Grant's Washburne Letter


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Up | Pictures of Ulysses S. Grant | General Ulysses S. Grant in the Civil War | Ulysses S. Grant Quotes | General Grant's Presidential Campaign Poster | Grant's Letter to General Hawley | Ulysses S. Grant's First Inaugural Address | President Grant's Last Message to Congress | President Grant's Philadelphia Speech | Grant's Vindication of Fitz-John Porter | Grant's Washburne Letter

Perhaps no person unconnected with the army contributed in so great a degree to General Grant's success in the Civil War as the Hon. Elihu B. Washburne, to whom the following extremely interesting letter was addressed. It is certainly of great historical value, and reveals in a very interesting way some of the strongest and most admirable traits of General Grant's character. Mr. Washburne (1816 87) was the member of Congress from Galena, Ill., where Grant was employed at the beginning of the war. The two men first met at that time; they immediately became friends, and during the great struggle Washburne was the constant supporter and sturdy defender of the Silent Commander, who would never defend himself from the shameful charges that were frequently made against his private character, and also as a soldier. When Grant became President he appointed Mr. Washburne his Secretary of State, but after occupying that high office for a few weeks, he was sent as the American representative to France. He filled that position with preeminent ability and signal distinction, publishing after his return to the United States a valuable and interesting work, in 2 octavo volumes, entitled Recollections of a Minister to France, 18691877:

LA GRANGE, TENN., NOV. 7, 1862.

Not having much of special note to write you since your visit to Jackson, and knowing that you were fully engaged, I have not troubled you with a letter. I write now a little on selfish grounds.

I see from the papers that Mr. ______ is to be called near the President in some capacity. I believe him to be one of my bitterest enemies. The grounds of his enmity I suppose to be the course I pursued while at Cairo towards certain contractors and speculators who wished to make fortunes off of the soldiers and government, and in which he took much interest, whether a partner or not. He called on me in regard to the rights of a post sutler for Cairo (an appointment not known to the law) whom he had got appointed. Finding that I would regard him in the light of any other merchant who might set up there, that I would neither secure him a monopoly of the trade nor his pay at the pay-table for such as he might trust out, the sutler never made his appearance. If he did he never made himself known to me.

In the case of some contracts that were given out for the supply of forage, they were given, if not to the very highest bidder, to far from the lowest, and full 30 per cent. higher than the articles could have been bought for at that time. Learning these facts, I immediately annulled the contracts.

Quite a number of car-loads of grain and hay were brought to Cairo on these contracts, and a change of quartermaster having taken place in the mean time the new quartermaster would not receive them without my order, except at rates he could then get the same articles for from other parties. This I refused to give. The contractors then called on me, and tried to convince me that the obligation was binding, but finding me immovable in the matter, asked if General Allen's approval to the contract would not be sufficient. My reply was, in substance, that General Allen was chief quartermaster of the department, and I could not control him. They immediately left me, and, thinking over the matter, it occurred to me that they would go immediately to St. Louis and present their contract for approval without mentioning the objection I made to it. I then telegraphed to General Allen the facts, and put him on his guard against these men. For some reason, however, my despatch did not reach St. Louis for two days. General Allen then replied to it, stating that those parties had been to him the day before, and knowing no objection to the contract he had approved it.

The parties then returned to Cairo evidently thinking they had gained a great triumph. But there being no money to pay at that time and because of the bad repute the quartermaster's department was in, they were afraid to take vouchers without my approval. They again called on me to secure this. My reply to them was that they had obtained their contract without my consent, had got it approved against my sense of duty to the government, and they might go on and deliver their forage and get their pay in the same way. I would never approve a voucher for them under that contract if they never got a cent. I hoped they would not. This forced them to abandon the contract and to sell the forage already delivered for what it was worth.

Mr. ______ took much interest in this matter and wrote me one or more letters on the subject, rather offensive in their manner. These letters I have preserved, but they are locked up in Mr. Safford's safe in Cairo. I afterwards learned from undoubted authority that there was a combination of wealthy and influential citizens formed, at the beginning of this war, for the purpose of monopolizing the army contracts. One of their boasts was that they had sufficient influence to remove any general who did not please them.

The modus operandi for getting contracts at a high rate, I suppose, was for a member of this association to put in bids commencing at as low rates as the articles could be furnished for, and after they were opened all would retire up to the highest one who was below any outside person and let him take it. In many instances probably they could buy off this one for a low figure by assuring him that he could not possibly get the contract, for if he did not retire it would be held by the party below.



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