Generals Lee and Grant
By E. D. Keyes
The following observations comprise Chapter 12 of E. D. Keyes's Fifty Years' Observation of Men and Events, Civil and Military (New York, 1884; pp. 204–222). Keyes served on General Winfield Scott's staff for eight years, beginning in 1833, and again on the eve of the Civil War when he was made Scott's Military Secretary. During the Civil War Keyes was a Major-General of the U.S. Volunteers, commanding the Fourth Corps. He also served on the Board of Visitors of the Military Academy at West Point, and in 1844 Robert E. Lee nominated Keyes to head the Department of Artillery and Cavalry, about which Keyes writes in the same work:
“I held the place nearly five years, and found it profitable to myself and advantageous to my family.
The benefit received was clearly due to Lee, and the manner of its bestowal added many-fold to its value in my estimation. He did not ostentatiously stoop from his high estate to elevate a suppliant and give him a conspicuous position, nor did he afterwards claim to have made me.
On the other hand, when I thanked him for his service in my behalf, he made me feel that I owed him nothing. Such a favor, so graciously bestowed, produced in me a sense of gratitude that nothing could change; and although I subsequently met General Lee on several fields of battle, and did my best to kill him and his followers, yet every pulsation of my heart has been of kindness for him and his, and will be till the end of my life.
Under the influence of that feeling, but with a firm resolve to adhere strictly to the truth, I shall give my impressions of him, which will be found in another chapter [p. 189].
Generals Lee and Grant.—The military career of Lee.—His personal appearance.—My last sight of him.—Scott on Lee.—Foreign opinions of Lee.—Comparison of Lee and Grant.—First sight of Grant.—Grant in 1880.—His early career.—His civil life.—His re-entry into the army.—Actions at Forts Henry and Donaldson.—Trouble with Halleck.—The army in Tennessee under Grant.—Comparison with ancient and modern generals.—E. B. Washburne.—Shermans's recognition of Grant.—Grant in the Wilderness.—Grant the ablest American General.
THE whole civilized world has reviewed the career of General Lee. The qualities of his mind and disposition have been recognized and extolled, and his fate has excited the tenderest sympathy in millions of hearts. A character like that of Robert E. Lee could not possibly be found in any human society in which the laws and public opinion do not sanction and approve of marked distinctions of rank among its members.
Lee's family was of the highest, and his cradle was rocked by a slave. His sense of superiority and fitness to command, being infused at his birth, were never questioned. From infancy to three-score he knew no physical malady, and the admirable symmetry of his person and the manly beauty of his countenance were the aids to his virtues which secured to him tolerance, affection, and respect from all with whom he mingled. He passed the four years of his cadetship without a single mark of demerit, and during my long acquaintance with him I never heard him accused of an act of meanness, tyranny, or neglect of duty. His nature was genial and sociable, and he would join freely in all the sports and amusements proper to his age. He was exempt from every form and degree of snobbery, which is a detestable quality that appears most often among people whose theories of government presume an absolute equality. He was a favorite with the ladies, but he never allowed them to waste his time, to warp his judgment, or to interrupt his duty. To whatever station he was ordered, however secluded or unhealthy it might be, he would go to it with cheerfulness. Every kind of duty seemed a pleasure to him, and he never intrigued for promotion or reward. Nevertheless, no man could stand in his presence and not recognize his capacity and acknowledge his moral force. His orders, conveyed in mild language, were instantly obeyed, and his motives were universally approved. In all the time in which I observed his conduct I was true to my own antecedents. I was a Northern man, and no word dropped from my lips or was shed from my pen that did not testify to my origin and proper allegiance. I will not deny that the presence of Lee, and the multiform graces that clustered around him, oftentimes oppressed me, though I never envied him, and I doubt if he ever excited envy in any man. All his accomplishments and alluring virtues appeared natural in him, and he was free from the anxiety, distrust, and awkwardness that attend a sense of inferiority, unfriendly discipline, and censure.
The last time I saw Lee was in the spring of 1861. He had just arrived in Washington from Texas, where he had been second in command to General Twiggs, who surrendered to the Secessionists. Coming to pay his respects to the commanding general of the army, he entered my room and inquired if Lieutenant-General Scott was disengaged. I stepped quickly forward, seized his hand—greeted him warmly, and said: “Lee, it is reported that you concurred in Twiggs' surrender in Texas; how's that?” Without replying to my question he assumed an air of great seriousness, and calmly said: “I am here to pay my respects to General Scott; will you be kind enough, Colonel, to show me to his office?” I opened the general's door, Lee passed in, and the two Virginians remained alone together nearly three hours.
It was usually the custom of General Scott, after having had a private interview with an important person, to relate to me what had been said. On this occasion he told me not a word, and he made no reference to the subject of his conversation with Colonel Lee. His manner that day, when we dined alone, was painfully solemn. He had an almost idolatrous fancy for Lee, whose military genius he estimated far above that of any other officer of the army. On one occasion, after the Mexican War, General Scott, speaking to me of Lee, remarked that, if hostilities should break out between our country and England, it would be cheap for the United States to insure Lee's life for $5,000,000 a year!
It has frequently been surmised that Scott at one time offered to retire from service and give Lee the command of the Federal army. In my mind there is not a shadow of a doubt that he did so during the conference above referred to. Without question he employed his utmost powers to convince Lee that it was his duty to comply with suggestion. The two gentlemen, although their opinions were usually harmonious, probably disagreed in regard to the state of things then existing. Scott could have had no idea that Lee was going to lead an army of Northern men to fight against the South. On the contrary, he desired to see him at the head of a Union force sufficiently powerful to keep the peace and to prevent civil war, which they equally abhorred. Both those men were born in Virginia, and both loved the Union, and neither of them could bear the thought of unsheathing his sword against his native State. The younger man considered war inevitable, the older indulged hopes that it might be avoided. Lee being in full vigor of mind, and conscientiously bound to comply with the decision of his native State, departed to join the seceders, while Scott, weighed down with years and infirmities, and trusted that hostilities might be avoided or confined to a few skirmishes, remained with the North.
It is not my intention to enter into the minute details of General Lee's military operations, to show my estimate of him as a strategist and commander of armies. Several foreign officers with whom I discussed his military character thought him superior to any leader in the Federal service, and I understood that on once occasion General Wolseley, of the British army, declared Lee to be not only the superior of all the American generals, but that he was the equal of any one of ancient or modern times. In arriving at that conclusion, the distinguished English officer took into consideration the smallness of Lee's resources in men, the material of war, means of transportation, etc. He did not, however, consider that nearly all the officers, as well as a large portion of the rank and file of the Confederate armies, were as much interested in the success of the Rebellion as he himself was. They bore their hardships and deprivations without complaint and with the constancy of martyrs. Without such devotion Lee must have laid down his arms long before he did. In view, therefore, of all the circumstances of his case, I can only concede to him the second rank as a general, Ulysses S. Grant standing in the first.
Lee's greatness as a chief was not alone on the field of battle, for he foresaw clearly the difficulties of the mighty task before him, to which the majority of his associates were made blind by conceit and senseless prejudice. When one of them boasted of their superior bravery, and that one Southerner was a match for five Yankees, he rebuked him with a serious reply. He told him that the Northern men were a resolute race, abounding in resources of every kind, and that to beat them would not only require the whole strength of the South and an able leader, but also an abundant good fortune. He also saw the difficulty of feeding the Confederate troops after access to the Northern stores was cut off. He and a few other prudent men would have taken steps to provide for a future supply of breadstuffs and meat, but the President of the Confederacy was too frantic in his contempt for the Northern people to pay attention to such suggestions.
During my experience in the field, especially against Indians (for in the war of the Rebellion our soldiers were always well and sometimes over-fed and pampered) a part of the ration would from time to time be unavoidably wanting, or damaged by heat and transport. On all such occasions the discontent of the soldiers was apparent and obtrusive. Once during the war on Puget Sound, several mules of a pack train, bringing supplies to my camp in the interior, were swept away by a mountain torrent they were obliged to cross. They were laden with coffee and sugar, and the loss of those luxuries came near producing a mutiny. What, therefore, must have been the secret of Lee's influence, which enabled him to keep an army together, month after month, and could make them fight valiantly when the soldiers had nothing but raw corn to eat? Who can estimate his labors and anxiety when, striving to avoid starvation, he was obliged to find a way to provide war materials, and to transport over worn-out railroads and muddy paths, through the woods? By what charm did he sustain the spirits of his followers in winter when they were in need of shoes and blankets? How did he animate his sentinels to watch his lines in the midnight sleet and rain when their coats were threadbare? Yet all those things he accomplished with unfaltering courage. He witnessed the closing, one after another, of every opening on the coast through which foreign supplies could reach him; saw his own ranks thinned by disease and lack of recruits, while the million of armed Union soldiers were penetrating every part of the Southern Territory; and it was only when all possibility of further resistance was at an end that he surrendered. After the surrender there was scarcely a vestige of military strength remaining in the whole South—everything had been consumed in the struggle, the duration and intensity of which were due almost wholly to the genius and energy of this one man.
It is possible that General Lee made a mistake in crossing the Potomac in 1863 to fight the battle of Gettysburg. Perhaps he had not sufficiently weighed the loss he had sustained by the death of Stonewall Jackson, who was killed at Chancellorsville May 10, 1863, less than two months before. If that hero had been alive the battle in all likelihood would have commenced earlier and been won by Lee. In such case Washington would have quickly fallen, and the Union would have been split. Heaven mercifully saved us from that calamity.
The inherent nobleness of Lee's character was made manifest after he had been vanquished in war and retired to the walks of civil life. The Southern people never reproached him, so far as I could learn, and their blessings attended him till his death, which occurred Oct. 12, 1870, in the 65th year of his age. He was offered positions of trust with large compensation and little labor, and was invited to pass the remainder of his life in luxury by a titled Englishman, but he declined all inducements to ease. He accepted the presidency of the Washington College, which, since his death, is called “Washington and Lee University,” and gave all his remaining strength to its pupils.
I can discover no sufficient reason to impugn the motives of General Lee in joining the Confederate ranks. His State believed in the right of secession, which was repugnant to my understanding, and with it he undertook a revolution, which, although it was unsuccessful, was concurred in by a larger proportion of the virtue, intelligence, and patriotism of the whole Southern community, than was any other revolution of ancient or modern times. The right to hold slaves was recognized and reserved when the Union was formed, and when the slaveholders imagined that right was invaded by the North they rebelled and made war, which, fortunately for them as well as for us, ended in their defeat. War was the only means to get rid of the curse of slavery, and it is idle to clamor about the motives of either party to it. It is therefore proper that the world should credit General Robert E. Lee with genius and purity of intention, justice and an unsoiled life. Such were his cardinal virtues, and in the variety of his manly accomplishments, and the graces of his manners and person, he excelled every individual with whom I have had the good fortune to be acquainted.
Grant and Lee, the conqueror and conquered, having been the commanding generals-in-chief of all the forces of their respective sections, met together after many bloody conflicts to close the civil war. Their names will therefore descend to posterity as its principal champions. The account I have given of Lee suggests a comparison with Grant, the notice of whose varied history, I must, for want of space, condense to a summary of his distinguishing characteristics and such incidents as will best serve to elucidate a comparison of their qualities.
In describing General Grant's character and military achievements, I am not actuated by personal friendship. I never served with or directly under him, have no reason to suppose he ever asked an opinion of me but of one man, and that one my enemy; and it was only on three occasions that I ever exchanged a word with him. The first time I saw him was in the month of March, 1864, when he was about to assume command of the Army of the Potomac.
Being at the Continental Hotel, Philadelphia, and seated at a table in the dining-room with General Sackett, I saw General Grant at another table conversing with a man who showed great anxiety to engage his attention, which Grant seemed not disposed to give him. In a short time he left the stranger, and came over to join Sackett and me, saying as he sat down: “I can't stand that fellow any longer.” We conversed pleasantly on various subjects, and when I offered to fill a glass with champagne for him, the general placed his hand over the glass, saying: “If I begin to drink, I must keep on drinking.” After that half-hour's interview, I did not see Grant again till he came to San Francisco in 1880, returning from his trip around the world.
The interval of eighteen years had wrought a surprising change in his person and manners. At my first interview, he was meagre in appearance and thoughtful in manner, but success and the world's adulation appeared to have expanded his body and imparted dignity to his presence. I enjoyed a few minutes' conversation with him at Senator Sharon's grand reception, and on a day before he left San Francisco, when it was given out that he would not see company, I sent up my card, and was admitted to his rooms in the Palace Hotel. On that occasion two officers were present, and also three ladies, who were calling on Mrs. Grant, with whom I had a pleasant conversation. The general himself was quite civil, and I was beginning to feel complimented, when he remarked with a smile that when my card came up he mistook it for that of another person! That speech deprived my reception of the grace of exclusiveness, and restored my mind to the equilibrium of impartiality. I can, therefore, discuss the merits of Grant and his great antagonist without bias in favor of the former.
In comparing the two chiefs, the early advantages of Lee over Grant must be regarded. The former, by birth and breeding among slaves, was an aristocrat, and he was regarded by the masters as the one of themselves who was best fitted to be their leader. On the other hand, Grant's origin, manners, and personal appearance, though highly respectable, were not such as could gain him special notice of any kind.
Lee graduated at the Military Academy in 1829, second in a class of forty-six. Grant graduated in 1843, twenty-first in a class of thirty-nine. The difference of class standing was not a prognostic of much value, but Lee's martial appearance, invariable good conduct, and Southern nativity secured to him the office of adjutant of he corps of cadets, which enabled him to practise the art of command in his youth. But Grant kept the place of a private soldier, and at no time while a cadet did he exercise any official influence with his fellow-students.
After graduating, Lee's positions in the army were at all times advantageous. During the Mexican War he was attached to the staff of General Scott, enjoyed the full confidence of his chief, and was enabled to profit by a knowledge of all plans and councils, and he received more compliments in orders than any of his brother officers in the field. Grant was at the same time a lieutenant of infantry, and he was once noticed for bravery by General Scott. At other times during the eleven years of service in the army he was stationed at various frontier posts between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean. The monotony of garrison life oppressed him severely, and he fell under the tyranny of strong drink, and finally quit the service in 1854.
His occupations in civil life during the next five years after he gave up his commission were various, and he was reduced to many shifts and hardships to gain a livelihood for himself and family. But poverty was equally as powerless to depress the native vigor of his mind as was his addiction to drink to make him reckless. His pride had not degenerated, and he had overcome a tyrannous habit, which I regard as one of his most difficult conquests.
Thus seasoned in the hard school of penury and neglect, he re-entered the army in 1861 as Colonel of the Twenty-first Regiment of Illinois Volunteers. Many young men in the ranks of that regiment were averse to subordination, but their new colonel, as he remarked, soon “took the nonsense out of them by long marches and hard drilling,” and when they crossed the Ohio River to begin war Grant's regiment was noticed for its good discipline and efficiency.
The Colonel being promoted to the rank of Brigadier-General, met the enemy at Fort Henry, and early in February, 1862, at the head of almost 15,000 men, a number which was afterwards increased, he advanced upon and captured Fort Donelson. The assailants of the fort were inferior in numbers to the defenders, who were commanded by a triumvirate of generals—Floyd, former Secretary of War under Buchanan; Gideon J. Pillow, who figured in Mexico under Scott; and Simon Buckner, a West Pointer, and man of ability and pluck. The two former escaped during the night of February 14th, and Buckner surrendered unconditionally on the morning of the 16th.
Grant's difficulties at the siege of Fort Donelson, owing to the rawness of his troops and the rigor of the season, were great; but in addition to them he was oppressed with a fearful burden of another character, which was the inveterate partiality of the department commander, Halleck, for C. F. Smith, who was second in rank, and who led the principal assaulting column. Halleck complimented Smith, who was a Brigadier, for the victory, recommended him for promotion, and ignored Grant entirely. The Government had the sagacity, however, to divine the truth, and Grant was promptly commissioned a Major-General.
It is possible that Grant's stupendous success, which was magnified throughout the country, may have overexcited him, and caused him to omit making customary reports to headquarters. At all events, General Halleck accused him of neglect, superseded him in his command by General C. F. Smith, and finally, upon some pretence, placed Grant in arrest.
General H. W. Halleck was a man of talents and a patriot, but often a slave to prejudice. He know nothing about Grant's character, and he wished to know nothing good; but Smith was his favorite. Every one liked C. F. Smith, whose shape was that of an Apollo, and whose disposition in peace was that of a lamb, but in battle he was as fierce as a lion of the Jordan. When at the head of his column he gained a footing within Fort Donelson, his appearance as he strode along the ramparts was incomparably majestic. Smith was a friend of mine, and I lamented his untimely death, which occurred in the month of April, 1862, about two months after his gallant exploit at Fort Donelson.
Grant, having been released from arrest and restored to command, moved forward, and fought the battle of Shiloh. The commander opposed to Grant in that battle was Albert Sidney Johnson, a native of Kentucky and a graduate of the Military Academy. President Jefferson Davis regarded him as the ablest of the Confederate generals, and at that time many Northern officers, I among them, agreed with him in opinion. Now I rank him after Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson, and the equal of Joseph E. Johnston. General A. S. Johnson was killed in the battle of Shiloh, and a portion of Grant's army was thrown into confusion, and he himself shoved back, but not chased back. The timely arrival of reinforcements under Don Carlos Buell enabled the Federal army to recover from its check, and the enemy retreated.
Shortly after the battle of Shiloh, General Halleck took the field in person, supplanting Grant, who remained second in command. During the succeeding two months, although Grant remained with the army in nominal command of a portion and of a district of Tennessee, Halleck quite ignored him, sent orders direct to his subordinates, moved detachments of his troops without his knowledge, and on one occasion when Grant proffered advice, or rather an opinion, he was snubbed by a hint that when his advice was needed it would be asked for.
Under the same unbearable provocations, Washington and Jackson would have rebelled, and the latter would have shot somebody; but all the resentment shown by Grant that I know is reported in Sherman's book: “I can't stand this any longer, and I'm going away.” Sherman advised him to be patient and remain. He did so, but was looked upon as an officer in disgrace, and had no more influence at headquarters than a lame mule.
Halleck continued to fortify against a retreating enemy, gained nothing, so far as I have discovered, but disadvantages, until the month of July, and being convinced that to command an army in the field was not his vocation, he recommended Colonel Robert Allen as his successor, and departed for Washington to assume the command of the whole army, vice General George B. McClellan. Allen declined the command, and Grant was restored to it.
The operations of the Army of the Tennessee under its new leader were full of vigor, and in the month of May, 1863, Grant crossed the Mississippi below Vicksburg, and placed himself between Pemberton, who commanded in that city, and Joseph E. Johnston, who was at the head of an army in the interior. From the moment I became acquainted with the nature of that movement, I have considered Grant as one of the great captains of history. The story of nearly every one of them embraces a similar incident. Alexander of Macedon crossed the Indus to capture old Porus; Scipio went over the Mediterranean to fight and vanquish Hannibal. Cæsar, already as great as any man in the world, crossed the Rubicon and became the greatest. Tamerlane passed the Sehon on the ice to die of fatigue. Turenne crossed the Rhine to drive back Monticuculi and to be killed. Napoleon fought his way over the Adige to enter the Temple of Fame, and at a later date, when success had turned his head, he ventured to the northern side of the Boristhenes to see the lustre of his star pale in the smoke of burning Moscow.
It would be foreign to my purpose to follow the details of General Grant's movements and strategy after July 23d, 1864, when Vicksburg capitulated. His operations were on a vast scale, and on all occasions he displayed a wonderful military sagacity, especially in the neighborhood of Chattanooga, where, by a brilliant movement, he released the army from a perilous situation. He overcame the prejudice of General Halleck, to whose praise it must be said that after the battle of Chickamauga he deferred to his subordinate's judgment without discussion.
At this juncture, Grant's capacity being recognized and his influence established, it seems fit that I should mention a circumstance of extraordinary significance and highly honorable to another man. During all his early struggles in the war to do his duty and to make himself known, Grant had at Washington a faithful and devoted friend, who foresaw his worth without trial, and who stood by him at a time when ignorance, envy, and distraction assailed and threatened to destroy him. Considering the credence which was so generally given by the Government to slanders, and the facility offered to men without scruple to climb to distinction upon the destruction of their betters, it has often occurred to me that without the active and stubborn support of Mr. E. B. Washburne, Grant's aspirations would have been nipped in the bud, his name forgotten, and his glorious deeds lost to his country. Mr. Washburne's constancy and fidelity to Grant characterized his nature, in which there is nothing false. He was a most useful and efficient member of Congress, dutiful and just in all his various official positions. While he was minister to France I saw much of his during several years. His dignity was the result of intelligence and common sense, and the conduct of no other man in that station has been approved by a greater number of sensible men and women than his. It was the country's loss, more than his own, that Mr. Washburne was not made President of the United States.
The law creating Scott Lieutenant-General having lapsed with him, a bill to renew it was introduced by Mr. Washburne and passed. Grant was promoted to that grade and received his commission early in March, 1864, and on the 8th of that month he arrived in Washington to assume the command of all the Union troops which were then enrolled, to the number of nearly 600,000 men.
On that occasion Sherman wrote a letter of congratulation to the new Lieutenant-General, in which he ascribes to him an intuitive knowledge of strategy and the science of war. The letter was magnanimous on the part of Sherman, who followed next to Grant in the Federal army in renown and martial prowess, and who, it is known, is not deficient in self-appreciation. If General Sherman's letter was sincere, and I am constrained to believe it was, it belies all the histories of competitive military ambition that I have studies.
Lieutenant-General Grant, after a survey of his vast field of operations and his mighty power, adopted one of he numerous maxims of the great napoleon, and directed that every one of the department commanders should, on the same day and upon an agreed signal, move upon a vital point of the enemy. He himself in personal command of the army of the Potomac, which was nearly 120,000 strong, crossed the Rapidan early in the morning of May 4, 1864, and advanced into “the Wilderness” to meet General R. E. Lee, who was his only worthy adversary.
The country between the Rapidan and Richmond is generally low and flat, sparsely inhabited, and mostly covered with forests. Earth roads and woods paths intersect the forest in all directions, and render the manëuvres of an army extremely difficult and make it liable to lose its way without guides. Lee had the advantage of numerous defensive works, previously constructed, a knowledge of the roads and paths, and superior facilities for graining information.
I shall not undertake in this book to detail any part of the bloody tragedy which was presented on the field I have described in the summer of 1864. The first act was between 200,000 combatants, the majority of whom were young and middle-aged men of the most valuable classes of population, North and South, and all inured to war. The commanders of both armies, without a dissenting voice, enjoyed the full confidence of their respective countrymen and soldiers. As fast as battles and disease thinned their ranks, the vacancies were filled, and the battalions of the North much more than filled, with recruits.
Grant, the Federal chief, maintained a pressure upon Lee's defences which knew no intermission. As a rule, he would neutralize the force of his enemy's strongly fortified points by attacking those that were weaker; but lest his adversary should infer that he was influenced by fear, he assailed the almost impregnable position at Cold Harbor, at a cost to himself of 7,000 men at least, while he inflicted but trifling loss upon the Confederates. Grant has been charged with an unnecessary sacrifice of life on that occasion, but he must have considered his situation such as to justify his conduct. It was a maxim with the great Napoleon, that such rashness is sometimes necessary for the safety, as well as the honor, of an army. The sustained vigor and timely boldness of General Grant constitute an important factor in the problem I am studying in regard to his supremacy.
General Lee, from the nature of things, was constrained to imitate the example of the Roman Fabius against Hannibal, and of Marshal Daun against Frederick the Great. He was defending interior lines against superior numbers, and being wofully deficient in transportation it would have been madness for him to sally out beyond the support of his ramparts. Some of his critics, however, have fancied that from over-caution, on two or three occasions, he failed to see opportunities offered him by Grant to break through his lines and harass the invader much more than he did. It is barely possible that such censure may have been deserved. General Lee was overworked and so dreadfully oppressed by his responsibilities that from time to time nature claimed its right to repose, and occasionally he may have fallen into that state which I call the syncope of the mind, a state in which energy refuses to respond to external impressions, however obvious they may be. Where is the man of action who has never experienced such a state, and seen passing by and beyond recovery precious opportunities and golden prizes, which in his ordinary condition he would easily appropriated? But, whatever may have been the faults of General Lee, it is certain that he increased the death-rate in the Federal army to a degree that ought to satisfy the most ferocious lover of slaughter.
The series of manëuvres, battles, actions, and changes of position in the Wilderness, and until Lee was driven behind the defences of Richmond, and afterwards till the Southern Confederacy heaved its last groan, have no parallels on the continent of America. They rank with those displays of martial genius of ancient and modern times, which have been the study of military men in all ages, and the wonder of the world. They remind us of the struggles of Sylla when the Samnite Tellesenes gave him the slip and placed the eternal city in such jeopardy that Sylla appealed to his gods to save him and Rome; of the contests in Greece between Pompey and Cæsar before the battle of Pharsalia, when Pompey's sycophants felt such confidence that they lampooned the mighty Julius and called him “a vendor of cities;” and more than all, perhaps, they give an idea of the war of the allies upon Napoleon in France after the campaign in Russia, when that great commander's genius shone most brightly, fighting against fearful odds but to fail.
Ours was an intestine conflict, and the glory of the actors loses a portion of its lustre when we reflect that in the opinion of some men, if good counsels had prevailed, it might have been avoided, and the thousands of brave men whose fraternal blood seethed and impasted the soil from Petersburg to Richmond might have been spared.
In determining the relative merits of Grant and Lee, I have been careful to consider all the qualities and circumstances peculiar to each, and not only the exploits of the two generals, but also their dispositions and temperaments. The fact that the former finally conquered the latter is not by any means conclusive. If I were to see a man take up a gun weighing a thousand pounds, place it upon his shoulder, and walk away with it, I should know without further investigation that he possessed extraordinary physical strength; but the gain or loss of a single battle would not prove a man to be a good or a poor general. Hannibal, Turenne, Frederick, and Napoleon all lost battles, and yet they are cited among the greatest captains of all time.
Wellington never quite lost a battle, but he was seriously checked, and in this respect Grant resembles the Englishman. At the approach of Lee or Sherman, his army would shout more enthusiastically than for Grant, but when the latter came up during the fight the lines became more steady, and the soldier would adjust his aim with greater accuracy than before.
Sherman showed wonderful vigor and sagacity when he pushed Johnston from Chattanooga to Atlanta, but Grant would drive his chariot through passes that Sherman would not venture to approach. There was an abatement in Lee's audacity during the twenty-four hours preceding the battle of Gettysburg, otherwise he would have won it and gained the Southern cause; but nowhere can I discover debility in Grant's movements or assaults.
Grant could hold his enemy as in a vice, with a ruthlessness like that of Tamerlane or the Duke of Alva, and when he had accomplished everything he left upon the mind of his observer an impression that he possessed a reserve of force that had not been called into play. I am constrained, therefore, to assign to Ulysses S. Grant the highest rank as a military commander of all that have been born on the continent of America.