When Grant came east: ‘The boss had arrived.’

Recently I finished reading Shelby Foote’s epic Civil War trilogy, The Civil War: A Narrative. There’s much to say about this work. Two brief things about it: 1) I lament the lack of footnotes, which makes it hard to research his sources. I guess he thought that would ruin the poetry of it. Or maybe he just thought it would be too much trouble. 2) I’ve seen accusations that Foote has a Southern bias and expressed ‘Lost Cause’ tropes. I didn’t see that kind of bias in the text itself, which is what I prefer to base my opinion on. I think it makes great reading.

Anyway, out of the whole series, one of the accounts that most stands out in my mind comes from Volume 3 of the trilogy, Red River to Appomattox. I think it shows Foote’s great appreciation for Union Commanding General Ulysses S. Grant. Recounting the time period after Grant came east to take command and was preparing to cross the Rapidan in the buildup to the Overland Campaign, Foote writes:

“In point of fact, now that they had time to look [Grant] over and examine the results of some of the changes he introduced, the men had begun to see that, whatever else he might do, in or out of combat, he clearly meant business, and they found they liked the notion of this. Some high-ranking officers, particularly the starch-collared regulars among them, might have doubts about the new general-in-chief (an old-line colonel of artillery, for instance, wrote home that he found him ‘stumpy, unmilitary, slouchy and western-looking; very ordinary, in fact’) but the troops themselves, according to an enlisted diarist, would ‘look with awe at Grant’s silent figure’ whenever he rode out on inspection, which was often. They liked his reticence, his disregard of mere trappings, his eye for the essential. He was seldom cheered, except by greenhorn outfits trying to make points, but he seemed not to care or even notice. ‘Grant wants soldiers, not yawpers,’ a veteran observed approvingly… There was also a solidity about him that was welcome after service under a series of commanders who had shown a tendency, and sometimes more than a tendency, to fly asunder under pressure. A New Englander put it simplest: ‘We all felt at last that the boss had arrived.'”

Foote, Shelby. The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox. New York and Toronto: Random House, 1974. Page 132.
Lt Gen Ulysses S. Grant (middle) with Brig Gen John A. Rawlins (left) and Lt Col Theodore S. Bowers (right).
City Point, Virginia, 1864 or 1865.

ARB — 17 Jan 2021

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