Poignant, riveting, and elegantly written, Grant and Sherman is a remarkable portrait of two extraordinary men and a singular friendship, forged on the battlefield, that would change the course of history.
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GRANT AND SHERMANTHE FRIENDSHIP THAT WON THE CIVIL WAR
By CHARLES BRACELEN FLOOD
FARRAR, STRAUS AND GIROUXCopyright © 2005 Charles Bracelen Flood
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTWO FAILED MEN WITH GREAT POTENTIAL
* * *
In December of 1860, five months before the Civil War began, two men who had resigned from the United States Army earlier in their lives reviewed their respective situations.
From Galena, Illinois, a small city of fourteen thousand, four miles east of the Mississippi River and just south of the Wisconsin border, the first of these men, former captain Ulysses S. Grant, wrote a friend, "In my new employment I have become pretty conversant ... I hope to be made a partner soon, and am sanguine that a competency at least can be made out of the business."
A man who had graduated seventeen years before from the United States Military Academy at West Point, something that in itself conferred a certain prestige and social status, Grant was now a clerk in his stern father's small company, which operated a tannery as well as leather goods stores in several towns. Just six years previous, after four years as a cadet and eleven as an officer, including brave and efficient service during the Mexican War, his military career had come to a bad end. Stationed at remote posts in California without his wife and two children, Grant became bored and lonely. During the long separation from his wife, Julia, a highly intelligent, lively, affectionate woman who adored him as he adored her, he began to drink. In 1854, when Grant was thirty-two, his regimental commander forced him to resign from the army for being drunk while handing out money to troops on a payday.
Returning to Missouri, Grant struggled for four years to support his little family by farming land near St. Louis that belonged to his wife and father-in-law. Despite working hard, avoiding alcohol, and remaining optimistic-at one point he wrote to his father, who then lived in Kentucky, "Every day I like farming better and I do not doubt money is to be made at it"-events worked against him. A combination of weather-ruined crops and falling commodity prices left him with with one slim chance to get by. Hiring two slaves from their owners, and borrowing from his father-in-law a slave whom he later bought and set flee, Grant and his new field hands began cutting down trees on the farm, sawing them into logs, and taking them to St. Louis to sell as firewood. Sometimes Grant brought his logs to houses whose owners arranged for deliveries, and on other days he peddled them on the street.
Wearing his faded old blue army overcoat, from which he had removed the insignia, he sometimes encountered officers who knew him from the past. Brigadier General William S. Harney, "resplendent in a new uniform" as he passed through St. Louis to campaign against the Sioux, saw Grant handling the reins of a team of horses pulling a wagon stacked with logs. Harney exclaimed, "Why, Grant, what in blazes are you doing here?" Grant answered, "Well, General, I'm hauling firewood." On another day, an old comrade looking for Grant's farm asked directions of a nondescript man driving a load into the city, only to realize that he was speaking to Grant. In response to his startled, "Great God, Grant, what are you doing?" he received the laconic reply, "I'm solving the problem of poverty."
On December 23, 1857, Ulysses S. Grant pawned his gold watch for twenty-two dollars to buy Christmas presents for Julia, who was seven months pregnant, and their three children. Nothing improved: bad weather destroyed most of the crops Grant planted in the spring of 1858, and a freak freeze on June 5 finished off the rest. During the summer, the Grants' ten-year-old son Fred nearly died of typhoid. In early September Grant wrote to his sister Mary that "Julia and I are both sick with chills and fever."
The end had come for Grant as a farmer. In the autumn of 1858, an auctioneer sold off his remaining animals, crops, and equipment. He, Julia, and their four children moved into St. Louis, where a cousin of Julia's had been persuaded to make him a partner in his real estate firm. Grant's job was to collect rents and sell houses, but even in a sharply rising real estate market, he could not make money. After nine months he was told that the partnership had been dissolved: he was unemployed. Next, after being turned down for the position of county engineer for lack of the right political connections, he found a job in the federal customshouse but was replaced after a month, again a victim of political patronage. Heavily in debt and behind in his rent, Grant could not support his family. A friend who saw him walking the streets looking for work described a man "shabbily dressed ... his face anxious," sunk in "profound discouragement." Finally Grant turned in desperation to his austere father, who had earlier rejected his appeal for a substantial loan, and the elder Grant created a job for him as a clerk at the heather goods store in Galena. A man who ran a jewelry store across the street recalled this, from the time when Grant was describing himself as "pretty conversant" with his new job. "Grant was a very poor businessman, and never liked to wait on customers ... [He] would go behind the counter, very reluctantly, and drag down whatever was wanted; but hardly ever knew the price of it, and, in nine cases out of ten, he charged either too much or too little."
That was Grant as he lived in Galena on the eve of the Civil War-an ordinary-looking man of thirty-eight, five feet eight inches tall and weighing 135 pounds, somewhat stooped and with a short brown beard, a quiet man who smoked a pipe and by then had some false teeth. He had never wanted a military career: he went to West Point only because his autocratic father, who had gotten him a congressional appointment to the academy without consulting him, insisted that he go. While he was there, Congress debated whether to close the nation's military school, and Grant kept hoping that would happen. In studies, he said, "I rarely read over a lesson a second time," but he devoured the library's stock of novels, including the works of James Fenimore Cooper, Sir Walter Scott, and Washington Irving, and demonstrated skill and sensitivity in the paintings and pen-and-ink sketches he executed in a drawing course.
When Grant arrived as a plebe, seventeen years old, another cadet, a big, swaggering youth named Jack Lindsay who was the son of a colonel looked at this quiet and unassuming boy who then stood only five foot one and weighed 117 pounds, and mistook Grant's politeness for weakness. Lindsay disdainfully shoved Grant out of line during a squad drill. Grant asked him to stop. Lindsay did it again-and learned a lot about Ulysses S. Grant when this little plebe knocked him to the ground with one punch.
The incident may not of itself have ensured his acceptance and popularity, but Grant became a member of a secretive group known as the T.I.O., standing for Twelve in One, a dozen classmates who pledged eternal friendship and wore rings bearing a symbol whose significance only they knew. In the evenings, he and his friends sometimes played a card game called Brag. His classmate Daniel Frost, who was destined to become a Confederate general, described him:
His hair was reddish brown and his eyes grey-blue. We all liked him, and he took rank soon as a good mathematician and engineer ... He had no bad habits whatever, and was a great favorite, though not a brilliant fellow.
He couldn't, or wouldn't, dance. He had no facility, in conversation with the ladies, a total absence of elegance, and naturally showed off badly in contrast with the young Southern men, who prided themselves on being finished in the ways of the world.
In one area only, Grant stood first, in the entire corps of cadets: horsemanship. From childhood on, he always had this intuitive relationship with horses. At home, he broke them for their owners, trained them, and rode them masterfully. The villain of the West Point stables was a big, strong sorrel named York, who terrorized any cadet assigned to ride him by rearing in the air and then tumbling backward onto the rider. Grant asked the dismayed riding master for permission to work with York; when that was granted, Grant hit the horse on the top of the head twice with the butt of a pistol and began patiently showing the animal what he expected of him. A candidate for admission to West Point who was walking around the academy described the eventual results of Grant's long work with York, which he saw when he happened upon the part of the graduating class's final exercises that took place in the riding hall. After various mounted drills performed for the audience of parents and dignitaries and other guests,
the class, still mounted, was formed in line through the center of the hall. The riding master placed the leaping bar higher than a man's head and called out "Cadet Grant!" A clean-faced, slender, blue-eyed young fellow, weighing about one hundred and twenty pounds, dashed from the ranks on a powerfully-built chestnut sorrel horse, and galloped down the opposite side of the hall. As he turned at the farther end and came into the stretch at which the bar was placed, the horse increased his pace and measuring his stride for the great leap before him, bounded into the air and cleared the bar, carrying his rider as if man and beast had been welded together. The spectators were breathless.
During Grant's four years at West Point, some cadets, when they had a free hour, would go to the riding hall just to watch Grant school York and the other horses. In one event, Grant and York cleared a bar placed so high that their performance set an academy record that stood for twenty-five years.
Grant's roommate in his last year at West Point was Frederick Dent, a cadet from St. Louis. When newly commissioned Lieutenant Grant was assigned to the Fourth Infantry Regiment stationed at Jefferson Barracks, a few miles south of St. Louis, his friend Dent urged him to call on his family at White Haven, the large nearby farm to which the prosperous Dents annually moved from their winter house in St. Louis to spend much of the rest of the year. White Haven was not one of the great Southern plantations, but it had twelve hundred fertile acres situated on the broad Gravois Creek. In addition to the white-painted main house with its traditional big porches running along both the ground floor and the bedroom floor above it, all covered with honeysuckle and other vines, there were eighteen cabins in which the Dent family's slaves lived. The Dents' daughter Emma later described the place:
The farm of White Haven was even prettier than its name, for the pebbly shining Gravois ran through it, and there were beautiful groves growing all over it, and acres upon acres of grassy meadows where the cows used to stand knee-deep in blue grass and clover ... The house we lived in stood in the centre of a long sweep of wooded valley and the creek ran through the trees not far below it ... Through the grove of locust trees a walk led from a low porch to an old-fashioned stile gate, about fifty yards from the house.
Emma was six years old when Lieutenant Grant came to call at this rural scene on a day when her eighteen-year-old sister Julia was away on a long visit to St. Louis. She described their first meeting: "I was nearing my seventh birthday, that bright spring afternoon in 1843 when, with my four little darky playmates, Henrietta, Sue, Ann, and Jeff, I went out hunting for birds' nests. They were my slaves as well as my chums, for father had given them to me at birth, and as we were all of about an age, we used to have some good times together. This day, I remember, we were out in front of the turnstile and I had my arms full of birds' nests and was clutching a tiny unfledged birdling in one hand when a young stranger rode blithely up to the stile."
In answer to this man on horseback's "How do you do? Does Mister Dent live here?" Emma was speechless. "I thought him the handsomest person I had ever seen in my life, this strange young man. He was riding a splendid horse, and, oh, he sat it so gracefully! The whole picture of him and his sleek, prancing steed was so good to look upon that I could do nothing but stare at it-so forgetting the poor little thing crying in my hand that I nearly crushed it to death. Of course, I knew he was a soldier from the barracks, because he had on a beautiful blue suit with gold buttons down the front, but he looked too young to be an officer."
When Emma recovered herself enough to answer "Yes, sir," after the lieutenant asked for the second time if this was the Dents' house, this scene ensued:
We children followed him up to the porch, trailing in his wake and close to his feet like a troop of little black-and-tan puppies ... At the porch we heard him introduce himself to my father as Lieutenant Grant. Then my mother and sister Nellie came out to meet him ... My own contribution to the entertainment of the stranger was one continuous stare up at his face ... His cheeks were round and plump and rosy; his hair was fine and brown, very thick and wavy. His eyes were a clear blue, and always full of light. His features were regular, pleasingly molded and attractive, and his figure so slender, well formed, and graceful that it was like that of a young prince to my eye ... When he rode up to White Haven that bright day in the spring of 1843 he was pretty as a doll.
Grant came to call several times, always urged to stay for supper by Mrs. Dent, who liked him immediately. Of the slender lieutenant's quiet political discussions with her husband, she commented, "That young man explains politics so clearly that I can understand the situation perfectly." Emma and her fifteen-year-old sister Nellie began to regard him as a gift that had somehow been bestowed upon them. Then their vivacious older sister Julia, who had recently turned nineteen, came back from St. Louis. "She was not exactly a beauty," Emma said, mentioning that one of Julia's eyes would go out of focus in a condition known as strabismus, "but she was possessed of a lively and pleasing countenance." Grant suddenly began to ride over from the barracks every other day. "It did not take Nell and myself long to see that we were no longer the attractions at White Haven," Emma noted. Having grown up on a big farm with three older brothers as well as her three younger sisters, Julia loved the outdoors. "He and she frequently went fishing along the banks of the creek, and many a fine mess of perch I've seen them catch together." Julia's impression of her new friend Lieutenant Grant was that he was "a darling little lieutenant."
An excellent rider, Julia had a spirited Kentucky mare. According to Emma, "Lieutenant Grant was one of the best horsemen I ever saw, and he rode a fine blooded animal ... Many a sharp race they used to have in the fine mornings before breakfast or through the sunset and twilight after supper."
White-haired Colonel Dent-a courtesy title by which many men of his station in life were then known in the South, regardless of military experience-could be a peevish man, given to sitting by himself on the porch reading a newspaper and puffing on a long reed-stemmed pipe, but he, like his wife, believed in having many young guests. Grant was encouraged to bring his brother officers with him. There were picnics and dances around the countryside; one of the young officers always included was a handsome giant named James Longstreet, a cousin of Colonel Dent's who had been known at West Point as Pete.
When Julia's pet canary died, Grant organized a funeral for the bird. Julia remembered that "he was kind enough to make a little coffin for my canary bird and he painted it yellow. About eight officers attended the funeral of my little pet."
Excerpted from GRANT AND SHERMAN by CHARLES BRACELEN FLOOD Copyright © 2005 by Charles Bracelen Flood. Excerpted by permission.
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“[A] powerful and illuminating study of a military collaboration that won the war for the Union.”
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