Sunday, March 17, 2013

Grant and Sherman meet in Cincinnati, March 20, 1864
The Burnet House, Cincinnati, Ohio
General Ulysses S. Grant and General William Tecumseh Sherman met at Nashville, Tennessee and rode the train to Cincinnati together.  They spent one day at the Burnet House on Sunday, March 20, 1864 to plan strategy for the Civil War.

Both men had become heroes in the North and their every move was shadowed by reporters. They booked parlor “A” at the Burnet House after arriving in Cincinnati. Grant spread out his war maps and he and Sherman intensely studied the existing Union deployment, their commanding officers, their strengths and weaknesses. The two generals also noted the Confederate dispositions and discussed the prowess of the opposing leaders.
The battle plan decided upon was simple, but decisive. Sherman would command the Western theater, destroy all rebel resources, pursue and annihilate General Joseph Johnston’s army of the Tennessee and basically cut the confederacy in half. Grant would personally handle the rebellion in the Eastern theater, attacking, holding and bludgeoning Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia into submission.

"Yonder began the campaign," Sherman was to say a quarter century later, standing before the hotel on the occasion of a visit to the Ohio city. "He was to go for Lee and I was to go for Joe Johnston. That was his plan. No routes prescribed.... It was the beginning of the end as Grant and I foresaw right here."

Parlor A became a shrine of sorts, and for many years the Sons of Union Veterans held their meetings in it.  

On February 6, 1884, a banqet was held by the Ohio chapter of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion, a patriotic association that traced its beginnings back to the day that Lincoln died in 1865, when three Union officers met to discuss forming an organization to help thwart future threats to the national government. The order eventually grew to over 8,000 members, a roster that included notable generals and flag officers, and five presidents—Grant, Hayes, Arthur, Harrison, and McKinley. One of the speakers at this banquet was former President Rutherford B. Hayes who was the City Solicitor in Cincinnati when the war broke out. Wounded several times, he earned a reputation for bravery in combat, rising to the rank of major general. By the time of this banquet, Hayes thought of the Legion as a social club, preserving the comradeship forged during war. “Where is there a better place to form and to test friendships that are to last,” he asked rhetorically during his speech that evening, “than life in the army? You cannot really know someone in a short period of time,” he continued, “but we spent four years together where it was, indeed, a hard road to travel.”

The banquet included green turtle soup, sweetbread croquettes, and Canvasback duck, all served with fine wines and champagne. After dinner, cigars were handed out to accompany the speeches, for this was the age of cigars. Cigars always appeared at the end of such dinners in the late-nineteenth century, causing clouds of smoke to be unleashed, its distinctive smell infusing even the best banquet rooms in the country with a lingering odor.
Burnet House
When the Burnet House opened in Cincinnati in 1850, the London Illustrated News called it “the finest hotel in the world.” Located on the corner of Third and Vine Streets, the five-story building was designed by architect Isaiah Rogers, already well-known for Boston’s Tremont House (1827), New York’s Astor House (1836), and the Exchange Hotel (1841) in Richmond. Crowned by a dome forty-two feet in diameter, the hotel featured panoramic views of the Ohio River and the Kentucky hills. Large, ornate, and expensive, the Burnet House, with 340 rooms, catered to a well-to-do clientele.

The Burnet House hosted many famous guests.  Abraham Lincoln stayed there on September 17-18, 1859, while campaigning for the Ohio Republican Party. Lincoln also stayed at the hotel on February 12, 1861, during his inaugural journey to Washington, D.C. to be sworn in as the 16th president. His speech from the hotel balcony expressed his
desire to abide by the Constitution on the issue of slavery.

Other guests included Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, James Buchanan, Stephen Douglas, Salmon Chase, Horace Greeley, Robert Lincoln, and Susan B. Anthony,  who stayed there in 1878.

After the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862, the hotel served as a hospital for wounded troops nursed by the Cincinnati Sisters of Charity.

Some of the rooms were left unchanged, particularly the one where Lincoln slept, and the parlor where Grant and Sherman strategized their campaigns.

The hotel was demolished in 1926.

Historical Marker on Burnet House site

Site of Burnet House in Cincinnati

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