February 16, 1862: Grant Earns a New Nick Name


Fate has a way of picking unlikely material,
Greasy-haired second lieutenants of French artillery,
And bald-headed, dubious, Roman rake-politicians.
Her stiff hands were busy now with an odd piece of wood,
Sometime Westpointer, by accident more than choice,
Sometime brevet-captain in the old Fourth Infantry,
Mentioned in Mexican orders for gallant service
And, six years later, forced to resign from the Army
Without enough money to pay for a stateroom home.
Turned farmer on Hardscrabble Farm, turned bill-collector,
Turned clerk in the country-store that his brothers ran,
The eldest-born of the lot, but the family-failure,
Unloading frozen hides from a farmer’s sleigh
With stoop-shouldered strength, whittling beside the stove,
And now and then turning to whiskey to take the sting
From winter and certain memories.
It didn’t take much.
A glass or two would thicken the dogged tongue
And flush the fair skin beneath the ragged brown beard.
Poor and shabby–old “Cap” Grant of Galena,
Who should have amounted to something but hadn’t so far
Though he worked hard and was honest.
A middle-aged clerk,
A stumpy, mute man in a faded army overcoat,
Who wrote the War Department after Fort Sumter,
Offering them such service as he could give
And saying he thought that he was fit to command
As much as a regiment, but getting no answer.

So many letters come to a War Department,
One can hardly bother the clerks to answer them all–
Then a Volunteer colonel, drilling recruits with a stick,
A red bandanna instead of an officer’s sash;
A brigadier-general, one of thirty-seven,
Snubbed by Halleck and slighted by fussy Frémont;
And then the frozen February gale
Over Fort Henry and Fort Donelson,
The gunboats on the cold river–the brief siege–
“Unconditional surrender”–and the newspapers.

John Brown’s Body, Stephen Vincent Benet




Born Hiram Ulysses Grant, Grant rarely used his first name.  His family called him Ulysses, or more commonly “Ulyss”.  At West Point he attempted to switch his first and middle name around so that he would not spend the next four years being referred to as Hug by his fellow cadets.  However, the appointment to West Point had been made in the name of Ulysses Simpson Grant, Simpson being the maiden name of his mother, which somehow, through an alchemy only known to the Army bureaucracy, had been transformed into his middle name.  Grant, recognizing the futility of attempting to correct the record, simply took his new “official” name as his own.

Demonstrating that his fears about being called Hug had been well-founded, his fellow cadets promptly named him Uncle Sam, after his first two new intials.  This was quickly shortened to Sam, the name Grant was always known by in the pre-Civil War army.

On February 16, 1862, Grant’s insistence on unconditional surrender, quickly caused a new name to be given him throughout the North:  unconditional surrender Grant.  It should be noted that although he and the confederate commander, General Simon Bolivar Buckner, had a terse correspondence leading up to the surrender, Grant and Buckner were good friends, with Grant offering to lend him money and set him free.  Buckner declined the offers, going into captivity with his 12,000 men until they were exchanged.  Here is the correspondence which caused Grant’s name to ring throughout the North:

HEADQUARTERS, Fort Donelson February 16, 1862.

Brig. Gen. U.S. GRANT, Commanding U.S. Forces near Fort Donelson.

SIR: In consideration of all the circumstances governing the present situation of affairs at this station I propose to the commanding officers of the Federal forces the appointment of commissioners to agree upon terms of capitulation of the forces and post under my command, and in that view suggest an armistice until 12 o’clock to-day.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant, S. B. BUCKNER, Brigadier-General, C. S. Army.



HEADQUARTERS, Fort Donelson February 16, 1862

        Major Cosby will take or send by an officer to the nearest picket of the enemy the accompanying communication to General Grant, and request information of the point where future communications will reach him. Also inform him that my headquarters will be for the present in Dover.

S. B. BUCKNER, Brigadier. General.


Have the white flag hoisted on Fort Donelson, not on the batteries.

S. B. BUCKNER, Brigadier-General.



HEADQUARTERS ARMY IN THE FIELD Camp near Fort Donelson February 16, 1862.

General S. B. BUCKNER, Confederate Army.

        SIR: Yours of this date, proposing armistice and appointment of commissioners to settle terms of capitulation, is just received. No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant, U.S. GRANT, Brigadier-General, Commanding.



HEADQUARTERS, Dover, Tenn. February 16, 1862.

Brig. Gen. U.S. GRANT, U.S. A.

        SIR: The distribution of the forces under my command incident to an unexpected change of commanders and the overwhelming force under your command compel me, notwithstanding the brilliant success of the Confederate arms yesterday, to accept the ungenerous and unchivalrous terms which you propose.

I am, sir, your very obedient servant, S. B. BUCKNER, Brigadier. General, C. S. Army.


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