The very telegram handed by telegraph chief Eckert to Lincoln himself; Grant anxiously seeks news of Lincoln’s 1864 reelection results, and Lincoln himself provides it
Grant’s telegram: “Will you please send me the election news so far as heard. U.S. Grant, Lt. Gen.” Lincoln’s response: “Sec. of War not being in, I answer yours about election—Pennsylvania very close, and still in doubt on home vote—Ohio largely for us, with all the members of Congress but two or...
Grant’s telegram: “Will you please send me the election news so far as heard. U.S. Grant, Lt. Gen.” Lincoln’s response: “Sec. of War not being in, I answer yours about election—Pennsylvania very close, and still in doubt on home vote—Ohio largely for us, with all the members of Congress but two or three—Indiana largely for us—Governor, it is said by 15,000; and 8 of the eleven Members of congress—Send us what you may know of your army vote.”
Grant, as he said, was not originally a “Lincoln man”. But he was a fighting general who came to Lincoln’s attention in 1862. “Many Union generals temporized and put off battles until their troops were better trained and equipped,” says Grant biographer Ron Chernow. “Grant recognized that such delays would benefit equally his Confederate opponents and preferred to strike quickly and capitalize on the element of surprise even when his troops weren’t perfectly ready.”
President Lincoln had faith in Ulysses S. Grant when few people did. In the spring of 1862, there were many calls for the replacement of Grant. In the spring of 1863, Senator Benjamin Wade came to see the President and insisted that the American people demanded that he dismiss Grant because the campaign to take Vicksburg had bogged down. Mr. Lincoln later said: “To show to what extent this sentiment prevails, even [Congressman Elihu] Washburne, who has always claimed Grant as his by right of discovery, has deserted him, and demands his removal; and I really believe I am the only friend Grant has left. Grant advises me that he will take Vicksburg by the Fourth of July, and I believe he will do it; and he shall have the chance.
With his capture of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, Grant seized the Confederacy’s last bastion on the Mississippi River. After Grant’s subsequent capture of Chattanooga and Knoxville, Lincoln began hearing calls to give the general command of all Union forces. Lincoln agreed and elevated him in March 1864 to the position of lieutenant general, a rank previously held only by George Washington and Winfield Scott. Grant came to Washington, DC, to receive his new commission personally from the President. Grant recalled that Lincoln told him at their first encounter that “all he wanted or had ever wanted was someone who would take the responsibility and act.”
The President regularly showered his praise and gratitude on General Grant, even before they met. He wrote Grant in December 1863: “Understanding that your lodgment at Knoxville and at Chattanooga is now secure, I wish to tender you, and all under your command, my more than thanks, my profoundest gratitude for the skill, courage, and perseverance with which you and they, over so great difficulties, have effected that important object. God bless you all.” By now between President Lincoln and General Grant was a mutual appreciation society.
Once installed as the commanding general of the Union armies, President Lincoln’s confidence in Grant was evidenced by his failure to demand his plans: “The particulars of your plan I neither know nor seek to know. You are vigilant and self-reliant; and, pleased with this, I wish not to obtrude any restraints or constraints upon you.”
Just months before the 1864 presidential election Lincoln told Grant, “Hold on with a bulldog grip, and chew and choke as much as possible.” These determined words of advice were given as reassurance and approval of his costly plans for defeat of the Confederate army. Grant wrote, “No general could want better backing, for the President was a man of great wisdom and moderation.” When he decided to pursue Lee’s army after brutal losses in the Battle of the Wilderness, Grant dispatched a New York Tribune reporter with a message for Lincoln. “He told me I was to tell you, Mr. President, that there will be no turning back,” the correspondent reported. Thrilled to finally have a general he believed was taking the fight to the enemy, Lincoln kissed the reporter. So we see that Grant saw in Lincoln a man who would give him unstinting support, and Lincoln saw in Grant a man who would fight through to victory. They were a team – the team that would win the Civil War.
But in the late summer of 1864 all eyes were on the upcoming election. The Confederacy was very interested in the outcome of the presidential election, and saw in it a golden opportunity. As Grant wrote to one of his commanders in August of 1864, the Confederates also had a preferred candidate – Democrat George B. McClellan: “The rebellion is now fed by the bickering and differences North. The hope of a counter-revolution over the draft or the Presidential election keeps them together. Then too, they hope for a Peace candidate who would let them go. A ‘peace at any price’ is fearful to contemplate.” In August of 1864, Lincoln’s political insiders advised him that his reelection was in jeopardy. Republican leader Thurlow Weed wrote to Secretary of State William Seward, “I have told Mr. Lincoln that his re-election was an impossibility.”
But soon war prospects brightened and Sherman took Atlanta. Both Lincoln and Grant now saw a chance for the President to be reelected. Back then, state elections were often held in October and presidential elections in November. Thus, the October elections were often a harbinger of the November ones, and the party that swept the October elections could virtually count on winning the presidential contest. On October 12, 1864, the day after the state polling, Grant anxiously telegraphed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton at the War Department: “Will you please send me the election news so far as heard. U.S. Grant, Lt. Gen.” The telegram was received at 4:55 p.m. at the War Department and made its way up channels until it reached the head the the U.S. Telegraph Service, Thomas Eckert. Eckert himself penciled in the time he received it – 5:20 pm. Lincoln was often at the War Department telegraph office and on close terms with Eckert. Eckert handed him the telegram. This is that very received telegram, from Grant, in the hand of the receiving clerk at the telegraph office, with Eckert’s addition, as handed to President Lincoln.
According to “The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln”, the same day, Lincoln responded by telegraph to Grant. “Sec. of War not being in, I answer yours about election—Pennsylvania very close, and still in doubt on home vote—Ohio largely for us, with all the members of Congress but two or three—Indiana largely for us—Governor, it is said by 15,000; and 8 of the eleven Members of congress—Send us what you may know of your army vote.” Thus, Lincoln answers Grant, while asking him for information as well.
This is our first telegram of Grant answered by President Lincoln.
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