Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories: “Can’t Spare this Man”

One night, about eleven o’clock, Colonel A. K. McClure, whose intimacy with President Lincoln was so great that he could obtain admittance to the Executive Mansion at any and all hours, called at the White House to urge Mr. Lincoln to remove General Grant from command.

After listening patiently for a long time, the President, gathering himself up in his chair, said, with the utmost earnestness:

“I can’t spare this man; he fights!”

In relating the particulars of this interview, Colonel McClure said:

“That was all he said, but I knew that it was enough, and that Grant was safe in Lincoln’s hands against his countless hosts of enemies. The only man in all the nation who had the power to save Grant was Lincoln, and he had decided to do it. He was not influenced by any personal partiality for Grant, for they had never met.

“It was not until after the battle of Shiloh, fought on the 6th and 7th of April, 1862, that Lincoln was placed in a position to exercise a controlling influence in shaping the destiny of Grant. The first reports from the Shiloh battle-field created profound alarm throughout the entire country, and the wildest exaggerations were spread in a floodtide of vituperation against Grant.

“The few of to-day who can recall the inflamed condition of public sentiment against Grant caused by the disastrous first day’s battle at Shiloh will remember that he was denounced as incompetent for his command by the public journals of all parties in the North, and with almost entire unanimity by Senators and Congressmen, regardless of political affinities.

“I appealed to Lincoln for his own sake to remove Grant at once, and in giving my reasons for it I simply voiced the admittedly overwhelming protest from the loyal people of the land against Grant’s continuance in command.

“I did not forget that Lincoln was the one man who never allowed himself to appear as wantonly defying public sentiment. It seemed to me impossible for him to save Grant without taking a crushing load of condemnation upon himself; but Lincoln was wiser than all those around him, and he not only saved Grant, but he saved him by such well-concerted effort that he soon won popular applause from those who were most violent in demanding Grant’s dismissal.”