General Grant in New York Pre: 1887

Soon after his appointment as Lieutenant General in the army, General Grant visited New York. It was said he could not hold communication with the army without interruption at Washington, as his telegrams were tampered with. He came unattended and unheralded. He was some days in New York before the people knew of his arrival. it was by his order that the telegraph and press were silent. He passed most of his time in the private apartments of Mr. Stetson. In his social habits he has the simplicity of a child, is unostentatious, and makes friends everywhere.

His Arrival

He reached the Astor House at midnight. A party of gentlemen had secured a private parlor, and ordered a dinner without regard to cost. It was spread in the most elegant style of the Astor. The party were impatiently waiting for the call to dinner. Young Charles Stetson entered the room, and said, "Gentlemen, I am sorry to disturb you, but I must have this room, and the dinner as it stands. I can make no explanations now. I will make it all right with you tomorrow." Stunned and disappointed, the party separated, and General Grant and his friends sat down to the magnificent dinner.

An Adjutant General's Story

While the general was at the Astor, the adjutant general under Governor Yates was in the rotunda. As General Grant passed him to go to dinner, he said to some friends, "When I look at that man I can scarcely believe my senses. Three years have made a great change in his position and prospects. I gave him the first appointment that he had during the war. His antecedents were not such as to hope a great deal from him. He obtained no employment for a long while. At the earnest solicitation of his friends, and by Governor Yates's command, I appointed him to a clerkship in my office. He made a very poor clerk. We should not have kept him but for the outside pressure. He seldom said anything, engaged in conversation with but few persons, and seemed rather stupid than otherwise. Governor Yates had raised a regiment, which was a sort of pet with him. It was very mutinous, and no man could control it. One day Captain Grant came up to me, and in a quiet way said, 'I wish you would give me the command of that regiment. I think I can manage it. After much persuasion Governor Yates consented. Grant put the regiment immediately on a march. On halting, the chief mutinous spirit walked deliberately out of the ranks. Grant had him immediately seized, pinioned, and sent tot he rear under guard. Several symptoms of insubordination were developed on the march. They were met at once and severely punished. The tramp the regiment took was fifty miles. The column was then turned, and marched back. The colonel then addressed the boys, telling them what they could depend upon while he held command. He knew how to treat good soldiers and reduce refractory ones. Those who had behaved themselves he gave leave of absence; those who behaved ill he put to unpleasant police duty and on guard. He told the regiment that he should deal kindly with all who did their duty; 'but, said he, 'if you do not obey orders, I will march you one hundred miles on the next trip and shoot every mutinous man found in the ranks.'"

How The General Got Into The Army

In the incident just detailed we see the first step in General Grant's military career. At the opening of the rebellion, "Mr. Grant," as he was then called, resided at Galena. he had been educated at West Point at the public expense. He was with General Scott in Mexico as lieutenant, but all unknown to the commanding general. In Galena he was connected with his father's tam-yard. He was a plain, matter-of-fact sort of man, with little force, as it was supposed, attracting no particular attention any way. The flag had been shot away from Sumter. it had been blown out of the rebel cannon at Memphis. Our armies had done but little, and the prospect for the future was not brilliant. One morning Mr. Grant called on Mr. Washburne, a member of Congress who resides at Galena, and said to him, "Mr. Washburne, I do not feel right in regard to my position while the war is going on in defense of the Union. I am not doing my duty, and I cannot sleep nights. I am doing nothing. I have been educated at the nation's expense. I am not lifting a finger to aid her in this dark hour. I am no politician. I don't know what I can do. I feel as if I was fit for something, if I can only find my place." Mr. Washburne was about visiting Springfield to hold an important consultation with Governor Yates, and he invited his neighbor to accompany him. On the morning of the fourth day after their arrival, Mr. Grant called at the rooms of Mr. Washburne. Mr. Grant said, "Mr. Washburne, I don't seem to be wanted here. Nobody knows me. There is nothing for me to do, and I am going home." "Hold on a day longer," said Mr. Washburne. An important consultation was held in the chamber next morning. At Mr. Washburne's request Mr. Grant was called in. He held an interview with the state authorities for about thirty minutes. He made a plain, common-sense, soldierly statement. With the word, as with the sword, he cut the Gordian knot of their difficulties. he pointed out the straight path in which they could walk without trouble. He then left the room. Governor Yates exclaimed, "Good God, Washburne, who is this man? I have learned more about troops in thirty minutes than I knew before in all my life. All I can do for him now is to put him on my staff. he must not be lost to the national cause."

His first business was at the state barrack, where he was to prepare troops for march when the governor should call for them. Things had been loosely done at the state rendezvous and seldom were men ready when called for. The governor used to send his order for men a week or two in advance. His first requisition was for a thousand men, fully equipped, to be at the state capital on a given day at the hour of noon. Promptly on the hour a colonel reported tot he adjutant general, and much to his astonishment, as the men were not wanted for several days. They found that Grant obeyed orders. he was ready at any hour for any emergency. The state barrack became a model for the army. Letters from the War Department, commendatory of the troops, praising their discipline and their fine equipment, reached Governor Yates. Such a man as Grant could not long remain in a subordinate position. He was commissioned as colonel of one of the finest regiments that left Illinois.

General Scott on General Grant

When General Grant first began to loom up as a military man, when he was gaining his first victories, not only fighting battles, but spoiling the enemy, he attracted general attention. it was the time when Mr. Lincoln referred to him as one of the most promising officers in the army, some one said, "Mr. President, Grant drinks." "Does he?" said Mr. Lincoln. "I wish I knew what whiskey he drinks. I would have some ordered for the other generals in the army." About this time I called on General Scott, who was then residing at Delmonico's. In referring to the war, General Scott said, "I never knew a war of this magnitude that did not throw to the surface some eminent military character. Our war so far has produced no such person. We have had splendid fighting and brilliant engagements, but we have not crippled the enemy, and have carried away no success. Both armies have retired in good condition, ready to renew the conflict next day. A war would be perpetual in which the enemy was not worsted, crippled, and his means of renewing the conflict destroyed. I don't know," he said, "but what I ought to make an exception in favor of the young man who is out on the Mississippi. He seems to know how to fight. He not only gains victories, but cripples the enemy. So far, certainly, he is the hero of the war."

Mr. Lincoln Recalls Him

To suit the soldiers who compose the home guard, who took care of the "spoils," filled the civil offices, and gave Mr. Lincoln daily instructions about running the government, General Grant's movements before Vicksburg were too slow. A strong pressure was brought to bear on Mr. Lincoln to remove him. All sorts of stories were told about his habits, his military incapacity, and his life as a soldier. Mr. Lincoln yielded, and an order for the removal of General Grant from the command of Vicksburg was made out at the War Department, and countersigned by the president. The adjutant general was sent on to relieve General Grant. He reached the headquarters about noon. The commanding general was form his post. The adjutant general took the opportunity to make himself acquainted with the situation. He had a soldier's eye, and a spirit free from jealousy. He saw at a glance how matters stood. General Grant had been telegraphed to, and he knew what had been done, and for what purpose the adjutant general was at his post. On his return, the commanding general frankly said to the adjutant general, "I know what you are here for. I don't want to see your orders till tomorrow. Give me twenty-four hours, and I will give you Vicksburg." Said the adjutant general, "You are entitled to it. I see the difficulties you have had to contend with. You are the eve of triumph. To carry out my orders will be to throw the cause back six months. I will leave you for twenty-four hours. If I am cashiered for disobedience to orders, I will accept it for the good of the country." At noon the next day the wires quivered in all directions with the thrilling news that Vicksburg had fallen. The adjutant general had now his peace to make with the President. He had disobeyed his superiors. His orders were peremptory and imperative. He was to remove General Grant, and do it at once. But he had not only not removed General Grant, but left him in command. The order for his removal was reposing quietly in his pocket. He found Mr. Lincoln in high glee over the brightening prospects of the national cause. He laughed at the fears of the officer, and said to him, "You would have deserved to be shot if you had obeyed your orders."

A Father's Opinion of His Son

In company with General Grant at the Astor House was an officer of the army, who met his father at Cincinnati just after the disasters at Shiloh, which seemed to cloud the military glory of the rising general. The disappointment was universal; it was feared that Grant's name would be added to the long roll of generals who had failed. A large company was present when the old man was introduced. He was quite advanced, and looked like a plain farmer; quite shrewd he was, and he had unbounded confidence in his son. After some complimentary things had been said, the old gentleman spoke. "Some people think that my son has not done very well at Shiloh. But they don't know Lysus. He is a great man, and the people will find him out. He will come out right, gentlemen. I know him better than anyone else. I should not be at all surprised if Lysus should yet command the armies of the United States."

The Ovation

One of the most popular ovations ever tendered to a man was given to General Grant in this city. A self-constituted body, known afterwards as the Sparrow-grass Committee, attempted to make use of General Grant for political purposes. They went to Washington to secure the attendance of the general at the nice little private parties they had got up, by which they hoped to secure the guest to themselves. But telegraph can travel faster than steamer, and the plans of the self-constituted committee were defeated. The general came at the early hour of six in the morning. He got out of the rear car, outflanked the committee, took a private carriage, and drove tot he Astor House. The levee was held at ten o'clock in the morning. In a plain citizen's dress, with an iron-gray frock coat, light vest and pants, he took his station to welcome the people. He was sunburnt, and bronzed with exposure and toil. The rush was temendous, the living tide filling all the stairs, vestibules, and windows. All around the Astor House was a surging crowd, and to gratify them he stepped upon the portico, while cheer upon cheer rent the skies. This was the first popular ovation that the general received. The people placed his name by the side of Wellington, Napoleon, and other great captains of the world. In appearance he was not prepossessing; his face was unsympathizing, his eyes contracted, with a sleepy sort of look about them. He was a very stocky, and appeared short, though he was taller than the average of the crowd. Throughout the whole ovation he was unassuming and unaffected. He was introduced to thousands at Cooper Institute. He bowed his acknowledgments. The first citizens gave him an elegant dinner. In answer tot he call for a speech, he simply said, "I thank you for your kindness." Through all the war he has been distinguished for his affection for his soldiers. After his long reception of several hours he retired to his couch for a little rest. He had scarcely lain down before he was told that a Massachusetts regiment, on its way home from the war, was front of the Astor, waiting to pay him a salute. He would not have left his couch for all the kings of Europe. But he instantly rose, and went to the balcony of the hotel. There he saw his boys who had been with him on the Potomac, drawn up in line, with their tattered banners, immediately in front of the main entrance. They were surrounded by full ten thousand people. On his appearance the boys were nearly frantic. They shouted, they yelled, threw their caps up in the air, and some of them attempted to get at him by climbing up the columns of the Astor House porch. The sight drew tears to the general's eyes as they moved onward nearer home.

Mrs. Grant

This lady accompanied the general, and participated in the ovation. She won all hearts by her modest deportment. She is very domestic in her habits, and finds little pleasure in being gazed at by the crowd. She held a levee for the ladies who called on her. Some one asked her how long she was to remain in New York. She said, "We shall leave tomorrow morning for Washington." The inquirer suggested that perhaps they would be induced to stay another day. Mrs. Grant replied, "No. The general says he shall leave tomorrow morning; he is a very obstinate man; you cannot change him." She spoke with the utmost simplicity of the change in her social position, and the new life to which she was called. She said she was not such a wife as Mr. Grant, as she called him, ought to have; "had he only married my sister, she would have been suited to our new position."

General Grant in Private Life

Few men are better informed, or have better ability to express themselves, than General Grant, when he chooses so to do. His reticence is not the result of diffidence. A senator called upon him not long since, in Washington, and before he had a chance to talk on political subjects General Grant introduced his horses, and consumed the whole interview in talking about them. As he left the War Department, a friend met the senator, and said to him, "So you have had an interview with General Grant. What do you think of him?" "H don't know anything but horse," said the senator; "he talked about it all the time." I was in the department when General Grant was told of t his. He said, "Yes, I did talk horse to him: I understand horse, and I think he understands the subject better than politics, so I talked about what we both understood." The chairman of one of the most important committees in the Senate told me that he was riding from New York to Washington in the cars when General Grant was on the train. He came and sat down beside the senator, opened the subject of the national finances, urged retrenchment, and gave his views on the subject as if finance had been the study of his lifetime.

He is very decided in his opinions, and resolute when his mind is made up. While at the levee he wrote his name on a few cards. He handed his pencil to a friend, and said, "I will write no more." "Just one more! just one more!" was cried out on the right hand and the left. At Governor Fenton's levee, General Grant attended as a guest. The people shouted "A speech! a speech!" and would listen to no one else, not even Governor Fenton. The governor urged the general to say a few words, as the easiest way to satisfy the crowd. "There are not men enough in New York to make me speak tonight," was the response at the splendid dinner given him. He sat in the centre of Congressmen and distinguished persons. He spoke but one word during the whole dinner. An engineer spoke of a river that the army crossed, and said it was thirteen feet wide. General Grant lifted his finger, and said "fourteen." Some one congratulated him on his relief from the responsibilities of war. The general said he would rather be with his army than at a public dinner. General Grant's father visited him at Vicksburg just after its surrender. He saw the carcasses of thousands of cattle and horses that lay dead on the field. As a manufacturer of leather, he thought what a fine speculation was before him! He went to his son, and asked for an order to gather the skins. To a friend the old man said, "And what do you think Lysus said? Why, he told me I had better go home and attend to my own business, and not be speculating on the battle-field, and compromising him with the government." His war horse was a small black palfrey, to which he seemed fondly attached. The horse seems fit only for a lady to ride. He was agile, slender-limbed, and suitable only for a toy for children. "That horse," said the general, "is the most remarkable horse I have ever seen. He is an imported blood horse. Jeff Davis brought him over from Europe. He came from his plantation. I have ridden him in all my campaigns. His endurance is amazing. I have taken him out at daylight, and ridden him till evening, and found him as fresh as when he was saddled. His intelligence is amazing; he knows more than some men. Gold could not buy him."

In speaking of his habits, the general said he was a great sleeper. To keep him in good working order, he wanted nine hours of solid sleep; he could use fourteen, but nine he must have. When in command out west he could only sleep seven hours, and he found himself breaking down. While in New York with General Grant, Speaker Colfax related a characteristic anecdote. The House of Representatives had invited General Grant to visit their chamber, where he was received with all honors. He was greatly embarrassed, and his position was a painful one. Calls from all parts of the House required the general to take the speaker's desk, that he might be seen. The speaker took him by the arm and led him up to the desk. After standing there a few moments, General Grant, in the tone of a school-boy put on a platform for punishment, and with a most imploring look, said, "Mr. Speaker, may I now go down?" He was so evidently distressed that his friends could not think of detaining him one moment longer in that prominent position.

Website: The History
Article Name: General Grant in New York Pre: 1887
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


Sunshine and Shadow in New York by Matthew Hale Smith. Hartford: J.B. Burr and Hyde, 1868.
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