The Grand Review turned out to be something so vast, so moving, that its effect overwhelmed even the generals who organized it. The parade was scheduled to step off from the Capitol Building at nine, but the crowds packed the sidewalks soon after sunrise, listening to the whisper in the air of drums beating miles away, as regiments kept marching into the city from their encampments. Everywhere, people positioned themselves at windows and on rooftops to watch, and boys climbed into trees along the route.
It was a beautiful May morning. For the first time since Lincoln’s death five weeks earlier, the flag at the White House was raised from half-mast to the top of the pole. In the crowd stood many thousands who had lost members of their families in the war—mothers and fathers grieving for their sons, sisters remembering their brothers, young widows bringing their children to see the army that their father had joined and from which he had not returned. Along the route stood choirs of schoolgirls dressed in white, who would sing patriotic songs as the soldiers passed. Other young women dressed in white carried woven garlands to present to generals and colonels as they rode at the head of their divisions and brigades and regiments, while thousands of others in the crowd held bouquets that they intended to throw at the soldiers’ feet in tribute as they passed. Many of the spectators carried little American flags, and women had white handkerchiefs in their hands, ready to wave.
Sherman came to the presidential reviewing stand early, along with Ellen, their eight-year-old son Tommy, and Ellen’s father. Thomas Ewing was old and frail now, but he was happy to be back in the city where he had been a major figure and immensely proud of the son-in-law who had never seemed able to make a career for himself. After a time, Julia Grant joined them, bringing her son Jesse, who was seven. Julia and the Shermans sat together, talking as more dignitaries were escorted into this pavilion and the congressional reviewing stand across the avenue. Sherman was his usual animated self but seemed relatively at ease. It was his day to be a spectator as the nation gave thanks and said good-bye to the Army of the Potomac; his moment to ride up to this stand at the head of sixty-five thousand men would come tomorrow. Various members of the cabinet arrived. Presumably Secretary of War Stanton was somewhere among these powerful figures, but there is no account of his encountering Sherman on this first day.
At nine o’clock, the time for the parade to begin, neither President Johnson nor Grant had appeared, but, just as ordered, the signal gun fired from the Capitol. General George Gordon Meade, his horse decorated with chains of flowers placed there by admirers, came riding around the side of the Capitol, which had on its western portico a huge banner that read, “THE ONLY NATIONAL DEBT WE CAN NEVER REPAY IS THE DEBT WE OWE TO THE VICTORIOUS UNION SOLDIERS.” He turned up Pennsylvania Avenue, followed by the officers of his staff, also on horseback and with their sabers drawn. A band marched behind them, playing. Soon after that came the first mounted troopers of a column of cavalry seven miles long. As the crowd caught a glimpse of the first of eighty thousand soldiers from the Army of the Potomac coming toward them, a roar of “Gettysburg! Gettysburg!” swept along the avenue, accompanying Meade and his men as they neared the presidential reviewing stand. When Meade came directly in front of that pavilion, with the president and Grant still not there, everyone in the stands on both sides of the avenue rose and cheered: the justices of the Supreme Court, senators, congressmen, governors, and their families. Meade raised his sword in salute and rode his horse into the White House grounds. As he dismounted to come and sit in a place of honor in the presidential pavilion, President Johnson arrived in a carriage, and Grant and some of his staff appeared, briskly walking through the White House grounds as they came from the War Department. (Neither man ever offered an explanation of this astonishing failure to be on time.) Johnson took his place in the stands, with Grant and Sherman sitting within a few feet of him.
As the cavalrymen clattered past, thousands upon thousands of them, Grant and Sherman began watching the parade intently—two professional officers, less concerned with the history of the occasion than with the identity of the regiments and the performance of the troops. As the generals at the head of each division came up, Grant rose and saluted. The horsemen rode by briskly; there was much that the public probably did not grasp about what passed before them. Here came the Second Massachusetts Cavalry, but men from California had also fought in its ranks. Early in the war, starting with a hundred volunteers known as “the California Hundred,” young men had come east to fight in a cavalry unit that was incorporated into this Massachusetts regiment. In all, 504 men from California had served this regiment, and their survivors were passing Grant and Sherman now, perhaps triggering memories for Grant of the loneliness of his early tour of duty on the West Coast that led to his drinking and forced resignation from the army, and also reminding Sherman and Ellen of Sherman’s time there as an officer and, later, as a banker.
Someone that many in the crowd did indeed recognize was the dashing cavalryman General George Armstrong Caster, who eleven years later would die with the Seventh Cavalry at the hands of the Sioux during the Battle of the Little Big Horn, at a time when Grant was president and Sherman had Grant’s old job as commander of the United States Army. As Custer rode up to the reviewing stand to salute, his foot-long golden locks streaming from under his wide-brimmed officer’s hat, a wreath thrown from the stands landed in front of his horse. The mount wheeled, bolted so swiftly that Custer’s hat blew off, and galloped away with him, causing Sherman to say later, “he was not reviewed at all.” The unintended drama of that moment was followed, during the two hours that it took for the Cavalry Corps to ride past, with thrilling periodic displays by different units of the Horse Artillery. A long interval was allowed to develop in the line of march, and then artillery batteries came speeding down the avenue, the six-horse teams cantering past in a rumble of caissons and cannon that conjured up the scene when the guns had been brought swiftly onto battlefields, to be unlimbered and fired in situations where their timely arrival often saved the day.
As the last of the horsemen passed the reviewing stand and rode into history, some soldiers and civilians alike saw not only them but also the ghosts of those who had once ridden with them. In the 1864 Shenandoah campaign led by Philip Sheridan, who had desperately wanted to lead the Cavalry Corps today but who on Grant’s orders was taking command in Texas, they had suffered losses of 3,917 men.
No sooner had the sound of hooves died away than the infantry came into view. Grant’s aide Horace Porter said that when the long column marched toward the reviewing stand, “Their muskets shone like a wall of steel.” The men of Sherman’s army might be right in thinking that they had no equal as a combined striking force, but coming up Pennsylvania Avenue now were regiments second to none. The Sixty-ninth Pennsylvania, which also had a component of California volunteers, had asked to have that regimental number in tribute to the distinguished fighting record of New York’s “Fighting Sixty-ninth.” There were forty-five battle streamers weighing down its regimental flagstaff as it came up the avenue, signifying that they had fought in that many separate engagements during the past four years, including the Seven Days’, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Spottsylvania Court House, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg, right through to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. As was the case with so many regiments, they had lost nearly as many men from disease as from enemy action; in one unlucky unit, the Fifteenth Maine, assignments to militarily quiet malarial areas in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Florida resulted in a loss of only five men in combat, but 343 died from illness. The Fighting Sixty-ninth itself, marching up Pennsylvania Avenue behind its green banner that had a gold harp and shamrocks embroidered on it, every man with a sprig of green in his cap, was filled with Irishmen from New York City; it had fought in many of the same battles and campaigns as its Pennsylvania namesake, also ending the war at Appomattox. The Scots of the Seventy-ninth New York, “the Highlanders,” who had fought under Sherman’s command at Bull Run and had remained in the Eastern theater, marched past behind the only bagpipe band in the Grand Review.
The sight of these regiments, some shrunken to small numbers and marching behind flags shot through so often that some were only shreds dancing in the breeze, moved many in the crowd to tears. Every few yards, someone, perhaps from the family of a man who died serving in those ranks, would suddenly run out from the sidewalk and kiss what was left of a flag. The bands marched past, playing the great songs—“The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again,” “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, the Boys Are Marching”—and the crowds sang the words, some smiling as they did and some sobbing. Many a soldier found a woman coming out of the crowd to hand him a bouquet, and carried it swinging along in one hand while he kept his musket on his shoulder with the other.
On the reviewing stand, Sherman was making mental notes of what he saw. As he later recalled, when many of Meade’s troops marched past the presidential pavilion, they “turned their eyes around like country gawks to look at the big people on the stand.” The regiments marched well when their own bands were playing, but when they came up to the reviewing stand those bands fell silent, and the music as they passed was provided by two orchestras that had no sense of military cadence—Sherman called them “pampered and well-fed bands that are taught to play the very latest operas.” He decided to dispense with the services of those two orchestras when his army marched the next day. Turning to Meade at one point, Sherman said, “I’m afraid my poor tatterdemalion corps will make a poor appearance tomorrow when contrasted with yours.” When Meade replied that the spectators would make allowances for the appearance of Sherman’s men, Sherman swore to himself that his men would show Washington some marching the public would never forget.
As the hours went by, with three hundred men moving past the reviewing stand every sixty seconds—a spectator called it “a Niagara of men”—here came General Joshua Chamberlain and his division, including the Twentieth Maine. As he rode up the avenue at the head of his troops, he had an ecstatic moment.
Now a girlish form, robed white as her spirit, presses close; modest, yet resolute, fixed on her purpose. She reaches up to me a wreath of rare flowers, close-braided, fit for viking’s arm-ring, or victor’s crown. How could I take it? Sword at the “carry” and left hand tasked, trying to curb my excited horse … He had been thrice shot down under me; he had seen the great surrender. But this unaccustomed vision—he had never seen a woman coming so near before—moved him strangely. Was this the soft death-angel—did he think?—calling us again, as in other days? For as often as she lifted the garland to the level of my hand, he sprang clear … I managed to bring his forefeet close beside her, and dropped my sword-point almost to her feet, with a bow so low I could have touched her cheek. Was it the garland’s breath or hers that floated to my lips? My horse trembled.
Later in the presidential reviewing stand, watching his regiments receive Grant’s salute as they marched by, Chamberlain, like many another soldier that day, saw the living men but felt the ghosts as well. “These were my men … They belonged to me by bonds birth cannot create nor death sever. More were passing here than the personages on the stand could see. But to me so seeing, what a review—how great, how far, how near! It was as the morning of the resurrection … the ten ironhearted regiments that made that terrible charge down the north spur of Little Round Top into the seething furies at its base, and brought back not one-half of its deathless offering … I see in this passing pageant—worn, thin hostages of the mortal.”
The future was there at the review, as well as the past. In the congressional stands sat James A. Garfield, who had fought under Grant at Shiloh and gone on to fight at Chickamauga, before retiring from the army as a brigadier general to run for Congress. Near him was another future president, four-times-wounded Major General Rutherford B. Hayes, who was still in uniform. Waiting to march with their men in Sherman’s army the next day were two more men who would occupy the White House, Brigadier General Benjamin Harrison of Indiana, who had campaigned with Sherman to Atlanta, and William B. McKinley, who had enlisted as an eighteen-year-old private in 1861 and four years later was a major.
The spectators sometimes moved almost as one being. War correspondent Charles A. Page of the New York Tribune, who at Bull Run noted that the same stretchers used to carry wounded men back from the front were quickly loaded with boxes of cartridges and sent forward again, wrote that “when the crowd would surge up to the stand, at any brief interval in the procession, and demand a sight of their favorites, the President would rise, and bow repeatedly, but say never a word. Grant when called for would but rise for an instant, with lifted hat, and if his face told any story at all it was one of shyness and surprise.” As for those the crowd rushed forward to see, “There never was so perfectly happy a set of men as those in the main pavilion—the President and Cabinet, General Grant, and the score or two of distinguished officers. It wasn’t self-complacency, but a sort of calm quiet; a settled peace and gratitude seemed to pervade them all.”
At three-thirty in the afternoon, the last of Meade’s eighty thousand men passed the reviewing stand where Grant and Sherman had been since morning. The spectators poured from the sidewalks into the center of Pennsylvania Avenue, a sea of little American flags and white handkerchiefs waving good-bye to the backs of the last ranks of the Army of the Potomac as they marched into history.
Grant and Sherman parted, and Grant went into the White House grounds and mounted the horse that had been brought there for him. On an impulse, he told an enlisted orderly to mount another horse and come with him, and rode out into the crowd that was slowly dispersing along Pennsylvania Avenue, all talking about what they had seen. Grant on a horse always was an imposing figure, one of the great horsemen of his day. Startled to see him right there, a few feet away, the people cheered as he rode quietly among them, occasionally lifting his hat. Perhaps he too did not want the day to end.
During the first day of the Grand Review, Sherman’s army had moved to new bivouac areas just south of the Long Bridge across the Potomac, and that night Sherman held a meeting with his generals and their adjutants. Sharing his observations of what he had seen from the reviewing stand, he said, “Be careful about your intervals and your tactics. I will give [the troops] plenty of time to go to the Capitol and see everything afterward, but let them keep their eyes fifteen feet to the front and march by in the old customary way.”
These were the kinds of instructions Sherman was giving, with his generals noting what they were to do, but The New York Times had a different idea of what might happen in the morning. Citing the Washington Tribune as its source, the Times said that “it is mentioned in political circles that an influence is organizing among the superior officers of Sherman’s army to demand of President Johnson the removal of Secretary Stanton, for his warfare upon their Commander … There is a public expectation throughout the city of a demonstration of the feeling of the rank and file of Sherman’s army toward the Secretary of War when it shall march past the official stand in front of the White House.” In an example of praise being so faint as to be inaudible, the Times added that, while the actions of Stanton and Halleck might have been “somewhat hasty and ill-advised,” it was to be hoped that Sherman would not “forfeit the respect in which he is held by the great body of the people, and add another to the many proofs already existing, that one may be a great commander without being a wise man.”
Whether Sherman even saw this article is unknown; he and his generals were concentrating on the last march they would make together, and nothing else, and his army finally got to sleep. At first light, a correspondent from The New York World heard bugles blowing, and he described Sherman’s men forming up and following their regimental colors across the river on the Long Bridge: “Directly all sorts of colors, over a wild monotony of columns, began to sway to and fro, up and down, and like the uncoiling of a tremendous python, the Army of Sherman winds into Washington.” The column was fifteen miles long.
Around the Capitol, young women were everywhere, chatting flirtatiously with Sherman’s weather-bronzed soldiers as they pushed roses into the lapels of the men’s uniforms and stuck flowers into the muzzles of their muskets. Numbers of girls had set up tubs of water with blocks of ice in them on street corners and brought cups of cold water for the men to drink as they waited for the parade to start. Everything was fair game for decoration: garlands were attached to the tops of the staffs of regimental battle flags, and horses were draped in flowers, as were cannon. The weather was even better than it had been the day before.
Sherman rode through all this, wearing a clean uniform and with his wiry red hair freshly cut. His men smiled as they saw their Uncle Billy “dressed up after dingy carelessness for years.” His splendid horse, a “shining bay,” was not only perfectly groomed for the occasion but was already covered in flowers put there by young women. For the rest of his life, female admirers would fuss over Sherman—and he loved the attention—but this morning he had just one thing on his mind: he wanted his army to make a good showing. He knew how well his men could fight, but he did not know if they could march well in a massive parade like this, and he was not sure that they cared what Washington thought of them. His officers cared: they were passing along their ranks, saying, “Boys, remember it’s ‘Sherman’ against the ‘Potomac’—the west against the east today.”
Sherman’s orders to his men instructed that the first units of his army were to form “opposite the northern entrance to the Capitol grounds, prepared to wheel into Pennsylvania Avenue at precisely 9 A.M.,” and at the sound of the signal gun Sherman turned up Pennsylvania Avenue on his flower-decked horse. At his side rode Major General O. O. Howard, who had lost his right arm in combat three years before. In a sense, Howard symbolized both the sacrifices of war and the hopes of the peace for which it had been fought: still holding his military rank, just eleven days earlier he had been named to head the Freedmen’s Bureau, the new federal agency formed to protect the interests of the former slaves.
From the outset, Sherman’s march up the avenue conveyed the reality of his army when it was campaigning: a contemporary account said that behind the mounted officers of his staff “was a group of orderlies, mounted servants, pack mules, &c., and behind these a body of cavalry, known as the headquarters guard and escort.” Only after that came a band, playing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” One observer’s first impression of Sherman’s troops, muskets with fixed bayonets on their shoulders, was that these leathery young men, their faces made old by war, were marching along sullenly, but their expressions changed as the successive columns “wheeled” into Pennsylvania Avenue and saw what awaited them. The crowd was larger than the day before; a New York Timesreporter wrote, “The enthusiasm to-day far exceeded that of yesterday.” Many thousands of men from the Army of the Potomac who had marched the day before had come back today on their own, ready to cheer the Army of the West. Two new banners had gone up overnight, stretching across the avenue: the first read in part, “HAIL TO THE HEROES OF THE WEST!” and the second said, “HAIL CHAMPIONS OF BELMONT, DONELSON, SHILOH, VICKSBURG, CHATTANOOGA, ATLANTA, SAVANNAH, BENTONVILLE—PRIDE OF THE NATION.” People in the crowd were holding up babies, so that the infants could one day be told they had seen Sherman’s men. Some of Sherman’s regiments were marching behind bare flagstaffs, because their battle flags had been literally shot away, while other banners were darkened and stained from powder burns and weather. Yesterday the crowds had shouted, “Gettysburg!”; today, the cry of “Vicksburg!” rang along the avenue.
Sherman and his men, so many of them barefoot and in rags, were showing the North the “sea of bayonets” that had recently convinced the residents of Raleigh, North Carolina, that for them the war was over. At the end of large units, ambulances came along, the horses drawing them well groomed and the ambulances clean; the crowds hushed as they saw the rolled-up canvas stretchers on the sides of the ambulances, which had been washed but still had deep brown bloodstains from the wounded men they had carried. Sometimes wild cries came from the crowd, giving voice to feelings that perhaps none understood. Other people “raised their hands to heaven in prayer.” So many flowers were thrown from the sidewalks that barefoot men marched through petals that lay ankle-deep.
Sherman’s progress up Pennsylvania Avenue was literally triumphal: the Times said, “He was vociferously cheered all along the line,” and added, “The greeting of this hero was in the highest degree enthusiastic.” When he rode by, raising his hat in answer to the shouts of admiration and welcome, people jumped up and down to get a better look at him, waving flags and handkerchiefs as they did. One spectator caught up in the crowd felt that “there was something almost fierce in the fever of enthusiasm.” A woman journalist observed “in his eye … the proud, conscious glare of the conqueror, while his features, relieved of the nervous anxious expression of war times, assumed an air of repose which well became him.” Sherman’s soldiers began responding to what Sergeant Upson of the 100th Indiana called “one constant roar,” and Upson noted that his troops marched better and better: “on the faces of the men was what one might call a glory look.”
A young private from Wisconsin was thinking about Abraham Lincoln: if he had been there, this veteran of many battles decided, the units would simply have broken ranks to crowd around him, and the parade would have stopped right then. Even in the midst of the bands playing and the crowds cheering, some houses still bore wreaths of mourning; it was as if Lincoln, the man with the solemn face and the sudden sweet smile, still hovered over the soldiers of whom he asked so much and loved so well.
At the head of his sixty-five thousand men, Sherman had a great deal happening in only a few minutes. As he rode up the incline to the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue where he and the leading division of his army would come to the first two turns before passing the reviewing stand in front of the White House, Sherman gave in to an impulse to look back and see if his soldiers were marching as well as he fervently hoped they were. Underneath the roar of the crowd he had been hearing behind him what a soldier from Minnesota called “one footfall”—a good indication that the men were marching in step—but now, at the top of this little slope, he turned on his horse to see the column of thousands of men that stretched more than a mile behind him down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol. “When I reached the Treasury-building, and looked back, the sight was simply magnificent. The column was compact, and the glittering muskets looked like a solid mass of steel, moving with the regularity of a pendulum.”
Sherman was to say in later years that “I believe it was the happiest and most satisfactory moment of my life,” and it may well have been: he would serve as both commander of the United States Army and as secretary of war, honors would descend upon him, he would remain nationally and internationally famous, and be lionized during the final years of his life in his adopted New York City, but he would always be happiest when he was among his groups of veterans at their frequent reunions in many states, occasions he unfailingly attended.
Coming into Lafayette Square, Sherman rode over to the side of the street toward the front of the house that served as the army’s headquarters for the defense of Washington. Secretary of State Seward, who was still recovering from the knife wounds he received during the attempt to assassinate him, had been brought there to watch the parade. Sherman brought his horse to a halt and “took off my hat to Mr. Seward, who sat at an upper window. He recognized the salute, and returned it.” Finally, as Sherman came to the presidential pavilion and the other grandstands, with the bands striking up “Marching Through Georgia,” the New York World said, “The acclamation given Sherman was without precedent … The whole assemblage raised and waved and shouted as if he had been the personal friend of each of them … Sherman was the idol of the day.” When he entered the pavilion after dismounting from his horse in the White House grounds, everyone was still on his feet to welcome him. Witnesses would differ on whether Secretary of War Stanton extended his hand to Sherman or simply nodded in greeting but, in a historically memorable instance of one person “cutting dead” another, Sherman walked past Stanton as if he were not there. He shook hands with President Johnson and every other member of the cabinet. Then, to loud applause, he and Grant greeted each other warmly.
There it was: the apotheosis of the friendship and military partnership that had brought the Union and its armies to this day. They were the men, the two generals, who more than any other soldiers had made this moment happen, and everyone there knew it. Sitting on either side of Johnson as the Army of the West continued to pass, Grant and Sherman rose and returned salutes whenever it was appropriate, but they seemed to become lost in thought, occasionally saying a few words to each other, and it was others who studied and recorded what the celebrities and the crowd now saw. Journalists remarked on how the Western soldiers were bigger men and marched with longer strides. One reporter reacted this way: “‘Veteran’ was written all over their dark faces, browned by the ardent Southern sun, and health almost spoke from their elastic step and erect figures … They seemed almost like figures from another planet.” Walt Whitman saw them as “largely animal, and handsomely so.” Two New York Times stories vied with each other in praise, one describing the Westerners as “tall, erect, broad-shouldered, stalwart men,” and the other calling them “the most superb material ever molded into soldiers.”
Sherman’s army kept passing, like a torrent controlled only by itself. Someone in the crowd noted that so many garlands were draped on the musicians that the bands as they marched past appeared to be “moving floral gardens.” There were not only the muskets and bayonets and some highly polished brass cannon gleaming in the sun, but also heavy supply wagons and the components for pontoon bridges like those in Meade’s column the day before. Signalmen carried slender staffs sixteen feet high, at the top of which were little emblazoned flags that a New York World reporter likened to “talismanic banners” that might be found in some medieval pageant.
And there was this: marching at the head of each brigade of the Fifteenth Corps, and at some other places in the parade, was “a battalion of black pioneers [engineering troops] … in the garments he wore on the plantation, with shovel and axe on the shoulder, marching with even front, sturdy step and lofty air.” Sherman had not brought these freed slaves into his army as combat soldiers, but he had come to appreciate their strength and skill as they laid the plank roads through the Carolina swamps that Joseph E. Johnston thought Sherman’s army could never pass. In other similar units, a reporter saw “the implements being carried on the shoulders of both white and black soldiers.”
At the end of each of several brigades came some of Sherman’s “bummers,” the independent operating foragers, “first in an advance and last in a retreat”—with examples of their foraging and of the newly freed slave families that had attached themselves to the army as it moved through the South. The crowd reacted to this as if watching a circus parade, and a Times reporter described it this way.
It was a most nonchalant, grotesque spectacle—two very diminutive white donkeys bestrode by two diminutive black contrabands. If that is not paradox, a dozen patient pack mules, mounted with Mexican pack saddles, camp equipage on one side and boxes of hardtack the other; half a dozen contraband females on foot; a dozen contraband males leading the mules; a white soldier or two on horseback, to see that everything was all right; the servants of the mess, and the mess kit, and scattered about on the panniers [cargo baskets] of the mules, reclining very domestically, half a dozen game cocks, a brace of young coons, and a sure-footed goat, all presenting such a scene that brought laughter and cheers from end to end of the avenue.
Here was complex irony again: these black Americans, being treated as figures of fun by the crowd, were no longer slaves because of the sacrifices made by the white men in blue uniforms marching ahead of them, as well as by those made by black regiments. (As many as 180,000 black soldiers served in the Union Army at one time or another; no uniformed contingent of these United States Colored Troops, as they were designated, was included in the parade.)
Julia Grant was greatly enjoying the Grand Review. She was to remember thinking, “How magnificent the marching! What shouts rent the air!” when suddenly she saw Mrs. Herman Canfield. She was the “tall handsome” woman “clad in deepest mourning” who had come to call after Shiloh, to tell of Grant’s kindness to her when she came to see her wounded husband, the colonel of an Ohio regiment, who died before she could reach his hospital bed. The last thing she had said to Julia that day three years before was, “I have determined to devote my time to the wounded soldiers during the war.” Julia saw that she had. “I saw Mrs. Canfield, the soldier’s widow, the soldiers’ nurse, when all this was passing. She, yes, she had grown older in these three long, weary years, for her dark hair showed threads of silver, her fair face and brow were furrowed and browned by exposure, her mourning robes looked worn and faded, as did the flag of her husband’s old regiment as it passed on that glorious day up Pennsylvania Avenue.”
Grant and Sherman continued to return salutes and to greet division commanders who would dismount and sit with them as their regiments passed. This parade was truly a good-bye: most of these tens of thousands of men were marching together for the last time. Their units would be disbanded, some within a few days, and they would return home, honored as veterans but taking up their future lives as individual civilians.
In the midst of this day’s fame and excitement, the future was indeed waiting for Grant, and for Julia, and for Sherman and Ellen. Forty-one months after this parade, Grant would be elected president and serve two terms marred by political scandals caused by men who betrayed the governmental trust he reposed in them. Historians would differ as to what degree it was a failed presidency, but it had its moments. Soon after he entered the White House, Grant invited Robert E. Lee to call on him there. At eleven in the morning of May 10, 1869, six years to the hour after the first shots were fired in his great victory at Chancellorsville and forty-nine months after Appomattox, Lee stepped out of a carriage and walked into the Executive Mansion to be greeted by Grant. The visit was brief and formal, and not without its political repercussions. Many Republicans who had voted Grant into office were aghast at what he had done, but both Grant and Lee understood the meaning of the occasion: Grant was inviting the South back to the White House, and Lee was accepting the invitation.
Grant and Sherman’s friendship would to some extent survive, but it had some exceedingly difficult times. Sherman’s life after the war had in it a mixture of national and even international fame, along with professional frustration and disappointment in his friend Grant. Less than two months after the Grand Review, with Grant remaining the army’s commander, Sherman was assigned to command what was then designated the Military Division of the Mississippi, a territory which, with the exception of Texas, included all the land from the great river to the Rocky Mountains. Named a lieutenant general the following year, he found himself holding a key command in an army whose size the Congress was steadily reducing, at a time when the Indian Wars were under way and federal forces were required for the military occupation of the South during the early Reconstruction years. Fourteen months after the surrender at Appomattox, at which time the Union Army had numbered a million men, Congress reduced the size of the peacetime Regular Army to forty-four thousand, with further reductions coming despite a continuing responsibility to garrison 225 posts ranging from coast artillery installations to wooden forts deep in Indian territory.
When the cuts in military appropriations also reduced the pay for generals, Sherman pointed out that he felt all the Union generals had been underpaid during the war and certainly should not be treated this way. He wrote to a friend, “What money will pay Meade for Gettysburg? What Sheridan for Winchester and the Five Forks & what Thomas for Chickamauga, Chattanooga or Nashville?” Referring to what the taxpayers would save by these reductions in military pay, Sherman added, “Few Americans would tear these pages from our national history for the few dollars saved from their pay during their short lives.”
Never politically adept and always disliking the press, Sherman’s views caused more controversy than he wanted. Convinced by the concept of Manifest Destiny, which held it self-evidently right that the American white population should spread across the plains and settle all of the Western lands, he regarded the Indians as being an inferior people, who, he told a graduating class at West Point, had an “inherited prejudice … against labor.” (Grant, who had written in a letter to Julia of the future international power of the United States that was an extension of the idea of Manifest Destiny, was for a gentler treatment of the Indians, but his efforts were hampered by both the inefficiency and occasional corruption of the Indian Agency, and the enormous thrust of post-Civil War Western expansion.)
At times Sherman tried to ensure that white settlers treated the Indians fairly, but as he became increasingly convinced that the Indians would not change and become the kind of domesticated, productive citizens he wanted them to be, he came to something like his wartime policy toward the South. It would be more realistic, and better in the long run for everyone concerned, to crush the Indians’ resistance to white settlement sooner than later, by applying harsh force. The Indians simply had to be gotten out of the way of the inevitable settlement of the Western lands that they persisted in thinking were theirs. His underlying attitude toward the Indians was not a desire to wipe them out, but at least once, voicing his belief in the need to take strong military measures against the Indians, he admitted that he “believed in the doctrine” expressed in the saying, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”
During the immediate postwar years, before Grant became president, Sherman’s resentment of what he considered to be the dictatorial attitude toward him taken by President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of War Stanton increased the tension between him and his two civilian superiors. Nonetheless, his wartime fame ensured that he would be sounded out by one group or another as a possible presidential candidate during every election from 1868 to the one to be held in 1892, overtures that he most memorably finally dismissed with, “If nominated I will not run; if elected I will not serve.”
When Grant was elected president in the autumn of 1868, he named Sherman to replace him as the army’s commander. Taking that position of general of the army in March of 1869, Sherman felt that he and his old friend Grant would work well together, as they had during the war. At that moment, the secretary of war was General John M. Schofield, who had served under Sherman during the war. Schofield had been a compromise appointment made by Andrew Johnson after Johnson failed in his efforts to remove Stanton during their dispute about Reconstruction policies, with Stanton resigning on his own initiative after Johnson’s impeachment. Sherman, who on Grant’s recommendation had just been promoted to the new rank of full general, had reason to assume that, among himself, Grant, and Schofield, three greatly experienced West Pointers, army matters would be dealt with in a harmonious and effective fashion.
No sooner had Sherman taken command of the army than Grant replaced Schofield as secretary of war with his old wartime chief of staff and confidant John A. Rawlins, who was now gravely ill. In an action that substantially reduced Sherman’s authority, Rawlins immediately issued orders that in effect rescinded Grant’s own recent order setting forth the wide scope of the general of the army’s powers. Hurrying to the White House, Sherman tried to get this reversed, only to encounter Grant’s statement, about Rawlins and his illness, “I don’t like to give him pain now; so, Sherman, you’ll have to publish the rescinding order.” When Sherman still protested, with the two men still addressing each other as “Grant” and “Sherman” in the manner of their wartime meetings, Grant said, “Well, if it’s my own order, I can rescind it, can’t I?”
Sherman, who had written his brother during the war that Grant “has an almost childlike love for me,” stood up and said, “Yes, Mister President, you have the power to revoke your own order; you shall be obeyed. Good morning, sir.”
Things were never quite the same between them after that. When Rawlins died five months later, Grant named Sherman as his interim secretary of war, but when the post was filled by W. W. Belknap, a civilian who was another of Sherman’s former subordinate generals, Belknap soon exceeded Rawlin’s actions in restricting the powers of the general of the army. Sherman began to see that Grant was in the hands of politicians. Nonetheless, Sherman remained in command of the army for a total of fourteen years, serving not only under Grant through his two terms as president but also under President Rutherford B. Hayes, another Civil War general, as well as James A. Garfield, who had fought as a brigadier general at Shiloh, and Chester A. Arthur. On his sixty-fourth birthday, February 8, 1884, nearly forty-eight years after he was sworn in as a cadet at West Point, William Tecumseh Sherman resigned from the army.
During the last year of Grant’s life, it would be the newly retired Sherman’s turn to lift his friend’s spirits. In 1884, seven years after he left the White House, Grant, then living in New York, lost all his money because of the fraudulent machinations of a Wall Street figure to whom he had entrusted everything he had. To try to regain the loss and provide for his family, he began to write his accurate, powerful, historically valuable memoirs, a work that brings the reader to the close of the war. Lavishly praised across the next century by figures as diverse as Mark Twain, Gertrude Stein, and Edmund Wilson, the book was destined to succeed with the public immediately and guarantee Julia a comfortable income, but soon after he began to write, Grant started to suffer from the throat cancer finally brought on by thousands of cigars. Racing against his illness as he wrote, Grant welcomed Sherman’s repeated visits to him: on December 24, 1884, Sherman wrote Ellen, “Grant says my visits have done him more good than all the doctors.”
In a gallant final effort, Grant finished his classic work on July 19, 1885, and died four days later. A crowd of one and a half million—the largest to assemble in the United States to that time—lined the streets of Manhattan to watch his funeral cortege pass. In the solemn parade were not only Union Army veterans but also a contingent of Confederates who had served in the Stonewall Brigade. Sherman was a pallbearer at the funeral ceremony and bowed his head and wept as a bugler played Taps. Two months later, Sherman said of his friend, “It will be a thousand years before his character is fully appreciated.” He became the defender of Grant’s military reputation: when an argument was made that Lee was the greater general, Sherman countered that it was Grant who had seen the Civil War as a strategic seamless web, and added, of Lee, “His Virginia was to him the world … [He] stood at the front porch battling with the flames whilst the kitchen and whole house were burning, sure in the end to consume the whole.”
In that future, still far distant on the day of the Grand Review, Ellen would be the next to go. To the end, she and Sherman were very different and disagreed on many things as they always had—twelve years after the war, they lived apart for close to two years—yet deep in Ellen was the little five-year-old girl who “peeped with great interest” as her father brought the red-headed nine-year-old boy from next door home to live with them. Two years after Sherman retired from the army in 1884, they went to live in New York City, where she remained at home in the evenings while he consorted with the millionaires of the age—the Astors, the Vanderbilts, the Carnegies—as well as with actresses, artists, and assorted celebrities. His flirtatious friendships with women, including those with a sculptress and a Philadelphia socialite, were well-known, but in the middle of all that, while she was away on a trip, Ellen wrote him a letter that rang the truth for both of them. “You are the only man in the world I ever could have loved,” she said, and then told him that, whether he knew it or not, “You are true to me in heart and soul.” They would never reconcile their views on Catholicism—when their son Tom, eight years old at the time of the Grand Review, decided at the age of twenty-three to become a Jesuit priest, his decision broke Sherman’s heart and pleased Ellen—but their unending love for their dead son Willy was one of the bonds that held them together like steel.
The end for Ellen came on November 28, 1888, when she was sixty-four. She had been sick for some weeks, lying in bed upstairs in the house on Manhattan’s West Seventy-first Street into which they had recently moved. Sherman wishfully thought she was exaggerating the gravity of her illness but had installed a nurse to take care of her. He was reading in his office when the nurse suddenly called down to him that Ellen was failing. Sherman raced up the stairs, crying out, “Wait for me Ellen, no one ever loved you as I love you!” When he reached her bed, she was gone.
After a time of mourning so deep as to worry those who remembered the mental states of his wartime years, Sherman resumed his New York social life. Cared for by his unmarried daughter Lizzie and with frequent visits from his married daughters Ellie and Minnie, he resumed his combination of sophisticated New York life and reunions of his veterans—he attended several hundred of those gatherings during the first fifteen years after the war, always as the guest of honor—but his fabled energy was deserting him. On February 8, 1890, his seventieth birthday brought forth greetings and tributes from all over the nation, and he was surrounded by a family that now included seven grandchildren, but a year later, he was stricken by an illness that appeared to be related to the asthma from which he had suffered earlier in his life. This soon became pneumonia. Sherman lay in bed, steadily growing weaker, with his mind sometimes wandering. On February 11, 1891, he asked his daughter Minnie to make certain that the words “Faithful and Honorable” be carved on his headstone. Three days after that, he died.
Sherman’s body was to be taken west for burial in St. Louis, but first there would be a massive funeral service for him in New York, attended by President Benjamin Harrison, who had served in his ranks, former president Rutherford B. Hayes, another of his veterans, former president Grover Cleveland, and five of the surviving major generals of the Army of the West. The funeral procession from Sherman’s house to the church would have thirty thousand men marching, in organizations ranging from the entire West Point Corps of Cadets to regiments of the Regular Army and National Guard, as well as thousands of Civil War veterans from the association known as the Grand Army of the Republic.
As the funeral procession was being organized, an erect, frail, eighty-four-year-old man got off a train in New York, bringing with him a valise and the honor of the South. From the time he had met Sherman in North Carolina for the purpose of surrendering his army to him, General Joseph E. Johnston had remained his admiring friend. They had corresponded and had frequently dined together in Washington during the postwar years during which Johnston had, among other things, served the reunited nation as a congressman from Virginia from 1879 to 1881, and was appointed United States commissioner of railroads in 1885. Learning that Sherman had named him an honorary pallbearer, Johnston had headed north from his home in Washington, despite the concern of his family and friends that he was not used to the winter weather he would find in New York in mid-February. As he stood at attention bareheaded outside Sherman’s house while the casket containing his friend’s body was brought down the steps to be placed in a hearse, someone behind him leaned forward and said, “General, please put on your hat, you might get sick.” Johnston replied, “If I were in his place and he were standing here in mine, he would not put on his hat.” By the end of the day, Johnston had a severe chill, which caused complications for his weakened heart. Back in the South, Johnston died a month later.
The trip of Sherman’s body west to be buried in St. Louis was symbolic in itself—a man from Ohio, a soldier of the West, the commander of the Army of the West, returning to be buried near the Mississippi River that he and Grant had used as the strategic avenue that led them to the victory at Vicksburg and all that followed from that—but there was something more. Along the route of his funeral train, his veterans waited for him in daylight and darkness, ready to salute him a final time. Many of them had gathered in squads, small groups of survivors wearing their broad-brimmed slouch hats, saved from the days when they fought and marched beside their “Uncle Billy.” Some even had their old muskets, loaded with a blank charge of powder, to raise and fire at the sky in the manner of military funerals. What they saw when the train came was a big picture of Sherman, fixed to the headlight, and his sword swinging beneath it as he went west.
The last survivor of the two couples, the Grants and the Shermans, was Julia Grant. She loved her eight years in the White House as first lady and greatly enjoyed the two and a half years that she and Grant spent traveling around the world after he left office. Nation after nation hailed him with twenty-one-gun salutes, and United States Navy vessels were placed at their disposal whenever they wanted to travel aboard them. When the Grants dined with Queen Victoria at Windsor Palace, before Grant took the queen into dinner on his arm, Julia and Victoria had a chance to talk and told each other about their children. “The Paris I remember,” Julia wrote in her own wise and charming memoirs, “is all sunshine, the people all happy,” and she also noted that “the President of France, that grand old soldier Marshal MacMahon and Madam MacMahon were unceasing in their attentions.” At Heidelberg, Richard Wagner “performed some of his own delightful pieces of music for us.” Arriving at Cairo by train from the port of Alexandria, the Grants were met by officials representing the khedive of Egypt, including former Confederate general William W. Loring, a West Pointer who had lost an arm in the Mexican War and had commanded troops fighting Grant in the Vicksburg campaign, and was employed by the khedive in modernizing and training his army. (Grant promptly asked Loring to ride with him in his carriage, and the two talked of Civil War campaigns.)
After Grant’s death, Julia moved from New York to Washington, where she lived in a large, comfortable house on Massachusetts Avenue, receiving prominent visitors of every sort and often dining at the White House. In good health, lively as always, interested in everything, she began to outlive many of her contemporaries; when the Spanish-American War started in 1898, she became the active head of the Women’s National War Relief Association, which sent its first shipload of supplies to Manila. (During that conflict, which began thirty-three years after the Civil War ended, former Confederate cavalry general Joseph Wheeler served as a major general of United States Volunteers at the age of sixty-one, and Robert E. Lee’s nephew Fitzhugh Lee, who had been another young Confederate cavalry general, also became a major general and was a corps commander in Cuba, being present at the Battle of San Juan Hill when he was sixty-two. The Grants’ son Frederick, who as a boy of thirteen was with his father at the surrender of Vicksburg, later graduated from West Point, and after time out of the service, including acting along with his brother Ulysses Jr. as confidential secretary to the president while Grant was in office, came back into the army when he was forty-seven to serve as a major general in the Philippines.)
In 1902, at the age of seventy-six, Julia Dent Grant had an attack of bronchitis, combined with heart and kidney failures. To the end, she remembered and cherished all of Ulysses S. Grant, not just the general and the president but also the young lieutenant who had ridden up to her house at White Haven so long ago. The squint-eyed girl from Missouri had gone with him every loving, supportive step of the way, from the morning rides across bright pastures along the shining Gravois Creek, through hard times when Grant was peddling firewood on the streets of St. Louis, to battlefield areas, to the White House, to Windsor Castle, to caring for him in his last illness as he wrote his account of the battles he fought and the campaigns he commanded. They had done it together, they had lived one of the great American love stories, and now in her last days she still yearned for her “Ulys,” who signed all his letters with, “Kisses to you and the children.” In the last lines of her memoirs she wrote, “I, his wife, rested in and was warmed in the sunlight of his loyal love and great fame, and now, even though his beautiful life has gone out, it is as when some far-off planet disappears from the heavens; the light of his glorious fame still reaches out to me, falls upon me, and warms me.”