Tag Archives: Edwin M. Stanton

The Fall of Charleston

February 18, 1865 – City officials surrendered Charleston, South Carolina, to Federal forces this morning.

Charleston was the Confederacy’s prized port city, having defied a Federal naval siege for nearly two years. But the fall of Columbia, the destruction of the South Carolina Railroad, and the Federal threat to Wilmington had left Charleston isolated, so Lieutenant General William Hardee reluctantly ordered his Confederate troops to abandon the city that had symbolized their cause throughout the war.

Federal troops from Major General John G. Foster’s Department of the South began landing at Bull’s Bay on the 17th to divert Confederate attention from Major General William T. Sherman’s advance through central South Carolina. That night, the Confederates began moving north toward Florence and Cheraw to join forces with General P.G.T. Beauregard’s troops opposing Sherman’s march.

Before withdrawing, Commodore John R. Tucker directed his men to scuttle the ironclads in Charleston Harbor and nearby shipyards. The Confederates burned cotton in buildings and warehouses to avoid Federal confiscation. They also destroyed quartermasters’ stores, arsenals, and railroad bridges. Forts Moultrie, Johnson, Beauregard, and Castle Pinckney were evacuated. Confederates finally abandoned Fort Sumter, site of the engagement that had begun the war. Sumter had long symbolized Confederate defiance to Federal subjugation, having survived two years of heavy naval bombardment.

At 9 a.m. on the 18th (the fourth anniversary of Jefferson Davis’s presidential inauguration), Federal Brigadier General Alexander Schimmelfennig accepted Charleston’s surrender from the mayor. The 21st U.S. Colored Troops, made up mostly of former slaves from the Charleston area, proudly entered the city first. Lieutenant Colonel Augustus G. Bennett of the 21st reported:

“On the morning of February 18 I received information that led me to believe the defenses and lines guarding the city of Charleston had been deserted by the enemy. I immediately proceeded to Cumming’s Point, from whence I sent a small boat, in the direction of Fort Moultrie, which boat, when forty yards cast from Fort Sumter, was met by a boat from Sullivan’s Island containing a full corps of band musicians abandoned by the enemy. These confirmed my belief of an evacuation.”

Most white residents had already fled the city. According to a northern scribe, Charleston was a “city of ruins–silent, mournful, in deepest humiliation… The band was playing ‘Hail, Columbia,’ and the strains floated through the desolate city, awakening wild enthusiasm in the hearts of the colored people…” Reporter Charles C. Coffin later wrote that fleeing Confederates had set numerous fires as they hurried out of town that morning:

“The citizens sprang to the fire-engines and succeeded in extinguishing the flames in several places; but in other parts of the city the fire had its own way, burning till there was nothing more to devour… At the Northeastern Railroad depot there was an immense amount of cotton which was fired. The depot was full of commissary supplies and ammunition, powder in kegs, shells, and cartridges. The people rushed in to obtain the supplies. Several hundred men, women, and children were in the building when the flames reached the ammunition and the fearful explosion took place, lifting up the roof and bursting out the walls, and scattering bricks, timbers, tiles, beams, through the air; shells crashed through the panic-stricken crowd, followed by the shrieks and groans of the mangled victims lying helpless in the flames, burning to cinders in the all-devouring element.”

Colonel Bennett reported:

“While awaiting the arrival of my troops at Mills’ Wharf a number of explosions took place. The rebel commissary depot was blown up, and with it, it is estimated, that not less than 200 human beings, most of whom were women and children, were blown to atoms. These people were engaged in procuring food for themselves and families, by permission from the rebel military authorities. The rebel ram Charleston was blown up while lying at her anchorage opposite Mount Pleasant ferry wharf, in the Cooper River.”

According to a northern correspondent:

“Not a building for blocks here that is exempt from the marks of shot and shell… Ruin within and without, and its neighbor in no better plight. The churches, St. Michael’s and St. Philip’s, have not escaped the storms of our projectiles. Their roofs are perforated, their walls wounded, their pillars demolished, and with the pews filled with plastering. From Bay-street, studded with batteries, to Calhoun-street, our shells have carried destruction and desolation, and often death with them.”

The Fall of Charleston | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Since the Federals belonged to the Department of the South, they went to work extinguishing fires and restoring order more diligently than Sherman’s bummers may have done had they captured Charleston. The Federals seized 250 guns and salvaged the ironclad C.S.S. Columbia, which had been run aground but not destroyed. The Federals also captured several “David”-type semi-submersibles that had been used to attack Federal vessels in the harbor.

Federal naval crews left the signal lights burning in the harbor to lure in Confederate blockade-runners, and two were captured. Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren, commanding the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, wrote, “You see by the date of this (the 18th) that the Navy’s occupation has given this pride of rebeldom to the Union flag, and thus the rebellion is shut out from the ocean and foreign sympathy.”

U.S. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton ordered “a national salute” fired from “every fort arsenal and army headquarters of the United States, in honor of the restoration of the flag of the Union upon Fort Sumter.” Northerners especially rejoiced at the fall of this hated city. Most black residents welcomed the Federal occupation troops, especially the 55th Massachusetts, a black regiment.

The simultaneous falls of Columbia, Charleston, and Fort Sumter devastated the South. Lieutenant John Wilkinson, commanding the blockade runner C.S.S. Chameleon (formerly the Tallahassee), learned about the fall of Charleston while in the Bahamas and lamented, “This sad intelligence put an end to all our hopes…” President Davis acknowledged, “This disappointment to me is extremely bitter.”

—–

References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 141; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22024; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 535-36; 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 16560-79, 16755-65; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 555-56; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 8168; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 696; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 61; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 639-41; McMurry, Richard M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 131; 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. 828; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 446-47; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 360

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.

—–

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

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.

—–

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

The Thirteenth Amendment: The Vote

January 31, 1865 – The U.S. House of Representatives passed a constitutional amendment permanently abolishing slavery in America.

The Lincoln administration, led by Secretary of State William H. Seward, lobbied various Democrats thought to be willing to support the abolition amendment. These congressmen were promised prized government jobs and favors in exchange for their votes. The effort seemed to be paying off, but then rumors of peace talks threatened to kill the amendment.

Lincoln had dispatched Seward to Fort Monroe a few hours before the vote was scheduled to begin, confident that House Republicans had enough votes to get the necessary two-thirds majority. But Democrats who had voiced support for the measure hesitated now that peace talks might end the war. They feared that a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery could offend the Confederate envoys and break up the talks, and the war would go on indefinitely.

Congressman James M. Ashley, the amendment’s sponsor, wrote a frantic note to Lincoln as voting time neared: “The report is in circulation in the House that peace Commissioners are on their way or are in the city, and is being used against us. If it is true, I fear we shall lose the bill. Please authorize me to contradict it, if not true.” Lincoln responded, “So far as I know, there are no peace commissioners in the city, or likely to be in it.” Lincoln was correct in that no commissioners were in Washington, but he conveniently failed to acknowledge that they were within Federal lines.

In the end, the two-thirds majority needed to start the ratification process was secured, as the vote was 119 in favor and 56 opposed. Of the 80 House Democrats, 16 voted in favor (14 of whom would not be in the new Congress later that year and thus did not risk their reelection chances), and eight abstained, thus allowing the bill to pass. A swing of just five votes could have killed the amendment.

The speaker announced, “The constitutional majority of two-thirds having voted in the affirmative, the joint resolution is passed.” The Congressional Globe reported that upon this announcement, “The members of the Republican side of the House instantly sprang to their feet, and, regardless of parliamentary rules, applauded with cheers and clapping of hands. The example was followed by male spectators in the galleries, who waved their hats and cheered long and loud, while the ladies… rose in their seats and waved their handkerchiefs…”

The House of Representatives upon passage of the Thirteenth Amendment | Image Credit: Harper’s Weekly, Vol. IX, No. 425, 18 Feb 1865

Another person reported that there was “an uncontrollable outburst of enthusiasm.” A Republican congressman wrote, “Members joined in the shouting and kept it up for some minutes. Some embraced one another, others wept like children. I have felt, ever since the vote, as if I were in a new country.” Those celebrating in the House gallery included several black men and women who had not been allowed in the House chamber until last year. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton ordered a 100-gun salute fired to commemorate the amendment’s passage, and the House adjourned for the rest of the day “in honor of this immortal and sublime event.”

This was the second version of the “Thirteenth” Amendment to the Constitution. The first version had passed in March 1861 and prohibited the Federal government from interfering with slavery where it already existed. This failed ratification because the southern states had already seceded. Ironically, the southern secession prompted northern politicians to place even greater restrictions on slavery until finally abolishing it altogether. This became the first constitutional amendment to place restrictions on individuals rather than the government.

This new amendment satisfied Lincoln, who feared that his Emancipation Proclamation would be overturned by the courts after the war because it was admittedly just a wartime measure with no real legal basis. State legislatures soon began debating and voting on the amendment’s ratification, which would make Lincoln’s proclamation permanent.

—–

References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 211-13; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 512-13; 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 15635-45; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 606-07, 620-23, 630; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 686-90; McGinty, Brian, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 752-53; 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. 839

Peace Talks: Confederate Envoys Arrive

January 30, 1865 – Three Confederate emissaries crossed the siege lines at Petersburg to meet with Federal officials and discuss a possible end to the war.

President Jefferson Davis had dispatched Vice President Alexander Stephens, Assistant Secretary of War John A. Campbell, and Senate President Robert M.T. Hunter. They were given a letter to present to the Federal authorities requesting a meeting to discuss “securing peace to the two countries.”

Under a flag of truce, the envoys reached the picket line of Federal Major General John G. Parke’s IX Corps and were escorted to the nearest ranking Federal officer, who knew nothing about their visit. When the envoys asked to speak with Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the officer cracked that he “was on a big drunk.” (Grant was actually at Wilmington planning an invasion of North Carolina.) The next ranking officer, Major General George G. Meade, was at Philadelphia. This left Major General E.O.C. Ord.

Ord notified the War Department that the commissioners were there “in accordance with an understanding claimed to exist with Lt. Gen. Grant…” Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton wrote that Grant had not notified the department of any arrangement to bring Confederate officials across the lines. He directed Ord to keep the envoys there and sent Major Thomas T. Eckert, head of the War Department telegraph office, to meet with them.

President Abraham Lincoln instructed Eckert to listen to what the commissioners had to say, and then present them with his letter of the 18th. Eckert was to ask the commissioners if they accepted his condition of “one common country” for peace talks, and then “receive their answer in writing, waiting a reasonable time for it.” If they accepted, Ord would be directed to let the envoys pass through the Federal lines, “without further condition.”

As the commissioners waited for Eckert, they conferred and agreed that if they presented Davis’s letter insisting on two separate countries, negotiations would fail. They therefore drafted a new letter to present to Grant:

“Sir: We desire to pass your lines under safe conduct and to proceed to Washington to hold a conference with President Lincoln upon the subject of the existing war, and with a view of ascertaining upon what terms it may be terminated, in pursuance of the course indicated by him in his letter to Mr. F.P. Blair of January 18, 1865, of which we presume you have a copy; and if not, we wish to see you in person, and to confer with you upon the subject.”

Grant returned to his City Point headquarters knowing nothing about either the envoys’ visit or Eckert’s impending arrival. He read the Confederates’ letter and allowed them through the lines to meet with him at his headquarters. Grant wrote, “Your letter to me has been telegraphed to Washington for instructions. I have no doubt but that before you arrive at my Headquarters an answer will be received directing me to comply with your request.” When Grant forwarded the envoys’ letter to Washington, Lincoln replied that Eckert was on his way, and Grant was to cooperate with him.

Word quickly spread that Stephens, Campbell, and Hunter had come to possibly negotiate an end to the war. Both Federal and Confederate troops came out of their trenches and lined up to watch the envoys’ carriage pass on its way to City Point. Meade, recently returned from Philadelphia, wrote to his wife, “Our men cheered loudly, and the soldiers on both sides cried out lustily, ‘Peace! Peace!’”

Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The three commissioners met with Grant and Meade on the night of the 31st, where they discussed ways to end the war. Stephens told the generals that he hoped to arrange an armistice before talking peace. Meade told him that “any proposal based on a suspension of hostilities would not be received” by Lincoln unless it would lead to reunion. Grant hoped the commissioners might be flexible on this point.

Grant then arranged for them to be comfortably quartered aboard the steamship Mary Martin while he waited for Eckert to arrive. He assured them that if they were not given safe passage to Washington, he would see to it that they were safely returned to their own lines.

Back in Washington, Lincoln anticipated that Eckert would get a positive response and so he directed Secretary of State William H. Seward to follow him down to Virginia to negotiate “on the basis of my letter to F.P. Blair, Esq., on Jan. 18, 1865.” Seward was to tell the envoys that “three things are indispensable” for peace:

  • First, “the restoration of the national authority throughout all the States.”
  • Second, “no receding, by the Executive of the United States on the Slavery question” as Lincoln had declared in his latest annual message to Congress “and in preceding documents.”
  • Third, “no cessation of hostilities short of an end of the war, and the disbanding of all forces hostile to the government.”

Seward would then inform the men that “all propositions of theirs not inconsistent with the above, will be considered and passed upon in a spirit of sincere liberality.” Seward was not “to definitely consummate anything,” but instead report to Lincoln what the envoys “may choose to say.” Lincoln issued passes for the envoys to go through the Federal lines to Fort Monroe and meet with Seward, but only if Eckert’s interview proved favorable. Eckert would arrive on the afternoon of February 1.

—–

References

Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 419; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 524; 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 16108-81; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 690-91; 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. 20-21; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 629-30; McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1981), p. 198-200; 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 Q165

Peace Talks: Lincoln Responds to Davis

January 18, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln met with statesman Francis P. Blair, Sr. and responded to Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s offer to negotiate an end to the war.

Blair had been given a pass through the Federal lines to meet with Davis at Richmond and discuss a possible peace between North and South. After returning to Washington, Blair met with Lincoln on the night of the 16th and delivered Davis’s letter expressing his willingness to “secure peace to the two countries.”

Pres. Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Lincoln remained silent as Blair described his visit to Richmond, writing on the back of Davis’s letter that he “had no intimation as to what Mr. Blair would say or do while beyond our military lines.” Blair described his plan of calling a ceasefire so that Federals and Confederates could join forces to oust the French from Mexico. He made it clear that he divulged his plan to Davis “with the express understanding by the other party that it was to be confined to you.”

Blair then sparked Lincoln’s interest by saying that nearly every Confederate official he had spoken with while in Richmond believed their cause to be lost. This meant that if peace negotiations were to take place, Lincoln would have the upper hand. The meeting ended, and, after consulting with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, Lincoln met with Blair again on the 18th. Lincoln allowed Blair to return to Richmond to deliver a reply to Davis’s letter:

“You having shown me Mr. Davis’s letter to you of the 12th instant, you may say to him that I have constantly been, am now, and shall continue, ready to receive any agent whom he, or any influential person now resisting the national authority, may informally send to me with a view of securing peace to the people of our one common country.”

Lincoln made it explicit that negotiations could only take place if they were based on reuniting North and South. He drove this point home by referring to the Confederate president as “Mr.” (not President) Davis, and by inviting “any influential person” to talk peace, which implicitly included any of Davis’s many political opponents in the South.

Meanwhile in the North, word that Lincoln allowed Blair to meet with Davis did not sit well with the Radical Republicans in Congress. The Radicals argued that there was no need to negotiate peace because total victory was at hand. They also distrusted Blair because of his former ties to Davis and the Democratic Party. With Blair’s influence, the Radicals feared that Lincoln might agree to grant amnesty to the Confederates and return their property, including slaves.

Leading Radical Senator Zachariah Chandler of Michigan said, “Blair is an old fool for going to Richmond upon a peace mission & the Administration is little better for permitting him to go… Nothing but evil can come of this nonsense.” For the Radicals, nothing less than the Confederates’ unconditional surrender would suffice.

Conservative Republicans generally supported Lincoln, but they questioned the legality of allowing a private citizen to negotiate on the nation’s behalf. An article in the New York Times read:

“None but national authorities can wage war or make for peace; and the moment we enter into negotiations with the rebel Government for terms of peace, that moment we have actually and legally conceded everything for which they have been making war.”

A writer for the Boston Advertiser stated that he had “unbounded confidence in the President,” but “the loyal masses revolt at the idea of treating with Jeff. Davis and his confederates in despotic government.” Confederate officials “are usurpers in their present position, having no right whatever to stand between our government and the people of the insurgent States… negotiation will mar the close of the war, and damage the future welfare of both sections of the country… Let our conquering generals be the only negotiators of peace.”

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton opposed Lincoln’s decision to send Blair back to Richmond. Stanton argued that since the Confederacy was on the brink of defeat, the Federals had no need to offer any terms besides unconditional surrender. He also feared that the idea of peace talks might hamper military recruiting and demoralize the troops in the field.

Navy Secretary Gideon Welles also questioned Lincoln’s decision, writing in his diary: “The President, with much shrewdness and much good sense, has often strange and incomprehensible whims; takes sometimes singular and unaccountable freaks. It would hardly surprise me were he to undertake to arrange terms of peace without consulting anyone.”

Regardless of anybody’s opinion on the matter, Blair was soon on his way back to Richmond.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21804-09; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 518-19; 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 16133-43; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 544-45; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 690-91; 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; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 625-26

Special Field Orders Number 15

January 16, 1865 – Major General William T. Sherman issued directives for Federal troops to seize abandoned land along the Atlantic coast and redistribute it to newly freed slaves.

Federal Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: collaborationnation.wikispaces.com

As Sherman’s armies conducted their march from Atlanta to Savannah, they were inundated by thousands of slaves fleeing from nearby plantations. Sherman had complained that his men should not be responsible for taking care of these refugees because they impeded his military progress. Sherman wrote to Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck, “The South deserves all she has got for her injustice to the negro, but that is no reason why we should go to the other extreme.”

Sherman’s troops routinely mistreated the refugees, and in Washington rumors spread that Sherman “manifested an almost criminal dislike to the Negro.” Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton headed south, ostensibly for health reasons, but really to discuss the matter with Sherman. (President Abraham Lincoln also asked Stanton to urge Sherman to hurry and launch a new campaign, explaining that “time, now that the enemy is wavering, is more important than ever before. Being on the downhill, and somewhat confused, keep him going.”)

Stanton met with Sherman and a delegation of black preachers who testified that the general was a “friend and a gentleman.” The delegation’s spokesman said, “We have confidence in General Sherman, and think that what concerns us could not be in better hands.” When Stanton asked how best to transition from slavery to freedom, he said, “The way we can best take care of ourselves is to have land, and turn in and till it by our labor… We want to be placed on land until we are able to buy it, and make it our own.”

The preachers stated that recruiting black men for the army did not actually grow the army as much as it allowed white men to let the blacks take their place. The leader also opined that if the Confederates recruited blacks into their armies, “I think they would fight as long as they were before the ‘bayonet’, and just as soon as they could get away they would desert, in my opinion.”

Sherman later wrote that Stanton was skeptical about his handling of fugitive slaves, “but luckily the negroes themselves convinced him that he was in error, and that they understood their own interests far better than did the men in Washington, who tried to make political capital out of this negro question.”

After Stanton left, Sherman issued Special Field Orders No. 15, which authorized the redistribution of confiscated land to former slaves. The land included a strip of coastline from Charleston, South Carolina, to the St. John’s River in Florida, Georgia’s Sea Islands, and the mainland 30 miles in from the coast. Approved by both Stanton and Lincoln, this was the most radical military order of the war.

The order served two military purposes:

  1. It gave the refugees their own land so they would no longer rely on Sherman’s army for protection and subsistence
  2. It encouraged freed slaves to join the Federal army as soldiers so they could fight to maintain their new liberty

The order also served two political purposes:

  1. It offered Washington politicians a solution to the problem of what to do with the millions of new free southern laborers
  2. It blunted the perception in Washington that Sherman and his armies were callous toward blacks

Each slave family was to receive “a plot of not more than forty acres of tillable ground.” This order became the basis for the slogan “forty acres and a mule,” or the notion that Federal authorities should forcibly seize land from southern planters and redistribute it to former slaves. Brigadier General Rufus Saxton, a Massachusetts abolitionist who had previously overseen black recruitment into the army, was assigned to enforce Sherman’s order.

Under this directive, some 40,000 former slaves and black refugees temporarily received “possessory title” of land until Congress “shall regulate the title.” Once on their land, “the blacks may remain in their chosen or accustomed vocations” and “no white person whatever, unless military officers and soldiers detailed for duty, will be permitted to reside; and the sole and exclusive management of affairs will be left to the freed people themselves, subject only to the United States military authority, and the acts of Congress.”

Like Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, this measure was imposed based on the executive’s supposed “war powers.” Sherman also issued a proclamation regarding the treatment of former slaves:

“By the laws of war, and orders of the President of the United States, the negro is free, and must be dealt with as such. He cannot be subjected to conscription, or forced military service, save by the written orders of the highest military authority of the department, under such regulations as the President or Congress may prescribe. Domestic servants, blacksmiths, carpenters, and other mechanics, will be free to select their own work and residence, but the young and able-bodied negroes must be encouraged to enlist as soldiers in the service of the United States, to contribute their share toward maintaining their own freedom, and securing their rights as citizens of the United States.”

Later this year, President Andrew Johnson revoked Special Field Orders No. 15, citing the constitutional ban on confiscating private property without due process.

—–

References

BlackPast.org-Special Field Orders No. 15; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 406; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; 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 15336-46, 15684-704; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 540-41, 544; GeorgiaEncyclopedia.org-Sherman’s Field Order No. 15; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 237; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 619; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 683; 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. 841; Wikipedia.org-Sherman’s Special Field Orders No. 15