Category Archives: The Generals

How Did Stonewall Jackson get his nickname?

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

There are two versions of this story.  The popular one, and the following, which isn’t as popular.  Regardless, there is no doubt Jackson holding the line saved the Confederate army at First Bull Run and led to their ultimate victory there.

*****

“Get in a line, men, in a line,” Seneca yelled, not quite sure of the proper order to achieve what he desired.

The rest of the 33rd was deploying, moving forward among retreating soldiers, some of whom started in fear, seeing the blue uniforms in their midst.  For a moment all was turmoil, but then a colonel stood up in his stirrups, his shockingly blue eyes aglow.

“Virginians.  Advance!”

The men gave a shout that made the hair on the back of Seneca’s neck curl.  Before he knew it, he was screaming the same inarticulate yell and pressing forward.  They crested Henry House Hill in time to see a line of blue with a smattering of gray crest Matthews Hill, not quite a mile distant.  The low ground in between was cluttered with retreating Confederate troops.

Union artillery suddenly began belching canister from Matthews Hill and wide, bloody swaths were cut in the men in the valley.

The blue-eyed Colonel rode along the crest of Henry Hill, now ordering the men to form and hold a line, to take the defensive and be prepared to face an attack.  Seneca dismounted, handing the reins to one of his men.  He saw a lieutenant in blue running by, a Virginian and grabbed him by the arm.

“Who is that?” Seneca demanded.  “Why’s he ordering us to stop?”

“That’s Colonel Jackson, sir.  Brigade commander.”

Seneca looked to his right and saw a Confederate unit flowing down the hill in the assault, another officer in the lead.  “And who is that?”

“General Bee, sir.”

Seneca glanced once more at Jackson, weighed Colonel against General, the glory of the assault against that of the defense, then ordered his men to follow.  He charged downhill, following Bee’s advance as fast as he could.

The General rose up in his saddle and looked over his shoulder, waving his sword.  He saw that most of the Virginians were not following.  “There stands Jackson like a stone wall,” he cried out.

*****

Since General Bee died, no one quite knows why he called out what he did.  But as they say in Liberty Valance:  When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

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Grant Becomes A General

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

“What of McClellan?” Lincoln finally asked.

When Rumble hesitated, Lincoln’s voice became harsher.  “Why do you think are here, Sergeant Major?  I asked General Delafield to tell me of the West Pointers, since he’s been superintendent three times, more than any other.  He informed me that the man who could tell me the most was the Master of the Horse.  Who had once been a cadet and then taught riding to class after class of cadets.  Who went to the Mexican War and wrote many notebooks full of information that no one reads.

“So?  What of McClellan?  He won our first battle at Philippi.  Thus he now has command on the other side of the Appalachians.  And he sent General Scott a strategic plan to win the war.  Very industrious and showing of initiative, don’t you think?”

“You seem to have your mind made up about him, sir,” Rumble said.

“I have not,” Lincoln snapped.  He sighed.  “I’m sorry.  Let me explain.  There’s a call to abolish West Point.  So many graduates have gone over to the other side, there is a very legitimate question as to why we should continue funding the institution.  But as we used to say back in Illinois, that cow has already left the barn.  We’re stuck with the officers we have and I need to know about them.  So.  McClellan.”

“McClellan is a very good organizer, sir,” Rumble said.  “But he’s not daring.  And he will flinch at the critical moment, when a general needs to press on.  He’s not a finisher and this war will need a finisher.”

Lincoln smiled.  “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”  He didn’t wait for an answer.  “From all the West Pointers you’ve seen, as cadets and as officers, who is the best ‘finisher’ as you call it?”

“Ulysses S. Grant, sir.”

“I like the name Ulysses.  Very martial.”  Lincoln frowned.  “Ulyssess Grant?  That strikes a bell.”  He began sifting through a pile of papers on his desk.

Rumble plunged on.  “He’s solid and steady, sir, and if there’s one thing he will do, it’s get where he’s going.  I fought with him in Mexico.”

“Ah!” Lincoln said, pulling out a sheet.  “Here’s his name.  Recommendations for promotion to General from each state.  He’s very far down.  The war might indeed be over before his name bubbles up high enough.  Curious.”

Lincoln reached out and grabbed a pen.  He scratched through some names, then wrote a note next to Grant’s name.  “Well, he’ll be a general within the month.”

Colonel Grant’s Marching Orders to the 21st Illinois

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

18 June 1861

Springfield, MO

21st Illinois Regiment

The undersigned, having been duly appointed Colonel of the 7th Congressional District Regt of Illinois Volunteers by order of Govr. Richard Yates, hereby assumes command.

In accepting this command, your Commander will require the cooperation of all the commissioned and non-commissioned Officers in instructing the command, and in maintaining discipline, and hopes to receive also the hearty support of every enlisted man.

Colonel Ulysses S. Grant, Commanding 21st Illinois

 12 July 1861

Quincy, MO

21st Illinois Regiment

The Colonel commanding this Regiment deems it his duty at this period in the march to return his thanks to the Officers and Men composing the command on their general Obedience and Military discipline.  Having for a period of years been accustomed to strict military duties and discipline he deems it not inappropriate at this time to make a most favorable comparison of this command with that of veteran troops in point of Soldierly bearing, general good order, and cheerful execution of commands.

Colonel Ulysses S. Grant, Commanding 21st Illinois

These two orders sum up Grant’s leadership style.



Mark Twain’s First & Last Combat in the Civil War vs US Grant

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

14 July 1861, Florida, Missouri

“Florida contained but one hundred people when I was born here twenty-six years ago and I increased the town’s population by one percent.  This is more than many of the best men in history could have done for a town.”

The speaker held an old smoothbore musket in sweaty hands, and he licked his upper lip nervously, a bushy black mustache adorning the space between mouth and nose.

“Now ya get the chance to defend your town from the Yankees, Sam,” the man next to him said.

Both men were dressed in civilian clothes, dirty from weeks spent foraging and traveling to and fro across Missouri following the orders of confused and amateur officers.  How they’d ended up here was pure chance, the vagaries of war.  It was early morning, and the dew had yet to be burned away by the mid-July heat.  It was the most comfortable time of the day and would soon be gone.

“I did leave when I was four, though, so I have no particular fondness for the place,” Samuel Clemens noted.

“Aint much to it,” his friend agreed as they took in the muddy lane that ran through the small cluster of cabins.  The two guards held a position just south of the hamlet where the road peaked a knoll, so they could see in both directions.  “Why the devil does this Union Colonel want this place?”

“Probably same reason we’re standing here,” Clemens said.  “Someone told him to.”

Behind the two pickets, in a trampled cornfield, a cluster of makeshift shelters and men rolled in blankets constituted the small unit sent to defend Florida, Missouri from the Union incursion.  It consisted of Clemens’ own group, the self-named Marions Rangers, and other bands of men that could not quite be called a company of light infantry, although they would agree on the light:  light on weapons, light on food and light on discipline.

Hush.”  Clemens turned his head, listening.  “Riders coming.”  He tapped his partner on the shoulder.  “Best get the Colonel.”

*****

As a side note:  The Union force approaching Floriday, Missouri, was the 21st Illinois commanded by Colonel U.S. Grant.  It was Grant’s first time leading troops into combat.  Years after the war, destitute from a ponzi scheme and dying, Grant finally acceded to Twain’s request to publish his memoirs.  It became the #1 bestselling nonfiction book of the 19th Century and insured Grant’s family future.

Ulysses S. Grant on Traitors & Patriots

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

Galena, IL

April 21st 1861

To Jesse Root Grant from U.S. Grant

Dear Father,

We are now in the midst of trying times when every one must be for or against his country, and show his colors too, by his very act.  Having been educated for such an emergency, at the expense of the Government, I feel that it has upon me superior claims, such claims as no ordinary motives of self-interest can surmount.  I do not wish to act hastily or unadvisedly in the matter, and, as there are more than enough to respond to the first call of the President, I have not yet offered myself.  I have promised and am giving all the assistance I can in organizing the Company whose services have been accepted from this place.  I have promised further to go with them to the state Capital and if I can be of service to the Governor in organizing his state troops, to do so.

Whatever may have been my political opinions before, I have but one sentiment now.  That is we have a Government, and laws and a flag and they must all be sustained.  There are but two parties now, Traitor & Patriots and I want hereafter to be ranked with the latter and, I trust, the stronger party.

Write soon.

Yours Truly

U.S. Grant

The Honor of the South: General Johnston’s Order to the Army of the Mississipi, the evening before Shiloh

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

Vicinity Shiloh, regarding Grant’s invading Army of the Tennessee

5 April 1862

To The Soldiers of the Army of the Mississippi:

I have put into motion to offer battle to the invaders of your country.  With the resolution and discipline and valor becoming men fighting, as you are, for all worth living or dying for, you can but march to decisive victory over the agrarian mercenaries sent to subjugate and despoil you of your liberties, property and honor.  Remember the dependence of your mothers, your wives, your sisters, and your children on the result; remember the fair, broad, abounding land, the happy homes and the ties that would be desolated by your defeat.  The eyes and hopes of eight millions of people rest upon you; you are expected to show yourselves worthy of your lineage, worthy of the women of the South, whose noble devotion in this war has never been exceeded in any time.  With such incentives to brave deeds, and with the trust that God is with us, your generals will lead you confidently to the combat—assured of success.

C.S.A. General Sidney Albert Johnston

(West Point class of 1826)

A destitute US Grant frees his only slave

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

The crisply uniformed Lieutenant from Jefferson Barracks paused in shock in the middle of the St. Louis street.  “Sam?  Sam Grant?”

The man he was calling out to was dressed in shoddy clothes and held a wicker basket full of firewood, which he was hawking from the street corner.

A bright smile split Ulysses S. Grant’s haggard face as he recognized his friend.  “Old Pete!”

Grant dropped the firewood and the two men embraced.  The two had seen nothing of each other since Longstreet had stood in as Grant’s best man when he married Julia Dent back in ’48.  Eleven years later it was clear the two men had gone down vastly different paths.

“You look quite sharp indeed,” Grant said to Longstreet.  “Back at the barracks?”

“For now,” Longstreet allowed.  “And you, you’re in the city?”

Grant gestured at the wood.  “Here for the week to work.  I rent a room.  Then walk home each weekend to see Julia and the children at White Haven.”

“Walk?”  Longstreet was surprised.  “It’s over twelve miles.”

“An easy jaunt,” Grant said.  “I’m glad we’ve met.  There’s something that has been troubling me all these years.”  He reached into his pocket and emptied it of the only coin he had, a five dollar gold piece.  “In all the excitement of the wedding I’d forgotten I have a debt I owe you.”  He held out the coin, but Longstreet didn’t take it.

“There’s no need,” Longstreet.  “I’ve long since forgotten it.”

“It’s a debt of honor,” Grant said.  “You loaned me the money when I needed it.”

“Truly, Sam,” Longstreet said.  “No need.”

“You must take it,” Grant insisted.  “I cannot live with anything in my possession which is not mine.”

Face flushed, Longstreet took the coin and awkwardly shoved it into his pocket.

“Do you have the hour?” Grant asked, as if the debt had already disappeared in the current of time now that it was resolved.

“Where’s your watch?” Longstreet asked without thinking.

“Pawned it two years past to make Christmas happen for the children,” Grant said, as always honest to a fault.  “It was a bad year,” he added, as if selling firewood on the street corner was a sign of a much better one.  “The hour, if you don’t mind, Pete?”

“Half past one.”

“Ah!” Grant grabbed his basket.  “I have an appointment I must make.  Would you like to accompany me?”

“Certainly,” Longstreet said.

Grant set off with a purposeful stride, Longstreet at his side.

“I tried farming,” Grant said.  “West Pointers make poor farmers, I’m afraid.  Hardscrabble I called it after some town in the Colorado Territory that Elijah Cord told me about.  You remember Elijah, don’t you?”

“Certainly.”

“He’s still out west.  A mountain man or some such,” Grant said.  “A noble occupation, but one that does not seem suited to having a family.  Now, while farming would seem to favor family life, it didn’t for me.  Each time it seemed as if things would work, that the crop would come in, I’m afraid nature saw it differently.  A flood.  A late frost in the spring.  An early frost in the fall.  Mother Nature is most unforgiving.”

They turned a corner and the courthouse loomed ahead.  Longstreet eyed it nervously.  “An appointment with the law?”

Grant laughed.  “Yes, but don’t worry, Pete.  I’ve broken no laws.  A matter I need to resolve.”

They took the steps and entered.  Grant wove his way through the crowded hallways and entered a room where a harried clerk was shuffling papers.

“Sir, I am Ulysses Grant.  We have an appointment.”

The clerk flipped through one of the many stacks on his desk.  “Yes, yes.  I’ve got it right here.”  He looked Grant up and down, not impressed, but then saw Longstreet.  “Is this your witness?”

“He is,” Grant said.

“What am I witnessing?” A bemused Longstreet asked.

“I have a slave.”

“Just one?” Longstreet asked.  “My relations, the Dents, certainly have many more than one and must have bestowed more than one on Julia.”

“They did to Julia, but they bestowed one on me,” Grant said.

“Did he run away?” Longstreet asked.

“Gentlemen?” The clerk interrupted.  “Can we get this done?”  He shoved the piece of paper across his desk and pointed at the pen resting next to the ink well.

Grant took the pin, dipped it, then signed.  Then he offered the pen to Longstreet.  The officer leaned over the desk, pen in hand, but paused when he saw the wording.  “You’re freeing your slave?”

“Certainly,” Grant said.

“But . . .” Longstreet grasped for words.  “Sam, an able-bodied slave can fetch over a thousand dollars on the St. Louis market.”

“I’m aware of the market,” Grant said.  “It’s my decision.”  He said the latter with such finality, that Longstreet remembered Mexico and West Point and knew the matter was no longer to be discussed.  He signed.

The clerk took the paper, shook it to dry the ink, then stamped the document.  “Your property is now a freedman.”

Grant turned to Longstreet.  “Thank you, Pete.”

Longstreet took the hand.  “I’ve got to get back to Jefferson Barracks, but perhaps you could come out and visit?”

Grant smiled sadly.  “Not for a while.  But I’m sure we’ll meet again.”

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

Did you know Ulysses S. Grant wasn’t his real name?

Here is another excerpt from Duty, Honor, Country that explains that fact:

Winter greeted the first day of 1841 by howling off the Hudson River and screaming among the leafless trees on the high bluffs. Inside the Academy stable, three cadets, bundled against the cold, fumbled with frozen fingers to gear up their horses.  York was still the pride of the stables and Grant still the only one to master the Hell Beast.  In adjoining stalls, Elijah Cord and Pete Longstreet worked on preparing more amendable mounts in complete silence.

Sam had been born Hiram Ulysses Grant, but was now stuck with Ulysses S. Grant.  The congressman from Ohio who had given Grant his appointment to West Point had gotten the name wrong on the paperwork he sent the Academy.  In the military once a piece of paper changes your name, the name is changed. So it was written and so it would be, despite all Grant’s efforts to right the mistake.

Grant and Longstreet had the Superintendent’s blessings to depart post on this particular day and for this particular mission. Cord, as always, was on restriction, but for the first time since the incident at Benny Havens half a year ago, he was going to break the rules once more.  The months since his beating and Silencing by the Corps had been sufficient time for his wounds to heal and for the effect of the Silence to settle in.  As his body grew stronger, his spirit grew weaker.

Longstreet would be Grant’s best man at his wedding.  They served together in the Mexican War, Grant in the 4th Infantry and Longstreet in the 8th Infantry and both are in battle scenes from the book, which starts in 1840 at West Point, goes through the Mexican War, and into the Civil War and ends at Shiloh.  It’s the first book in what’s going to be a long series about West Pointers and the Civil War and on into the Plains Wars.  Grant and Longstreet would meet again in the Civil War, but on opposing sides, an issue that is at the core of Duty, Honor, Country.

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:  Did you know Ulysses S. Grant was a horse whisperer?

Duty, Honor, Country

12 April 2011 is the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.  The official start, when Fort Sumter was fired upon.  It ‘s also the date my first book on the Civil War:  DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY, will be published.

However, the seeds of the Civil War were planted well before 12 April 1861, with the founding of the country.  Our story, though, starts in 1840, in Benny Havens tavern, just outside post limits of the United States Military Academy.  With William Tecumseh Sherman, a classmate, a plebe, and Benny Havens’ daughter coming together in a crucible of honor and loyalty.   And on post, in the West Point stables, where Ulysses S. Grant and a classmate are preparing to saddle the Hell-Beast, a horse with which Grant would eventually set an academy record, and both make fateful decisions that will change the course of their lives and history.

The key to this series is a simple fact I had to memorize as a plebe at West Point:

Who commanded the major battles of the Civil War? —— There were 60 important battles of the War. In 55 of them, graduates commanded on both sides; in the remaining 5, a graduate commanded one of the opposing sides.

That struck me as utterly fascinating and disturbing on a core level.  After all, how did men who went to the same Academy, who swore the same oath of allegiance, end up fighting each other?  In addition, it made me wonder if perhaps the war lasted so long and was the bloodiest in our history until World War II, because the leaders on both sides had all been trained in the same place?

So I decided to take a handful of fictional character and insert them into history, to rub elbows with those who would become great and those who would become infamous.  And have them live through events, both epic and personal.

The story ranges from West Point; to a plantation in Natchez, the richest city in the United States where cotton was king; to the only mutiny in the United States Navy; to St.  Louis where Kit Carson is preparing to depart on a famous expedition to the west with Fremont that would eventually bring California into the Union; to Mexico, where the United States Army suffered its highest casualty rate to this day and brought most of the western United States into the Union; to the founding of the Naval Academy; to John Brown’s hanging; to the firing on Fort Sumter; through First Bull  Run; the first battle of ironclads, the Monitor and Virginia; and culminating in the epic battle of Shiloh, where the United States had more casualties in one battle than in all previous wars combined and the face of warfare changed forever.

And that’s leaving out many more events that arc the story.  My handful of fictional characters are swept up by the tide of history and their factual contemporaries, and sometimes are more than swept up as they are the significant unknowns, the people who changed history but weren’t recorded by it.

This is history told both epic and personal so we can understand intellectually what happened, but more importantly feel the heart-wrenching struggle of duty, honor, country and loyalty coming into collision.

This first book will be followed by more books, taking our characters through the Civil War and beyond, into the Plains Wars and further.

As they say at West Point:  Much of the history we teach, was made by people we taught.

Coming 12 April 2011.

I hope you enjoy!

Bob Mayer

USMA ‘81

Infantry and U.S. Special Forces

PS:  If you want to read my latest novel, about a modern day West Point graduate, coming out of a covert unit and serving as a Federal liaison to a local police department who gets involved in a murder and counter-terrorist operation, check out Chasing The Ghost in eBook (only. 99) or print.

And, coming on the 4th of July, 185 years to the date after his death, The Jefferson Allegiance, a modern thriller where the pieces of the Jefferson Cipher must be found to found and put together to uncover the the Jefferson Allegiance, a document from the Founding Fathers, that in the wrong hands, could destroy the country.