Tag Archives: Abraham Lincoln

The Appomattox Campaign

April 7, 1865 – After suffering his worst defeat, Confederate General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee embarked on the final campaign of his military career.

The Confederates who survived yesterday’s Sayler’s Creek rout continued their agonizing march west to collect the rations waiting for them at Farmville. Many starving men had been living on dried corn intended for the horses. They crossed the Appomattox River and burned the bridges behind them, but Federals from II Corps seized a bridge downriver before it could be destroyed. This enabled the Federals to cross and continue their close pursuit.

As the Confederates stopped at Farmville to cook their rations, Lee learned that the Federals had gotten across the Appomattox. He would have to order another forced march to get away, this time to Appomattox Court House, 38 miles west. The exhausted troops were quickly put in motion once again; many had not even had time to eat when the ration train steamed off to safety. Brigadier General E. Porter Alexander, the Confederate artillery chief, later wrote:

“It was very plain that the prospect of being surrendered had suddenly become a topic of general conversation. Indeed, no man who looked at our situation on a map, or who understood the geography of the country, could fail to see that General Grant now had us completely in a trap… We were now in a sort of jug shaped peninsula between the James River and the Appomattox, and there was but one outlet, the neck of the jug at Appomattox Court House, and to that Grant had the shortest road!”

Federals from II Corps and Major General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry clashed with a Confederate holding force at Cumberland Church on the afternoon of the 7th. The Confederates repelled two charges, capturing Brigadier General John Irvin Gregg and mortally wounding Brigadier General Thomas A. Smyth in the process. Smyth would become the last general to die in the war. Darkness ended the fighting, and the Confederates soon began another grueling night march.

Federal General U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikispaces.org

That night, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, rode into Farmville with Sheridan. Grant rode ahead of his baggage and had no clothes other than the mud-stained uniform he was wearing. Sheridan had written that Lee might surrender if pressed, and Grant forwarded this message to President Abraham Lincoln, who was still monitoring developments from the Federal supply base at City Point. Lincoln replied, “Gen. Sheridan says ‘If the thing is pressed I think that Lee will surrender.’ Let the thing be pressed.”

Sheridan reported that his cavalry was riding hard for Appomattox Court House, where the Federals learned that supplies were being sent for Lee’s army. Sheridan also reported that Lieutenant General Richard Ewell, the Confederate corps commander who had been captured at Sayler’s Creek, had told his captors, “Our cause is lost. Lee should surrender before more lives are wasted.” Grant said, “I have a mind to summon Lee to surrender.” Grant went into the town hotel serving as his headquarters and wrote a letter to be sent to Lee under a flag of truce:

“The result of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it as my duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood, by asking of you the surrender of that portion of the Confederate States army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.”

Meanwhile, Lee’s troops continued heading west. Many dropped out due to hunger, sleep deprivation, or sheer hopelessness. Major General Henry Wise, the former Virginia governor, bluntly told Lee:

“This army is hopelessly whipped, and is fast becoming demoralized. These men have already endured more than I believed flesh and blood could stand, and I say to you, sir, emphatically, that to prolong the struggle is murder, and the blood of every man who is killed from this time forth is on your head, General Lee.”

Lee asked, “What would the country think of me, if I did what you suggest?” Wise snapped, “Country be damned! There is no country. There has been no country, General, for a year or more. You are the country to these men… You know the game is desperate beyond redemption, and that, if you so announce, no man, or government, or people, will gainsay your decision.”

A courier delivered Grant’s message to Lee around 10 p.m. Lee read the message and then handed it to Lieutenant General James Longstreet, his most trusted corps commander. Longstreet read it and said, “Not yet.” Lee responded to Grant:

“GENERAL:–I have recd your note of this date. Though not entertaining the opinion you express of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of N. Va. I reciprocate your desire to avoid useless effusion of blood, & therefore before considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer on condition of its surrender.”

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 538; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 215-17; Catton, Bruce, The Army of the Potomac: A Stillness at Appomattox (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1953), p. 372-73; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 455-56; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22688; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 555-56; 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 18973-83, 19355-65, 19531-41; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 580; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 8653-65; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 550-51; Kennedy, Frances H. (ed.), The Civil War Battlefield Guide (Christopher M. Calkins, The Conservation Fund, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 281; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 119-55; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 668-69; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 847; 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

Reconstruction in Virginia

April 5, 1865 – While visiting Richmond, President Abraham Lincoln quickly set about working to restore Virginia to the Union.

J.A. Campbell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

On the afternoon of the 4th, Lincoln met with former Confederate Assistant Secretary of War and U.S. Supreme Court Justice John A. Campbell, the highest-ranking Confederate official still in Richmond. No longer an envoy as he had been at the Hampton Roads Conference, Campbell proclaimed his “submission to the military authorities.” He said, “When lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom, the gentler gamester is the soonest winner.”

According to Campbell: “I represented the conditions to him (Lincoln) and requested that no requisitions on the inhabitants be made of restraint of any sort save to police and preservation of order; not to exact oaths, interfere with the churches, etc. He assented to this.” Acknowledging that the war was over, Campbell urged Lincoln to exercise “moderation, magnanimity and kindness” toward the defeated South.

Campbell also recommended that Lincoln meet with Virginia politicians who “were satisfied that submission was a duty and a necessity” and discuss how best to return the state to the Union. Lincoln expressed deep interest in restoring Federal authority, which could best be done by letting “the prominent and influential men of their respective counties… come together and undo their own work.”

Campbell interpreted this to mean that Lincoln would be willing to disband the illegitimate pro-U.S. state legislature of Virginia in favor of the popularly elected body if those legislators willingly submitted to Federal rule and proclaimed loyalty to the U.S. Lincoln told Campbell he would return to Richmond the next day and discuss the matter further. The president retired to the U.S.S. Malvern, which had been brought up after Federals removed the torpedoes and obstructions in the James River.

At 10 a.m. on the 5th, Campbell met with Lincoln aboard the Malvern, anchored off Rockett’s Landing. Campbell had invited several Virginia politicians to accompany him, but only Richmond attorney Gustavus A. Myers accepted. Lincoln was accompanied by Major General Godfrey Weitzel, commanding the Federal occupation forces in Richmond.

Pres. Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Lincoln began by giving Campbell a paper listing the conditions for peace; these were the same conditions that Lincoln had proposed at the Hampton Roads Conference: “restoration of the national authority”; “no receding by the Executive of the United States on the slavery question from the position in the late annual message to Congress and in preceding documents”; and “no cessation of hostilities short of an end of the war, and the disbanding of all forces hostile to the government.”

If the Confederates accepted these terms, Lincoln would address all other issues “in a spirit of sincere liberality.” Lincoln also pledged to use his presidential power to return southern property seized under the Confiscation Acts, but this “remission of confiscation has no reference to supposed property in slaves.” Moreover, Lincoln warned that if the war continued, the Federals would use captured southern property to finance it.

Campbell told Lincoln that southerners would be willing to accept the abolition of slavery, and if Lincoln granted amnesty to Confederates, Virginia would return to the Union. However, nobody had the authority to overthrow the pro-Confederate Virginia government. Lincoln implicitly proposed that if the legislature assembled and voted the state out of the Confederacy, it could then rejoin the Union.

This was legally dubious because it would require Lincoln recognizing the Confederacy as a nation (something he had always refused to do), and it would delegitimize Francis Pierpont’s Unionist Virginia government. However, both Campbell and Myers contended that if Lincoln allowed the legislature to assemble, the legislators would vote themselves out of the Confederacy. Lincoln ended by saying he would make no firm decisions until he returned to the Federal supply base at City Point later that day.

When Lincoln returned to City Point, he read the waiting dispatches and learned that Secretary of State William H. Seward had been seriously injured in a carriage accident in Washington. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton urged Lincoln to return to Washington, and one of Weitzel’s brigade commanders reported that if Lincoln returned to Richmond, he might be assassinated. Lincoln replied, “I cannot bring myself to believe that any human being lives who would do me any harm.” The president resolved to stay and work on the Virginia situation.

The next day, Lincoln wrote to Weitzel in Richmond:

“It has been intimated to me that the gentlemen who have acted as the Legislature of Virginia, in support of the rebellion, may now now (sic) desire to assemble at Richmond and take measures to withdraw the Virginia troops and other support from resistance to the General government. If they attempt it, give them permission and protection, until, if at all, they attempt some action hostile to the United States, in which case you will notify them and give them reasonable time to leave… Allow Judge Campbell to see this, but do not make it public.”

Lincoln also informed Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, of his decision, and added:

“Judge Campbell thought it not impossible that the Rebel legislature of Virginia would (assemble) if permitted, and accordingly I addressed a private letter to General Weitzel, with permission for Judge Campbell to see it, telling him that if they attempt to do this to permit and protect them, unless they attempt something hostile to the United States, in which case to give them notice and time to leave and to arrest any remaining after such time.

“I do not think it very probable that anything will come of this, but I have thought best to notify you so that if you should see any signs you may understand them. From our recent dispatches it seems that you are pretty effectually withdrawing the Virginia troops from opposition to the government. Nothing I have done, or probably shall do, is to delay, hinder or interfere with you in your work.”

Lincoln would present this plan to his cabinet when he returned to Washington and to his surprise, he would be met by stern opposition.

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References

Catton, Bruce, Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media, Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 452-54; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 555; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 12319-63; 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 18844-74, 18913-44; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 578; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 729; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 666-68; McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1981), p. 215; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 851; 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

Lincoln Visits Richmond

April 4, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln visited the former Confederate capital of Richmond the day after its fall.

Rear Adm D.D. Porter | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Rear Admiral David D. Porter, commanding the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, arranged for Lincoln to go to Richmond via the James River. The party traveled aboard Porter’s flagship U.S.S. Malvern, accompanied by the gunboat U.S.S. Bat. There were too many torpedoes and obstructions in the river past Chaffin’s Bluff, so the party finished their journey to Rockett’s Wharf on a small barge.

The party landed near the former Federal prisoner of war camp at Libby Prison. Lincoln came ashore with his son Tad, White House guard William H. Crook, and Porter, who assigned 10 of the barge’s oarsmen to serve as presidential bodyguards. Porter then spotted a Federal cavalryman and sent him to arrange an escort. In the meantime, Lincoln began walking into town. Black residents quickly caught sight of the president and flocked to him. According to Crook:

“The shore for some distance before we reached Richmond was black with negroes… They were wild with excitement and yelling like so many wild men: ‘There comes Massa Lincoln, the Savior of the land–we is so glad to see him!’… By the time we were on shore hundreds of black hands were outstretched to the President, and he shook some of them and thanked the darkies for their welcome.”

Porter later wrote:

“Four minutes had passed since the party had landed in apparently deserted streets; but, now that the hymn was sung, the streets seemed to be suddenly alive with the colored race, the crowd around the President became very oppressive, and it was necessary to order the boat’s crew to fix bayonets and surround him to keep him from being crushed. The negroes, in their ecstasy, could not be made to understand that they were detaining the President, and would not feel that they were free unless they heard it from his own lips.”

President Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

The jubilant blacks cheered, prayed, and wept with joy as they tried touching Lincoln. One woman cried, “I know I am free, for I have seen Father Abraham and felt him.” Others shouted, “Glory to God! Bless the Lord! Glory, Hallelujah!” When some kneeled before him, Lincoln told them, “Don’t kneel to me. That is not right. You must kneel to God only, and thank Him for the liberty you will enjoy hereafter.”

The party continued on into the former Confederate capital, which still smoldered from the raging fires. Porter recalled, “Passing the Libby Prison, the President paused for a moment to look at the place where so many Union soldiers had dragged out a dreadful existence. ‘We will pull it down!’ shouted the crowd of poor whites and negroes. ‘No,’ said the President, ‘leave it as a monument.’”

Lincoln walked about two miles under the eyes of disheartened residents until he reached the former Confederate White House. It had been the home of Jefferson Davis 40 hours before, but it was now Federal headquarters, with Major General Godfrey Weitzel commanding. Lincoln took a tour of the residence, with journalist Charles Coffin writing of the scene:

“The procession reached Weitzel’s head-quarters–the mansion from which Jefferson Davis had taken his quick departure the previous Sunday.

“President Lincoln wearily ascended the steps, and by chance dropped into the very chair usually occupied by Mr. Davis when at his writing-table.

“Such was the entrance of the Chief of the Republic into the capital of the late Confederacy. There was no sign of exultation, no elation of spirit, but, on the contrary, a look of unutterable weariness, as if his spirit, energy and animating force were wholly exhausted.”

Spectators outside the mansion cheered when Lincoln came out. The president joined General Weitzel on a tour of the ruined city in an open carriage, escorted by Federal cavalry. They passed St. Paul’s Church and visited the Capitol, where Confederate congressmen had overturned desks and scattered documents before fleeing. The party moved through the upper and working-class neighborhoods before stopping at Libby Prison. According to one of Weitzel’s aides, Thomas T. Graves:

“I accompanied President Lincoln and General Weitzel to Libby prison and Castle Thunder, and heard General Weitzel ask the President what he should do in regard to the conquered people. President Lincoln replied that he did not wish to give any orders on that subject, but, as he expressed it, ‘If I were in your place I’d let ‘em up easy, let ‘em up easy.’”

Lincoln would next turn his attention to restoring Virginia to the Union. To do this, he enlisted the help of a prominent former Confederate statesman.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 54-55; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 554; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 12308-19; 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 18805-74, 18913-43; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 577; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 718; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 108-10, 164-71; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 666-67; McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1981), p. 215; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 846; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 369; 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), Loc Q265

The Fall of Petersburg: Part 2

April 3, 1865 – As Federal troops continued pouring into Petersburg, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant made plans to capture General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army.

The fall of both Petersburg and Richmond were imminent by the morning of the 3rd. But Grant, the overall Federal commander, knew that nothing would be won until Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was destroyed. He therefore ordered another artillery bombardment to begin at 5 a.m., followed by another infantry advance to clear out any remaining Confederates in the siege lines outside Petersburg.

The renewed drive proved unnecessary when Federal troops from IX Corps overran the lines, entered Petersburg early on the 3rd, and discovered that the Confederates had retreated across the Appomattox River. Grant rode into Petersburg around 9 a.m. and was greeted by cheering soldiers, blaring bands, and black residents. Most white residents stayed in their homes.

Lt Gen U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Soldiers and civilians were not impressed with Petersburg, mainly because it had been under siege for 10 months and had little to offer anyone in the way of food or comfort. Grant set up temporary headquarters at the home of Thomas Wallace on 21 Market Street. An officer noted that Grant stood in a doorway, “as if the work before him was a mere matter of business in which he felt no particular enthusiasm or care.” He had already begun planning his westward hunt for Lee’s army.

Meanwhile, President Abraham Lincoln at City Point received reports of Petersburg’s fall and accepted an invitation to meet Grant in the captured city. Lincoln telegraphed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton in Washington at 8 a.m.: “Grant reports Petersburg evacuated, and he is confident Richmond also is. He is pushing forward to cut off, if possible, the retreating army. I start to join him in a few minutes.”

Lincoln took a train to the Petersburg outskirts with his son Tad, a White House guard, and Rear Admiral David D. Porter. Lincoln’s older son Robert, serving on Grant’s staff, met his father’s party with horses, and they all rode up Market Street to meet with Grant on the porch of the Wallace house.

Pres. Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Lincoln and Grant shook hands, and the president said, “Do you know, General, that I have had a sort of sneaking idea for some days that you intended to do something like this?” Grant said, “I had a feeling that it would be better to let Lee’s old antagonists give his army the final blow and finish up the job. I have always felt confident that our troops here were amply able to handle Lee.” As Grant later wrote:

“I told him (Lincoln) that I had been very anxious to have the Eastern armies vanquish their old enemy who had so long resisted all their repeated and gallant attempts to subdue them or drive them from their capital… I said to him that if the Western armies should be even upon the field, operating against Richmond and Lee, the credit would be given to them for the capture, by politicians and non-combatants from the section of country which those troops hailed from. It might lead to disagreeable bickerings between members of Congress of the East and those of the West in some of their debates… Mr. Lincoln said he saw that now, but had never thought of it before, because his anxiety was so great that he did not care where the aid came from so the work was done.”

The men conferred on the porch for over an hour, during which time slaves gathered to watch them. Grant hoped to receive word that Richmond had fallen before he had to leave, but no news came. There would be no celebrating; Grant set out to organize the pursuit that he hoped would result in the end of the war. He guessed that Lee would head for the junction of the Richmond & Danville and South Side railroads at Burkeville, 40 miles southwest of Richmond.

Grant, whose westernmost Federals were closer to Burkeville than any of Lee’s Confederates, wanted to assemble his forces at that town and block Lee from any further westward escape. He rode out to direct the movement and stopped at Sutherland Station, west of Petersburg, which was held by Major General John Gibbon’s XXIV Corps from the Army of the James. Grant received a message: “Weitzel entered Richmond this morning at half past eight.” Gibbon’s men cheered wildly upon hearing the news, while Grant quickly put together a plan of pursuit:

  • Major General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry corps and Major General Charles Griffin’s V Corps from the Army of the Potomac would lead the pursuit by heading due west to Burkeville with all possible speed.
  • Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac, would move west behind Sheridan and Griffin with II and VI corps, led by Major Generals Andrew A. Humphreys and Horatio G. Wright respectively.
  • Gibbon’s corps would move west along the South Side Railroad behind Meade.
  • Major General John G. Parke’s IX Corps from the Army of the Potomac would bring up the rear, guarding the railroad as it went.

Grant notified Sherman of the plan and warned that if Lee got to Burkeville first, “you will have to take care of him with the force you have for a while.” But if Grant got there first, “there will be no special use in you going any farther into the interior. This army has now won a most decisive victory and followed the enemy. This is all it ever wanted to make it as good an army as ever fought a battle.”

Meanwhile, Lincoln reviewed passing troops in Petersburg before returning to City Point. A dispatch from Stanton awaited:

“Allow me to respectfully ask you to consider whether you ought to expose the nation to the consequences of any disaster to yourself in the pursuit of a treacherous and dangerous enemy like the rebel army. If it was a question concerning yourself only I should not presume to say a word. Commanding Generals are in the line of duty running such risks. But is the political head of a nation in the same condition?”

Lincoln replied, “Yours received. Thanks for your caution, but I have already been to Petersburg, staid with Gen. Grant an hour & a half, and returned here. It is certain now that Richmond is in our hands, and I think I will go there tomorrow. I will take care of myself.” Lincoln told Porter, “Thank God I have lived to see this. It seems to me that I have been dreaming a horrid dream for four years, and now the nightmare is gone. I want to see Richmond.”

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 526-28; Catton, Bruce, The Army of the Potomac: A Stillness at Appomattox (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1953), p. 364; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 448-50; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 554; 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 18766-95, 18785-805; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 715-16; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 539-42; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 108-09; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 665-66; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 846; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 177; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 365-68

The Battle of Five Forks

April 1, 1865 – Federals routed an isolated Confederate force southwest of Petersburg. This began the campaign to end the war in Virginia.

Following the engagement north of Dinwiddie Court House on March 31, Major General Philip Sheridan’s Federal cavalry cut the Confederate supply line at Stony Creek. General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, informed Confederate President Jefferson Davis that this–

“–seriously threatens our position and diminishes our ability to maintain our present lines in front of Richmond and Petersburg… I fear he can cut both the South Side and the Danville railroads, being far superior to us in cavalry. This in my opinion obliges us to prepare for the necessity of evacuating our position on James River at once, and also to consider the best means of accomplishing it, and our future course.”

The Confederates had not yet been defeated on any part of the Petersburg siege line, but Lee knew that the superior Federal numbers and armament would soon prove too overwhelming to bear. He therefore started arranging to evacuate to the west. It would require a nearly unprecedented feat of logistics to move some 50,000 men out of a 37-mile long network of trenches while holding the enemy at bay and keeping the escape route unclogged. To ensure that his army remained fed, Lee worked with the Commissary Department to have 350,000 rations shipped from Richmond to Amelia Court House, a stop along the westward retreat.

Meanwhile, on the southwestern-most point of Lee’s line, Major General George Pickett’s isolated Confederate force fell back northward to Five Forks after the Dinwiddie engagement. Five Forks was a key position because it facilitated the flow of supplies from the South Side Railroad to Lee’s army. It would also be Lee’s key escape route when needed. Pickett’s men positioned themselves behind hastily built fortifications and trenches.

Federal Major General Philip Sheridan | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Sheridan sought to destroy Pickett’s force and seize both Five Forks and the South Side Railroad beyond. He later wrote, “I felt certain the enemy would fight at Five Forks–he had to, so, while we were getting up to his intrenchments, I decided on my plan of battle.” Sheridan planned a three-pronged attack designed to isolate Pickett’s force from the rest of the Confederate army and clear a path to the railroad:

  • Major General Wesley Merritt’s two cavalry divisions would launch a diversionary attack on Pickett’s front.
  • Brigadier General Ranald S. Mackenzie’s cavalry division would feign an attack on the Confederates’ far left, exploiting the gap between Pickett and the main Confederate line to the east.
  • Major General Gouverneur Warren’s V Corps would come up to attack Pickett’s left and rear.

On the Confederate side, Pickett and the other ranking Confederate commander, Major General Fitzhugh Lee, inexplicably left their troops for a shad bake, two miles in the rear. This left Brigadier General Rooney Lee in charge of the cavalry and Brigadier General George H. Steuart in charge of the infantry. Neither Rooney nor Steuart knew that their superiors had left, or that they were now the ranking commanders.

Federal cavalry under Merritt and Mackenzie advanced as scheduled, but Warren’s infantry did not. As Sheridan waited impatiently, a courier handed him a dispatch from Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander: “General Grant directs me to say to you, that if in your judgment the Fifth Corps would do better under one of the division commanders, you are authorized to relieve General Warren, and order him to report to General Grant, at headquarters.”

Warren’s 12,000 men finally advanced, but due to a faulty map supplied by Sheridan, the leading two divisions marched past the Confederate left flank instead of directly into it. Warren reported:

“After the forward movement began, a few minutes brought us to the White Oak road, distant about 1,000 yards. There we found the advance of General Mackenzie’s cavalry, which, coming up the White Oak road, had arrived there just before us. This showed us for the first time that we were too far to our right of the enemy’s left flank.”

This caused more delays and isolated Warren’s remaining division in an enemy crossfire. Enraged, Sheridan redirected the leading two divisions and the assault resumed. Noting that Warren was not at the front to handle these matters himself, Sheridan told his chief of staff, “By God, sir, tell General Warren he wasn’t in that fight!” When the officer asked if he could put this message in writing, Sheridan fumed, “Take it down, sir! Tell him by God he was not at the front!”

Sheridan ordered Major General Charles Griffin, Warren’s ranking division commander, to replace Warren. Sheridan later explained that this was “necessary to protect myself in this critical situation, and General Warren having sorely disappointed me, both in the moving of his corps and in its management during the battle, I felt that he was not the man to rely upon under such circumstances, and deeming that it was to the best interest of the service as well as but just to myself, I relieved him, ordering him to report to General Grant.”

Such an order meant professional ruin, so when Warren received it, he rode to Sheridan and asked him to reconsider. Sheridan snapped, “Reconsider, hell! I don’t reconsider any decisions! Obey the order!” This marked the first time that a commander in the Army of the Potomac had ever been relieved of duty for lacking aggression in combat. Grant upheld Sheridan’s decision, later writing:

“He (Warren) was a man of fine intelligence, great earnestness, quick perception, and could make his dispositions as quickly as any officer, under difficulties where he was forced to act. But I had before discovered a defect which was beyond his control, that was very prejudicial to his usefulness in emergencies like the one just before us. He could see every danger at a glance before he had encountered it. He would not only make preparations to meet the danger which might occur, but he would inform his commanding officer what others should do while he was executing his move.”

However, the delays had not been Warren’s fault, and they ultimately did not affect the battle’s outcome. A court of inquiry later cleared Warren’s name, but the court’s findings were not published until after he died.

The Federals made progress all along the line once Griffin took over, but Sheridan would accept nothing but total victory. When an officer proudly announced that his troops had penetrated the enemy rear and captured five guns, Sheridan shouted, “I don’t care a damn for their guns, or you either, sir! What I want is that Southside Railway!”

Ultimately, Griffin’s Federals overwhelmed the enemy left, while dismounted cavalry pushed the enemy right. The Confederates could only offer a token resistance; many fled or were taken prisoner, and they were virtually wiped out by 7 p.m. A northern correspondent reported: “They had no commanders, at least no orders, and looked in vain for some guiding hand. A few more volleys, a new and irresistible charge… and with a sullen and tearful impulse, 5,000 muskets are flung upon the ground.”

When Pickett finally returned from the shad bake, some 5,200 of his men had already been either shot or taken prisoner, roughly half his force. Federals also captured 13 battle flags and six cannon while suffering about 1,000 casualties. Moreover, Mackenzie’s Federal troopers blocked the main line of Confederate retreat, thus ensuring that Pickett would remain isolated from the rest of Lee’s army.

This was the most overwhelming Federal victory of the war. It was also Lee’s first decisive defeat since this campaign began in northern Virginia nearly a year ago. This battle and the fighting at Fort Stedman on March 25 cost Lee nearly a quarter of his whole army.

The remnants of Pickett’s force, numbering no more than 800 men, retreated to the Appomattox River. The Federals now surrounded Petersburg south of the Appomattox River and moved even closer to the vital South Side Railroad. Lee could now do nothing except retreat before his army was destroyed.

Colonel Horace Porter of Grant’s staff witnessed the battle and rode back to headquarters that night to report the resounding victory. Grant listened to Porter’s account and then disappeared into his tent. He came out a few minutes later and announced, “I have ordered an immediate assault all along the lines.”

Grant informed Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac, that his two corps under Major Generals John G. Parke and Horatio G. Wright were to launch a general assault on the eastern sector of the Petersburg line: “Wright and Parke should be directed to feel for a chance to get through the enemy’s line at once, and if they can get through should push on tonight. All our batteries might be opened at once, without waiting for preparing assaulting columns. Let the corps commanders know the result of the left, and that it is being pushed.”

President Abraham Lincoln, monitoring the action from Grant’s former headquarters at City Point, received a wire from Grant that night hailing Sheridan’s victory: “He has carried everything before him,” including capturing “several batteries” and “several thousand prisoners.” Federals brought Lincoln several trophies from the fight, including captured battle flags. Lincoln held up one of them and said, “Here is something material, something I can see, feel, and understand. This means victory. This is victory.”

Federal artillery opened all along the Petersburg siege line, from the Appomattox River to Hatcher’s Run, at 10 p.m. and continued through the night. This was meant to soften the Confederate defenses for the next morning’s assault. It was the heaviest Federal bombardment of the war, heavier than even the barrage at Gettysburg. A gunner later wrote of the “constant stream of living fire” blazing forth.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 520-21; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 214; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 566, 574; Catton, Bruce, The Army of the Potomac: A Stillness at Appomattox (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1953), p. 349-61; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 443-45; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22419; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 553; 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 18111-21, 18233-62, 18341-51; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 573-74; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 8336; Hubbell, John T., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 803; Kennedy, Frances H. (ed.), The Civil War Battlefield Guide (Christopher M. Calkins, The Conservation Fund, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 275-76; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 82-91; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 102, 203-04; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 661-63; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 803; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 845; Rhodes, James Ford, History of the Civil War, 1861-1865 (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1917 [Kindle Edition, Reservoir House, 2016], Loc 5612; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 365-68; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 261-62; Winik, Jay, April 1865: The Month That Saved America (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), p. 73-75, 79-80, 99

Petersburg: Grant Looks to Destroy Lee

March 29, 1865 – Federal troops encircling Richmond and Petersburg embarked on a movement that Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant hoped would destroy the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and end the war.

Lt Gen U.S. Grant and Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

By the 29th, the Federals were poised to make their grand movement to the southwest. Grant, the overall Federal commander, looked to turn the right flank of General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army. In so doing, Grant sought to cut Lee’s last major supply lines and block his escape route to the west.

Federal Major General Philip Sheridan | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Major General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry corps led the Federal movement. The troopers began moving out at 3 a.m. on the 29th, a day marked by torrential rain. Sheridan later wrote:

“Our general direction was westward, over such routes as could be found, provided they did not embarrass the march of the infantry. The roads from the winter’s frosts and rains, were in a frightful state, and when it was sought to avoid a spot which the head of the column had proved almost bottomless, the bogs and quicksands of the adjoining fields demonstrated that to make a (detour) was to go from bad to worse. In the face of these discouragements we floundered on, however, crossing on the way a series of small streams swollen to their banks.”

Sheridan was supported by II and V corps from the Army of the Potomac, led by Major Generals Andrew A. Humphreys and Gouverneur Warren respectively. Men from these two corps moved south and west toward the end of the Confederate siege line, which was defended by the lone division of Lieutenant General Richard H. Anderson’s Fourth Corps. Despite their numerical advantage, the Federals were not overly confident. One private wrote, “Four years of war, while it made the men brave and valorous, had entirely cured them of imagining that each campaign would be the last.”

Meanwhile, Lee received reports that Federals were moving toward Dinwiddie Court House. This was dangerously close to Five Forks, a crucial intersection that Lee needed to hold if he hoped to continue being supplied by the South Side Railroad. Lee responded by transferring all but one brigade of his cavalry to his right flank, led by Major General Fitzhugh Lee. He also transferred Major General George Pickett’s infantry division; Lee chose Pickett’s force because it was scattered, making its movement more difficult for the Federals to discern.

Warren’s leading elements moved up the Quaker Road to its key intersection with the Boydton Plank Road, and they clashed with Anderson’s Confederates near the Lewis Farm. After heavy fighting, the Confederates fell back to a defense line along the White Oak Road. Lee needed this road if he hoped to send troops west to block Sheridan. The Federals seized the Quaker-Boydton Plank intersection, but the Confederate line was not yet broken. Both sides lost about 375 men each.

Back east, Grant and his staff began transferring headquarters from City Point to the Boydton Plank Road. President Abraham Lincoln, still visiting from Washington, would stay behind at City Point. As Grant and his staff boarded the westbound train, Lincoln told them, “Good-by, gentlemen. God bless you all! Remember, your success is my success.” Grant boarded the train and told his staffers, “I think we can send him some good news in a day or two.” Grant’s chief of staff, Major General John Rawlins, urged him to postpone the offensive until the rain stopped, but Grant refused.

Two of Sheridan’s three divisions reached Dinwiddie Court House in the pouring rain around 5 p.m. This was about four miles west of the end of the Confederate line and five miles south of Five Forks. Sheridan’s third division, led by Brigadier General George A. Custer, stayed about seven miles back to protect the rear. The troopers bivouacked without tents despite the rain.

Sheridan’s original orders were to continue pushing northward and seize Five Forks. But that night, he received a message from Grant:

“I now feel like ending the matter if it is possible to do so before going back. I do not want you, therefore, to cut loose and go after the enemy’s roads at present. In the morning push round the enemy if you can and get onto his right rear. The movements of the enemy’s cavalry may, of course, modify your action. We will act altogether as one army here until it is seen what can be done with the enemy.”

Thus, the plan had changed from cutting off Lee’s supplies and path of escape to destroying Lee’s army. Sheridan recalled, “I turned in at a late hour and slept most soundly.”

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 519-20; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 214; Catton, Bruce, The Army of the Potomac: A Stillness at Appomattox (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1953), p. 343-44; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 439-41; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 552; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 572; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 8300; Kennedy, Frances H. (ed.), The Civil War Battlefield Guide (Christopher M. Calkins, The Conservation Fund, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 273; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 659; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 845; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 487-88; Rhodes, James Ford, History of the Civil War, 1861-1865 (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1917 [Kindle Edition, Reservoir House, 2016], Loc 5601; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 219-20; Winik, Jay, April 1865: The Month That Saved America (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), p. 78

The City Point Conference

March 27, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln met with his top commanders to discuss plans for what they hoped would be the last campaign of the war.

Major General William T. Sherman, commanding all Federals armies in the West, and Rear Admiral David D. Porter, commanding the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, met at the headquarters of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal army commander, at City Point, Virginia. Sherman left Major General John Schofield in charge of the Federals in North Carolina, announcing before he boarded the steamer Russia: “I’m going up to see Grant for five minutes and have it all chalked out for me, and then come back and pitch in.”

Grant met his old friend Sherman at the gangplank as the Russia docked. The generals embraced, having not seen each other since their respective campaigns in Virginia and Georgia had begun last April. Colonel Horace Porter of Grant’s staff recalled: “Their encounter was more like that of two school-boys coming together after a vacation than the meeting of the chief actors in a great war tragedy.” Sherman later wrote:

“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 Sherman shared stories about his campaign through the Carolinas, the commanders boarded the steamer River Queen to meet with President Lincoln, whom Grant had invited down from Washington. This marked the first meeting between the president and his top commanders. Lincoln went with Grant and Sherman to Grant’s tent, where they sat on cracker barrels and shared stories. Mrs. Grant admonished her husband and Sherman for not calling on Mrs. Lincoln while they were aboard the River Queen. The next day, the generals called upon the first lady but were told that she was not feeling well and would not see them.

Meeting aboard the River Queen | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Lincoln met with Grant, Sherman, and Porter in the upper saloon of the River Queen to discuss serious business on the 28th. According to Sherman, “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.” He also hoped that it would end before the next Congress assembled in December because it was dominated by Radical Republicans who wanted to punish the South, while Lincoln wanted no more resentment on either side.

The president worried that the Confederates might resort to guerrilla warfare. He also expressed fear that while Sherman was away from his army, General Joseph E. Johnston might “have gone south with those veterans of his, and will keep the war going indefinitely.” But as Sherman later wrote: “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.”

The president did not ask the commanders for specifics regarding their upcoming plans. His top priority was to end the war as quickly and with as little loss of further life as possible. This meant getting “the deluded men of the rebel armies disarmed and back to their homes.” Lincoln said:

“Let them once surrender and reach their homes, they won’t take up arms again. Let them go, officers and all. I want submission and no more bloodshed… I want no one punished, treat them liberally all around. We want those people to return to their allegiance to the Union and submit to the laws.”

As soon as the fighting ended, southerners “would at once be guaranteed all their rights” as citizens of the U.S. Sherman recalled:

“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.”

Sherman later asserted that Lincoln had authorized him to work with Governor Zebulon Vance and the legislature to restore order in North Carolina, “and that to avoid anarchy the State governments then in existence, with their civil functionaries, would be recognized by him as the government de facto till Congress could provide others.” However, this conflicted with Lincoln’s directive to Grant earlier this month in which Grant was only authorized to handle military affairs while all political issues would be handled by the president himself.

This meeting set the tone for how the Federal commanders would handle the Confederates in upcoming engagements. Lincoln’s relationship with these commanders stood in stark contrast to those who had led Federal forces in the past. Noting this, Lincoln asked, “Sherman, do you know why I took a shine to Grant and you?” When Sherman confessed that he did not, Lincoln said, “Well, you never found fault with me.”

Colonel Porter later wrote: “My opinion is that Mr. Lincoln came down to City Point with the most liberal views toward the rebels. He felt confident that we would be successful, and was willing that the enemy should capitulate on the most favorable terms.”

Sherman wrote of Lincoln:

“I know, when I left him, that I was more than ever impressed by his kindly nature, his deep and earnest sympathy with the afflictions of the whole people, resulting from the war, and by the march of hostile armies through the South; and that his earnest desire seemed to be to end the war speedily, without more bloodshed or devastation, and to restore all the men of both sections to their homes.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 213-14; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 592; Catton, Bruce, The Army of the Potomac: A Stillness at Appomattox (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1953), p. 340-41; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 437-39; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22901; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 551; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 12261; 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 17539-49; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 571; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 712-13; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 76-77; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 658-59; McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1981), p. 212-13; Sherman, William T., Memoirs of General William T. Sherman, Vol. I (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1889, Kindle Edition), Loc 12023-41

The Lincoln Visit Continues

March 26, 1865 – An ugly incident occurred at a military review as President Abraham Lincoln continued his visit with the Federal armies besieging Richmond and Petersburg.

Pres. Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

President and Mrs. Lincoln were quartered on the steamboat River Queen near the headquarters of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander. Their son Robert, who was serving on Grant’s staff, came aboard to have breakfast with his parents on the morning of the 25th. They could hear the fight at Fort Stedman taking place just eight miles away, and after Robert explained what was happening, Lincoln telegraphed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton: “Robert just now tells me there was a little rumpus up the line this morning, ending about where it began.”

Although the fight was an easy Federal victory, Robert informed his father that the military review scheduled for that morning had to be postponed. Lincoln instead went to Grant’s headquarters and asked to visit the Fort Stedman battlefield. Grant initially refused to allow the president to be exposed to enemy fire, but he quickly reconsidered. The men took the military railroad to the headquarters of Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac.

Meade and his staff greeted Lincoln and took him on a tour of the battlefield, where men were still attending to the dead and wounded. Lincoln and Grant rode together on horseback and watched Federal troops from VI Corps drive off Confederate pickets.

The next morning, the presidential party took a steamboat up the James River to review part of Major General E.O.C. Ord’s Army of the James at Malvern Hill. Lincoln watched Federal cavalry cross the James en route to fighting at Petersburg and told their commander, “Little Phil” Sheridan, 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.”

First Lady Mary Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

When the steamboat docked, Lincoln and most of the men rode to the review on horseback while Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Grant shared an ambulance. The rutted, muddy roads made the ride very uncomfortable; one bump even caused the passengers to hit their heads on the carriage ceiling. Mrs. Lincoln complained about the ride to Colonel Horace Porter, a member of Grant’s staff assigned to accompany the ladies.

The first lady was in a foul mood, possibly because she was out of her element among all the generals’ wives who had been living near headquarters and knew each other well. When Mrs. Lincoln arrived at the review, it had already started and she was enraged to see Mrs. Ord riding on horseback beside the president. Mrs. Grant tried calming the first lady, who 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 until she cried. The first lady continued her tirade that night at a dinner for Grant and his staff aboard the River Queen. She scolded her husband and demanded that he remove Ord from command. Mrs. Lincoln spent most of the rest of the trip in her cabin before returning to Washington. Lincoln stayed behind to witness what would become the final phase of the war in Virginia.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The Army of the Potomac: A Stillness at Appomattox (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1953), p. 338; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 434-35; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 551; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 12206-17, 12228-38; 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 17549-69, 17706-56, 17875-95; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 709-10; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 656-58; McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1981), p. 211

The Lincolns Leave Washington

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.

President Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

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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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 517; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 424, 434; Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 53-54; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 549-50; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 12195-206; 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 17101-21, 17549-59; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 569; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 707-08; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 656-57; McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1981), p. 211; 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), Q165

The Second Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln

March 4, 1865 – Abraham Lincoln began a second term as U.S. president in Washington, D.C.

Much had changed since Lincoln’s first inaugural just four years ago. Lincoln had begun his presidency when the country was on the brink of war, and now he was beginning his second term when the country was on the brink of peace. As part of the ceremony, Lincoln left the White House escorted by military bands and a cavalry guard. They rode to the Capitol, where the new dome had been under construction in 1861. It was now finally completed.

The ceremony began in the Senate chamber, where Andrew Johnson replaced Hannibal Hamlin as vice president. Notable attendees included Major General Joseph Hooker (representing the army), Rear Admiral David G. Farragut (representing the navy), the governors of most northern states, Lincoln’s cabinet members, and the nine Supreme Court justices. Lincoln sat in front between the justices and the cabinet.

Hamlin began by delivering a farewell speech. He was followed by Johnson, who delivered a rambling, barely coherent inaugural address; he had taken whiskey to relieve his typhoid fever and the room was overheated. Johnson repeatedly cited his poor upbringing and reminded the stunned audience that they too were “creatures of the people.” Hamlin pulled on Johnson’s coattails but could not stop him.

The officials then proceeded to the east portico of the Capitol for the presidential inaugural ceremony at 12 p.m. An estimated 50,000 people gathered to witness the proceedings, an unexpectedly large number considering that it was a rainy and dismal day. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton placed sharpshooters at every window and rooftop for safety. Guests invited to attend the ceremony included famous actor John Wilkes Booth, who had an excellent view of the podium where Lincoln would speak. The sun appeared between the clouds as the president began.

Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inauguration | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Lincoln’s address, the shortest since George Washington’s second inaugural in 1793, lasted less than five minutes and contained just 703 words on a single sheet of paper. Lincoln did not discuss future policies; he instead focused on restoring the Union, blaming the southern states for starting the war, and expressing his belief that the war had been God’s punishment for the sin of slavery.

When the speech concluded, U.S. Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase summoned the Court clerk to present the open-faced Bible. Lincoln placed his hand on top, and Chase administered the oath of office. The crowd cheered, cannons fired a salute, and bands played as the ceremony ended. Lincoln returned to the White House with his 10 year-old son Tad, no longer feeling the need to use the security escort that had surrounded him during his first inaugural.

Lincoln takes the oath of office | Image Credit: Harper’s Weekly, Vol. IX, No. 429, 18 Mar 1865

The White House gates opened to the public for a three-hour reception at 8 p.m., which became one of the largest gatherings ever held in the Executive Mansion. Lincoln greeted an estimated 6,000 people, with some cutting fabric from the expensive draperies for souvenirs. When Lincoln learned that White House guards had barred civil rights leader Frederick Douglass from participating, he ordered them to escort Douglass into the East Room where Lincoln could meet him.

The Inaugural Ball took place two nights later at the Patent Office building. Tickets cost $10 per person and were sold to 4,000 guests, with the proceeds going to aid the families of fallen military personnel. The midnight supper included beef, veal, poultry, oysters, salads, jellies, cakes, chocolate, and coffee.

Once Lincoln settled back down to business after the inaugural festivities, his cabinet underwent some changes. William P. Fessenden resigned as treasury secretary to reclaim his seat in the U.S. Senate. Lincoln tried to replace him with New York Senator Edwin D. Morgan, but Morgan declined, so Lincoln then picked Hugh McCulloch of Indiana. McCulloch was the current comptroller of the currency with good experience in the Treasury.

Interior Secretary John P. Usher then resigned, citing the tradition that a president should not have more than one man from the same state in his cabinet (McCulloch and Usher were both Indianans). Lincoln, who did not think highly of Usher, quickly accepted his resignation and replaced him with Senator John Harlan of Iowa. Harlan had been one of Lincoln’s strongest supporters in Congress, and Harlan’s daughter was engaged to the Lincolns’ son Robert.

These changes, combined with the inauguration process and the stress of wartime, pushed Lincoln to the brink of exhaustion. He was bedridden for several days, which led many to question whether he would remain healthy enough to serve four more years.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 214; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 42-45; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 542, 545; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11729-40, 12126; 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 16952-92, 17022-43, 17062-82; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 562-63; Gates, Arnold, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 441; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 697-99; Kauffman, Michael W., American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies (New York: Random House, 2004); Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 647-49; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 16; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 360-61; 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), Q165