March 27, 1889
I met at an army dinner, some time ago, Gen. Bowers, a favorite aide of grant’s, and asked him, during the evening, “What was the most striking exhibition of fear, anxiety, or a sense of responsibility, that you ever noticed in Gen. Grant?”
“Well,” replied Bowers, “if there was one instance above all others where he seemed to be affected by the stress of care, it was during the five days’ fight down in the Wilderness. On one of the days, I think the fourth, the fighting commenced early in the morning and continued all through the day. At the end of the day there had been great slaughter on both sides, and we had not carried a point; we had been repulsed on every side. There was not an absolute defeat, but we all felt that our army had been shaken, and that possibly a severe, determined return attack by Lee’s army might be disastrous.
“Just at dark that night”, Bowers continued, “we were all gathered about a log fire that was built on the green-sward at Grant’s quarters. All Grant’s staff were about the fire, and as the flickering flames lighted up their faces it could be seen that they were all oppressed with the greatness of the losses of the day, and the preceding days. Nothing was said. The log crackled and sputtered in the fire. Grant stood by, looking at the bright flames, his hands behind his back, a cigar in his mouth, saying nothing. Suddenly there broke out in the night air, a mile or two off, a heavy firing. It was evidently a determined attack on our lines. The firing grew as it came nearer. We all jumped up from our places about the fire and listened eagerly.
“Grant stood and listened attentively to the firing. He said to an officer, after a moment or two: “Ride forward; see what it is, and come back to me.” The officer leaped into his saddle and galloped rapidly out into the darkness beyond the circle of light made by the camp fire. Gradually the firing died away; volleys ceased, and soon naught was to be heard save here and there the sharp report of a musket. Grant straightened up, yawned, and said: “I haven’t slept any for some time, and I think I’ll go to bed.” He then tossed away the stump of his cigar and entered his tent.
Bowers remarked: “Grant hasn’t slept for three or four nights. He has been in the saddle every night, examining the lines, and looking after the men.” Grant was in his tent. Through the fly, which was open, could be seen the yellow glimmer of a flickering candle. Grant always kept a candle burning in his tent at night when he slept. Bowers, with the rest of the officers who remained up, after a while heard the thud, thud of a horse’s hoofs galloping rapidly toward headquarters, and soon the officer who had been sent out to see what the firing meant dashed into camp and dismounted. Bowers got the news from the officer and went in to awaken Grant, for he had gone to sleep. The news wasn’t important, for the firing was simply the enemy straightening its lines, or something like that, not serious. Bowers went to grant’s tent and looked in. He supposed the General was asleep, and he didn’t think the news of importance enough to awaken him. Grant was lying on his face and hands, and when Bowers looked into the tent he said, “Well Bowers, what’s up?” Grant had evidently not gone to sleep at all, tired as he was.
“That query of Grant’s,” said Mr. Bowers, “was the most striking exhibition of care, anxiety, sensation, call it what you will, that I ever knew Grant to exhibit.”