March 20, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln accepted General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant’s invitation to visit Grant’s headquarters at City Point, Virginia.
Grant’s wife Julia had urged her husband to invite Lincoln after reading news accounts of the president’s fatigue. Grant telegraphed: “Can you not visit City Point for a day or two? I would like very much to see you, and I think the rest would do you good.” Already considering such a trip, Lincoln immediately accepted.
Lincoln commandeered the dispatch steamer Bat to take him from Washington down Chesapeake Bay to City Point. However, First Lady Mary Lincoln insisted on going as well to visit the Lincolns’ son Robert, who served on Grant’s staff. So officials exchanged Bat with the more luxurious steamer River Queen.
The Lincolns, with son Tad, Mrs. Lincoln’s maid, a bodyguard, and a military aide left Washington’s Arsenal Wharf at Sixth Street on March 23. They arrived at City Point the next evening, and Robert Lincoln reported to Grant that his family had arrived.
Robert boarded River Queen for breakfast on the 25th, where they could hear the Battle of Fort Stedman taking place just eight miles away. Although Robert described the fight as “a little rumpus,” he informed his father that the morning military review had been postponed as a result. The Confederates had temporarily broken the Petersburg siege lines in a desperate attack, but the Federals quickly regained the fort and all lost ground.
When Lincoln expressed desire to visit the Fort Stedman battlefield, Grant refused to allow him to be exposed to enemy fire. However, Grant quickly reconsidered and the men took the military railroad to the siege lines. From there they rode horses over part of the field.
The next morning, Lincoln watched Federal cavalry under Major General Philip Sheridan cross the James River en route to fighting at Petersburg. Riding a boat with Sheridan (who was a foot shorter than the president), Lincoln remarked that “when this peculiar war began I thought a cavalryman should be at least six feet four inches high, but I have changed my mind. Five feet four will do in a pinch.”
During a troop review, an incident occurred among Mrs. Lincoln and the generals’ wives. As Mary Lincoln and Julia Grant watched the review from an ambulance, Mrs. Lincoln became enraged upon seeing the wife of Major General E.O.C. Ord pass them on horseback and stop beside Lincoln, also on horseback. Mrs. Grant tried calming the first lady, who then snapped at her: “I suppose you think you’ll get to the White House yourself, don’t you?” When Mrs. Ord tried joining the ladies, Mrs. Lincoln berated her to tears. The first lady continued her tirade against both her husband and Mrs. Ord this evening at a dinner for Grant and his staff aboard River Queen.
General William T. Sherman and Admiral David D. Porter soon arrived to confer with Lincoln and Grant on future plans. Mrs. Lincoln and son Tad returned to Washington in early April, but Lincoln stayed behind to witness what would become the final phase of the war in Virginia.
-  Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 17101-17111; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 707-08
-  Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox, Kindle Locations 17101-17121
-  Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, p. 707-08; McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1981), p. 211
-  Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox, Kindle Locations 17549-17569; Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, p. 709-10
-  Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox, Kindle Locations 17549-17569; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 656-57
-  Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox, Kindle Locations 17875-17895; Long with Long, The Civil War Day by Day, p. 658
-  Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox, Kindle Locations 17726-17756; McFeely, Grant: A Biography, p. 211
-  Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox, Kindle Locations 18735-18755