Sunday, August 17, 2014

the last book I ever read (Shelby Foote's The Civil War, Volume One, excerpt six)

from The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume One: Fort Sumter to Perryville by Shelby Foote:

There was danger in delay. Fort Donelson was being reinforced; Johnston might concentrate and crush him. But Grant was never one to give much weight to such considerations, even when they occurred to him. Meanwhile, his army was growing, too. Intent on his chance for command of the West—for which he had already recommended himself in dispatches announcing the capture of Henry and the impending fall of Donelson—Halleck was sending, as he described it, “everything I can rake and scrape together from Missouri.” Within a few days Grant was able to add a brigade to each of his two divisions. On second thought, with 10,000 more reinforcements on the way in transports and Foote’s ironclads undergoing repairs at Cairo, he believed that he had more to gain from waiting than from haste. So he waited. All the same, in a letter written on the 9th he declared that he would “keep the ball moving as lively as possible.” Hearing that Pillow, whose measure he had taken at Belmont, was now in command of the fort, he added: “I hope to give him a tug before you receive this.”

By the 11th he was ready to do just that. Unit commanders received that morning a verbal message: “General Grant sends his compliments and requests to see you this afternoon on his boat.” That this headquarters boat was called the New Uncle Sam was something of a coincidence; “Uncle Sam” had been Grant’s Academy nickname, derived from his initials, which in turn were accidental. The congressional appointment had identified him as Ulysses Simpson Grant, when in fact his given name was Hiram Ulysses, but rather than try to untangle the yards of red tape that stood in the way of correction—besides the risk of being nicknamed “Hug”—he let his true name go and took the new one: U. S. Grant. There were accounts of his gallantry under fire in Mexico, and afterwards his colonel had pointed him out on the street with the remark, “There goes a man of fire.” However, even for those who had been alongside him at Belmont, these things were not easy to reconcile with the soft-spoken, rather seedy-looking thirty-nine-year-old general who received his brigade and division commanders aboard the steamboat.

Almost as hard to believe, despite the whiskey lines around his eyes, were the stories of his drinking. Eight years ago this spring, the gossip ran, he had had to resign from the army to avoid dismissal for drunkenness. So broke that he had to borrow travel money from his future Confederate opponent Simon Buckner, he had gone downhill after that. Successively trying hardscrabble farming outside St Louis and real-estate selling inside it, and failing at both, he went to Galena, Illinois, up in the northwest corner of the state, and was clerking in his father’s leather goods store—a confirmed failure, with a wife out of a Missouri slave-owning family and two small children—when the war came and gave him a second chance at an army career. He was made a colonel, and then a brigadier. “Be careful, Ulyss,” his father wrote when he heard the news of the fluke promotion; “you’re a general now; it’s a good job, don’t lose it.”

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