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Civil War Trust

Ulysses S. Grant on Meeting the President

From the "Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant"
BY U.S. Grant

In the following account U.S. Grant describes his first meeting with President Lincoln. 

grant in camp
General Grant in camp. (Library of Congress)

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 ended.

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.

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