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Admiral Porter Reluctantly Turns Down General Sherman’s Invitation to a “Grand Reunion” in Chicago; and Sherman Reads These Excerpts to the Veterans
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General Grants election has brought such actual Peace, that there is not a part of a peg even, to hang an excitement on

General William T. Sherman copies the first two pages of a letter in which Admiral David Dixon Porter, then Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, declines an invitation to a “Grand Reunion of the Western Armies at Chicago.” Porter had commanded the Mississippi River Squadron from October 1862 to 1864, aiding in opening the entire river to Union forces through cooperation with the western armies. Sherman likely read from this copy at the meeting of the Army of the Tennessee in Chicago.

WILLIAM TECUMSEH SHERMAN. Manuscript Copy of first two pages of a letter from David Dixon Porter, Annapolis, Maryland, December 8, 1868. 2 pp., quarto.

Inventory #23562.02       Price: $1,000

Complete Transcript

                                                                        U.S. Naval Academy

                                                                        Annapolis Md. Dec 8, 1868

Dear General,

            I had already received an invitation to the Grand Review of the Western Armies at Chicago, when I received your letter of Dec 2.

            I am however too unwell to go any where, and am now under the care of a physician who has put me under a certain course of treatment that I have to comply with.

            I assure you that I would be most happy to witness your Reunion which I expect will be a very pleasant affair, and I should be much pleased to meet there, the officers of the Army with whom I have been at different <2> times associated. I would not be surprised if this were the last meeting held by your Association, as General Grants election has brought such actual Peace, that there is not a part of a peg even, to hang an excitement on. Your old Army Corps will in the next four years have almost forgotten that there has been any thing like war, and the members devoting themselves to money making pursuits, will be unable to attend these meetings as they have done heretofore.

            Perhaps it is just as well that it should be so, and that there should be nothing to remind us of the strife through which we have passed. x x x x x x[1]

Historical Background
General William T. Sherman proposed a gathering of all veterans who had been employed in the West against the Confederacy during the Civil War. Rather than meet separately throughout the year, representatives of the Army of the Tennessee, the Army of the Cumberland, the Army of the Ohio, and the Army of Georgia would gather simultaneously in Chicago in December 1868. In his invitation of April 20, 1868, Sherman explained, “The object is purely social, and designed to preserve the memories of the war, and to cherish the friendships formed during that period of our national history.”

The four Army societies met individually at different venues during the days of December 15 and 16, but in the evenings, they held a joint meeting at Crosby’s Opera House and a joint banquet at the Chamber of Commerce, with approximately two thousand in attendance at each event. General George H. Thomas had scheduled the meeting of the Society of the Army of the Cumberland in Chicago for these dates and so took the role as president of the joint meeting. General Sherman, who had suggested the Grand Reunion, sat to Thomas’s left. Just weeks earlier, the General of the Army of the United States Ulysses S. Grant had been elected to the Presidency, and President-elect Grant sat to Thomas’s right. The veterans cheered their old commanders frequently and loudly.

At the meeting of the Army of the Tennessee, General Sherman made a brief speech. He told the soldiers present that “he had tried to get Admirals Farragut and Porter to attend this reunion, and had received letters from both, deploring their inability to attend. Porter’s letter was of a personal nature and he could only read from it a few extracts. The Admiral, referring to the recent Presidential election, writes that General Grant’s election would bring such peace as not to leave a peg even to hang an excitement on. He states that he is in very poor health and undergoing regular treatment at the hands of a physician, and expresses great regret at his inability to attend the reunion.”[2] General Sherman then read Admiral Farragut’s letter in full to conclude his remarks. It is likely that this copy is what Sherman read from at the meeting.[3]

The election of 1868, which saw Grant as the Republican candidate, was the first post- Civil War election. The Republican campaign theme — “Let us have peace”— was taken from Grant’s letter of acceptance. After four years of war, three years of wrangling over Reconstruction, and the impeachment of President Johnson, the nation craved the peace Grant pledged to achieve. Johnson was so unpopular that he failed to secure the Democratic party nomination, which instead went to Horatio Seymour. On November 3, 1868, Grant won with 52.7 percent of the popular vote to Seymour’s 47.3 percent. Grant won 26 states for a total of 214 electoral votes, while Seymour carried only 8 states with a total of 80 electoral votes.

William T. Sherman(1820-1891) was raised by Thomas Ewing Sr. and his family after Sherman’s father died in 1829. Sherman graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1840. After service in Florida in the Second Seminole War and California during the Mexican War, he married Ellen Ewing, his foster sister, in Washington, D.C. in 1850. Sherman resigned from the army in 1853, and worked in banking in California and New York for the next eight years. From 1859 to 1861, he served as superintendent of a Louisiana military academy. At the outbreak of the war, he moved to St. Louis and was president of a streetcar company before re-entering the army as a colonel. After brief service in the East, he was in the western armies for the balance of the war. Earning praise for his command at the Battle of Shiloh and the siege of Vicksburg, he gained the confidence of Ulysses S. Grant. When Grant rose to overall command of the armies of the United States, he appointed Sherman to succeed him in charge of the western armies. Sherman proceeded into the heart of the South in his Atlanta campaign and then his March to the Sea, ending with the capture of Savannah. Turning north, he pursued Joseph E. Johnston’s army and forced its surrender in North Carolina in April 1865. He served as department commander of the region between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains from 1865 to 1869, when President Grant appointed Sherman to succeed him as Commanding General of the U.S. Army. Sherman published his memoirs in 1875, and resigned as Commanding General in November 1883. He lived most of the rest of his life in New York City. Refusing to be considered as a Republican presidential candidate in 1884, he made one of the most famous political statements of all time: "I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected."

David Dixon Porter (1813-1891) was born in Pennsylvania and began naval service at the age of ten as a midshipman on a ship commanded by his father, Commodore David Porter (1780-1843). He served in the Mexican Navy from 1824 to 1828, when his father was its overall commander. The younger Porter obtained a new appointment as midshipman in the US Navy in 1829, was promoted to lieutenant in 1841, and served in the Mexican War. After the war, he took a leave of absence to command civilian ships. When the Civil War began, Porter returned to active duty. He was promoted to commander and given charge of a flotilla of twenty mortar boats to be used against the forts guarding the entrance of the Mississippi River below New Orleans. They would be a part of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron commanded by Porter’s adoptive brother Captain David G. Farragut (1801-1870). In mid-1862, Porter was ordered to Hampton Roads to aid General George B. McClellan in his Peninsula Campaign. By October, he was back on the Mississippi River, now as Acting Rear Admiral in charge of the Mississippi River Squadron. He quickly became friends with General William T. Sherman and later with General Ulysses S. Grant and played a key role in the siege of Vicksburg. Late in the summer of 1864, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles transferred Porter to command the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron and tasked him with closing the port of Wilmington, North Carolina, the last major port open to blockade runners. Cooperating with General Alfred H. Terry, Porter’s fleet successfully captured Fort Fisher, the Confederate fort protecting Wilmington, in January 1865. Porter toured the captured Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, with President Abraham Lincoln in April 1865. After the war, Porter served as superintendent of the US Naval Academy from 1865 to 1869. In 1866, he was promoted to vice admiral, and in 1870, he became the second full admiral in US history, behind his adoptive brother Farragut.

[1] The remainder of Porter’s letter read:

            I am quite satisfied that General Grant’s administration will obliterate all traces of the past rebellion. That wonderful practical common sense of his and honesty of purpose, will give him greater power to place this country on its legs again, than any man ever possessed.

            After his administration is over, people will wonder how they ever submitted to such administrations as some of those that preceded him, and will be quite surprised to find that we can really have an honest government.

            You I suppose, will move on to Washington and be obliged to leave that terrestrial paradise of yours, St. Louis.

            I have only one recollection of the latter place, viz. heat, prairie chickens for breakfast dinner and supper, and flies!

            Washington is better in many respects, and like everybody else you will learn to like it. You will certainly meet there the best people in the country.

            I have bought a fine house there and have fitted it up at considerable expense and hope when my tour of duty is over here, to go there and reside, provided the Western people don’t move the capital which they will hardly do as long as there are any traveling expenses to be picked up.

            If I am here when you go to Washington, you mustn’t forget to run down here and see us now and then. This is the best place in the world to get out of the atmosphere of politics.

            Again regretting that I cannot be present to participate in your festivities,

                                                                        I remain Yours very truly & sincerely,

                                                                        D D Porter

[2] Chicago Tribune, December 17, 1868, 1:3.

[3] This copy does not seem to have been made for The Army Reunion: with Reports of the Meetings of the Societies of the Army of the Cumberland; the Army of the Tennessee; the Army of the Ohio; and the Army of Georgia (Chicago: S. C. Griggs and Company, 1869), 272. This volume mentions Porter’s letter only in passing and provides no excerpts, explaining that “His letter was wholly private, and but few extracts could be read from it; these, however, elicited much applause from the hearers.”

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