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June 12, 2019

Union General U.S. Grant despised war. Yet it was the one thing he was really good at.
During the Civil War, Grant and his 12-year-old son, Fred, spent weeks in northeastern Louisiana and in Mississippi.
“I never liked service in the army,” Grant said after the rebellion. “I never went into a battle willingly or with enthusiasm, and I never want to command another army.”
He served in the Mexican War (1846-48) with Robert E. Lee, the future commanding officer of the Confederate army; Jefferson Davis, the future president of the Confederate States; and Gen. Zachary Taylor, the future U.S. President who in the 1840s owned a plantation, Cypress Grove, located in Jefferson County, Miss., across the river from Waterproof, La.
Historians John and Alice Durant (The Presidents of the United States) wrote that Grant, despite his hatred of both war and politics, “was the most successful military leader of the Civil War and was twice elected to the Presidency. The man who was called ‘Grant the Butcher’ during the war because of the way he drove his troops to wholesale slaughter, was horrified of game hunting and could never shoot an animal or bird. Although he was schooled in war (West Point) and the rough life of military outposts where profanity was freely used, he never swore – not even a mild ‘damn’ – and off-color stories revolted him.”
Grant was so bashful, the historians write, that he “would carefully close the flaps of his tent before taking a bath so that no one could see him, unlike his fellow officers who had their orderlies pour pails of water over them in the open.
“Lacking drive in civilian life, he was a failure in everything he did. But in war he was a lion – determined and relentless, and an efficient organizer. ‘Unconditional Surrender’ Grant was the name he earned when he demanded those terms of Confederate General (Simon) Buckner at Fort Donelson (Tennessee)” in February 1862.
Throughout his service, Grant was merciless in battle but compassionate in victory. His first act after hostilities ended was often to feed the vanquished. His men were directed to treat the fallen well. Also mindful of citizenry, Grant reminded his officers and men during the Vicksburg campaign that while foraging was necessary to support the army, civilians were not to be harassed.
‘HE FIGHTS’
Assigned to frontier outposts during the 1850s, Grant turned often to alcohol to dull the loneliness and boredom, a habit that resulted in the Army’s request for his resignation.
The Durants write that from 1854 until the Civil War “Grant was an abject failure – an unsuccessful farmer living in a log cabin on land owned by his wife, a peddler of firewood in St. Louis, a real estate agent, and a clerk under his younger brothers in the family store in Galena, Illinois. He was then at the low point of his career, a forlorn figure still seeking solace in the bottle.”
Yet, the historians write, the 39-year-old began his climb from failure to success in 1861 when at the outbreak of the war he volunteered to drill volunteers in Galena. Three years later he was the commanding officer of the U.S. Army. Four years after that, he was President.
“No American,” write the Durants, “ever rose from such depths to such heights in so short a time.”
While encamped in northeastern Louisiana mud throughout much of the winter of 1862-63, Grant was prevented by floodwaters from mounting an attack on Vicksburg. Newspapers called for his resignation. There was constant speculation over who would replace him. Some of his critics suggested as his replacement were officers then under Grant’s command.
But the one man who supported him throughout the turmoil was the man who counted most – President Abraham Lincoln.
“I can’t spare this man,” Lincoln told Grant’s critics. “He fights.”
Grant's personal aid during the Civil War, Horace Porter, wrote a book about his experiences with the general. Porter gave a compelling example of why soldiers looked up to Grant.
One day the general was “out on the lines supervising the day’s attack” when he “dismounted and set down on a fallen tree to write a dispatch.” While at the task, a shell exploded in front of him just as the wounded of the Fifth Wisconsin were being carried by. All eyes were on Grant, who looked up as dust, debris and smoke filled the air. He never flinched, his face showed no expression, and the general went right back to writing without a word, grunt or groan.
That Grant, one of the Wisconsin wounded proclaimed, “don’t scare worth a damn.”
‘MANGLED & DYING MEN’
At Grand Gulf, Miss., at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, April 29, 1863, Grant watched as the Union Navy launched an attack.
Atop the 50-foot high bluff, the Confederates had 16 artillery pieces in position. On the Mighty Mississippi, Union Admiral David Porter lined seven gunboats in battle formation, led by his flagship, the Benton.
“At this time,” Grant wrote in his book (Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant), General John McClernand’s “10,000 men were huddled together on the transports in the stream ready to attempt a landing if signaled.”
When the shells began flying, Grant viewed the action from a tug within range of Confederate guns. Five and half hours later at 1:30 p.m., Porter, unable to make a dent in Rebel defenses, withdrew. Grant signaled the admiral and boarded the Benton, which had taken the brunt of Confederate fire.
Among those in the vicinity was Grant’s son, Fred.
On Porter’s ironclad, Grant learned that 18 of Porter’s men had been killed and 56 wounded. A large proportion of the casualties were recorded on the Benton, Grant reported, all the result of “a single shell which penetrated the ship’s side and exploded between decks where the men were working the guns.”
Despite the experience of past battles, the carnage of war always horrified Grant: “The sight of the mangled and dying men which met my eye as I boarded the ship was sickening.”
‘HE LOOKED OUT FOR HIMSELF’
When Porter’s guns failed to silence Confederate artillery at Grand Gulf, Grant marched his men farther south and made his crossing from the Tensas Parish, La., shore to Bruinsburg in Claiborne County, Miss. He captured Grand Gulf and then Port Gibson. On July 4, Vicksburg surrendered to Grant.
While leaving Bruinsburg for the front, Grant left Fred asleep aboard one of Porter’s gunboats. When the 12-year-old awoke, Grant wrote, Fred “learned that I had gone, and being guided by the sound of the battle raging at Thompson’s Hill – called the Battle of Port Gibson – found his way to where I was.
“He had no horse to ride at the time, and I had no facilities for even preparing a meal. He, therefore, foraged around the best he could until we reached Grand Gulf (by land).” The first time Grant saw Fred after the Battle of Port Gibson, Fred was with an officer with the war department.
“They were mounted on two enormous horses, grown white from age, each equipped with dilapidated saddles and bridles.
“Our (wagon) trains arrived a few days later, after which were all perfectly equipped.
“My son accompanied me throughout the campaign and siege (of Vicksburg), and caused no anxiety either to me or to his mother, who was at home. He looked out for himself and was in every battle of the campaign. His age, then not quite thirteen, enabled him to take in all he saw, and to retain a recollection of it that would not be possible in more mature years.”