engagements on Mexican–or Texan
soil.

The presence of United States troops on the edge of the disputed
territory furthest from the Mexican settlements, was not
sufficient to provoke hostilities. We were sent to provoke a
fight, but it was essential that Mexico should commence it. It
was very doubtful whether Congress would declare war; but if
Mexico should attack our troops, the Executive could announce,
“Whereas, war exists by the acts of, etc.,” and prosecute the
contest with vigor. Once initiated there were but few public
men who would have the courage to oppose it. Experience proves
that the man who obstructs a war in which his nation is engaged,
no matter whether right or wrong, occupies no enviable place in
life or history. Better for him, individually, to advocate
“war, pestilence, and famine,” than to act as obstructionist to
a war already begun. The history of the defeated rebel will be
honorable hereafter, compared with that of the Northern man who
aided him by conspiring against his government while protected
by it. The most favorable posthumous history the stay-at-home
traitor can hope for is–oblivion.

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