Category Archives: Politics

Lincoln Visits Richmond

April 4, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln visited the former Confederate capital of Richmond the day after its fall.

Rear Adm D.D. Porter | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Rear Admiral David D. Porter, commanding the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, arranged for Lincoln to go to Richmond via the James River. The party traveled aboard Porter’s flagship U.S.S. Malvern, accompanied by the gunboat U.S.S. Bat. There were too many torpedoes and obstructions in the river past Chaffin’s Bluff, so the party finished their journey to Rockett’s Wharf on a small barge.

The party landed near the former Federal prisoner of war camp at Libby Prison. Lincoln came ashore with his son Tad, White House guard William H. Crook, and Porter, who assigned 10 of the barge’s oarsmen to serve as presidential bodyguards. Porter then spotted a Federal cavalryman and sent him to arrange an escort. In the meantime, Lincoln began walking into town. Black residents quickly caught sight of the president and flocked to him. According to Crook:

“The shore for some distance before we reached Richmond was black with negroes… They were wild with excitement and yelling like so many wild men: ‘There comes Massa Lincoln, the Savior of the land–we is so glad to see him!’… By the time we were on shore hundreds of black hands were outstretched to the President, and he shook some of them and thanked the darkies for their welcome.”

Porter later wrote:

“Four minutes had passed since the party had landed in apparently deserted streets; but, now that the hymn was sung, the streets seemed to be suddenly alive with the colored race, the crowd around the President became very oppressive, and it was necessary to order the boat’s crew to fix bayonets and surround him to keep him from being crushed. The negroes, in their ecstasy, could not be made to understand that they were detaining the President, and would not feel that they were free unless they heard it from his own lips.”

President Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

The jubilant blacks cheered, prayed, and wept with joy as they tried touching Lincoln. One woman cried, “I know I am free, for I have seen Father Abraham and felt him.” Others shouted, “Glory to God! Bless the Lord! Glory, Hallelujah!” When some kneeled before him, Lincoln told them, “Don’t kneel to me. That is not right. You must kneel to God only, and thank Him for the liberty you will enjoy hereafter.”

The party continued on into the former Confederate capital, which still smoldered from the raging fires. Porter recalled, “Passing the Libby Prison, the President paused for a moment to look at the place where so many Union soldiers had dragged out a dreadful existence. ‘We will pull it down!’ shouted the crowd of poor whites and negroes. ‘No,’ said the President, ‘leave it as a monument.’”

Lincoln walked about two miles under the eyes of disheartened residents until he reached the former Confederate White House. It had been the home of Jefferson Davis 40 hours before, but it was now Federal headquarters, with Major General Godfrey Weitzel commanding. Lincoln took a tour of the residence, with journalist Charles Coffin writing of the scene:

“The procession reached Weitzel’s head-quarters–the mansion from which Jefferson Davis had taken his quick departure the previous Sunday.

“President Lincoln wearily ascended the steps, and by chance dropped into the very chair usually occupied by Mr. Davis when at his writing-table.

“Such was the entrance of the Chief of the Republic into the capital of the late Confederacy. There was no sign of exultation, no elation of spirit, but, on the contrary, a look of unutterable weariness, as if his spirit, energy and animating force were wholly exhausted.”

Spectators outside the mansion cheered when Lincoln came out. The president joined General Weitzel on a tour of the ruined city in an open carriage, escorted by Federal cavalry. They passed St. Paul’s Church and visited the Capitol, where Confederate congressmen had overturned desks and scattered documents before fleeing. The party moved through the upper and working-class neighborhoods before stopping at Libby Prison. According to one of Weitzel’s aides, Thomas T. Graves:

“I accompanied President Lincoln and General Weitzel to Libby prison and Castle Thunder, and heard General Weitzel ask the President what he should do in regard to the conquered people. President Lincoln replied that he did not wish to give any orders on that subject, but, as he expressed it, ‘If I were in your place I’d let ‘em up easy, let ‘em up easy.’”

Lincoln would next turn his attention to restoring Virginia to the Union. To do this, he enlisted the help of a prominent former Confederate statesman.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 54-55; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 554; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 12308-19; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 18805-74, 18913-43; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 577; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 718; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 108-10, 164-71; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 666-67; McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1981), p. 215; 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. 846; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 369; 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), Loc Q265

The City Point Conference

March 27, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln met with his top commanders to discuss plans for what they hoped would be the last campaign of the war.

Major General William T. Sherman, commanding all Federals armies in the West, and Rear Admiral David D. Porter, commanding the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, met at the headquarters of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal army commander, at City Point, Virginia. Sherman left Major General John Schofield in charge of the Federals in North Carolina, announcing before he boarded the steamer Russia: “I’m going up to see Grant for five minutes and have it all chalked out for me, and then come back and pitch in.”

Grant met his old friend Sherman at the gangplank as the Russia docked. The generals embraced, having not seen each other since their respective campaigns in Virginia and Georgia had begun last April. Colonel Horace Porter of Grant’s staff recalled: “Their encounter was more like that of two school-boys coming together after a vacation than the meeting of the chief actors in a great war tragedy.” Sherman later wrote:

“I found General Grant, with his family and staff, occupying a pretty group of huts on the bank of James River, overlooking the harbor, which was full of vessels of all classes, both war and merchant, with wharves and warehouses on an extensive scale. The general received me most heartily, and we talked over matters very fully.”

After Sherman shared stories about his campaign through the Carolinas, the commanders boarded the steamer River Queen to meet with President Lincoln, whom Grant had invited down from Washington. This marked the first meeting between the president and his top commanders. Lincoln went with Grant and Sherman to Grant’s tent, where they sat on cracker barrels and shared stories. Mrs. Grant admonished her husband and Sherman for not calling on Mrs. Lincoln while they were aboard the River Queen. The next day, the generals called upon the first lady but were told that she was not feeling well and would not see them.

Meeting aboard the River Queen | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Lincoln met with Grant, Sherman, and Porter in the upper saloon of the River Queen to discuss serious business on the 28th. According to Sherman, “Both General Grant and myself supposed that one or the other of us would have to fight one more bloody battle, and that it would be the last. Mr. Lincoln exclaimed, more than once, that there had been blood enough shed, and asked us if another battle could not be avoided.” He also hoped that it would end before the next Congress assembled in December because it was dominated by Radical Republicans who wanted to punish the South, while Lincoln wanted no more resentment on either side.

The president worried that the Confederates might resort to guerrilla warfare. He also expressed fear that while Sherman was away from his army, General Joseph E. Johnston might “have gone south with those veterans of his, and will keep the war going indefinitely.” But as Sherman later wrote: “I explained to him that that army was snug and comfortable, in good camps, at Goldsboro; that it would require some days to collect forage and food for another march; and that General Schofield was fully competent to command it in my absence.”

The president did not ask the commanders for specifics regarding their upcoming plans. His top priority was to end the war as quickly and with as little loss of further life as possible. This meant getting “the deluded men of the rebel armies disarmed and back to their homes.” Lincoln said:

“Let them once surrender and reach their homes, they won’t take up arms again. Let them go, officers and all. I want submission and no more bloodshed… I want no one punished, treat them liberally all around. We want those people to return to their allegiance to the Union and submit to the laws.”

As soon as the fighting ended, southerners “would at once be guaranteed all their rights” as citizens of the U.S. Sherman recalled:

“During this interview I inquired of the President if he was all ready for the end of the war. What was to be done with the rebel armies when defeated? And what should be done with the political leaders, such as Jeff. Davis, etc.? Should we allow them to escape, etc.? He said he was all ready; all he wanted of us was to defeat the opposing armies, and to get the men composing the Confederate armies back to their homes, at work on their farms and in their shops. As to Jeff. Davis, he was hardly at liberty to speak his mind fully, but intimated that he ought to clear out, ‘escape the country,’ only it would not do for him to say so openly.”

Sherman later asserted that Lincoln had authorized him to work with Governor Zebulon Vance and the legislature to restore order in North Carolina, “and that to avoid anarchy the State governments then in existence, with their civil functionaries, would be recognized by him as the government de facto till Congress could provide others.” However, this conflicted with Lincoln’s directive to Grant earlier this month in which Grant was only authorized to handle military affairs while all political issues would be handled by the president himself.

This meeting set the tone for how the Federal commanders would handle the Confederates in upcoming engagements. Lincoln’s relationship with these commanders stood in stark contrast to those who had led Federal forces in the past. Noting this, Lincoln asked, “Sherman, do you know why I took a shine to Grant and you?” When Sherman confessed that he did not, Lincoln said, “Well, you never found fault with me.”

Colonel Porter later wrote: “My opinion is that Mr. Lincoln came down to City Point with the most liberal views toward the rebels. He felt confident that we would be successful, and was willing that the enemy should capitulate on the most favorable terms.”

Sherman wrote of Lincoln:

“I know, when I left him, that I was more than ever impressed by his kindly nature, his deep and earnest sympathy with the afflictions of the whole people, resulting from the war, and by the march of hostile armies through the South; and that his earnest desire seemed to be to end the war speedily, without more bloodshed or devastation, and to restore all the men of both sections to their homes.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 213-14; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 592; Catton, Bruce, The Army of the Potomac: A Stillness at Appomattox (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1953), p. 340-41; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 437-39; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22901; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 551; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 12261; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 17539-49; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 571; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 712-13; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 76-77; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 658-59; McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1981), p. 212-13; Sherman, William T., Memoirs of General William T. Sherman, Vol. I (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1889, Kindle Edition), Loc 12023-41

The Lincolns Leave Washington

March 23, 1865 – The Lincoln family boarded a steamboat to visit Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant and the Federal armies laying siege to Petersburg and Richmond.

President Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Grant’s wife Julia had read newspaper accounts about Lincoln’s exhaustion and urged her husband to invite the president to army headquarters at City Point to get him away from Washington. Congressman Elihu B. Washburne, Grant’s political benefactor who was visiting headquarters at the time, suggested it as well.

When Grant said that the president had the right to visit any time he wanted, a staffer explained that Lincoln did not want to interfere with military affairs and would not come unless invited. Thus, Grant sent Lincoln a telegram: “Can you not visit City Point for a day or two? I would like very much to see you, and I think the rest would do you good.”

Lincoln quickly answered: “Your kind invitation received. Had already thought of going immediately after the next rain. Will go sooner if any reason for it. Mrs. L and a few others will probably accompany me. Will notify you of exact time, once it shall be fixed upon.”

Lincoln had initially planned to make the trip himself to get away from the politicians and office-seekers and get some much needed rest. The commandant of the Washington Navy Yard was instructed to prepare the dispatch steamer U.S.S. Bat to take him down Chesapeake Bay to City Point. But First Lady Mary Lincoln insisted on going as well to see their son Robert, who was serving on Grant’s staff. Officials therefore exchanged the Bat with the more luxurious steamer U.S.S. River Queen.

The Lincolns left Washington’s Arsenal Wharf at Sixth Street on the 23rd. Their party included son Tad, Mrs. Lincoln’s maid, White House bodyguard William H. Crook, and a second bodyguard, Captain Charles Penrose, sent by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. Despite a heavy storm, the River Queen started down the Potomac and arrived at City Point the following night. Robert Lincoln reported to Grant that his family had arrived.

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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. 517; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 424, 434; Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 53-54; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 549-50; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 12195-206; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 17101-21, 17549-59; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 569; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 707-08; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 656-57; McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1981), p. 211; 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), Q165

The Deteriorating State of the Confederacy

March 13, 1865 – President Jefferson Davis submitted a contentious message to the Confederate Congress as a growing sense of defeat spread throughout the South.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

While Confederate officials became more vocal in their belief that independence could not be attained, Davis refused to publicly acknowledge such a possibility. His continued resistance was reflected in a letter he wrote to influential Virginian Willoughby Newton:

“In spite of the timidity and faithlessness of many who should give tone to the popular feeling and hope to the popular heart, I am satisfied that it is in the power of the good men and true patriots of the country to reanimate the wearied spirit of our people. The incredible sacrifices made by them in the cause will be surpassed by what they are still willing to endure in preference to abject submission, if they are not deserted by their leaders… I expect the hour of deliverance.”

But the future seemed increasingly bleak for Davis. In early March, he received a message from General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Trans-Mississippi Department, in which Smith noted that he was under heavy criticism from the southern press for failing to send troops east to stop the Federal surge. Smith asked Davis to relieve him of command, but while Davis agreed with some of the criticism, he refused to fire Smith.

Davis then turned to Congress, which he believed was not doing enough to sustain the war effort. The members were scheduled to adjourn in mid-March, but Davis urged them to stay on in special session to consider “further and more energetic legislation.” He then accused the senators and congressmen of inaction in the face of emergency.

He requested the modification of laws governing impressments and raising revenue, as well as military recruiting. Specifically, Davis wanted all class exemptions removed from the Conscription Act, a new militia law to strengthen local defenses, and the same power that President Abraham Lincoln had to suspend the writ of habeas corpus.

Congress responded by approving legislation allowing for the recruitment of black men into the military, which Davis signed into law. Members also revised the impressment law of March 6, 1863, by forbidding the Confederate government from taking breeding livestock from private farms. However, the members did not act upon any of the president’s other recommendations. Instead they issued a response to Davis’s message, which read in part:

“Nothing is more desirable then concord and cordial cooperation between all departments of Government. Hence your committee regret that the Executive deemed it necessary to transmit to Congress a message so well calculated to excite discord and dissension…”

The members approved a new national flag, which was a modified Stainless Banner, and they voted to give official thanks to Lieutenant General Wade Hampton for his defense of Richmond. Then they adjourned. Many senators and congressmen deeply resented Davis’s charges of obstructionism.

General Joseph E. Johnston, a longtime Davis opponent, wrote to his friend and fellow Davis opponent, Senator Louis T. Wigfall of Texas, in response to Wigfall’s assertion that Davis was in intense anguish over the state of the Confederacy. Johnston wrote, “I have a most unchristian satisfaction in what you say of the state of mind of the leading occupants of the Presidential Mansion. For me, it is very sufficient revenge.”

Near month’s end, when the future appeared even bleaker than when the month began, Davis told a friend, “Faction has done much to cloud our prospects and impair my power to serve the country.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 262-63; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 17256-66; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 563, 567, 572; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 646-49, 651-54; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 473; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 751; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 379; 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), Q165

Confederate Slave Recruitment

March 13, 1865 – Confederate President Jefferson Davis signed a bill into law authorizing the recruitment of slaves into the Confederate armies.

The bill had passed the Confederate House of Representatives last month but was defeated in the Senate by one vote. Both Virginia senators voted against the bill. The Virginia legislature then passed its own black military recruitment bill (without offering freedom to slaves who enlisted) and directed its senators to push a re-vote. In the re-vote on the 8th, the bill narrowly passed, 9 to 8. Several senators abstained.

Two days later, General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee requested that Davis approve the measure as soon as Congress reconciled the final version, stating, “I attach great importance to the result of the first experiment with these troops…”

The law, officially titled “A Bill to Increase the Military Forces of the Confederate States,” contained five sections:

  1. The President be and is hereby authorized to ask for and accept from the owners of slaves the services of such number of able bodied negro men as he may deem expedient for and during the war, to perform military service in whatever capacity he may direct.
  2. That the General-in-Chief be authorized to organize the said slaves into companies, battalions, regiments, and brigades, under such rules and regulations as the Secretary of War may prescribe, and to be commanded by such officers as the President may appoint.
  3. That while employed in the service the said troops shall receive the same rations, clothing, and compensation as are allowed to other troops in the same branch of the service.
  4. That if, under the previous section of this act, the President shall not be able to raise a sufficient number of troops to prosecute the war successfully and maintain the sovereignty of the States and the independence of the Confederate States, then he is hereby authorized to call on each State, whenever he thinks it expedient, for her quota of 300,000 troops in addition to those subject to military service under existing laws, or so many thereof as the President may deem necessary to be raised from such classes of the population, irrespective of color, in each State, as the proper authorities thereof may determine. Provided, that not more than 25 per cent of the male slaves between the ages of 18 and 45 in any State shall be called for under the provisions of this act.
  5. That nothing in this act shall be construed to authorize a change in the relation which the said slaves shall bear toward their owners, except by the consent of their owners and of the states in which they may reside, and in pursuance of the laws thereof.

Adhering to the Confederate Constitution’s protection of states’ rights, Congress deferred to slaveholders and their state legislatures to decide whether to offer freedom to slaves for their service. This fell far short of what Major General Patrick R. Cleburne had proposed in January 1864, and it disappointed both Lee and Davis, who felt that any slave who fought for the Confederate cause should be automatically freed. Moreover, slaves would not be given the choice to volunteer; rather, their owners would hand them over upon request for mandatory service.

Despite these provisions, most officials acknowledged that freedom would most likely be granted to all who served, and therefore Davis ultimately approved the measure. In granting his endorsement, Davis took the opportunity to criticize Congress for taking so long to act on this matter. Davis then wrote to Lee:

“I am in receipt of your favor in regard to the bill for putting negroes in the army. The bill was received from the Congress to-day and was immediately signed. I shall be pleased to receive such suggestions from you as will aid me in carrying out the law, and I trust you will endeavor in every available mode to give promptitude to the requisite action.”

It remained unknown whether slaveholders would be willing to send their slaves into combat. It was also unknown whether slaves would be willing combatants. According to an article in a black newspaper:

“Secret associations were at once organized in Richmond, which rapidly spread throughout Virginia… it was decided with great unanimity, and finally ratified by all the auxiliary associations everywhere, that black men should promptly respond to the call of the Rebel chiefs, whenever it should be made, for them to take up arms… if they were placed in front as soon as the battle began the Negroes were to raise a shout about Abraham Lincoln and the Union, and, satisfied there would be plenty of supports from the Federal force, they were to turn like uncaged tigers upon the rebel hordes. Should they be placed in the rear, it was also understood, that as soon as firing began, they were to charge furiously upon the chivalry, which would place them between two fires; which would disastrously defeat the army of Lee, if not accomplish its entire annihilation.”

Within a week, a new battalion of white hospital convalescents and black hospital orderlies marched to Richmond’s Capitol Square to the strains of “Dixie” and began drilling. Confederate officials did not intend for these troops to see combat, but only to encourage other slaves to join the cause. However, as Davis noted, Congress had waited too long to enact the measure for it to help the Confederate war effort, as few slaves joined the Confederate armies before the war ended. A further measure authorizing the recruitment of teenagers and the elderly also accomplished little.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 208; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 545-46; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 18003-23; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 563, 565; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 20; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 648-50; 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. 836-37; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 473; Robertson, Jr., James I., Tenting Tonight: The Soldier’s Life (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 35; SonOfTheSouth.net; 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), Q165; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 363

The Second Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln

March 4, 1865 – Abraham Lincoln began a second term as U.S. president in Washington, D.C.

Much had changed since Lincoln’s first inaugural just four years ago. Lincoln had begun his presidency when the country was on the brink of war, and now he was beginning his second term when the country was on the brink of peace. As part of the ceremony, Lincoln left the White House escorted by military bands and a cavalry guard. They rode to the Capitol, where the new dome had been under construction in 1861. It was now finally completed.

The ceremony began in the Senate chamber, where Andrew Johnson replaced Hannibal Hamlin as vice president. Notable attendees included Major General Joseph Hooker (representing the army), Rear Admiral David G. Farragut (representing the navy), the governors of most northern states, Lincoln’s cabinet members, and the nine Supreme Court justices. Lincoln sat in front between the justices and the cabinet.

Hamlin began by delivering a farewell speech. He was followed by Johnson, who delivered a rambling, barely coherent inaugural address; he had taken whiskey to relieve his typhoid fever and the room was overheated. Johnson repeatedly cited his poor upbringing and reminded the stunned audience that they too were “creatures of the people.” Hamlin pulled on Johnson’s coattails but could not stop him.

The officials then proceeded to the east portico of the Capitol for the presidential inaugural ceremony at 12 p.m. An estimated 50,000 people gathered to witness the proceedings, an unexpectedly large number considering that it was a rainy and dismal day. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton placed sharpshooters at every window and rooftop for safety. Guests invited to attend the ceremony included famous actor John Wilkes Booth, who had an excellent view of the podium where Lincoln would speak. The sun appeared between the clouds as the president began.

Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inauguration | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Lincoln’s address, the shortest since George Washington’s second inaugural in 1793, lasted less than five minutes and contained just 703 words on a single sheet of paper. Lincoln did not discuss future policies; he instead focused on restoring the Union, blaming the southern states for starting the war, and expressing his belief that the war had been God’s punishment for the sin of slavery.

When the speech concluded, U.S. Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase summoned the Court clerk to present the open-faced Bible. Lincoln placed his hand on top, and Chase administered the oath of office. The crowd cheered, cannons fired a salute, and bands played as the ceremony ended. Lincoln returned to the White House with his 10 year-old son Tad, no longer feeling the need to use the security escort that had surrounded him during his first inaugural.

Lincoln takes the oath of office | Image Credit: Harper’s Weekly, Vol. IX, No. 429, 18 Mar 1865

The White House gates opened to the public for a three-hour reception at 8 p.m., which became one of the largest gatherings ever held in the Executive Mansion. Lincoln greeted an estimated 6,000 people, with some cutting fabric from the expensive draperies for souvenirs. When Lincoln learned that White House guards had barred civil rights leader Frederick Douglass from participating, he ordered them to escort Douglass into the East Room where Lincoln could meet him.

The Inaugural Ball took place two nights later at the Patent Office building. Tickets cost $10 per person and were sold to 4,000 guests, with the proceeds going to aid the families of fallen military personnel. The midnight supper included beef, veal, poultry, oysters, salads, jellies, cakes, chocolate, and coffee.

Once Lincoln settled back down to business after the inaugural festivities, his cabinet underwent some changes. William P. Fessenden resigned as treasury secretary to reclaim his seat in the U.S. Senate. Lincoln tried to replace him with New York Senator Edwin D. Morgan, but Morgan declined, so Lincoln then picked Hugh McCulloch of Indiana. McCulloch was the current comptroller of the currency with good experience in the Treasury.

Interior Secretary John P. Usher then resigned, citing the tradition that a president should not have more than one man from the same state in his cabinet (McCulloch and Usher were both Indianans). Lincoln, who did not think highly of Usher, quickly accepted his resignation and replaced him with Senator John Harlan of Iowa. Harlan had been one of Lincoln’s strongest supporters in Congress, and Harlan’s daughter was engaged to the Lincolns’ son Robert.

These changes, combined with the inauguration process and the stress of wartime, pushed Lincoln to the brink of exhaustion. He was bedridden for several days, which led many to question whether he would remain healthy enough to serve four more years.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 214; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 42-45; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 542, 545; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11729-40, 12126; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 16952-92, 17022-43, 17062-82; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 562-63; Gates, Arnold, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 441; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 697-99; Kauffman, Michael W., American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies (New York: Random House, 2004); Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 647-49; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 16; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 360-61; 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), Q165

The Freedmen’s Bureau

March 3, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill into law establishing the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, which became known as the Freedmen’s Bureau.

By this time, it was clear that both the war and slavery would soon end, and a government program would be needed to help transition slaves to freedom. The bill creating such a program was based on the findings of the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission, which had been formed by the War Department in 1863.

The bill’s passage had been delayed by debate over whether the program belonged under the War or Treasury Department. The Radical Republicans who dominated Congress wanted the Bureau under the Treasury Department because it was headed by their close ally, Salmon P. Chase. But after Chase resigned last June, the Radicals agreed to place it under the War Department. Major General Oliver O. Howard, currently commanding the Army of the Tennessee under William T. Sherman, later became head of the new agency.

The Freedmen’s Bureau consolidated the efforts of many local organizations in becoming the first social welfare agency in U.S. history. Bureau agents were authorized to take “control of all subjects relating to refugees and freedmen from rebel States.” This included providing temporary food, clothing, and shelter to over four million former slaves with no jobs, money, homes, or education. To avoid accusations of granting preferential treatment to blacks, the Bureau offered aid to poor southern whites as well (but few accepted). Bureau agents also adjudicated disputes between blacks and whites since blacks could not testify against whites in most American courts.

A Freedmen’s Bureau School | Image Credit: LatinAmericanStudies.org

Agents were empowered to seize some 800,000 acres of “abandoned” or confiscated land in the Confederacy, border states, the District of Columbia, and the Indian Territory. From this land, former slaves would “be assigned not more than forty acres” to rent for three years, after which time they could buy the land if desired, with “such title thereto as the United States can convey.” This caused a constitutional problem because Congress had no power to grant bills of attainder, while the president had powers to pardon former Confederates and return their property.

Radicals strongly supported the confiscation and redistribution of Confederate property as punishment for secession. Radical Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, the Bureau law’s sponsor, sought to make the agency a permanent cabinet post, but Congress instead gave it a one-year term, starting at war’s end.

Southern whites resented Bureau agents because many acted for political rather than humanitarian purposes. Since most agents were Republicans, they worked to ensure that freed slaves also became Republicans in a region where white Democrats comprised the majority of property owners and taxpayers. Even some free blacks expressed concern about such unprecedented Federal control over life, liberty, and property; civil rights leader Frederick Douglass feared that government aid could “serve to keep up the very prejudices, which it is so desirable to banish” by granting blacks special treatment over whites.

Despite criticisms, the Bureau issued some 150,000 rations per day throughout the summer. It also helped set up thousands of elementary, industrial, and technical schools during its existence. But as for the Federal promise of “forty acres and a mule” to each freed slave family, only about 3,500 blacks in South Carolina and Georgia actually benefited from the redistribution.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 541-42; DiLorenzo, Thomas J., The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003), p. 209; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 290; Ferrell, Claudine, Reconstruction: Greenwood Guides to Historic Events 1500-1900 (Greenwood, 2003), p. 8; Foner, Eric, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (New York: HarperCollins, 1988), p. 68; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 561; FreedmensBureau.com; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 265; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 646-47; 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. 842; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 28; Napolitano, Andrew P., Dred Scott’s Revenge: A Legal History of Race and Freedom in America (Kindle Edition), p. 108