Sherman’s Lovely Little Visit with Grant and Lincoln

March 27, 1865 (Monday)


While the Confederates struggled to figure out just how to escape from Petersburg, across the lines, General Grant had received word that General Sherman was about to visit. That afternoon, the two were reunited.

“Their encounter was more like that of two school-boys coming together after a vacation than the meeting of the chief actors in a great war tragedy,” wrote Horace Porter from Grant’s staff. Porter was witness to the entire visit and supplied numerous stories and frivolity between the generals.

Sherman had but this to say of the arrival:

“I found General Grant, with his family and staff, occupying a pretty group of huts on the bank of James River, overlooking the harbor, which was full of vessels of all classes, both war and merchant, with wharves and warehouses on an extensive scale. The general received me most heartily, and we talked over matters very fully.”

Grant really didn’t mention it at all in his own memoirs. Thankfully, Porter was able to preserve gems such as:

“My old veterans got on pretty familiar terms with me on the march, and often used to keep up a running conversation with me as I rode along by their side. One day a man in the ranks had pulled off his shoes and stockings, and rolled up his trousers as far as they would go, to wade across a creek we had struck. I couldn’t help admiring his magnificently developed limbs, which might have served as models for a sculptor, and I called out to him: ‘A good stout pair of legs you’ve got there, my man.’ ‘Yes, general; they ‘re not bad underpinning,’ he replied, looking down at them with evident pride. ‘I wouldn’t mind exchanging mine for them, if you don’t object,’ I continued. He sized up my legs with his eye, and evidently considered them mere spindle-shanks compared with his, and then looked up at me and said: ‘General if it’s all the same to you, I guess I’d rather not swap.'”

Grant's headquarters at City Point.
Grant’s headquarters at City Point.

And this:

“I was amused at what one of Schofield’s officers told me at Goldsboro. He said Schofield’s army was maintaining a telegraph line to keep up communication with the sea-coast, and that one of my men, who was a little more ‘previous’ than the rest, and was far in advance of my army, was seen up a telegraph-pole hacking away at the wires with a hatchet.

“The officer yelled out to him:’What are you doing there! You’re destroying one of our own telegraph-lines.’ The man cast an indignant look at his questioner, and said, as he continued his work of destruction: ‘I’m one o’ Billy Sherman’s bummers; and the last thing he said to us when we started out on this hunt was: “Be sure and cut all the telegraph-wires you come across, and don’t go to foolin’ away time askin’ who they belong to.'”

This visit was recalled by Sherman:

“He remembered me perfectly, and at once engaged in a most interesting conversation. He was full of curiosity about the many incidents of our great march, which had reached him officially and through the newspapers, and seemed to enjoy very much the more ludicrous parts—about the “ bummers,” and their devices to collect food and forage when the outside world supposed us to be starving; but at the same time he expressed a good deal of anxiety lest some accident might happen to the army in North Carolina during my absence. I explained to him that that army was snug and comfortable, in good camps, at Goldsboro; that it would require some days to collect forage and food for another march; and that General Schofield was fully competent to command it in my absence. Having made a good, long, social visit, we took our leave and returned to General Grant’s quarters, where Mrs. Grant had provided tea.

Today was more of a social call, but the next would be all business.


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