Original publish date: April 19, 2009 Reissue date: July 4, 2020
So you think you’re a Civil War buff ? Well, so did I. I’ve read, researched and written about many things connected to the American Civil War most of my life. Yet, I recently found out a factoid from my beloved home state and city of my birth that I had never heard before and I’d like to share it with you here. On Saturday October 17, 1863, Union General Ulysses S. Grant is given orders to travel to Indianapolis from Cairo, Illinois by General Henry Halleck, who also tells the General to bring his staff with him in preparation “for immediate operations in the field.”
The General, his wife Julia Dent Grant, and his staff arrived in Indianapolis in the early evening and checked into the Bates House Hotel on the old National Road (Present day Washington Street). On the morning of October 18th, the party prepared to leave for Louisville, where Julia Grant expected to meet old friends. The train was just about to roll out of the Indianapolis Union Station when word came to delay it’s departure pending the arrival of an important passenger. It was non other than Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who traveled west from Washington, D.C. to confer with Grant. Secretary Stanton made his way to Grant’s car and seeing a group of officers, strode forward with his hand outstretched and said, “How do you do, General Grant? I recognize you from your pictures.” Unfortunately, the man Stanton greeted so vigorously was not General Grant but his medical director, Dr. Edward Kittoe. The staunch Quaker lawyer was nonplussed by his mistake and as Stanton was pointed in the right direction by Grant’s staff, the General struggled to conceal his amusement. Before this Indianapolis meeting, Stanton had only communicated with Grant via telegraph.
Stanton handed Grant a telegraph from President Abraham Lincoln that read: ” By direction of the President of the United States, the Departments of the Ohio, of the Cumberland, and of the Tennessee, will constitute the Military Division of the Mississippi. Major General U.S. Grant, United States Army, is placed in command of the Military Division of the Mississippi, with his headquarters in the field.” These orders that Stanton felt necessary to travel the nearly 600 arduous, bone shaking miles by rail in order to hand deliver to a man he had never met, General U.S. Grant, placed Grant in command of three armies that would now be known collectively as “the Military Division of Mississippi.” Grant was thus in charge of all military operations from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River, more or less.
Grant immediately relieved Rosecrans in Chattanooga and replaced him with Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, soon to be known as “The Rock of Chickamauga”. Devising a plan known as the “Cracker Line”, Thomas’s chief engineer, William F. “Baldy” Smith opened a new supply route to Chattanooga, helping to feed the starving men and animals of the Union army. Upon re-provisioning and reinforcing, the morale of Union troops lifted and in late November, they went on the offensive. The Battles for Chattanooga ended with the capture of Lookout Mountain, opening the way for the Union Army to invade Atlanta, Georgia, and the heart of the Confederacy.
Grant’s willingness to fight and his ability to win impressed President Lincoln, who appointed him lieutenant general in the regular army-a rank not awarded since George Washington- which was recently re-authorized by the U.S. Congress with Grant in mind-on March 2, 1864. On March 12, Grant became general-in-chief of all the armies of the United States. The rest is history. It’s also noteworthy to remember that Edwin Stanton was appointed by President Grant to the Supreme Court, but he died four days after he was confirmed by the Senate and never took the oath to become a Justice.
Why is this important? This was the first official step taken by General Ulysses S. Grant on his road to fame that ultimately ended at the White House. In U.S. Grant’s memoirs, the General remembered that the train arrived in Louisville at night in a cold drizzling rain. Secretary Stanton told Grant that he had caught a miserable cold from that trip from which he “never expected to recover from”. Grant believed that Stanton never fully recovered from this cold and that it contributed to Stanton’s death in 1869. The Galt House Hotel in Louisville always takes the credit for this important announcement meeting, although it actually happened right here in Indianapolis on a south bound train leaving Union Station on a crisp Hoosier autumn Sunday morning .