Chapter 11:

    • Grant's character.
    • -- his intellectual ability proved. -- insight into the character of others. -- wise selection of agents. -- tenacity of purpose. -- firmness. -- obedience to law. -- respect for the will of the people. -- Qualifications for high positions. -- generosity to his subordinates. -- reticence. -- a inquisitive visitor alarmed. -- Judicious silence at Washington. -- no speech-maker. -- the advantage of his reticence. -- not repulsive or inaccessible. -- republican simplicity. -- no taste for display or etiquette. -- two weaknesses: smoking, and driving horses. -- an inveterate smoker. -- a Yankee habit. -- horses and fast driving. -- a false Accusation, -- an invention of enemies. -- his features and appearance. -- conclusion.

The leading traits of General Grant's character have been indicated in the foregoing sketch of his career, but it may be well to group together some of the characteristics and habits which go to make up the man who now holds so prominent a position before the American people.

His intellectual ability, which early in the war was not appreciated nor even admitted among those who measured such ability by scholarship or brilliant success in some civil pursuit, has been fully proved. It only required the opportunities of war to develop itself, so that it should tower above his modesty, his undemonstrative manner, and retiring habits. After his successful campaigns, planned and executed with so much of skill and persistency; after Vicksburg, and [159] Chattanooga, and Richmond; after the skilful direction of movements on the most extended field of war which ever came under the supervision of one man, his intellectual ability cannot be questioned. Though not of a type to be called into exercise under ordinary circumstances, or rather being accompanied by traits of character which prevented its being called into exercise except under extraordinary pressure, it has proved itself in the most difficult field, and on the most important of occasions; and it has proved itself to be of that quality and character that it can be safely trusted to conduct prudently and successfully the affairs of a great country in time of peace as well as in time of war.

His remarkable insight into the character and capacity of others has been illustrated by his wise choice of subordinates to carry out his plans. It has been said that he owed his success to his able subordinates, and this idea has been encouraged by his own modesty and generosity towards them; but, in truth, they were more indebted to him than he to them. It was his sagacity which recognized their merit, and, in more than one instance, called them from obscurity, and gave them the opportunity of distinguishing themselves. It was his discernment which selected each to take that command, and to perform those deeds, for which he was best adapted. His most brilliant subordinates, Sherman and Sheridan, were especially thus indebted to him. Sherman was looked upon as little better than a lunatic till Grant gave direction to his abilities, and Sheridan achieved no distinction till Grant, seeing his true capacity, made him his cavalry commander, and [160] sent him to the Shenandoah to defeat Early, and to Five Forks to break through Lee's lines. Thomas, McPherson, and others, were in like manner indebted to Grant for promotion and opportunities; and each of them was trusted and assigned to difficult duties, because of his intuitive knowledge of their ability and fitness for the work demanded of them. So, also, his staff has always been composed of men admirably qualified for their respective duties, and who performed them with the same quiet energy which characterized their chief. This power to discern the character and ability of others, and to make a wise selection of agents, is one of the essential traits of a genius for command and for administration; and it is one as important for complete success in civil affairs as in military. Should General Grant be called to the higher position to which the people wish to promote him, the country has reason to feel assured that his wise choice of counsellors and executive officers will secure the most honest, faithful, and successful administration that has been vouchsafed to the country for many years.

His tenacity of purpose is another trait which has been illustrated through his whole career, and which is so prominent in the foregoing narrative of each of his campaigns, that it is needless to do more than allude to it here. Happily, in Grant persistency is united with patriotism, honesty of purpose, and sound judgment, which give it direction and exalt its character.

Allied to this is his firmness, which, being entirely free from conceit, never degenerates into obstinacy, although Mrs. Grant says “Mr. Grant is a very obstinate [161] man.” His firmness is generally for a good purpose, and subordinate to reason. He does not adhere to an opinion simply because he has expressed it, but only when he is convinced it is right; and when he has adopted a course which he is satisfied is the true one, he is not to be turned aside by opposition or flattery. Self-reliant and independent, by nature and by long training, he is not easily moved by the various advice of various men, but he calmly listens, weighs, and acts upon his own conclusions. He can say “no” to unworthy office-seekers, and keep political schemers at a distance, as he did the cotton speculators, who sought to bribe him when he commanded on the Mississippi.

But with all his firmness and independence, he has always manifested the strictest obedience to law, and submission to legitimate authority. This was illustrated throughout his career during the war, and it has been especially shown in his efforts to carry out the provisions of the reconstruction acts, against the adverse influence of Andrew Johnson, the sneers and opposition of northern Democrats, and the schemes of perverse rebels. Again, in his respect for the tenure of office act, he resisted the machinations of the President and his advisers to disregard the law, and involve him in a violation of it. His obedience to law has always been based upon respect for the source of law,--the will of the people. He conducted the war in accordance with the declared policy of the loyal people, and in his protest against the removal of Stanton and Sheridan, he boldly told Mr. Johnson, “It is more than the loyal people of this country (I mean those who [162] supported the government during the great rebellion) will quietly submit to, to see the very men, of all others, whom they have expressed confidence in, removed;” and again, he reminded him, “This is a republic, where the will of the people is the law of the land. I beg that their voice may be heard.” Thus, by his acts and by his language, he has put himself upon record, and established his reputation as a true democrat, and a thorough republican, whom the people can safely trust.

Such traits of character, possessed in a remarkable degree by General Grant, admirably qualify him, not only for the high position, and the important command and trusts to which he has been called, but for the still higher functions for which the loyal people have every — where designated him. But besides these, he possesses other traits becoming that high position, if not so important to it, which commend themselves to the admiration of the people, and to their love.

He has always manifested a noble generosity to his subordinates,--a generosity which has won their firmest friendship, and the genuine respect of his soldiers. No one more heartily rejoiced in the successes of his brother officers than he; no one more warmly commended them for their gallantry and good service; no one more earnestly supported them in the hour of danger and trial. No petty jealousy ever disturbed his relations with any officer in the army; and if there were some whose capacity he doubted, or whose conduct he censured, it was never because of any mean prejudice, ungenerous rivalry, or ,narrow ill will. Never acting from impulse, his judgment of others was always founded on reason, while a kindly nature has [163] made his favorable judgments all the more friendly and his unfavorable opinions less harsh.

Much has been said about General Grant's reticence, and it might be supposed from some accounts that he is mute as a statue. But, on the contrary, though he is not loquacious or demonstrative, and never seeks opportunities to express his opinions, he is often very agreeable in conversation, and is straightforward, honest, and simple in his language as he is in all his conduct. But upon all matters connected with his official action he is discreetly reticent. During the war he never announced his plans or talked about them, except with those whom he could absolutely trust, and his staff officers, following his instruction and example, were equally silent.

When he took the field with the army of the Potomac, he was frequently beset by members of Congress, correspondents of the press, and visitors favored with special passes to the front, who endeavored to elicit from him something of his views and purposes. But they were always unsuccessful, and were obliged to be content with the most general remarks, from which they drew inferences to suit themselves, or were put off with quiet monosyllables, which sometimes alarmed their fears and sometimes wounded their conceit. Impertinent querists and officious advisers often retired from his headquarters utterly baffled in their purposes, and uncertain whether to be angry or not. A characteristic anecdote of such an interview is told.

A visitor to the army, during the brief quiet which followed the battle of Spottsylvania, called at the general's headquarters, and found him talking with one [164] of his staff, and smoking as usual. The stranger, who had studied strategy to his own satisfaction, encouraged by the absence of all ceremony at Headquarters, ventured to address the commander, and inquired,--

“General, if you flank Lee, and get between him and Richmond, will you not uncover Washington, and leave it a prey to the enemy?”

“I reckon so,” replied the general, indifferently, discharging a cloud of smoke, perhaps to conceal a quiet smile.

The visitor, encouraged, again asked, “Do you not think Lee can detach a sufficient force from his army to reenforce Beauregard, and overwhelm Butler?”

“Not a doubt of it,” replied Grant, promptly.

The stranger, finding that his views were so readily accepted by Grant, asked again, “Is there not danger, general, that Johnston may come up from Carolina and reenforce Lee, so that with overwhelming numbers he can swing round and cut off your communications and seize your supplies?”

“Very likely,” coolly replied the general, knocking the ashes from his cigar. The stranger, alarmed at all these dangers admitted by the general, and amazed at his indifference and stolidity, hurried away to startle the timid with a vivid account of the critical position of affairs.

Such was Grant's reticence while conducting the war, and the country saw abundant reason for applauding it. After the war, when he established his headquarters at Washington, where he was continually surrounded by impertinent inquirers and political [165] schemers, that reticence was none the less needed, and was as discreetly practised. If they endeavored to entrap him, they were completely foiled by quiet monosyllables or a blunt change of the topic. If schemers talked politics to elicit his views, he could “talk horse,” as a subject with which he declared himself more familiar; and it is related that when President Johnson undertook to find out what he thought of the rumored intention of the Democrats to nominate him for the presidency in order to flank the Republicans, he replied, “I think — this is the poorest cigar I ever smoked.”

As for making speeches, he is utterly averse to doing so; and on many occasions when the people, aroused to enthusiasm by his presence, have called him out, he has in the briefest possible manner thanked them, and excused himself, or called upon some friend to respond for him. There is no danger of his making speeches, under any circumstances, which would compromise himself; but in view of the speech-making of Mr, Johnson, Grant's silence is a virtue more precious than gold.

By his discreet reticence, General Grant has avoided many embarrassments which a more loquacious and demonstrative man might have experienced in the atmosphere of Washington; and, in avoiding embarrassments, he has also saved the country from the excitement and alarm which the ever-changing rumors of his sayings and opinions might produce. But if he knows when to be silent, he knows also when and where, and to whom, he can talk frankly and without reserve. And his views and opinions thus expressed harmonize fully, and always, with the conduct and acts [166] which have proved his devotion to the country. He is, in words as well as deeds, a firm, unhesitating supporter of Congress in its reconstruction policy, and a strenuous opponent of executive usurpation and disregard of law.

Though retiring and undemonstrative in manner, he is by no means repulsive or inaccessible. On the contrary, he is easily approached, and is courteous and pleasant. But the citadel of his thoughts and purposes he does not yield either to the bold assaults of brazen inquisitors, or to the wary approaches of cunning diplomatists.

Of all the distinguished officers in the army, Grant has always been the most unostentatious and unpretending in appearance and manner. He is careless, but not slovenly in his dress, and is so devoid of any air of importance, that but for the four stars upon his shoulder-straps, no one would suppose he was more than a hard-worked quartermaster's subordinate. In the winter of 1865, shortly before his final and triumphant campaign, while in Washington, he visited the Capitol, and was received with becoming respect by the members of Congress. But so quiet and modest was his deportment, that when he retired from the Senate chamber, a Democratic senator declared that “a gross mistake had been made in appointing Grant lieutenant general, for, in his opinion, there was not a second lieutenant of the home guard of his state who did not ‘cut a bigger swell’ than this man who had just left their presence!” Such is his modesty and simplicity of demeanor on all occasions, except when at the very front he gives orders on the field of battle; and then [167] his energy and determination assert themselves above his modesty and usual quiet.

During the war there was no parade about his headquarters, which was no more pretending in appearance or arrangement than a colonel's, while his “headquarters train” was often the smallest in the army. In the winter of 1864-5 he lived in a small log-house on the banks of the James, sleeping on a common camp cot, and eating with his staff at a table furnished with such simple food as “roast beef, pork and beans, ‘hard tack,’ and coffee.” No body-guard ever accompanied him simply for display, and he never made a show of good-looking, well-dressed, and formal orderlies about his headquarters.

The same simplicity he continues in his position as general of the army, at Washington. While not wholly negligent of the proprieties of life and of his office, he discards all useless display, and seems to deprecate all unnecessary formalities. No punctilious etiquette is necessary in order to reach him; and no omission of customary form would call down his wrath on the head of any careless or ignorant offender, though some brigadier generals have in that way manifested their importance. In truth, his whole style and bearing afford an example of republican simplicity remarkable in a successful military commander, but not inconsistent with true dignity, nor unbecoming in the high office he now holds, or the higher office which awaits him.

But General Grant is human. Though possessing a genius for command in war, and sterling qualities which fit him for high executive duties, and inspire the [168] confidence of the people, he is not an immaculate hero. He has two weaknesses: he loves to smoke a good cigar, and he loves to drive good horses. There are some persons to whom even these weaknesses, in a man like Grant, commend themselves more than rigid virtues; and there are few who, while they appreciate his high qualities and well-balanced character, will like him any the less for such tokens of a genial humanity.

He is an inveterate smoker. He smokes on almost all occasions when there is not an absolute impropriety in the indulgence. And sometimes the force of habit has been so strong that it was necessary to remind him of the propriety of laying aside his cigar; as once, when he visited the Capitol, and was about to enter the Senate chamber as the most distinguished guest of the Senate. So on more than one occasion the guard over ammunition wagons has been obliged to repeat to him the orders, “No smoking allowed here, sir!” Like a gentleman and a soldier he always good-naturedly complied with such suggestions, whether there is danger of a social explosion or an explosion of gun-powder.

Smoking, with Grant, acts as a sedative rather than as a stimulant. During the war, in the most trying times of anxiety, while awaiting the result of movements vital to success, and in the most exciting moments of battle, he smoked incessantly, and, to all out-ward appearances, as calmly as if his mind were not burdened with the heavy responsibilities and duties of his position and the time. He smoked while laying his plans and consulting his officers in his tent, and while, on the battle-field, he watched the eventful contest [169] and gave his orders for skilful manoeuvres or for the decisive charge.

With smoking he sometimes combined the Yankee habit of “whittling” when deep in thought or anxiously awaiting results; and in the Wilderness is a tree which he industriously hacked with his penknife while the great battle raged, as if smoking alone were not enough to keep the outward man quiet while his mind was occupied with the great events around him, and the great purposes within. So, in front of Vicksburg he smoked and whittled while watching the mounting of some guns in an important position, utterly regardless of the bullets of the enemy's sharp-shooters which whistled about him.

As for his love for driving good horses, it is what might be expected of one whose earliest trait was a love for, and command over, a horse.. That trait was developed so early in his boyhood, that it must have been born in him, and is not the result of education or association. He knows a good horse, and knows how to drive one; and he has too much humanity to abuse the animal he loves. He is said to be one of the best riders in the army, as might be expected from his early habit of riding, though his physique does not render him the most showy. In these times of peace, he prefers to ride in his carriage and drive. If once or twice he has driven a little faster than the snail-pace gait which municipal laws allow, he was simply up with the times; and when some vigilant policeman, prompted by fun or malice, complained of him for violating an ordinance against fast-driving, with his usual deference for law, he modestly acknowledged his error, and promptly paid his fine. [170]

It has been alleged that he has a more serious weakness, which would be less pardonable in the eyes of the people. At various times during the war, malignant enemies charged that he was grossly intemperate in his habits; and since he became, by his acts, identified with the party which seeks to reap the just fruits of victory over a wicked rebellion, Copperhead presses have asserted, or meanly insinuated, the same charge. No allusion would be made here to such accusations but for the gross injustice which has been done him, in thus seeking to create a prejudice against him in the minds of a large number of people. It is sufficient to say, that those who know him best, who have been most intimately associated with him during the war and since, pronounce such charges utterly false; and that gentlemen, earnest in the cause of temperance, have satisfied themselves that there is no foundation for the assertions and insinuations derogatory to his character in this respect, but that he is a man whose temperance cannot justly be called in question. Such charges originated in personal or political enmity, and have been encouraged and circulated through total misapprehension of Grant's temperament and manner. They are the mean and malicious inventions of those who, during the war, hated him for his victories; those who have always sympathized with the rebels whom he conquered, or those who have supported the policy of the man who publicly disgraced the country when he became Vice-President. Narrow prejudice and ignorance, which are ever ready to misapprehend, have given credit and circulation to the libel; but it is hone the less a libel, unsupported by any evidence worthy of belief. [171]

The photographer and engraver have made Grant's features familiar to the public as first among the heroes of the war. Those features indicate the modest and reticent character of the man, as well as that persistency and firmness which are among his most prominent traits. Quiet and retiring in his appearance, there is yet an air of reserved power in his look and manner which his career has abundantly proved that he possesses. He is of medium height, rather under than over the average standard, and has a very slight stoop of the shoulders. With all his retiring and modest expression, and absence of pretension of every sort, there is in his manner a quiet dignity, and a courteous but unceremonious bearing, becoming his position. He has, too, a pleasant smile; and at times a keen glance in his gray eyes tells how closely he observes. He can give a cordial greeting to a guest; but his very look seems to read the motives of men, and inform him when to close his heart and his thoughts against sycophants and selfish schemers. While honest merit will meet with a quiet welcome, place-hunters and corruptionists will find little encouragement in his face or in his words.

General Grant has not infrequently been compared with him who holds the first place in the reverence of the American people. Though it is not proposed here to trace the resemblance between the two,--an attempt which would be distasteful to no one more than to our modest general,--it may with truth be said, that, more than any other one man the “saviour of his country” on the battle-fields of the recent unparalleled rebellion, Grant deserves to have a stronger hold upon his countrymen [172] than any man since Washington. Contending for principles no less noble, and in a cause as just, he achieved victory on a grander scale; and, possessing many of the traits of the illustrious “Father of his country,” he may well receive, at the hands of a people saved from anarchy and ruin, the highest rewards they can bestow, and be called to preside over a Union dedicated to Liberty, Equality, and Justice.

As by his victories he has proved himself “first in war,” so by his patriotism, ability, fidelity to principle, moderation and firmness in civil life, he may yet be hailed as “first in peace,” and still be, as he now is, “first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

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