As news spread of the abortive Hampton Roads Conference, members of Congress demanded to know what was said. Lincoln sent the following telegraph to Grant on February 8, 1865:
City Point, Va. Washington, Feb. 8. 1865
I am called on by the House of Representatives to give an account of my interview with Messrs. Stephens, Hunter & Campbell; and it is very desireable to me to put in your despatch of Feb. 1st. to the Sec. of War, in which among other things you say “I fear now their going back without any expression from any one in authority will have a bad influence” I think the despatch does you credit while I do not see that it can embarrass you. May I use it?
Here is the message from Grant to Stanton on February 1:
CITY POINT, VA., February 1, 1865-10.30 p.m.
Honorable EDWIN M. STANTON,
Secretary of War:
Now that the interview between Major Eckert, under his written instructions, and Mr. Stephens and party has ended, I will state confidentially, but not officially to become a matter of record, that I am convinced, upon conversation with Messrs. Stephens and Hunter, that their intentions are good and their desire sincere to restore peace and union. I have not felt myself at liberty to express even views of my own or to account for my reticence. This has placed me in an awkward position, which I could have avoided by not seeing them in the first instance. I fear now their going back without any expression from any one in authority will have a bad influence. At the same time I recognize the difficulties in the way of receiving these informal commissioners at this time, and do not know what to recommend. I am sorry, however, that Mr. Lincoln cannot have an interview with the two named in this despatch, if not all there now within our lines. Their letter to me was all that the President’s instructions contemplated, to secure their safe conduct, if they had used the same language to Major Eckert.
U. S. GRANT,
Here we see Lincoln the master politician in action. Grant was quite popular in the North, having succeeded in placing Richmond under siege. Lincoln could use this message to defuse Radical Republican criticism that he had shown weakness in even talking to the Confederate emissaries. Lincoln could now respond that even Grant, the God of War incarnate as far as the Union was concerned in 1865, was in favor of talking to the emissaries. As usual when it came to dealing with fellow politicians, Lincoln knew how to effortlessly outmaneuver them. Grant immediately gave his permission for Lincoln to use his missive.