By: Graham Klimley
Abraham Lincoln might have been one of the most celebrated Presidents of the United States of America. It was right before the Civil War when he took office. Lincoln was elected President in 1860 and the war started in 1861. President Lincoln supported the Union side of the conflict. Like other northern abolitionists, Lincoln believed that slavery should be abolished for good. The issue of slavery, however, was not as important to Lincoln as protecting the integrity of the United States Union. Lincoln did not want the pro-slavery southern states, known as the Confederacy, to secede The President clearly articulated his position regarding the war when he said,
“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could do it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.”
Abraham Lincoln made it plain that his desire to save the Union, and not the issue of slavery, was his primary concern. Firmly believing that the Union had to stay together, Lincoln elected Ulysses S. Grant to lead the charge for the Union North against the Confederate South.
In 1864, Abraham Lincoln appointed Ulysses S. Grant Lieutenant General of the Union Army, tasking the future president with the job of leading all Union troops against the Confederate Army. This was a monumental step because the rank of Lieutenant General had remained inactive since 1799. In the beginning, Grant struggled at leading the Union in battle, but, after a while, he took command of the fight winning battles in the Western Theater. He captured Fort Henry and Fort Donelson in Tennessee, forced the surrender of Vicksburg, Mississippi, and defeated a larger Southern force at Chattanooga, Tennessee. In the last year of the war, he was both praised and criticized for his willingness to fight and sustain a high number of casualties.
Lincoln always saw poise and power in Ulysses S. Grant. There were a great number of similarities between the two men which made the pair extremely compatible and a good match. John Y. Simon writes,
“Like Mr. Lincoln Grant was a good and loving father. Like Mr. Lincoln he had some trouble with their formal education. Like Lincoln he had four children. Grant was more concerned about his children’s formal schooling than was Mr. Lincoln. Like Mr. Lincoln, Grant had problems with his father. In his Grant’s case, he was a disappointment to his father. But he appears to have been ashamed of his mother for some reason; she did not attend his inauguration. Neither did Mr. Lincoln’s stepmother attend his in 1861. Like Mr. Lincoln, Grant had a strong sense of duty. Like Mr. Lincoln, he did what had to be done without a great deal of superfluous commotion. Like Mr. Lincoln (in Congress), Grant endured a prolonged separation from his wife (while on army duty in California in the 1850s).” The fact that Lincoln and Grant were so much alike led to a good working relationship even during the more challenging times of war.
When Grant won Fort Donelson, thereby gaining control of the two main rivers with a direct line to Nashville, Lincoln was obviously pleased. The President’s happiness, however, was short lived due to the tragic death of his eleven-year-old son, Willie, who died from Typhoid fever. Lincoln was heartbroken. Lincoln was very close to his family. Unfortunately, he was plagued by the fact that three of his four children died at a very young age. His children were Robert Todd (1843–1926), Edward Baker (1846–1850), William Wallace (1850–1862), and Thomas “Tad” (1853–1871). Abraham Lincoln’s oldest son, Robert, was the only child to live to maturity and to make it through college. After college, Robert needed a job and wanted to enlist.
During the period Abraham Lincoln was President, it was very difficult for him to find time to spend with his family. Robert was never close to his father and complained that he “scarcely even had ten minutes quiet talk with him during his Presidency, on account of his constant devotion to business.” Robert always wanted to join the army, but Lincoln was nervous to have his son enlist because of his wife’s fear of losing another son far too soon. After long discussion and thought, Abraham Lincoln finally agreed to let his son go to war, and he actually reached out to General Ulysses S. Grant.
On January 19, 1865, Lincoln wrote a letter to Grant concerning his son joining the war effort. Lincoln began by writing, “Please read and answer this letter as though I was not President, but only a friend”, and he made sure that the letter did not sound too aggressive by using words such as, “without embarrassment, detriment to the service, some nominal rank.” Lincoln did not want to come across as officious or demanding. In trying to secure a position for his son in the army, he did not want to use his office as President as a matter of influence when writing to his friend Grant. The Civil War was such a deadly and serious conflict, Lincoln did not want to appear intrusive in any way.
When Ulysses S. Grant received the letter, he responded magnanimously and offered Robert a spot in the army. Robert joined the Union Army in 1864 and was made a captain and assistant adjutant general of volunteers on the staff of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Between his enlistment in the summer of 1864 and his active duty in February 1865, Robert spent a few lackluster weeks at Harvard Law School. He then served with Grant until the end of the war.
Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant were compatible personalities who worked well together. They knew each other personally and had faith in each other’s abilities. Since they were so close, it was appropriate for Lincoln to write and reach out to Grant, as a friend and not in his official capacity as President, regarding his son joining the army. Assisting Robert in securing a position in the army was also a way for Lincoln to get closer to his son who had felt neglected while growing up because of his father’s preoccupation with work and the war. It was indicative of the relationship that Lincoln and Grant shared that the Lieutenant General invited Lincoln’s son to join the army and serve under his command. Robert proved a worthy soldier in the war. Even through the toughest times of war, Abraham Lincoln never lost confidence in General Grant and Grant never gave up on President Lincoln. The match was perfect, and their combined abilities and strengths helped the Union in its fight against the Confederates, ultimately, winning the Civil War.
 Louis P. Masur, The Civil War A Concise History (Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 41
 John Waugh (editor) Ulysses S. Grant: Life in a Brief (U.S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth (University of North Carolina Press, 2009)
 John Y. Smith, Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant (Featured Book) (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000).
 Louis P. Masur, The Civil War A Concise History (Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 32
 Margaret Leech, Reveille in Washington, (New York Harold, undated) p. 292
 Abraham Lincoln, Letter to Lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant, (Washington, Jan. 19, 1865)
 Jason Emerson, Robert Todd Lincoln: The Perpetual Non-Candidate (American History Magazine, December 2004)