Tag Archives: Gideon Welles

The Lincoln Funeral

April 19, 1865 – Funeral services for Abraham Lincoln took place at the White House.

After the doctors pronounced Lincoln dead on the 15th, bells tolled throughout Washington and the news quickly spread across the country. Lincoln’s body was draped in a flag and brought to the White House, and within an hour government buildings throughout the capital were draped in mourning black. First Lady Mary Lincoln was confined to her room, overwhelmed by grief.

News of Lincoln’s death caused profound sorrow throughout the North, where many revered him as the savior of the Union. According to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles:

“From every part of the country comes lamentation. Every house, almost, has some drapery, especially the homes of the poor. Profuse exhibition is displayed on the public buildings and the dwellings of the wealthy, but the little black ribbon or strip of black cloth from the hovel of the poor negro or the impoverished white is more touching.”

Even those who had criticized his unconstitutional measures expressed shock and condemned the crime. But admiration for Lincoln was not universal, as the London Standard opined the day after his death: “He was not a hero while he lived, and therefore his cruel murder does not make him a martyr.”

The Navy Department ordered the firing of guns every half-hour on the 17th in honor of Lincoln’s memory. Flags on all ships and at all naval installations would fly at half-mast until after the funeral, and all naval officers would wear black mourning badges for six months.

Lincoln became the first president to lie in state in the White House. In the crepe-decorated East Room, the casket was placed upon a platform with four pillars holding a black canopy overhead. An estimated 25,000 people filed past the casket on the 18th.

Some 600 dignitaries including President Andrew Johnson, the cabinet, members of Congress, Supreme Court justices, military leaders, and diplomats in full “court dress” attended the funeral at 12 p.m. on the 19th in the East Room. Welles wrote that the service “was imposing, sad, and sorrowful. All felt the solemnity, and sorrowed as if they had lost one of their own household. By voluntary action business was everywhere suspended, and the people crowded the streets.”

Correspondent Noah Brooks noted that Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, standing at the head of the catafalque, “was often moved to tears.” Chairs had been placed at the foot of the catafalque for Lincoln’s family, but only Robert was there; Mrs. Lincoln was too grief-stricken to attend. People throughout the North attended church services in their hometowns.

After Senate Chaplain E.H. Gray delivered the closing invocation, Lincoln’s coffin was placed in a carriage draped in banners. Soldiers escorted the carriage from the White House to the U.S. Capitol, and thousands of people lined Pennsylvania Avenue to watch the procession pass. According to Welles:

“There were no truer mourners, when all were sad, than the poor colored people who crowded the streets, joined the procession, and exhibited their woe, bewailing the loss of him whom they regarded as a benefactor and father. Women as well as men, with their little children, thronged the streets, sorrow, trouble, and distress depicted on their countenances and in their bearing. The vacant holiday expression had given way to real grief.”

The Lincoln Funeral Procession | Image Credit: learnnc.org

Bands played mournful songs, bells tolled, guns boomed, and some 40,000 people filed past Lincoln’s coffin in the Capitol rotunda over two days. On the 21st, Lincoln’s body was placed aboard a special train bound for its final resting place in Springfield, Illinois. Also on the train were the disinterred remains of his son Willie, who had died in 1862.

The train stopped in several northern cities as it nearly retraced the route that Lincoln had taken from Springfield to Washington in 1861. Five men who made that initial journey with Lincoln were on this train: David Hunter, David Davis, Ward Hill Lamon, John Nicolay, and John Hay.

The roofs of many railroad stations had to be torn down to accommodate the massive railroad car designed by George Pullman. The locomotive and other cars were periodically changed to give different railroad companies a chance to take part. A specially built hearse conveyed Lincoln’s casket from the railroad depots to the viewing sites. The casket was opened in larger cities so mourners could see the president.

The funeral train steamed through Maryland into Pennsylvania, where some 30,000 mourners passed the coffin at the state capital of Harrisburg. From there, the train chugged through Lancaster, where former President James Buchanan watched it pass on the way to Philadelphia. The coffin lay in state in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. The double-line to view the body stretched three miles, and several people were injured in a rush to the casket.

The train steamed through New Jersey and was then ferried across the Hudson River into New York City. The hearse was pulled to City Hall by a team of 16 horses wearing black plumes and blankets. Local officials allowed Lincoln’s body to be photographed while lying in state in the City Hall rotunda. Mrs. Lincoln bitterly protested until Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton ordered all prints destroyed. One survived.

The next day, the funeral procession went up Broadway. It consisted of 75,000 civilians and 11,000 soldiers. Blacks were required to march in the rear. About a million people witnessed the event. The funeral train left the Hudson River Railroad depot and steamed north to the state capital of Albany. From there it continued on to Buffalo, where mourners included former President Millard Fillmore and future President Grover Cleveland.

The train steamed west into Ohio, with stops at Cleveland and Columbus. In Cleveland, an estimated 50,000 people filed past the coffin in pouring rain. The body lay under a canopy in Monument Square because no public building could hold such a large crowd. The funeral train then proceeded to Columbus and reached Indianapolis by month’s end.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 223-24; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 479; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 118-19; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 559-64; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 585-86; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 678-81, 683-84; 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. 853; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 386-91; 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 Inauguration of Andrew Johnson

April 15, 1865 – Abraham Lincoln’s death meant that a southern Democrat would become the next U.S. president, much to the dismay of northerners hoping to punish the South.

17th U.S. President Andrew Johnson | Image Credit: learnnc.org

In the 1864 election campaign, the Republicans had joined with pro-war Democrats to form a “National Union” party. To solidify this new alliance, they nominated Andrew Johnson, leader of the pro-war Democrats, as Lincoln’s vice president. Johnson had been the only congressman from the Confederate states to stay loyal to the U.S. He co-authored the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution of July 1861, and later Lincoln appointed him military governor of Tennessee.

The Republican majority in Congress viewed Johnson with suspicion because of his southern roots. This was especially true for the Radical Republicans, who favored harsh retribution against the defeated South. However, this distrust was tempered by Johnson’s history of denouncing the southern aristocracy, as well as many Republicans’ disapproval of Lincoln’s lenient approach toward bringing the southern states back into the Union.

The Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, dominated by the Radicals, held a caucus on the day of Lincoln’s death. Wasting no time to mourn, they discussed “the necessity of a new cabinet and a line of policy less conciliatory than that of Mr. Lincoln.” George Julian of Indiana stated that–

“–aside from his known tenderness to the rebels, Lincoln’s last public avowal, only three days before his death, of adherence to the plan of reconstruction he had announced in December 1863, was highly repugnant… while everybody was shocked at his murder, the feeling was nearly universal that the accession of Johnson to the Presidency would prove a Godsend to the country.”

Shortly after Lincoln was pronounced dead, members of his cabinet requested that Johnson take the oath of office and become the new president. At 10 a.m., Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase administered the oath in Suite 68 of Washington’s Kirkwood Hotel, Johnson’s current residence. Johnson became the sixth vice president to ascend to the presidency, and the third to ascend due to death.

The Johnson Inauguration | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

A dozen members of Congress and other government officials witnessed the ceremony, which Johnson followed with a brief speech: “Gentlemen, I have been almost overwhelmed by the announcement of the sad event which has so recently occurred… The duties have been mine; the consequences are God’s.” A New England senator noted, “Johnson seemed willing to share the glory of his achievements with his Creator, but utterly forgot that Mr. Lincoln had any share of credit in the suppression of the rebellion.” This encouraged the Radicals, along with the fact that Johnson had taken his oath on a Bible opened to the vengeful Book of Ezekiel.

Influential Radical Senators Charles Sumner of Massachusetts and Benjamin Wade of Ohio visited Johnson on the night of the 15th. Both men had worked with Johnson in the Senate and were sure that his policy would be harsher than Lincoln’s. Wade told him, “Mr. Johnson, I thank God that you are here. Mr. Lincoln had too much of the milk of human kindness to deal with these damned rebels. Now they will be dealt with according to their desserts.” The Radicals’ first order of business was to clear the executive branch of Lincoln’s influence, and Johnson would be the man to do it for them.

The new president held his first cabinet meeting on the 16th. He asked all members to stay in their positions for now and trust in him based on his record: “The course which I have taken in the past, in connection with this rebellion, must be regarded as a guaranty for the future.” Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton reported that Federal troops were pursuing John Wilkes Booth and Jefferson Davis, and the reconstruction of the South had begun.

Johnson later met with Stanton and Radical leaders at the War Department, where Chief Justice Chase agreed to tour the South and lobby the new Unionist state governments to grant former slaves the right to vote. Moderates had argued that slaves should be educated before immediately starting to vote, but Radicals wanted black suffrage because it would create a solid Republican voting bloc that would end the Democratic Party’s domination of the South.

Sumner, one of the loudest champions of black suffrage, supported Chase’s mission but doubted that “the work could be effectively done without federal authority.” Johnson’s tough talk about punishing Confederate leaders gave Sumner hope that he might use his new presidential powers to force the southern states to allow freed slaves the right to vote.

Meanwhile Lincoln’s cabinet (now Johnson’s) quickly began moving to impose a harsher reconstruction plan than Lincoln had intended. Stanton reissued his proposal of the 14th which would place the South under military rule. Lincoln had not commented on the plan at the time, but Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant argued that Lincoln’s idea for reconstruction was based on a “desire to have everybody happy, and above all his desire to see all people of the United States enter again upon the full privileges of citizenship with equality among all.”

This did not deter Stanton, who presented his plan to influential Radicals in a meeting to which Johnson had not been invited. The men generally agreed with the idea of treating the South as a conquered province, but, according to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, “Mr. Sumner declared he would not move a step–not an inch if the right of the colored man to vote was not secured.”

At the Treasury Department, Johnson met with members of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, including its chairman, Wade. Johnson had been a former committee member himself, and Wade reiterated his support for him: “Johnson, we have faith in you. By the gods, there will be no trouble now in running the government.”

Johnson declared: “I hold that robbery is a crime; rape is a crime; murder is a crime; treason is a crime–and crime must be punished. Treason must be made infamous, and traitors must be impoverished.” This satisfied the committee, but that satisfaction quickly dimmed when Johnson later clarified his statement: “I say to the (Confederate) leaders, punishment. I also say leniency, reconciliation and amnesty to the thousands whom they have misled and deceived.”

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References

Bowers, Claude G., The Tragic Era: The Revolution After Lincoln (The Riverside Press, Cambridge, MA, 1929), p. 3-7; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 118-19; 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 20760-99; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 585; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 151-52; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 677-78; McFeely, William S., Grant (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1981), p. 226-27; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 16-18, 20; 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

More Assassination Attempts, Washington in Turmoil

April 14, 1865 – As President Abraham Lincoln was shot, both Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward were targeted for assassination as well.

U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Around the same time that John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre, Booth’s co-conspirator Lewis Paine (or Powell) attempted to assassinate Seward. Paine went to the secretary’s home on Lafayette Square, having been brought there by fellow accomplice David E. Herold. Paine approached the door alone and told a servant that he was delivering medicine to Seward, who had suffered a broken arm and jaw in a recent carriage accident. When the servant hesitated to let him in, Paine forced his way inside and rushed upstairs toward sounds he assumed were coming from Seward’s bedroom.

Seward’s son Frederick tried to stop Paine at the top of the stairs. Paine pulled out a revolver and, when it failed to fire, broke Frederick’s skull with the heavy weapon and charged into the bedroom. Paine cut the nurse with a Bowie knife, then jumped on Seward’s bed and slashed at the secretary’s neck and face. A soldier on duty and Seward’s other son Augustus pulled Paine off, and the assailant raced out of the house.

Seward was badly wounded, but his plaster arm cast and the splint fitted to his broken jaw had fended off enough slashes for him to survive. Herold ran off when he heard screams coming from the house, leaving Paine to fend for himself. Unfamiliar with Washington, he wandered the streets for two days before finally arriving at the boardinghouse of Mary Surratt, where Booth and his conspirators had hatched their plot.

Another Booth conspirator, George Atzerodt, had been tasked with killing Vice President Johnson, who was living at the Kirkwood Hotel. Atzerodt drank at the Kirkwood bar and contemplated his assignment until he finally lost his nerve and left. Authorities arrived soon afterward to notify Johnson of the assassination attempts on Lincoln and Seward, and to guard him from a similar fate.

Meanwhile, Lincoln had been carried out of Ford’s Theatre and brought across the street to a rear bedroom in the boardinghouse of William Petersen. He was arranged diagonally across a bed that was too small for his six foot-four inch frame. Having already concluded that Lincoln could not survive, the doctors focused mainly on making him as comfortable as possible.

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant and his wife Julia had been advertised to go to Ford’s Theatre with the Lincolns, but they had taken a train to see their children in New Jersey instead. They stopped at Bloodgood’s Hotel in Philadelphia for the night, and around midnight Grant received a telegram from Major Thomas Eckert, head of the War Department telegraph office:

“The President was assassinated at Ford’s Theater at 10:30 tonight and cannot live. The wound is a pistol shot through the head. Secretary Seward and his son Frederick were also assassinated at their residence and are in a dangerous condition. The Secretary of War desires that you return to Washington immediately. Please answer on receipt of this.”

Grant sent word that he was on his way back. Then, around 12:50 a.m., he received a telegram from Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana: “Permit me to suggest to you to keep close watch on all persons who come near you in the cars or otherwise; also, that an engine be sent in front of the train to guard against anything being on the track.” When Grant shared the news with Julia, she wept and asked, “This will make Andy Johnson president, will it not?” Grant said, “Yes, and… I dread the change.”

U.S. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton | Image Credit: Flickr.com

News of the attacks on Lincoln and Seward sparked hysterical rumors of a citywide Confederate killing spree. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton arrived at the Petersen house and became de facto president by stopping traffic on the Potomac River bridges, authorizing Grant to take command of capital defenses, and alerting border authorities to watch for suspicious crossings. When witnesses identified Booth as Lincoln’s assassin, Stanton directed Federal troops to track down both him and anyone who may have conspired with him.

First Lady Mary Lincoln was at her husband’s bedside, but grief eventually overwhelmed her. She moaned, “How can it be so? Do speak to me!” She then began screaming hysterically until Stanton ordered, “Take that woman out of here and do not let her in here again!” The Lincolns’ oldest son Robert arrived after midnight; he took his mother aside and they grieved together.

People shuffled in and out of the little bedroom throughout the night as the president’s breathing grew steadily fainter. Dozens of physicians took turns caring for Lincoln, but they all agreed that he could not recover.

Finally, at 7:22:10 on the morning of April 15, a doctor pronounced, “He is gone. He is dead.” The men who had crowded into the small room knelt around the bed in silent prayer, and Stanton declared, “Now he belongs to the angels.” Several men carried Lincoln’s body out, and army medical illustrator Hermann Faber was brought in to sketch the boardinghouse bedroom for posterity.

The Lincoln Deathbed

Lincoln became the first president to ever be murdered, and he died exactly four years after calling for the Federal invasion of the Confederacy. The telegraph quickly spread the news of Lincoln’s death throughout both North and South. Northern celebrations that had been taking place ever since the fall of Richmond suddenly stopped as the joy turned into mourning and grief. In Washington, bells tolled as Lincoln’s body was wrapped in a flag and taken by guarded hearse back to the White House. According to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles:

“There was a cheerless cold rain and everything seemed gloomy. On the Avenue in front of the White House were several hundred colored people, mostly women and children, weeping and wailing their loss. This crowd did not appear to diminish through the whole of that cold, wet day; they seemed not to know what was to be their fate since their great benefactor was dead, and their hopeless grief affected me more than almost anything else, though strong and brave men wept when I met them.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 217-19; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 474-75; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 64-104, 118-19; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 559; 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 20690-700, 20760-70; Heintjes, Tom, “Drawing on History, ‘Hogan’s Alley’ #8, 2000” (Cartoonician.com, retrieved 28 Sep 2012); Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 165; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 675-77; McFeely, William S., Grant (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1981), p. 224-25; Steers, Edward, Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln (University Press of Kentucky, 2001); Townsend, George Alfred, The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth (New York: Dick and Fitzgerald, 1865); Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 384-86; 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

Lincoln’s Busy Good Friday

April 14, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln held a cabinet meeting and tended to administrative issues before ending the day with a trip to Ford’s Theatre.

Good Friday opened with Lincoln rising at 7 a.m. He dealt with some paperwork and then met his son Robert for breakfast. Having served on Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant’s staff, Robert shared details about General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House.

Pres. Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The president then went to his office and received several politicians and petitioners regarding such topics as the western territories, political patronage, and southern property confiscation. When a man requested a pass to go into Virginia, Lincoln wrote, “No pass is necessary now to authorize any one to go to and return from Petersburg and Richmond. People go and return just as they did before the war.”

Lincoln visited the War Department to get the latest telegraphic news regarding the armies. He then returned to the White House for an 11 a.m. cabinet meeting. Secretary of State William H. Seward was still recovering from a carriage accident and did not attend; his son Frederick sat in for him. Grant was scheduled to be there, and the ministers applauded him when he entered the room.

The meeting began with a discussion on how best to lift trade restrictions and resume normal commercial relations in the South. Treasury Secretary Hugh McCulloch recommended firing the treasury agents controlling trade in the southern ports. According to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, Grant “expressed himself very decidedly against them, thought them demoralizing, etc.”

Welles called for a resumption of normal commercial relations along the Atlantic coast. However, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton warned that this might not be feasible because the Federal army was not yet in control of all coastal ports. Grant suggested that regular trade “might embrace all this side of the Mississippi.”

Stanton unveiled a document outlining a punitive military occupation of the former Confederacy. Neither Lincoln nor Grant commented, but all agreed to read the plan so they could discuss it at the next meeting. Lincoln had called for a more conciliatory restoration of the Union, but he did agree with Stanton’s idea that each conquered state should have its own federally-appointed military governor.

Regarding the remaining Confederates, Lincoln said:

“I hope there will be no persecution, no bloody work, after the war is over. No one need expect me to take part in hanging or killing those men, even the worse of them. Frighten them out of the country, open the gates, let down the bars, scare them off. Enough lives have been sacrificed. We must extinguish our resentment if we expect harmony and union. There has been too much of a desire on the part of some of our very good friends to be masters, to interfere with and dictate to those states, to treat the people not as fellow citizens; there is too little respect for their rights. I do not sympathize in these feelings.”

Lincoln appreciated that the newly elected Congress would not assemble until December because it gave him time to start his restoration plan without interference from the Radicals who sought to punish the South. Stanton noted that Lincoln “was more cheerful and happy than I had ever seen him.” He “rejoiced at the near prospect of firm and durable peace at home and abroad, manifested in marked degree the kindness and humanity of his disposition, and the tender and forgiving spirit that so eminently distinguished him.”

The president then announced, “I had this strange dream again last night.” He “seemed to be in some singular, indescribable vessel… moving with great rapidity towards a dark and indefinite shore.” He said this dream had occurred just before every major Federal victory, listing Antietam, Gettysburg, Stones River, Vicksburg, and so on. Grant replied that Stones River was certainly no victory. Some members, including Welles, attributed Grant’s dismissal of Stones River to his disdain for Major General William S. Rosecrans.

Lincoln “looked at Grant curiously and inquiringly” and said they may “differ on that point, and at all events his dream preceded it.” He said that “we shall, judging from the past, have great news very soon. I think it must be from Sherman. My thoughts are in that direction, as are most of yours.” Grant replied that he expected word from Major General William T. Sherman in North Carolina very soon. The cabinet members then asked Grant to share details about Lee’s surrender.

This informal meeting lasted until around 2 p.m. Afterward, Lincoln invited Grant and his wife Julia to go to the theater with him and First Lady Mary Lincoln that night. However, Mrs. Grant had been insulted by Mrs. Lincoln in March, and she sent her husband a note during the meeting urging him to take her to see their children in Burlington, New Jersey, instead. Grant recalled: “Some incident of a trifling nature had made her resolve to leave that evening,” but nevertheless, “I was glad to have the note, as I did not want to go to the theater.”

After the meeting, Lincoln broke away from business long enough to enjoy a carriage ride with the first lady. As they rode, Lincoln told her, “Mary, we have had a hard time of it since we came to Washington; but the war is over, and with God’s blessing we may hope for four years of peace and happiness, and then we will go back to Illinois, and pass the rest of our lives in quiet.”

When the president returned to the White House, he met with fellow Illinoisans Governor Richard J. Oglesby and General Isham Haynie. Lincoln read them excerpts from a book until he was called to dinner. According to Oglesby, “They kept sending for him to come to dinner. He promised each time to go, but would continue reading the book. Finally he got a sort of peremptory order that he must come to dinner at once. It was explained to me by the old man at the door that they were going to have dinner and then go to the theater.”

Lincoln had no particular desire to attend the theater that night, but he said, “It has been advertised that we will be there, and I cannot disappoint the people. Otherwise I would not go. I do not want to go.” Congressman Isaac N. Arnold came to meet with Lincoln just as he was leaving. Lincoln told him, “Excuse me now, I am going to the theater. Come and see me in the morning.”

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References

Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 473-74; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 64-104; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 12616, 12649, 12660-81; 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 20480-90; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 731-37; McFeely, William S., Grant (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1981), p. 222-24; 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

Reconstruction in Virginia: Part 2

April 12, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln rescinded his plan to restore Virginia to the Union after facing heated opposition from his cabinet.

Since visiting Richmond, Lincoln had deliberately refrained from discussing his plans for Virginia with members of his cabinet. But the ministers had an idea of what those plans were anyway because Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana was at City Point, and he informed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton that Lincoln had conferred with high-ranking Confederate official John A. Campbell.

Finally, Lincoln assembled his cabinet and officially unveiled his plan: Federal authorities would allow the pro-Confederate legislature of Virginia to assemble at Richmond; the legislators would then vote to repudiate secession and return to the Union. Nearly every cabinet member opposed this plan.

U.S. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Stanton led the opposition, declaring “that to place such powers in the Virginia legislature would be giving away the scepter of the conqueror; that it would transfer the result of victory of our arms from the field to the very legislatures which four years before had said, ‘give us war;’ that it would put the Government in the hands of its enemies; that it would surely bring trouble with Congress; (and) that the people would not sustain him.” Stanton argued that “any effort to reorganize the Government should be under Federal authority solely, treating the rebel organizations and government as absolutely null and void.”

Attorney General James Speed and Navy Secretary Gideon Welles also voiced their disapproval. Welles “doubted the policy of convening a Rebel legislature… once convened, they would with their hostile feelings be inclined perhaps, to conspire against us.” Even worse, “the so-called legislature would be likely to propose terms which might seem reasonable, but which we could not accept.” Welles noted that none of the cabinet members thought it wise to risk having the legislators propose reasonable terms for returning to the U.S. just so the administration could reject them.

U.S. Navy Secy Gideon Welles | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Moreover, Welles had “not great faith in negotiating with large bodies of men,” and he reminded Lincoln that Virginia already had a federally-recognized Unionist government led by Francis Pierpont. Lincoln still maintained that if “prominent Virginians” would unite, they would “turn themselves and their neighbors into good Union men.” But after thinking it over, he met with Stanton again the next day.

Stanton repeated his opposition to “allowing the rebel legislature to assemble, or the rebel organizations to have any participation whatever in the business of reorganization.” He warned that allowing former Confederates to govern Virginia would affect “the fate of the emancipated millions” and the legislature, “being once assembled, its deliberations could not be confined to any specific acts.”

Meanwhile, Campbell had written to Major General Godfrey Weitzel, commander of Federal occupation forces in Richmond, about Lincoln’s proposed arrangement. This indicated to Lincoln that Campbell may be helping the legislature exceed its authority. He therefore telegraphed Weitzel from the War Department: “Do not now allow them to assemble; but if any have come, allow them safe-return to their homes.”

Lincoln used legal language to assert that Campbell had wrongly assumed Lincoln had allowed the Virginia legislature to assemble in the first place: “I have done no such thing. I spoke of them not as a Legislature, but as ‘the gentlemen who acted as the Legislature of Virginia in support of the rebellion,’ having power de facto to do a specific thing.”

Thus, Lincoln revoked the order for the legislature to assemble despite his earlier promise to Campbell. Lincoln reasoned that he had encouraged the legislature to assemble primarily to help disperse Confederate forces in Virginia. But because Robert E. Lee had surrendered since Lincoln first suggested it, assembling the legislature was no longer so important. And since he acknowledged that he may have made a mistake, Lincoln felt no need to keep his promise. Stanton agreed that “was exactly right.”

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References

Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 12583-605; 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 20255-85; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 729-30; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 673-75; McFeely, William S., Grant (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1981), p. 222; 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. 851

Grant’s Spring Offensive Takes Shape

March 6, 1865 – Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, continued preparing to launch the spring offensive, which looked promising considering the growing number of Confederate desertions.

Lt Gen U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The Federal Armies of the Potomac and the James had held General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia under partial siege at Richmond and Petersburg since last summer. Grant hurried to mobilize these armies and destroy Lee before he could escape to the southwest and join forces with General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederates in North Carolina.

Grant also planned to launch offensives in other theaters of operations to prevent Lee from being reinforced. In North Carolina, separate Federal armies were joining forces to keep Johnston away from Virginia. Major General E.R.S. Canby and Brigadier General James H. Wilson were moving into Alabama to seize the important factory town of Selma and the port city of Mobile. And Major General George Stoneman was leading a cavalry force into eastern Tennessee.

Grant also needed help from the navy to protect his supply base at City Point, on the James River. Grant sent a message to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles on the 4th: “The James River is very high, and will continue so as long as the weather of the past week lasts. It would be well to have at once all the ironclads that is intended should come here.”

Welles quickly responded by directing Captain Oliver S. Glisson at Hampton Roads to bring ironclads up from Wilmington. Glisson responded early on the 5th: “Your telegram was received at 15 minutes after midnight; blowing a gale of wind at the time, U.S.S. Aries sailed at daylight this morning. The monitors are expected every moment from Cape Fear, and I shall send them up the river immediately.” Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren, commanding the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, was notified to send two ironclads from his command north to City Point as well.

Another part of Grant’s preparation was to bring Major General Philip Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah, fresh off their resounding victory at Waynesboro, back to the Federal armies outside Richmond and Petersburg. With the Shenandoah Valley now firmly in Federal hands, Sheridan marched unopposed and arrived at Charlottesville on the 3rd.

Grant had urged Sheridan to destroy the Virginia Central Railroad, which was one of Lee’s main supply lines. The Federals spent two days finally getting this done before heading south toward the James River. Sheridan planned to wreck the James River Canal and then move east to join the spring offensive.

Sheridan’s Federals moved through Goochland Court House, Beaver Dam Station, and Hanover Court House on their way back east. Sheridan reached White House, on the Pamunkey River, on the 19th. Grant arranged for him to pick up fresh horses and supplies, and he wrote to Sheridan that once his force was ready, “Start for this place as soon as you conveniently can.”

Grant explained that he planned to move on Lee’s southwestern flank with 50,000 troops, and Sheridan’s men were needed to destroy the South Side and Danville railroads. Once that was done, Sheridan was to “then either return to this army or go on to Sherman (in North Carolina), as you may deem most practicable.” Whichever option Sheridan chose, “I care but little about, the principal thing being the destruction of the only two roads left to the enemy at Richmond.”

The next day, Grant sent Sheridan a more urgent message:

“I do not wish to hurry you. There is now such a possibility, if not probability, of Lee and Johnston attempting to unite that I feel extremely desirous not only of cutting the lines of communication between them, but of having a large and properly commanded cavalry force ready to act with in case such an attempt is made… I think that by Saturday next you had better start, even if you have to stop here to finish shoeing up.”

Grant also reported on the progress of the other offensives starting this month:

“Stoneman started yesterday from Knoxville with a cavalry force of probably 5,000 men to penetrate southwest Virginia as far toward Lynchburg as possible.… Wilson started at the same time from Eastport toward Selma with a splendidly equipped cavalry force of 12,000 men. Canby is in motion, and I have reason to believe that Sherman and Schofield have formed a junction at Goldsboro.”

Sheridan later wrote:

“The hardships of this march far exceeded those of any previous campaigns by the cavalry. Almost incessant rains had drenched us for sixteen days and nights, and the swollen streams and well nigh bottomless roads east of Staunton presented grave difficulties on every hand, but surmounting them all, we destroyed the enemy’s means of subsistence, in quantities beyond computation, and permanently crippled the Virginia Central railroad, as well as the James River canal, and as each day brought us nearer the Army of the Potomac, all were filled with the comforting reflection that our work in the Shenandoah Valley had been thoroughly done, and every one was buoyed up by the cheering thought that we should soon take part in the final struggle of the war.”

Meanwhile, to further hamper the Confederate war effort, the Federal high command encouraged enemy desertions by offering to pay deserters for bringing their rifles into Federal lines. Grant had asked Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton for permission to enact this program, and Stanton replied, “There is no objection to your paying rebel deserters for their arms, horses, or anything they bring in, a full and fair price. That kind of trade will not injure the service.”

Major General E.O.C. Ord, commanding the Army of the James around Bermuda Hundred, wrote how his troops promoted the program: “On the Bermuda front the order promising pay for arms and horses has been circulated with kites, bows and arrows, and newspapers.” One of Ord’s corps commanders, Major General John Gibbon, asked Ord to “send me more of General Grant’s orders and a man who understands your mode of fixing them to a kite.”

Grant wrote to Stanton on the 19th, “Will you please direct the Ordnance Department to send money here at once to pay for arms brought in by deserters. A great many are coming in now, bringing their arms with them.” Three days later, Chief Ordnance Officer F.H. Parker issued a directive: “It is arranged that you are to pay for arms brought in by deserters. They will be forwarded with their arms or with receipts from the provost-marshal here. Pay them at the rate of $8 per arm…”

Desertions in the Army of Northern Virginia totaled 2,934 between February 15 and March 18, or nearly 10 percent of Lee’s whole army. Some deserted for the money, but most left to ease the suffering of loved ones at home. Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac, wrote to Grant, “Twenty-two deserters yesterday; twenty are reported this morning. The whole Confederate army appear to have had two days’ cooked rations and told to be on the alert; I think due more to an expected attack from us than any projected movement on their part.”

Meanwhile, Grant continued planning his offensive, which would start as soon as the Virginia roads were dried enough for his men, horses, and guns.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 517; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 427, 429; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 542, 546-48; 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 17835-65; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 561, 563-67; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 8134; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 646-47, 654-55

Compensated Emancipation and the Hampton Roads Fallout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11949-60; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 16241-70; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 550; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 692-93, 695-96; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 634-35, 637; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition, 2012), Q165

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.

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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 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

The Second Fort Fisher Campaign Begins

January 5, 1865 – After failing to capture Fort Fisher in December, Federals prepared to launch another army-navy expedition from Bermuda Hundred and Fort Monroe on the Virginia coast.

The Federal high command had made capturing Fort Fisher a top priority because it guarded the last major Confederate seaport at Wilmington, North Carolina. An attempt led by Major General Benjamin F. Butler and Rear Admiral David D. Porter failed in late December, but the Federals resolved to try again, this time without Butler running the army part of the operation.

Porter issued orders for 66 warships to assemble off the North Carolina coast, stocked with “every shell than can be carried” to blast the fort into submission. Porter had reported that his ships nearly destroyed Fort Fisher in December, but now he realized that the gunners overshot most of their marks by aiming at the Confederates’ flag, which was strategically placed at the fort’s rear. This time, Porter directed the gunners to target the enemy cannon, not the flag.

Maj-Gen A.H. Terry | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Meanwhile, Navy Secretary Gideon Welles impressed upon Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton the importance of capturing Fort Fisher and sealing off Wilmington, “the only port by which any supplies whatever reach the rebels.” Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal army commander, scrambled to find boats to transport the troops down the coast from Virginia. He also replaced Butler with Major General Alfred H. Terry, who commanded XXIV Corps in Butler’s Army of the James.

From his City Point headquarters, Grant wrote Butler on the 2nd, “Please send Major-general Terry to City Point to see me this morning.” Grant did not explain why he wanted Terry to either man to keep the mission as secret as possible. Grant merely told Terry that he was being put in charge of a force to be transferred by sea to an undisclosed site. Terry thought he was being sent to reinforce William T. Sherman’s army at Savannah.

The same provisional corps that Butler had led in the first Fort Fisher expedition would now be led by Terry: Brigadier General Adelbert Ames’s division and a brigade from Terry’s corps, and Brigadier General Charles Paine’s division from Butler’s XXV Corps. As Terry reported:

“I was instructed to move them from their positions in the lines on the north side of the James River to Bermuda Landing in time to commence their embarkation on transport vessels at sunrise on the 4th instant. In obedience to these orders the movement commenced at noon of the 3rd instant. The troops arrived at the landing at sunset, and there bivouacked for the night.”

Grant notified Porter:

“General Terry will consult with you fully, and will be governed by your suggestions as far as his responsibility for the safety of his command will admit of. My views are that Fort Fisher can be taken from the water front only in two ways, one is to surprise the enemy when they have an insufficient force; then the other is for the navy to run into Cape Fear River with vessels enough to contend against anything the enemy may have there. If the landing can be effected before this is done, well and good; but if the enemy are in a very strong force, a landing may not be practicable until we have possession of the river.”

Porter wrote Grant, “I shall be ready, and thank God we are not to leave here with so easy a victory at hand.” He recommended that Terry’s men “should have provisions to last them on shore in case we are driven off by gales, but I can cover any number of troops if it blows ever so hard. I have held on here through all and the heaviest gales ever seen here. They seem to blow that I might show the commanders that we could ride it out at anchor.”

Regarding the Confederates in the fort itself, Porter wrote, “We destroyed all their abatis, and made a beautiful bridge for the troops to cross on. They think they have whipped us. I made the ships go off as if they were crippled, some in tow. We will have Wilmington in a week, weather permitting.”

Grant met with Terry on the James River, and they both took a steamer down to the operation’s launching point at Fortress Monroe. Grant finally disclosed the details of this secret mission:

“The object is to renew the attempt to capture Fort Fisher, and in case of success to take possession of Wilmington. It is of the greatest importance that there should be a complete understanding and harmony of action between you and Admiral Porter. I want you to consult the admiral fully, and let there be no misunderstanding in regard to the plan of cooperation in all its details. I served with Admiral Porter on the Mississippi, and have a high appreciation of his courage and judgment. I want to urge upon you to land with all dispatch, and intrench yourself in a position from which you can operate against Fort Fisher, and not to abandon it until the fort is captured or you receive further instructions from me.”

To ensure that the army would not withdraw again, Terry was to bypass his immediate superior (Butler) and report directly to Grant. Porter instructed sailors and Marines to form squadrons that would land on the seaward side of Fort Fisher. Terry’s men were to attack the landward side.

Terry’s provisional corps left Fortress Monroe on transports and started heading down the coast on the 5th. There would be no stopping this expedition now.

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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. 511-12; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 538-39; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 619; McMurry, Richard M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 184; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 217

Fort Fisher: Who to Blame

December 30, 1864 – The Federal high command prepared for a second effort to capture Fort Fisher on the North Carolina coast and tried to determine why the first effort failed.

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

Rear Admiral David D. Porter, commanding the Federal North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, spent two days bombarding Fort Fisher, which guarded the last major Confederate seaport at Wilmington, North Carolina. Porter was softening the fort for an infantry landing, but when the infantry commander, Major General Benjamin F. Butler, decided to withdraw rather than risk an attack, an enraged Porter had no choice but to follow.

The Federal warships withdrew very slowly to avoid appearing defeated; along the way they picked up the Federal soldiers stranded on the shore when their transports left without them. The final insult to the Federals came when they failed to notice the C.S.S. Chameleon (formerly the Tallahassee) slipping out of Wilmington and running the blockade. Colonel William Lamb, commanding the Confederate garrison at Fort Fisher, reported, “This morning, December 27, the foiled and frightened enemy left our shore.”

Butler returned to his headquarters at Fort Monroe on the Virginia Peninsula and reported the details of the operation to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander. Grant, who had ordered Butler to lay siege to Fort Fisher if it could not be captured by assault, was appalled that Butler had withdrawn without a fight. Porter was appalled as well, and he vented his frustration to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles:

“My dispatch of yesterday… will scarcely give you an idea of my disappointment at the conduct of the army authorities in not attempting to take possession of the forts, which had been so completely silenced by our guns… There never was a fort that invited soldiers to walk in and take possession more plainly than Fort Fisher, and an officer got on the parapet even, saw no one inside, and brought away the flag we had cut down… If General (Winfield Scott) Hancock, with 10,000 men, was sent down here, we could walk right into the fort.”

Maj Gen B.F. Butler | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

After reading this letter, Welles noted in his diary:

“The information is not altogether satisfactory. The troops are said to have disembarked above Fort Fisher, to have taken some earthworks and prisoners, and then to have reembarked. This reads of and like Butler.”

When Major General William T. Sherman learned about this expedition, he told Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck, “I take it for granted the present movement on Wilmington will fail, because I know that gun-boats cannot take a fort, and Butler has not the force or the ability to take it.” Halleck replied, “Your anticipations in regard to the Wilmington expedition have proved so correct that your reputation as a prophet may soon equal that as a general.” Actually Sherman underestimated the power of gunboats, but he was quite accurate in his assessment of Butler.

Word of the fiasco quickly reached President Abraham Lincoln, who turned to Grant for an explanation: “If there be no objection, please tell me what you now understand of the Wilmington expedition, present and prospective.” Not having gathered all the facts yet, Grant replied:

“The Wilmington expedition has proven a gross and culpable failure. Many of the troops are now back here. Delays and free talk of the object of the expedition enabled the enemy to move troops to Wilmington to defeat it. After the expedition sailed from Fort Monroe three days of fine weather was squandered, during which the enemy was without a force to protect himself. Who is to blame I hope will be known.”

Porter went to Beaufort to refuel his ships and replenish his ammunition. He wrote Grant, whom he respected from working with him on the Vicksburg campaign, to send another army force with a different commander to try taking Fort Fisher again. Grant replied on the 30th: “Please hold on where you are for a few days and I will endeavor to be back again with an increased force and without the former commander.” Even without collecting all the facts, Grant could already see that Butler was to blame.

Welles shared Porter’s assessment of the operation with Lincoln, who advised Welles to ask Grant to try a second attack. Welles wrote, “The largest naval force ever assembled is ready to lend its co-operation,” but if Grant did not send Porter an army force soon, “the fleet will have to disperse, whence it cannot again be brought to this coast.”

Grant forwarded Welles’s message to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, adding, “I do not propose to correspond with the Navy Department about military operations except through you.” Grant explained that he was already fitting out another force, but he wanted it done in complete secrecy. He wrote:

“When all is ready, I will send the troops and commander selected to Fortress Monroe and out to sea with sealed instructions not to be opened until they pass the Heads. I am in hopes by secrecy the enemy may be lulled into such security as to induce him to send his Wilmington forces against Sherman, or bring them back here by the time we are ready to start.”

Stanton advised Grant to share his plans with Porter only, and he warned Grant that his request for transports “will, of course, set… all the thousand and one guessers at work to nose out the object.” Moreover, Stanton wrote, “You cannot count upon any secrecy in the Navy. Newspaper reporters have the run of that Department.” Grant then wrote Porter:

“I took immediate steps to have transports collected, and am assured they will be ready with the coal and water on board by noon of the 2nd of January. There will be no delay in embarking and sending off the troops. The commander of the expedition will probably be Major-General (Alfred) Terry. He will not know of it until he gets out to sea. He will go with sealed orders. It will not be necessary for me to let troops or commander know even that they are going any place until the steamers intended to carry them reach Fortress Monroe, as I will have all rations and other stores loaded beforehand.”

Terry had worked with Porter in conducting amphibious operations before; together they had captured Hilton Head and Fort Pulaski. Terry was also a volunteer officer like Butler, therefore Grant thought one volunteer should have the chance to redeem another’s failure. Thus, a second effort would be made in the coming new year.

Meanwhile, bickering over the failed first effort continued in Washington. Welles argued that Grant should bear some responsibility for entrusting the army part of the expedition to someone as incompetent as Butler. Stanton did not defend Butler, but he asserted that Porter had ruined the element of surprise before Butler arrived. Lincoln outlined the pros and cons of both Butler and Porter, and he indicated that Butler would most likely be removed from command. Butler had been given a top command because of he was an influential politician, but now that Lincoln had been reelected, Butler’s political usefulness had run out.

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References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 162; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 158; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 509-10; 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 15102-32; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 536-37; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 616; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 99-100; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 216; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 441