February 10, 1865: Lincoln Reports to the House

Tuesday, February 10, AD 2015

Thaddeus Stevens

On February 10, 1865, pursuant to a House of Representatives Resolution drafted by Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, Lincoln sent a report to the House which basically consisted of a timeline of the events that led up to the Hampton Roads Conference.  Radical Republicans were furious when they first learned of the Hampton Roads Conference, afraid that Lincoln was trying an end run around them by ending the War on terms generous to the Confederates.  After the report was read in the House, tension ebbed when it was clear that the Hampton Roads Conference had ended without any agreement being reached, or any further meetings planned.  Here is the text of Lincoln’s report:

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February 8, 1865: Lincoln to Grant

Sunday, February 8, AD 2015

 

 

Lincoln and Grant

 

As news spread of the abortive Hampton Roads Conference, members of Congress demanded to know what was said.  Lincoln sent the following telegraph to Grant on February 8, 1865:

Lieut. Gen. Grant Executive Mansion
City Point, Va. Washington, Feb. 8. 1865

I am called on by the House of Representatives to give an account of my interview with Messrs. Stephens, Hunter & Campbell; and it is very desireable to me to put in your despatch of Feb. 1st. to the Sec. of War, in which among other things you say “I fear now their going back without any expression from any one in authority will have a bad influence” I think the despatch does you credit while I do not see that it can embarrass you. May I use it?

A LINCOLN

 

Here is the message from Grant to Stanton on February 1:

CITY POINT, VA., February 1, 1865-10.30 p.m.

Honorable EDWIN M. STANTON,

Secretary of War:

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 reticence. 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 despatch, if not all there 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.

U. S. GRANT,

Lieutenant-General.

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February 3, 1865: Hampton Roads Conference

Tuesday, February 3, AD 2015

Hampton Roads Conference

The Hampton Roads Conference between President Lincoln and three representatives of the Confederacy, led by Lincoln’s old friend, and fellow former Whig, Vice President Alexander Stephens, was an exercise in pointlessness, as Lincoln and Stephens both knew it would be.  Lincoln was willing to negotiate on anything except Union and the end of Slavery, the two items that the Confederate emissaries lacked any authority to concede.  The only result of the conference was that Lincoln agreed to release from captivity a nephew of Stephens, a Confederate POW.  (Stephens did not request this until he was pressed by Lincoln as to whether there was anything he could do of a personal nature for him.)  The war would go on and both Lincoln and Davis could tell their peoples that negotiations had been attempted and that only success on the battlefield could lead to peace.  Here are the comments of Grant on this curious incident in the War:

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January 18, 1865: Lincoln Note to Blair

Sunday, January 18, AD 2015

Lincoln v. Davis

 

After Francis P. Blair returned to Washington from Richmond with a note from Jefferson Davis indicating a willingness to enter into negotiations, go here and here for background on Blair’s mission and his meeting with Davis, Lincoln had a decision to make.  Refuse to enter into negotiations and that would anger both moderate Republicans and Democrats.  Enter into negotiations, and both mainstream and radical Republicans would be dismayed.  Lincoln hit upon a shrewd response.  He would enter into negotiations, but he would couch his agreement in such terms as clearly to indicate no weakening in his resolve to preserve the Union:

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January 12, 1865: Davis Note to Blair

Monday, January 12, AD 2015

Lincoln v. Davis

 

Go here to read about the peace initiative of Francis P. Blair who travelled to Richmond to meet with President Davis.

Jefferson Davis was a very shrewd man, much shrewder I think than most historians have given him credit for being.  He realized that little could be expected from negotiations with Lincoln because Lincoln would never agree to Confederate independence, the one non-negotiable issue as far as both Lincoln and Davis were concerned.  Additionally, he regarded a joint Union Confederate war against the French in Mexico, the core of the Blair initiative,  to be a fairly bizarre proposal.  However, he was eager to negotiate.  The Confederate military situation was beyond dire.  If the negotiations led to Confederate independence, victory would be snatched at the last instant.  If, as Davis expected, the negotiations led to nothing, he could tell his people that he had attempted negotiations and the Union would not negotiate in good faith, and all that remained was a last ditch struggle to secure on the battlefield what the North would never concede on the negotiating table.   Here is the note that he gave to Blair to take back to Lincoln: 

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