Lincoln, Abraham, as sixteenth President
- Lincoln, Abraham, as sixteenth President
- Autograph letter draft signed ("A. Lincoln"), to General Ulysses S. Grant, "In the Field," regarding Grant's "work" in bringing the Civil War to an end.
- ink on paper
Lincoln had gone to Richmond, Virginia, for secret meetings with Confederate Assistant Secretary of War John A. Campbell for ending the Civil War. Stopping at City Point on his way back to Washington, Lincoln sent the present report to his commanding general, beginning with the news of an accident involving his Secretary of State.
“Secretary Seward was thrown from his carriage yesterday and seriously injured. This, with other matters, will take me to Washington soon. I was at Richmond yesterday and the day before, when and where Judge Campbell (who was with Messrs. Hunter and Stephens, in February) called on me and made such representations as induced me to put in his hands an informal paper respecting the propositions in my letter of instructions to Mr. Seward (which you remember) and adding that if the war be now further persisted in [carteted in “by the rebels”] confiscated property shall, at the least, bear the additional cost, and that confiscations shall be remitted to the people of any States which will now promptly, and in good faith, withdraw its troops and other support, from resistance to the government.” Lincoln alludes here to the failed Hampton Roads peace conference, held on 3 February 1865, when Lincoln and Seward met with Campbell, Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephenson and Confederate Senator Robert Hunter. The “informal paper” that Lincoln put in Campbell’s hands insisted on three indispensable points: the restoration of national authority throughout the United States; no compromise on the eventual abolition of slavery; no cessation of hostilities without a full surrender of the Confederate forces.
Lincoln next described the reaction to the meeting of his Confederate counterpart, the only high ranking member of the CSA government to remain in Richmond after its occupation by the Union Army, “Judge Campbell thought it not impossible that the rebel Legislature of Virginia would do the latter, if permitted; and accordingly, I addressed a private letter to General Weizel, (with permission for Judge Campbell to see it) telling him [careted in “Gen W.”] that if they attempt this, to permit and protect them, unless they attempt something hostile to the United States, in which case, to give them notice and reasonable time to leave, and to arrest any remaining after such time.” Godfrey Weitzel commanded all Union troops north of the Appomattox River, including those quartered in Richmond.
In concluding his letter, Lincoln admits that his negotiations are unlikely to have any significant effect — and yet it is clear that he recognized that, one way or the other, the Civil War was in its in final days. “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 signs you may understand them. From your recent despatches it seems that you are pretty effectively withdrawing the Virginia troops from opposition to the government. Nothing I have done, or probably shall do, is to delay or hinder [careted in “or interfere with”] you in your work.” Four days later General Grant completed his work when Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House.
While the present draft is perfectly legible, Lincoln may have recognized the gravity of its import and wanted to send Grant a perfectly clean version, with no emendations careted in above the regular lines of text. Or he may have wanted to retain a copy to share with his Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, so the latter would know exactly what directions General Grant had received from the President. Stanton, likely also recognizing the significance of the text, retained the draft, and it has descended in his family to the present owner.