Sunday, October 14, 2012

Major General Ulysses S. Grant to Congressman Elihu B. Washburne, March 22, 1862

Savannah, Tennessee,
March 22, 1862.

I HAVE received two or three letters from you which I have not answered, because at the time they were received I was unwell and busy, and either your brother or Rowley were about writing. I am now getting nearly well and ready for any emergency that may arise. A severe contest may be looked for in this quarter before many weeks, but of the result feel no alarm.

There are some things which I wish to say to you in my own vindication, not that I care one straw for what is said individually, but because you have taken so much interest in my welfare that I think you are fairly entitled to all facts connected with my acts.

I see by the papers that I am charged with giving up a certain number of slaves captured at Fort Donelson. My published order on the occasion shows that citizens were not permitted to pass through our camps to look for their slaves. There were some six or seven negroes at Donelson, who represented that they had been brought from Kentucky to work for officers, and had been kept a number of months without receiving pay. They expressed great anxiety to get back to their families, and protested that they were free men. These I let go, and none others. I have studiously tried to prevent the running off of negroes from all outside places, as I have tried to prevent all other marauding and plundering.

So long as I hold a commission in the army I have no views of my own to carry out. Whatever may be the orders of my superiors and law I will execute. No man can be efficient as a commander who sets his own notions above law and those whom he has sworn to obey. When Congress enacts anything too odious for me to execute, I will resign.

I see the credit of attacking the enemy by the way of the Tennessee and Cumberland is variously attributed. It is little to talk about it being the great wisdom of any general that first brought forth this plan of attack. Our gunboats were running up the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers all fall and winter watching the progress of the rebels on these works. General Halleck no doubt thought of this route long ago, and I am sure I did. As to how the battles should be fought, both McClellan and Halleck are too much of soldiers to suppose that they can plan how that should be done at a distance. This would presuppose that the enemy would make just the moves laid down for them. It would be a game of chess, the right hand against the left, determining beforehand that the right should win. The job being an important one, neither of the above generals would have intrusted it to an officer whom they had not confidence in. So far I was highly complimented by both.

After getting into Donelson General Halleck did not hear from me for near two weeks. It was about the same time before I heard from him. I was writing every day, and sometimes as often as three times a day. Reported every move and change, the condition of my troops, etc. Not getting these, General Halleck very justly became dissatisfied, and was, as I have since learned, sending me daily reprimands. Not receiving them, they lost their sting. When one did reach me, not seeing the justice of it, I retorted, and asked to be relieved. Three telegrams passed in this way, each time ending by my requesting to be relieved. All is now understood, however, and I feel assured that General Halleck is fully satisfied. In fact, he wrote me a letter saying that I could not be relieved, and otherwise quite complimentary.

I will not tire you with a longer letter, but assure you again that you shall not be disappointed  in me if it is in my power to prevent it.

SOURCE: James Grant Wilson, Editor, General Grant’s Letters to a Friend 1861-1880, p. 6-9

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