Ulysses S. Grant




Burlington Free Press, July 29 1885

George Stannard (1820-1902)

Vermont General George Stannard remembers the military career of General Grant:

The first time I ever saw General Grant was in April of 1864 in Washington, D.C. I had heard of his unassuming appearance, but I was wholly unprepared to find him a man of such plainness of dress and of such a retiring disposition. He struck me as being the must excessively modest and shy man I had ever seen.

Unlike most army officers, his dress indicated not the least degree of military display, and had it not been for his three stars on the shoulder, no one would have noticed him. What impressed me most of all was his supreme reticence. But when I got to know him afterwards, my views in regard to that quality of the General were entirely changed. He was a charming talker when you knew him.

The next time I saw General Grant was on the field at Cold Harbor, where an incident occurred that led to our more intimate acquaintance. I was sitting in my tent one day when Grant, who was inspecting the lines, rode through in the direction of the enemy. I recognized him, and calling to him, warned him of the danger and he stopped. In five minutes, he would have been upon Lee's advanced lines. We talked a few minutes and he turned and went to the rear.

I always noticed that Grant was reckless with his life. For example, at Fort Harrison (where Stannard lost an arm), the General and his staff rode up to the works to learn the result of the victory there. The position he occupied was well within range of the Rebel gunboats, and shells were flying thick and fast. The shells whistled right by Grant, but he took no notice and sat on the ground, on some planks, and began writing down the details of the fight. I suggested he'd better seek cover, to which he replied, "Well, General, I guess I could stand it if you can." He was not at all inclined to accept my suggestion, but I urged him so hard that he finally did so.

Up to that time I had found him taciturn, but from then on and whenever I saw him in the coming years, he was most social, and his forte seemed to be in conversation. During the winter of 1865-66, I saw a great deal of him, and I always found him to be the same thoughtful, earnest, pleasant and agreeable man. Physically we were exactly the same height, and were even once measured at the Smithsonian together. His shoulders were very broad, his chest deep and full, and there were few better shaped men than he.

Very many people think Grant was a man of just "good luck," or fortune, but he was a wonderful man in his resources. He was a very accurate observer and a careful listener, and when he had the facts before him, he made up his mind quicker than anybody I ever saw. He had no patience with an officer who hesitated in forming a judgment when he had the facts at hand. He told me once that the most cowardly officer in the command of troops was the one that was afraid of his own judgment. This, I think, was one of the strongest elements in Grant's success.

When Grant formed a plan of battle he took into consideration the fact that the position and strength of the enemy might suddenly change during a battle, and he showed remarkable quickness in appreciating new facts and changing his plans. He was always ready to act according to new elements in a battle. An officer bringing information to him could scarcely get the words out of his mouth before receiving orders what to do. His confidence in his own judgment seemed limitless. Of all the men I ever talked to or met, Grant was the most poised and self-reliant. It seemed impossible to annoy him or confuse him in great emergencies.

General Grant's relations with all his subordinates were always kind and gentle in the extreme. He never spoke harshly to anyone, and the lowest private could address him as readily as another General, and he would receive answers in language just as deferential and considerate. He also never used obscene or profane language. I remember one instance, when he was talking about the almost universal use of profanity in he army, he related a story of his own past.

He said that when he was a small boy, he had a difference with a neighbor boy. In an instant of passion he used the word, "Darn." He said that the very sound of the word to his ears bothered him, so that for an entire week it continued to literally haunt him. We all thought this was a curious story indeed.

When under fire, the General never gave, as I've said, any indication that he was thinking of the bullets. He went where his duty took him, regardless of the sometimes extreme danger. He always seemed to drop himself out of his consciousness in his devotion to the special work that had fallen upon him.

The last time that I ever saw General Grant was in New York, the winter that he hurt his hip (1884). I was very struck with the change in his personal appearance. He had grown very old-looking, and his face looked as though some great sorrow had befallen him. After we had exchanged greetings, he said, "Well, Stannard, you're a pretty fair man to color your hair gray at your time of life. What have you been doing to yourself?" Even though he was suffering great pain, it didn't prevent the free play of his considerable sense of humor.

I spent many fine hours with the General and I have always had the greatest respect and admiration for him. His mode of thought and quiet manner was just striking. Grant was undoubtedly the greatest General we had, exceeding Lee by far. He did not have the magnetic element in his character that created wild enthusiasm, but he commanded the deepest respect and admiration of his soldiers. He seemed on the battlefield to take in the whole situation with a single glance.

I have often entered his tent and found him with his maps spread out before him, and they were invariably stuck full with pins to indicate the points of action proposed by him. He was always studying his campaigns, and I think this was the secret of his great success. To those who knew him well he was a great man, and his greatness will be more acknowledged as the years roll on.



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