General Barringer's Meeting

with President Abraham Lincoln.

                                                                                                    

                                                                            A Prisoner of War

 

            General Rufus Barringer had been captured in the last week of the war, the first general officer taken to City Point, the massive Federal base nine miles northeast of Petersburg. Barringer was also the first Confeder­ate general to meet Presi­dent Abraham Lincoln, who was visiting City Point after his tour of fallen Richmond.

           .... Barringer and aide, Fred Foard, proceeded leisurely the next day, April 5, arriving at City Point nine miles distant a little after noon. Their escort delivered them to the post command­er, Bvt. Brig. Gen. Charles H. T. Collis, who received them with civility. Foard was turned over to the post staff's hospitalities, while Collis entertained Barringer. General Collis later recalled: "Barringer was a polished, scholarly, and urbane gentleman, scrupulously regarding his parole I had exacted from him, and deeply sensible and appreciative of my poor efforts to make him comfortable."

            Barringer had been courteously received and was at first assigned to one of a row of tents, apparently to wait the next arrivals, Generals Richard Ewell and George Washington Custis Lee (son of Robert E. Lee). After them would come hun­dreds, and then thou­sands, of prison­ers of every rank and descrip­tion.

 

                                                                                           Meeting with President Lincoln

 

            Late in the afternoon of April 5th, General Collis invited Barringer to go with him to witness the dress parade of some regiments of regulars. Afterwards, the two men walked over to Grant's headquarters, where General Collis excused himself to go in and receive the latest news from the front. He quickly returned, saying that General Grant was not in, but that President Lincoln was, and that at the mention of General Barringer's name as a prisoner, the president had exclaimed, "Can that be my old friend, [Moreau] Barringer, who had a seat next to me in Congress? Bring him in!"

            Meanwhile, General Barringer had requested shaving materials, which were promptly provided, and he had set­tled down to that long deferred luxury in a nearby tent. Barringer was anxious to see what manner of man was the President of the United States. Since he was muddy, tat­tered, and torn, he felt hardly presentable for such an occasion, but brush­ing, shoe pol­ish, and the completed shave restored his morale.

     General Collis remembered the actual meeting:

 

            [General Collis] formally presented General Rufus Barringer of North Carolina to the President of the United States in the adjutant general's tent. Mr. Lincoln extended his hand, warmly welcomed the Confederate general, and bade him be seated. There was only one chair when the President arose, and this, the Southerner very politely declined to take; so the two men stood facing in the center of the tent, the tall form of Mr. Lincoln almost reaching the ridgepole. He looked at General Barringer over from head to foot and said, "Barringer from North Carolina. General, were you ever in Congress? "No, Mr. Lincoln, I never was." "I thought not," said Mr. Lincoln. "I did not think my memory could be so at fault, but there was a Barringer in Con­gress with me, and from your state too." "That was my brother [Moreau], Sir," said the Gener­al.

            Until then Mr. Lincoln had worn that thoughtful, troubled expression that is known so well, but now the lines relaxed and the whole face laughed. "Well, well," he said, "Your brother was my chum in Congress. Yes sir, we sat at the same desk and ate at the same table. He was a Whig and so was I. He was my chum, and I was very fond of him. Well. Shake again." A few more chairs had been brought in and conversation drifted from Mr. Lincoln's anecdotes of the pleasant hours that he and the Honorable Daniel Moreau Barringer had spent together prior to the war and then to the merits of the military and civil leaders, both of the North and the South.

            Sensing that he had perhaps taken enough of the President’s time, Barringer began to rise and take leave. President Lincoln spoke up and told him to keep his seat. The President remarked: ".…they were both prisoners, and that he hoped the General would take pity and talk with him about the times when they were both their own masters."

            Finally, General Barringer arose and was bowing himself out, when President Lincoln took him again by the hand and, laying the other hand on his shoulder, said with great seriousness and simplicity, "Do you think I could be of any service to you?" All laughed, and General Barringer replied with difficulty, "If anyone can be of service to a poor devil in my situa­tion, I presume you are the man."

            General Collis remembered what happened next as the momentous meeting came to a close:

 

            Mr. Lincoln drew a card from his pocket, adjusted his glasses, and turned up the wick on the lamp. Then, seating himself at the desk, he wrote with all seriousness with which he might have signed the Emancipation Proclamation. While writing, he kept up a running conversation to this effect: "I suppose they will send you to Washington and there I have no doubt, they will put you in the Old Capitol prison. I am told it isn't a nice sort of place and I am afraid you won't find a very comfortable tav­ern; but I have a friend in Washington,--he's the biggest man in the country--and I believe I have some influence with him when I don't ask too much. Now I want you to send this card of introduction to him and if he takes the notion, he may put you on parole, or let up on you that way or some other way. Anyway it's worth trying." Then very deliberately drying the card with the blotter, he held it up to the light and read: "This is General Barringer, of the South­ern Army. He is the brother of a very dear friend of mine. Can you do anything to make his detention in Washington as comfortable as possible under the circumstances?

             A. Lincoln

            To Hon. Edwin M. Stanton

            Secretary of War"

 

            General Barringer could not utter a word. He made some effort to say "Thank you" or "God bless you," but was speechless. Following the commandant, he wheeled and left the tent.

            Outside, the commandant found him com­pletely overcome with emotion. General Barringer had won his stars in a score of battles, but the reac­tion from kindness after the grueling strain of these last days of defeat was too much for him. He took the commandant's arm and, making his way back to the tent, was able at last to express his profound appreciation for such thoughtfulness and generosity. Barringer recalled in his diary "that his [Lincoln's] looks, dress and manners have been misrepresented [in the] South."[8]  General Collis met General Barringer later in Phila­delphia many years after the war, and said in discussing this meeting with Lincoln, the Confederate general's eyes filled "at the deep damnation" of his tragic assassination.

 

 

Update, March 24, 2015: Note: There is a reference in the book, Natural Bent, to General Barringer being at the Old Capitol Prison in Washington when President Lincoln was assassinated.  Also, there was supposedly an unruly mob at the prison after the assassination, endangering General Barringer. This is an error in that General Barringer was already at Fort Delaware prison camp by the time of the assassination.  Colonel William H. Cheek, of the 1st North Carolina Cavalry, was at the Old Capitol Prison at the time of the assassination.  I believe that the author of the Natural Bent, Paul Brandon Barringer, at an advanced age simply got Barringer and Cheek confused. The Natural Bent and other sources claim that Barringer, because of the card Lincoln had given him, was questioned in earnest about a possible involvement in the assassination. This is also an error in that Barringer was never questioned by authorities in this matter. There is no record in any of the Lincoln assassination files of any questioning of General Barringer. There is no record in General Barringer's prison diary of any questioning of him.  Sometimes, stories take on a life of their own!

 

 

Sources: Story from Fighting for General Lee: Confederate General Rufus Barringer and the North Carolina Cavalry Brigade by Sheridan R. Barringer.

The following sources were used in the story and are enumerated in the book:

 

[1] General Charles H. T. Collis, "Lincoln's Magnanim­ity," Once A Week, n.d. (UVA); Septima M. Collis, A Woman's War Record, 63-70.

 

[2] Septima M. Collis, A Woman's War Record, 63-70; The Pursuit To Appo­mattox," Time Life Civil War Series (Chicago, IL, 1987), Volume 7: 113. For additional information, see: Barringer, The Natural Bent, 123; Donald C. Pfanz, The Petersburg Campaign: Abraham Lincoln at City Point, March 20-April 9, 1865 (Lynchburg, VA, 1989), 74-76. A note from Lincoln to Barringer sold at auction by R&R Enterprises (Amherst, NH), Rare Document Auctions, in April 2005 for $ 12,419. This note is worded differently that that reported by General Collis in his written account of the meeting between Lincoln and Barringer. The version of the note in the Natural Bent, page 123, matches General Collis's wording.

 

[3] Rufus Barringer's Prison Diary, Southern Historical Society.

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