While the siege of Vicksburg progressed, on June 6, 1863, Major-General Ulysses S. Grant embarked for a boat trip up the Yazoo River to Satartia, Mississippi. Union troops from there and just inland were retreating south along the river. His chief-of-staff, John Rawlins, had written a letter to Grant early that morning. Rawlins thought that Grant had been drinking the night before, and “the lack of your usual promptness of decision and clearness in expressing yourself in writing tended to confirm my suspicions.” On the cruise upriver with Charles A. Dana, a representative of the War Department, Dana described Grant “getting as stupidly drunk as the immortal nature of man would allow.” Another of Grant’s friendly acquaintances, correspondent Sylvanus Cadwallader, was already upriver on the transport Diligent. He was heading downstream when he met Grant, who then moved over to Diligent, although Dana denied that this happened. Grant had been “drinking heavily,” Cadwallader described, and shortly became “stupid in speech and staggering in gait.”
Contemporary evidence provided by the Union naval flotilla on the Yazoo confirms the start of Cadwallader’s narrative. The log book for the gunboat U.S.S. Linden revealed that Diligent was on the Yazoo above Satartia that morning before Grant had embarked at Haynes’ Bluff forty-five miles below. The log for Lieutenant Commander John G. Walker’s gunboat, U.S.S. Rattler, indicated that it tied up next to Diligent and U.S.S. Baron de Kalb at 6:30 p.m. U.S.S. Forest Rose and then U.S.S. Linden joined them fifteen minutes later. Dana recalled meeting Walker’s gunboat flotilla two miles below Satartia, but Grant “was not in a condition to conduct an intelligent conversation,” and Dana left him in bed. Cadwallader remembered meeting Grant’s boat around 7:30 p.m. and, after Grant and his cavalry escort boarded Diligent, heading upstream to Satartia before turning back. The log for U.S.S. Linden has Diligent passing downstream at 8:30 p.m. Cadwallader’s newspaper, the Chicago Times, printed a dispatch (assuredly from him) datelined “Satartia, on the Yazoo River,” at 10 p.m. that night: “All the transports are below now, and gunboats are moving slowly down covering the retreat.” Demonstrating his knowledge, at the very least, of Grant’s whereabouts that evening, Cadwallader’s message concluded: “Gen. Grant arrived at dark, expecting to find Gen. Kimball here, and returned immediately. Affairs are culminating.” Cadwallader recalled that Diligent “tied up once for a short time till the moon rose,” which it did at 11:15 p.m. After waking up sober on the morning of June 7th, Grant went at it again, Cadwallader alleged, and got “quite as much intoxicated as the day before.” The most important piece of contemporary evidence on this subject came from one of Grant’s protégés on his staff, James H. Wilson, who entered “Genl. G. intoxicated!” in his diary for June 7th.
Another piece of contemporary evidence derived from Charles Dana, who wrote from Haynes’ Bluff on June 7th about “approaching to within two miles of Satartia last evening.” Dana seemingly implied, however, that he did not descend the river on the same boat as Grant, as the “Gunboats were also coming down and General Grant returned here with them.” If so, he would have had no way of knowing whether Grant was with Cadwallader and whether Grant continued his binge. At Haynes’ Bluff, where gunboats and transports ended up by morning, Grant had sobered up, according to both Dana and Cadwallader. Dana soon left on a patrol to find the retreating troops, so he couldn’t see what Grant did afterward. Cadwallader, after shepherding the drunken Grant back to headquarters, explained to chief-of-staff Rawlins what had happened. Cadwallader became a de facto member of Grant’s staff and Grant’s favorite—and much favored—newspaper correspondent from then through the end of the war and beyond.
Further contemporary evidence of his inebriation lay in the dearth of Grant’s communications after embarking on June 6th and all through June 7th. Other confirmation of this episode came from correspondent Franc Wilkie, who likewise reported on the campaign. Two days before the binge, from the Union lines around Vicksburg, he composed an article lionizing Grant and many of his subordinate officers. After the war, Wilkie provided an account of the Yazoo incident similar to Cadwallader’s, from whom he must have gotten at least part of it, and he concluded: “These are facts from which one can draw an inference as to why the correspondent at once took a front place.” Dr. Edward Kittoe was a physician from Galena, Illinois, who started as the surgeon for Grant’s hometown regiment and served on Sherman’s staff at the time of this episode. In 1887, when Henry Van Ness Boynton published Rawlins’ June 6th letter as one of four instances of Grant’s “yielding to his old habits,” Dr. Kittoe endorsed these statements as “founded entirely on facts.” While defending Grant, Charles Dana noted that Boynton’s article proved “beyond possibility of dispute that Gen Grant sometimes got drunk when employed in important military duties.” James Wilson later wrote Cadwallader: “I have heard the Satartia story substantially as you tell it, many a time from Charles A. Dana, who was along, and also from Wm. M. Dunn who was also with you, or got his knowledge of what took place from someone who was.”
Dana’s later assertion that Cadwallader was not along on the return trip downriver is the only insoluble impediment to a general agreement of the various sources, as Dana contended that Grant did not switch boats, but stayed on the same one back to Haynes’ Bluff. Maybe Dana was asleep or in his own cabin after the boat reversed course near Satartia and didn’t notice anything else until morning. Due to Dana’s denial, various academic historians and others defending Grant’s sobriety have accused Cadwallader of fabricating this account of binge-drinking (and after impeaching Cadwallader’s account, some even turn around and use it to establish Grant’s return to headquarters at midnight, as they try to cast doubt on the date of James Wilson’s diary entry). Ida Tarbell, the ghostwriter of Charles Dana’s posthumously published Recollections, changed Grant’s drunkenness on the Yazoo to illness, allowing the defenders to question the original account Dana published while still alive. Despite the absence of witnesses vouching for Grant’s temperance during this trip, these historians have somehow concluded that Grant’s binge has been disproved. That’s just bad history.
Dr. Kittoe had also related how “Grant was addicted to the use of strong drink during the early years of the war.” Other alcoholic episodes over the four-year course of the conflict helped to corroborate this conclusion. And on the Yazoo River, the evidence from three individuals, supplemented by primary source materials dated June 6th to June 8th, clearly shows that Grant had been on a binge.