Abraham Lincoln was frustrated with his generals. They don’t have grit, he lamented. General McClellan was a great organizer who whipped his troops into fantastic fighting shape, but he had a case of the “slows.” He just wouldn’t put those troops into battle. Other Generals were more or less competent but they too failed to pursue the enemy. Too many chances were lost that could have ended the war early.
And then came along Ulysses S. Grant. Rumored to be a hard drinker, Grant was nonetheless a fighter. He had started the war on the western front in Missouri and slowly worked his way toward the Mississippi River. Caught by surprise at the battle of Shiloh in early April (Grant had been unprepared and slow to react), he was chastised for the massive casualties accredited to his bare-knuckle fighting style and alleged drunkenness. When pressed for his removal, Lincoln refused, reportedly saying “I can’t spare this man; he fights!” It was a gamble, but Lincoln had a feeling about this man.
“The great thing about Grant, I take it, is his perfect coolness and persistency of purpose. I judge he is not easily excited, – which is a great element in an officer, – and he has got the grit of a bull-dog! Once let him get his ‘teeth’ in, and nothing can shake him off.”
Lincoln’s faith in Grant paid off. The day after the Union victory at Gettysburg – on July 4th, Independence Day – Grant captured Vicksburg. The Union had cut the South in two, with the states west of the Mississippi River—Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas—now isolated from reinforcements.
Following Vicksburg, Lincoln promoted Grant to Major General and gave him command of a newly formed Division of the Mississippi, where he directed several armies through major battles in the region. His skill and leadership would eventually lead Lincoln to commission him Lieutenant General and command of all Union armies as General-in-Chief, answering only to Lincoln.
On April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the war. Six days later Lincoln was dead. Four years later Grant himself was inaugurated President. Lincoln’s faith in Grant had been warranted. Unfortunately, Lincoln was not around to see Grant rise to take his place.
[The above is adapted from my new book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, due in stores July 31.]
David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores late summer 2017. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.