Chapter X. Grant's Difficulties in Securing a Command

The command of the local company was, of course, offered to Grant as soon as it was formed, but he declined, believing himself qualified for somewhat higher rank than a captaincy of volunteers. Nevertheless, he did all he could to prepare the recruits for active service in the field and when they were ordered to Springfield, the capital of Illinois, he journeyed there to see them properly mustered into the service of the state.

Springfield was a hubbub of noise and a rallying point for well-meaning incompetence when he arrived upon the scene. New officers in new uniforms swaggered in every public meeting place, bands of music played martial airs at every street corner and volunteers sky-larked and paraded in all sorts of impossible uniforms and with every form of theatric display. But system and order were absolutely lacking, and the adjutant-general's office, littered with blanks and well-nigh knee deep with papers, was the most helpless spot in the welter of confusion. All the material for a respectable army was at hand, but how to form it into an effective force was more than anyone seemed to know. The mass of military forms and blanks intended for that purpose was mere waste paper in the hands of the amiable but ignorant insurance agent who bore the title of adjutant-general, and no one of the patriotic mob had sufficient knowledge to instruct him in his duties. In the midst of all this hopeless confusion, however, someone suggested that a man by the name of Grant, who had come down with the Galena Company, had been in the army and ought to know about such things. The Governor accordingly sought out "the man from Galena" just as he was starting for his home, with the result that he was soon at a desk in the adjutant's office, filling out the necessary papers at three dollars a day, while the brand new captains, colonels and generals posed in the foreground to the tune of popular applause.

From this time forward order gradually took the place of chaos and the political generals and comic-opera soldiers were slowly shifted from the scene. But scarcely anyone noticed the silent man, hard at work in his shirt sleeves in a corner of the adjutant's room, and such inquiries as were made concerning him elicited the information that he was a cast-off of the regular army, with a dubious reputation for sobriety, who had been hired as a clerk. But the Governor of Illinois was an intelligent man, and he was well aware of the service which the ex-Captain of regulars was performing for the State, and on the completion of his work in the adjutant's office Grant was given a nominal title and assigned to visit the various regiments at their encampments to see that they were properly mustered in. He, accordingly, straightway set to work at this task, and his brisk, business-like manner of handling it made an impression upon those with whom he came in contact, for one of the temporary camps became known as Camp Grant.

Meanwhile, seeing his duties coming to an end without much hope of further employment, he wrote the following letter to the Adjutant-General of the United States Army at Washington:


"Having served for fifteen years in the regular army, including four years at West Point, and feeling it the duty of every one who has been educated at the Government expense to offer their services for the support of that Government, I have the honor, very respectfully, to tender my services until the close of the war in such capacity as may be offered. I would say in view of my present age and length of service, I feel myself competent to command a regiment, if the President, in his judgment, should see fit to entrust one to me. Since the first call of the President I have been serving on the staff of the Governor of this State, rendering such aid as I could in the organization of our State militia, and am still engaged in that capacity. A letter addressed to me at Springfield, Ill., will reach me."

But the authorities at Washington took no notice whatsoever of this modest letter, which was evidently tossed aside and completely forgotten. Indeed, it was so completely buried in the files of the War Department that it disappeared for years and, when it was at last discovered, the war was a thing of the past.

This silent rebuff was enough to discourage any sensitive man and Grant felt it keenly, but he did not entirely despair of accomplishing his end. He tried to gain an interview with General Fremont who was stationed in a neighboring state and, failing in this, sought out McClellan, his comrade in the Mexican War, who had been made a major-general and was then in the vicinity of Covington, Kentucky, where Grant had gone to visit his parents. But McClellan either would not or could not see him. Indeed, he had about reached the conclusion that his quest was hopeless, when he happened to meet a friend who offered to tell the Governor of Ohio that he wished to reenter the army, with the result that before long he was tendered the colonelcy of an Ohio regiment. In the meantime, however, he had unexpectedly received a telegram from the Governor of Illinois, appointing him to the command of the 21st Illinois regiment, and this he had instantly accepted. Had he known the exact circumstances under which this post was offered him, perhaps he might not have acted so promptly, but he knew enough to make him aware that the appointment was not altogether complimentary and it is quite likely that he would have accepted it in any event.

The facts were, however, that the Colonel of the 21st Regiment had proved to be an ignorant and bombastic adventurer, who had appeared before his troops clothed in a ridiculous costume and armed like a pirate king, and there was such dissatisfaction among both the officers and men that a new commander was urgently demanded. Of this Grant already knew something, but he was not advised that the regiment had become so utterly demoralized by its incompetent leader that it was nothing less than a dangerous and unruly mob, of which the Governor could not induce any self-respecting officer to take charge. He had, indeed, offered the command to at least half a dozen other men before he tendered it to Grant, and he must have been intensely relieved to receive his prompt acceptance.

The new Colonel did not wait to procure a new uniform before reporting for duty, but, hastening to the Fair Grounds close to Springfield where his troops were stationed, ordered them to assemble for inspection. But incompetent leadership had played havoc with the discipline of the regiment, and the men shambled from their tents without any attempt at military formation, more from curiosity than in obedience to orders.

The new Colonel stepped to the front, wearing a rusty suit of civilian's clothes, his trousers tucked into his dusty boots, a battered hat on his head, a bandanna handkerchief tied around his waist in place of a sash and carrying a stick in place of a sword. Altogether he presented a most unimpressive figure and it would not have been surprising if a wild guffaw of laughter had greeted him, but the troops, studying his strong, calm face, contented themselves with calling for a speech. Then they waited in silence for his response and they did not have to wait long.

"Men!" he commanded sharply. "Go to your quarters!"

The regiment fairly gasped its astonishment. It had never heard a speech like that before and, taken completely by surprise, it moved quietly from the field.

Sentries were instantly posted, camp limits established and preparations made for enforcing strict discipline. It was not to be supposed that such prompt reforms would pass unchallenged, but arrests followed the first signs of disobedience and punishment swiftly followed the arrests.

"For every minute I'm kept here I'll have an ounce of your blood!" threatened a dangerous offender whom the Colonel had ordered to be tied up.

"Gag that man!" was the quiet response. "And when his time is up I'll cut him loose myself."

Before night, all was quiet in the camp of the 21st Regiment of Illinois Volunteers.

Grant was in command.