General Sherman sent the following comment to the the North American Review (vol. 142, January, 1886, p. 112) when asked for his reflections on Grant. Sherman, admitting to low expectations, commented: "A more unpromising boy never entered the Military Academy." Let this be a lesson to all of us. Looks are deceiving.
"...to me he is a mystery, and I believe he is a mystery to himself." from an article in The Century Magazine, vol. 53, no. 6, April, 1897, p. 821.
"There is one West Pointer, I think in Missouri, little known, and whom I hope the northern people will not find out. I mean Sam Grant. I knew him well at the Academy and in Mexico. I should fear him more than any of their officers I have yet heard of. He is not a man of genius, but he is clear-headed, quick and daring."
So said Confederate General Ewell in a conversation with other Confederate generals, former West Pointers themselves.
"The great distinguishing qualities of General Grant were truth, courage, modesty, generosity and loyality. He was loyal to every work and every cause in which he was engaged--to his friends, his family, his country and to his God, and it was these characteristics which bound to him with hooks of steel all those who served with him. He absolutely sunk himself to give to others honor and praise to which he, himself, was entitled. No officer served under him who did not understand this. I was a young man and given much larger commands than my rank entitled me to. General Grant never failed to encourage me by giving me credit for whatever I did, or tried to do. If I failed, he assumed the responsibility; if I succeeded, he recommended me for promotion. He always looked at the intention of those who served under him, as well as to their acts. If they failed in intention, he dropped them so quickly and efficiently that the whole country could see and hear their fall."
From the lengthy Personal Recollections of Ulysses S. Grant by Major General Grenville M. Dodge.
Longstreet, fellow cadet of Grant, cousin of Julia Dent Grant, and General Lee's "Old Warhorse" upon hearing others on Lee's staff downplay Grant's capabilities, set them straight.
"Do you know Grant? Well, I do. I was in the Corps of Cadets with him at West Point for three years. I was present at his wedding. I served in the same army with him in Mexico. I have observed his methods of warfare in the West, and I believe I know him through and through and I tell you that we cannot afford to underrate him and the army he now commands."
"My daughters, listen to me. I want to make a prophecy ... remember what I say… that little man will fill the highest place in this government. His light is now hid under a bushel, but circumstances will occur, and at no distant day, when his worth and wisdom will be shown and appreciated. He is a philosopher. He is a great statesman." - From The Personal Memoirs of Julia Dent Grant (p. 91)
"In the first five minutes, we learned by some sort of spiritual telegraphy, that reticence, patience, and persistence were the dominant traits of General Grant ... [he was a ] quiet, repressed, reluctant, undemonstrative man ... We instinctively put ourselves on 'short rations' of talk with him. Neither was General Grant a drunkard, that was immediately apparent to us. This conviction gave us such joy that ... we looked each other in the face ... and breathed more freely... The clear eye, clean skin, firm flesh and steady nerves of General Grant gave the lie to the universal calumnies then current concerning his intemperate habits…”
From My Story of the War, by Mary Livermore, 1892.
"He had somehow, with all his modesty, the rare faculty of controlling his superiors as well as his subordinates. He outfaced Stanton, captivated the President, and even compelled acquiescence or silence from that dread source of paralyzing power, the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War." - Joshua Chamberlaind, in his Civil War memoir, The Passing of the Armies (1915), p. 29.
"Nobody could watch [Grant] without concluding that he was a remarkable man. He handles those around him so quietly and well, he so evidently has the faculty of disposing of work and managing men, he is cool and quiet; almost stolid ... and in a crisis he is one against whom all around, whether few in number or a great army ... would instinctively lean. He is a man of the most exquisite judgment and tact."
From A Cycle of Adams Letters, 1861-1865, Volume 2, by Charles Francis Adams, Jr., 1920.
"It has been charged in the northern newspapers that Grant was under the influence of liquor on the fields of Donelson and Shiloh. This charge is an atrocious calumny, wickedly false. I saw him repeatedly during the battles of Donelson and Shiloh on the field and if there were any sober men on the field, Grant was one of them."
In The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee, Newspaper). An Hour With Abraham Lincoln, by John M. Thayer. Sunday, December 15, 1895, Issue 349, p. 18.
The full article was included in Life of Abraham Lincoln, by Clifton Melvin Nichols, published in 1896.
Here is the full-text of the anecdote from Nichols in Hathitrust.
Although Ulysses and Julia struggled with making their farm property sustainable and things often must have seemed quite bleak, Julia never lost faith in him. In a remarkable interview with a Dent family household servant (slave) named Mary Robinson, she relates the time when Julia was visiting with relatives, telling them of Grant's difficulties and the financial hardships their family was undergoing.
Suddenly she said, "We will not always be in this condition. Wait until Dudie (her pet name for Grant) becomes president. I dreamed last night that he will be elected president."
Fay, John. (1887,September 24). Reminiscences of General Grant. Atchison Daily Globe, issue 3056, p. 3. This same article appeared around the country in several newspapers at this time.
"His success stemmed from a complicated set of circumstances which worked in his favor, but also from specific traits within his own character which only needed the right conditions to reveal themselves, conditions which had been present during the Mexican War, and on the isthmus, but which were singularly lacking on the West Coast, in Missouri, and at the leather store in Galena.
These traits were determination, mental acuteness, excellent memory, ability to look into the minds of others, and a willingness to subordinate self to a cause. When these are added to the experience gained in the old army, especially in the Mexican War, and as regimental commander during the early months of the Civil War, Grant's sudden rise from oblivion becomes more comprehensible. Even so, the transformation borders on the miraculous."
From John A. Carpenter's book, Ulysses S. Grant, published 1977.
Our Silent-Working General
A strangely unostentatious, silent-working man, is this same Lieutenant-General of ours, from whom we all expect so much. The troops have imbibed a singular degree of confidence in him already. There is a kind of mystery about him. He comes and goes silently, disturbing nothing, disquieting nobody. No long train of staff officers gallops and hangles at his heels. No one, not the knowingest of newspaper men, dare pretend to a knowledge of his plans; every one would laugh at the pretense; and yet all things move and change about with wonderful celerity, and his orders are obeyed with a sort of inward conviction that they mean something. Now this man Grant may be beaten in the coming struggle. Lee may be proved the better general, and our forces may be hurled back on the defenses of Washington once more, and the personal reputation won at Vicksburg and Chattanooga may be lost among these terrible Virginian hills; but it will be a fearful surprise to the men who have seen this silent, shabby-looking genius take hold of this army. The General has such confidence in himself, that all other men around him "do as he does." It is a grand thing, yet a terrible one, to be the commander of all these magnificent armies, and to order so many gallant men to march to suffering and death.
From Dispatches From Lincoln's White House, the Anonymous Civil War Journalism of Presidential Secretary William O. Stoddard. Edited by Michael Burlingame. University of Nebraska Press, 2002.
"Grant is rather under middle height, of a spare, strong build; light-brown hair, and short, light-brown beard. His eyes are of clear blue; forehead high; nose aquiline; jaw squarely set. His face had three expressions: deep thought; extreme determination; and great simplicity and calmness."
"Grant is a man of a good deal of rough dignity; rather taciturn; quick an decided in speech. He habitually wears an expression as if he had determined to drive his head through a brick wall, and was about to do it. I have much confidence in him." -- Letters from Lyman to his wife, March and April, 1864.
"Grant was such a quiet, unassuming fellow when a cadet that nobody would have picked him out as one who was destined to occupy a place in history; and yet he had certain qualities which attracted attention and commanded the respect of all those in the corps with him. He was always frank, generous and manly … He had enough marked characteristics to prevent him from being considered commonplace, and everyone associated with him was sure to remember him and retain a high regard for him."
It appears this was in print for the first time in Campaigning With Grant, by Horace Porter, 1897.
President Lincoln has often been quoted as inquiring of his advisors just what kind of whiskey Grant drank, so he, the President, could send barrels of it to his other generals. It is also generally acknowledged that this quote is probably fictitious.
The earliest reference to this quotation by Lincoln that I can locate is in a book published before the end of the War:
General Grant and His Campaigns, by Julian Larke. Publisher: Derby, 1864. This is accessible in Google Books.
The most credible reference I can locate is in:
The Every-Day Life of Abraham Lincoln, by Francis Fischer Browne. Publisher: Thompson, 1886. In here it states the context, the words and the speaker (Grant's then chief of cavalry, T. Lyle Dickey, later Judge Dickey). To me, it has the ring of truth. Here is the anecdote.
"Grant was an uncommon fellow, the most modest, the most disinterested, and the most honest man I ever knew, with a temper that nothing could disturb, and a judgment that was judicial in its comprehensiveness and wisdom.
I had been with Grant daily now for three weeks, and I had never seen him ruffled or heard him swear. His equanimity was becoming a curious spectacle to me. When I saw his horse lunge my first thought was "now he will swear." ... Pulling up his horse, he rode, on, and, to my utter amazement, without a word or sign of impatience. And it is a fact that though I was with Grant during the most trying campaigns of the war, I never heard him use an oath."
"Grant was a man of slim figure, slightly stooped, five feet eight inches in height, weighing only a hundred and thirty five pounds, and of a modesty of mien and gentleness of manner which seemed to fit him more for the court than for the camp ... his voice was exceedingly musical, and one of the clearest in sound and most distinct in utterance that I have ever heard."
"His soldiers always knew that he was ready to rough it with them and share their hardships on the march. He wore no better clothes than they, and often ate no better food."
"Upon a few occasions, after a hard day's ride in stormy weather, the general joined the officers in taking a whiskey toddy in the evening. He never offered liquor of any kind to visitors. The only beverage he ever used at the table besides tea and coffee was water."
"[Grant had a] marked aversion to turning back, which amounted almost to a superstition. He often put himself to the greatest personal inconvenience to avoid it. When he found he was not traveling in the direction he intended to take, he would try all sorts of cross-cuts, ford streams, and jump any number of fences to reach another road rather than go back and take a fresh start."
- from Porter's book Campaigning With Grant (1897)
Shortly after Grant's two-day battle at Shiloh, many of Lincoln's advisor's wanted Grant removed from his command.
The following anecdote is in dispute as to its authenticity and some say Lincoln never uttered these words. The incident is reportedly a result of Alexander McClure, journalist, historian and politician, of Philadelphia, urging Lincoln to "fire" Grant. McClure included the anecdote in his own memoirs of the War years (Abraham Lincoln and Men of War Times, Some Personal Recollections of War and Politics During the Lincoln Administration, published in 1892) so I am unsure as to why the comment by Lincoln is considered suspect.
"I appealed to Lincoln for his own sake to remove Grant at once, and in giving my reasons for it, I simply voiced the admittedly overwhelming protest from the loyal people of the land against Grant's continuance in command. I could form no judgment during the conversation as to what effect my arguments had upon him beyond the fact that he was greatly distressed at this new complication. When I said everything that could be said from my standpoint, we lapsed into silence. Lincoln remained silent for what seemed a very long time. He then gathered himself up in his chair and said in a tone of earnestness that I shall never forget, "I can't spare this man, he fights."
The full text of McClure's recollections is in Hathitrust. This is the earliest occurrence of this anecdote that I can find (1892).
"We all form our preconceived ideas of men of whom we have heard a great deal, and I had certain definite notions as to the appearance and character of General Grant, but I was never so completely surprised in all my life as when I met him and found him a different person, so entirely different from my idea of him.
His spare figure, simple manners, lack of all ostentation, extreme politeness, and charm of conversation were a revelation to me, for I had pictured him as a man of a directly opposite type of character, and expected to find in him only the bluntness of a soldier. Notwithstanding the fact that he talks so well, it is plain he has more brains than tongue. He is one of the most remarkable men I have ever met. He does not seem to be aware of his powers."
Related by Colonel Horace Porter, in Campaigning With Grant
Alexander Stephens included the same observation in a little bit different wording in his published Diary, published in 1910. Here is an excerpt from this diary. From Hathitrust.
I hope you will allow one who, when a boy, laid down his arms at Appomattox and pledged allegiance to the Union, to express his warmest sympathy for you in your suffering. I have watched your movements from the hour you gave me my horse and sword, and told me to 'go home and assist in making a crop.' I have been proud to see the nation do you honor, and now, dear General, in the hour of your pain, I weep that so brave, so magnanimous a soul must suffer as you do.
My prayer to God daily is that you may be restored to perfect health, and be assured that I am not the only ex-confederate who sends his prayers daily to the Throne of Grace for the restoration of the grandest, the noblest, the bravest soldier and the purest statesman who ever graced the annals of history. May the God who overlooked you in battle and who has brought you thus far give you grace to meet whatever He has in store for you, and may he restore you to health is the fervent prayer of one who, at fifteen years of age, entered the lists against you and accepted the magnanimous terms you accorded us at Appomattox."
A. M. Arnold, Rockbridge Baths, Virginia
This letter is widely quoted in books covering the last years of Grant's life. The earliest publication of it that I can find is in Military and Civil Life of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, by James P. Boyd, copyright 1885.
It also appeared in The National Tribune (Washington, DC), July 9, 1885, p. 8, and in the
Richmond Dispatch, July 3, 1885.
"It has been a matter of universal wonder in this army that General Grant himself was not killed, and that no more accidents occurred to his staff, for the general was always in the front (his staff with him, of course), and perfectly heedless of the storm of hissing bullets and screaming shell flying around him. His apparent want of sensibility does not arise from heedlessness or vain military affectation, but from a sense of responsibility resting upon him when in battle.
When at Ringgold, we rode for half a mile in the face of the enemy, under an incessant fire of cannon and musketry, nor did we ride fast, but upon an ordinary trot, and not once do I believe did it enter the general's mind that he was in danger. I was by his side and watched him closely. In riding that distance we were going to the front, and I could see that he was studying the positions of the two armies, and, of course, planning how to defeat the enemy, who was here making a most desperate stand, and was slaughtering our men fearfully.
Another feature in General Grant's personal movements is that he requires no escort beyond his staff, so regardless of danger is he. Roads are almost useless to him, for he takes short cuts through fields and woods, and will swim his horse through almost any stream that obstructs his way.
Nor does it make any difference to him whether he has daylight for his movements, for he will ride from breakfast until two o'clock in the morning, and that too without eating. The next day he will repeat the dose, until he finishes his work. Now such things come hard upon the staff, but they have learned how to bear it."
The earliest documentation I can locate for this quote is from:
Larke, Julian. General Grant and His Campaigns. New York: Derby & Miller, 1864.
Please note, this is a secondary source, but the quote has been widely repeated in subsequent materials about Grant.