Category Archives: Politics

Grant Suspends Prisoner Exchange

April 1, 1864 – Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant issued “most emphatic” orders to take no action on agreeing to exchange prisoners of war without further notification. This initiated a grim new war policy.

On the last day of March, Robert Ould, Confederate commissioner of prisoner exchange, met with Major General Benjamin F. Butler, the Federal agent for prisoner exchange, at Fort Monroe, Virginia, to discuss ways to solve the problems with the exchange system.

A makeshift prisoner exchange cartel had been agreed upon in 1862, but it had virtually dissolved by the middle of 1863. The Federal victories at Vicksburg, Port Hudson, and other locations resulted in the capture of tens of thousands of Confederates, and instead of shipping them to northern prison camps, they were paroled on the promise that they would not take up arms against the U.S. again until properly exchanged for Federal prisoners.

Federal General U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikispaces.org

Grant was enraged when he discovered that many Confederates captured during the Battle of Chattanooga had violated their pledge and returned to the army without being exchanged. An effort was made to renew the cartel, but the Confederates initially refused to deal with Butler because the Confederate government had branded him a war criminal for his dictatorial rule over New Orleans in 1862.

The Confederates also refused to recognize black Federal soldiers as legitimate prisoners of war and would not exchange them. According to the Confederate War Bureau, “The enlistment of our slaves is a barbarity. No people… could tolerate… the use of savages (against them) … We cannot on any principle allow that our property can acquire adverse rights by virtue of a theft of it.”

In late 1863, the Confederates expressed willingness to negotiate the exchange of black prisoners who had been free before enlisting, but the Federal government refused to distinguish between free blacks and slaves in the military. Ould declared that the Confederates would “die in the last ditch” before “giving up the right to send slaves back to slavery as property recaptured.” Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton called this “a shameful dishonor… when (the Confederates) agree to exchange all alike there will be no difficulty.”

Four months later, Ould and Butler finally arranged to sit down together and try working out their differences. The men agreed that Butler would work with his superiors to address all the points of contention and then meet with Ould again.

However, when Butler conferred with Grant the next day, Butler said that “most emphatic verbal directions were received from the Lieutenant-General not to take any step by which another able-bodied man should be exchanged until further orders from him.”

On the 17th, Grant outlined a major policy change on the issue in a letter to Butler: “Until there is released to us an equal number of officers and men as were captured and paroled at Vicksburg and Port Hudson, not another Confederate prisoner of war will be paroled or exchanged.” Confederate officials had claimed that the troops had returned to the army prematurely due to a clerical error. Grant demanded proof, and he added another stipulation:

“No distinction whatever will be made in the exchange between white and colored prisoners, the only question being, were they, at the time of their capture, in the military service of the United States. If they were, the same terms as to treatment while prisoners and conditions of release and exchange must be exacted and had, in the case of colored soldiers as in the case of white soldiers.”

Grant further declared, “Non-acquiescence by the Confederate authorities in both or either of these propositions will be regarded as a refusal on their part to agree to the further exchange of prisoners, and will be so treated by us.” Grant elaborated on this policy in a second message to Butler the next day:

“It is hard on our men held in Southern prisons not to exchange them, but it is humanity to those left in the ranks to fight our battles. Every man we hold, when released on parole or otherwise, becomes an active soldier against us at once either directly or indirectly. If we commence a system of exchange which liberates all prisoners taken, we will have to fight on until the whole South is exterminated. If we hold those caught they amount to no more than dead men. At this particular time to release all rebel prisoners North would insure (William T.) Sherman’s defeat and would compromise our safety here.”

This new policy deprived the Confederacy of desperately needed manpower by keeping captured soldiers in prison camps. It also provided an incentive for soldiers to avoid being captured. However, the policy condemned thousands of Federal soldiers to death because the Confederacy lacked the necessities to care for its own citizens, let alone prisoners of war. The Federal blockade and growing occupation of southern regions added to the Confederate shortages and indirectly harmed the prisoners even more.

General Robert E. Lee tried to personally appeal to Grant to reconsider, but Grant refused. Lee reported to President Jefferson Davis, “We have done everything in our power to mitigate the suffering of prisoners and there is no further responsibility on our part.”

This month, it was reported that Federals had captured 146,634 Confederate troops since the war began. In response to alleged mistreatment of Federal prisoners, the Federal government decreased the ration allotment to Confederate captives. On the 30th, Grant directed Butler “to receive all the sick and wounded the Confederate authorities may send you, but send no more in exchange.”

In the South, Andersonville prison camp in southwestern Georgia soon became notorious for its horrid living conditions. It held nearly 30,000 prisoners by this month, or nearly three times its capacity. Prison Commandant Henry Wirz received orders to set a “dead line” within 15 feet of the prison walls. Any prisoner crossing this line would be shot by guards.

Photographs of emaciated Federal troops recently released from Confederate prisons appeared in northern illustrated newspapers and sparked outrage. An article in the New York Times declared that this treatment should be expected from slaveholders “born to tyranny and reared to cruelty.” Both the Committee on the Conduct of the War and the U.S. Sanitary Commission published reports on the condition of Confederate prison camps based on accounts from released or escaped prisoners.

Stanton declared, “The enormity of the crime committed by the rebels cannot but fill with horror the civilized world… There appears to have been a deliberate system of savage and barbarous treatment.” However, Confederate prisoners languished in similar living conditions, even though the Federal government had the resources to provide better care.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21524, 21597; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 393; 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 2766-86; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 420, 422; Jaynes, Gregory, The Killing Ground: Wilderness to Cold Harbor (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 38; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 486; 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. 792, 797; Robbins, Peggy, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 604; 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), Q264

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The Charleston Riot

March 28, 1864 – Violence erupted between anti-war Democrats and Federal soldiers on furlough in Charleston, Illinois.

Illinois State Flag | Image Credit: All-Flags-World.com

Charleston had been politically divided since before the war, and the dueling Unionist and Copperhead newspapers in town worked to intensify the enmity on both sides. When men of the 54th Illinois came home, they forced local Judge Charles H. Constable to swear loyalty to the U.S. after Constable had ordered the release of Federal army deserters. Other suspected Copperheads were beaten or shot.

A traditional festival called “Court Day” took place on the 28th; this was the day that the circuit court (which included Judge Constable) began its session. The festival included music, celebration, food, drink, and speeches. With Federal soldiers in attendance, many Copperheads armed themselves in case the troops tried waging any more violence against them.

John R. Eden, an anti-war activist running for Congress, delivered a speech hailed by the Copperheads. Liquor flowed among the spectators, and a confrontation between a soldier and a Copperhead led to a fist fight. Both men drew their pistols and fired, killing each other. Pandemonium ensued.

The Copperheads began firing at the soldiers, many of whom were unarmed and ran for cover. Coles County Sheriff John O’Hair, a Copperhead leader, joined his comrades and helped them gather weapons from nearby wagons. Both Colonel Greenville Mitchell and Major Shuball York of the 54th were shot; York was especially targeted because he was a local abolitionist planning to oppose Eden in the upcoming election.

The troops regrouped, grabbed their stacked rifles, and drove the Copperheads out of town. The violence finally ended after nine men (two Copperheads, six soldiers, and a bystander) were killed and another 20 wounded. A local newspaper reported: “This afternoon a dreadful affair took place in our town…”

Federal reinforcements from Mattoon later arrived and helped round up about 50 alleged participants. Sheriff O’Hair escaped the posse and fled to Canada. Eventually 16 men were held as instigators. President Abraham Lincoln, whose father and stepmother had lived in Coles County, waived the prisoners’ right to habeas corpus and ordered them imprisoned at Fort Delaware before finally releasing them in November. Nobody was convicted of any wrongdoing.

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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. 389; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 412; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 479

Lincoln’s Reconstruction Efforts

March 13, 1864 – Federal authorities tried implementing President Abraham Lincoln’s “Ten Percent Plan” in many states, including Louisiana, where Lincoln suggested for the first time that black men be given the right to vote.

In Florida, Lincoln’s private secretary (now major) John Hay had tried to register 10 percent of eligible voters pledging loyalty to the U.S. according to Lincoln’s plan. However, Floridians’ support for the Confederacy, coupled with the abortive Federal invasion in February, made Hay’s efforts a failure.

Hay announced, “I am very sure that we cannot now get the President’s 10th” in Florida. Newspapers critical of Lincoln accused him of wasting “2,000 men in a sordid attempt to manufacture for himself three additional (electoral) votes in the approaching Presidential election.”

Maj Gen Frederick Steele | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

In Arkansas, Major General Frederick Steele’s Federal troops supervised an election of delegates to a state constitutional convention. Only those who pledged loyalty to the U.S. in accordance with Lincoln’s “Ten Percent Plan” were permitted to vote. Not surprisingly, Unionists won overwhelming majorities.

Another election was held four days later, in which Unionist voters elected state officials and ratified a Unionist Arkansas constitution that included abolishing slavery and repudiating secession. The election, supervised by military force, consisted of less than a quarter of the total votes cast in the state in the 1860 canvass. The convention that had adopted the new constitution consisted of delegates from only half the counties in Arkansas.

On the 4th, the Senate confirmed the appointment of Andrew Johnson as Federal military governor of Tennessee. Johnson had been the only U.S. senator from a seceded state who refused to relinquish his seat. The next day, Johnson began the “process for State reconstruction” by calling for an election of county officials as soon as possible. Only those pledging loyalty to the U.S. would be permitted to vote. Johnson declared, “It is not expected that the enemies of the United States will propose to vote, nor is it intended that they be permitted to vote or hold office.”

In Louisiana, Michael Hahn became the new Unionist governor in accordance with Lincoln’s “Ten Percent Plan.” Hahn was a Bavarian immigrant and former Democrat who switched allegiances when Louisiana seceded; he eventually became one of the state’s greatest champions of slave emancipation. Over the past year, Lincoln had relied on Hahn to gauge the political atmosphere in Louisiana.

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, commanding the Federal Army of the Gulf occupying New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana, had arranged elections for civil officials in which only those who swore allegiance to the U.S. could participate. The elections only took place in areas under Federal military occupation, thus ensuring Unionist results. Hahn won the governorship by portraying himself as a moderate between the conservative J.Q.A. Fellows and the radical Benjamin F. Flanders.

Michael Hahn | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The extravagant inaugural ceremonies included 1,000 singers from local army bands singing the “Anvil Chorus” in Lafayette Square. In his inaugural address, Hahn declared that “although the people of a State may err, a State, as a member of the American Union, cannot die.” He continued:

“The Union of these States, handed down by our revolutionary ancestors, is of more value than any falsely styled ‘State rights,’ especially when these ‘rights’ mean sectional institution, founded on a great moral, social and political evil, and inconsistent with the principles of free government. The institution of slavery is opposed alike to the rights of one race and the interests of the other; it is the cause of the present unholy attempt to break up our government; and, unpleasant as the declaration may sound to many of you, I tell you that I regard its universal and immediate extinction as a public and private blessing.”

Lincoln bestowed military powers onto new Governor Hahn in addition to his civil powers as governor, even though over 90 percent of Louisianan voters did not vote for him. Banks began arranging to stage another election, this time to elect delegates to a state convention that would rewrite the Louisiana constitution. It was a foregone conclusion that slavery would be abolished in the new constitution, but a debate raged over whether freed slaves should be allowed to vote.

In January, Lincoln had met delegates representing “the free people of color” of Louisiana, who presented a petition signed by over 1,000 blacks (27 of whom were veterans of the War of 1812) asking for Lincoln’s help in securing the right to vote. Impressed, Lincoln weighed in on the debate in a letter to Hahn. After congratulating him “as the first-free-state Governor of Louisiana,” the president wrote:

“I barely suggest for your private consideration, whether some of the colored people may not be let in–as, for instance, the very intelligent, and especially those who have fought gallantly in our ranks. They would probably help, in some trying time to come, to keep the jewel of liberty in the family of freedom.”

Lincoln closed by writing, “But this is only a suggestion, not to the public, but to you alone.” Many Radical Republicans who might have supported black suffrage boycotted the convention, while the remaining moderates and conservatives approved emancipation but would not grant political equality to the former slaves. However, they did approve a provision empowering the state legislature to allow blacks to vote if it chose to someday revisit the question.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 16597-605, 16850, 16885; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 381; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10369; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 332; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 905; 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 599-609, 1338-48; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 405, 409-10; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 472, 474-76; 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. 705-07

Grant Becomes Lieutenant General

March 9, 1864 – Ulysses S. Grant formally received his commission as lieutenant general and set about taking command of all Federal armies.

Maj Gen U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The official ceremony to bestow Grant with his new commission began at 1 p.m. at the White House. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and current General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck escorted Grant into the room. The small audience there included the rest of President Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet and his secretary John Nicolay, Grant’s 13-year-old son Fred, and his chief of staff John Rawlins.

Lincoln handed the official document bearing the commission of lieutenant general to Grant and then read the brief speech, of which he had given a copy to Grant the night before:

“General Grant, the nation’s appreciative of what you have done, and its reliance upon you for what remains to do in the existing great struggle, are now presented with this commission constituting you Lieutenant-General in the army of the United States With this high honor devolves upon you, also, a corresponding responsibility. As the country herein trusts you, so, under God, it will sustain you. I scarcely need to add that with what I here speak for the nation, goes my own hearty personal concurrence.”

Grant delivered his speech next, which was even shorter than Lincoln’s:

“Mr. President, I accept this commission with gratitude for the high honor conferred. With the aid of the noble armies that have fought on so many fields for our common country, it will be my earnest endeavor not to disappoint your expectation. I feel the full weight of the responsibilities now devolving on me, and I know that, if they are met, it will be due to those armies and, above all, to the favor of that Providence which leads both nations of men.”

Nicolay noted that Grant seemed “quite embarrassed by the occasion, and finding his own writing so very difficult to read, made a rather sorry and disjointed work of enunciating his reply.” Referring to the two points that Lincoln had asked Grant to make (i.e., prevent jealousy among new subordinates and encourage the Army of the Potomac), Nicolay wrote “that in what he said, while it was brief and to the point, he had either forgotten or disregarded entirely the President’s hints to him the night previous.”

Lincoln did not seem to notice or care that Grant had ignored his suggestions. He was too hopeful that he had finally found the man who would destroy the Confederacy once and for all. There was reason for such hope–Grant had won more major victories than any other Federal commander, including capturing Confederate armies at Fort Donelson and Vicksburg. Also, Grant’s promotion relieved the pressure on Lincoln to produce a military victory, as it would take time for the new commander to develop a strategy.

Even better, after ensuring that Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase would not challenge him for the presidency in the upcoming election, Lincoln neutralized another potential political rival by ensuring that Grant would not run (even though Grant, unlike Chase, never suggested he might do so). Except for some Radicals, most Republicans now acknowledged that their party would renominate Lincoln to seek a second term.

In fact, Grant disdained politics altogether. Before coming to Washington, he had assured his close friend Major General William T. Sherman that he despised the capital and would “accept no appointment which will require me to make that city my head-quarters.” Sherman replied, “Halleck is better qualified than you to stand the buffets of intrigue and politics.” Now that Grant was the new general-in-chief, Halleck was “promoted” to chief of staff, his main job to provide administrative support to Grant.

After the ceremony, Lincoln and Grant privately discussed future strategy. Lincoln explained “that he had never professed to be a military man or to know how campaigns should be conducted, and never wanted to interfere in them.” He had only gotten involved in military matters because of “procrastination on the part of commanders, and the pressure from the people at the North and Congress.”

The president assured Grant that “all he wanted or had ever wanted was some one who would take the responsibility and act, and call on him for all the assistance needed, pledging himself to use all the power of the government in rendering such assistance.” Lincoln told Grant that he specifically wanted him to capture Richmond. When Grant said he could do it if he had enough troops, Lincoln assured him that he would have them.

At 4 p.m., Stanton brought Grant to Mathew Brady’s Portrait Gallery at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Seventh Street to be photographed for the occasion. A skylight accidentally shattered above Grant, raining glass upon him. Panicked, Stanton told Brady, “Not a word about this, Brady, not a word… It would be impossible to convince the people that this was not an attempt at assassination!”

That night, Grant left Washington for Brandy Station, to meet with Major General George G. Meade for the first time since the Mexican War, and the Army of the Potomac for the first time ever.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 165-66; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 384; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10468-93, 10583-94; 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 125-83; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 407; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 614-16; Jaynes, Gregory, The Killing Ground: Wilderness to Cold Harbor (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 24; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 473; McGinty, Brian, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 332; 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), Q164;

Grant Arrives in Washington

March 8, 1864 – Ulysses S. Grant arrived in Washington to accept his promotion to lieutenant general, making him commander of all Federal armies in the field.

Federal General U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikispaces.org

As March began, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill into law reviving the army rank of lieutenant general. Only two men in U.S. history had ever held such a rank: George Washington and Winfield Scott (brevet only). The bill had been introduced by Congressman Elihu Washburne from Grant’s home district of Galena, Illinois, and those voting in favor clearly had Grant in mind for the post.

Lincoln had long been a Grant supporter, not only because of his success in the field, but also because he hailed from Lincoln’s home state. But this was an election year, and Lincoln was troubled by rumors that Grant had become so successful that he might run for president against him in the fall. Lincoln directed various aides to investigate these rumors, and when he was assured they were false, he put his complete support behind the measure.

Lincoln nominated Grant for the new post the next day, and the Senate quickly confirmed him. On the 3rd, Grant received orders at his Nashville headquarters from Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to report to Washington immediately. Lincoln, who had never met Grant before, wanted to present the commission to him in person. Before leaving, Grant wrote his close friend, Major General William T. Sherman:

“The bill reviving the grade of lieutenant general in the army has become a law, and my name has been sent to the Senate for the place. I now receive orders to report to Washington immediately, in person, which indicates a confirmation or a likelihood of confirmation… What I want is to express my thanks to you and (James B.) McPherson as the men to whom, above all others, I feel indebted for whatever I have had of success…”

Sherman received the letter a few days later and thanked Grant on both his and McPherson’s behalf. He added:

“You do yourself injustice and us too much honor in assigning us so large a share of the merits which have led to your high advancement… My only points of doubt were as to your knowledge of grand strategy and of books of science and history, but I confess your common-sense seems to have supplied all this.”

Grant spent the next four days traveling to the capital with a small group that included his 13-year-old son Fred. Large crowds greeted Grant at every train stop, but nobody greeted him when his train arrived at Washington on Tuesday the 8th.

Grant and Fred entered the Willard Hotel unrecognized, and the clerk told them that he could only give them a small room in the attic. But when Grant signed the registry, “U.S. Grant and Son, Galena, Illinois,” the clerk quickly gave him Parlor 6, the same room that Lincoln had stayed in before his inauguration three years ago. A journalist in the hotel lobby wrote of Grant:

“He gets over the ground queerly. He does not march, nor quite walk, but pitches along as if the next step would bring him on his nose. But his face looks firm and hard, and his eye is clear and resolute, and he is certainly natural and clear of all appearance and self-consciousness.”

By the time Grant and his son unpacked and went downstairs to the dining room, everyone in the hotel knew who he was. The diners cheered him as he entered; Grant seemed uncomfortable with such attention as he acknowledged them with a bow. Word of Grant’s presence quickly reached the White House, where Lincoln sent a courier requesting that Grant come meet him that night.

Having lost the key to his trunk, Grant only had his traveling uniform to wear. But he did not want to decline a request from the commander-in-chief on his first day in town, so Grant put his son to bed and walked the two blocks to the White House. The weekly public reception was underway, and the president was greeting people in the Blue Room when Grant entered around 9:30 p.m.

Lincoln meets Grant | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Lincoln heard the commotion outside the room and deduced that Grant had arrived. He quickly identified the general from his photographs and walked over to greet him: “This is General Grant, is it?” Grant replied, “Yes it is.” Lincoln exclaimed, “Well, this is a great pleasure, I assure you.”

Lincoln introduced Grant to Secretary of State William H. Seward, who presented the general to First Lady Mary Lincoln and then led him into the larger East Room. The guests hurrying to meet Grant almost caused a stampede; Navy Secretary Gideon Welles called the scene “rowdy and unseemly.” Seward persuaded Grant to stand on a sofa, where he spent the next hour greeting the admiring throng.

Noting Grant’s reluctance to garner attention, a journalist reported, “The little, scared-looking man who stood on the crimson-covered sofa was the idol of the hour.” Another contended that the general “blushed like a schoolgirl.” And another remarked, “For once, at least, the President of the United States was not the chief figure in the picture.”

Later that night, Seward introduced Grant to Welles; Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton was also present, but he had already met Grant last November. They brought Grant back into the Blue Room to see Lincoln once more. The president told him, “Tomorrow, at such time as you may arrange with the Secretary of War, I desire to make to you a formal presentation of your commission as Lieutenant-General.”

Lincoln explained that he would deliver a brief speech, and he wanted Grant to make one of his own that included two points: “First, to say something which shall prevent or obviate any jealousy of you from any of the other generals in the service, and secondly, something which shall put you on as good terms as possible with the Army of the Potomac.” Grant asked if he would be expected to oversee this army, and Lincoln said probably yes.

Grant returned to the Willard Hotel to write a speech that consisted of just a few sentences. The ceremony was scheduled for 1 p.m. 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. 440; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 165-66; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 380-81, 383; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10457; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 962, 964-66; 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 75-85, 96-125; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 404-07; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 614-16; Jaynes, Gregory, The Killing Ground: Wilderness to Cold Harbor (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 22-26, 37; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 471-73

The Pomeroy Circular and Other Political Intrigues

February 6, 1864 – President Abraham Lincoln learned that a pamphlet was being circulated urging Republicans to replace him with another candidate in the upcoming presidential election.

Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

As the presidential campaign opened, the Republican Party was split between conservatives who backed Lincoln for a second term, and Radicals who wanted a candidate that would impose harsher war measures on the South. This split was clear in Congress, as Republicans spoke out both for and against Lincoln. Many Radicals, led by House Speaker Schuyler Colfax, favored Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase to replace him.

Ward Hill Lamon, Lincoln’s personal friend and part-time bodyguard, informed the president that “a most scurrilous and abominable pamphlet about you, your administration, and the succession,” endorsed by an Ohio congressman, was given to a prominent New York banker. Titled “The Next Presidential Election,” the paper urged Republicans to oppose “the formal nomination of Mr. Lincoln in State Legislatures and other public bodies.”

The pamphlet’s author asserted, “The people have lost all confidence in his ability to suppress the rebellion and restore the Union.” The Federals had failed to win the war due to the “vascillation (sic) and indecision of the President,” “the feebleness of his will,” and his “want of intellectual grasp.”

The writer declared, “Mr. Lincoln cannot be re-elected to the Presidency.” Because of this, a new candidate was needed, someone who was “an advanced thinker; a statesman profoundly versed in political and economic science, one who fully comprehends the spirit of the age.” The pamphlet was endorsed by Senator John W. Sherman and Congressman James Ashley, both from Chase’s home state of Ohio. The implication was clear: those who supported this document supported replacing Lincoln with Chase as the Republican presidential candidate.

Sen. Samuel Pomeroy | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Less than two weeks later, a committee of Radical Republicans led by Senator Samuel C. Pomeroy of Kansas distributed a “strictly private” pamphlet of their own to the top Republicans throughout the northern states. In this document, the authors alleged that “party machinery and official influence are being used to secure the perpetuation of the present Administration,” and “those who believe in the interests of the country and of freedom demand a change in favor of vigor and purity.”

This pamphlet, which became known as the “Pomeroy Circular” (actually written by James M. Winchell), contained three arguments against Lincoln:

  • “Even were the re-election of Mr. Lincoln desirable, it is practically impossible against the union of influences which will oppose him.”
  • Should “he be reelected, his manifest tendency toward compromises and temporary expedients of policy will become stronger during a second term than it has been in the first.” The “war may continue to languish,” and “the cause of human liberty, and the dignity of the nation, suffer proportionately.”
  • The “‘one-term principle’ (is) absolutely essential to the certain safety of our republican institutions.” No president had been reelected since Andrew Jackson, 32 years before.

Then, directly naming Chase as the desired alternative, the authors inserted two arguments why the readers would “validate the honor of the republic” by backing him:

  • He had “more of the qualities needed in a President during the next four years, than are combined in any other available candidate.”
  • He had a “record, clear and unimpeachable, showing him to be a statesman of rare ability, and an administrator of the highest order,” as well as “a popularity and strength… unexpected even to his warmest admirers.”

The Pomeroy committee then urged the Republicans reading the circular to “render efficient aid by exerting yourself at once to organize your section of the country… for the purpose either of receiving or imparting information.”

When the Pomeroy Circular was published in the newspapers, it enraged Lincoln’s supporters. Former Major General Francis P. Blair, Jr., now Lincoln’s most vocal champion in the House of Representatives, charged that criticisms of administration policies had been “concocted for purposes of defeating the renomination of Mr. Lincoln” and of supporting “rival aspirants to the presidency.” Blair refuted the circular’s claims of Chase’s high character:

“It is a matter of surprise that a man having the instincts of a gentleman should remain in the Cabinet after the disclosure of such an intrigue against the one to whom he owes his position. I suppose the President is well content that he should stay; for every hour that he remains sinks him in the contempt of every honorable mind.”

Blair then highlighted charges of corruption in Chase’s Treasury Department, declaring that “a more profligate administration of the Treasury Department never existed under any government… the whole Mississippi Valley is rank and fetid with the frauds and corruptions of its agents… some of (whom) I suppose employ themselves in distributing that ‘strictly private’ circular which came to light the other day.” Democrats kept silent, delighted that the Republican Party seemed to be splitting in half in an election year.

Partly in response to the Pomeroy Circular, delegates to the Republican conventions in Indiana and Ohio endorsed Lincoln for a second term. Many Republican conventions, committees, legislatures, newspapers, and Union Leagues voiced loud support for Lincoln over Chase. Lincoln also exerted his political influence by seeing that the Government Printing Office suppressed any anti-Lincoln material. And government workers, most of whom had been hired by Lincoln, overwhelmingly supported him.

As the Pomeroy Circular made national headlines, Chase wrote Lincoln maintaining he had “no knowledge of the existence of this letter before I saw it in the (Constitutional) Union.” He admitted that he had consulted with politicians urging him to run for president, but he never led anyone to believe that he would seriously seek the office. Chase then offered to resign: “I do not wish to administer the Treasury Department one day without your entire confidence.”

Through his contacts, Lincoln was well aware that Chase was working with Radicals to conduct an informal campaign to oust him from the presidency. Winchell later asserted that Chase not only had prior knowledge of the Pomeroy Circular, but he had approved its publication. Responding to Chase’s letter, Lincoln wrote: “Yours of yesterday in relation to the paper issued by Senator Pomeroy was duly received; and I write this note merely to say I will answer a little more fully when I can find the leisure to do so.”

After keeping Chase waiting for six days, Lincoln sent a longer response on the 29th:

“On consideration, I find there is really very little to say. My knowledge of Mr. Pomeroy’s letter having been made public came to me only the day you wrote; but I had, in spite of myself, known of its existence several days before. I have not yet read it, and I think I shall not… Whether you shall remain at the head of the Treasury Department… I do not perceive occasion for a change.”

Lincoln stated that he was “not shocked, or surprised” by the circular because his backers informed him about Pomeroy’s committee beforehand. Lincoln explained, “I have known just as little of these things as my own friends have allowed me to know. They bring the documents to me, but I do not read them–they tell me what they think fit to tell me, but I do not inquire for more.”

The president then told Chase that he had nothing to do with Blair’s attack on him in Congress. By refusing Chase’s offer to resign, Lincoln shrewdly kept him at the Treasury Department, where he could keep close tabs on his activities, and where Chase could not openly run for president.

Many of Chase’s backers acknowledged that the Pomeroy Circular did more harm than good for him, including Congressman (and future U.S. President) James A. Garfield, who conceded, “It seems clear to me that the people desire the re-election of Mr. Lincoln.”

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 513; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 376; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10160, 10236, 10247-59, 10270-81, 10493; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 103-04; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 941-44; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 401; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 606; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 467-68; 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. 714-15; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 591; 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), Q164

Davis Urges Suspension of Habeas Corpus

February 3, 1864 – President Jefferson Davis delivered a message to Congress asking for the authority to suspend the writ of habeas corpus.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

By this time, Federal military forces had begun various campaigns that included looting, pillaging, and plundering private property in the South. This had caused widespread disorder that required attention from the Confederate government. Consequently, Davis requested the same authorization that President Abraham Lincoln had assumed (without congressional consent) to apprehend and jail citizens suspected of disloyalty without trial.

In his message, Davis noted the “discontent, disaffection, and disloyalty” pervading the Confederacy, partly due to the demoralizing effects of Federal military occupation. Davis also alleged that such sentiments were rising among those who “have enjoyed quiet and safety at home.” He stated that suspending the writ was necessary to combat the rising number of Federal occupiers and Confederate dissidents, both of which tended to demoralize the people and encourage potential race wars between slaves and masters. Davis wrote:

“Must the independence for which we are contending, the safety of the defenseless families of the men who have fallen in battle and of those who still confront the invader, be put in peril for the sake of conformity to the technicalities of the law of treason?… Having thus presented some of the threatening evils which exist, it remains to suggest the remedy. And in my judgment that is to be found only in the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.”

Although the Lincoln administration had suspended the writ long ago and jailed thousands of anti-war dissidents without trial, this concept was still controversial for the Confederacy, which had been founded on the principle that states’ rights checked a potentially overreaching national government. As such, many members of the Confederate Congress opposed Davis’s request. Conversely, supporters argued that such a measure was necessary to suppress draft opposition and other “disloyal” practices.

After nearly two weeks of acrimonious debate, Congress finally approved authorizing Davis to suspend the writ of habeas corpus. The bill included a specific list of treasonable offenses, thus limiting Davis’s ability to act arbitrarily as much as possible. To further appease detractors, Davis only had suspension power until August 2.

Nevertheless, fierce critics remained, including Davis’s own vice president, Alexander Stephens of Georgia. Stephens declared that “constitutional liberty will go down, never to rise again on this continent” if Davis was empowered to suspend the writ. He called the bill a “blow at the very ‘vitals of liberty’” and accused Davis of–

“… aiming at absolute power… Far better that our country should be overrun by the enemy, our cities sacked and burned, and our land laid desolate, than that the people should thus suffer the citadel of their liberties to be entered and taken by professed friends.”

Despite opposition from Stephens and both of Georgia’s Confederate senators, the state legislature approved a resolution supporting this and all laws designed to win the war. Even so, the opposition to suspending the writ of habeas corpus remained so strong that Davis rarely exercised the power.

However, passage of the law prompted William W. Holden to suspend publication of his Unionist newspaper, the Raleigh (North Carolina) Standard. Many Confederate officials had targeted Holden as a traitor for urging southerners to rejoin the Union, and Davis could have ordered him arrested and jailed without charges.

Holden declared that “if I could not continue to print as a free man I would not print at all.” Holden then announced that he would oppose Governor Zebulon Vance in the upcoming election, but Vance turned many of Holden’s supporters against him by accusing him of treason.

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References

Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 331; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 950; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 394, 398; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 460-61, 465; 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. 435, 692-93, 697-98; 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), Q164