Research Exercise: Did Grant Say This? (part four)

(link to part three)

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

Dear Father:

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)

24 thoughts on “Research Exercise: Did Grant Say This? (part four)

  1. Ric Ben-Safed July 21, 2011 / 4:42 am

    There was a silence in the Grant letters that surprised me. True, he mentions slavery and ‘about some of the great fools” thereabout: but didn’t add anything to clarify that the function of slaves and slavery in Mo was very different than it was in the old south far to the east. What do you make of that?

    • Brooks D. Simpson July 21, 2011 / 8:51 am

      Nothing. I’d question your premise and ask why you think he should have gone off on such a discussion. It’s immaterial to the subject.

      • Ric Ben-Safed July 21, 2011 / 10:21 am

        Okay, but not immaterial to my interests, since we know, or we ought to know that slavery functioned differently in Mo. I was fortunate to go thru the Dred Scot Museum in St. Louis and got a clear idea from them just how different was the administration of ‘slavery’ there.

        • Brooks D. Simpson July 21, 2011 / 10:41 am

          Your comment remains immaterial to the discussion here. Thanks for reading. Now go back to “civilwardebate” and “civilwarhistory2” and tell the people what a bad man I am. 🙂 As you are a birther, I’m surprised you can even bring yourself to read what you have called a “Democratic party blog,” let alone comment on it.

          • Ray O'Hara July 21, 2011 / 11:50 am

            Excuse me Brooks, but Ric went through an ENTIRE museum!;
            how can you possibly argue against that kind of experience?.He knows all about slavery now.

          • Brooks D. Simpson July 21, 2011 / 12:03 pm

            If he only knew how to spell Dred Scott’s name correctly … which casts doubt on his claim he went there. I suspect he was really talking about an exhibit in a museum (look up “Dred Scott museum” on Google).

            BTW … Dred Scott and William T. Sherman are buried in the same cemetery in St. Louis.

          • James F. Epperson July 21, 2011 / 2:31 pm

            Tennessee Williams is in the same cemetery, as is Don Carlos Buell.

          • Brooks D. Simpson July 21, 2011 / 3:17 pm

            Buell is buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery; Sherman and Scott (and Williams) are buried at Calvary Cemetery. They are adjacent.

          • Bob Pollock July 21, 2011 / 3:37 pm

            The list of famous people buried at Bellefontaine is impressive, and includes Julia Grant’s parents.

          • James F. Epperson July 21, 2011 / 4:01 pm

            My error. I spent an afternoon in both places looking for Sherman (unsuccessfully), and got a little crosswise as to who was where.

  2. James F. Epperson July 21, 2011 / 4:53 am

    This has been an interesting exercise. The original quote that we have so often seen brandished in discussions is obviously something Grant would not say, but in my experience folks rarely just invent things—usually there is some basis, some incident or quote or something that, over time (or with malice and political intent) gets morphed into something else.

    You could turn this into an interesting article for publication.

  3. John Foskett July 21, 2011 / 7:11 am

    I have nothing meaningful to contribute regarding these postings on Grant’s views, but want to say that I find them highly interesting and informative. Keep the good work coming. It’s why this blogsite is generally my first “Civil War Hit” of the day.

  4. Jeff Davis July 21, 2011 / 7:56 am

    Further, there is apparently no evidence at the time of such a statement. Had he made that statement about switching sides, it would have appeared…somewhere. Southern sympathizers were seizing every chance to justify their cause [then and now it seems, and certainly in 1868].

    And I think had it gotten published at the time, it would have resulted in him being relegated to oblivion…training recruits in Minnesota, perhaps, and that is if he wasn’t sacked completely.

    Lincoln was not very tolerant of those who were “freeing” slaves and he wasn’t tolerant of secessionist or disloyal sentiments expressed by his generals.

  5. Ray O'Hara July 21, 2011 / 8:04 am

    Grant’s letter portray what seems a rather mainstream line of Northern thinking at that stage of the war. Southern apologists love to trumpet that attitude to claim the war wasn’t about slavery using the flawed logic if the “Yankees” didn’t invade to end slavery thewn how could that be the reason for the war?

    • MarkD July 21, 2011 / 6:26 pm

      Exactly. If I had a dollar for every time someone used a single quote to do exactly that . . .

  6. Al Mackey July 22, 2011 / 8:25 am

    This paragraph interests me:

    “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.”

    Could it be that he actually wanted Jesse to spread it around, else why even put it in the letter?

    • James F. Epperson July 22, 2011 / 9:50 am

      Brooks of course would speak more authoritatively than I could, but I have always thought this was a complicated father-son relationship. While I understand and see your point, I think it possible that Ulysses wanted to show Jesse he was doing well and was well thought of, and yet didn’t want it to look like bragging—hence the “please don’t tell others” comment.

    • Jeff Davis July 22, 2011 / 7:16 pm

      I think he did not want it spread around. The paragraph is pretty specific. Additionally, it was premature to speak of it publicly. One thing to tell Dad, something else for Dad to spread it to his friends, some of which may have thought Ulysses a braggart.

  7. E.A. Mayer August 22, 2013 / 6:25 pm

    This item recently came to my attention and I think it deserves consideration as a possible inspiration for the manufacturing of the Grant quote.

    “It is a hard matter to get a Union man to acknowledge that this is an abolition war. He will say to you; ‘If I thought this was a war for the abolition of slavery, I would not only lay down my arms which I have taken up for the defense of the Union, but I would go into the Southern army…many in the western states speak the same way. Now, any man who pretends to believe that this is not a war for the emancipation of the blacks, and that the whole course of the Yankee government has not only been directed to the abolition of slavery, but even to a stirring up of servile insurrections, is either a fool or a liar.”
    “The Vidette” camp newspaper for John Hunt Morgan’s brigade, November 1862.

    The first part seems like almost the same as the Grant ‘quote.’ It is not too hard to envision that they just transposed that thought unto Grant personally after the war to falsely attribute that discretionary loyalty to the Union directly to him.

  8. Al Mackey March 22, 2014 / 1:17 pm

    I don’t think this series was ever finished, was it?

      • Al Mackey March 22, 2014 / 5:21 pm

        Heck of a cliffhanger. 🙂

        • chancery May 27, 2017 / 12:47 am

          How much longer must we endure this suspense?

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