none of our public men have a story so strange as this.
It is stranger than Lincoln
's. It is very much the strangest of them all. We have been too near the man and his time to see them clear through personal, political, and military feelings, mostly violent.
All the people are not dead yet. Nearly all the writers have a case to argue.
must justify his treatment of Warren
must bolster up Shiloh
must diminish Sidney Johnston.
must belittle Meade
, and also the losses in the Wilderness
These are mere instances.
The heroes and their biographers all write alike, inevitably moved and biassed by the throb of proximity.
Such books are not history.
They make inspiring material, when read in each other's light.
They are personal reminiscences.
History never begins until reminiscence is ended.
Even Mr. Ropes
, in his championing of Buell
the soldier, omits Buell
the man. Now Buell
, sulking over his wrongs, declined, when invited, to come back and take a command again.
He found his dignity more important to him than the Union
, meeting singular injustice after winning Donelson
, has such words as these to say : “If my course is not satisfactory, remove me at once.
I do not wish to impede in any way the success of our arms.”
Good authority rates Buell
a more military soldier than Grant
, and very likely he was. But Buell
thought of himself and forgot his country, while Grant
thought of his country and forgot himself.
Out of this very contrast a bright light falls, and we begin to see Grant
Writing intemperately, his friends explain him as a sort of Napoleon
; his enemies, as a dull blunderer, accidentally reaping the glory which other people sowed.
These extremes meet in error.
We have not
produced a Napoleon, and military talents of greater brilliancy than Grant
's fought on both sides.
Purely as captains, Lee
, if not others, are likely to stand higher; while Sheridan
during his brief opportunity proved such a thunderbolt that, did history know men by their promise instead of by their fruits, he might outshine the whole company, and rank with Charles of Sweden
sits above and apart.
Is this accident?
Is it accident that at the beginning of a certain four years this middle-aged man should be nobody, and at the end should be the one commander out of all to win and retain the supreme confidence of his government and his people?
It has been called accident by some grown — up writers.
His own words give the unconscious explanation: “I feel as sure of taking Richmond
as I do of dying.”
, not Meade
, not Lincoln
himself, not any one at all,
had ever been able to feel as sure as that.
This utter certainty of the Union
's success burned in Grant
like a central fire, and, with all his limitations, made his will a great natural force which gravitated simply and irresistibly to its end. Lincoln
; beginning to feel it from afar, answered the grave complaints that rose after the carnage of Shiloh
: “I can't spare this man: he fights.”
And presently, during the impatient days of Vicksburg
failures, he insists: “I rather like the man. I think we'll try him a little longer.”
Finally comes the renowned remark, when they tell him of Grant
's intemperance: “I wish I knew what brand of whiskey he drinks.
I would send a barrel to all my other generals.”
felt the power near at hand, as he fought under Grant
, and wrote to him that it was something which he could liken “to nothing else than the faith a Christian has in his Saviour.”
Through this faith, then, the obscure man from
began in April, 1861, and by April, 1864, was the will-power of his country.
But why was such a man still obscure at the age of thirty-nine?
Again his own words give the fundamental explanation: “As
I grow older, I become more indolent, my besetting sin through life.”
This was written in 1873 to his minister to England
, and no truer word ever came from him. Together with the remark about taking Richmond
, it reveals the foundation upon which the whole man was built.
Great will and great indolence met about equally in Grant
; therefore he stood still, needing a push from without to move him. The gun that fired on Sumter
was the push.
Until that day he resembled a large animal hibernating.
To what he did and left undone his other qualities contributed; but these two controlled,--indolence and will.
In their light his story can be plainly read, his portrait clearly seen.