Friday, August 17, 2007

"Hold on with a Bull-Dog Gripe"

Ulysses S. Grant came to the East in 1864. The president hoped he would bring an end to this war. Lincoln had entertained high hopes for other generals, but there was something different about Grant. “This man fights,” Lincoln said.

Grant worked out a plan for Union victory. His two main armies in Virginia and Georgia would advance against the two most prominent Confederate armies, while smaller Union forces would block Rebel detachments from reinforcing their main armies.

Lincoln was pleased with the plan. It was precisely the sort of offensive he had been calling for throughout the past few years. Finally, he found a general that understood the “awful arithmetic” of superior Union numbers. This war might come to a close.

When Grant told Lincoln how he planned to use small forces to pin down Confederate detachments, Lincoln exclaimed, “Those not skinning can hold a leg!” Grant later used the metaphor in his own dispatches.

As William Sherman marched through Georgia and South Carolina, Grant pinned Lee’s army down in Petersburg. “Grant has the bear by the hind leg while Sherman takes off the hide,” Lincoln explained.

On August 15, 1864, Grant telegraphed Washington. He understood there was significant opposition to the draft throughout the North, but he was not willing to send his troops away from the front lines to maintain order in the North. “My withdrawal now from the James River would insure the defeat of Sherman,” Grant reasoned. Instead, Grant hoped Lincoln would call on governors throughout the North to preserve peace.

Today marks the anniversary of Lincoln’s colorful response. On this date in 1864, Lincoln telegraphed Grant outside of Petersburg:

I have seen your despatch expressing your unwillingness to break your hold where you are. Neither am I willing. Hold on with a bull-dog gripe, and chew & choke, as much as possible.

“In the end,” writes historian James McPherson, “it was Grant’s chewing and choking while Sherman took off the hide that won the war.”

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