[pg. 11] GRANT AND LINCOLN *** This article is the third in a series covering Frederick Dent Grant’s memories of his father. The others appeared in the Newsletter in April and October, 1969.
At the age of thirteen, Frederick Grant was the only member of the Grant family to accompany his father to his first meeting with President Abraham Lincoln and the brief White House ceremony the following day in which Grant was presented his commission of lieutenant general, which gave him the highest rank in the United States Army held by any man since the death of George Washington. Apparently Frederick Grant brought together his memories of the first meeting of Lincoln and Grant for the centennial of Lincoln’s birth. Parts of his paper first appeared in print as Extracts from an Address by Major General Frederick D. Grant delivered at the Lincoln Memorial Dinner of the Chicago Advertising Association, February 8th, 1909. Grant read his paper to the Society of the Army of the Tennessee on November 4, 1909, and the printing in full of this address in the Society’s Proceedings (Cincinnati, 1913) furnished the text reprinted below. He delivered what appears to be the same paper before the Illinois Commandery, Loyal Legion of the United States, on January 21, 1910, and a signed typescript found its way to the Illinois State [pg. 12] Historical Library, which published it in its Journal for April, 1914. On February 16, 1910, Grant read his paper to the Evanston (Illinois) Historical Society, to which he gave a copy which it still preserves.
Having the good fortune to be with my father much of the time during the Civil War, I had the opportunity of seeing many of the noble, distinguished men who loyally served their country during that great struggle and after it was happily ended; thus I had the honor of seeing and meeting our revered and martyred President, Abraham Lincoln.In looking back to those dark days of the Civil War I have distinct personal recollections of the first two meetings between President Lincoln and my father, General U. S. Grant. These two occasions seem to my mind most momentous and memorable in the history of our nation, as these meetings marked the beginning of the end of our great struggle for the existence of our nation.
The principal and determined efforts of President Lincoln’s administration were directed to the preservation of the Union, which, naturally, could not be accomplished without the success of the Union armies in the field. Up to the spring of 1864 the progress of the Civil War had not been entirely satisfactory to the people of the North, and little success had been accomplished, except in the victories of Donnelson, [Donelson] Vicksburg and Chattanooga.
After the campaign of Chattanooga the President and the people of the United States turned impulsively to General Grant, as the leader of the Union armies, and a bill was introduced in Congress reviving for him the grade of Lieutenant General, which grade had died with Washington (though Scott had held it by brevet). The enthusiastic members of the House of Representatives received the bill with applause. They made no concealment of their wishes, and recommended “Grant” by name for the appointment of Lieutenant General. The bill passed the House by a two-thirds majority and the Senate with only six dissenting votes.
President Lincoln seemed impatient to put Grant in this high grade, and said he desired to do so to relieve himself from the responsibilities of managing the military forces. He sent the nomination to the Senate, and General Grant, who was at Nashville, received an order from the Secretary of War to report in person at Washington. In compliance with this order, he left Chattanooga on March 5th for Washington, taking with him some members of his staff. My father also allowed me to accompany him there, I having been with him during the Vicksburg campaign and at Donnelson. He reached Washington in the afternoon of March 7th  and went direct to the Willard Hotel. After making our toilets, my father took me with him to the hotel dining-room; there I remember seeing at the table next to where we were seated some persons who seemed curious, and who began to whisper to each other. After several moments one of the gentlemen present attracted attention by striking on the table with his knife, and when silence was secured he arose and announced to the assembled diners that he had “the honor to inform them that General Grant [pg. 13] was present in the room with them.” A shout arose, “Grant! Grant! Grant!” and people sprang to their feet with excitement, and three cheers were proposed, which were given with wild enthusiasm. General Grant arose and bowed, and the crowd began to surge around him; after that dining became impossible, and an informal reception was held for perhaps three-quarters of an hour, but as there seemed to be no end to the crowd assembling my father left the dining-room and retired to his apartments. All this scene was most vividly impressed upon my youthful mind.
Senator Simon Cameron, of Pennsylvania, ex-Secretary of War, soon called at the Willard Hotel for General Grant and accompanied him, with his staff, to the White House, where President and Mrs. Lincoln were holding a reception.
As General Grant entered the drawing-room door at the White House the other visitors fell back in silence, and President Lincoln received him most cordially, taking both his hands and saying, “I am most delighted to see you, General.” I myself shall never forget this first meeting of Lincoln and Grant. It was an impressive affair, for there sood the Executive of this great nation welcoming the commander of its armies. I see them now before me, Lincoln, tall, thin and impressive, with deeply lined face, and his strong, sad eyes: Grant, compact, of good size, but looking small beside the President, with his broad, square head and compressed lips–decisive and resolute. This was a thrilling moment, for in the hands of these two men was the destiny of our country. Their work was in co-operation, for the preservation of our great nation and for the liberty of man. They remained talking together for a few moments, and then General Grant passed on in to the East Room with the crowd, which surrounded and cheered him wildly, and all present were eager to press his hand. The guests forced him to stand upon a sofa, insisting that he could be better seen by all. I remember that my father, whom they wished to make a hero, blushed most modestly at these enthusiastic attentions, all present joining in expressions of affection and applause. Soon a messenger reached General Grant, calling him back to the side of Mrs. Lincoln, and with her he made a tour of the reception rooms, followed by President Lincoln, whose noble, rugged face beamed with pleasure and gratification.
When an opportunity presented itself for them to speak privately, President Lincoln said to my father: “I am to formally present you your commission tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock, and knowing, General, your dread of speaking, I have written out what I have to say, and will read it, and it will be only four or five sentences. I would like you to say something in reply which will soothe the feeling of jealousy among the officers and be encouraging to the nation.” Thus spoke this great and nobel peacemaker to the General who so heartily coincided with him, in sentiments and work, for union and peace.
When the reception was over at the White House my father returned to Willard’s Hotel, where a great crowd was again assembled to meet him, and remained with him until a late hour of the night. After the crowd had dispersed General Grant sat down and wrote what he intended to say, the following day, in receiving his commission promoting him to the [pg. 14] Lieutenant Generalcy and to the command of the Union armies.
General Grant proceeded to the White House a few minutes before 10 o’clock the next morning, permitting me to accompany him. Upon arriving there, he and his staff were ushered into the President’s office, which I remember was the room immediately above what is known now as the Green Room of the Executive Mansion. There the President and his Cabinet were assembled, and after a short and informal greeting, all standing, the President faced General Grant and from a sheet of paper read the following:
“General Grant, the nation’s appreciation of what you have done, and in reliance upon you for what remains to be done, in the existing great struggle are now presented, with this commission, constituting you Lieutenant General in the Army of the United States. With this high honor devolves upon you also a corresponding responsibility. As the country herein trusts you, so, under God, it will sustain you. I scarcely need to add that with what I here speak goes my hearty concurrence.”
General Grant, taking from his pocket a sheet of paper containing the words that he had written the night before, read quietly and modestly, to the President and his Cabinet:
“Mr. President, I accept the commission with gratitude for the high honor conferred. With the aid of the noble armies that have fought in so many fields of our common country, it will be my earnest endeavor not to disappoint your expectations. I feel the full weight of the responsibilities now devolving upon me, and I know that if they are met, it will be due to those armies, and, above all, to the favor of that Providence which leads both nations and men.”
President Lincoln seemed to be profoundly happy and General Grant deeply gratified. It was a supreme moment when these two patriots shook hands, in confirming the compact that was to finish our terrible Civil War and to save our united country, and to give us a nation without master and without a slave.
From the time of these meetings the friendship between the President and my father was most close and loyal. President Lincoln seemed to have absolute confidence in General Grant, and my father always spoke of the President with the deepest admiration and affection. This affection and loyal confidence was maintained between them until their lives ended.
I feel deeply grateful to have been present when these two patriots met, on the occasion when they loyally promised each other to preserve the Union at all costs. It marked the beginning of the end.
I preserve always as a treasure in my home a large bronze medallion which was designed by a distinguished artist at the request of the loyal citizens of Philadelphia, upon the happy termination of our great Civil War, and which is a beautiful work of art. Upon this bronze medallion are three faces, in relief, with the superscription: “Washington the Father, Lincoln the Savior and Grant the Preserver,” emblematic of a great and patriotic trinity.
I am proud to be with you here, tonight. This beautiful, happy gathering brings to mind vividly the great victories and that national glory won by you, the Comrades of my dear father. You, the heroes of [pg. 15] the Army of the Tennessee and Loyal Legion, who in that fearful civil strife, by your sacrifices and valor, secured to us, in reality and in fact, what our ancestors had organized in theory, viz.: A land of liberty and a united nation. To you we owe all this.
When the liberal terms granted at Appomattox to the vanquished Southern army were read by that army’s great commander, and when he noted that the side arms, horses and private property of officers and men of the Army of Northern Virginia could be retained by them when they returned to their homes, General Lee said to General Grant: “These terms will have a most happy effect upon my army and upon the South.”
Thus was begun at Appomattox and continued in the generous terms granted at subsequent surrenders that sentiment of harmony, now happily prevailing in our country, between the North and South, a sentiment cherished by General Grant, as shown at Appomattox, and later also during the administration of President Johnson, and the reconstruction period, when General Grant stood firmly for his promises to the South, as he did throughout his own two administrations as President, and up to the last hours of his life. I venture to read to you here tonight General Grant’s message on this subject, written only a few days before his death at Mt. McGregor, in finishing his memoirs.
He wrote as follows: “I feel that we are on the eve of a new era, when there is to be great harmony between the Federal and Confederate. I can not stay to be a living witness to the correctness of this prophecy, but I feel it within me that it is to be so. The universally kind feeling expressed for me at a time when it was supposed that each day would prove my last seemed to me the beginning of the answer–Let us have peace.
“I am not egotist enough to suppose all this significance should be given because I was the object of it. But the war between the States was a very bloody and a very costly war. One side or the other had to yield principles they deemed dearer than life before it could be brought to an end. I commanded the whole of the mighty host engaged on the victorious side. I was, no matter whether deservedly so or not, a representative of that side of the controversy. It is a significant and gratifying fact that Confederates should have joined heartily in this spontaneous move. I hope this good feeling inaugurated may continue to the end.”
GRANT BY HIS GRANDSON *** At the time of his death in August, 1968, Major General Ulysses S. Grant 3rd, eldest grandson of President Grant, had just completed a biography of his grandfather which had been in preparation for several years. This biography, titled Ulysses S. Grant, Warrior and Statesman(New York: William Morrow & Company, Inc., 1969), [pg. 16] presents what the author calls a “family portrait.” Convinced that earlier biographers had never succeeded in portraying his grandfather as his family had known him, General Grant 3rd wanted to capture this likeness for his own children by drawing on family traditions and records as well as the historical literature of the period. He preserved a few personal memories of President Grant to the end of his life, although only four years old at the time of his grandfather’s death in 1885. He added to them a long lifetime of reading and reflection about the character of his grandfather. Quoting copiously from a wide variety of sources, some well-known, others obscure, and a few previously unpublished, General Grant 3rd created a book which will reward specialists with some intriguing new material, such as the selections from the recollections of his grandmother, Julia Dent Grant, and will give the general reader both a biography of Grant and an understanding of what his life and character meant to those who most admired him.