LINCOLN, Abraham. Autograph telegram signed ("A Lincoln") as President, to LIEUTENANT GENERAL ULYSSES S. GRANT, City Point, Virginia, 29 March 1865. 1 page, 8vo (7 7/16 x 5 7/16 in.), U.S. Military Telegraph stationery, small paper loss at lower left corner, minor browning, small stain affecting two letters, neatly hinged to a separate leaf.
"FROM WHAT DIRECTION DID THE ENEMY COME?": LINCOLN ANXIOUSLY AWAITS NEWS OF THE FINAL MILITARY OPERATIONS OF THE WAR
A hurriedly written note which reveals the President's anxiety over the military operations which would very soon bring the Civil War to a close. As a Union victory became increasingly imminent, President Lincoln decided to join his General-in-Chief at the front to witness the last days of the conflict. Remaining at City Point, a safe distance from the front at Petersburg, Lincoln relied upon incoming telegrams and messages from Grant for news of the most recent developments. One day after his arrival, Lincoln was informed that an early morning Confederate attack at Fort Stedman--Lee's last offensive, in fact--had briefly broken the Union lines (see preceding lot). The President, no doubt, was as surprised as his commanders that the nearly defeated southern foe were still able to launch a large-scale attack and was concerned that more unexpected offensive actions might still take place.
Grant had begun preparations for a major attack against the Confederate right at Five Forks and the vital South Side railroad, to cut the last remaining rail supply line of the Army of Northern Virginia, which would force Lee to abandon the Petersburg defenses. Once his dwindling foe had left their trenches, Grant had no doubt that he could end the war in only a matter of days. He placed General Philip Sheridan in command of the operation and his trusted subordinate began moving his men toward the Confederate right on the 29th.
As the veteran Union soldiers departed their camps at Dinwiddie Court House, beginning the operation which would bring them one step closer to the end of the war, the wary Confederates cautiously probed forward to determine their intentions. These advance Confederate forces struck the intrenched line of General Charles Griffin's Division. The resulting brief skirmish had no impact upon the Union movement and Grant routinely reported the event to Lincoln: "The enemy attacked Griffin Div...near where the Quaker road intersects Boydtown road about 4 p.m. The enemy were repulsed" (Basler, 8:377n).
At City Point, Lincoln was patiently awaiting the outcome of General Grant's latest efforts, and news of the skirmish caused him concern, especially in the wake of the Fort Stedman attack just days before. Anxious to determine whether the Confederates were mounting a new offensive, and concerned for its impact upon Sheridan's movements, Lincoln tersely requests additional details from Grant: "Your three dispatches received. From what direction did the enemy come that attacked Griffin? How do things look now?"
Grant promptly responded to Lincoln with details which reassured the watchful President. Three days later, after delays due to inclement weather, Sheridan's force struck the division of George Pickett at Five Forks, decimating it. Grant struck again on April 2, launching a massive assault along the line which successfully penetrated the Confederate defenses, ensuring Lee would have to abandon his entrenchments and the capital, Richmond. Only a few days before, such an outcome had appeared uncertain.
Published and illustrated in C. Sandburg, Lincoln Collector, pp. 195-196, and in Basler 8:376.
Provenance: Oliver R. Barrett; Roger W. Barrett, by descent (sale, Sotheby's, 26 October 1988, lot 128).