Late afternoon off a raw gusty day in early spring – March 8th, a Tuesday, 1864 – the desk clerk at Willard’s hotel, two blocks down from Pennsylvania Avenue from the white household, glanced up to find an officer accompanied by a boy of thirteen facing him across the polished oak of the registration counter and inquiring whether he could get a room. “A short round shouldered man in a” very tarnished major general’s uniform he seemed to a by standing witness to have, “No gait, no station, no manner” too present instead, with his ill fitting jacket cut full in the skirt and a high crowned hat level on his head, a somewhat threadbare if not quite down at heels, conglomerate impression of a “rough light brown whiskers, a blue eye, and rather a scrubby look withal…as if he was out of office and a half pay, with nothing to do but hang around the entrance of the Willards with a cigar in his mouth.” Discerning so much of this as he considered worth huis time together with the bystander’s added observation that applicant had “Rather the look of a man who did, or at once did, take a little too much or drink,” the clerk was no more awed by the stranger’s rank than he was attracted by his aspect. This was after all the Betsy known hostelry in Washington. there ha been by now close to 500 union generals who possessed what was known as ‘station,’ had passed in and out of the Willard’s in the last three wartime years.
Once the congratulations were over, the two leaders had a short talk that began with Grant asking what special service was required of him. The taking of Richmond, Lincoln said, adding wryly that the generals who had been told this in the past “had not been fortunate in their efforts in that direction.” Did Grant think he could do it? Grant replied that he could if he had the troops.