8 thoughts on “May 11, 1864: Grant Sends a Letter

  1. Kalyn Behnke May 11, 2014 / 1:11 pm

    It took me a solid 20 minutes of staring at the letter in order to decipher the script, but how interesting! Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  2. neukomment May 11, 2014 / 1:18 pm

    “I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.” The most telling and profound line in the letter…

  3. ian duncanson May 11, 2014 / 3:38 pm

    Just possibly the most profound line written by a military commander in the Civil War.

  4. Noma May 12, 2014 / 8:29 am

    And, again, at 8:30 am, May 11, 1864


    May 11, 1864—8.3O A.M.

    MAJOR-GENERAL HALLECK, Chief of Staff of the Army,
    Washington, D. C.

    We have now ended the 6th day of very hard fighting. The result up to this time is much in our favor. But our losses have been heavy as well as those of the enemy. We have lost to this time eleven general officers killed, wounded and missing, and probably twenty thousand men. I think the loss of the enemy must be greater—we having taken over four thousand prisoners in battle, whilst he has taken from us but few except a few stragglers. I am now sending back to Belle Plain all my wagons for a fresh supply of provisions and ammunition, and purpose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.

    The arrival of reinforcements here will be very encouraging to the men, and I hope they will be sent as fast as possible, and in as great numbers. My object in having them sent to Belle Plain was to use them as an escort to our supply trains. If it is more convenient to send them out by train to march from the railroad to Belle Plain or Fredericksburg, send them so.

    I am satisfied the enemy are very shaky, and are only kept up to the mark by the greatest exertions on the part of their officers, and by keeping them intrenched in every position they take.

    Up to this time there is no indication of any portion of Lee’s army being detached for the defence of Richmond.

    U. S. GRANT,



    Interestingly, this is the letter that Grant cites in his Memoirs — with both Grant and Mark Twain retaining Grant’s unusual spelling in “I purpose to fight it out on this line.”


    As Susan pointed out — as commencement speakers often do — Grant recycled this line 15 months later at the Bowdoin College commencement on August 1, 1865.

  5. Noma May 12, 2014 / 8:33 am

    I’m very impressed to see the photograph of one of the actual letters. Wonder where you found it?


    Also, speaking of sending the wagons back to Belle Plain, Albert Deane Richardson, probably the most popular of Grant’s earliest biographers, recounts an exchange between Confederate General John B. Gordon and Robert E. Lee after the Battle of the Wilderness, when reports came of Union wagons moving north. In a hopeful mood, Gordon suggested to Lee, “Grant’s retreating.” But Lee would have none of it. “You are mistaken, quite mistaken. Grant is not retreating. He is not a retreating man.”

    • John Foskett May 13, 2014 / 12:17 pm

      Caveat about Richardson: It appears that he may have been prone to attributing “iconic”/eerily prophetic remarks about Grant to Confederate officers. For example, I believe that Richardson’s the one who credited Ewell with an 1861 prognostication that Grant was the guy the Union should turn to. Given Grant’s track record to that date, the quote reeks of subsequent contrivance. My recollection is that Ewell’s biographer, Donald Pfanz, is skeptical. If the Gordon story were true, of course, one wonders whether McClellan was a “retreating man” in Lee’s eyes. 🙂

  6. Noma May 13, 2014 / 2:49 pm

    Well, I admit that John Brown Gordon’s own version of his conversation was not exactly as colorful — but it was also 40 years later. He probably toned it down in the telling, so as not to give undue glorification to Grant. And yes, probably Richardson spiced his up slightly. Can’t remember Gordon’s, but here is the citation: John Brown Gordon – Reminiscences of the Civil War – p. 268.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s