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On Friday, April 12, 1861, news reached Galena that South Carolina had fired upon Fort Sumter. On Monday came tidings of its capture. On Tuesday there was a town meeting, with a slippery mayor. But two spirits of a different quality spoke out. Washburne said, “Any man who will try to stir party prejudices at such a time as this is a traitor.” Rawlins ended his fervent speech, “We will stand by the flag of our country, and appeal to the God of battles.” These two names must always be joined with Grant's fortunes; and this was the first night of their common cause. Washburne in Congress became Grant's good angel against the public, and Rawlins in Grant's tent was his good angel against temptation — John A. Rawlins, farmer, charcoal-burner, self-educated lawyer, “swarthy, rough-hewn, passionate,” as [33] Mr. Garland writes of him. In later years Grant said, “I always disliked to hear anybody swear except Rawlins.” It was over Grant's whiskey that many of these oaths were raised; and, though we have heard much about the glasses which he drank, we shall never know the tale of those which he escaped drinking, thanks to his friend. Grant kept Rawlins close to him throughout the war, and after it as long as he lived. His loss was sorrowful and irreparable.

At the end of the town meeting, Grant told his brother that he thought he ought to go into the service. On Thursday he found himself chairman of a meeting to raise volunteers. After his first few words of embarrassment, he made himself plain enough. Though an Abolitionist by no means, he says in a letter to his father-in-law at this time, “In all this I can see but the doom of slavery.” Believing he could better serve his state at Springfield, he declined [34] the captaincy of a volunteer company, but helped them form and drill, and went with them to Springfield on the same train. But, though Washburne's belief in him was already considerable, his influence for a while wrought nothing in the chaos of intrigues and appointments. As the French Colonel Szabad vividly describes this period in our country: “Never were commanders of such high rank created with more rapidity and less discernment. Those who had some knowledge of the art of war, as well as those who were ignorant of its first principles, well-educated and intelligent men, together with men totally illiterate and vulgar, all received their stars with an equal facility; and all alike believed themselves capable of leading to victory.” Nor is this a supercilious European view. When the baggage animals were starving at Chattanooga, Lincoln complained, “I can make a brigadier-general [35] any day I like, but these mules cost $150 apiece.” In the vast shuffle and ferment, then, how should poor, silent, unshowy Grant not be lost? The marvel is that he was found so soon. It all seems as casual as fate. Tired of waiting, though Washburne counselled patience, he was about to return to Galena, when he was taken into the adjutant-general's office; and for a while he sat in a corner, filling blanks with such ease and naturalness that nobody noticed it was well done. Next he was sent for a few days to Camp Yates while the commandant was absent. Force was felt in him here; and he was one of the five officers appointed to muster in ten regiments at Mattoon. It was called Camp Grant. But none of this led to anything. He wrote to his father, “I might have got the colonelcy of a regiment possibly; but I was perfectly sick of the political wire-pulling for all these commissions, and would not engage in it.” [36]

While mustering, he had a few idle days to wait, and, finding himself near St. Louis, waited there. The town was a pot of conspiracy. Claiborne Jackson, the governor, with a Union mask on, was stealing troops and arms for Secession. Francis Blair and Nathaniel Lyon, two most competent patriots, watched him through his mask. At the right moment they captured his entire camp. A rebel flag which had been flying in St. Louis then came down to stay down. Grant looked on at this, and presently, entering a street-car, was addressed by a youth in words that may be dwelt upon. The mouth of Ireland never uttered a bull more perfect. Secession never drew its own portrait with a straighter stroke. The profound self-contradiction between the youth's two sentences has placed him in history. “Things have come to a damned pretty pass,” said he, “when a free people can't choose their own flag. Where I [37] came from, if a man dares to say a word in favour of the Union, we hang him to a limb of the first tree we come to.” In Grant's reply the spirit of the Union is likewise drawn: “After all, we are not so intolerant in St. Louis as we might be. I have not seen a single rebel hung yet, nor heard of one. There are plenty of them who ought to be, however.”

He next wrote from home to Washington offering his services, and with some hesitation saying that he felt himself competent to command a regiment. No answer came. He went to Cincinnati to see General McClellan, but, failing twice, gave this up too. Of his enforced idleness he writes May 30, “During the six days I have been at home I have felt all the time as if a duty was being neglected that was paramount to any other duty I ever owed.” But now the troops of the Twenty-first Illinois had become insubordinate. It was [38] a regiment which he had mustered at Mattoon; and it would appear that the officers, dissatisfied with their colonel, had spoken to the governor of Grant. The governor seems to have been puzzled. Meeting a book-keeper from the Galena store, he said: “What kind of a man is this Captain Grant?. . . He . . . declined my offer to recommend him to Washington for a brigadier-generalship, saying he didn't want office till he had earned it.” And the book-keeper replied, “Ask him no questions, but simply order him to duty.” On the day when, through a friend's offices, Grant had received the commission of colonel of an Ohio regiment, Governor Yates telegraphed him his appointment as colonel of the Twenty-first Illinois; and this he chose, and went to Springfield.

There is a story that he was introduced to his command by two orators, who both burst into eloquence and rhapsodised for some time. His turn came, [39] and much was expected from him; but his speech was this: “Men, go to your quarters.” They presently discovered that they had a colonel, although the colonel had no uniform, being obliged to go home and borrow three hundred dollars to buy him horse and equipments.

This regiment had volunteered for thirty days; but, after listening to McClernand's and Logan's patriotic addresses, Grant relates that they entered the United States service almost to a man. He does not say that a month later, in Missouri, when these same men whom he had severely disciplined heard that he was likely to be promoted, they requested to be attached to his command. He wrote his father this; but he adds that he does not wish it read to the others, “for I very much dislike speaking of myself.”

His men did not know his feelings as he drew near what he thought was to be his first engagement. He writes; “As [40] we approached the brow of the hill from which it was expected we would see Harris's camp, and possibly find his men ready to meet us, my heart kept getting higher and higher, until it felt to me as though it was in my throat; . . . but the troops were gone. My heart resumed its place. It occurred to me that Harris had been as much afraid of me as I had been of him. . . . From that event to the close of the war I never experienced trepidation upon confronting an enemy, though I always felt more or less anxiety. . . . The lesson was valuable.”

Not much happened to Grant in Missouri; and he took occasion to rub up his tactics. “I do not believe,” he says, “that the officers of the regiment ever discovered that I had never studied the tactics that I used.” Very likely the officers did not; but at Shiloh the enemy discovered that no earthworks had been thrown up. Somewhat [41] later than this Missouri time a young associate of Grant's, who perhaps plumed himself a little upon his military reading, asked the general something about Jomini's book. Grant replied, with a tinge of impatience, that he had read Jomini without much attention; and then he added: “The art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike at him as hard as you can and as often as you can, and keep moving on.” In this compact summary speaks the master mind. But the enemy got at Grant at Shiloh, and a little Jomini would have helped there. Before the battle of the Wilderness he is said to have exclaimed to Meade, “Oh, I never manoeuvre!” And it is said that his library contained not a single military work.

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