“He Was Incontestably The Greatest Man I Ever Knew.”

Posted on Updated on

     I recall many conversations with General Grant about those who took a high place in the civil administration of the war, and especially about Lincoln. Of Lincoln the General always speaks with reverence and esteem.” I never saw the President,” said the General, ” until he gave me my commission as lieutenant-general. Afterwards I saw him often either in Washington or at head-quarters. Lincoln, I may almost say, spent the last days of his life with me. I often recall those days. He came down to City Point in the last month of the war, and was with me all the time. He lived on a dispatch-boat in the river, but was always around head-quarters. He was a fine horseman, and rode my horse Cincinnati. We visited the different camps, and I did all I could to interest him. He was very anxious about the war closing; was afraid we could not stand a new campaign, and wanted to be around when the crash came. I have no doubt that Lincoln will be the conspicuous figure of the war; one of the great figures of history. He was a great man, a very great man. The more I saw of him, the more this impressed me. He was incontestably the greatest man I ever knew. What marked him especially was his sincerity, his kindness, his clear insight into affairs. Under all this he had a firm will, and a clear policy. People used to say that Seward swayed him, or Chase, or Stanton. This was a mistake. He might appear to go Seward’s way one day, and Stanton’s another, but all the time he was going his own course, and they with him. It was that gentle firmness in carrying out his own will, without apparent force or friction, that formed the basis of his character. He was a wonderful talker and a teller of stories. It is said his stories were improper. I have heard of them, but I never heard Lincoln use an improper word or phrase. I have sometimes, when I hear his memory called in question, tried to recall such a thing, but cannot. I always found him pre-eminently a clean-minded man. I regard these stories as exaggerations. Lincoln’s power of illustration, his humor, was inexhaustible. He had a story or an illustration for everything. I remember as an instance when Stephens of Georgia came on the Jeff. Davis Peace Commission to City Point. Stephens did not weigh more than eighty pounds, and he wore an overcoat that m a d e him look like a man of two hundred pounds. As Lincoln and I came in, Stephens took off his coat. Lincoln said, after he had gone, ‘I say. Grant, did you notice that coat Aleck Stephens wore?’ I said yes. ‘Did you ever see,’ said Lincoln, ‘such a small ear of corn in so big a shuck?’ These illustrations were always occurring in his conversation.

    “The darkest day of my life,” said the General, “was the day I heard of Lincoln’s assassination. I did not know what it meant. Here was the rebellion put down in the field, and starting up in the gutters ; we had fought it as war, now we had to fight it as assassination. Lincoln was killed on the evening of the 14th of April. Lee surrendered on the 9th of April. I arrived in Washington on the 13th. I was busy sending out orders to stop recruiting, the purchase of supplies, and to muster out the army. Lincoln had promised to go to the theater, and wanted me to go with him. While I was with the President, a note came from Mrs. Grant saying she must leave Washington that night. She wanted to go to urlinfrton to see our children. Some incident of a trifling nature had made her resolve to leave that evening. I was glad to have the note, as I did not want to go to the theater. So I made my excuse to Lincoln, and at the proper hour we started for the train. As we were driving along Pennsylvania Avenue, a horseman drove past us on a gallop, and back again around our carriage, looking into it. Mrs. Grant said, ‘ There is the man who sat near us at lunch to-day, with some other men, and tried to overhear our conversation. He was so rude that we left the diningroom. Here he is now riding after us.’ I thought it was only curiosity, but learned afterward that the horseman was Booth. It seems I was to have been attacked, and Mrs. Grant’s sudden resolve to leave deranged the plan. At M days later I received an anonymous letter from a man, saying he had been detailed to kill me, that he rode on my train as far as Havre de Grace, and as my car was locked he could not get in. He thanked God he had failed. I remember the conductor locked our car, but how true the letter was I cannot say. I learned of the assassination as I was passing through Philadelphia. I turned around, took a special train, and came on to Washington. It was the gloomiest day of my life.”

Quoted in John Russell Young’s “Around the World with General Grant,” 1879.

    The President visited the General several times when in camp in front of Petersburg, and it was most gratifying to observe the spirit of co-operation manifested in all their intercourse. General Grant, while sitting by his campfire one evening, said of Mr. Lincoln: “I regard him as one of the greatest of men. He is unquestionably the greatest man I have ever encountered. The more I see of him and exchange views with him, the more he impresses me. I admire his courage and respect the firmness he always displays. Many think, from the gentleness of his character, that he has a yielding nature, but, while he has the courage to change his mind when convinced that he is wrong, he has all the tenacity of purpose which could be desired in a great statesman. His quickness of perception often astonishes me. Long before the statement of a complicated question is finished, his mind will grasp the main points and he will seem to comprehend the whole subject better than the person who is stating it. He will take rank in history alongside of Washington.” With hearts too great for rivalry, with souls too noble for jealousy, they taught the world that it is time to abandon the path of ambition when two cannot walk it abreast.

Quoted in Horace Porter, The living Lincoln : centenary tributes

As the general had been detained so long at the White House that he was not able to get luncheon before starting, and as there was an additional ride in prospect, a stop was made at Bloodgood’s Hotel, near the ferry; for the purpose of getting supper. The general had just taken his seat with Mrs. Grant at the table in the supper-room when a telegram was brought in and handed to him. His whereabouts was known to the telegraph people from the fact that he had sent a message to Bloodgood’s ordering the supper in advance. The general read the despatch, dropped his head, and sat in perfect silence. Then came another, and still another despatch, but not a word was spoken. Mrs. Grant now broke the silence by saying: “Ulyss, what do the telegrams say! Do they bring any bad news?” “I will read them to you,” the general replied in a voice which betrayed his emotion;

“but first prepare yourself for the most painful and startling news that could be received, and control jom feelings so as not to betray the nature of the despatchei to the servants.” He then read to her the telegram-conveying the appalling announcement that Mr. Lincoln,  Mr. Seward, and probably the Vice-President, Mr. Johnson, had been assassinated, and warning the general to look out for his own safety. A special train was at once ordered to take him back to Washington, but finding that he could take Mrs. Grant to Burlington (less than an hour’s ride), and return to Philadelphia nearly as soon as his train could be got ready, he continued on, took her to her destination, returned to Philadelphia, and was in Washington the next morning.

Quoted in Horace Porter,Campaigning with Grant (New York: Century Co., 1897; New York: Konecky & Konecky, 1992), pp.499

    Throughout the night, Stanton dictated numerous dispatches, which were carried to the War Department telegraph office by a relay team of messengers positioned nearby. “Each messenger,” Stanton’s secretary recalled, “after handing a dispatch to the next, would run back to his post to wait for the next.” The first telegram went to General Grant, requesting his immediate presence in Washington. “The President was assassinated at Ford’s Theater at 10.30 to-night and cannot live…. Secretary Seward and his son Frederick were also assassinated at their residence and are in a dangerous condition.” The dispatch reached Grant in the Bloodgood Hotel, where he was taking supper. He “dropped his head,” Horace Porter recalled, “and sat in perfect silence.” Noticing that he had turned “very pale,” Julia Grant guessed that bad news had arrived and asked him to read the telegram aloud. “First prepare yourself for the most painful and startling news that could be received,” he warned. As he made plans to return to Washington, he told Julia that the tidings filled him “with the gloomiest apprehension. The President was inclined to be kind and magnanimous, and his death at this time is an irreparable loss to the South, which now needs so much both his tenderness and magnanimity.”

Quoted in Doris Kearns Goodwin,“Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln”,p.742,Goodwin-735-501-34  Goodwin-743-507-21

One thought on ““He Was Incontestably The Greatest Man I Ever Knew.”

    Others « Abraham Lincoln said:
    April 15, 2020 at 20:21

    […] “He was Incontestably the Greatest Man I Ever Knew.” […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *