Grant in Berlin
Ulysses S. Grant was a slaveholder throughout the war of emancipation, holding his wife Julia’s slaves and not freeing them until Missouri forced his hand and abolished slavery in 1865. When General Henry Halleck instructed Grant in 1863 to assist Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas in enlisting freed slaves to avoid drafting white soldiers, “Grant said frankly: “I never was an abolitionist, nor even what could be called anti-slavery…[but] I do not feel that in my position I have a right to question any policy of the government.”
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Grant in Berlin:
"It was in Berlin that Grant was drawn once more onto the world stage. The Congress of Berlin, that great conclave of European powers called by Bismarck, was meeting when he arrived…No sooner had Grant arrived than the Iron Chancellor sent his card. The former president immediately returned the courtesy and a meeting was arranged for 4 o’clock that afternoon.
Bismarck, in duty uniform, greeted his guest warmly, speaking slow but impeccable English. Within minutes the two men were talking as though they had known each other for years. Bismarck first asked about Sheridan, whom Grant had sent to observe the Franco-Prussian war. Bismarck praised Sheridan’s professionalism, and both agreed that he was an officer of rare ability. Already the Chancellor was consumed by the nightmare of hostile coalitions. "You are so happily place in America that you need fear no wars," said Bismarck. "What always seemed so sad to me about your last great war was that you were fighting your own people. That is always so terrible in wars, so very hard."
"But it had to be done," Grant replied.
"Yes, you had to save the Union, just as we had to save Germany."
"Not only to save the Union," said Grant, "but destroy slavery."
"I supposed, however, the Union was real sentiment, the dominant sentiment," said Bismarck.
"In the beginning, yes," Grant answered. "But as soon as slavery fired upon the flag it was felt, we all felt, even those who did not object to slaves, that slavery must be destroyed. We felt it was a stain on the Union that men should be bought and sold like cattle."
Bismarck suggested that if the Union had a large standing army in 1861, the war would have been shortened considerably. "We might have had no war at all," said Grant. "Our war had many strange features—there were many things which seemed odd enough at the time, but which now seem Providential. If we had had a large regular army, as it was then constituted, it might have gone with the South. In fact, Southern feeling in the army among high officers was so strong that when the war broke out the army dissolved. We had no army. Then we had to organize one.
A great commander like Sherman or Sheridan even then might have organized an army and put down the rebellion in six months or a year, or at the farthest, two years. But that would have saved slavery, perhaps, and slavery meant the germs of a new rebellion. There had to be an end to slavery. Then we were fighting an enemy with whom we could not make peace. We had to destroy him. No convention, no treaty, was possible—only destruction."
"It was a long war," Bismarck noted. "And a great work well done—and I suppose it means a long peace." "I believe so," said Grant."
(Grant, by Jean Edward Smith, Simon & Schuster, 2001, pp. 609-610)