There is something more than a little allegorical about the scene rendered by the prolific artist George P.A. Healy in 1868. With their symmetrical gestures, Lt. Gen. Grant and Rear Adm. Porter seem to be holding back an invisible curtain or veil revealing Lincoln, who has borne the responsibility for deciding nearly every major strategic decision of the war. Note that the four windows behind them seem to progress, beginning on the left with curtains and shades drawn, to the rainbow’s appearance followed by the parting of the clouds. The destructive flood of war that swept the nation is subsiding, Healy seems to say, and it seems that one merely has to open the doors located directly behind the president and step out into the light.
But of course, life after great drama and trauma is never that simple for an individual, much less a nation. Important decisions must be made about how to proceed, and that is why Lincoln pensively listens behind the closed doors, seemingly lost in thought, his mind far beyond the contemplation of tactics to bring the swiftest defeat to General Robert E. Lee's remaining forces. There were weightier strategic issues to contemplate.
The setting for The Peacemakers was the steamer River Queen, then moored near Lt. Gen Grant's headquarters at City Point, Virginia. River Queen was also the setting for a very different conference held near Fort Monroe just a few days after the fall of Fort Fisher in January. Perhaps within the very cabin depicted in the painting, Lincoln had received three other high-ranking visitors, Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, Assistant Secretary of War John A. Campbell, and Senator Robert M.T. Hunter, who had traveled under a flag of truce from Richmond to propose an armistice and joint expedition against Mexico.
Probably preoccupied with more profound thoughts than the three Confederate emissaries could possibly fathom, Lincoln stated flatly during the February 3 meeting that only the disbandment of the Confederate armies and the restoration of the union would bring the peace they supposedly sought; not a mere redirection of the fighting.
In the conference with Sherman, Grant, and Porter on March 28, Lincoln still seemed deep in thought, yet above the fray. Much of the discussions revolved around whether or not Gen. Lee's forces could somehow escape Central Virginia and unite with those of General Joseph E. Johnston, which Sherman's forces had bottled up in North Carolina.
According to Adm. David Porter's account of the meeting, Maj. Gen. Sherman "took a military view of the situation. He had made a long toilsome march and desired to reap the honors due a victorious general."