April 14, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln held a cabinet meeting and tended to administrative issues before ending the day with a trip to Ford’s Theatre.
Good Friday opened with Lincoln rising at 7 a.m. He dealt with some paperwork and then met his son Robert for breakfast. Having served on Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant’s staff, Robert shared details about General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House.
The president then went to his office and received several politicians and petitioners regarding such topics as the western territories, political patronage, and southern property confiscation. When a man requested a pass to go into Virginia, Lincoln wrote, “No pass is necessary now to authorize any one to go to and return from Petersburg and Richmond. People go and return just as they did before the war.”
Lincoln visited the War Department to get the latest telegraphic news regarding the armies. He then returned to the White House for an 11 a.m. cabinet meeting. Secretary of State William H. Seward was still recovering from a carriage accident and did not attend; his son Frederick sat in for him. Grant was scheduled to be there, and the ministers applauded him when he entered the room.
The meeting began with a discussion on how best to lift trade restrictions and resume normal commercial relations in the South. Treasury Secretary Hugh McCulloch recommended firing the treasury agents controlling trade in the southern ports. According to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, Grant “expressed himself very decidedly against them, thought them demoralizing, etc.”
Welles called for a resumption of normal commercial relations along the Atlantic coast. However, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton warned that this might not be feasible because the Federal army was not yet in control of all coastal ports. Grant suggested that regular trade “might embrace all this side of the Mississippi.”
Stanton unveiled a document outlining a punitive military occupation of the former Confederacy. Neither Lincoln nor Grant commented, but all agreed to read the plan so they could discuss it at the next meeting. Lincoln had called for a more conciliatory restoration of the Union, but he did agree with Stanton’s idea that each conquered state should have its own federally-appointed military governor.
Regarding the remaining Confederates, Lincoln said:
“I hope there will be no persecution, no bloody work, after the war is over. No one need expect me to take part in hanging or killing those men, even the worse of them. Frighten them out of the country, open the gates, let down the bars, scare them off. Enough lives have been sacrificed. We must extinguish our resentment if we expect harmony and union. There has been too much of a desire on the part of some of our very good friends to be masters, to interfere with and dictate to those states, to treat the people not as fellow citizens; there is too little respect for their rights. I do not sympathize in these feelings.”
Lincoln appreciated that the newly elected Congress would not assemble until December because it gave him time to start his restoration plan without interference from the Radicals who sought to punish the South. Stanton noted that Lincoln “was more cheerful and happy than I had ever seen him.” He “rejoiced at the near prospect of firm and durable peace at home and abroad, manifested in marked degree the kindness and humanity of his disposition, and the tender and forgiving spirit that so eminently distinguished him.”
The president then announced, “I had this strange dream again last night.” He “seemed to be in some singular, indescribable vessel… moving with great rapidity towards a dark and indefinite shore.” He said this dream had occurred just before every major Federal victory, listing Antietam, Gettysburg, Stones River, Vicksburg, and so on. Grant replied that Stones River was certainly no victory. Some members, including Welles, attributed Grant’s dismissal of Stones River to his disdain for Major General William S. Rosecrans.
Lincoln “looked at Grant curiously and inquiringly” and said they may “differ on that point, and at all events his dream preceded it.” He said that “we shall, judging from the past, have great news very soon. I think it must be from Sherman. My thoughts are in that direction, as are most of yours.” Grant replied that he expected word from Major General William T. Sherman in North Carolina very soon. The cabinet members then asked Grant to share details about Lee’s surrender.
This informal meeting lasted until around 2 p.m. Afterward, Lincoln invited Grant and his wife Julia to go to the theater with him and First Lady Mary Lincoln that night. However, Mrs. Grant had been insulted by Mrs. Lincoln in March, and she sent her husband a note during the meeting urging him to take her to see their children in Burlington, New Jersey, instead. Grant recalled: “Some incident of a trifling nature had made her resolve to leave that evening,” but nevertheless, “I was glad to have the note, as I did not want to go to the theater.”
After the meeting, Lincoln broke away from business long enough to enjoy a carriage ride with the first lady. As they rode, Lincoln told her, “Mary, we have had a hard time of it since we came to Washington; but the war is over, and with God’s blessing we may hope for four years of peace and happiness, and then we will go back to Illinois, and pass the rest of our lives in quiet.”
When the president returned to the White House, he met with fellow Illinoisans Governor Richard J. Oglesby and General Isham Haynie. Lincoln read them excerpts from a book until he was called to dinner. According to Oglesby, “They kept sending for him to come to dinner. He promised each time to go, but would continue reading the book. Finally he got a sort of peremptory order that he must come to dinner at once. It was explained to me by the old man at the door that they were going to have dinner and then go to the theater.”
Lincoln had no particular desire to attend the theater that night, but he said, “It has been advertised that we will be there, and I cannot disappoint the people. Otherwise I would not go. I do not want to go.” Congressman Isaac N. Arnold came to meet with Lincoln just as he was leaving. Lincoln told him, “Excuse me now, I am going to the theater. Come and see me in the morning.”
Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 473-74; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 64-104; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 12616, 12649, 12660-81; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 20480-90; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 731-37; McFeely, William S., Grant (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1981), p. 222-24; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q265