Tag Archives: John Hay

The 1864 Elections: Aftermath

November 10, 1864 – President Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech to serenaders after his reelection was confirmed.

Although all returns had not yet been received on the 9th, word spread throughout North and South that Lincoln had most likely won a second presidential term. Republicans and National Unionists rejoiced; George Templeton Strong wrote in his diary:

Laus Deo! The crisis has been past, and the most momentous popular election ever held since ballots were invented has decided against treason and disunion… The American people can be trusted to take care of the national honor.”

Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac, wrote his wife that the army vote totaled 13,500 for Lincoln and 5,500 for the beloved former army commander George B. McClellan. Meade also stirred up a minor controversy when it was reported that he did not vote himself. He wrote:

“It is probable that some zealous partisan has watched to see what I did. I cannot but be flattered that so much importance is attached to my action, particularly as nearly all other general officers, including Grant, did the same–that is, not vote.”

News of the election reached the Confederacy on the 10th, with an article published in the Richmond Dispatch:

“A well-known citizen of Fredericksburg, who entered the enemy’s lines below Richmond yesterday under flag of truce, was informed by a Yankee officer that Lincoln’s re-election was, beyond a doubt, a fact accomplished… They said Lincoln had been re-elected, and that we might prepare ourselves for four more years of war. Few of our people will be disappointed by the result of this election, since it is only what we have all expected. Had Lincoln allowed himself to have been beaten, he must have been either a fool or a patriot, neither of which his warmest friend nor bitterest foe has ever suspected him of being.”

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

On the night of the 10th, Lincoln responded to a massive celebration on the White House lawn, speaking from a second floor window. Unlike the impromptu address that Lincoln delivered in the early hours after election night, this evening the president read from a manuscript. The president said:

“It has long been a grave question whether any government, not too strong for the liberties of its people, can be strong enough to maintain its own existence, in great emergencies…

“We can not have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forgo, or postpone a national election, it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us… Human-nature will not change. In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall have as weak, and as strong; as silly and as wise; as bad and good. Let us, therefore, study the incidents of this, as philosophy to learn wisdom from, and none of them as wrongs to be revenged.

“But the election, along with its incidental, and undesirable strife, has done good too. It has demonstrated that a people’s government can sustain a national election, in the midst of a great civil war. Until now it has not been known to the world that this was a possibility.

“But the rebellion continues; and now that the election is over, may not all, having a common interest, re-unite in a common effort, to save our common country? For my own part I have striven, and shall strive to avoid placing any obstacle in the way. So long as I have been here I have not willingly planted a thorn in any man’s bosom.

“While I am deeply sensible to the high compliment of a re-election; and duly grateful, as I trust, to Almighty God for having directed my countrymen to a right conclusion, as I think, for their own good, it adds nothing to my satisfaction that any other man may be disappointed or pained by the result… And now, let me close by asking three hearty cheers for our brave soldiers and seamen and their gallant and skillful commanders.”

As he turned from the window, Lincoln told his secretary John Hay, “Not very graceful, but I am growing old enough not to care much for the manner of doing things.”

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, congratulated Lincoln: “The election having passed off quietly, no bloodshed or riot throughout the land, is a victory worth more to the country than a battle won.” Grant later assured Lincoln, “All the troops now in the North will be hurried to the field.”

In his cabinet meeting, Lincoln revealed the sealed document he had asked his officers to sign without reading on August 23. This was Lincoln’s acknowledgement that he would likely lose the election, along with a pledge to help the new president-elect between the election and inauguration.

Lincoln’s victory did not stop Federal officials from persecuting political enemies. In Kentucky, a state that George B. McClellan easily won, authorities arrested three of his top supporters for alleged disloyalty. Among them was Lieutenant Governor Richard Jacob, who was banished to the Confederacy. An elector for McClellan and the editor of the Louisville Journal were also apprehended. Lincoln pardoned the latter two and lifted Jacob’s banishment in February 1865.

A Washington newspaper reported on the 17th that Lincoln told a Maryland committee that he was gratified at the election results, which confirmed “the policy he had pursued would be the best and the only one that could save the country.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11632, 11640; 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 13122-42; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 519; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 664-66; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 595-98; 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), Q464

The 1864 Elections

November 8, 1864 – Abraham Lincoln won reelection, thus ensuring that the war to destroy the Confederacy and reunite the Union would continue.

The presidential election pitted the incumbent Lincoln, who pledged to prosecute the war until the Union was restored and slavery abolished, against Democrat George B. McClellan, his former general-in-chief. McClellan had alienated the peace wing of his party by pledging to prosecute the war until the Union was restored, but he was willing to negotiate with the southern states on all other questions, including slavery.

Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Election Day in Washington was rainy and gray. Government officials had been furloughed to go home and vote, leaving the capital empty and quiet. Prominent banker Henry D. Cooke observed that “the streets wear a quiet Sunday air–in the Department building(s), the empty corridors respond with hollow echoes to the foot fall of the solitary visitor; the hotels are almost tenantless, and the street cars drone lazily along the half-filled seats.”

The Lincoln administration also furloughed soldiers and sailors with the expectation that they would vote for Lincoln. As a result, over 150,000 soldiers and sailors in the Federal military cast ballots for who they wanted as their commander-in-chief. Lincoln even allowed party officials to use a boat on the Mississippi River to collect ballots from the crews of gunboats patrolling the waterway.

Lincoln and his fellow National Unionists were optimistic about their chances, but they expected the election to be close. The president told correspondent Noah Brooks, “I am just enough of a politician to know that there was not much doubt about the result of the Baltimore convention (which nominated Lincoln for reelection), but about this thing I am very far from being certain. I wish I were certain.”

Around 7 p.m., Lincoln and his secretary John Hay walked to the War Department to get the results from the telegraph office, but most results were delayed by storms. The initial messages trickling in indicated larger Republican majorities than expected. To Lincoln’s surprise, he won Philadelphia by 10,000 votes and Baltimore by 15,000. Regarding Maryland, Lincoln remarked, “All Hail, Free Maryland. That is superb!” Results from Boston showed Lincoln ahead by 5,000 votes.

As the night wore on, Lincoln passed the time between messages by reading funny stories from humorist Petroleum V. Nasby. This irritated Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, as Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana recalled:

“The idea that when the safety of the republic was thus as issue, when the control of an empire was to be determined by a few figures brought in by the telegraph, the leader, the man most deeply concerned, not merely for himself but for his country, could turn aside to read such balderdash and to laugh at such frivolous jests was, to his mind, repugnant, even damnable. He could not understand, apparently, that it was by the relief which these jests afforded to the strain of mind under which Lincoln had so long been living, and to the natural gloom of a melancholy and desponding temperament–this was Mr. Lincoln’s prevailing characteristic–that the safety and sanity of his intelligence were maintained and preserved.”

By midnight, dispatches indicated that Lincoln had won Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and all the New England states. Results from New York and Illinois would not come for another two days, but even without them, it was clear that Lincoln had won handily. Those on hand congratulated him, and he simply replied that he was “glad to be relieved of all suspense.”

A band serenaded the War Department at 2:30 a.m., and when Lincoln returned to the White House, a crowd had gathered and demanded a speech. Lincoln said:

“If I know my heart, my gratitude is free from any taint of personal triumph. I do not impugn the motives of any one opposed to me. It is no pleasure to me to triumph over any one, but I give thanks to the Almighty for this evidence of the people’s resolution to stand by free government and the rights of humanity. I earnestly believe that the consequences of this day’s work… will be to the lasting advantage, if not to the very salvation, of the country.”

The Lincoln-Johnson ticket ultimately won 55 percent of the popular vote, or 400,000 more votes than the ticket of McClellan and anti-war Democrat George H. Pendleton. Lincoln won the Electoral College 212 to 21, with McClellan carrying only New Jersey, Delaware, and Kentucky. Soldiers voted overwhelmingly for Lincoln, 116,887 to 33,748; Lincoln won eight of every 10 soldier votes in the western armies and seven of every 10 in McClellan’s old Army of the Potomac. This indicated that despite their love for McClellan, they wanted to finish the job they had been sent to do.

Democrats made the biggest gains in the major cities, and counties with large Irish and German-American populations. Their base continued to consist mostly of unskilled laborers, immigrant Catholics, border state slaveholders, and anti-war dissidents. Republicans won using the same successful formula from 1860–harnessing the voting power of native-born farmers, high-skilled workers, city professionals, young voters, abolitionists, and New Englanders.

Military victories at Mobile Bay, Atlanta, and the Shenandoah Valley contributed to Lincoln’s reelection. Radical Republican John C. Fremont’s withdrawal from the race also played a part, as did McClellan’s repudiation of his own party’s anti-war stance. McClellan did not express disappointment in defeat. Instead he wrote, “For my country’s sake I deplore the result…” and announced he would retire from the U.S. army.

In addition to Lincoln’s victory, Republicans or Unionists maintained strong majorities in both the House of Representatives (149 to 42) and the Senate (42 to 10). This further ensured that Lincoln’s policies would continue for at least another two years. On the state level, Republicans or Unionists won the governorships and legislatures in every northern state except the three that Lincoln lost (New Jersey, Delaware, and Kentucky).

Lincoln had the ability to influence the election with military furloughs, martial law, and suspension of habeas corpus. Charles Dana said that all “the power and influence of the War Department, then something enormous from the vast expenditure and extensive relations of the war, was employed to secure the re-election of Mr. Lincoln.” Yet despite all these resources at hand, Lincoln could only garner a 10 percent margin of victory in an election that excluded all southern states. On the flipside, even if the Confederate states had been allowed to vote, and all 81 electoral votes in those states went to McClellan, he still would have lost to Lincoln by over 100 votes.

Soldiers voted overwhelmingly for Lincoln, but ballots were not cast in secret and it was tacitly understood that Democratic military officers who criticized Lincoln could lose their commissions. Curiously, the soldier vote went strongly for McClellan in Kentucky (3,068 to 1,205), where Federal authorities did not supervise the polls. McClellan also soundly won that state’s total popular vote, 61,478 to 26,592. Lincoln lost his home county in Illinois (Sangamon), and all its neighboring counties. Most big cities favored McClellan, with New York City and Detroit voting three-to-one against Lincoln.

However, the soldier vote in favor of Lincoln proved the difference in Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Indiana, and Illinois. Lincoln won the key state of New York by just 7,000 votes, and he won the states with the most electoral votes (New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio) by just 86,407 out of 1,774,131 ballots cast, or a margin of less than five percent. Missouri also went strongly for Lincoln, where Federal officials required voters to swear allegiance to the U.S. before casting ballots.

For Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, Lincoln’s victory meant that he could take more military risks without fear of political consequences. These included more aggressive action against the Confederacy and the removal of incompetent political commanders. For most southerners, Lincoln’s reelection was no surprise, and it confirmed their belief that northerners supported the Federal subjugation of the South.

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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. 507-08; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 183-84; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 543; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19810-26; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 157-58; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 484; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11582, 11603-25; 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 13096-137, 15248-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 518; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 664-66; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 166; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 592, 594; 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. 804-05; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 333-34, 353; 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), Q464

The Niagara Peace Talks

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

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

Horace Greeley | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21727-42; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 433-34, 437; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10930, 11089-133; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9717-37; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 465; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 646-47; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 533-34, 540-42; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 761-63, 766; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 351

Lincoln’s Reconstruction Efforts

March 13, 1864 – Federal authorities tried implementing President Abraham Lincoln’s “Ten Percent Plan” in many states, including Louisiana, where Lincoln suggested for the first time that black men be given the right to vote.

In Florida, Lincoln’s private secretary (now major) John Hay had tried to register 10 percent of eligible voters pledging loyalty to the U.S. according to Lincoln’s plan. However, Floridians’ support for the Confederacy, coupled with the abortive Federal invasion in February, made Hay’s efforts a failure.

Hay announced, “I am very sure that we cannot now get the President’s 10th” in Florida. Newspapers critical of Lincoln accused him of wasting “2,000 men in a sordid attempt to manufacture for himself three additional (electoral) votes in the approaching Presidential election.”

Maj Gen Frederick Steele | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

In Arkansas, Major General Frederick Steele’s Federal troops supervised an election of delegates to a state constitutional convention. Only those who pledged loyalty to the U.S. in accordance with Lincoln’s “Ten Percent Plan” were permitted to vote. Not surprisingly, Unionists won overwhelming majorities.

Another election was held four days later, in which Unionist voters elected state officials and ratified a Unionist Arkansas constitution that included abolishing slavery and repudiating secession. The election, supervised by military force, consisted of less than a quarter of the total votes cast in the state in the 1860 canvass. The convention that had adopted the new constitution consisted of delegates from only half the counties in Arkansas.

On the 4th, the Senate confirmed the appointment of Andrew Johnson as Federal military governor of Tennessee. Johnson had been the only U.S. senator from a seceded state who refused to relinquish his seat. The next day, Johnson began the “process for State reconstruction” by calling for an election of county officials as soon as possible. Only those pledging loyalty to the U.S. would be permitted to vote. Johnson declared, “It is not expected that the enemies of the United States will propose to vote, nor is it intended that they be permitted to vote or hold office.”

In Louisiana, Michael Hahn became the new Unionist governor in accordance with Lincoln’s “Ten Percent Plan.” Hahn was a Bavarian immigrant and former Democrat who switched allegiances when Louisiana seceded; he eventually became one of the state’s greatest champions of slave emancipation. Over the past year, Lincoln had relied on Hahn to gauge the political atmosphere in Louisiana.

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, commanding the Federal Army of the Gulf occupying New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana, had arranged elections for civil officials in which only those who swore allegiance to the U.S. could participate. The elections only took place in areas under Federal military occupation, thus ensuring Unionist results. Hahn won the governorship by portraying himself as a moderate between the conservative J.Q.A. Fellows and the radical Benjamin F. Flanders.

Michael Hahn | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The extravagant inaugural ceremonies included 1,000 singers from local army bands singing the “Anvil Chorus” in Lafayette Square. In his inaugural address, Hahn declared that “although the people of a State may err, a State, as a member of the American Union, cannot die.” He continued:

“The Union of these States, handed down by our revolutionary ancestors, is of more value than any falsely styled ‘State rights,’ especially when these ‘rights’ mean sectional institution, founded on a great moral, social and political evil, and inconsistent with the principles of free government. The institution of slavery is opposed alike to the rights of one race and the interests of the other; it is the cause of the present unholy attempt to break up our government; and, unpleasant as the declaration may sound to many of you, I tell you that I regard its universal and immediate extinction as a public and private blessing.”

Lincoln bestowed military powers onto new Governor Hahn in addition to his civil powers as governor, even though over 90 percent of Louisianan voters did not vote for him. Banks began arranging to stage another election, this time to elect delegates to a state convention that would rewrite the Louisiana constitution. It was a foregone conclusion that slavery would be abolished in the new constitution, but a debate raged over whether freed slaves should be allowed to vote.

In January, Lincoln had met delegates representing “the free people of color” of Louisiana, who presented a petition signed by over 1,000 blacks (27 of whom were veterans of the War of 1812) asking for Lincoln’s help in securing the right to vote. Impressed, Lincoln weighed in on the debate in a letter to Hahn. After congratulating him “as the first-free-state Governor of Louisiana,” the president wrote:

“I barely suggest for your private consideration, whether some of the colored people may not be let in–as, for instance, the very intelligent, and especially those who have fought gallantly in our ranks. They would probably help, in some trying time to come, to keep the jewel of liberty in the family of freedom.”

Lincoln closed by writing, “But this is only a suggestion, not to the public, but to you alone.” Many Radical Republicans who might have supported black suffrage boycotted the convention, while the remaining moderates and conservatives approved emancipation but would not grant political equality to the former slaves. However, they did approve a provision empowering the state legislature to allow blacks to vote if it chose to someday revisit the question.

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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 16597-605, 16850, 16885; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 381; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10369; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 332; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 905; 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 599-609, 1338-48; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 405, 409-10; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 472, 474-76; 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. 705-07

The Battle of Olustee

February 20, 1864 – A major confrontation occurred in Florida, as Federal forces tried restoring the state to the Union but ran up against strong Confederate defenses.

Brigadier General Truman Seymour’s 5,500 Federals continued moving west from the state capital of Jacksonville, freeing slaves and destroying anything considered useful to the Confederate war effort along the way. They moved through the pine forests of northern Florida as they sought to destroy the strategically important railroad at Lake City. Seymour’s superior, Major General Quincy A. Gillmore, had urged Seymour not to move so far inland, but Seymour insisted on wrecking the railroad.

The Federals approached Olustee Station, a depot on the Florida, Atlantic & Gulf Railroad, about 10 miles east of Lake City and nearly 50 miles southwest of Jacksonville. Brigadier General Joseph Finegan’s 5,000 Confederates set up defenses at Olustee and awaited the Federal approach. Tired of waiting, Finegan directed two brigades under Brigadier General Alfred H. Colquitt to advance.

Colquitt’s troops met advance Federal elements on open ground along the railroad southeast of a lake called Ocean Pond. Colquitt reported, “I threw forward a party of skirmishers, and hastily formed line of battle under a brisk fire from the enemy’s advance.” Colquitt ordered his men forward, which he stated “was gallantly done, the enemy contesting the ground and giving way slowly.”

The Battle of Olustee, or Ocean Pond | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Seymour directed Colonel Joseph R. Hawley’s brigade to capture Colquitt’s guns in the center of the Confederate line, but as they advanced they fell victim to enfilade fire and were forced to fall back. Two regiments fled in panic, and the Confederates captured two guns.

Colonel George P. Harrison’s Confederate brigade came up to link with Colquitt’s forces, and the opposing sides traded fire for several hours. Colquitt called on Finegan to send more reinforcements, but when they did not come, Colquitt ordered a general advance anyway. As the Confederates started pushing the Federals back, Harrison reported:

“But soon a new line of the enemy appeared, and our advance was checked. His resistance now seemed stubborner than before for more than 20 minutes, when the enemy sullenly gave back a little, apparently to seek a better position, but still held us at bay. Now the results of the day seemed doubtful.”

The Confederates began running low on ammunition, with the ordnance wagons a half-mile away. Couriers worked in teams to deliver more ammunition to the troops so they could renew their offensive. Seymour deployed a brigade under Colonel William Barton, but with replenished ammunition, the Confederates held firm.

Finally, Finegan’s reinforcements joined the main line. Harrison wrote, “These re-enforcements served to embolden our men and intimidate the enemy, for their retreat now became more hurried and their fire less rapid and effective.”

Colquitt directed Harrison to send two regiments against the vulnerable Federal right. Harrison reported that this–

“… succeeded admirably, for soon their right was exposed to a cross-fire, which told upon their ranks with fine effect. A general advance of our line now drove the enemy, who retreated, at first sullenly, but now precipitately, before our victorious arms for some miles, when night came on, and by order of General Colquitt we ceased firing and our line halted.”

Finegan sent the rest of his troops forward, and the Federals gradually gave ground before finally retreating. Seymour sustained nearly the highest casualty percentage rate of any Federal commander in the war, losing over 30 percent of his men (203 killed, 1,152 wounded, and 506 missing or captured). Some Federal soldiers who were veterans of the large battles in the Eastern and Western theaters wrote that this was the most vicious battle they ever experienced.

Three black regiments participated in this contest: the 8th U.S., the 35th U.S., and the 54th Massachusetts. The 8th U.S. Colored Troops lost 310 men, 87 of whom were killed. An officer in the regiment recorded that his commander, Colonel Charles W. Fribley–

“… now ordered the regiment to fall back slowly, which we did, firing as we retired, being unable to withstand so disastrous a fire. The order had just reached me on the extreme right when the colonel fell mortally wounded. The command now devolved on Major Burritt, who soon received two wounds and retired from the field, the regiment at this time engaging the enemy with steadiness, and holding the ground for some time near Hamilton’s battery, which we were trying to save. We here lost 3 color-sergeants and 5 of the color guard while attempting to save one gun, but we were driven back, leaving the gun and, as I afterward learned, the color beside it during the excitement.”

According to Seymour, Lieutenant Colonel William Reed of the 35th U.S. Colored Troops was “mortally wounded while managing his regiment with conspicuous skill, and his major was severely hurt.” Seymour praised the black regiments:

“The colored troops behaved creditably, the 54th Massachusetts and the 1st North Carolina (i.e., the 35th U.S.) like veterans. It was not in their conduct that can be found the chief cause of failure, but in the unanticipated yielding of a white regiment from which there was every reason to expect noble service, and at the moment when everything depended upon its firmness.”

Seymour reported that the white troops had failed because of “conscripts and substitutes, of a very inferior class.” Confederates rounded up the wounded Federals stranded on the battlefield; the white troops were generally treated respectfully, but many blacks were killed. Private James Jordan of the 27th Georgia wrote:

“The Yankee prisoners say they had no idea of meeting with such a force here. They said they did not expect to meet nothing but cavalry here. The negroes were badly cut up and killed. Our men killed some of them after they had fell in our hands wounded.”

Finegan sustained 934 losses (93 killed and 841 wounded). Southerners celebrated this rousing victory, with a Georgia newspaper reporting that the Federals were forced to march “40 miles over the most barren land of the South, frightening the salamanders and the gophers, and getting a terrible thrashing…”

Confederate cavalry pursued the Federals ineffectively, repairing the railroad that the Federals had destroyed along the way. Federal forces retained control of the Florida capital of Jacksonville, but other than destroying vast amounts of property, this campaign proved a total failure for them.

Gillmore, who had opposed Seymour’s westward advance in the first place, reported to General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, “The enemy have thrown so large a force into Florida that I judge it to be inexpedient to do more at the present time than hold the line of the Saint Johns River.”

Only the weak and timid Confederate cavalry allowed Seymour’s force to return to Jacksonville intact. Nevertheless, this was one of the Confederacy’s most decisive victories of the war, and Florida remained a vital source of cattle, grain, salt, and other staples for the Confederates.

The Federal defeat at Olustee ended President Abraham Lincoln’s hopes of imposing his “Ten Percent Plan” on Florida. His representative/secretary John Hay failed to get the 1,400 voters to pledge loyalty to the Union so they could help form a new Unionist state government. Critics of Lincoln’s plan to reconstruct Florida (as well as Tennessee, Arkansas, and Louisiana) accused him of rushing to install new state governments that would support his upcoming reelection bid.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 441; Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 139; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 375-76; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10303; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 903-05; 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 2202-12; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 400-01; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 195; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 466; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 259-60, 545; 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), Q164

Federals Begin Operations in Florida

February 19, 1864 – Federal forces launched an expedition to conquer Florida, while Confederates scrambled to put up a defense.

Major General Quincy A. Gillmore, commanding the Federal Department of the South, had been assigned to invade Florida. Gillmore was to impose President Abraham Lincoln’s “Ten Percent Plan” by registering 10 percent of the state’s voters so they could elect delegates to form a new Unionist state government. Lincoln had dispatched his secretary, John Hay, to register the 10 percent as Federal troops operated in Florida.

Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren, commanding the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, granted Gillmore’s request for naval support by providing the screw steamers U.S.S. Ottawa and Norwich to transport troops up the St. John’s River. The gunboats U.S.S. Dai Ching, Mahaska, and Water Witch would also support the army expedition.

Gen Truman Seymour | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Gillmore assigned Brigadier General Truman Seymour, an officer familiar with Florida as a veteran of the Seminole Wars, to lead the division in the field. Seymour had four objectives:

  • Help restore Florida to the Union under Lincoln’s “Ten Percent Plan”
  • Secure the St. John’s River for Federal trade
  • Liberate slaves and recruit them into the Federal army
  • Destroy Confederate supply lines and any materiel–primarily beef and saltworks–considered useful to the Confederate war effort

Gillmore instructed Seymour to land his troops at the state capital of Jacksonville and then move west to Baldwin, “and, if possible, beyond.” Gillmore told him that the Confederates probably had a “small force of infantry and a battery between Jacksonville and Baldwin.” Seymour was to advance no farther than Lake City.

General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the Confederate Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, learned that Seymour was preparing an expedition and correctly guessed that his target would be Florida. Beauregard dispatched troops under Brigadier General Alfred H. Colquitt to reinforce Brigadier General Joseph Finegan, who commanded the District of East Florida.

Seymour’s Federals left Hilton Head, South Carolina, aboard 20 transports on the 5th. The force consisted of 5,500 men in three infantry brigades, two cavalry regiments, and four artillery batteries. The transports and gunboats moved up the St. John’s River and landed at Jacksonville two days later. The city had been virtually destroyed by previous Federal occupiers.

The Federals debarked and quickly captured about 100 remaining Confederates. Hay informed them that if they swore allegiance to the Union, they would be freed and allowed to help form the new state government; if they refused, they would be sent to northern prison camps. Hay said, “There is to be neither force nor persuasion used in this matter. You decide for yourselves.”

Hay received the signatures of about half the prisoners, along with several city residents. During his stay at Jacksonville, Hay invested in real estate as part of his plan to become a congressman in the new state government.

Seymour’s Federals also seized eight cannon and a large amount of cotton awaiting blockade runners for shipment. The Norwich trapped the Confederate steamer St. Mary’s on McGirt’s Creek, forcing the Confederates to burn and abandon her. The Federals prepared to head west along the Florida, Atlantic & Gulf Central Railroad, toward Baldwin and the Suwannee River.

Sporadic skirmishing occurred over the next few days, with the Federals arriving at Baldwin on the 10th. To Seymour’s disappointment, the civilians expressed none of the Unionist sentiment that the Federal high command expected. Moreover, Federal cavalry under Colonel Guy V. Henry probed forward and discovered that Confederates were preparing to make a stand at Olustee.

Seymour reported to Gillmore, “I am convinced that a movement upon Lake City is not, in the present condition of transportation, admissible, and indeed that what has been said of the desire of Florida to come back (to the Union) now is a delusion.” Seymour recommended returning his force to Jacksonville, but Gillmore urged him to continue west to Sanderson, halfway to Lake City, and dispatched the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry as reinforcement.

The Federals advanced to Sanderson, where they destroyed vast amounts of public and private property. During this time, Gillmore left Jacksonville and returned to Hilton Head, where he arranged for supplies to be delivered to Seymour’s men. They were now in the unforgiving Florida country of stunted oaks, pines, and palmettos, and their only train had broken down. When Gillmore received word that Confederate cavalry might be threatening Seymour’s right flank, he ordered Seymour to fall back to Baldwin.

Seymour complied, but by the 16th, he was convinced that he could get to Lake City. He informed Gillmore that he intended to head there and destroy the railroad. He asked Gillmore to send him naval support on the Savannah River, adding, “I look upon this as of great importance.”

Stunned, Gillmore replied that there was no way he could arrange such support so quickly. He wrote, “You must have forgotten my last instructions, which were for the present to hold Baldwin…” Gillmore reminded Seymour that he (Seymour) had argued for returning to Jacksonville, but now he inexplicably sought to capture Lake City. He also informed Seymour that the Federal high command had no plans to operate in the Lake City region of Florida, making his proposed advance there pointless.

Meanwhile, Confederates stationed at Lake City observed the Federal movements and relayed them to Finegan. He reported to Beauregard that the enemy numbered at least 10 regiments. Beauregard responded, “Enemy’s forces should on no account be exaggerated. His regiments average 600 at most, composed largely of newly drafted men and recruits; not a match for one-half of our men.”

Finegan scrambled to build a defense line along the railroad near the small hamlet of Olustee, about 10 miles east of Lake City. He ordered his officers “to impress the required negroes and to collect such tools as might be procured from the surrounding plantations.” By the 19th, the Confederate defenses were not yet completed, but Colquitt’s Confederates had arrived to reinforce Finegan. Seymour’s Federals passed Barber’s Plantation and headed for the Confederate line outside Lake City.

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References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 139; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 366, 371, 373-74; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 900-03; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 394-97; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 462; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 545

The Growing Rift Between Lincoln and McClellan

November 13, 1861 – President Abraham Lincoln called upon new General-in-Chief George B. McClellan, who refused to see him. This symbolized the evolving relationship between Lincoln and McClellan.

Federal Major General George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Histmag.org

Federal Major General George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Histmag.org

With Winfield Scott retired, McClellan now commanded all Federal armies while continuing to directly command the Army of the Potomac. Despite the slight embarrassment at Munson’s Hill and the defeat at Ball’s Bluff, McClellan still enjoyed immense popularity among northerners and his troops. This was exemplified by an enormous torchlight parade observed by Lincoln, in which participants honored McClellan as the savior of the Union.

Over the past few months, Lincoln had made a habit of occasionally dropping by McClellan’s home to discuss military strategy. For Lincoln, McClellan sometimes waived the social and military custom of requiring a prior appointment. On other occasions, Lincoln had called on McClellan only to be turned away for various reasons.

Lincoln paid an unannounced visit to McClellan’s home on the night of November 13, accompanied by Secretary of State William H. Seward and Lincoln’s secretary, John Hay. McClellan’s servant informed the men that the general had gone to the wedding of Colonel Frank Wheaton at the headquarters of General Don Carlos Buell. The servant invited the men to wait in the parlor, as McClellan was expected home soon.

McClellan arrived an hour later, ignored the announcement that he had visitors, and passed the parlor on his way upstairs. After another half-hour, Lincoln asked the servant to tell McClellan that they were still waiting. The servant informed them that McClellan had gone to bed.

The three men left, with Hay furiously urging that McClellan be fired immediately and Seward condemning the “insolence of epaulets.” Lincoln forgave the snub, saying, “I will hold McClellan’s horse if he will only bring us success.” However, the insult was not forgotten, as Lincoln began summoning McClellan to the White House when he wanted to meet with the general.

A grand review of 70,000 men of McClellan’s army took place on November 20 outside Washington. Spectators noted the vast difference between the undisciplined troops of last summer and the martial precision of McClellan’s army. However, some continued to criticize McClellan’s lack of activity.

Among McClellan’s fiercest critics were the Radical Republicans in Congress. Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois warned that if McClellan put his army into winter quarters without fighting a battle, “I very much fear the result would be recognition of the Confederacy by foreign governments (and) the demoralization of our own people… Action, action is what we want and must have.”

Although he had three times the men and artillery as the Confederates in northern Virginia, McClellan complained:

“I cannot move without more means… I have left nothing undone to make this army what it ought to be… I am thwarted and deceived by these incapables at every turn… It now begins to look as if we are condemned to a winter of inactivity. If it is so the fault will not be mine; there will be that consolation for my conscience, even if the world at large never knows it.”

Politics began affecting relations between McClellan and the Republican administration he answered to. McClellan had close ties with New York Democrats, many of whom hoped that he would run for president in 1864. While McClellan disliked slavery, he also disliked abolitionists (most of whom were Republicans), and he wrote to a supporter: “Help me to dodge the nigger–we want nothing to do with him. I am fighting to preserve the integrity of the Union… To gain that end we cannot afford to mix up the negro question.”

McClellan’s refusal to meet with Lincoln demonstrated the growing animosity McClellan had toward Lincoln and his Republican allies in Congress. This animosity would play a role in future military planning.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 62; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (November 13); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 96; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 143; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 82, 84; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 383; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 139; 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. 362-65; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 75