During the early years of the Civil War someone tauntingly asked Mr. Charles Francis Adams, the United States Minister to England, what he thought of the brilliant victories which the confederate armies were then gaining in the field. "I think they have been won by my fellow countrymen," was the quiet answer.
Almost half a century has passed since that reproof was uttered, but its full force is only just beginning to be understood. For nearly fifty years the story of the Civil War has been twisted to suit local pride or prejudice in various parts of the Union, with the result that much which passes for American history is not history at all, and whatever else it may be, it is certainly not American.
Assuredly, the day has now arrived when such historical "make-believes" should be discountenanced, both in the North and in the South. Americans of the present and the coming generations are entitled to take a common pride in whatever lent nobility to the fraternal strife of the sixties, and to gather equal inspiration from every achievement that reflected credit on American manhood during those years when the existence of the Union was at stake. Until this is rendered possible by the elimination of error and falsehood, the sacrifices of the Civil War will, to a large extent, have been endured in vain.
In some respects this result has already been realized. Lincoln is no longer a local hero. He is a national heritage. To distort or belittle the characters of other men who strove to the end that their land "might have a new birth of freedom," is to deprive the younger generations of part of their birthright. They are entitled to the facts from which to form a just estimate of the lives of all such men, regardless of uniforms.
It is in this spirit that the strangely interwoven trials of Grant and Lee are followed in these pages. Both were Americans, and widely as they differed in opinions, tastes and sympathies, each exhibited qualities of mind and character which should appeal to all their fellow countrymen and make them proud of the land that gave them birth. Neither man, in his life, posed before the public as a hero, and the writer has made no attempt to place either of them on a pedestal. Theirs is a very human story, requiring neither color nor concealment, but illustrating a high development of those traits that make for manhood and national greatness.
The writer hereby acknowledges his indebtedness to all those historians whose scholarly research has made it possible to trace the careers of these two great commanders with confidence in the accuracy of the facts presented. Where equally high authorities have differed he has been guided by those who, in his judgment, have displayed the most scrupulous impartiality, and wherever possible he has availed himself of official records and documents.
The generous service rendered by Mr. Samuel Palmer Griffin in testing the vast record upon which these pages are based, his exhaustive research and scientific analysis of the facts, have given whatever of authority may be claimed for the text, and of this the writer hereby makes grateful acknowledgment. To Mr. Arthur Becher he is likewise indebted for his careful studies at West Point and elsewhere which have resulted in illustrations conforming to history.
Frederick Trevor Hill.
New York, September, 1911.