Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant

General W. F. Smith, who had been promoted to the rank of
major-general shortly after the battle of Chattanooga on my
recommendation, had not yet been confirmed. I found a decided
prejudice against his confirmation by a majority of the Senate,
but I insisted that his services had been such that he should be
rewarded. My wishes were now reluctantly complied with, and I
assigned him to the command of one of the corps under General
Butler. I was not long in finding out that the objections to
Smith’s promotion were well founded.

In one of my early interviews with the President I expressed my
dissatisfaction with the little that had been accomplished by
the cavalry so far in the war, and the belief that it was
capable of accomplishing much more than it had done if under a
thorough leader. I said I wanted the very best man in the army
for that command. Halleck was present and spoke up, saying:
“How would Sheridan do?” I replied: “The very man I want.”
The President said I could have anybody I wanted. Sheridan was
telegraphed for that day, and on his arrival was assigned to the
command of the cavalry corps with the Army of the Potomac. This
relieved General Alfred Pleasonton. It was not a reflection on
that officer, however, for I did not know but that he had been
as efficient as any other cavalry commander.

Banks in the Department of the Gulf was ordered to assemble all
the troops he had at New Orleans in time to join in the general
move, Mobile to be his objective.

At this time I was not entirely decided as to whether I should
move the Army of the Potomac by the right flank of the enemy, or
by his left. Each plan presented advantages. (*25) If by his
right–my left–the Potomac, Chesapeake Bay and tributaries
would furnish us an easy hauling distance of every position the
army could occupy from the Rapidan to the James River. But Lee
could, if he chose, detach or move his whole army north on a
line rather interior to the one I would have to take in
following. A movement by his left–our right–would obviate
this; but all that was done would have to be done with the
supplies and ammunition we started with. All idea of adopting
this latter plan was abandoned when he limited quantity of
supplies possible to take with us was considered. The country
over which we would have to pass was so exhausted of all food or
forage that we would be obliged to carry everything with us.

While these preparations were going on the enemy was not
entirely idle. In the West Forrest made a raid in West
Tennessee up to the northern border, capturing the garrison of
four or five hundred men at Union City, and followed it up by an
attack on Paducah, Kentucky, on the banks of the Ohio. While he
was able to enter the city he failed to capture the forts or any
part of the garrison. On the first intelligence of Forrest’s
raid I telegraphed Sherman to send all his cavalry against him,
and not to let him get out of the trap he had put himself
into. Sherman had anticipated me by sending troops against him
before he got my order.

Forrest, however, fell back rapidly, and attacked the troops at
Fort Pillow, a station for the protection of the navigation of
the Mississippi River. The garrison consisted of a regiment of
colored troops, infantry, and a detachment of Tennessee
cavalry. These troops fought bravely, but were overpowered. I
will leave Forrest in his dispatches to tell what he did with

“The river was dyed,” he says, “with the blood of the
slaughtered for two hundred yards. The approximate loss was
upward of five hundred killed, but few of the officers
escaping. My loss was about twenty killed. It is hoped that
these facts will demonstrate to the Northern people that negro
soldiers cannot cope with Southerners.” Subsequently Forrest
made a report in which he left out the part which shocks
humanity to read.

At the East, also, the rebels were busy. I had said to Halleck
that Plymouth and Washington, North Carolina, were unnecessary
to hold. It would be better to have the garrisons engaged there
added to Butler’s command. If success attended our arms both
places, and others too, would fall into our hands naturally.
These places had been occupied by Federal troops before I took
command of the armies, and I knew that the Executive would be
reluctant to abandon them, and therefore explained my views; but
before my views were carried out the rebels captured the garrison
at Plymouth. I then ordered the abandonment of Washington, but
directed the holding of New Berne at all hazards. This was
essential because New Berne was a port into which blockade
runners could enter.

General Banks had gone on an expedition up the Red River long
before my promotion to general command. I had opposed the
movement strenuously, but acquiesced because it was the order of
my superior at the time. By direction of Halleck I had
reinforced Banks with a corps of about ten thousand men from
Sherman’s command. This reinforcement was wanted back badly
before the forward movement commenced. But Banks had got so far
that it seemed best that he should take Shreveport on the Red
River, and turn over the line of that river to Steele, who
commanded in Arkansas, to hold instead of the line of the
Arkansas. Orders were given accordingly, and with the
expectation that the campaign would be ended in time for Banks
to return A. J. Smith’s command to where it belonged and get
back to New Orleans himself in time to execute his part in the
general plan. But the expedition was a failure. Banks did not
get back in time to take part in the programme as laid down. Nor
was Smith returned until long after the movements of May, 1864,
had been begun. The services of forty thousand veteran troops,
over and above the number required to hold all that was
necessary in the Department of the Gulf, were thus paralyzed. It
is but just to Banks, however, to say that his expedition was
ordered from Washington and he was in no way responsible except
for the conduct of it. I make no criticism on this point. He
opposed the expedition.

By the 27th of April spring had so far advanced as to justify me
in fixing a day for the great move. On that day Burnside left
Annapolis to occupy Meade’s position between Bull Run and the
Rappahannock. Meade was notified and directed to bring his
troops forward to his advance. On the following day Butler was
notified of my intended advance on the 4th of May, and he was
directed to move the night of the same day and get as far up the
James River as possible by daylight, and push on from there to
accomplish the task given him. He was also notified that
reinforcements were being collected in Washington City, which
would be forwarded to him should the enemy fall back into the
trenches at Richmond. The same day Sherman was directed to get
his forces up ready to advance on the 5th. Sigel was in
Winchester and was notified to move in conjunction with the

The criticism has been made by writers on the campaign from the
Rapidan to the James River that all the loss of life could have
been obviated by moving the army there on transports. Richmond
was fortified and intrenched so perfectly that one man inside to
defend was more than equal to five outside besieging or
assaulting. To get possession of Lee’s army was the first great
object. With the capture of his army Richmond would necessarily
follow. It was better to fight him outside of his stronghold
than in it. If the Army of the Potomac had been moved bodily to
the James River by water Lee could have moved a part of his
forces back to Richmond, called Beauregard from the south to
reinforce it, and with the balance moved on to Washington. Then,
too, I ordered a move, simultaneous with that of the Army of the
Potomac, up the James River by a formidable army already
collected at the mouth of the river.

While my headquarters were at Culpeper, from the 26th of March
to the 4th of May, I generally visited Washington once a week to
confer with the Secretary of War and President. On the last
occasion, a few days before moving, a circumstance occurred
which came near postponing my part in the campaign altogether.
Colonel John S. Mosby had for a long time been commanding a
partisan corps, or regiment, which operated in the rear of the
Army of the Potomac. On my return to the field on this
occasion, as the train approached Warrenton Junction, a heavy
cloud of dust was seen to the east of the road as if made by a
body of cavalry on a charge. Arriving at the junction the train
was stopped and inquiries made as to the cause of the dust. There
was but one man at the station, and he informed us that Mosby had
crossed a few minutes before at full speed in pursuit of Federal
cavalry. Had he seen our train coming, no doubt he would have
let his prisoners escape to capture the train. I was on a
special train, if I remember correctly, without any guard.

Since the close of the war I have come to know Colonel Mosby
personally, and somewhat intimately. He is a different man
entirely from what I had supposed. He is slender, not tall,
wiry, and looks as if he could endure any amount of physical
exercise. He is able, and thoroughly honest and truthful. There
were probably but few men in the South who could have commanded
successfully a separate detachment in the rear of an opposing
army, and so near the border of hostilities, as long as he did
without losing his entire command.

On this same visit to Washington I had my last interview with
the President before reaching the James River. He had of course
become acquainted with the fact that a general movement had been
ordered all along the line, and seemed to think it a new feature
in war. I explained to him that it was necessary to have a great
number of troops to guard and hold the territory we had captured,
and to prevent incursions into the Northern States. These troops
could perform this service just as well by advancing as by
remaining still; and by advancing they would compel the enemy to
keep detachments to hold them back, or else lay his own territory
open to invasion. His answer was: “Oh, yes! I see that. As we
say out West, if a man can’t skin he must hold a leg while
somebody else does.”

There was a certain incident connected with the Wilderness
campaign of which it may not be out of place to speak; and to
avoid a digression further on I will mention it here.

A few days before my departure from Culpeper the Honorable E. B.
Washburne visited me there, and remained with my headquarters for
some distance south, through the battle in the Wilderness and, I
think, to Spottsylvania. He was accompanied by a Mr. Swinton,
whom he presented as a literary gentleman who wished to
accompany the army with a view of writing a history of the war
when it was over. He assured me–and I have no doubt Swinton
gave him the assurance–that he was not present as a
correspondent of the press. I expressed an entire willingness
to have him (Swinton) accompany the army, and would have allowed
him to do so as a correspondent, restricted, however, in the
character of the information he could give. We received
Richmond papers with about as much regularity as if there had
been no war, and knew that our papers were received with equal
regularity by the Confederates. It was desirable, therefore,
that correspondents should not be privileged spies of the enemy
within our lines.

Probably Mr. Swinton expected to be an invited guest at my
headquarters, and was disappointed that he was not asked to
become so. At all events he was not invited, and soon I found
that he was corresponding with some paper (I have now forgotten
which one), thus violating his word either expressed or
implied. He knew of the assurance Washburne had given as to the
character of his mission. I never saw the man from the day of
our introduction to the present that I recollect. He
accompanied us, however, for a time at least.

The second night after crossing the Rapidan (the night of the
5th of May) Colonel W. R. Rowley, of my staff, was acting as
night officer at my headquarters. A short time before midnight
I gave him verbal instructions for the night. Three days later
I read in a Richmond paper a verbatim report of these

A few nights still later (after the first, and possibly after
the second, day’s fighting in the Wilderness) General Meade came
to my tent for consultation, bringing with him some of his staff
officers. Both his staff and mine retired to the camp-fire some
yards in front of the tent, thinking our conversation should be
private. There was a stump a little to one side, and between
the front of the tent and camp-fire. One of my staff, Colonel
T. S. Bowers, saw what he took to be a man seated on the ground
and leaning against the stump, listening to the conversation
between Meade and myself. He called the attention of Colonel
Rowley to it. The latter immediately took the man by the
shoulder and asked him, in language more forcible than polite,
what he was doing there. The man proved to be Swinton, the
“historian,” and his replies to the question were evasive and
unsatisfactory, and he was warned against further eaves-dropping.

The next I heard of Mr. Swinton was at Cold Harbor. General
Meade came to my headquarters saying that General Burnside had
arrested Swinton, who at some previous time had given great
offence, and had ordered him to be shot that afternoon. I
promptly ordered the prisoner to be released, but that he must
be expelled from the lines of the army not to return again on
pain of punishment.



The armies were now all ready to move for the accomplishment of
a single object. They were acting as a unit so far as such a
thing was possible over such a vast field. Lee, with the
capital of the Confederacy, was the main end to which all were
working. Johnston, with Atlanta, was an important obstacle in
the way of our accomplishing the result aimed at, and was
therefore almost an independent objective. It was of less
importance only because the capture of Johnston and his army
would not produce so immediate and decisive a result in closing
the rebellion as would the possession of Richmond, Lee and his
army. All other troops were employed exclusively in support of
these two movements. This was the plan; and I will now endeavor
to give, as concisely as I can, the method of its execution,
outlining first the operations of minor detached but
co-operative columns.

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