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1864 July 9: The President at the Front

July 12, 2014

From the July 9, 1864, issue of The Prescott Journal.

The President at the Front—The Difficulties He Encountered—Where He Went and What He Saw.

Correspondence of the New York Herald.

On Tuesday, the 21st, about one o’clock, a long, gaunt, bony man, with a queer admixture of the comical and the doleful in his countenance, undertook to reach the General’s tent, by scrambling through a hedge row and coming in the back way alone.  He was stopped by one of the hostlers, and told to “keep out of here.”  The individual in black replied that he thought General Grant [Ulysses S. Grant] would allow him inside, and strode ahead.  “You’ll damned soon find out,” was yelled in reply.  On reaching the guard, he was stopped with, “No sanitary folks allowed inside.”  After some parleying, the intruder was compelled to give his name, and announced himself to be Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, desiring an interview with General Grant.  The guard saluted and allowed him to pass.  General Grant recognized him as he stepped under the large “fly” in front of his tent, rose and shook hands with him cordially, and then introduced him to such members of the staff as were present and unacquainted.  It was ascertained that the President had just arrived on the City of Baltimore, and was accompanied by his son, “Tad,” Assistant Secretary of the Navy Fox [Gustavus V. Fox], Mr. Chadwick, proprietor of Willard’s Hotel, and a marine guard.  The conversation soon took a wide free-and-easy range until dinner was announced.  The President was duly seated, ate much as other mortals, managed to wring in three favorite jokes during the meal, under the plea of illustrating the topics discussed, and kept every one on the qui vive for others until the party rose.

He was very naturally desirous of riding to the front, so at 4 o’clock, horses were brought up, the President mounted on Gen. Grant’s thoroughbred, Cincinnatus, the General on Egypt, “Tad” on the General’s black pony, Jeff. Davis, and, accompanied by a large proportion of the staff and escort, the party rode to the headquarters of General Wright [Horatio G. Wright], commanding the 6th corps, where Gen. Meade [George G. Meade] and staff met them.  The location commands as good a view of Petersburg as can yet be obtained from our lines.  Maps were brought out and examined, the position of the army explained, its future operations discussed, the steeples and spires of the city observed, as well as the dust and smoke would allow, national airs were played by the band, the enemy’s works on the opposite side of the Appomattox inspected, and after a stay of an hour and a half, the party started on its return to headquarters  On the way out, many persons recognized the President’s physiognomy.  The news soon spread, and on the return ride the roads were lined in many places with weather beaten veterans, anxious to catch a glimpse of Old Abe.  One cavalry private recognized him on the road.  Mr. Lincoln shook him by the hand like an old, familiar acquaintance, to the infinite admiration of the bystanders.

Perhaps the notable feature of the ride was the passing of a brigade of negro troops.  The troops were lounging by the roadside, but seemed to know by instinct who was approaching.  They came rushing, and almost, to the horses feet, by hundreds, yelling, shouting, “Hurrah for the Liberator !” and were perfectly wild with excitement and delight.  It was a spontaneous outburst of genuine love and affection for the man they look upon as their “deliver[er] from bondage,” and their wild huzzas were perfectly deafening.  The President uncovered as he rode through their ranks, and bowed on every hand to his sable admirers.  The cavalcade arrived at headquarters about nine o’clock, took tea and chatted a short time when the visitors departed to their state rooms on the steamboat.

At  seven o’clock in the morning of June 22d Major General Butler [Benjamin F. Butler] and his staff proceeded on board the Baltimore and exchanged congratulations with the Chief Magistrate, who was accompanied by Mr. Assistant Secretary Fox, Mr. Assistant Secretary Charles A. Dana, General Barnard,¹ “Little Tad,” and his playmate, named Perry.  The exceeding cordiality that marked the entire interview between the President and the Major General commanding was especially noticeable.  It was frank and zestful, and carried the conviction that the two eminent men were in entire concord upon all public and social issues.  All being on board, and everything being ready, the Baltimore steamed up the James river to the fleet, where Admiral Lee2 and party were taken on.  The party then proceeded up the river to the monitor Onondaga, near Crow’s Nest, where the vessel was boarded and carefully inspected.

The entire party then went ashore, and mounting horses made a grand tour of the fortifications, the troops throughout cheering the President and General Butler alternately.

All this being over, the party proceeded to General Butler’s marquee, where an elegant and substantial lunch was supplied, of which all partook most heartily after the forenoon fatigue.

Shortly after two o’clock in the afternoon the President signified his intention of immediately returning to Washington.  Proceeding aboard the Greyhound, attended by Gen. Butler and staff, he joined the Baltimore and left this scene, after an uncommonly pleasant, satisfactory and instructive visit.

1.  John Gross Barnard (1815-1882) graduated from West Point in 1833 and was a career officer in the U.S. Army. He served in engineering capacities during the Mexican-American War, and as the Superintendent of the United States Military Academy (1855-1856). During Civil War he served as Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac (1861-1862), Chief Engineer of the Department of Washington (1861-1864), and as Chief Engineer of the armies in the field (1864-1865) on General Grant’s staff. Barnard served in the honor guard for President Lincoln’s funeral in April 1865. He also was a distinguished scientist, co-founding the U.S. National Academy of Sciences; mathematician; historian and author, writing several scientific/engineering works and Civil War history papers.
2.  Samuel Phillips Lee (1812-1897)—son-in-law of Francis P. Blair, brother-in-law of Montgomery Blair, and third cousin of Robert E. Lee—was a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy. During the Civil War he commanded the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron (1862-1864) and then the Mississippi River Squadron (October 1864-end of the War).

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