"Meeting President Lincoln"
Although hailing from Illinois myself, the State
of the President, I never met Mr. Lincoln until called to the capital to
receive my commission as lieutenant-general. I knew him, however, very
well and favorably from the accounts given by officers under me at the
West who had known him all their lives. I had also read the remarkable
series of debates between Lincoln and Douglas a few years before, when
they were rival candidates for the United States Senate. I was then a
resident of Missouri, and by no means a "Lincoln man" in that contest;
but I recognized then his great ability.
In my first interview with Mr. Lincoln alone he
stated to me that he had never professed to be a military man or to know
how campaigns should be conducted, and never wanted to interfere in
them: but that procrastination on the part of commanders, and the
pressure from the people at the North and Congress, which was always with
him, forced him into issuing his series of "Military Orders" -- one, two,
three, etc. He did not know but they were all wrong, and did
know that some of them were. All he wanted or had ever wanted
was some one who would take the responsibility and act, and call on him
for all the assistance needed, pledging himself to use all the power of
the government in rendering such assistance. Assuring him
that I would do the best I could with the means at hand, and avoid as
far as possible annoying him or the War Department, our first interview
The Secretary of War I had met once before only,
but felt that I knew him better.
While commanding in West Tennessee we had
occasionally held conversations over the wires, at night, when they were
not being otherwise used. He and General Halleck both cautioned
me against giving the President my plans of campaign, saying that he was
so kind-hearted, so averse to refusing anything asked of him, that some
friend would be sure to get from him all he knew. I should have said
that in our interview the President told me he did not want to know what
I proposed to do. But he submitted a plan of campaign of his own which
he wanted me to hear and then do as I pleased about. He brought
out a map of Virginia on which he had evidently marked every position
occupied by the Federal and Confederate armies up to that time. He
pointed out on the map two streams which empty into the Potomac, and
suggested that the army might be moved on boats and landed between the mouths
of these streams. We would then have the Potomac to bring our
supplies, and the tributaries would protect our flanks while we moved
out. I listened respectfully, but did not suggest that the
same streams would protect Lee's flanks while he was shutting us up.
I did not communicate my plans to the President,
nor did I to the Secretary of War or to General Halleck.
SOURCE: U. S. Grant,
Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York, 1885), pages 361-362.
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