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THE GENTLENESS OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN

By: Carol C. Schwartz

"We start to you at one p.m. today. May lie over during the dark hours of the night. Very small party of us." It was Thursday morning, March 23, 1865, when Abraham Lincoln sent this message to General Ulysses S. Grant. President Lincoln left the telegraph office and walked across the street to the White House thinking about his trip to visit and talk with General Grant at City Point, Virginia (now known as Hopewell, Virginia).


Lincoln and Grant

Leaving with the 16th President of the United States was his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln and their youngest son, Thomas (Tad) Lincoln, as well as Mrs. Lincoln's personal maid, Mrs. Mary Ann Cuthbert. The Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, had detailed Colonel W. H. Crook, and Captain Charles B. Penrose as bodyguards to the President.

Mary had spent the last three weeks making daily trips to the Soldier's home in Washington, DC where she assisted in taking care of the sick and wounded veterans. She had worked very hard and was tired. Mary Lincoln was also a working supporter and contributor of the Freedman's Bureau, which was an organization finding housing, education and employment for the freed African-American slaves. Since moving to Washington DC, Mary had not only lost a son, but four of her brothers were killed in the war. Mary looked forward to their trip.

The President and his party left Washington, DC for the war front from the Arsenal dock, Sixth Street wharf on the sidewheel steamer "River Queen." It was a brisk cold day.

As a result of poor drinking water, the President was ill. It was about noon on Friday when the River Queen stopped at Fortress Monroe, near Hampton, to take on a fresh supply of water. They reached and anchored off City Point, Virginia, via the James River, at 9 p.m.

Saturday was very exciting for the family as Robert, the Lincoln's eldest son, came aboard the River Queen. Robert was serving on General Grant's staff as a Captain, and he reported to his father on the fighting at the front. He could not spend much time with his family, as he had many other war duties to perform.

March 25, 1865 was also an extremely busy day for the President. After Robert left, several officers, including Rear Admiral David D. Porter walked with President Lincoln to General Grant's headquarters. Lincoln and Grant toured the Petersburg front and met with high-level army officials to plan the end of the war and start the process of bringing the country back together once again. Lincoln wanted to visit actual fighting areas. He traveled by train to General George Meade's headquarters where, during his visit, he actually saw evidence of fighting. He saw many prisoners. He rode a horse through parts of the battlefield, viewed and saw the burying of the dead. He saw the train cars of wounded. President Lincoln was worn, weary and exhausted.

After returning to Grant's headquarters, the President went to the telegraph tent to send a message to his Secretary of War. While in the tent, he noticed three little kittens meowing and wandering about. Mr. Lincoln picked them up, held them, and talked with them. Cats were President Lincoln's hobby. He loved them. He stroked them until they purred and they soothed him. Many times during Lincoln's life, reporters asked Mrs. Lincoln what Mr. Lincoln does for relaxation and/or what is his hobby. She often and simply answered, "Cats. My husband loves cats, and plays with them for hours."

President Lincoln asked the telegraph officer about the mother of the kittens. He learned the mother was dead. Mr. Lincoln said the mother cannot grieve as many a poor mother is grieving for a son lost in a battle.

The civil war was coming to a close, as Grant's army began the final advance. There was the enormous task of reuniting the country. As President Lincoln stroked the three little kitties, he thanked God they could not understand this terrible strife which was happening around them.

He asked Colonel Bowers of Grant's staff to please take care of the poor little motherless waifs. Also, would he please give them plenty of milk and treat them kindly. He gave Colonel Bowers some money as Bowers promised him faithfully he would ask the cook to take good care of them.

From March 25, 1865 until his departure from City Point, Virginia, Mr. Lincoln worked very hard and performed hundreds of Presidential duties. He met with General Grant, General Sheridan, General Ord, General Sherman, and General Godfrey Weitzel. He heard many a cannonade and musket firing at Petersburg and other nearby areas. He wrote many reports, he sent and received many messages to and from Secretary of War Stanton and Secretary of State, William H. Seward. He took many side trips such as to Appomattox River to Point of Rocks, and toured Richmond, where he sat in Jefferson Davis' chair. And, many times throughout the days at Grant's headquarters Abraham Lincoln stopped by the sutler's tent and personally saw to it that the kittens were fed and cared for.

Mr. Lincoln watched General Sheridan's troops cross the river at Harrison's Landing in Virginia. He reviewed General Ord's Malvern Hill division. He had lunch on Rear Admiral Porter's flagship. He was able to follow the battles closely as Grant telegraphed him often, keeping him abreast as to what was going on at the front.

Being afraid for his wife's safety, Lincoln encouraged Mary to go back to Washington. She arrived in Washington aboard the Monohasset, April 2. Tad stayed with his Father.

After receiving a telegraph from Grant April 2, Lincoln telegraphs Secretary Stanton telling him Petersburg is completely enveloped and all looks well. Lincoln thanks Grant for this magnificent success and decides to visit Grant again. Lincoln receives a message from General Weitzel. Weitzel took possession of Richmond and it was being evacuated. Lincoln, Tad, Crook, Porter, Penrose manned by 12 sailors go on foot to General Weitzel's headquarters, the house recently occupied by Jefferson Davis.

After more work and many more meetings, discussing and planning details for the end of the war, President Lincoln finally departed from City Point, Virginia at 11 p.m. Saturday, April 8, 1865. He believed he had spent two momentous weeks, probably two of the most remarkable and interesting, almost inconceivable weeks of his life. He was feeling better than he had felt during his entire presidency. Peace was at hand and his United States of America was going to be preserved. Yes, Lee's troops were going to surrender at Appomattox. The formal surrender ceremony was scheduled for Wednesday, April 12, 1865 at the Appomattox Court House.

On April 11, 1865, President Lincoln gave his last speech which was on reconstruction to a crowd gathered at the White House. He spoke of adoptions of free-state constitutions, giving equally of public schooling to black and white as well as empowering the legislature to confer the elective franchise upon the colored man. It is believed John Wilkes Booth was in the crowd.

While at Ford's Theater watching the play, Our American Cousin, President Lincoln was shot 10:13 p.m. April 14, 1865. It was Good Friday. He died at 7:22 a.m., Saturday, April 15, 1865. The President's Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton stated: "Now, he belongs to the ages."

At his first meeting with Lincoln, Colonel Horace Porter watched the President in the telegraph tent at City Point, Virginia and years later recalled, "He would wipe their eyes tenderly with his handkerchief, stroke their smooth coats, and listen to them purring their gratitude to him." Now a General, Porter thought this was quite a sight, as was reported in the New York Times article of February 13, 1906: "Here I was at an army headquarters, upon the eve of a great military crisis in the nation's history, to see the hand which had affixed the signature to the Emancipation Proclamation and had signed the commissions. . . from the general-in-chief to the lowest lieutenant, tenderly caressing three stray kittens."

 

"I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights.  That is the way of a whole human being."

Abraham Lincoln

 

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