Tag Archives: Abraham Lincoln

Petersburg: The Tunneling Expedition Continues

July 15, 1864 – As the Federals outside Petersburg settled in for long-term siege operations, Confederates finally began digging countermines to try to find the Federals supposedly tunneling under their lines.

Maj Gen G.G. Meade | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

During the first half of July, the combined Federal Armies of the Potomac and the James settled into fortifications running from northeast to southeast of Petersburg. Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac, issued orders declaring that operations would be conducted according to “regular approaches.”

This meant initiating siege tactics and gradually extending the Federal line until the defensive line of General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia broke. Federal crews began building railroad lines around the Petersburg perimeter, which would bring in supplies from City Point, at the confluence of the James and Appomattox rivers.

However, technically this campaign was not a siege because siege tactics were traditionally undertaken when an enemy was surrounded, and the Confederates were not. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, sought to eventually move around the Confederate right flank and surround the enemy, but the Confederates were too strong to allow it.

Meanwhile, northern dissatisfaction with Grant’s performance increased. A cavalry raid in late June had failed, and it seemed that no real progress was being made outside Petersburg. An article in the New York World asked, “Who shall revive the withered hopes that bloomed on the opening of Grant’s campaign?” Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck confided in his friend, Major General William T. Sherman:

Entre nous, I fear Grant has made a fatal mistake in putting himself south of the James River. He cannot now reach Richmond without taking Petersburg, which is strongly fortified, crossing the Appomattox, and recrossing the James. Moreover, by placing his army south of Richmond he opens the capital and the whole North to rebel raids. Lee can at any time detach 30,000 to 40,000 men without our knowing it till we are actually threatened. I hope we may yet have full success, but I find that many of Grant’s general officers think the campaign already a failure.”

The enormous number of casualties shocked the administration so much that President Abraham Lincoln felt it necessary to respond to a message Grant had sent Sherman:

“In your dispatch of yesterday to General Sherman I find the following, to wit: ‘I shall make a desperate effort to get a position here which will hold the enemy without the necessity of so many men.’ Pressed as we are by lapse of time, I am glad to hear you say this; and yet I do hope you may find a way that the effort shall not be desperate in the sense of a great loss of life.”

Lincoln issued a proclamation on the 18th calling for 500,000 more volunteers to replenish the Virginia losses. To avoid another Wall Street crisis like that in May, Lincoln encouraged men to volunteer before the draft, which Lincoln ordered to take place after September 5 to fill any remaining quotas. This unpopular move endangered Lincoln’s reelection chances in the upcoming presidential election; a Democratic editor even said, “Lincoln is deader than dead.”

Gen W.F. Smith | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Major General William F. “Baldy” Smith, whom Grant respected due to his work on the “cracker line” into Chattanooga last year, was removed as XVIII Corps commander. His blunder at Petersburg on June 15 would have been enough cause for removal, but Smith had also feuded with his superior (Major General Benjamin F. Butler) and criticized Meade, which reflected on Grant. Smith’s lobbying in his own defense only made matters worse for him. He was replaced by Major General E.O.C. Ord.

The only potentially positive development for the Federals was the tunneling expedition, which had begun in late June. The 48th Pennsylvania, a regiment consisting mainly of anthracite coal miners, worked through most of July to tunnel under the Confederate lines at Elliott’s Salient, southeast of Blandford Cemetery.

Brigadier General E. Porter Alexander, the chief Confederate artillerist, had warned that the Federals were tunneling under their lines, but the Confederates did not start digging countermines until over two weeks later. They dug around Elliott’s Salient and other nearby redans, but they could not find the Federals beneath them.

The Pennsylvanians completed the tunnel on the 23rd. Lieutenant Colonel Henry Pleasants, commanding the 48th, later asserted that had his men been furnished with the proper mining tools, they “could have done it in one-third or one-fourth of the time.”

The main gallery was 511 feet long and five feet high. It was reinforced to withstand the weight of Confederate batteries overhead, and it was dug at a slight angle for drainage. Two lateral chambers extended on either side of the gallery for 75 feet at the end, enabling the Federals to detonate gunpowder directly below the enemy trenches. With the tunnel ready, the Federals now had to wait for approval up the chain of command to proceed with their plan.

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References

Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 64-93, 116-21; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 434; 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 9611-42, 9803-13, 11331-51, 11154-64; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 463, 468, 471, 473; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 7809; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 540-42, 545; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 833; 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. 757-58; Simon, John Y., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 699; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 179-80; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 190; 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), Q364

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The Washington Raid Ends

July 13, 1864 – Following his unsuccessful attempt to capture Fort Stevens, Lieutenant General Jubal Early led his Confederate Army of the Valley away from the outskirts of Washington and back into Maryland.

Confederate Gen. Jubal Early | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The Confederates fell back northward, moving through Rockville and then turning west toward Poolesville and the Potomac River beyond. They reached the Potomac almost exactly 30 days after being detached from the Army of Northern Virginia.

Early’s forces completed their river crossing on the 14th and gathered at Leesburg, Virginia. They had a long supply train filled with captured goods from Maryland, along with about 1,000 prisoners, horses, cattle, and $220,000 taken from Hagerstown and Frederick as reparations for Federal destruction in the Shenandoah Valley.

Early’s raid had been a success in that it caused great panic in Washington, and it diverted Federal attention and resources from other theaters. It also boosted Confederate morale and temporarily brightened the dimming hope that European powers might recognize Confederate independence. But it had not caused the Army of the Potomac to weaken itself enough for General Robert E. Lee’s army to break out of Petersburg.

At the capital, President Abraham Lincoln expressed frustration that Early’s army had been allowed to escape back to Virginia. None of the six nearby generals took the lead in pursuing the Confederates until Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, assigned Major General Horatio G. Wright to lead the operation.

Wright’s force consisted of his own VI Corps, elements of XIX Corps, and several units that had been assigned to defend Washington. The pursuit began a full day after Early withdrew, with the Federals not arriving at Poolesville until the 15th. Confederate cavalry guarded the river fords to delay a Federal crossing.

By that time, Major General David Hunter’s Army of West Virginia had finally arrived at Harpers Ferry, burning and plundering homes on their march through their army’s namesake. Hunter received orders to join forces with Wright to pursue and destroy Early, with Wright in overall command. When Hunter protested that he outranked Wright, Grant placed Hunter’s army under command of Brigadier General George Crook while Hunter handled the army’s administrative duties from department headquarters.

Wright hoped to trap Early’s Confederates between his force and Crook’s, but he had trouble communicating with Crook due to Confederates cutting telegraph wires in the area. Crook’s 7,000 Federals crossed the Potomac near Harpers Ferry on the 15th and advanced to Hillsboro.

Early began moving his 12,000 Confederates out of Leesburg the next morning, heading west toward Snickers Gap in the Blue Ridge on his way back to the Shenandoah Valley. Wright’s 17,000 Federals took the entire day to cross the Potomac. During this time, a Federal cavalry detachment set out to locate the Confederates and clashed with troops guarding their wagon train around Purcellville.

When Crook learned of this engagement, he ordered Brigadier General Alfred N.A. Duffie’s cavalry to seize the wagon train. Duffie dispatched a brigade under Colonel William B. Tibbits, which spotted the Confederates about a mile north of Heaton’s Crossroads. Tibbits positioned his troopers and guns on a ridge and opened fire around 2 p.m.

The Confederate guards immediately abandoned the wagon train. The Federal assault became confused as some troopers stopped to seize the wagons and others confronted the Confederates. Major General John C. Breckinridge organized an infantry force to stop the Federal advance, while cavalry rode around to the enemy’s rear. Tibbits and a fraction of his brigade escaped capture and returned to Hillsboro. They seized or burned 80 wagons, but they had to leave the rest and all their cannon behind.

Had the Federals attacked with a larger force, they could have stopped or even destroyed Early’s army. Crook advanced to Purcellville that night, with Duffie’s cavalry skirmishing briefly with Confederate troopers at Woodgrove. By this time, the Confederates were moving through the Blue Ridge.

Wright and Crook joined forces as they pushed west toward Snickers Gap on the 17th. The Confederate rear guard prevented Federal cavalry heading the advance from crossing the Shenandoah River. Wright received word that the Confederates were merely skirmishers and Early’s main army was farther west. This was incorrect, as Early’s main army was guarding the river crossings.

Wright assigned Colonel Joseph Thoburn to lead three brigades around the Confederate left (northern) flank and seize Castleman’s Ferry. As the Federals moved on the 18th, Thoburn learned that the Confederates were massed on the riverbank. Both sides added reinforcements, with the Confederates holding a ridge near the Cool Spring plantation. Thoburn led his Federals across the Shenandoah River and lined them up behind stone walls.

The Federals repelled three assaults before night fell, and Thoburn ordered a withdrawal back across the river. The Federals sustained 422 casualties, while the Confederates lost roughly the same number. Early retained control of the river, as Wright and Crook continued debating how best to pursue 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 20429; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 436-37; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11055; 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 9611-42, 11331-41; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 469-71; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 88-89; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 538-40; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 279, 415-16

The Battle of Fort Stevens

July 11, 1864 – Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate Army of the Valley spread panic throughout Washington by reaching the capital’s suburbs and attacking a portion of the city’s defenses.

Confederate Gen. Jubal Early | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The day after their victory on the Monocacy River, Early’s Confederates continued moving southeast through Maryland toward Washington. Early hoped that his raid would divert Federal forces from laying siege to Petersburg south of Richmond. Slowed by heat and fatigue, the Confederates stopped for the night near Rockville, less than 10 miles from Washington on the Georgetown Pike.

Meanwhile, panic spread throughout both Baltimore and Washington. Northerners eager for the fall of Richmond were now suddenly terrified that their own capital might fall. A group of Baltimore civic leaders wired President Abraham Lincoln accusing him of leaving their city vulnerable to Early’s Confederates. Lincoln replied, “They can not fly to either place. Let us be vigilant but keep cool. I hope neither Baltimore or Washington will be sacked.”

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, sent VI and XIX corps from Virginia to reinforce the Washington defenses. Grant telegraphed Lincoln offering to come in person to command the forces, and then advised, “All other force, it looks to me, should be collected in rear of enemy about Edwards Ferry and follow him (Early) and cut off retreat if possible.” Lincoln replied:

“Gen. Halleck says we have absolutely no force here fit to go to the field. He thinks that with the hundred day-men, and invalids we have here, we can defend Washington, and scarcely Baltimore. Now what I think is that you should provide to retain your hold where you are certainly, and bring the rest with you personally, and make a vigorous effort to destroy the enemie’s force in this vicinity. I think there is really a fair chance to do this if the movement is prompt.”

Lincoln concluded, “This is what I think, upon your suggestion, and is not an order.” Halleck agreed with Grant’s plan to get into Early’s rear, but, he wrote, “we have no forces here for the field” except “militia, invalids, convalescents from the hospitals, a few dismounted batteries, and the dismounted and disorganized cavalry sent up from James River.” Grant assured Washington that reinforcements would soon arrive, writing, “They will probably reach Washington tomorrow night. I have great faith that the enemy will never be able to get back with much of his force.”

Early’s army continued its advance on the 11th, moving southward down both the Georgetown Pike and the Seventh Street Pike. The troops destroyed bridges, railroad tracks, warehouses, factories, and homes along the way. Early recalled:

“This day was an exceedingly hot one, and there was no air stirring. While marching, the men were enveloped in a suffocating cloud of dust, and many of them fell by the way from exhaustion. Our progress was therefore very much impeded, but I pushed on as rapidly as possible, hoping to get to the fortifications around Washington before they could be manned.”

In Washington, officials frantically organized militia, invalids, government clerks, and anyone else they could muster to man the capital defenses in preparation for an invasion. Federals from the Army of the Potomac’s VI Corps began arriving as the Confederates approached Fort Stevens, Washington’s northernmost defensive work, around 1 p.m.

Fort Stevens outside Washington | Image Credit: BlogSpot.com

The Confederates drove the Federal pickets back into the fort, but Early hesitated to launch an all-out attack due to Federal artillery, stifling summer heat, and exhaustion from marching all day. Early also noted the Federal fortifications:

“They were found to be exceedingly strong, and consisted of what appeared to be enclosed forts for heavy artillery, with a tier of lower works in front of each pierced for an immense number of guns, the whole being connected by curtains with ditches in front, and strengthened by palisades and abattis. The timber had been felled within cannon range all around and left on the ground, making a formidable obstacle, and every possible approach was raked by artillery.”

President and Mrs. Lincoln visited Fort Stevens as the Confederates approached, with one witness later writing, “While at Fort Stevens on Monday, both were imprudently exposed,–rifle-balls coming, in several instances, alarmingly near!” Lincoln watched the action from a parapet, where his tall figure made a prime target. When a man near Lincoln was shot, a soldier called for the president to get down before he had his head knocked off.

Private Elisha H. Rhodes of the 2nd Rhode Island recorded in his diary:

“On the parapet I saw President Lincoln… Mrs. Lincoln and other ladies were sitting in a carriage behind the earthworks. For a short time it was warm work, but as the President and many ladies were looking on, every man tried to do his best… I never saw the 2nd Rhode Island do better. The rebels, supposing us to be Pennsylvania militia, stood their ground, but prisoners later told me that when they saw our lines advance without a break they knew we were veterans. The Rebels broke and fled… Early should have attacked early in the morning (before we got there). Early was late.”

Lincoln finally left the parapet, and he and the first lady went to the Sixth Street wharves where they watched troops from the Army of the Potomac debarking from their ship transports. Lincoln mingled “familiarly with the veterans, and now and then, as if in compliment to them, biting at a piece of hard tack which he held in his hand.” The Federals marched up Seventh Street to help defend Fort Stevens. After the Federal artillery drove the Confederates back, Early ordered his men to rest.

That evening, Early and his four division commanders took up headquarters in the mansion owned by the politically prominent Blair family. Early wrote, “I determined to make an assault on the enemy’s works at daylight next morning, unless some information should be received before that time showing its impracticability.” That information came when Early learned that VI Corps had arrived and XIX Corps would be there by morning. However, Early did not want to withdraw without at least trying to fight, so he ordered a probe the next day to look for an exploitable weakness in Fort Stevens.

Meanwhile, a Confederate cavalry detachment under Brigadier General Bradley Johnson wreaked havoc throughout Maryland. According to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles:

“The Rebels captured a train of cars on the Philadelphia and Baltimore Road, and have burnt bridges over Gunpowder and Bush Rivers… General demoralization seems to have taken place among the troops, and there is as little intelligence among them as at the War Office in regard to the Rebels… no mails, and the telegraph lines have been cut; so that we are without news or information from the outer world.”

The Confederates advanced again on the 12th, but the panic had subsided among the Washington residents now that Federal veterans arrived. Many curious onlookers came to see the action, including Lincoln once again. Despite warnings from Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton about possible assassination attempts, Lincoln adjourned a cabinet meeting and visited several forts around Washington with Secretary of State William H. Seward. The visit ended at Fort Stevens, where Lincoln watched the action with Major General Horatio G. Wright’s VI Corps.

Wright unwisely invited Lincoln to watch from the parapet, where he was exposed to enemy fire from the waist up. According to legend, young officer (and future Supreme Court justice) Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. shouted to him, “Get down, you damn fool, before you get shot!” Lincoln sat down but repeatedly jumped up to see the action. As he watched the Federals charge, a nearby surgeon was shot and Wright insisted that Lincoln leave or else be forcibly removed. Wright later recalled, “The absurdity of the idea of sending off the President under guard seemed to amuse him…”

The Federals drove the Confederates off by 10 p.m., ending the last threat to Washington. Early’s troops withdrew, and as they moved through Silver Spring, Maryland, they burned the home of Francis P. Blair, Sr., a political icon since the days of Andrew Jackson. Early wrote, “The fact is that I had nothing to do with it, and do not yet know how the burning occurred.” Early stated that it was unwise “to set the house on fire when we were retiring, as it amounted to notice of our movement.” Some claimed that it was Confederate retaliation for the Federals burning the home of Virginia Governor John Letcher.

Nevertheless, as his soldiers formed columns to begin marching back to Virginia, Early told an aide, “Major, we haven’t taken Washington, but we’ve scared Abe Lincoln like hell!”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 176; Catton, Bruce, The Army of the Potomac: A Stillness at Appomattox (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1953), p. 266; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20420-29; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 434-36; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11033-44; 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 9455-76, 9487-97, 9508-610; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 467-69; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 640-44; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 84-90; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 536-38; 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. 756; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 312; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 233-34, 279, 504, 677-79

The Niagara Peace Talks

July 5, 1864 – Influential newspaper editor Horace Greeley begged President Abraham Lincoln to meet with Confederate agents who were supposedly willing to discuss ways of ending the war.

The War Department had censored the press since Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant began his grand offensive in May, leading most northerners to believe that the Federals were on the verge of winning the war. But after two months, the truth could no longer be hidden. The Confederate armies had not been destroyed, neither Richmond nor Atlanta had been captured, and the horrific number of casualties sparked calls to stop the conflict.

Horace Greeley | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

This outcry was led by Greeley of the New York Tribune. Greeley wrote Lincoln that his “irrepressible friend” William “Colorado” Jewett had informed him that “two Ambassadors” representing President Jefferson Davis on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls had “full & complete powers for a peace.” Greeley pleaded with Lincoln to meet with them because:

“Confederates everywhere (are) for peace. So much is beyond doubt. And therefore I venture to remind you that our bleeding, bankrupt, almost dying country also longs for peace–shudders at the prospect of fresh conscription, of further wholesale devastations, and of new rivers of human blood. And a wide-spread conviction that the Government and its prominent supporters are not anxious for Peace, and do not improve proffered opportunities to achieve it, is doing great harm.”

Greeley wrote, “I entreat you to submit overtures for pacification to the Southern insurgents.” Lincoln believed that Greeley was being duped by Confederates seeking to stir up antiwar passions and influence the upcoming elections. In fact, Federal agents had reported that Copperheads were in direct contact with Confederate agents in Canada to try forming a Midwestern alliance with the Confederacy. This became known as the “Northwest Conspiracy.”

Nevertheless, Lincoln authorized Greeley to escort to Washington “any person anywhere professing to have any proposition of Jefferson Davis in writing, for peace, embracing the restoration of the Union and abandonment of slavery.”

Three Confederate agents arrived at Niagara Falls on the 12th–Clement C. Clay of Alabama, James Holcombe of Virginia, and Jacob Thompson of Mississippi. These men had numerous contacts among the Copperheads in the northern states, and now they communicated through Greeley to try to get the Federal government to negotiate peace.

Greeley objected to being Lincoln’s envoy, and so the president dispatched his secretary John Hay to travel with Greeley to Niagara Falls. The men delivered a message written by Lincoln and endorsed by Secretary of State William H. Seward:

“To Whom it may concern: Any proposition which embraces the restoration of peace, the integrity of the whole union, and the abandonment of slavery, and which comes by and with an authority that can control the armies now at war against the United States, will be received and considered by the Executive Government of the United States, and will be met by liberal terms on other substantial and collateral points, and the bearer or bearers thereof shall have safe conduct both ways.”

The Confederates expected Lincoln to insist on restoring the Union, but they were surprised by his insistence on ending slavery because it exceeded his Emancipation Proclamation and all congressional legislation. Lincoln added this requirement for peace knowing that the Confederates would find it unacceptable; he could then announce that he tried negotiating a settlement but the Confederacy refused.

Greeley and Hay delivered Lincoln’s message to the Confederate agents, who read it and explained that they were not prepared to negotiate a peace based on these terms because that would signify a Confederate surrender. The Confederates sent a transcript of the meeting to the Associated Press, “throw(ing) upon the Federal Government the odium of putting an end to all negotiation.”

They wrote, “If there be any citizen of the Confederate States who has clung to the hope that peace is possible,” Lincoln’s terms “will strip from their eyes the last film of such delusion.” As for “any patriots or Christians” in the North “who shrink appalled from the illimitable vistas of private misery and public calamity,” they should “recall the abused authority and vindicate the outraged civilization of their country.”

Lincoln’s message was nothing more than a political maneuver, which backfired when the anti-administration press published it and condemned him for refusing to end the carnage without freeing the slaves. Democrats railed that if Lincoln would simply abandon emancipation, the war could end. But they did not seem to understand that the Confederates would not agree to restoring the Union on any terms.

Both the Confederates and the Copperheads wanted an armistice, but for different reasons. Copperheads believed it would lead to negotiations that would ultimately bring the South back into the Union. Confederates believed it would lead to their independence, and they humored the Copperheads’ “fond delusion” of restoration as a means to their end.

The Niagara Falls meeting proved to Greeley that the Confederates would not negotiate based on either restoration or emancipation. However, the Confederates continued encouraging the antiwar movement, and the military stalemate in Virginia and Georgia made Lincoln’s reelection prospects seem increasingly bleak.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21727-42; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 433-34, 437; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10930, 11089-133; 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 9717-37; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 465; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 646-47; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 533-34, 540-42; 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. 761-63, 766; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 351

The Wade-Davis Bill: Executive Response

July 4, 1864 – President Abraham Lincoln was presented with a bill outlining the congressional plan for reconstructing the Union, and his reaction outraged many.

After the Wade-Davis Reconstruction Bill passed both chambers of Congress, Radical Congressmen Thaddeus Stevens, Elihu Washburne, and John L. Dawson visited Lincoln at the White House to urge him to sign it into law. They returned to the Capitol and informed their fellow Radicals there was a good chance that Lincoln would not. An old friend from Illinois, Radical Congressman Jesse O. Norton, felt the same way after speaking with Lincoln, but there was “no use trying to prevent it.”

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

On the last day of the congressional session, Lincoln went to his Capitol office to sign the last-minute bills into law. He signed several, including a repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act and a repeal of the Enrollment Act provision allowing draftees to pay $300 to avoid conscription. But he set the Wade-Davis bill aside. Senator Zachariah Chandler of Michigan asked him if he would sign it. Lincoln replied, “Mr. Chandler, this bill was placed before me a few minutes before Congress adjourns. It is a matter of too much importance to be swallowed in that way.”

Chandler warned, “If it is vetoed, it will damage us fearfully in the Northwest. The important point is the one prohibiting slavery in the reconstructed states.” Lincoln said, “That is the point on which I doubt the authority of Congress to act.” Chandler countered, “It is no more than you have done yourself.” Lincoln replied, “I conceive that I may in an emergency do things on military grounds which cannot be done constitutionally by Congress.” Chandler angrily left. Lincoln then explained to the remaining congressmen in the room his chief objection to the measure:

“This bill and the position of these gentlemen seem to me, in asserting that the insurrectionary States are no longer in the Union, to make the fatal admission that States, whenever they please, may of their own motion dissolve their connection with the Union. Now we cannot survive that admission, I am convinced.

“If that be true, I am not President; these gentlemen are not Congress. I have laboriously endeavored to avoid that question ever since it first began to be mooted, and thus to avoid confusion and disturbance in our own councils. It was to obviate this question that I earnestly favored the movement for an amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery, which passed the Senate and failed in the House.

“I thought it much better, if it were possible, to restore the Union without the necessity of a violent quarrel among its friends as to whether certain States have been in or out of the Union during the war–a merely metaphysical question, and one unnecessary to be forced into discussion.”

Leaving the Capitol, Lincoln was warned that failing to endorse the bill might cost him reelection in November. He responded, “If they choose to make a point upon this I do not doubt that they can do harm. They have never been friendly to me and I don’t know that this will make any special difference as to that. At all events, I must keep some consciousness of being somewhere near right; I must keep some standard of principle fixed within myself.” The congressional session ended without Lincoln’s signature on the Wade-Davis bill, thus killing the measure via a pocket veto.

On the 8th, Lincoln issued a public statement explaining why he refused to sign the bill into law. He wrote that he would not “be inflexibly committed to any single plan of restoration,” nor would he accept “that the free-state constitutions and governments, already adopted and installed in Arkansas and Louisiana, shall be set aside and held for naught, thereby repelling and discouraging the loyal citizens who have set up the same, as to further effort.”

Lincoln also refused to acknowledge “a constitutional competency in Congress to abolish slavery in States,” instead “sincerely hoping and expecting that a constitutional amendment, abolishing slavery throughout the nation, may be adopted.”

To appease the Radicals, Lincoln wrote that he was “fully satisfied with the system for restoration contained in the Bill, as one very proper plan for the loyal people of any State choosing to adopt it,” and he offered to provide “Executive aid and assistance to any such people, so soon as the military resistance to the United States shall have been suppressed in any such State.”

This was meaningless because no state would voluntarily choose to adopt the punitive Wade-Davis bill on its own. Radicals already outraged by Lincoln’s veto became even more incensed by Lincoln’s empty pledge to enforce the bill in states that voluntarily adopted it. Thaddeus Stevens fumed, “What an infamous proclamation! The idea of pocketing a bill and then issuing a proclamation as to how far he will conform to it!”

The congressional recess would not stop the Radicals from plotting revenge against the president.

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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. 432; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10855-98; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 794-95; 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 9674-715; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 464, 466; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 639; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 532-33, 535; 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. 712-13; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 30

The Wade-Davis Bill: Congressional Reconstruction

July 3, 1864 – The U.S. Congress passed a measure that aimed to supersede President Abraham Lincoln’s “Ten Percent Plan” for bringing Confederate states back into the Union after the war.

In December 1863, Lincoln had presented a plan whereby Confederate states could return to the Union if 10 percent of their registered voters swore loyalty to the Union and elected delegates to a constitutional convention that would abolish slavery and repudiate secession. Many members of Congress, especially the Radical Republicans, denounced this plan as too lenient for the “treasonous rebels.” Perhaps more importantly, they opposed any plan that would allow the president, and not Congress, to make the rules.

Congressman Henry W. Davis of Maryland, chairman of the House Committee on the Rebellious States, introduced a congressional reconstruction measure in January. Davis, who feuded with the prominent Blair family (which supported Lincoln) over political power in Maryland, sought to place Congress in charge of restoring the Union. And while Lincoln sought to begin the restoration process immediately, Davis’s plan would not go into effect until the war ended.

Sen. B.F. Wade and Rep. H.W. Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Under this plan, a state could begin its restoration process only after 50 percent of its registered voters swore loyalty. And while Lincoln’s oath involved promising prospective loyalty to the Union, Davis’s oath required men to swear they had never voluntarily supported the Confederacy. This meant that northerners would have to move into these states because none of them had half their voters oppose the Confederacy from the beginning.

Davis’s bill called for the president to appoint military governors to rule the Confederate states until the loyal registered voters elected delegates to constitutional conventions. These conventions were required to abolish slavery, and repudiate secession and the war debt.

It also called for the abolition of slavery, even though a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery (which Lincoln supported) was defeated in June. But the bill did not go as far as some Radicals went in calling for giving freed slaves the right to vote. In fact, Lincoln had already urged Governor Michael Hahn of Louisiana to consider granting suffrage to slaves and free blacks in his state.

The measure also banned all Confederate officials and military personnel from voting or holding public office. Only when all these conditions were met could the president declare the state restored the Union, and the declaration required congressional consent. Once restored, the state would be granted its representation in Congress and the Electoral College.

The bill came under House debate in March, when Davis railed against Lincoln and his Ten Percent Plan. Davis declared that until Congress recognized “a state government organized under its auspices, there is no government in the rebel states except the authority of Congress.” Davis also condemned Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which he called “a political trick” because it technically freed no slaves.

The House, divided between Radicals supporting Davis and conservatives supporting Lincoln (as well as a small group of Democrats both for and against the war) passed the bill in May by a vote of 73 to 59. Leading Radical Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania voted against the measure because he thought it too lenient.

The bill next went to the Senate, where it was taken up by a committee chaired by Radical Republican Benjamin Wade of Ohio. As the congressional session was set to expire on July 3, Wade scrambled to bring the bill to the Senate floor on the 1st for debate. By that time, many senators had already returned to their home states; 20 were absent when the bill passed in the late hours of the 3rd by a vote of 18 to 14. All non-Republicans opposed the measure.

The bill reflected the Radicals’ continuing opposition not only to Lincoln’s view of reconstruction, but also to Lincoln’s reelection, which could be secured by the electoral votes of the three states that had been restored to the Union according to Lincoln’s Ten Percent Plan (Tennessee, Louisiana, and Arkansas). Both the executive and legislative reconstruction plans called into question whether the Federal government had the authority to force states to amend their constitutions.

Since the bill passed both chambers of Congress by far less than the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto, it would require Lincoln’s signature to become law.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10855-77; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 794-95; 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 9674-715; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 639; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 532-33; 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. 706; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 30; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 618

The Resignation of Salmon P. Chase

June 30, 1864 – Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase submitted his fourth letter of resignation, but this time President Abraham Lincoln surprised him by accepting.

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

There had long been tension between Lincoln and Chase. The Radical Republicans had backed Chase for president over Lincoln, but an embarrassing situation was averted when Chase quietly ended his candidacy and Lincoln was nominated earlier this month for a second term. But in May, Chase expressed some regret at not trying harder to wrest the presidential nomination from Lincoln. Ever since Chase had been Lincoln’s rival in the contest for the Republican presidential nomination in 1860, he believed himself intellectually and morally superior to the president.

But troubles plagued Chase’s Treasury Department. The new taxes and tariffs were not enough to fund the war, and Chase could not get reauthorization to hire financier Jay Cooke to sell more war bonds. Printing paper money not backed by gold caused rampant inflation, and reports of corruption in the selling and trading of confiscated southern cotton abounded.

Chase blamed political enemies for highlighting these problems, especially the influential Blair family. Congressman Francis P. Blair, Jr., a staunch Lincoln ally, had excoriated Chase in the House of Representatives for mismanaging the department, and Chase condemned Lincoln for not distancing himself from the Blairs.

In late June, John J. Cisco resigned from the highly important post of assistant Federal treasurer in New York City. Chase proposed to replace Cisco with Maunsell B. Field, a man who knew little of finance but was loyal to Chase. New York politicians, including both U.S. Senators Edwin D. Morgan and Ira Harris, opposed the appointment, with Morgan giving Lincoln a list of three alternatives.

Lincoln wrote to Chase on the 28th, “I cannot, without much embarrassment, make this appointment.” Explaining the political dilemma that it would cause, Lincoln forwarded Morgan’s list to him and asked, “It will really oblige me if you will make a choice among these three.”

Chase requested a personal meeting to discuss the matter, but Lincoln declined “because the difficulty does not, in the main part, lie within the range of a conversation between you and me. As the proverb goes, no man knows so well where the shoe pinches as he who wears it.” Lincoln also noted that he had approved most of Chase’s other recommendations in the past, even when they caused “great burden” among political rivals.

Refusing to pick any of Morgan’s three choices, Chase persuaded Cisco to stay in his post. Chase then tendered his resignation a fourth time, adding, “I shall regard it as a real relief if you think proper to accept it.” Although Lincoln had refused it three times before, he astounded Chase by replying:

“Your resignation for the office of Secretary of the Treasury sent me yesterday is accepted. Of all I have said in commendation of your ability and fidelity I have nothing to unsay; and yet you and I have reached a point of mutual embarrassment in our official relations which it seems cannot be overcome, or longer sustained, consistently with the public service.”

At the same time, Lincoln sent this message to Chase and submitted the name of Ohio Governor David Tod to replace Chase as head of the Treasury Department to the Senate. The anti-Lincoln press immediately panned the move, with the New York Herald opining that Tod knew “no more of finances than a post.”

The message to the Senate arrived first, prompting Finance Committee Chairman William P. Fessenden to ask Chase in a meeting, “Have you resigned? I am called to the Senate and told that the President has sent in the nomination of your successor.”

Stunned, Chase later wrote of Lincoln’s response in his diary, “I had found a good deal of embarrassment from him; but what he had found from me I could not imagine, unless it has been caused by my unwillingness to have offices distributed as spoils or benefits, with more regard to the claims of divisions, factions, cliques, and individuals, than to fitness of selection.”

What Chase failed to understand was that Lincoln merely kept him in the cabinet to prevent him from openly opposing his presidency. Now that Lincoln had secured the nomination for a second term, Chase’s usefulness had run out.

Members of the Senate Finance Committee, many of whom supported Chase, called on Lincoln to protest his removal. Lincoln showed them all four of Chase’s resignation letters, explaining that this had been coming for some time. Some still complained, but none insisted on reinstating Chase.

Lincoln also refused the senators’ urgings to withdraw Tod’s name as treasury secretary. But Tod declined the job due to poor health, prompting Lincoln to then nominate Fessenden. No Republican could object to him, even Chase, who called the appointment “a wise selection.”

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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. 431; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10790-833; 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 9642-62; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 463; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 631-33; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 530