Grant And His Demons

by Daniel Russ on September 19, 2018

Post image for Grant And His Demons Ulysses S Grant Ulysses S Grant

 

As a citizen, Grant failed at perhaps every single endeavor. He failed as a leather worker, as a salesman, and he fell prey to the vagaries of alcoholism. Unkempt and unimpressive in civilian clothing, we often dismissed as a man of the streets. Yet, given command and responsibilities, he was a bit like Churchill- utterly efficient and a clear headed fearless thinker.

 

When Grant was promoted another Brigadier General had been placed under his command, one General Benjamin M. Prentiss. They had a friction early on when Prentiss refused orders from Grant, and bitterly complained that he would not take orders from a drunkard. So much of the story of Ulysses S. Grant is alcohol. His early battles with alcohol imprecated him for his entire career and it was difficult to overcome it.

 

He was known to be placed in command of troop and install discipline. In fact, we would line up a brigade and have all of them open their canteens and smell for liquor. Wherever he commanded men, he shut down taverns and warned merchants not to sell spirits to his troops. Alcoholism was an issue in the Civil War on both sides.

 

“No one evil agent so much obstructs this army as the degrading vice of drunkenness,” wrote Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan in February 1862. “It is the cause of by far the greatest part of the disorders which are examined by court-martial.”. He quipped that a non alcoholic army “would be worth fifty thousand men to the armies of the United States.”

Union General Benjamin Butler noticed that each night a picket guard went to an outpost 1½ miles from Fort Monroe, Virginia. When they returned they were lit up. Searches of canteens and gear turned up nothing. Except their muskets. “Every gun barrel,” wrote Butler, “was found to be filled with whiskey.”

Confederate Gen. Benjamin Franklin Cheatham, a Tennessean who was so drunk on Dec. 31, 1862, Ogden said, “he actually fell out of the saddle at one point” at what Southerners called the Battle of Murfreesboro and Northerners call the Battle of Stones River.

The South prohibited bourbon distilling during the war, Veach said, but this was because corn was needed to feed soldiers. “The other big thing was, they wanted the copper for the stills, so they could turn that copper into cannons,” he said.

 

 “No one evil agent so much obstructs this army as the degrading vice of drunkenness,” quipped Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan in February 1862. “It is the cause of by far the greatest part of the disorders which are examined by court-martial.”. He offered that a non alcoholic army “would be worth fifty thousand men to the armies of the United States.”

Union Private John D. Billings, in his classic memoir Hardtack and Coffee, recalled, “There was many a growl uttered by men who lost their little pint or quart bottle of some choice stimulating beverage, which had been confiscated from a box as contraband of war.”

Union General Benjamin Butler was baffled. Every night a picket guard went to an outpost 1½ miles from Fort Monroe, Virginia. The soldiers departed for their shift perfectly sober, yet when they returned to the post the next morning they caused trouble “on account of being drunk.” Investigations failed to reveal the source of their whiskey. Searches of canteens and gear turned up nothing suspicious. But there was one odd thing about the detachment: someone in Butler’s command noticed that the men always held their muskets straight up in a peculiar manner. The mystery unraveled when their muskets were examined. “Every gun barrel,” wrote Butler, “was found to be filled with whiskey.”

When he had his demons in their cages, we was the most efficient, clear thinking decision maker in the US Army. In fact he did so well as a full colonel, senior officers promoted him and the information came to him through a newspaper.

 

“In early August, Crane handed Grant a copy of the Daily Missouri Democrat and remarked, “I see that you are made brigadier-general.” Taken unawares, Grant sat down to study the news item from Washington, which said his name had been sent to the Senate for the post. “Well, sir, I had no suspicion of it,” he said. “It never came from any request of mine.” Grant guessed correctly that the appointment derived from Washburne’s amicable relations with Lincoln. Crane was amazed by Grant’s unflappable response as “he very leisurely rose up and pulled his black felt hat a little nearer his eyes . . . and walked away about his business with as much apparent unconcern as if someone had merely told him that his new suit of clothes was finished.””

 

His demons had finally been conquered.

 

Grant’s Favorite Brand

 

Sources: timesfreepress.com, Warfarehistoryonline (David A. Norris), Grant by Ron Chernow

 

 

 

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