Tag Archives: Clement C. Clay

Jefferson Davis Arrives Off Virginia

May 19, 1865 – The ocean vessel conveying former Confederate President Jefferson Davis and other captured members of his government arrived at Fortress Monroe, on the tip of Virginia’s York-James Peninsula.

The William P. Clyde had left Port Royal three days ago carrying Davis, Vice President Alexander Stephens, Treasury Secretary John Reagan, General Joseph Wheeler, and former Texas Governor Francis Lubbock. Also aboard were Davis’s wife, children, and servants, and other Confederate officials, including Senator Clement C. Clay and his wife Virginia. Mrs. Clay later wrote:

“Our journey on the Clyde, though sorrowful, apprehensive as we were concerning the fate to which the prisoners were being led, was otherwise uneventful. Mr. Davis was exceedingly depressed, and moved restlessly about, seeming scarcely ever to desire to sit down. Always an intellectual cosmopolite, however, he made observations on the natural phenomena about us, commenting from time to time on the beauty of sea or sky. Our meals, which were served at a table reserved for the prisoners, by no means represented the fare of the coastwise steamers of to-day, but few of us were in a mood to take note of culinary deficiencies.”

The Clyde was originally ordered to bring the prisoners up Chesapeake Bay to Washington, but Federal Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant had persuaded Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to imprison Davis at Fort Monroe under the command of Brigadier General Nelson A. Miles, “the object being to put an officer at Fortress Monroe who will by no possibility (allow) the escape of the prisoners to be confined there.”

The prisoners remained confined aboard the Clyde for three days while arrangements were made to accommodate them. Stanton, worried about political intrigue, wanted the preparations to remain secret. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles explained that “the papers would have the arrivals announced in their next issue,” and “he could not stop the mails, nor passenger-boats, and twenty-four hours would carry the information to Baltimore and abroad in that way.”

Stanton wrote out the orders for dealing with the prisoners, and according to Welles:

“In framing his dispatch, he said, with some emphasis, the women and children must be sent off. We did not want them. ‘They must go South,’ and he framed his dispatch accordingly. When he read it I remarked, ‘The South is very indefinite, and you permit them to select the place. Mrs. Davis may designate Norfolk, or Richmond.’ ‘True,’ said Grant with a laugh. Stanton was annoyed, but, I think, altered his telegram.”

Stephens and Reagan would be placed aboard the warship U.S.S. Tuscarora and sent to Fort Warren in Boston Harbor, while Wheeler, Lubbock, and presidential aide William P. Johnston would go to Fort Delaware in Philadelphia. Davis and Clay would be confined within Fort Monroe. Mrs. Clay remembered:

“On the morning of May 22d a sultry, drizzling rain fell. It was a day exactly calculated to induce melancholy even in the stoutest-hearted. To us, eagerly alert to learn what we might of our fate, it was unspeakably distressful. Shortly after breakfast my husband came quietly into our stateroom. ‘There is no longer any doubt,’ he said, ‘that this fort is the one destined for Davis and me! I have just been notified that we are expected to take a ride on a tug. I am convinced we shall be taken to Fortress Monroe. I can’t imagine why they do not come out boldly and tell us so, but be sure this is our farewell, my wife!’ We took leave of each other in our stateroom, nor did I leave it to follow Mr. Clay to the deck. I stood, instead, at the fourteen-inch window of my cabin, alone with my thoughts.”

The Davises son Jeff wailed upon learning that he would be taken from his father. A soldier told him, “Don’t cry, Jeff. They ain’t going to hang your pa!” Little Jeff replied, “When I get to be a man, I’m going to kill every Yankee I see!” He then ran to his mother and cried, “They say they have come for father, beg them to let us go with him.” Davis confirmed the news and told Varina, “Try not to cry. They will gloat over your grief.”

Davis and Clay were put aboard a tug to take them to the fort, and as Mrs. Davis recalled, “he stood with bared head between the files of undersized German and other foreign soldiers on either side of him, and as we looked, as we thought, our last upon his stately form and knightly bearing, he seemed a man of another and higher race, upon whom ‘shame would not dare to sit.’”

Back aboard the Clyde, Federal troops rummaged through the Davises’ trunks and took whatever they wanted. Tugs carrying curiosity-seekers came out to visit the Clyde, and Mrs. Davis wrote, “They steamed around the ship, offering, when one of us met their view, such insults as were transmissible at a short distance.” When Federals tried getting into Mrs. Clay’s room, she admonished them, “Gentlemen, do not look in here, it is a ladies’ state-room.” One Federal remarked, “There are no ladies here,” to which she replied, “There certainly are no gentlemen there.”

Davis and Clay were confined in subterranean casemates that had been hastily converted into prison cells. Davis later wrote:

“Not knowing that the Government was at war with women and children, I asked that my family might be permitted to leave the ship and go to Richmond or Washington City, or to some place where they had acquaintances, but this was refused… I was informed that they must return to Savannah on the vessel by which we came… why, I did not then know, have not learned since, and am unwilling to make a supposition, as none could satisfactorily account for such an act of inhumanity.”

The New York Herald reported on the 23rd:

“At about 3 o’clock yesterday, ‘all that is mortal’ of Jeff’n Davis, late so-called ‘President of the alleged Confederate States,’ was duly, but quietly and effectively, committed to that living tomb prepared within the impregnable walls of Fortress Monroe… No more will Jeff’n Davis be known among the masses of men. He is buried alive.”

Alfred Waud sketch of Jefferson Davis jailed at Fort Monroe | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Federal guards allowed Davis just the clothes he wore and a small-print Bible. General Miles received orders from the War Department “to place manacles and fetters upon the hands and feet of Jefferson Davis… whenever he may think it advisable in order to render imprisonment more secure.” Davis forcibly resisted being shackled, but the guards overcame him and placed him in chains.

Northern protests soon compelled Miles to remove the shackles. But Davis continued to be subjected to other methods of punishment, including having guards continuously march past his cell, burning lamps around the clock, and exposing him to illnesses brought on by confinement below sea level. Davis’s health declined as sympathetic northerners raised funds to provide him with legal counsel.

Federal authorities considered trying Davis for treason; Davis welcomed such a charge because it would give him the opportunity to argue for the legality of his cause. Fearing he might win, officials opted not to try him. They also lacked evidence to implicate Davis in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, which they had accused him of when they set out to capture him in the first place.

In 1867, Davis was released on a $100,000 bond, which was financed by such prominent northerners as Horace Greeley (editor of the New York Tribune) and Gerrit Smith (one of the financial backers for John Brown’s raid of Harpers Ferry in 1859). In 1868, President Andrew Johnson issued a “pardon and amnesty” to “every person who directly or indirectly participated in the late insurrection or rebellion,” including the former president of the Confederate States of America.

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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. 570; 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 21337-57, 21791-831; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 592; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 689; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 18-24; 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), Q265

Jefferson Davis Escorted to the Coast

May 14, 1865 – Jefferson Davis and what was left of the Confederate government-in-exile was sent under Federal guard to Augusta, Georgia, from which they would be shipped by water to the coast.

Jefferson and Varina Davis | Image Credit: Pinterest.com

Davis and his party were captured by Colonel Benjamin Pritchard’s 4th Michigan cavalry troopers at Irwinville, Georgia, on the 10th. Among the prisoners were First Lady Varina Davis, the four Davis children, Colonel William P. Johnston, presidential secretary Burton Harrison, Treasury Secretary John Reagan, and former Texas Governor Francis Lubbock. They were taken on a three-day trip to the Federal command post at Macon, Georgia.

Reagan accused Colonel Pritchard of looting the prisoners’ personal effects and admonished him, “It does not look well for a colonel of cavalry in the United States Army to steal clothes.” When Pritchard threatened to put the prisoner in irons, Reagan said, “You have the power to do so, but it will not make you a gentleman or a man of truth.” Varina Davis wrote in her memoirs:

“Within a short distance of Macon we were halted and the soldiers drawn up in line on either side of the road. Our children crept close to their father, especially little Maggie, who put her arms about him and held him tightly, while from time to time he comforted her with tender words from the psalms of David, which he repeated as calmly and cheerfully as if he were surrounded by friends. It is needless to say that as the men stood at ease, they expressed in words unfit for women’s ears all that malice could suggest. In about an hour, Colonel Pritchard returned, and with him came a brigade, who testified their belief in Mr. Davis’s guilt in the same manner.”

When the prisoners reached Macon, Davis was brought to the hotel serving as headquarters for Major General James H. Wilson, commanding Federal forces in Georgia. As Davis recalled:

“A commodious room was assigned to myself and family. After dinner I had an interview with General Wilson. After some conversation in regard to our common acquaintance, he referred to the proclamation offering a reward for my capture. I supposed that any insignificant remark of mine would be reported to his Government, and feared that another opportunity to give my opinion of A. Johnson might not be presented, and told him there was one man in the United States who knew that proclamation to be false. He remarked that my expression indicated a particular person. I answered yes, and that person was the one who signed it, for he at least knew that I preferred Lincoln to himself.”

According to Wilson:

“Mr. Davis seemed quite cheerful and talkative, but in his whole demeanor showed no dignity or great fortitude. He remarked with a smile that he thought the U.S. would find graver charges against him than the murder of Mr. Lincoln, and seemed to regret that Mr. L. had been killed. He has asked no favors, but Mrs. D. insinuates once in a while that the ‘President’ is not treated with becoming dignity… The thought struck me once or twice that Jefferson Davis was a mad man. The indifference with which he seemed to regard the affairs of our day savored of insanity. He was polite and gracious in his intercourse with me and almost affectionate in taking leave of me.”

Reagan later wrote:

“After dinner I learned that orders had been received to send to Washington President Davis and Senator (Clement) Clay, who had voluntarily surrendered after President Johnson’s proclamation implicating him in the assassination of President Lincoln; and that I and the others with us were to remain at Macon… I thereupon observed that President Davis was much worn down, and that, as I was the only member of his political family with him, I might be of some service to him, and requested to have the order so changed as to send me on with him… He observed that mine was a queer request, but that he would ask that it be granted. In two or three hours he notified us that the first order had been changed, and that all of us would be sent to Hampton Roads.”

The prisoners spent the night of the 13th in Macon, and the next morning they were escorted to the train station, where they would be sent to Augusta. Virginia Clay, wife of captured Senator Clement C. Clay, later recalled:

“As the cavalry approached the station, the significance of the scene became plain to us. They were a guard, flanking on each side an old ‘jimber-jawed, wobblesided’ barouche, drawn by two raw-boned horses. In the strange vehicle were seated Mr. and Mrs. Davis. Mr. Davis was dressed in a full suit of Confederate grey, including the hat, but his face was yet more ashen than was his garb… the alien and motley crowd along the walks yelled and hooted in derision. But not all–one heartless Union soldier tried the patience of a sorrowful ‘rebel’ onlooker. ‘Hey, Johnny Reb,’ shouted the first, ‘we’ve got your President!’ ‘And the devil’s got yours!’ was the swift reply.”

During the Davis party’s day-long train ride, word arrived in Washington that Davis had been captured. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles wrote in his diary: “Intelligence was received this morning of the capture of Jefferson Davis in southern Georgia. I met (Secretary of War Edwin) Stanton this Sunday P.M. at (Secretary of State William) Seward’s, who says Davis was taken disguised in women’s clothes. A tame and ignoble letting down of the traitor.”

That night, Federals loaded the prisoners on the tugboat Standish, bound for Port Royal outside Savannah. Confederate General Joseph Wheeler and Vice President Alexander Stephens were also aboard as prisoners, having been captured elsewhere. The trip lasted over 24 hours, with the vessel arriving in the pre-dawn morning of the 16th. From there, the prisoners were transferred to the ocean side-wheeler William P. Clyde to take them up the Atlantic Coast. The Clyde was escorted by the warship U.S.S. Tuscarora. The trip would take three days.

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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 23177-85; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 569; 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 21179-99, 21228-68, 21327-47; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 684-86; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 18-24; 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), Q265

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