Grant on crutches at Shiloh? 2 comments

Although it is a rather common assertion in many biographies of Grant and in battle histories of Shiloh, there seems to be little reliable evidence that the General was using crutches when he boarded Tigress at Savannah on April 6th and debarked to ride around the battlefield. This may be one of the stories which had their genesis in his Personal Memoirs (“As it was, my ankle was very much injured, so much so that my boot had to be cut off.  For two or three days after I was unable to walk except with crutches”). In 1868, Albert Richardson’s unreliable biography had already related how Grant’s horse slipped, “nearly breaking the ankle of his rider.  The General suffered excruciating pain, and was lamed for several weeks.”

Grant’s letter at the time, on the other hand, indicate that the swelling and incapacitation only came after the first—if not the second—day of battle: “I was not hurt much at the time but being in the saddle all of Sunday and Monday, and in the rain the intervening night without taking off boots or spurs my ancle swelled terribly and kept me on crutches for several days, unable to get on a boot.”

Despite this very clear and contemporaneous account from the person who should know best, I’ve already identified twenty-three Civil War historians and biographers (and there are others, I’m sure) who have Grant on crutches at the start of the battle. Some even mention his having a crutch strapped to his saddle.

Are there any participants in the battle who mentioned at the time that they saw Grant on crutches or with a crutch attached to his saddle? Please let me know.

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2 thoughts on “Grant on crutches at Shiloh?

  • Mike Maxwell


    I have run across a single reference to Grant riding across the battleground of Shiloh with a crutch(es) strapped to his saddle, but I’m having difficulty tracking it down. His aides do not mention the injury; instead Rawlins makes mention of ‘Grant coming downstairs from his sleeping room to breakfast Sunday morning,’ with no indication of ‘hobbling, or staggering.’ Rowley indicates that ‘Grant called to Lew Wallace from the upper deck of Tigress as the steamer approached Crump’s Landing,’ without remarking any difficulty in climbing up to that level. And Hillyer recalls returning from Savannah on Sunday evening ‘and finding the General stretched out, lying on his back in the rain on the bluff above Pittsburg Landing.’ The only person who mentions the ankle injury is Grant (twice in his Memoirs.)

    Aside from recalling the ankle injury as being ‘an annoyance,’ one wonders why Grant makes mention of it at all? Was he trying to indicate, in a round-about way, that he was suffering from lack of sleep at the time of the battle? (Two full sleepless nights, with quite a few witnesses overnight 5/6 April indicating the General ‘was still awake’ at various hours, up until breakfast.) But Grant could not bring himself to admit ‘my decision-making suffered, due to lack of sleep…’

    • Joseph Rose Post author

      Thanks, Mike.

      In looking for evidence that Grant was hobbling around, I overlooked the evidence that Grant’s staff hadn’t mentioned Grant’s hobbling around (sort of like the Hounds of the Baskervilles, with the dog failing to bark).

      Although the absence of any mentions by them isn’t conclusive, by any means, these accounts were all written long enough after the battle that they would have eventually seen Grant on crutches (I’m assuming that Grant was on crutches by the end of April 7th or by April 8th, at the latest). And I just looked through my notes again; the only mention of Grant’s foot in the first two weeks came from a reporter who said that he was slightly wounded (I think that many people after the battle, seeing Grant on crutches, assumed that it was a war-wound).

      I also hadn’t thought about other reasons for Grant’s chronological mistake, except for a poor memory. As many other incidents in his Memoirs were consciously colored (or distorted outright) to prove his points, then it’s certainly possible that he put himself on crutches earlier than actually happened. I doubt that we will ever be able to figure that one out.

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