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 Stands, I 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.