Tag Archives: Stephen R. Mallory

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.

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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 Stops at Abbeville

May 2, 1865 – Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his dwindling government-in-exile held what turned out to be their last council of war in their southward flight to avoid Federal capture.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

As May began, Davis and his party reached Cokesbury, South Carolina. Unbeknownst to them, President Andrew Johnson had issued a proclamation declaring that Davis and other Confederate officials were responsible for assassinating Abraham Lincoln. Despite no tangible evidence linking Davis to the crime, Johnson offered a $100,000 reward for Davis’s capture.

The Davis party arrived at Abbeville, South Carolina, on the afternoon of the 2nd. They were met by Confederate Navy Lieutenant William H. Parker’s escort, which turned over the Confederate archives and treasury they had been guarding to Davis and his cabinet. Cabinet officials were directed to destroy most official government papers to prevent Federals from confiscating and using the documents against them.

Parker disbanded his force of midshipmen, with orders to “report by letter to the Hon. Secretary of the Navy as soon as practicable,” once they got home. But that would prove more difficult than supposed because on this day Navy Secretary Stephen R. Mallory resigned, citing the “dependent positions of a helpless family.”

At 4 p.m., Davis held a “council of war” with Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge, General Braxton Bragg, and the five brigade commanders heading the president’s military escort. One of the brigade commanders, Brigadier General Basil W. Duke, later wrote that if this could be called a war council, “It was, perhaps, the last Confederate council of war held east of the Mississippi River, certainly the last in which Mr. Davis participated.” The eight men assembled in a private residence in Abbeville that Davis had made his headquarters.

The president announced: “It is time that we adopt some definite plan upon which the further prosecution of our struggle shall be conducted. I have summoned you for consultation. I feel that I ought to do nothing now without the advice of my military chiefs.” His “military chiefs,” by this time only a handful of brigadiers, could muster no more than 3,000 men to guard Davis and somehow continue the fight.

Davis was not (or at least pretended not to be) discouraged. He said, “Even if the troops now with me be all that I can for the present rely on, three thousand brave men are enough for a nucleus around which the whole people will rally when the panic which now afflicts them has passed away.” The president then asked the commanders to offer suggestions on how best to carry on the fight.

The brigadiers looked at each other in amazement. The top two Confederate field generals, Robert E. Lee and Joseph E. Johnston, had already surrendered, and Richard Taylor was about to surrender all Confederate forces in Alabama and Mississippi. None of them believed that the fight should go on, yet all were too awestruck to disagree with Davis. Someone finally spoke up, and then all five unanimously agreed that further resistance was futile.

They explained that the people were not “panic-stricken” as Davis believed, but exhausted and impoverished and unwilling to fight anymore. According to General Duke:

“We said that an attempt to continue the war, after all means of supporting warfare were gone, would be a cruel injustice to the people of the South. We would be compelled to live on a country already impoverished, and would invite its further devastation. We urged that we would be doing a wrong to our men if we persuaded them to such a course; for if they persisted in a conflict so hopeless they would be treated as brigands, and would forfeit all chance of returning to their homes.

“He (Davis) asked why then we were still in the field. We answered that we were desirous of affording him an opportunity of escaping the degradation of capture, and perhaps a fate which would be direr to the people than even to himself, in still more embittering the feeling between the North and South. We said that we would ask our men to follow us until his safety was assured, and would risk them in battle for that purpose, but would not fire another shot in an effort to continue hostilities.”

Davis sternly declared that he would not discuss any efforts to save himself. He appealed to their patriotism, their sense of honor, and their duty as gentlemen and warriors. When none of this moved the commanders, Davis rose and said, “Then all is indeed lost.” According to Duke, “He had become very pallid, and he walked so feebly as he proceeded to leave the room that General Breckinridge stepped hastily up and offered his arm.” After Davis left, Breckinridge and Bragg, who had been silent up until now, told the brigadiers that they agreed with their assessment. Duke later wrote:

“They had forborne to say anything, because not immediately in command of the troops, and not supposed, therefore, to know their sentiments so well as we did. But they promised to urge upon Mr. Davis the necessity and propriety of endeavoring without further delay to get out of the country, and not permit other and serious complications to be produced by his capture and imprisonment, and perhaps execution.”

Davis’s options were dwindling, and frustration was setting in. Lashing out at those he believed had forsaken him, the president wrote to his secretary Burton Harrison about the “three thousand brave men”: “I have the bitterest disappointment in regard to the feeling of our troops, and would not have any one I loved dependent upon their resistance against an equal force.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 564-65; 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 21179-99, 21209-19; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 589; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 684-85; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 18-24; 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 Fall of Richmond

April 2, 1865 – As Federal forces entered Petersburg, the fall of the Confederate capital was imminent.

Richmond’s elite gathered for Communion Sunday services at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Among them was President Jefferson Davis, seated in pew 63. The rector, Dr. Charles Minnigerode, delivered his invocation, and then the sexton delivered a telegram to the president. As Davis opened the envelope and read, witnesses noted “a sort of gray pallor creep over his face.”

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Davis quietly left with a few advisors, telling nobody about the situation so as to prevent a panic. But as more messengers came and went, word quickly spread that the capital would soon fall. At the nearby Second Presbyterian Church, Reverend Moses Hoge received the news during his sermon and announced to his congregation:

“Brethren, trying times are before us… but remember that God is with us in the storm as well as in the calm. We may never meet again. Go quietly to our homes, and whatever may be in store for us, let us not forget that we are Christian men and women, and may the protection of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost be with you all.”

Government clerks soon began stacking documents in the streets and burning them. That night, Davis assembled his cabinet, informed them that Richmond was lost, and made arrangements to abandon the city. Each cabinet member was to bring his department’s archives to the Richmond & Danville Railroad depot, where a special train would relocate the government to Danville, southwest of Richmond. Davis was determined to keep the government functioning no matter what.

Richmond’s imminent fall was announced to the public in late afternoon. Many were shocked by the news because the Richmond press had been discouraged from reporting Federal success, and therefore they did not know the city was in such danger. Residents wept as they either hurried to leave or resolved to stay and leave their fate to the Yankees.

Pandemonium reigned as every road and railroad station was quickly jammed with humanity. Government officials scrambled to get family members aboard packet boats on the James River Canal before fleeing to safety. At the rail depot, the boxcars attached to the special government train were hastily labeled “War Department,” “Quarter-Masters Department,” etc. The Treasury car contained all the gold and silver from its vaults and local banks, totaling some $528,000. These assets were guarded by 60 midshipmen from the Patrick Henry, the Confederacy’s naval academy training vessel.

The special train was ready to leave at 8 p.m. Davis collected effects from the Executive Mansion and organized what was left so the Federals would not think he rushed out too hastily. Davis also sent an armchair to Mrs. Robert E. Lee in hopes of easing her arthritis; she was too infirmed to leave Richmond. Davis then wrote to her husband, who was busy evacuating Petersburg: “To move to night will involve the loss of many valuables, both for the want of time to pack and of transportation. Arrangements are progressing, and unless you otherwise advise the start will be made.”

When Lee received this message, he tore it up and snapped, “I am sure I gave him sufficient notice!” He then calmly replied: “Your telegram received. I think it will be necessary to move tonight. I shall camp the troops here north of the Appomattox. The enemy is so strong that they will cross above us & close us in between the James & Appomattox Rivers, if we remain.”

Davis rode through the panicked crowds to get to the depot (his wife and children had already left town in late March). By 11 p.m., Davis and most other top officials had boarded the train. Only Lee’s orderly retreat from Petersburg enabled the train to escape before the Federals arrived. The trip to Danville took 20 hours despite being just 140 miles away.

The Richmond fires | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Back in Richmond, the chaos continued. Inmates walked out of the abandoned state prison, and the inevitable looting and pillaging began. The Local Defense Board fell apart as marauders plundered shops, stores, and homes. Richmond officials issued orders to destroy all whiskey to prevent a drunken riot, but the people gathered all the liquor they could find and even scooped it up after it was dumped in the streets. A resident wrote that this was “the saddest of many of the sad sights of the war–a city undergoing pillage at the hands of its own mob, while the standards of an empire were being taken from its capitol.” Another wrote that on this night, “the devil was loosed.”

Navy Secretary Stephen R. Mallory directed Rear Admiral Raphael Semmes to destroy the Patrick Henry and all other vessels on the James River before they fell into Federal hands. The exploding ships shattered windows in Richmond. Semmes later wrote, “The spectacle was grand beyond description.” All remaining sailors were formed into an infantry brigade and sent with the rest of the Confederate troops out of town.

On land, Lieutenant General Richard Ewell ordered the destruction of all military equipment and supplies that could not be evacuated. During the night, Confederates burned warehouses, and the fires quickly spread out of control. They burned most tobacco barns, flour mills, and public buildings, as well as the Richmond Examiner and Inquirer. The troops evacuated on the Mayo Bridge out of Richmond, and then destroyed that as well.

The fires destroyed much of the main part of Richmond, with the massive inferno engulfing homes, hotels, factories, and warehouses. Around 2 a.m., the fires reached the national arsenal holding gunpowder and nearly a million artillery shells. This set off massive explosions that rocked the city for hours. Streets quickly filled with “those silent awful fires,” and resident Mary Fontaine wrote, “All like myself were watching them, paralyzed and breathless.”

By dawn on the 3rd, the city that had defiantly served as the Confederate capital for nearly four years lay in ruins.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 525; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 219-21; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 553; 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 18539-59, 18578-637; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 574-76; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 715-17; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 91-101; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 663-64; 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. 845-46; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 490-92; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 368-69; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 630-32; Winik, Jay, April 1865: The Month That Saved America (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), p. 102-05, 108, 110

Sherman’s March: Federals Target Savannah

December 14, 1864 – After taking Fort McAllister, Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal armies shifted their focus to Savannah itself.

The capture of Fort McAllister gave the Federals control of the Ogeechee River and Ossabaw Sound, which enabled the naval fleet to keep them abundantly supplied from the Atlantic Ocean. Gunboats and transports brought over half a million rations to Sherman’s troops; the men also received mail from home for the first time since leaving Atlanta in mid-November.

The U.S.S. Sonoma, Winona, and other gunboats began supporting Sherman’s impending advance on Savannah by bombarding Forts Beaulieu and Rosedew in Ossabaw Sound. With Savannah’s fall virtually assured, Confederate Navy Secretary Stephen R. Mallory wrote the Confederate flag officer in command of the region:

“Should the enemy get and hold Savannah, and you can do no further service there, you are expected to dispose of your squadron to the greatest injury to him and the greatest benefit to our country. If necessary to leave Savannah, your vessels, except the Georgia, may fight their way to Charleston. Under no circumstances should they be destroyed until every proper effort to save them shall have been exhausted.”

General P.G.T. Beauregard, overall Confederate commander in the region, instructed Lieutenant General William Hardee, commanding the small force defending Savannah, to evacuate the city if he could not stop the Federal advance. If necessary, Hardee’s Confederates were to retreat north to Charleston.

Federal Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: collaborationnation.wikispaces.com

On the 15th, Sherman met with his army commanders, Major Generals Oliver O. Howard and Henry W. Slocum, and issued orders for an assault on Savannah. The naval fleet delivered heavy artillery and ammunition in case the city had to be placed under siege. As the Federals took up positions four miles outside Savannah, Sherman went through the newly arrived mail and discovered a message from the overall Federal commander, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, who was laying siege to General Robert E. Lee’s Confederates in Virginia.

Grant wrote, “I have concluded that the most important operation toward closing out the rebellion will be to close out Lee and his army.” If Sherman’s army came up to reinforce him, “I think the job here will be effectually completed.” Grant directed Sherman to “establish a base on the sea-coast, fortify and leave in it all your artillery and cavalry, and enough infantry to protect them, and at the same time so threaten the interior that the militia of the South will have to be kept at home.” Grant then ordered:

“With the balance of your command come here by water with all dispatch. Select yourself the officer to leave in command, but I want you in person. Unless you see objections to this plan which I cannot see, use every vessel going to you for the purpose of transportation.”

This alarmed Sherman because he had planned to capture Savannah and then move overland through the Carolinas, reaping destruction along the way before joining Grant in Virginia. Loading his men on transports and shipping them north would cancel his plan. When Sherman learned that the vessels that Grant sent had not arrived yet, he decided to go ahead with his original plan of capturing Savannah before heading north.

Sherman wrote Grant on the 16th, explaining that he had met with Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren, commanding the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, and Major General John G. Foster, commanding the Federal Department of the South. Based on what they knew:

“If I had time, Savannah, with all its dependent fortifications, would surely fall into our possession, for we hold all its avenues of supply… But in view of the change of plan made necessary by your order of the 6th, I will maintain things in status quo till I have got all my transportation to the rear and out of the way, and until I have sea-transportation for the troops you require at James River, which I will accompany and command in person.

“My four corps, full of experience and full of ardor, coming to you en masse, equal to 60,000 fighting-men, will be a reinforcement that Lee cannot disregard. Indeed, with my present command, I had expected, after reducing Savannah, instantly to march to Columbia, South Carolina; thence to Raleigh, and thence to report to you. But this would consume, it may be, six weeks’ time after the fall of Savannah; whereas, by sea, I can probably reach you with my men and arms before the middle of January.”

Meanwhile, Hardee asked President Jefferson Davis to send him reinforcements from Lee’s army. Davis replied that Hardee could expect no such help and recommended that he “provide for the safety of your communications and make the dispositions needful for the preservation of your army.” Thus, Davis endorsed Beauregard’s directive to save the small army by abandoning Savannah if necessary.

On the Federal side, Sherman decided that while he waited for Grant’s response to his latest message, he would demand Savannah’s surrender.

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References

Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 658-59; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 503-05; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 13680-90, 14905-25, 14964-84; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 533-34; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 612; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 155-69; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 431

Foreign Affairs: Seward Rejects Mediation

February 6, 1863 – Secretary of State William H. Seward unilaterally declined an offer by French Emperor Napoleon III to mediate the conflict between the U.S. and the Confederacy.

Horace Greeley, the influential editor of the New York Tribune, had been publishing editorials in his newspaper calling for an armistice to negotiate a peace that would restore “the Union as it was.” William C. “Colorado” Jewett, a mining speculator with a questionable reputation, informed Greeley after returning from France that Napoleon had offered to mediate a peace between the warring factions.

Greeley responded by going to Washington to try getting the French minister to the U.S., Henri Mercier, to mediate on Napoleon’s behalf. Mercier offered his services on February 3, proposing that officials of the U.S. and the Confederacy come together in a neutral country to discuss a possible peace, and that Mercier would “chair” the meeting.

President Abraham Lincoln neither accepted nor declined the offer. Senator Charles Sumner, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, wanted to continue the war until the Federals achieved total victory. Seward considered arresting Greeley for violating the Logan Act, which barred American citizens from negotiating with a foreign nation on behalf of the U.S. government.

U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Three days later, Seward officially turned down Mercier’s request, explaining that the Lincoln administration would not under any circumstances abandon the effort to preserve the Union, and would also not relinquish any authority to France as the proposal seemed to have implied. Lincoln endorsed Seward’s rejection. Seward took offense to “interference by a foreign power in a family dispute.” Many Republicans in Congress also expressed anger toward the French trying to involve themselves in what they considered to be a domestic insurrection.

Great Britain would not go so far as to offer mediation services. In an address to the British Parliament, Queen Victoria declared that Britain had not tried to “induce a cessation of the conflict between the contending parties in the North American States, because it has not yet seemed to Her Majesty that any such overtures could be attended with a probability of success.”

James Mason, the Confederate envoy in Britain, continued working to gain Confederate recognition. This included delivering a prominent speech at the Lord Mayor’s banquet in London calling for the British to recognize Confederate independence. However, Commander James H. North of the Confederate navy wrote to Navy Secretary Stephen R. Mallory from Glasgow, Scotland:

“I can see no prospect of recognition from this country… If they will let us get our ships out when they are ready, we shall feel ourselves most fortunate. It is now almost impossible to make the slightest move or do the smallest thing, that the Lincoln spies do not know of it.”

Part of the reason the British government was so reluctant to recognize Confederate independence was Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which proved very popular among the British people. Mass meetings took place on the 19th at Liverpool and Carlisle in support of Lincoln’s decree. Therefore, recognizing the Confederacy would defy the will of many British subjects.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 253; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 259, 261-62; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8767-78; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 157; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 261-63; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 318-20, 322

The Fall of Fort Donelson

February 16, 1862 – Federals scored their greatest victory of the war up to this time, generating a new northern military hero.

Late on the 15th, the Confederate commanders surrounded in Fort Donelson had agreed to surrender their force. As the two ranking generals, John B. Floyd and Gideon Pillow, escaped across the Cumberland River, Brigadier General Simon B. Buckner sent a message to the Federal commander, his old friend Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant:

“Sir: In consideration of all the circumstances governing the present situation of affairs at this station, I propose to the Commanding Officer of the Federal forces the appointment of Commissioners to agree upon the terms of capitulation of the forces and fort under my command, and in that view suggest an armistice until 12 o’clock to-day.”

Federal General U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikispaces.org

Federal General U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikispaces.org

Grant shared Buckner’s message with Brigadier General Charles F. Smith, a division commander in Grant’s army and a senior officer whom Grant admired. Smith advised, “No terms with traitors, by God!” Grant directed his men to prepare for an attack as he sent a messenger to Buckner with his reply:

“Sir: Yours of this date, proposing armistice, and appointment of Commissioners, to settle terms of capitulation is just received. No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.”

This response shocked Buckner, considering his relationship with Grant before the war; he had even loaned Grant money when he fell on hard times. Compared to the liberal terms that General P.G.T. Beauregard had offered to Major Robert Anderson at Fort Sumter, Buckner considered this insulting. But having no choice in the matter, he responded:

“Sir: The distribution of the forces under my command, incident to an unexpected change of commanders, and the overwhelming force under your command, compel me, notwithstanding the brilliant success of the Confederate arms yesterday, to accept the ungenerous and unchivalrous terms which you propose.”

Grant and Buckner met to discuss the surrender, where they soon rekindled their pre-war friendship. Grant ordered rations distributed to the Confederates and allowed their burial details to enter Federal lines to inter their dead comrades. After the terms were settled, Grant offered to repay Buckner’s old loan to him; Buckner politely declined.

Toward the day’s end, Grant dispatched Brigadier General Lew Wallace’s division to return to Fort Henry and guard against any possible Confederate attack from Columbus, Kentucky. Grant then directed his remaining troops to occupy Fort Donelson. The troops ignored orders against looting and pillaging.

Fort Donelson was a tremendous victory that included the largest capture in American history: 12 to 15,000 Confederate troops, 20,000 stands of arms, 48 cannon, 17 heavy guns, around 4,000 draft animals, and vast amounts of supplies and provisions. The Federals had sustained 2,691 casualties (507 killed, 1,976 wounded, and 208 missing) in the operations in and around Fort Donelson, while the Confederates lost an estimated 1,454 (327 killed and 1,127 wounded) in addition to the prisoners taken. Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest’s 700 Confederate cavalry were not part of the surrender; they had slipped through the Federal lines during the night and escaped by crossing an icy swamp too deep for infantry.

The dual victories at Forts Henry and Donelson permanently destroyed the Confederates’ defensive line across Kentucky by punching a hole between Confederate forces at Bowling Green and Columbus, and opening Tennessee for a Federal invasion. The wins also gave the Federals control of the important Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. The gunboat fleet soon continued up the Cumberland to Dover, where it destroyed the important Tennessee Iron Works before continuing on toward Clarksville.

With Nashville and the Deep South now vulnerable to Federal advances, General Albert Sidney Johnston, commanding the Confederate Western Theater, withdrew the Army of Central Kentucky from Bowling Green to Murfreesboro. This meant that it was only a matter of time before the Confederates at Columbus would have to fall back as well.

Confederate officials quickly began looking for someone to blame for the devastating loss. Some blamed Navy Secretary Stephen R. Mallory for failing to develop a naval squadron that could match the Federal gunboats. However, while Fort Henry had been won by the navy, Fort Donelson was won by Grant and his army. Grant’s victory, along with his unequivocal message, made him an instant hero throughout the northern states, as some newspapermen quipped that the “U.S.” in his name now stood for “Unconditional Surrender.”

Mass celebrations swept the northern states when news first arrived on the 17th that Fort Donelson had fallen. An editorial in the Chicago Tribune noted that the city “reeled mad with joy.” A Cincinnati correspondent reported, “Everybody was shaking hands with everybody else, and bewhiskered men embraced each other as if they were lovers.” Some pundits even began predicting that these victories would soon end the war.

At Washington, officials planned to hold a grand celebration to commemorate the victories alongside George Washington’s Birthday. At St. Louis, the Union Merchants Exchange closed temporarily as speculators sang patriotic songs and cheered Major General Henry W. Halleck at his headquarters.

President Lincoln quickly promoted Grant to major general of volunteers. In signing the commission, Lincoln explained that while he could not adequately judge the fighting ability of eastern men, the fighting spirit of Grant and other fellow Illinoisans proved that “if the Southerners think that man for man they are better than our… western men generally, they will discover themselves in a grievous mistake.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 70-71; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (16 Feb 1862); Cochran, Michael T., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 694-95; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 272-73 | 280-81; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 129-30; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7055; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 211-14, 315; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 111; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 417-18; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 158-59; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 106-07; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 171-72; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 735; 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. 401-02; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 95-97; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 251; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 98, 267

The Inauguration of Jefferson Davis

February 18, 1861 – Jefferson Davis of Mississippi became the provisional president of the new Confederate States of America.

The Davis Inauguration | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The Davis Inauguration | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The day was mild and sunny as a carriage conveyed Davis up the hill to the steps of the Alabama state capitol at Montgomery. Davis took the oath of office on the capitol steps, and the large crowd cheered when he became the Confederacy’s first president. Davis then delivered his inaugural address. He proclaimed:

“Our present political position has been achieved in a manner unprecedented in the history of nations. It illustrates the American idea that governments rest on the consent of the governed, and that it is the right of the governed, and that it is the right of the people to alter or abolish them at will whenever they become destructive of the ends for which they were established… Obstacles may retard, but they can not long prevent, the progress of a movement sanctified by its justice and sustained by a virtuous people…”

The new president asserted that forming this nation was not a “revolution,” but rather a movement of states that “formed a new alliance, but within each State its government has remained, and the rights of person and property have not been disturbed. The agent, through whom they communicated with foreign nations, is changed; but this does not necessarily interrupt their international relations.”

Davis stressed that the new nation only wanted to live in peace, and any other states that “may seek to unite their fortunes to ours” were welcome to do so. Davis also noted that the U.S. may someday ally with the new Confederacy since the new nation’s Constitution was like that of the U.S. besides being more explicit about the original founders’ intent.

When Davis’s address concluded, 100 cannon fired in salute as fireworks cracked and banners blazed. Herman Arnold’s band played “Dixie’s Land.” Celebrations raged throughout Montgomery as participants cheered, wept, and sang songs like “Farewell to the Star-Spangled Banner.” Meanwhile, Davis took up residence at a Montgomery hotel where a note on the door marked his office.

President Davis wrote to his wife Varina, who had stayed behind at their home, about the inauguration:

“The audience was large and brilliant. Upon my weary heart were showered smiles, plaudits, and flowers; but beyond them, I saw troubles and thorns innumerable… We are without machinery, without means, and threatened by a powerful opposition; but I do not despond, and will not shrink from the task imposed upon me… As soon as I can call an hour my own, I will look for a house and write you more fully.”

On the 19th, Davis began appointing officials for the six cabinet posts (the Confederacy had no Interior Department):

  • Robert Toombs of Georgia was named secretary of state.
  • Christopher G. Memminger of South Carolina was named treasury secretary. His financial knowledge prompted his state’s delegation to recommend him for the position.
  • Leroy P. Walker of Alabama was named secretary of war. Walker was a distinguished attorney recommended by his state’s officials.
  • Judah P. Benjamin of Louisiana was named attorney general. Benjamin’s reputation as a lawyer had impressed Davis when they both served in the U.S. Senate; Benjamin became known as “the brains of the Confederacy.”
  • John Reagan of Texas was named postmaster general. Reagan’s extensive knowledge of Confederate territory suited him for this post.
  • Stephen R. Mallory of Florida was named navy secretary when the Provisional Congress created the Navy Department two days later. Mallory had been chairman of the Committee on Naval Affairs in the U.S. Senate who had extensive knowledge of Federal naval intelligence.

Davis balanced his cabinet by selecting one man from each Confederate state except Mississippi (his home state). Three members were foreign-born, and most had initially opposed secession. After the Montgomery Convention confirmed all of Davis’s appointments, the first cabinet meeting took place in a Montgomery hotel room. Memminger had to buy his own desk and chair.

The Confederate government quickly began addressing national defense, as the Provisional Congress authorized Davis to approve contracts to buy and manufacture war supplies. Expecting that the U.S. would not allow the Confederate states to secede without a fight, Davis made three appointments on the 21st:

  • General Josias Gorgas was named the Confederate chief of ordnance.
  • Major Caleb Huse was dispatched to Europe to negotiate contracts for weapons purchases.
  • Captain Raphael Semmes was sent to the U.S. with instructions: “As agent of the Confederate States, you are authorized to proceed, as hereinafter set forth, to make purchases, and contracts for machinery and munitions, or for the manufacture of arms and munitions of war…”

Four days later, Davis appointed three commissioners to travel to Washington and negotiate peaceful relations with the U.S.:

  • Former Louisiana Governor A.B. Roman, who had been a Whig and Constitutional Unionist;
  • Former U.S. Congressman Martin J. Crawford of Georgia, a States’ Rights Democrat;
  • John Forsyth of Alabama, an influential journalist and former minister to Mexico who supported the northern Democrats.

The commissioners received authorization “in the name of the Confederate States, to meet and confer with any person or persons duly authorized by the Government of the United States, being furnished with like power and authority, and with him or them to agree, treat, consult, and negotiate treaties of friendship, commerce, and navigation” in the best interests of both nations.

These instructions, written by Secretary of State Robert Toombs, included a dissertation on the right of states to secede and an objective to effect “the speedy adjustment of all questions growing out of separation, as the respective interests, geographical contiguity, and future welfare of the two nations may render necessary.”

Davis also appointed three commissioners to establish diplomatic relations with Europe:

  • Dudley Mann of Virginia
  • William L. Yancey of Alabama
  • Pierre Rost of Louisiana

Davis tasked these men with seeking foreign recognition for the Confederacy, particularly from the world powers of Great Britain and France.

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Sources

  • Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 5-6
  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 4259-70, 4328-39, 5473-83
  • Davis, William C., Brother Against Brother: The War Begins (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 134
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 41, 45
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 14
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 38-41
  • 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. 259
  • Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 45
  • Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 222-23
  • Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 27, 28-30
  • White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q161
  • Wikipedia: Trent Affair

Southern Senators’ Farewell

January 21, 1861 – Five U.S. senators from three southern states resigned their seats after delivering emotional farewell speeches on the Senate floor.

The five men were Stephen R. Mallory and David L. Yulee of Florida, Clement C. Clay, Jr. and Benjamin Fitzpatrick of Alabama, and Jefferson Davis of Mississippi. Mallory tearfully urged reason over passion, Yulee declared he had to leave the Union with his state, Clay noted the years of mounting tension leading up to this separation, and Fitzpatrick said his first loyalty was with Alabama.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: gettysburgdaily.com

Mississippi Senator Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: gettysburgdaily.com

Davis spoke last. He reminded fellow senators that when Massachusetts had threatened to secede, he had honored their right to choose without fear of Federal invasion. He asserted that the Republicans’ claim that the phrase “all men are created equal” did not augment the Constitution because the Constitution came afterward and was the only law of the land defining the limited powers of the Federal government. Moreover, the word “men” was not intended to include slaves because they were not regarded as citizens at that time.

Davis said: “It is known to senators who have served with me here, that I have for many years advocated, as an essential attribute of State sovereignty, the right of a state to secede from the Union… If I had thought that Mississippi was acting without sufficient provocation… I should still, under my theory of government, because of my allegiance to the State of which I am a citizen, have been bound by her action.”

Davis pointed out that southerners “tread but in the paths of our fathers when we proclaim our independence and take the hazard… not in hostility to others, not to injure any section of the country, not even for our own pecuniary benefit, but from the high and solemn motive of defending the rights we inherited, and which it is our duty to transmit unshorn to our children… I am sure I feel no hostility to you, Senators from the North. I am sure there is not one of you, whatever sharp discussion there may have been between us, to whom I cannot now say, in the presence of my God, I wish you well.”

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Sources

  • Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 5
  • Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 301
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 28-29
  • White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q161