Tag Archives: John A. Campbell

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April 12, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln rescinded his plan to restore Virginia to the Union after facing heated opposition from his cabinet.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

Reconstruction in Virginia

April 5, 1865 – While visiting Richmond, President Abraham Lincoln quickly set about working to restore Virginia to the Union.

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

On the afternoon of the 4th, Lincoln met with former Confederate Assistant Secretary of War and U.S. Supreme Court Justice John A. Campbell, the highest-ranking Confederate official still in Richmond. No longer an envoy as he had been at the Hampton Roads Conference, Campbell proclaimed his “submission to the military authorities.” He said, “When lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom, the gentler gamester is the soonest winner.”

According to Campbell: “I represented the conditions to him (Lincoln) and requested that no requisitions on the inhabitants be made of restraint of any sort save to police and preservation of order; not to exact oaths, interfere with the churches, etc. He assented to this.” Acknowledging that the war was over, Campbell urged Lincoln to exercise “moderation, magnanimity and kindness” toward the defeated South.

Campbell also recommended that Lincoln meet with Virginia politicians who “were satisfied that submission was a duty and a necessity” and discuss how best to return the state to the Union. Lincoln expressed deep interest in restoring Federal authority, which could best be done by letting “the prominent and influential men of their respective counties… come together and undo their own work.”

Campbell interpreted this to mean that Lincoln would be willing to disband the illegitimate pro-U.S. state legislature of Virginia in favor of the popularly elected body if those legislators willingly submitted to Federal rule and proclaimed loyalty to the U.S. Lincoln told Campbell he would return to Richmond the next day and discuss the matter further. The president retired to the U.S.S. Malvern, which had been brought up after Federals removed the torpedoes and obstructions in the James River.

At 10 a.m. on the 5th, Campbell met with Lincoln aboard the Malvern, anchored off Rockett’s Landing. Campbell had invited several Virginia politicians to accompany him, but only Richmond attorney Gustavus A. Myers accepted. Lincoln was accompanied by Major General Godfrey Weitzel, commanding the Federal occupation forces in Richmond.

Pres. Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Lincoln began by giving Campbell a paper listing the conditions for peace; these were the same conditions that Lincoln had proposed at the Hampton Roads Conference: “restoration of the national authority”; “no receding by the Executive of the United States on the slavery question from the position in the late annual message to Congress and in preceding documents”; and “no cessation of hostilities short of an end of the war, and the disbanding of all forces hostile to the government.”

If the Confederates accepted these terms, Lincoln would address all other issues “in a spirit of sincere liberality.” Lincoln also pledged to use his presidential power to return southern property seized under the Confiscation Acts, but this “remission of confiscation has no reference to supposed property in slaves.” Moreover, Lincoln warned that if the war continued, the Federals would use captured southern property to finance it.

Campbell told Lincoln that southerners would be willing to accept the abolition of slavery, and if Lincoln granted amnesty to Confederates, Virginia would return to the Union. However, nobody had the authority to overthrow the pro-Confederate Virginia government. Lincoln implicitly proposed that if the legislature assembled and voted the state out of the Confederacy, it could then rejoin the Union.

This was legally dubious because it would require Lincoln recognizing the Confederacy as a nation (something he had always refused to do), and it would delegitimize Francis Pierpont’s Unionist Virginia government. However, both Campbell and Myers contended that if Lincoln allowed the legislature to assemble, the legislators would vote themselves out of the Confederacy. Lincoln ended by saying he would make no firm decisions until he returned to the Federal supply base at City Point later that day.

When Lincoln returned to City Point, he read the waiting dispatches and learned that Secretary of State William H. Seward had been seriously injured in a carriage accident in Washington. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton urged Lincoln to return to Washington, and one of Weitzel’s brigade commanders reported that if Lincoln returned to Richmond, he might be assassinated. Lincoln replied, “I cannot bring myself to believe that any human being lives who would do me any harm.” The president resolved to stay and work on the Virginia situation.

The next day, Lincoln wrote to Weitzel in Richmond:

“It has been intimated to me that the gentlemen who have acted as the Legislature of Virginia, in support of the rebellion, may now now (sic) desire to assemble at Richmond and take measures to withdraw the Virginia troops and other support from resistance to the General government. If they attempt it, give them permission and protection, until, if at all, they attempt some action hostile to the United States, in which case you will notify them and give them reasonable time to leave… Allow Judge Campbell to see this, but do not make it public.”

Lincoln also informed Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, of his decision, and added:

“Judge Campbell thought it not impossible that the Rebel legislature of Virginia would (assemble) if permitted, and accordingly I addressed a private letter to General Weitzel, with permission for Judge Campbell to see it, telling him that if they attempt to do this to permit and protect them, unless they attempt something hostile to the United States, in which case to give them notice and time to leave and to arrest any remaining after such time.

“I do not think it very probable that anything will come of this, but I have thought best to notify you so that if you should see any signs you may understand them. From our recent dispatches it seems that you are pretty effectually withdrawing the Virginia troops from opposition to the government. Nothing I have done, or probably shall do, is to delay, hinder or interfere with you in your work.”

Lincoln would present this plan to his cabinet when he returned to Washington and to his surprise, he would be met by stern opposition.

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References

Catton, Bruce, Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media, Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 452-54; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 555; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 12319-63; 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 18844-74, 18913-44; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 578; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 729; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 666-68; McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1981), p. 215; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 851; 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 Hampton Roads Conference: Southern Reaction

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

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

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21852-68; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 16270-330; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 551; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 692-93; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 132; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 635; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 823-24; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 468, 470-71

Peace Conference at Hampton Roads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 209-10; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 564; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 526-27; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 16211-70; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 549; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 692-93; Harris, William C., “The Hampton Roads Peace Conference: A Final Test of Lincoln’s Presidential Leadership” (Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Vol. 21, Issue 1, 2000), p. 30-61; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 21-24; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 132; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 631-34; McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1981), p. 208; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 822-23; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 469; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition), Q165

Peace Talks: Lincoln Leaves for Hampton Roads

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

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

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

Pres. Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—–

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

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

Fort Sumter: The Relief Expedition Proceeds

April 4, 1861 – President Abraham Lincoln notified special agent Gustavus V. Fox that the relief expedition to Fort Sumter would go ahead.

By April 2nd, the Confederate envoys in Washington had lost faith in Secretary of State William H. Seward’s pledge that President Lincoln would evacuate Fort Sumter. After conferring with Supreme Court Justice John A. Campbell, the envoys telegraphed Confederate officials in Montgomery, Alabama: “The war wing presses on the President; he vibrates to that side… Their form of notice to us may be that of a coward, who gives it when he strikes.”

Abraham Lincoln, Gustavus V. Fox, and William H. Seward | Image Credit: Bing public domain, CivilWarDailyGazette.com, quod.lib.umich.edu

Abraham Lincoln, Gustavus V. Fox, and William H. Seward | Image Credit: Bing public domain, CivilWarDailyGazette.com, quod.lib.umich.edu

Meanwhile, supplies dwindled in Sumter, as Major Robert Anderson and his men no longer had access to Charleston for provisions. And the Confederates in Charleston Harbor made it clear no relief would be allowed; on the 3rd a battery at Morris Island fired on the U.S. schooner Rhoda H. Shannon as it approached.

Lincoln modified Fox’s plan before directing him to proceed on the 4th: instead of fighting their way into Fort Sumter, Fox’s naval fleet would only deliver supplies to the Federal garrison. Warships would accompany the fleet, but if the Confederates did not fire on them, the Federals would show no aggression. In this way, the Confederates would be considered the aggressors if they fired on ships merely bringing “food for hungry men.”

Lincoln informed Major Anderson at Sumter that “the expedition will go forward…” and would most likely arrive on the 11th or 12th. Lincoln left it to Anderson’s discretion whether he and his men could hold out that long, and assured him that if the Confederates resisted, the relief fleet “will endeavor also to reinforce you.” Anderson was permitted to respond to any Confederate act of aggression as he saw fit.

On the 6th, Seward notified Lincoln of his pledge to the Confederate envoys in Washington that Fort Sumter “would not be reinforced without prior notice.” Lincoln responded by dispatching State Department clerk Robert S. Chew and Captain Theodore Talbot (recently returned from Sumter) to Charleston with a message for South Carolina Governor Francis W. Pickens:

“I am directed by the President of the United States to notify you to expect an attempt will be made to supply Fort Sumter with provisions only; and that, if such attempt be not resisted, no effort to throw in men, arms, or ammunition, will be made, without further notice, or in case of an attack upon the Fort.”

This message sought to assure the South Carolinians that the Federals had no aggressive intentions, but it wiped out any chance that the Federals at Sumter could be secretly supplied or reinforced.

Secretary of War Simon Cameron delivered Lincoln’s letter to Anderson on the 7th, informing the major that relief was on the way and “You will therefore hold out, if possible, till the arrival of the expedition.” Meanwhile, Confederate Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard prohibited Anderson from any further interaction between his Federals at Fort Sumter and the people of Charleston. The fort could now only be reached by sea.

Justice Campbell wrote to Seward, asking if a naval fleet had been dispatched to relieve Sumter, and if Seward’s past assurances had been disingenuous. Seward wrote back, “Faith as to Sumter fully kept. Wait and see.” Campbell believed this meant that Seward’s pledge to evacuate Sumter would be kept, but Seward meant that Sumter would not be relieved without prior notification. This delay in interpretation gave the Lincoln administration more time to build up military forces. Campbell forwarded Seward’s reply to Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

On the morning of April 8, the Federal revenue cutter Harriet Lane left New York to join the relief fleet. That same day, Chew and Talbot arrived at Charleston and delivered Lincoln’s message to Governor Pickens. Pickens forwarded the message to General Beauregard, who telegraphed Secretary of War Leroy P. Walker in Montgomery: “An authorized messenger from President Lincoln just informed Governor Pickens and myself that provisions will be sent to Fort Sumter peaceably, or otherwise by force.”

Beauregard placed all forts in the harbor on alert, and Confederate forces in Charleston began mobilizing for defense. An erroneous report appeared in a city newspaper announcing that war had begun.

That same day, Major Anderson wrote to Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas protesting the relief mission in an attempt to prevent war. Anderson asked Thomas to destroy the letter once received because it could be seen as insubordinate to Lincoln. Confederates intercepted this letter and forwarded it to President Davis, a friend of Anderson’s, who saw that he was not part of the administration’s scheme to resupply the fort.

The Confederate envoys in Washington, after receiving assurances from Seward that Sumter would be evacuated, sent a dispatch to Beauregard through Martin J. Crawford: “Accounts uncertain, because of the constant vacillation of this Government. We were reassured yesterday that the status of Sumter would not be changed without previous notice to Governor Pickens, but we have no faith in them. The war policy prevails in the Cabinet at this time.”

Seward unofficially informed the envoys that the administration sought peace and would only fight if their possessions were attacked. At the same time, the relief expedition was on its way to Sumter.

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Sources

  • Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 36-38
  • Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 30-32
  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 4812-25, 4872, 4986, 5022-27
  • Davis, William C., Brother Against Brother: The War Begins (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 135-41, 146-69
  • Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 32-33
  • Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6143
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 47
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 19-20
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 53-55
  • 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. 270-71
  • Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 56, 58-59
  • Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 36-38
  • 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), Q161-Q261

Seward’s Bold Memo to Lincoln

April 1, 1861 – Secretary of State William H. Seward met with an intermediary to Confederate envoys and submitted an extraordinary memo to President Abraham Lincoln offering to serve as de facto prime minister.

U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward | Credit: Wikispaces.com

U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward | Credit: Wikispaces.com

As scheduled, Seward met with Supreme Court Justice John A. Campbell, serving as liaison to the three Confederate envoys (Martin J. Crawford, John Forsyth, and A.B. Roman) in Washington. Campbell asked why Seward’s pledge of March 15 to evacuate Fort Sumter had not been carried out. Campbell also referred to Colonel Ward Hill Lamon, special agent of President Lincoln, who recently visited Charleston and pledged to South Carolina Governor Francis W. Pickens that the Federals at Sumter would be withdrawn.

Seward replied that “the president was concerned about the contents of the telegram (from Governor Pickens to the Confederate envoys on March 30)—there is a point of honor involved; that Lamon had no agency from him, nor title to speak.”

Seward provided a written assurance for Campbell to deliver to the envoys: “I am satisfied the government will not undertake to supply Fort Sumter without giving notice to Governor Pickens.” Because this differed from Seward’s earlier pledge to evacuate, Campbell asked, “What does this mean? Does the president design to supply Sumter?”

Seward said, “No, I think not. It is a very irksome thing to him to surrender it. His ears are open to everyone, and they fill his head with schemes for its supply. I do not think he will adopt any of them. There is no design to reinforce it.”

This answer came three days after Lincoln had issued orders through the Navy Department to reinforce Sumter. Nevertheless the Confederates handled the Sumter dispute based on Seward’s assurances, which they believed had come from Lincoln. If Seward was acting without Lincoln’s knowledge, then such failure to secure the chief executive’s approval before entering into negotiations should have resulted in dismissal.

On top of this, Seward responded to Lincoln’s order to resupply Fort Sumter by drafting a memorandum on the 1st titled, “Some Thoughts for the President’s Consideration.” The memo began, “We are at the end of a month’s Administration, and yet without a policy either domestic or foreign.” Seward offered several proposals, including:

  • Shifting emphasis in the North-South struggle from slavery (a party issue) to “Union or Disunion” (a national issue)
  • Demonstrating the shift by evacuating Fort Sumter and reinforcing Fort Pickens, thus retaining “the symbolism of Federal authority” with less chance for Confederate backlash
  • Generating “a vigorous continental spirit of independence” by demanding that Spain and France explain why they were interfering with Santo Domingo and Mexico respectively, in violation of the Monroe Doctrine
  • Possibly declaring war on Spain or France as a “panacea” to reunite North and South in a common cause
  • Possibly sending agents to countries under European control–such as Canada or Mexico–to look into igniting an independence movement

Seward concluded: “Whatever policy we adopt, it must be somebody’s business to pursue and direct incessantly… there must be an energetic prosecution… of it. Either the President must do it himself… or Devolve it on some member of his Cabinet… It is not in my especial province. But I neither seek to evade nor assume responsibility.”

Seward had been the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination last year. He also had more experience than Lincoln in executive governance and foreign policy, having been a former governor and U.S. senator. As such, he offered to make all administration decisions on foreign and Confederate policy while allowing Lincoln to serve simply as the administration’s chief spokesman.

This was a blatant effort to cover up the secret pledge Seward had made to the Confederate envoys that Sumter would be evacuated. It was also a power grab designed to install himself as the administration’s prime minister. Although this challenge to Lincoln’s authority was further grounds for dismissal, Lincoln did not share Seward’s memo with the public. Instead, Lincoln sought to avoid publicly embarrassing Seward by contacting him privately this same day.

Lincoln reminded him that the administration did have a policy, as stated in Lincoln’s inaugural address and endorsed by Seward, to hold, occupy, and possess the forts and other Federal property. This meant that Sumter would not be evacuated, as Lincoln saw no distinction between Forts Sumter and Pickens. And as to who would decide upon future administration policy. “I remark that if this must be done, I must do it.”

Neither Lincoln nor Seward commented further on this matter.

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Sources

  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 4800, 4836-47
  • Davis, William C., Brother Against Brother: The War Begins (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 133-35
  • Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 32
  • Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6076-98
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 46-47
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 19
  • Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 342
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 52-53
  • 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. 270
  • Ward, Geoffrey C.; Burns, Ric; Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 36

Fort Sumter: The Reinforcement Decision

March 29, 1861 – President Abraham Lincoln held a cabinet meeting after deciding what he would do about Fort Sumter.

Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor | Image Credit: Learnnc.org

Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor | Image Credit: Learnnc.org

Lincoln assembled his cabinet officers at 12 p.m. and announced he had already decided to reinforce both Forts Sumter and Pickens. Focusing on Sumter, Lincoln shared reports from Federal agents, most notably Gustavus V. Fox, describing how Sumter could be reinforced. In Fox’s opinion, a naval fleet could avoid the Confederate batteries in Charleston Harbor by supplying Fort Sumter from the sea.

Lincoln—having less than a month of Federal executive experience—had bypassed the military chain of command by working directly with Fox to assemble the fleet in New York. Fox provided Lincoln with data on the amount of men, supplies, and equipment needed to reinforce Sumter. Fox said the fleet could leave for South Carolina within a week, and Lincoln told Fox to await further orders.

After Lincoln explained Fox’s plan, each cabinet member submitted a written opinion on the matter. Secretary of State William H. Seward, who had stalled Confederate envoys by assuring them that Sumter would be evacuated, still opposed reinforcing the fort. Interior Secretary Caleb B. Smith also opposed reinforcement. Attorney General Edward Bates vacillated, writing “I think the time is come either to evacuate or relieve it (Sumter).”

On the other side, Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, and Postmaster General Montgomery Blair all supported reinforcing Sumter, with Blair even threatening to resign if it was not done. Secretary of War Simon Cameron did not vote. Thus the final cabinet vote stood at three-to-two (not counting Bates or Cameron), marking a reversal of the five-to-two vote against reinforcement two weeks before.

When the meeting ended, Lincoln handed Welles the order to resupply Fort Sumter: “I desire than an expedition, to move by sea, be got ready to sail as early as the 6th of April next, the whole according to the memorandum attached, and that you cooperate with the Secretary of War for that object.”

The next day, the Confederate envoys in Washington (Martin J. Crawford, John Forsyth, and A.B. Roman) received a telegram from South Carolina Governor Francis W. Pickens inquiring about the purpose of Colonel Ward Hill Lamon’s visit to Charleston and the Federal delay in evacuating Sumter. Supreme Court Justice John A. Campbell, acting as intermediary between the Seward and the envoys, brought the message to Seward’s attention.

Lincoln’s decision to reinforce Sumter threatened to expose Seward’s duplicity in negotiating with the Confederate envoys without presidential consent. It also violated Seward’s pledge of March 15 that the Federals would evacuate the fort. On March 20th, Seward had called any delay in the evacuation “accidental,” and when Campbell confronted him with this latest correspondence, Seward scheduled a meeting for April 1.

By the end of March, rumors swirled through Washington that Sumter would be evacuated. The Confederate envoys still believed that the Lincoln administration would abandon the fort based on their communications with Seward through Campbell. But Lincoln, unaware of these communications, had other ideas.

—–

Sources

  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 4788-800
  • Davis, William C., Brother Against Brother: The War Begins (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 132-33
  • Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 31-32
  • Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6064
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 46
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 51-52
  • 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. 269-70
  • 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), Q161

Fort Sumter: The Lincoln Administration Vacillates

March 21, 1861 – Special Federal agent Gustavus V. Fox arrived at Charleston, South Carolina to assess the situation at Fort Sumter.

On March 20, the Confederate envoys seeking to negotiate a peaceful settlement of disputes over Federal property on Confederate soil (Martin J. Crawford, John Forsyth, and A.B. Roman) telegraphed Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard at Charleston. The envoys asked if the Federals were preparing to evacuate Fort Sumter, as Secretary of State William H. Seward had pledged on the 15th. Beauregard replied that the Federals were building defenses and showed no sign of evacuating.

Supreme Court Justice John A. Campbell, intermediary between the Lincoln administration and the Confederate envoys, brought this news to Seward. The secretary assured both him and fellow Justice Samuel Nelson that the administration’s policy would be peaceful coexistence with the Confederacy, and any delay in evacuating the fort was unintentional. Seward did not reply to two notes written by Campbell accusing him of overreaching his authority and vacillating. Meanwhile, officials released some correspondence between Seward and the Confederate envoys to the press, which caused indignation in the North.

Gustavus V. Fox | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Gustavus V. Fox | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Fox reached Charleston the next day. South Carolina Governor Francis W. Pickens, skeptical of Fox’s mission but reluctant to spark a diplomatic issue by expelling him, permitted Fox to visit the Federal troops at Fort Sumter and notify Washington of their condition. Permission depended “expressly upon the pledge of ‘pacific purposes.’”

Confederates escorted Fox to the fort in the harbor. Unbeknownst to them, Fox used the visit to gather intelligence on how best Sumter could be resupplied. The escorts tried preventing Fox from meeting privately with Major Robert Anderson, commanding at Fort Sumter. Fox could only hint to Anderson that help may be on the way. After touring the fort, Fox informed Lincoln that Sumter could be reinforced by sea.

As Lincoln approved Fox’s reinforcement plan and authorized Fox to assemble a transport fleet in New York, Seward again assured Campbell that Fort Sumter would be evacuated. This helped ease Confederate fears that the Federals may try reinforcing the garrison.

Two more Federal agents, Colonel Ward Hill Lamon and General Stephen A. Hurlbut (both Illinois friends of President Lincoln), met with Governor Pickens and General Beauregard in Charleston on the 25th. Lamon conceded that reconciliation was impossible and said he was authorized to arrange for Sumter’s evacuation. He asked Pickens to allow a Federal warship into Charleston Harbor to evacuate the Federal garrison, but Pickens refused, asserting that permitting a foreign war vessel to enter the harbor could compromise his state’s sovereignty.

The men agreed that the Federals could be evacuated aboard a regular steamship, which Lamon said that Major Anderson preferred anyway. The meeting ended with Lamon expressing hope that he could return in a few days to direct the evacuation. Meanwhile, Fox continued assembling a naval fleet to reinforce Fort Sumter, despite Lamon’s pledge and Anderson’s strong urging to evacuate the fort.

In Washington, Republican Lyman Trumbull of Illinois introduced a resolution in the Senate declaring that “it is the duty of the President to use all means in his power to hold and protect the public property of the United States.” A Republican caucus met with Lincoln and warned him that surrendering Sumter would be disastrous for the new party.

Lincoln continued consulting with advisors about the mounting crisis. Hurlbut returned from Charleston on the 27th and reported: “Separate Nationality is a fixed fact… there is no attachment to the Union…positively nothing to appeal to.” Hurlbut opined that any effort to resupply Fort Sumter would be considered an act of war; even “a ship known to contain only provisions for Sumpter (sic) would be stopped and refused admittance.” Reinforcing Hurlbut’s opinion, Governor Pickens notified delegates to the South Carolina Convention that 600 men were needed to defend the Charleston Harbor forts.

On March 28, Lincoln received a message from General-in-Chief Winfield Scott advising him to abandon both Forts Sumter and Pickens (in Florida). Scott noted that he and his officers had already assumed Sumter would be evacuated, but the “evacuation of both the forts would instantly soothe and give confidence to the eight remaining slave-holding States, and render their cordial adherence to the Union perpetual.” Scott acknowledged that Lincoln would have the final say.

The idea of abandoning both forts shocked Lincoln, but he concealed his emotions until after holding an official state dinner. Then he summoned his cabinet officers into an emergency meeting, where they expressed “blank amazement” as Lincoln read Scott’s dispatch.

Postmaster General Montgomery Blair accused Scott of playing politics, especially since the Confederates could not possibly seize Fort Pickens by force. In a reversal of their vote two weeks ago, four of the six officers present (Secretary of War Simon Cameron was absent) now supported reinforcing Sumter, with only Seward and Interior Secretary Caleb B. Smith opposed. The cabinet unanimously supported reinforcing Pickens.

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Sources

  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 4752, 4776-88, 4847-59
  • Davis, William C., Brother Against Brother: The War Begins (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 133, 135
  • Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 31
  • Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6053-64
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 46
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 51
  • 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. 269
  • Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 53, 56
  • White, Howard Ray (2012-12-18). Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition), Q161
  • Wikipedia: Timeline of Events Leading to the American Civil War