Grant is assigned the Department of Tennessee and reinforced. On November 2, he begins a campaign with Vicksburg, Mississippi as its objective.
Union forces occupy Holly Springs in northern Mississippi, where Grant establishes a supply base for the advancing army.
In an effort to crush the sordid and unpatriotic trade between Northern merchants and rebels, Grant issues General Orders No. 11 expelling all Jews from the Department of Tennessee. Grant's motivation for issuing this order remains a subject of controversy. Vigorous protests in Washington result in official revocation.
While Grant is at Oxford, Mississippi, Van Dorn captures Holly Springs and destroys the supplies. By December 23, Grant is back at Holly Springs, and decides to move headquarters to Memphis. He now gives up his overland drive on Vicksburg.
In the meantime, General Sherman has left Memphis without knowledge of the destruction at Holly Springs. Moving down the Mississippi and picking up reinforcements at Helena, Arkansas, he makes an unsuccessful assault on Vicksburg along Chickasaw Bayou.
General John A. McClernand arrives at the mouth of the Yazoo River and takes over command of the forces near Vicksburg from Sherman. McClernand has been intriguing for command of the Mississippi River expedition and can not be prevented from exercising command unless Grant takes personal control.
Grant assesses McClernand. "I visited McClernand and his command at Napoleon. It was here made evident to me that both the army and navy were so distrustful of McClernand's fitness to command that, while they would do all they could to insure success, this distrust was an element of weakness. It would have been criminal to send troops under these circumstances into such danger."
Grant takes personal command of the Vicksburg expedition, over McClernand's protests, at Young's Point on the Mississippi, north of Vicksburg.
Sherman had discovered that Vicksburg was inaccessible from the north. Grant now tries to bring land and naval forces south of Vicksburg without passing the town's formidable gun batteries. Beginning in January, Sherman's men had worked on a canal on the peninsula opposite Vicksburg; in March, it is abandoned because of low water. A more ambitious canal at Duckport is also abandoned because of low water. General James B. McPherson's corps work on a circuitous route through Lake Providence, Louisiana, but it is finally abandoned because of its impracticability. An attempt is made to move through the Yazoo Pass, 325 miles north of Vicksburg, to use the Tallahatchie and Yazoo Rivers, but Confederates halt the Union gunboats at Fort Pemberton. While trying to use a route through Steele's Bayou, Acting Rear Admiral Porter's fleet barely escape capture. Grant now realizes he will have to abandon all of these routes around Vicksburg.
Porter runs his fleet successfully south past the Vicksburg batteries. Six supply transports follow on April 22. Troops march overland west of the river to below Vicksburg.
After a naval bombardment of Grand Gulf, south of Vicksburg, Grant decides against an attempt to land his men there. Instead, McClernand's command is landed some miles below at Bruinsburg (April 30). "When this was effected I felt a degree of relief scarcely ever equalled since. Vicksburg was not yet taken it is true, nor were its defenders demoralized by any of our previous moves. I was now in the enemy's country, with a vast river and the stronghold of Vicksburg between me and my base of supplies. But I was on dry ground on the same side of the river with the enemy. All the campaigns, labors, hardships and exposures from the month of December previous to this time that had been made and endured, were for the accomplishment of this one object."
Grant's victory at the battle of Port Gibson gives the Union forces a firm footing in Mississippi and compels the abandonment of the fortifications at Grand Gulf (May 3). Grant now begins moving inland, brings up more troops, and prepares to attack Pemberton's army in the Vicksburg area.
McPherson's corps wins a victory at Raymond. Now Grant decides to strike for the interior and the state capital at Jackson. If he had moved immediately against Vicksburg from the south, he might have won the position without capturing Pemberton's army. He prefers to surround Vicksburg and win both. He also wants to avoid the danger of being trapped between two rebel armies: one at Vicksburg, and another coming from the east under Joseph E. Johnston.
Union forces capture Jackson, Mississippi, after some fighting. Now Grant turns back towards Vicksburg, winning the battle of Champion's Hill on May 16. The Confederates cross the Big Black River after another fight on the following day, and on May 18, Grant completes the encirclement of Vicksburg.
An assault on the lines at Vicksburg moves the Union lines slightly forward. Another assault on May 22 does less good and costs many lives. Grant now decides upon a siege.
Grant relieves McClernand of command for improperly issuing a congratulatory order to his troops without obtaining headquarters approval. The bombastic document has extolled McClernand's troops at the expense of other troops and other commanders.
Grant learns that the Confederate army under J. E. Johnston has crossed the Big Black River and is possibly preparing an attack to save the Vicksburg garrison. But before the attack comes, Vicksburg will fall.
Union forces explode a mine under the Confederate line, but are unsuccessful in breaking through. Another mine, exploded July 1, is similarly unproductive. The major pressure on the Confederates comes through the exhaustion of supplies.
Pemberton sends a message to Grant requesting terms of surrender. Grant answers, as he had at Fort Donelson, that his only terms are unconditional surrender.
Vicksburg surrenders. The garrison marches out and stacks arms. Grant immediately provides food for the starving soldiers and civilians. After the fall of Port Hudson on July 9, the entire Mississippi River is in Union hands. The loss of Vicksburg coupled with the battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania marks a turning point in the war. Grant is now promoted to major general in the regular army. "If the Vicksburg campaign meant anything, in a military point of view, it was that there are no fixed laws of war which are not subject to the conditions of the country, the climate, and the habits of the people. The laws of successful war in one generation would insure defeat in another."
Grant travels to New Orleans to confer with General Nathaniel Banks. While there, he receives painful injuries when his horse falls.
Halleck tells Grant to send all available troops to the aid of Rosecrans near Chattanooga. Grant's own preference is for an expedition to Mobile. On September 19-20, a defeat at Chickamauga forces Rosecrans back into Chattanooga, where he is virtually besieged by Bragg.
As Grant travels by train from Cairo to Louisville, Secretary of War Stanton boards the train at Indianapolis with orders giving Grant command of the Military Division of the Mississippi, embracing the Departments of the Ohio, Cumberland, and Tennessee. In addition, Grant is given permission to replace Rosecrans with George H. Thomas.
Grant enters Chattanooga. By October 28, Union forces have opened a precarious supply route, called the cracker line, to prevent starvation.
Battle of Chattanooga. On the first day, Grant puts his men in position and drives the Confederates from Orchard Knob. On the second, Hooker leads his men up Lookout Mountain. Then, on November 25, Union forces assault the main Confederate position on Missionary Ridge. "The Confederates were strongly intrenched on the crest of the ridge in front of us, and had a second line half-way down and another at the base. Our men drove the troops in front of the lower line of rifle-pits so rapidly, and followed them so closely, that rebel and Union troops went over the first line of works almost at the same time. Many rebels were captured and sent to the rear under the fire of their own friends higher up the hill. Those that were not captured retreated, and were pursued. The retreating hordes being between friends and pursuers caused the enemy to fire high to avoid killing their own men. In fact, on that occasion the Union soldier nearest the enemy was in the safest position." Years later, Grant was asked if the Confederates had failed because they believed their position impregnable. With a twinkle in his eye, Grant replied, "Well, it was impregnable."
With Chattanooga now safe, Grant sends troops to Knoxville, where General Ambrose Burnside is besieged by Confederate General James Longstreet. The Confederates withdraw on December 3-4 before Grant's force arrives.
The bill to restore the rank of lieutenant general becomes a law. It has been passed with the understanding that Grant will receive the promotion. On March 1, Lincoln submits Grant's nomination, which is confirmed the following day. On March 3, Grant is ordered to Washington to receive his commission. By this time, there is speculation about a political career for Grant. In a letter to his father on February 20, Grant had written: "All I want is to be left alone to fight this war out; fight all rebel opposition and restore a happy Union in the shortest possible time."
Lincoln and Grant meet for the first time. In the evening, Grant is guest of honor at a White House reception. When word spreads through the large crowd that the general has arrived, there is so much confusion that Grant has to stand on a sofa so that all can see him. On the following day, Lincoln presents the commission with a short speech of four sentences. As usual, Grant can be even more concise. "Mr. President, I accept the commission, with gratitude for the high honor conferred. With the aid of the noble armies that have fought in so many fields for our common country, it will be my earnest endeavor not to disappoint your expectations. I feel the full weight of the responsibilities now devolving on me; and I know that if they are met, it will be due to those armies, and, above all, to the favor of that Providence which leads both nations and men."
Grant is assigned to command all armies of the United States. He decides to make his headquarters with the Army of the Potomac. First, however, he makes a quick trip to Nashville to confer with Sherman, who is given Grant's former command on March 18. By March 23, Grant is back in Washington.
Grant gives orders for the movement of the Army of the Potomac. On May 4, the army crosses the Rapidan River in Virginia.
The Army of the Potomac meets Confederate commander Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia while crossing an area known as the Wilderness. The Confederates have an excellent position, and Union advances are purchased with great loss of life.
The Wilderness campaign is succeeded by bloody battles at Spotsylvania, Virginia. During the fighting at Spotsylvania, Grant informs Halleck of his intention "to fight it out on this line if it takes all Summer."
Grant begins to move to his left again. On May 23, Winfield Scott Hancock's corps capture a bridge over the North Anna River. Lee, however, has placed his force so effectively on the south bank of the river that Grant chooses not to bring on a general engagement. He slips to his left again, and crosses the Pamunkey River on May 27. The road to the Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia now leads past Cold Harbor, Virginia.
Union assaults are made upon a strong Confederate position at Cold Harbor. The loss to the North is severe, and, unlike earlier battles, does nothing to improve the Union position. "I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made."
Grant's army crosses the James River on pontoon bridges, heading towards Petersburg. Unable to break the Confederate line in frontal attack, Grant has steadily slipped to his left and now has his lines southeast of Richmond. On the following day, Union forces make the first assault on Petersburg, Virginia. The battle of Petersburg gradually settles into a siege.
In an effort to crack the Confederate line a huge mine is exploded, but the Federal assault after the blast fails, in the Battle of the Crater. There will be no more major battles in 1864. Instead, Grant exerts relentless pressure on the overextended Confederate lines near Petersburg. By August, Grant can see the end. "The rebels have now in their ranks their last man. The little boys and old men are guarding prisoners, guarding rail-road bridges and forming a good part of their garrisons for intrenched positions. A man lost by them can not be replaced."
Grant replaces General David Hunter in the Shenandoah Valley with General Philip Sheridan, who is given orders to harass the enemy constantly and destroy supplies.
Grant seizes the Weldon Railroad, a vital supply line for Lee's army.
A similar attempt upon the South Side Railroad is unsuccessful. The siege of Petersburg continues, but neither side can do much more than hold its position through the winter.
Lee fails in his effort to break the Union line at Fort Stedman. On the same day, Lincoln lands from the River Queen at City Point for a series of conferences with Grant.
Grant sends Sheridan around the right end of Lee's line in order to force Lee to retreat. Sheridan's victory April 1 at Five Forks forces Lee to abandon Petersburg and Richmond two days later. Lee makes one last, desperate effort to collect his forces at Amelia Court House and join Joseph E. Johnston in North Carolina. Sheridan quickly blocks Lee's road, and the Army of Northern Virginia is virtually surrounded.
Lee's effort to avoid encirclement leads to his defeat at Sayler's Creek.
Grant writes to Lee: "The results of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle."
After discovering that escape will be impossible, Lee arranges to meet Grant at Appomattox, Virginia. "I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse." The two generals meet in the parlor of the McLean House, Lee in an immaculate new uniform, Grant informally dressed with only shoulder straps to show rank. "We soon fell into a conversation about old army times . . . Our conversation grew so pleasant that I almost forgot the object of our meeting." Finally, Grant writes a letter embodying his terms and Lee writes one accepting them.
Grant meets with the Cabinet to discuss Lee's surrender and the future of the South. Lincoln invites the Grants to join him at the theatre that evening. Grant replies that he is anxious to visit his children at Burlington, New Jersey. Thus Grant eludes the plan of John Wilkes Booth and his co-conspirators to assassinate him along with Lincoln.
After Lincoln dies, Vice President Andrew Johnson is sworn in as the nation's 17th president.
Grant arrives at Sherman's headquarters in North Carolina in an effort to eliminate the bitterness caused by Sherman's surrender terms to General Joseph E. Johnston. In attempting to end all Confederate resistance east of the Mississippi, Sherman's agreement has gone beyond what Grant conceded to Lee at Appomattox and raises cries in the North that Sherman is settling terms of peace.
After touring the nation and receiving praise everywhere for his leadership in the war, Grant moves with his family into a house on I Street in Washington.
Grant tours the South at the request of President Johnson, and is greeted with surprising friendliness. His report recommends a lenient Reconstruction policy.
Congress establishes a new rank, general of the armies of the United States, to which Grant is immediately appointed.
President Johnson leaves for a political tour, though the ostensible purpose is the dedication of the Stephen A. Douglas monument in Chicago. Grant goes along reluctantly. When the heckling of the crowd at various stops prompts Johnson into angry and undignified responses, Grant loses sympathy with the President.
President Andrew Johnson informs Grant that he intends to remove Secretary of War Stanton from office. Stanton, a holdover from the Lincoln administration, has been a consistent opponent of the President and stands close to the radical Republicans who dominate Congress. Stanton has refused to resign and Congress has supported him through the Tenure of Office Act (March 2), which requires the consent of Congress to removals. At the same time, Congress has weakened the President's control of the army through the Command of the Army Act, which requires that all military orders of the President have the approval of the general of the army (Grant). Johnson believes the Tenure of Office Act is unconstitutional, and hopes to defeat the effort to force Stanton upon him by employing the popular Grant. On August 11, Grant agrees to take over the War Department temporarily, and on the following day Johnson orders him to do so.
Grant resigns his position as Secretary of War ad interim after Congress reassembles and insists upon the reinstatement of Stanton. Johnson believes that Grant has betrayed him; Grant now openly breaks with Johnson.
Andrew Johnson becomes the first president to be impeached by Congress. He avoids conviction and retains his office by a single vote.
The Republican National Convention at Chicago nominates Grant for President and Schuyler Colfax of Indiana for Vice President.
Grant concludes his letter of acceptance with "Let us have peace." The words became a Republican slogan.
The Democrats nominate Horatio Seymour, former Governor of New York, for President, and Francis P. Blair, Jr., formerly one of Grant's commanders, for Vice President.
Grant is elected President, winning the electoral votes of 26 of 34 states and an electoral college majority of 214-80 over his Democratic opponent. But the popular majority is only 306,000 in a total vote of 5,715,000. Newly enfranchised black men in the South cast 700,000 votes, generally at the bidding of their Republican protectors.
Grant is inaugurated President. In his inaugural address, he says: "The responsibilities of the position I feel, but accept them without fear. The office has come to me unsought; I commence its duties untrammeled. I bring to it a conscious desire and determination to fill it to the best of my ability to the satisfaction of the people." His Cabinet list, prepared without consultation, is generally considered weak. A. T. Stewart, a prominent New York merchant, is named Secretary of the Treasury even though his business interests make him ineligible. When Grant learns of the law, he asks Congress to change it, but soon finds that this is unlikely. On March 9, he withdraws Stewart's nomination and two days later nominates George Boutwell of Massachusetts. This causes further complications since Massachusetts is already represented in the Cabinet through Attorney General E. R. Hoar. E. B. Washburne is given a courtesy appointment as Secretary of State, which ends soon with his appointment as Minister to France. He is succeeded in the State Department by Hamilton Fish of New York. The Chief of Staff, John A. Rawlins, becomes Secretary of War although he is dying, because Grant wants to honor a faithful friend. Adolph E. Borie, a wealthy and congenial Philadelphian, briefly holds the post of Secretary of the Navy; Jacob D. Cox, an able Ohio reformer, is Secretary of the Interior; John A. J. Creswell, a Maryland lawyer, is Postmaster General.
Grant signs his first law, an Act to Strengthen the Public Credit, pledging the government to redeem in gold the greenback currency issued during the Civil War. Grant thus quickly places himself with the financial conservatives of the day.
The day will forever be known as Black Friday on the New York gold exchange as Jay Gould and Jim Fisk attempt to corner the available gold supply. In an effort to prevent the government from selling gold to break the corner, the conspirators have enlisted Abel Rathbone Corbin, Grant's brother-in-law. Corbin believes he has misled Grant into cooperation, but Grant approves a government gold sale which restores prevailing prices.
Grant submits to the Senate a treaty of annexation with Santo Domingo. He believes that Santo Domingo offers an attractive field for American investment and a solution to the race problem. Under Grant's plan, freed slaves will be able to relocate to the Caribbean island (the Dominican Republic today). The treaty is reported adversely by the Foreign Relations Committee, headed by Charles Sumner, who speaks bitterly against it. Although Grant forces support from his Cabinet Attorney General E. R. Hoar, who opposes annexation, and ultimately has Sumner deposed from the chairmanship of the Foreign Relations committee (March 9, 1871), he is unable to get the treaty confirmed by the Senate.
Grant appoints George William Curtis to head the first Civil Service Commission established by Congress. Because Congress fails to make an appropriation and ignores Curtis's recommendations, nothing will come of this venture.
The Treaty of Washington, negotiated by Hamilton Fish, provides for the settlement by an international tribunal of American claims against England resulting from the wartime activities of the British-built Confederate raider Alabama. The tribunal eventually will award $15,500,000 to the United States in a well-balanced decision which leaves no rancor in either country.
Meeting of the Liberal Republican Convention at Cincinnati. Leaders of the group include many prominent Republicans unhappy about vindictive Reconstruction policies and corruption in government, which they call Grantism. Although many attractive presidential nominees are available, Horace Greeley receives the nomination. Greeley's earlier radicalism, high tariff views, and well-known eccentricity repels many who oppose Grant. The Democrats, on July 9, also nominate Greeley.
Grant signs an amnesty bill he had advocated. Although the final legislation is less generous than Grant wants, now only a few hundred former Confederates are excluded from political privileges.
My American Experience
Do you admire Ulysses S. Grant? Or perhaps Robert E. Lee? Tell us who is your favorite and why.