Thursday, August 28, 2008

"Induced by a dispatch from General Grant, I join you at Fort Monroe as soon as I can come. "

Abraham Lincoln was in Annapolis, Maryland in early February, 1865 as he traveled to and from Ft. Monroe, Virginia. There he met informally with three members of the Confederate government on February 3 to discuss a negotiated end to the Civil War. This conference is generally known as the Hampton Roads Conference.

Lincoln had sent Secretary of State William Seward to meet with the Confederates and had no intention of going himself until he read a telegram from General Grant to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton at 9:00 AM on the 2nd. Grant, who was at City Point and apparently did not know when he sent the telegram that Seward was en route to Ft. Monroe, expressed regret that no one in authority in the U.S. government was on hand to meet with the Confederate peace commissioners. Lincoln apparently decided on the spot to go to Ft. Monroe and sent Seward the following message to alert him: "Induced by a dispatch from General Grant, I join you at Fort[ress] Monroe as soon as I can come."

By 11:00 AM Lincoln was on a train headed to Annapolis where he could catch a steamer, the Chesapeake Bay being navigable while the Potomac River was blocked by ice. According to contemporary newspaper accounts he was accompanied only by his personal valet, Charles Forbes and possibly a presidential guard named Alexander Smith.

Lincoln arrived in Annapolis at about 1:15 PM at the Annapolis & Elkridge Railroad depot at the corner of Calvert and West Streets. He was met at the depot by the quartermaster of the Department of Annapolis, Captain Gardner S. Blodgett. According to the New York Herald Captain Blodgett, Lincoln, Forbes, and Smith then walked from the train station to the wharf at the Naval Academy where the fast steamer Thomas Collyer was ready and waiting. According to the newspaper "The Crutch," published at the hospital then occupying the Naval Academy, the hospital band played patriotic airs as Lincoln stepped from the wharf to the boat. By about 1:40 PM the Thomas Collyer was under way, reaching Hampton Roads by about 10:00 PM. Lincoln was pleased to have made the trip in just 11 hours since leaving the White House.

The peace conference was held aboard General Grant's boat, the River Queen on February 3. It was, of course, unsuccessful. Lincoln, Seward, and their attendants departed Hampton Roads aboard the River Queen late on the afternoon of the 3rd, headed back up the Chesapeake to Annapolis. Members of Grant's staff left later on the Thomas Collyer and overtook the River Queen. Both boats arrived at Annapolis at around 7:00 AM on the 4th. This time a private train from the Annapolis & Elkridge Railroad was waiting at the wharf, and the president and party were back in Washington by 9:00 AM.

Lincoln's passage through Annapolis raises some interesting questions and characters about the town during the Civil War. For example:
  • By what route did Capt. Blodgett guide Lincoln to the wharf, and did anyone see them?
  • Why did Lincoln walk through town rather than simply continuing by train to the Naval Academy wharf on the track extension laid down in 1861 by General Butler?
  • What was the route of Butler's extension?
  • And for that matter, where was the A&E depot in 1865?
  • What can we learn about Captain Blodgett?
  • And then there is the 13th Amendment. Seward had stopped in Annapolis on February 1st and given Governor Bradford notice of the passage in Congress of the amendment to abolish slavery. Bradford immediately convened the Maryland legislature and urged them to ratify it, which they were deliberating the next day when Lincoln walked within sight of the State House. What did Lincoln think about this?
  • What about the hospitals then on the grounds of St. John's College and the Naval Academy. How did Lincoln manage to walk past wounded soldiers without stopping to speak to them?
  • Are there any collections of personal papers or letters from people who saw Lincoln in Annapolis?
  • What can we learn about the steamer Thomas Collyer?
I hope to find answers to these questions and also to many of the additional ones that will be raised researching these. This blog will be a place to talk about it.


The Logistician said...

WE could use President Lincoln's wisdom and temperament right now.

Nice work. I came across your blog while “blog surfing” using the Next Blog button on the blue Nav Bar located at the top of my site. I frequently just travel around looking for other blogs which exist on the Internet, and the various, creative ways in which people express themselves. Thanks for sharing.

JimC said...

Well done. I am writing a book about the Hampton Roads Conference and would love to know what primary sources you took your information from regarding Lincoln's trip to and from the conference. Please let me kno, at Thanks so much.