August 30, 1863: Grant Reflects on the War Thus Far

Ulysses S. Grant was a man of few words, so it is sometimes difficult to find out what he was thinking. That makes this letter, to his political patron Congressman Elihu B. Washburne, all the more important. Here is the letter as it appears in volume 9 of the Papers of Ulysses S. Grant on pages 217-18:

Vicksburg, Mississippi, August 30th 1863.

Hon. E. B. Washburn[e],

Dear Sir;

Your letter of the 8th of August, enclosing one from Senator Wilson to you, reached here during my temporary absence to the Northern part of my command; hence my apparent delay in answering. I fully appreciate all Senator Wilson says. Had it not been for Gen. Halleck & Dana I think it altogether likely I would have been ordered to the Potomac. My going could do no possible good. They have there able officers who have been brought up with that army and to import a commander to place over them certainly could produce no good. Whilst I would not possitively disobey an order I would have objected most vehemently to taking that command, or any other except the one I have, I can do more with this army than it would be possible for me to do with any other withou[t] time to make the same acquaintance with others I have with this, I kno[w] that the soldiers of the Army of the Ten, can be relied on to the fullest extent, I believe I know the exact capacity of every General in my comm[and] to command troops, and just where to place them to get from them thei[r] best services. This is a matter of no small importance.

Your letter to Gen. Thomas has been delivered to him, I will make an effort to secure a Brigadiership for Col, Chetlain with the colored troops Before such a position will be open however more of these troops will have to be raised. This work will progres[s] rapidly.

The people of the North need not quarrel over the institution of Slavery. What Vice President Stevens acknowledges the comer stone of the Confederacy is already knocked out. Slavery is already dead and cannot be resurrected. It would take a standing Army to maintain slavery in the South if we were to make peace to-day guaranteeing to the South all their former constitutional privileges. I never was an Abolitionest, [n]ot even what could be called anti slavery, but I try to judge farely & honestly and it become patent to my mind early in the rebellion that the North & South could never live at peace with each other except as one nation, and that without Slavery. As anxious as I am to see peace reestablished I would not therefore be willing to see any settlemen[t] until this question is forever settled.

Rawlins & Maltby have been appointed Brigadier Generals. These are richly deserve[d] promotions. Rawlins especially is no ordina[ry] man. The fact is had he started in this war in the Line instead of in the Staff there is every probability he would be to-day one of our shining lights. As it is he is better and more favorably know than probably any other officer in the Army who has filled only staff appointments. Some [m]en, to many of them, are only made by their Staff appointments whilst others give respectability to the position. Rawlins is of the latter class.

My kind regards to the citizens of Galena,

Your sincere friend

U. S. Grant

There’s a lot of ground covered in this letter. Grant had no desire to go east to command the Army of the Potomac, and was thankful that people such as War Department envoy Charles A. Dana had done what they could to put an end to that notion. Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts agreed, having told Washburne about a conversation he had with Dana. “He tells me that Grant is modest, true, firm, honest and full of capacity for war. He says that he is in favor of destroying the cause of this civil war—of overthrowing Slavery and that his army is deeply imbued with the same feeling. I am glad to hear from so good a judge such an account of Grant and his noble army. It is reported that Grant has been invited to take command of the army of the Potomac. I do not believe it, but if it should be made to him I hope he will not for a moment think of it. He has a splendid and a united army. He can render great service to the country with that army. I fear if he should take the Potomac army that he would be ruined by a set of men in and out of that army. I am confident his great success has excited envy, and that if an oppo[r]tunity should offer he would be sacrificed.”

Grant was now outspoken in his opposition to slavery and in his support of measures to destroy it. He was also an advocate of enlisting blacks in the United States army (funny how sometimes we forget that it was the United States army). He also made clear his indebtedness to his chief of staff, John A. Rawlins, even if Rawlins’s main skill was to act as Grant’s loyal and candid adviser more than his administrative extension.

More than anything else, after Vicksburg Grant was finally on solid ground. His promotion to major general in the regular army assured him an elevated place in the postwar army, giving him the sort of job security he had never before experienced. After years of discussing the relationship between slavery, secession, and war, Grant was now committed to a conflict that to preserve the Union must put an end to slavery. The future looked very bright. In the meantime, he made plans to visit Nathaniel Banks’s command in New Orleans, where everything almost came tumbling down.

3 thoughts on “August 30, 1863: Grant Reflects on the War Thus Far

  1. Mark August 31, 2013 / 2:03 pm

    Very interesting. I didn’t know about this letter or the Wilson / Dana conversation. Great post.

  2. John Randolph August 31, 2013 / 8:38 pm

    Thank you for this, Professor Simpson. Grant’s words to his political patron Washburne convey the quiet, yet strong, confidence of a man who knows his star has risen and is shining bright in the aftermath of his stunning victory at Vicksburg.

  3. Barky September 3, 2013 / 5:13 pm

    Fascinating, thanks for this. 🙂

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