Ulysses S. Grant




CWTI, April, 1965

Ole Peter Hansen Balling (1823-1906)

Ole Peter Hansen Balling was a Norwegian-born artist who served briefly in a New York Regiment during the early years of the Civil War. After being wounded, he resumed his profession as a painter and won the commission in 1864 to complete a large painting General Ulysses S. Grant and 26 of his senior officers. Balling arrived at Grant's headquarters in September, 1864 and spent five weeks there making preliminary sketches. He would take a year to complete the painting entitled "Grant and His Generals." Here is the painter's narrative of his time with Grant, including a vivid depiction of Grant on the battlefield:

I arrived at City Point, Virginia, where General Grant received me very cordially. He had me sit down before his tent and said, "Well, then, you want to see my horses, as you are going to paint us on horseback." And he directed an orderly to being them up. General Grant said: "That little black pony is my pet, and we call him Jeff Davis, as he was brought to me form the Davis estate in Mississippi when we fought around Vicksburg; that one is Cincinnati, a very fine trotter; and that one, Egypt, is a good saddle horse. Now, which do you want?" I said, "For my purpose, I should like like Egypt." Grant answered, "Well, then, we will take a ride out on the road tomorrow." I was given a tent and an orderly and introduced to General Rawlins (Grant's chief of staff). At the table General Grant placed me opposite him, probably anticipating my desire to look at him as much as possible.

After breakfast the next morning the General went out on horseback just as he went about every day, with his big slouch hat and unbuttoned coat, and without his sword. At a suitable point I asked the General's permission to see him pass and repass at a gallop. He simply said, "All right," and I can assure you that this picture stands before me at this moment most vividly, as a fixed photograph never to be forgotten. I stayed for five weeks at Grant's headquarters, during which I made several sketches of the General, with and without his hat - once, I recollect, with a very large pair of boots, which a New York shoemaker sent him as a present, and into which he drew his short legs, laughing at the site he presented. At the campfire he would converse with his with officers familiarly, very often about West Point and cadet life. General Rawlins had just returned from a trip for his health, and when Grant heard him cough from his tent he expressed great sympathy and warm friendship for Rawlins. One evening he said to me: "I do not like that coughing of Rawlins, it worries me."

Once I remarked to the General, while chatting with him alone, that he never treated his visitors to anything but water. He said, "How could I permit a drop of liquor or wine in my camp, with all the newspaper slander I receive?" Grant autographed one of my sketches which he liked best. That was the sketch with his slouch hat on. I believe the General performed his greatest labor after "Taps," and I often at midnight heard him calling out, "orderly," which always meant a dispatch for the telegraph office.

On September 19, 1864 we were roused unusually early to breakfast. Grant ate rapidly a few fried oysters, and passing around the table, tapped me on the shoulder and said: "Would you like to make a trip with us this morning up the river?" I said, "Of course." Grant answered, "Well, get your boots on, then, we are going soon." It was a lovely morning, about 7 o'clock, and from he upper deck of the boat, the James River looked charming. I observed Grant sitting alone in the sunshine, smoking a cigar, and as I thought his expression depicted cheerfulness and ease of mind. I ventured to take my seat beside him, and commenced, of course, to speak about the weather, as second-rate men usually do. The General was talkative that morning, and to my delight pointed out all the points at which his different corps had crossed the river. He talked so much, unconcerned and pleasantly, that I got courage to put forth a little humor, and at a pause said:

"General, you seem to be in such good humor this morning that I ask of you, sir, a great favor." He smiled and said, "Well, what do you want?" " I wish that you would have the kindness to take Richmond while I stay here with you." His expression became rather serious, when he answered, "Well, who knows; a battle has been going on now since three o'clock this morning. We will soon hear the guns." My surprise grew as he continued telling me that he had sent Meade and Hancock out. Grant, who seldom spoke, and about military movements far less, had here disclosed them to me in he simplest and quietest manner, when thousands of men were in deadly struggle. Now we heard the guns in the distance. "I am going to Deep Bottom," he said, "where I have another net of wires, and I am going to take command of the right wing. I hope at least we will be nearer Richmond tonight." I was excited at the possibility of seeing him in action. Grant lighted a new cigar and broke again into his customary silence.

Grant told me that Benjamin Butler commanded the right wing, then we were ashore. "Here is Deep Bottom," he said, throwing away his cigar and abruptly leaving. He jumped on shore, mounted Jeff Davis and rode off, the staff behind him. I followed, keeping as close to him as possible, often almost y his side. I knew he did not mind it. We went clear through the army, and came to where the bullets began. Grant waved us to stay, but we went to the edge of the woods. Here he dismounted and went into the field, where the skirmishers were rapidly firing. I could hardly breathe. We were soon in Fort Harrison, where the shells were passing and bursting. Here Grant dismounted again and seated himself at the for of an earthwork. He was immediately surrounded by the senior commanders, receiving reports and giving orders. All around us were dying men. A shell burst right over where the General sat. He did not seem to hear it.

After giving ample orders for the day he started for Deep Bottom again. For once I heard his voice in anger, in ordering some stragglers to join their commands. At Deep Bottom he telegraphed and we got some sandwiches and beer, and then he lighted the first cigar since the one he threw away at the landing. The result of the day was not great, but considerable advance was made.... After five weeks with the General and much hard work, I was anxious to get back to my studio in New York. On my departure, Grant gave me a letter for his wife, who then resided in Burlington (New Jersey). I stopped at Burlington and presented his letter. Mrs. Grant received me with great courtesy, and gave me an engraving of the General which she liked best. I asked her to sit for a sketch, to which she consented. I made almost a profile sketch, but what has become of it I do not know. I stayed three days at her house and remarked that her son Fred was a great fighter. She replied, "Yes, he is fighting all his father's battled over again with his neighbors."



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