MRS. LINCOLN VS. THE GENERALS’ WIVES
Compiled by the Editors of PillartoPost.org Daily Online Magazine.
The following is a review by this blog of an historical event as seen through the eyes and writings of eyewitnesses and historians.
Mary Todd Lincoln, First Lady of the United States
Julia Grant, wife of the General of the Union Army
Sallie Carroll Griffin, blueblood wife of Union General Charles Griffin
Mary Ord, wife of Union General Edward Ord
Outskirts of Richmond VA, the besieged capital of the Confederacy.
Pillar to Post preface--In late March 1865, as the American Civil War was drawing to a close, President Abraham Lincoln accepted an invitation from General of the Army Ulysses S. Grant to visit the front in Virginia. Lincoln, according to historians, viewed it as a working vacation. His family, Mary Todd Lincoln and son Tad, joined him in the trip to City Point, VA, where Grant had his headquarters.
Mrs. Lincoln, who had become even more imperial than her belle of Illinois days, found it difficult making her rounds in her Victorian era garb through the rough-hewn battle zone. The rainy spring made traveling conditions difficult. She was not getting her way with the weather or the muddy roads.
As a expected the Union officers desired to show respect for the President’s visit by staging several troop reviews. The first on March 25 was postponed because of a surprise confederate attack on Ft. Stedman, a few miles from Lincoln’s riverside encampment.
After Ft. Stedman’s bloody battle, Lincoln reviewed the aftermath in person. From that point, the President participated in three reviews, One review was a sail-by on the James River as Lincoln’s party returned the salutes of a Union naval flotilla. On land, two of military reviews were the occasion for Mrs. Lincoln to display never seen or heard before verbal vitriol by a First Lady in public.
The first occurred on March 26 when the Presidential party was enroute to
review of General Samuel Crawford’s division. That morning Mrs. Lincoln’s choler got the best of her. On the bumpy ride to the parade grounds, Mrs. Lincoln was informed by a passing officer that that General Charles Griffin’s young wife Sallie had been allowed to ride ahead with the President. Mrs. Lincoln demanded to know who authorized her presence with the President. She was outraged that Mrs. Griffin, who was even younger and more attractive than Mrs. Mary Ord, was allowed to be alone with the President. More on Mrs. Ord follows.
|First Lady at 28 years.|
But there was more trouble ahead in this river city.
On March 27, the Presidential party was off to review the Army of the James (encamped on the North side of the James River). Cranky at best because the President went ahead without her in the company of Generals Grant and Ord (and Mrs. Ord), Mrs. Lincoln’s mood only darkened because of the uncomfortable carriage ride (some historians claim the carriage driver lost his way) plus she feared the parade would start without her because of her delay.
President Lincoln upon arriving at the reviewing rounds he learned the Army had been standing in ranks for several hours waiting for the Commander-in-Chief to arrive. After hearing the troops had missed their mid-day meal, Lincoln ordered the review to begin immediately.
As Mrs. Lincoln and her entourage arrived, she couldn’t help but realize the party had gone on without her. She had missed her limelight
opportunity to salute the troops. What was worse for her temper was seeing that the soldiers were being reviewed by the President, Grant, Ord and another woman!
Realizing now that another General’s wife, this time the attractive Mrs. Ord, was in the reviewing party, Mrs. Lincoln went off in a massive public display of rage aimed at her military escorts, including Mrs. Julia Grant. Bitter and foul words of accusation roared like cannon grapeshot out of Mrs. Lincoln’s mouth aimed at Mary Ord and Sallie Griffin.
Eyewitnesses and historians agree, Mrs. Ord was reduced to tears, not quite understanding why Mrs. Lincoln was so hostile toward her. Meanwhile Mrs. Griffin stood her ground and insisted she had a right to be there and the general’s wives did nothing wrong.
The spat did much to roil historical gossip that effectively soiled Mrs. Lincoln’s mental unstableness in the eyes of the world.
But, this writer can only gasp at wondering what was the President thinking to bring himself and his family to a war zone (a bloody battle occurred only miles away when the Lincolns were visiting). Because of the physical danger and the obvious inconvenience of a First Lady traveling in Victorian garb, it might have been wiser for the Chief Executive to leave his family in Washington DC.
Had the starving rebels been more fed, rested and armed, the attack on Fort Stedman could have extended right into the City Point bivouac where Lincoln, Grant, Sheridan and Sherman were camped. March 25 could have been a seriously black day for the nation had Confederate General John Brown Gordon had more troops.
But this battle is not about Ft. Stedman, which was lost and regained in one afternoon, but about the war Mrs. Lincoln waged against three wives of prominent U.S. Army generals.
Excerpted here are other writings on Mrs. Lincoln’s most uncivil war. The first three narrations are by Union generals, Adam Badeau, William T. Sherman and U.S. Navy Lt. Commander John S. Barnes. Barnes and Badeau, who were eyewitnesses to the First Lady’s verbal blood letting of March 26 and 27, 1865.
Much of what Barnes and Badeau wrote appears to be the main references for latter day historians, including Carl Sandburg, Shelby Foote, Pulitzer Prize winner Doris Kearns Goodwin and even brought a mention by Gore Vidal, in his excellent fiction “Lincoln.” Even icon general William T. Sherman mentioned the affair in his memoirs published ten years later.
The Grants and the Lincolns.
Excerpt from the public domain.
Chapter 41 “The Grants and the Lincolns’ from the biography “Grant in Peace” by U.S. Army General Adam Badeau.
The first time that I saw [President Abraham Lincoln’s wife,] Mary Todd Lincoln was when I accompanied Mrs. [Julia] Grant to the White House, for her first visit there as wife of the General-in-Chief.
The next occasion that I recall was in March, 1865, when Mrs. Lincoln, with the President, visited City Point. They went on a steamer, escorted by a naval vessel of which Captain John S. Barnes was in command, and remained for several weeks in the James River under the bluff on which the headquarters were established. They slept and usually took their meals aboard, but sometimes both ascended the hill and were entertained at the mess of General Grant.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
General Adam Badeau, U.S. Grant’s military secretary and aide-de-camp and one of the closest friends General Grant ever had, was detailed to escort Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Grant during the President’s visit to City Point, VA in late March 1865. Badeau sat on the front seat of the carriage, facing them with his back to the horses. He was an eyewitness to all that occurred during that visit.
By late afternoon on the 25th of March a distinguished party from Washington joined them, among whom I remember, especially, Mr. Geoffroi, the French Minister. It was proposed that an excursion should be made to the front of the Army of the Potomac, about ten or twelve miles off.
Because of a surprise attack by the rebels at 4 am that morning; the troop review was postponed until 3 pm later that day when it was deemed the area was secure of further enemy action. The escursion was reset and a military railroad took the illustrious guests a portion of the way, and then the men were mounted, but Mrs. Grant and Mrs. Lincoln went on in an ambulance, as it was called—a sort of half-open carriage with two seats besides that for the driver. I was detailed to escort them, and of course sat on the front seat facing the ladies, with my back to the horses.
In the course of conversation, I chanced to mention that all the wives of officers at the army front had been ordered to the rear—a sure sign that active operations had been occuring. I said not a lady had been allowed to remain, except Mrs. Griffin, the wife of General Charles Griffin, who had obtained a special permit from the President. At this Mrs. Lincoln was up in arms, ‘What do you mean by that, sir?’ she exclaimed. ‘Do you mean to say that she saw the President alone? Do you know that I never allow the President to see any woman alone?’ She was absolutely jealous of poor, ugly Abraham Lincoln.
I tried to pacify her and to palliate my remark, but she was fairly boiling over with rage. ‘That's a very equivocal smile, sir,’ she exclaimed: ‘Let me out of this carriage at once. I will ask the President if he saw that woman alone.’ Mrs. Griffin, afterward the Countess Esterhazy, was one of the best known and most elegant women in Washington, a Carroll, and a personal acquaintance of Mrs. Grant, who strove to mollify the excited spouse, but all in vain. Mrs. Lincoln again bade me stop the driver, and when I hesitated to obey, she thrust her arms past me to the front of the carriage and held the driver fast.
But Mrs. Grant finally prevailed upon her to wait till the whole party alighted, and then General Meade came up to pay his respects to the wife of the President. I had intended to offer Mrs. Lincoln my arm, and endeavor to prevent a scene, but Meade, of course, as my superior, had the right to escort her, and I had no chance to warn him. I saw them go off together, and remained in fear and trembling for what might occur in the presence of the foreign minister and other important strangers. But General Meade was very adroit, and when they returned Mrs. Lincoln looked at me significantly and said: ‘General Meade is a gentleman, sir. He says it was not the President who gave Mrs. Griffin the permit, but the Secretary of War.’ Meade was the son of a diplomatist, and had evidently inherited some of his father's skill.
At night on the 25th, when we were back in camp, Mrs. Grant talked over the matter with me, and said the whole affair was so distressing and mortifying that neither of us must ever mention it; at least, I was to be absolutely silent, and she would disclose it only to the General. But the next day I was released from my pledge, for ‘worse remained behind.’
The same party went in the morning of March 26 to visit the Army of the James on the north side of the river, commanded by General Ord. The arrangements were somewhat similar to those of the day before. We went up the river in a steamer, and then the men again took horses and Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Grant proceeded in an ambulance. I was detailed as before to act as escort, but I asked for a companion in the duty; for after my experience, I did not wish to be the only officer in the carriage. So Colonel Horace Porter was ordered to join the party. Mrs. Ord accompanied her husband; as she was the wife of the commander of an army she was not subject to the order for return; though before that day was over she wished herself in Washington or anywhere else away from the army, I am sure. She was mounted, and as the ambulance was full, she remained on her horse and rode for a while by the side of the President, and thus preceded Mrs. Lincoln.
As soon as Mrs. Lincoln discovered this her rage was beyond all bounds. ‘What does the woman mean,’ she exclaimed, ‘by riding by the side of the President? and ahead of me? Does she suppose that he wants her by the side of him?’ She was in a frenzy of excitement, and language and action both became more extravagant every moment. Mrs. Grant again endeavored to pacify her, but then Mrs. Lincoln got angry with Mrs. Grant; and all that Porter and I could do was to see that nothing worse than words occurred. We feared she might jump out of the vehicle and shout to the cavalcade. Once she said to Mrs. Grant in her transports: ‘I suppose you think you'll get to the White House yourself, don't you?’ Mrs. Grant was very calm and dignified, and merely replied that she was quite satisfied with her present position; it was far greater than she had ever expected to attain. But Mrs. Lincoln exclaimed; ‘Oh! you had better take it if you can get it. 'Tis very nice.’ Then she reverted to Mrs. Ord, while Mrs. Grant defended her friend at the risk of arousing greater vehemence.
When there was a halt Major Seward, a nephew of the Secretary of State, and an officer of General Ord's staff, rode up, and tried to say something jocular. ‘The President's horse is very gallant, Mrs. Lincoln,’ he remarked; ‘he insists on riding by the side of Mrs. Ord.’ This of course added fuel to the flame. ‘What do you mean by that, sir?’ she cried. Seward discovered that he had made a huge mistake, and his horse at once developed a peculiarity that compelled him to ride behind, to get out of the way of the storm.
Finally the party arrived at its destination and Mrs. Ord came up to the ambulance. Then Mrs. Lincoln positively insulted her, called her vile names in the presence of a crowd of officers, and asked what she meant by following up the President. The poor woman burst into tears and inquired what she had done, but Mrs. Lincoln refused to be appeased, and stormed till she was tired. Mrs. Grant still tried to stand by her friend, and everybody was shocked and horrified. But all things come to an end, and after a while we returned to City Point.
That night of the 26th the President and Mrs. Lincoln entertained General and Mrs. Grant and the General's staff at dinner on the steamer, and before us all Mrs. Lincoln berated General Ord to the President, and urged that he should be removed. He was unfit for his place, she said, to say nothing of his wife. General Grant sat next and defended his officer bravely. Of course General Ord was not removed.
During all this visit similar scenes were occurring. Mrs. Lincoln repeatedly attacked her husband in the presence of officers because of Mrs. Griffin and Mrs. Ord, and I never suffered greater humiliation and pain on account of one not a near personal friend than when I saw the Head of the State, the man who carried all the cares of the nation at such a crisis—subjected to this inexpressible public mortification. He bore it as Christ might have done; with an expression of pain and sadness that cut one to the heart, but with supreme calmness and dignity. He called her ‘mother,’ with his old-time plainness; he pleaded with eyes and tones, and endeavored to explain or palliate the offenses of others, till she turned on him like a tigress; and then he
walked away, hiding that noble, ugly face that we might not catch the full expression of its misery.
walked away, hiding that noble, ugly face that we might not catch the full expression of its misery.
General Sherman was a witness of some of these episodes and mentioned them in his memoirs many years ago. Captain Barnes, of the navy, was a witness and a sufferer too. Barnes had accompanied Mrs. Ord on her unfortunate ride and refused afterward to say that the lady was to blame. Mrs. Lincoln never forgave him. A day or two afterward he went to speak to the President on some official matter when Mrs. Lincoln and several others were present. The President's wife said something to him unusually offensive that all the company could hear. Lincoln was silent, but after a moment he went up to the young officer, and taking him by the arm led him into his own cabin, to show him a map or a paper, he said. He made no remark, Barnes told me, upon what had occurred. He could not rebuke his wife; but he showed his regret, and his regard for the officer, with a touch of what seemed to me the most exquisite breeding imaginable.
Shortly before these occurrences Mrs. Stanton had visited City Point, and I chanced to ask her some question about the President's wife. ‘I do not visit Mrs. Lincoln,’ was the reply. But I thought I must have been mistaken; the wife of the Secretary of War must visit the wife of the President; and I renewed my inquiry. ‘Understand me, sir?’ she repeated; ‘I do not go to the White House; I do not visit Mrs. Lincoln.’ I was not at all intimate with Mrs. Stanton, and this remark was so extraordinary that I never forgot it; but I understood it afterward.
Mrs. Lincoln continued her conduct toward Mrs. Grant, who strove to placate her, and then Mrs. Lincoln became more outrageous still. She once rebuked Mrs. Grant for sitting in her presence. ‘How dare you be seated,’ she said, ‘until I invite you.’ Altogether it was a hateful experience at that tremendous crisis in the nation's history, for all this was just before the army started on its last campaign.
[Fall Out from the Spats]
Within days the war ended and the President and Mrs. Lincoln had already returned to Washington when General Grant arrived from Appomattox, bringing Mrs. Grant with him. On the 13th of April, Washington was illuminated in honor of the victories, and Mrs. Lincoln invited General Grant to drive about the streets with her and look at the demonstration; but she did not ask Mrs. Grant. The next night, April 14th, was the saddest in American history. Not only General Grant and Mrs. Grant, but the Secretary of War and Mrs. Stanton, were invited to accompany the President and his wife to the theatre. No answer had yet been sent when Mrs. Stanton called on Mrs. Grant to inquire if she meant to be of the party. ‘For,’ said Mrs. Stanton, ‘unless you accept the invitation, I shall refuse. I will not sit without you in the box with Mrs. Lincoln.’ Mrs. Grant also was tired out with what she had endured, and decided not to go to the play, little dreaming of the terrible experience she was thus escaping. She determined to return that night to Burlington, in New Jersey, where her children were at school, and requested the General to accompany her. Accordingly a note of apology was sent to Mrs. Lincoln, and Mrs. Stanton also declined the invitation. These ladies thus may both have saved their husband's lives.
Sherman Dodges Mrs. Lincoln’s Wrath
Excerpt from the public domain.
From “The Memoirs of W.T. Sherman” by William T. Sherman, General of the Army, 1875
Editor’s note: General William T. Sherman was at City Point to meet with President Lincoln to discuss with fellow generals: Meade, Sheridan and Grant as how they would proceed to defeat CSA generals Lee dug in at Petersburg and Johnson in North Carolina. Sherman missed the spats between Mrs. Lincoln and the Generals’ wives. The following appears in Sherman’s memoirs published in 1875. He wrote about the spat after hearing it from eyewitness Lt. Commander John S. Barnes, who was among the officers tasked with accompanying Mrs. Lincoln on her City Point visit. Sherman left City Point on the USS Bat commanded by Barnes.
“...We steamed down James River, and at Old Point Comfort took on board my brother, Senator John Sherman, and Mr. Edwin Stanton, son of the Secretary of War, and proceeded at once to our destination.
“On our way down the river, Captain Barnes expressed himself extremely obliged to me for taking his vessel, as it had relieved him of a most painful dilemma. He explained that he had been detailed by Admiral Porter to escort the President's unarmed boat, the River Queen, in which capacity it became his special duty to look after Mrs. Lincoln.
“The day before [Sherman’s] my arrival at City Point, there had been a grand review of a part of the Army of the James, then commanded by General Ord. The President rode out from City Point with General Grant on horseback, accompanied by a numerous staff, including Captain Barnes and Mrs. Ord; but Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Grant had followed in a carriage.
“The cavalcade reached the review-ground some five or six miles out from City Point, found the troops all ready, drawn up in line, and after the usual presentation of arms, the President and party, followed by Mrs. Ord and Captain Barnes on horseback, rode the lines, and returned to the reviewing stand, which meantime had been reached by Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Grant in their carriage, which had been delayed by the driver taking a wrong road. Mrs. Lincoln, seeing Mrs. Ord and Captain Barnes riding with the retinue, and supposing that Mrs. Ord had personated her, turned on Captain Barnes and gave him a fearful scolding; and even indulged in some pretty sharp upbraidings to Mrs. Ord...”
Eyewitness to the Spat
Excerpt from the public domain.
“The President Sees a Fight and a Review” by John S. Barnes first published in Appleton’s Magazine, Vol. 9, no. 5 (May 1907) pages 515-524.
While in command of the USS Bat in the month of March, 1865, attached to the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, Rear Admiral David Porter commanding, I received orders to proceed without delay to Washington, and report in person to the Secretary of the Navy.
While in command of the USS Bat in the month of March, 1865, attached to the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, Rear Admiral David Porter commanding, I received orders to proceed without delay to Washington, and report in person to the Secretary of the Navy.
Fort Fisher had fallen and all accessible ports of the South were in our possession; blockade running had ceased, and the Bat had been employed as a dispatch boat, and had made many trips to Washington and Baltimore on dispatch service, also to points South embraced by Admiral Porter's command.
On the arrival of the Bat at Washington on the 2oth day of March, 1865, I reported to the Navy Department, and was received by Mr. G. V. Fox, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, immediately upon ray arrival. Mr. Fox, who had previously been my guest, and had made a trip to City Point VA, discussed with me her interior arrangements, the unoccupied space below decks, and then Informed me that the President desired to visit General Grant at City Point, Grant's headquarters, and had applied to the Navy Department for transportation, and that he thought the Bat was, or might be made a suitable ship for him to go and return in, or perhaps to live on board of during his visit to Grant’s HQ. I replied to Mr. Fox that if he would place the resources of the Washington Navy Yard at my disposal, I could in a few days make such arrangements as to insure the personal comfort of the President as long as he desired to make the Bat his home.
Mr. Fox then took me over to the White House, and we were at once admitted to the President. After introducing me as the captain of the vessel detailed by the department to take him to City Point, Mr. Fox left us with the remark, "Now, Mr. President, you have only to give him your orders as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States." Mr. Lincoln replied, "I'm only a fresh-water sailor and I guess I have to trust to you salt-water folks when afloat." After a few minutes' talk, mainly as to the size and accommodations of the Bat, during which the President said he wanted no luxuries but only plain, simple food and ordinary comfort — that what was good enough for me would be good enough for him. I left him, returned lo the Navy Department, and secured orders to Captain Montgomery, commanding the Washington Navy Yard, to do all things needed to make the vessel ready to receive Mr. Lincoln and to finish the work as soon as possible. The Bat was the highly developed type of "blockade runner" built for the special purpose with several other like vessels, by Messrs. Jones, Quiggan & Co. of Liverpool.
She was a side-wheel steamer long and narrow, drawing about nine feet when loaded, and driven by four oscillating engines, turning huge feathering paddle-wheels; her hull was of steel plates three-sixteenths of an inch in thickness; under full steam she had a speed of eighteen knots. On her maiden trip from Bermuda to Wilmington, in command of a Captain in the English Naval Reserve, laden with army medicines and contraband goods, she was captured in attempting to run the blockade off Cape Fear River. Condemned as a prize, she was hastily converted into a gunboat for blockading duty.
The next morning early I received orders to report at the White House, and on my arrival there I was at once shown to the President's private room— not his office. Mr. Lincoln was there and received me with great cordiality, but with a certain kind of embarrassment and a look of sadness which struck me forcibly and rather embarrassed me. He appeared tired and worried, and after a few casual remarks said that Mrs. Lincoln had decided that she would accompany him to City Point, and could the Bat accommodate her and her maid servant. I was, in sailor's phrase, taken "all aback." The Bat was in no respect adapted to the private life of womankind, nor could she be made so. I ventured to state some of the difficulties — as delicately as I could. "Well," said the President, "I understand, but you will have to see mother," and I was soon ushered into the presence of Mrs. Lincoln.
She received me very graciously, standing with arms folded, and at once opened the conversation by saying that she had learned from one of her friends. Miss Harris, daughter of Senator Ira Harris, of New York, that I was an old acquaintance and relative. I expressed my great satisfaction at the recognition and remarked that Miss Clara Harris was one of my best friends also.
Mrs. Lincoln then said, "I am going with the President to City Point, and I want you to arrange your ship to take me, my maid, and my officer, as well as the President." There was some other desultory talk, the general result of which was that I would confer with Mr. Lincoln and see what I could do to meet her wishes. In great consternation I went to the Navy Department, and explained to Mr. Fox the situation; how utterly impossible it was to make the Bat at all suitable for the reasonable requirements of the wife of the President. Mr. Fox at once recognized the impossibility, and again we went to the White House, were at once received by Mr. Lincoln, when in very funny terms the President translated our difficulties, and Mr. Fox promised the President that be would provide another and more appropriate craft for the transportation of his family.
The alterations to the Bat were stopped and the steamer River Queen was chartered for Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln's accommodation. She was a river passenger side-wheel boat, with the ordinary civilian officers and crew, without armament.
By the orders of the Department, I was directed to accompany her, and keep her in convoy, and was placed under the immediate direction of the President and charged with his safe conduct to City Point and return.
While probably not oblivious to the dangers of his position. President Lincoln was much less disturbed by it than many others. Unlike the high officers of all governments today, there were no private detectives guarding his person.
The River Queen, closely followed by the Bat, left Washington on March 23, 1865, Mr. Lincoln embarking at the Sixth Street wharf at 1 p.m., and anchored off City Point very late on the evening of March 24. Communication was had with General Grant, and it was proposed to hold a general review of the troops facing Petersburg the next day [March 25] at about noon. I reported to Mr. Lincoln early in the morning and was invited to breakfast with the family, and escorted Mrs. Lincoln to the breakfast room on the lower or main deck of the Queen.
Mr. Lincoln, who was not looking well, had been indisposed the day before, and attributed it to the drinking water furnished the River Queen at Washington; indeed we had stopped at Fortress Monroe the day before and taken on a supply of fresh water in demijohns, for Mr. Lincoln's special use.
The only persons present at the breakfast were "Thad," the youngest son, and Captain Penrose, of the Commissary Department. Mr. Lincoln ate very little, but was very jolly and pleasant. While at breakfast, Captain Robert Lincoln came in from General Grant and said that there had been a fight that morning at the front and the action was then going on; that the reports at General Grant's headquarters were meager, but that our troops were successful in repelling an assault upon our lines, and that the proposed review would have to be postponed.
Mr. Lincoln sent a dispatch to Mr. Stanton, which he wrote at the table and gave to Captain Lincoln to have sent. He spoke of the fight, made light of it, calling it a "rumpus at the front." After breakfast several officers, including Admiral Porter, called to pay their respects; there was a general conversation, and we all walked up to General Grant's headquarters.
There it was learned that the fight at the front had been quite serious, but at that time was practically over, resulting in a decided victory for our men. After some discussion, Mr. Lincoln expressed a great desire to visit the scene of the action, the particulars of which were still wanting, nothing being known except the general result.
General Grant was rather opposed to such a trip for the President, as possibly being an exposure, but the reports from the front, coming in constantly, being reassuring, a special train was made up at about noontime, and with a large party we slowly proceeded over the Military Railroad, roughly constructed between City Point and the front, to General Meade's headquarters.
On our arrival there, and indeed before we reached the scene, while we were passing through a portion of the field of battle, the very serious nature of the conflict of that morning was apparent. The Confederates under General John B. Gordon, at early daylight, had made a swift and sudden assault upon our lines of investment of Petersburg, had captured Fort Stedman and several other batteries, with many persons, including a general officer, and driven our men back close to and over the railroad embankment upon which our train was then halted.
The ground immediately about us was still strewn with dead and wounded men. Federal and Confederate. The whole army was under arms and moving to the left, where the fight was still going on, and a desultory firing of both musketry and artillery was seen and heard.
Mr. Lincoln was taken in charge by General Meade, and mounted on horseback rode to an eminence near by, from which a good view of the scene could be secured. Horses had been sent out on the train, and I was fortunate in securing one. We passed through the spot where the fight had been most severe, and where great numbers of dead were lying, with burial parties at their dreadful work.
Many Confederate wounded were still lying on the ground, being attended to by surgeons and men of the Sanitary Commission, distributing water and bread. We passed by 2,000 rebel prisoners, herded together, who had been captured within our lines only a few hours before.
Mr. Lincoln remarked upon their sad and unhappy condition, and indeed they were as sorry and dirty a lot of humanity as can be imagined, but they had fought desperately, and no doubt were glad to be at rest. Mr. Lincoln was quiet and observant, making few comments, and listened to explanations in a cool, collected manner, betraying no excitement, but his whole face showing sympathetic feeling for the suffering about him.
Before returning to the train a flag of truce was flying between the opposing lines, now each reoccupied, and ambulances were moving and burial parties from the Confederate lines occupied in taking off the wounded and burying the dead lying between the lines where the slaughter of Confederates had been greatest.
Once again on the train, to which cars filled with our wounded men had been attached, Mr. Lincoln looked worn and haggard. The President remarked that he had seen enough of the horrors of war, that he hoped this was the beginning of the end, and that there would be no more bloodshed or ruin of homes. Indeed, then and many times after did he reiterate the same hope with grave earnestness.
We returned slowly by train to City Point. Mr. Lincoln, overcome by the excitement and events of the day, desired to rest on the Queen with his family, and, declining the invitation to take supper at General Grant's headquarters, saw no one again that evening.
Briefly, what he had that morning telegraphed to Mr. Stanton and described as a "rumpus at the front" was a most sanguinary battle and almost the last of the war. The losses on the Confederate side were as reported the next day, in killed, wounded, and prisoners, nearly 5,000 men and on the Federal side 2,000.
On the following day, March 26th, many dead and some wounded still lay unburied and unattended between the lines of entrenchment only a few yards apart. On the 26th, on reporting to Mr. Lincoln, I found him quite recovered from the fatigue and excitement of the day before; reports from the front were wholly reassuring, our troops back in their original positions, with some material advantages gained along the lines.
The President, while lamenting the great loss of life and the sufferings of the wounded, expressed the greatest confidence that the war was drawing to an end. He read me several dispatches from Mr. Stanton, expressing anxiety as to his exposing himself, and drawing contrasts between the duty of a "general" and a "president"; also several dispatches from the front sent him by General Grant. He was greatly pleased to hear that General Sheridan had reached the bank of the river at Harrison's Landing, and that his cavalry would that day cross and join General Grant's army. After breakfast Mr. Lincoln went to Grant's headquarters and sent some dispatches to Mr. Stanton, saying that he would take care of himself.
General Sheridan and General Ord were there, also several other generals and Admiral Porter. It was suggested that, as the President had seen a "fight instead of a review" the day before, he should employ the day in an excursion by water to see Sheridan's troops crossing the river at Harrison's Landing, review the naval flotilla, and then review General Ord's division then encamped on the left bank of the James, near Malvern Hill, the scene of 1862’s earlier bloody battle between rebel General John Magruder's and Union General George McClellan's armies.
Horses and ambulances for the ladies were placed on the River Queen as Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Grant were to attend these ceremonies, and soon we were passing down the river to the point of the crossing of Sheridan's troops. General Sheridan was of the party, and the President very kindly insisted that I should "come along," as he expressed it.
The scene was a lively one, and the President enjoyed it hugely. A pontoon bridge had been thrown across the river, over which were passing, in a stream, Sheridan's cavalry, while the bank of the river was lined with them, some bathing and watering their horses, laughing and shouting to each other and having a fine time. They soon found out that the President was watching them and cheered vociferously. A few moments were given to this, and then the River Queen turned and passed through the naval flotilla, ranged in double line, dressed with flags, the crews on deck cheering as the River Queen passed by.
Admiral Porter had sent his orders ahead before starting, and the ships made a brave show and the President was apparently de-lighted and the Admiral naturally very proud of his command. Mr. Lincoln as he passed each vessel waved his high hat as if saluting old friends in his native town, and seemed as happy as a schoolboy.
On reaching the Malvern Admiral Porter's flagship, the Queen went alongside, and we found there spread out in her spacious cabin a grand luncheon. How the Admiral could have gotten up such a repast on so short a notice was a source of wonder and surprise to Mr. Lincoln, as it was to everyone who enjoyed it. It was the cause of funny comments and remarks by the President, contrasting army and naval life, as was witnessed by the laughter among the group immediately about him, of which he was the moving spirit. Luncheon over, we all re-embarked on the Queen, and she proceeded to Aitken's Landing, where the horses and ambulances were put ashore.
[Spat with Mrs. Griffin]
Many officers of General Ord's division were in waiting to accompany and escort the President to the field review, which was to be reached over a rough corduroy road leading to the pontoon bridge close by, connecting the right and left wings of the army.
The arrangements were that Mr. Lincoln should go on horseback, accompanied by General Grant and General Ord with their respective staffs (I am not certain that General Sheridan also was with the President), then Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Grant were to be conducted to the ground in an ambulance, under the special escort of Gen. Horace Porter and Colonel Adam Badeau.
General Porter very kindly but reluctantly, and with some misgivings as to my horsemanship, and jocular remarks about sailors on horseback, lent me his own favorite steed.
There was some delay in starting, owing, it was said, to the unreadiness of the ladies, but at last the cavalcade got off, General Grant and General Ord, riding on each side of the President, leading. The ambulance with Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Grant was to follow.
Just as we left, General Ord introduced me to his wife, who was also on horseback, and then said to me: "Captain, I put Mrs. Ord in charge of the navy." As such, Mrs. Ord and I closed up the rear of the Presidential cavalcade. She was a remarkably handsome woman, and a most accom-plished equestrienne, riding with extreme grace a spirited bay horse.
There were probably 20 or 30 officers and a few orderlies in the party, all in their best uniforms, and as brilliant a squadron as could be expected from an army in the field. The President was in high spirits, laughing and chatting first to General Grant and then to General Ord as they rode forward through the woods and over the swamps on the rather intricate and tortuous approach to the pontoon bridge.
The distance from City Point to General Ord's encampment was about three or four miles. The President was dressed in a long-tailed black frock coat, not buttoned, thick vest, low cut, with a considerable expanse of a rather rumpled shirt front, a black carelessly tied necktie, black trousers without straps, which, as he ambled along, gradually worked up uncomfortably and displayed some inches of white socks.
Upon his head he wore a high silk hat, rather out of fashion, and innocent of a brush for many days, if ever it had been smoothed by one. He rode with some ease, however, with very long stirrup leathers, lengthened to their extreme to suit his extraordinarily long limbs. His horse was gentle with an easy pacing, or single-foot, gait, and our progress was rapid; but owing to the luncheon and delay in starting we reached the parade ground at a late hour.
Ord’s division was under arms drawn up in a wide field at parade rest, and had been so for several hours. After hurried conferences with the commanding officer, General Ord reported to General Grant, who referred to the President, with the statement that the soldiers' mealtime was long past, and asked should the review be delayed to await the coming of Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Grant, not yet arrived — in fact, as it turned out, the ambulance under charge of Porter and Badeau had either missed the route or was en-tangled in the maze of the rough approaches to the pontoon.
As a result, Mr. Lincoln exclaimed against any further postponement, and in a few minutes the review commenced; the President, with General Grant and General Ord leading, proceeded to the right of the line and passed in front, the bands playing, colors dipping, and the soldiers at present arms.
Mrs. Ord asked me whether it was proper for her to accompany the cavalcade, now very numerous. I replied that I was ignorant of army usages and ceremonies, but a staff officer, to whom I referred the matter, said, "Of course! Come along!" and gladly enough we fell in the rear and followed the reviewing column.
Halfway down the line the ambulance with the ladies drove in upon the field. Seeing it, Mrs. Ord exclaimed, "There come Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Grant. I think I had better join them." Reining out of the crowd, we galloped across the field and drew up by the side of the wagon. Our reception was not cordial; it was evident that some unpleasantness had occurred. Porter and Badeau looked unhappy, and Mrs. Grant silent and embarrassed. It was a painful situation from which the only escape was to retire. The review was over, and Mrs. Ord and myself with a few officers rode back to headquarters at City Point.
[Spat with Mrs. Ord]
After visiting the River Queen I retired early, rather tired with my unwonted horseback exercise; but about eleven o'clock I was awakened by the orderly, with a message from the President saying that he would like to see me on the River Queen. I dressed as quickly as possible, repaired on board, and found Mr. Lincoln and Mrs. Lincoln awaiting me in the upper saloon. The President seemed weary and greatly distressed, with an expression of sadness that seemed the accentuation of the shadow of melancholy, which at times so marred his features.
He took little part in the conversation which ensued, which evidently followed some previous discussion with Mrs. Lincoln, who had objected very strenuously to the presence of other ladies at the review that day, and had thought that Mrs. Ord had been too prominent in it, that the troops were led to think that she was the wife of the President, who had distinguished her with too much attention. Mr. Lincoln very gently suggested that he had hardly remarked the presence of the lady, but Mrs. Lincoln was hardly to be pacified and appealed to me to support her views. Of course I could not umpire such a ques-tion, and could only state why Mrs. Ord and herself found ourselves in the reviewing column, and how immediately we withdrew from it upon the appearance of the ambulance with Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Grant.
It was a very unhappy experience, the particulars of which need not be gone into, nor would I here refer to it, but that it has been referred to by others in various publications and bears upon the cause of the vein of sadness which ran through the naturally cheerful disposition of the greatest and noblest man this country has produced. I extricated myself as well as I could, but with difficulty, and asked permission to retire, the President bidding me good night sadly and gently.
The following morning I reported as usual to the President, who received me with marked kindness, read to me, in the small stateroom converted into an office, his dispatches from Mr. Stanton and the news from the front, particularly the reports of the casualties of the battle on the 25th, which greatly increased the numbers previously reported on both sides. Thad was about, demonstrative as usual, clinging to his father and caressed affectionately by him. I inquired for Mrs. Lincoln, hoping that she had recovered from the fatigue of the previous day. Mr. Lincoln said that she was not at all well, and expressed the fear that the excitements of the surroundings were too great for her, or for any woman. After a few minutes thus passed, Mr. Lincoln said he was going to General Grant's headquarters and asked me to go there with him, which we proceeded to do afoot.
City Point was a busy place; the river crowded with gunboats, monitors, transports, and colliers; the quartermaster's docks lined with vessels of every description unloading stores and munitions for the Grand Army; large storehouses filled to repletion covered the docks and approaches; innumerable teams were going and coming to and from the front every hour of the day and night For convenience in landing and returning, the River Queen had been placed alongside the dock and a gangplank connected her with the wharf. The Martin, a similar steamboat to the Queen, was also fastened to the dock. She was General Grant's headquarters boat, and upon her Mrs. Grant and her family were living. It was sometimes a question as to precedence as to which boat should lie inside — a question not raised by Mr. Lincoln.
But Mrs. Lincoln thought that the President's boat should have place, and declined to go ashore if she had to do so over Mrs. Grant's boat, and several times the Martin was pushed out and the River Queen, requiring some work and creating confusion, despite Mr. Lincoln's expostulations. The boats came to be called “Mrs. Lincoln's boat” and "Mrs. Grant's boat" and the open discussions between their respective skippers were sometimes warm. Of course, neither Mr. Lincoln nor General Grant took any notice of such trivialities.
Lincoln Visits Fort Stedman
Excerpt from “Civil War, Vol. 3, Red River to Appomattox,” by Shelby Foote, 1974.
[BEGINNING MARCH 25, 1865]
By noon on March 25, hours after the Confederates began their withdrawal from Ft. Stedman...accordingly, General Grant rescheduled the V Corps review, which would now be staged in rear of a sector just south of the one where rebel general Gordon’s had exploded before dawn. Grant decided that the President would be safe enough in taking a look at the ground where the struggle had raged between 4 am and 8 am that morning.
So it was that Lincoln, going forward on the railroad to the margin of that field, saw on a considerably larger scale more carnage than he had ever seen before. Mangled corpses were being carted rearward for burial in the Army cemetery near City Point.
There was pride and exhilaration in statements that Union general John G. Parke, cut off from communication with Meade and Grant, while the fighting was in progress, had used only his three IX Corps divisions to contain and repulse the rebels without outside help. But for Lincoln, interested though he always was in military matters, the pleasure he would ordinarily taken in such reports was greatly diminished by the sight of what they had cost.
He looked “worn and haggard,” an officer who accompanied him declared; “He remarked that he had seen enough of the horrors of war, that he hoped this was the beginning of the end, and there would be no more bloodshed.”
Still another shock was in store for the President before the day was over, this one involving his wife.
As Mrs. Lincoln rode with Mrs. Grant and Lt. Col. (later General) Adam Badeau, Grant’s military secretary, in an ambulance on the way to the troop review that had been scheduled for 3 pm. Badeau (riding in the ambulance facing Mrs. Grant and Mrs. Lincoln happened to remark that operations at the Ft. Stedman front were still active as all army wives had recently been ordered to the rear: all that is, but the wife of General G. Warren’s ranking division commander, Mrs. Charles Griffin (Sallie), who had been given special permission by the President to attend today’s review.
The First Lady flared up at this. “What do you mean by that, sir?” Do you mean to say that she saw the President alone? Do you know that I never allow the President to see any woman alone?”
Speechless with amazement at finding her “absolutely jealous of poor, ugly Abraham Lincoln,” Lt. Col. Badeau tried to assume a pleasant expression in order to show he meant no malice; but the effect was otherwise. “That’s a very equivocal smile, sir,” Mrs. Lincoln exclaimed. “Let me out of this carriage at once! I will ask the President if he saw that woman alone.”
Badeau and Mrs. Grant managed to persuade her not to alight in the mud, but it was General Meade who saved the day. Coming up to pay his respects on their arrival at the parade grounds, he was taken aside by Mrs. Lincoln for a hurried exchange from which she returned to the carriage to fix the flustered Badeau with a significant look. “General Meade is a gentleman, sir” she told Badeau. “He says it was not the President who have Mrs. Griffin the permit, but the Secretary of War. Badeau afterwards remarked that Meade, the son of a diplomat, “had evidently inherited some of his father’s skill.”
Unfortunately, the Pennsylvanian (Meade) was not on hand for a similar outburst by Mrs. Lincoln the following day (March 26), when the troops reviewed were General Ord’s.
Arriving late, again in an ambulance with Badeau and Mrs. Grant, Mrs. Lincoln found the review already in progress, and there on horseback was Mrs. Ord beside the President, who was also mounted.
Mary Ord, who was neither as young nor as handsome as Mrs. Griffin, but that was no mitigation in the eyes of Mary Lincoln. “What does the woman mean by riding by the side of the President? And ahead of me! Does she suppose that he wants her by the side of him?
The First Lady was in full tirade, and when Mrs. Grant ventured a few words of reassurance that no harm was meant, Mrs. Lincoln turned on her friend as well, saying: “I suppose you think you’ll get the White House yourself, don’t you?”
Julia Grant’s disclaimer, to the effect that her present position was higher than any she had hoped for, drew the reply: “Oh, you had better take it if you can get it. “Tis very nice.”
Mrs. Ord, seeing the carriage pull up, excused herself to the dignitaries around her . “There comes Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Grant; I think I had better join them,” she said, unaware of the outburst in progress across the way, and set out at a canter. It was not until she drew rein beside the ambulance that she perceived that she might have done to ride away. “Our reception was not cordial,” and aide who accompanied her later testified discreetly. Badeau, a former newsman gave a fuller account of Mrs. Ord’s ordeal. “Mrs. Lincoln positively insulted her, called her vile names in the presence of a crowd of officers, and asked what she meant by following up the President.
“Bursting into tears, Mrs. Ord asked what she had done, but Mrs. Lincoln refused to be appeased, and stormed until she was tired. Mrs. Grant tried to stand by her friend, and in the end everyone was shocked and horrified.
Badeau ended his recollection of the spat by saying “But all things come to an end and after a while we returned to City Point.”
Things were no better there, however, certainly not for the President, who was host that night at a dinner given aboard the River Queen for the Grants and the Grants staff.
Mrs. Lincoln with General Grant seated on her right spent a good part of the evening running down General Ord, who she felt was unfit for his post, “not to mention his wife.”
Making no headway with Grant, she shifted her scorn toward her husband, up at the far end of the table, and reproached him for his attentions to Mrs. Griffin and Mrs. Ord.
Badeau wrote that the President “bore it with an expression of pain and sadness that cut him to the heart, but with supreme calmness and dignity. He called her Mother, with old-time plainness; he pleaded with eyes and tones, and endeavored to explain or palliate the offenses.”
Nothing worked, either at the table or the ship’s saloon afterwards; “she turned on him like a tigress,” said Badeau, until at last “he walked away, hiding that noble ugly face that we might not catch the full expression of its misery.”
Yet, that didn’t work either; she kept after him. After the guests had retired, she summoned the skipper of the Bat, John S. Barnes, who had been present at today’s troop review, and demanded that he corroborate her charge that the President had been overattentive to Mrs. Ord.
Barnes declined the role of “umpire,” as he put it, and earned thereby her enmity forever. Barnes left the room, and when he reported aboard next morning to inquire after the First Lady, Lincoln replied that “she ws not at all well, and expressed the fear that the excitement of the surroundings was too great for her, or for any woman.”
A Face of a Woman Boiling with Rage
Excerpt from “Abraham Lincoln: The War Years,” by Carl Sandburg, 1954.
[Editor’s note: Mrs. Lincoln off to review Crawford/Griffin/Warren’s Division]
March 25, Saturday afternoon:
While the President journeyed to the front in and around Ft. Stedman via railway, Mrs. Lincoln was joined by Mrs. Grant, who was living with her family on the ship Mary Martin. The two women rode in an ambulance over a muddy, rough corduroy road. They were to join the President and Meade’s staff in reviewing General Samuel Crawford’s division.
As the wagon (ambulance) rolled along, Adam Badeau, Grant’s secretary, seated with his back to the horses and facing the ladies, did his best at conversation, mentioning that all the wives of officers at the army front had been ordered to the rear, a sure sign of big action soon to come. Not a lady had been allowed to stay at the [Ft. Stedman] front, continued Badeau, unaware of what he was getting into, not a lady except Mrs. Sallie Griffin, the wife of General Charles Griffin, she having a special permit from the President.
Swift as a cat leap, Mrs Lincoln asked: “What do you mean by that, sir? Do you mean to say that she saw the President alone? Do you know that I never allow the President to see any woman alone?”
Badeau saw the face of a woman boiling with rage.
He tried smiling toward the face, to show there was no malice. Badeau’s smile was timed wrong. “That’s a very equivocal smile, sir,” he now heard from Mrs. Lincoln. “Let me out of this carriage at once. I will ask the President if he saw that woman alone?”
Badeau, at the time a Lt. Colonel and later a General, and Mrs. Grant tried to smooth and quiet her but failed. Mrs. Lincoln ordered Badeau to have the driver stop, and Badeau hesitating, she thrust her arms past him and took hold of the driver. By now, however Mrs. Grant was able to coax Mrs. Lincoln to be still and to wait.
As they alighted at the reviewing ground General Meade walked up, paid his respects to Mrs. Lincoln, escorted her away, later returning with her with diplomatic skill, Mrs. Lincoln informing Badeau, “General Meade is a gentleman, sir. He says it was not the President who gave Mrs. Griffin the permit, but the Secretary of War.” Thus ran Badeau’s account.
Badeau and Mrs. Grant agreed “the whole affair was so distressing and mortifying that neither of us must ever mention it again.”
[That was not to be.]
[March 26, Sunday morning:]
On this day Lt. Commander John S. Barnes, who was captain of the River Queen, which was the Lincoln family floating abode while at City Point, navigated the Presidential party down the James River and from her deck Lincoln saw the bank lined with men shouting, laughing, swimming, watering their horses—General Phillip Sheridan’s men washing off the dust and grit of the Shenandoah Valley.
They spotted the President and sent him cheers. The River Queen passed through a naval flotilla. The crews cheered the Commander-in-Chief. Barnes noted, “As he passed each vessel he waved his hat high, as if saluting friends in his native town, and seemed as happy as a school boy.”
The River Queen arrived at Aiken’s Landing for a field review of part of the Army of the James.
General Ord on one side, General Grant on the other, escorted the President on horseback over a rough corduroy road two miles to the reviewing ground. A covered ambulance followed bringing Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Grant in care of Colonel Horace Porter and Adam Badeau. Improved springs on the ambulance only served to toss the occupants higher, but Mrs. Lincoln in feat that they would miss the review asked Porter for more speed.
The driver accommodated until the mud flew from the horses’ heels and the ladies’ hats were jammed and heads bumped hard against the top of the wagon.
[After one particular hard bump on her head, which many believe led to a migraine causing Mrs. Lincoln’s day to turn to worse] “Mrs. Lincoln now insisted on getting out and walking” wrote Porter, “but as the mud was nearly hub-deep, Mrs. Grant and I persuaded her that we had better stick to the wagon as our only ark of refuge.”
Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Grant had arrived late for the review but in time for Mrs. Lincoln to see Mrs. Mary Ord riding near the President in the reviewing column, though equally near her husband, who was the immediatge commander of the troops under review.
Seeing the ambulance drive in on the parade line, Mrs. Ord excused herself with, “There comes Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Grant—I think I had better join them.” The accounts of [eyewitnesses] Barnes, Porter and Badeau as to what then happened agreed that there were embarrassing moments and bitterly pathetic exhibitions, Badeau’s later recollections being more complete in detail, though having slight discrepancies. It seemed, however, that as Mrs. Ord joined them, Mrs. Lincoln furiously exclaimed: “What does this woman mean by riding by the side of the President and ahead of me? Does that suppose that he wants her by the side of him?
She went into a frenzy that mingled extravagant rage and drab petulance. “All Porter and I could do,” wrote Badeau, “was to see nothing worse than words occurred.” They feared some wild scene of violence enacted before the troops so calmly standing at “present arms.”
One outburst flung itself at Mrs. Grant: “I suppose you think you’ll get to the White House yourself, don’t you?” Mrs. Grant kept cool, saying she was quite satisfied with her present position, that is was far greater than she had ever expected to attain. Mrs. Lincoln: “Oh! You had better take it if you can get it. “Tis very nice.” Then the slings of reproach were sent at Mrs. Ord, with Mrs. Grant quietly and at some risk defending her friend, Mrs. Ord.
A nephew of Secretary Seward, a young Major and member of General Ord’s staff, a joker, rode alongside and blurted out with a rich grin: “The President’s horse is very gallant, Mrs. Lincoln. He insists on riding by the side of Mrs. Ord.” That of course helped no one. Mrs. Lincoln cried, “What do you mean by that?” and young Major Seward shied away in a crazy gallop.
When the review ended—and the troops were moving toward the enemy picket lines and death and wounds—Mrs. Lincoln in the presence of a group of officers, according to Badeau, hurled vile names at Mrs. Ord and again asked Mrs. Ord meant by following the President. Enough of that sent Mrs. Ord into tears, in asking what in the world she had done.
Mrs. Lincoln stormed until she spent her strength. A manner of silence ensued.
Porter believed “Mrs. Lincoln had suffered so much from fatigue and annoyances of her overland trip that she was not in a mood to derive much pleasure from the occasion.”
Badeau saw “everybody shocked and horrified.”
Barnes found Mrs. Grant silent and embarrassed. “It was a painful situation, from which the only escape was to retire.” He added, Mrs. Ord and myself with a few officers rode back to City Point.”
Of what happened that evening (March 26) when the River Queen returned to her moorings at City Point Badeau wrote: “That night the President and Mrs. Lincoln entertained General and Mrs. Grant and the General’s staff at dinner on the steamer, and before us all Mrs. Lincoln berated General Ord to the President, and urged that he be removed. He was unfit for his place, she said, to say nothing of his wife. Sitting next to Mrs. Lincoln, General Grant defended his officer bravely.”
After dinner and after the guests left, the President called Barnes back to the River Queen. A few essentials that Captain Barnes would disclose publicly in later years were: “Mr. Lincoln took little part in the conversation which ensued, which evidently followed some previous discussion with Mrs. Lincoln, who had objected strenuously at the presence of other ladies at the troop review, and had thought that Mrs. Ord had been too prominent in it; that the troops were led to think she was the wife of the President, who had distinguished [Mrs. Ord] with too much attention.
“Mr. Lincoln,” said Barnes, “very gently suggested he had hardly remarked her presence, but Mrs. Lincoln was not to be pacified, and she appealed to me to support her views. Of course, I could not umpire such a question, and could only state why Mrs. Ord and myself found ourselves in the reviewing column, and how immediately we withdrew from it upon the appearance of the ambulance with Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Grant.
“I extricated myself as well I could, but with difficulty, and asked permission to retire, the President bidding me goodnight sadly and gently,” said Barnes.
[Barnes Gracious Defense of Mrs. Lincoln:]
Sandburg’s words: Amid the scenes created by the disordered brain of a tragically afflicted woman, young Captain Barnes felt himself drawn to the one person he saw as writhing inwardly more than any other, which the Captain wrote, “...I came to feel an affection for him that none other inspired.”
The melancholy of Lincoln he believed related in part to the torments Mrs. Lincoln was under. “I had the greatest sympathy for her and for Mr. Lincoln, who I am sure felt deep anxiety for her,” Barnes noted. “His manner towards her was always that of the most affectionate solicitude, so marked, so gentle and unaffected that no one could see them together without being impressed by it.”
Though a common undertone phrase for Mrs. Lincoln was “crazy woman,” Barnes more humanly decent description ran: “She was at no time well; the mental strain upon her was great, betrayed by extreme nervousness approaching hysteria, causing misapprehensions, extreme sensitiveness as to slights or want of politeness or consideration.”
[At City Point, Captain Barnes view of Mrs. Lincoln’s mental state was in the minority.]
Sandburg continues, At intervals during this City Point visit, however, several creditable observers without particular prejudice agreed in the main with Badeau’s account that “Mrs. Lincoln repeatedly attacked her husband in the presence of officers because of Mrs. Griffin and Mrs. Ord.”
As for the head of state, wrote Badeau, “He bore it as Christ might have done, with supreme calmness and dignity; he called her ‘mother,’ pleaded with eyes and tones, endeavored to explain or pallitate the offenses of others, until she turned on him like a tigress; and then he walked away,” hiding his face that others might not see it.
Toward Mrs. Grant, Mrs. Lincoln showed no relenting, according to Badeau once rebuking the General’s wife, “How dare you be seated until I invite you?”
[Monday, March 27, 1865:]
Barnes reported as usual to the President, received “marked kindness,” and in a small stateroom converted into an office heard Lincoln read aloud dispatches from Stanton and front the front, while Tad ran in and out, sometimes “clinging to his father and caressed affectionately by him.” Barnes inquired about Mrs. Lincoln, hoping that she had recovered from the fatigue of the previous day. “The President said she was not well at all, and expressed the fear that the excitement of the surroundings was to great for her or for any woman.”
The Final Weeks
Excerpt from “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin, 2005.
Editor’s note: If you’ve come this far, you will find that historian Goodwin only mentions the spat with Mrs. Ord with no mention of her difficulties with Mrs. Griffin the day before.
Overall, dismissing the debacle with Mrs. Grant and Mrs. Griffin shows Goodwin is the more apologetic in her coverage of Mary Lincoln at City Point than other historians presented in this blog.
[March 26, Sunday morning:]
On Sunday morning, the River Queen carried the presidential party downriver to where Admiral David Porter’s naval flotilla awaited them. After lunch aboard Porter’s flagship, the River Queen sailed to Aiken’s Landng. There arrangements were made for Lincoln to ride on horseback with Grant to General Ord’s encampment four miles away while Mary Lincoln and Julia Grant followed in an ambulance. “The President was in high spirits,” observed River Queen Captain John Barnes, “laughing and chatting first to General Grant and then to General Ord as they rode forward through woods and over the swamps.”
Reaching the parade ground ahead of the ladies, they decided to begin the review without them, since the troops had been waiting for hours and had missed their midday meal.
General Ord’s wife, Mary, asked if “it were proper for her to accompany the cavalcade” without Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Grant. “Of course,” she was told. “Come along!”
Meanwhile, the ambulance carrying the women had encountered great discomfort due to the corduroyed road, which jounced them into the air each time a log was struck. Concerned that the agonizingly slow pace would make them late for the review, Mary ordered the driver to go faster. This only made things worse, for the first “jolt lifted the party clear off the seats,” striking their heads on the top of the wagon. Mary “now insisted on getting out and walking,” recalled Horace Porter, who had been assigned to escort the ladies, “but as the mud as nearly hub-deep, Mrs. Grant and I persuaded her that we had better stick to the wagon as our only ark of refuge.”
When Mary finally reached the parade grounds and saw the attractive Mrs. Ord riding beside her husband in the place of honor that should have been her own, she erupted in an embarrassing tirade against Mrs. Mary Ord, calling her “vile names in the presence of a crowd of officers.”
Mrs. Ord, according to one observer, “burst into tears and inquired what she had done, but Mrs. Lincoln refused to be appeased, and stormed until she was tired. Mrs. Grant tried to stand by her friend, and everybody was shocked and horrified.”
[Sunday evening, March 26:]
That evening Mary continued to harangue at dinner, manifestly aggrieving her husband, whose attitude toward her, marveled Captain Barnes, “was always that of the most affectionate solicitude, so marked, so gentle and unaffected that no one could see them together without being impressed by it.”
Knowing his wife would awake the next morning humiliated by such a public display of temper, Lincoln had no desire to exacerbate the situation at dinner. Perhaps, as Mary’s biographer suggests, the blow in the wagon that Mary suffered to her head had initiated a migraine headache, spurring the irrational outburst of wrath. Whether from illness or mortification, she remained sequestered in her stateroom for the next few days.
Rethinking Ambulances as Transportation for Ladies
Excerpt from the public domain.“Campaigning with Grant,” the memoirs of Horace Porter, aide-de-camp to General U.S. Grant
[Note: Horace Porter, the son of Admiral David Porter, was an American soldier and diplomat who served as a lieutenant colonel, ordnance officer and staff officer in the Union Army during the American Civil War, personal secretary to General and President Ulysses S. Grant and to General William T. Sherman.]
Sunday, March 26, 1865
It was decided that upon this day Mr. Lincoln would review a portion of the Army of the James on the north side of the James Biver, and Sheridan was invited to join the party from headquarters who were to accompany the President. The boat started from City Point at eleven o'clock.
Earlier, at breakfast General Grant said to me: “I shall accompany the President, who is to ride [one of my horses that was named] Cincinnati, as he seems to have taken a fancy to him. I wish you would take Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Grant to the reviewing ground in our headquarters ambulance."
Porter wrote: “I expressed my pleasure at being selected for so pleasant a
mission, and arranged to have the ambulance and two good horses put aboard the headquarters boat, which was to carry the party up the river. Captain Barnes was to be one of the party, and I loaned him my horse.
“When the boat reached the landing on the north side of the river, I helped the two distinguished ladies who had been entrusted to my care into the ambulance, and started for the reviewing-ground, about two miles distant.
The horsemen (Lincoln, Grant, Ord] got the start of us and made good time; but as the road was swampy, and part of it corduroyed with the trunks of small trees, without much reference to their relative size or regularity of position, the ambulance could make but slow progress.
Finally we reached our destination, but it was some minutes after the review had begun. Mrs. Ord, and the wives of several of the officers, who had come up from Fort Monroe for the purpose, appeared on horseback as a mounted escort to Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Grant. This added a special charm to the scene, and the review passed off with peculiar brilliancy, Mrs. Grant enjoyed the day with great zest, but Mrs. Lincoln had suffered so much from the fatigue and annoyances of her overland trip that
she was not in a mood to derive much pleasure from the occasion. I therefore made up my mind that ambulances, viewed as vehicles for driving distinguished ladies to military reviews, were not a stupendous success, and that thereafter they had better be confined to their legitimate uses of transporting the wounded and attending funerals.
It was nearly dark when the party returned to City Point. After dinner the band was brought down to the steamboat, and a dance was improvised. Several ladies were aboard, and they and the officers danced till mid-
night. Neither the President nor General Grant joined, even in a square dance, but sat in the after part of the boat conversing, Sheridan stayed overnight at City Point, and started early in the morning for the cavalry
headquarters on the Petersburg front.
Excerpt from the novel “Lincoln” by Gore Vidal, 1984, Vantage Books.
[Note: Given the eyewitness and historian’s view of the drama between Mrs. Lincoln and the Generals’ wives, it is interesting to note how in fiction Gore Vidal presented the events.]
Sunday, March 26, 1865:
The next day President and generals rode out to the main encampment of the Army of the James to witness a grand review. Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Grant followed in an ambulance, which kept to a corduroy road that had been set across a sea of red Virginia mud and swampland. Mary had never in her life known such discomfort, not to mention pain; a headache had now installed itself just back of her eyes and would not go away.
At the back of the swaying and lurching ambulance the First Lady and Julia Grant sat on a bench side by side, when they were not thrown together. One of General Grant’s aides sat opposite them, apologizing for the state of the road.
“It’s never comfortable,” said Mrs. Grant, clutching the wagon’s side.
“We can endure the discomfort,” said Mary regally. “But surely,” she addressed the officer, “we are going to be late for the review?”
“I think not,” said the aide, Of course, the driver is being deliberately slow.”
“Then tell him we should like to go faster.”
“But I don’t think that’s wise,” said Julia Grant and the eye closet to Mary turned, impudently away.
“But we must go faster!” Mary exclaimed. The officer in the carriage gave the order to the driver, and the horses sprung forward just as flat marsh gave way to a section of corduroy road made up of trees of different sizes. The ambulance sprung into the air. The two ladies, as one, left their seat and would have departed the ambulance entirely had the back section not been roofed in. As it was, two large, splendidly decorated hats prevented the heads beneath from breaking open but at the cost of two miraculous examples of the milliner’s craft, now crushed. As Mary fell back into the seat, she screamed, “Stop! Let me out! I shall walk!”
The ambulance stopped. The ornamental pheasant that had been the central decoration of Mrs. Grant’s hat had slipped forward onto her forehead, and one glossy wing now pathetically caressed her round cheek. “Mrs. Lincoln, no! Please.”
Mary was halfway out of the carriage, when the officer pulled her back in. “Madam,” he said, soothingly, “the mud is three feet deep here. No one can walk.”
“Oh, God!” shouted Mary, directly to the Deity, who did not answer her. As she said back in the bench, head throbbing and eyes shut, she felt, one by one, the wax cherries that had made beautiful her hat come loose and fall to the ambulance floor exactly as the originals would have done when ripe.
But Mary had predicted correctly. They were late for the review. On a great muddy field, an army division was going through its paces. Mrs. Grant helpfully, identified the commanding general in the distance, James Ord. Meanwhile, as the ambulance approached the review stand, a slender woman on a great horse cantered past them. “Who is that?” asked Mary. “I thought women were forbidden at the front?”
“They are,” said Julia Grant, “but that is General Griffin’s wife. She has a special permit.”
“From the President himself,” said the aide, with a smile which was, for Mary, lasciviousness writ scarlet in the air. She responded with a scream; and was pleased to see some the redness go from those hideous, mocking lips.
“She has had an interview with the President? Is that what you are hinting at? A private interview?” Mary could hear a mocking snigger from Mrs. Grant at her side. They were all in this together. “Yes, that is what you want people to believe. But no woman is ever alone with the President. So tell as many lies as you please...”
General Meade was now at the ambulance. Mary turned to him for alliance. As he helped her down, she said, most craftily, she thought, “General Meade, it has been suggested to me that that woman on the horse has received special permission to be at the front, given her by the President himself.”
Meade said, “No, Mrs. Lincoln. Not by the President. Such permissions are given, and very rarely, by Mr. Stanton.
“See?” Mary wheeled on her tormentors. She addressed the corrupt officer/aide. “General Meade is a gentleman, sir. It was not the President but the Secretary of War who gave permission to this slut.” Mary savored her triumph.
General Meade, from one of Philadelphia’s oldest families, acted as if nothing had happened as he escorted her to the reviewing stand. But Mary was conscious that her two mortal enemies (Grant’s aide Adam Badeau and Julia Grant) were just behind her, heads together, whispering obscenities to each other. Well, she would bide her time.
As Mary took her seat facing an entire division drawn up at present arms, she saw the President, flanked by Generals Grant and Ord, begin his ride down the long dark-blue line of troops. As the President came to each regiment, the men would cheer him and he would remove his hat. Back of Lincoln Grant and Ord, there were a dozen high-ranking officers, and a good-looking young woman on a horse.
“Who is that?” asked Mary.
Mrs. Grant said, “It is Mrs. Ord, the general’s wife.”
“She is riding next to my husband.”
“She is actually riding next to her husband, General Ord,” said Mrs. Grant, gently.
Mary turned to General Meade for assistance but he had moved away to the telegraph hut at the end of the reviewing stand. In his place, there was a solicitous colonel (either aides Horace Porter or Adam Badeau were there and were colonel’s). “Sir, has that woman been riding with the President all during the review?” Mary watched his face very carefully; she knew that she could tell in an instant if he was lying; it was as if her eyes could see with perfect clarity straight past his dull face and deep into his brain.
“Why, yes,” said the colonel.
“Actually, she is with her husband, Mrs. Lincoln,” began Mrs. Grant.
Interrupting, Mrs Lincoln said, “I am quite capable of calculating the distance—look now!” Mrs. Ord was indeed alongside the President. “My God!” Mary exclaimed. “She is pretending to be me! They will thank that that vile woman is me! Does she suppose that he wants her at his side like that?”
A young major rode up. The colonel said, quickly, “here is Major Seward, the nephew of the Secretary of State.”
“Mrs. Lincoln.” The major saluted the First Lady.
“I know all about Mr. Seward,” Mary began, noticing the young man’s parrot’s beak of a nose, so like that of his uncle, her enemy.
Major Seward was aware that they had been watching the President and Mrs. Ord, who were now riding side by side. “The President’s horse is very gallant,” said Major Seward, with all the corrupt insolence of his uncle. “He insists on riding by the side of Mrs. Ord’s horse.”
“What,” Mary cried, pushed now to the very edge of public humiliation, “do you mean by that?”
Major Seward’s response was an abrupt retreat. Meanwhile, President and generals had moved off the field toward Petersburg front while Mrs. Ord toward the reviewing stand. Mary could not believe her eyes. The woman’s insolence was beyond anything that she had ever had to endure in her life. The woman dismounted; and walked over to the reviewing stand. “Welcome, Mrs. Lincoln,” Mary Ord said.
Mary Lincoln rose to her feet. She felt exalted. At last, she could strike at her enemies a mortal blow. “You whore!” said Mary, delighted that she was able to control so well her voice. Then, word by word, sentence by sentence, effortlessly, she told the slut what she thought of her and of her behavior. Mary felt as if she were floating over the landscape like a cloud, a thundercloud, true, but a serene one. All that needed to be said to this now scarlet-faced woman was said. From high up, the cloudlike Mary saw the tears flow down the vicious face; saw the Colonel as he tried to divert her from her necessary task; saw Julia Grant as she dared to interrupt her.
In a way, Julia Grant was the worst, of course. Whores were whores everywhere and the good wife could always manage to shame them, if they were truly shameless, to drive them away. But Mrs. Grant was a threat. Mrs. Grant was the wife of a hero—a butcher-hero, of course, but still a hero to the stupid public. Mrs. Grant was also insolent. She had sat unbidden in the presence of the First Lady. But then it was no secret that she was already scheming to be herself First Lady one day. “I suppose,” said Mary, with incredible cunning and the kindliest of smiles, “that you think you’ll get to the White House yourself, don’t you?”
Mrs. Grant—whose eyes were as crossed and flawed as her character-dared to answer, “We are quite happy—where we are, Mrs. Lincoln.”
“Well, you had better take it if you can get it.” Mary was delighted with her own subtlety. She was, however, somewhat taken aback by the sound of a woman screaming. Could it be Mrs. Ord? No, she was weeping silently. Mary then wondered where the screaming was coming from as she said, coolly, “It’s very nice, the White House.” Then Mary saw the fiery nimbus around Julia Grant’s head; and then Mary realized that the screaming that she heard was herself. Then Mary ceased to be conscious of where she was.
But it was not The Headache, because that same evening, aboard the River Queen, Mary was almost herself again. Naturally, she had been humiliated by Mrs. Ord in public view; and insulted by Mrs. Grant in private. But Mary presided at the dinner table with, she thought, admirable poise. She did find it disturbing that she could not recall how she had got from the reviewing stand back to the ship.
In fact, as they sat at dinner with six staff officers—and Mrs. Grant to the President’s right and General Grant to Mary’s right, she was not entirely certain how the dinner had begun. But now that everything was going so smoothly, she felt that she could murmur to Grant, “I hope that you will, in future, control Mrs. Ord, whose exhibition today, in pursuit of my husband, caused so much unfavorable comment.”
General Grant’s response was not clear. But the President said, “Now Mother, I hardly knew the lady was present.”
“For no want of trying,” Mary was regal. “Anyway, why should she, or any woman, be here?”
Ord needs her,” said Grant.
“The way General Grant needs me at times,” said Mrs. Grant.
“Oh, we all know about those times,” Mary began. But the President cut her off. “Mother, the army band is coming aboard after dinner. There will be dancing.”
“We thought it might be gay,” said Mrs. Grant. “In all this horror. To forget for a moment.’
“I am glad it makes you glad.” Mary was consummately gracious. She turned to Lincoln. “Everyone seems agreed that General Ord is the principal reason the Army of the James has been stopped here for so many, many months now. Mary felt that she had now outflanked the Grants. “If he were to be replaced might we not be able to win the war more quickly?”
“Now, Mother...” Lincoln seemed very distant from her at this end of the table. She had some difficulty in hearing his voice but she had no difficulty hearing General Grant, who said, “Ord is a fine officer. I cannot do without him.”
As Mary explained to General Grant the urgent need to replace Ord, she felt a sudden swimming ecstasy that suffused her entire body and mind. Simultaneously, again like a cloud or, perhaps, the moon, she was floating far, far above the table. She was a little girl in Lexington again; and there were her dolls, far below, at a tea party.
Mary Lincoln’s High Dudgeon
Excerpt from “Mary Todd Lincoln, A Biography,” By Jean H. Baker, 1987
In one spectacular public instance, the President was mortified by her behavior on the parade grounds near Malvern Hill on the south side of the James River on March 26, 1865.
Late that morning Mary Lincoln left the River Queen and, accompanied by Julia Grant, entered the slow moving ambulance carriage that had been assigned to her. The grand review was planned for early afternoon, but it seemed that she would never arrive. Passage along corduroyed roads made of lashed together striplings was nerve-rackingly slow and constantly jarring. Once after a terrific bounce her head slammed against the top of the ambulance and a migraine started. She began to fear that she would miss the parade.
Increasingly impatient and angry, Mary Lincoln berated horses, driver, aides, and Julia Grant. At one point she tried to abandon the coach and walk, but the mud of Virginia’s springtime proved as impassable as the roads.
When Mary Lincoln finally arrived, the review had begun. From her inconspicuous position on the parade grounds, she immediately spied her husband on horseback, his top hat visible above everything save the flags and battle standards. Alongside him, in an elegant feathered Robin Hood’s cap (the kind popularized by Empress Eugenie), rode the handsome Mrs. Mary Ord, astride a magnificent bay that she handled, as Mary Lincoln heard once too often, with splendid horsemanship.
Never under strict control, Mary Lincoln’s temper was now given a very public display before the entire high command of the Army of the Potomac. After clambering out of the hateful ambulance toward the President, according to one officer (Adam Badeau): “Mrs. Lincoln repeatedly attacked her husband in the presence of the officers because of Mrs. Ord and earlier another General’s wife, Mrs. Charles Griffin (Sallie), who had also been on the reviewing field.
“President Lincoln, “Badeau continued, “bore it as Christ might have done with an expression of pain and sadness that cut one to the heart, but with supreme calmness and dignity. He called her mother, with his old-time plainness. He pleaded with eyes and tones, until she turned on him like a tigress and then he walked away hiding that noble ugly face so that we might not catch the full expression of its misery.” Though this version was written long after, other accounts testify to Mary Lincoln’s high dudgeon that March day of 1865.
Later that evening, on the River Queen, she continued to vent her anger as she lashed out at Mrs. Grant and the President within earshot of the entire dinner party consisting of guests of honor: the Grants and Grant’s staff. She insisted that General Grant must dismiss General Ord to atone for her humiliation.
Unfortunately that day at City Point—at least from her perspective—the President had committed an egregious assault on the established procedures of their marital agreement. To a woman who still imagined herself as his political partner, a public display of anger was justified in return for her public embarrassment.
Later, as she always did, Mary Lincoln paid the price for her temper. Mortified and apologetic, she stayed in her cabin on the River Queen and was only seen walking along the bank near Point of Rocks with Tad and Robert or sitting in a chair on the ship’s stern. Those who inquired were told that she was indisposed, as indeed, she was. No doubt the ride, the migraine producing bump, the anger at Mrs. Ord’s usurpation of her limelight, and the ensuing scene had incapacitated Mary Lincoln with a bad case of self-inflicted shame.
She and Tad soon left for Washington leaving the President at City Point for a few more days.
She had arrived late to the parade grounds, and when she saw him riding alongside the handsome Mrs. Mary Ord, the First Lady berated the President before the high command of the Union Army.
Mary was out of control
Excerpt from “A House Divided” PBS’ American Experience script.
On March 23, the Lincolns boarded the River Queen at Washington and set out for Grant's headquarters at City Point, Virginia -- just 20 miles from the Confederate capital. The President was worn out, but he wanted to visit the army that now seemed so close to victory. Mary insisted on going too. She needed to be near him. She lived in fear, she wrote a friend, that "the deep waters through which we have passed will overwhelm me."
Three days later, Mary and Mrs. Grant were scheduled to join their husbands at a Grand Review of the Union army. As their carriage bumped slowly along deeply rutted roads, jolting the two women, Mary grew more and more agitated. Her pent-up anxieties and closely guarded fears were about to explode for all the world to see. By the time Mary reached the parade ground, her husband was already riding down the line of troops.
Mrs. Edward Ord, the Commanding General's wife was at his side -- in Mary's place. Mary erupted in fury, loudly accusing the innocent woman of flirting with her husband. Mrs. Ord burst into tears.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Historian: There was not the slightest hint that the President was flirting with Mrs. Ord. It is true however that Mary worried about flirtations, even when they didn't exist.
Linda Levitt Turner, Biographer: Mary was an incorrigible flirt and I think she projected her own tendencies, which were just to make her feel better, make her feel younger, perfectly innocent, but she projected those fantasies in dead seriousness onto other women.
Narrator: Then Mary shouted at the President himself, demanding that he remove the woman's husband from his command. Mrs. Grant tried to restrain her, but Mary was out of control.
Linda Levitt Turner, Biographer: It was the first really open public display of their differences that they had ever permitted themselves since he became President.
Narrator: At dinner on board the steamer that evening, Mary resumed her tirade. Embarrassed guests tried not to look.
"Lincoln bore it," one remembered, "as Christ might have done, with an expression of pain and sadness that cut one to the heart, but with supreme calmness and dignity. He called her 'Mother,' with his old-time plainness... 'til she turned on him like a tigress; and then he walked away, hiding that noble, ugly face that we might not catch the full expression of his misery."
The Lincolns stayed on at City Point while the President conferred with his commanders. He ordered Grant and Sherman not to let the rebels get away this time. But he also urged them to offer the most generous terms of surrender:
Voice of Lincoln (David Morse): "Let them all go, officers and all, I want submission and no more bloodshed.... I want no one punished.... We want those people to return to their allegiance to the Union."
Narrator: After her humiliating outburst, Mary Lincoln did not leave her cabin for three days. The President explained she wasn't feeling well, then he sent her home to Washington. She later claimed her husband had had a dream that the White House had burned down and had asked her to go and see if it were true.
Lincoln remained behind. He did not want to miss the all-out attack on Petersburg that was about to begin. He hoped it would be the final battle of the war.
Excerpt from the public domain National First Ladies’ Library, www.firstladies.org
Julia Grant’s Relationship with Mary Lincoln
Certainly with pride and perhaps with a farsighted ambition for her long-held belief her husband would become President, towards the end of the war, Julia Grant implored her husband to invite the President and Mrs. Lincoln to visit him at his Virginia encampment at City Point. Ignoring his belief that, as commander-in-chief, Lincoln would tour any military installation he wished to, she discovered from First Son Robert Lincoln, then serving as a captain to General Grant, that his parents welcomed an invitation, which they soon received and accepted.
At the time, the public knew little about the tensions that developed between Julia Grant and Mary Lincoln. As the central image of a popular drawing of the “Grand Reception” at the White House on the occasion of Lincoln’s March 1865 second Inauguration, Julia Grant was shown smiling as she shakes hands with the President and the First Lady.
Much lore exists about what amounts to a feud in the closing months of the Civil War between First Lady Mary Lincoln and the General’s wife Julia Grant. Their initial meeting took place at Grant’s City Point, Virginia headquarters in March of 1865, when the President and his wife arrived for an inspection tour and stay there.
Rather than express gratitude to Mrs. Grant for encouraging the Lincoln visit, the First Lady was put off by her presence, remarking that she “thought ladies were not allowed in camp.” To this, Mrs. Grant smilingly replied, “General Grant is much opposed to their being present, but when I wanted to come I wrote him a nice, coaxing letter, and permission was always granted.” Mrs. Lincoln, however, was not amused by this.
Shortly after, Mrs. Grant came to call, seating herself next to Mary Lincoln on a coach, which provoked the latter to snap, “How dare you?” In recalling the incident, Mrs. Grant’s sister later claimed that the general’s wife, outraged at such rudeness, walked out.
When both women were driven to the front after battle, to join their husbands, Grant aides Horace Porter and Adam Badeau were eyewitness to the women’s interactions. Badeau mentioned to them that due to reports of continued skirmishes it was thought wiser that all women be sent into retreat and that General Charles Griffin’s wife had sought and received permission from the President to move forward. This sent Mrs. Lincoln into a rage, yelling, “What do you mean by that, sir? Do you mean to say that she saw the President alone? Do you know that I never allow the President to see any woman alone?" She then insisted, "I will ask the President if he saw that woman alone," and ordered the coachman to halt. Horrified at this behavior, Julia Grant gingerly attempted to calm her, later instructing the aide to keep the incident to himself.
When later, Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Grant were delayed as they were being transported to join the President and the General at a military review, Sally Ord, the attractive wife of another general, alone on horseback, was told not to wait for the other women but rather to join the President, also on horseback, who had begun the review without waiting for his wife and Mrs. Grant. When the vehicle with the two women finally approached within sight of the review, Mrs. Lincoln was livid, yelling at an aide, "What does the woman mean by riding by the side of the President and ahead of me? Does she suppose that he wants her by the side of him?” She then turned on Mrs. Ord. According to Grant’s aide Adam Badeau, the First Lady "positively insulted her…[with] vile names in the presence of a crowd of officers, and asked what she meant by following up the President."
Mrs. Ord burst out crying, prompting Julia Grant to defend her. This then provoked Mary Lincoln to verbally assault Julia Grant: "I suppose you think you'll get to the White House yourself, don't you?"
Julia Grant remained calm, remarking that she was happy with her lot in life, and it was a greater status than she’d ever imagined she would attain. This only further angered Mary Lincoln, who finally snapped, "Oh! You had better take it if you can get it. ? Tis very nice."
There was at least one other known encounter between the two women. When an aide invited by Robert Lincoln onto the River Queen, the official vessel being used by the President and his wife lingered with Julia Grant in an inner cabin, she noticed Mrs. Lincoln standing alone by herself on the deck, and urged him to fetch a chair for the First Lady. When he approached her politely with the chair, she sharply dismissed him, and then called Mrs. Grant to her side. This encounter was apparently friendly enough, but the First Lady asked Mrs. Grant to have the aide removed from the River Queen. Further, Mrs. Lincoln insisted that her boat must always be closest to the shore and would not cross over the Grant vessel, The Martin, to walk to land.
It has been speculated that the “feud” was less about personal animosity between the two women and rooted more in Mary Lincoln’s initial judgment of Grant as a “butcher,” and Julia Grant’s resentment of that sentiment. There is also some indication that she held an ultimately sympathetic if removed perspective on Mrs. Lincoln and the emotional instability, which the Civil War had created for her. That point was reflected in her published memoirs shortly after leaving the White House.
PillartoPost.org Bottom Line Analysis:
Embarrassing as Mrs. Lincoln’s behavior was on the 25th and 26th of March 1865, that embarrassment would have paled in comparison with one huge “if” that occurred on March 25. Had the starved Confederate troops under siege and trapped in Petersburg trenches succeeded in their March 25 surprise breakout attack on the Union troops manning Ft. Stedman, the rebels could have easily marched into nearby City Point and rounded up Grant, Sherman, Sheridan and the entire Presidential entourage in attendance.
That embarrassment didn’t happen because the confederates at that stage in the war were under nourished, under manned and under equipped in manpower and materiel to accomplish the amazing opportunity presented to them.
Fortunately that day, the Union troops recovered and repelled the CSA’s surprise attack thus saving what would have been an even larger embarrassment for the nation.
The near Union fiasco at Ft. Stedman (about 7 miles from City Point) underscored the folly in which Abraham Lincoln exhibited in visiting the (yet unsecured) front lines of the war in the first place.