THE COLUMN: Grant, the Indispensable Man

Michael Walsh03 Jul, 2023 5 Min Read
Happy Fourth of July, Sam.

These first few days of July are of importance to every real American. Not simply because the Declaration of Independence was unanimously adopted by the Second Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, the document in which the new United States of America proclaimed its irrevocable break with Great Britain. We rightly celebrate that momentous event in world history tomorrow, the Fourth of July, with fireworks and hot dogs and perhaps even a renewed sense of patriotism in these troubled times when the foundations of our country are under relentless attack from the cultural sappers of the universities all the way to the top of our political system, headed by a senile old man who can only remember the grudges he bears toward the country he now ostensibly leads, and for which he has no love.

Of equal importance in our history, however, are the two epic battles fought during the same period in 1863, during the Civil War. Today is the third day of Gettysburg, the day when Pickett's Charge spelled the end of southern dash in the face of the north's overwhelming pluck and endurance, a mad suicidal race across a open field raked by Springfield rifles and twelve-pounder "Napoleons" cannon fire. It was the southern commander Robert E. Lee's greatest blunder of the war, ending his brief invasion of the north and helping to seal the South's ultimate defeat.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Ulysses S. Grant was about to cement his place in military history by concluding his nearly two-month long siege of the formidable Confederate fortress of Vicksburg. The town sat high above the Mississippi River on the eastern bluffs, its artillery commanding the mighty river in both directions. Behind it, to the east, were the forces of the breakaway Confederate state of Mississippi itself. The task looked impossible. But Grant was already an experienced hand at river warfare, having proved his mettle early with the victories at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, working in tandem with the gunboats of flag officer Andrew Foote.

How the west was won.

After a couple of failed assaults at Vicksburg, Grant began a more conventional siege. bombarding the city with artillery fire and entrenching, seeking to surround it on all sides. He partnered with Rear Admiral David Porter to ferry his troops past Vicksburg, hugging the shore right under the noses of the rebel guns, so his men could come around from the other side and attack the city from the rear. Meanwhile, General Sherman had taken the city of Jackson, the state capital, preventing Confederate troops under Joe Johnston from aiding the besieged general, John C. Pemberton. On the Fourth of July, 1863, the city fell. The South was now split, east from west. 

With his victories at Shiloh in 1862, which put the Tennessee River in Union hands, and at Vicksburg, Grant had twice bisected the Confederacy. It was the "Anaconda" strategy of the retired General of the Army, Winfield Scott, made flesh. Then, in November, Grant marched east and broke the stalemate at Chattanooga, leaving Georgia wide open for invasion and, ultimately, Sherman's march to the sea. Despite General George Meade's repulse of Lee at Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln's choice for a new commander of all the Union forces was clear: in March of 1864, Lincoln summoned Grant to Washington and named him general-in-chief of the Union forces. The moment had met its man.

That Grant was the greatest American of all time is indisputable. Short (5'7" on tiptoes), quiet, unassuming (he generally wore a private's blouse in the field), well-read (he loved novels and enjoyed an evening in the theater although he begged off Lincon's fatal visit to Ford's Theater just days after Appomattox), a master horseman (as he showed in action during the Mexican War), he won the War Between the States for the Union and in so doing effectively freed the slaves. As a two-term president (1869-77) following the disastrous Andrew Johnson administration, he oversaw Reconstruction, re-organized the military, established the first National Park (Yellowstone), and destroyed the original incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan. During his post-presidency, he toured the globe as the most famous man alive. But his wartime habit of chain-smoking cigars caught up with him and, suffering greatly from inoperable mouth and throat cancer, he died on July 23, 1885, just days after finishing his memoirs. 

Grant and Pemberton: unconditional surrender.

In my 2020 bestseller, Last StandsI wrote about his victory at Shiloh, early in the war, and made this assessment: 

Events can make the man, and Grant is perhaps the best example. What would have been his fate had the war not occurred when and where it did? He had resigned from the Army in semi-disgrace, dogged by accusations of alcoholism. He made a hash of his business affairs (and would continue to do so throughout this life, especially in his post-presidency), and came to rely on the kindness of a grateful nation to keep the wolf from the door. (Presidents did not get pensions in those days.) He might even have sold off his memoirs piecemeal as works-for-hire journalism had not his friend Mark Twain made him an exceptionally attractive publishing offer, including a 70 percent royalty, that kept Grant’s widow, Julia, in style for the rest of her life. It also resulted in the finest wartime memoir since Caesar’s Commentaries, rivaled later only by Winston Churchill’s six-volume series, The Second World War.

A poor judge of character in his private life, Grant was a superb commander at both the tactical level (as Shiloh showed) and, more important, at the strategic level. Indeed, his partnership with Lincoln was a textbook example of the proper relationship between the president as commander in chief of the armed forces (a legacy of George Washington) and the general of the armies. For Lincoln’s objectives were simple and direct: preserve the Union by any means necessary, and offer mercy to the defeated South only after the rebellion had been thoroughly crushed. Grant accomplished both.

After the costly win at Shiloh, Grant found himself in trouble with – who else? – the media: 

Why was Grant late to the battle? Was he drunk? Why was he not entrenched? Was it true that the Nationals were so unprepared on the morning of April 6 that many soldiers were bayoneted in their tents? Why, on April 7, did not the Union forces pursue the beaten Southerners and finish them off? The clamor for Grant’s removal eventually reached Washington, where Lincoln categorically rejected it. “I can’t spare that man,” said the president. “He fights.”

Grant was there for his country in its hour of need. Now that a new, even deadlier threat has emerged thanks to the neo-Marxist Left that considers our entire country illegitimate, who will take his place? Only one thing is certain: he has to crush them as mercilessly as Grant crushed the South, except this time there can be no magnanimity, only unconditional surrender.

Michael Walsh is a journalist, author, and screenwriter. He was for 16 years the music critic and a foreign correspondent for Time Magazine. His works include the novels As Time Goes By, And All the Saints, and the bestselling “Devlin” series of NSA thrillers; as well as the nonfiction bestseller, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace and its sequel, The Fiery Angel. Last Stands, a study of military history from the Greeks to the present, was published by St. Martin's Press in December 2019. He is also the editor of Against the Great Reset: 18 Theses Contra the New World Order, published on Oct. 18, 2022, and of the forthcoming Against the Corporate Media. Follow him on Twitter: @theAmanuensis


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24 comments on “THE COLUMN: Grant, the Indispensable Man”

  1. Grant's recollection in his "Personal Memoirs" of Lee's surrender at Appomattox is characteristically insightful, magnanimous, and sublimely expressed. "Whatever [Lee's] feelings, they were entirely concealed from my observation; but my own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on the receipt of his letter, were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse."

  2. No, he said he would not fight against his State of Virginia. If you read a little history on the Lee family, you might understand why he took this stand in the CONTEXT of the times. Lee's character was such that he never received a demerit while at West Point, his role as Superintendent of West Point has been rated as one of the highest, despite being dead broke after the war he passed on a $50,000 offer to lend his name to an insurance company saying he would not profit from the conflict, (compare that to our Generals today), as President of Washington College (Washington and Lee University today) he counseled hundreds of young men not to go to Mexico and wage war, but integrate into the Union, and finally he was key in the development of the curriculum at Hampton University, a HBC. Put that in context of the leaders involved in civil wars today and throughout history. Conflicts that our centuries old and still chugging.

  3. One of your readers commented that Lee turned down command of the Union armies ( true ) because he couldn't serve a nation held together by the bayonet. Perhaps Lee should have said he couldn't serve a nation built on enslaving other human beings.

  4. Apologies for inaccurate spelling in my early post on Brittany and their fine lads
    striking a match for liberty. They are the “ anti casseurs brigade” and have lit a path for
    “ the way” going forward to bigger and better things. The Nudge Heard Round The World? Now that’s a birthday present!

  5. "Clearly Grant was of a different moral fiber." The ever-increasing tendency to use correspondence to belittle rather than examine is depressing. Lee should be admired for refusal to resort to guerilla warfare, which he surely could have done, but chose instead to "die a thousand deaths" at Appomattox and to tell his troops to return home with heads held high. That was remarkable for both his time and his position.

    But Grant was clearly the better commander and a great American. Without the room for maneuver that he enjoyed west of the Appalachians, Grant settled in for the kind of close quarters knife fight that McDowell, McClellan, Burnside and Hooker could barely acknowledge as necessary, much less execute. The Wilderness, Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor ultimately proved to be Pyrrhic victories for Bobby Lee, but strategic advances for the Army of the Potomac. Lee was the master of intimidation on the battle field. Grant refused to be intimidated by anyone. In their own ways they were both innovative commanders and both stayed true to their principles. I think most every soldier was proud to have served under either. That said, Grant had vision, while Lee was ultimately blinded by myopia.

  6. My Great Great Grand Father was an 18 year old cannoneer for the Richmond Howitzers.(Non slave owner) After the Civil War he wrote a diary. He said that the second most traumatic event, after the fires of the Wilderness had killed many of his wounded comrades, was watching yankee soldiers writing their names on paper and pinning it to their uniforms just before the charge at Cold Harbor which ultimately claimed 6-8 thousand killed in action in one hour. They pinned their names to their uniforms so that they would not be thrown in the common graves. That is what Grant leadership looked like.

  7. Yes the Liberal democrats want Globaism and a Global Government and the M.S. Media hides this from us

  8. That MLK was the greatest American of all time is indisputable. But he was black and so doesn't fit Walsh's insane anti-Commie narrative.

  9. Perhaps the biggest hoot of all for the south losing is that at some Line of Demarcation that has yet to be determined that the North and the South actually switched sides...
    When the uninformed can be made to believe the absurd then those same people can be counted on to commit atrocities, with self righteous indignation at ever being held responsible for them... like America’s southern border is secure and that the offenders deserve protection... to carry on... just as if nothing is or has happened.
    Patriots,have a fine 4th!

  10. Too funny. There's always a southern excuse for losing the Civil War, but that's a new one to me. "Your General was so hated, and ours so loved, we ended up losing the war".
    In the Army, I made a friend from Alabama who just could not get over his hatred of Yankees. When this Yankee asked him why, he said, "You'd understand if your grandmother had been raped by Union soldiers!" This being said in 1989, it was impossible for his grandmother to have been raped by Union soldiers 120 years earlier. But that was the family lore, as ridiculous as it was. Almost as ridiculous as claiming that Grant was called The Butcher by his victorious troops.

  11. I am a big-time admirer of Grant, but I think your evaluation that he is the greatest man in American in history is… ... aggressive?

    He made a lot of great decisions, but was also blessed with some good fortune. At Fort Donelson, the Confederate army was in the process of escaping, when its commanders ordered it back into its lines in a very unfavorable situation. At Vicksburg, he benefited from Pemberton's errors, not least of which was his failure to bail out when he could have saved his army. The attack that carried Missionary Ridge was not ordered by Grant.
    His armies benefited from the greatest logistical machine in world history to that point.
    By contrast, Washington ultimately triumphed by just keeping his army alive and in the field until circumstances changed, mainly the Brits realization that while they could occupy any specific place they wanted near a port, they could not crush the rebellion.

    Growing up in the 1950s, I "learned" that he and Harding were the two most failed Presidents in history. Knowing academic historians as the source, I suspect that may be a badge of honor. Recognizing his enforcement of the civil rights laws, his reputation has been rehabilitated, but Presidential greatness in other areas is less obvious.
    His triumphant world tour revealed to the nations that there was a powerful new kid on the block. But it's incidental.

    1. I didn't say greatest man in American history, I said greatest American of all time. That is to say, in my estimation, that Grant embodied all the finest and best qualities of the American spirit, which goes beyond specific considerations of historical achievement.

  12. The only thing one needs to know about the brilliance of Grant is that his men called him "The Butcher." Contrast this to the love they showered on McClellan. Or how the South honored Lee. Grant's genius can be demonstrated thus, if Lee had commanded the same resources and manpower that Grant had, and Grant left with the manpower and resources that Lee commanded, how would the results been different. Well for one thing there would have been no Cold Harbor, an attack so bloody and futile, Grant's men pinned their names, addresses, and next of kin to their lapels prior to the doomed attack. Well it must be brilliance when you outnumber your opponents three to one and get your head handed to you. Not just at Cold Harbor, at the Crater, Spotsylvania, the Wilderness and finally to a long bloody siege at Petersburg. Grant demonstrated the mentality of a class of militarists willing to sacrifice his men for victory. In this he foreshadowed another generation of geniuses that came to flower during WWI at the Somme, Verdun, P{assendale.

    As a footnote Lincoln offered Lee command of all the Union armies. Revealing why Lee is one of the greatest men America has ever produced, Lee refused the offer, stating a union keep topgether by the forces of bayonets holds no attraction for me. Clearly Grant was of a different moral fiber.

    1. Grant's men didn't call him a "butcher." They loved him. The media and Southern sympathizers largely started that trope, starting with Shiloh. Lincoln offered command to Lee at the onset of the war; he also appointed McClellan, a parade-ground general. Grant's reputation as the North's most effective commander was built between 1861-63.,life.%E2%80%9D%20(Ulysses%20S. My only quibble with the link here is that the writer asserts that Napoleon charged head-on at his enemies. In fact, he never did that until, inexplicably, he tried it at Borodino, disastrously, and at Waterloo, fatally. At Austerlitz, Jena et al., he moved fast, struck quickly, and decoyed his enemy into traps.

  13. What made Grant special, more than anything, was his that he never lost his cool. Time and again, when others would have freaked out, he refused to give in to panic - at Belmont, at Shiloh, after the Wilderness. Hell, he even kept it together after Cold Harbor, finally flanking Bobby Lee and trapping him in Petersburg. Checkmate.

    But I will quibble with you my friend. Grant was surely one of the greatest Americans of all time. But THE greatest? I'd have to vote Washington.

  14. Perhaps the “ casseur brigade” in Brittany is shedding some light upon the match
    that must be lit ‘ for the Man to arrive to the Hour,’ when the levee breaks. The supply lines will, as usual, be critical even more so. Once Antifa and BLM get exterminated next come the ChiCom and Cartel ‘sleeper cells’ and then the political class that supports them all through their NGO’s( talk about an oxy moron).

  15. "Only one thing is certain: he has to crush them as mercilessly as Grant crushed the South, except this time there can be no magnanimity, only unconditional surrender."

    From your pen to God's ears. Please.

  16. Lee takes a lot of flack for ordering Pickett’s Charge but bear in mind Grant did the same thing @ Cold Harbor with about the same results.

  17. Knowing Grant as the introvert he was, after that comment from Lee he probably basked internally in the knowledge that he had just whipped everyone’s “Golden Boy.”

    1. Oh, I think he took great pleasure in whipping Bobby Lee. Grant once said, "Lee, of course, was a good soldier, and so was Longstreet. I knew Longstreet in Mexico. He was a fine fellow, and one of the best of the young officers. I do not know that there was any better than Joe Johnston. I have had nearly all of the Southern generals in high command in front of me, and Joe Johnston gave me more anxiety than any of the others. I was never half so anxious about Lee."

  18. "That Grant was the greatest American of all time is indisputable."
    Michael, thank you so much for this statement specifically and your article generally. In the last 15 years, as I have read and studied about Grant, I have come to admire him more than any other American and wish more Americans understood and appreciated the greatness of U.S. Grant.
    His life is the quintessential American story:
    1. Born on the frontier with no familial "aristocracy" to take advantage of
    2. Went to West Point somewhat reluctantly but didn't particularly excel there (except for his horsmanship skills), and never intended to make a career out of the military.
    3. Served initially as a quartermaster in the Mexican-American War (which, unbeknownst to him at the time, would prove extremely helpful as a tactician later in the Civil War understanding supply lines) but then served with distinction in combat once given the opportunity to actually lead men.
    4. Retired from the army, in large part to his alcohol drinking brought on by the loneliness that he felt being separated from his family while on deployment in California
    5. Came back east and attempted numerous jobs to try and make a living, eventually ending up as a worker in his father's leather store in Galena, Illinois. The primary lesson for Grant from the time period between his resignation from the army and the start of the Civil War was that he wasn't cut out to be a businessman. He was born to be a soldier and a leader of men; he just didn't know it yet.
    6. Re-enlisted in the army at the start of the Civil War, quickly rose up the ranks, and would go on to take his place in history defeating Lee and the Confederacy, and preserving the nation.
    Find me a more "American" story than that. And thank you for highlighting his Vicksburg campaign, which was arguably the turning point of the Civil War. Another underrated thing about Grant was that despite his apparent lack of sophistication or combat decorations prior to the Civil War, he had served with Lee in the Mexican-American War, knew him well, and subsequently concluded that Lee was not the God-like commander he was portrayed. He was not intimidated by Lee at all, a quality that would serve him well on the road to victory.
    Again, great work as always, Michael. Hopefully there is a Grant working in the wrong industry somewhere in this country, unaware of the greatness that awaits him as he again defeats the traitorous forces that are attempting to destroy this country from within.

    1. A telling story is that at Appomattox Grant politely mentioned to Lee that they had met during the Mexican War and Lee said to him, funny, I don't remember you at all. All class, Lee.

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