Ominous Portents

Ulysses S. Grant’s rail route to Louisville also took him through Indianapolis, arriving there sometime in the afternoon of October 17. Stanton had waited for Grant’s train. While on the platform, Stanton met with Indiana’s powerful Republican Governor, Oliver P. Morton, who was stunned to learn that “relieving General Rosecrans . . . [was] the object of [Stanton’s] trip.”

Though Rosecrans was a Democrat, he was also very popular with the rank and file of the Army of the Cumberland, many thousands of which were Morton’s constituents; Morton himself “had great admiration” for Rosecrans. Stanton further astounded Morton when he told the Governor that Rosecrans had wired Lincoln on October 3rd, claiming that it “was useless to talk of putting down the rebellion and recommending an armistice with a view of agreeing on terms of peace.”

Had that been true, Morton would certainly have reason to be taken aback. But in relating this tale, Stanton did Rosecrans a great injustice: Rosecrans’s original dispatch said nothing of the kind. Instead, Rosecrans suggested to Lincoln that the Federal Government should offer a general amnesty to any Rebel deserters. While Lincoln agreed in concept, he also realized how such an offer would be perceived as weak in the wake of a defeat like Chickamauga, and politely rebuffed the idea as untimely. Besides, it far overstepped Rosecrans’ authority. Stanton took umbrage at this new example of Rosecrans’ temerity, and misrepresented it to Morton (and probably others) to further justify removing Rosecrans from command.

Grant’s train was just pulling out of Indianapolis when “a messenger came running up to stop it, saying the Secretary of War was coming into the Station and wanted to see me.” This was the first face-to-face meeting between the North’s most victorious field commander and the Secretary.

Boarding Grant’s car, Stanton accompanied him to Louisville. As was his wont, Stanton wasted little time in small talk. In his memoirs Grant recalled that “soon after we started the Secretary handed me two orders, saying that I might take my choice of them. The two were identical in all but one particular. Both created the ‘Military Division of the Mississippi,’ (giving me command) composed of the Departments of the Ohio, the Cumberland, and the Tennessee.” In one, Rosecrans was left in command, while in the second, Rosecrans was replaced by Thomas. “I accepted the latter.”

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