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Ulysses S. Grant describes the darkest day of his life

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Around 1880, General Ulysses S. Grant visited Abraham Lincoln’s bodyguard in Boulder, Colorado and described to Ward Hill Lamon the general’s darkest day – April 14, 1865. The following comes from notes taken by Lamon from that meeting and in the collection of The Huntington Library in California.

Grant explained that while at the White House following the Cabinet meeting around 2 p.m. he received a note from Mrs. Grant indicating that she must go to Burlington, NJ to see the children. Some incident he called “of trivial nature had made her resolve to leave that evening” and allowing Grant to make “my excuse to Lincoln” to not go to Ford’s Theater with the president and his wife. General Grant expressed to Lamon that he was happy to have an excuse as he had not wanted to go to the theater that night anyway.

The Grants left and were driving along Pennsylvania Avenue in a carriage toward the train station when “a horseman drove past us on a gallop and back again around our carriage looking into it.” Mrs. Grant recognized the horseman by telling her husband “there is the man who sat near us at lunch today with some other men and tried to hear our conversation.” The man in the dining room at the Willard Hotel was so rude the Grants left without finishing their lunch.

Grant expressed that he thought the two incidents only curious until afterwards he determined that the horseman was John Wilkes Booth.

The Grants proceeded to Burlington in a locked train car without incident, or so they thought. A few days later, the general received an anonymous letter from a man saying “he had been detailed to kill me. That he rode on my train as far as Havre de Grace (MD) and as my door was locked, failed to get in.” Grant expressed to Lamon that his parlor door had been locked by the conductor, and he wondered how anyone who was not there would have known that. Mr. Grant said he could not say how true the letter might have been.

Grant to Lamon that he himself learned of the assassination as the train was passing through Philadelphia. He turned around and took a special train back to Washington. He called it “the darkest day of my life.”

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