April 8, 1865, U.S. Grant Having a Hard Night
April 8, 1865, Letters from an American, Prof. Heather Cox-Richardson
On April 8, 1865, General Ulysses S. Grant was having a hard night.
His army had been harrying Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s for days, and Grant knew it was only a question of time before Lee had to surrender. The people in the Virginia countryside were starving, and Lee’s army was melting away. Just that morning a Confederate colonel had thrown himself on Grant’s mercy after realizing that he was the only man in his entire regiment who had not already abandoned the cause. But while Grant had twice asked Lee to surrender, Lee still insisted his men could fight on.
So, on the night of April 8, Grant retired to bed in a Virginia farmhouse, dirty, tired, and miserable with a migraine. He spent the night “bathing my feet in hot water and mustard, and putting mustard plasters on my wrists and the back part of my neck, hoping to be cured by morning.” It didn’t work. When morning came, Grant pulled on his clothes from the day before and rode out to the head of his column with his head throbbing.
As he rode, an escort arrived with a note from Lee requesting an interview for the purpose of surrendering his Army of Northern Virginia. “When the officer reached me I was still suffering with the sick headache. ” Grant recalled. “But the instant I saw the contents of the note I was cured.”
The two men met in the home of Wilmer McLean in the village of Appomattox Court House, Virginia. Lee had dressed grandly for the occasion in a brand new general’s uniform carrying a dress sword; Grant wore simply the “rough garb” of a private with the shoulder straps of a lieutenant general.
But the images of the wealthy, noble South and the humble North hid a very different reality. As soon as the papers were signed, Lee told Grant his men were starving and asked if the Union general could provide the Confederates with rations. Grant didn’t hesitate. “Certainly,” he responded, before asking how many men needed food. He took Lee’s answer—”about twenty-five thousand”—in stride, telling the general that “he could have…all the provisions wanted.”
By spring 1865, the Confederates who had ridden off to war four years before boasting that their wealthy aristocrats would beat the North’s moneygrubbing shopkeepers in a single battle were broken and starving, while, backed by a booming industrial economy, the Union army could provide rations for twenty-five thousand men on a moment’s notice.
The Civil War was won not by the dashing sons of wealthy planters, but by men like Grant, who dragged himself out of his blankets and pulled a dirty soldier’s uniforms over his pounding head on an April morning because he knew he had to get up and get to work.
U.S. Grant, Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Charles L. Webster & Company, 1885), volume 2, chapter 67, “Negotiations at Appomattox,” Chapter LXVI (scroll to find this chapter) https://www.gutenberg.org/files/4367/4367-h/4367-h.htm#ch66 The Project Gutenberg eBook of Memoirs of U. S. Grant, Complete by Ulysses S. Grant
On the homefront, the Union had $234,000,000 in bank deposit and coined money or specie while the Confederacy had $74,000,000 and the Border States had $29,000,000.
The population of the Union was 18.5 million. In the Confederacy, the population was listed as 5.5 million free and 3.5 million enslaved. In the Border States there were 2.5 million free inhabitants and 500,000 enslaved people.
With the exception of rice and tobacco, the Union had a clear agricultural advantage. Particularly horses: the Union had twice that of the Confederacy, 3.4 million to the CSA’s 1.7.
The Union led corn production with 400 million bushels compared to the 250 million bushels in the Confederacy and 150 million bushels in the Border States.
The Confederacy produced nearly all of the nation’s rice which amounted to 225 million bushels.
The Confederacy led tobacco production with 225 million pounds compared to 110 million pounds produced in the Border States and 50 million pounds produced in the Union.
The Union led wheat production with 100 million bushels produced in comparison to 35 million bushels in the Confederacy and 20 million bushels in the Border States.
The Union was attributed with having 40 million heads of livestock compared to 35 million in the Confederacy and only 10 million in the Border States.
The Union had 101,000 factories, while the Confederacy had 21,000 and the Border States had 9,000.
The Union had 1.1 million factory workers, while the Confederacy had 111,000 and the Border States had 70,000.
The Union had 20,000 miles of railroad compared to 9,000 in the Confederacy and 1,700 in the Border States…
“The Confederacy led tobacco production with 225 million pounds compared to 110 million pounds produced in the Border States and 50 million pounds produced in the Union.”
from which we learn that the Union won because yankee soldiers were dying for a smoke.
Yes sir, literally so.
Another advantage of the North was that one with enough money could pay another to serve in their stead if drafted. Desperate men do make better fighters than privileged men.
From Border States to National Cemeteries
When the U.S. had to increase enlistments to handle the burden of manpower demands for the battlefield, a draft was legislated in 1863. A provision was written in that gave a drafted person the choice to pay someone who was willing to serve in their place. This was called substitution…
Some would say that the North won because their cause was just, and they had the industrial might to back it up.
every army’s cause is just. gott mit uns.
I wasn’t talking about the Army. Armies do what they’re told, mainly.
When I was in the army that’s what I did, mainly.
I was talking about the Union.
except for New York. but they were, you know, Irish. and you know what they’re like.
Sam Clemons knew a just cause when he saw one, but he was, unfortunately, raised in the South. So he skedaddled.
Later he wrote a book about Tom and Jim’s journey down the Mississippi.
and later got called a racist for his trouble.
But the reality is that from 1861-63 (at least), the North was losing the war b/c of the pusillanimity of it’s leaders.
It was not until Lincoln noticed Grant’s grit and commitment and put him in charge that the North’s fortunes began to change. And Lincoln stuck with him when the complaints about his drinking and the casualty rates were raging.
The fact is that economic weight is a necessary advantage in war, but it alone is not sufficient. Ho Chi Minh beat the pants off us from a decidedly disadvantageous economic position, based primarily on his grit and commitment, and his leadership skills.
Right now in our country, the Left has a lot of economic power, but very little grit and commitment. The Right’s economic power is waning, but they retain a lot of grit and commitment.
You cannot make an omelet without the grit and commitment to break eggs. Period. Full stop.
i am disposed to agree with you, but the South lost. Grant’s grit was made possible by all that poulation and industrial might….notto mention Liincoln’s grit.
And in Vietnam I am disposed to think we lost because we mistook mindless perseverence and immorality for true grit.
oh, some of those yankee generals were full of grit, willing to send thousands of soldiers to their deaths in frontal assaults on impregnable positions.
people who prate about breaking eggs, period, full stop. do not make great generals.
Yep… Also, lest we not forget Sherman, loved by his men and hated by himself, who drank himself to sleep every night to drown his conscience of guilt. Either despite this or because of this, I have long been a fan of William Tecumseh Sherman, ever since reading Bruce Catton’s A Stillness at Appomattox when in high school. Of all the wars and all of the hells, then none was more terrible and uncivil than our Civil War.
I read a book by a guy whohad it in for Sherman. Thought George Thomas was the better general. Better than Grant, even. Since I know nothing about any of this, I don’t judge.
But I liked Sherman and Grant because they lacked the stuffed stupidity of other generals of that war. I guess I’ll have to read Stillness at Appomattox now.
I had a boss once, workers who knew him and liked him called him tex..for Tecumpseh, wehter the general or the Indian I don’t know. He was a good guy, but people had warned him about me, so he went out of his way to be nice to me and reform me. I didn’t think I needed to be reformed.
One of the best Generals was George Slow-Trot Thomas never lost a battle. The “Rock of Chickamauga” replaced Rosencrans as commander of the Army of the Cumberland. He was not liked by Grant or Sherman. He was largely ignored by Grant and Sherman in their reports. With a lesser command he destroyed Hood’s army. The first time it was ever reported an army was destroyed.
He was definitely not slow. The story goes that at the academy he told cadets to move slowly as their mounts were older.
He was a strategist which why he won his battles.
Bruce Catton’s Army of the Potomac trilogy was first published in 1953. When I read it there were no middle schools, but that was when I read it. Subsequent volumes on the Civil War have benefited both from former works and new discoveries of original document evidence. However, the time of Catton’s writing was special in the US. Our country was more united among the states, at least within the demographics of the white majority than at any other time in our history. Subsequently, we have acquired both new information and new prejudices while old prejudices have blossomed again.
Sherman’s March to the Sea is known for its ruthless persistence to perform the necessary, not for its tactical nor strategic brilliance but rather for its shameless terrorism and horror. War is hell and Sherman was the devil. Since WTS had to drink himself to sleep at night, his roll in that hell was apparently out of necessity rather than choice.
None so blind…
well, yes. have you looked in a mirror lately?