I just finished reading an edited version of “Conversations with General Grant,” a book written by John Russell Young of the “New York Herald” based on their talks during Grant’s post-presidency world tour in 1877-9. I had read excerpts before, some of which I used in my biography of Jacob Cox, but this edition contained many revealing — not to say astounding — thoughts from the 18th president.
- He says he wasn’t concerned about England and/or France recognizing the Confederacy, not only because the war would have gone on anyway — leading to a Union victory — and because it “would have meant the withdrawal of England from the American continent. Canada would have become ours. If Sheridan, for instance, with our resources, could not have taken Canada in thirty days, he should have been cashiered.”
- Speaking of Stonewall Jackson, he said that at West Point, “some of us regarded him as a fanatic. Sometimes his religion took strange forms – hypochondria – fancies that an evil spirit had taken possession of him.” Noting that Jackson’s early victories had been over mediocrities, “if he had attempted on Sheridan the tactics he attempted so successfully upon others, he would not only have been beaten, but destroyed.”
- He said, “Lee, of course, was a good soldier, and so was Longstreet…I do not know that there was any better than Joe Johnston…he gave me more anxiety than any of the others.”
- Noting his disappointment that the South had remained bitter about the war, Grant said, “looking back, over whole policy of Reconstruction, it seems to me that the wisest thing would have been to have continued for some time the military rule…it would have been just to all, to the negro who wanted freedom, the white man who wanted protection, the Northern man who wanted Union.” Instead, blacks got the vote, but as a result, “we have given the old slaveholders forty votes in the electoral college. They keep those votes, but disfranchise the negroes. That is one of the gravest mistakes in the policy of reconstruction.” He added that while this looked like a political triumph for the South, “it is not. The Southern people have nothing to dread more than the political triumph of the men who led them into secession. That triumph was fatal to them in 1860. It would be no less now.”