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Chapter 15: generals and staff, army of the Tennessee

From the frequency and particularity with which Dana mentioned the conduct and character of McClernand in his correspondence, even after he had been warned by the secretary to refrain from personal comment and advice, it is evident that he regarded that general and his relations with the President as a most important factor in the solution of the great problem presented in the Mississippi Valley. As heretofore stated, there can be no doubt that it had been the President's purpose to intrust McClernand with the command of the forces for the capture of Vicksburg, and there is equally no doubt that this led to embarrassments and complications which, so far as they concerned General Grant, ended only with the order relieving McClernand from duty in that army. While this order was not issued till Grant's victories had made him so strong that there could be no question as between him and any of his subordinates, nothing can be more certain than that Dana did a great service to Grant and the country in preparing the administration for this measure when it finally came to be adopted. It is a curious fact, however, that Dana nowhere gives a full or a consecutive estimate of that officer's character, services, and merits. He throws important light upon them, but without describing them fully makes it clear that discipline and harmony required his removal [239] from command, and thus became an important if not a controlling influence in bringing about that result.

As to Dana's estimate of Grant as a military man, it must be said that long after the political controversies which ended the friendship between them, Dana, without the slightest show of feeling, gives the following brief but just and comprehensive portrait of the great soldier:

Living at headquarters as I did throughout the siege of Vicksburg, I soon became intimate with General Grant, not only knowing every operation while it was still but an idea, but studying its execution on the spot. Grant was an uncommon fellow — the most modest, the most disinterested, and the most honest man I ever knew, with a temper that nothing could disturb, and a judgment that was judicial in its comprehensiveness and wisdom. Not a great man, except morally; not an original or brilliant man, but sincere, thoughtful, deep, and gifted with courage that never faltered; when the time came to risk all, he went in like a simple-hearted, unaffected, unpretending hero, whom no ill omens could deject, and no triumph unduly exalt. A social, friendly man, too, fond of a pleasant joke, and also ready with one; but liking above all a long chat of an evening, and ready to sit up with you all night talking in the cool breeze in front of his tent. Not a man of sentimentality, not demonstrative in friendship, but always holding to his friends, and just even to the enemies he hated.

It is to be observed that, so far as known, the foregoing sketch, first published in McClure's Magazine and afterwards in the Recollections (D. Appleton & Co.), contains the last word ever penned or uttered by Dana in regard to the great soldier — with whom he had been so intimate, and who had then been dead so many years. And here it is proper to add that notwithstanding the unsparing criticism which Dana directed against Grant and his policies of administration during his two terms as president, he never varied from this estimate [240] of Grant's character as a soldier. Nowhere and at no time did he criticise his campaigns and battles, or condemn his methods of command and military administration. Looking back over the history of the war, he of course saw incidents and occasions in which changes might have produced better results, but none in which he impugned the good judgment, the good faith, or the high patriotism of the general. While he had collaborated with me in a Life of Grant, designed mainly to promote his election to the presidency, and had freely used the Sun's columns for his defence from unjust military criticism, it is a part of the history of the times that he came ultimately to regard him as peculiarly lacking in the qualities necessary for the proper administration of the national government. As will be shown hereafter, he criticised and condemned many of his measures and policies with the most perfect freedom, but stood always for the great merit and virtue of his military career.

Returning to the staff-officers and generals whom Dana first met and became intimate with during the Vicksburg campaign, at the risk of repetition I quote from the original letters in my possession, sent from Cairo (July 12 and 13, 1863) to Stanton, as follows:

Lieutenant-Colonel Rawlins, Grant's assistant adjutant-general, is a very industrious, conscientious man, who never loses a moment, and never gives himself any indulgence except swearing and scolding. He is a lawyer by profession, a townsman of Grant's, and las a great influence over him, especially because he watches him day and night, and whenever he commits the folly of tasting liquor hastens to remind him that at the beguiling of the war he gave him [Rawlins] his word of honor not to touch a drop as long as it lasted. Grant thinks Rawlins a first-rate adjutant, but I think this is a mistake. He is too slow, and can't write the English language correctly without a great deal of careful consideration. ...


While the foregoing quotation gives an excellent summary of Rawlins's character and of his relations with Grant, whom he served with singular distinction and ability, not only as adjutant but as chief of staff and Secretary of War, it may be well to call attention to the fact that Dana perhaps undervalued him in the strictly clerical office of adjutant. It is true that Rawlins was without any technical training when he began his military career, and wrote always a crabbed hand, but it cannot be denied that with his legal training, his incessant attention to duty, and his careful study of the regulations and standing orders of the War Department, he became in every respect a most competent and trustworthy assistant within the strictest limits of his duty. He doubtless remained to the close of his career lacking in the precise knowledge of battle tactics and formations, but no man on either side of the great conflict came in the end to understand the general principles of the military art better than Rawlins did, nor can any one read his letters and political speeches, or the military reports which were edited by him, without coming to the conclusion that, whatever may have been the deficiencies of his earlier education, he was master of a terse, clear, and vigorous style, admirably adapted to the requirements of his various positions. It is believed that had Dana's attention been directed specially to Rawlins's merits in this direction, he would have promptly conceded all that is here claimed for him. I had many conversations throughout life with Dana about Rawlins, and know that I am doing neither injustice when I assert that Dana regarded Rawlins as one of the ablest as well as “one of the most upright and genuine characters” he “ever came across,” and that he was fully within the truth when he said that without him “Grant would not have been the same man.” The simple fact is that the great character which has passed into history under the name of Grant was compounded of both Grant and Rawlins [242] in nearly equal parts. While one has become a national hero whose fame will never die, the other unnecessarily effaced himself, and is now scarcely known beyond the acquaintance of his surviving comrades or the limits of the community from which both took up arms for the cause of the Union.

But to return to the staff-officers and generals whom Dana described in his letters to Stanton.

The next officer mentioned was Major Theodore S. Bowers, who became Rawlins's principal assistant early in the war and remained with him to the day of his unfortunate death in a railroad accident at Garrisons, near West Point. He was a man in every way after Rawlins's own heart. By profession a printer and the editor of a country newspaper, he entered the army from southern Illinois as a private soldier, and was detailed for duty as a clerk at Grant's headquarters. By his unselfish devotion to duty, no less than by his personal gallantry at the capture of Fort Donelson, he rose steadily from one position to another as vacancies occurred or as Rawlins himself was promoted. He was one of the most modest, unselfish, and devoted officers that ever served in the Union army. Mr. Dana says of him in the Cairo letter:

... Major Bowers, judge-advocate of Grant's staff, is an excellent man, and always finds work to do.

The next men mentioned with approval and commendation were Lieutenant-Colonel Bingham, chief quartermaster, and Lieutenant-Colonel Macfeeley, chief commissary, both of the regular army and both officers of the highest merit. This was attested by the fact that no army was ever better transported, equipped, and subsisted than Grant's Army of the Tennessee. Each of these officers became head of his department, and throughout a long and useful life sustained the high character Dana had given him. [243]

Several other officers of Grant's Western staff were described with less commendation, as will be seen by reference to the Recollections, where full names, for obvious reasons, were omitted.

Of William T. Sherman, Dana always wrote in terms of commendation. He first met him shortly after his arrival at Milliken's Bend, and in the letter to his friend Huntington, already quoted, it will be recalled that he speaks of him especially as “a man of genius and of the widest intellectual acquisitions.” It is but natural that he should have been from the first favorably impressed by the sparkling conversation, the great intelligence, and the extensive knowledge of military and political history displayed by that officer on every suitable occasion.

Later, in an account of the differences between Sherman and Stanton growing out of the terms of surrender granted to Joseph E. Johnston's army in North Carolina, Dana, by a few vigorous touches, strongly accentuates Sherman's peculiarities. After stating that the secretary was deeply indignant with the general for meddling with matters beyond his jurisdiction, he adds:

... No doubt his indignation was intensified by his dislike of Sherman. The two men were antagonistic by nature. Sherman was an effervescent, mercurial, expansive man, springing abruptly to an idea, expressing himself enthusiastically on every subject, and often without reflection. Stanton could not accommodate himself to this temperament. ... Dana, Recollections of the Civil War (D. Appleton & Co.), p. 289.

Before leaving this subject it may be well to say that no reconciliation ever took place between these historical characters. General Grant made an effort, at the great review which was held in Washington after the close of the [244] war, to bring them together. It was stated by the press, and afterwards in Sherman's Memoirs, that when Sherman passed by Stanton to take his place on the reviewing stand, the latter proffered his hand and the former refused it. This statement is confirmed by Colonel du Pont, who was on the reviewing stand, and perhaps by others, but Dana always contended in conversation with me that Sherman was “entirely mistaken.” That “the secretary made no motion to offer his hand or to exchange salutations, but as the general passed merely gave him a slight inclination of the head equivalent to a quarter of a bow.”

A more dramatic account of this incident is given in the life of Stanton,1 in which it is alleged that Sherman “shook hands with all until he came to Stanton, when he turned away.” This, it is said, brought a call for Stanton which was followed by cheers and a recognition he would not otherwise have received. It is further sail that afterwards, while a military commission of which Sherman was a member was in session at the War Department, Stanton invited Sherman into his private room, where they had an official conversation, but there is not the slightest evidence that they were ever again on friendly terms. Stanton, it will be remembered, did not long survive the war, and Sherman's sense of injury was too acute to be followed shortly by forgiveness. They were, indeed, naturally antagonistic, and now that the war was over and Stanton soon to return to civil life, there was no special reason why they should be friends.

Dana always regarded McPherson as an officer of first-class ability, not so brilliant as Sherman, but in every way a capable and loyal subordinate, who understood his profession down to the minutest details. He was for some [245] time looked upon by many as the man most likely to have furnished brilliant ideas and plans to Grant, but Dana was not long in learning that whatever may have been his merits he was content to volunteer no opinions and give no advice unless it was asked for. He was, indeed, a man of rare modesty, undaunted courage, and absolute loyalty, and had he not been killed in battle, at the head of an army, must have risen to still higher honors.

What Dana may have said in conversation with the President and the Secretary of War in regard to Grant, Sherman, and McPherson can never be exactly known, but that he held them in the highest esteem cannot be doubted. Throughout the long years of our acquaintance, in which we had many conversations in regard to them, he never failed to speak of them and their military services in the highest terms of praise and admiration. Nor can there be any doubt that he did all in his power to strengthen them in Washington, or that he regarded them as true heroes who would serve their country in every emergency with the most unselfish devotion. Moreover, he always looked upon his services near them with unalloyed satisfaction, and never failed to congratulate himself upon the goodfortune that had brought him into such close and cordial relations with them. He was far from being an emotional man, but he made no effort to conceal the feelings of affection and respect with which he looked upon these splendid soldiers, as exemplifying the best product of our national military school and the best training of the regular army.

Dana's official correspondence shows nothing more than a mere mention of General Ord, who, it will be remembered, succeeded McClernand in the command of the Thirteenth army corps, but I personally know that he held that singularly modest and most excellent officer in the highest esteem. Ord belonged to the artillery of the regular army, and served as a corps and army commander till the end of [246] the war with great usefulness and distinction, though it so happened that Dana met him but seldom either in the Vicksburg or Richmond campaign, and had no opportunity to become intimate with him. The simple fact that all complaint in reference to the Thirteenth corps ceased after it passed under Ord's control is conclusive evidence that the change which Dana had urged so persistently was necessary, and that the new commander was a judicious and fortunate selection.

Dana's two remarkable letters from Cairo to Stanton have been published in full in his Recollections, and hence they are omitted from this narrative. They constitute a series of contemporaneous sketches of unusual interest and accuracy, and so far as I can learn they are the only ones of the kind ever sent to the Secretary of War. That the secretary regarded them as private and confidential is shown by the fact that they were not placed on the files of the War Department, but were finally returned to the writer, where they remained till they were placed in my possession. They are in Dana's well-known hand, and are singularly free from erasures or changes. Having known personally and officially every officer mentioned, I confidently assert that in no case did Dana do injustice or give a false or exaggerated impression. What he says about Grant, Sherman, McPherson, Hovey, Osterhaus, A. J. Smith, William Sooy Smith, John E. Smith, Giles A. Smith, Logan, Lawler, Blair, Steele, Woods, C. C. Washburn, Stevenson, Leggett, McArthur, Crocker, Ransom, and Quimby is a model of perspicuity as well as of fair and judicious portraiture. In every instance, except where death overtook the officer, as in the cases of McPherson, Crocker, and Ransom, Dana's prediction of future usefulness and distinction was fully realized. It is remarkable that in no single instance was he mistaken, and still more remarkable that in no single instance where doubt was cast upon the officer's character [247] or usefulness did his future service show that serious injustice had been done him.

There is of course no way of ascertaining what use Stanton made of the information contained in these letters, but he probably kept them close at hand for reference as long as necessary, and thereafter made but few mistakes in regard to the officers to whom they referred. Looking back upon the period of the great war, with its widely scattered armies and hundreds of thousands of soldiers, commanded mostly by generals of but little military experience drawn from every walk of life, I cannot suppress the thought that the country would have been greatly benefited had the secretary directed Dana to visit every department and army and send him a sketch of every important officer connected with them. It could not have failed to place in his hands fresh and exact information of a kind in which the records were singularly deficient. It can scarcely be believed, but it is the truth, that there was no regular system in use by which the habits, character, and efficiency of even the highest officers were regularly made known to the general-in-chief or to the Secretary of War. Everything in relation thereto was hap-hazard and largely a matter of chance, or, what was worse, was left to the newspapers, or to the partiality of personal and political friends. Even Dana, who was constantly with the army till the end of the war, when any great campaign was on refrained from sending in such sketches as those from Cairo, and confined himself thenceforth mainly to reporting operations and important events. That this course was marked out for him by his official superior there can be but little doubt.

1 Edwin McMasters Stanton, etc., pp. 288, 289. By Frank A. Flower, Akron, Ohio. The Saalfield Publishing Company, New York, Chicago, 1905.

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