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This quote is taken from Ron Chernow’s excellent biography. Gen. Grant’s men took Ft. Henry easily in February 1862. The fort was poorly constructed and was nearly inundated by rising river waters. He then marched to Ft. Donelson. Its loss cost the South 12,000 surrendered men and opened the Cumberland River to Union penetration. The top two Confederate commanders (Floyd and Pillow) fled leaving Gen Buckner to surrender. Buckner had helped Grant when he was down on his luck in the 1850s. However, Grant demanded unconditional surrender which Buckner reluctantly accepted.
After their greetings, Grant asked [Buckner] why Pillow had fled. “Well, he thought you would rather have hold of him than of any other man in the Southern Confederacy.” “Oh no,” Grant smirked. “If I had got him I’d have let him go again; he will do us more good commanding you fellows.” Grant and Buckner, both veterans who remembered Pillow from Mexico, shared a good laugh at this caustic remark.
This victory resulted in Grant being promoted to Major General and eventually command of all Union armies. At the end of Grant’s life, Buckner visited him and introduced him to his new wife (his son became a Lt. General and was killed at Okinawa). The book portrays Grant as defending the freed slaves but also reaching out to the defeated Confederate soldiers. Even Jefferson Davis sent Grant a sympathetic message upon hearing that he had cancer.Published in