John B. Gordon on General Grant

When Ulysses S. Grant was dying from cancer, he made this prediction in the concluding paragraphs of his brilliant Personal Memoirs:

I cannot stay to be a living witness to the correctness of this prophecy; but I feel it within me that it is to be so. The universally kind feeling expressed for me at a time when it was supposed that each day would prove my last, seemed to me the beginning of the answer to “Let us have peace.”

The expression of these kindly feelings were not restricted to a section of the country, nor to a division of the people. They came from individual citizens of all nationalities; from all denominations—the Protestant, the Catholic, and the Jew; and from the various societies of the land—scientific, educational, religious or otherwise. Politics did not enter into the matter at all.

I am not egotist enough to suppose all this significance should be given because I was the object of it. But the war between the States was a very bloody and a very costly war. One side or the other had to yield principles they deemed dearer than life before it could be brought to an end. I commanded the whole of the mighty host engaged on the victorious side. I was, no matter whether deservedly so or not, a representative of that side of the controversy. It is a significant and gratifying fact that Confederates should have joined heartily in this spontaneous move. I hope the good feeling inaugurated may continue to the end.

The prediction came true as the whole nation soon mourned his passing and former Union and Confederate generals rode together in Grant’s funeral procession.

I have always been struck by these words of John B. Gordon, former commander of the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, after Grant died:

“And the repeated manifestations of General Grant’s truly great qualities–his innate modesty, his freedom from every trace of vain-glory or ostentation, his magnanimity in victory, his genuine sympathy for his brave and sensitive foemen, and his inflexible resolve to protect paroled Confederates against any assault, and vindicate, at whatever cost, the sanctity of his pledge to the van-quished-will give him a place in history no less renowned and more to be envied than that secured by his triumphs as a soldier or his honors as a civilian. The Christian invocation which came from his dying lips, on Mount McGregor, summoning the spirit of peace and unity and equality for all of his countrymen, made a fitting close to the life of this illustrious American. Scarcely less prominent in American annals than the record of these two lives, should stand a catalogue of the thrilling incidents which illustrate the nobler phase of soldier life so inadequately described in these reminiscences. The unseemly things which occurred in the great conflict between the States should be forgotten, or at least forgiven, and no longer permitted to disturb complete harmony between North and South. American youth in all sections should be taught to hold in perpetual remembrance all that was great and good on both sides; to comprehend the inherited convictions for which saintly women suffered and patriotic men died; to recognize the unparalleled carnage as proof of unrivalled courage; to appreciate the singular absence of personal animosity and the frequent manifestation between those brave antagonists of a good-fellowship such as had never before been witnessed between hostile armies. It will be a glorious day for our country when all the children within its borders shall learn that the four years of fratricidal war between the North and the South was waged by neither with criminal or unworthy intent, but by both to protect what they conceived to be threatened rights and imperilled liberty; that the issues which divided the sections were born when the Republic was born, and were forever buried in an ocean of fraternal blood. We shall then see that, under God’s providence, every sheet of flame from the blazing rifles of the contending armies, every whizzing shell that tore through the forests at Shiloh and Chancellorsville, every cannon-shot that shook Chickamauga’s hills or thundered around the heights of Gettysburg, and all the blood and the tears that were shed are yet to become contributions for the upbuilding of American manhood and for the future defence of American freedom. The Christian Church received its baptism of pentecostal power as it emerged from the shadows of Calvary, and went forth to its world-wide work with greater unity and a diviner purpose. So the Republic, rising from its baptism of blood with a national life more robust, a national union more complete, and a national influence ever widening, shall go forever forward in its benign mission to humanity.”

Union victory in the Civil War was no miracle considering the disparity in manpower, industry and wealth between it and the Confederacy.  What was the miracle is that the Civil War did not become merely the first in a cycle of civil wars between North and South.  All Americans owe a debt of gratitude to men like Grant and Gordon who ensured that the Civil War was merely an unusual event in our history and not the sad prelude to unending strife.  Something to remember in the divisive times we currently are living in.

Published in: on January 20, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on John B. Gordon on General Grant  
Tags: , ,
%d bloggers like this: