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Lot #78
U. S. Grant

JUST WHISTLE: Weeks into the Vicksburg Campaign, GRANT writes to SHERMAN on a ship captured by the Confederates and describes a naval signal system

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JUST WHISTLE: Weeks into the Vicksburg Campaign, GRANT writes to SHERMAN on a ship captured by the Confederates and describes a naval signal system

Excellent war-dated ALS signed “U. S. Grant, Maj. Gen.,” one lightly lined page both sides, 5 x 8, February 26, 1863. Grant writes to “Major General William T. Sherman, Commanding, 15th Army Corps.” In full: “Admiral Porter has just sent a request that instructions be sent in the morning to the officers who belonged to the ‘Queen,’ now on the ‘Era,’ to go down near enough Warrenton to ascertain what there is there. Will you be kind enough to send this message over. The Admiral also sends word that a Tug is placed down the river on Picket duty. Three whistles, an interval and three whistles will indicate a boat coming up: Six whistles that it is an enemy and Nine Whistles, interval and Nine Whistles that she shows our lights.” The reverse of the adjacent leaf bears a docket in an unknown hand: “February 26, 1863. Grant, U.S. Maj. Genl. Comd’g. wants an officer on the ‘Era’ to go to Warrenton & see what is there. A Tug is stationed on Picket duty. Signals agreed on, to be given by the Tug. Copy for Genls. Steele & Stuart.” Sherman has added a handwritten endorsement beneath: “I made orders for Col. Wood & Sent the Infor along. Sherman.” In his Memoirs, Sherman writes that “early in February the gunboats Indianola and Queen of the West ran the batteries of Vicksburg. The latter was afterward crippled in Red River, and was captured by the rebels.” On the same day that Grant wrote the present letter, he also wrote to Rear Admiral Porter announcing a change of signals: “One rocket will indicate the presence in sight of a rebel boat; two guns the presence of more than one. The same signals, with the addition of a single gun, that they are passing upstream above Warrenton; and rapid firing, that they are passing the batteries. Three rockets will indicate that the rebel boats have turned back, and followed by a single gun afterwards, that they have come to anchor below. Entire silence after three rockets will indicate that they have passed out of sight.” Though Porter's “three whistle-interval-three whistle” signal indicating that a boat was coming up the river had not changed, Grant evidently felt that waiting for an additional six whistles to signal that it was a Confederate vessel would waste valuable time, so he changed the “enemy” signal from six whistles to one rocket. In very good condition, with mild soiling, professional tape reinforcements along intersecting folds, and scattered light creasing. A significant military letter between these two Union giants as they coordinated the campaign that resulted in the capture of Vicksburg—and the raising of the Stars and Stripes—on the following Independence Day. Auction LOA John Reznikoff/PSA/DNA and R&R COA.

Auction Info

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  • Dates: #339 - Ended November 12, 2008