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Chapter 15:

Grant, Sherman, and Johnson.

Johnson had been as violent as Stanton in his censure of Sherman's terms in North Carolina. General Grant told me at the time that the President called Sherman a traitor in the presence of the Cabinet, and that he authorized the publication of the comments of Stanton which called down on the great soldier the denunciations of the country he had helped to save. But when it became desirable to make use of Sherman Johnson could assume a different tone. He resorted to every inducement of flattery, confidence, and tempting advancement, and offered him in turn the command of the army, the brevet of General, and the position of Secretary of War, so that he might either cope with, supplant, or surpass Grant. But Sherman was proof against all his wiles.

Johnson's first attempt to pit the great comrades against each other was in the matter of the mission to Mexico. I have already told the story, but some points belong to my present theme. In October, 1866, the President ordered Grant to send for Sherman who was at St. Louis, but he did not inform the General-in-Chief of the purpose of the order. This, however, Grant suspected, and wrote to Sherman to come direct to his house. There he told his friend of the plot of the Administration to send himself out of the country and to put Sherman in his place in the interim. Sherman at once waited on the President and protested against the scheme. He represented the determination of Grant not [125] to leave the country, the needlessness of sending him, and the danger of insisting. He even offered himself to go to Mexico, and in the end he was substituted for Grant. Beyond all doubt it was the earnestness of his urging, the cogency of his suggestions, and above all the discovery of his loyalty to Grant that changed the purpose of the President. Sherman, however, like Grant at the outset, was completely subordinate in his interviews with the President and strove to express no opinions offensive to his superior.

A year after these events the time came for Johnson to report his reasons for the suspension of Stanton. Sherman was then on duty at Washington as president of a board to revise the regulations of the army. His relations with Grant were so intimate that they discussed in advance the conduct of Grant in case the Senate should disapprove the action of the President. On the 11th of January, two days before the Senate decided, Grant told Sherman that he would not retain the office of Secretary of War after the disapproval of the Senate, and Sherman urged him to make known this intention promptly to the President. It was partly because of this urgency of Sherman that Grant went the same day to Johnson to announce his determination. It was also Sherman who first suggested the name of Governor Cox as a substitute, when Grant should give up the office, and Grant urged Sherman to repeat the suggestion to the President. They were thus in complete accord. Neither, at this juncture, deemed it proper that Stanton should return to his office.

But Stanton resumed his place, and his first act was to send a message to Grant that the Secretary of War desired to see him. This required Grant to leave his own office on the opposite side of the street to wait on his superior. It was, to say the least, an offensive method of announcing that Stanton was in his seat, especially to the man who had treated him with so much delicacy a few months before, when their positions had been reversed. Then Grant had gone [126] to Stanton's house and told him in advance what he meant to do, and afterward sent a formal and highly complimentary letter before he entered upon his functions. Grant now disliked extremely the behavior of Stanton, and said so to Sherman, as well as to his own confidential officers.

The same day Grant and Sherman went together to the President. There had already appeared in the journal which served as Johnson's mouthpiece accusations of Grant's want of faith, and he was loath to enter the Executive presence, but he put under foot all personal considerations. The position of Stanton was discussed, and it was suggested that Grant should advise him to resign. The President maintained that Stanton's orders to Grant were not valid while the Secretary held office against the will of the Head of the State, and Grant replied that if the President wished him to disobey Stanton, he should give a written order to that effect. This order Johnson did not give. He wished Grant to take the responsibility of disobeying, but was himself unwilling to take the responsibility of directing the disobedience.

Grant and Sherman now held frequent conferences, neither taking any step without the concurrence of the other. Sherman, like Grant, subordinated all personal feeling at this juncture to the public interests. He forgot any remains of resentment he may have retained toward Stanton, and offered to go to him with Grant to discuss the situation; but for some reason the interview did not occur. Grant, however, visited Stanton, intending to recommend him to resign, but he soon perceived that the advice would be useless, and counseled Sherman not to offer it.

Meanwhile the controversy between Grant and the President was approaching a culmination. Twice Grant received important orders from Stanton requiring immediate action, and inclosing communications from the Treasury which recognized Stanton as Secretary of War; and yet the President [127] had verbally instructed him to disregard Stanton's authority. On the 24th of January Grant formally requested that the President would put into writing these verbal directions. This was not done, and Grant was placed in a very embarrassing position. It was the old device—to make some one else do the unauthorized work and take the responsibility, by which Johnson was to profit without burning his fingers. At the same time the imputations of bad faith were continued against Grant. Finally, on the 28th of January, Grant renewed his request for written instructions to disobey Stanton, and in the same letter he categorically denied the assertion of any promise on his part to remain in office after the Senate re-instated Stanton.

This brought matters to a head. Within two days Sherman was offered the position of Secretary of War. As soon as it became certain that Grant could not and would not be used, the crafty politician turned to the next in command. On the 30th of January Sherman had a long interview with Johnson, in which the President proposed either to oust Stanton by force, or to remove him legally by submitting Sherman's name to the Senate as Secretary of War. But to both these measures Sherman was averse. On the 31st he wrote a letter to the President, full of wisdom, patriotism, and eloquence, a copy of which he gave to Grant. In this he said: ‘To bring me to Washington would put three heads to the army —yourself, General Grant, and myself; and we would be more than human if we were not to differ. In my judgment it would ruin the army, and would be fatal to one, or two, of us.’ ‘With my consent,’ he said emphatically, ‘Washington, never.’

The next day the Board of Officers, of which Sherman was president, concluded its labors, and he set out immediately for St. Louis, to avoid, if possible, being caught in the political storm. Johnson cajoled him, tempted him, and flattered him, but in vain. Repeatedly the President declared [128] that he wanted Sherman in Washington, but Sherman as often declined to remain; and Johnson did not order him to stay.

On the 31st of January, the day after offering Sherman the position of Secretary of War, Johnson sent a letter to Grant, recapitulating in detail and ratifying all the charges that had hitherto been only anonymously made. On the 3d of February Grant replied, denying every one of Johnson's assertions, and charging the President outright with an attempt to destroy his character before the country. Johnson forthwith issued an order for Sherman to return to Washington, but with his usual vacillation, in a day or two rescinded it. On the 12th of February, however, the order was renewed, and Sherman was directed to assume command of a new military division created for the occasion, with headquarters at Washington. Grant notified him of this by telegraph, and Sherman replied: ‘Were I prepared, I should resign on the spot, as it requires no foresight to predict such must be the inevitable result in the end.’

Johnson now sent to the Senate the nomination of Sherman for the brevet of General, which would enable the President to place him in command of the army instead of Grant, but Sherman instantly telegraphed to his brother in the Senate to oppose the confirmation. The same day he wrote a second letter to the President, which he forwarded through Grant. To Grant himself he said: ‘I never felt so troubled in my life. Were it an order to go to Sitka, to the devil, to battle with rebels or Indians, I think you would not hear a whimper from me. . . . My first thoughts were of resignation, and I had almost made up my mind to ask Dodge for some place on the Pacific Railroad, . . . and then again various colleges ran through my memory, but hard times and an expensive family have brought me back. . . . If it were at all certain that you would accept the nomination of President in May, I would try and kill the intervening time and [129] then judge of the chances, but I do not want you to reveal your plans to me till you choose to do so.’

It was hard to drive Sherman out of the army or compel him to oppose his friend—to force these men into such positions, who had done what they had for the country—all for the sake of enabling Johnson to triumph over the will of the people who had won in the war—Johnson too, who was only by chance, or by assassination, in his place. The strain between Grant and Sherman was terrible; the feeling, pitiable.

Sherman's letter to the President was as emphatic as that to Grant. He declared: ‘If I could see my way clear to maintain my family I would not hesitate a moment to resign my present commission and seek some business wherein I could be free from these unhappy complications that seem to be closing about me.’ He implored a revocation of the order, and continued: ‘By being placed in Washington I will be universally construed as a rival to the General-in-Chief, a position damaging to me in the highest degree. Our relations have always been most confidential and friendly, and if unhappily any cloud of difference should arise between us, my sense of personal dignity and duty would leave me no alternative but resignation. I shall proceed to arrange for it as rapidly as possible, so that when the time does come, as it surely will, if this plan is carried into effect, I may act promptly.’ He ended by pronouncing ‘the blow one of the hardest I have sustained in a life somewhat checkered by adversity.’

Neither the feeling nor the conduct of Sherman at this crisis can be fully appreciated without remembering that he did not approve the course of Congress in many respects, and would certainly have preferred a more lenient policy toward the South. But questions like these were now far in the background, and the devices of Johnson were such as Sherman never could have indorsed. There were, indeed, many honorable and loyal men who believed that the course [130] originally indicated by the President, would have been more fortunate for the country, and at this distance of time all can see instances in which Congress might have acted with greater wisdom; but the crooked arts and iniquitous machinations of the obstinate, cunning, malicious man at the head of the Government can recommend themselves neither to patriots nor men of honor at the North or South, Democrats or Republicans. They cost the country dear. The shot of Booth did more harm to the South than to the illustrious martyr who received it, or to the unhappy maniac by whose hand Lincoln fell.

Grant, as well as Sherman, was tortured by the petty craft of him whom Fate had thrust into a position where he could tyrannize over natures greater than his own. Grant now appealed to Sherman to write out his recollections of the famous interview with the President, at which Sherman had been present, in order to counterbalance the assertions of Johnson's Cabinet. On the 18th of February the General-in-Chief wrote again to his friend, calling for his support in the attacks upon his honor:

Your letter to the President which you informed me by telegraph on Friday last had been mailed through me, has not yet come to hand. It may come to-day. The course you have pursued has given immense satisfaction so far as I have heard any expression of opinion. The dispatch you sent to Senator Sherman has not been published, but it is understood to be the ground of his action in the Senate. You see by the papers Mr. J. has been expressing surprise at your action, saying that his course was understood between you before you left, and that you did not seem to disapprove it. Of course I do not expect to make any use of the letters which you have written, in my own vindication, but I thought your letter to the President might set you right in the estimation of people who do not know you as well as I do, and might possibly suppose from the fact that you had been in Washington and in direct communication with the President, that you had consented to aid him in his plans to offer me an indignity. I [131] would be very glad to have you here if the public was not losing by bringing you away from where you are, and if not for the annoying position it would place you in. I have heard that Mr. Johnson said to some of his intimate friends that he intended to have you and me knock our heads together. Your intimation that you would resign under any circumstances has called out an expression that you should not be placed in a position to make it necessary, even if it took legislation to prevent the contingency. This of course is an individual expression of opinion. But I would say under no circumstances tender even a contingent resignation. You do not owe Mr. Johnson anything, and he is not entitled to such a sacrifice from you. Please present my kindest regards to Mrs. Sherman and the children.

The scrupulous care with which in all this crisis Grant regarded Sherman's wishes, and strove to do nothing to commit him further than he chose, is shown in the following letter of the 22d of February to Senator Sherman:

The National Intelligencer of this morning contains a private note which General Sherman sent to the President while he was in Washington, dictated by the purest kindness and a disposition to preserve harmony, and not intended for publication. It seems to me that the publication of that letter is calculated to place the General in a wrong light before the public, taken in connection with what correspondents have said before, evidently getting their inspiration from the White House. As General Sherman afterward wrote a semi-official note to the President, furnishing me a copy, and still later a purely official letter sent through me, which place him in his true position, and which have not been published, though called for by the ‘House,’ I take the liberty of sending you these letters to give you the opportunity of consulting General Sherman as to what action to take upon them. In all matters where I am not personally interested I would not hesitate to advise General Sherman how I would act in his place. But in this instance after the correspondence I have had with Mr. Johnson, I may not see General Sherman's interest in the same light others see it, or that I would see it in, if no such correspondence had [132] occurred. I am clear in this, however: the correspondence here inclosed to you should not be made public, except by the President, or with the full sanction of General Sherman. Probably the letter of the 31st of January, marked confidential, should not be given out at all.

Johnson was deterred by Sherman's protestations, by the refusal of the Senate to confirm the brevet, and by the fear that he would damage himself if he insisted further. Doubtless, too, he suspected that Sherman would not prove very serviceable, if forced so much against his will into the uncoveted position. On the 19th of February, therefore, the President informed Sherman that he would not be ordered to Washington. Two days afterward, without consulting the Senate, Johnson removed Stanton and appointed Lorenzo Thomas, the Adjutant-General of the Army, Secretary of War ad interim. The same day a resolution was offered in the House of Representatives that Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors. On the 24th of February the resolution was adopted.

Points suggested by General Sherman in answer to the President's letter to General Grant, of January 31, 1866:

Acknowledge receipt formally.

Regret that matters of importance should have transpired verbally when the memory of mere words in a general conversation is interpreted according to the bias of hearers. Will take care in future it shall be avoided.

Knew that the President on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday possessed all the knowledge of the action of the Senate and its legal effects that you did, and as the responsibility rested with him, you presumed he would adopt his own course.

A resignation was never hinted at as necessary, as the law itself terminated the tenure of the Secretary of War ad interim. [133]

Know your own motive and wishes to secure as much harmony of action as possible, and to avoid as far as could be the controversy unhappily existing between President and Congress, but conscious of rectitude, forbear to question motives of others.

Question of Mr. Stanton is one of pure legality. His sitting in that particular office does not make him Secretary of War. If he is not Secretary of War, why does the Secretary of Treasury pay his drafts as such?

The controversy as it stood then and as it stands now, is not one which the Commander-in-Chief should settle, but it is for the courts or the President by an “order.”

W. T. S.

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