Why was U.S. Grant known as Unconditional Surrender Grant?

During the early days of the Civil War, the Union was on its heels. The South had won at First Bull Run (of course, at the time they thought it was going to be the only Bull Run battle).  Then an unknown Union general in the west seized Fort Henry and Fort Donelson and the entire tenor changed.  When the Confederate commander at Fort Donelson, General Simon Bolivar Buckner, West Point 1844, asked for terms, Grant sent back his infamous “unconditional surrender” letter.  It was so famous, Mark Twain carried a copy with him the rest of this life.  And Mark Twain had a role to play in my novel, Duty, Honor, Country and also later, in Grant’s life, but that’s another blog post.

But where did Grant get the idea?  Perhaps, what if this happened:

“Is it not true that Lucius Rumble, now a private in the Army, resigned to take responsibility for the very event which you now lay at my doorstep?” Cord asked.  “Is it not true that Mister King’s action brought about his dismissal?”

“Everyone knows—“ Lyon began, but Cord cut him off.

“Everyone knows nothing.  Has Lucius Rumble made a claim against me that you’re acting on?  Has Mister King?  I wish to know my accuser.”

“Your accuser is the Corps,” Lyon said.  He took a step closer.  “You options are limited, Mister Cord.  Resign.”

“I’m afraid I must disappoint you gentlemen,” Cord said.  “Although I am indeed guilty of several mistakes, I will never resign.”

Lyon and Buckner exchanged a glance.  Lyon took a few steps forward until he was right next to Cord.  He lowered his voice to a harsh whisper.  “You bring disgrace on all of us with your lack of honor.  Do the right thing.”

“You equate right with honor?” Cord asked.  He shook his head.  “Never.”

Lyon stepped back and raised his voice.  “Then you must face the wrath of the Corps and experience the ‘Silence’.  No one will speak to you or acknowledge you.  You will not exist.”

Cord stood fast as the four cadets in the back row began to remove their full dress coats.  Lyon and Buckner stayed back as the four approached, spreading out.  Still, Cord made no move to defend himself.  When they charged, he stood still, arms down.

The beating was quick and vicious.  For half a minute they pummeled, but then the attackers slowed their fists, disconcerted by the lack of defense offered.  A blow to the side of the head dropped Cord to his knees, blood pouring from cuts on his face.  His lip was split, his nose broken anew.  One of the attackers swung his boot, catching Cord in the chest and a rib cracked, causing him to double over in pain.

The four cadets stepped back, fists bruised and covered in Cord’s blood, but otherwise unmarked.

Cord slowly straightened, then staggered to his feet.  He attempted his trademark smile, causing more blood to flow from his lip.  “Is that all you have to offer me?”

“You must resign,” Simon Bolivar Buckner said.  “That is unconditional.”

“Is it now, Gentlemen?”  Everyone turned to the door where Sam Grant stood, wearing dress gray and the white sash of the cadet in charge of quarters.  Grant made a show of checking his pocket watch.  “Unconditional, Mister Buckner?  I do believe there are cadets in this room who are absent quarters after evening reveille.”

“Grant,” Lyon said, “mind your business.”

“This is my business,” Grant said.  “But I am a lenient man.  If you depart now, I won’t have to write this up or summon the cadet officer of the day, Cadet Dent.  Whose room, I believe, this is.”

Lyon pointed at Cord.  “He’s been ‘Silenced’.”

And who do you think delivers Grant’s Unconditional Surrender note to Buckner at Fort Donelson so many years later?

A new blog post every day leading up to the 150th Anniversary of the start of the Civil War on April 12th and the publication of Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War, the first in my series.

Tomorrow:  George Pickett leading the most successful charge—of the Mexican War


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