Tag Archives: Judah P. Benjamin

Jefferson Davis Reaches Sandersville

May 6, 1865 – Jefferson Davis and his small Confederate escort reached the banks of the Oconee River in Georgia, while Federal forces rapidly closed in on them.

Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

After holding what would be his last council of war, Davis and his party left Abbeville, South Carolina, and crossed the Savannah River on the 3rd. Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin dropped out because he could no longer ride a horse. Davis urged Benjamin to try to escape from the U.S. via the Caribbean, get to Europe, and appeal for foreign aid. But by this time, Benjamin’s chances of getting to Europe were slim, and his chances of getting foreign aid were almost none.

Meanwhile, the Confederate guards escorting the presidential party were on the verge of mutiny. Fearing they might loot the gold being hauled along in the treasury, Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge paid them from the reserves. But in the rush to get the money, some took too much while others got nothing. That night, Breckinridge wrote Davis, who was riding in the front of the column:

“Nothing can be done with the bulk of this command. It has been with difficulty that anything has been kept in shape. I am having the silver paid to the troops and will, in any event, save the gold and have it brought forward in the morning, when I hope Judge (Treasury Secretary John) Reagan will take it. Many of the men have thrown away their arms. Most of them have resolved to… make terms. A few hundred men will move on and may be depended on for the object we spoke of yesterday (i.e., escaping to Mexico).”

Pres. Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The party reached Washington, Georgia, on the 4th, where Navy Secretary Stephen R. Mallory dropped out. He had resigned on the 2nd and would now go tend to his family at LaGrange, Georgia. He offered to arrange for a boat to take Davis up the Indian River to Cuba or the Bahamas, but Davis refused to leave the Confederacy as long as men continued fighting for it. He held a cabinet meeting at Washington and explained that he was reluctant to disband the government because there was no provision for such a thing in the Confederate Constitution.

Davis directed Reagan to turn over the remaining treasury assets to designated naval officers, who were to secret them to Charleston, Savannah, or some other port where they could be shipped away. The assets were to go to the Confederate envoy in England, currently stationed at Nassau in the Bahamas. Before doing this, Reagan saw to it that the officers still present were paid.

Meanwhile, First Lady Varina Davis and the couple’s children were also on the run, moving under a different escort farther south than the presidential party. Davis received a letter from Varina while in Washington:

“Do not try to meet me. I dread the Yankees getting news of you so much, you are the country’s only hope, and the very best intentioned do not calculate upon a stand this side of the river. Why not cut loose from your escort, go swiftly and alone with the exception of two or three?”

Heeding Varina’s advice, Davis directed Breckinridge to take command of the five cavalry brigades riding with the party and went off separately with an escort of about 350 horsemen. Of these 350, Davis quickly discharged all but about 10 volunteers. These men were to protect the president, three of his military aides, and various servants, teamsters, and secretaries. They were to also protect Reagan, who insisted on staying with Davis, possibly because Davis planned to head for Reagan’s home state of Texas.

By this time, Federals were scouring the countryside in search of the Confederate president, and President Andrew Johnson’s proclamation reached Federal troops in nearby Macon, Georgia:

“One hundred thousand dollars Reward in Gold will be paid to any person or persons who will apprehend and deliver JEFFERSON DAVIS to any of the military authorities of the United States. Several millions of specie reported to be with him will become the property of the captors…”

Major General James H. Wilson, commanding Federal forces in Georgia, reported to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton at Washington, D.C.:

“One of our scouts says Davis left Washington (Georgia) with only six men. This I regard as probable. He can’t possibly get through the country with an escort… Our scouts are already on every road in North Georgia, by tonight, I will have a complete watch in every part of the State as far down as Hawkinsville on the Ocmulgee.”

Wilson then wrote Major General John Schofield, commanding the Federal Department of North Carolina:

“My own impression is that we have yet no definite clue to his movements, and therefore I am filling the country full of scouts and watching every crossing and road… If Mr. Davis is a fugitive and well mounted, it will be exceedingly difficult to stop him, but I will spare no effort… Mr. Davis was guarded by about seventy-five officers who had volunteered for that purpose. The troops were supposed to number about 3,000, but were deserting very rapidly. The leading officers were to have held a council at Cokesbury, but the approach of our troops from the north broke it up.”

The small Davis party arrived at Sandersville on the 6th and camped that night on the east bank of the Oconee River. Wilson had guessed that Davis would try crossing the Oconee, but he did not have time to cover all the crossings. Davis’s aides received word that Varina’s party was about 20 miles away, and rumors quickly spread that it had been robbed by straggling troops.

When Davis heard this, he immediately called for his horse and announced, “This move will probably cause me to be captured or killed. I do not feel that you are bound to go with me, but I must protect my family.” The rest of the party opted to go with him, heedless of the Federals closing in.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 565, 567; 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 21219-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 589-90; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 685-86; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q265

Jefferson Davis Vows to Fight On

April 13, 1865 – Despite the recent Confederate disasters, President Jefferson Davis was determined to continue the fight.

Davis refused to acknowledge that the cause was lost, despite the recent surrender of the largest Confederate army. He and his cabinet-in-transit met with Generals Joseph E. Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard at the home of Colonel J. Taylor Wood in Greensboro, North Carolina, on the 12th. Johnston, with Beauregard second-in-command, led the largest Confederate army still in the field.

President Jefferson Davis and Gens J.E. Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Beauregard reiterated his earlier assertion that the cause was lost, but Davis maintained that the armies in the field still had the means to fight. And since the Federal government had refused to negotiate a peace unless the Confederacy surrendered unconditionally, Davis intended to fight to the last man.

Both Beauregard and Johnston balked at this idea. And when Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge arrived that night and confirmed that Robert E. Lee had surrendered the entire Army of Northern Virginia, Johnston told him that it “would be the greatest of crimes” to keep fighting when it would almost certainly destroy the South beyond repair. He resolved to explain this to Davis the next day.

Davis reassembled his cabinet on the morning of the 13th, and it was soon apparent that only he and Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin supported continuing the fight. Johnston and Beauregard arrived at 10 a.m., and Davis repeated his announcement from yesterday. He said, “Our late disasters are terrible, but I do not think we should regard them as fatal. I think we can whip the enemy yet, if our people turn out.”

The men sat silent until Davis asked for their views. Johnston spoke first: “My views are, sir, that our people are tired of war, feel themselves whipped, and will not fight.” The Confederacy was “without money, or credit, or arms, or ammunition, or means of procuring them.” Johnston continued:

“My men are, daily, deserting in large numbers, and are taking my artillery teams to aid their escape to their homes. Since Lee’s defeat, they regard the war as at an end. If I march out of North Carolina her people will all leave my ranks. It will be the same as I proceed south through South Carolina and Georgia, and I shall expect to retain no man beyond the by-road or cow-path that leads to his house. My small force is melting away like snow before the sun, and I am hopeless of recruiting it. We may, perhaps, obtain terms which we ought to accept.”

Davis turned to Beauregard, who declared, “I concur in all General Johnston has said.”

Johnston recommended meeting with Major General William T. Sherman to try negotiating a peace. Four of the five cabinet members agreed; only Benjamin dissented. Davis was reluctant to approve this, but he finally said, “Well, sir, you can adopt this course, though I am not sanguine as to ultimate results.” At Johnston’s insistence, Davis dictated a letter to Sherman for Johnston’s signature:

“The results of the recent campaign in Virginia have changed the relative military condition of the belligerents. I am, therefore, induced to address you in this form of inquiry whether, to stop the further effusion of blood and devastation of property, you are willing to make a temporary suspension of active operations… the object being to permit the civil authorities to enter into the needful arrangements to terminate the existing war.”

Johnston suggested confronting Sherman’s Federals at Charlotte, and if they proved too powerful, Johnston would then retreat southwest, “with Texas as a final goal.” Davis approved this plan, believing that Johnston would adopt it regardless of whether or not the Federals were willing to talk peace. But Johnston intended to adopt it only if Sherman refused to negotiate. Davis arranged for Commissary General I.M. St. John to have supplies ready for the Confederates on their line of retreat.

Davis and the cabinet spent the 14th planning their route out of Greensboro to the south. Outwardly, the president was still confident that the Confederacy could win its independence. But privately his confidence wavered, as he wrote to his wife Varina at Charlotte: “I will come to you if I can. Everything is dark. You should prepare for the worst by dividing your baggage so as to move in wagons… I have lingered on the road to little purpose…”

—–

References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 222-23; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22814-29, 22847; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 558; 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 20323-43, 20353-402; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 583; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 155-60; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 673-75; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 736; 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!”

—–

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 Talks: Blair Returns to Richmond

January 22, 1865 – Elder statesman Francis P. Blair, Sr. returned to Richmond to deliver President Abraham Lincoln’s letter regarding potential peace negotiations to Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Francis P. Blair, Sr. | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

By this time, Blair’s peace initiative had attracted attention throughout the North. The Washington National Intelligencer reported “that the Blair Mission has become the national excitement is evident enough from the leading press of the country.” According to the New York Herald, Washington “has been under an intense excitement during the last few days over the question of peace. All manner of probable and improbable, possible and impossible stories have been in circulation. We have had the rebellion closed up, Jeff. Davis flying towards Mexico, and the bulk of the rebel Congress marching for Washington to apply for admittance here.”

Rumors spread that Secretary of State William H. Seward “had decided to make peace on the best terms possible.” President Abraham Lincoln maintained “a reticence of the strictest kind,” but indicated that Blair’s peace effort “was far more successful than he anticipated… and that peace is much nearer at hand than the most confident have at any time hoped for.”

In Richmond, Confederate officials noted Blair’s not-so-secret return to the capital. Vice President Alexander Stephens wrote, “Blair is back again. What he is doing I do not know but presume the President is endeavoring to negotiate with him for negotiation…” Blair arrived on the 21st and met with President Davis that night.

Blair delivered Lincoln’s letter and specifically pointed out that Lincoln would only talk peace on the basis of North and South being “one common country,” not “two countries” as Davis had stated. Lincoln later wrote about this: “Mr. Davis read it over twice in Mr. Blair’s presence, at the close of which he, Mr. B remarked that the part about ‘our one common country’ related to the part of Mr. D’s letter about ‘the two countries’ to which Mr. D replied that he so understood it.”

Blair then brought up his idea of Federals and Confederates calling an armistice and joining forces to oust the French from Mexico. Lincoln had not endorsed this idea, Blair explained, but he had not rejected it either. Blair then told Davis that Lincoln was being pressured by the Radical Republicans, “who wished to drive him into harsher measures than he was inclined to adopt.” Therefore, in Blair’s opinion, “If anything beneficial could be effected, it must be done without the intervention of the politicians.” Perhaps Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee “might enter into an arrangement by which hostilities would be suspended and a way paved for the restoration of peace.”

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Davis said that he would trust Lee to engage in peace talks with Grant. But after returning to Washington, Blair notified Davis that the Lincoln administration did not like the idea of a military convention. This meant that if peace talks were to take place, they would have to be based on Lincoln’s letter alone.

Over the next few days, Davis consulted with Confederate Congressman William Rives of Virginia. Rives had opposed secession but went with his home state out of the Union. Davis told him that Richmond was filled with “Despondency and distrust… We are on the eve of an internal revolution.” According to Rives, Davis had made up his mind that a peace convention was needed to stop the dissent, and such a convention would likely result in reunion.

A few days later, Davis summoned Vice President Stephens to his office to discuss “special and important business.” The men were not on friendly terms, and they had not spoken since the Confederate capital moved to Richmond in 1861. Davis shared Blair’s proposals and Lincoln’s letter, and then asked Stephens for his opinion.

Stephens recommended pursuing the matter, “at least so far as to obtain if possible a conference on the subject.” But he disliked Blair’s idea of a military convention because it might result in the Confederacy either joining with the Federals against the French in Mexico or reunion. Instead, Stephens suggested that Davis and Lincoln discuss the matter themselves.

Davis replied that it would not be proper for him to go to Washington, and he knew that Lincoln would not come to Richmond. He would therefore create a commission of political leaders that would try gaining admission to Washington to negotiate a possible peace. Stephens recommended John A. Campbell, a former U.S. Supreme Court Justice and the highest-ranking Federal official to join the Confederacy. He also named Henry Benning, a politician-turned-general, and Thomas Flournoy, “a gentleman of distinguished ability, and well known personally to Mr. Lincoln.” Davis agreed.

The president discussed the matter with his cabinet and shared the names of the potential peace commissioners. They agreed with picking Campbell, but they opposed Benning and Flournoy. The members preferred Robert M.T. Hunter, a former U.S. senator and Confederate secretary of state, and current Confederate Senate pro tempore. The third man would be Stephens himself. Davis made the changes and notified the vice president that he would be sent to Washington. Stephens later wrote:

“I urged and insisted upon the impropriety of myself and Mr. Hunter being on the Commission, for my absence, as the Presiding Officer of the Senate, would, of course, be noticed, and inquiries would almost certainly be made as to where I was (even though he had been in ill-health and often took longs leaves of absence). My efforts to have it changed, however, were of no avail. The President and Cabinet persisted in the selection of the Commissioners, which they had agreed upon; so in this instance… my judgment was yielded to theirs.”

Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin wrote a letter for the commissioners to present to Federal officials. Benjamin made it “as vague and general as possible, so as to get at the views and sentiments of Mr. Lincoln and test the reality” of a possible peace without divulging that Davis truly wanted an armistice. It read: “In compliance with the letter of Mr. Lincoln, of which the foregoing is a copy, you are hereby requested to proceed to Washington City for conference with him upon the subject to which it relates…”

But Davis insisted that the talks had to be based on Confederate independence. He therefore changed the letter to read:

“In conformity with the letter of Mr. Lincoln, of which the foregoing is a copy, you are requested to proceed to Washington City for informal conference with him upon the issues involved in the existing war, and for the purpose of securing peace to the two countries.”

This almost ensured that peace negotiations would stop before they even started.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21816-29; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 16133-72; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 547; Harris, William C., “The Hampton Roads Peace Conference: A Final Test of Lincoln’s Presidential Leadership” (Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Vol. 21, Issue 1, 2000), p. 30-61; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 629; McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1981), p. 199; 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; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition, 2012), Q165

The Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid: Confederates Ponder Retaliation

March 5, 1864 – President Jefferson Davis held a cabinet meeting at Richmond to discuss what measures should be taken in response to the controversial Federal raid on Richmond.

Two days after Colonel Ulric Dahlgren was killed in the failed raid on Richmond, his father, Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren, came to Washington to ask his personal friend President Abraham Lincoln for information about his son.

Lincoln was aware that Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s Federal command had fled to Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s Federal army at Fort Monroe after the raid, but nobody at Washington knew of Dahlgren’s death yet. Lincoln wrote Butler, “Admiral Dahlgren is here, and of course is very anxious about this son. Please send me at once all you know or can learn of his fate.”

Meanwhile, the South seethed with rage upon learning that papers on Dahlgren’s body called for liberated Federal prisoners of war to burn Richmond and kill top Confederate government officials. General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, sent the photographic copies of these documents to Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac, and asked if he or his superiors had any prior knowledge of this plot.

Meade assured Lee that neither he nor the Lincoln administration “had authorized, sanctioned, or approved the burning of the city of Richmond and the killing of Mr. Davis and Cabinet.” Meade also forwarded Kilpatrick’s statement on the matter, which asserted that nobody higher in rank than Dahlgren knew of the plot.

There was no evidence to disprove Meade’s claim. However, Lincoln’s approval of the raid (without necessarily approving the raid’s specific objectives) indicated his urgency to end the war by any means necessary. As news of the raid spread across the North, the northern press took a much different view than the South. The New York Times called the raid a “complete success, resulting in the destruction of millions of dollars of public property.” But the paper either did not know or willfully omitted Dahlgren’s controversial intentions.

Southerners branded Colonel Dahlgren a war criminal, and his body, which had been buried in a shallow grave in Richmond, was unearthed and put on display. A correspondent from the Richmond Examiner reported that the body was–

“Stripped, robbed of every valuable, the fingers cut off for the sake of the diamond rings that encircled them. When the body was found by those sent to take charge of it, it was lying in a field stark naked, with the exception of the stocking. Some humane persons had lifted the corpse from the pike and thrown it over into the field, to save it from the hogs. The artificial leg worn by Dahlgren (who lost his leg at Gettysburg) was removed, and is now at General Elzey’s headquarters. It is of most beautiful design and finish.

“Yesterday afternoon, the body was removed from the car that brought it to the York River railroad depot, and given to the spot of earth selected to receive it. Where that spot is no one but those concerned in its burial know or care to tell. It was a dog’s burial, without coffin, winding sheet or service. Friend and relative at the North need inquire no further; this is all they will know–he is buried a burial that befitted the mission upon which he came. He ‘swept through the city of Richmond’ on a pine bier, and ‘written his name’ on the scroll of infamy, instead of ‘on the hearts of his countrymen,’ never to be erased. He ‘asked the blessing of Almighty God’ and his mission of rapine, murder and blood, and the Almighty cursed him instead.”

Lieutenant Colonel John Atkinson led the burial party, with instructions from Davis not to reveal the burial site. Kilpatrick’s Federal troopers destroyed property, including a grain mill, in King and Queen County near Carlton’s Store, in retaliation for Dahlgren’s death.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

The Confederate press called for retribution, and Davis met with his cabinet on the 5th to discuss what the administration should do about it. Most members present favored executing the prisoners taken from Dahlgren’s command, but Davis was firmly opposed. According to Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin:

“A discussion ensued which became so heated as almost to create unfriendly feeling, by reason of the unshaken firmness of Mr. Davis, in maintaining that although these men merited a refusal to grant them quarter in the heat of battle, they had been received to mercy by their captors as prisoners of war, and such were sacred; and that we should be dishonored if harm should overtake them after their surrender, the acceptance of which constituted, in his judgment, a pledge that they should receive the treatment of prisoners of war.”

Secretary of War James A. Seddon asked Lee for advice since he had greater experience in dealing with prisoners. Seddon wrote in part, “My own inclinations are toward the execution of at least a portion of those captured at the time Colonel Dahlgren was killed. The question of what is best to be done is a grave and important one, and I desire to have the benefit of your views and any suggestions you may make.” Lee responded:

“I cannot recommend the execution of the prisoners that have fallen into our hands. Assuming that the address and special orders of Colonel Dahlgren correctly state his designs and intentions, they were not executed, and I believe, even in a legal point of view, acts in addition to intentions are necessary to constitute a crime. These papers can only be considered as evidence of his intentions. It does not appear how far his men were cognizant of them, or that his course was sanctioned by his Government. It is only known that his plans were frustrated by a merciful Providence, his forces scattered, and he killed. I do not think it, therefore, to visit upon the captives the guilt of his intentions. I think it better to do right, even if we suffer in so doing, than to incur the reproach of our consciences and posterity.”

Davis ultimately agreed, and Dahlgren’s men were not executed.

On Sunday the 6th, a copy of the previous day’s Richmond Sentinel was delivered to Meade’s Army of the Potomac headquarters. From this, Meade received the first definitive news that Dahlgren was dead. He wrote General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck:

“The Richmond Sentinel of March 5 has been received, which announces the capturing at King and queen (county) of a part of Dahlgren’s party, reported 90 men, and that Colonel Dahlgren was killed in the skirmish. I fear the account is true.”

Meade wrote his wife, “You have doubtless seen that Kilpatrick’s raid was an utter failure. I did not expect much from it. Poor Dahlgren I am sorry for.” When Admiral Dahlgren learned of his son’s death, he lamented in his diary, “How busy is death–oh, how busy indeed!”

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 380-81; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10424; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 203; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 407; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6593; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 202; 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

The Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid Takes a Sinister Turn

March 2, 1864 – Confederates continued pursuing the Federal raiders led by Colonel Ulric Dahlgren, uncovering controversial documentation in the process.

Two Federal forces had unsuccessfully tried to raid Richmond. The main force under Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick rode through Kent Court House on the way to joining Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s Federals at Fort Monroe, on the tip of the Virginia Peninsula. Dahlgren’s 500-man detachment split in two, with Dahlgren leading about 100 men southeast to rejoin Kilpatrick.

Col Ulric Dahlgren | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Major General Fitzhugh Lee, commanding Confederate cavalry in the area, soon learned of Dahlgren’s presence. His Confederates fired on Dahlgren’s men as they crossed the Mattaponi River, but the Federals held them off long enough to get across. The Confederate pursuers used an alternate road to get in front of Dahlgren’s column as it approached Mantapike Hill, between King and Queen County and King William County.

The Confederates waited in ambush as the Federals approached on the night of the 2nd. Dahlgren saw them in the woods and yelled, “Surrender you damned rebels, or we will charge you!” The Confederates instead demanded Dahlgren’s surrender. Dahlgren drew his revolver but it misfired. The Confederates opened fire, and a Federal trooper recalled, “This stampeded us for about 100 yards, every horse in our column turning to the rear.” Another wrote:

“The next instant a heavy volley was poured in upon us. The flash of the pieces afforded us a momentary glimpse of their position stretching parallel with the road about 15 paces from us. Every tree was occupied, and the bushes poured forth a sheet of fire. A bullet grazing my leg and probably struck my horse somewhere in the neck, caused him to make a violent swing sideways.”

Dahlgren was shot five times and killed. The Federals left him behind as they rode off, and the Confederates eventually rounded up about 100 of his men. Most of the survivors from Dahlgren’s force met up with Kilpatrick that night, while some found refuge on the U.S.S. Morse, near Brick House Farm on the York River.

William Littlepage, a 13-year-old boy accompanying the Confederates, searched Dahlgren’s body and found a bundle of papers in his coat pocket. He turned them over to the troopers, who read them the next morning. The three documents included the speech that Dahlgren had planned to give to his men upon entering Richmond, a list of instructions, and a memorandum book.

The instructions included the Federals’ plan to break some 15,000 Federal prisoners of war out of Belle Island and Libby Prison. They also directed the men to disguise themselves in Confederate uniforms, gather “combustible material,” and burn Richmond. And if President Jefferson Davis was found, he must be “killed on the spot.” Dahlgren wrote, “The men must keep together and well in hand, and once in the city it must be destroyed and Jeff Davis and cabinet killed.”

Some historians alleged that the papers had been forged by Confederates, but a handwriting expert verified Dahlgren’s writing a century later. Several prisoners were captured in Confederate uniform carrying turpentine and other material needed to set fires. This made them saboteurs under Articles of War, subject to execution.

The discovery of these incriminating papers and the capture of Federals verifying their authenticity put a sinister twist on the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren raid. Fitz Lee delivered the papers to Davis at Richmond, who shared them with Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin. Davis tried downplaying the issue, showing the secretary the order to kill him and his cabinet and saying, “That means you, Mr. Benjamin.” Davis asked Fitz to file the papers away. But General Braxton Bragg, Davis’s military advisor, recommended to Secretary of War James A. Seddon:

“It has occurred to me that the papers just captured from the enemy are of such an extraordinary and diabolical character that some more formal method should be adopted of giving them to the public than simply sending them to the press. My own conviction is for an execution of the prisoners and a publication as justification; but in any event the publication should go forth with official sanction from the highest authority, calling the attention of our people and the civilized world to the fiendish and atrocious conduct of our enemies.”

Chief of Ordnance Josiah Gorgas agreed with Bragg. But Seddon, along with Davis and General Robert E. Lee, were reluctant to take punitive action against the prisoners. Confederate Adjutant General Samuel Cooper had the documents photographed and sent to the Richmond newspapers; their publication sent waves of shock, panic, and outrage throughout the South. Editors alleged that the plot went all the way up the chain of command to President Abraham Lincoln himself. An article in the Richmond Inquirer declared:

“Should our army again go into the enemy’s country, will not these papers relieve them from their restraints of a chivalry that would be proper with a civilized army, but which only brings upon them the contempt of our savage foe? Decidedly, we think that these Dahlgren papers will destroy, during the rest of the war, all rosewater chivalry, and that the Confederate armies will make war afar and upon the rules selected by the enemy.”

The Richmond Whig asked:

“Are these (Dahlgren’s) men warriors? Are they soldiers, taken in the performance of duties recognized as legitimate by the loosest construction in the code of civilized warfare? Or are they assassins, barbarians, thugs who have forfeited (and expect to lose) their lives? Are they not barbarians redolent with more hellish purposes than were the Goth, the Hun or the Saracen?”

The Richmond Daily Examiner recommended:

“Our soldiers should in every instance where they capture officers engaged in raids characterized by such acts of incendiarism and wanton devastation and plunder, as this last raid has been, hang them immediately. If they are handed over as prisoners of war, they at once come under the laws of regular warfare and are subject to exchange… therefore we hope that our soldiers will take the law in their own hands… by hanging those they capture.”

Dahlgren’s body was brought to Richmond and buried in a shallow grave after being examined by Davis. An editor wrote:

“And they came and the Almighty blessed them not, and Dahlgren is dead and gone to answer for his crimes and several hundred of his partners in the plot concocted so deliberately are now our prisoners. They every one richly merit death…”

The controversy would continue.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20051; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 380-82; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10424; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 203; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 913, 915; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 405; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6593; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 471; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 202; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 417; 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

The Army of Tennessee: A New Commander Appointed

December 16, 1863 – President Jefferson Davis decided to appoint a bitter rival to command the demoralized Confederate Army of Tennessee at Dalton, Georgia.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Lieutenant General William Hardee had replaced General Braxton Bragg as army commander, but Hardee made it clear that he would only accept the job on an interim basis. Thus, Davis had to find a permanent replacement. After considering several candidates, Davis summoned General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Army of Northern Virginia, to Richmond. Lee, who had resisted taking the job, expected to be ordered to take it. As such, he wrote to Major General Jeb Stuart before leaving, “My heart and thoughts will always be with this army.”

Lee left his headquarters for Richmond, where he took up residence in a home his wife rented on Leigh Street. There Lee learned that their Arlington, Virginia, home had been confiscated by Federal authorities under a law passed on February 6 allowing for property seizure if the owner was delinquent in taxes. This was meant to confiscate the property of Confederates such as Lee, who no longer paid taxes to the Federal government.

When Lee met with Davis, they discussed the military situation for nearly a week. During this time, Davis ruled out several candidates for the Army of Tennessee command, such as Adjutant General Samuel Cooper, General P.G.T. Beauregard, and Lee himself. This left just one more full general to consider–Joseph E. Johnston, currently commanding the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana at Brandon, Mississippi.

Confederate General J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Johnston had disliked Davis ever since the president ranked him fourth on the list of full Confederate generals early in the war. The men had consistently disagreed over military strategy, with Davis favoring defending vital points in the South and Johnston favoring sacrificing vital points if it meant saving armies to fight another day. This disagreement climaxed earlier this year when Johnston refused to save Vicksburg.

Davis and Lee discussed Johnston’s strengths and weaknesses. Finally, during a dinner with the Davises, Lee announced that he supported placing Johnston in charge of the Army of Tennessee. Although Davis resisted, he noted that other high-ranking generals, including beloved Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk, had also called for Johnston to take over. Appointing Johnston might also appease Johnston’s political allies, including Texas Congressman Louis T. Wigfall and other anti-administration leaders.

Davis held a cabinet meeting on the 16th to discuss the situation. Secretary of War James A. Seddon believed that Johnston could boost the army’s sagging morale, while Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin argued that Johnston’s tendency to stay on the defensive would ruin an army that needed to go on offense now more than ever. As the discussion progressed, most cabinet members gradually shifted to favoring Johnston, and Davis reluctantly agreed.

Davis telegraphed Johnston at Brandon: “You will turn over the immediate command of the Army of Mississippi to Lieutenant General Polk and proceed to Dalton and assume command of the Army of Tennessee… A letter of instructions will be sent to you at Dalton.”

Johnston would inherit a once-proud army that had become a demoralized throng. Desertions were so common that Bragg, prior to relinquishing command, had directed troops to patrol their own comrades rather than guard against the enemy. The command structure was in shambles, with one corps without a commander due to Hardee’s promotion and another tentatively led by Major General Thomas C. Hindman (after Major General John C. Breckinridge left due to charges of drunkenness on duty). Having once boasted 66,000 men, the army now had just 43,094 effectives.

The day after Davis appointed Johnston, Hardee reported that the army was in such poor condition that it was “necessary to avoid a general action.” If the Federals, currently at Chattanooga, moved to confront him, Hardee stated that “a retrograde movement becomes inevitable.” Hardee continued:

“The question of supplies, both for men and animals, presents a source of infinite trouble. This will be still more complicated by a retrograde movement from this point. Our deficiency of supplies would become aggravated to an alarming extent. I am inclined to think that forces are disposed from Mississippi to North Carolina, along different localities, which, if concentrated, would swell the ranks of this command very largely.”

Seddon tried to downplay Hardee’s report in his instructions to Johnston, writing:

“It is apprehended the army may have been by recent events somewhat disheartened and deprived of ordnance and material. Your presence, it is hoped, will do much to inspire hope and re-establish confidence, and through such influence, as well as by the active exertions you are recommended to make, men who have straggled may be recalled to their standards, and others, roused by the danger to which further successes of the enemy must expose the more southern States, may be encouraged to recruit the ranks of your army.”

Through “vigorous efforts,” the government expected Johnston to restore “the discipline, confidence, and prestige of the army,” as well as “its deficiencies in ordnance, numbers and transportation.”

Seddon then turned to the issue of farmers and state governors refusing to cooperate with central government demands to turn over their crops and supplies for the war effort. He warned that Johnston would “find deficiencies and have serious difficulties in providing the supplies required for the subsistence of the army… the discontents of producers and the opposition of State authorities to the system of impressments established by the law of Congress have caused” these difficulties.

To combat this, Johnston was authorized to use “all means to obtain supplies from the productive States,” and “to rouse among the people and authorities a more willing spirit to part with the means of subsistence for the army that defends them.”

Regarding the Federals controlling Tennessee, “It is not desirable they should be allowed to do so with impunity, and as soon as the condition of your forces will allow it is hoped you will be able to assume the offensive. Inactivity, it is feared, may cause the spirit of despondence to recur and the practice of straggling and desertion to increase.”

However, Seddon ultimately left it to Johnston’s “experience and judgment… to form and act on your own plans of military operations,” and he assured “the fullest disposition on the part of the Department to sustain and co-operate with them.”

The next day, Davis wrote Johnston, advising in part, “The difficulties of your new position are realized and the Government will make every possible effort to aid you…” However, what little aid the Confederate government could provide was rapidly dwindling.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20705-14; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 353; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 887; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 384; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6557-69, 6581; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 447-48; 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), Q463