Category Archives: Politics

The Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction

December 9, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln outlined a plan to bring the Confederate states back into the Union. This was part of his effort to exacerbate political dissension in the Confederacy while uniting the factions within his own Republican Party.

As the Confederacy seemed about to collapse, Federal politicians began considering how the post-war South should be administered. By this time, three clear plans had taken shape in Congress:

  • Democrats supported canceling the Emancipation Proclamation and offering general amnesty to all Confederates if they agreed to return to the Union; once returned, they could send representation to Congress and all would continue as it did before the war.
  • Conservative Republicans supported upholding the Emancipation Proclamation and offering conditional amnesty, with the Confederate states sending representation to Congress only after certain conditions were met, including accepting black freedom.
  • Radical Republicans supported upholding the Emancipation Proclamation and revoking the civil rights of those who supported the Confederacy; the states would be treated as conquered territories and brought back into the Union after several conditions were met, including accepting both black freedom and equality.

16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: histmag.org

As the leader of the conservative faction, Lincoln proclaimed, “Whereas it is now desired by some persons heretofore engaged in said rebellion to resume their allegiance to the United States, and to reinaugrate loyal State governments,” he offered a “full pardon” to those who “directly or by implication, participated in the existing rebellion” if they swore loyalty to the Union and promised to obey Federal laws.

Those excluded from the pardons included high-ranking Confederates, officers who relinquished U.S. military commissions to join the Confederacy, and those who treated Federal soldiers “otherwise than lawfully as prisoners of war.” Those receiving a pardon would have all their property rights restored, “except as to slaves.” The decree also included Lincoln’s proposed policy on converting slavery into free labor in the South:

“Any provision which may be adopted… in relation to the freed people (by the new state governments), which shall recognize and declare their permanent freedom, provide for their education, and which may yet be consistent, as a temporary arrangement, with their present condition as a laboring, landless, and homeless class, will not be objected to by the national Executive.”

Lincoln’s proclamation also included what became known as the “Ten Percent Plan,” which proposed that if 10 percent of a state’s registered voters (according to the 1860 census) swore loyalty to the Union and recognized the “permanent freedom of slaves,” then those voters could form a new government and send Federal representation to Washington. It would then be for Congress to decide whether to seat those new representatives in the House and Senate.

This marked a significant political shift for Lincoln. When the war began, he argued that the rebellion consisted of a small minority who did not represent the majority of southern sentiment. But by proposing the “Ten Percent Plan,” he acknowledged that 90 percent of every Confederate state constituency most likely wanted no part of reunion. As such, harsher measures would be needed to bring their states back into the Union and ensure that their leaders would be loyal.

Democrats were the plan’s loudest critics. They argued that it violated the Constitution’s guarantee that each state have a republican form of government since 10 percent of a state’s voters would be dictating how the remaining 90 percent should be governed. They also noted that since no Confederate state would likely have a 10 percent loyalty rate, that percentage would be made up of former slaves and northerners migrating to the states. Moreover, forcing people to swear allegiance to the government violated the principle stated in the Declaration of Independence that government “derives its just powers from the consent of the governed.”

The pro-Democrat New York World pointed out that “By setting up… State governments, representing one-tenth of the voters, in Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee and North Carolina,” the Lincoln administration “could control as many electoral votes as may be needed to turn the scale” in next year’s presidential election. Democratic New York Governor Horatio Seymour argued that this plan would give 70,000 voters in the southern states just as many votes in the Electoral College as 16 million voters in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, and Wisconsin.

But this proclamation was not intended to satisfy the minority Democrats; it was intended to appease both Radicals and conservatives within the Republican Party. Radicals supported the demands that Confederates swear loyalty to the Union and acknowledge the end of slavery. Conservatives supported the “Ten Percent Plan” because it undermined Radical ideas to reorganize southern states as conquered territories.

Radicals favored disqualifying anybody with Confederate sympathies from voting, along with any southern professional who lacked Union sympathies. Radicals also insisted that all slaves should be immediately freed without compensation to slaveholders, and that newly freed slaves should be allowed to vote in some cases. They also argued that Congress, not the president, had the constitutional authority to restore the Union.

Conservatives argued that most southerners owned no slaves and had not voted to secede, and thus should not be penalized for merely fighting to defend their homes. Lincoln saw revoking emancipation as a “cruel and an astounding breach of faith,” but he also saw no reason to further punish the South since both sides had been so terribly punished by the war itself.

Behind the conflict between Radicals and conservatives was a growing conflict between Lincoln and Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase. While Lincoln was largely viewed as the conservative leader of the Republican Party, Chase aspired to replace him as president in 1864, and thus he was supported by most Radicals.

However, some Radicals voiced support for Lincoln’s plan, including influential Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts. Sumner said that Lincoln’s proclamation gave him “great satisfaction” because it touched upon “his idea of proper reconstruction without insisting on the adoption of his peculiar theories.” And Joseph Medill, editor of the pro-Radical Chicago Tribune, wrote that the “political future begins to look clear,” and stated that this decree proved there was only one politician “in whom the nation more and more confides–Abraham Lincoln.”

Newspapers critical of Lincoln’s proclamation included the New York Journal of Commerce, which called it a “ukase from the chambers of an autocrat,” and the Chicago Times, which contended that Lincoln was either “insane with fanaticism, or a traitor who glories in his country’s shame.”

However, the pro-Democrat New York World praised the decree because it canceled out the “abolition plan of Senator (Charles) Sumner” (i.e., the Radical plan to immediately free all slaves and punish all Confederates). The influential Blair family, representing the conservative Republicans, also commended it because it canceled “Sumner’s and Chase’s territorial project.”

Despite the rift between the two Republican factions, Lincoln’s proclamation temporarily united the party by offering concessions to both sides. Lincoln also assured members of Congress that he would be willing to change the plan to suit future events if necessary. Furthermore, it threatened to disrupt Confederate politics by enticing some southerners to push for restoring the Union under this plan. This marked the first significant Federal step toward restoring the Union.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 16790, 16807-33; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9950-71, 10048-72; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 382; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 563-64, 588-89; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 444-45; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 698, 709; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 618; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q463

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Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Message to Congress

December 8, 1863 – The first session of the Thirty-Eighth U.S. Congress assembled in Washington and received President Abraham Lincoln’s annual message.

U.S. Capitol Building under construction | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

In this new Congress, Republicans held majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. However, Democrats had made substantial gains due to their victories in the mid-term elections of November 1862. Also, the Republicans were becoming increasingly split between the Radicals (those who sought harsh subjugation of the South) and the conservatives (those who sought a more conciliatory conquest of the South).

The first order of business in the House was to elect a new speaker, as the previous speaker, Republican Galusha Grow of Pennsylvania, had been voted out of office. The Radicals supported Schuyler Colfax, but the conservatives resisted; Lincoln led the conservatives in deeming Colfax “a little intriguer–plausible but not trustworthy.”

Lincoln and the conservatives looked for someone who could unify not only the Republican Party, but also ally with pro-war Democrats to form a “National Union” party dedicated to winning the war. As such, Lincoln supported Francis P. Blair, Jr., scion of the famous Blair political family (brother Montgomery Blair was Lincoln’s postmaster general). However, Blair had left politics to become a general in the Army of the Tennessee.

The conservatives next looked to Elihu Washburne of Illinois, but Washburne could not garner enough support in the House to make an effective run. Lincoln then sought a compromise by meeting with Colfax and having him pledge to stay neutral in the upcoming debates between the Radicals and conservatives. With Lincoln’s backing, Colfax became the House speaker.

Members quickly submitted resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment permanently abolishing slavery, and debate opened later this month. Congress approved a resolution thanking Major General Ulysses S. Grant for his recent military victories and creating a gold medal in his honor. Washburne introduced a bill reinstating the army rank of lieutenant general, which had previously been held only by George Washington and Winfield Scott (Scott’s was a brevet rank). Washburne, one of Grant’s biggest supporters, clearly had Grant in mind for this new rank.

President Lincoln’s annual message to Congress was read in both chambers on the 8th. The opening included summaries of the reports submitted by the cabinet officers. Lincoln stated that foreign relations were peaceful: “The efforts of disloyal citizens of the United States to involve us in foreign wars, to aid an inexcusable insurrection, have been unavailing.”

He heralded a recent treaty signed with Great Britain ending the African slave trade between the two nations: “That inhuman and odious traffic has been brought to an end.” After noting affairs in other countries, he turned to the territories. Although “Indian disturbances in New Mexico have not been entirely suppressed,” Native American relations seemed stable following last year’s Sioux uprising. Lincoln expressed support for negotiating treaties–

“… extinguishing the possessory rights of the Indians to large and valuable tracts of land. It is hoped that the effect of these treaties will result in the establishment of permanent friendly relations with such of these tribes as have been brought into frequent and bloody collision with our outlying settlements and emigrants.”

Turning to the northern home front, Lincoln stated that those “dark and doubtful days” of a year ago had given way to a more hopeful time. He explained:

“The rebel borders are pressed still farther back, and by the complete opening of the Mississippi the country dominated by the rebellion is divided into distinct parts, with no practical communication between them. Tennessee and Arkansas have been substantially cleared of insurgent control, and influential citizens in each, owners of slaves and advocates of slavery at the beginning of the rebellion, now declare openly for emancipation in their respective States. Of those States not included in the emancipation proclamation, Maryland, and Missouri, neither of which three years ago would tolerate any restraint upon the extension of slavery into new territories, only dispute now as to the best mode of removing it within their own limits.”

The president reported:

“Of those who were slaves at the beginning of the rebellion, full 100,000 are now in the United States military service, about one-half of which number actually bear arms in the ranks; thus giving the double advantage of taking so much labor from the insurgent cause, and supplying the places which otherwise must be filled with so many white men.”

Lincoln lauded the fact that, contrary to southern fears, “no servile insurrection, or tendency to violence or cruelty, has marked the measures of emancipation and arming the blacks.” Unlike the previous year’s message, Lincoln did not reiterate any support or plans for colonizing blacks outside the U.S. This indicated the administration’s shift from deportation to emancipation.

Lincoln asserted that the recent state elections were “highly encouraging” in terms of war policy. As such, “we have the new reckoning. The crisis which threatened to divide the friends of the Union (i.e., Radicals, conservatives, and War Democrats) is past.”

He also announced that he would issue a proclamation related to bringing the Confederate states back into the Union, which he attached to his annual message. He provided a summary of this proclamation, which would be released to the public the next day. Lincoln concluded:

“Hence our chiefest care must still be directed to the Army and Navy, who have thus far borne their harder part so nobly and well; and it may be esteemed fortunate that in giving the greatest efficiency to these indispensable arms we do also honorably recognize the gallant men, from commander to sentinel, who compose them, and to whom more than to others the world must stand indebted for the home of freedom disenthralled, regenerated, enlarged, and perpetuated.”

The president omitted several items that other politicians thought worth noting. He did not touch upon his establishment of the first national Thanksgiving holiday, he did not note the significance of completing construction on the U.S. Capitol dome, and he did not mention the important role blacks were playing in turning the tide of the war.

Opposition newspapers naturally criticized Lincoln’s message. However, Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune declared that no message since George Washington’s had “given such general satisfaction.” The press would be even more vocal both for and against Lincoln when he issued his proclamation on restoring the Union the next day.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 429; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 211; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 351; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9939-50, 9994-10037, 10048-72; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 381; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 590; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 443-45; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 688; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q463

The Confederate Congress Assembles

December 7, 1863 – The fourth session of the First Confederate States Congress opened in Richmond.

The 1st Confederate National Flag | Image Credit: RussellHarrison.com

The members of Congress assembled amid very trying times for the Confederacy. The armies had suffered many setbacks (especially in the West), the blockade was strangling the economy, and foreign nations had yet to recognize Confederate independence. President Jefferson Davis submitted his annual message to Congress, which was read to both chambers on the 8th. In his message, Davis declared:

“Grave reverses befell our arms soon after your departure from Richmond. Early in July, our strongholds at Vicksburgh and Port Hudson, together with their entire garrisons, capitulated to the combined land and naval forces of the enemy. The important interior position of Jackson next fell into their temporary possession. Our unsuccessful assault on the post at Helena was followed, at a later period, by the invasion of Arkansas; and the retreat of our army from Little Rock gave to the enemy the control of the important valley in which it is situated.”

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Despite this, Davis announced that Federal advances had “been checked,” and “the resolute spirit of the people soon overcame the despondency.” In particular, he applauded the ongoing efforts to maintain Charleston:

“The determined and successful defense of Charleston against the joint land and naval operations of the enemy, afforded an inspiring example of our ability to repel the attacks even of the iron-clad fleet, on which they chiefly rely…”

Trying to shine a positive light on the defeat at Gettysburg, Davis explained that General Robert E. Lee had been–

“… determined to meet the threatened advance on Richmond by forcing their armies to cross the Potomac and fight in defense of their own capital and homes. Transferring the battle-field to their own soil, he succeeded in compelling their rapid retreat from Virginia, and, in the hard-fought battle of Gettysburg, inflicted such severity of punishment as disabled them from early renewal of the campaign as originally projected.”

Davis congratulated the Army of Tennessee for its stunning victory at Chickamauga, which he called “one of the most brilliant and decisive victories of the war.” However, he lamented the subsequent defeat at Chattanooga:

“After a long and severe battle, in which great carnage was inflicted on him (the enemy), some of our troops inexplicably abandoned a position of great strength, and by a disorderly retreat compelled the commander to withdraw the forces elsewhere successful, and finally to retreat with his whole army to a position some 20 or 30 miles to the rear.”

Noting that the Confederacy had made no progress in obtaining foreign recognition, Davis accused Great Britain of duplicity because it declared neutrality but continued both trading with the United States and honoring the Federal blockade.

Davis addressed financial issues by proposing a restriction in the amount of Confederate paper money in circulation as a means to stem the widespread inflation and lower the cost of living. He also recommended tax increases to help finance the war effort.

Davis next reviewed the army’s condition:

“Though we have lost many of the best of our soldiers and most patriotic of our citizens–the sad and unavoidable result of the battles and toils of such a campaign as that which will render the year 1863 ever memorable in our annals, the army is believed to be, in all respects, in better condition than at any previous period of the war.”

The troops were “now veterans, familiar with danger, hardened by exposure, and confident in themselves and their officers.” According to Davis, the Confederate army “has not been equaled by any like number in the history of the war.” However, Davis acknowledged the growing problem of manpower shortages by stating that “no effort must be spared to add largely to our effective force as promptly as possible.” This should be done by–

“… putting an end to substitution, modifying the exemption law, restricting details, and placing in the ranks such of the able-bodied men now employed as wagoners, nurses, cooks, and other employees, as are doing service for which the negroes may be found competent.”

By replacing “not only enlisted cooks, but wagoners and other employees in the army, by negroes, it is hoped that the ranks of the army will be so strengthened for the ensuing campaign as to put at defiance the utmost efforts of the enemy.” As for the navy, Davis commended the sailors and seamen who did their best to defend the coast, from the James River to the Rio Grande.

Davis called attention to the Federal government’s “barbarous policy” of refusing to exchange prisoners of war (which was partly due to the Confederacy’s refusal to exchange black Federal troops), and the detention of Confederate troops in prison camps. Davis regretfully announced that the Confederacy would soon have to establish prison camps of their own to deal with the tens of thousands of prisoners that the Federals refused to exchange.

Davis condemned the Lincoln administration’s approval of mass destruction throughout the South:

“The frontier of our country bears witness to the alacrity and efficiency with which the general orders of the (Federals) have been executed in the devastation of farms, the destruction of the agricultural implements, the burning of the houses, and the plunder of everything movable.”

Although his administration had always demanded that Confederate forces refrain from attacking civilians on northern soil, Davis stated, “These considerations have been powerless to allay the unchristian hate of those who, long accustomed to draw large profits from a union with us, cannot control the rage excited by the conviction that they have by their own folly destroyed the richest sources of their prosperity.”

There seemed no hope for a negotiated peace that would end the war with Confederate independence because the Federals “refuse to listen to proposals for the only peace possible between us… We now know that the only reliable hope for peace is in the vigor of our resistance.”

Regretting “the savage ferocity which still marks the conduct of the enemy in the prosecution of the war,” Davis stated that the Federals’ wrath had been particularly severe against “the unfortunate negroes” because they “forced into the ranks of their army every able-bodied (black) man that they could seize, and have either left the aged, the women, and the children to perish by starvation, or have gathered them into camps, where they have been wasted by a frightful mortality.”

Davis argued that the Federals treated blacks in the South “with aversion and neglect,” and “in all localities where the enemy have gained a temporary foothold, the negroes, who under our care increased six fold in number since their importation into the colonies of Great Britain, will have been reduced by mortality during the war to not more than one half their previous number.” This information was supposedly provided by “the negroes who succeeded in escaping from the enemy.”

While acknowledging that “The hope last year entertained of an early termination of the war has not been realized,” Davis stated, “The patriotism of the people has proved equal to every sacrifice demanded by their country’s need.” He concluded: “God has blessed us with success disproportionate to our means and, under his divine favor, our labors must at last be crowned with the reward due to men who have given all they possess to the righteous defense of their inalienable rights, their homes, and their altars.”

In his annual report, Secretary of War James A. Seddon acknowledged having suffered major defeats, particularly in Mississippi, as well as dwindling army manpower due to combat, capture, illness, and desertion. Seddon seconded Davis by urging Congress to repeal the Conscription Act provisions that allowed for exemptions and the purchase of substitutes.

In late December, Congress responded by repealing the provisions allowing draftees to hire substitutes. The practice had been corrupted to the point that substitutes often deserted the army and sold themselves multiple times to the highest bidders; some made as much as $6,000 ($300 in gold), or three years’ wages for a skilled laborer. Substitution had been an American military tradition before the war, but popular furor against the practice compelled Congress to end it after 20 months.

Davis also approved a measure modifying the vastly unpopular tax-in-kind to reduce waste and corruption by allowing cash payments equal to the tax fee at impressment prices. A bill introduced by Senator Robert W. Johnson of Arkansas limiting cabinet members to two-year terms did not pass; this was part of the growing effort in Congress to curtail Davis’s executive power.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 140; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 8565-77; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 351-52; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 102-03, 742-43; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 381, 386; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 443-46, 449; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 431-32, 603; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q463

Bragg Leaves the Army of Tennessee

December 2, 1863 – General Braxton Bragg turned the Confederate Army of Tennessee over to Lieutenant General William Hardee, and President Jefferson Davis began looking for a permanent army commander.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

On the last day of November, Bragg’s request to be removed from command had been granted. Bragg notified his superiors that he would relinquish command on December 2 at Dalton, Georgia. In the meantime, he submitted “a plain, unvarnished report of the operations at Chattanooga, resulting in my shameful discomfiture” via special messenger. The report included a personal letter to his friend, President Davis, who had supported him:

“The disaster admits of no palliation, and is justly disparaging to me as a commander. I trust, however, you may find upon full investigation that the fault is not entirely mine… I fear we both erred in the conclusion for me to retain command here after the clamor raised against me…”

Bragg charged that Major General John C. Breckinridge had been drunk throughout the three days of battle at Chattanooga and called him “totally unfit for any duty” during the withdrawal. Bragg alleged that Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham was “equally dangerous.” This further demonstrated that Bragg’s demise was at least partly due to his inability to accept responsibility for mistakes and to instead blame his subordinates.

In an emotional ceremony, Bragg passed command to Hardee on the 2nd. Although most of the officers and men in the army despised Bragg and celebrated his departure, he issued a farewell address to them: “The announcement of this separation is made with unfeigned regret. The associations of more than two years, which bind together a commander and his trusted troops, cannot be severed without deep emotion.”

Confederate Lieut Gen William Hardee | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Hardee, who had no desire for army command, only agreed to replace Bragg temporarily. He stated that while he appreciated “this expression of (Davis’s) confidence… feeling my inability to serve the country successfully in this new sphere of duty, I respectfully decline the command if designed to be permanent.” Hardee announced to his new army:

“The overwhelming numbers of the enemy forced us back from Missionary Ridge, but the army is still intact and in good heart… Only the weak and timid need to be cheered by constant success. Let the past take care of itself; we can and must secure the future.”

Before leaving, Bragg wrote a second letter to Davis, in which he still called himself “General, Commanding” at “Headquarters Army of Tennessee.” Bragg rhetorically asked, “What, then, shall be our policy?” He then boldly offered unsolicited military advice:

“The enemy has concentrated all his available means in front of this army, and by sheer force of numbers has triumphed over our gallant little band… Let us concentrate all our available men, unite them with this gallant little army, still full of zeal and burning to redeem its lost character and prestige, and with our greatest and best leader at the head, yourself, if practicable, march the whole upon the enemy and crush him in his power and glory…”

Bragg concluded, “I believe it practicable, and trust that I may be allowed to participate in the struggle which may restore the character, the prestige, and the country we have just lost.” Bragg then left the army and headed to Richmond to await further orders. Despite Bragg’s questionable record as military commander, Davis would soon find a new job for him in the administration.

Meanwhile, since Hardee made it clear that he would only lead the Army of Tennessee on an interim basis, Davis had to hurry to find a permanent commander. The list of generals to choose from was very short, even if he did not rule out those he personally disliked. The day after Hardee took over, Davis wrote General Robert E. Lee in northern Virginia. He explained the situation and asked, “Could you consistently go to Dalton, as heretofore explained?”

Davis had asked Lee to head the Army of Tennessee in September, and Lee demurred. Now Lee did so again, not wanting to leave his Army of Northern Virginia. He answered, “I can if desired, but of the expediency of the measure you can judge better than I can. Unless it is intended that I should take permanent command, I can see no good that will result, even if in that event any could be accomplished. I also fear that I would not receive cordial co-operation.”

Lee explained that if he left, he would have to turn his army over to Lieutenant General Richard Ewell, who was “too feeble to undergo the fatigue and labor incident to the position.” Lee then warned Davis that the Federals sought to invade Georgia “and get possession of our depots of provisions and important manufactories.” He proposed giving General P.G.T. Beauregard (currently heading the Charleston defenses) command of the army and reinforcing it with troops from Mississippi, Mobile, and Charleston. Lee added:

“I think that every effort should be made to concentrate as large a force as possible, under the best commander, to insure the discomfiture of (Ulysses S.) Grant’s army. To do this and gain the great advantage that would accrue from it, the safety of points practically less important than those endangered by his army must be hazarded. Upon the defence of the country threatened by General Grant depends the safety of the points now held by us on the Atlantic, and they are in as great danger from his successful advance as by the attacks to which they are at present directly subjected.”

However, Davis loathed Beauregard and would not consider giving him command of the Army of Tennessee. Davis also would not consider the highest-ranking general in the Confederacy, Adjutant General Samuel Cooper, because he had performed administrative duties throughout the war and was too old for field command. This left just one viable option, and to Davis’s dismay, it was someone who had been hostile toward him almost since the war began.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 349-50; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 868-69, 878; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 380; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6544-57; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 441-43

The Dedication of Gettysburg National Cemetery

November 19, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln made a “few appropriate remarks” during the dedication of the new Gettysburg National Cemetery.

Lincoln left the home of event organizer David Wills, where he had spent the night, at 10 a.m. He wore a black suit, black stovepipe hat, and white gauntlets. He rode on horseback to the procession gathering at the town square; some remarked that the horse was too small for him. The procession included six governors and many other statesmen, military officers, ambassadors, politicians, and public figures. The grand marshal was Lincoln’s friend and bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon.

The procession participants slowly marched to the new cemetery, less than a mile away. Somewhere between 6 and 9,000 people formed a semicircle around a platform to witness the ceremony. Local merchants sold food, battle artifacts, and flowers. Lincoln chatted with the other dignitaries on the platform as they waited for keynote speaker Edward Everett to appear.

Upon Everett’s arrival, the ceremony began with a song played by Birgfeld’s Band of Philadelphia. Reverend Thomas Stockton, chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, said a prayer in which he accused the Confederacy of being “prepared to cast a chain of Slavery around the form of Freedom, binding life and death together forever.” Stockton said that the Confederate victory on the first day at Gettysburg “was the mockery of God and man.”

After a song by the Marine Band, Everett rose and delivered a two-hour account of the battle. A correspondent noted:

“The brave old statesman seemed imbued with the genius of oratory. His voice was clear, satisfying, every note in tune, no signs of age. He never hesitated for a word, and as his oration was historical, and argumentative, with no special flights of eloquence, showed a marvelous memory.”

Everett concluded by proclaiming that “there will be no brighter page than that which relates the Battles of Gettysburg.”

Benjamin B. French, the Commissioner of Public Buildings who oversaw the redecoration of the White House when the Lincolns moved in, sang a hymn he had written for the event. Someone reported that “the music ran on a bit.” Lamon then introduced the president.

Lincoln rose from his seat in the front row, “the large, bundled up figure untwisting and adjusting itself into reasonable conditions.” He “slowly adjusted his glasses, and took from his pocket what seemed to be a page of ordinary foolscap paper, quietly unfolded it, looked for the place, and began to read.”

Lincoln delivering his address | Image Credit: etcjournal.com

Lincoln’s speech was less than two minutes long and contained just 272 words. He focused not on the specific battle, but instead on the war’s overall significance. He described the change in the war’s purpose from merely preserving the Union to preserving freedom for all Americans. Invoking the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln touched upon principles of equality and spoke of “a new birth of freedom.”

Because of the speech’s “almost shocking brevity,” many people held back their applause, thinking that more was coming. Photographers did not have time to capture the moment on film. Lincoln believed his address was a “flat failure.” After the ceremony, he dined at the home of David Wills, held an unscheduled reception, attended a patriotic gathering at the Presbyterian church, and finally left Gettysburg at 6:30 p.m. He returned to Washington around midnight, ailing from a mild form of smallpox.

Opposition newspapers skewered the president’s address. Wilbur F. Storey of the Chicago Times wrote, “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.”

Storey called the address “a perversion of history so flagrant that the most extended charity cannot regard it as otherwise than willful.” He added that the soldiers fought at Gettysburg “to uphold this constitution, and the Union created by it,” not to “dedicate the nation to ‘the proposition that all men are created equal.’”

The New York World pointed out that “this United States” was not created by the Declaration of Independence, but was “the result of the ratification of a compact known as the Constitution,” which offered no promise of social equality. Others argued that Lincoln hypocritically stressed a belief in government “of the people, by the people and for the people” while waging a war to deny those rights to the Confederacy.

However, the Republican press reacted favorably to Lincoln’s speech. The Chicago Tribune stated, “The dedicatory remarks by President Lincoln will live among the annals of man.” John W. Forney wrote in the Washington Chronicle that the speech, “though short, glittered with gems, evincing the gentleness and goodness of heart peculiar to him.”

According to the Providence Journal, “We know not where to look for a more admirable speech than the brief one which the President made…(could) the most elaborate and splendid oration be more beautiful, more touching, more inspiring, than those thrilling words of the President?”

The Springfield Republican of Massachusetts called the “little speech… deep in feeling, compact in thought and expression, and tasteful and elegant in every word and comma.” George W. Curtis of Harper’s Weekly wrote, “The few words of the President were from the heart to the heart… as simple and felicitous and earnest a word as was ever spoken.”

The day after the ceremony, Lincoln received a message from Everett: “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.” Over time, the Gettysburg Address would become one of the most celebrated speeches delivered by an American statesman.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 76; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 343; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9793-805, 9827, 9849-71, 9882-906; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 830-33; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 373-74; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 583; Hoffsommer, Robert D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 307; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 435; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 262; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q463

Lincoln Travels to Gettysburg

November 18, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln boarded a special train to attend the dedication of the new Gettysburg National Cemetery.

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

By the morning of the 18th, Lincoln had contracted varioloid, or a mild smallpox, and his son Tad was very ill. But the president refused to cancel his trip. First Lady Mary Lincoln, having lost two young sons already, became hysterical at the prospect of losing a third while her husband was away.

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton had scheduled a special train to take Lincoln to the ceremony and bring him back to Washington on the day of the event, but Lincoln told him, “I do not like this arrangement. I do not wish to so go that by the slightest accident we fail entirely; and, at the best, the whole to be a mere breathless running of the gauntlet. But any way.”

Stanton instead booked a special four-car train to leave Washington at noon on the 18th, the day before the ceremony. Lincoln left with his three most conservative cabinet members–Secretary of State William H. Seward, Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, and Interior Secretary John P. Usher. Other travelers included Lincoln’s secretaries John Nicolay and John Hay, Lincoln’s black manservant William Johnson, Lincoln’s friend and bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon, and Benjamin B. French, who had written a hymn for the event. Military officers, foreign dignitaries, newspaper correspondents, the Marine Band, and the Invalid Corps also joined the presidential party.

The train stopped at Baltimore, where it had to be pulled by horses from Camden Station to Bolton Station. It then continued to Hanover Junction, Pennsylvania, where Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin boarded. During a brief stop at Hanover, Lincoln posed for a photo by Mathew Brady and addressed a gathering crowd:

“Well, you had the rebels here last summer. Did you fight them any? I trust when the enemy was here, the citizens of Hanover were loyal to our country and the stars and stripes. If you are not all true patriots in support of the union, you should be.”

As the train was about to leave, Lincoln said, “Well, you have seen me, and, according to general experience, you have seen less than you expected to see.” The train reached Gettysburg around 6 p.m., where it was greeted by event organizer and local attorney David Wills, and keynote speaker Edward Everett. They handed Lincoln an encouraging telegram from Stanton: “Mrs. Lincoln informed me that your son is better this evening.” Lincoln went with them to Wills’s mansion, where they would be spending the night.

The town was crowded with visitors fueled by patriotic enthusiasm. Word quickly spread that Lincoln and other Washington luminaries were in town, and people soon gathered to serenade the president, joined by the 5th New York Artillery Band. When they called on Lincoln to give a speech, he came out and said:

“I appear before you, fellow-citizens, merely to thank you for this compliment. The inference is a very fair one that you would hear me for a little while at least, were I to commence to make a speech. I do not appear before you for the purpose of doing so, and for several substantial reasons. The most substantial of these is that I have no speech to make. In my position it is somewhat important that I should not say any foolish things.”

A man shouted, “If you can help it!” Lincoln continued, “It very often happens that the only way to help it is to say nothing at all. Believing that is my present condition this evening, I must beg of you to excuse me from addressing you further.”

The group then moved on to Seward, who came out and obliged them with a speech. Seward lauded the United States as “the richest, the broadest, the most beautiful, the most magnificent, and capable of a great destiny, that has ever been given to any part of the human race.”

Some time that night, Lincoln finished writing the address he would deliver the next day.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 342-43; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9827-49; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 830; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 373; Hoffsommer, Robert D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 307; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 434-35

Gettysburg National Cemetery: Lincoln’s Invitation

November 2, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln received an invitation to make a “few appropriate remarks” at the dedication of the new Gettysburg National Cemetery.

Following the Battle of Gettysburg in July, Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin had directed Gettysburg attorney David Wills to purchase 17 acres of the battlefield to create a burial site for the fallen Federal soldiers. The land was adjacent to the Evergreen Cemetery already on Cemetery Hill. Wills hired landscape artist William Saunders, who designed the cemetery so that each state had its own section, and each section led to the center point. Wills informed Curtin:

“… it would be showing only a proper respect for the health of this community not to commence the exhuming of the dead, and the removal to the Cemetery, until the month of November; and in the meantime the grounds should be artistically laid out, and consecrated by appropriate ceremonies.”

Officials were still transferring the 3,500 fallen soldiers to their final resting places when they scheduled a dedication for this new national cemetery for October 23. Wills wrote Edward Everett, a nationally recognized orator and a former Harvard College president, Massachusetts governor, U.S. senator, foreign ambassador, and secretary of state:

“The burial ground will be consecrated to this sacred and holy purpose on Thursday, the 23rd day of October next, with appropriate ceremonies, and the several States interested, have united in the selection of you to deliver the oration on that solemn occasion.”

Everett accepted, but he wrote, “It is, however wholly out of my power to make the requisite preparation by the 23rd of October”; he doubted that “during the whole month of October, I shall have a day at my command.” Factoring in speech preparation and travel time, “I cannot safely name an earlier time than the 19th of November.” Due to Everett’s fame, Wills accommodated his schedule and changed the ceremony date to the 19th.

As officials transferred the bodies to the new grounds, Wills and the organizing committee worked to enlist others to participate, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, and William Cullen Bryant. Some committee members pushed for inviting Lincoln to the ceremony, while others questioned “his ability to speak upon such a grave and solemn occasion.” They finally agreed to invite the president less than three weeks before the event, in a letter that Wills wrote:

“It is the desire that, after the Oration, you, as Chief Executive of the Nation, formally set apart these grounds to their Sacred use by a few appropriate remarks. It will be a source of great gratification to the many widows and orphans that have been made almost friendless by the Great Battle here, to have you here personally; and it will kindle anew in the breasts of the Comrades of these brave dead, who are now in the tented field or nobly meeting the foe in the front, a confidence that they who sleep in death on the Battle Field are not forgotten by those highest in Authority; and they will feel that, should their fate be the same, their remains will not be uncared for.”

Wills attached a personal letter to the formal invitation:

“As the Hotels in our town will be crowded and in confusion at the time referred to in the enclosed invitation, I write to invite you to stop with me. I hope you will feel it your duty to lay aside pressing business for a day to come on here to perform this last sad rite to our brave soldier dead on the 19th instant.”

The committee chose Ward Hill Lamon, Lincoln’s close friend and bodyguard, to be the grand marshal of the ceremony procession, largely to entice Lincoln into attending. Despite the short notice, Lincoln accepted both invitations.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 338, 342; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9771-82; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 827; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 367; Hoffsommer, Robert D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 307; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 429