GRANT, Ulysses S. (1822-1885), General, U. S. Army, President of the United States. Autograph draft telegram signed ("U. S. Grant") to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton (and by implication Lincoln), City Point, Va., 4 March 1865. 1 page, 4to., stationery of Head Quarters Armies of the United States.
"PEACE MUST COME SOME DAY..." GRANT'S AMBIVALENT RESPONSE TO LINCOLN'S INSTRUCTIONS ABOUT NEGOTIATING WITH LEE
A HIGHLY IMPORTANT COMMUNICATION ACKNOWLEDGING CRITICAL INSTRUCTIONS FROM THE PRESIDENT. Upon receiving Lincoln's forcefully worded prohibition against negotiating with Lee (see lot 296) Grant--on the day of the Second Inaugural--answers with a ciphered message: "Your dispatch of 12 p.m. the 3d received. I have written a letter to Gen. Lee. Copy of which will be sent to you by tomorrow's Mail. I can assure you that no act of the enemy will prevent me pressing all advantages gained to the utmost of my ability. Neither will I under any circumstances exceed my authority or in any way embarrass the Govt. It was because I had no right to meet Gen. Lee on the subject proposed by him that I referred the matter for instructions." There is a faint, but palpable undertone of resentment in Grant's words. Lincoln's fear of politically ambitious generals offended Grant's sense of his own professionalism and responsibility. But a concluding passage which Grant struck out shows that he was open to the idea of speaking with Lee. "Peace must come some day," he begins, "and I would regard it just as wrong to--" then he crossed it out and started again: "I would regard it as wrong to receive such--" then corrected this interesting slip, crossed out "receive such" and wrote: "reject such communications without referring them--" Then Grant deletes the whole sentence. He decided not to betray to Lincoln or Stanton what these excised words so clearly reveal: that Grant too was anxious for the slaughter to end, and wanted to encourage Lee's overtures. Without question "Unconditional Surrender" Grant stood four-square behind the administration's policy: no negotiated settlement, only a complete destruction of the Rebel government and its armies would suffice. Yet Grant must have hoped that Lee could be induced to accept those terms.
The last weeks of pointless fighting and killing tormented Grant, and led to his famous April 7 letter to Lee: "The result of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance...in this struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it as my duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood, by asking of you the surrender of...the Army of Northern Virginia." Lee replied, asking Grant's terms, which was the parole of all prisoners until exchanged. Lee countered on the 8th with a request for negotiations to establish the terms for a general "restoration of peace." Grant's heart sank. He was back again to the political issues that Lincoln had put off limits. "It looks as if Lee meant to fight," he said despondently. On the 9th, however, Lee finally decided to give up: "There is nothing left for me to do but go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths."
Ironically, shortly after Appomattox, Grant was in the awkward position of using Lincoln's message against one of his own friends and subordinates, General William T. Sherman. On 18 April 1865 Sherman and Joseph E. Johnston negotiated a detailed armistice between their forces, one that committed the President to recognize existing state governments when their officials took an oath of loyalty, reopened the Federal courts, guaranteed property rights, and offered a general amnesty for all Confederates. Sherman sent the terms to Halleck and Stanton, who promptly dispatched Grant to Raleigh with orders to revoke them on the strength of Lincoln's 3 March message. A justifiably miffed Sherman told Grant that Lincoln or Stanton (or Grant!) had never bothered to send him a copy of the dispatch. Grant ordered Sherman to revoke the armistice and issue an ultimatum to Johnston, to which the Confederate commander complied on 26 April, accepting the same terms that Grant gave Lee at Appomattox.