Learning Lincoln On-line

FROM-- SET THREE, CIVIL WAR STUDIES

General U.S. Grant Learning Activity-- Order #10-- Lincoln's Assassination and General Grant's Response

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When the war ended Gen. Grant and the Lincolns were in Washington D.C.  What did the President invite General and Mrs. Grant to do with them that night (April 13, 1865)?  As you know the President was assassinated that night.  When the President lied in state in the E. Room of the Whitehouse, how did Gen. Grant respond? 

Lincoln's Assassination and General Grant's Response

After Grant received the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox on April 9, the Grants traveled to Washington. They arrived on Thursday, April 13 in time for a “Grand Illumination” of the city in honor of the Confederate surrender earlier that week. The Grants had expected to view the illumination with Secretary of War Stanton and his wife. Mary Lincoln sent them an invitation to visit the White House and then toured with the Lincolns. President Lincoln, however, was ill and instead only conferred with Grant and Stanton at the White House. Charles Bracelen Flood wrote that after touring with the Stantons and attending a reception at their house, General Grant returned to the White House to “escort the wife of our President to see the illumination.”

Julia Grant recalled that a message came to her at the Willard’s Hotel at mid-day on Friday, April 14, informing her that Mrs. Lincoln would pick up the Grants at 8 P.M. to go to the theater. “Mrs. Lincoln sends me, Madam, with her compliments, to say she will call for your at exactly eight o’clock to go to the theater.” Mrs. Grant did not like the tone of the invitation. She sent her regrets to the White House. Then, she “dispatched a note to General Grant entreating him to take me home [to New Jersey] that evening; that I did not want to go to the theater; that he must take me home. I not only wrote to him, but sent three of his staff officers who called pay their respects to me to urge the General to go home that night. I do not know what possessed me to take such a freak, but go home I felt I must. The General sent me word to have my trunks ready and for Jesse and me to have our luncheon, and, if he could be in time, we would take the late afternoon train for Philadelphia.” Grant aide Horace Porter wrote: “The general… had been so completely besieged by the people since his arrival, and was so constantly the subject of outbursts of enthusiasm, that it had become a little embarrassing to him, and the mention of a demonstration in his honor at the theater did not appeal to him as an argument in favor of going.”  Early that evening, the Grants went to the train station. That night, President Lincoln was assassinated. Afterwards, Julia Grant lamented: “With my heart full of sorrow, I went many times to call on dear heart-broken Mrs. Lincoln, but she could not see me.”

What the general and the President shared was a determination to pursue the Civil War to victory. President Lincoln told artist Francis Carpenter: “The great thing about Grant, I take it, in his perfect coolness and persistency of purpose. I judge he is not easily excited, which is a great element in an officer, and has the grip of a bulldog. Once let him get his teeth in and nothing can shake him off.”  The simplicity that characterized was reflected in the message that Grant had sent the commander of Fort Donelson: “No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.”  Historian Allan Nevins wrote that Grant’s “principal gift was that which English-speaking peoples have always esteemed most, strength of character…For the work of the fighter, however, he had better qualities than those of the cerebral gymnast. One was logical vision. He was a clear, simple, thinker, with the power of sorting out from many facts the few that were vitally important, of seeing in a complex situation the basic outline…His soundness of judgment was supported, like Lee’s and Wellington’s, by traits that helped make him a great captain. First of the these was his decisive promptness. Having made up his mind about a situation, he moved. He did not wait for perfection in training and equipment, an impeccable plan, or overwhelming numerical superiority….Second, was his nerve; in tight squeezes he kept his head…A third trait was his tenacity. He never knew when he was beaten, for he had the bulldog instinct to hold fast… And another invaluable trait was his strong instinct for obedience to the civil war… Much might also be said about his modesty, contrasting with the strut of other generals; his avoidance of loose language and profanity; his Spartan regimen, a weakness for liquor at relaxed moments excepted; and his generosity to the foe…” 137

The partnership of Ulysses S. Grant and Abraham Lincoln saved the Union. Grant biographer Jean Edward Smith wrote: “Lincoln and Grant deserve the nation’s credit for saving the United States, eradicating slavery, and striving to provide equality for the freedman. One could not have succeeded without the other. And while Lincoln set the course, it was Grant who sailed the ship.


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