By Edward Epstein
Monday, September 25, 2023
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky apparently knows inspiring words when he sees them.
Zelensky paid a whirlwind visit to Washington on Thursday in a bid to bolster support for his country in its protracted and bloody war with Russia. After meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House and with congressional leaders in the Capitol, he went to the National Archives to deliver a speech. Before speaking, he toured the National Archives museum, where he came face to face with a tough-worded telegram that President Abraham Lincoln sent to his commanding general Ulysses S. Grant on August 17, 1864, in the midst of a year of heavy fighting with Confederate forces, from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor to the Crater.
It was a gloomy summer for Union fortunes, leading many -- including Lincoln himself -- to fear that he would lose his re-election bid that November.
Addressed to Lt. Gen. Grant at his City Point, Va., headquarters, the telegram read: "I have seen your dispatch expressing your unwillingness to break your hold where you are. Neither am I willing. Hold on with a bulldog grip and chew & choke, as much as possible."
After his Archives speech, Zelensky posted on X, formerly known as Twitter:
"Among the documents I saw today at the National Archives was Abraham Lincoln’s telegram to General Grant.
An inspiring document. 'Hold on with a bulldog grip, and chew and choke as much as possible.'
President Lincoln’s words reflect the courage and faith that helped America. President Lincoln’s words reflect exactly how Ukrainians fight."
And later he added, "Every day of this war, Ukrainian soldiers hold on with the grip of a bulldog. They chew and choke the Russian occupiers as much as possible."
The Ukrainians are in the midst of a slow-going summer offensive against occupying Russian forces in the south and east of Ukraine. Casualties in the war, which began with a Russian invasion on Feb. 2022, have reached around 500,000 killed and wounded from both sides, according to U.S. estimates quoted in The New York Times.
In his biography of Grant, author Ron Chernow wrote that "Abraham Lincoln delighted in Grant's uncommon tenacity" - which was one reason he appointed him commanding general.
Grant was seated outside his tent conferring with staff officers when he read Lincoln's telegram. He smiled and laughed, Chernow said, and told his staff,
"The president has more nerve than any of his advisers."
In November 1864, after Union forces took Atlanta and Mobile, Ala., northern morale soared and Lincoln won re-election with 55 percent of the vote over former U.S. Gen. George B. McClellan, whose reluctance to engage with Confederate forces had led Lincoln to fire him as commander of the Army of the Potomac.
Photo credit: National Archives