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[135]

Chapter 28:


At City Point Grant lived a life of great simplicity. After his arrival there in June, his Headquarters' camp was pitched on a bluff, overlooking the junction of the Appomattox and the James; but when it became certain that the winter must be passed at this spot, tents were exchanged for log huts, in which fires could be built. Grant's cabin was divided by a partition of boards, so that it might be said to possess two rooms, but in no other [136] respect did it differ from that of the humblest subordinate on his staff. There was a flooring of plank, a deal table for maps and writing materials, a wooden chair or two, and, in the inner division, a camp bed and an iron washstand: this was the provision made for the general of the armies. During the day the hut was little occupied, except when writing was to be done by one of the staff; for Grant wrote few letters himself, only the despatches to the government and orders for the commanders of armies. Once or twice a week he went to Meade or Butler's front, and sometimes visited the hospitals or fortifications at City Point; but the roads were in miserable condition, the horses sank up to their bellies in mud, and there was little pleasure in any exercise.

Most of the time was spent around a huge wood fire kept up in the centre of the encampment, immediately in front of Grant's own hut. Here a number of rough seats were placed, and two or three officers were almost always to be found. The weather was cold, but wrapped in the overcoat of a private soldier, Grant liked to form one of the group around this fire. The telegraph was close at hand, and despatches were brought him instantly: to this point came messages from Meade, and Butler, and Sherman, and Sheridan, and Thomas, and Canby, and Stanton, and Halleck, and the President; and after reading them, the general-in-chief usually stepped at once into his hut and wrote his reply; he then rejoined the circle around the fire, and often told the contents of the message he had received, as well as of that he sent. On such occasions he rarely consulted any one. Sometimes, of [137] course, it was necessary to inform himself before replying; if an inquiry was made about troops, or he needed to know something from the quartermaster or the commissary of subsistence, the proper officer was sent for; but when the despatch simply required a decision, Grant made the decision, and announced it after the reply was gone.

One great occupation was the study of the rebel newspapers, which often brought the earliest news from distant commands. They were exchanged for our own on the picket line, almost daily, and the Richmond papers were brought in as regularly as if they had been subscribed for. Prisoners of consequence, or who had important news, were also conveyed to the Headquarters; while of course the highest officers of the army were constant visitors, Meade and Butler most frequent of all. Admiral Porter, who commanded the squadron on the James, often consulted Grant; important personages from Washington, foreign ministers, senators, members of the government, officers of foreign armies, were sometimes guests; and the President himself spent several weeks during the winter at the Headquarters, sleeping on a steamer below the bluffs, while his days were passed familiarly with Grant and his officers.

He liked, when Grant was away for an hour or a day, to sit in the adjutant-general's hut, where despatches came in, and he could receive information promptly. With his long legs twisted and coiled as if he hardly knew what to do with them, he leaned his chair backwards, and talked, apparently with the greatest freedom, even with junior officers; yet he never said anything except [138] exactly what he meant to say. This daily intercourse for weeks left a profound impression on those who were fortunate enough to share it. The intellectual calibre of the man was most apparent, and most imposing. All through the rough exterior of conversation, the abundant jokes, the plain, homespun talk,—as plain as his face, but as full of power and meaning,—there was evidence enough that Lincoln was a great man. Grant often said at this time that he thought him by far the greatest man who had occupied the Presidential chair since Washington. And in those qualities not purely intellectual, and yet far from devoid of intellectuality, which make men great in times of revolution and civil war, Lincoln was incontestably superior to any of his predecessors, perhaps even to the first.

His task, indeed, was far more difficult than Washington's. He ruled thirty millions of people; Washington was at the head of only three millions: he had a war to carry on with a part of his own nation; Washington's was with outsiders: his armies numbered half a million soldiers; Washington's, thirty or forty thousand. His enemies were ten times as numerous in the field as those with whom Washington contended. He had the great problem of emancipation to solve, which was not presented to

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