Today, the Grant Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin remembers the occasion of March 9, 1864 when President Lincoln met and promoted General Grant.
The Life and Public Services of Abraham Lincoln, published by T. B. Peterson and Brothers, included the address Lincoln made to General Grant:
On the 2d of March, 1864, President Lincoln approved a bill passed by Congress on the 26th of February, reviving the grade of Lieutenant-General, and the same day he nominated for that high office Major-General Grant, the hero of Vicksburg, and on the same day the Senate unanimously confirmed the nomination.
On the 9th of March, General Grant, being upon official business at Washington, was invited to the White House, where the President, handing him his commission, addressed him as follows:
“General Grant: — The expression of the nation’s approbation of what you have already done, and its reliance on you for what remains to do in the existing great struggle, is now presented with this commission, constituting you Lieutenant-General of the Army of the United States.
“With this high honor devolves on you an additional responsibility. As the country herein trusts you, so, under God, it will sustain you. I scarcely need add, that with what I here speak for the country, goes my own hearty personal concurrence.”
General Grant accepted the commission with characteristic modesty, responding briefly and appropriately to the remarks of the President.
The Personal Recollections of President Abraham Lincoln, General Ulysses S. Grant and General William T. Sherman by Major-General Grenville Mellen Dodge, published in 1914, gave eyewitness insights into the presentation that day:
In March, 1864, General Grant was called to Washington by President Lincoln to receive his commission as Lieutenant General, and his assignment to the command of all the armies.
Mr. J. P. Usher, Secretary of the Interior, gives this account of what occurred:
“President Lincoln called his Cabinet together without giving them notice of what they were called together for. They assembled in the Cabinet Room, and there were present, Mr. Seward, Secretary of State; Mr. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury; Mr. Stanton, Secretary of War; Mr. Wells, Secretary of the Navy; Mr. Blair, Postmaster General; Mr. Bates, Attorney General; and Mr. Usher, Secretary of the Interior.
“Upon entering the room of the President, all his Cabinet were present with the exception of Mr. Stanton.
“Soon after the arrival of Secretary Stanton, General Halleck and General Grant entered the room without accosting the President, or any one present, but moved rapidly to the far side of the table, and stopped, facing the table, with General Grant between General Halleck and Mr. Stanton.
“The President was on the opposite side of the table. He arose, then took from the table a scroll, turned it carefully, then opened it and took out the Parchment Commission.
“He then took from the table what soon proved to be his address to General Grant, which he read to General Grant.
“Then upon his conclusion, General Grant took from his vest pocket a paper containing his response to the President. Grant held the paper in his right hand, and commenced reading, having read probably half of it when his voice gave out.
“Evidently he had not contemplated the effort of reading, and had commenced without inflating his lungs.
“When General Grant commenced reading he was standing awkwardly, what would commonly be called ‘hipshot.’
“When his voice failed, he straightened himself up to his fullest and best form, threw back his shoulders, took the paper in both hands — one at each end — and drew the paper up to proper reading distance and commenced again at the beginning, and read it through in a full, strong voice.”
Colonel Fred Grant, who was with his father, says: “The papers were prepared the evening before by both the President and General Grant.”
After it was read the members of the Cabinet were introduced to General Grant. None of the members of the Cabinet had met him before.
Mr. Lincoln said to General Grant: “I have never met you before.”
General Grant replied: “Yes, you have. I heard you in your debate with Douglass at Freeport, and was then introduced to you. Of course, I could not forget you, neither could I expect you to remember me, because multitudes were introduced to you on that occasion.”
President Lincoln said: “That is so, and I don’t think I could be expected to remember all.”
Mr. Usher said: “Up to that time none of us had had any personal acquaintance with General Grant. We had heard of him from the Battle of Pittsburg Landing to the Battle of Iuka and Corinth. The reports were as often disparaging as they were favorable.”
General Grant never sent anyone to propitiate or make favor with the President.
After the Battle of Corinth, Judge Dicky, Judge of the Southern Court of Alabama, and a personal friend of Mr. Lincoln, came to Washington from Grant’s camp, and gave such favorable account of him as gained Mr. Lincoln’s fullest confidence in Grant’s abilities and his confidence was never broken, nor in the least abated.
Secretary Usher says: “I heard Mr. Lincoln on one occasion say: ‘Grant is the most extraordinary man in command that I know of. I heard nothing direct from him and wrote him to know why, and whether I could do anything to promote his success, and Grant replied that he had tried to do the best he could with what he had, that he believed that if he had more men and arms he could use them to good advantage, and do more than he had done; but he supposed I had done and was doing all I could, and if I could do more he felt that I would do it.'”
Lincoln said that Grant’s conduct was so different from most Generals in common, that he could scarcely comprehend it.
The Grant Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows beside an image of Lieutenant-General Grant, circa 1864.