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Chapter 3:

    • The rebellion.
    • -- Grant's patriotism. -- Raises a company of volunteers. -- Tenders his services to the Governor of Illinois. -- good service. -- Desires to take the field. -- Thinks of a position on McClellan's staff. -- fortunate escape. -- appointed colonel. -- in Missouri. -- brigadier General. -- an honorable appointment. -- at Cairo. -- Kentucky rebels. -- occupies Paducah. -- too prompt for Fremont. -- Desires to advance against the rebels. -- battle of Belmont. -- victory too much for new troops. -- Grant's Watchfulness.--“we have whipped them once, boys, and we can do it again.” -- narrow escape. -- the purpose accomplished. -- misrepresentations. -- Grant's generosity to his subordinates.--“better that I should suffer, than the country lose the services of such officers.” -- Fort Henry. -- Halleck's want of appreciation. -- Fort Donelson. -- Grant's determination. -- the Fort invested. -- engagements. -- the rebel prisoner. -- prompt decision. -- attack and victory. -- rebel Flag of Truce. -- no terms but unconditional surrender. -- the capture of prisoners. -- the effect of the victory on the country.

Grant, as before remarked, had never taken much interest in political affairs, both on account of his quiet, retiring disposition and his training as an officer, and he gave but little attention to the agitation which preceded secession and rebellion. But his patriotism led him to support the government against all assailants; and when the secessionists collected troops at Charleston, and planted batteries around Fort Sumter, he avowed himself without reserve for the government. When the war was opened by the attack on Sumter, and President Lincoln issued his proclamation [21] calling for troops, he did not hesitate a moment where his duty lay.

The President's proclamation was issued on the 15th of April, 1861, and on the 19th Grant had raised a company of volunteers in Galena, and was drilling it for service. A few days afterwards he went with this company to Springfield, the capital of Illinois, and tendered his services to Governor Yates. The governor was quite willing to avail himself of the services of an educated officer like Grant, and desired that he should aid in organizing the troops volunteering in that state. Grant felt that he could be of more service to his country in the field, and that his duty required that he should go to the front and face the threatening danger. At the earnest request, however, of Governor Yates, who assured him that he should soon have a commission, he rendered valuable service in the organization and equipment of troops.

While awaiting the expected commission, he found leisure to go to Cincinnati, hoping that he might be offered a place on the staff of Major General McClellan, then in command of Ohio troops.1 He twice called at the headquarters of McClellan, whom he had known in the army, but did hot see that officer. It is hardly probable that Grant would have asked for such an appointment, even had he seen McClellan, for it was not in his nature to solicit office or promotion; and during his whole career not one of his promotions was sought by himself, or obtained through the influence of others by his desire. Nor did he even suggest the idea to any one that he, desired an appointment on McClellan's [22] staff. Had it been offered to him he would have accepted it with alacrity, for he was ready to serve his country in any capacity, and had no undue opinion of his own abilities. It is fortunate for the country that McClellan did not offer him a staff appointment, for he would then have been in a subordinate position, where his characteristics and ability as an officer could not have been displayed; and had he remained in that position he would have suffered from the mistakes and policy of that general, and circumstances would thus have changed his whole military career.

Grant was probably disappointed, though he never expressed any such feeling; but his disappointment was the country's greatest gain. Returning to Spring-field, he was very soon commissioned as colonel of the Twenty-first Regiment of Illinois volunteers, and with that regiment, early in June, he marched to Northern Missouri, and joined the forces of General Pope, who was engaged in putting down the guerrilla bands that infested that portion of the state. Ordered successively to different positions in this part of the country, he was faithfully discharging the arduous and not very agreeable duties of this kind of a campaign, when he was informed by the newspapers that he had been appointed a brigadier general. He received this appointment at the suggestion of Hon. E. B. Washburne, member of Congress from the Galena district; and it was all the more honorable to both parties, inasmuch as Mr. Washburne was but very slightly acquainted with Grant, and had nominated him, not from personal friendship, but because of the solid qualities which he was known to possess, his military education, and his good record in [23] the old army. But neither Mr. Washburne, nor any one else at that time, knew the real ability of the man, or imagined the military genius which the opportunities of the war would reveal. He was commissioned on the 7th of August, to date from May 17, 1861, about the time he was appointed colonel by Governor Yates.

On the 1st of September Grant was assigned, by Major General Fremont, commanding the Western Department, to the command of the South-eastern District of Missouri, which included the southern part of Illinois and the western part of Kentucky and Tennessee, as far as the Union forces should advance. The governor of Kentucky, whose sympathy was more with the rebels than with the government, was endeavoring to have Kentucky maintain a neutral position in the contest; and all the rebels of that state, and not a few of those who claimed to be Union men, took the same ground. They sought to keep the national forces from their soil equally with the rebel forces — a measure which would have redounded entirely to the advantage of the rebels, who were collecting large forces in Tennessee, and were openly aided by their sympathizers in Kentucky. The real Union sentiment of that state was thus almost wholly repressed, and the state would have been soon controlled by the secessionists, who committed the grossest outrages upon Union men, and were preparing, under the guise of neutrality, to join the rebels.

The government did not recognize this neutrality, but claimed the right to move its troops to any part of the soil of the United States. General Grant was the first to exercise this right, and he exercised it promptly, [24] knowing that it was war, and no game of politics, in which the country was engaged. He established his headquarters at Cairo, at the mouth of the Ohio, on the 4th of September, and at once set himself at work not only to strengthen that important point, but to secure the safety of his district, and commence operations against the enemy. On the day of his arrival at Cairo, the rebels were the first to violate the assumed neutrality of Kentucky by occupying Columbus, a strong position on the Mississippi. Grant saw the danger of this movement, and determined to check any further advance by at once entering Kentucky with the Union forces. He prepared to take possession of Paducah, at the confluence of the Tennessee River and the Ohio. Having notified General Fremont of his intention, and receiving no objection from that officer, he started for Paducah on the night of the 5th. He also notified the governor of Kentucky, and was rebuked by Fremont for holding any communication with state authorities, except through his superior officer. But Grant made no complaint of this, or any other disapproval of his course; for though he felt fully justified by his own calm judgment, he was a thorough soldier, and was always subordinate. He occupied Paducah, and secured it against a rebel force which was approaching, and against the treachery of malignant rebel residents. By the real Union men his movement was hailed with joy; and notwithstanding the complaints of those who loudly asserted the neutrality of Kentucky, that state was, by that prompt movement, secured to the Union cause. After the deed was done, Grant received permission from Fremont to attempt it “if he felt strong enough.” [25]

The seizure of Paducah first made Grant's name known to the country, though he did not receive the full credit to which he was entitled by his prompt action and the importance of the movement. The rebuke of his superior, on a matter of etiquette, served to derogate from his merit. This, however, had no effect upon Grant's zeal, and he continued to devote himself to the organization of his forces and the security of his district, with his usual quiet but untiring energy. He asked permission to attempt the capture of Columbus before it was made too strong by rebel fortifications; but no notice was taken of the request, and he was allowed to make no movement of importance.

In the early part of November, however, Fremont ordered Grant to make a demonstration towards Columbus, to prevent the rebels from sending reinforcements from that place to Price's army in South-western Missouri. This led to the battle of Belmont, Grant perceiving that an attack upon the rebels there would be the most effective way of preventing the rebel movements. His purpose was to destroy the rebel camp, disperse or capture their forces, and then retire before they could be reinforced from Columbus. He moved from Cairo the night of the 6th of November, with a little more than three thousand men, most of them new troops, and officered by men who had never seen an engagement. The troops were landed the next morning, about three miles from Belmont, which is opposite Columbus, on the Missouri shore. Marching towards that place, the enemy was encountered, and a heavy fight ensued, lasting four hours. Officers and men behaved nobly, and the rebels were driven step by step. [26] Grant, being the only officer who had seen service, found it necessary to direct even the details of movements, and was constantly in the skirmish line, encouraging his men by his presence, coolness, and bravery. His horse was shot under him, and he was constantly exposed to the enemy's fire. The rebels were driven to the bank of the river, and all their artillery and several hundred prisoners were captured.

Their success was too much for the Union troops. Officers and men joined at once in a general rejoicing, regardless of all discipline and the danger of rebel reinforcements from Columbus. But Grant was watchful, though almost powerless with his mob of an army; and perceiving that the enemy was sending more troops from Columbus, he ordered his staff to set fire to the rebel camp. Succeeding at last in securing some discipline, he ordered a return to the transports. But the defeated enemy had in the mean time been reinforced and re-formed, and they made an attempt to cut off the retreat. The undisciplined troops were somewhat disconcerted. A staff officer rode up to Grant, exclaiming, “We are surrounded!” “If that is so,” coolly replied Grant, “we must cut our way out as we cut our way in.” Riding to the front, he encouraged his men, saying, “We have whipped them once, boys, and we can do it again.” The troops had already learned their commander's pluck, and making a vigorous attack they dispersed the rebel line.

With his inexperienced officers, Grant was obliged to attend to all the details of the retreat, and the collection of the wounded. The main body of the troops had reembarked on board the transports; and the reserves, [27] which had been left to guard the boats, had also, through ignorance, embarked; but the general was still out attending to the execution of his orders, and awaiting the return of some of the detachments looking for the wounded. While thus engaged he found him-self suddenly confronted by the rebels, who were still further reinforced, and not fifty yards distant. Fortunately he was not recognized as an officer; and after closely observing the position of affairs, he rode slowly away, finding it necessary to leave the parties which were still looking for the wounded. As he approached the river, he put spurs to his horse, and galloped hard to the bank, down which the animal slid on his haunches. The bullets were whistling about him, and the rebels were rapidly extending their line. The troops were all aboard, except the parties above named, and the boats were just leaving the landing when Grant thus appeared. A plank was put out from the last boat, and Grant rode aboard under a heavy, but happily an ineffectual, fire from the enemy. It appeared afterwards that the enemy had seen Grant, and that Polk, the rebel general, had called upon some of his troops to try their aim on him, though not knowing that he was an officer.

Grant had accomplished his purpose, though, owing to the want of discipline in his troops, not so quickly and effectually as he had desired. The enemy were well beaten at first; and again when, with more troops, he undertook to intercept the Union forces on their return to the boats, they were dispersed. When, with further reinforcements under Polk himself, they attacked the transports, the heavy fire of shell and grape [28] from the gunboats yet again routed them with severe loss. With three thousand troops Grant had encountered about seven thousand rebels, and inflicted on them a loss one half greater than his own, besides the destruction of their camp and the capture of guns. Besides this he accomplished the principal object of the movement, which was to prevent Polk from sending reinforcements to Price.

But, as in the seizure of Paducah, Grant did not receive the credit which he deserved for this movement. Inexperienced soldiers, and correspondents of newspapers who did not know the object of the movement, were deceived by the sudden retreat and return of the troops to Cairo. Their representations, and perhaps those of an officer whose conceit and insubordination were afterwards the cause of trouble, led the country to believe that it was a failure. So far as the first victory was not so complete as it might have been, it was due to the wild exultation of the brave but undisciplined soldiers, and the stump speeches of their equally inexperienced officers. But the success was substantial; and Grant, with characteristic generosity, overlooked the faults of inexperience, and did not seek to excuse himself, or correct wrong impressions, by attributing even a partial failure to his subordinates. When asked why he did not report the colonels who had proved so inefficient in maintaining discipline, he replied, “These officers had never been under fire before; they did not know how serious an affair it was; they have had a lesson which they will not forget. I will answer for it, they will never make the same mistake again. I can see that they are of the right stuff, [29] and it is better that I should suffer than the country should lose the services of such officers.” This generous spirit towards subordinates and associates he has manifested through his whole career.

Immediately after the battle of Belmont, Major General Halleck superseded General Fremont in command of the Western Department. Grant was continued in command of his district, but for two months he was allowed to make no movement against the enemy. In the mean time the rebels occupied a strong line, extending from Columbus to Bowling Green, in Kentucky. Both these places, especially the former, were strongly fortified; and midway in the line, where the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers are separated but ten or twelve miles, they had forts commanding these rivers. Thus all advance towards the rebel states by railroad or water was obstructed. In January; in obedience to instructions from Halleck, Grant sent two columns into Western Kentucky to prevent reinforcements being sent from Columbus to Buckner at Bowling Green. There was no engagement, but the object of the movement was accomplished, for the rebels did not send reinforcements to Buckner; and General Thomas defeated the enemy at Mill Spring, east of Bowling Green. The expedition led to the more important movements which first made General Grant famous in the war.

General C. F. Smith, an able officer, who commanded one of the columns sent into Western Kentucky, reported to Grant that the capture of Fort Henry, on the Tennessee, was feasible; and the latter went to St. Louis to propose to Halleck a movement against that post, and to obtain the latter's permission to undertake [30] it. General Halleck, in a manner which he more than once afterwards assumed towards Grant, so sharply and hastily disapproved it, that the subject was at once dropped. Halleck appears at this time, and until after he was appointed general-in-chief, to have entertained a poor opinion of Grant's abilities, though he afterwards came to recognize them. But the advantage of capturing Fort Henry, opening the Tennessee to the rear of the rebel positions, though not apparent to McClellan and Halleck, was so impressed upon Grant's mind, that about the end of January he again applied to Halleck for permission to make the advance. Commodore Foote, commanding the naval force at Cairo, also wrote to Halleck recommending such a movement. The desired permission was obtained, and on the 2d of February Grant left Cairo with seventeen thousand men on transports, accompanied by seven gunboats under Commodore Foote. Making a reconnoissance himself on board one of the gunboats, so as to draw the fire of the rebel guns and ascertain their range, Grant landed his advance forces just out of range. This force, under McClernand, was to move out to the rear of the fort to intercept retreat and cut off reenforcements, while the gunboats undertook to reduce the fort on the river front. All Grant's forces were not up, but it was deemed important that there should be no delay, and he instructed McClernand that success might depend on the celerity of his movements. The troops moved from the river on the morning of February 6; and the gunboats at the same time moved up to attack the fort. Commodore Foote was not prepared for so speedy success as his heavy guns achieved; for after a [31] fire of an hour and a half, all the rebel guns were silenced. The fort was surrendered while the troops were moving through the overflowed and almost impassable country to the position indicated. When they arrived at the rebel outworks in the rear, the enemy had already retreated towards Fort Donelson, on the Cumberland, and only a few men were captured in the fort. Pursuit failed to overtake them; but the most important success of opening the Tennessee was accomplished, and the gunboats went up the river, greatly to the terror of the rebel inhabitants of the interior of Tennessee.

But Grant, having taken the field, did not intend to content himself with the success so speedily achieved by the gunboats. He telegraphed to General Halleck, “Fort Henry is ours. . . . I shall take and destroy Fort Donelson on the 8th, and return to Fort Henry.” Nothing had been said before about a movement against Fort Donelson; and it is not unlikely that such a proposition might have prevented the attack on Fort Henry, or delayed it till the Union forces were still stronger, and the rebels were also reinforced. Hlalleck, however, did not object, and Grant forthwith made his preparations to bring up additional forces, and to lay his plans for a joint land and naval attack. Prompt in his decision, he was also prompt and vigorous in his movements.

The rapid rise of the waters of the Tennessee, and the absence of the gunboats up that river, delayed operations for some days; but Grant in the mean time exerted himself to bring up reinforcements, and to mature his preparations. General Halleck seconded [32] his efforts, though he gave no advice or encouragement for an advance. It was Grant's own plan in its conception and in its details. Before all the reinforcements which were ordered to his support had arrived, he determined to move, believing that it was important to act promptly. He therefore urged Flag Officer Foote to hasten his preparations, and offered such aid as was in his power, in order to get some gunboats up the Cumberland, to attack Fort Donelson on the river side. “Start as soon as you like,” he wrote; “I will be ready to cooperate at any moment.” Such was his promptness at all times. Other movements were never obliged to wait for him to be ready.

The gunboats at last being prepared, on the 11th of February Grant's forces moved from Fort Henry without tents or baggage, and with no supplies except ammunition and the rations contained in the soldiers' haversacks. The march was accomplished without obstruction, and the Union troops were in front of the rebel fort before night. On the 12th and 13th they were gradually advanced till the fort was well invested. No attack was made, owing to the non-arrival of the gunboats and reinforcements on the Cumberland, but there was constant skirmishing, and one or two heavy engagements by reconnoitring parties, while the artillery also commenced operations, and there were all the indications of a general battle. The weather grew intensely cold, snow fell, and the soldiers suffered much. They could build no fires in consequence of the nearness of the rebel pickets, with whom their was a sharp skirmish during the night. Though Grant felt keenly for the sufferings of his men, he [33] knew that success depended upon his persistency, and that he could rely on the endurance of his troops. He must therefore hold on, in spite of the elements and the rebel strength, tilt the gunboats and reinforcements arrived, when he was confident of success. Before daylight on the 14th the boats arrived, and the reenforcements were put in position as soon as the condition of the country would permit.

An attack was made by the gunboats, and if it had been attended with even partial success, Grant was to have assaulted on the land side. But the boats were disabled, and suffered considerable loss in men, Flag Officer Foote himself being wounded. This was a serious disappointment to Grant, who had hoped to take the fort without a protracted siege. He was determined to take it, however, either by siege or assault, and never doubted the successful issue. In a conference with Foote, the latter stated that he could not renew the attack until he had been to Cairo to repair his gunboats, and urged Grant to remain quiet until he could return. Whether the latter, with his large reinforcements, would have been content to have taken this course, is uncertain; but the rebels themselves were not disposed to wait till they were more completely invested, and they accordingly massed their forces and made a heavy attack on Grant's right. Notwithstanding their long exposure and suffering from the severe storm of snow and sleet, the Union troops fought bravely. But the rebels had massed a superior force against the right, and they drove it back till checked by reenforcements. Even the latter were gradually pressed back, and the rebels seemed to have secured a [34] dearly-bought success, though they were not able to break through the Union lines, as they desired.

Grant was returning from a conference with the disabled commodore when he was first informed of this desperate attack by the enemy, and its partial success. Ordering General Smith, who commanded the left, to hold himself in readiness, he hurried to the scene of conflict, and quickly ascertained the real condition of affairs. The stubborn bravery of his troops encouraged him, and he saw that the enemy had not accomplished their purpose, although they had pressed back his lines. From all the representations of his officers, he at once judged that the rebels had made a desperate assault for the purpose of cutting their way out and escaping. He caused some prisoners to be brought up for examination. They had on their knapsacks, and their haversacks were well filled.

“How many days' rations have you in your haversack?” inquired the general of one of the prisoners.

“Six,” replied the prisoner.

“When were they served out?”


“Were all the troops served with the same rations?”

“They were.”

The prisoners were removed, and further inquiry among his own officers satisfied Grant that the last statement was correct.

“Gentlemen,” said he to the higher officers about him, “troops do not have six days rations served out to them in a fort if they mean to stay there. These rebels mean to cut their way out, and that is what they have been trying to do, but didn't quite succeed.” Then [35] adding, with his characteristic determination, “Whichever party first attacks now will whip; and the rebels will have to be quick if they beat me,” he put spurs to his horse and hurried to the left of his line.

The troops on his right had suffered severely, and were a little demoralized; but he knew their bravery and endurance, and that they would recover their spirit and be ready to endure still more if they were assured of victory. As he rode rapidly along, he gave hasty but cheering words of encouragement to them, which had the desired effect. His plans were quickly formed. He sent orders to Smith to make a vigorous assault, and directed McClernand and Wallace, on the right, to renew the battle as soon as Smith commenced his attack. At the same time he sent to Commodore Foote, requesting him to make a demonstration with such gunboats as were in condition to do so. In his note to Foote he wrote, “A terrible conflict ensued in my absence, which has demoralized a part of my command, and I think the enemy is much more so. If the gunboats do not appears it will reassure the enemy, and still further demoralize our troops. I must order a charge to save appearances.”

This was characteristic of Grant. He did not with-draw from the enemy's front at a critical moment because he had suffered a partial reverse, but he encouraged his own men by promptly assuming the offensive, and disheartened the enemy when exhausted by their desperate efforts. At Donelson, as on other fields where he acted with the same persistency and promptness, his tactics were successful. General Smith, who was a thorough soldier and a brave and [36] skilful officer, made a brilliant assault; and after hard fighting his troops made their way through abatis and over rifle-pits inside the rebel intrenchments. At the same time the troops of McClernand and Wallace, encouraged by the words and confidence of Grant, renewed the battle and regained the ground they had lost earlier in the day. Night, however, came too soon for the entire success of the Union army. A half hour more of daylight and the fort would have been carried by storm. But without the cost of another assault the victory was won.

While the troops slept on the frozen ground which they had so bravely gained, the demoralized and beaten rebels were dreading a renewal of the battle, and their highest officers were preparing to desert the men who had fought under them. Floyd and Pillow, traitors to their cause and their comrades, as well as to their country, fled with as many troops as they could crowd into two steamers; and Buckner, the third in rank, was left to perform the disagreeable duty of surrendering. Buckner sent a messenger to General Grant, proposing an armistice and the appointment of commissioners to settle terms of capitulation. Grant's reply was prompt and decisive: “No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.”

Buckner styled the terms “ungenerous and unchivalrous,” but he was compelled to accept them. Grant, however, though never exhibiting a weak generosity towards the enemy, was never wanting in proper magnanimity. He rode to the headquarters of Buckner, who was a cadet with him at West Point, [37] and allowed honorable terms to the prisoners, as Buckner himself voluntarily declared to his own soldiers. But in doing this he yielded no results of his brilliant victory. A most important rebel position was taken, with more guns than Grant had in his own forces, and fifteen thousand prisoners; while twenty-five hundred of the enemy were killed and wounded, and the three or four thousand fugitives who went with Floyd were completely demoralized.

The country needed such a victory to dispel the clouds of anxiety, and doubt, and impatience, which hung over the military horizon; and the army needed it to inspire hope and enthusiasm, which were well nigh extinguished by long delays and petty defeats. In itself, and in its important results, it had a glorious effect, and General Grant now first became known to the whole country, and received its gratitude. His prompt reply to Buckner gave to his initials the popular name of unconditional surrender Grant; and through his whole career he has maintained his title to that name, always exacting unconditional surrender from the enemies of his country.

1 General Badeau's Military History of U. S. Grant.

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