Washington, July 13, 1863.
I do not remember that you and I ever met personally. I write this now as a grateful acknowledgment for the almost inestimable service you have done the country. I wish to say a word further. When you first reached the vicinity of Vicksburg, I thought you should do, what you finally did—march the troops across the neck, run the batteries with the transports, and thus go below; and I never had any faith, except a general hope that you knew better than I, that the Yazoo Pass expedition, and the like, could succeed. When you got below, and took Port-Gibson, Grand Gulf, and vicinity, I thought you should go down the river and join Gen. Banks; and when you turned Northward East of the Big Black, I feared it was a mistake. I now wish to make the personal acknowledgment that you were right, and I was wrong.
Yours very truly
This may be one of the most interesting letters Abraham Lincoln ever wrote. His assertion that he did not have much faith in Grant’s initial attempts to take Vicksburg in 1863 is telling, because Grant undertook many of those efforts in an attempt to appease the president, who, he had been informed, was interested in canal-digging enterprises and the like. Indeed, it was the president and administration officials who dispatched “observers” Charles A. Dana and Lorenzo Thomas out west to see what was going on in Grant’s command and to see firsthand what the general might be up to. Surely if Lincoln fancied himself familiar with the area under discussion he knew that Grant would have to await the coming of spring and dry land to move as he did.
The letter also reveals the risk Grant was taking in deciding not to send forces to Nathaniel Banks in May 1863. Grant’s decision to invade the Mississippi interior was a choice with career consequences, and one that he undertook without awaiting orders.
Left unmentioned, of course, is Lincoln’s willingness to entertain the complaints of John A. McClernand as Grant’s corps commander intrigued to displace his superior … or Lincoln’s role in creating that friction in the first place. We might keep all of that in mind when we consider another product of the president’s pen tomorrow.