Young Fred Grant Takes the Mississippi Capitol, Almost

Frederick Grant as a West Point cadet; he was just a boy when he accompanied his famous father during the Civil War

On February 3, historians Frances M. Clarke and Rebecca Jo Plant shared an interesting post about the Civil War experiences of Fred Grant, Ulysses S. Grant’s young son, who accompanied the general on campaign for much of the war.

One of my favorite episodes from Fred’s adventures came in May 1863 as two of Grant’s corps converged on the Mississippi capital of Jackson. Fred had stars (and bars) in his eyes when he realized he had a chance at a major prize. I’ve excerpted the story for you, below.

Fred later relayed the episode as part of a talk to the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States in February 1898. The talk was subsequently published as “A Boy’s Experience at Vicksburg” (which you can read online here for free). This excerpt from Fred comes from pp. 86, 91-93:

I always appreciated the good fortune which enabled me to be with my father and his able lieutenants in the field during our great struggle for national existence, and to see for myself the men and the events that made so famous the chapters of our history for the years from 1861 to 1865. In March, 1863, while I was at school at Covington, Ky., my father gave his consent to my joining him at Young’s Point, near Vicksburg….

From the 7th to the 12th of May General Grant was constantly in communication with Sherman, McPherson, and McClernand, riding around from one to the other. This made his headquarters so uncomfortable, and his mess so irregular, that I, for one, did not propose to put up with such living, and I took my meals with the soldiers, who used to do a little foraging, and thereby set an infinitely better table than their commanding general. My father’s table at this time was, I must frankly say, the worst I ever saw or partook of.

On the 12th of May the Union army was pushed forward, and at Fourteen Mile Creek Osterhaus had a skirmish to clear the road. We heard the sounds of battle away off to the right, and later we learned that McPherson had won the day at Raymond.

I had struck up a friendly acquaintance with one of the orderlies, called “Pony.” At Fourteen Mile Creek he and I rode out on an independent trip, and, seeing ten or twelve horses tied up in front of a house, we conceived the idea of capturing the mounts and possibly the riders also, who were inside the house. Not until we had gone too far to retreat did the idea occur to us that the would-be captors might possibly become the captured. It was with great relief that we saw a man wearing a blue uniform come out of the house, and we then discovered that the party we had proposed to capture was a detachment of Sherman’s signal corps. Later on, trying to get back within our own lines, we had some difficulty in convincing the pickets that we were entitled to pass.

The next day I went over the battle-field of Raymond, and here again I saw the horrors of war, the wounded and the unburied dead.

We spent the night at Raymond, and then started for Jackson, the capital of Mississippi. While passing through a piece of dense woods on the way, the enemy’s sharp- shooters opened fire on us. One of the staff shouted to my father that they were aiming at him. His answer was to turn his horse and dash into the woods in the direction whence the bullets were coming. Colonels Wilson and Lagow, I, the orderlies, and the escort followed, and in skirmishing fashion we advanced till we came to a large house, where we halted. Sherman’s corps now came up, and McPherson to our left was already engaged. Generals Grant and Sherman were on the porch of the old house when our line was broken by artillery fire, and our men began a retreat. The two generals immediately mounted, rode among the men, and re-formed them. Meanwhile Tuttle’s division had passed through the dense woods, and had captured the enemy’s breastworks, and, wheeling to the left, advanced up the line of intrenchments. Father accompanied them.

Thinking the battle was ended, I rode off toward the state-house, where the Confederate troops passed me in their retreat. Though I wore a blue uniform I was so splashed with mud, and looked generally so unattractive, that the Confederates paid no attention to me. I have since realized that even had I been captured it would not have ended the war.

At this time I saw a mounted officer with a Union flag advancing toward the capitol. I followed him into the building and entered the governor’s room, which had been hastily abandoned. Finding what I supposed to be the governor’s pipe lying on the table, I confiscated it, primarily and ostensibly for the national service, but secondarily and actually for my own private and individual use. It had the advantage of being still loaded and lighted.

Returning to the street, I saw the officer whom I had followed, in the act of raising the Union flag over the building. He proved to be Captain (afterwards Colonel) Cornelius Cadle.

Father and his staff, advancing at the head of the army, soon reached the state-house, where I joined them, and went with them to the Bowen House, the best hotel in Jackson, where we took the room in which General Joseph E. Johnston had slept the night before.

At Jackson we captured an important prisoner, who was carrying despatches from Johnston to Pemberton. The information gained from these despatches caused some activity at headquarters, and the next day — May 15 — the army started off in the direction of Vicksburg.

That night, while sleeping in the room with my father at Clinton, I was awakened by a great knocking. Colonel Lagow announced the arrival of a messenger from McPherson, and father seemed surprised at the news he received. He gave orders for an early start in the morning, went back to bed, and was soon sleeping quietly again. After a light breakfast, before daybreak, we moved rapidly to the front, General Grant keeping well ahead of the rest of us. . . .

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