A political cartoon of Grant and Lee, 1864

During the first three years of the Civil War, a series of Union generals led the Army of the Potomac against Confederate General Robert E. Lee with little success. In March 1864, Abraham Lincoln appointed General Ulysses S. Grant commander of all Union armies. Grant came east to personally lead the Union forces in Virginia. Grant’s strategy focused on the destruction of Lee’s army, the Confederate economy, and Southern morale.

Between May 5 and June 24, Union and Confederate troops clashed almost daily in relentless, brutal fighting. By June 24, when Grant settled into a siege at Petersburg, Virginia, the two armies had suffered more than 83,000 casualties—dead, missing, and wounded. From August 18 to 21, Grant concentrated his army on the capture of the Weldon Railroad. It was Richmond’s main supply line and the link to Wilmington, North Carolina, the only coastal port still held by the Confederates. While the war lasted another eight months, Grant’s victory at Weldon left Lee’s army and the Confederate capital without supplies.

This political cartoon represents the military situation in August 1864. The bulldog Grant has cornered the Confederates Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P. G. T. Beauregard in their doghouse (Richmond) while the Union’s Democratic presidential candidate, General George B. McClellan, implores President Lincoln to call off his dog.

A pdf of the document is available here.



[General George B. McClellan to President Lincoln]: "Uncle Abraham don’t you think you had better call the old dog off now, I’m afraid he’ll hurt those other dogs, if he catches hold of them."

[Lincoln to McClellan]: "Why little Mac thats the same pack of curs, that chased you aboard of the Gunboat two years ago, they are pretty nearly used up now & I think its best to give the old bull dog full swing to go in and finish them!"

[President Jefferson Davis to General Ulysses S. Grant]: "You aint got this kennel yet old fellow!"

[Grant]: "I’m bound to take it"

Abraham Lincoln’s last letter to his wife, 1865

Abraham Lincoln to Mary Todd Lincoln, April 2, 1865 (GLC08090)This letter, written as the Union captured the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, demonstrates Lincoln’s active, hands-on commitment as commander in chief of the armed forces as well as his devotion to his family. It reads like a military dispatch, updating Mrs. Lincoln on the latest developments and noting that he was sending a "Copy to Secretary of War."

In late March 1865, General Ulysses S. Grant invited President Lincoln, his wife Mary, and son Tad to visit the Union headquarters in City Point, Virginia. The family arrived on March 24 and Lincoln spent much of his time meeting with commanders and traveling to view the aftermath of a battle at Fort Stedman. On April 1, Mary and Tad returned to Washington DC, while Lincoln remained with the army. That night, Union general Philip Sheridan’s troops won a decisive victory at the Battle of Five Forks, Virginia, and cut off Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s best escape route and supply line. The end of the war was imminent.

At the greatest moment of his presidency—the fall of the Confederate capital, Richmond—Abraham Lincoln chose to write to his wife on April 2 before writing to any public official: "Last night Gen. Grant telegraphed that Sheridan with his Cavalry and the 5th Corps have captured three brigades of Infantry, a train of wagons, and several batteries, prisoners amounting to several thousands."

With great optimism, Lincoln also wrote of Grant’s intention to order a full attack on Petersburg, not knowing that Grant’s campaign had already been successful and Lee was abandoning Petersburg. Later that afternoon Lee sent word to President Davis to evacuate Richmond. On April 3, Richmond fell under Union control.

This is the last known letter between the President and Mary Todd Lincoln.


City. Point, April 2. 7:45 1865

Mrs A. Lincoln,
                Washington, D.C.

Last night Gen. Grant telegraphed that Sheridan with his Cavalry and the 5th Corps have captured three brigades of Infantry, a train of wagons, and several batteries, prisoners amounting to several thousands– This morning Gen. Grant [inserted: having ordered an attack along the whole line] telegraphs as follows

"Both Wright and Parks got through the enemies lines– The battle now rages furiously. Sheridan with his Cavalry, the 5th Corps, & Miles Division of the 2nd Corps, which was sent to him since 1. this A.M. is now sweeping down from the West. All now looks highly favorable. Ord is engaged, but I have not yet heard the result on his front"

Robert yesterday wrote a little chearful note to Capt. Penrose, which is all I have heard of him since you left. Copy to Secretary of War

A Lincoln

A pdf of the transcript is available here.