Tag Archives: Mexico

Peace Talks: Blair Arrives in Richmond

January 12, 1865 – Prominent statesman Francis P. Blair, Sr. visited Confederate President Jefferson Davis at Richmond and proposed a possible peace settlement between North and South.

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

Blair had obtained a pass from President Abraham Lincoln in late December to go through the Federal military lines. Blair then wrote to Davis asking permission to come to Richmond to retrieve papers that Confederate troops had stolen from his Maryland home in July. But he added that his real reason for wanting to go there was to discuss the possibility of ending the war.

Davis received Blair’s letters on the 3rd and granted him permission to come to the Confederate capital. U.S. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles chartered the flagship of the Potomac River naval flotilla to transport Blair from Washington to Aiken’s Landing on the James River. From there, a flag-of-truce vessel brought him to Richmond.

When word spread that the navy helped Blair get into the Confederacy, many believed that Lincoln endorsed the statesman’s visit. This drew mixed reactions in the North, as some hoped for peace as soon as possible, regardless of who helped negotiate it, while others wanted the war to end only when the South was truly defeated. And still others wanted to keep fighting to ensure that slavery was permanently abolished.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Blair anonymously checked into Richmond’s Spotswood Hotel before visiting Davis and his wife Varina at the Executive Mansion on the night of the 12th. The attendees exchanged pleasantries, after which Varina left and the two men got down to business. Blair explained that he could not speak for the Lincoln administration, confessing that his ideas “were perhaps merely the dreams of an old man.” He then read from a paper he had written that outlined these ideas.

Blair proposed an armistice period, during which the Federals and Confederates would join forces to oust the French government from Mexico. France had violated the Monroe Doctrine by invading Mexico and installing a puppet regime led by Archduke Maximilian, a relative of Napoleon III. Blair intimated that perhaps Davis himself could lead the southern contingent of the united force.

According to Davis, “it was evident that he (Blair) counted on the disintegration of the Confederate States if the war continued, and that in any event he regarded the institution of slavery as doomed to extinction.” Noting that the Confederate Congress was likely to approve a bill recruiting slaves into the military (and ostensibly grant them freedom after service), Blair believed that slavery “no longer remains an insurmountible (sic) obstruction to pacification.”

Blair also asserted that Lincoln’s 1863 Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction and his recent message to Congress showed that he would be willing to talk peace. Joining forces to oust the French from Mexico could unite Americans in a common cause, leading to reunion. Blair was confident that Federal troops would join the Confederates for this cause, and he even pledged to send his son, Frank, Jr., to command a portion of the force. Blair suggested that once the French were overthrown, Davis might install himself as Mexican ruler.

Regarding European colonization of the West, Davis replied that “no circumstances would have a greater effect… than to see the arms of our countrymen from the North and the South united in a war upon a foreign power assailing principles of government common to both sections and threatening their destruction.” However, Davis argued that the Mexicans had to topple the French regime on their own because “no one can foresee how things would shape themselves” in Mexico.

The president then said that reconciliation “depended upon well-founded confidence” in the good faith of both North and South. Before the war, U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward had first suggested fighting the French in Mexico to keep North and South united. Davis, assuming that Seward would be the North’s chief negotiator, declared that he distrusted him.

Blair did not defend Seward, instead telling Davis that this would not be handled by the State Department. He said that “this matter, if entered upon at all, must be with Mr. Lincoln himself… The transaction is a military transaction, and depends entirely on the Commander-in-Chief of our armies,” and Lincoln could be trusted.

Davis wrote that Blair hoped to exchange “reason for passion, sense of justice for a desire to injure, and that if the people were subsequently engaged together to maintain a principle recognized by both, if together they should bear sacrifices, share dangers, and gather common renown, new memories would take the place of those now placed by the events of this war and might in the course of time restore the feelings which preexisted.”

Blair then stated that Lincoln was not as sympathetic with the Radical Republicans in Congress as the southern press believed. The Radicals demanded the South’s unconditional surrender, but Blair thought that Lincoln would be willing to negotiate a more lenient settlement. However, Blair warned that time was running out because the next Congress taking office later that year would be dominated by Radicals intent on stopping any negotiations with the South.

Davis noted:

“Throughout the conference, Mr. Blair appeared to be animated by a sincere desire to promote a pacific solution of existing difficulty, but claimed no other power than that of serving as a medium of communication between those who had thus far had no intercourse and were therefore without the co-intelligence which might secure an adjustment of their controversy.”

Davis remained skeptical, especially since the Lincoln administration had insisted on unconditional submission to the national authority since the war began. However, he believed that if he expressed a willingness to negotiate, and Lincoln did not reciprocate, it might show southerners that the Federals only wanted to subjugate them, and they would therefore fight even harder for independence. Thus, Davis wrote a letter for Blair to deliver to Lincoln:

“Sir: I have deemed it proper and probably desirable to you to give you in this form the substance of remarks made by me to be repeated by you to President Lincoln, etc., etc. I have no disposition to find obstacles in forms, and am willing now, as heretofore, to enter into negotiations for the restoration of peace, am ready to send a commission whenever I have reason to suppose it will be received, or to receive a commission if the United States Government shall choose to send one. That, notwithstanding the rejection of our former offers, I would, if you could promise that a commissioner, minister, or other agent would be received, appoint one immediately, and renew the effort to enter into conference with a view to secure peace to the two countries.”

The last two words in Davis’s letter ensured that a peace settlement could not be reached. Davis refused to discuss peace without southern independence, while Lincoln had insisted since the day he took office that North and South must be of one country. Nevertheless, Blair returned north to deliver the letter to the White House.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 209-10; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21747-65, 21804; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11860; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 16108-81; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 541; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 690-91; Harris, William C., “The Hampton Roads Peace Conference: A Final Test of Lincoln’s Presidential Leadership” (Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Vol. 21, Issue 1, 2000), p. 30-61; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 20-21; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 616, 622-23; McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1981), p. 198; 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. 821; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition, 2012), Loc Q165

The Confederacy Looks to France

September 5, 1863 – Confederate Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith urged foreign envoy John Slidell to get France to intervene on the Confederacy’s behalf so that the French puppet regime in Mexico would have a friendly neighbor to the north.

By this month, French forces had invaded Mexico due to non-payment of debts owed to France. French Emperor Napoleon III installed Maximilian I of Austria as the new Mexican emperor under a French protectorate. The Lincoln administration opposed this move because European powers interfering in the affairs of Western Hemisphere nations violated the Monroe Doctrine. But with war raging against the Confederacy, there was little the administration could do about it.

Napoleon had hinted at recognizing Confederate independence in the past, and as such, the Confederacy tried cultivating friendly relations with France. The Confederates also hoped that a French-controlled Mexico would facilitate the passage of much-needed imports into Texas.

Confederate General E.K. Smith | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Smith, who commanded the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department that included Texas, hoped to offset the loss of the Mississippi River (and thus his access to goods from the east) by negotiating an arrangement with the French. He wrote Slidell, the former French envoy:

“The action of the French in Mexico and the erection of an empire under their auspices makes the establishment of the Confederacy the policy of the French Government. The condition of the States west of the Mississippi, separated from the General Government, at Richmond; the exhausted state of the country, with its fighting population in the armies east of the Mississippi; the vast preparations making by the enemy to complete the occupation and subjugation of this whole Western Department, are all matters which, if properly brought before the French Emperor, should influence him in hastening the intervention of his good services in our behalf. This succor must come speedily, or it will be too late. Without assistance from abroad or an extraordinary interposition of Providence, less than twelve months will see this fair country irretrievably lost, and the French protectorate in Mexico will find a hostile power established on their frontier, of exhaustless resources and great military strength, impelled by revenge and the traditional policy of its Government to overthrow all foreign influences on the American continent.”

According to Smith, if the French were going to colonize Mexico, it would be in their best interests to have the Confederacy neighboring them to the north because the U.S. would be hostile toward their intentions. Therefore, it only stood to reason that Napoleon should recognize Confederate independence and aid the Davis administration in its war against the U.S.

Smith stressed that France had to act quickly, because his department had only “the aged, the infirm, and the lukewarm” left to stop the growing number of Federal forces. He warned that without France’s help, the Federals would control the Mississippi “with their southern and western frontier open for extension toward Mexico and the Pacific.”

Smith declared that “the forced impressment of our slaves into their army, to wage a ruthless war against their masters, all in the name of humanity call for the interposition of those powers who really hold the destiny of our country in their hands.” He concluded:

“The intervention of the French Government can alone save Mexico from having on its border a grasping, haughty, and imperious neighbor. If the policy of the Emperor looks to an intervention in our affairs, he should take immediate military possession of the east bank of the Rio Grande, and open to us the only channel by which supplies and munitions of war can be introduced into the department. The whole cotton trade west of the Mississippi will thus be secured to the French market, and the enemy will be anticipated in making a lodgment on the Rio Grande, from which he could not be driven without great difficulty.”

Smith then wrote President Jefferson Davis explaining that he had called on Slidell to negotiate with Napoleon on his department’s behalf. Smith conceded that he cast the department “in a gloomy light,” but it “wasn’t a too exaggerated picture of what may occur.” Federals were expanding their control over Louisiana and beginning to threaten the Texas coast. They were also threatening Fort Smith and Little Rock, two of the most important points in Arkansas.

Smith had only 30,000 effectives in his department, but he told Davis that more might be encouraged to enlist if he had weapons to give them. He wrote, “Sixty thousand rifles could, I believe, this moment be well disposed of throughout this department.”

But Davis had no such arms to send Smith, and Napoleon ultimately refused to recognize the Confederacy.

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References

Kerby, Robert L., Kirby Smith’s Confederacy; Official Records of the War of the Rebellion (Series 1, Volume 22, Part 2), p. 993-95

Cotton Exportation and the Federal Blockade

July 28, 1862 – Confederates tried currying favor with France, and Great Britain suffered a severe economic downturn due to the lack of southern cotton.

Confederate envoy John Slidell | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

On July 16, Confederate envoy John Slidell met with Emperor Napoleon III of France for 70 minutes. Slidell requested that France recognize Confederate independence and use warships to help break the Federal blockade. In exchange, Slidell pledged several hundred thousand bales of badly needed cotton and an alliance with France against Benito Juarez’s regime in Mexico.

Slidell understood that Napoleon favored the Confederacy. However, the emperor was reluctant to provoke the U.S. (which supported Juarez) without Britain taking the lead. Napoleon told Slidell that he would consider the matter. Slidell wrote to Richmond, “I am more hopeful than I have been at any moment since my arrival in Europe.”

By this month, the lack of southern cotton was crippling Britain. The cotton supply was one-third its normal level, and nearly 75 percent of cotton-mill workers were unemployed or underemployed. Poverty spread throughout the working-class sections of the country as it starved for cotton, and this only helped the Confederacy. Thomas Dudley, the U.S. consul in Liverpool, wrote to Secretary of State William H. Seward:

“The current is against us and strong; and threatens to carry everything with it… They are all against us and would rejoice in our downfall… I think at this time we are more in danger of intervention than we have been at any previous period… if we are not successful in some decisive battle within a short period this government will be forced to acknowledge the Confederacy or else be driven from power.”

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

Seward sought to help alleviate the cotton shortage by writing to Charles Francis Adams, U.S. minister to Britain at London:

“We shall speedily open all the channels of commerce, and free them from military embarrassments; and cotton, so much desired by all nations, will flow forth as freely as before… The President has given respectful consideration to the desire informally expressed to me by the Governments of Great Britain and France for some further relaxation of the blockade in favor of that trade. They are not rejected, but are yet held under consideration, with a view to ascertain more satisfactorily whether they are really necessary, and whether they can be adopted without such serious detriment to our military operations as would render them injurious rather than beneficial to the interests of all concerned.”

Confederate officials hoped the cotton shortage would compel Britain and France to declare that the Federal blockade was “ineffective,” and thus subject to being broken by foreign powers under international law. But instead, Britain and France asked the Federal government to send them more cotton through northern channels, after it had been seized by Federal forces in areas under military occupation. This not only dimmed Confederate hopes for foreign recognition, but it encouraged Federal forces to seize as much cotton as possible as they advanced into the South.

Meanwhile, a pro-secessionist mob attacked and destroyed the offices of the St. Croix Herald, a newspaper published in St. Stephen, New Brunswick (British Canada), just across the border from Maine. The Herald had consistently supported the U.S., and had been attacked in December as well. This was a rare instance of secessionists destroying a Unionist newspaper, and not the other way around. With the printing press thrown into the St. Croix River, publication was suspended for several months.

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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 17522-38; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 194; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 182; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 240; 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. 548, 553; 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), Q362

Sibley Reaches the New Mexico Territory

December 14, 1861 – Brigadier General Henry H. Sibley’s Confederate Army of New Mexico arrived at Fort Bliss near El Paso, Texas, as part of the plan to conquer the New Mexico Territory.

Brig Gen H.H. Sibley | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Brig Gen H.H. Sibley | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Sibley’s 3,700 men had left San Antonio in late October, covering nearly 700 miles in a month and a half. The force consisted of the 4th, 5th, and 7th Texas Volunteer Cavalry, and other companies. As his men reached Fort Bliss, Sibley arrived at Fort Fillmore, about 40 miles up the Rio Grande from Bliss. He assumed command of all Confederate forces north of Fort Quitman, which only included Lieutenant Colonel John R. Baylor’s force.

Baylor had experienced difficulties in New Mexico since proclaiming the region to be the Confederate Territory of Arizona and installing himself as governor. Baylor had initially made Mesilla his territorial capital, but he later withdrew his forces to Fort Bliss upon hearing rumors that a superior Federal force would be approaching shortly.

The withdrawal had prompted the editor of a Mesilla newspaper to write scathing articles about Baylor’s leadership, or lack thereof. The editor called Baylor’s move “a Manassas… without a fight or even a sight of the enemy.” Baylor confronted the man on December 12, and when the editor brandished a knife, Baylor pulled his pistol. The crowd witnessing the scene pleaded with Baylor not to shoot, but he fired into the man’s face. Baylor surrendered to his second-in-command; the editor managed to write more incendiary articles before dying two weeks later.

Sibley took command from Baylor, keeping him as the territorial governor to administer all civil matters. When Sibley arrived, he issued a proclamation to New Mexicans declaring that his soldiers had come as liberators.

Within two weeks of taking command, Sibley dispatched Colonel James Reily to determine if the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Sonora would aid the Confederacy if Federal forces landed on Mexican soil to invade from the south. Reily was also to negotiate with the Sonoran government to use the port of Guaymas on the Pacific for trade. These negotiations, which took place early the following year, bore no significant results for the Confederate cause.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, William C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 529; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 90; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 149; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 528-29; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 687

Affairs in Europe and Mexico

October 16, 1861 – The European powers entertained the possibility of recognizing Confederate independence, while France capitalized on the war by invading Mexico.

Since Great Britain often took the lead in setting European international policy, both U.S. and Confederate officials looked to the British to see how Europe would react to the war between North and South. Britain was still split between the two sides; the London Post favored British recognition of the Confederacy, while the London Times supported the U.S.

British Foreign Minister Lord John Russell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

British Foreign Minister Lord John Russell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

However, Confederate officials were encouraged by an article in the Times on the 16th quoting a speech delivered by British Foreign Secretary Lord John Russell at Newcastle. According to the Times, Russell said that the war was not being fought over slavery or tax policy; rather, it was being fought over which political party would rule the South. Russell declared that one party fought for “empire” and the other for “independence,” and separation was “the only logical and permanent settlement of the controversy.”

This did not change the fact that the official British position remained neutrality. Two days after the Times article was published, Prime Minister Viscount Palmerston reminded Lord Russell that Great Britain’s “true policy” was “to go on as we have begun, and to keep quite clear of the conflict.”

One thing that British officials agreed upon was that the people were starving for cotton. Not only was the Federal blockade limiting southern exports, but the Confederates were withholding cotton in the hopes that countries needing the precious commodity would intervene on their behalf. Both Palmerston and Russell contended that “the cotton question may become serious by the end of the year… We cannot allow some millions of our people to perish to please the Northern States.” Discussion began among British and French diplomats about possibly joining forces to lift the Federal blockade.

Meanwhile, Charles Francis Adams, U.S. minister to Great Britain, issued a complaint to Lord Russell that the Confederacy was importing supplies for the war effort from Nassau in the Bahamas. Russell responded by obtaining a report from Nassau authorities denying the charge. Russell forwarded the report to Adams, who stated that this sufficiently dispelled “the suspicion thrown upon the authorities by that unwarrantable act.” While British authorities resisted supplying arms to the Confederacy, they openly supplied them to the U.S.

France followed Britain’s lead, with Henri Mercier, French minister to the U.S. notifying Lord Richard Lyons, British minister to the U.S., that if Britain recognized Confederate independence, France would follow suit. But Adams used his powerful influence to prevent the British from doing so for now.

The French then took advantage of the war by landing an army at Vera Cruz, ostensibly to suppress a civil war in Mexico. This was part of Emperor Napoleon III’s plan to set up a protectorate that would expand French influence into the Western Hemisphere. The Mexicans resisted at Puebla, but the French prevailed. President Benito Juarez’s regime was replaced by a puppet government led by Napoleon’s handpicked ruler, Archduke Maximilian of Austria.

The Lincoln administration noted that the French conquest of Mexico violated the Monroe Doctrine, which had declared that the U.S. would not permit Europe to interfere in the Western Hemisphere affairs. Administration officials worried that France would extend its influence to other Western nations and ally itself with the Confederacy. Ultimately, the French did neither out of fear of U.S. reprisals.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18125; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 84; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 38-39; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 124, 132; 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. 384; 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), Q461