Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 1184: Ulysses S. Grant’s Civil War Appointment as Major General

Auction Date: May 15, 2021

Historically Significant, National Treasure Ulysses S. Grant’s Civil War Appointment as Major General Authorized by Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, Formerly from the Grant Family

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $60,000 - $80,000

Historically Significant, National Treasure Ulysses S. Grant’s Civil War Appointment as Major General Authorized by Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, Formerly from the Grant Family

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Catalog Page: 144
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Rock Island Auction Company is extremely pleased to offer this incredibly historic document: Ulysses S. Grant’s Civil War appointment as major general. On February 6, 1862 Union forces captured Fort Henry, a Confederate fortification in Donelson, Tennessee. The victory opened up the Tennessee River and the virtually unknown brigadier general named Ulysses S. Grant took full advantage. Immediately after the fort fell to the Union gunboats, Grant, who was leading Union troops on the ground in the campaign, informed General Halleck that he was moving on to take Fort Donelson immediately. Most of the Confederates troops that had fled Fort Henry had consolidated at Fort Donelson, making it the more formidable fort in the region. From February 11-16, 1862, Grant’s forces laid siege on Fort Donelson near the Tennessee-Kentucky border. On the 15th, the Confederate commander, Brigadier General Simon Buckner, sent a note to Grant requesting terms of surrender. Grant refused the conditional surrender terms set by his adversarial counterpart and instead famously demanded, "No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted." The fort fell the next day, and Grant captured more than 12,000 Confederate soldiers. In conjunction with the capture of Fort Henry, the Battle of Fort Donelson forced the South to give up southern Kentucky and much of Middle and West Tennessee. Together they were the first major victories for the Union and significantly boosted Union morale. The rivers and railways in the area became vital Northern supply lines in the Western Theater. The battle was nothing short of opening “the heartland of the Confederacy” to Federal troops. The battle also gave the North a new hero: “Unconditional Surrender” Grant. These consecutive victories were noticed by President Abraham Lincoln. Grant proved he was an aggressive general who could win, and on February 20, 1862, Lincoln promoted Grant to the rank of major general. Grant, however, would not receive his commission until months later. While camped outside Corinth three months after Lincoln approved his promotion, Grant sent a telegram to U.S. Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas asking for his appointment. “My commission as Major General has not yet reach me,” read the May 19, 1862 telegram. Once these words reached U.S. Adjutant General Thomas, an official commission was created on May 20th and sent to Grant in Corinth. “A copy of your commission was sent today,” read the responding May 22nd telegram. The commission likely arrived in Grant’s hands just before the Confederate city of Corinth fell on May 30, 1862. Offered here is Grant’s own copy of his promotion to major general. It is one of the great appointments in American military history, and is the only known general’s appointment of Grant to exist in private hands. Grant’s appointment to lieutenant general is held at the Library of Congress. President Abraham Lincoln’s and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton’s signatures were written by proxy. In the upper left corner is a handwritten notation signed by U.S. Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas stating when the commission was officially recorded, February 20, 1862. In the upper right hand corner is a handwritten notation citing when this official appointment was released to Grant, May 20, 1862. An accompanying statement of provenance certifies, “This original Major General’s commission has, since its creation in 1862, been with Grant’s family. Mary Frances Grant was the sister of Ulysses S. Grant….Among the Grant family treasures she retained…was Grant’s Major General appointment.” Since the fall of the Confederacy, pundits and historians alike have hailed Grant as the winning general of the Civil War, commonly referred to as “the General who saved the Union.” In the words of The White House.gov website, Grant was “the symbol of Union victory.” A true national treasure this appointment to major general was a prerequisite to Grant commanding all Union armies as the general-in-chief of the Armies of the United States, a rank that was first held by George Washington. This promotion to major general allowed Grant to command forces in the Vicksburg campaign and to have the highly successful military career that followed and propelled him the presidency. After Union forces captured the strategic railway lines at Corinth and thereby rendering Southern attempts to regain western Tennessee, Grant turned his sights to Vicksburg, the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi. Grant’s victory at Vicksburg, was in the words of one writer, “a strategic masterpiece.” Not only was the victory a morale boost for the Union, the fall of Vicksburg split the Confederacy and gave control of the Mississippi River to the Union. The victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg marked a turning point in the Civil War. Onward to Chattanooga, Grant broke the stalemate and cemented his reputation as an effective general. In March 1864, Grant was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general and given command of all Union Armies. As the general-in-chief of the Armies of the United States, Grant commanded 533,000 troops and was well on this way to destroying Robert E. Lee’s rebel army. Lee’s final engagement of the war was the Battle of Appomattox Court House before surrendering to Grant. Robert E. Lee said of Grant, “We all thought Richmond, protected as it was by our splendid fortifications and defended by our army of veterans, could not be taken. Yet Grant turned his face to our Capital, and never turned it away until we had surrendered. Now, I have carefully searched the military records of both ancient and modern history, and have never found Grant's superior as a general. I doubt that his superior can be found in all history.” At the 1868 Republican National Convention, the delegates unanimously nominate Grant for the party’s candidate for president. Grant won the election in a landslide, winning 214 Electoral College votes compared to 80 votes received by his competitor.

Rating Definition:

Exceptionally fine. The document is folded, shows limited soiling and is clearly legible, including the handwritten notations. The historical importance of Grant's appointment as major general cannot be overstated, as the preservation of the Union depended upon it. As far as Civil War documents, this is the crème de la crème for any public or private collection.



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