‘QUIET, SHY’ Historians say U.S. Grant learned from Vicksburg

Published 11:32 am Friday, October 19, 2012

Ulysses S. Grant’s time in Vicksburg during and after the 1863 siege paved the way for military success and venture into the White House, historians said Thursday during a lecture on Grant and his relationship with Abraham Lincoln.

Grant was a quiet, shy man who hated speaking in public and lacked self-confidence, but wrote prolifically, said Dr. John Marszalek, executive director of the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library at Mississippi State University. Because he so rarely spoke in public, rumors, such as that he was a heavy drinker, circulated during his lifetime and exist in popular lore, Marszalek said.

“There’s a tremendous amount of mythology about U.S. Grant,” Marszalek said.

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Grant’s writing helped him first establish a rapport with Lincoln during the Siege of Vicksburg when he disobeyed the proper military chain of command and forwarded a letter from William T. Sherman directly to the president, said Dr. Mike Ballard, an archivist at Mississippi State who has written extensively about Grant.

“Lincoln and Grant had no direct contact until after Grant captured Vicksburg,” Ballard said.

After the siege, Lincoln wrote Grant a folksy apologetic letter saying that he had misjudged Grant’s plan to take Vicksburg and thought that it would be a failure, Ballard said. The two continued to exchange letters as Grant planned to invade Mobile before Lincoln dashed the plans

“Grant was still here while this affiliation with Lincoln was evolving,” Ballard said.

Though they developed an understanding with each other while Grant was still in the field, the two did not meet until March 8, 1864, partially because Grant wanted to stay far away from Washington, D.C., said retired Brig. Gen. Parker Hills, chairman of the Mississippi Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission.

“Soldiers don’t like to be around politicians. … Grant found out the hard way that it’s a whole lot easier being a soldier than a politician,” Hills said.

Grant also used Vicksburg as a confidence-booster, said retired Vicksburg National Military Park historian Terry Winschel. Before the siege, Grant tried unsuccessfully for months to reach the Vicksburg area. His top two advisers recommended that he invade Mississippi from Memphis rather than Louisiana, Winschel said. For Grant, turning back to Memphis meant failure, Winschel said.

“Grant never wanted to admit failure,” Winschel said