LINCOLN, Abraham. Autograph letter signed ("A. Lincoln"), as President, TO LIEUTENANT GENERAL ULYSSES S. GRANT, Executive Mansion, Washington, D. C., 15 March 1864. 1 page, oblong (4¼ x 7¼ in.), mounted and framed. Marked "Private."
"WITHOUT DIFFICULTY OR DETRIMENT TO THE SERVICE": LINCOLN ASKS A PRIVATE FAVOR OF GENERAL GRANT
A fine Lincoln presidential letter from a pivotal moment in the war. Lincoln writes "Gen. McPherson having been assigned to the command of the Department, could not Gen. Frank Blair, without difficulty or detriment to the service, be assigned to command the corps he commanded a while last autumn?" This note came just six days after Lincoln personally handed Grant his new commission as Lieutenant General of the Army. "General Grant," Lincoln said that day before the assembled Cabinet as well as Grant's son, "the nation's appreciation of what you have done, and its reliance upon you for what remains to be done in the existing great struggle are now presented, with this commission constituting you lieutenant-general in the Army of the United States. With this high honor, devolves upon you, also, a corresponding responsibility. As the country herein trusts you, so, under God, it will sustain you. I scarcely need to add, that, with what I here speak for the nation, goes my own hearty personal concurrence" (Grant, Memoirs, Lib. of America edn, p.469).
Grant was determined to end the confusion and incompetence that characterized the Union war effort in the East for the past three years. He wanted coordinated attacks from Sherman in Atlanta, Sheridan in the Shenandoah, and Meade on the Petersburg-Richmond line. Grant would stay in the East with Meade--the better to battle against meddlesome Washington politicians who might try to scuttle his new strategy. Sherman would take Grant's old command of the Military Division of the Mississippi while McPherson took over Sherman's place ahead the Department of the Tennessee. Could Blair then move up to take command of XV Corps as Lincoln asks?
Grant knew Blair from Missouri, "where I had voted against him in 1858 when he ran for Congress." A prominent Republican, and the brother of Lincoln's Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, he was one of the many political generals corroding the ranks of the Union Army. Earlier in the war Grant dreaded having to deal with him, but to his great surprise discovered that Blair was "one man as a soldier, another as a politician...There was no man braver than he, nor was there any who obeyed all orders of his superior in rank with more unquestioning alacrity" (385). Grant decided that the best place for him was at the head of XVII Corps, under Sherman's command, in the Atlanta theatre, where Blair fought until Joe Johnston's surrender on 26 April brought the Civil War at last to a close.