On March 27 or 28, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln met at City Point, Virginia (now annexed into Hopewell, Virginia) with Generals Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman along with Admiral David Porter aboard the River Queen. This meeting is depicted by G.P.A Healy’s 1868 painting The Peacemakers (image above).
George S. McGovern, who ran for president in 1972, is not shown in the painting, even though he was there in spirit.
McGovern, a U.S. Senator between 1963 and 1981, later wrote a book about Abe Lincoln, part of the “American Presidents Series.” The book was released at the close of 2008, around the time Barack “Abe the Second” Obama had been elected U.S. president.
While Lincoln was at City Point, a battle occurred at Fort Stedman, eight miles away. Old Abe took a special train to the site of the battle. McGovern says that yes, Lincoln “toured the field on horseback.” However the Kansas City Star newspaper, in a report on the new Steven Spielberg “Lincoln” movie (“Fact check: Honest Abe, somewhat honest film”, by Darryl Levings, Nov. 15, 2012), says Lincoln did not ride a horse but “stood on an embankment for the sad view.” The Spielberg film goes with the McGovern version however, and has Old Abe riding a horse at the battle scene.
The late George S. McGovern says that Admiral Porter, a key member of the City Point meeting, thought that Lincoln “wanted peace on almost any terms.” But McGovern goes on to correct Porter: No, says the late Senator, Lincoln was not overly anxious for peace. “Lincoln would not agree to peace without assurances of Union, emancipation, and (at least limited) equality.” So says George McGovern.
That is a key point: How insistent was Abraham Lincoln upon freeing the slaves as a necessary assurance of the peace terms? The Spielberg “Lincoln” movie depicts Old Abe as moving heaven and earth to push passage of the 13th amendment through Congress. But remember: any proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution must be also ratified by at least three-fourths (75 percent) of the various states. So the Steven Spielberg depiction of the congressional struggle is not the whole story. How would the Confederate states have voted on this 13th amendment which ended slavery?
At the City Point meeting, how important was it for Abraham Lincoln that the slaves must be freed as part of the peace terms? Admiral Porter recalled that Lincoln “wanted peace on almost any terms.” But his recollection was subsequently overruled by George McGovern. So which one of the two is correct?
At the City Point meeting, Abraham Lincoln “gave secret orders to his military leaders for what Lloyd Lewis called ‘one of the most cunning examples of the double-cross that the whole range of American politics, before or after him, could show.’ These orders were, in short, to grant to the opponents at the proper time a truce that embraced a formula for peace on the basis of the situation as it had existed before the outbreak of the war.” Union General William T. Sherman, present at the secret meeting, later signed a truce with Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston on or about April 17, 1865. That truce agreed with the secret City Point policies advocated by the now murdered Abraham Lincoln: “The agreement entered into stated that the President of the United States was to recognize the state governments on the condition that the officers and legislators would take the oath prescribed by the Constitution.” The Confederate states, which according to Lincoln’s view had never really left the Union (since, after all, in his first inaugural speech, Lincoln had said the Union was perpetual), were of course to be immediately welcomed back from their error. (Source: Why Was Lincoln Murdered?, by Otto Eisenschiml. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1937)
The “double-cross” in all this was against the “radical” abolitionist faction of the then-fledgling Republican Party. They by no means wanted to immediately welcome back the Rebel states! To the “radical” abolitionist faction, Lincoln was committing treason against his political party! Around April 7, 1865, Charles A. Dana, Edwin Stanton’s spy, wired the abolitionist Secretary of War: “Meeting of five members of the Virginia legislature held here to-day upon the President’s propositions to Judge Campbell. The President showed me the papers confidentially to-day.”
If the Confederate state legislatures were allowed to re-convene, that would wreck the abolitionists’ longed-for 13th amendment. But then, on April 14, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was suddenly murdered and a different “Reconstruction” alternative for the Rebel states began to be advanced. The Rebel states would not be immediately welcomed back. The 13th amendment was safe.