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Grant, Mexico and African-American soldiers

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[October 05, 2013]  SPRINGFIELD -- With Nov. 19 marking the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is featuring letters to or by Lincoln, written between the end of Battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863, and his famous speech at Gettysburg. Each letter represents one of the many issues he had to face as chief executive of the nation during its greatest crisis. This week the letter is from Gen. U.S. Grant to President Lincoln.

The influence of Mexico's civil war is evident in Lincoln's correspondence with his leading general, Ulysses S. Grant. As the two considered the military situation following the capture of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, Grant favored a campaign against Mobile, Ala.

However, in an Aug. 9 letter to the general, Lincoln rejected the idea, instead favoring a movement into Texas "in view of recent events in Mexico." For Lincoln, "re-establishing the national authority in Western Texas" would hinder any Confederate attempts to ally with France and would prevent the Mexican conflict from spreading into American territory.

The two men also discussed the recruitment of African-Americans into the Union Army. Lincoln encouraged Grant to vigorously enlist black soldiers along the Mississippi River, noting they were "a resource which, if vigorously applied now, will soon close the contest."

Ulysses S. Grant to Abraham Lincoln
Aug. 23, 1863

(Copy of letter transcript)

Cairo Illinois
August 23d 1863.

His Excellency
A Lincoln
President of the United States,


Your letter of the 9th inst. reached me at Vicksburg just as I was about starting for this place. Your letter of the 13th of July was also duly received.

After the fall of Vicksburg I did incline very much to an immediate move on Mobile. I believed then the place could be taken with but little effort, and with the rivers debouching there, in our possession, we would have such a base to opperate from on the very center of the Confederacy as would make them abandon entirely the states bound West by the Miss. I see however the importance of a movement into Texas just at this time.

I have reinforced Gen. Banks with the 13th Army Corps comprising ten Brigades of Infantry with a full proportion of Artillery.

I have given the subject of arming the negro my hearty support. This, with the emancipation of the negro, is the heavyest blow yet given the Confederacy. The South care a great deal about it and profess to be very angry. But they were united in their action before and with the negro under subjection could spare their entire white population for the field. Now they complain that nothing can be got out of their negroes.


[to top of second column]

There has been great difficulty in getting able bodied negroes to fill up the colored regiments in consequence of the rebel cavalry running off all that class to Georgia and Texas. This is especially the case for a distance of fifteen or twenty miles on each side of the river. I am now however sending two expeditions into Louisiana, one from Natchez to Harrisonburg and one from Goodrich’s Landing to Monroe, that I expect will bring back a large number. I have ordered recruiting officers to accompany these expeditions. I am also moving a Brigade of Cavalry from Tennessee to Vicksburg which will enable me to move troops to a greater distance into the interior and will facilitate materially the recruiting service.

Gen. Thomas is now with me and you may rely on it I will give him all the aid in my power. I would do this whether the arming the negro seemed to me a wise policy or not, because it is an order that I am bound to obey and do not feel that in my position I have a right to question any policy of the Government. In this particular instance there is no objection however to my expressing an honest conviction. That is, by arming the negro we have added a powerful ally. They will make good soldiers and taking them from the enemy weaken him in the same proportion they strengthen us. I am therefore most decidedly in favor of pushing this policy to the enlistment of a force sufficient to hold all the South falling into our hands and to aid in capturing more.

Thanking you very kindly for the great favors you have ever shown me I remain, Very truly and respectfully

your obt. svt.
U. S. Grant
Maj. Gen.

(For a PDF copy of the handwritten document, click here.)


Neither Lincoln's nor Grant's plans for the army at Vicksburg ever came to fruition. Texas remained largely in Confederate control throughout the war, and the closest Grant's old army in Mississippi ever came to moving against it was the ill-starred Red River Campaign in the spring of 1864. Mobile also remained in Confederate hands and did not surrender until April 12, 1865 -- three days after Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, Va..

However, Grant's prediction that the enlistment of African-Americans into the Union Army was "the heavyest blow yet given the Confederacy" proved true. Even as Lincoln and Grant discussed the subject, numerous black regiments were being formed throughout the North and South. Some were already in the field proving themselves as able soldiers. By the end of the war, over 178,000 African-Americans enlisted in the Northern ranks, comprising one-tenth of the total Union Army.


To see one of only five copies of the Gettysburg Address in Lincoln's hand and receive a free booklet titled "On Lincoln's Mind: Leading the Nation to the Gettysburg Address," containing this and other document stories, visit the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum between Nov. 18 and 24.

[By the editors of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln. Text from file provided by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and received from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency]

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