Category Archives: Politics

The 1863 Northern State Elections

October 13, 1863 – Various northern states held elections for local and state offices. Since these states were considered crucial to the war effort, President Abraham Lincoln anxiously awaited the results.

Elections for governors and state legislatures took place in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa. Democrats had made gains in these states in last year’s Federal elections, and Lincoln worried that the voters might go against his Republican Party again this year. More Democratic victories would indicate that the people were tiring of the way Lincoln was handling the war.

Republicans entered these contests with some momentum thanks to recent military victories, including news that Federal forces had reinforced the Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga. But Democrats railed against Lincoln’s war policies, including his suppression of civil liberties and enforcement of conscription. They also warned workers that Lincoln’s commitment to emancipation could mean that freed slaves might come north and compete for their jobs.

Former U.S. Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

In Ohio, Republicans feared defeat so much that they joined forces with pro-war Democrats to form a “Union” ticket and nominate Democrat John Brough for governor. Brough was opposed by Clement L. Vallandigham, the Copperhead whom Lincoln had banished from the U.S. for encouraging people to oppose the war effort. While exiled in Windsor, Canada, Vallandigham campaigned for “peace at any price,” even if it meant granting Confederate independence.

Lincoln told Navy Secretary Gideon Welles that Ohio caused him “more anxiety… than he had in 1860 when he was chosen” president. Lincoln furloughed Federal employees and soldiers from that state so they could go home and vote, presumably for Republican and “Union” candidates. Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, a former Ohio governor, left his post to campaign in his home state. Republicans Governors Oliver P. Morton of Indiana and Richard Yates of Illinois also campaigned in Ohio.

In Pennsylvania, staunch Republican Unionist Andrew Curtin ran for reelection. His opponent was Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice George W. Woodward. Republicans re-published Woodward’s statements prior to the war, which included, “Slavery was intended as a special blessing to the people of the United States,” and, “Secession is not disloyalty” because Lincoln’s election forced the southern states to leave.

Woodward also wrote, “I cannot in justice condemn the South for withdrawing… I wish Pennsylvania could go with them.” Although he had two sons serving in the Army of the Potomac, Woodward had ruled the Enrollment Act unconstitutional in his state. George B. McClellan, the still-popular former general-in-chief, wrote that if he lived in Pennsylvania, he would “give to Judge Woodward my voice and my vote.”

Democrats rallied for the possibility of Woodward and Vallandigham allying with Democrat New York Governor Horatio Seymour “in calling from the army troops from their respective States for the purpose of compelling the Administration to invite a convention of the States to adjust our difficulties.”

In response, Chase warned business leaders who reaped financial rewards from the administration’s fiscal policies, “Gov. Curtin’s reelection or defeat is now the success or defeat of the administration of President Lincoln.” At Curtin’s request, Lincoln granted leaves of absence and 15-day railroad passes to Federal employees from Pennsylvania so they could come home and vote. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton also granted furloughs to Pennsylvania soldiers so they could “vote as they shot.”

To Lincoln’s relief, Chase telegraphed from Ohio that Vallandigham’s defeat was “complete, beyond all hopes.” Brough won a 57-percent majority, or 100,000 more popular votes than Vallandigham (288,000 to 187,000). Soldiers overwhelmingly favored Brough, 41,000 to 2,000. When Lincoln received news of this victory, he telegraphed, “Glory to God in the highest, Ohio has saved the Nation.”

Curtin also won reelection in Pennsylvania, but just by 51.5 percent, or 15,000 votes. The soldier turnout was much smaller than Ohio, largely because Woodward’s court had ruled that soldiers could not vote outside their home districts. Nevertheless, Curtin’s jubilant campaign managers wired Lincoln, “Pennsylvania stands by you, keeping step with Maine and California to the music of the Union.”

Iowa officials reported that the Republicans had “swept the state overwhelmingly,” and pro-administration candidates made gains in Indiana as well. Ultimately, anti-war Democrats calling the war a failure and seeking peaceful coexistence with the Confederacy alienated their pro-war counterparts, who aligned with Republicans in supporting preservation of the Union at all costs.

Republicans credited these victories partly to letters Lincoln had written defending his war policies to Erastus Corning and John Birchard in June, and to Governor Seymour in August. His letters were later published as a pamphlet titled, “The Letters of President Lincoln on Questions of National Policy,” that sold for eight cents. This election made Lincoln more popular than ever in the North, and it emboldened him to continue his efforts to destroy the Confederacy.

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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. 333; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9649-60, 9727-38; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 828; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 359-60; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 573-75; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 421; 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. 684-88; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 775; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q463

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Chattanooga: Federal Leadership Questioned

October 11, 1863 – Federal reinforcements from Virginia entered Chattanooga, but it was becoming clear that Major General William S. Rosecrans was not up to the task of breaking the Confederate siege paralyzing his Army of the Cumberland.

Maj Gen William S. Rosecrans | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

As Major General Joseph Hooker’s XI and XII corps began reinforcing Rosecrans’s army, Hooker telegraphed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, “You may justly claim the merit at having saved Chattanooga.” He placed his four divisions below the city to prevent Confederates from crossing the Tennessee River and attacking the Federal rear.

Despite the reinforcements, there seemed to be no viable way to break the siege. Information from the city became scarce, and President Abraham Lincoln had to ask Tennessee Military Governor Andrew Johnson, “What news have you from Rosecrans’ Army?…”

In eastern Tennessee, Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Federal Army of the Ohio showed no signs of moving southwest to try breaking Rosecrans out. To the west, Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals from Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee were moving very slowly toward Chattanooga, repairing the railroad as they went.

Rear Admiral David D. Porter, commanding Federal naval forces on the Tennessee River, informed Grant that the river was low, preventing the larger Federal gunboats from supporting Sherman’s advance. Porter assured Grant that he would bring the vessels up as soon as possible, adding, “My intention is to send every gunboat I can spare up the Tennessee. I have also sent below for light-drafts to come up.”

As Sherman left Memphis to join his men heading west, his train was attacked at Collierville, about 20 miles out of Memphis, by General James R. Chalmers’s Confederate cavalry. A four-hour fight ensued when Sherman refused to surrender unconditionally. The Confederates finally withdrew upon learning that a Federal division was coming from Memphis to reinforce Sherman. The Federals sustained 110 casualties (14 killed, 42 wounded, and 54 captured); Sherman lost five staff horses and his second-best uniform. The Confederates lost 51 men (three killed and 48 wounded).

Meanwhile, Lincoln became increasingly convinced that Rosecrans could not handle his predicament. Lincoln remarked that Rosecrans seemed “stunned and confused, like a duck hit on the head.” This was bolstered by gloomy reports from Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana, Stanton’s operative in Chattanooga. Dana had called for Rosecrans’s removal, and he repeated it on the 12th:

“I have never seen a public man possessing talent with less administrative power, less clearness and steadiness in difficulty, and greater practical incapacity than General Rosecrans. He has inventive fertility and knowledge, but he has no strength of will and no concentration of purpose. His mind scatters; there is no system in the use of his busy days and restless nights… Under the present circumstances I consider this army to be very unsafe in his hands.”

However, Lincoln had no replacement in mind, so he continued trying to motivate Rosecrans to fight his way out of Chattanooga. Lincoln wired: “You and Burnside now have (the enemy) by the throat, and he must break your hold or perish.” Rosecrans responded that the Confederates had ripe corn to eat but “our side is barren… we must put our trust in God, who never fails those who truly trust.”

A week later, Dana received reports that hungry soldiers were shouting “Crackers!” at officers inspecting fortifications. Dana wrote Stanton:

“Amid all this, the practical incapacity of the general commanding is astonishing, and it often seems difficult to believe him of sound mind. His imbecility appears to be contagious… If the army is finally obliged to retreat, the probability is that it will fall back like a rabble, leaving its artillery, and protected only by the river behind it.”

Stanton shared Dana’s reports with Lincoln. Meanwhile, heavy rains had made most of the roads outside Chattanooga virtually impassable, preventing supplies from getting over Walden’s Ridge to feed the Federals.

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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. 332, 334; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 765-67, 782-83; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 83, 85-89; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 419-20

Chattanooga: Confederate Dissension Continues

October 9, 1863 – President Jefferson Davis held meetings with the top officers in the Army of Tennessee to try resolving the deep dissension among them.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate army, despite laying siege to the Federals in Chattanooga, was vastly demoralized. Davis had sent Colonel James Chesnut to assess the army’s condition, and when the officers presented Chesnut with a petition asking for Davis to remove Bragg as commander, Chesnut recommended that Davis come to Chattanooga and deal with the problem in person.

Davis left Richmond on the 6th with hopes “to be serviceable in harmonizing some of the difficulties” within the army. He traveled aboard a special train with his secretary Burton Harrison, Colonels William P. Johnston and Custis Lee (sons of Albert Sidney Johnston and Robert E. Lee), and Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, who had not been reassigned since surrendering Vicksburg in July.

The travelers arrived in Atlanta on the 8th. The next morning, Davis delivered a speech that was very well received, in which he urged the people to continue the fight for independence. The train continued to Marietta, where Davis was greeted by more cheers as he briefly praised Georgia’s role in the war.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Soldiers cheered and bands played as the train pulled in to Chickamauga Station. Davis mounted a horse as the crowd hollered, “Speech!” Davis responded, “Man never spoke as you did on the field of Chickamauga, and in your presence I dare not speak. Yours is the voice that will win the independence of your country and strike terror to the heart of a ruthless foe.”

Davis and his group rode into Bragg’s headquarters on Missionary Ridge on the night of the 9th and had a private conversation with him. Bragg blamed his subordinates for the army’s troubles and declined Davis’s request to replace Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk with Pemberton. He then refused to reinstate Polk and offered to resign. Davis would not accept Bragg’s resignation, mainly because Bragg was the only Confederate general to have won a major victory since Chancellorsville, five months ago.

Davis and Bragg then held a council of war with Bragg’s corps commanders: James Longstreet, D.H. Hill, Simon B. Buckner, and Benjamin F. Cheatham (replacing Polk). They discussed the current military situation, and then Davis asked the men to assess Bragg’s performance. When no one spoke up, Davis insisted on a response. Longstreet finally said “that our commander could be of greater service elsewhere than at the head of the Army of Tennessee.” Davis asked the others if they agreed, and they did. The meeting ended awkwardly.

Confederate Lt Gen James Longstreet | Image Credit: BlogSpot.com

The next day, Davis met with Bragg again and inspected the army. Davis then met with Longstreet and asked if he would be willing to replace Bragg as army commander. Longstreet replied, “In my judgment, our last opportunity was gone when we failed to follow the success at Chickamauga, and capture or disperse the Union army, and it could not be just to the service or myself to call me to a position of such responsibility.”

Longstreet suggested that General Joseph E. Johnston take command of the army, but Davis did not get along with Johnston and blamed him for losing Vicksburg. Moreover, Johnston had twice declined to take command because he believed Bragg was the better choice. Davis also did not want to consider General P.G.T. Beauregard, whom he also disliked. Longstreet offered to resign, but Davis refused.

Besides Longstreet, Johnston, or Beauregard, Davis did not have many more options. Lieutenant General William Hardee, currently commanding in Alabama, was the other most qualified man to replace Bragg, but he also turned down the job. Davis even considered General Robert E. Lee, but Lee expressed a desire to stay with his army in Virginia. This left Davis with Bragg’s corps commanders, all of whom lacked qualifications.

After considering the matter for three days, Davis approved a major organizational shift in the Army of Tennessee. He wrote Bragg, “Regretting that the expectations which induced the assignment of that gallant officer to this army have not been realized, you are authorized to relieve Lieutenant General D.H. Hill from further duty with your command.”

Bragg suspended Hill, once a good friend but now a bitter adversary, and replaced him with Major General John C. Breckinridge. Hill demanded a written explanation why he was being removed, but Bragg simply told him that Davis made the decision, not him. Hill later demanded a court of inquiry to investigate his conduct, but Davis refused.

Davis later authorized Bragg and Johnston to trade the commands of Hardee and Polk. Polk would assume Hardee’s mostly administrative role as camp recruiter and instructor at Demopolis, Alabama; Hardee would assume command of Polk’s corps in Bragg’s army. Thus, another of Bragg’s antagonists was removed from his army. The War Department later dropped Bragg’s charges of disobedience and dereliction of duty against Polk.

Next, Davis met with Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest, who had threatened to kill Bragg and asked Davis to give him an independent command. Davis granted Forrest’s request, giving him a cavalry force in northern Mississippi, where he would have authority “to raise and organize as many troops for the Confederate service as he finds practicable.” Davis recommended that Congress promote Forrest to major general and instructed Bragg to send him two cavalry battalions and a battery.

Bragg dispatched another adversary by relieving Buckner of corps command. The men had exchanged hostile words before Bragg removed him. Although Buckner had commanded the separate Department of East Tennessee, Bragg argued that he had the authority to remove him because that department had been absorbed by the Army of Tennessee and converted into “Buckner’s Corps.” The corps was disbanded upon Buckner’s removal.

Davis addressed the Army of Tennessee as his inspection ended. He applauded the troops for “the glorious victory on the field of Chickamauga,” and noted the importance of–

“… devotion, sacrifice, and harmony… Though you have done much, very much yet remains to be done. Behind you is a people providing for your support and depending on you for protection. Before you is a country devastated by your ruthless invader…”

Davis admonished the troops for criticizing Bragg, warning, “He who sows the seeds of discontent and distrust prepares for a harvest of slaughter and defeat.” He declared, “To zeal you have added gallantry; to gallantry energy; to energy, fortitude. Crown these with harmony, due subordination, and cheerful support of lawful authority that the measure of your duty may be full.” He ended by praying “that our Heavenly Father may cover you with the shield of his protection in the hours of battle, and endow you with the virtues which will close your trials in victory complete.”

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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. 332-33, 336-37; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 815-20; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 358-60, 363, 366; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 83-85; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 418-22, 425, 427; 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. 676; Rutherford, Phillip R., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 170; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q463

The Battle of Sabine Pass

September 8, 1863 – A Federal army-navy expedition to the Texas-Louisiana border met with embarrassing defeat by less than 50 Confederates defending Sabine Pass.

With Louisiana under Federal occupation, the Lincoln administration sought a military expansion into eastern Texas. Cotton-starved New England mill owners applied political pressure to invade the cotton-rich region. Also, Mexican arms shipments to the Confederacy through this region provided another reason to invade. Moreover, a Federal presence in eastern Texas could threaten the French puppet regime in Mexico and prevent France from recognizing the Confederacy.

Both President Abraham Lincoln and General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck favored a Texas invasion via the Red River. Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, commanding the Department of the Gulf, favored an attack on Mobile, Alabama. However, his army shrank drastically after capturing Port Hudson, when the enlistment terms of many of his regiments expired. This made a Mobile expedition impossible without reinforcements.

Banks ultimately agreed to target Texas, but he opposed the dangerous Red River plan because the summer had lowered the water level, making it difficult for Federal gunboats to pass. Also, as a former politician with questionable command ability, he did not want his future political aspirations damaged if the expedition failed. Banks instead favored a safer amphibious attack on the Texas coast. Lincoln and Halleck approved.

Banks selected multiple targets, with Sabine Pass being the first. The pass was at the mouth of the Sabine River, which forms the Texas-Louisiana border. Once the Federals controlled Sabine Pass, they could seal it off from blockade runners and continue upriver to Sabine City. From there, they could advance on Beaumont, Houston, or Galveston.

For the army part of the operation, Banks selected Major General William B. Franklin to command. Franklin had failed to save Harpers Ferry prior to the Battle of Antietam, failed to press his advantage at the Battle of Fredericksburg, and was transferred out of the Army of the Potomac for conspiring against Major General Ambrose E. Burnside. He was given 5,000 troops for this mission.

Admiral Henry H. Bell, acting commander of the Federal West Gulf Blockading Squadron, assembled four ironclad gunboats (the U.S.S. Clifton, Arizona, Granite City, and Sachem) to support the army troops. These vessels were converted side-wheel river steamers and the only available ships that had drafts shallow enough to get over the sandbar and enter the Sabine River.

According to Banks, the gunboats had “decayed frames and weak machinery,” and were “constantly out of repair.” Rear Admiral David G. Farragut, the official squadron commander currently on leave, informed Navy Secretary Gideon Welles when he learned of the plan that “you may expect to hear of disaster.” Lieutenant Frederick Crocker would command the navy part of the operation, which included not only the gunboats but 22 transports to convey Franklin’s troops.

The Federal armada arrived off the bar at Sabine Pass late on the 7th. Franklin planned to seize the pass the next day, then move inland to Beaumont and capture the Texas & New Orleans Railroad. This linked Houston to New Orleans and represented the last rail connection between Texas and the eastern Confederacy. In the meantime, a Federal division under Major General Francis J. Herron would divert the attention of Confederates in Louisiana so they would not interfere with the operation.

Fort Griffin guarded the pass about two miles up the Sabine River, but only 47 Confederate artillerists of the Texas Jeff Davis Guards, which had been merged into the 1st Texas Heavy Artillery, manned the fort. Led by 20-year-old saloonkeeper Lieutenant Richard W. Dowling, the Confederates had been posted at Griffin partly as punishment for misbehavior.

The fort had just six smoothbore cannon, but they were on an elevated platform from which the artillerists could see several miles around them. The men had placed range markers in the river and practiced firing their guns every day. Dowling observed Federal signal lights off the pass on the night of the 7th and notified Major General John B. Magruder, his department commander. Magruder advised him to spike the guns and retreat, but Dowling prepared to defend the fort instead.

The Federal gunboats began bombarding Fort Griffin at dawn the next day. The Confederates held their fire until the vessels crossed the bar around 4 p.m. and came within range. Then Dowling’s men used their range markers to open a deadly cannonade. Within a half-hour, the Sachem had taken a shot through her boiler and the Clifton took one through the steam drum. The crews of both gunboats surrendered, while the remaining vessels quickly withdrew.

Federal gunboats entering Sabine Pass | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

In addition to 315 men captured from the Clifton and Sachem, the Federals sustained 65 casualties (19 killed, nine wounded, and 37 missing). Crocker was among the wounded. Franklin also reported that 200,000 rations had been dumped overboard to lighten a grounded transport, and 200 mules had been dumped to lighten a steamer.

As Farragut had predicted, Franklin relied solely on the gunboats to neutralize the fort rather than provide infantry support. Franklin aborted the attack and ordered a return to New Orleans. Thus, the first Federal attempt to invade Texas ended in humiliating failure. The next day, Confederate Captain F.H. Odlum issued his report on the battle:

“I have the honor to report that we had an engagement with the enemy yesterday and gained a handsome victory. We captured two of their gunboats, crippled a third, and drove the rest out of the Pass. We took 18 fine guns, a quantity of smaller arms, ammunition and stores, killed about 50, wounded several, and took 150 prisoners, without the loss or injury of any one on our side or serious damage to the fort.”

This small engagement greatly boosted Confederate morale. President Jefferson Davis called it “one of the most brilliant and heroic achievements in the history of warfare,” and labeled the battle the Thermopylae of the war. Dowling and his gunners became southern heroes, later receiving an official vote of thanks from the Confederate Congress. Houston residents also contributed to produce special Davis Guard medals for the men, the only official Confederate awards for military valor.

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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 15814; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 322-24; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 774-75; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Locations 523-533; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 346-48; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 46-47, 50; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 404-07; 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. 683; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 171-72; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 650

The Richmond Strategy Conference

September 7, 1863 – As Major General William S. Rosecrans’s Federals closed in on Chattanooga, participants at the high-level conference in Richmond decided to reinforce General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee.

Confederate Lt Gen James Longstreet | Image Credit: BlogSpot.com

General Robert E. Lee had been summoned from his Army of Northern Virginia to meet with President Jefferson Davis at the Confederate capital to discuss military strategy. Lee had proposed resuming the offensive, and he notified his corps commanders to begin mobilizing at the end of August. Lee intended to move north, cross the Rapidan and Rappahannock rivers, draw Major General George G. Meade out onto open ground, and “crush his army while in the present condition.”

Lieutenant General James Longstreet, commanding the First Corps in Lee’s army, disagreed with his commander’s proposal. Longstreet wrote, “I do not know that we can reasonably hope to accomplish much here by offensive operations, unless you are strong enough to cross the Potomac” and invade the North once again. Longstreet added, “If we advance to meet the enemy on this side (of the Potomac),” Meade “will, in all probability, go into one of his many fortified positions; these we cannot afford to attack.”

But instead of staying on the defensive on all fronts, Longstreet wrote:

“I know but little of the condition of our affairs in the west, but am inclined to the opinion that our best opportunity for great results is in Tennessee. If we could hold the defensive here with two corps, and send the other to operate in Tennessee with that (Bragg’s) army, I think that we could accomplish more than by an advance from here.”

Longstreet asserted that one corps from Lee’s army could help “destroy Rosecrans’ army.” Davis had considered transferring part of Lee’s army to another theater before the Gettysburg campaign, but Lee persuaded him to keep his army intact so he could invade the North. But now that Federals had captured Knoxville and threatened Chattanooga, Davis would not be persuaded a second time.

It was agreed that Longstreet would lead two of his three divisions (Major General George Pickett’s division was still recovering from Gettysburg) to reinforce Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. Lee would also send two brigades to bolster the tenuous Charleston defenses.

Davis suggested that Lee should go with Longstreet and replace Bragg as commander. But Lee demurred because Bragg’s knowledge of the mountainous terrain around Chattanooga was too valuable to replace. Lee, whose offensive was indefinitely postponed, returned to his Orange Court House headquarters to arrange for transferring part of his army.

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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 18812; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 708; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6370-81; 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. 671

The Confederacy Looks to France

September 5, 1863 – Confederate Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith urged foreign envoy John Slidell to get France to intervene on the Confederacy’s behalf so that the French puppet regime in Mexico would have a friendly neighbor to the north.

By this month, French forces had invaded Mexico due to non-payment of debts owed to France. French Emperor Napoleon III installed Maximilian I of Austria as the new Mexican emperor under a French protectorate. The Lincoln administration opposed this move because European powers interfering in the affairs of Western Hemisphere nations violated the Monroe Doctrine. But with war raging against the Confederacy, there was little the administration could do about it.

Napoleon had hinted at recognizing Confederate independence in the past, and as such, the Confederacy tried cultivating friendly relations with France. The Confederates also hoped that a French-controlled Mexico would facilitate the passage of much-needed imports into Texas.

Confederate General E.K. Smith | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Smith, who commanded the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department that included Texas, hoped to offset the loss of the Mississippi River (and thus his access to goods from the east) by negotiating an arrangement with the French. He wrote Slidell, the former French envoy:

“The action of the French in Mexico and the erection of an empire under their auspices makes the establishment of the Confederacy the policy of the French Government. The condition of the States west of the Mississippi, separated from the General Government, at Richmond; the exhausted state of the country, with its fighting population in the armies east of the Mississippi; the vast preparations making by the enemy to complete the occupation and subjugation of this whole Western Department, are all matters which, if properly brought before the French Emperor, should influence him in hastening the intervention of his good services in our behalf. This succor must come speedily, or it will be too late. Without assistance from abroad or an extraordinary interposition of Providence, less than twelve months will see this fair country irretrievably lost, and the French protectorate in Mexico will find a hostile power established on their frontier, of exhaustless resources and great military strength, impelled by revenge and the traditional policy of its Government to overthrow all foreign influences on the American continent.”

According to Smith, if the French were going to colonize Mexico, it would be in their best interests to have the Confederacy neighboring them to the north because the U.S. would be hostile toward their intentions. Therefore, it only stood to reason that Napoleon should recognize Confederate independence and aid the Davis administration in its war against the U.S.

Smith stressed that France had to act quickly, because his department had only “the aged, the infirm, and the lukewarm” left to stop the growing number of Federal forces. He warned that without France’s help, the Federals would control the Mississippi “with their southern and western frontier open for extension toward Mexico and the Pacific.”

Smith declared that “the forced impressment of our slaves into their army, to wage a ruthless war against their masters, all in the name of humanity call for the interposition of those powers who really hold the destiny of our country in their hands.” He concluded:

“The intervention of the French Government can alone save Mexico from having on its border a grasping, haughty, and imperious neighbor. If the policy of the Emperor looks to an intervention in our affairs, he should take immediate military possession of the east bank of the Rio Grande, and open to us the only channel by which supplies and munitions of war can be introduced into the department. The whole cotton trade west of the Mississippi will thus be secured to the French market, and the enemy will be anticipated in making a lodgment on the Rio Grande, from which he could not be driven without great difficulty.”

Smith then wrote President Jefferson Davis explaining that he had called on Slidell to negotiate with Napoleon on his department’s behalf. Smith conceded that he cast the department “in a gloomy light,” but it “wasn’t a too exaggerated picture of what may occur.” Federals were expanding their control over Louisiana and beginning to threaten the Texas coast. They were also threatening Fort Smith and Little Rock, two of the most important points in Arkansas.

Smith had only 30,000 effectives in his department, but he told Davis that more might be encouraged to enlist if he had weapons to give them. He wrote, “Sixty thousand rifles could, I believe, this moment be well disposed of throughout this department.”

But Davis had no such arms to send Smith, and Napoleon ultimately refused to recognize the Confederacy.

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References

Kerby, Robert L., Kirby Smith’s Confederacy; Official Records of the War of the Rebellion (Series 1, Volume 22, Part 2), p. 993-95

The Springfield National Union Rally

September 3, 1863 – At least 50,000 people attended a rally in President Abraham Lincoln’s hometown of Springfield, Illinois, in support of Lincoln and his war policies.

In June, Illinois Democrats had staged an enormous protest demonstration in Springfield. Many anti-war Copperheads attended the event, and passionate orators stirred the crowd into a near frenzy as they called for an immediate cease-fire and peace negotiations with the Confederacy. Participants approved resolutions calling for “the restoration of the Union as it was” and opposed “further offensive prosecution of the war.”

“Unconditional Union Men” countered that rally with one of their own “in favor of law and order and constitutional government.” Leaders formed an organizing committee for the event, which called itself the “National Union” party and included not only Republicans, but pro-war Democrats as well. Hoping to build momentum for the upcoming elections and draw more people than the Copperheads in June, the committee invited Lincoln to attend in person.

Committee chairman James C. Conkling wrote the president assuring him “that not only would the thousands who will be here be prepared to receive you with the warmest enthusiasm but the whole country would be eager to extend to you its congratulations on the way.” Knowing that Lincoln was fully aware of his dwindling popularity in his home state, Conkling warned, “The Presidential campaign for your successor (if any) has already commenced in Illinois.”

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

Lincoln declined to attend, citing war demands. However, he sent a letter to Conkling and asked that it be read to the audience and published in the newspapers. Lincoln instructed, “Read it very slowly.” The letter was intended to appeal to the pro-war and pro-administration people expected to attend the event.

Lincoln thanked those “whom no partizan malice, or partizan hope, can make false to the nation’s life.” He then responded to the Copperhead calls for an immediate end to the war by stating that, in his mind, there were just “three conceivable ways” to restore peace:

  • Destroying the Confederacy
  • Acknowledging Confederate independence
  • Negotiating some kind of compromise

Regarding the first option, Lincoln wrote, “This I am trying to do. Are you for it? If you are, so far we are agreed.” For the second, he wrote, “I am against this. Are you for it? If you are, you should say so plainly.” And for the third, he wrote, “I do not believe any compromise, embracing the maintenance of the Union, is now possible. All I learn leads to a directly opposite belief.”

Copperhead charges that Lincoln opposed “peace through compromise” were “deceptive and groundless.” Ignoring the Confederates’ unofficial attempt to discuss peace in July, Lincoln stated that he had received “no word or intimation . . . in relation to any peace compromise.”

Lincoln then wrote about emancipation, a highly sensitive issue in Illinois. He justified his Emancipation Proclamation by arguing, “I think the constitution invests its commander-in-chief, with the law of war, in time of war.” Addressing Illinoisans who refused to fight for slave liberation, Lincoln stated:

“You say you will not fight to free negroes. Some of them seem willing to fight for you; but no matter. Fight you, then, exclusive to save the Union. I issued the Proclamation on purpose to aid you in saving the Union… But negroes, like other people, act upon motives. Why should they do anything for us if we will do nothing for them? If they stake their lives for us, they must be prompted by the strongest motive–even the promise of freedom. And the promise, being made, must be kept.”

Lincoln warned that when the war ended, “there will be some black men who can remember that, with silent tongue, and clenched teeth, and steady eye, and well-poised bayonet, they have helped mankind on to this great consummation; while, I fear, there will be some white ones, unable to forget that, with malignant heart, and deceitful speech, they have strove to hinder it.”

The president optimistically concluded, “Peace does not appear so distant as it did,” as the “signs look better” for a Federal victory. Noting that the Federals now controlled the Mississippi River, “The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea. Thanks to the great North-West for it… Thanks to all, for the great republic–for the principle it lives by, and keeps alive—for man’s vast future, –thanks to all.”

This letter was positively received by the audience at Springfield, as well as most other northerners who supported the war effort. For the first time, Lincoln equated emancipation with preserving the Union, thus implying that those who opposed freeing slaves must therefore oppose the war. This did much to gain support for Republicans in the upcoming state elections.

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References

Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9671-9705; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), p. 639-40; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 344; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 401; 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. 686-87; 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), Q363