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Chapter 12:

Grant and Sheridan.

Stanton had fallen and the next official victim was to be Sheridan. Stanton was suspended on the 12th of August, and on the 17th Grant received the President's commands for the removal of Sheridan. He at once protested against the execution of the order. He was indeed profoundly moved, and even exasperated; for his regard for Sheridan had now become personal. Sheridan had almost grown up as a general under Grant's own eye, until finally the chief declared the subordinate the peer of any soldier of any time. Often have I listened to Grant's encomiums of the Soldier of the Valley; more than once have I witnessed manifestations of regard on both sides as touching as they were honorable to him who gave and him who received. The history of their relations is like a story from Homer. It was the friendship of chieftains, the love of strong men who had stood side by side in war, and watched each other's deeds. Soon after Shiloh Sheridan joined the army in Tennessee and so distinguished himself that Grant at once perceived his military quality. In September, 1862, Grant was ordered to send a portion of his command to re-inforce Rosecrans. He was at the landing himself when the troops embarked, and noticed Sheridan among them at the head of his brigade. ‘You here, Sheridan!’ he exclaimed; ‘I did not mean that you should leave me’; for he was unwilling to lose a man of whose stuff he was so sure. But Sheridan thought that to go to Rosecrans at that time was to go [96] where there would be most fighting, and he showed no desire to remain. Grant was nettled at this, and allowed his subordinate to depart; little dreaming, either of them, then, how important they were to be to each other on grander and distant theaters. Grant told me this story years ago, to add to a sketch of Sheridan I was writing for The Century Magazine.

Soon, however, the chief followed the subaltern to the same field, and again, at Chattanooga, the fiery spirit and genius of Sheridan commended themselves to his superior. Grant always spoke in glowing language of Sheridan's charge at Mission Ridge, and still more warmly of the pursuit of the enemy afterward. He had already detected that quality so rare even in illustrious soldiers—the power to make the most of a victory.

When Grant became General-in-Chief, he at once put Sheridan at the head of the Eastern cavalry. I remember asking him about the new commander whom at that time I had not seen, and his praise was enthusiastic when he described the energy and ability, the promptness and persistency of his subordinate. Grant indeed always became eloquent when he talked of Sherman or Sheridan. His tongue was loosened then, however taciturn at other times. His face was flushed with generous ardor, his eye gleamed, and he even gesticulated a little when he told of the achievements of the only two men who could ever by any chance become his rivals.

But ignorant of the great things Fortune had in store for him, Sheridan was at this time reluctant to leave the West. Not that he was in the least unwilling to serve near Grant, but he had arrived at the command of a division; he was attached to his men and they to him; he would have preferred to remain in the field that he knew and with the troops he had already led. But he was too good a soldier to betray dissatisfaction, and he went without murmuring [97] to the theater where he was to become so renowned, and to the chief with whose fame his own was to be forever associated. From that time I can testify to the confidence, the chivalrous admiration, the commendation which Grant bestowed on his cavalry commander. In the Wilderness campaign the young general (he was only thirty-two), was constantly given the most difficult and dangerous tasks. When he was sent off on a distant expedition his formal orders went through Meade, but Grant always saw him in person and added verbal instructions, explaining his views, defining his aim, but leaving all details of execution to the subordinate. They easily understood each other, they had so much in common.

When Early advanced upon Washington Grant selected Sheridan to oppose him, against the wish of the Government, which thought him too young and inexperienced for the position. But the avalanche of success crushed out all criticism of the choice. In 1878 Grant wrote me on this subject from the Hague:

dear General,—Your letter of the 12th, with inclosure, was received before my departure from Paris. But I had no time to do more than read your letter before leaving, so brought the whole here to examine and approve, or otherwise. I have made marginal notes in pencil of all I have to say. I do not think there is anything to strike out, nor anything to add except what you can get from the notes referred to. You may recollect that when I visited Sheridan at Charleston I had a plan of battle with me to give him. But I found him so ready to move—plan and all— that I gave him no order whatever except the authority to move. He is entitled to all the credit of his great victory, and it established him in the confidence of the President and Secretary of War as a commander to be trusted with the fullest discretion in the management of all the troops under him. Before that, while they highly appreciated him as a commander to execute, they felt a little nervous about giving him too much discretion.


I shall never forget Grant's delight over the telegrams he received from Sheridan during this campaign. They were handed to him usually as we sat around the camp-fire at City Point, waiting for news often till late into the night, during that long and dreary autumn of 1864. No success had cheered us at the East for months. Lee still held off Grant in front of Richmond, and Hood had compelled Sherman to retrace his steps from Atlanta; political hostility at the rear made the situation at the front seem darker even than the reality, and the first gleams of light came from Sheridan's victories in the Valley. As Grant read out the ringing dispatches: ‘We sent them whirling through Winchester’; ‘They were followed on the jump twenty-six miles’; ‘I thought it best to delay here one day and settle this new cavalry general’;—his voice betrayed how welcome was the news. ‘Keep on,’ he replied, ‘and your good work will cause the fall of Richmond.’ The inspiration of these successes and the encouragement they gave to Grant were the germ of one of the most beautiful friendships in history.

From that time he relied on Sheridan as completely as on Sherman. The final movement against Petersburg had no success for several days. More than one of those whose judgment Grant often heeded advised him to return. He himself was gloomy; not despondent, for that I never saw him in the field, but profoundly anxious. But one dark and rainy morning Sheridan came riding into camp, and talked so cheerily, so confidently, so intelligently of what he could do, that his mood was contagious. Grant was in his tent so that Sheridan first met the staff. The officers were struck with his temper and tone; they knew the estimate Grant put upon his judgment, and were anxious for Sheridan to say what he thought to the chief. They took the great trooper in to Grant, and when Grant perceived the spirit of Sheridan, he felt that the time had come. He gave him the task he [99] said he could perform, the orders he asked for, and the result was—the battle of Five Forks.

That battle Grant always acknowledged made possible the final assault on Petersburg, and opened the way for the Appomattox campaign, in which Sheridan led the terrible pursuit, fought Sailor's Creek, and outmarched Lee. In all these movements he sent back suggestions daily, almost hourly, to Grant, every one of which Grant accepted. I sometimes think that without Sheridan Grant's closing triumph might have been less complete; for it was Sheridan who by his rapid marches and incessant blows secured the enveloping, and thus the surrender, of Lee. This can be said without detracting one leaf from the laurels of Grant. The most skillful workman requires tools of finest edge; the greatest commander cannot win without troops and subordinates of mettle like his own.

After this Grant fairly loved Sheridan. The affection was founded on admiration; the intimacy grew out of achievement. It was the strange, rich fruit of battle, watered by blood and ripened by patriotism into a close and tender regard. I was an inmate of Grant's house when the chief was believed to be dying, and Sheridan wrote me a letter to present to the family when the dreaded hour should come. He added a line which I venture to repeat because it shows the peculiar and delicate nature of the feeling between the soldiers: ‘It is unnecessary for me,’ said Sheridan, ‘to use words to express my attachment to General Grant and his family. I have not gone to see him, as I could only bring additional distress to them, and I want to remember him as I knew him in good health.’

Grant always regarded the French attempt to establish an empire in Mexico as a part of the effort to subvert our own Republic. At the close of the war, on the very day of the grand review at Washington, he dispatched Sheridan with secret orders to the Rio Grande, to watch the frontier. [100]


[101] He hoped to be able to bring the Administration up to his own views, if the Emperor delayed; and Sheridan was directed to be ready for any emergency. He performed his part, and when the question was settled, and the French were withdrawn, Grant left him in command at New Orleans.

Here he was found when the President's policy was rejected by the people; and when the measures which Johnson opposed became law, Sheridan, like Grant, set himself to obeying the law. Johnson, of course, was provoked, but Grant promptly indorsed his subordinate. In July, 1866, a violent riot occurred at New Orleans in which forty Union men were killed and one hundred and fifty wounded by Southerners. Sheridan's course at the time was the subject of a warm contention between Grant and the President, the latter as usual siding with the men who had once opposed the Union. During the discussion Grant wrote to Sheridan in these words:

I am just in receipt of copy of your letter to the President in reply to his dispatch of the 4th inst. It is certainly a very clear statement of the cause and effect of the riot, and in my judgment it is due to the public, to you, and even to the President, that it should be published. I have requested from the President the publication of all your dispatches on the subject of the New Orleans riot, on the ground that the partial publications which have appeared put you in the position of taking a partisan view of the matter, whereas the dispatches given in full show that you never dreamed of extenuating faults no matter which side they occurred on. One thing you may rely on, the purity of your motives will never be impeached by the public, no matter what capital the politicians may attempt to make out of garbled or partial publications of what you say or write officially. Persevere exactly in the course your own good judgment dictates. It has never yet led you astray as a military commander, nor in the administration of the affairs of your military division.

On the 27th of March, 1867, in the exercise of the [102] authority conferred on him by the Reconstruction Acts, Sheridan removed from office the Attorney-General of the State of Louisiana, the Mayor of New Orleans, and the Judge of the First District Court of the same city. Two days afterward Grant wrote to him: ‘I have just seen your Order No. 5. It is just the thing, and merits the universal approbation of the loyal people at least. I have no doubt but that it will also meet with like approval from the reconstructed [the italics are Grant's]. It will at least prove advantageous to them and to the quiet and prosperity of New Orleans and of the State of Louisiana. I only write this to let you know that I at least approve what you have done.’

From this time the President seems to have determined on the removal of Sheridan, for the power had been left in his hands by Congress, and in May Grant wrote to the threatened commander:

I have no doubt but that the reports of your contemplated removal have emanated from a high source. It has unquestionably been in contemplation, but it cannot hurt, though it may embarrass you. Every loyal man in the country admires your course in civil affairs as they did your military career. You have to the fullest extent the confidence of the Secretary, the loyal people generally, and of myself. Removal cannot hurt you if it does take place, and I do not believe it will. You have carried out the acts of Congress, and it will be difficult to get a general officer who will not. Let me say, dismiss all embarrassments on account of rumors of removal. Such an act will not reflect on you.

Encouraged thus by his immediate superior, Sheridan persisted in his obedience to the spirit and the letter of the law; and Grant persisted in his encouragement. On the 3d of June Sheridan removed the Governor of Louisiana, that official ‘having made himself an impediment to the faithful execution of the Reconstruction Act’; and Grant immediately wrote to Sheridan: [103]

I have no doubt myself that the removal of Governor Wells will do great good to your command, if you are sustained, but great harm if you are not sustained. I shall do all I can to sustain you in it. You have acted boldly and with good judgment, and will be sustained by public opinion as well as your own conscience, no matter what the result. It has been my intention to order you to Washington as soon as your command is in a condition that you can leave it for a few weeks, to give you an opportunity of taking a run up North. A little relaxation for a few weeks will do you good, bodily, and give you an opportunity of coming in contact with people who supported the Government during the rebellion [Grant's italics].

The axe had been hanging long, but it finally fell. On the 1st of August the President announced to Grant that he had made up his mind to suspend Stanton and remove Sheridan. I have already quoted the language in which Grant protested against this intention in regard to Stanton. In the same letter he added these words referring to Sheridan:

On the subject of the removal of the very able commander of the Fifth Military District, let me ask you to consider the effect it would have upon the public. He is unusually and deservedly beloved by the people who sustained the Government through its trials, and feared by those who would still be enemies of the Government. It fell to the lot of but few men to do as much against an armed enemy as General Sheridan did during the rebellion, and it is within the scope of the ability of but few in this or any other country to do what he has. His civil administration has given equal satisfaction. He has had difficulties to contend with which no other District Commander has encountered. Almost if not quite from the day he was appointed District Commander to the present time, our press has given out that he was to be removed; that the Administration was dissatisfied with him, etc. This has emboldened the opponents to the laws of Congress within his command to oppose him in every way in their power, and has rendered necessary measures which otherwise might never have been necessary.

[104] Grant had, however, little idea that his protest would change the intention of the President, and directed one of his staff to write to Sheridan as follows:
General Grant wishes me to write to you to tell you that President Johnson has made up his mind to remove you and also the Secretary of War. He sent for General Grant yesterday and told him this. The General said all proper for him to say against such a course, and when he came back he put his views in writing and sent them to Mr. Johnson. I send you a copy of his letter. The General wishes me to say to you to go on your course exactly as if this communication had not been sent to you, and without fear of consequences. That so long as you pursue the same line of duty that you have followed thus far in the service you will receive the entire support of these Headquarters.

On the 17th of August the order was positively issued, and Grant again protested urgently and eloquently in a letter which has already been given to the world. General Thomas was designated to relieve Sheridan, but that officer was unwilling to assume the position, and was excused on the ground of ill-health. Sheridan, however, was directed to turn over his command at once to the officer next in rank in his district. He was not to be allowed to remain under any circumstances. His orders were to proceed to Fort Leavenworth and relieve Hancock, who was in turn to supersede Sheridan at New Orleans.

On the 8th of September the faithful chief wrote again to his friend:

By my dispatch to you to turn over your command to the officer next in rank to yourself, as soon as you relieve General Hancock, and to come to Washington, I did not mean to hasten your arrival in this city, but meant it as an order for you to come here at your leisure. I want to see you. When you leave Leavenworth, however, make such visits as suit your convenience, only do not return to Leavenworth before coming to Washington. [105]

I feel that your relief from command of the Fifth District is a heavy blow to Reconstruction. Not that Griffin will not carry out the law faithfully, and Hancock too when he gets there, but that the act of Government will be interrupted as an effort to defeat the law and will encourage opposition to it. So again in the Second District, I do not know what to make of present movements in this capital, but they fill me with alarm. In your own personal welfare you will not suffer from these changes, except as one of the thirty-five millions of inhabitants of this republic, but may be the gainer as far as personal comfort is concerned. I felt it my duty, however, to do all I could to keep you where you were until the laws you were executing so faithfully were carried through, and your district restored to the Union. All I can say now is that I have sustained your course, publicly, privately, and officially, not from personal feeling or partiality, but because you were right. You are entitled to a little rest, and I know such a welcome awaits you as will convince you that republics are not always ungrateful.

Thus Sheridan also was taken from the duty in which he had hitherto supported Grant. Deprived now of his two coadjutors, without either Stanton as a friendly superior or Sheridan as a loyal subordinate, Grant was left to bear the whole brunt of the battle with the President, which had been committed to him by Congress and the people whom Congress represented. The prospect was arduous, and he felt the loss of his faithful allies; but he girded himself for the task.

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