M T Grattan Report, Commander GAR Post 122

The Decorah Journal, January 18, 1928 
“Let Us Have Peace”

Submitted by Ann Krumme
Few survivors of the Civil War have had my opportunities for observation of the river and terrain of its great battles, both during the war and since. In 1864 I carried a repeating Spencer rifle on foot along the banks of the Red River in Louisiana and traversed its length on the Ouichita, 39 guns, from the mouth to Alexandria and returned, disabled by the Confederates at Fort Trinity, towed by a tug. Familiar with the big river, the Mississippi, the Yazoo, the river of death, the Ohio, the Tennessee, the Potomac and the Rappidan, that deep, swift, turbulent stream that in one of its violent rages cost me dear.
In the face of Lee’s army of Northern Virginia Grant crossed the Rapidan the spring of 1861. The critics acknowledging his many victories as they were obliged to, urged that he had never been opposed by a General like “Mars” Robert. This was true and Lee had many advantages, he was at home, he knew every foot of the ground. His subordinates were able generals, tried and true, capable and prompt in executing his every order. His soldiers, seasoned veterans, brave, savage, resourceful fighters whose superiors the world has never seen. In addition he had interior lines, a tremendous advantage in military operations constituting an almost insuperable handicap to overcome and one which he used with rare skill. With shorter distances to move his troops for defense of flank movements or threatened points the game was virtually in his hands. Again the population was with high heart and soul, he was their idol as he was the idol of his troops, not alone for his splendid personality, his skill as a leader but for the cause of their state which was also his, their firesides and their homes.
Grant had no reliable maps, no reliable guides, no subordinates save Sheridan, that he knew through and through, an army that had never gone forward after a fight with Lee, always a stalemate, a retreat or a rout. At this they were humiliated and shamed but were never to experience again. Their joy was evidenced after their first battle in the wilderness, the terrific courage, fighting hand to hand with clubbed muskets, the burning of wounded soldiers in forest fire when Grant, the grim, silent bull dog fighter did not halt or retreat but ordered the advance southward to continue. A mighty shout arose from thousands of throats so tremendous in volume as to provoke fierce cannonade and musket fire from the Confederates in the inky darkness. Our soldiers were at last being led by a fighter who never let go save to get a better hold and they were jubilant. Fighting was never to cease day or night until the end and the saving of the Union, that glorious venture in human government which the immortal Daniel Webster had said, “Must and shall be preserved.”
On March 23, 1864, Grant established his headquarters at Culpeper Court House, north of the Rapidan river with the Army of the Potomac under his immediate command. General Lee’s army of Northern Virginia faced him south of the river. Early in May the Virginia land in my opinion unequaled had dried so that am army could move and Grant crossed the Rapidan plunging into the horrible wilderness battle May 5th. On the 6th Sheridan and Hancock renewed the attack and drove Hill’s corps a mile until reinforced by Longstreet who turned the tide of battle until seriously wounded. Our General Wadsworth was mortally wounded as was General Jenkins of the Confederates. Lee then took command but was unable to get his exhausted men to attack Hancock, the superb, who drove back both the Longstreet and Hill remnants. Towards evening, Lee attacked with fresh troops driving the Union soldiers under Generals Mott and Ward back in confusion, until Hancock again turned the tide of battle, forcing the Confederates into their intrenchments. On the 7th the only serious fighting was Custer’s defeat of the Confederate Cavalry. The Adjutant General’s report of Union losses in the battle of the Wilderness totaled 13, 948. The Confederate loss I have never seen officially stated. A friendly authority paces it at 11,000. Doubtless no more sanguinary battle was ever fought. Burial squads and Union Generals maintained that Union losses were the least and that the battle was a Union victory. However, that disputed point may be, the army of Northern Virginia remained behind intrenchments, while the army of the Potomac moving by the left flank continued its southward march making mistakes as to roads but constantly advancing. To prevent its reaching Richmond, the Confederate capital, General Lee again confronted it at the strategic position of Spottslvania with his usual advantage of interior lines which must be met by flank movements or disastrous frontal charges against intrenchments. “Mars” Robert was certainly a lion in the path albeit eventually a weary and exhausted one. Spottsylvania lies south and a little east of the wilderness. Sheridan met the Confederate cavalry more than half way at Todd’s Tavern and defeated them, clearing the road for the Infantry night march which rejoicing at not being in retreat towards Washington cheered Grant and his staff riding by to the echo. They at last had a leader who never let go save to get a better hold, who wired President Lincoln that he proposed to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer, which it did and more. Longstreet’s corps, under Anderson, now that Longstreet was in the hospital was in possession of Spottsylvania when the Army of the Potomac arrived.  Anderson strengthened existing intrenchments preparing to resist the assault which was unsuccessfully made by Warren’s corps, while Hancock was fighting off Jubal Early in the rear, Madday of the 9th, the two armies were facing each other. That fine Union General Sedgwick, was killed early in the day and Wright commanded the 6th corps in place. The fighting continued to the 20th. The Union Generals Stevenson and Rice were killed with great numbers of their men in a successful charge. Thus ended Spottsylvania and Grant continued his southward march to Cold Harbor not having been checked in his onward move. The total Union loss was 13, 601, the Confederate loss, unofficial, according to friendly authority much loss, but this cannot be regarded as reliable. With Lee continuing on his shorter interior lines to keep between Grant and Richmond there was almost daily fighting on the march to Cold Harbor. At North Anna the Union loss was 1,143 while the Confederate commander in the action General Brown was killed and his loss was admitted to be a thousand or more. At Totopotomoy the Union loss was 509, the Confederate loss not reported.
This brings us to the last great battle between the armies of The Potomac and Northern Virginia, Cold Harbor. After that came the siege of Petersburg and Appomattox. Like its predecessors, Cold Harbor was a ghastly, bloody, terrible holocaust, a bitter, hand to hand, savage struggle between rugged men who fought as desperately as wild beasts. For the awful carnage Grant was assailed by the press of the north and all his enemies, but he did not turn back, oblivious of wounds, suffering, death and destruction. He never relaxed the strangle hold that won him victory, saving this magnificent Union from annihilation for all the people enjoying its blessings today. His determination not to turn back, as had been the habit of his predecessors is illustrated by his general order of May 22nd, 1864: “Hold troops in readiness to march at 5 a.m. tomorrow. At that hour each command will send out cavalry and infantry on all roads to their front leading south.” Skirmishes amounting almost to battles were constant, a notable one occurred at the blacksmith shop some twenty miles from Richmond where the Confederate cavalry had dismounted and intrenched. General Gregg attacked unsuccessfully with his division, when Custer came along later with his cavalry brigade including the famous first Vermont that lost so many Colonels during the war. They dismounted and made one of their furious charges that rarely possibly never failed and did not in this instance, clearing the road for the rest of the army. Casualties were numerous giving the burial squads a lot of work. The dead were inextricably mixed; Confederates in the majority. Grant made his headquarters at this shop, owned by a man named Hawes until May 30th ordering the advance of the various corps toward Cold Harbor where the gethsemane of American manhood was encountered in all its starkest horrors. It was an importand strategic point for both armies and both were determined to possess it. On the 31st Sheridan carried it after a terrific struggle turning the intrenchments against the Confederates. On the following day, June 1, the Confederates charged in strong force and were repulsed with ghastly casualties. A second time with unabated courage they flung themselves a bloody sacrifice against Sheridan’s troopers in vain. Then they intrenched west of the town, toward Richmond. Charges and counter charges with little cessation day or night continued until the afternoon of June 3rd when both armies from sheer exhaustion and depleted numbers intrenched strongly. At night, the confederates evacuated in front of the Union right, leaving their dead and wounded which were cared for by Union soldiers. In other portions of the line between the armies the wounded were not succored as the communities could not agree and by the 7th all but two were dead. On that date General Grant addressed a message to General Lee closing with these words, “Regretting that all my efforts for alleviating the sufferings of wounded men left upon the battlefield have been rendered nugatory, I remain, etc. At this date it is difficult to assign the fault, if any. Probably unavoidable, though horrible.
Again General Grant moved by the left flank with forces depleted by 10, 058 men, a total of 39, 259 since the nearly continuous battle began in the wilderness, a big army of itself. This move brought him to the siege of Petersburg, as strongly fortified as was Vicksburg, with a more able commander as between Lee and Pemberton there is no room for comparison. Sheridan had gone upon his memorable Shenendoah raid which it was said required a crow flying over to carry provisions. Cruel but necessary as the valley had been feeding the army of Northern Virginia for years.  Hancock had to be relieved on account of wounds so Grant temporarily lost two of his best aids but Lee had lost forever the thunderbolt of the southland, Stonewall Jackson.
It was here that Col. Pleasants, a Pennsylvania miner, commanding a regiment of miners dug a tunnel under the confederate works which were only a hundred yards from the Union lines. Eight chambers were constructed and a ton of powder placed in each. On July 29th, the mine was fired creating a huge crater into which General Leslie’s men were rushed. He lost his nerve leaving his men without direction while his corps commander, Mott, failed to remedy his defection resulting in a loss to the Union of several thousand men.
General Grant continued to be handicapped by incompetent and cowardly subordinates, strangers to him in his brief command of eastern armies thus the well laid mine plan resulted disastrously.
The garbling and changing of Grant’s orders to the troops in the Valley via Washington led to the most remarkable dispatch sent by President Lincoln during the war. Dated Aug. 3, 1864, to General Grant in cipher it read in part as follows: “I have seen your dispatch in which you say “I want Sheridan put in command of all troops in the field, with instructions to put himself south of the enemy and follow him to the death.” This I think is exactly right, I repeat to you, it will be neither done or attempted unless you watch it every day and hour and force it. A. Lincoln”
On receipt of this General Grant started instantly for the Valley, General Hunter, in command told him in substance that he had been so bedeviled by Halleck and Stanton with criss-cross orders that he would be glad to be relieved. General Hunter was an able, brave and patriotic soldier and took this course only to advance the Union cause. General Grant gave Sheridan his orders personally to find Early, drive him out of the valley and destroy all stores he could not move. Sheridan quickly found that “old fox”  Jubal Early, one of the gamest, most resourceful fighters of the Confederacy. Lee sent two divisions of infantry, a cavalry force and twenty field guns to reinforce him which Grant informed Sheridan of by courier knowing he could not get any orders through via Washington. To make assurance doubly sure he followed up personally and found that whirlwind of the Union cause with plans complete for attack. Asked if he would be ready by the next week Tuesday he answered that he should move at daylight Monday and he did attacking Early at Opequon creek winning one of the greatest victories of the war cheering and encouraging the Union people of the north and fully justifying President Lincoln’s remarkable dispatch. Early retreated to Fisher’s hill, a strong position, with Sheridan hot on his heels capturing eleven hundred prisoners and sixteen guns.
Finding his position untenable, despite its strength, Early abandoned the Valley leaving Sheridan to gather cattle, grain, everything edible that he could carry, destroying the rest. His name in the Valley is anathema to this day, Stanton had opposed his being placed in command because he was so young and so small. Grant, himself, was not large and Napoleon, the little corporal, was only a boy when he said: “Soldiers, over the Alps lies Italy.” Great soldiers come in all shapes and all ages but as a rule young and small, the big men are too unwieldy. Grant had a hundred guns fired at Petersburg in honor of the victory while jubilee and celebration pervaded the loyal north.
The Confederate works at Petersburg were so immensely strong as to defy capture by direct assault and Richmond was so well fortified as to require few men to its defense. Nothing remained to be done save by siege and cutting off of supplies. These operations cost the Union army *272 men amounting to the loss in a serious battle were effective. Early was not yet disposed of and returning attacked Sheridan without success losing eleven more guns and many prisoners inflicting small damage on the Union forces. At this juncture Grant’s orders to Sheridan were again changed and the latter called to Washington leaving his army at Cedar Creek, some twenty miles from Winchester. Early again heavily reinforced slipped through a blind pass in the mountains surprising in the early morning the Union army all save the First Vermont Cavalry of Custer’s division. Frank Cummins, a trooper in the tent of his cousin Col. Cummins, heard Early’s advance and the regiment was quickly formed saving the Union right from the disastrous rout of the left wing. Custer’s division held until Sheridan from Winchester personally arrived. Comrade Cummins as fine a soldier as ever lived used to give me the details of that fight so clear and vivid that to this day I can close my eyes and see it in detail. Washington’s stupid meddling with Grant’s plans again nearly lost us the war Halleck and Stanton were the marplots. Had Early’s morning success been unchecked he would have captured Washington with results that may be imagined. Early had driven the Union left in utter rout taking its artillery and thousands of prisoners. Sheridan began to meet his fleeing troops as he left Winchester and ordered them back, Custer’s cavalry fought off Early and drove back the panic stricken left wing so far as possible. Sheridan found Custer holding back Early’s pursuit, with the famous Vermont cavalry performing prodigies of valor. With the return of the panic stricken, their courage renewed by the impetuous anger of “Little Phil” on his big black stallion, Early was repulsed soon after noon. Sheridan was not content, though in no way to blame for his absence, he felt the mornings disaster humiliating and at mid afternoon the lust of battle strong in his heart he attacked Early on both flanks, sent Custer to his rear and flailed the earth with his beaten forces, recapturing the artillery lost in the morning and 24 guns besides. Early’s loss equaled in number Sheridan’s command and ended the fighting in the valley and the timorous fears of Halleck and Stanton, of Washington’s capture. But think! What if Frank Cummins had not been wakeful that black morning of the 19th of October? Would there be any United States today? Upon such trifles does the fate of Nations rest.
Sixty three years ago this month General Grant received the peace commissioners of the Confederacy, Stephens, Campbell and Hunter at City Point holding them several days until President Lincoln should arrive refusing in the meantime to discuss their errand in any way. On February 29th they met the President at Hampton Roads who offered them their own terms with the Union as it was without slavery. This was not acceptable and the war went on, both sides robbing the cradle and the grave for cannon fodder, a majority of the Union soldiers being under twenty years of age, while the Confederates conscripted from 16 to 45. The writer volunteered and was accepted in 1863 not quite 16.
Sheridan having finished his besom of destruction in the Shenendoah Valley now turned his attention with ten thousand cavalry to other sources of supplies for General Lee’s army of Northern Virginia. At Charlottesville he destroyed the railway to Lynchburg, from there wrecking the James River Canal with mills, factories, provisions, supplies of all sorts useful to the enemy. An industrious and busy fighting soldier he carried on his destruction right close to Richmond, thousands of colored men joining him in the work. General Lee set a strong force to check him without avail and he was safely back in the Union lines by the 19th many of his troops mounted on captured horses.
In March President Davis, of the Confederacy, and General Lee in conference decided that neither Richmond nor Petersburg was long tenable with supplies cut off and agreed to evacuate as soon as the roads dried. Preliminary to this General Gordon assaulted the Union lines capturing Fort Stedman and other fortifications which were speedily recaptured with a loss to Gordon of more than 4,000 men. Following this was the considerable battle of White Oak Road to prevent Lee’s escape in that direction.
On the 29th of March General Grant issued his final orders for the capture of the army of Northern Virginia. As usual Sheridan had the most important part, quickly got into serious action with his cavalry at Five Forks. Hancock’s corps now under Humphreys and the 5th under Warren were ordered to his support. The latter was so slow that Sheridan relieved him placing Griffin in command.
It was dusk when Sheridan charged the confederate intrenchments capturing 6,000 prisoners, artillery, small arms, etc. pursuing the Confederates until nine o’clock. General Grant ordered a renewal of the attack by daylight which resulted in the capture of 3,000 more prisoners. Forts Gregg and Whitworth were now captured by assault. Up to this moment, Apr. 2nd, in the late afternoon, 12,000 Confederates had been captured. On the 3rd, Grant took possession of Petersburg but refused permission to turn the artillery on a mass of defeated fleeing soldiers so soon to be surrounded and captured. After all, the silent General had a heart. There are several myths connected with accounts of the surrender at Appomatox that gained currency in exalted circles. Roscoe Conkling made one of them famous in his speech nominating General Grant for a third term at Chicago. Quoting from memory he opened with: “You ask us whence our candidate? I answer, friends, the famous apple tree, etc. There was one meeting between two commanding generals under an apple tree. General Lee arrived at McLean place, appointed for the interview, before General Grant and sat down on the roadside bank with an apple tree back of him. They met in the house, needing no introduction, having known each other in the Mexican war. Their greeting was cordial and their gossip of the days and the men in the halls of the Montezumas when Lee was chief of staff to General Scott and Grant an eager, fighting Captain, was so prolonged that General Lee finally reminded his old comrade that their meeting was a business not a social one whereupon General Grant prepared the terms of surrender of which I have a photographic copy before me. General Lee accepted them as unexpectedly generous and here the story without foundation of the return of his sword may be corrected. It did not exchange hands, it was not asked for or offered while the two great Generals remained until death, firm and fast friends personally. There was no rancor or bitterness in the hearts of either of them. When Andrew Johnson became president, after the murder of Lincoln, he moved to overrule the terms of surrender and punish Lee. General Grant sternly notified him that the terms of the document agreed upon by General Lee and himself and approved by President Lincoln could not and should not be violated.
It called for the retention of their side arms by officers and allowed soldiers to take home horses and mules to make a crop with, none to be molested so long as they obeyed the law. Had Lincoln lived his just and kindly policies would have prevailed instead of the vindictive hatred nourished by Johnson against the whites of his own section who had fought for a lost cause. 
That frame of mind defeated for a long time peaceful reconstruction and was as cruel as it was mistaken. Grant’s famous: “Let us have peace” would have prevailed under Mr. Lincoln’s kindly influence. Carpet baggers, negro legislatures, klu klux klan would not have marred the Union victory which had cost the north 360,222 men and the south almost as many besides an enormous treasure to both sections, wrecked homes, sorrowing people for loved ones and lingering disease for many survivors.
While markedly unlike in appearance the two great commanders of the Civil war had much in common. Neither were profane, neither were vulgar, both were silent men, both were honest and sincere in all things and it gives me great pleasure to add that both loved horses and were splendid horsemen. America is proud of them both, the production of such men is our chief glory while to slur either of them from lingering sectional hatred discredits anyone. Their places in the gallery of fame is secure for all time and in the Union’s peril in days to come may we have more like them. The End.
M. T. GRATTAN, Post Comdr.
Underwood Post 122, G. A. R.