A Presidential Visit (April 9, 1863)

President Abraham Lincoln (Library of Congress).

President Abraham Lincoln (Library of Congress).

In early April President Abraham Lincoln traveled down to Virginia to meet with Joseph Hooker and review the Army of the Potomac. It was the eve of the spring campaigning season and Lincoln wanted to see the force he hoped would help put an end to the war. He also wanted to get out of Washington. Meade remarked on how tired the president looked. Newspaperman Noah Brooks, a friend of the president who was traveling with Lincoln’s party, noted the same thing but watched as Lincoln became more cheerful as the days passed. “I remarked this one evening as we sat in Hooker’s headquarters, after a long and laborious day of reviewing,” wrote Brooks. “Lincoln replied: “It is a great relief to get away from Washington and the politicians. But nothing touches the tired spot.”

I have omitted writing for a day or two, as I have been very much occupied in the ceremonies incidental to the President’s visit. I think my last letter told you he arrived here on Sunday, in the midst of a violent snow storm. He was to have had a cavalry review on that day, but the weather prevented it. The next day, Monday, the cavalry review came off; but notwithstanding the large number of men on parade, the weather, which was cloudy and raw, and the ground, which was very muddy, detracted from the effect greatly. Orders were given for an infantry review the next day (Tuesday). I was invited on this day (Monday) to dine with General Hooker, to meet the President and Mrs. Lincoln. We had a very handsome and pleasant dinner. The President and Mrs. Lincoln, Mr. Bates, Secretary of the Interior, a Dr. Henry, of Colorado, who accompanied the President, Mrs. Stoneman, wife of Major General Stoneman, besides the corps commanders, constituted the party. The next day, owing to the ground not being in condition, the infantry review was postponed; but the President did me the honor to visit my camps and inspect them, and I believe (leaving out the fatigue) passed a very pleasant day. Yesterday (Wednesday) we had the grand infantry review, there being out four corps, or over sixty thousand men. The review passed off very well indeed. The day, during the early part of it, was not favorable, being cloudy and raw, but after noon the sun came out and rendered everything more cheerful. Mrs. Carroll and Mrs. Griffin and the two Misses Carroll, together with two other young ladies, having come down to General Griffin’s, I was invited to meet them at dinner, which I did yesterday evening, and had a very pleasant time. So you see we are trying to smooth a little the horrors of war. I saw George the day of the cavalry review. He told me he was to have a leave that day, so that he will undoubtedly be there when this reaches you.

The day I dined with Hooker, he told me, in the presence of Mr. Bates, Secretary of the Interior, that he (Hooker) had told the President that the vacant brigadiership in the regular army lay between Sedgwick and myself. I replied that I had no pretensions to it, and that if I were the President I would leave it open till after the next battle. The next day, when riding through the camp, Hooker said the President had told him he intended to leave this position open till after the next fight.

You have seen the report of the Committee on the Conduct of the War. It is terribly severe upon Franklin. Still, I took occasion when I had a chance to say a good word for Franklin to the President, who seemed very ready to hear anything in his behalf, and said promptly that he always liked Franklin and believed him to be a true man. The President looks careworn and exhausted. It is said he has been brought here for relaxation and amusement, and that his health is seriously threatened. He expresses himself greatly pleased with all he has seen, and his friends say he has improved already.

Meade’s letter taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 1, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), pp. 363-4. Available via Google Books.

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