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1864 July 2: Lincoln Visits Grant

July 7, 2014

On June 21, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln visited Union General Ulysses S. Grant.  This article on the visit is from The Prescott Journal of July 2, 1864.

President Lincoln departed Washington, D.C., on Monday, June 20, aboard the USS Baltimore.  On Tuesday the 21st, Lincoln landed at City Point (today’s Hopewell), Virginia, and General Grant and other officers visited the President aboard the Baltimore. He then reviewed a division of U.S. Colored Troops, and Lincoln and Grant toured the Petersburg lines on horseback, the President riding Grant’s horse “Cincinnati.”  On June 22, Lincoln and Grant took a trip up the James River and the President visited Bermuda Hundred. He then traveled up the Appomattox River to Point of Rocks and toured the Bermuda Hundred defenses of General Benjamin F. Butler.  Later, Lincoln boarded the USS Baltimore and returned to Washington on June 23.

The President Visits Gen. Grant.

The President left Washington on Monday last to visit Gen. GRANT on the James River.  A gentleman who is an old and intimate friend of the President states that in a recent conversation with him in regard to the campaign Mr. LINCOLN, while expressing great solicitude, avowed the highest confidence in Gen. GRANT’S military ability and declared that he should have the utmost aid and co-operation in the power of the administration to extend to him.  Mr. Lincoln, in the course of the conversation spoke feelingly and with deep emotion of the patriotic fidelity and generous liberality of the Northern people, as exhibited in their contributions of men and money for the maintenance of the nation’s honor and power.  “Such a people,” remarked Mr. Lincoln, “can never fail, and they deserve, and will receive, the proudest place in the history of nations.”  He also very feelingly alluded to the confidence that the loyal people manifest in him.  “I do my best to deserve this,” he remarked, “but I tremble at the responsibility that devolves upon me, a weak, mortal man, to serve such a great and generous people, in such a place as I hold, in such an auful [sic] crisis as this is—it is a terrible responsibility, but it has been imposed upon me without my seeking, and I trust Providence has a wise purpose for me to fulfill by appointing me to this charge, which is almost too much for a weak mortal to hold.”

General Grant has several times, since the opening of the present campaign, urged the President to visit him at his headquarters in the field, but he has not until now had time to do so.  He will probably be absent from Washington over a week.

This article gives very little information on the actual visit.  Horace Porter,¹ an officer on Grant’s staff, wrote about² the meeting thus:

As the boat neared the shore, the General and several of us who were with him at the time walked down to the wharf, in order that the general-in-chief might meet his distinguished visitor and extend a greeting to him as soon as the boat made the landing.  As our party stepped aboard, the President came down from the upper deck, where he had been standing, to the aftergangway, and reaching out his long, angular arm, he wrung General Grant’s hand vigorously, and held it in his for some time, while he uttered in rapid words his congratulations and expressions of appreciation of the great task which had been accomplished since he and the general had parted in Washington.  The group then went into the after-cabin.

General Grant said: “I hope you are very well, Mr. President.”

“Yes, I am in very good health,” Mr. Lincoln replied; “but I don’t feel very comfortable after my trip last night on the bay.  It was rough, and I was considerably shaken up.  My stomach has not yet entirely recovered from the effects.”

An officer of the party now saw that an opportunity had arisen to make this scene the supreme moment of his life, in giving him a chance to soothe the digestive organs of the Chief Magistrate of the nation.  He said: “Try a glass of champagne, Mr. President.  That is always a certain cure for seasickness.”

Mr. Lincoln looked at him for a moment, his face lighting up with a smile, and then remarked:  “No, my friend; I have seen too many fellows seasick ashore from drinking that very stuff.”  This was a knockdown for the officer, and in the laugh at his expense Mr. Lincoln and the General both joined heartily.

Concerning the visit to the Colored Troops of the 18th Regiment, Porter wrote:

They beheld for the first time the liberator of their race—the man who by a stroke of his pen had struck the shackles from the limbs of their fellow-bondmen and proclaimed liberty to the enslaved.  Always impressionable, the enthusiasm of the blacks now knew no limits.  They cheered, laughed, cried, sang hymns of praise, and shouted in their negro dialect, “God bress Massa Linkum!”  “De Lord save Fader Abraham!”  “De day ob jubilee am come, shuah.”

They crowded about him and fondled his horse; some of them kissed his hands, while others ran off crying in triumph to their comrades that they had touched his clothes.  The President rode with bared head; the tears had started to his eyes, and his voice was so broken by emotion that he could scarcely articulate the words of thanks and congratulation which he tried to speak to the humble and devoted men through whose ranks he rode.  The scene was affecting in the extreme, and no one could have witnessed it unmoved.

1.  Horace Porter (1837-1921), the son of Pennsylvania Governor David R. Porter, graduated from West Point in 1860. In the Civil War, he initially served in the ordnance department of the Union Department of the South, Army of the Potomac, Department of the Ohio, Army of the Cumberland and Military Division of the Mississippi. He served in the battles of Fort Pulaski, Chickamauga, the Wilderness, and Second Ream’s Station, receiving the Medal of Honor in 1902 for the Battle of Chickamauga. In the last year of the War, he served as General Grants aide-de-camp (April 1864-July 1965)  and wrote a memoir of the experience, Campaigning with Grant, first published in 1897. After the War, Porter was President Grant’s personal secretary (1869-1872), vice president of the Pullman Palace Car Company and U.S. Ambassador to France (1897-1905). Porter was president of the Union League Club of New York from 1893 to 1897, and was a major force in the construction of Grant’s Tomb.
2.  The quotations are from Porter’s book Campaigning with Grant (New York: Century Co., 1906), available digitally on the Internet Archive.

 

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