Abraham Lincoln’s General: U.S. Grant (“I Can’t Spare This Man; He Fights.”)

President Lincoln had his generals; didn’t he? Well, let’s see-there was McDowell, McClellan, Pope, Burnside, Hooker, and Meade. Did I miss any of them? I may have. There were so many! They all failed Lincoln in some critical way. Then there was Grant-finally. Grant kind of came from nowhere. His military career was over before the Civil War. He was a failure in business. And, of course, there the the drinking thing. Then Grant scored some early military victories in Tennessee. Lincoln took notice. Afterward, Grant almost “blew it” at Shiloh. Thanks to Billy Sherman and a few others the day was saved for Grant. He almost “lost it” again at Vicksburg-but Grant took Vicksburg in the end. By then Lincoln “had his man.” Lincoln brought Lincoln to Washington, promoted him, and “let him loose” to pursue Lee and close out the rebellion. Unlike the previous generals, Grant was a fighter. He was as tenacious as a bull-dog by all accounts. That trait, more than anything else, was the key to final victory. But it was not always so! And it certainly could not have been predicted-at least at the start of Grant’s military career. Let go back to an earlier time in Grant’s life…

The time period was 1849-1854. During those years Grant was assigned to Fort Wayne in Detroit, among other places. He lived off-post with his wife Julia and son Frederick. They lived in a small frame house on Fort Street (that house sits today on the grounds of the former Michigan State Fair at Woodward Avenue and Eight Mile Road). Detroit was considered a “Western” town back then. Alcohol was commonly drank by it’s citizens. Of course, Grant drank with his fellow officers. His passion, however, was horse racing. He was an excellent horseman! It wasn’t uncommon to see Grant partake in Saturday evening races on Fort Street-he became well-known to others in the neighborhood. He was also often seen in company with his wife Julia at social scenes. He obviously enjoyed himself with his life in those early military days.

Although Grant by then had seen war service in the Mexican-American War, his assignment at Detroit must have seemed to him- “lack-luster.” In the war, he had been brevetted twice for bravery at Molino del Rey and Chapultepec. No such opportunites for distinguishing himself existed in “peace-time” duty. At one point he was assigned to Sackets Harbor in New York, but he returned back to Detroit shortly afterward.

In 1854, Grant resigned from the Army. This action was rumored to have been the result of intoxication while on duty. His short, and perhaps, promising military career seemed over. History would have made little note of U.S. Grant if that had closed the book on his military service for good. In 1854, that’s probably what Grant was thinking: “It is over!” But as we all know, the Civil War changed all of that. U.S. Grant-the man who graduated West Point 21st in his class of 39-became the most important general in the U.S. Army! How far he had moved from what appeared to be a washed-up military career to the highest ranking general in service! Why? This is partly explained by Lincoln’s proclamation: “I can’t spare this man; he fights!”

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