Category Archives: Politics

The National Union Convention Adjourns

June 8, 1864 – Delegates re-nominated Abraham Lincoln for president as expected, but they opted to replace the current vice president with a Democrat supportive of the war effort.

On the second day of the National Union Convention in Baltimore’s Front Street Theater, the delegates’ first order of business was to adopt a party platform. It was drafted by Henry J. Raymond, editor of the New York Times and supporter of President Lincoln. Despite Republican pledges to unite with War Democrats, this platform was dominated by the Republican Party.

The platform included 11 planks, five of which resolved to support Lincoln’s continuing war policies, to refuse to compromise with “rebels,” to force the Confederates’ “unconditional surrender,” and to honor those “who have periled their lives in defense of their country.” The delegates especially supported the recruitment of former slaves into the army, and they called for black servicemen to receive the same protection under the law as whites.

Other planks encouraged foreign immigration, supported fiscal responsibility, urged construction of a transcontinental railroad, and approved the Lincoln administration’s stance against European monarchies interfering in the affairs of Western republics (particularly France’s invasion of Mexico).

The third plank received the most hat-waving and applause: “Resolved, That as Slavery was the cause, and now constitutes the strength, of this Rebellion… (we) demand its utter and complete extirpation from the soil of the Republic.” It called for a constitutional amendment to permanently abolish slavery.

Famed abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, on hand as a reporter for his newspaper The Liberator, reported that when the abolition plank was introduced, “the whole body of delegates sprang to their feet… in prolonged cheering. Was not a spectacle like that rich compensation for more than 30 years of personal opprobrium?”

Conspicuously, no resolution was offered either supporting or opposing Lincoln’s reconstruction plan. This was currently under heated debate in Congress, and since it was beginning to divide the Republican Party, the delegates left it alone.

The next order of business was the nomination of presidential and vice presidential candidates. To nobody’s surprise, Lincoln was nominated for a second term on the first ballot. The only dispute came when the delegates could not decide on who should introduce Lincoln as their nominee.

Lincoln won by a vote of 484 to 22. The 22 dissenting votes came from Missouri’s Radical delegation, which instead voted for Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant. This was mostly just a symbolic gesture because at the roll call, the Missourians switched their votes to make Lincoln’s nomination unanimous.

The vote for vice president was much more contentious. Incumbent Vice President Hannibal Hamlin of Maine had expressed dissatisfaction with the office over the last four years because he contributed little to administration policy. He told an associate, “I am only a fifth wheel of a coach, and can do little for my friends.” But he expected to be re-nominated regardless, especially after Lincoln had been unanimously chosen.

Many delegates backed Hamlin, but many others noted that Hamlin identified more with the New England Radicals than the new National Unionists and therefore favored a Democrat to make this a truly balanced ticket. When delegates pressed Lincoln’s secretary John Hay to make a choice on the president’s behalf, Hay showed them a message from Lincoln: “Wish not to interfere about V.P. Can not interfere about platform. Convention must judge for itself.”

Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania put forth Hamlin for re-nomination. The Kentucky delegation countered by naming Lovell H. Rousseau, and the New York delegation named Democrat Daniel S. Dickinson. Tennesseans then put forth the name of Andrew Johnson.

Johnson had defied his constituents by becoming the only southern U.S. senator who did not leave Congress when his state seceded. He was a rigid constitutionalist strongly opposed to both secession and the southern aristocracy. As military governor of Tennessee, Johnson supported abolishing slavery. He shared the Radicals’ sentiment that the “rebels” had to be severely punished for trying to form their own nation. But he also shared the conservatives’ sentiment that the president, not Congress, should administer reconstruction after the war. As such, he supported Lincoln’s “Ten Percent Plan.”

Johnson won the nomination on the first ballot with 200 votes, followed by Hamlin with 150 and Dickinson with 108. Thurlow Weed’s New York machine switched allegiance from Dickinson to put Johnson over the top. Delegates opposed to Johnson then switched their votes to make it unanimous for him.

Campaign poster | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

There were grumblings among the delegates about having a southerner on the ticket, regardless of his professed loyalty to the Union. But because the vice presidency was considered such an irrelevant position, most were happy with the compromise. Nobody seemed to consider the possibility that Lincoln might die in office, as William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor had done before him.

An attendee wrote that after the nominations were official, “the long pent up enthusiasms burst forth in a scene of wildest confusion,” and a band played “Hail, Columbia” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The next day, a committee appointed by the National Union delegation, headed by Convention President William Dennison, traveled to Washington and personally congratulated Lincoln on his nomination. Lincoln told Dennison and the committee:

“I do not allow myself to suppose that (the delegates) have concluded to decide that I am either the greatest or best man in America, but rather they have concluded it is not best to swap horses while crossing the river, and have further concluded that I am not so poor a horse that they might not make a botch of it in trying to swap.”

Regarding the resolution calling for abolishing slavery, Lincoln said that those who joined the Confederacy once had a chance to come back to the Union without “the overthrow of their institution,” but that chance was now gone. The president concluded by saying he would not officially accept the nomination “before reading and considering what is called the Platform.”

Lincoln also met with members of the Union League, who endorsed the nominees and platform of the National Union Convention (even though the League would have preferred a more punitive stance against the Confederacy, especially regarding the confiscation of southern property). Lincoln told the members, “I will neither conceal my gratification, nor restrain the expression of my gratitude, that the Union people, through their convention… have deemed me not unworthy to remain in my present position.”

Reiterating his support for abolishing slavery, Lincoln said that “such amendment of the Constitution as now proposed became a fitting, and necessary conclusion to the final success of the Union cause.” He then recalled a “story of an old Dutch farmer, who remarked to a companion once that ‘it was not best to swap horses when crossing streams.’”

That night, an Ohio delegation with a brass band serenaded the president at the White House. Lincoln responded, “What we want, still more than Baltimore conventions or presidential elections, is success under General Grant.” He asked the serenaders to give three cheers for Grant and “the brave officers and soldiers in the field.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 172; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 421; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10758-69, 10790, 10974; 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 7960-70; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 452; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 621-25; Hoffsommer, Richard D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 333-34; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 517-18; 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. 716; 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 National Union Convention Assembles

June 7, 1864 – Republicans and some Democrats supporting the war effort gathered at Baltimore’s Front Street Theater on the first day of a convention to decide who would be the presidential and vice presidential candidates in the upcoming national election.

Delegates to this convention mostly represented the conservative faction of the Republican Party, and they invited War Democrats to join them. To promote this new political unification, the delegates changed their name to the National Union Party, and this became known as the National Union Convention.

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

To many at this gathering, re-nominating President Abraham Lincoln was a foregone conclusion. But he had not always been such an easy choice. Radical Republicans were so dissatisfied with Lincoln’s leniency toward the South and his moderation on freeing slaves that they had backed Lincoln’s treasury secretary, Salmon P. Chase, to run against him. When Chase dropped out, some Radicals formed their own convention and nominated John C. Fremont, the Republican nominee in 1856, to run again.

Lincoln was also unpopular among many conservative Republicans and War Democrats for his inability after four years to conquer the Confederacy. They noted that history was against him as well: the last incumbent to win reelection to the presidency was Andrew Jackson, 28 years before. Martin Van Buren was the last incumbent to be re-nominated by his party; he then lost the 1840 election.

But by this month, most Republicans had come to accept that Lincoln was the best choice, if only grudgingly. Even so, there was still a small number of delegates at this convention who hoped for a deadlock so they could offer a compromise candidate such as Chase, or even Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant.

Lincoln sent his secretaries John Nicolay and John Hay to represent him at the convention. Nicolay noted that this was “almost too passive to be interesting–certainly… not at all exciting as it was at Chicago” in 1860, where Lincoln was first nominated. The lack of enthusiasm was largely attributable to the recent news of the horrible battle losses in Virginia. But it also had to do with a lack of suspense, as Hay said that “death alone could have prevented the choice of Mr. Lincoln by the Union Convention.”

Senator Edwin D. Morgan of New York, chairman of the National Union Executive Committee, opened the convention with a speech that included a call to “declare for such an amendment of the Constitution as will positively prohibit African slavery in the United States.” Lincoln had quietly urged the convention to support this measure, which undercut the Radical convention by co-opting its top issue. This was loudly cheered.

Morgan reminded the attendees of the first Republican convention in 1856 and the subsequent election loss. But then, “in 1860 the party banner was again unfurled, with the names of Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin inscribed thereon. This time it was successful; but with success came the rebellion, and with the rebellion, of course, war, and war, terrible and cruel war, has continued up to the present time, when it is necessary, under our Constitution, to prepare for another Presidential election.”

Morgan declared, “Does any one doubt that this convention intends to say that Abraham Lincoln shall be the nominee?” The correspondent for the New York Times, a pro-Lincoln newspaper, wrote that the audience erupted in “great applause.”

Other speakers on this first day made it clear that this was not the third Republican convention, but rather the first National Union convention. The prevailing theme was that Republicans and War Democrats were putting up a united front against Radicals, Peace Democrats, and Confederates to select a presidential candidate dedicated to winning the war.

In all, over 500 delegates representing 25 states and the territories of Nebraska and Colorado attended this convention. They allowed the admittance of delegates from Tennessee, Louisiana, and Arkansas, three states reconstructed according to Lincoln’s controversial “Ten Percent Plan.” Unionists representing just 10 percent of the voting population selected the delegates in these states.

Missouri sent two rival delegations, one elected by the state’s Radical Union Convention, and one elected by the state’s Unconditional Union Party. The attendees voted 440 to 4 to seat the Radical delegation and expel the conservatives.

Conventions in many western states, most notably California, Iowa, and Wisconsin, elected delegates loyal to Lincoln. Simon Cameron, Lincoln’s disgraced former secretary of war, used his influence as Pennsylvania political boss to pack his state’s delegation with Federal employees who owed their jobs to Lincoln. New York boss Thurlow Weed persuaded his state’s 66 delegates to back Lincoln.

The entire 24-man Massachusetts delegation pledged to nominate Lincoln, despite opposition from influential abolitionist Wendell Phillips and Governor John Andrew. Delegates from Salmon Chase’s home state of Ohio rejected publicly supporting Chase and instead backed Lincoln, mainly because they were all “aspirants for Congress, who expect Administration favor.”

Meanwhile, Democrats had scheduled their convention to begin on the 7th as well, but they postponed it until late summer. Since it appeared that the Federal armies were stalling throughout the South, the Democrats wanted to wait until northern dissatisfaction with the war’s developments worked to their advantage.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 172; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10681-91, 10724-47; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 451; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 621-25; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 166; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 516-17; 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. 716; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 320; White, Howard Ray (2012-12-18). Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition), Q264

The Radical Republican Convention

May 31, 1864 – Radicals and other disgruntled Republicans held a convention in Cleveland to nominate a candidate to defeat President Abraham Lincoln’s bid for reelection.

Maj Gen John C. Fremont | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Many Republicans were dissatisfied with Lincoln’s performance, particularly his “lenient” plan to bring the southern states back into the Union. Some had proposed replacing Lincoln with Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, but Chase had been discredited by the Pomeroy Circular. When Major General John C. Fremont, who had long quarreled with Lincoln before resigning in 1862, expressed interest in running against him, his backers quickly organized an assembly at Chapin Hill a week before the Republican National Convention took place.

This Radical convention sought to protest the “imbecile and vacillating policy of the present Administration in the conduct of the war.” Organizers expected thousands to attend, but only about 400 actually showed. Of these, only 158 were delegates, many of whom held no significant political influence. They were mostly abolitionists and German immigrants loyal to Fremont (especially in Missouri), but some Democrats attended in an attempt to form a new “Radical Democratic” alliance against Lincoln.

Many Radicals who learned that the convention would be stacked with Fremont supporters refused to attend. Republicans and Democrats who pushed for Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant to oppose Lincoln also stayed away. Even Horace Greeley, the influential editor of the New York Tribune who called for this convention in the first place, withdrew his support.

The most prominent name associated with the convention was abolitionist Wendell Phillips, and even he did not attend. Instead he submitted a written statement calling the Lincoln administration “a civil and military failure, and its avowed policy ruinous to the North in every point of view…”

Phillips condemned Lincoln’s reconstruction plan because it “makes the freedom of the negro a sham, and perpetuates slavery under a softer name,” and he concluded, “If Mr. Lincoln is re-elected I do not expect to see the Union reconstructed in my day, unless on terms more disastrous to liberty than even disunion would be.”

Delegates adopted a platform that advocated:

  • A constitutional amendment to permanently abolish slavery and “secure to all men absolute equality before the law”
  • Granting black men the right to vote
  • Congress, not the president, administering reconstruction
  • Seizing the land of Confederates by military force and redistributing it to Federal soldiers, former slaves, or anyone else the Radicals deemed worthy
  • Abolishing the Electoral College and electing the president by popular vote
  • Limiting the president to one term
  • Barring the president from violating civil liberties, including suspending the writ of habeas corpus

Fremont was nominated by acclamation. The delegates expected him to run a strong race, just as he did as the first ever Republican presidential candidate in 1856. As a nod to the small Democratic constituency in attendance, Democratic Brigadier General John Cochrane was nominated vice president. Fremont agreed to run in the naïve hope that Radicals and Democrats could form a broad enough coalition to beat Lincoln in November.

In his acceptance statement, Fremont declared that he represented “a view to prevent the misfortune of (Lincoln’s) reelection,” which “would be fatal to the country.” He condemned Lincoln’s mismanagement of the war. However, he ignored the party’s pledge to uphold social and political equality, and he openly opposed the Radical plan to redistribute confiscated land.

A pundit called this disappointing convention “a most magnificent fizzle” that only featured “disappointed contractors, sorehead governors, and Copperheads.” Noting the delegates’ lack of political clout, the pro-Lincoln New York Times called the assembly “a congregation of malcontents… representing no constituencies, and controlling no votes.” Most Radicals renounced this party for its alliance with Democrats and ultimately acknowledged that the best way to advance their agenda was to back Lincoln.

When Lincoln was told that only 400 people attended this assembly, he thumbed through a Bible until he came upon 1 Samuel 22:2 and read, “And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them: and there were with him about 400 men.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 172; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10517, 10691-713; 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 7910-31; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 447; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 624; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 511-12; 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. 715-16; Schweikart, Larry and Allen, Michael, A Patriot’s History of the United States (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), p. 342; 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

The Gold Hoax

May 18, 1864 – A forged presidential proclamation was sent to the press in an effort to drive up the price of gold. This caused an uproar throughout the North.

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

At 4 a.m., the seven daily newspapers of New York City received an Associated Press dispatch supposedly from President Abraham Lincoln. It stated that May 26 would be set aside “as a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer,” and it announced that “with a heavy heart, but an undiminished confidence in our cause,” another 400,000 men would be drafted into the army due to “the situation in Virginia, the disaster at Red River, the delay at Charleston, and the general state of the country.”

Five dailies hesitated publishing the declaration out of suspicion that it could be a forgery. But two dailies–the New York World and the Journal of Commerce–published it, and it caused an immediate panic on Wall Street. The price of gold shot up 10 percent before traders began realizing that the proclamation might be bogus. Bulletins soon appeared denying the announcement’s validity, and the panic quickly subsided.

When news of this story and its impact reached Washington, it “angered Lincoln more than almost any other occurrence of the war period.” He directed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to “take possession by military force” the offices of the two newspapers and the Independent Telegraph Company (which had allegedly wired the dispatch). Major General John A. Dix, commanding the Department of the East, was ordered to imprison all suspects in the scheme. Although he believed that many of the suspects were innocent, Dix reluctantly complied.

Journalist Adams S. Hill was apprehended on suspicions that he masterminded the “gold hoax” to discredit the Associated Press. Hill worked for the AP’s competitor, the Independent News Room, which used the Independent Telegraph Company for service because the AP monopolized the superior American Telegraph Company. Charges against Hill were dropped when the real perpetrator was revealed on the 20th.

Joseph Howard, Jr., city editor of the Brooklyn Eagle, had concocted the plot after boasting that he would soon reap enormous profits in the stock market as a result. Howard immediately named one of his reporters, Francis A. Mallison, as a co-conspirator who wrote the declaration in Lincoln’s name and style. Howard also explained that the two newspapers and the Independent Telegraph Company had nothing to do with the scheme.

In reality, Lincoln had planned to issue a draft call as reported, but the outrage caused by the hoax forced him to delay the call for two months. The newspaper editors endured three days of jail, while Howard and Mallison were imprisoned at Fort Lafayette in New York Harbor.

The Lincoln administration was excoriated once again for suppressing free speech and the press. New York Governor Horatio Seymour, who had battled Lincoln on civil liberties the previous year, directed the district attorney to file suit against General Dix and the Federal government for unlawfully arresting and imprisoning citizens. Seymour declared:

“In the month of July last, when New York was a scene of violence, I gave warning that ‘the laws of the State must be enforced, its peace and order maintained, and the property of its citizens protected at every hazard.’ The laws were enforced at a fearful cost of blood and life. The declaration I then made was not intended merely for that occasion, or against any class of men. It is one of an enduring character, to be asserted at all times, and against all conditions of citizens without favor or distinction. Unless all are made to bow to the law, it will be respected by none. Unless all are made secure in their rights of person and property, none can be protected.

The court case was finally resolved in July, when a grand jury declined to press charges against Dix or his officers. The Federal government provided no compensation for the loss of business sustained by the suspension of the two newspapers, seizure of the telegraph offices, or the imprisonment of innocent people. Howard and Mallison were finally released from confinement after Reverend Henry Ward Beecher appealed to Lincoln for mercy.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19792-805; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10669-81; 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 7879-99; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 504; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 360; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 313-14, 372-73; 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

Joe Davis Dies

April 30, 1864 – President Jefferson Davis’s five-year-old son Joseph fell off the second-floor rear balcony of the Confederate Executive Mansion.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

First Lady Varina Davis briefly left both Joe and seven-year-old Jeff alone to bring lunch to her husband in his office. Carpenters had left a plank against the balcony railing before breaking for lunch; Joe climbed it and fell into the brick courtyard 30 feet below. A house slave rushed into Davis’s office shouting that Joe had fallen. Davis raced to the scene and found his son unconscious, having suffered a fractured skull and two broken legs. He died minutes later.

Both parents were hysterical with grief. Varina screamed for hours, and Davis could not concentrate on dispatches from Robert E. Lee; he said, “I must have this day with my little son.” He spent most of the day and night pacing in the bedroom across from Joe’s saying, “Not mine, O Lord, but thine.” Thus, both Presidents Lincoln and Davis lost young sons during the war.

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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. 398; 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 2953-83; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 426; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 617-18; Jaynes, Gregory, The Killing Ground: Wilderness to Cold Harbor (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 45; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 490; 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

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

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