Tag Archives: Reconstruction

THANK YOU

May 31, 2020 – I want to thank all of you who follow this blog for taking this journey with me through the 55 turbulent months that made up the War Between the States.

Union Flag | Image Credit: etseq.law.harvard.edu

We have now reached the end of the war, but certainly not the end of the conflict. The war spawned the long, complex and tragic process of restoring the Union, which, much like the war itself, lasted longer and caused more misery and destruction than anyone could have imagined.

The war produced fundamental and permanent changes in America: the economy shifted from an agricultural to an industrial base, over three million slaves were now free, and the new Republican Party now dominated Washington. Many of these changes still reverberate throughout America today. I hope this blog has given you a better understanding of why the war was fought, and why it holds such great importance in making America the nation that it has become.

I highly encourage you to buy my book, The Civil War Months, which covers much of the material in this blog and more. I also encourage you to buy my book, The Reconstruction Years, which details the events that occurred in the 11 years after the war.

This blog will be re-launched this November in commemoration of the 160th anniversary of the War Between the States. It will open with the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, and travel through the 55 months of the conflict through May 2025. Until then:

THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME, ATTENTION AND SUPPORT!

Lincoln’s Last Speech

April 11, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln delivered a serious speech about restoring the Union that dampened the joyous celebrations over Robert E. Lee’s surrender.

President Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Lincoln returned to the White House after his extended stay at City Point, where late on the 9th he received word that Lee had surrendered. The next morning, Federals launched a 500-gun salute in Washington, and all government departments closed to celebrate. A newspaper correspondent reported:

“From one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other the air seemed to burn with the bright hues of the flag… Almost by magic the streets were crowded with hosts of people, talking, laughing, hurrahing and shouting in the fullness of their joy. Men embraced one another, ‘treated’ one another, made up old quarrels, renewed old friendships, marched arm-in-arm singing.”

These celebrations quickly spread throughout the North. A witness noted that on Wall Street in New York City, “men embraced and hugged each other, kissed each other, retreated into doorways to dry their eyes and came out again to flourish their hats and hurrah… They sang ‘Old Hundred,’ the Doxology, ‘John Brown,’ and ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’… over and over, with a massive roar from the crowd and a unanimous wave of hats at the end of each repetition.”

Thousands of jubilant citizens gathered around the White House, filling the north portico and nearby sidewalks and streets as they serenaded Lincoln throughout the day. The crowd cheered wildly when Lincoln’s son Tad unfurled a captured Confederate flag from a second-story window. The president himself finally appeared on a balcony, and the people shouted, “Speech! Speech!”

Lincoln announced that he would be delivering a formal speech the next day, and therefore, “I shall have nothing to say if you dribble it all out of me before.” Acknowledging the bands in the crowd, Lincoln added:

“I have always thought ‘Dixie’ one of the best tunes I ever heard. Our adversaries over the way attempted to appropriate it, but I insisted yesterday that we fairly captured it. I presented the question to the Attorney General and he gave it as his legal opinion that it is now our lawful prize. I now request the band to favor me with its performance.”

After playing “Dixie” and “Yankee Doodle,” Lincoln proposed “three good hearty cheers for General Grant and all under his command,” then “three more cheers for our gallant navy.” When the crowd called again for a speech, Lincoln waved them off:

“Everything I say, you know, goes into print. If I make a mistake it doesn’t merely affect me nor you, but the country. I therefore ought at least to try not to make mistakes. If, then, a general demonstration be made tomorrow evening, and it is agreeable, I will endeavor to say something and not make a mistake without at least trying carefully to avoid it.”

That night, candles and lanterns burned in nearly every window in Washington. The celebrations carried over to the next night, as brass bands played and skyrockets screeched. Thousands of people returned to the north portico of the White House in anticipation of Lincoln’s victory speech. The president appeared on a second floor balcony just above the north entrance, with a candle in one hand and a prepared manuscript in the other.

Lincoln began, “We meet this evening, not in sorrow, but in gladness of heart. The evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond, and the surrender of the principal insurgent army, give hope of a righteous and speedy peace whose joyous expression can not be restrained.”

As he struggled to hold the candle while turning pages, Lincoln called over correspondent Noah Brooks, who was in the room. Brooks held the candle from behind the curtain, and Lincoln dropped the pages as he read from them. Tad collected them at his father’s feet, out of the audience’s sight.

The tone of the speech soon turned serious as Lincoln announced that reuniting North and South was “fraught with great difficulty.” Once again denying the Confederacy’s existence, Lincoln said that unlike conquering another nation, “There is no authorized organ for us to treat with.” The president then declared:

“We all agree that the seceded States, so called, are out of their proper practical relation with the Union; and that the sole object of the government, civil and military, in regard to those States is to again get them into that proper practical relation. I believe it is not only possible, but in fact, easier, to do this, without deciding, or even considering, whether these states have even been out of the Union, than with it.”

Speaking as a lawyer, Lincoln cited Louisiana as an example of effective reconstruction under the plan he had introduced in December 1863. Lincoln also publicly supported granting black men the right to vote for the first time, if the right “were now conferred on the very intelligent, and on those who serve our cause as soldiers.”

Lincoln hailed Louisiana’s new pro-Union government for “giving the benefit of public schools equally to black and white, and empowering the Legislature to confer the elective franchise upon the colored man.” Lincoln rhetorically asked whether black soldiers would “not attain it (suffrage) sooner by saving the already advanced steps toward it, than by running backward over them?”

The president concluded: “In the present ‘situation’ as the phrase goes, it may be my duty to make some new announcement to the people of the South. I am considering, and shall not fail to act, when satisfied that action will be proper.”

By the end of this speech, the cheerful mood of the crowd had turned into confusion and discomfort. Most people had been too happy to consider what lay ahead, and this sobering dissertation left them disappointed. Among those in the audience was prominent actor John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathizer. When Lincoln suggested black suffrage, Booth fumed, “That means nigger citizenship.”

Booth and a band of accomplices had previously plotted to kidnap Lincoln and hold him for ransom in exchange for Confederate independence. But with Lee’s surrender, independence was now impossible, and Booth quickly changed his plan from kidnap to murder. He said to his companions, “Now, by God, I’ll put him through. That is the last speech he will ever make.”

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References

Abraham Lincoln Online: Speeches; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 55-57; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 12395-417, 12440, 12485, 12572; 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 19044-64, 20136-59, 20166-86; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 582-83; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 726; Guelzo, Allen C., Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2004), p. 282; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 672-73; 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. 850-51; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 382-83; 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 City Point Conference

March 27, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln met with his top commanders to discuss plans for what they hoped would be the last campaign of the war.

Major General William T. Sherman, commanding all Federals armies in the West, and Rear Admiral David D. Porter, commanding the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, met at the headquarters of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal army commander, at City Point, Virginia. Sherman left Major General John Schofield in charge of the Federals in North Carolina, announcing before he boarded the steamer Russia: “I’m going up to see Grant for five minutes and have it all chalked out for me, and then come back and pitch in.”

Grant met his old friend Sherman at the gangplank as the Russia docked. The generals embraced, having not seen each other since their respective campaigns in Virginia and Georgia had begun last April. Colonel Horace Porter of Grant’s staff recalled: “Their encounter was more like that of two school-boys coming together after a vacation than the meeting of the chief actors in a great war tragedy.” Sherman later wrote:

“I found General Grant, with his family and staff, occupying a pretty group of huts on the bank of James River, overlooking the harbor, which was full of vessels of all classes, both war and merchant, with wharves and warehouses on an extensive scale. The general received me most heartily, and we talked over matters very fully.”

After Sherman shared stories about his campaign through the Carolinas, the commanders boarded the steamer River Queen to meet with President Lincoln, whom Grant had invited down from Washington. This marked the first meeting between the president and his top commanders. Lincoln went with Grant and Sherman to Grant’s tent, where they sat on cracker barrels and shared stories. Mrs. Grant admonished her husband and Sherman for not calling on Mrs. Lincoln while they were aboard the River Queen. The next day, the generals called upon the first lady but were told that she was not feeling well and would not see them.

Meeting aboard the River Queen | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Lincoln met with Grant, Sherman, and Porter in the upper saloon of the River Queen to discuss serious business on the 28th. According to Sherman, “Both General Grant and myself supposed that one or the other of us would have to fight one more bloody battle, and that it would be the last. Mr. Lincoln exclaimed, more than once, that there had been blood enough shed, and asked us if another battle could not be avoided.” He also hoped that it would end before the next Congress assembled in December because it was dominated by Radical Republicans who wanted to punish the South, while Lincoln wanted no more resentment on either side.

The president worried that the Confederates might resort to guerrilla warfare. He also expressed fear that while Sherman was away from his army, General Joseph E. Johnston might “have gone south with those veterans of his, and will keep the war going indefinitely.” But as Sherman later wrote: “I explained to him that that army was snug and comfortable, in good camps, at Goldsboro; that it would require some days to collect forage and food for another march; and that General Schofield was fully competent to command it in my absence.”

The president did not ask the commanders for specifics regarding their upcoming plans. His top priority was to end the war as quickly and with as little loss of further life as possible. This meant getting “the deluded men of the rebel armies disarmed and back to their homes.” Lincoln said:

“Let them once surrender and reach their homes, they won’t take up arms again. Let them go, officers and all. I want submission and no more bloodshed… I want no one punished, treat them liberally all around. We want those people to return to their allegiance to the Union and submit to the laws.”

As soon as the fighting ended, southerners “would at once be guaranteed all their rights” as citizens of the U.S. Sherman recalled:

“During this interview I inquired of the President if he was all ready for the end of the war. What was to be done with the rebel armies when defeated? And what should be done with the political leaders, such as Jeff. Davis, etc.? Should we allow them to escape, etc.? He said he was all ready; all he wanted of us was to defeat the opposing armies, and to get the men composing the Confederate armies back to their homes, at work on their farms and in their shops. As to Jeff. Davis, he was hardly at liberty to speak his mind fully, but intimated that he ought to clear out, ‘escape the country,’ only it would not do for him to say so openly.”

Sherman later asserted that Lincoln had authorized him to work with Governor Zebulon Vance and the legislature to restore order in North Carolina, “and that to avoid anarchy the State governments then in existence, with their civil functionaries, would be recognized by him as the government de facto till Congress could provide others.” However, this conflicted with Lincoln’s directive to Grant earlier this month in which Grant was only authorized to handle military affairs while all political issues would be handled by the president himself.

This meeting set the tone for how the Federal commanders would handle the Confederates in upcoming engagements. Lincoln’s relationship with these commanders stood in stark contrast to those who had led Federal forces in the past. Noting this, Lincoln asked, “Sherman, do you know why I took a shine to Grant and you?” When Sherman confessed that he did not, Lincoln said, “Well, you never found fault with me.”

Colonel Porter later wrote: “My opinion is that Mr. Lincoln came down to City Point with the most liberal views toward the rebels. He felt confident that we would be successful, and was willing that the enemy should capitulate on the most favorable terms.”

Sherman wrote of Lincoln:

“I know, when I left him, that I was more than ever impressed by his kindly nature, his deep and earnest sympathy with the afflictions of the whole people, resulting from the war, and by the march of hostile armies through the South; and that his earnest desire seemed to be to end the war speedily, without more bloodshed or devastation, and to restore all the men of both sections to their homes.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 213-14; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 592; Catton, Bruce, The Army of the Potomac: A Stillness at Appomattox (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1953), p. 340-41; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 437-39; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22901; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 551; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 12261; 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 17539-49; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 571; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 712-13; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 76-77; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 658-59; McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1981), p. 212-13; Sherman, William T., Memoirs of General William T. Sherman, Vol. I (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1889, Kindle Edition), Loc 12023-41

Saturday, December 3, 1864. Peace.

Article originally published in Harper’s Weekly, 3 December 1864 (courtesy of sonofthesouth.net)

Harper's Weekly Banner

Harper’s Weekly Banner

THE air is full of rumors of peace. It has been so at intervals from the beginning, and will be so to the end of the war. Nothing was more natural than that after the election the blowers of rumors should take out their longest pipes and blow the largest and most glittering of bubbles. Nothing also was truer than General BUTLER’S remark that, having ascertained how unanimous the country is for war if necessary, it is a good time to ascertain whether it be necessary. It is a good time, because there can be no possible misunderstanding. An invitation to the rebels to lay down their arms could not be misinterpreted now, as it might have been at any other period of the war, as a sign of doubt upon the part of the Government. It would be the indication of conscious power and conscious right. It would be the summons to a doomed fortress to surrender after the irresistible strength of the besiegers had been displayed to the garrison in full view.

The experience of his administration teaches us that we may trust the President to do the right thing in this matter at the right time and in the right way. In whatever he does he will neither compromise the authority of the people nor acknowledge any shadow of right in the theory or fact of the rebellion. Neither will he do any thing impatiently or passionately. There is nothing finer in his whole career than his passionless but unswerving patriotism. There has been no self seeking, and a sagacious independence in all his actions. He has not hesitated to alienate at times all parties of his immediate adherents, whenever his sense of duty demanded it, secure always of the permanent approval of the people. Our history does not furnish his master as a statesman.

It is probable that in his Message there will be a frank expression of his views upon the present aspect of the rebellion, and very possibly a direct appeal to the insurgent section of the country, bidding the rebels to ponder the significance of the election ; to look with their own eyes, not through the illusive words of their leaders, at the actual condition and prospect of the rebellion, assuring them that their loyal fellow citizens have but one wish, and that is to live peaceably with them under a common Government, and but one determination—that they will do so.

The conditions of peace are to day what they have always been. They are the same for every man and party in every part of the country. They are submission to the laws and acts in pursuance of the Constitution. If any citizen doubts whether the Confiscation act or the Emancipation proclamation are Constitutional, the President has already referred the question to the Supreme Court. As to “terms” in regard to the rebel leaders, the American people will undoubtedly require that, at the least, they shall be forever ineligible as citizens.

Of course the Government of the people must determine when it is satisfied that any State has resumed its proper relations in the Union. It can not be enough that the State says so. It can not be enough that it goes through the forms of an election. The Government will, of necessity, hold every part of the rebel section which it recovers until it is perfectly assured that the national peace would not be endangered by relinquishing it. The insurgent States, for instance, claimed to secede in their sovereign capacity. If in their sovereign capacity they return, the United States Government will naturally inquire whether, in their sovereign capacity, under any pretense whatever, they propose to secede again. So long as the majority of citizens in any State holds to the doctrine of supreme State sovereignty, the peace of the Union is as much threatened by it as Pennsylvania was by LEE’S army. Can the forces of the United States be withdrawn from a State which claims the right of secession at will? And can the existence of such a majority be determined except by a fair vote upon a constitutional amendment, expressly affirming the indestructibility of the Union?

We shall, however, be spared the present solution of such questions, because whatever the action of our Government in regard to peace, the attitude of the rebels will remain unchanged. While they have any effective military force they will hear only of war. When that force is broken, the anarchy into which the rebel section must surely fall will make the presence of the United States arms a necessity until society can be reconstructed. It is useless, says the President, to jump before you reach the stream. Be ready to leap when you are there. Great questions of policy which perplex us in advance are very apt to present themselves finally in a practicable form. All that we need is to keep certain controlling principles clearly in mind, and as fast as possible adapt our policy to them. Conscious of wishing for honorable peace, and taught by our experience and by reason upon what terms peace can be permanent, we may tranquilly await the opportunity which the rebels alone can furnish.