March 23, 1865 – The Lincoln family boarded a steamboat to visit Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant and the Federal armies laying siege to Petersburg and Richmond.
Grant’s wife Julia had read newspaper accounts about Lincoln’s exhaustion and urged her husband to invite the president to army headquarters at City Point to get him away from Washington. Congressman Elihu B. Washburne, Grant’s political benefactor who was visiting headquarters at the time, suggested it as well.
When Grant said that the president had the right to visit any time he wanted, a staffer explained that Lincoln did not want to interfere with military affairs and would not come unless invited. Thus, Grant sent Lincoln a telegram: “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.”
Lincoln quickly answered: “Your kind invitation received. Had already thought of going immediately after the next rain. Will go sooner if any reason for it. Mrs. L and a few others will probably accompany me. Will notify you of exact time, once it shall be fixed upon.”
Lincoln had initially planned to make the trip himself to get away from the politicians and office-seekers and get some much needed rest. The commandant of the Washington Navy Yard was instructed to prepare the dispatch steamer U.S.S. Bat to take him down Chesapeake Bay to City Point. But First Lady Mary Lincoln insisted on going as well to see their son Robert, who was serving on Grant’s staff. Officials therefore exchanged the Bat with the more luxurious steamer U.S.S. River Queen.
The Lincolns left Washington’s Arsenal Wharf at Sixth Street on the 23rd. Their party included son Tad, Mrs. Lincoln’s maid, White House bodyguard William H. Crook, and a second bodyguard, Captain Charles Penrose, sent by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. Despite a heavy storm, the River Queen started down the Potomac and arrived at City Point the following night. Robert Lincoln reported to Grant that his family had arrived.
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