Ulysses S. Grant’s First Orders After Receiving His Official Commission As General

The very day he received that commission, he directs the militia to seize the assets of local banks to keep them out of Confederate hands

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His instructions: “You will march your men through the Country in an orderly manner. Allow no indiscriminate plundering by your men – but everything taken must be by your direction, by persons detailed for the particular purpose, keeping an account of what taken, from whom, its value &c. Arrests will not be...

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Ulysses S. Grant’s First Orders After Receiving His Official Commission As General

The very day he received that commission, he directs the militia to seize the assets of local banks to keep them out of Confederate hands

His instructions: “You will march your men through the Country in an orderly manner. Allow no indiscriminate plundering by your men – but everything taken must be by your direction, by persons detailed for the particular purpose, keeping an account of what taken, from whom, its value &c. Arrests will not be made except for good reasons.A few leading and prominent secessionists may be carried along however as hostages, and released before arriving here. Property which you may know to have been used for the purpose of aiding the Rebel Cause will be taken whether you require it or not.”

When the Civil War broke out, Grant served temporarily as an aide and mustering officer for Illinois Governor Richard Yates, who eventually gave him command of the 7th Illinois Regiment, which later became the 21st Illinois Volunteers. On June 17, 1861, Grant was commissioned a colonel in the volunteers. He marched his unit to north-central Missouri to guard the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad and search for rebel activity. He remained a colonel until August 7, 1861. In Chapter 19 of his Memoirs, Grant recounted that he was stationed in Missouri when he learned to his surprise that President Lincoln had asked the Illinois congressional delegation for recommendations for brigadier general, and that his name was at the top on their list. Shortly thereafter, due largely to the influence of his advocate, the influential Illinois Congressman Elihu B. Washburne, his appointment was announced. His commission as Brigadier General of Volunteers was announced on August 7, 1861.

However, Grant waited impatiently for his commission to arrive, and on August 25 wrote Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas complaining that it was still not in hand: “No official notice of my appointment has however reached me.” But as a document we carried a few years back proved, no sooner had he sent the letter to Thomas than the commission arrived. It was August 25: he was now a general.

Grant later related that, immediately after he heard of his promotion on August 7, he was ordered to Ironton in southeast Missouri. His command at Ironton lasted ten days – from August 7 to August 17, 1861. Then he was replaced by another general, and Grant, showing the aggressiveness that marked him throughout the war, went to St. Louis to see the Union commander there, General John C. Fremont, to stress that he wanted a more significant command. In that city for just a few days, he was ordered to Jefferson City, Missouri, arriving on August 21. Grant found the situation there in chaos, with Rebel supporters open and vocal and Union supporters disorganized. He was in command at Jefferson City from August 17 to August 28, 1861, and had some success in calming the turbulence. Grant recounted that he was then relieved by Colonel Jefferson C. Davis and ordered to return to St. Louis, without delay, to see Fremont. Upon arrival Fremont told him that he had been selected to spearhead the Union movement down the Mississippi Valley, with the goals of splitting the Confederacy in two and securing Union control of the Mississippi waterway. Thus Grant, who five months earlier had been a store clerk, without fighting a battle or acting in a major command position, had become the designated point man for one of the great strategic movements of the Civil War. His selection for this post ranks with George Marshall’s unexpected choice of Dwight D. Eisenhower to lead Allied forces in Europe in World War II (passing over almost 400 other senior officers to reach Ike). It was a wise choice. Grant quickly reported to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, to begin that work, arriving there on August 30.

On August 20, 1861, during his eleven day stay in Jefferson City, Fremont wrote to Grant. “You are hereby directed to send at once detachments of the forces now stationed at Jefferson City to Lexington, Liberty, and Paris to take possession of the money of the Farmer’s Bank and its branches at those places. The officers commanding the detachments should give proper receipts for the money which is to be forwarded forthwith to this city.” Paris, Mo., is about 60 miles north of Jefferson City; Liberty, Mo., about 127 miles northwest of Jefferson City and about 14 miles northeast of Kansas City. Thus his efforts to suppress the rebels in Missouri and get funds from the bank was the last command Grant had prior to his first major assignment.

Grant fully recalled this action in his Memoirs, where he wrote: “I had been at Jefferson City but a few days when I was directed from department headquarters to fit out an expedition to Lexington, Booneville and Chillicothe, in order to take from the banks in those small cities all the funds they had and send them to St. Louis. The western army had not yet been supplied with transportation. It became necessary therefore to press in to service teams belonging to sympathizers with the rebellion or to hire those of Union men.”

On August 25, as he received his appointment making him officially a general, he gave written orders to effectuate Fremont’s directive. These were his first orders as an official general. Autograph letter signed, “Head Quarters, Jeff. City M[issouri]”, August 25, 1861, to Capt. R.W. Chitwood, in command of the “C. H. Guards” [likely company “C” of the Home Guards, or the Court House Guards], filled with instructions. “Sir: In taking charge of the expedition now about starting out you will follow these instructions. You will march your men through the Country in an orderly manner. Allow no indiscriminate plundering by your men – but everything taken must be by your direction, by persons detailed for the particular purpose, keeping an account of what taken, from whom, its value &c. Arrests will not be made except for good reasons. A few leading and prominent secessionists may be carried along however as hostages, and released before arriving here. Property which you may know to have been used for the purpose of aiding the Rebel Cause will be taken whether you require it or not. What you require for the subsistence of your men and horses must be furnished by people of secession sentiments, and accounted for as stated above. No receipts are to be given unless you find it necessary to get supplies from friends. U.S. Grant Brig Gen. Com.”

Grant gave one more order relating to this mission the next day, and then prepared to leave for Jefferson City and his rendezvous with history.

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