Category Archives: Reconstruction

Lincoln Visits Richmond

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

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

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

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

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

Porter later wrote:

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

President Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 54-55; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 554; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 12308-19; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 18805-74, 18913-43; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 577; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 718; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 108-10, 164-71; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 666-67; McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1981), p. 215; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 846; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 369; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition, 2012), Loc Q265

The City Point Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sherman wrote of Lincoln:

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

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References

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

The Freedmen’s Bureau

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 541-42; DiLorenzo, Thomas J., The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003), p. 209; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 290; Ferrell, Claudine, Reconstruction: Greenwood Guides to Historic Events 1500-1900 (Greenwood, 2003), p. 8; Foner, Eric, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (New York: HarperCollins, 1988), p. 68; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 561; FreedmensBureau.com; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 265; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 646-47; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 842; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 28; Napolitano, Andrew P., Dred Scott’s Revenge: A Legal History of Race and Freedom in America (Kindle Edition), p. 108

Compensated Emancipation and the Hampton Roads Fallout

February 10, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln unveiled a new plan for slave emancipation, and members of Congress demanded to know what happened at Hampton Roads.

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

After returning from the Hampton Roads conference, Lincoln met with his cabinet and presented a scheme to compensate slaveholders if their state governments voted to return to the Union and ratify the Thirteenth Amendment. Slaveholders in the loyal border states would also be compensated if they voluntarily freed their slaves. Lincoln proposed that Congress appropriate “four hundred millions of dollars,” payable in 6-percent Federal bonds, and distribute them to each participating state according to its slave population in the 1860 census.

Half the subsidy would be paid if “all resistance to the national authority shall be abandoned and cease” by April 1. The other half would be paid if the states ratified the amendment by July 1. Once these conditions were met, Lincoln would declare the war ended and the “armies… reduced to a basis of peace.” He would pardon political dissidents, restore confiscated property (except slaves), and urge Congress to be liberal “upon all points not lying within executive control.”

This was a more detailed version of a compensated emancipation plan that Lincoln had suggested to the Confederate envoys during the Hampton Roads conference in exchange for peace. He asked his cabinet ministers for their advice, and to his surprise, they unanimously opposed this proposal.

Interior Secretary John Usher feared that the Radical Republicans in Congress “would make it the occasion of a violent assault on the president” for offering such leniency toward the South. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton argued that such a plan was wasteful and unnecessary since the slaves had already been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. Treasury Secretary William P. Fessenden asserted “that the only way to effectually end the war was by force of arms, and that until the war was thus ended no proposition to pay money would come from us.”

Lincoln countered that he was presenting this plan “as a measure of strict and simple economy.” The monetary figure equated to continuing the war for another 200 days, and he desperately wanted it to end. He said:

“How long has this war lasted, and how long do you suppose it will still last? We cannot hope that it will end in less than a hundred days. We are now spending three millions a day, and that will equal the full amount I propose to pay, to say nothing of the lives lost and property destroyed.”

When this did not move the cabinet members, Lincoln sighed, “You are all against me.” On the back of his written proposal, Lincoln wrote under the date of 5 Feb 1865: “Today these papers, which explain themselves, were drawn up and submitted to the Cabinet and unanimously disapproved by them.” Lincoln signed his name and filed it away. He never raised the issue of compensated emancipation again. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles later wrote that “the earnest desire of the President to conciliate and effect peace was manifest, but there may be such a thing as so overdoing as to cause a distrust or adverse feeling.”

In reality, the Radicals seeking to punish the Confederacy would have never approved Lincoln’s plan. Many of them had already condemned Lincoln for even meeting with the Confederate envoys at Hampton Roads. Thaddeus Stevens, the leading Radical in the House of Representatives, strongly criticized the president for negotiating with “rebels,” and he led the majority in approving a resolution demanding that Lincoln submit a formal report on what had been discussed. House Speaker Schuyler Colfax assured Lincoln that such a report “cannot fail to increase the confidence of the American people in you.”

At the same time, Charles Sumner, the leading Radical in the Senate, introduced a resolution asking for “any information in his (Lincoln’s) possession concerning recent conversations or communications with certain rebels.” A heated debate ensued in which conservative Republicans, Lincoln’s firmest allies, accused Radicals and Democrats of conspiring to infringe on the president’s constitutional power to negotiate treaties. The Radicals angrily denied such charges, but the resolution passed nonetheless.

Lincoln complied with Congress by submitting a formal report (actually written by Secretary of State William H. Seward) on the 10th. Correspondent and Lincoln friend Noah Brooks reported from the congressional gallery: “The reading began in absolute silence. Looking over the hall, one might say that the hundreds seated or standing within the limits of the great room had been suddenly turned to stone.”

Many congressmen who had been skeptical of Lincoln slowly realized that he had stood firm in his commitment to restore the Union and end slavery. Brooks reported:

“When the reading was over, and the name of the writer at the end of the communication was read by the clerk with a certain grandiloquence, there was an instant and irrepressible storm of applause, begun by the members on the floor, and taken up by the people in the gallery. It was instantaneous, involuntary, and irrepressible, and the Speaker only perfunctorily attempted to quell it. It was like a burst of refreshing rain after a long and heartbreaking drought.”

A Democrat spoke for the small minority who urged Congress to support an armistice, declaring, “I am in favor of appealing from guns and bayonets and artillery to reason, to sense, to Christianity, and to civilization.” Stevens responded by quoting Jefferson Davis: “Sooner than we should be united again, I would be willing to yield up everything I have on earth; and if it were possible, I would yield up my life a thousand times rather than succumb.” He continued:

“And yet a man calling himself a patriot and an American rises upon this floor and sends forth to the country a denunciation of the President of the United States for not entering into negotiations with men holding these doctrines and entertaining these views. I will apply no epithets to such a man; I do not know that I could use any which would be sufficiently merited.”

Thus, the war would continue until the Confederacy surrendered unconditionally.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11949-60; 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 16241-70; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 550; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 692-93, 695-96; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 634-35, 637; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition, 2012), Q165

The Hampton Roads Conference: Southern Reaction

February 6, 1865 – President Jefferson Davis submitted his report on the Hampton Roads peace conference to the Confederate Congress, along with his denunciation of the Federals’ insistence on reunion.

The three Confederate envoys (Vice President Alexander Stephens, Assistant Secretary of War John A. Campbell, and Senate President Robert M.T. Hunter) returned to Richmond on the 4th following their meeting with U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William H. Seward at Hampton Roads. They met with President Davis that night and briefed him on what had been discussed.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

The Confederates got nothing they had hoped for in the talks, and Davis asserted that Lincoln had “acted in bad faith” by rejecting Francis P. Blair, Sr.’s plan to unite Federals and Confederates against the French in Mexico. But according to Stephens, “the publicity of the Mission was enough to account for its failure, without attributing it to any bad faith, either on the part of Mr. Blair or Mr. Lincoln.”

Stephens wrote that even though the Confederate cause seemed lost, Davis believed “that Richmond could still be defended, notwithstanding Sherman had already made considerable progress on this march from Savannah; and that our Cause could still be successfully maintained…” Hunter agreed with Davis, but Campbell later wrote, “I recommended the return of our commission or another commission to adjust a peace. I believed that one could be made upon the concession of union and the surrender of slavery, upon suitable arrangements.”

Davis refused. According to Campbell, Davis argued that “the Constitution did not allow him to treat for his own suicide. All that he could do would be to receive resolutions and submit them to the sovereign States; that his personal honor did not permit him to take any steps to make such a settlement as was proposed.”

J.A. Campbell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Campbell opined that the peace effort “failed, principally through Mr. Davis, who had no capacity to control himself to do an irksome, exacting, humiliating, and, in his judgment, dishonoring act, however called for by the necessities of his situation. He preferred to let the edifice fall into ruins, expecting to move off with majesty before the event occurred.”

The next day, the commissioners submitted their formal report on the Hampton Roads conference to Davis. It stated in part:

“… A conference was granted… We understood from him (Lincoln) that no terms or proposals of any treaty or agreements looking to an ultimate settlement would be entertained or made by him with the authorities of the Confederate States, because that would be recognition of their existence as a separate power, which, under no circumstances, would be done… During the conference, the proposed amendment to the Constitution of the United States adopted by Congress on the 31st ultimo was brought to our notice…”

Davis forwarded the report to the Confederate Congress with a presidential message:

“I herewith submit for the information of Congress the report of the eminent citizens above named, showing that the enemy refused to enter into negotiations with the Confederate States, or any one of them separately, or to give to our people any other terms or guarantees than those which the conqueror may grant, or to permit us to have peace on any other basis than our unconditional submission to their rule, coupled with the acceptance of their recent legislation, including an amendment to the Constitution for the emancipation of all the negro slaves, and with the right on the part of the Federal Congress to legislate on the subject of the relations between the white and black population of each State. Such is, as I understand, the effect of the amendment to the Constitution which has been adopted by the Congress of the United States.”

Virginia Governor William Smith organized a meeting at Richmond’s Metropolitan Hall to condemn the Hampton Roads results. Hunter attended the meeting and spoke for the Confederate envoys:

“If anything was wanted to stir blood, it was furnished when we were told that the United States could not consent to entertain any proposition coming from us as a people. Lincoln might have offered something… No treaty, no stipulation, no agreement, either with the Confederate States jointly or with them separately; what was this but unconditional submission to the mercy of the conquerors?”

On the 9th, Davis and other high-ranking Confederate officials attended a day-long rally at the African Church, which was borrowed for the occasion for its spaciousness. Hunter delivered another speech, this time declaring that Lincoln “turned from propositions of peace with cold insolence. I will not attempt to draw a picture of subjugation. It would require a pencil dripped in blood.” Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin said, “Hope beams in every countenance. We know in our hearts that this people must conquer its freedom or die.”

Davis hoped that news of the failed peace conference would galvanize southerners to fight even harder for their independence. He announced that he “would be willing to yield up everything he had on earth” before submitting to Federal authority. Davis asserted that the Confederate military was in excellent condition, and “Sherman’s march through Georgia would be his last.”

He predicted that the Federals would seek peace terms by summer, and declared, “I can have no ‘common country’ with the Yankees. My life is bound up in the Confederacy; and, if any man supposes that, under any circumstances, I can be an agent of reconstruction of the Union, he has mistaken every element of my nature!”

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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 21852-68; 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 16270-330; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 551; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 692-93; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 132; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 635; 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. 823-24; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 468, 470-71

Peace Conference at Hampton Roads

February 3, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William H. Seward met with three Confederate envoys to discuss a possible end to the war.

On the morning of the 3rd, Lincoln and Seward met with Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, Senate President Robert M.T. Hunter, and Assistant Secretary of War John A. Campbell aboard the steamboat River Queen off Hampton Roads, Virginia. The men met in the saloon specially prepared for them.

The River Queen | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org public domain

Lincoln and Stephens were old friends, and they began the meeting by talking about mutual acquaintances. Seward described the new dome over the Capitol to the envoys, all of whom had once served in the U.S. Congress. The men agreed not to document the meeting, and nobody was allowed in the saloon except a steward who served refreshments. Stephens began the official talks by asking, “Is there no way to put an end to the present troubles and restore the good feelings that existed in those days between the different States and sections of the country?”

Lincoln said that the only way to stop the war was “for those who were resisting the laws of the Union to cease that resistance. All the trouble came from an armed resistance against the National Authority.” Stephens suggested uniting Federals and Confederates in a common cause to end the war, and Lincoln replied, “I suppose you refer to something that Mr. Blair has said. Now it is proper to state at the beginning, that whatever (Blair) said was of his own accord… and he had no authority to speak for me. When he returned and brought me Mr. Davis’s letter, I gave him” the letter dated January 18, making “the restoration of the Union a sine qua non with me, and hence my instructions that no conference was to be held except upon that basis.”

Lincoln stated that he “was always willing to hear propositions for peace on the conditions of this letter and on no other,” and he was led to understand that the envoys had accepted this term as part of their “application for leave to cross the lines” and meet with him.

After a brief silence, Campbell asked hypothetically how the southern states might return to the Union. Seward asked to defer that question so he could hear more about Stephens’s idea of Federals and Confederates joining forces. Stephens explained that France had violated the Monroe Doctrine by installing a puppet ruler over Mexico, and as such the two sides could call a ceasefire and join to oust the French from that country. During the armistice, a military convention could settle all differences between the two sides.

Stephens had cleverly turned the discussion into what the Confederates wanted: a ceasefire so they could negotiate on the basis of Confederate independence. But, according to Stephens, Lincoln “could entertain no proposition for ceasing active military operations, which was not based upon a pledge first given, for the ultimate restoration of the Union.”

Lincoln explained that “the settlement of our existing difficulties was a question now of supreme importance,” and the only way to settle them was the “recognition and re-establishment of the National Authority throughout the land.” Stephens later wrote: “These pointed and emphatic responses seemed to put an end to the Conference on the subject contemplated in our Mission, as we had no authority to give any such pledge, even if we had been inclined to do so, nor was it expected that any such would really be required to be given.”

Seward asked for more details on how invading Mexico would promote “permanent peace and harmony in all parts of the country,” but when Stephens shared them, Seward concluded that no “system of Government founded upon them could be successfully worked. The Union could never be restored or maintained on that basis.” Hunter conceded that “there was not unanimity in the South upon the subject… it was not probable that any arrangement could be made by which the Confederates would agree to join in sending any portion of their Army into Mexico.”

Lincoln repeated that he “could not entertain a proposition for an Armistice on any terms, while the great and vital question of reunion was indisposed of.” Stephens later wrote, “He could enter into no treaty, convention or stipulation, or agreement with the Confederate States, jointly or separately, upon that or any other subject, but upon the basis first settled, that the Union was to be restored. Any such agreement, or stipulation, would be a quasi recognition of the States then in arms against the National Government as a separate Power.”

Stephens suggested that Lincoln could, as commander-in-chief, approve a military convention to settle their differences. Lincoln agreed that he could, but he would not approve such a thing unless “it was first agreed that the National Authority was to be re-established throughout the country.”

This brought Campbell back to his original question of how the southern states might return to the Union. Lincoln answered, “By disbanding their armies, and permitting the National Authorities to resume their functions.” Seward backed him by telling the envoys that “Mr. Lincoln could not express himself more clearly or forcibly” on this matter than he did in his message to Congress last December. Seward then explained exactly what Lincoln had written in that message.

Campbell declared that numerous matters “required stipulation or agreement of some sort” before the South could rejoin the Union. Dissolving the Confederate military “was a delicate and difficult operation,” and a policy regarding confiscated property would need to be implemented. Seward suggested that property issues could be settled by the courts, and Congress would be “liberal in making restitution of confiscated property, or providing indemnity, after the excitement of the times had passed off.”

Stephens brought up slave emancipation. Lincoln conceded that his Emancipation Proclamation may not be legal, and the courts would decide this after the war. In the meantime, Seward estimated that about 200,000 slaves had been freed under the decree, and Lincoln would not retract or modify it in any way.

Seward informed the envoys that the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery had just passed Congress. He then tried enticing the envoys by implying that if the southern states returned to the Union, they could kill the amendment by blocking ratification: “If the war were then to cease, it would probably not be adopted by a number of States, sufficient to make it a part of the Constitution.”

Lincoln then gave a long discourse on slavery, of which Stephens later wrote:

“He said it was not his intention in the beginning to interfere with Slavery in the States; that he never would have done it, if he had not been compelled by necessity to do it, to maintain the Union; that the subject presented many difficult and perplexing questions to him; that he had hesitated for some time, and had resorted to this measure only when driven to it by public necessity; that he had been in favor of the General Government prohibiting the extension of Slavery into the Territories, but did not think that the Government possessed power over the subject in the States, except as a war measure; and that he had always himself been in favor of emancipation, but not immediate emancipation, even by the States.”

Lincoln then advised Stephens on what he would do if he were Stephens:

“I would go home (to Georgia) and get the Governor of the State to call the Legislature together, and get them to recall all the State troops from the war; elect Senators and Members to Congress, and ratify this Constitutional Amendment prospectively, so as to take effect–say in five years. Such a ratification would be valid in my opinion… Whatever may have been the views of your people before the war, they must be convinced now that Slavery is doomed. It cannot last long in any event, and the best course, it seems to me, for your public men to pursue, would be to adopt such a policy as will avoid, as far as possible, the evils of immediate emancipation.”

Lincoln went on to voice his support for compensating slaveholders for the loss of their labor, but only if the southern states voluntarily abolished slavery and returned to the Union. Since the North was partly responsible for slavery, Lincoln stated that northerners would likely support “paying a fair indemnity for the loss to (slave) owners.” He said that Congress could appropriate up to 15 percent of the slaves’ 1860 value, amounting to about $400 million.

Seward objected to his plan, arguing, “The United States has already paid on that account.” Lincoln said, “Ah, Mr. Seward, you may talk so about slavery if you will, but if it was wrong in the South to hold slaves, it was wrong in the North to carry on the slave trade, and it would be wrong to hold onto that money that the North procured by selling slaves to the South without compensation, if the North took the slaves back again.” Lincoln reiterated his support for compensating slaveholders, but he also reiterated that Congress would have to approve the compensation.

The envoys then discussed “the evils of immediate emancipation,” such as the hardships that freedom would bring to those “who were unable to support themselves.” Lincoln responded with an anecdote about a farmer who told his neighbor about an efficient way to feed his hogs: “Why, it is to plant plenty of potatoes, and when they are mature, without either digging or housing them, turn the hogs in the field and let them get their own food as they want it.” His neighbor asked, “But how will they do when the winter comes and the ground is hard frozen?” The farmer answered, “Well, let ‘em root.”

As the discussion entered its fourth hour, Hunter said that it seemed Lincoln and Seward expected nothing less than “unconditional surrender” from the Confederacy. Seward said that neither he nor Lincoln had used those words, and that they merely insisted on the South “yielding to the execution of the laws under the constitution of the United States, with all its guarantees and securities for personal and political rights.” Such a thing could not “be properly considered as unconditional submission to conquerors, or as having anything humiliating in it.”

Lincoln added that as president, he had the power to pardon citizens, and he would do so “with the utmost liberality.” Only Congress could decide whether to seat senators and representatives from the southern states, but Lincoln said “they ought to be” seated. Hunter said that King Charles I of England had been willing to compromise with those rebelling against him, and Lincoln should do the same. Lincoln quipped, “I do not profess to be posted in history. On all such matters I will turn you over to Seward. All I distinctly recollect about the case of Charles I, is, that he lost his head in the end.”

Based on Lincoln’s conditions and terms, there would be no further negotiation until the southern states agreed to unconditional submission to U.S. rule. Hunter asked, “Mr. President, if we understand you correctly, you think that we of the Confederacy have committed treason; that we are traitors to your government; that we have forfeited our rights, and are proper subjects for the hangman. Is that not about what your words imply?” Lincoln replied, “Yes. You have stated the proposition better than I did. That is about the size of it.”

Hunter countered, “Well, Mr. President, we suppose that would necessarily be your view of our case, but we have about concluded that we will not be hanged as long as you are President – so long as we behave ourselves.” This broke the tension in the saloon. Then there was some talk about West Virginia, which Lincoln insisted would remain separate from Virginia.

The cordial four-hour meeting ended with no agreements made, mainly because the Confederates could not consent to Lincoln’s demand for “one common country.” As the meeting broke up, Lincoln agreed to release Stephens’s nephew, a captured lieutenant in the Lake Erie island prison camp. He also promised to suggest to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant that he work with Confederate officials to set up a prisoner exchange system.

Lincoln and Seward left for Washington immediately after the meeting. Their departure left the Confederates to either voluntarily submit to terms they deemed unacceptable or continue fighting until forced to unconditionally submit. Nevertheless, the Federals hoped the Confederates would see that the war was lost and therefore voluntarily return to the Union.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 209-10; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 564; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 526-27; 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 16211-70; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 549; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 692-93; Harris, William C., “The Hampton Roads Peace Conference: A Final Test of Lincoln’s Presidential Leadership” (Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Vol. 21, Issue 1, 2000), p. 30-61; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 21-24; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 132; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 631-34; McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1981), p. 208; 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. 822-23; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 469; 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), Q165

Peace Talks: Lincoln Leaves for Hampton Roads

February 2, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln accepted a suggestion to meet with Confederate envoys in person to discuss possible peace.

Three Confederate envoys waited at City Point, Virginia, for permission to discuss peace with members of the Lincoln administration. The envoys were Vice President Alexander Stephens, Senate President Robert M.T. Hunter, and Assistant Secretary of War John A. Campbell. They were made guests of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, while they waited.

Major Thomas T. Eckert, head of the War Department telegraph office, had been dispatched from Washington to open preliminary talks with the envoys. Eckert was to obtain a written pledge that negotiations would be based on the notion that North and South were “one common country.” If the envoys agreed, they would be allowed to proceed to Fort Monroe, where Secretary of State William H. Seward would talk with them.

Pres. Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

While Eckert was in transit, President Lincoln wired Grant: “Let nothing which is transpiring change, hinder or delay your military movements or plans.” Grant answered, “There will be no armistice in consequence of the presence of Mr. Stephens and others within our lines. The troops are kept in readiness to move at the shortest notice if occasion should justify it.” The envoys told Grant that they accepted the conditions listed in Lincoln’s letter of January 18 to Francis P. Blair, Sr., “without any personal compromise on any question in the letter.”

Eckert arrived on the afternoon of the 1st, where he informed the envoys of the written pledge and then left them alone to discuss it. When he returned that night, he found that their response did not specifically repudiate President Jefferson Davis’s insistence that peace talks proceed only on the basis of “two countries.” Eckert therefore deemed their answer “not satisfactory,” and at 9:30 p.m., he reported: “I notified them that they could not proceed.”

But Grant did not want the peace talks to break down, and so he interceded with a message of his own an hour later:

“Now that the interview between Major Eckert, under his written instructions, and Mr. Stephens and party has ended, I will state confidentially, but not officially to become a matter of record, that I am convinced, upon conversation with Messrs. Stephens and Hunter, that their intentions are good and their desire sincere to restore peace and union. I have not felt myself at liberty to express even views of my own or to account for my reticency. This has placed me in an awkward position, which I could have avoided by not seeing them in the first instance. I fear now their going back without any expression from any one in authority will have a bad influence. At the same time I recognize the difficulties in the way of receiving these informal commissioners at this time, and do not know what to recommend. I am sorry, however, that Mr. Lincoln cannot have an interview with the two named in this dispatch, if not all three now within our lines. Their letter to me was all that the President’s instructions contemplated, to secure their safe conduct, if they had used the same language to Major Eckert.”

On the morning of the 2nd, Lincoln received a wire from Seward, who was expecting the envoys at Fort Monroe: “Richmond party not here.” Lincoln then received Eckert’s message explaining why he did not let them proceed. The president decided to recall both Seward and Eckert, but then Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton arrived with Grant’s message. Lincoln authorized the envoys to proceed to Fort Monroe and wired Seward: “Induced by a despatch of Gen. Grant, I join you at Fort-Monroe as soon as I can come.” He then wired Grant: “Say to the gentlemen I will meet them personally at Fortress Monroe, as soon as I can get there.”

Travel arrangements were made within two hours. He could not get to Chesapeake Bay in the usual way due to ice on the Potomac River. Lincoln therefore took a special train to Annapolis, walked a half-mile to the landing, and then boarded the steamer Thomas Colyer. Just one aide accompanied him. Word quickly spread that the president had left the capital, and many were not happy about it.

Navy Secretary Gideon Welles wrote that the cabinet viewed it “unfavorably that the Chief Magistrate should have gone on such a mission.” The Radical Republicans in Congress feared that Lincoln might give up too much in exchange for a speedy end to the war. They threatened “hostile investigation and hostile resistance” to the peace effort, but no measures were passed. Nevertheless, the New York Tribune reported that “radical War men made no concealment of their anger and their apprehensions.”

Charles Francis Adams, Jr. wrote to his father, the U.S. minister to Great Britain, that Lincoln’s trip was “a step forward, an indispensable first step.” He spoke for many by adding, “As for dignity, I do not look to President Lincoln for that… I do look to him for honesty and shrewdness and I see no evidence that in this matter he has been wanting in these respects.”

Lincoln arrived at Hampton Roads that night and met with Seward, who was aboard the River Queen. The peace conference would begin the next day.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 564; Catton, Bruce, Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 420; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 525-26; 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 16181-221; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 549; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 690-91, 692-93; Harris, William C., “The Hampton Roads Peace Conference: A Final Test of Lincoln’s Presidential Leadership” (Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Vol. 21, Issue 1, 2000), p. 30-61; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 21-24; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 132; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 631-33; McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1981), p. 202-05; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 469; 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), Q165