Looking at General Grant

Tonight marks the end of the History Channel’s three part miniseries about the life of Civil War lieutenant major general turned President, Ulysses S. Grant. Being without cable, I have yet to see to the miniseries myself, but I am looking forward to viewing it in the near future. However, thanks to the power of promos and Twitter, I have already been made aware of one part of the miniseries that airs tonight and deals with Grant’s connection to Lincoln’s assassination. The miniseries describes how General and Mrs. Grant declined the Lincolns’ invitation to join them at Ford’s Theatre on the night of April 14, 1865. Instead, the Grants decided to travel by train to New Jersey in order to visit with their children. The miniseries shows the following scene of the Grants riding in a carriage on their way to the train depot when a mysterious stranger stops them.

After this promo was posted on Twitter, one of my followers there, Ilka, asked me if this story of an unfriednly glance between John Wilkes Booth and Gen. Grant on April 14th was true. While I had heard of it before, I always took it to be an apocryphal account with no evidence to support it other than Mrs. Grant’s lively imagination. However, as I researched it this morning, I found that the story has more evidence going for it than I thought. What follows is a Twitter thread I wrote this morning highlighting my research into this story.

Here’s the text from Col. Porter’s reminiscences as included in the above tweet:

Here is Julia Grant’s memory of the event as included in the above tweet:

In response to my thread, fellow tweeter Darin Weeks shared his skepticism regarding the story which I fully understand.

I’m not ready to 100% declare that it happened either, but I responded to Darin that at least this story (unlike a lot of others) has evidence to back it up.

After responding to Darin, I realized that, if the story was true, it might help to explain why Booth wasn’t better armed when he assassinated the President at Ford’s later that night.

In the end, we’ll never truly be sure that John Wilkes Booth was the man who gave Gen. and Mrs. Grant such an unfriendly glance on the afternoon of April 14th, but evidence shows that it could have been!

Categories: History, News | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Looking at General Grant

  1. Tim Kelly

    Dave you’ll love the miniseries on Grant! If you’ve read Ron Chernow’s book on Grant you will recognize him as one of the narrators. The series is very accurate and informative along with entertaining! Regarding the carriage ride where Booth intercepts the Grants does fits the timeline of Booth leaving the Grover’s Theatre and Grant leaving the Willard around the same time. It’s more than plausible that he could have notice the Grants leaving the Willard and persuade their carriage to see one of his targets headed down Pennsylvania Ave toward the B&O Train Station down on 6th St. The timeline also fits that at the time of Julia’s lunch, the where about of Booth is unknown and it’s possible even though Booth was busy he could have checked in on his prey. It’s true we have only Julia’s recollection to prove this but it does seem very plausible the carriage incident did happen. Enjoy the miniseries.

  2. I received the following comment from Richard Sloan who was having problems with the comment feature and emailed it to me instead. Richard wrote:

    “I have never seen this image of Mathews before. I knew of only two – one that appears in “Twenty Days,” which I guess is in the Kunhardt collection, and one of him with a beard that I found at the NYPL’s Billy Rose collection and printed in my Lincoln Log newsletter back in the 1970’. (It showed Art Loux standing at his grave.) Can you tell me where you found the one you just posted? It’s great. And once again, kudos to you for the latest blog. (I have recorded the Grant show but haven’t watched it yet. I hope my DVR recorded all 3 episodes. Sometimes it fails me.”

  3. Russell E Simonaro

    Grant did not attend Ford’s theater because Julia Grant did not like Mary Todd Lincoln. The relatives of Grant in New Jersey was a good excuse. I never knew that Grant was instrumental in trying to wipe out the Klan and how he established the Dept of Justice. Unfortunately he was regarded as a butcher and a imcompent pres by the book Lost Cause.

  4. Candace J Serviss

    Very much enjoyed the mini series Grant..

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