Disunion: General Grant Takes a Spill

The New York Times

 

 

 

General Grant Takes a Spill

On Sept. 2, 1863, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant arrived in New Orleans for the sort of event he usually avoided — a full-dress military review, to be staged in his honor two days hence by Gen. Nathaniel Banks. Still savoring the fall of Vicksburg in early July, Grant was also anticipating a forthcoming campaign against the Confederate general Braxton Bragg that fall in eastern Tennessee. A victory there — especially at the vital city of Chattanooga — promised to open the way to Atlanta.

The grand review took place north of the city. Astride an unfamiliar horse he characterized as “vicious and but little used,” Grant set his customary fast pace, leading one member of the party to later recall that “the brilliant cavalcade of generals and staff officers was left behind by the hero of Vicksburg.” After the review, the attending officers retired to a nearby establishment for food and drink before riding back to their hotel, again at speed. Then disaster struck.

Grant’s horse shied, probably at a locomotive whistle, and then fell on him. Gen. Lorenzo Thomas, who witnessed the accident, wrote that Grant’s horse “threw him over with great violence. The General, who is a splendid rider, maintained his seat in the saddle, and the horse fell upon him.” In his “Memoirs” written 20 years later, Grant described being “rendered insensible” and regaining consciousness “in a hotel nearby with several doctors attending me.” The damage was extensive. “My leg was swollen from the knee to the thigh, and the swelling … extended … up to the arm-pit,” remembered Grant. “The pain was almost beyond endurance.” Grant remained at his New Orleans hotel for more than a week before returning to Vicksburg, where he “remained unable to move for some time afterwards.”

The rumors began almost immediately — Grant had been drunk! In a letter to his wife the next day, Banks wrote: “I am frightened when I think that he is a drunkard. His accident was caused by this, which was too manifest to all who saw him.” Other witnesses failed to support Banks’s claim, but six months after the accident, Gen. William B. Franklin, Grant’s West Point classmate and supposed friend, lent the rumor new life. In a February 1864 “Dear Mac” letter to Gen. George B. McClellan, Franklin wrote that Grant “was drunk and all over the city for forty-eight hours.” He had been lucky, Franklin suggested, for had Grant not “tumbled head over heels and … been hurt,” he would have “frolicked for a fortnight.” Grant’s reputation, Franklin suggested, would not “have outlived the frolic.”

Tales of Grant’s intemperance were nothing new in the fall of 1863. And they remain a source of lively debate among Grant’s many biographers, Civil War scholars and buffs. In his 1981 Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, William McFeely captures the tone of this controversy: “The idea that he drank prodigiously is as fixed in American history as the idea that the Pilgrims ate turkey on Thanksgiving, but the evidence for it is more elusive. All the rivers of alcohol — imagined or real — flow down from the Fort Humboldt days,” a reference to his post in California during the 1850s.

Ulysses S. GrantLibrary of Congress Ulysses S. Grant

“Rivers of alcohol” aptly describes one feature of life in antebellum America. In 1825, Americans over the age of 15 consumed on average seven gallons of alcohol — generally whiskey or hard cider — each year (today that figure is about two gallons, mostly of beer and wine). Many Americans drank because they believed it was nutritious, stimulated digestion and relaxed the nerves. Copious amounts of liquor also helped wash down food that was often unpalatable.

Drinking in the military mirrored the widespread use of alcohol in the larger society. Although annual consumption dropped dramatically, to an average 1.8 gallons by the late 1840s, rumors of drunken behavior circulated throughout a close-knit professional army numbering fewer than 5,000 men — particularly because, in Grant’s day, dependence on alcohol bore the stigma of moral inferiority and sinfulness. An inebriate possessed a weak character and was widely condemned.

Although Grant undoubtedly drank, he defied the stereotype of the falling-down drunk. As one historian has noted, “He drank at irregular intervals, in varying quantities, and with differing results.” Grant was able to refuse alcohol when offered, and on occasion could drink moderately with no visible effect. But he was also prone to binge drinking, almost always when he was depressed or under pressure and apart from his family. Furthermore, Grant’s slight frame — he was 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighed 135 pounds — undoubtedly limited his capacity for strong drink.

Unfortunately, Grant’s choice of a military career too often placed him in temptation’s way. While posted to Sackets Harbor on Lake Ontario in 1851, he was sufficiently concerned about his drinking to help found a chapter of the Sons of Temperance, a fraternal organization that relied on mutual support to curb drinking. While stationed in Detroit, Grant won a civil case against the store owner Zachariah Chandler (later a senator and influential member of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War) for his failure to clear an icy walkway on which Grant sustained an injury. But Chandler’s suggestion during the trial — that “if you soldiers would keep sober, perhaps you would not fall on people’s pavement and hurt your legs” — embarrassed Grant among his military peers.

Grant’s most damaging encounters with intemperance, however, occurred during his two years in the Pacific Northwest. As quartermaster at Fort Vancouver, he enjoyed easy access to whiskey and, according to his colleague Lt. Henry Hodges, “would perhaps go on two or three sprees a year.” Grant’s letters to his wife during this time reveal the depth of his unhappiness. “You do not know how forsaken I feel here,” he wrote on Feb. 2, 1854. “I do nothing but sit in my room and read and occasionally take a short ride on one of the public horses.”

Scarcely two months later, on April 11, 1854, Grant resigned his captain’s commission. In a conversation years later with John Eaton, who oversaw freedmen’s programs in Tennessee, Grant allowed that “the vice of intemperance had not a little to do with my decision to resign.” Hodges recalled: “One day … Captain Grant was at the pay table, slightly under the influence of liquor.” When this came to the attention of Grant’s commanding officer, Hodges continued: “He gave Grant the option of resigning or having charges preferred against him. Grant resigned at once.”

Grant’s decision kept the incident from his military record and, more important, from his wife, Julia. For the next seven years Grant lived what he later called a “hardscrabble” life, failing at farming, real estate and rent collection and finding himself working in his family’s leather trade on the eve of the Civil War. Absent from the many accounts of this time are reports of excessive drinking.

But rumors of intemperance re-emerged during Grant’s meteoric rise to wartime leadership. In February 1862 Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck sent a subordinate to keep an eye on Grant as he moved upriver to lead successful assaults on Forts Henry and Donelson, in Tennessee. Halleck wrote a March 4 letter to General McClellan asserting that “General Grant has resumed his former bad habits,” and reporting that he would accordingly be replaced as the commander for an expedition up the Tennessee River. Halleck knew from his own monitor’s reports that the rumors were false, but chose not to restore Grant to command until ordered to do so by Lincoln and Stanton. A month later Grant won a bloody victory at Shiloh.

Sensitive to rumors that he had been under the influence of alcohol at Shiloh, Grant rushed to assure Julia they were false. In a letter dated April 30, 1862, he swore that he was “sober as a deacon no matter what was said to the contrary.” But the onslaught of negative stories soon led him to issue an uncharacteristic call for support. In a May 14 letter to Elihu Washburne, Grant wrote: “To say that I have not been distressed at these attacks upon me would be false, for I have a father, mother, wife and children who … are distressed by them.” Furthermore, he continued, “All subject to my orders read these charges” that “weaken my ability to render efficient service in our present cause.” A few days later, Washburne rose in the House to offer a defense that featured more heat than light. “There is no more temperate man in the army than General Grant,” he insisted, and he “never indulges in the use of intoxicating liquors at all” and was “an example of courage, honor, fortitude, activity, temperance, and modesty.”

Washburne’s perfervid defense likely convinced no one who was not already satisfied about Grant’s sobriety at Shiloh. The rumor mongering continued, even among the government’s highest circles. Anxious to protect the Union Army’s rising star, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton dispatched a succession of agents to keep an eye on Grant. Chief among them was the former newspaperman and now assistant secretary of war Charles A. Dana, who quickly became Grant’s most devoted defender. John A. Rawlins, Grant’s chief of staff, also worked to blunt the general’s bibulous tendencies. Rawlins, known as a zealous “cold-water” man, was from Grant’s home state of Illinois and enjoyed an extraordinarily close relationship with the general. He alone among nonfamily members proved willing to challenge Grant to embrace vows of abstinence.

Unfortunately, those vows proved temporary. Both men figured prominently in what one historian has called the Yazoo “bender,” the most high-profile instance of Grant’s inappropriate, alcohol-driven behavior. On June 6, 1863, Grant boarded the Diligent for an inspection tour up the Yazoo River intended to uncover the location of Gen. Joseph Johnston’s Confederate units. According to a fanciful account by Sylvanus Cadwallader, a reporter from The Chicago Times attached to Grant’s headquarters, the general drank so heavily on board that Cadwallader had to help him to his bed. Grant continued drinking the next day and at one point left the steamer, climbed aboard his horse and went on a reckless ride through fields and forests. Only Cadwallader’s determined pursuit saved Grant from certain disaster. Meanwhile, an alarmed John Rawlins penned a letter (which seems never to have been delivered) mentioning “what I had hoped never again to do — the subject of your drinking” and threatening to resign unless Grant stopped drinking. Cadwallader did not record the events until 1897, and his manuscript was only published, as “Three Years With Grant,” in 1955.

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A number of historians, most prominently McFeely and Shelby Foote, have swallowed this stirring account whole. The problem, however, is that it was almost certainly an invention of Cadwallader’s, who was not on the Diligent. Brooks Simpson, author of a particularly insightful treatment of Grant’s pre-presidential years, argues that the Yazoo “bender” was likely the result of Grant taking a drink to ease an upset stomach and meeting with the usual unhappy result. The historian Bruce Catton dismissed the story outright as “but one more in the dreary Grant-was-drunk garland of myths.”

While there are a few more rumors alleging Grant’s inebriation before the war’s end, including one related to the Petersburg campaign in 1864, none appear to rest on clear-cut evidence that his behavior could be linked only to alcohol. The full dimensions of Grant’s problems with alcohol are unknowable. As the pre-eminent Civil War historian James McPherson has noted, “Most of the numerous stories about Grant’s drunkenness at one time or another during the war are false.” His “Memoirs” are mute on the subject. Furthermore, they understate Rawlins’s critical role as his chief of staff in a seemingly deliberate manner, perhaps as a tacit refusal of the part he played in keeping Grant away from the bottle. To acknowledge Rawlins’s importance, in McPherson’s words again, was to make “a public confession of his own weaknesses.”

The last words on Grant’s fondness for drink, however, are best left to his commander in chief. When describing a visit by congressmen complaining about Grant’s intemperance to John Eaton, Lincoln told the sort of story he loved. “I then began to ask them if they knew … what brand of whiskey he used,” confided the president. “They conferred with each other and concluded they could not tell … I urged them to ascertain and let me know, for if it made fighting generals like Grant, I should like to get some of it for distribution.” Lincoln was even more succinct with another critic: “I cannot spare this man! He fights!”

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Sources: Sylvanus Cadwallader, “Three Years With Grant”; Bruce Catton, “Grant Takes Command”; Lyle W. Dorsett, “The Problem of Ulysses S. Grant’s Drinking During the Civil War”; Shelby Foote, “The Civil War: Fredericksburg to Meridian”; Ulysses S. Grant, “Personal Memoirs”; Daniel Walker Howe, “What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848”; Marie Kelsey, “Ulysses S. Grant: The Myth of His Drinking”; Edward G. Longacre, “General Ulysses S. Grant: The Soldier and the Man”; Harry J. Maihafer, “The General and the Journalists: Ulysses S. Grant, Horace Greeley, and Charles Dana”; William S. McFeely, “Grant: A Biography”; James M. McPherson, “Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era”; Brian J. Murphy, “Truth Behind U.S. Grant’s Yazoo River Bender,” in “America’s Civil War,” January 2005; Brooks Simpson, “Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph Over Adversity, 1822-1865”; Brooks D. Simpson, “Grant and Drinking Revisited,” Blog post of March 13, 2011;
Jean Edward Smith, “Grant” and “Ulysses S. Grant’s Lifelong Struggle with Alcohol in America’s Civil War.”


Rick Beard is an independent historian and exhibition curator, and co-author of the forthcoming National Park Service publication “Slavery in the United States: A Brief Narrative History.”

 

 

48 Comments

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    • Terry McKenna
    • Dover NJ

    I have read most of the available bio’s of Grant. The few incidents in the war that may have involved drinking occured not during battle but in quiet times. This suggests that if Grant had issues they were minor.

    • Wilson Morris
    • Savannah GA

    Years ago my father, from West Tennessee, told me this. He had come to know the owner of the Savannah, TN, home on the opposite side or the river from Shiloh where Gen. Grant was housed on the eve of the battle. My father in conversation posed that Gen. Grant was drunk when he slipped and fell on the way down the hill to the launch that would take him to the battle. The elderly gentlewoman replied,”Young man, Gen. Grant was a perfect gentleman in my home and he had had nothing to drink.”

    J. Wilson Morris

    • Steve
    • New York

    It’s important to note that alcoholism is not defined by the amount people drink but by the impact drinking has their lives. There are people who can alot and still function normally. In fact, many alcoholics get the same effects from drinking less over the course of their lives because of liver disease.
    As far as I’m aware, no one has ever pointed to any hard evidence that at any time during the Civil War Grant’s drinking in anyway impaired his ability to function which is required for alcoholism to be diagnosed.

    As far as falling off horses, this was a common experience when horses were the primary means of transportation. It happened to Lee and many other generals during the Civil War much less other officers. The idea that one had to be drunk for it to happen is ludicrous. One of the major reasons that we think these incidents were such a rarity is probably that they are rarely portrayed in movies.

    • A Basu
    • Delhi

    The most brilliant punch line on Grant’s allegedly bacchanalian propensities is the one referred to at the end of this article: that of Lincoln saying, ‘I wish somebody told me what brand of whiskey Grant drinks. I would send a bottle each to my other generals.’ Indeed, one feature that marked Grant out from the other generals was his courage and his way of transmitting that courage to his men: ‘I am tired of hearing what Lee is going to do. Think what you can do to Lee instead.’

    • John Rupert
    • Commerce, Georgia

    I’ve never heard of Lee or Jackson drinking. Stuart? Longstreet? Cigars? Yep. Booze? Never heard of it.

    Read All 4 Replies

      • reric47
      • New York, New York

      Is there a point to be made here? This was war, not tiddly winks. Perhaps an occasional drink might have helped Messrs. Lee, Jackson, Stuart et al.

      • Scott
      • KC

      I’ve never heard of a self-aware lost-causer. Committed? Yep. Balanced? Never.

      • Steve
      • New York

      Yet they and many others fell off their horses.

    • Roger Landes
    • Lubbock, TX

    Sorry, Shelby Foote was not a “historian.”

    • Wes
    • Down South

    The operative word being “combination.” I’m not aware of a definitive study linking throat cancer to alcohol consumption alone.

    • kevin
    • santa barbara

    Say what you will, but during those troubled times, a lot of “bottled courage” was probably consumed. And knowing the folksy nature of President Lincoln, I have little doubt he may have turned to a dinner companion with a wink after one of Grant’s victories and proposed a toast with what Grant was drinking.

    • John Rupert
    • Commerce, Georgia

    I tend to agree with Churchill’s observation about Grant “He was the negation of generalship”. He did just bludgeon his opponent into submission. He allowed his captured soldiers to starve to death in southern prisons rather than exchange prisoners because he knew the south needed its captured back, whereas his supply of replacements was unlimited. He also knew the south could barely feed it’s own people, much less POWs. That he and Sherman took care to protect their forces? Sherman could have detached an insignificant force to free starving Union soldiers at Andersonville. What would that have accomplished? He would have to feed, medicate, transport a lot of incapacitated soldiers. It was easier to let them die. Useless Slaughter Grant lost more killed and wounded in Northern Virginia than Lee had in his entire army.

    Read All 6 Replies

      • Scott
      • KC

      So, John, your message is: Once freed and back in Union commands, the starving prisoners–starved by their Confederate captors–would resume the basic human function of eating. How is it that, in your thinking, starvation is a given condition of CSA captivity? You clearly have a high regard for the humanitarianism of the Union army.

      • ET
      • Wisconsin

      John, I think your statements are counterfactual. Grant lost 135000 in three theaters of the Civil War, in all of which he was victorious. Lee lost 210000 men in his one theater, which he lost. This is standard Lost Cause junk history, again.

      • Bill B
      • NYC

      That is simply incorrect. His Big Black River campaign at Vicksburg was brilliant. He outmaneuvered Lee on the move to Petersburg and only the errors of his forward commander kept the city from being captured. Grant led three campaigns which resulted in the surrender of the enemy army.

      The POW exchange also broke down because the South refused to treat black POWs on the same level as their white counterparts. Andersonville was a 100 miles out of his way.

    • Combat Vet
    • Phoenix

    Grant did not have a drinking problem that affected his war performance. There is no evidence whatsoever that his drinking, heavy or not, lost him a battle or campaign. Churchill certainly drank heavily. FD Roosevelt probably did. Patton was a drinker who probably compartmentalized it. I remember a very fine officer who was literally a falling down drunk when he was off duty. On duty he never touched a drop. His drinking was completely compartmentalized. When he retired and was off duty all the time he was dead in a year.

      • Paul
      • Brooklyn

      Correct..Combat Vet…as worst these guys were “functional”
      alcoholics and at best regular drinkers.

    • Historian
    • Aggieland, TX

    An additional piece of evidence: Whenever possible, Grant had his wife Julia accompany him on his campaigns, uncharacteristic for other generals at the time. This brought the occasional misfortune, such as Julia’s carriage being captured by Confederates in December 1862. But if it helped him stay on the wagon, it was more than worth the trouble. Some of this evidence has come up before on Disunion; see “The Two Julias,” February 14, 2013.

    • Jay Weiser
    • New York, NY

    One piece of evidence in favor of a long-term drinking problem for Grant: his death from throat cancer. I don’t know if 19th century medicine distinguished between throat cancer and squamous cell esophageal cancer. According to the New York Times Health Guide, both are linked to a combination of smoking and excessive alcohol use.

      • Michael Miller
      • Minneapolis

      Would not throat cancer be more easily explained by Grant’s well known fondness for cigars? His slight frame suggests that cirrhosis might have taken him if he drank heavily for a long time.

    • Paul
    • White Plains

    Grant won out in the end because of superior troop numbers and far superior provisioning of the army under his command. Look at the Vicksburg campaign. He was able to outlast the Confederates despite the heat, disease born mosquitos, the stupidity of trying to dig a canal to bypass the city, and assaulting the impregnable Confederate defenses east of the city with multiple failed suicide attacks. He similarly botched the battle of Shiloh by backing himself up against the river, only to be saved by the inability of Conferates to finish him off on the first day due to inferior troop strength. In the end, Grant won because he bludgeoned his opponents to defeat and surrender, never stopping to consider his own losses.

    Read All 10 Replies

      • Me
      • L.I.

      Pure and utter nonsense. Union superior troop numbers are still espoused to this day because the confederacy didn’t count any of their support as combatants whereas the Union counted each and every ancillary man/ women. Grant’s Vicksburg campaign was brilliant, he divided the confederate forces piecemeal and toll on a larger foe in their own home turf and chewed them up and spit them out. Glory, glory, hallelujah.

      • Bill B
      • NYC

      Grant did not err at Shiloh by having his back to the river. The Union forces were advancing on Corinth. Pittsburgh Landing was the closest crossing point to that objective. Although he failed to avert a surprise attack; the Confederate failure on the first day was due to his sang-froid, Prentiss’ stand, Confederate confusion and their faulty attack plan. They were not outnumbered. The Confederates had about 45,000 and while Grant’s forces numbered 49,000, one of his divisions (Lew Wallace’s 6,700) didn’t appear until the end of the first day.

      • Steve
      • New York

      Name any Civil War generals Union or Confederate who “stopped to consider his own losses” who had any success.
      Lee didn’t, Jackson didn’t, Sherman didn’t, Sheridan didn’t.
      Even into the 20th century, American generals including Pershing, Eisenhower, MacArthur, Bradley and Patton based their plans primarily on what was likely to be effective rather than what the losses would be. This doesn’t mean that they didn’t care about those who served under them or considered their troops to be expendable. It is simply the nature of war.
      The idea that Grant was different from any of them in how he made his decisions is foolish.

      McClellan maybe did consider his losses but if so this paralyzed him. If he had pushed on to Richmond in 1862, he probably could have ended the war and saved the hundreds of thousands of lives subsequently lost over the next 3 years. So his thinking about losses ended up in costing many more lives than he would have lost if he had not given up.

    • xprintman
    • Denver, Colorado

    The point is decided by Grant’s success on the battlefield. Nobody can win time after time if not at the top of their game. Not only would he have been unable to act quickly and wisely in a fluid situation, but his troops would have sensed his ‘infirmity’ and lost the confidence needed to win.

    Lincoln understood that when he suggest some of Grant’s not-so-secret ingredient be given to his other generals.

      • Combat Vet
      • Phoenix

      There are some leaders who function quite well with a large amount of alcohol in their systems. There are others who confine their intake to times when it doesn’t matter. Grant’s successes coupled with the substantive evidence that he did drink indicate that Grant was among the former or the latter or both, but that he was not a dysfunctional alcoholic during the war. Get real you people a whole lot of drinking goes on in the military (like the rest of life). Our history would be short a lot of generals if we fired all the drinkers. For heaven’s sake, George Washington was a bootlegger/moonshiner, take your pick.

      • Presbyteros
      • Glassboro, NJ

      I understand that there is a similar story regarding a general’s influence on the other generals that goes back to the French and Indian War. When informed that General Wolfe was mad, King George’s reply was “I hope he bites my other generals”.

    • Kathy Wendorff
    • Wisconsin

    There’s plenty of evidence that Grant drank too much when he was stationed in the Northwest, far from his family, meeting with failure in all his efforts to earn enough money to bring them west, with a bullying vindictive commanding officer and nothing much to do but drink. Also that it didn’t take much for drink to affect him.

    Any other times in his life — I don’t think there’s much credible evidence for alcoholism. As this article describes, the Civil War accounts of benders are mostly based on gossip and rumor, set in motion by people who had some kind of axe to grind, conflict with other contemporary accounts and official papers, and sometimes are demonstrably false. After the war and throughout his presidency, when he was constantly observed and had many opponents who would have been happy to discredit him, are there any accounts of drunkenness? No. Stories about drunkenness at West Point, in the Mexican War, in his Galena days? No. During his hardscrabble days near St. Louis, when he was driving loads of wood to sell, he sometimes looked unwell, and army gossip ascribed it to drink — but Bruce Catton points out he was suffering from malaria. After the presidency, many people dined with the famous man, saw him drink a glass of wine with no problem, and recorded that fact — not the mark of an alcoholic.

    If Grant was truly an alcoholic, we would have much more incontrovertible evidence of that.

      • Helmut Wallenfels
      • Washington State

      Also, his superb ” Personal Memoirs ” don’t read like the work of a drunk. And a drunk would not have had the amazing judgment he displayed in deciding what to put in ( his participation in the Mexican War and the Civil War ) and what to leave out ( almost everything else, including his personal life and his two terms as president ). As a result, we can see with crystal clarity how the Mexican War made the Civil War inevitable. This is now conventional wisdom, but was quite an insight for a man who was a participant and eye witness rather than a historian.

    • memosyne
    • Maine

    Think about the state of medicine: no antacids for your tummy, no painkillers other than alcohol which was called “painkiller”, no anti-diarrheals, no safe water, no antibiotics, but lots of erroneous beliefs. “Bleeding” was still practiced for every illness. I had a great grandfather who tried to farm a big Iowa farm all by himself with resulting body damage and pain. He ended up addicted to the opium in patent medicines. And, of course, Grant had lots of enemies. Even federal army officers dedicated to winning the war were ambitious, and southern sympathizers could easily believe and distribute lies about an effective northern general.
    Lincoln, as usual, kept his head and refused to be distracted from his main goal: keeping America whole by winning the war.

    • Chris Gibbs
    • Fanwood, NJ

    I believe another cause of high alcohol consumption in those days was a growing awareness that the water most people drank was not safe, and certainly tasted bad, and adding alcohol addressed those issues.

      • Baseball Fan
      • Germany

      Potentially tainted well water was for a long time the reason that the drinking of beer was considered healthy, as breweries generally had safe water supplies and the brewing process further reduced contamination.

      • Fred W. Hill
      • Jacksonville, FL

      Abraham Lincoln’s own son, Willie, died from drinking tainted water.

      • Steve
      • New York

      You’re right about this. In fact, there were even advertisement for beer into the beginning of the 20th century pointing out that it was safer than drinking the water in many places especially cities.
      And remember during the Civil War there were still many who believed that infectious diseases were caused by “bad air” and putting the outhouse or latrine near the source of the drinking water didn’t matter.

    • Brookhawk
    • Maryland

    A lot of his drinking was due to his separation from home and family, but that was not unusual at all among soldiers. They were lonely and bored. They drank.

    I know someone who had access to the records of the 7th Cavalry in the post-war midwest. The chief cause of death among the soldiers during “peacetime” was alcohol poisoning.

    Grant’s drinking was undoubtedly overblown in the press and by rivals in the military. Nevertheless, he did drink, like they all did, and there were bound to be benders here and there. The Diligent may have been one of them, but Cadwallader cannot be believed.

    Take it all with a big grain of salt.

    • VSB
    • San Francisco, CA

    Good Evening: I am not the first to notice that Grant’s real or alleged consumption of alcohol tended to correspond with distance and time away from his wife. What is the current status of the theory that his drinking might have resulted from these extended separations from Julia?

      • Jay C.
      • New York, NY

      The “theory” that Gen. Grant’s drinking varied in inverse proportion to the presence of Mrs. Grant has, I think, long been accepted as fact. Even Grant’s Civil War contemporaries noted that he was on generally better behavior when Julia was around – and historians, while often (justifiably) discounting the wilder allegations of Grant’s boozing, have typically accepted this interpretation. I know I first read it in Bruce Catton’s work (published in the mid-1950s), and I don’t think it has been seriously challenged since.

      © 2013 The New York Times Company

      …and I am Sid Harth

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