Having established that much about the story in question in fact rings true, we now come to Grant’s own expressions at the time. People like to quote Grant’s April correspondence, but we need not do that, because Grant wrote three letters during this period in which he described the situation to family members: a letter to his wife, Julia, dated July 19, 1861, the day he was ordered to move to Mexico; a second letter to Julia from Mexico dated August 3, 1861; and a letter from Mexico to his father Jesse Root Grant, also dated August 3, 1861.
Note what he wrote to Julia on July 19:
When we first come there was a terrible state of fear existing among the people. They thought that evry horror known in the whole catalogue of disasters following a state of war was going to be their portion at once. But they are now becoming much more reassured. They find that all troops are not the desperate characters they took them for…. I am fully convinced that if orderly troops could be marched through this country,and none others, it would create a different state of feeling from what exists now.
Grant’s concern, in short, was the attitude of civilians toward the Union soldiers in their midst. If Union soldiers behaved well, that would reassure Missourians that they had nothing to fear from the bluecoats. And what might Missourians most fear? That’s right … that Union soldiers would disrupt slavery, that they were part of an army of abolition.
Two weeks later, however, he was less optimistic after what he had experienced while at Mexico:
They are great fools in this section of country and will never rest until they bring upon themselvs all the horrors of war in its worst form. The people are inclined to carry on a guerilla Warfare that must eventuate in retaliation and when it does commence it will be hard to control.
But it is Grant’s letter of August 3, 1861, to his father, written while he was posted in Mexico itself, that is most revealing:
Mexico Mo., Aug 3, 1861
I have written to you once from this place and received no answer, but as Orvil writes to me that you express great anxiety to hear from me often I will try to find time to drop you a line twice a month, and oftener when anything of special interest occurs.
The papers keep you posted as to Army Movements and as you are already in possession of my notions on Secession nothing more is wanted on that point. I find here however a different state of feeling from what I expected existed in any part of the South. The majority in this part of the State are Secessionists, as we would term them, but deplore the present state of affairs. They would make almost any sacrifice to have the Union restored, but regard it as dissolved, and nothing is left for them but to choose between two evils. Many, too, seem to be entirely ignorant of the object of present hostilities. You can’t convince them but that the ultimate object is to extinguish, by force, slavery. Then too they feel that the Southern Confederacy will never consent to give up their State and as they, the South, are the strong party it is prudent to favor them from the start. There is never a movement of troops made that the Secession journals through the Country do not give a startling account of their almost annihilation at the hands of the States troops, whilst the facts are there are no engagements. My Regt. has been reported cut to pieces once that I know of, and I don’t know but oftener, whilst a gun has not been fired at us. These reports go uncontradicted here and give confirmation to the conviction already entertained that one Southron is equal to five Northerners. We believe they are deluded and know that if they are not we are.
Since I have been in Command of this Military District (two weeks) I have received the greatest hospitality and attention from the Citizens about here. I have had every opportunity of conversing with them freely and learning their sentiments and although I have confined myself strictly to the truth as to what has been the result of the different engagements,
and the relative strength etc. and the objects of the Administration, and the North Generally, yet they dont believe a word I dont think.
I see from the papers that my name has been sent in for Brigadier Gen.! This is certainly very complimentary to me particularly as I have never asked a friend to intercede in my behalf. My only acquaintance with men of influence in the State was whilst on duty at Springfield, and I then saw much pulling and hauling for favors that I determined never to ask for anything, and never have, not even a Colonelcy. I wrote a letter to Washington tendering my services but then declined
Mr. T Gov. Yates’ & Mr. Trumbull’s endorsement.
My services with the Regt. I am now with have been highly satisfactory to me. I took it in a very disorganized, demoralized and insubordinate condition, and have worked it up to a reputation equal to the best, and, I believe, with the good will of all the officers and all the men. Hearing that I was likely to be promoted the officers, with great unanimity, have requested to be attached to my Command. This I dont want you to read to others for I very much dislike speaking of myself.
We are now breaking up Camp here gradually. In a few days the last of us will be on our way for the Missouri River, at what point cannot be definitely determined, wood and water being a consideration, as well as a healthy, fine site for a large encampment. A letter addressed to me at Galena will probably find me there. If I get my promotion I shall expect to go there for a few days.
Remember me to all at home and write to me.
Yours truly, U. S. Grant
This letter suggests exactly what Grant was telling white Missourians while he was stationed at Mexico: that the “ultimate object” of the war was not “to extinguish, by force, slavery.” While at Mexico he “had every opportunity of conversing with them freely,” but when he told them of what he knew, including “the objects of the Administration, and the North Generally, yet they dont believe a word.”
Exactly. Grant had been telling the Missourians that this was a war of reunion, not emancipation. The Missourians refused to believe him. It may be that they did not want to hear him. But in these conversations one finds the root of the tale that Democrats repeated in 1868: that in reassuring white Missourians that the United States did not intend to “extinguish, by force, slavery,” they remembered something more, a promise to switch sides if it came to that, for which there is no evidence in Grant’s own correspondence at the time.
(to be continued)