Ulysses S. Grant




Wise, John. Recollections of Thirteen Presidents. NY: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1906

John Sergeant Wise (1846-1913)

Wise was a Virginian who had fought in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War.

Although I had seen General Grant at a distance on numerous occasions, it was seven or eight years after the close of the Civil War before I met him face to face, and then it was in a most unusual way. Business called me to Long Branch, N.J., where I saw the President every day driving back and forth upon they way home I took a sleeper to Philadelphia. It was quite late, a hot night, and I was dirty. I went into the lavatory of the sleeping car, removed my coat and collar, and proceeded to give myself a good scrubbing. While so engaged, a quiet man slipped into the compartment and lit a cigar. No one else was present, for nearly everybody else on the car was asleep. Ours was the last sleeper, and next to it was an excursion car filled with one of the noisiest and jolliest of crowds. Men and women were singing.

"My, what a noisy crowd,' said I. "If they keep that up, we will not get much sleep." The remark was made in the free and easy easy in which one traveler addresses another upon a train, and without even looking closely at my companion. 'They are not going far, I think. It is an excursion from Wilmington, I believe. I like to see them happy," was the prompt democratic reply. Something in the voice or manner of the speaker made me pause with the towel in my hands and turn towards him. I knew the face. There was no mistaking it. It was that of the President of the United States. He was sitting there alone, just as serene and devoid of self-consciousness as any Tom Jones in all America. I looked at him incredulously, and he returned my glance steadily.

"I beg your pardon," I stammered forth. "But - is this - General - President Grant?" He nodded assent. "Again, I beg you pardon, Mr. President. When I addressed you so familiarly, I had no idea who you were. In fact, sir, one would not expect to meet -" "That's all right," said he. "Don't explain it. Glad to see you. I like a cigar before retiring and slipped in here to have a smoke." I introduced myself. He asked me who I was and, when I told him, said he knew all about my people. Then he was wide awake. He began to ask me all sorts of questions. Inquired if the Southerners were getting along all right now. Asked if we were satisfied with the results of the war and said he hoped the Southern people would accept the results.

People have often said General Grant was a taciturn man. I never found him so. He always talked to me, and he always seemed to delight in putting questions as fast as he could ask them. I was immensely flattered, for I was not over 24 years of age. He said, among other things, "I like to hear what people like you think." Then he added, "Did you like army life?" "I loved it. My heart was broken when I lost my job, General," I replied, laughingly. The General said, "I wish we had a lot of young fellows in the service now. I believe it would be a great thing for restored fraternity." Then he added, "but public sentiment is not ready for it yet." He asked, "What do you do for a living?" "Practicing law." "Like it?" "Yes, sir, but it is not as good fun as fighting." And then President laughed, although they say he was not much given to it.

I think we had passed Havre de Grace when our real friendly private, almost intimate talk was ended. I would have remained all night with him if he had permitted me, for he fascinated me. But he had had enough of me and arose, saying, "Good night, I'm glad I met you. You must come to see me sometime when you visit Washington." He did not say "I like you," but I thought he did, and he showed it in many ways, on many occasions, afterward. And I liked him. He was one of the simplest, most genuine, direct and manly men I ever knew.

In a rather free talk I once had with General Grant about the Confederate leaders, he expressed feelings of the greatest kindness, admiration and almost affection for General Lee. I remember his saying that if everybody had borne themselves after the war as General Lee did it would have saved the world a lot of trouble. I tried to draw him out into some expression of opinion regarding the relative merits of the Confederate commanders, but he gave no definite response. He did, however, express such a high opinion of General Joe E. Johnston and recurred to that opinion so often that, without his having said so, I have since entertained the notion that General Grant thought him the greatest Confederate commander. And other prominent Northern soldiers have said so to me presently. Without claiming to be a competent military critic or qualified judge, I must say that for the life of me I have never been able to understand the reasoning upon which such an opinion is based.

General Grant also had a high opinion of Stonewall Jackson. Grant was deeply interested in the incidents of Jackson's private life and the story of his idiosyncrasies which I knew. Everybody knows, of course, how much he was attached to Longstreet. Grant always seemed to feel the liveliest interest in the Confederate soldiers. I remember telling him on one occasion that somehow, since General Lee's death, the orphaned Confederates seemed to feel that the duty of being kind to them and looking after their interests devolved on him. His eye brightened with gratification, and he said something to the effect that the feeling, curious as it might seem, was more or less reciprocated, and that they held a high place in his regard second only to that he felt for his own men. "Curious sort of feeling, isn't it?" he said musingly.

No man could be thrown in for any length of time with Grant, without admiring him with all his abilities and respecting him. He was with all his abilities one of the simplest, most confirming and trustful of men. The greatest mistake the Southern people ever made was not realizing that is they had permitted him, he would have been the best friend they had after the war.



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