Tag Archives: Slavery

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.



Civil War Comes To West Point

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

“Cadets!” Master of the Horse Rumble snapped as he took the familiar spot on the floor of the riding hall.  “Assemble, in-line, one rank.”

The cadets of the class of 1862 scrambled out of the stands and fell in to the left and right of Rumble.

When all were in place, Rumble issued his second order. “Cadet George Armstrong Custer, front and center.”

With a self-confident grin, Custer stepped out of the ranks and double-timed to a spot just in front of Rumble. Custer was just shy of six feet, broad shouldered and athletic.  He had blue eyes and golden hair that lay on his head in a tumble of curling locks.  The word circulating in Benny Havens was that Custer was quite the lady’s man off-post.  The word circulating in the Academy was that Custer was not quite the academic man, the Immortal in every section, overall ranking last in his class and lingering very close to being boarded out.  In some ways, Custer reminded Rumble of Cord, but there was a dark edge to Custer that disturbed Rumble.

“Double-time to the stables, Mister Custer, and bridle your horse.” Rumble made a show of looking at his pocket watch.  “You have three minutes.”

Custer dashed off.

“Cadets, at ease,” Rumble ordered.

An instant buzz of excited conversation filled the riding hall. War was in the air.  And not just war, but Civil War.  Many southern cadets had already left the Academy, the first as early as the previous November, when a South Carolinian had departed, in anticipation of his state’s secession.  He was followed by all the rest of the cadets from South Carolina, three Mississippians and two Alabamians.

The divide touched the highest ranks of the Academy as the Superintendent appointed back in January, G. T. Beauregard, had lasted only five days before being relieved for his southern sympathies after advising a southern cadet who sought consul on whether to resign: “Watch me; and when I jump, you jump.  What’s the use of jumping too soon?”  With his departure, old Delafield resumed the post for several months before a permanent replacement was appointed.  Delafield was still on post, awaiting his next assignment.

The overwhelming feeling in the press was that most of the Academy was pro-slavery. But that was only to those outside of the gray walls.  Rumble knew the cadets better than they knew themselves and it was more the fact that the southerners who remained were the loudest and most outspoken, airing their opinions freely and to anyone who would listen.  The northern cadets had some sympathy for the plight of their southern brethren, but that sympathy had not been put to the test.  There was a sullenness and brooding among the Northerners that few could interpret.

Behind Rumble, seated in the corner of the stands, writing in a leather journal, was Ben, now a young man of twenty. He’d grown with a spurt when he was sixteen, and was now two inches shy of six feet, but as slender as Grant had been as a cadet and Rumble feared his son would never fill out.  Ben had his mother’s face, soft, freckled and open.  His most distinguishing feature was his bright red hair.  He could be recognized all the way across the Plain from that alone.

This was his first trip back to West Point since Rumble had maneuvered his son’s dismissal from the Corps and his entry into college in Maine. The few days had not been enough to thaw the chill between the two and Rumble had little idea where his son’s feelings lay or what his thoughts were.  But he had kept his promise to Lidia and saved his son from four years of hell and that was enough for now.

Custer came galloping back into the riding hall with a flourish.  He urged the large horse toward the far end of the hall. Despite it’s size, the horse was no York, at least a hand smaller than the long-deceased legend of the riding hall,

“Cadets,” Rumble cried out.  “Attention!”

The line snapped to.  Rumble called out the names of two cadets to take the center position. He noticed out of the corner of his eye that Delafield, his hair whiter than ever, had entered the hall.

“Gentlemen, hold in place, wings forward to observe,” Rumble commanded.

Using the two cadets as anchor, the lines on either side moved forward until all could see the two men in the center.

Custer reached the far end of the hall and waited.

Rumble turned to the line of cadets and raked his gaze left and right.  He remembered Matamoros and the Mexican line, the steel glinting in the sunlight.  He shivered and focused, once more grateful Ben did not wear the cadet gray.  “Mister Custer, you may—“

A plebe came running into the riding hall, uniform collar unbuttoned, face flush with excitement.  “It’s war!  Fort Sumter has been fired upon!”

Discipline vanished as the remaining southern cadets broke into cheers.

12 April: Confederates fire on Fort Sumter WAR!

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

King was taken aback by his first glimpse of the general whom President Jeff Davis had sent to take command of the South Carolina forces.  Another West Pointer, ‘Little Napoleon’, as King had heard him called in whispers, was newly arrived.  Previous to that, he’d been forced out of the position as Superintendent of West Point when Louisiana seceded.  The rumor circulating the city was that Beauregard had had the audacity to file a mileage reimbursement to the United States government for travel from West Point back to his home in New Orleans, before being ordered by Davis to South Carolina.

It had not been paid.

Beauregard did not look like Robert E. Lee, that was for certain. His skin was olive and smooth.  His eyes had a droopy, sleepy appearance, as if he were either preparing to arise before dawn or retire after a late evening.  His hair was an un-natural black, and if King had been better schooled in the ways of narcissism, he might have realized that Beauregard dyed his hair to match his goatee and thick mustache.  Even here, on the eve of battle there were several ladies of Charleston in attendance on his every word and gesture.

“General?” Chesnut called out.

“Yes, Colonel?” Beauregard turned, uncrossing his arms and placing his left hand on the hilt of his sheathed saber as he slipped his right inside his dress coat, where a button was conveniently unfastened.  King saw the circle of newspapermen writing down every movement the general made and every word he uttered as if it were coming down from the mountain.

“Major Anderson gave me a list of conditions for surrender,” Chesnut said.

“’Conditions’?” Beauregard shook his head. “The major is being unreasonable.  He is in no position to give conditions.”

King stepped forward. “Sir, Major Anderson is delaying.  I believe the Yankee navy is preparing a sortie.  This very night.  My reconnaissance cutter spotted a Federal ship making way to the fort.”

Beauregard frowned.  “Captain . . .?”

“King, sir.  The Yankees are preparing to relieve the fort. They drew off when my cutter discovered them, but I fear they will come again in force this very night.  We must act swiftly.”

Beauregard twisted one end of his mustache. “There is much zeal and energy here, but little professional expertise and knowledge in the art of war.  It is not such an easy matter to take a fortified position.”

Memories of Captain McKenzie and the debacle on the Somers whispered like shadows in King’s brain. “General, we can take Sumter now, easily, or face a pitched battle once the United States Navy moves in.  I taught at the Naval Academy at Annapolis.  With all due respect, sir, while you are certainly a master of land warfare, I know battle on the sea.”

Beauregard looked out at the southern belles, the reporters, the militia, and puffed out his chest to make an announcement. “Negotiations have failed.  I must take action.  I will give Major Anderson notification via the mouth of a cannon.”

Exuberant, wild cheers rose from the crowd. Women threw their arms around the nearest man.  Militia and cadets hurried to prepare their cannon.

King didn’t note the few people who stood forlorn, some with tears in their eyes as the implications struck them differently, including his mother, in the shadow of the house overlooking the Battery that used to be her home. Without realizing it, King took up a vantage point underneath the tree from which his father had hung himself.

4:30 am.  Dawn was not far off.

A single mortar shell from Fort Johnson arced overhead and exploded directly above Fort Sumter. There was an eerie pause, as if the ocean was waiting for what came next.

Forty-three cannon and batteries of mortars from Fort Moultrie, Fort Johnson, the Battery, and Cummings Point let loose in a barrage worthy of the start of a war.

As the first shells smashed into the brick walls of Fort Sumter, the faint sound of cheering floated across the water from the surrounding land as an undertone to the sharper crack of cannon firing.

King stood underneath the magnificent oak tree and watched the opening of the inevitable war.

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.”

Robert E. Lee, Arlington and slavery—there will be war!

More excerpts from Duty, Honor, Country, where my character, Elijah Cord, visits Lee’s mansion, which is now Arlington house at the center of the cemetery that now has the same name. The Unions seized Lee’s plantation during the war and used it for a rather grim reason:  to bury their war dead.

June 1841, Arlington, Virginia

The massive white door swung open and a Negro dressed in fine livery was dwarfed by the opening into Arlington House.  “Sir?”

“I have this,” Cord said, not quite sure of the etiquette.  He held out a sealed envelope.

The servant did not accept it and Cord felt a trickle of sweat slide down his back.  It wasn’t just because it was Northern Virginia in July.  Cord extended his arm further, practically shoving the letter of introduction into the servant’s chest.  Reluctantly, the man took it.  He was old, with close-cropped white hair.  He stared at the envelope as if it might attack him.

The servant looked up.  “Who are you calling on, sir?”

“It’s on the envelope,” Cord said.  “Major Robert E. Lee.”

A voice echoed in the large center hall.  “You must be Cadet Cord.”

The Negro stepped aside and there stood the distinguished member of the class of 1829, who had graduated second in his class of forty-six and with zero demerits, a feat Cord couldn’t manage for one week, never mind four years.  Lee was resplendent in his blue uniform, a red sash around his waist, gold oak leaves indicating his rank of major on the epaulets adorning his shoulders.  It didn’t occur to Cord to ask Lee why he was in uniform while at home, in between assignments.  And if it had occurred, he most certainly would not have asked.  Lee’s hair was long and dark, just beginning to show a touch of gray in the mustache.

He walked up to the door and gestured at the servant.  “You may go.”

“Sir.”  The servant held out the envelope.

“You should know better than that,” Lee admonished the servant as he took it.  Behind Lee, another, younger slave hovered, also dressed in the same well-cut livery.

*****

“What do you think of Texas?” Lee abruptly asked.

“Sir?”

“Annexation,” Lee snapped.

Cord focused.  “It is inevitable.  Texas must be part of the country.”

“It will mean war.”  Lee sounded eager.

“Yes, sir.”

“Texas as a slave or free state?” Lee asked.

Cord glanced at the black man standing five paces away.  “Slave, of course, sir.”

“It has nothing do with slavery, you know,” Lee said

“Of course not, sir,” Cord replied, having no idea what the Major meant.

Slavery is a given condition from God.  When God wishes it to end, it will end.  It is clear God wants Texas to be annexed and to be a slave state since He struck down President Harrison, who opposed both, so quickly after taking office.  And it’s also about the sanctity of the State.  A State must have the right to choose its own course.  Those wise men who wrote the Constitution knew that.”

“I believe Jefferson wrote that slavery was comparable to holding a wolf by the ears,” Cord said before catching himself, “and we can neither continue to hold the wolf, nor safely let it go.  Justice is on one side of the scale and self-preservation on the other.”

Lee’s face tightened.  “For a slave owner, he had some strange thoughts.  What we do is bridle our people of color and keep them in their place.  Neither justice or self-preservation, but rather the natural order of things to be maintained.”

*****

“You may go,” Lee said, dismissing Cord like he was a plebe once more.

Cord headed away, but Lee’s call stopped him.  “I will probably see you somewhere in Mexico in the coming years, Cadet Cord.  I suggest you attend to your martial studies with more diligence.  There will be war.”

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:  Natchez, MS, the richest city in America.  In 1841.