Schofield, on Grant.
THE subject of this volume being limited to events of which I have had personal knowledge, and it never having been my good fortune to serve in the field with General Grant, it would be inappropriate to make herein any general comments upon his military operations. But I cannot close this account of events so closely connected with my own official life without making acknowledgment of my obligations to that great-hearted man for the justice, kindness, and generosity which he invariably manifested toward me whenever occasion offered.
It was General Grant whose voluntary application, in the winter of 1863-4, relieved me from the disagreeable controversy with partizan politicians in Missouri, and gave me command of an army in the field. It was upon his recommendation that my services in that command were recognized by promotion from the grade of captain to that of brigadier-general in the regular army and brevet major-general for services in the battle of Franklin. It was Grant who, upon my suggestion, ordered me, with the Twenty-third Corps, from Tennessee to North Carolina, to take part in the closing operations of the war, instead of leaving me where nothing important remained to be done. It was he who paid me the high compliment of selecting me to conduct the operations which might be necessary to enforce the Monroe doctrine against the French army which had invaded Mexico. It was he who firmly sustained me in saving the people of Virginia from the worst effects of the congressional reconstruction laws. It was he who greeted me most cordially as Secretary of War in 1868, and expressed a desire that I might hold that office under his own administration. And, finally, it was he who promoted me to the rank of major-general in the regular army, the next day after his inauguration as President.
It was a great disappointment to me to find only casual mention of my name in General Grant’s “ Memoirs.” But I was not only consoled, but moved to deep emotion when told by his worthy son, Colonel Frederick Dent Grant, that his father had not ceased up to the last day of his life to cherish the same kind feeling he had always manifested toward me, and that one of his last fruitless efforts, when he could no longer speak, was to put on paper some legible words mentioning my name.
General Sherman wrote that he could not understand Grant, and doubted if Grant understood himself. A very distinguished statesman, whose name I need not mention, said to me that, in his opinion, there was nothing special in Grant to understand. Others have varied widely in their estimates of that extraordinary character. Yet I believe its most extraordinary quality was its extreme simplicity—so extreme that many have entirely overlooked it in their search for some deeply hidden secret to account for so great a character, unmindful of the general fact that simplicity is one of the most prominent attributes of greatness.
The greatest of all the traits of Grant’s character was that which lay always on the surface, visible to all who had eyes to see it. That was his moral and intellectual integrity, sincerity, veracity, and justice. He was incapable of any attempt to deceive anybody, except for a legitimate purpose, as in military strategy; and, above all, he was incapable of deceiving himself. He possessed that rarest of all human faculties, the power of a perfectly accurate estimate of himself, uninfluenced by pride, ambition, flattery, or self-interest. Grant was very far from being a modest man, as the word modest is generally understood. His just self-esteem was as far above modesty as it was above flattery. The highest encomiums were accepted for what he believed them to be worth. They did not disturb his equilibrium in the slightest degree.
While Grant knew his own merits as well as anybody did, he also knew his own imperfections, and estimated them at their real value. For example, his inability to speak in public, which produced the impression of extreme modesty or diffidence, he accepted simply as a fact in his nature which was of little or no consequence, and which he did not even care to conceal. He would not for many years even take the trouble to jot down a few words in advance, so as to be able to say something when called upon. Indeed, I believe he would have regarded it as an unworthy attempt to appear in a false light if he had made preparations in advance for an “extemporaneous” speech. Even when he did in later years write some notes on the back of a dinner-card, he would take care to let everybody see that he had done so by holding the card in plain view while he read his little speech. After telling a story in which the facts had been modified somewhat to give the greater effect, which no one could enjoy more than he did, Grant would take care to explain exactly in what respects he had altered the facts for the purpose of increasing the interest in his story, so that he might not leave any wrong impression.
When Grant’s attention was called to any mistake he had committed, he would see and admit it as quickly and unreservedly as if it had been made by anybody else, and with a smile which expressed the exact opposite of that feeling which most men are apt to show under like circumstances. His love of truth and justice was so far above all personal considerations that he showed unmistakable evidence of gratification when any error into which he might have fallen was corrected. The fact that he had made a mistake and that it was plainly pointed out to him did not produce the slightest unpleasant impression, while the further fact that no harm had resulted from his mistake gave him real pleasure. In Grant’s judgment, no case in which any wrong had been done could possibly be regarded as finally settled until that wrong was righted; and if he himself had been, in any sense, a party to that wrong, he was the more earnest in his desire to see justice done. While he thus showed a total absence of any false pride of opinion or of knowledge, no man could be firmer than he in adherence to his mature judgment, or more earnest in his determination, on proper occasions, to make it understood that his opinion was his own, and not borrowed from anybody else. His pride in his own mature opinion was very great; in that he was as far as possible from being a modest man. This absolute confidence in his own judgment upon any subject which he had mastered, and the moral courage to take upon himself alone the highest responsibility, and to demand full authority and freedom to act according to his own judgment, without interference from anybody, added to his accurate estimate of his own ability and his clear perception of the necessity for undivided authority and responsibility in the conduct of military operations, and in all that concerns the efficiency of armies in time of war, constituted the foundation of that very great character.
When summoned to Washington to take command of all the armies, with the rank of lieutenant-general, he determined, before he reached the capital, that he would not accept the command under any other conditions than those above stated. His sense of honor and of loyalty to the country would not permit him to consent to be placed in a false position,—one in which he could not perform the service which the country had been led to expect from him,—and he had the courage to say so in unqualified terms.
These are the traits of character which made Grant a very great man—the only man of our time, so far as can be known, who possessed both the character and the military ability which were, under the circumstances, indispensable in the commander of the armies which were to suppress the great rebellion.
It has been said that Grant, like Lincoln, was a typical American, and for that reason was most beloved and respected by the people. That is true of the statesman and of the soldier, as well as of the people, if it is meant that they were the highest type, that ideal which commands the respect and admiration of the highest and best in a man’s nature, however far he may know it to be above himself. The soldiers and the people saw in Grant or in Lincoln, not one of themselves, not a plain man of the people, nor yet some superior being whom they could not understand, but the personification of their highest ideal of a citizen, soldier, or statesman, a man whose greatness they could see and understand as plainly as they could anything else under the sun. And there was no more mystery about it all in fact than there was in the popular mind.
Matchless courage and composure in the midst of the most trying events of battle, magnanimity in the hour of victory, and moral courage to compel all others to respect his plighted faith toward those who had surrendered to him, were the crowning glories of Grant’s great and noble character.
Lieut. Gen. John M. Schofield, Forty-Six Years in the Army (1897).
Courtesy of Democratic Thinker