Introductory-relations of the writer with General Grant.
did his country quite as indispensable and efficient service during the years immediately after the Civil War
as in the field; a service often unknown to the world, or to more than a very few of the actors, or nearest observers of the time.
I propose to tell the story of the part of which I was a personal witness, or in regard to which I can bear peculiar testimony.
I shall treat his relations with the most prominent persons of the epoch, setting forth his opinions of them and his feelings toward them, and lift the veil from events of importance to history, or to the understanding of Grant
's character and influence.
I propose also to make known some of the circumstances of his Presidency and later career which have not hitherto been disclosed.
always knew that I contemplated writing his political history, and approved the intention.
He promised me all the assistance he could give in its preparation, and refused his sanction to others who proposed a similar task.
During his last illness, when it became certain that his military memoir would be widely read, I urged him to attempt himself a political volume, and he consented to do so if I would aid him. The chapters I now offer will include material that would have formed part of such a memoir, whether it had been written by himself or had remained my work, supervised and corrected by General Grant
I shall add personal details too delicate to have been submitted to their subject, or to have been given to the world during his lifetime.
My relations with General Grant
began in May, 1863.
On the 5th of that month, immediately after crossing the Mississippi River
in the Vicksburg
campaign, he requested my appointment to duty on his staff.
He had never seen me at the time, and made the application on the recommendation of General James H. Wilson
, his inspector-general.
I was then a captain serving on the staff of General T. W. Sherman
, in Banks
's campaign against Port Hudson
My orders did not reach me till the 27th of May, just as the assault on Port Hudson
I was wounded in that assault, and unable to report to General Grant
in person until the following February.
I thus first saw him at Nashville
, where he had established his headquarters, after the battle of Chattanooga
Our relations at once became more than cordial.
I was still on crutches, and he gave me a desk in his own room at headquarters, threw open his entire official correspondence to me, and delighted from the first to tell me all the details of his battles and campaigns.
The bill creating the grade of lieutenant-general was then before Congress, and I had carried messages to him presaging its success.
He discussed the subject freely, told me he felt no anxiety for the promotion, and would take no step to secure it; but, if it came, he would do his best to fulfill the higher duties it imposed.
If otherwise, he would neither be disappointed nor in any way less devoted to the cause he served.
On the 3d of March he was ordered to Washington
, and on the 11th assumed command of the armies of the United States
He at once assigned me to duty as military secretary, with the rank of lieutenant-colonel on his staff.
I remained with him in this capacity till the end of the war; went through the Wilderness
campaign and the siege of
by his side, and was present at the fall of Petersburg
and the surrender of Lee
. During the next four years, those of the administration of Andrew Johnson
, I was his confidential secretary and aide-de-camp.
I opened all his letters, answered many that were seen by no other man, and necessarily knew his opinions on most subjects closely and intimately.
Wherever he went at this time I accompanied him. In his tour through the South
after the close of the war, in his visit to Canada
, his journey over the entire North
, which was one long triumphal procession; his stay at his little Galena
home; during the stormy days of Reconstruction and the struggle between Congress and the President
; at the time of the removal of Stanton
; the impeachment of Johnson
; the attempt to send General Grant
out of the country; in the Presidential campaign of 1868; down to the preparations for his first administration, I was constantly in his society and confidence.
Enjoying these opportunities for knowing the man, and engaged at the time in writing his military history, I naturally took to studying his peculiar characteristics.
For a long while he was just as much of an enigma to me as to the rest of the world.
The apparent absence of vanity, of ambition, of pride in his success, of selfishness, was so complete and so unusual in a man who had achieved such success, that I could not at first comprehend him. I soon, however, grew into a profound affection for him, which, enhanced by my admiration for his achievements, became the paramount feeling of my life.
All my object and ambition were to help build up or illustrate his fame.
He appreciated this regard and, I thought, returned it with a warmth that he did not often display.
He allowed me to say things to him that few men say to each other, and at last he permitted me to see beneath the veil that concealed the mystery from mankind.
I found him a man like other men, with feelings as profound as those of the most
passionate, but with a power of concealing them almost without example.
His reserve, however, was natural in part, as well as in part the result of intention.
At times there was a positive inability to reveal emotion, a sort of inarticulate undemonstrativeness as far as possible from stolidity.
He had few affections, but these were intense; he did not hate many, but he could be implacable.
He was not what is usually called ambitious, but after he had been long in power he was not insensible to the sweets of possession, and was decidedly averse to relinquishing what he had enjoyed.
He was not vain, but he knew his own qualities, and, though he had the faculty of receiving adulation with a greater appearance of equanimity than any other human being I have known, he was not indifferent to the recognition of the world or the praises of his friends.
He who never betrayed on that imperturbable countenance that he relished the plaudits of the multitude has told me often with delicious frankness afterward of the compliments he had received; he who seemed so careless of censure or criticism —after some little attempt at a speech of four or five lines, has looked around shyly as he sat down, and whispered: ‘Was that all right?’
The disclosure is no betrayal of his confidence, now that his modesty can no longer be pained.
It cannot but make his calm and stalwart nature still more interesting to know that it covered the ordinary softnesses of humanity.
The living, breathing man is nearer to us than the statue of stone or unreal demi-god.
that I knew was full of human nature.
He had his weaknesses, but they made him more lovable sometimes to those who found them out; he had his faults, but to deny this would be to deny that he was mortal.
I took a great delight in studying, not only his moral, but his intellectual qualities.
He was not in the least a critic by nature; especially he was not introspective.
But he was so sure of me that he was willing for me to explore his
nature, confident that I could find little to depreciate and nothing to dishonor him. I used to ask him how he came to do certain notable things, how the idea of some battle or campaign had been inspired or evolved in his mind, how he felt in a famous emergency; and he always tried to answer me. He.
was curious himself when I suggested the inquiry.
It had never occurred to him to examine himself in this way, and he was not an expert; but he would tell me all that he could remember or understand.
And I always found the same simple, unaffected nature underlying all.
If he was unfair, and he was at times, he did not know it; he did not intend to be so. If his likes or dislikes affected his judgment, and they did, undoubtedly, it was unconsciously to himself; and he always wanted to atone for a wrong when he was convinced that he had inflicted one.
But it was difficult to convince him.
It is, however, the intellectual side of him that is less understood.
I never saw anything more curious than his intellectual growth.
His faculties had never been exercised upon any large matters, or on any large scale until the war; then they expanded in the eminently practical career of a soldier.
All his military greatness came of the plainest possible qualities, developed to an astounding degree.
The clearness of his judgment, the control of his emotions, his quick insight into a subject, his large grasp, his determined will—these are faculties that any one might possess in an ordinary measure without exciting wonder, but these he carried into the most extraordinary circumstances, and applied on the grandest possible theatre.
Notwithstanding all this, until the close of the war he had met few great men except soldiers, he had studied few great events except military ones, he knew few great subjects or situations, except battles and marches and sieges and campaigns.
When he went to Washington
and was thrown into contact with men trained in the political and social arena, at first
he was very shy. He did not like the atmosphere; he was not at home in it. He avoided the world, so far as he, at the core and the top of the world, could avoid it. He disliked politics and society, but soon perceived that his duty and his position threw him into both politics and society, and though he never seemed to be observing, he watched closely.
He very soon conformed to etiquettes which at first had been, not only unfamiliar, but distasteful.
He learned to understand the ways of men—and women—long used to arts and artifices.
He never himself became a skillful simulator, but he could dissimulate as well as any man that ever lived; that is, he could prevent all but those who were absolutely closest to him, and sometimes these, from penetrating further than he wished into his thoughts or purposes or desires.
I had not seen him for several years when he visited Europe
, and I was very much struck, at that time, with the growth and breadth of his intellect.
I was with him at the tables of kings; I saw him in the company of the greatest European
statesmen; at more than one brilliant court; and he rose to an equality that the foremost recognized.
On his return to America
, I was again very much with him, almost, if possible, in a closer intimacy than ever before, and I was convinced that he had learned profoundly by his experience of the Presidency and his wonderful journey around the world.
I saw him almost to the last, in his grim struggle with the greatest of all foes, and then too I recognized that the massive qualities of the man, though on so grand a scale, were after all, very human—the simple, natural traits that he shared with us all. He was a typical man, with his faults and virtues, only surpassing the rest by his achievements and his developed powers.
It is my intention to narrate the incidents and describe the conduct which produced in me this idea of General Grant
The following letter refers to my plan of writing General Grant
's political history: