April 21, 1865: Stanton to Grant: Hostilities to Be Resumed

Tuesday, April 21, AD 2015






Sherman and Johnston


For all his world weary cynicism, General Sherman was a complete innocent when it came to political matters, in which he had little interest.  He demonstrated this by the terms of the memorandum of agreement which he entered into with General Johnston on April 18, 1865:

T. SHERMAN, Major-General commanding.


Lieutenant-General U. S. GRANT, or Major-General HALLECK, Washington, D. C.

GENERAL: I inclose herewith a copy of an agreement made this day between General Joseph E. Johnston and myself, which, if approved by the President of the United States, will produce peace from the Potomac to the Rio Grande. Mr. Breckenridge was present at our conference, in the capacity of major-general, and satisfied me of the ability of General Johnston to carry out to their full extent the terms of this agreement; and if you will get the President to simply indorse the copy, and commission me to carry out the terms, I will follow them to the conclusion.

You will observe that it is an absolute submission of the enemy to the lawful authority of the United States, and disperses his armies absolutely; and the point to which I attach most importance is, that the dispersion and disbandment of these armies is done in such a manner as to prevent their breaking up into guerrilla bands. On the other hand, we can retain just as much of an army as we please. I agreed to the mode and manner of the surrender of arms set forth, as it gives the States the means of repressing guerrillas, which we could not expect them to do if we stripped them of all arms.

Both Generals Johnston and Breckenridge admitted that slavery was dead, and I could not insist on embracing it in such a paper, because it can be made with the States in detail. I know that all the men of substance South sincerely want peace, and I do not believe they will resort to war again during this century. I have no doubt that they will in the future be perfectly subordinate to the laws of the United States. The moment my action in this matter is approved, I can spare five corps, and will ask for orders to leave General Schofield here with the Tenth Corps, and to march myself with the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, Seventeenth, Twentieth, and Twenty-third Corps via Burkesville and Gordonsville to Frederick or Hagerstown, Maryland, there to be paid and mustered out.

The question of finance is now the chief one, and every soldier and officer not needed should be got home at work. I would like to be able to begin the march north by May 1st.

I urge, on the part of the President, speedy action, as it is important to get the Confederate armies to their homes as well as our own.

I am, with great respect, your obedient servant,

W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General commanding.

Memorandum, or Basis of agreement, made this 18th day of April, A. D. 1865, near Durham’s Station, in the State of North Carolina, by and between General Joseph E. JOHNSTON, commanding the Confederate Army, and Major-General William T. SHERMAN, commanding the army of the United States in North Carolina, both present:

1. The contending armies now in the field to maintain the statu quo until notice is given by the commanding general of any one to its opponent, and reasonable time–say, forty-eight hours–allowed.

2. The Confederate armies now in existence to be disbanded and conducted to their several State capitals, there to deposit their arms and public property in the State Arsenal; and each officer and man to execute and file an agreement to cease from acts of war, and to abide the action of the State and Federal authority. The number of arms and munitions of war to be reported to the Chief of Ordnance at Washington City, subject to the future action of the Congress of the United States, and, in the mean time, to be needed solely to maintain peace and order within the borders of the States respectively.

3. The recognition, by the Executive of the United States, of the several State governments, on their officers and Legislatures taking the oaths prescribed by the Constitution of the United States, and, where conflicting State governments have resulted from the war, the legitimacy of all shall be submitted to the Supreme Court of the United States.

4. The reestablishment of all the Federal Courts in the several States, with powers as defined by the Constitution of the United States and of the States respectively.

5. The people and inhabitants of all the States to be guaranteed, so far as the Executive can, their political rights and franchises, as well as their rights of personal property, as defined by the Constitution of the United States and of the States respectively.

6. The Executive authority of the Government of the United States not to disturb any of the people by reason of the late war, so long as they live in peace and quiet, abstain from acts of armed hostility, and obey the laws in existence at the place of their residence.

7. In general terms–the war to cease; a general amnesty, so far as the Executive of the United States can command, on condition of the disbandment of the Confederate armies, the distribution of the arms, and the resumption of peaceful pursuits by the officers and men hitherto composing said armies.

Not being fully empowered by our respective principals to fulfill these terms, we individually and officially pledge ourselves to promptly obtain the necessary authority, and to carry out the above programme.

W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General, Commanding Army of the United States in North Carolina.

J. E. JOHNSTON, General,
Commanding Confederate States Army in North Carolina.

The agreement had been masterminded by Breckenridge, a canny politician and former Vice-President of the United States.  If accepted, the agreement would have short-circuited Reconstruction and basically re-established state governments in the Confederate States as if the War had never occurred.  Lincoln would not have accepted this, and in the wake of his assassination the terms were angrily repudiated by Washington as indicated by this letter from Stanton to Grant:


War Department, Washington City, April 21, 1865

Lieutenant-General Grant.


The memorandum or basis agreed upon between General Sherman and General Johnston having been submitted to the President, they are disapproved.  You will give notice of the disapproval to General Sherman, and direct him to resume hostilities at the earliest moment.

The instructions given to you by the late President, Abraham Lincoln, on the 3d of March, by my telegraph of that date, addressed to you, express substantially the views of President Andrew Johnson, and will be observed by General Sherman.  A copy is herewith appended.

The President desires that you proceed immediately to the headquarters of Major-General Sherman, and direct operations against the enemy.

Yours truly,
Edwin M. Stanton,
Secretary of War.

Continue reading...

September 24, 1863: Hooker to Chattanooga

Tuesday, September 24, AD 2013

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton was an irascible and cantankerous man who didn’t suffer fools, or anyone else for that matter, gladly.  He was often a pain to be around.  However he more than made up for his lack of people skills, with driving energy, imagination and tenacity.  These characteristics all came into play in the wake of the Union defeat at Chickamauga.

On the night of September 23, 1863 he went to the White House and took the drastic step of summoning the President from his bed to attend a hurried council of war.  Stanton proposed to dispatch to Chattanooga from the Army of the Potomac the XI and XII corps, some 20,000 men.  Lincoln was dubious that the troops, having to travel some 1200 miles by rail, would arrive in time to aid Rosecrans.  Stanton came prepared for this objection.  Present at the meeting was Colonel D.C. McCallum, head of the Department of Military Railroads, who, at Stanton’s prompting, promised that the troops could be shipped in a week, and vouched for it with his life.  Lincoln, reassured, agreed to the plan.  The expedition was to be commanded by Major General Joseph Hooker, the former commander of the Army of the Potomac given another opportunity to play a major role in the War.

Continue reading...

One Response to September 24, 1863: Hooker to Chattanooga

Edwin M. Stanton and Temporary Insanity

Tuesday, November 27, AD 2012



Edwin M. Stanton could be a pill.  Irritable, sarcastic and often completely unreasonable, no doubt many of the Union Generals who had to deal with him often thought that they were dealing with a very mad man.  Mad in an emotional sense Stanton often was, anger often seeming to be the prime emotion he displayed throughout his career, at least after the death of his beloved first wife in 1844 which had a souring impact on his disposition.  However, he was also a very able man, and that compensated for his complete lack of tact in dealing with virtually everyone he came into contact with.  Prior to becoming Secretary of War he had been one of the ablest attorneys in the country.  Doubtless his most famous, or rather infamous case, was in the defense of future Union general Daniel Sickles.

Sickles in 1859 was a Democrat Congressman from New York, already notorious for having been censured for bringing a prostitute into the New York General Assembly chamber.  Leaving his pregnant wife at home, on a trip to England he had introduced the same prostitute, Fanny White, to Queen Victoria under an alias, the surname of which was that of a political opponent in New York.  Sickles obviously viewed his vow of marital fidelity with complete contempt.  However he did not view the vow of fidelity given to him by his wife Teresa in the same light.  When he found out on February 26, 1859 that his long-suffering wife was carrying on an affair with the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, Philip Barton Key II, the son of Francis Scott Key, the composer of the Star Spangled Banner, he murdered Key the next day in Lafayette Park across from the White House, shooting him through the heart.  Sickles immediately surrendered to the Attorney General who lived just a few blocks away.

His trial was one of the most sensational in American history.  Public opinion was almost totally on his side, painting Sickles as an outraged husband defending his wife Teresa from a villain who had seduced her.  Sickles engaged a stellar defense team which included Stanton.  The defense team had a problem.  No matter what the public thought as to his motivation, Sickles was manifestly guilty.  Stanton hit upon the idea of raising the novel defense of temporary insanity which had never before been successful in the United States.  This was a true stroke of legal genius.  It allowed the defense to put on endless lurid testimony as to the affair and, in effect, have the dead man tried rather than Sickles.  In his closing argument Stanton portrayed the ever adulterous Sickles as a defender of marriage:

Continue reading...

15 Responses to Edwin M. Stanton and Temporary Insanity

  • And, some believe, he masterminded the plot to assassinate President Lincoln, Vice President Johnson and Secretary of State Seward, which, under of the laws of the day, would have left Stanton as president.

  • Some believe that Paul, without a shred of evidence to support the claim. The line of succession was according to the 1792 act and the successor would have been the President pro tempore of the Senate, followed by the Speaker of the House. This was not changed until the presidential succession act of 1886 which took out the President pro temporare of the Senate and the Speaker of the House with cabinent officers from the date of the creation of the office. First in line was the Secretary of State and then the Secretary of the Treasury and then the Secretary of War. The 1792 act also required that a special election for President be held in December of the year in which someone other than the President or Vice President held the office of President, or, if there were less than two months until December, December of the following year.

    The current act governing succession is the 1947 act:

    1) If, by reason of death, resignation, removal from office, inability, or failure to qualify, there is neither a President nor Vice President to discharge the powers and duties of the office of President, then the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall, upon his resignation as Speaker and as Representative in Congress, act as President.

    (2) The same rule shall apply in the case of the death, resignation, removal from office, or inability of an individual acting as President under this subsection. (b) If, at the time when under subsection (a) of this section a Speaker is to begin the discharge of the powers and duties of the office of President, there is no Speaker, or the Speaker fails to qualify as Acting President, then the President pro tempore of the Senate shall, upon his resignation as President pro tempore and as Senator, act as President. (c) An individual acting as President under subsection (a) or subsection (b) of this section shall continue to act until the expiration of the then current Presidential term, except that –
    (1) if his discharge of the powers and duties of the office is founded in whole or in part on the failure of both the President-elect and the Vice-President-elect to qualify, then he shall act only until a President or Vice President qualifies; and

    (2) if his discharge of the powers and duties of the office is founded in whole or in part on the inability of the President or Vice President, then he shall act only until the removal of the disability of one of such individuals. (d) (1) If, by reason of death, resignation, removal from office, inability, or failure to qualify, there is no President pro tempore to act as President under subsection (b) of this section, then the officer of the United States who is highest on the following list, and who is not under disability to discharge the powers and duties of the office of President shall act as President: Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Defense, Attorney General, Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary of Commerce, Secretary of Labor, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Secretary of Transportation, Secretary of Energy, Secretary of Education, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Secretary of Homeland Security. (2) An individual acting as President under this subsection shall continue so to do until the expiration of the then current Presidential term, but not after a qualified and prior-entitled individual is able to act, except that the removal of the disability of an individual higher on the list contained in paragraph (1) of this subsection or the ability to qualify on the part of an individual higher on such list shall not terminate his service.

  • Donald, I’ve always been told that at that time, the succession went: President, Vice President, Secretary of State, Secretary of War.

    Do you have a link handy where I could research that?

    Of course today, as you’ve outlined, the Speaker of the House and then the President pro tempore of the Senate are in line before the Secretary of State.

    (I suspect most people don’t know who the President pro tempore of the Senate is; I had to look it up: It’s Senator Daniel Inouye.)

  • Hmm, Wikipedia seems quite clear in that I am simply wrong. I guess it’s not only science that changes as you get older, but history, too.

  • Presidential succession law Paul is fairly arcane and I only know it as a result of the Stanton conspiracy theory. I read a book exploding the theory years ago and it went into great detail on the Presidential Succession Act of 1792.

  • No Good Deed Ever Goes Unpunished Department:

    Character counts.

    If Sickles had been hanged, the events of 2 July 1863 may have occurred less tragically for the Union Third Corps (rendered hors d’combat through his insubordination) and the First Minnesota, which likely would have been spared of its famous “suicide charge.”

    Anyhow, what’s one murder compared with killing an army corps of men?

    Ergo, I will refrain from repeating Shakespeare’s line on lawyers . . .

  • History. So much to learn of practical value, so much of cultural significance, and then there are ripping yarns that’d make anyone smile.

  • Is Temporary insanity anything like invincible ignorance

  • Birds of a Feather Department:

    Similarly, Thaddeus Stevensmounted a successful insanity defense of a farmhand who used scythe to behead of a fellow worker.

  • Pingback: | Big Pulpit
  • Hey – Any lawyerly or scholarly reaction to the Delling v Idaho case? It looks like the Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to Idaho’s lack of an insanity plea. The dissenters have written an opinion, but the majority doesn’t do that in a case that they refuse to hear. It’d be interesting to hear both sides of the issue.

  • As a general rule Pinky I am in favor of the states having a broad latitude in regard to their judicial systems. Idaho forces prosecutors to prove that someone knew what they were doing, but they do not have to prove that they knew what they were doing was wrong. That is a fairly traditional view of insanity in criminal prosecutions. It certainly eliminates the type of farcial result as typified in the Sickles case. I can see how it might end up doing injustice to a Defendant who knows that he is killing A, but is convinced, due to insanity, that A is a demon in human form. However too broad an allowance of an insanity plea and we have a killer claiming diminished capacity due to depression which manifested itself in a slovenly appearance and the imbibing of junk food.


    (On weekends I have a built in diminished capacity defense!)

  • On the Constitutional matter, I can see how the Supreme Court might not find the authority to step in. On the matter of abuse, well, thanks to this article, I know that it’s been a problem since day one, and I’m not surprised that every possible loophole has been used over the years to escape justice. How do you read the morality of it, though?

  • Morality and legal procedure Pinky are a tricky mix. The reason for that is that any legal system needs hard and fast rules, otherwise it becomes completely arbitrary, totally dependent upon the whims of judges and juries. It is very hard, read impossible, to craft rules that will do justice in every situation. Often times rules that are implemented to end a manifest abuse of the system, end up producing abuses of their own. Personally I think it is immoral to convict someone who truly was insane at the time of the crime. Additionally I think it is immoral to acquit someone who was obviously not insane, and is attempting to slide through on legal trickery. Such broad statements I am afraid are of little help when trying to craft fair rules of procedure, especially in an area where fakery is so often relied upon as it is in cases raising insanity as a defense.

  • Understood. And I’m not trying to pick a fight here. I just struggle with this question. As Catholics, we should try to make our society as just as possible.

    The twist on it, for me, is the question of capital punishment. I think that the proper Catholic understanding is that capital punishment should be avoided except in cases where the society has no recourse. To me, that would mean situations where it’s not feasible to secure a person. We have supermax facilities to protect the guards and fellow prisoners from the worst of the worst, but Belize may not have something comparable. And there are people who are so dangerous that society doesn’t have a right to expose guards or fellow prisoners to them. If that’s the standard for capital punishment, I can accept it – BUT – how can that standard not be applied to the criminally insane? Haven’t I just set up terms that would require societies to kill those with serious mental illness? I’ve argued myself into a position I don’t find comfortable.

    I’ve been trying to reconcile my instinct and Western history with my understanding of Church teaching, and I know I’m not there yet.