Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant

Sherman had left his camp on the north side of the Tennessee
River, near Chattanooga, on the night of the 23d, the men having
two days’ cooked rations in their haversacks. Expecting to be
back in their tents by that time and to be engaged in battle
while out, they took with them neither overcoats nor blankets.
The weather was already cold, and at night they must have
suffered more or less. The two days’ rations had already lasted
them five days; and they were now to go through a country which
had been run over so much by Confederate troops that there was
but little probability of finding much food. They did, however,
succeed in capturing some flour. They also found a good deal of
bran in some of the mills, which the men made up into bread; and
in this and other ways they eked out an existence until they
could reach Knoxville.

I was so very anxious that Burnside should get news of the steps
being taken for his relief, and thus induce him to hold out a
little longer if it became necessary, that I determined to send
a message to him. I therefore sent a member of my staff,
Colonel J. H. Wilson, to get into Knoxville if he could report
to Burnside the situation fully, and give him all the
encouragement possible. Mr. Charles A. Dana was at Chattanooga
during the battle, and had been there even before I assumed
command. Mr. Dana volunteered to accompany Colonel Wilson, and
did accompany him. I put the information of what was being done
for the relief of Knoxville into writing, and directed that in
some way or other it must be secretly managed so as to have a
copy of this fall into the hands of General Longstreet. They
made the trip safely; General Longstreet did learn of Sherman’s
coming in advance of his reaching there, and Burnside was
prepared to hold out even for a longer time if it had been

Burnside had stretched a boom across the Holston River to catch
scows and flats as they floated down. On these, by previous
arrangements with the loyal people of East Tennessee, were
placed flour and corn, with forage and provisions generally, and
were thus secured for the use of the Union troops. They also
drove cattle into Knoxville by the east side, which was not
covered by the enemy; so that when relief arrived Burnside had
more provisions on hand than when he had last reported.

Our total loss (not including Burnside’s) in all these
engagements amounted to 757 killed, 4,529 wounded and 330
missing. We captured 6,142 prisoners–about 50 per cent. more
than the enemy reported for their total loss–40 pieces of
artillery, 69 artillery carriages and caissons and over 7,000
stands of small-arms. The enemy’s loss in arms was probably
much greater than here reported, because we picked up a great
many that were found abandoned.

I had at Chattanooga, in round numbers, about 60,000 men. Bragg
had about half this number, but his position was supposed to be
impregnable. It was his own fault that he did not have more men
present. He had sent Longstreet away with his corps swelled by
reinforcements up to over twenty thousand men, thus reducing his
own force more than one-third and depriving himself of the
presence of the ablest general of his command. He did this,
too, after our troops had opened a line of communication by way
of Brown’s and Kelly’s ferries with Bridgeport, thus securing
full rations and supplies of every kind; and also when he knew
reinforcements were coming to me. Knoxville was of no earthly
use to him while Chattanooga was in our hands. If he should
capture Chattanooga, Knoxville with its garrison would have
fallen into his hands without a struggle. I have never been
able to see the wisdom of this move.

Then, too, after Sherman had arrived, and when Bragg knew that
he was on the north side of the Tennessee River, he sent
Buckner’s division to reinforce Longstreet. He also started
another division a day later, but our attack having commenced
before it reached Knoxville Bragg ordered it back. It had got
so far, however, that it could not return to Chattanooga in time
to be of service there. It is possible this latter blunder may
have been made by Bragg having become confused as to what was
going on on our side. Sherman had, as already stated, crossed
to the north side of the Tennessee River at Brown’s Ferry, in
full view of Bragg’s troops from Lookout Mountain, a few days
before the attack. They then disappeared behind foot hills, and
did not come to the view of the troops on Missionary Ridge until
they met their assault. Bragg knew it was Sherman’s troops that
had crossed, and, they being so long out of view, may have
supposed that they had gone up the north bank of the Tennessee
River to the relief of Knoxville and that Longstreet was
therefore in danger. But the first great blunder, detaching
Longstreet, cannot be accounted for in any way I know of. If he
had captured Chattanooga, East Tennessee would have fallen
without a struggle. It would have been a victory for us to have
got our army away from Chattanooga safely. It was a manifold
greater victory to drive away the besieging army; a still
greater one to defeat that army in his chosen ground and nearly
annihilate it.

The probabilities are that our loss in killed was the heavier,
as we were the attacking party. The enemy reported his loss in
killed at 361: but as he reported his missing at 4,146, while
we held over 6,000 of them as prisoners, and there must have
been hundreds if not thousands who deserted, but little reliance
can be placed on this report. There was certainly great
dissatisfaction with Bragg on the part of the soldiers for his
harsh treatment of them, and a disposition to get away if they
could. Then, too, Chattanooga, following in the same half year
with Gettysburg in the East and Vicksburg in the West, there was
much the same feeling in the South at this time that there had
been in the North the fall and winter before. If the same
license had been allowed the people and press in the South that
was allowed in the North, Chattanooga would probably have been
the last battle fought for the preservation of the Union.

General William F. Smith’s services in these battles had been
such that I thought him eminently entitled to promotion. I was
aware that he had previously been named by the President for
promotion to the grade of major-general, but that the Senate had
rejected the nomination. I was not aware of the reasons for this
course, and therefore strongly recommended him for a
major-generalcy. My recommendation was heeded and the
appointment made.

Upon the raising of the siege of Knoxville I, of course,
informed the authorities at Washington–the President and
Secretary of War–of the fact, which caused great rejoicing
there. The President especially was rejoiced that Knoxville had
been relieved (*18) without further bloodshed. The safety of
Burnside’s army and the loyal people of East Tennessee had been
the subject of much anxiety to the President for several months,
during which time he was doing all he could to relieve the
situation; sending a new commander (*19) with a few thousand
troops by the way of Cumberland Gap, and telegraphing me daily,
almost hourly, to “remember Burnside,” “do something for
Burnside,” and other appeals of like tenor. He saw no escape
for East Tennessee until after our victory at Chattanooga. Even
then he was afraid that Burnside might be out of ammunition, in
a starving condition, or overpowered: and his anxiety was still
intense until he heard that Longstreet had been driven from the

Burnside followed Longstreet only to Strawberry Plains, some
twenty miles or more east, and then stopped, believing that
Longstreet would leave the State. The latter did not do so,
however, but stopped only a short distance farther on and
subsisted his army for the entire winter off East Tennessee.
Foster now relieved Burnside. Sherman made disposition of his
troops along the Tennessee River in accordance with
instructions. I left Thomas in command at Chattanooga, and,
about the 20th of December, moved my headquarters to Nashville,

Nashville was the most central point from which to communicate
with my entire military division, and also with the authorities
at Washington. While remaining at Chattanooga I was liable to
have my telegraphic communications cut so as to throw me out of
communication with both my command and Washington.

Nothing occurred at Nashville worthy of mention during the
winter, (*20) so I set myself to the task of having troops in
positions from which they could move to advantage, and in
collecting all necessary supplies so as to be ready to claim a
due share of the enemy’s attention upon the appearance of the
first good weather in the spring. I expected to retain the
command I then had, and prepared myself for the campaign against
Atlanta. I also had great hopes of having a campaign made against
Mobile from the Gulf. I expected after Atlanta fell to occupy
that place permanently, and to cut off Lee’s army from the West
by way of the road running through Augusta to Atlanta and thence
south-west. I was preparing to hold Atlanta with a small
garrison, and it was my expectation to push through to Mobile if
that city was in our possession: if not, to Savannah; and in
this manner to get possession of the only east and west railroad
that would then be left to the enemy. But the spring campaign
against Mobile was not made.

The Army of the Ohio had been getting supplies over Cumberland
Gap until their animals had nearly all starved. I now
determined to go myself to see if there was any possible chance
of using that route in the spring, and if not to abandon it.
Accordingly I left Nashville in the latter part of December by
rail for Chattanooga. From Chattanooga I took one of the little
steamers previously spoken of as having been built there, and,
putting my horses aboard, went up to the junction of the Clinch
with the Tennessee. From that point the railroad had been
repaired up to Knoxville and out east to Strawberry Plains. I
went by rail therefore to Knoxville, where I remained for
several days. General John G. Foster was then commanding the
Department of the Ohio. It was an intensely cold winter, the
thermometer being down as low as zero every morning for more
than a week while I was at Knoxville and on my way from there on
horseback to Lexington, Kentucky, the first point where I could
reach rail to carry me back to my headquarters at Nashville.

The road over Cumberland Gap, and back of it, was strewn with
debris of broken wagons and dead animals, much as I had found it
on my first trip to Chattanooga over Waldron’s Ridge. The road
had been cut up to as great a depth as clay could be by mules
and wagons, and in that condition frozen; so that the ride of
six days from Strawberry Plains to Lexington over these holes
and knobs in the road was a very cheerless one, and very

I found a great many people at home along that route, both in
Tennessee and Kentucky, and, almost universally, intensely
loyal. They would collect in little places where we would stop
of evenings, to see me, generally hearing of my approach before
we arrived. The people naturally expected to see the commanding
general the oldest person in the party. I was then forty-one
years of age, while my medical director was gray-haired and
probably twelve or more years my senior. The crowds would
generally swarm around him, and thus give me an opportunity of
quietly dismounting and getting into the house. It also gave me
an opportunity of hearing passing remarks from one spectator to
another about their general. Those remarks were apt to be more
complimentary to the cause than to the appearance of the
supposed general, owing to his being muffled up, and also owing
to the travel-worn condition we were all in after a hard day’s
ride. I was back in Nashville by the 13th of January, 1864.

When I started on this trip it was necessary for me to have some
person along who could turn dispatches into cipher, and who could
also read the cipher dispatches which I was liable to receive
daily and almost hourly. Under the rules of the War Department
at that time, Mr. Stanton had taken entire control of the matter
of regulating the telegraph and determining how it should be
used, and of saying who, and who alone, should have the
ciphers. The operators possessed of the ciphers, as well as the
ciphers used, were practically independent of the commanders whom
they were serving immediately under, and had to report to the War
Department through General Stager all the dispatches which they
received or forwarded.

I was obliged to leave the telegraphic operator back at
Nashville, because that was the point at which all dispatches to
me would come, to be forwarded from there. As I have said, it
was necessary for me also to have an operator during this
inspection who had possession of this cipher to enable me to
telegraph to my division and to the War Department without my
dispatches being read by all the operators along the line of
wires over which they were transmitted. Accordingly I ordered
the cipher operator to turn over the key to Captain Cyrus B.
Comstock, of the Corps of Engineers, whom I had selected as a
wise and discreet man who certainly could be trusted with the
cipher if the operator at my headquarters could.

The operator refused point blank to turn over the key to Captain
Comstock as directed by me, stating that his orders from the War
Department were not to give it to anybody–the commanding
general or any one else. I told him I would see whether he
would or not. He said that if he did he would be punished. I
told him if he did not he most certainly would be punished.
Finally, seeing that punishment was certain if he refused longer
to obey my order, and being somewhat remote (even if he was not
protected altogether from the consequences of his disobedience
to his orders) from the War Department, he yielded. When I
returned from Knoxville I found quite a commotion. The operator
had been reprimanded very severely and ordered to be relieved. I
informed the Secretary of War, or his assistant secretary in
charge of the telegraph, Stager, that the man could not be
relieved, for he had only obeyed my orders. It was absolutely
necessary for me to have the cipher, and the man would most
certainly have been punished if he had not delivered it; that
they would have to punish me if they punished anybody, or words
to that effect.

This was about the only thing approaching a disagreeable
difference between the Secretary of War and myself that occurred
until the war was over, when we had another little spat. Owing
to his natural disposition to assume all power and control in
all matters that he had anything whatever to do with, he boldly
took command of the armies, and, while issuing no orders on the
subject, prohibited any order from me going out of the
adjutant-general’s office until he had approved it. This was
done by directing the adjutant-general to hold any orders that
came from me to be issued from the adjutant-general’s office
until he had examined them and given his approval. He never
disturbed himself, either, in examining my orders until it was
entirely convenient for him; so that orders which I had prepared
would often lie there three or four days before he would sanction
them. I remonstrated against this in writing, and the Secretary
apologetically restored me to my rightful position of
General-in-Chief of the Army. But he soon lapsed again and took
control much as before.

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