- Historic Sites
A Lincoln Family Visit
The President tells funny stories at camp until his angry wife sends Tad to fetch him
October 1955 | Volume 6, Issue 6
The months of January, February and March were devoid of much public interest till towards the close of the latter when a few exciting things took place. Generals Grant and Rawlins sent for their wives to spend a few weeks at City Point, and I thereupon sent for mine to visit me at the same time. They all arrived early in January, and passed an enjoyable time till a start was made on our final campaign against Gen. Lee the last of March. Mrs. Grant went on the headquarter boat, anchored in the river, and remained there a week or two longer. But having no gunboats or iron clads for my wife’s protection, I started her home the day before we broke camp at City Point.
During the last six months of the war, Mr. Lincoln and family made several short visits to City Point on a small steamboat, the River Queen , which he was in the habit of taking for such purposes. On one of these visits, their youngest son familiarly called “Tad,” came with them. The boat always anchored out in the river, and Mrs. Lincoln rarely came ashore. But the President, and “Tad,” landed in a tug regularly every morning, soon after breakfast.
Mr. Lincoln would go directly to the Adjutant’s Office to hear all the news from the front which had been received during the night; and would often have long conferences with Gen. Grant and others concerning prospective operations. When these subjects had been exhausted the chat would take another turn, and Mr. Lincoln’s propensity for story telling would be given free-play, and be encouraged to the utmost. His faculty in this way was absolutely marvelous. It has never been exaggerated, and never can be. He abounded in apt illustrations, and his stories were sidesplitting. He would occasionally join as heartily as any one else in the laughter his stories provoked; and enjoyed these seasons of relaxations in a way that was charming to all who were present.
Mrs. Lincoln seemed insanely jealous of every person, and everything, which drew him away from her and monopolized his attention for an hour. She would send “Tad” with a message to come to the boat, nearly every day. At one time “Tad” found his father enjoying himself in animated conversation, and a little oblivious it may have been to his wife’s message. “Tad” went back to the boat but soon returned with a more urgent command, which he kept repeating loud enough for all to hear. He finally burst out: “Come, come, come now, mama says you must come instantly.” Mr. Lincoln’s countenance fell from unconstrained good-humor and gayety, to the sober, careworn, lugubrious expression so common to him in those days. After a moment’s silence he rose, saying: “My God, will that woman never understand me”; and departed meekly, and sadly, convoyed by “Tad.”
On another occasion—the first one of her visits after Mrs. Grant’s arrival in January—Mrs. Grant, Mrs. Rawlins and Mrs. Cadwallader had a conference as to the propriety of their making a joint call on her aboard the River Queen anchored in the river. It was finally decided that as none of them had ever met her, and in view of the exalted opinions she was known to hold as to what was due to her as wife of the President of the United States, it might be better for Mrs. Grant to make her first call a very formal and semi-official one. She would go as the wife of the Lieut. Gen., and present her respects to the wife of the President. This would be a safe and warranted procedure, and the after presentation of the other two, should be left to Mrs. Lincoln’s wishes.
Mrs. Grant accordingly made what I suspect to have been as near a “state call,” as any in her life. She was received coldly, rather haughtily, and in a manner and spirit which convinced her that Mrs. Lincoln felt it a condescension to receive her. Mrs. Grant returned displeased. It was her first and only call on the Lady of the White House, so far as I ever knew. Mrs. Rawlins and Mrs. Cadwallader never ran the risk of being snubbed, and kept away.
January 31st, 1865, some stir was created at headquarters, which extended all over the north, by the arrival of a Peace Commission, under a flag of truce, consisting of Alexander H. Stephens, vice-president of the Southern Confederacy; Judge [John A.] Campbell, Assistant Secretary of War; and R. M. T. Hunter, formerly United States Senator from Virginia, and then a member of the Confederate Senate. They arrived about night, and after a short interview with Gen. Grant, were quartered aboard the Mollie Martin , till the Washington authorities could be informed and orders received as to what should be done with them.
On the second of February they were sent to Fortress Monroe, when Mr. Lincoln and Secretary Seward met them unofficially, but nothing resulted from the conference except Mr. Lincoln’s declaration that the only terms of peace which the U.S. government would entertain for a moment, were: A recognition of the abolition of slavery by the Confederate government; an immediate laying down of its arms and cessation of hostilities; and a return to the Federal Union. These conditions the gentlemen were not prepared to accept, so they returned to Richmond in a few days.
Gen. Grant’s magnanimity at Appomattox Court House to Lee’s defeated, starving army, was foreshadowed at City Point by his treatment of these Peace Commissioners. They were given the best accommodations which could be provided; no guards were placed over them, or around them; no restraints prevented their wandering about as they pleased on shore through the day; no promises, nor paroles, of any kind, were exacted from them; and they came freely to the general’s headquarters every day for conversations and conferences.