Monday, February 11, 2008

ON THIS DAY: Tuesday, Feb. 11, 1862

A “convocation,” not a council

In a “council of war” aboard the steamboat New Uncle Sam, docked at Fort Henry in northwestern Tennessee, Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant sits and smokes silently, “but never said a word,” one of the generals—Lew Wallace (right)—later recalled of the meeting, called to plan the attack on Fort Donelson. “In all probability he was framing the orders of march which were issued that night,” sniffed Wallace, who considered the meeting “a convocation” and not a traditional council, wherein give-and-take was expected.

If General Wallace—better known today for writing Ben Hur than for his generalship—was put out by what he seemed to think was a sham council of war (to be followed in a few weeks by a serious issue between Wallace and Grant), he nonetheless sketched an accurate word picture of Grant the man. “From the first his silence was remarkable,” Wallace wrote of Grant. “He knew how to keep his temper. In battle, as in camp, he went about quietly, speaking in a conversational tone; yet he appeared to see everything that went on , and was always intent on business.”

The quiet solemnity of this man who seemed impossible to ruffle and yet was a great noticer of everything around him would be remarked upon again and again by others. To Wallace, Grant seemed supremely inner-directed, issuing orders with calm confidence and so little discussion thatt “his aides were little more than messengers.” There would be occasions as the war progressed when Grant would be more consultative, but Wallace’s description of Grant’s appearance would remain unchanged: “In dress he was plain, even negligent; in partial amendment of that his horse was always a good one and well kept.”


At home on furlough in Ohio since February 4, Lt. Col. Rutherford B. Hayes finally emerges to pay a visit in Columbus to visit his brother-in-law. In Washington, President Lincoln listens to a stenographic report of testimony given in the case of Gen. Charles S. Stone of Massachusetts, suspected of treason in connection with the debacle at Balls Bluff last October. Sen. Benjamin F. Wade of Ohio, chairman of the Committee on the Conduct of the War, is one of the bloodhounds dogging General Stone; War Secretary Edwin M. Stanton, also of Ohio, is another. However, most of Lincoln’s day is devoted to his deathly ill son, Willie, and son Tad, now ill as well. The White House reception usually held on Tuesdays is cancelled for this reason.

IT’S COMING SOONER THAN YOU THINK: April 12, 2011—less than 3½ years from now!—will be the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the Civil War. In 1861, April 12 was the day Confederates opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.

Your suggestions, comments, and questions about this blog are always welcome. Address the author:

For more information about the author and his newest book, please go to

No comments: