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Chapter 16

Earthworks had been thrown across the neck of land upon which City Point is located. This intrenched line ran from a point on the James to a point on the Appomattox River. A small garrison had been detailed for its defense, and the commanding officer, wishing to do something that would afford the genera-in-chief special delight, arranged to send the band over to the headquarters camp to play for him while he was dining. The garrison commander was in blissful ignorance of the fact that to the general the appreciation of music was a lacking sense and the musician's score a sealed book. About the third evening after the band had begun its performances, the general, while sitting at the mess-table, remarked: “I've noticed that that band always begins its noise just about the time I am sitting down to dinner and want to talk.” I offered to go and make an effort to suppress it, and see whether it would obey an order to “cease firing,” and my services were promptly accepted. The men were gorgeously uniformed, and the band seemed to embrace every sort [234] [235] of brass instrument ever invented, from a diminutive cornet-a-pistons to a gigantic double-bass horn. The performer who played the latter instrument was encaged within its ample twists, and looked like a man standing inside the coils of a whisky-still. The broad-belted band-master was puffing with all the vigor of a quack-medicine advertisement, his eyes were riveted upon the music, and it was not an easy task to attract his attention. Like a sperm-whale, he had come up to blow, and was not going to be put down till he had finished; but finally he was made to understand that, like the hand-organ man, he was desired to move on. With a look of disinheritance on his countenance, he at last marched off his band to its camp. On my return the general said: “I fear that band-master's feelings have been hurt, but I didn't want him to be wasting his time upon a person who has no ear for music.” A staff-officer remarked: “Well, general, you were at least much more considerate than Commodore —, who, the day he came to take command of his vessel, and was seated at dinner in the cabin, heard music on deck, and immediately sent for the executive officer and said to him: ‘Have the instruments and men of that band thrown overboard at once!’ ”

Hunter's bold march and destruction of military stores had caused so much alarm that Lee, as has been said before, was compelled to send Breckinridge's force and Early's corps to the valley of Virginia. Hunter continued to drive back the troops he encountered till he reached Lynchburg. There he found that the strength of the works and the combined forces brought against him would prevent the further success of his raid. On June 18 he decided to exercise the discretion which had been left to him in such a contingency and retire toward his base. The result of the campaign, besides compelling [236] Lee to detach troops from his own army, was the burning of Confederate cloth-mills, gun-stock and harness factories, and foundries engaged in the manufacture of ammunition, the destruction of about fifty miles of railroad, and the capture of three thousand muskets, twenty pieces of artillery, and a quantity of ammunition. The stringent orders given by Grant to Sigel, and by him turned over to Hunter, who had succeeded him, were prepared with a view to preventing all wanton destruction. They were in part as follows: “Indiscriminate marauding should be avoided. Nothing should be taken not absolutely necessary for the troops, except when captured from an armed enemy. Impressments should be made under orders from the commanding officer and by a disbursing officer. Receipts should be given for all property taken, so that the loyal may collect pay and the property be accounted for.” Notwithstanding these orders, there were some houses burned and damage done to individual property during this raid.

Hunter having been compelled to fall back into West Virginia, the roads to Washington were left uncovered, and the enemy now advanced into Maryland. Sigel's small force retreated precipitately across the Potomac, followed by the enemy. It had been impossible for General Grant to obtain any reliable news for a number of days in regard to these movements, and it was not until the 4th of July that he received definite information.

We did not find many leisure moments to indulge in patriotic demonstrations at headquarters on Independence day, for the directions for executing the plans for checkmating the enemy in his present movement fully occupied every one on duty. Grant telegraphed to Halleck to concentrate all the troops about Washington, [237] Baltimore, Cumberland, and Harper's Ferry, bring up Hunter's troops, and put Early to flight. While Grant was thinking only of punishing Early, there was great consternation in Washington, and the minds of the officials there seemed to be occupied solely with measures for defending the capital. Hunter's troops had fallen back to Charleston, West Virginia, and a drought had left so little water in the Ohio River that the ascent of the vessels on which his troops had embarked was greatly delayed.

All eyes were, as usual, turned upon Grant to protect the capital and drive back the invading force. On July 5, seeing, as he thought, another opportunity for cutting off and destroying the troops that Lee had detached from his command, Grant ordered one division of Wright's corps and some dismounted cavalry to Washington by steamers. Under subsequent orders the infantry division (Rickett's) proceeded via Baltimore to reinforce General Lew Wallace, at the Monocacy. General Grant had been very much dissatisfied with all of Sigel's movements, and now that tile situation was becoming somewhat serious, he determined to make an effort to have him removed from his command. On the 7th he sent Halleck a despatch, saying: “I think it advisable to relieve him [Sigel] from all duty, at least until present troubles are over.” Sigel was immediately removed, and General Howe put in command of his forces until Hunter's arrival. By means of the telegraphic communications which he constantly received Grant was able to time pretty well the movements of the enemy, and to make preparations for meeting him before he could attempt the capture of Washington. He had been planning some important offensive operations in front of Richmond, but he now decided to postpone these and turn his chief attention to Early. [238]

The Nineteenth Corps, which had been ordered from New Orleans by sea, and which was now arriving at Fort Monroe, and the remainder of Wright's Sixth Corps from in front of Petersburg, were instructed to proceed at once to Washington. Instead of sympathizing with the alarming messages from the capital and the many rash suggestions made from there, the general telegraphed on July 9: “Forces enough to defeat all that Early has with him should get in his rear, south of him, and follow him up sharply, leaving him to go north, defending depots, towns, etc., with small garrisons and the militia. If the President thinks it advisable that I should go to Washington in person, I can start in an hour after receiving notice.” The President answered, saying that he thought it would be well for the general to come to Washington, but making it only as a suggestion. General Grant replied to this: “I think, on reflection, it would have a bad effect for me to leave here, and, with Ord at Baltimore, and Hunter and Wright with the forces following the enemy up, could do no good. I have great faith that the enemy will never be able to get back with much of his force.” The general said, in conversation with his staff on the 10th: “One reason why I do not wish to go to Washington to take personal direction of the movement against Early is that this is probably just what Lee wants me to do, in order that he may transfer the seat of war to Maryland, or feel assured that there will be no offensive operations against Petersburg during my absence, and detach some of his forces and send them against Sherman. Sherman is at a long distance from his base of supplies, and I want to be able to have him feel that I shall take no step that will afford an opportunity of detaching troops from here to operate against him.”

General Lew Wallace, in command of what was called [239] the Middle Department, made a gallant stand at the Monocacy, and effected a delay in the enemy's movements toward Washington; but his small force was of course defeated. Early now moved directly on Washington, and on July 11 advanced upon the outer line of fortifications; but, to the surprise of his troops, they saw the well-known banners of the Sixth Corps, and found that Washington, instead of being weakly defended, was now guarded by veterans of the Army of the Potomac. Early discovered that he had been outmaneuvered, and on the night of the 12th began a retreat. Grant had now but one anxiety, which was to have an efficient head selected for the command of the troops that he was collecting to operate against Early. He sent a despatch to Halleck, saying: “Give orders assigning Major-general Wright to supreme command of all troops moving out against the enemy, regardless of the rank of other commanders. He should get outside the trenches with all the force he possibly can, and should push Early to the last moment, supplying himself from the country.” The next day (July 13) Wright moved forward with his command, following up Early.

There had been several days of serious perplexity and annoyance at headquarters. The commanders had to be changed, and the best results possible obtained with the material at hand. Twice the wires of the telegraph-line were broken, and important messages between Washington and City Point had to be sent a great part of the way by steamboat. It was rumored at one time that Hill's corps had been detached from Lee's front, and there was some anxiety to know whether it had been sent to Early or to Johnston, who was opposing Sherman; but the rumor was soon found to be groundless. Grant's orders now were to press the enemy in [240] Maryland with all vigor, to make a bold campaign against him, and destroy him if possible before he could return to Lee. Early, however, had gained a day's start, and although a number of his wagons and animals and some prisoners had been captured, no material damage was inflicted upon him. On July 20 he reached Snicker's Ferry, and the chase was abandoned. Early continued his march to Strasburg, where he arrived July 22.

The general had occupied himself continually during this anxious and exciting period in giving specific instructions by wire and messengers to meet the constantly changing conditions which were taking place from day to day and from hour to hour in the theater of military operations; and no despatches were ever of greater importance than those which were sent from headquarters at this time. His powers of concentration of thought were often shown by the circumstances under which he wrote. Nothing that went on around him, upon the field or in his quarters, could distract his attention or interrupt him. Sometimes, when his tent was filled with officers, talking and laughing at the top of their voices, he would turn to his table and write the most important communications. There would then be an immediate “Hush!” and abundant excuses offered by the company; but he always insisted upon the conversation going on, and after a while his officers came to understand his wishes in this respect, to learn that noise was apparently a stimulus rather than a check to his flow of ideas, and to realize that nothing short of a general attack along the whole line could divert his thoughts from the subject upon which his mind was concentrated. In writing his style was vigorous and terse, with little of ornament; its most conspicuous characteristic was perspicuity. General Meade's chief [241] of staff once said: “There is one striking feature about Grant's orders: no matter how hurriedly he may write them on the field, no one ever has the slightest doubt as to their meaning, or ever has to read them over a second time to understand them.” The general used Anglo-Saxon words much more frequently than those derived from the Greek and Latin tongues. He had studied French at West Point, and picked up some knowledge of Spanish during the Mexican war; but he could not hold a conversation in either language, and rarely employed a foreign word in any of his writings. His adjectives were few and well chosen. No document which ever came from his hands was in the least degree pretentious. He never laid claim to any knowledge he did not possess, and seemed to feel, with Addison, that “pedantry in learning is like hypocrisy in religion — a form of knowledge without the power of it.” He rarely indulged in metaphor, but when he did employ a figure of speech it was always expressive and graphic, as when he spoke of the commander at Bermuda Hundred being “in a bottle strongly corked,” or referred to our armies at one time moving “like horses in a balky team, no two ever pulling together.” His style inclined to the epigrammatic without his being aware of it. There was scarcely a document written by him from which brief sentences could not be selected fit to be set in mottos or placed upon transparencies. As examples may be mentioned: “I propose to move immediately upon your works” ; “I shall take no backward steps” ; the famous “I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer,” and, later in his career, “Let us have peace” ; “The best means of securing the repeal of an obnoxious law is its vigorous enforcement” ; “I shall have no policy to enforce against the will of the people” ; and “Let no guilty man escape.” He wrote with the first pen he [242] happened to pick up, and never stopped to consider whether it was sharp-pointed or blunt-nibbed, good or bad. He was by no means as particular in this regard as General Zachary Taylor, of whom an old army rumor said that the only signature he ever made which was entirely satisfactory to him was written with the butt-end of a ramrod dipped in tar. General Grant's desk was always in a delirious state of confusion; pigeonholes were treated with a sublime disregard, and he left his letters piled up in apparently inextricable heaps; but, strange to say, he carried in his mind such a distinct recollection of local literary geography as applied to his writing-table that he could go to it and even in the dark lay his hand upon almost any paper he wanted. His military training had educated him to treat purely official documents with respect, and these were always handed over to Colonel Bowers, the adjutant-general, to be properly filed; but as to his private letters, he made his coat-pockets a general depository for his correspondence until they could hold no more, and then he discharged their contents upon his desk in a chaotic mass. The military secretaries made heroic struggles to bring about some order in this department, and generally saw that copies were kept of all letters of importance which the chief wrote. Whatever came from his pen was grammatically correct, well punctuated, and seldom showed an error in spelling. In the field he never had a dictionary in his possession, and when in doubt about the orthography of a word, he was never known to write it first on a separate slip of paper to see how it looked. He spelled with heroic audacity, and “chanced it” on the correctness. While in rare instances he made a mistake in doubling the consonants where unnecessary, or in writing a single consonant where two were required, he really spelled with great accuracy. His [243] pronunciation was seldom, if ever, at fault, though in two words he had a peculiar way of pronouncing the letter d: he always pronounced corduroy “corjuroy,” and immediately “immejetly.”

While planning means for the defeat of Early, General Grant was still giving constant attention to the movements of Sherman. That officer had been repulsed in making his attack on Kenesaw Mountain, but by a successful flank movement had turned the enemy's very strong position, and compelled him to fall back over the Chattahoochee River on July 4. On the 17th Sherman crossed that river and drove the enemy into his defenses about Atlanta. It now looked as if Sherman would be forced to a siege of that place; and as he was many hundreds of miles from his base, and there was only a single line of railroad to supply him, it was more than ever important that no troops should be allowed to leave Virginia to be thrown against his lines.

Grant was frequently in consultation with Meade in regard to preventing the enemy from withdrawing troops from Petersburg. The Southern papers received through the lines gave very conflicting accounts of the operations on Sherman's front, and indicated that there was a great demand for the reinforcement of Johnston, and expressed the belief that there would be vigorous movements made to break Sherman's communications. In a despatch to Halleck Grant said: “If he [Sherman] can supply himself with ordnance and quartermaster's stores, and partially with subsistence, he will find no difficulty in staying until a permanent line can be opened with the south coast.” The general directed a large quantity of the stores at Nashville to be transferred to Chattanooga. There was another contingency which he mentioned, and which he had to devise steps to guard against — a determination on the part of the [244] enemy to withdraw the troops in front of Sherman and move them quickly by rail to Petersburg, and in the mean time march Early's corps back to Lee, and make a combined attack upon the Army of the Potomac. This, Grant believed, would be done only in some extreme emergency, and in case the enemy felt convinced that Sherman was so far from his base of supplies that he could not move much farther into the interior. One means which the general-in-chief had in contemplation at this time for preventing troops from being sent from Virginia was to start Sheridan on a raid to cut the railroads southwest of Richmond.

Important news reached headquarters on July 17 to the effect that General Joe Johnston had been relieved from duty, and General Hood put in command of the army opposed to Sherman. General Grant said when he received this information: “I know very well the chief characteristics of Hood. He is a bold, dashing soldier, and has many qualities of successful leadership, but he is an indiscreet commander, and lacks cool judgment. We may look out now for rash and ill-advised attacks on his part. I am very glad, from our standpoint, that this change has been made. Hood will prove no match for Sherman.” He waited with some curiosity to know just what policy Hood would adopt. As was anticipated, he came out of his lines and made an attack on July 20, but was repulsed with great loss. He made another offensive movement on the 22d, and fought the celebrated battle of Atlanta, but was again driven back. On the 28th he made another bold dash against Sherman, but in this also he was completely defeated, and fell back within the defenses at Atlanta. In the battle of the 22d General McPherson was killed. When this news reached General Grant he was visibly [245] affected, and dwelt upon it in his conversations for the next two or three days. “McPherson,” he said, “was one of my earliest staff-officers, and seemed almost like one of my own family. At Donelson, Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga he performed splendid service. I predicted from the start that he would make one of the most brilliant officers in the service. I was very reluctant to have him leave my staff, for I disliked to lose his services there, but I felt that it was only fair to him to put him in command of troops where he would be in the line of more rapid promotion. I was very glad to have him at the head of my old Army of the Tennessee. His death will be a terrible loss to Sherman, for I know that he will feel it as keenly as I. McPherson was beloved by everybody in the service, both by those above him and by those below him.”

In the midsummer of 1864 General Grant had an increasing weight of responsibility thrown upon him every day. While he was requiring his commanders to sleep with one foot out of bed and with one eye open, lest Lee might make some unexpected movement which would require a prompt change in the general plan of operations, he had to devise new methods almost daily to check raids in different parts of the country, protect the capital, save the North from invasion, and lay vigorous siege to Petersburg, which had been rendered as nearly impregnable by the enemy as the art of the military engineer was capable of making it. He was constantly embarrassed, too, by some of his subordinates. An acrimonious personal warfare was progressing between Butler and W. F. Smith, and the latter's severe criticisms of Meade had aroused the resentment of that officer, which added a new phase to the general quarrel. General Grant finally made up his mind to relieve General [246] Smith from duty; he was given a leave of absence, and never recalled.

As a commander General Butler had not been General Grant's choice. The general-in-chief, when he assumed command of the armies, found Butler in charge of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina, and utilized him to the best advantage possible. He had always found him subordinate, prompt to obey orders, possessed of great mental activity, and clear in his conception of the instructions given him. He was a good administrative officer, though often given to severe and unusual methods in enforcing discipline and in dealing with the dissatisfied element of the population living within his department; yet he did not possess the elements necessary to make an efficient officer in the field. As he was inexperienced in fighting battles, Grant felt reluctant to give him charge of any important military movement. One embarrassment was that he was the senior officer in rank in Virginia, and if General Grant should be called away temporarily, Butler would be in supreme command of the operations against Petersburg. The general struggled along under this embarrassment by keeping matters under his own direction when Butler's forces were employed in actual battle, and by sending an experienced corps commander to handle the troops in the immediate presence of the enemy.

General Meade's irritability of temper, and over-sensitiveness to implied censure or criticism on the part of the newspapers, led him at one time to tender his resignation as commander of the Army of the Potomac. General Grant talked to him very kindly on the subject, soothed his feelings, and induced him to reconsider his intention. The general-in-chief did not mention the [247] matter publicly, and was very glad that hasty action had been prevented. If Meade had resigned at this time, Hancock would have succeeded him, and Ingalls, who had shown such signal executive ability, might possibly have been given an important command. Ingalls and I expressed a desire repeatedly to serve in command of troops, as such service gave promise of more rapid promotion and was more in accordance with our tastes; but the general always insisted upon retaining us on his staff.1

General Meade was a most accomplished officer. He had been thoroughly educated in his profession, and had a complete knowledge of both the science and the art of war in all its branches. He was well read, possessed of a vast amount of interesting information, had cultivated his mind as a linguist, and spoke French with fluency. When foreign officers visited the front they were invariably charmed by their interviews with the commander of the Army of the Potomac. He was a disciplinarian to the point of severity, was entirely subordinate to his superiors, and no one was more prompt than he to obey orders to the letter. In his intercourse with his officers the bluntness of the soldier was always conspicuous, and he never took pains to smooth any one's ruffled feelings.

There was an officer serving in the Army of the Potomac who had formerly been a surgeon. One day he appeared at Meade's headquarters in a high state of indignation, [248] and said: “General, as I was riding over here some of the men in the adjoining camps shouted after me and called me ‘Old Pills,’ and I would like to have it stopped.” Meade just at that moment was not in the best possible frame of mind to be approached with such a complaint. He seized hold of the eye-glasses, conspicuously large in size, which he always wore, clapped them astride of his nose with both hands, glared through them at the officer, and exclaimed: “Well, what of that T How can I prevent it? Why, I hear that, when I rode out the other day, some of the men called me a ‘ d-d old goggle-eyed snapping-turtle,’ and I can't even stop that!” The officer had to content himself with this explosive expression of a sympathetic fellow-feeling, and to take his chances thereafter as to obnoxious epithets.

In view of the want of harmony which often prevailed, the service would have suffered severely if an officer of a different character had been in supreme command; but Grant was so complacent in his manner, so even in temper, and so just in his method of dealing with the conflicting interests and annoying questions which arose, that whatever his subordinates may have thought of one another, to him they were at all times well disposed and perfectly loyal.

Throughout this memorable year, the most important as well as the most harassing of his entire military career, General Grant never in any instance failed to manifest those traits which were the true elements of his greatness. He was always calm amid excitement, and patient under trials. He looked neither to the past with regret nor to the future with apprehension. When he could not control he endured, and in every great crisis he could “convince when others could not advise.” His calmness of demeanor and unruffled temper were often a marvel even to those most familiar with him. In the [249] midst of the most exciting scenes he rarely raised his voice above its ordinary pitch or manifested the least irritability. Whether encountered at noonday or awakened from sleep at midnight, his manner was always the same; whether receiving the report of an army commander or of a private soldier serving as a courier or a scout, he listened with equal deference and gave it the same strict attention. He could not only discipline others, but he could discipline himself. If he had lived in ancient days he might, in his wrath, have broken the two tables of stone: he never would have broken the laws which were written on them. The only manifestation of anger he had indulged in during the campaign was upon the occasion, herein-before mentioned, when he found a teamster beating his horses near the Totopotomoy. He never criticized an officer harshly in the presence of others. If fault had to be found with him, it was never made an occasion to humiliate him or wound his feelings. The only pointed reprimand he ever administered was in the instance mentioned in the battle of the Wilderness, when an officer left his troops and came to him to magnify the dangers which were to be feared from Lee's methods of warfare. The fact that he never “nagged” his officers, but treated them all with consideration, led them to communicate with him freely and intimately; and he thus gained much information which otherwise he might not have received. To have a well-disciplined command he did not deem it necessary to have an unhappy army. His ideas of discipline did not accord with those of the Russian officer who, one night in the Moscow campaign, reprimanded a soldier for putting a ball of snow under his head for a pillow, for the reason that indulgence in such uncalled — for luxuries would destroy the high character of the army.

It was an interesting study in human nature to watch [250] the general's actions in camp. He would sit for hours in front of his tent, or just inside of it looking out, smoking a cigar very slowly, seldom with a paper or a map in his hands, and looking like the laziest man in camp. But at such periods his mind was working more actively than that of any one in the army. He talked less and thought more than any one in the service. He studiously avoided performing any duty which some one else could do as well or better than he, and in this respect demonstrated his rare powers of administration and executive methods. He was one of the few men holding high position who did not waste valuable hours by giving his personal attention to petty details. He never consumed his time in reading over court-martial proceedings, or figuring up the items of supplies on hand, or writing unnecessary letters or communications. He held subordinates to a strict accountability in the performance of such duties, and kept his own time for thought. It was this quiet but intense thinking, and the well-matured ideas which resulted from it, that led to the prompt and vigorous action which was constantly witnessed during this year, so pregnant with events.

He changed his habits somewhat at this period about going to bed early, and began to sit up later; and as he preferred to have some one keep him company and discuss matters with him of an evening, one of the staff-officers always made it a point not to retire until the chief was ready for bed. Many a night now became a sort of “watch-night” with us; but the conversations held upon these occasions were of such intense interest that they amply compensated for the loss of sleep they caused, even after a hard day's ride at the front. The general, however, did not always curtail the eight hours of rest which his system seemed to require; for he often [251] pieced out the time by lying in bed later in the morning when there was no stirring movement afoot.

While sitting with him at the camp-fire late one night, after every one else had gone to bed, I said to him: “General, it seems singular that you have gone through all the rough and tumble of army service and frontier life, and have never been provoked into swearing. I have never heard you utter an oath or use an imprecation.” “Well, somehow or other, I never learned to swear,” he replied. “When a boy I seemed to have an aversion to it, and when I became a man I saw the folly of it. I have always noticed, too, that swearing helps to rouse a man's anger; and when a man flies into a passion his adversary who keeps cool always gets the better of him. In fact, I could never see the use of swearing. I think it is the case with many people who swear excessively that it is a mere habit, and that they do not mean to be profane; but, to say the least, it is a great waste of time.” His example in this respect was once quoted in my hearing by a member of the Christian Commission to a teamster in the Army of the Potomac, in the hope of lessening the volume of rare oaths with which he was italicizing his language, and upon which he seemed to be placing his main reliance in moving his mule-team out of a mud-hole. The only reply evoked from him was: “Then thar's one thing sart'in: the old man never druv mules.”

On July 22 General Grant called upon the aides to go with him to Meade's headquarters. Soon after our arrival there, Meade mounted his horse and rode out with us to visit Warren. The meeting between Meade and Warren was not very cordial, in consequence of a rather acrimonious discussion and correspondence which had just taken place between them; but they were both such good soldiers that they did not make any display of [252] their personal feelings while engaged in their official duties. A Pittsburg newspaper had stated that Meade had preferred charges against Warren for disobedience and tardy execution of orders. Warren at once wrote to Meade, asking him what truth there was in it, and if the rumor was correct that he had told General Grant that he had threatened him (Warren) with a court martial if he did not resign. Meade replied, denying the statement of the newspaper, but said he had been offended by the temper and ill feeling that Warren had manifested against him recently in the presence of subordinates, and the want of harmony and cooperation which he had exhibited, and that he had spoken to Grant about this, and had gone so far as to write a letter to him asking that Warren might be relieved; but that, in the hope that disagreements might not occur in future, and in order to avoid doing him so serious an injury, he had withheld the letter.

A thorough examination of Warren's front and other parts of the line was made. Sharp firing occurred in front of Burnside, which was thought to indicate something of importance; but it was only a random fusillade on the part of the troops, kept up between the parts of the lines which were quite close together.

Saturday, July 23, William H. Seward, the Secretary of State, came down from Washington to visit General Grant and see the armies. He arrived at seven o'clock in the morning on the steamer City of Hudson, and came at once to General Grant's quarters. The general had seen but little of the distinguished Secretary of State previous to this time, and was very glad to welcome him to City Point, and make his more intimate acquaintance. He presented the officers of the staff who were in camp at the time, and invited them to take seats under the tent-fly in front of his quarters, where he and the Secretary [253] were sitting. Mr. Seward was profuse in his expressions of congratulation at the progress which had been made by the Union armies in the East, and their successes generally throughout the country. We soon began to realize that he fully merited his reputation as a talker. He spoke very freely in reference to the progress of the war, and more particularly about our foreign relations. He had conducted our many delicate negotiations with foreign nations with such consummate ability that every one was anxious to draw him out in regard to them. The first topic of conversation which came up was the unfriendliness of our relations with England the first year of the war, and especially how near we came to an open break with that power in regard to the “Trent affair,” in which Commodore Wilkes, commanding the U. S. S. San Jacinto, had taken Slidell and Mason, the Confederate emissaries, from the English vessel Trent, upon which they were passengers. Mr. Seward said: “The report first received from the British government gave a most exaggerated account of the severity of the measures which had been employed; but I found from Commodore Wilkes's advices that the vessel had not been endangered by the shots fired across her bows, as charged; that he had simply sent a lieutenant and a boat's crew to the British vessel; that none of the crew even went aboard; that the lieutenant used only such a show of force as was necessary to convince the ‘ contraband’ passengers he wanted that they would have to go with him aboard the San Jacinto. The books on international law were silent on the subject as to exactly how an act such as this should be treated; and as our relations abroad were becoming very threatening, we decided, after a serious discussion, that whatever was to be done should be done promptly, and that, under all the circumstances, it would be wise and prudent to release [254] the prisoners captured, rather than contend for a principle which might not have been sound, and run the risk of becoming involved in a war with Great Britain at that critical period. The great desire of the Davis government was to have this incident embroil us in such a war, and we were not anxious to please it in that respect. Our decision in the matter was the severest blow the Confederacy received in regard to its hope of ‘ assistance from abroad.’ ”

This naturally led to the mention of a more recent event upon the seas — the destruction of the Alabama by the Kearsarge. General Grant had rejoiced greatly at this triumph of our sister service the navy, and admired immensely the boldness and pluck exhibited by Winslow, the commander of the Kearsarge, in forcing the fight with the Confederate cruiser. The general was naturally delighted, for it showed that Winslow was a man after his own heart, who acted upon the commendable military maxim, “When in doubt, fight.” Mr. Seward was asked whether he had in contemplation any steps to take England to task for the action of the British yacht Deerhound for picking up and carrying off our prisoners. He said: “I have communicated with our minister at London, directing him to lay before the British government our grievance in this matter. I feel pretty well convinced that the captain of the Deerhound had arranged with Semmes, the captain of the Alabama, previous to the fight, to transfer to the yacht certain moneys and valuables which Semmes had aboard, so as to carry them to England for him, and to occupy a position during the fight near enough to render assistance under certain contingencies. It was reported that Captain Winslow asked the captain of the Deerhound to rescue the crew of the Alabama, who were drowning when that vessel was sinking; but that did not seem to be necessary, [255] as Winslow was able with his boats to rescue all the men. It appears that many of Semmes's guns were manned by British gunners, and the wounded who were picked up were carried to England and cared for in a British naval hospital. The circumstance is a most aggravating one, and we have given Great Britain to understand that such acts will not be tolerated in future by this nation.”

General Grant then brought up the subject of the empire in Mexico, which was supported by Louis Napoleon. The general's services in the Mexican war had made him thoroughly well acquainted with Mexico, and he not only had deep sympathy for her people in their present struggle, but was a stanch supporter of the Monroe doctrine generally, and was opposed on principle to any European monarchy forcing its institutions upon an American republic. Mr. Seward expressed himself at great length upon this subject, saying among other things: “I have had a very exhaustive correspondence on this subject with Louis Napoleon's ministry. He has tried by every form of argument to justify his acts; but I have insisted from the start that when an American state has established republican institutions, no foreign power has the right to use force in attempting to subvert the government formed by its people and set up a monarchy in its place. When an American republic becomes a monarchy by the voluntary act of its people, the matter is no affair of ours, as the people are always the rightful source of authority; but in the present instance a European emperor has stepped in to deprive the Mexicans of the right of republican freedom. I have been insisting very forcibly that Louis Napoleon must withdraw his army from Mexico. Why, rumors have reached us from time to time that his forces were to advance across the Rio Grande, by an understanding [256] with the Davis government, and take possession of the State of Texas. We shall never feel easy until those troops are withdrawn.”

General Grant said: “While we don't want another war on our hands before we finish the present one, yet I feel that the reestablishment of republican government in Mexico would really be a part of our present struggle. As soon as the war of secession ends, and I think it is coming to a close pretty rapidly, we will have a veteran army in the West ready to make a demonstration upon the Rio Grande with a view to enforcing respect for our opinions concerning the Monroe doctrine. I regard this expedition to Mexico not as a movement of the French people, but as one of the ambitious schemes of Louis Napoleon, which shows that he has as little respect for the French people's opinions as for our own. The French people are our old allies; it is natural that we should have a great regard for them, and there is a very close bond of sympathy between the two countries; but Louis Napoleon does not represent the people of France. I hope that his power may some day cease, and that France may become a republic, and I do not think that day is far distant.” Mr. Seward remarked, “Yes; we want to get Napoleon out of Mexico, but we don't want any war over it; we have certainly had enough of war.”

One of the party remarked to Mr. Seward that he always seemed to have an abiding faith in the triumph of the Union cause. The Secretary replied: “Yes; though we have passed through many gloomy periods since the breaking out of the war, I have always felt confident that the integrity of the Union would be preserved. It is a part of my philosophy to believe that the American republic has now, and will have for many years to come, enough virtue in its people to insure the [257] safety of the state. Sometimes there does not seem to be any virtue to spare, but there's always enough.”

After some further conversation, Mr. Seward, by invitation of General Grant, visited some of the nearest camps; and in the afternoon General Butler accompanied the Secretary on his steamer on a trip up the James River as far as it was safe to go. Mr. Seward was urged to prolong his visit, but as he had an engagement to be in Norfolk in the evening, he felt compelled to start for that place in the afternoon, as soon as his steamer returned from the excursion up the James.

1 A reference to this subject occurs in “Around the world with General Grant,” by the Hon. John Russell Young, who accompanied him upon his tour. The language used by General Grant in one of his interviews with Mr. Young is reported as follows: “Ingalls in command of troops would, in my opinion, have become a great and famous general. . . . Horace Porter was lost in the staff. Like Ingalls, he was too useful to be spared. But as a commander of troops Porter would have risen, in my opinion, to a high command.” --Editor.

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