Fallout from Hampton Roads

February 10, 1865 – President Lincoln submitted a report to Congress detailing the proceedings at the Hampton Roads conference of February 3.

After the informal conference ended last week, Lincoln returned to Washington and reiterated his instructions to U.S. General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant that “nothing transpired, or transpiring with the three gentlemen from Richmond, is to cause any change hindrance or delay, of your military plans or operations.” Accordingly, Grant launched an attack at Hatcher’s Run outside Petersburg as scheduled.[1]

Meanwhile, the three Confederate envoys (Alexander Stephens, John A. Campbell, and Robert M.T. Hunter) returned to Richmond and submitted a report on the proceedings to President Jefferson Davis: “… A conference was granted… We understood from him (Lincoln) that no terms or proposals of any treaty or agreements looking to an ultimate settlement would be entertained or made by him with the authorities of the Confederate States, because that would be recognition of their existence as a separate power, which, under no circumstances, would be done…”[2]

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

To Davis, the failed conference proved the futility of negotiating with the U.S. He forwarded the report to the Confederate Congress with a presidential message: “The enemy refused to enter into negotiations with the Confederate States, or with any of them separately, or to give to our people any other terms or guarantees than those which the conqueror may grant, or to permit us to have (peace) on any other basis than our unconditional submission to their rule.”[3]

Virginia Governor William Smith organized a meeting at Richmond’s Metropolitan Hall to condemn the Hampton Roads results. Speaking for the Confederate envoys, Hunter declared, “If anything was wanted to stir blood, it was furnished when we were told that the United States could not consent to entertain any proposition coming from us as a people. Lincoln might have offered something… No treaty, no stipulation, no agreement, either with the Confederate States jointly or with them separately: what was this but unconditional submission to the mercy of the conquerors?”[4]

On February 9, Davis and other high-ranking Confederate officials attended a rally at the African Church in Richmond. Trying to inspire new recruits to the Confederate cause, Davis asserted the Confederate military was in excellent condition, and “Sherman’s march through Georgia would be his last.” He predicted that the Federals would seek peace terms by summer, and announced, “I can have no ‘common country’ with the Yankees. My life is bound up in the Confederacy; and, if any man supposes that, under any circumstances, I can be an agent of reconstruction of the Union, he has mistaken every element of my nature!”[5]

The next day, Lincoln submitted his report on the conference to the U.S. Congress. Lincoln had been highly criticized for negotiating with “rebels” by many of the radical members of his own party, including Radical Republican leader Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania. But upon receiving the report, most congressmen praised Lincoln for standing firm, especially on the question of emancipation. Some Radicals tried garnering support for harsher measures against the South based on Lincoln’s suggestions of leniency during reconstruction.[6]

Ultimately, the fallout from the Hampton Roads conference ensued that the war would continue until one side or the other surrendered unconditionally.

—–

  • [1] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 634
  • [2] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 16270-16280; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 468
  • [3] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 16280-16290; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 635
  • [4] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 16280-16310
  • [5] Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 470-71; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 692-93
  • [6] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 637; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 692-93; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 132
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