A historic meeting occurred between Lincoln, Grant and Sherman on March 27-28, 1865 at City Point, Virginia. Sherman had no idea that President Lincoln was going to be there, he having traveled by sea from North Carolina to coordinate with Grant the final campaign of the War. This meeting was memorialized in the 1868 painting The Peacemakers, which was suggested by Sherman:
In Chicago about June or July of that year, when all the facts were fresh in my mind, I told them to George P. A. Healy, the artist, who was casting about for a subject for an historical painting, and he adopted this interview. Mr. Lincoln was then dead, but Healy had a portrait, which he himself had made at Springfield some five or six years before. With this portrait, some existing photographs, and the strong resemblance in form of [Leonard Swett], of Chicago, to Mr. Lincoln he made the picture of Mr. Lincoln seen in this group. For General Grant, Admiral Porter, and myself he had actual sittings, and I am satisfied the four portraits in this group of Healy’s are the best extant. The original picture, life-size, is, I believe, now in Chicago, the property of Mr. [Ezra B. McCagg]; but Healy afterwards, in Rome, painted ten smaller copies, about eighteen by twenty-four inches, one of which I now have, and it is now within view. I think the likeness of Mr. Lincoln by far the best of the many I have seen elsewhere, and those of General Grant, Admiral Porter, and myself equally good and faithful. I think Admiral Porter gave Healy a written description of our relative positions in that interview, also the dimensions, shape, and furniture of the cabin of the “Ocean Queen”; but the rainbow is Healy’s—typical, of course, of the coming peace. In this picture I seem to be talking, the others attentively listening. Whether Healy made this combination from Admiral Porter’s letter or not, I cannot say; but I thought that he caught the idea from what I told him had occurred when saying that “if Lee would only remain in Richmond till I could reach Burkesville, we would have him between our thumb and fingers,” suiting the action to the word. It matters little what Healy meant by his historic group, but it is certain that we four sat pretty much as represented, and were engaged in an important conversation during the forenoon of March 28, 1865, and that we parted never to meet again.
The original painting was destroyed in a fire, and what we have now is a copy found in 1922, lying forgotten in a family storehouse in Chicago. Harry Truman, ironically a proud card carrying member of Sons of Confederate Veterans, purchased the copy of the painting for the White House in 1947.
Here is Sherman’s recollections of the meeting from his Memoirs:
The railroad was repaired to Goldsboro’ by the evening of March 25th, when, leaving General Schofield in chief command, with a couple of staff-officers I started for City Point, Virginia, in a locomotive, in company with Colonel Wright, the constructing engineer. We reached Newbern that evening, which was passed in the company of General Palmer and his accomplished lady, and early the next morning we continued on to Morehead City, where General Easton had provided for us the small captured steamer Russia, Captain Smith. We put to sea at once and steamed up the coast, reaching Fortress Monroe on the morning of the 27th, where I landed and telegraphed to my brother, Senator Sherman, at Washington, inviting him to come down and return with me to Goldsboro. We proceeded on up James River to City Point, which we reached the same afternoon. I found General Grant, with his family and staff, occupying a pretty group of huts on the bank of James River, overlooking the harbor, which was full of vessels of all classes, both war and merchant, with wharves and warehouses on an extensive scale. The general received me most heartily, and we talked over matters very fully. After I had been with him an hour or so, he remarked that the President, Mr. Lincoln, was then on board the steamer River Queen, lying at the wharf, and he proposed that we should call and see him. We walked down to the wharf, went on board, and found Mr. Lincoln alone, in the after-cabin. He remembered me perfectly, and at once engaged in a most interesting conversation. He was full of curiosity about the many incidents of our great march, which had reached him officially and through the newspapers, and seemed to enjoy very much the more ludicrous parts-about the “bummers,” and their devices to collect food and forage when the outside world supposed us to be starving; but at the same time he expressed a good deal of anxiety lest some accident might happen to the army in North Carolina during my absence. I explained to him that that army was snug and comfortable, in good camps, at Goldsboro’; that it would require some days to collect forage and food for another march; and that General Schofield was fully competent to command it in my absence. Having made a good, long, social visit, we took our leave and returned to General Grant’s quarters, where Mrs. Grant had provided tea. While at the table, Mrs. Grant inquired if we had seen Mrs. Lincoln. “No,” said the general, “I did not ask for her;” and I added that I did not even know that she was on board. Mrs. Grant then exclaimed, “Well, you are a pretty pair!” and added that our neglect was unpardonable; when the general said we would call again the next day, and make amends for the unintended slight.
Early the next day, March 28th, all the principal officers of the army and navy called to see me, Generals Meade, Ord, Ingalls, etc., and Admiral Porter. At this time the River Queen was at anchor out in the river, abreast of the wharf, and we again started to visit Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln. Admiral Porter accompanied us. We took a small, tug at the wharf, which conveyed us on board, where we were again received most courteously by the President, who conducted us to the after-cabin. After the general compliments, General Grant inquired after Mrs. Lincoln, when the President went to her stateroom, returned, and begged us to excuse her, as she was not well. We then again entered upon a general conversation, during which General Grant explained to the President that at that very instant of time General Sheridan was crossing James River from the north, by a pontoon-bridge below City Point; that he had a large, well-appointed force of cavalry, with which he proposed to strike the Southside and Danville Railroads, by which alone General Lee, in Richmond, supplied his army; and that, in his judgment, matters were drawing to a crisis, his only apprehension being that General Lee would not wait long enough. I also explained that my army at Goldsboro’ was strong enough to fight Lee’s army and Johnston’s combined, provided that General Grant could come up within a day or so; that if Lee would only remain in Richmond another fortnight, I could march up to Burkesville, when Lee would have to starve inside of his lines, or come out from his intrenchments and fight us on equal terms.
Both General Grant and myself supposed that one or the other of us would have to fight one more bloody battle, and that it would be the last. Mr. Lincoln exclaimed, more than once, that there had been blood enough shed, and asked us if another battle could not be avoided. I remember well to have said that we could not control that event; that this necessarily rested with our enemy; and I inferred that both Jeff. Davis and General Lee would be forced to fight one more desperate and bloody battle. I rather supposed it would fall on me, somewhere near Raleigh; and General Grant added that, if Lee would only wait a few more days, he would have his army so disposed that if the enemy should abandon Richmond, and attempt to make junction with General Jos. Johnston in North Carolina, he (General Grant) would be on his heels. Mr. Lincoln more than once expressed uneasiness that I was not with my army at Goldsboro’, when I again assured him that General Schofield was fully competent to command in my absence; that I was going to start back that very day, and that Admiral Porter had kindly provided for me the steamer Bat, which he said was much swifter than my own vessel, the Russia. During this interview I inquired of the President if he was all ready for the end of the war. What was to be done with the rebel armies when defeated? And what should be done with the political leaders, such as Jeff. Davis, etc.? Should we allow them to escape, etc.? He said he was all ready; all he wanted of us was to defeat the opposing armies, and to get the men composing the Confederate armies back to their homes, at work on their farms and in their shops. As to Jeff. Davis, he was hardly at liberty to speak his mind fully, but intimated that he ought to clear out, “escape the country,” only it would not do for him to say so openly. As usual, he illustrated his meaning by a story: Continue reading
Anyone looking at photographs of Lincoln in 1860 and 1865 can’t help but see how much the War aged him. By March 1865 Grant thought that Lincoln could use some time away from Washington, and suggested to him that he visit Grant at his headquarters at City Point, Virginia on the James River. Lincoln readily agreed and on March 23, 1865 left for City Point, along with his wife and Tad. In his last month of life, he would spend eighteen days at City Point. Continue reading
Making a short speech on March 17, 1865 to the 140th Indiana Infantry regiment, Lincoln commented on the plans of the Confederacy to enlist black soldiers:
FELLOW CITIZENS—It will be but a very few words that I shall undertake to say. I was born in Kentucky, raised in Indiana and lived in Illinois. (Laughter.) And now I am here, where it is my business to care equally for the good people of all the States. I am glad to see an Indiana regiment on this day able to present the captured flag to the Governor of Indiana. (Applause.) I am not disposed, in saying this, to make a distinction between the States, for all have done equally well. (Applause.) There are but few views or aspects of this great war upon which I have not said or written something whereby my own opinions might be known. But there is one—the recent attempt of our erring brethren, as they are sometimes called—(laughter)—to employ the negro to fight for them. I have neither written nor made a speech on that subject, because that was their business, not mine; and if I had a wish upon the subject I had not the power to introduce it, or make it effective. The great question with them was, whether the negro, being put into the army, would fight for them. I do not know, and therefore cannot decide. (Laughter.) They ought to know better than we. I have in my lifetime heard many arguments why the negroes ought to be slaves; but if they fight for those who would keep them in slavery it will be a better argument than any I have yet heard. Continue reading
Since the fall of 1864 John Wilkes Booth along with others had been plotting against Lincoln. A supporter of the Confederacy, Booth was also a popular actor, a son of the great actor Junius Brutus Booth who had written a letter, perhaps tongue in cheek, to Andrew Jackson, threatening to assassinate him. His brother Edwin Booth, perhaps the foremost American actor of his day and who had saved the life of Robert Todd Lincoln, was a firm supporter of Lincoln and the Union, and had banned his brother from his house in New York. Booth had an unexplained trip to Montreal in 1864. It is tempting to suspect that he got in contact with Confederate intelligence operatives active in Canada, but no evidence has been found linking Booth to Confederate intelligence then or later.
Initially Booth and his co-conspirators had planned to kidnap Lincoln and smuggle him South and trade him for Confederate prisoners of war. They gathered on March 17, 1865 to do so when Lincoln was en route to a play but Lincoln unknowingly foiled the plot by changing his plans. Booth and his band awaited another opportunity.
In 1874 Asia Booth in a memoir of her brother, that remained unpublished until 1938, recounts a strange event that occurred to Booth while he was a schoolboy and that summed up his life: Continue reading
On March 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln took time to scribble a thank you note to Thurlow Weed. A political fixer of the first order and a political powerhouse in New York, Weed had been critical of Lincoln after the Emancipation Proclamation and had only grudgingly supported him for re-election. Interestingly enough, there is no record of Weed sending a letter to Lincoln complimenting him on the Second Inaugural. Thus Lincoln was either mistaken, or the letter from Weed has vanished along with most correspondence written in the 19th century. However, that fact is secondary to what Lincoln said in the note:
MARCH 15, 1865
EXECUTIVE MANSION, WASHINGTON
DEAR MR. WEED:
Every one likes a compliment. Thank you for yours on my little notification speech and on the recent inaugural address. I expect the latter to wear as well as–perhaps better than–anything I have produced; but I believe it is not immediately popular. Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them. To deny it, however, in this case, is to deny that there is a God governing the world. It is a truth which I thought needed to be told, and, as whatever of humiliation there is in it falls most directly on myself, I thought others might afford for me to tell it.
Lincoln underlines in this note the passage in the Second Inaugural in which he thought the War might be a punishment from God inflicted on both North and South: Continue reading
Something for the weekend. Kids at the 2013 Illinois State Fair reciting the Gettysburg Address. Seemed appropriate to recall Lincoln’s second greatest speech on the weekend following the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s greatest speech, which has never had the cachet with the American people that the Gettysburg address has had. Endless recitals of the speech have been given. Here is one by Johnny Cash who had a strong life long interest in the Civil War:
My favorite recitation of the Gettysburg address was given by Englishman Charles Laughton: Continue reading
Hands down the most moving inaugural address in American history is the second inaugural address given by President Lincoln on March 4, 1865, little over a month before his death. It is short, to the point and powerful. It is also the most important theological document written by any American President. Here is the text:
Lincoln was a long man.
He liked out of doors,
He liked the wind blowing
And the talk in country stores
He liked telling stories,
He liked telling jokes.
“Abe’s quite a character,”
Said quite a lot of folks.
Lots of folks in Springfield
Saw him every day,
Walking down the street
In his gaunt, long way.
Shawl around his shoulders,
Letters in his hat.
“That’s Abe Lincoln.”
They thought no more than that.
Knew that he was honest,
Guessed that he was odd,
Knew he had a cross wife,
Though she was a Todd.
Knew that he had three little boys
Who liked to shout and play,
Knew he had a lot of debts
It took him years to pay.
Knew his clothes and knew his house
“That’s his office, here.
Blame good lawyer on the whole,
Though he’s sort of queer.
“Sure, he went to Congress, once,
But he didn’t stay.
Can’t expect us all to be
Smart as Henry Clay.
“Need a man for troubled times?
Well, I guess we do.
Wonder who we’ll ever find?
Yes–I wonder who.”
That is how they met and talked,
Knowing and unknowing,
Lincoln was the green pine.
Lincoln kept on growing
Stephen Vincent Benet
One hundred and fifty years ago, Abraham Lincoln turned 56, the last birthday he would know in this life, Lincoln having just slightly over two months to live.
Like most adults in the Nineteenth Century, Lincoln never had any celebrations for his birthdays, no cake, no gifts, no ceremony. February 12, 1865 was just another day for him, filled with the endless burdens and grinding work of being President in a time of civil war. Yet, during one point in his day, I would wager that Lincoln probably thought momentarily of his long ago childhood.
He wrote out a “pardon” for some misbehaving students. The note said: “Let these boys return to their school upon the condition stated by them, and remain so long as they do not misbehave.” Continue reading
On February 10, 1865, pursuant to a House of Representatives Resolution drafted by Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, Lincoln sent a report to the House which basically consisted of a timeline of the events that led up to the Hampton Roads Conference. Radical Republicans were furious when they first learned of the Hampton Roads Conference, afraid that Lincoln was trying an end run around them by ending the War on terms generous to the Confederates. After the report was read in the House, tension ebbed when it was clear that the Hampton Roads Conference had ended without any agreement being reached, or any further meetings planned. Here is the text of Lincoln’s report: Continue reading
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,
Lieutenant-General. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. This video purports to have in it every known photograph of Mr. Lincoln. The songs in the video are Lincoln and Liberty Too, perhaps the most stirring campaign song in American history, Dixie, ironically a favorite song of the President of the Union, and the haunting Ashokan Farewell. A fitting video in the weekend before we observe the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Lincoln’s last birthday in this Vale of Tears.
Throughout the War Lincoln had made several attempts to propose compensated emancipation to end the War. All such initiatives were still-born, killed by the twin facts that Congress was uninterested in providing the funding and that the slaveholders were uninterested in ending slavery, even with compensation. On February 5, 1865, Lincoln proposed this plan to his cabinet:
House of Representatives.
I respectfully recommend that a Joint Resolution, substantially as follows, be adopted so soon as practicable, by your honorable bodies.
“Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives, of the United States of America in congress assembled: That the President of the United States is hereby empowered, in his discretion, to pay four hundred millions of dollars to the States of Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West-Virginia, in the manner, and on the conditions following, towit: The payment to be made in six per cent government bonds, and to be distributed among said States pro rata on their respective slave populations, as shown by the census of 1860; and no part of said sum to be paid unless all resistance to the national authority shall be abandoned and cease, on or before the first day of April next; and upon such abandonment and ceasing of resistance, one half of said sum to be paid in manner aforesaid, and the remaining half to be paid only upon the amendment of the national constitution recently proposed byPage 261congress, becoming valid law, on or before the first day of July next, by the action thereon of the requisite number of States”
The adoption of such resolution is sought with a view to embody it, with other propositions, in a proclamation looking to peace and re-union.
Whereas a Joint Resolution has been adopted by congress in the words following, towit
Now therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do proclaim, declare, and make known, that on the conditions therein stated, the power conferred on the Executive in and by said Joint Resolution, will be fully exercised; that war will cease, and armies be reduced to a basis of peace; that all political offences will be pardoned; that all property, except slaves, liable to confiscation or forfeiture, will be released therefrom, except in cases of intervening interests of third parties; and that liberality will be recommended to congress upon all points not lying within executive control. Continue reading
The Hampton Roads Conference between President Lincoln and three representatives of the Confederacy, led by Lincoln’s old friend, and fellow former Whig, Vice President Alexander Stephens, was an exercise in pointlessness, as Lincoln and Stephens both knew it would be. Lincoln was willing to negotiate on anything except Union and the end of Slavery, the two items that the Confederate emissaries lacked any authority to concede. The only result of the conference was that Lincoln agreed to release from captivity a nephew of Stephens, a Confederate POW. (Stephens did not request this until he was pressed by Lincoln as to whether there was anything he could do of a personal nature for him.) The war would go on and both Lincoln and Davis could tell their peoples that negotiations had been attempted and that only success on the battlefield could lead to peace. Here are the comments of Grant on this curious incident in the War: Continue reading
One hundred and fifty years ago President Lincoln signed the Thirteenth Amendment which had just been passed by Congress. Unknown to most Americans, it is also National Freedom Day, so proclaimed by President Truman on January 25, 1949. Here is the text of his proclamation:
Whereas, near the end of the tragic conflict between the Northern and Southern States, the Congress adopted a joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution which would outlaw slavery in the United States and in every place subject to its jurisdiction; and
Whereas the resolution was signed by President Lincoln on February 1, 1865, and thereafter led to the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment to the constitution; and
Whereas that Amendment is a corner stone in the foundation of our American traditions, and the signing of the resolution is a landmark in the Nation’s effort to fulfill the principles of freedom and justice proclaimed in the first ten amendments to the Constitution; and
Whereas, by a joint resolution approved June 30, 1948 (62 Stat. 1150), the Congress authorized the President to proclaim the first day of February of each year as National Freedom Day in commemoration of the signing of the resolution of February 1, 1865; and
Whereas the Government and people of the United States wholeheartedly support the Universal Declaration of Human Rights approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 10, 1948, which declares that “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”:
Now, Therefore, I, Harry S. Truman, President of the United States of America, do hereby designate February 1, 1949, and each succeeding February 1, as national Freedom Day; and I call upon the people of the United States to pause on that day in solemn contemplation of the glorious blessings of freedom which we humbly and thankfully enjoy.
In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States of America to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington this 25th day of January in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and forty-nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and seventy-third. Continue reading
After Francis P. Blair returned to Washington from Richmond with a note from Jefferson Davis indicating a willingness to enter into negotiations, go here and here for background on Blair’s mission and his meeting with Davis, Lincoln had a decision to make. Refuse to enter into negotiations and that would anger both moderate Republicans and Democrats. Enter into negotiations, and both mainstream and radical Republicans would be dismayed. Lincoln hit upon a shrewd response. He would enter into negotiations, but he would couch his agreement in such terms as clearly to indicate no weakening in his resolve to preserve the Union: Continue reading
Sherman and his men completed their March to the Sea with the siege of Savannah, Georgia. The end of the siege was anti-climactic with Lieutenant General W. J. Hardee evacuating his garrison from the city of Savannah. Sherman sent this message to Lincoln announcing the fall of Savannah.
SAVANNAH, GA., December 22, 1864
(Via Fort Monroe 6.45 p.m. 25th)
His Excellency President LINCOLN:
I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.
The message reached the White House on Christmas Day. It was published in the papers and roused huge joy throughout the North as another sign that the end of the War was in sight. Lincoln spoke for the North when he telegrammed back to Sherman:
MY DEAR GENERAL SHERMAN:
Many, many thanks for your Christmas gift, the capture of Savannah. When you were about leaving Atlanta for the Atlantic coast, I was anxious, if not fearful; but feeling that you were the better judge, and remembering that ‘nothing risked, nothing gained,’ I did not interfere. Now, the undertaking being a success, the honor is yours; for I believe none of us went further than to acquiesce. And taking the work of General Thomas into the county, as it should be taken, it is indeed a great success. Not only does it afford the obvious and immediate military advantages, but, in showing to the world that your army could be divided, putting the stronger part to an important new service, and yet leaving enough to vanquish the old opposing force of the whole — Hood’s army — it brings those who sat in darkness to see a great light. But what next? I suppose it will be safer if I leave General Grant and yourself to decide. Please make my grateful acknowledgments to your whole army, officers and men. Continue reading
Published on December 31, 1864, and drawn by Thomas Nast, the above picture has Lincoln inviting the starving Confederate states to join the Christmas dinner of the Union States. The print brings to mind the phrase that Lincoln would make immortal in his Second Inaugural in a few short months: “With malice towards none, with charity for all”. Not a bad sentiment to recall at Christmas time, or any time.