Grant understood the situation precisely as his opponents did. That Petersburg and Richmond were about to be his was settled. But he was reaching out for more than only these strongholds, and that he could get Lee’s army also was by no means settled. As March opened he lay down every night in the fear that, while he was sleeping, the evacuation might be furtively, rapidly, in progress, and the garrison escaping. He dreaded that, any morning, he might awake to find delusive picket lines, guarding nothing, while Lee and his soldiers were already well in the lead, marching for the South. For him, especially, it was a period of extreme tension. Since the capture of Savannah and the evacuation of Charleston several weeks ago, Sherman with his fine army had been moving steadily northward. In front of Sherman was Johnston, with a considerable force which had been got together from the remnants of Hood’s army and other sources. At Bentonsville a battle took place, which resulted in Johnston’s falling back, but left him still formidable. General Grant had not yet been able to break the Richmond and Danville Railroad, which ran out from Richmond in a southwesterly direction; and the danger was that by this and the “South Side” railroad, Lee might slip out, join Johnston, and overwhelm Sherman before Grant could reach him. In time, this peril was removed by the junction of Schofield’s army, coming from Wilmington, with that of Sherman at Goldsboro. Yet, even after this relief, there remained a possibility that Lee, uniting with Johnston, and thus leading a still powerful army of the more determined and constant veterans, might prolong the war indefinitely.
Not without good reason was Grant harassed by this thought, for in fact it was precisely this thing that the good soldier in Petersburg was scheming to do. The closing days of the month brought the endeavor and the crisis. To improve his chances Lee made a desperate effort to demoralize, at least temporarily, the left or western wing of the Union army, around which he must pass in order to get away, when he should actually make his start. March 25, therefore, he made so fierce an assault, that he succeeded in piercing the Union lines and capturing a fort. But it was a transitory gleam of success; the Federals promptly closed in upon the Confederates, and drove them back, capturing and killing 4000 of them. In a few hours the affair was all over; the Northern army showed the dint no more than a rubber ball; but the Confederates had lost brave men whom they could not spare.
On March 22 Mr. Lincoln went to City Point; no one could say just how soon important propositions might require prompt answering, and it was his purpose to be ready to have any such business transacted as closely as possible in accordance with his own ideas. On March 27 or 28, the famous conference was held on board the River Queen, on James River, hard by Grant’s headquarters, between the President,