Tag Archives: William H. Seward

More Assassination Attempts, Washington in Turmoil

April 14, 1865 – As President Abraham Lincoln was shot, both Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward were targeted for assassination as well.

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

Around the same time that John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre, Booth’s co-conspirator Lewis Paine (or Powell) attempted to assassinate Seward. Paine went to the secretary’s home on Lafayette Square, having been brought there by fellow accomplice David E. Herold. Paine approached the door alone and told a servant that he was delivering medicine to Seward, who had suffered a broken arm and jaw in a recent carriage accident. When the servant hesitated to let him in, Paine forced his way inside and rushed upstairs toward sounds he assumed were coming from Seward’s bedroom.

Seward’s son Frederick tried to stop Paine at the top of the stairs. Paine pulled out a revolver and, when it failed to fire, broke Frederick’s skull with the heavy weapon and charged into the bedroom. Paine cut the nurse with a Bowie knife, then jumped on Seward’s bed and slashed at the secretary’s neck and face. A soldier on duty and Seward’s other son Augustus pulled Paine off, and the assailant raced out of the house.

Seward was badly wounded, but his plaster arm cast and the splint fitted to his broken jaw had fended off enough slashes for him to survive. Herold ran off when he heard screams coming from the house, leaving Paine to fend for himself. Unfamiliar with Washington, he wandered the streets for two days before finally arriving at the boardinghouse of Mary Surratt, where Booth and his conspirators had hatched their plot.

Another Booth conspirator, George Atzerodt, had been tasked with killing Vice President Johnson, who was living at the Kirkwood Hotel. Atzerodt drank at the Kirkwood bar and contemplated his assignment until he finally lost his nerve and left. Authorities arrived soon afterward to notify Johnson of the assassination attempts on Lincoln and Seward, and to guard him from a similar fate.

Meanwhile, Lincoln had been carried out of Ford’s Theatre and brought across the street to a rear bedroom in the boardinghouse of William Petersen. He was arranged diagonally across a bed that was too small for his six foot-four inch frame. Having already concluded that Lincoln could not survive, the doctors focused mainly on making him as comfortable as possible.

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant and his wife Julia had been advertised to go to Ford’s Theatre with the Lincolns, but they had taken a train to see their children in New Jersey instead. They stopped at Bloodgood’s Hotel in Philadelphia for the night, and around midnight Grant received a telegram from Major Thomas Eckert, head of the War Department telegraph office:

“The President was assassinated at Ford’s Theater at 10:30 tonight and cannot live. The wound is a pistol shot through the head. Secretary Seward and his son Frederick were also assassinated at their residence and are in a dangerous condition. The Secretary of War desires that you return to Washington immediately. Please answer on receipt of this.”

Grant sent word that he was on his way back. Then, around 12:50 a.m., he received a telegram from Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana: “Permit me to suggest to you to keep close watch on all persons who come near you in the cars or otherwise; also, that an engine be sent in front of the train to guard against anything being on the track.” When Grant shared the news with Julia, she wept and asked, “This will make Andy Johnson president, will it not?” Grant said, “Yes, and… I dread the change.”

U.S. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton | Image Credit: Flickr.com

News of the attacks on Lincoln and Seward sparked hysterical rumors of a citywide Confederate killing spree. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton arrived at the Petersen house and became de facto president by stopping traffic on the Potomac River bridges, authorizing Grant to take command of capital defenses, and alerting border authorities to watch for suspicious crossings. When witnesses identified Booth as Lincoln’s assassin, Stanton directed Federal troops to track down both him and anyone who may have conspired with him.

First Lady Mary Lincoln was at her husband’s bedside, but grief eventually overwhelmed her. She moaned, “How can it be so? Do speak to me!” She then began screaming hysterically until Stanton ordered, “Take that woman out of here and do not let her in here again!” The Lincolns’ oldest son Robert arrived after midnight; he took his mother aside and they grieved together.

People shuffled in and out of the little bedroom throughout the night as the president’s breathing grew steadily fainter. Dozens of physicians took turns caring for Lincoln, but they all agreed that he could not recover.

Finally, at 7:22:10 on the morning of April 15, a doctor pronounced, “He is gone. He is dead.” The men who had crowded into the small room knelt around the bed in silent prayer, and Stanton declared, “Now he belongs to the angels.” Several men carried Lincoln’s body out, and army medical illustrator Hermann Faber was brought in to sketch the boardinghouse bedroom for posterity.

The Lincoln Deathbed

Lincoln became the first president to ever be murdered, and he died exactly four years after calling for the Federal invasion of the Confederacy. The telegraph quickly spread the news of Lincoln’s death throughout both North and South. Northern celebrations that had been taking place ever since the fall of Richmond suddenly stopped as the joy turned into mourning and grief. In Washington, bells tolled as Lincoln’s body was wrapped in a flag and taken by guarded hearse back to the White House. According to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles:

“There was a cheerless cold rain and everything seemed gloomy. On the Avenue in front of the White House were several hundred colored people, mostly women and children, weeping and wailing their loss. This crowd did not appear to diminish through the whole of that cold, wet day; they seemed not to know what was to be their fate since their great benefactor was dead, and their hopeless grief affected me more than almost anything else, though strong and brave men wept when I met them.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 217-19; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 474-75; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 64-104, 118-19; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 559; 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 20690-700, 20760-70; Heintjes, Tom, “Drawing on History, ‘Hogan’s Alley’ #8, 2000” (Cartoonician.com, retrieved 28 Sep 2012); Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 165; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 675-77; McFeely, William S., Grant (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1981), p. 224-25; Steers, Edward, Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln (University Press of Kentucky, 2001); Townsend, George Alfred, The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth (New York: Dick and Fitzgerald, 1865); Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 384-86; 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

The Thirteenth Amendment: Ratification Begins

February 23, 1865 – Minnesota became the 15th state to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution permanently abolishing slavery.

Celebrating the end of slavery | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

On February 1, the day after Congress passed this new amendment, President Abraham Lincoln signed a joint congressional resolution submitting the proposed measure to the state legislatures for ratification. Since the amendment had already been approved by two-thirds of both chambers of Congress, Lincoln’s signature was merely a symbolic gesture.

On the same day, Lincoln’s home state of Illinois became the first state to ratify the amendment. Illinois had also recently repealed its laws forbidding blacks from entering the state which, according to Harper’s Weekly

“… were as much a part of the code of slavery as any slave law of Arkansas or Mississippi… all colored persons (in Illinois) were presumed to be slaves unless they could prove themselves to be free… they were held to be guilty until they proved their innocence: thus directly reversing the first humane maxim of the common law. By another act, if any negro or mulatto came into the State and staid ten days, he was to be fined fifty dollars, and sold indefinitely to pay the fine.”

That evening, Lincoln addressed a crowd celebrating passage of the amendment at the White House. He said, “The occasion was one of congratulation to the country and to the whole world. But there is a task yet before us–to go forward and consummate by the votes of the states that which Congress so nobly began.”

Lincoln praised members of Congress for approving the measure, which he called “the fitting if not indispensable adjunct to the consummation of the great game we are playing.” He said that courts could have ruled his Emancipation Proclamation unconstitutional, “But this amendment is a King’s cure for all the evils. It winds the whole thing up.”

Throughout February, state legislatures debated and voted on whether to approve the amendment. By month’s end, in addition to Illinois the following states approved: Rhode Island, Michigan, New York, West Virginia, Maine, Kansas, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Nevada, and Minnesota. Also approving were the Unionist legislatures of Missouri, Maryland, and Louisiana.

The “Restored Government of Virginia,” led by Francis H. Pierpont and having authority only in regions of Virginia under Federal military occupation, voted to ratify the amendment. The state of Virginia still had a popularly elected government loyal to the Confederacy, but U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward deemed Pierpont’s regime legitimate enough to count its ratification towards the three-fourths majority needed to add the amendment to the Constitution. Of the non-Confederate states, only Delaware and Kentucky rejected the amendment.

This measure could not become law without support from at least a minority of southern states. The Lincoln administration expected to restore these states to the Union, and a condition of their restoration would be to approve the amendment, giving it an excellent chance of becoming law. When the Thirteenth Amendment was finally ratified in December, slavery in America was abolished forever.

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References

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 15664-74; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 686-90; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 631-43; SonOfTheSouth.net: Black Laws in Illinois

Peace Conference at Hampton Roads

February 3, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William H. Seward met with three Confederate envoys to discuss a possible end to the war.

On the morning of the 3rd, Lincoln and Seward met with Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, Senate President Robert M.T. Hunter, and Assistant Secretary of War John A. Campbell aboard the steamboat River Queen off Hampton Roads, Virginia. The men met in the saloon specially prepared for them.

The River Queen | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org public domain

Lincoln and Stephens were old friends, and they began the meeting by talking about mutual acquaintances. Seward described the new dome over the Capitol to the envoys, all of whom had once served in the U.S. Congress. The men agreed not to document the meeting, and nobody was allowed in the saloon except a steward who served refreshments. Stephens began the official talks by asking, “Is there no way to put an end to the present troubles and restore the good feelings that existed in those days between the different States and sections of the country?”

Lincoln said that the only way to stop the war was “for those who were resisting the laws of the Union to cease that resistance. All the trouble came from an armed resistance against the National Authority.” Stephens suggested uniting Federals and Confederates in a common cause to end the war, and Lincoln replied, “I suppose you refer to something that Mr. Blair has said. Now it is proper to state at the beginning, that whatever (Blair) said was of his own accord… and he had no authority to speak for me. When he returned and brought me Mr. Davis’s letter, I gave him” the letter dated January 18, making “the restoration of the Union a sine qua non with me, and hence my instructions that no conference was to be held except upon that basis.”

Lincoln stated that he “was always willing to hear propositions for peace on the conditions of this letter and on no other,” and he was led to understand that the envoys had accepted this term as part of their “application for leave to cross the lines” and meet with him.

After a brief silence, Campbell asked hypothetically how the southern states might return to the Union. Seward asked to defer that question so he could hear more about Stephens’s idea of Federals and Confederates joining forces. Stephens explained that France had violated the Monroe Doctrine by installing a puppet ruler over Mexico, and as such the two sides could call a ceasefire and join to oust the French from that country. During the armistice, a military convention could settle all differences between the two sides.

Stephens had cleverly turned the discussion into what the Confederates wanted: a ceasefire so they could negotiate on the basis of Confederate independence. But, according to Stephens, Lincoln “could entertain no proposition for ceasing active military operations, which was not based upon a pledge first given, for the ultimate restoration of the Union.”

Lincoln explained that “the settlement of our existing difficulties was a question now of supreme importance,” and the only way to settle them was the “recognition and re-establishment of the National Authority throughout the land.” Stephens later wrote: “These pointed and emphatic responses seemed to put an end to the Conference on the subject contemplated in our Mission, as we had no authority to give any such pledge, even if we had been inclined to do so, nor was it expected that any such would really be required to be given.”

Seward asked for more details on how invading Mexico would promote “permanent peace and harmony in all parts of the country,” but when Stephens shared them, Seward concluded that no “system of Government founded upon them could be successfully worked. The Union could never be restored or maintained on that basis.” Hunter conceded that “there was not unanimity in the South upon the subject… it was not probable that any arrangement could be made by which the Confederates would agree to join in sending any portion of their Army into Mexico.”

Lincoln repeated that he “could not entertain a proposition for an Armistice on any terms, while the great and vital question of reunion was indisposed of.” Stephens later wrote, “He could enter into no treaty, convention or stipulation, or agreement with the Confederate States, jointly or separately, upon that or any other subject, but upon the basis first settled, that the Union was to be restored. Any such agreement, or stipulation, would be a quasi recognition of the States then in arms against the National Government as a separate Power.”

Stephens suggested that Lincoln could, as commander-in-chief, approve a military convention to settle their differences. Lincoln agreed that he could, but he would not approve such a thing unless “it was first agreed that the National Authority was to be re-established throughout the country.”

This brought Campbell back to his original question of how the southern states might return to the Union. Lincoln answered, “By disbanding their armies, and permitting the National Authorities to resume their functions.” Seward backed him by telling the envoys that “Mr. Lincoln could not express himself more clearly or forcibly” on this matter than he did in his message to Congress last December. Seward then explained exactly what Lincoln had written in that message.

Campbell declared that numerous matters “required stipulation or agreement of some sort” before the South could rejoin the Union. Dissolving the Confederate military “was a delicate and difficult operation,” and a policy regarding confiscated property would need to be implemented. Seward suggested that property issues could be settled by the courts, and Congress would be “liberal in making restitution of confiscated property, or providing indemnity, after the excitement of the times had passed off.”

Stephens brought up slave emancipation. Lincoln conceded that his Emancipation Proclamation may not be legal, and the courts would decide this after the war. In the meantime, Seward estimated that about 200,000 slaves had been freed under the decree, and Lincoln would not retract or modify it in any way.

Seward informed the envoys that the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery had just passed Congress. He then tried enticing the envoys by implying that if the southern states returned to the Union, they could kill the amendment by blocking ratification: “If the war were then to cease, it would probably not be adopted by a number of States, sufficient to make it a part of the Constitution.”

Lincoln then gave a long discourse on slavery, of which Stephens later wrote:

“He said it was not his intention in the beginning to interfere with Slavery in the States; that he never would have done it, if he had not been compelled by necessity to do it, to maintain the Union; that the subject presented many difficult and perplexing questions to him; that he had hesitated for some time, and had resorted to this measure only when driven to it by public necessity; that he had been in favor of the General Government prohibiting the extension of Slavery into the Territories, but did not think that the Government possessed power over the subject in the States, except as a war measure; and that he had always himself been in favor of emancipation, but not immediate emancipation, even by the States.”

Lincoln then advised Stephens on what he would do if he were Stephens:

“I would go home (to Georgia) and get the Governor of the State to call the Legislature together, and get them to recall all the State troops from the war; elect Senators and Members to Congress, and ratify this Constitutional Amendment prospectively, so as to take effect–say in five years. Such a ratification would be valid in my opinion… Whatever may have been the views of your people before the war, they must be convinced now that Slavery is doomed. It cannot last long in any event, and the best course, it seems to me, for your public men to pursue, would be to adopt such a policy as will avoid, as far as possible, the evils of immediate emancipation.”

Lincoln went on to voice his support for compensating slaveholders for the loss of their labor, but only if the southern states voluntarily abolished slavery and returned to the Union. Since the North was partly responsible for slavery, Lincoln stated that northerners would likely support “paying a fair indemnity for the loss to (slave) owners.” He said that Congress could appropriate up to 15 percent of the slaves’ 1860 value, amounting to about $400 million.

Seward objected to his plan, arguing, “The United States has already paid on that account.” Lincoln said, “Ah, Mr. Seward, you may talk so about slavery if you will, but if it was wrong in the South to hold slaves, it was wrong in the North to carry on the slave trade, and it would be wrong to hold onto that money that the North procured by selling slaves to the South without compensation, if the North took the slaves back again.” Lincoln reiterated his support for compensating slaveholders, but he also reiterated that Congress would have to approve the compensation.

The envoys then discussed “the evils of immediate emancipation,” such as the hardships that freedom would bring to those “who were unable to support themselves.” Lincoln responded with an anecdote about a farmer who told his neighbor about an efficient way to feed his hogs: “Why, it is to plant plenty of potatoes, and when they are mature, without either digging or housing them, turn the hogs in the field and let them get their own food as they want it.” His neighbor asked, “But how will they do when the winter comes and the ground is hard frozen?” The farmer answered, “Well, let ‘em root.”

As the discussion entered its fourth hour, Hunter said that it seemed Lincoln and Seward expected nothing less than “unconditional surrender” from the Confederacy. Seward said that neither he nor Lincoln had used those words, and that they merely insisted on the South “yielding to the execution of the laws under the constitution of the United States, with all its guarantees and securities for personal and political rights.” Such a thing could not “be properly considered as unconditional submission to conquerors, or as having anything humiliating in it.”

Lincoln added that as president, he had the power to pardon citizens, and he would do so “with the utmost liberality.” Only Congress could decide whether to seat senators and representatives from the southern states, but Lincoln said “they ought to be” seated. Hunter said that King Charles I of England had been willing to compromise with those rebelling against him, and Lincoln should do the same. Lincoln quipped, “I do not profess to be posted in history. On all such matters I will turn you over to Seward. All I distinctly recollect about the case of Charles I, is, that he lost his head in the end.”

Based on Lincoln’s conditions and terms, there would be no further negotiation until the southern states agreed to unconditional submission to U.S. rule. Hunter asked, “Mr. President, if we understand you correctly, you think that we of the Confederacy have committed treason; that we are traitors to your government; that we have forfeited our rights, and are proper subjects for the hangman. Is that not about what your words imply?” Lincoln replied, “Yes. You have stated the proposition better than I did. That is about the size of it.”

Hunter countered, “Well, Mr. President, we suppose that would necessarily be your view of our case, but we have about concluded that we will not be hanged as long as you are President – so long as we behave ourselves.” This broke the tension in the saloon. Then there was some talk about West Virginia, which Lincoln insisted would remain separate from Virginia.

The cordial four-hour meeting ended with no agreements made, mainly because the Confederates could not consent to Lincoln’s demand for “one common country.” As the meeting broke up, Lincoln agreed to release Stephens’s nephew, a captured lieutenant in the Lake Erie island prison camp. He also promised to suggest to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant that he work with Confederate officials to set up a prisoner exchange system.

Lincoln and Seward left for Washington immediately after the meeting. Their departure left the Confederates to either voluntarily submit to terms they deemed unacceptable or continue fighting until forced to unconditionally submit. Nevertheless, the Federals hoped the Confederates would see that the war was lost and therefore voluntarily return to the Union.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 209-10; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 564; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 526-27; 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 16211-70; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 549; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 692-93; 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. 21-24; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 132; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 631-34; McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1981), p. 208; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 822-23; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 469; 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), Q165

Peace Talks: Lincoln Leaves for Hampton Roads

February 2, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln accepted a suggestion to meet with Confederate envoys in person to discuss possible peace.

Three Confederate envoys waited at City Point, Virginia, for permission to discuss peace with members of the Lincoln administration. The envoys were Vice President Alexander Stephens, Senate President Robert M.T. Hunter, and Assistant Secretary of War John A. Campbell. They were made guests of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, while they waited.

Major Thomas T. Eckert, head of the War Department telegraph office, had been dispatched from Washington to open preliminary talks with the envoys. Eckert was to obtain a written pledge that negotiations would be based on the notion that North and South were “one common country.” If the envoys agreed, they would be allowed to proceed to Fort Monroe, where Secretary of State William H. Seward would talk with them.

Pres. Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

While Eckert was in transit, President Lincoln wired Grant: “Let nothing which is transpiring change, hinder or delay your military movements or plans.” Grant answered, “There will be no armistice in consequence of the presence of Mr. Stephens and others within our lines. The troops are kept in readiness to move at the shortest notice if occasion should justify it.” The envoys told Grant that they accepted the conditions listed in Lincoln’s letter of January 18 to Francis P. Blair, Sr., “without any personal compromise on any question in the letter.”

Eckert arrived on the afternoon of the 1st, where he informed the envoys of the written pledge and then left them alone to discuss it. When he returned that night, he found that their response did not specifically repudiate President Jefferson Davis’s insistence that peace talks proceed only on the basis of “two countries.” Eckert therefore deemed their answer “not satisfactory,” and at 9:30 p.m., he reported: “I notified them that they could not proceed.”

But Grant did not want the peace talks to break down, and so he interceded with a message of his own an hour later:

“Now that the interview between Major Eckert, under his written instructions, and Mr. Stephens and party has ended, I will state confidentially, but not officially to become a matter of record, that I am convinced, upon conversation with Messrs. Stephens and Hunter, that their intentions are good and their desire sincere to restore peace and union. I have not felt myself at liberty to express even views of my own or to account for my reticency. This has placed me in an awkward position, which I could have avoided by not seeing them in the first instance. I fear now their going back without any expression from any one in authority will have a bad influence. At the same time I recognize the difficulties in the way of receiving these informal commissioners at this time, and do not know what to recommend. I am sorry, however, that Mr. Lincoln cannot have an interview with the two named in this dispatch, if not all three now within our lines. Their letter to me was all that the President’s instructions contemplated, to secure their safe conduct, if they had used the same language to Major Eckert.”

On the morning of the 2nd, Lincoln received a wire from Seward, who was expecting the envoys at Fort Monroe: “Richmond party not here.” Lincoln then received Eckert’s message explaining why he did not let them proceed. The president decided to recall both Seward and Eckert, but then Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton arrived with Grant’s message. Lincoln authorized the envoys to proceed to Fort Monroe and wired Seward: “Induced by a despatch of Gen. Grant, I join you at Fort-Monroe as soon as I can come.” He then wired Grant: “Say to the gentlemen I will meet them personally at Fortress Monroe, as soon as I can get there.”

Travel arrangements were made within two hours. He could not get to Chesapeake Bay in the usual way due to ice on the Potomac River. Lincoln therefore took a special train to Annapolis, walked a half-mile to the landing, and then boarded the steamer Thomas Colyer. Just one aide accompanied him. Word quickly spread that the president had left the capital, and many were not happy about it.

Navy Secretary Gideon Welles wrote that the cabinet viewed it “unfavorably that the Chief Magistrate should have gone on such a mission.” The Radical Republicans in Congress feared that Lincoln might give up too much in exchange for a speedy end to the war. They threatened “hostile investigation and hostile resistance” to the peace effort, but no measures were passed. Nevertheless, the New York Tribune reported that “radical War men made no concealment of their anger and their apprehensions.”

Charles Francis Adams, Jr. wrote to his father, the U.S. minister to Great Britain, that Lincoln’s trip was “a step forward, an indispensable first step.” He spoke for many by adding, “As for dignity, I do not look to President Lincoln for that… I do look to him for honesty and shrewdness and I see no evidence that in this matter he has been wanting in these respects.”

Lincoln arrived at Hampton Roads that night and met with Seward, who was aboard the River Queen. The peace conference would begin the next day.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 564; Catton, Bruce, Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 420; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 525-26; 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 16181-221; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 549; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 690-91, 692-93; 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. 21-24; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 132; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 631-33; McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1981), p. 202-05; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 469; 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), Q165

Peace Talks: Confederate Envoys Arrive

January 30, 1865 – Three Confederate emissaries crossed the siege lines at Petersburg to meet with Federal officials and discuss a possible end to the war.

President Jefferson Davis had dispatched Vice President Alexander Stephens, Assistant Secretary of War John A. Campbell, and Senate President Robert M.T. Hunter. They were given a letter to present to the Federal authorities requesting a meeting to discuss “securing peace to the two countries.”

Under a flag of truce, the envoys reached the picket line of Federal Major General John G. Parke’s IX Corps and were escorted to the nearest ranking Federal officer, who knew nothing about their visit. When the envoys asked to speak with Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the officer cracked that he “was on a big drunk.” (Grant was actually at Wilmington planning an invasion of North Carolina.) The next ranking officer, Major General George G. Meade, was at Philadelphia. This left Major General E.O.C. Ord.

Ord notified the War Department that the commissioners were there “in accordance with an understanding claimed to exist with Lt. Gen. Grant…” Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton wrote that Grant had not notified the department of any arrangement to bring Confederate officials across the lines. He directed Ord to keep the envoys there and sent Major Thomas T. Eckert, head of the War Department telegraph office, to meet with them.

President Abraham Lincoln instructed Eckert to listen to what the commissioners had to say, and then present them with his letter of the 18th. Eckert was to ask the commissioners if they accepted his condition of “one common country” for peace talks, and then “receive their answer in writing, waiting a reasonable time for it.” If they accepted, Ord would be directed to let the envoys pass through the Federal lines, “without further condition.”

As the commissioners waited for Eckert, they conferred and agreed that if they presented Davis’s letter insisting on two separate countries, negotiations would fail. They therefore drafted a new letter to present to Grant:

“Sir: We desire to pass your lines under safe conduct and to proceed to Washington to hold a conference with President Lincoln upon the subject of the existing war, and with a view of ascertaining upon what terms it may be terminated, in pursuance of the course indicated by him in his letter to Mr. F.P. Blair of January 18, 1865, of which we presume you have a copy; and if not, we wish to see you in person, and to confer with you upon the subject.”

Grant returned to his City Point headquarters knowing nothing about either the envoys’ visit or Eckert’s impending arrival. He read the Confederates’ letter and allowed them through the lines to meet with him at his headquarters. Grant wrote, “Your letter to me has been telegraphed to Washington for instructions. I have no doubt but that before you arrive at my Headquarters an answer will be received directing me to comply with your request.” When Grant forwarded the envoys’ letter to Washington, Lincoln replied that Eckert was on his way, and Grant was to cooperate with him.

Word quickly spread that Stephens, Campbell, and Hunter had come to possibly negotiate an end to the war. Both Federal and Confederate troops came out of their trenches and lined up to watch the envoys’ carriage pass on its way to City Point. Meade, recently returned from Philadelphia, wrote to his wife, “Our men cheered loudly, and the soldiers on both sides cried out lustily, ‘Peace! Peace!’”

Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The three commissioners met with Grant and Meade on the night of the 31st, where they discussed ways to end the war. Stephens told the generals that he hoped to arrange an armistice before talking peace. Meade told him that “any proposal based on a suspension of hostilities would not be received” by Lincoln unless it would lead to reunion. Grant hoped the commissioners might be flexible on this point.

Grant then arranged for them to be comfortably quartered aboard the steamship Mary Martin while he waited for Eckert to arrive. He assured them that if they were not given safe passage to Washington, he would see to it that they were safely returned to their own lines.

Back in Washington, Lincoln anticipated that Eckert would get a positive response and so he directed Secretary of State William H. Seward to follow him down to Virginia to negotiate “on the basis of my letter to F.P. Blair, Esq., on Jan. 18, 1865.” Seward was to tell the envoys that “three things are indispensable” for peace:

  • First, “the restoration of the national authority throughout all the States.”
  • Second, “no receding, by the Executive of the United States on the Slavery question” as Lincoln had declared in his latest annual message to Congress “and in preceding documents.”
  • Third, “no cessation of hostilities short of an end of the war, and the disbanding of all forces hostile to the government.”

Seward would then inform the men that “all propositions of theirs not inconsistent with the above, will be considered and passed upon in a spirit of sincere liberality.” Seward was not “to definitely consummate anything,” but instead report to Lincoln what the envoys “may choose to say.” Lincoln issued passes for the envoys to go through the Federal lines to Fort Monroe and meet with Seward, but only if Eckert’s interview proved favorable. Eckert would arrive on the afternoon of February 1.

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References

Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 419; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 524; 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; 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. 629-30; McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1981), p. 198-200; 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 Destruction of the C.S.S. Florida

November 28, 1864 – The famed Confederate commerce raider C.S.S. Florida, which had been captured under dubious circumstances in October, suspiciously sank before she could be returned.

C.S.S. Florida | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Commander Napoleon Collins of the U.S.S. Wachusett had captured the Florida while she was docked in a Brazilian port. Brazilian authorities protested that such an action violated international law because Brazil had proclaimed neutrality in the war. However, Collins argued that Brazil had allowed the Florida to bring prizes of war to Brazilian ports, making her fair game for capture. Collins and his crew towed the Confederate vessel back to America.

Collins arrived to a hero’s welcome at Norfolk on the 12th. However, Secretary of State William H. Seward was outraged by Collins’s violation of Brazil’s neutrality and demanded that he return the Florida to Brazilian authorities.

Rear Admiral David D. Porter, commanding the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, docked the Florida at Hampton Roads, where she awaited her return to Brazil. During this time, an army transport crashed into the Florida and sank her.

An international court most likely would have ruled that the U.S. had wrongly seized the Florida in the first place and demanded her return. Therefore, some alleged that this was an intentional act to prevent the Florida from being returned.

Collins was court-martialed for seizing the Florida and dismissed from the navy. He defended his actions by saying, “I respectfully request that it may be entered on the records of the court as my defense that the capture of the Florida was for the public good.” Navy Secretary Gideon Welles eventually reinstated him.

The U.S. government agreed to apologize to Brazil, and in July 1866, the crew of the U.S.S. Nipsic fired a 21-gun salute as an amende honorable in Bahia Harbor, where the Florida had been seized.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 486; 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 12344-65; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 519; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 264; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 263; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971)

Lincoln Looks to Unify the Republicans

September 10, 1864 – President Abraham Lincoln worked to reunite the conservatives and Radicals within his Republican Party as the presidential race began heating up.

Lincoln spent time this month gauging the national attitude toward his possible reelection in November. His chances for victory seemed bleak in August, but since then the Federals had captured Mobile Bay and Atlanta, which emboldened northerners to support the candidate who pledged to continue the war until it was won.

Lincoln also hoped to bring the conservatives and the Radicals together on a united front. The Radicals had joined with War Democrats at a small convention and nominated former General John C. Fremont to oppose Lincoln. The “Pathfinder” had resigned from army command in 1862, and Lincoln would not reinstate him.

President Abraham Lincoln and Major General John C. Fremont | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

By August, most Radicals withdrew their support for Fremont because they felt he had no chance to win. Still unwilling to back Lincoln, they met to decide upon an alternate candidate, but they finally agreed that there was none, and so most reluctantly backed Lincoln. Thurlow Weed, a party boss supported by conservatives, informed Secretary of State William H. Seward on September 10, “The conspiracy against Mr. Lincoln collapsed on Monday last.”

To placate the conservatives, Lincoln replaced Hiram Barney as New York customs collector with Simeon Draper, a prominent New York businessman and close friend of Weed and Seward. To placate the Radicals, Lincoln made it known that he would be willing to remove their hated rival, Montgomery Blair, as postmaster general in the cabinet.

Senator Zachariah Chandler of Michigan became the intermediary between Lincoln and the congressional Radicals. He presented Lincoln’s offer to them and added a condition: that Fremont drop out of the race. Fremont had no chance to win the election, but he could prevent Lincoln from winning by drawing enough votes from abolitionists and German immigrants to give the Democratic nominee, George B. McClellan, the majority.

Chandler met with Fremont at New York’s Astor House and presented him with a deal: if he stepped down, he would get a new army command and Blair would be removed from the cabinet. Fremont consulted with his advisors, with Gustave Paul Cluseret of the New Nation writing that Fremont would listen to “any man who causes imaginary popular enthusiasm to glitter before his eyes, spends his money, profits by his natural indolence to cradle him in an illusion from which he will only awaken ruined in pocket and in reputation.”

Fremont agreed to drop out the same day this editorial appeared. He told Chandler, “I will make no conditions–my letter is written and will appear tomorrow.” On the 18th, Fremont announced his “intention to stand aside from the Presidential canvas.” He declared that he would continue supporting the “radical Democracy” (i.e., the group of Radicals and War Democrats who nominated him), but he wrote:

“The union of the Republican Party has become a paramount necessity. In respect to Mr. Lincoln I continue to hold exactly the sentiments contained in my letter of acceptance. I consider that his administration has been politically, militarily, and financially a failure, and that its necessary continuance is a cause of regret for the country.”

Fremont recognized that he could divide the Republican vote if he stayed in the race, and allowing McClellan to win would mean either “separation or re-establishment with slavery.”

Even though Fremont would not exchange his withdrawal for Blair’s removal, Chandler reminded Lincoln that Fremont had done him a service by dropping out. Lincoln therefore went ahead and requested Blair’s resignation anyway: “My dear Sir, You have generously said to me more than once that whenever your resignation could be a relief to me it was at my disposal. The time has come.”

Blair agreed to resign, and Lincoln replaced him with William Dennison, the former Ohio governor and president of the Republican National Committee. David Davis, who had helped secure Lincoln’s election in 1860, called Dennison “honorable, highminded, pure, and dignified.” Blair’s resignation prompted Radicals such as Benjamin Wade and Henry W. Davis to begin campaigning for Lincoln, despite having recently excoriated him in their Wade-Davis manifesto.

Covering all his bets, Lincoln began arranging for soldiers to come home on furloughs and vote in states that did not allow absentee voting. Some questioned this practice, fearing that soldiers might be more inclined to support their beloved McClellan, but Lincoln felt that the troops would back him because he, unlike McClellan, had pledged to finish the job of winning the war before negotiating a peace.

Absentee ballots were allowed in 17 states, but others, including crucial Indiana, did not. Lincoln therefore asked Major General William T. Sherman, commanding the Military Division of the Mississippi, to furlough all his Indiana regiments for the state elections in October. Lincoln wrote, “They need not remain for the Presidential election, but may return to you at once.” Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton also worked to furlough as many troops as possible.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 460; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11334-56. 11389-413, 11503; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 103-04; 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 11724-44; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 497, 500; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 659, 663; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 565-66, 570-74; 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. 776; 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), Q364

The Fall of Atlanta

September 3, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman received official confirmation that his Federals had captured the vital industrial and railroad city of Atlanta.

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

The fires and explosions caused by Confederates evacuating from Atlanta continued into the early morning of the 2nd. Sherman, the overall Federal commander, ordered his forces south of town to renew their attack on Lieutenant General William Hardee’s isolated Confederate corps on the Macon & Western Railroad. However, the Federals learned that Hardee had withdrawn southeastward, linking with the rest of General John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee at Lovejoy’s Station.

Major General John Schofield, commanding the Federal Army of the Ohio, informed Sherman at 10:25 a.m. that a black resident had just reported that the Confederates were leaving Atlanta “in great confusion and disorder.” Sherman initially doubted the report, opting instead to confront the Confederates at Lovejoy’s.

During this time, Major General Henry W. Slocum, commanding the lone Federal corps still north of Atlanta, directed part of his force to enter the city after hearing the explosions throughout the morning. Mayor James M. Calhoun consulted with city officials before they rode out under white flags to confer with the advancing Federals.

Calhoun met the lead division commander and declared, “Sir, the fortunes of war have placed the city of Atlanta in your hands. As mayor of the city I ask protection for noncombatants and private property.” Calhoun and the Atlanta delegation surrendered the city at 11 a.m.

The Federal commander passed the word back to Slocum and then led his troops into the city. They skirmished with Confederate stragglers, many of whom were drunk. Federal troops raised the U.S. flag over City Hall. Slocum entered Atlanta around 2 p.m. and telegraphed Washington, “General Sherman has taken Atlanta. The Twentieth Corps occupies the city.”

Slocum informed Sherman that Hood had retreated down the McDonough Road, east of the railroad, toward Macon. However, communications between Slocum and Sherman at Lovejoy’s were temporarily cut off, so Sherman was still unaware that Atlanta had fallen.

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, replied to Slocum, “While you are cut off from communication with General Sherman, telegraph your situation daily to General (Henry W.) Halleck.” Sherman wrote Slocum that he was “very anxious to know the particulars of the capture of Atlanta… as we have rumors to the effect that you now occupy the city.”

The Federals below Atlanta probed the Confederate positions at Lovejoy’s but were strongly repulsed. Sherman notified Major General Oliver O. Howard, commanding the Federal Army of the Tennessee, “I do not wish to waste lives by an assault.”

He then informed Major General George H. Thomas, commanding the Army of the Cumberland, “Until we hear from Atlanta the exact truth, I do not care about your pushing your men against breastworks.” He urged Thomas to “destroy the railroad well up to your lines. As soon as I know positively that our troops are in Atlanta I will determine what to do.” At 11:30 that night, Sherman wrote Schofield, “Nothing positive from Atlanta, and that bothers me.”

Sherman finally received confirmation after midnight. He wired Halleck at 6 a.m. on the 3rd: “Atlanta is ours, and fairly won. I shall not push much farther in this raid, but in a day or so will move to Atlanta and give my men some rest.”

News of Atlanta’s capture sparked joyous celebrations throughout the North, along with 100-gun salutes in Washington and dozens of other cities. Grant ordered a 100-gun salute fired into the Confederate trenches under siege at Petersburg. Grant wrote to Sherman:

“I feel you have accomplished the most gigantic undertaking given to any general in this war, and with a skill and ability that will be acknowledged in history as not surpassed, if not unequalled. It gives me as much pleasure to record this in your favor as it would in favor of any living man, myself included.”

The New York Times exalted:

“Atlanta is ours. The foundries, furnaces, rolling-mills, machine-shops, laboratories and railroad repair-shops; the factories of cannon and small arms; of powder, cartridges and percussion caps; of gun carriages, wagons, ambulances, harnesses, shoes and clothing, which have been accumulated at Atlanta, are ours now.”

President Abraham Lincoln jubilantly issued a Proclamation of Thanksgiving and Prayer to be observed on Sunday the 5th for “the signal success that Divine Providence has recently vouchsafed to the operations of the United States fleet and army in the harbor of Mobile and in the reduction of Ft. Powell, Ft. Gaines, and Ft. Morgan… and the glorious achievements of the Army under Major General Sherman… resulting in the capture… of Atlanta.”

Taking Atlanta strengthened the Federal fighting spirit and immediately shifted momentum in the upcoming presidential election to Lincoln. Secretary of State William H. Seward predicted that Sherman and Rear Admiral David G. Farragut would defeat the Democrats, who had just met at their national convention in Chicago, by declaring that “Sherman and Farragut have knocked the bottom out of the Chicago platform.”

Conversely, the loss of Atlanta demoralized the South, and crucial industrial resources in the heart of Confederate territory were permanently lost. This virtually sealed the Confederacy’s fate. An editorial in the Richmond Enquirer stated that the disastrous loss of Atlanta came “in the very nick of time when a victory alone could save the party of Lincoln from irretrievable ruin… It will obscure the prospect of peace, late so bright. It will also diffuse gloom over the South.”

However, Sherman had not yet succeeded in his primary mission, which was to destroy the Army of Tennessee. The Federals continued probing Hood’s positions at Lovejoy’s Station but otherwise allowed the Confederates to regroup and concentrate.

Sherman’s four-month campaign had included nonstop maneuvering and fighting, during which the Federals had suffered nearly 35,000 casualties. This number was light due to Sherman’s expert flanking maneuvers. The Confederates lost roughly the same amount, but their losses were irreplaceable, and the Army of Tennessee was no longer an effective fighting force. Nevertheless, Hood resolved to fight on.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 179-80; Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 147-48, 151-54; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 83-84; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20956; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 453; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11313; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 11072-124, 11585-95; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 493; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 654-55; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 22-23; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 564-66; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 29-30; 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. 774; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 14; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 329

The Niagara Peace Talks

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

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

Horace Greeley | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

Grant Arrives in Washington

March 8, 1864 – Ulysses S. Grant arrived in Washington to accept his promotion to lieutenant general, making him commander of all Federal armies in the field.

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

As March began, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill into law reviving the army rank of lieutenant general. Only two men in U.S. history had ever held such a rank: George Washington and Winfield Scott (brevet only). The bill had been introduced by Congressman Elihu Washburne from Grant’s home district of Galena, Illinois, and those voting in favor clearly had Grant in mind for the post.

Lincoln had long been a Grant supporter, not only because of his success in the field, but also because he hailed from Lincoln’s home state. But this was an election year, and Lincoln was troubled by rumors that Grant had become so successful that he might run for president against him in the fall. Lincoln directed various aides to investigate these rumors, and when he was assured they were false, he put his complete support behind the measure.

Lincoln nominated Grant for the new post the next day, and the Senate quickly confirmed him. On the 3rd, Grant received orders at his Nashville headquarters from Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to report to Washington immediately. Lincoln, who had never met Grant before, wanted to present the commission to him in person. Before leaving, Grant wrote his close friend, Major General William T. Sherman:

“The bill reviving the grade of lieutenant general in the army has become a law, and my name has been sent to the Senate for the place. I now receive orders to report to Washington immediately, in person, which indicates a confirmation or a likelihood of confirmation… What I want is to express my thanks to you and (James B.) McPherson as the men to whom, above all others, I feel indebted for whatever I have had of success…”

Sherman received the letter a few days later and thanked Grant on both his and McPherson’s behalf. He added:

“You do yourself injustice and us too much honor in assigning us so large a share of the merits which have led to your high advancement… My only points of doubt were as to your knowledge of grand strategy and of books of science and history, but I confess your common-sense seems to have supplied all this.”

Grant spent the next four days traveling to the capital with a small group that included his 13-year-old son Fred. Large crowds greeted Grant at every train stop, but nobody greeted him when his train arrived at Washington on Tuesday the 8th.

Grant and Fred entered the Willard Hotel unrecognized, and the clerk told them that he could only give them a small room in the attic. But when Grant signed the registry, “U.S. Grant and Son, Galena, Illinois,” the clerk quickly gave him Parlor 6, the same room that Lincoln had stayed in before his inauguration three years ago. A journalist in the hotel lobby wrote of Grant:

“He gets over the ground queerly. He does not march, nor quite walk, but pitches along as if the next step would bring him on his nose. But his face looks firm and hard, and his eye is clear and resolute, and he is certainly natural and clear of all appearance and self-consciousness.”

By the time Grant and his son unpacked and went downstairs to the dining room, everyone in the hotel knew who he was. The diners cheered him as he entered; Grant seemed uncomfortable with such attention as he acknowledged them with a bow. Word of Grant’s presence quickly reached the White House, where Lincoln sent a courier requesting that Grant come meet him that night.

Having lost the key to his trunk, Grant only had his traveling uniform to wear. But he did not want to decline a request from the commander-in-chief on his first day in town, so Grant put his son to bed and walked the two blocks to the White House. The weekly public reception was underway, and the president was greeting people in the Blue Room when Grant entered around 9:30 p.m.

Lincoln meets Grant | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Lincoln heard the commotion outside the room and deduced that Grant had arrived. He quickly identified the general from his photographs and walked over to greet him: “This is General Grant, is it?” Grant replied, “Yes it is.” Lincoln exclaimed, “Well, this is a great pleasure, I assure you.”

Lincoln introduced Grant to Secretary of State William H. Seward, who presented the general to First Lady Mary Lincoln and then led him into the larger East Room. The guests hurrying to meet Grant almost caused a stampede; Navy Secretary Gideon Welles called the scene “rowdy and unseemly.” Seward persuaded Grant to stand on a sofa, where he spent the next hour greeting the admiring throng.

Noting Grant’s reluctance to garner attention, a journalist reported, “The little, scared-looking man who stood on the crimson-covered sofa was the idol of the hour.” Another contended that the general “blushed like a schoolgirl.” And another remarked, “For once, at least, the President of the United States was not the chief figure in the picture.”

Later that night, Seward introduced Grant to Welles; Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton was also present, but he had already met Grant last November. They brought Grant back into the Blue Room to see Lincoln once more. The president told him, “Tomorrow, at such time as you may arrange with the Secretary of War, I desire to make to you a formal presentation of your commission as Lieutenant-General.”

Lincoln explained that he would deliver a brief speech, and he wanted Grant to make one of his own that included two points: “First, to say something which shall prevent or obviate any jealousy of you from any of the other generals in the service, and secondly, something which shall put you on as good terms as possible with the Army of the Potomac.” Grant asked if he would be expected to oversee this army, and Lincoln said probably yes.

Grant returned to the Willard Hotel to write a speech that consisted of just a few sentences. The ceremony was scheduled for 1 p.m. the next day.

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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. 440; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 165-66; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 380-81, 383; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10457; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 962, 964-66; 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 75-85, 96-125; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 404-07; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 614-16; Jaynes, Gregory, The Killing Ground: Wilderness to Cold Harbor (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 22-26, 37; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 471-73