The joint resolution was called up in the House on January 6, 1865, and general discussion followed from time to time, occupying perhaps half the days of that month. As at the previous session, the Republicans all favored, while the Democrats mainly opposed it; but important exceptions among the latter showed what immense gains the proposition had made in popular opinion and in congressional willingness to recognize and embody it. The logic of events had become more powerful than party creed or strategy. For fifteen years the Democratic party had stood as sentinel and bulwark to slavery, and yet, despite its alliance and championship, the "peculiar institution" was being consumed in the fire of war. It had withered in popular elections, been paralyzed by confiscation laws, crushed by executive decrees, trampled upon by marching Union armies. More notable than all, the agony of dissolution had come upon it in its final stronghold—the constitutions of the slave States. Local public opinion had throttled it in West Virginia, in Missouri, in Arkansas, in Louisiana, in Maryland, and the same spirit of change was upon Tennessee, and even showing itself in Kentucky. The Democratic party did not, and could not, shut its eyes to the accomplished facts.
The issue was decided on the afternoon of January 31, 1865. The scene was one of unusual interest. The galleries were filled to overflowing, and members watched the proceedings with unconcealed solicitude. "Up to noon," said a contemporaneous report, "the pro-slavery party are said to have been confident of defeating the amendment; and after that time had passed, one of the most earnest advocates of the measure said: "'Tis the toss of a copper." At four o'clock the House came to a final vote, and the roll-call showed: yeas, one hundred and nineteen; nays, fifty-six; not voting, eight. Scattering murmurs of applause followed affirmative votes from several Democratic members; but when the Speaker finally announced the result, members on the Republican side of the House sprang to their feet, and, regardless of parliamentary rules, applauded with cheers and hand-clappings—an exhibition of enthusiasm quickly echoed by the spectators in the crowded galleries, where waving of hats and handkerchiefs and similar demonstrations of joy lasted for several minutes.
A salute of one hundred guns soon made the occasion the subject of comment and congratulation throughout the city. On the following night a considerable procession marched with music to the Executive Mansion to carry popular greetings to the President. In response to their calls he appeared at a window and made a brief speech, of which only an abstract report was preserved, but which is nevertheless important as showing the searching analysis of cause and effect this question had undergone in his mind, the deep interest he felt in it, and the far-reaching consequences he attached to the measure and its success:
"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 have consummated by the votes of the States that which Congress had so nobly begun yesterday. He had the honor to inform those present that Illinois had already to-day done the work. Maryland was about half through, but he felt proud that Illinois was a little ahead. He thought this measure was a very fitting, if not an indispensable, adjunct to the winding up of the great difficulty. He wished the reunion of all the States perfected, and so effected as to remove all causes of disturbance in the future; and to attain this end it was necessary that the original disturbing cause should, if possible, be rooted out. He thought all would bear him witness that he had never shrunk from doing all that he could to eradicate slavery, by issuing an emancipation proclamation. But that proclamation falls far short of what the amendment will be when fully consummated. A question might be raised whether the proclamation was legally valid. It might be urged that it only aided those that came into our lines, and that it was inoperative as to those who did not give themselves up; or that it would have no effect upon the children of slaves born hereafter; in fact, it would be urged that it did not meet the evil. But this amendment is a king's cure-all for all the evils. It winds the whole thing up. He would repeat that it was the fitting, if not the indispensable, adjunct to the consummation of the great game we are playing."
Widely divergent views were expressed by able constitutional lawyers as to what would constitute a valid ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment; some contending that ratification by three fourths of the loyal States would be sufficient, others that three fourths of all the States, whether loyal or insurrectionary, was necessary. Mr. Lincoln, in a speech on Louisiana reconstruction, while expressing no opinion against the first proposition, nevertheless declared with great argumentative force that the latter "would be unquestioned and unquestionable"; and this view appears to have governed the action of his successor.
As Mr. Lincoln mentioned with just pride, Illinois was the first State to ratify the amendment. On December 18, 1865, Mr. Seward, who remained as Secretary of State in the cabinet of President Johnson, made official proclamation that the legislatures of twenty-seven States, constituting three fourths of the thirty-six States of the Union, had ratified the amendment, and that it had become valid as a part of the Constitution. Four of the States constituting this number—Virginia, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Arkansas—were those whose reconstruction had been effected under the direction of President Lincoln. Six more States subsequently ratified the amendment, Texas ending the list in February, 1870.
The profound political transformation which the American Republic had undergone can perhaps best be measured by contrasting the two constitutional amendments which Congress made it the duty of the Lincoln administration to submit officially to the States. The first, signed by President Buchanan as one of his last official acts, and accepted and indorsed by Lincoln in his inaugural address, was in these words:
"No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere within any State with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State."
Between Lincoln's inauguration and the outbreak of war, the Department of State transmitted this amendment to the several States for their action; and had the South shown a willingness to desist from secession and accept it as a peace offering, there is little doubt that it would have become a part of the Constitution. But the thunder of Beauregard's guns drove away all possibility of such a ratification, and within four years the Lincoln administration sent forth the amendment of 1865, sweeping out of existence by one sentence the institution to which it had in its first proposal offered a virtual claim to perpetual recognition and tolerance. The "new birth of freedom" which Lincoln invoked for the nation in his Gettysburg address, was accomplished.
The closing paragraphs of President Lincoln's message to Congress of December 6, 1864, were devoted to a summing up of the existing situation. The verdict of the ballot-box had not only decided the continuance of a war administration and war policy, but renewed the assurance of a public sentiment to sustain its prosecution. Inspired by this majestic manifestation of the popular will, he was able to speak of the future with hope and confidence. But with characteristic prudence and good taste, he uttered no word of boasting, and indulged in no syllable of acrimony; on the contrary, in terms of fatherly kindness he again offered the rebellious States the generous conditions he had previously tendered them.
"The national resources, then, are unexhausted, and, as we believe, inexhaustible. The public purpose to reestablish and maintain the national authority is unchanged and, as we believe, unchangeable. The manner of continuing the effort remains to choose. On careful consideration of all the evidence accessible, it seems to me that no attempt at negotiation with the insurgent leader could result in any good. He would accept nothing short of severance of the Union—precisely what we will not and cannot give. His declarations to this effect are explicit and oft-repeated.... What is true, however, of him who heads the insurgent cause is not necessarily true of those who follow. Although he cannot reaccept the Union, they can. Some of them, we know, already desire peace and reunion. The number of such may increase. They can, at any moment, have peace simply by laying down their arms and submitting to the national authority under the Constitution. After so much, the government could not, if it would, maintain war against them. The loyal people would not sustain or allow it. If questions should remain, we would adjust them by the peaceful means of legislation, conference, courts, and votes, operating only in constitutional and lawful channels.... In presenting the abandonment of armed resistance to the national authority, on the part of the insurgents, as the only indispensable condition to ending the war on the part of the government, I retract nothing heretofore said as to slavery. I repeat the declaration made a year ago, that 'While I remain in my present position I shall not attempt to retract or modify the emancipation proclamation, nor shall I return to slavery any person who is free by the terms of that proclamation, or by any of the acts of Congress.' If the people should, by whatever mode or means, make it an executive duty to reenslave such persons, another, and not I, must be their instrument to perform it. In stating a single condition of peace, I mean simply to say that the war will cease on the part of the government whenever it shall have ceased on the part of those who began it." The country was about to enter upon the fifth year of actual war; but all indications were pointing to a speedy collapse of the rebellion. This foreshadowed disaster to the Confederate armies gave rise to another volunteer peace negotiation, which, from the boldness of its animating thought and the prominence of its actors, assumes a special importance. The veteran politician Francis P. Blair, Sr., who, from his long political and personal experience in Washington, knew, perhaps better than almost any one else, the individual characters and tempers of Southern leaders, conceived that the time had come when he might take up the role of successful mediator between the North and the South. He gave various hints of his desire to President Lincoln, but received neither encouragement nor opportunity to unfold his plans. "Come to me after Savannah falls," was Lincoln's evasive reply. On the surrender of that city, Mr. Blair hastened to put his design into execution, and with a simple card from Mr. Lincoln, dated December 28, saying, "Allow the bearer, F.P. Blair, Sr., to pass our lines, go south and return," as his only credential, set out for Richmond. From General Grant's camp he forwarded two letters to Jefferson Davis: one, a brief request to be allowed to go to Richmond in search of missing title papers presumably taken from his Maryland home during Early's raid; the other, a longer letter, explaining the real object of his visit, but stating with the utmost candor that he came wholly unaccredited, save for permission to pass the lines, and that he had not offered the suggestions he wished to submit in person to Mr. Davis to any one in authority at Washington.
After some delay, he found himself in Richmond, and was accorded a confidential interview by the rebel President on January 12, 1865, when he unfolded his project, which proved to be nothing less than a proposition that the Union and Confederate armies cease fighting each other and unite to drive the French from Mexico. He supported this daring idea in a paper of some length, pointing out that as slavery, the real cause of the war, was hopelessly doomed, nothing now remained to keep the two sections of the country apart except the possible intervention of foreign soldiery. Hence, all considerations pointed to the wisdom of dislodging the French invaders from American soil, and thus baffling "the designs of Napoleon to subject our Southern people to the 'Latin race.'"
"He who expels the Bonaparte-Hapsburg dynasty from our southern flank," the paper said further, "will ally his name with those of Washington and Jackson as a defender of the liberty of the country. If in delivering Mexico he should model its States in form and principle to adapt them to our Union, and add a new southern constellation to its benignant sky while rounding off our possessions on the continent at the Isthmus, ... he would complete the work of Jefferson, who first set one foot of our colossal government on the Pacific by a stride from the Gulf of Mexico...."
"I then said to him, 'There is my problem, Mr. Davis; do you think it possible to be solved?' After consideration, he said: 'I think so.' I then said, 'You see that I make the great point of this matter that the war is no longer made for slavery, but monarchy. You know that if the war is kept up and the Union kept divided, armies must be kept afoot on both sides, and this state of things has never continued long without resulting in monarchy on one side or the other, and on both generally.' He assented to this."
The substantial accuracy of Mr. Blair's report is confirmed by the memorandum of the same interview which Jefferson Davis wrote at the time. In this conversation, the rebel leader took little pains to disguise his entire willingness to enter upon the wild scheme of military conquest and annexation which could easily be read between the lines of a political crusade to rescue the Monroe Doctrine from its present peril. If Mr. Blair felt elated at having so quickly made a convert of the Confederate President, he was further gratified at discovering yet more favorable symptoms in his official surroundings at Richmond. In the three or four days he spent at the rebel capital he found nearly every prominent personage convinced of the hopeless condition of the rebellion, and even eager to seize upon any contrivance to help them out of their direful prospects.
But the government councils at Washington were not ruled by the spirit of political adventure. Abraham Lincoln had a loftier conception of patriotic duty, and a higher ideal of national ethics. His whole interest in Mr. Blair's mission lay in the rebel despondency it disclosed, and the possibility it showed of bringing the Confederates to an abandonment of their resistance. Mr. Davis had, indeed, given Mr. Blair a letter, to be shown to President Lincoln, stating his willingness, "notwithstanding the rejection of our former offers," to appoint a commissioner to enter into negotiations "with a view to secure peace to the two countries." This was, of course, the old impossible attitude. In reply the President wrote Mr. Blair on January 18 the following note:
"SIR: You having shown me Mr. Davis's letter to you of the twelfth instant, you may say to him that I have constantly been, am now, and shall continue ready to receive any agent whom he, or any other influential person now resisting the national authority, may informally send to me, with the view of securing peace to the people of our one common country."
With this, Mr. Blair returned to Richmond, giving Mr. Davis such excuses as he could hastily frame why the President had rejected his plan for a joint invasion of Mexico. Jefferson Davis therefore had only two alternatives before him—either to repeat his stubborn ultimatum of separation and independence, or frankly to accept Lincoln's ultimatum of reunion. The principal Richmond authorities knew, and some of them admitted, that their Confederacy was nearly in collapse. Lee sent a despatch saying he had not two days' rations for his army. Richmond was already in a panic at rumors of evacuation. Flour was selling at a thousand dollars a barrel in Confederate currency. The recent fall of Fort Fisher had closed the last avenue through which blockade-runners could bring in foreign supplies. Governor Brown of Georgia was refusing to obey orders from Richmond, and characterizing them as "despotic." Under such circumstances a defiant cry of independence would not reassure anybody; nor, on the other hand, was it longer possible to remain silent. Mr. Blair's first visit had created general interest; when he came a second time, wonder and rumor rose to fever heat.
Impelled to take action, Mr. Davis had not the courage to be frank. After consultation with his cabinet, a peace commission of three was appointed, consisting of Alexander H. Stephens, Vice-President; R.M.T. Hunter, senator and ex-Secretary of State; and John A. Campbell, Assistant Secretary of War—all of them convinced that the rebellion was hopeless, but unwilling to admit the logical consequences and necessities. The drafting of instructions for their guidance was a difficult problem, since the explicit condition prescribed by Mr. Lincoln's note was that he would receive only an agent sent him "with the view of securing peace to the people of our one common country." The rebel Secretary of State proposed, in order to make the instructions "as vague and general as possible," the simple direction to confer "upon the subject to which it relates"; but his chief refused the suggestion, and wrote the following instruction, which carried a palpable contradiction on its face:
"In conformity with the letter of Mr. Lincoln, of which the foregoing is a copy, you are requested to proceed to Washington City for informal conference with him upon the issues involved in the existing war, and for the purpose of securing peace to the two countries."
With this the commissioners presented themselves at the Union lines on the evening of January 29, but instead of showing their double-meaning credential, asked admission, "in accordance with an understanding claimed to exist with Lieutenant-General Grant." Mr. Lincoln, being apprised of the application, promptly despatched Major Thomas T. Eckert, of the War Department, with written directions to admit them under safe-conduct, if they would say in writing that they came for the purpose of an informal conference on the basis of his note of January 18 to Mr. Blair. The commissioners having meantime reconsidered the form of their application and addressed a new one to General Grant which met the requirements, were provisionally conveyed to Grant's headquarters; and on January 31 the President commissioned Secretary Seward to meet them, saying in his written instructions:
"You will make known to them that three things are indispensable, to wit: 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 from the position assumed thereon in the late 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. You will inform them that all propositions of theirs, not inconsistent with the above, will be considered and passed upon in a spirit of sincere liberality. You will hear all they may choose to say, and report it to me. You will not assume to definitely consummate anything."
Mr. Seward started on the morning of February 1, and simultaneously with his departure the President repeated to General Grant the monition already sent him two days before: "Let nothing which is transpiring change, hinder, or delay your military movements or plans." Major Eckert had arrived while Mr. Seward was yet on the way, and on seeing Jefferson Davis's instructions, promptly notified the commissioners that they could not proceed further without complying strictly with President Lincoln's terms. Thus, at half-past nine on the night of February 1, their mission was practically at an end, though next day they again recanted and accepted the President's conditions in writing. Mr. Lincoln, on reading Major Eckert's report on the morning of February 2, was about to recall Secretary Seward by telegraph, when he was shown a confidential despatch from General Grant to the Secretary of War, stating his belief that the intention of the commissioners was good, and their desire for peace sincere, and regretting that Mr. Lincoln could not have an interview with them. This communication served to change his purpose. Resolving not to neglect the indications of sincerity here described, he telegraphed at once, "Say to the gentlemen I will meet them personally at Fortress Monroe as soon as I can get there," and joined Secretary Seward that same night.
On the morning of February 3, 1865, the rebel commissioners were conducted on board the River Queen, lying at anchor near Fort Monroe, where President Lincoln and Secretary Seward awaited them. It was agreed beforehand that no writing or memorandum should be made at the time, so the record of the interview remains only in the separate accounts which the rebel commissioners wrote out afterward from memory, neither Mr. Seward nor President Lincoln ever having made any report in detail. In a careful analysis of these reports, the first striking feature is the difference of intention between the parties. It is apparent that Mr. Lincoln went honestly and frankly to offer them the best terms he could to, secure peace and reunion, but to abate no jot of official duty or personal dignity; while the main thought of the commissioners was to evade the express condition on which they had been admitted to conference, to seek to postpone the vital issue, and to propose an armistice by debating a mere juggling expedient against which they had in a private agreement with one another already committed themselves.
At the first hint of Blair's Mexican project, however, Mr. Lincoln firmly disclaimed any responsibility for the suggestion, or any intention of adopting it, and during the four hours' talk led the conversation continually back to the original object of the conference. But though he patiently answered the many questions addressed him by the commissioners, as to what would probably be done on various important subjects that must arise at once if the Confederate States consented, carefully discriminating in his answers between what he was authorized under the Constitution to do as Executive, and what would devolve upon cooerdinate branches of the government, the interview came to nothing. The commissioners returned to Richmond in great disappointment, and communicated the failure of their efforts to Jefferson Davis, whose chagrin was equal to their own. They had all caught eagerly at the hope that this negotiation would somehow extricate them from the dilemmas and dangers of their situation. Davis took the only course open to him after refusing the honorable peace Mr. Lincoln had tendered. He transmitted the commissioners' report to the rebel Congress, with a brief and dry message stating that the enemy refused any terms except those the conqueror might grant; and then arranged as vigorous an effort as circumstances permitted once more to "fire the Southern heart." A public meeting was called, where the speeches, judging from the meager reports printed, were as denunciatory and bellicose as the bitterest Confederate could desire. Davis particularly is represented to have excelled himself in defiant heroics. "Sooner than we should ever be united again," he said, "he would be willing to yield up everything he had on earth—if it were possible, he would sacrifice a thousand lives"; and he further announced his confidence that they would yet "compel the Yankees, in less than twelve months, to petition us for peace on our own terms."
This extravagant rhetoric would seem merely grotesque, were it not embittered by the reflection that it was the signal which carried many additional thousands of brave soldiers to death, in continuing a palpably hopeless military struggle.
Blair—Chase Chief Justice—Speed Succeeds Bates—McCulloch Succeeds Fessenden—Resignation of Mr. Usher—Lincoln's Offer of $400,000,000—The Second Inaugural—Lincoln's Literary Rank—His Last Speech
The principal concession in the Baltimore platform made by the friends of the administration to their opponents, the radicals, was the resolution which called for harmony in the cabinet. The President at first took no notice, either publicly or privately, of this resolution, which was in effect a recommendation that he dismiss those members of his council who were stigmatized as conservatives; and the first cabinet change which actually took place after the adjournment of the convention filled the radical body of his supporters with dismay, since they had looked upon Mr. Chase as their special representative in the government. The publication of the Wade-Davis manifesto still further increased their restlessness, and brought upon Mr. Lincoln a powerful pressure from every quarter to satisfy radical demands by dismissing Montgomery Blair, his Postmaster-General. Mr. Blair had been one of the founders of the Republican party, and in the very forefront of opposition to slavery extension, but had gradually attracted to himself the hostility of all the radical Republicans in the country. The immediate cause of this estrangement was the bitter quarrel that developed between his family and General Fremont in Missouri: a quarrel in which the Blairs were undoubtedly right in the beginning, but which broadened and extended until it landed them finally in the Democratic party.
The President considered the dispute one of form rather than substance, and having a deep regard, not only for the Postmaster-General, but for his brother, General Frank Blair, and for his distinguished father, was most reluctant to take action against him. Even in the bosom of the government, however, a strong hostility to Mr. Blair manifested itself. As long as Chase remained in the cabinet there was smoldering hostility between them, and his attitude toward Seward and Stanton was one of increasing enmity. General Halleck, incensed at some caustic remarks Blair was reported to have made about the defenders of the capital after Early's raid, during which the family estate near Washington had suffered, sent an angry note to the War Department, wishing to know if such "wholesale denouncement" had the President's sanction; adding that either the names of the officers accused should be stricken from the rolls, or the "slanderer dismissed from the cabinet." Mr. Stanton sent the letter to the President without comment. This was too much; and the Secretary received an answer on the very same day, written in Mr. Lincoln's most masterful manner:
"Whether the remarks were really made I do not know, nor do I suppose such knowledge is necessary to a correct response. If they were made, I do not approve them; and yet, under the circumstances, I would not dismiss a member of the cabinet therefore. I do not consider what may have been hastily said in a moment of vexation at so severe a loss is sufficient ground for so grave a step.... I propose continuing to be myself the judge as to when a member of the cabinet shall be dismissed."
Not content with this, the President, when the cabinet came together, read them this impressive little lecture:
"I must myself be the judge how long to retain in and when to remove any of you from his position. It would greatly pain me to discover any of you endeavoring to procure another's removal, or in any way to prejudice him before the public. Such endeavor would be a wrong to me, and, much worse, a wrong to the country. My wish is that on this subject no remark be made nor question asked by any of you, here or elsewhere, now or hereafter."
This is one of the most remarkable speeches ever made by a President. The tone of authority is unmistakable. Washington was never more dignified; Jackson was never more peremptory.
The feeling against Mr. Blair and the pressure upon the President for his removal increased throughout the summer. All through the period of gloom and discouragement he refused to act, even when he believed the verdict of the country likely to go against him, and was assured on every side that such a concession to the radical spirit might be greatly to his advantage. But after the turn had come, and the prospective triumph of the Union cause became evident, he felt that he ought no longer to retain in his cabinet a member who, whatever his personal merits, had lost the confidence of the great body of Republicans; and on September 9 wrote him a kindly note, requesting his resignation.
Mr. Blair accepted his dismissal in a manner to be expected from his manly and generous character, not pretending to be pleased, but assuming that the President had good reason for his action; and, on turning over his office to his successor, ex-Governor William Dennison of Ohio, went at once to Maryland and entered into the campaign, working heartily for Mr. Lincoln's reelection.
After the death of Judge Taney in October, Mr. Blair for a while indulged the hope that he might be appointed chief justice, a position for which his natural abilities and legal acquirements eminently fitted him. But Mr. Chase was chosen, to the bitter disappointment of Mr. Blair's family, though even this did not shake their steadfast loyalty to the Union cause or their personal friendship for the President. Immediately after his second inauguration, Mr. Lincoln offered Montgomery Blair his choice of the Spanish or the Austrian mission, an offer which he peremptorily though respectfully declined.
The appointment of Mr. Chase as chief justice had probably been decided on in Mr. Lincoln's own mind from the first, though he gave no public intimation of his decision before sending the nomination to the Senate on December 6. Mr. Chase's partizans claimed that the President had already virtually promised him the place; his opponents counted upon the ex-secretary's attitude of criticism to work against his appointment. But Mr. Lincoln sternly checked all presentations of this personal argument; nor were the prayers of those who urged him to overlook the harsh and indecorous things Mr. Chase had said of him at all necessary. To one who spoke in this latter strain the President replied:
"Oh, as to that I care nothing. Of Mr. Chase's ability, and of his soundness on the general issues of the war, there is, of course, no question. I have only one doubt about his appointment. He is a man of unbounded ambition, and has been working all his life to become President. That he can never be; and I fear that if I make him chief justice he will simply become more restless and uneasy and neglect the place in his strife and intrigue to make himself President. If I were sure that he would go on the bench and give up his aspirations, and do nothing but make himself a great judge, I would not hesitate a moment."
He wrote out Mr. Chase's nomination with his own hand, and sent it to the Senate the day after Congress came together. It was confirmed at once, without reference to a committee, and Mr. Chase, on learning of his new dignity, sent the President a cordial note, thanking him for the manner of his appointment, and adding: "I prize your confidence and good will more than any nomination to office." But Mr. Lincoln's fears were better founded than his hopes. Though Mr. Chase took his place on the bench with a conscientious desire to do his whole duty in his great office, he could not dismiss the political affairs of the country from his mind, and still considered himself called upon to counteract the mischievous tendencies of the President toward conciliation and hasty reconstruction.
The reorganization of the cabinet went on by gradual disintegration rather than by any brusque or even voluntary action on the part of Mr. Lincoln. Mr. Bates, the attorney-general, growing weary of the labors of his official position, resigned toward the end of November. Mr. Lincoln, on whom the claim of localities always had great weight, unable to decide upon another Missourian fitted for the place, offered it to Joseph Holt of Kentucky, who declined, and then to James Speed, also a Kentuckian of high professional and social standing, the brother of his early friend Joshua F. Speed. Soon after the opening of the new year, Mr. Fessenden, having been again elected to the Senate from Maine, resigned his office as Secretary of the Treasury. The place thus vacated instantly excited a wide and spirited competition of recommendations. The President wished to appoint Governor Morgan of New York, who declined, and the choice finally fell upon Hugh McCulloch of Indiana, who had made a favorable record as comptroller of the currency. Thus only two of Mr. Lincoln's original cabinet, Mr. Seward and Mr. Welles, were in office at the date of his second inauguration; and still another change was in contemplation. Mr. Usher of Indiana, who had for some time discharged the duties of Secretary of the Interior, desiring, as he said, to relieve the President from any possible embarrassment which might arise from the fact that two of his cabinet were from the same State, sent in his resignation, which Mr. Lincoln indorsed "To take effect May 15, 1865."
The tragic events of the future were mercifully hidden. Mr. Lincoln, looking forward to four years more of personal leadership, was planning yet another generous offer to shorten the period of conflict. His talk with the commissioners at Hampton Roads had probably revealed to him the undercurrent of their hopelessness and anxiety; and he had told them that personally he would be in favor of the government paying a liberal indemnity for the loss of slave property, on absolute cessation of the war and the voluntary abolition of slavery by the Southern States.
This was indeed going to the extreme of magnanimity; but Mr. Lincoln remembered that the rebels, notwithstanding all their offenses and errors, were yet American citizens, members of the same nation, brothers of the same blood. He remembered, too, that the object of the war, equally with peace and freedom, was the maintenance of one government and the perpetuation of one Union. Not only must hostilities cease, but dissension, suspicion, and estrangement be eradicated. Filled with such thoughts and purposes, he spent the day after his return from Hampton Roads in considering and perfecting a new proposal, designed as a peace offering to the States in rebellion. On the evening of February 5, 1865, he called his cabinet together, and read to them the draft of a joint resolution and proclamation embodying this idea, offering the Southern States four hundred million dollars, or a sum equal to the cost of the war for two hundred days, on condition that hostilities cease by the first of April, 1865; to be paid in six per cent. government bonds, pro rata on their slave populations as shown by the census of 1860—one half on April 1, the other half only upon condition that the Thirteenth Amendment be ratified by a requisite number of States before July 1, 1865.
It turned out that he was more humane and liberal than his constitutional advisers. The indorsement in his own handwriting on the manuscript draft records the result of his appeal and suggestion:
"February 5, 1865. To-day, these papers, which explain themselves, were drawn up and submitted to the cabinet, and unanimously disapproved by them.
With the words, "You are all opposed to me," sadly uttered, the President folded up the paper and ceased the discussion.
The formal inauguration of Mr. Lincoln for his second presidential term took place at the appointed time, March 4, 1865. There is little variation in the simple but impressive pageantry with which the official ceremony is celebrated. The principal novelty commented upon by the newspapers was the share which the hitherto enslaved race had for the first time in this public and political drama. Civic associations of negro citizens joined in the procession, and a battalion of negro soldiers formed part of the military escort. The weather was sufficiently favorable to allow the ceremonies to take place on the eastern portico of the Capitol, in view of a vast throng of spectators. The central act of the occasion was President Lincoln's second inaugural address, which enriched the political literature of the Union with another masterpiece, and deserves to be quoted in full. He said:
"FELLOW-COUNTRYMEN: At this second appearing to take the oath of the presidential office, there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then, a statement, somewhat in detail, of a course to be pursued, seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself; and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.
"On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago, all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it—all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union, and divide effects, by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.
"One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the Southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war; while the government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes his aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered—that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has his own purposes. 'Woe unto the world because of offenses! for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.' If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through his appointed time, he now wills to remove, and that he gives to both North and South this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to him? Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, 'The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'
"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations."
The address being concluded, Chief Justice Chase administered the oath of office; and listeners who heard Abraham Lincoln for the second time repeat, "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States," went from the impressive scene to their several homes with thankfulness and with confidence that the destiny of the country and the liberty of the citizen were in safe keeping. "The fiery trial" through which he had hitherto walked showed him possessed of the capacity, the courage, and the will to keep the promise of his oath.
Among the many criticisms passed by writers and thinkers upon the second inaugural, none will so interest the reader as that of Mr. Lincoln himself, written about ten days after its delivery, in the following letter to a friend:
"DEAR MR. WEED: Every one likes a compliment. Thank you for yours on my little notification speech, and on the recent inaugural address. I expect the latter to wear as well as, perhaps better than, anything I have produced; but I believe it is not immediately popular. Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them. To deny it, however, in this case, is to deny that there is a God governing the world. It is a truth which I thought needed to be told, and, as whatever of humiliation there is in it falls most directly on myself, I thought others might afford for me to tell it."
Nothing would have more amazed Mr. Lincoln than to hear himself called a man of letters; but this age has produced few greater writers. Emerson ranks him with Aesop; Montalembert commends his style as a model for the imitation of princes. It is true that in his writings the range of subjects is not great. He was chiefly concerned with the political problems of the time, and the moral considerations involved in them. But the range of treatment is remarkably wide, running from the wit, the gay humor, the florid eloquence of his stump speeches, to the marvelous sententiousness and brevity of the address at Gettysburg, and the sustained and lofty grandeur of his second inaugural; while many of his phrases have already passed into the daily speech of mankind.
A careful student of Mr. Lincoln's character will find this inaugural address instinct with another meaning, which, very naturally, the President's own comment did not touch. The eternal law of compensation, which it declares and applies to the sin and fall of American slavery, in a diction rivaling the fire and dignity of the old Hebrew prophecies, may, without violent inference, be interpreted to foreshadow an intention to renew at a fitting moment the brotherly goodwill gift to the South which has already been treated of. Such an inference finds strong corroboration in the sentences which closed the last public address he ever made. On Tuesday evening, April 11, a considerable assemblage of citizens of Washington gathered at the Executive Mansion to celebrate the victory of Grant over Lee. The rather long and careful speech which Mr. Lincoln made on that occasion was, however, less about the past than the future. It discussed the subject of reconstruction as illustrated in the case of Louisiana, showing also how that issue was related to the questions of emancipation, the condition of the freedmen, the welfare of the South, and the ratification of the constitutional amendment.
"So new and unprecedented is the whole case," he concluded, "that no exclusive and inflexible plan can safely be prescribed as to details and collaterals. Such exclusive and inflexible plan would surely become a new entanglement. Important principles may and must be inflexible. In the present situation, as the phrase goes, it may be my duty to make some new announcement to the people of the South. I am considering, and shall not fail to act when satisfied that action will be proper."
Can any one doubt that this "new announcement" which was taking shape in his mind would again have embraced and combined justice to the blacks and generosity to the whites of the South, with Union and liberty for the whole country?
Depreciation of Confederate Currency—Rigor of Conscription—Dissatisfaction with the Confederate Government—Lee General-in-Chief—J.E. Johnston Reappointed to Oppose Sherman's March—Value of Slave Property Gone in Richmond—Davis's Recommendation of Emancipation—Benjamin's Last Despatch to Slidell—Condition of the Army when Lee took Command—Lee Attempts Negotiations with Grant—Lincoln's Directions—Lee and Davis Agree upon Line of Retreat—Assault on Fort Stedman—Five Forks—Evacuation of Petersburg—Surrender of Richmond—Pursuit of Lee—Surrender of Lee—Burning of Richmond—Lincoln in Richmond
From the hour of Mr. Lincoln's reelection the Confederate cause was doomed. The cheering of the troops which greeted the news from the North was heard within the lines at Richmond and at Petersburg; and although the leaders maintained their attitude of defiance, the impression rapidly gained ground among the people that the end was not far off. The stimulus of hope being gone, they began to feel the pinch of increasing want. Their currency had become almost worthless. In October, a dollar in gold was worth thirty-five dollars in Confederate money. With the opening of the new year the price rose to sixty dollars, and, despite the efforts of the Confederate treasury, which would occasionally rush into the market and beat down the price of gold ten or twenty per cent. a day, the currency gradually depreciated until a hundred for one was offered and not taken. It was natural for the citizens of Richmond to think that monstrous prices were being extorted for food, clothing, and supplies, when in fact they were paying no more than was reasonable. To pay a thousand dollars for a barrel of flour was enough to strike a householder with terror but ten dollars is not a famine price. High prices, however, even if paid in dry leaves, are a hardship when dry leaves are not plentiful; and there was scarcity even of Confederate money in the South.
At every advance of Grant's lines a new alarm was manifested in Richmond, the first proof of which was always a fresh rigor in enforcing the conscription laws and the arbitrary orders of the frightened authorities. After the capture of Fort Harrison, north of the James, squads of guards were sent into the streets with directions to arrest every able-bodied man they met. It is said that the medical boards were ordered to exempt no one capable of bearing arms for ten days. Human nature will not endure such a strain as this, and desertion grew too common to punish.
As disaster increased, the Confederate government steadily lost ground in the confidence and respect of the Southern people. Mr. Davis and his councilors were doing their best, but they no longer got any credit for it. From every part of the Confederacy came complaints of what was done, demands for what was impossible to do. Some of the States were in a condition near to counter-revolution. A slow paralysis was benumbing the limbs of the insurrection, and even at the heart its vitality was plainly declining. The Confederate Congress, which had hitherto been the mere register of the President's will, now turned upon him. On January 19 it passed a resolution making Lee general-in-chief of the army. This Mr. Davis might have borne with patience, although it was intended as a notification that his meddling with military affairs must come to an end. But far worse was the bitter necessity put upon him as a sequel to this act, of reappointing General Joseph E. Johnston to the command of the army which was to resist Sherman's victorious march to the north. Mr. Seddon, rebel Secretary of War, thinking his honor impugned by a vote of the Virginia delegation in Congress, resigned. Warnings of serious demoralization came daily from the army, and disaffection was so rife in official circles in Richmond that it was not thought politic to call public attention to it by measures of repression.
It is curious and instructive to note how the act of emancipation had by this time virtually enforced itself in Richmond. The value of slave property was gone. It is true that a slave was still occasionally sold, at a price less than one tenth of what he would have brought before the war, but servants could be hired of their nominal owners for almost nothing—merely enough to keep up a show of vassalage. In effect, any one could hire a negro for his keeping—which was all that anybody in Richmond, black or white, got for his work. Even Mr. Davis had at last become docile to the stern teaching of events. In his message of November he had recommended the employment of forty thousand slaves in the army—not as soldiers, it is true, save in the last extremity—with emancipation to come.
On December 27, Mr. Benjamin wrote his last important instruction to John Slidell, the Confederate commissioner in Europe. It is nothing less than a cry of despair. Complaining bitterly of the attitude of foreign nations while the South is fighting the battles of England and France against the North, he asks: "Are they determined never to recognize the Southern Confederacy until the United States assent to such action on their part?" And with a frantic offer to submit to any terms which Europe might impose as the price of recognition, and a scarcely veiled threat of making peace with the North unless Europe should act speedily, the Confederate Department of State closed its four years of fruitless activity.
Lee assumed command of all the Confederate armies on February 9. His situation was one of unprecedented gloom. The day before he had reported that his troops, who had been in line of battle for two days at Hatcher's Run, exposed to the bad winter weather, had been without meat for three days. A prodigious effort was made, and the danger of starvation for the moment averted, but no permanent improvement resulted. The armies of the Union were closing in from every point of the compass. Grant was every day pushing his formidable left wing nearer the only roads by which Lee could escape; Thomas was threatening the Confederate communications from Tennessee; Sheridan was riding for the last time up the Shenandoah valley to abolish Early; while from the south the redoubtable columns of Sherman were moving northward with the steady pace and irresistible progress of a tragic fate.
A singular and significant attempt at negotiation was made at this time by General Lee. He was so strong in the confidence of the people of the South, and the government at Richmond was so rapidly becoming discredited, that he could doubtless have obtained the popular support and compelled the assent of the Executive to any measures he thought proper for the attainment of peace. From this it was easy for him and for others to come to the wholly erroneous conclusion that General Grant held a similar relation to the government and people of the United States. General Lee seized upon the pretext of a conversation reported to him by General Longstreet as having been held with General E.O.C. Ord under an ordinary flag of truce for the exchange of prisoners, to address a letter to Grant, sanctioned by Mr. Davis, saying he had been informed that General Ord had said General Grant would not decline an interview with a view "to a satisfactory adjustment of the present unhappy difficulties by means of a military convention," provided Lee had authority to act. He therefore proposed to meet General Grant "with the hope that ... it may be found practicable to submit the subjects of controversy ... to a convention of the kind mentioned"; professing himself "authorized to do whatever the result of the proposed interview may render necessary."
Grant at once telegraphed these overtures to Washington. Stanton received the despatch at the Capitol, where the President was, according to his custom, passing the last night of the session of Congress, for the convenience of signing bills. The Secretary handed the telegram to Mr. Lincoln, who read it in silence. He asked no advice or suggestion from any one about him, but, taking up a pen, wrote with his usual slowness and precision a despatch in Stanton's name, which he showed to Seward, and then handed to Stanton to be signed and sent. The language is that of an experienced ruler, perfectly sure of himself and of his duty:
"The President directs me to say that he wishes you to have no conference with General Lee, unless it be for capitulation of General Lee's army, or on some minor or purely military matter. He instructs me to say that you are not to decide, discuss, or confer upon any political questions. Such questions the President holds in his own hands, and will submit them to no military conferences or conventions. Meanwhile, you are to press to the utmost your military advantages."
Grant answered Lee that he had no authority to accede to his proposition, and explained that General Ord's language must have been misunderstood. This closed to the Confederate authorities the last avenue of hope of any compromise by which the alternative of utter defeat or unconditional surrender might be avoided.
Early in March, General Lee visited Richmond for conference with Mr. Davis on the measures to be adopted in the crisis which he saw was imminent. He had never sympathized with the slight Congress had intended to put upon Mr. Davis when it gave him supreme military authority, and continued to the end to treat his President as commander-in-chief of the forces. There is direct contradiction between Mr. Davis and General Lee as to how Davis received this statement of the necessities of the situation. Mr. Davis says he suggested immediate withdrawal from Richmond, but that Lee said his horses were too weak for the roads in their present condition, and that he must wait. General Lee, on the other hand, is quoted as saying that he wished to retire behind the Staunton River, from which point he might have indefinitely protracted the war, but that the President overruled him. Both agreed, however, that sooner or later Richmond must be abandoned, and that the next move should be to Danville.
But before he turned his back forever upon the lines he had so stoutly defended, Lee resolved to dash once more at the toils by which he was surrounded. He placed half his army under the command of General John B. Gordon, with orders to break through the Union lines at Fort Stedman and take possession of the high ground behind them. A month earlier Grant had foreseen some such move on Lee's part, and had ordered General Parke to be prepared to meet an assault on his center, and to have his commanders ready to bring all their resources to bear on the point in danger, adding: "With proper alacrity in this respect I would have no objection to seeing the enemy get through." This characteristic phrase throws the strongest light both on Grant's temperament, and on the mastery of his business at which he had arrived. Under such generalship, an army's lines are a trap into which entrance is suicide.
The assault was made with great spirit at half-past four on the morning of March 25. Its initial success was due to a singular cause. The spot chosen was a favorite point for deserters to pass into the Union lines, which they had of late been doing in large numbers. When Gordon's skirmishers, therefore, came stealing through the darkness, they were mistaken for an unusually large party of deserters, and they over-powered several picket-posts without firing a shot. The storming party, following at once, took the trenches with a rush, and in a few minutes had possession of the main line on the right of the fort, and, next, of the fort itself. It was hard in the semi-darkness to distinguish friends from foes, and for a time General Parke was unable to make headway; but with the growing light his troops advanced from every direction to mend the breach, and, making short work of the Confederate detachments, recaptured the fort, opening a cross-fire of artillery so withering that few of the Confederates could get back to their own lines. This was, moreover, not the only damage the Confederates suffered. Humphreys and Wright, on the Union left, rightly assuming that Parke could take care of himself, instantly searched the lines in their front to see if they had been essentially weakened to support Gordon's attack. They found they had not, but in gaining this knowledge captured the enemy's intrenched picket-lines in front of them, which, being held, gave inestimable advantage to the Union army in the struggle of the next week.
Grant's chief anxiety for some time had been lest Lee should abandon his lines; but though burning to attack, he was delayed by the same bad roads which kept Lee in Richmond, and by another cause. He did not wish to move until Sheridan had completed the work assigned him in the Shenandoah valley and joined either Sherman or the army at Petersburg. On March 24, however, at the very moment Gordon was making his plans for next day's sortie, Grant issued his order for the great movement to the left which was to finish the war. He intended to begin on the twenty-ninth, but Lee's desperate dash of the twenty-fifth convinced him that not a moment was to be lost. Sheridan reached City Point on the twenty-sixth. Sherman came up from North Carolina for a brief visit next day. The President was also there, and an interesting meeting took place between these famous brothers in arms and Mr. Lincoln; after which Sherman went back to Goldsboro, and Grant began pushing his army to the left with even more than his usual iron energy.
It was a great army—the result of all the power and wisdom of the government, all the devotion of the people, all the intelligence and teachableness of the soldiers themselves, and all the ability which a mighty war had developed in the officers. In command of all was Grant, the most extraordinary military temperament this country has ever seen. The numbers of the respective armies in this last grapple have been the occasion of endless controversy. As nearly as can be ascertained, the grand total of all arms on the Union side was 124,700; on the Confederate side, 57,000.
Grant's plan, as announced in his instructions of March 24, was at first to despatch Sheridan to destroy the South Side and Danville railroads, at the same time moving a heavy force to the left to insure the success of this raid, and then to turn Lee's position. But his purpose developed from hour to hour, and before he had been away from his winter headquarters one day, he gave up this comparatively narrow scheme, and adopted the far bolder plan which he carried out to his immortal honor. He ordered Sheridan not to go after the railroads, but to push for the enemy's right rear, writing him: "I now feel like ending the matter.... We will act all together as one army here, until it is seen what can be done with the enemy."
On the thirtieth, Sheridan advanced to Five Forks, where he found a heavy force of the enemy. Lee, justly alarmed by Grant's movements, had despatched a sufficient detachment to hold that important cross-roads, and taken personal command of the remainder on White Oak Ridge. A heavy rain-storm, beginning on the night of the twenty-ninth and continuing more than twenty-four hours, greatly impeded the march of the troops. On the thirty-first, Warren, working his way toward the White Oak road, was attacked by Lee and driven back on the main line, but rallied, and in the afternoon drove the enemy again into his works. Sheridan, opposed by Pickett with a large force of infantry and cavalry, was also forced back, fighting obstinately, as far as Dinwiddie Court House, from which point he hopefully reported his situation to Grant at dark. Grant, more disturbed than Sheridan himself, rained orders and suggestions all night to effect a concentration at daylight on that portion of the enemy in front of Sheridan; but Pickett, finding himself out of position, silently withdrew during the night, and resumed his strongly intrenched post at Five Forks. Here Sheridan followed him on April 1, and repeated the successful tactics of his Shenandoah valley exploits so brilliantly that Lee's right was entirely shattered.
This battle of Five Forks should have ended the war. Lee's right was routed; his line had been stretched westward until it broke; there was no longer any hope of saving Richmond, or even of materially delaying its fall. But Lee apparently thought that even the gain of a day was of value to the Richmond government, and what was left of his Army of Northern Virginia was still so perfect in discipline that it answered with unabated spirit every demand made upon it. Grant, who feared Lee might get away from Petersburg and overwhelm Sheridan on the White Oak road, directed that an assault be made all along the line at four o'clock on the morning of the second. His officers responded with enthusiasm; and Lee, far from dreaming of attacking any one after the stunning blow he had received the day before, made what hasty preparations he could to resist them.
It is painful to record the hard fighting which followed. Wright, in his assault in front of Forts Fisher and Walsh, lost eleven hundred men in fifteen minutes of murderous conflict that made them his own; and other commands fared scarcely better, Union and Confederate troops alike displaying a gallantry distressing to contemplate when one reflects that, the war being already decided, all this heroic blood was shed in vain. The Confederates, from the Appomattox to the Weldon road, fell slowly back to their inner line of works; and Lee, watching the formidable advance before which his weakened troops gave way, sent a message to Richmond announcing his purpose of concentrating on the Danville road, and made preparations for the evacuation which was now the only resort left him.
Some Confederate writers express surprise that General Grant did not attack and destroy Lee's army on April 2; but this is a view, after the fact, easy to express. The troops on the Union left had been on foot for eighteen hours, had fought an important battle, marched and countermarched many miles, and were now confronted by Longstreet's fresh corps behind formidable works, while the attitude of the force under Gordon on the south side of the town was such as to require the close attention of Parke. Grant, anticipating an early retirement of Lee from his citadel, wisely resolved to avoid the waste and bloodshed of an immediate assault on the inner lines of Petersburg. He ordered Sheridan to get upon Lee's line of retreat; sent Humphreys to strengthen him; then, directing a general bombardment for five o'clock next morning, and an assault at six, gave himself and his soldiers a little of the rest they had so richly earned and so seriously needed.
He had telegraphed during the day to President Lincoln, who was still at City Point, the news as it developed from hour to hour. Prisoners he regarded as so much net gain: he was weary of slaughter, and wanted the war ended with as little bloodshed as possible; and it was with delight that he summed up on Sunday afternoon: "The whole captures since the army started out gunning will not amount to less than twelve thousand men, and probably fifty pieces of artillery."
Lee bent all his energies to saving his army and leading it out of its untenable position on the James to a point from which he could effect a junction with Johnston in North Carolina. The place selected for this purpose was Burkeville, at the crossing of the South Side and Danville roads, fifty miles southwest from Richmond, whence a short distance would bring him to Danville, where the desired junction could be made. Even yet he was able to cradle himself in the illusion that it was only a campaign that had failed, and that he might continue the war indefinitely in another field. At nightfall all his preparations were completed, and dismounting at the mouth of the road leading to Amelia Court House, the first point of rendezvous, where he had directed supplies to be sent, he watched his troops file noiselessly by in the darkness. By three o'clock the town was abandoned; at half-past four it was formally surrendered. Meade, reporting the news to Grant, received orders to march his army immediately up the Appomattox; and divining Lee's intentions, Grant also sent word to Sheridan to push with all speed to the Danville road.
Thus flight and pursuit began almost at the same moment. The swift-footed Army of Northern Virginia was racing for its life, and Grant, inspired with more than his habitual tenacity and energy, not only pressed his enemy in the rear, but hung upon his flank, and strained every nerve to get in his front. He did not even allow himself the pleasure of entering Richmond, which surrendered to Weitzel early on the morning of the third.
All that day Lee pushed forward toward Amelia Court House. There was little fighting except among the cavalry. A terrible disappointment awaited Lee on his arrival at Amelia Court House on the fourth. He had ordered supplies to be forwarded there, but his half-starved troops found no food awaiting them, and nearly twenty-four hours were lost in collecting subsistence for men and horses. When he started again on the night of the fifth, the whole pursuing force was south and stretching out to the west of him. Burkeville was in Grant's possession; the way to Danville was barred; the supply of provisions to the south cut off. He was compelled to change his route to the west, and started for Lynchburg, which he was destined never to reach.
It had been the intention to attack Lee at Amelia Court House on the morning of April 6, but learning of his turn to the west, Meade, who was immediately in pursuit, quickly faced his army about and followed. A running fight ensued for fourteen miles, the enemy, with remarkable quickness and dexterity, halting and partly intrenching themselves from time to time, and the national forces driving them out of every position; the Union cavalry, meanwhile, harassing the moving left flank of the Confederates, and working havoc on the trains. They also caused a grievous loss to history by burning Lee's headquarters baggage, with all its wealth of returns and reports. At Sailor's Creek, a rivulet running north into the Appomattox, Ewell's corps was brought to bay, and important fighting occurred; the day's loss to Lee, there and elsewhere, amounting to eight thousand in all, with several of his generals among the prisoners. This day's work was of incalculable value to the national arms. Sheridan's unerring eye appreciated the full importance of it, his hasty report ending with the words: "If the thing is pressed, I think that Lee will surrender." Grant sent the despatch to President Lincoln, who instantly replied:
"Let the thing be pressed."
In fact, after nightfall of the sixth, Lee's army could only flutter like a wounded bird with one wing shattered. There was no longer any possibility of escape; but Lee found it hard to relinquish the illusion of years, and as soon as night came down he again began his weary march westward. A slight success on the next day once more raised his hopes; but his optimism was not shared by his subordinates, and a number of his principal officers, selecting General Pendleton as their spokesman, made known to him on the seventh their belief that further resistance was useless, and advised surrender. Lee told them that they had yet too many men to think of laying down their arms, but in answer to a courteous summons from Grant sent that same day, inquired what terms he would be willing to offer. Without waiting for a reply, he again put his men in motion, and during all of the eighth the chase and pursuit continued through a part of Virginia green with spring, and until then unvisited by hostile armies.
Sheridan, by unheard-of exertions, at last accomplished the important task of placing himself squarely on Lee's line of retreat. About sunset of the eighth, his advance captured Appomattox Station and four trains of provisions. Shortly after, a reconnaissance revealed the fact that Lee's entire army was coming up the road. Though he had nothing but cavalry, Sheridan resolved to hold the inestimable advantage he had gained, and sent a request to Grant to hurry up the required infantry support; saying that if it reached him that night, they "might perhaps finish the job in the morning." He added, with singular prescience, referring to the negotiations which had been opened: "I do not think Lee means to surrender until compelled to do so."
This was strictly true. When Grant replied to Lee's question about terms, saying that the only condition he insisted upon was that the officers and men surrendered should be disqualified from taking up arms again until properly exchanged, Lee disclaimed any intention to surrender his army, but proposed to meet Grant to discuss the restoration of peace. It appears from his own report that even on the night of the eighth he had no intention of giving up the fight. He expected to find only cavalry before him next morning, and thought his remnant of infantry could break through while he himself was amusing Grant with platonic discussions in the rear. But on arriving at the rendezvous he had suggested, he received Grant's courteous but decided refusal to enter into a political negotiation, and also the news that a formidable force of infantry barred the way and covered the adjacent hills and valley. The marching of the Confederate army was over forever, and Lee, suddenly brought to a sense of his real situation, sent orders to cease hostilities, and wrote another note to Grant, asking an interview for the purpose of surrendering his army.
The meeting took place at the house of Wilmer McLean, in the edge of the village of Appomattox, on April 9, 1865. Lee met Grant at the threshold, and ushered him into a small and barely furnished parlor, where were soon assembled the leading officers of the national army. General Lee was accompanied only by his secretary, Colonel Charles Marshall. A short conversation led up to a request from Lee for the terms on which the surrender of his army would be received. Grant briefly stated them, and then wrote them out. Men and officers were to be paroled, and the arms, artillery, and public property turned over to the officer appointed to receive them.
"This," he added, "will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their parole and the laws in force where they may reside."
General Grant says in his "Memoirs" that up to the moment when he put pen to paper he had not thought of a word that he should write. The terms he had verbally proposed were soon put in writing, and there he might have stopped. But as he wrote a feeling of sympathy for his gallant antagonist came over him, and he added the extremely liberal terms with which his letter closed. The sight of Lee's fine sword suggested the paragraph allowing officers to retain their side-arms; and he ended with a phrase he evidently had not thought of, and for which he had no authority, which practically pardoned and amnestied every man in Lee's army—a thing he had refused to consider the day before, and which had been expressly forbidden him in the President's order of March 3. Yet so great was the joy over the crowning victory, and so deep the gratitude of the government and people to Grant and his heroic army, that his terms were accepted as he wrote them, and his exercise of the Executive prerogative of pardon entirely overlooked. It must be noticed here, however, that a few days later it led the greatest of Grant's generals into a serious error.
Lee must have read the memorandum with as much surprise as gratification. He suggested and gained another important concession—that those of the cavalry and artillery who owned their own horses should be allowed to take them home to put in their crops; and wrote a brief reply accepting the terms. He then remarked that his army was in a starving condition, and asked Grant to provide them with subsistence and forage; to which he at once assented, inquiring for how many men the rations would be wanted. Lee answered, "About twenty-five thousand"; and orders were given to issue them. The number turned out to be even greater, the paroles signed amounting to twenty-eight thousand two hundred and thirty-one. If we add to this the captures made during the preceding week, and the thousands who deserted the failing cause at every by-road leading to their homes, we see how considerable an army Lee commanded when Grant "started out gunning."
With these brief and simple formalities, one of the most momentous transactions of modern times was concluded. The Union gunners prepared to fire a national salute, but Grant forbade any rejoicing over a fallen enemy, who, he hoped, would be an enemy no longer. The next day he rode to the Confederate lines to make a visit of farewell to General Lee. They parted with courteous good wishes, and Grant, without pausing to look at the city he had taken, or the enormous system of works which had so long held him at bay, hurried away to Washington, intent only upon putting an end to the waste and burden of war.
A very carnival of fire and destruction had attended the flight of the Confederate authorities from Richmond. On Sunday night, April 2, Jefferson Davis, with his cabinet and their more important papers, hurriedly left the doomed city on one of the crowded and overloaded railroad trains. The legislature of Virginia and the governor of the State departed in a canal-boat toward Lynchburg; and every available vehicle was pressed into service by the frantic inhabitants, all anxious to get away before their capital was desecrated by the presence of "Yankee invaders." By the time the military left, early next morning, a conflagration was already under way. The rebel Congress had passed a law ordering government tobacco and other public property to be burned. General Ewell, the military commander, asserts that he took the responsibility of disobeying the law, and that they were not fired by his orders. However that may be, flames broke out in various parts of the city, while a miscellaneous mob, inflamed by excitement and by the alcohol which had run freely in the gutters the night before, rushed from store to store, smashing in the doors and indulging all the wantonness of pillage and greed. Public spirit was paralyzed, and the whole fabric of society seemed crumbling to pieces, when the convicts from the penitentiary, a shouting, leaping crowd of party-colored demons, overcoming their guard, and drunk with liberty, appeared upon the streets, adding their final dramatic horror to the pandemonium.
It is quite probable that the very magnitude and rapidity of the disaster served in a measure to mitigate its evil results. The burning of seven hundred buildings, comprising the entire business portion of Richmond warehouses, manufactories, mills, depots, and stores, all within the brief space of a day, was a visitation so sudden, so unexpected, so stupefying, as to overawe and terrorize even wrong-doers, and made the harvest of plunder so abundant as to serve to scatter the mob and satisfy its rapacity to quick repletion.
Before a new hunger could arise, assistance was at hand. General Weitzel, to whom the city was surrendered, taking up his headquarters in the house lately occupied by Jefferson Davis, promptly set about the work of relief; organizing efficient resistance to the fire, which, up to this time, seems scarcely to have been attempted; issuing rations to the poor, who had been relentlessly exposed to starvation by the action of the rebel Congress; and restoring order and personal authority. That a regiment of black soldiers assisted in this noble work must have seemed to the white inhabitants of Richmond the final drop in their cup of misery.
Into the capital, thus stricken and laid waste, came President Lincoln on the morning of April 4. Never in the history of the world did the head of a mighty nation and the conqueror of a great rebellion enter the captured chief city of the insurgents in such humbleness and simplicity. He had gone two weeks before to City Point for a visit to General Grant, and to his son, Captain Robert Lincoln, who was serving on Grant's staff. Making his home on the steamer which brought him, and enjoying what was probably the most satisfactory relaxation in which he had been able to indulge during his whole presidential service, he had visited the various camps of the great army in company with the general, cheered everywhere by the loving greetings of the soldiers. He had met Sherman when that commander hurried up fresh from his victorious march, and after Grant started on his final pursuit of Lee the President still lingered; and it was at City Point that he received the news of the fall of Richmond.
Between the receipt of this news and the following forenoon, but before any information of the great fire had reached them, a visit was arranged for the President and Rear-Admiral Porter. Ample precautions were taken at the start. The President went in his own steamer, the River Queen, with her escort, the Bat, and a tug used at City Point in landing from the steamer. Admiral Porter went in his flag-ship, the Malvern, and a transport carried a small cavalry escort and ambulances for the party. But the obstructions in the river soon made it impossible to proceed in this fashion. One unforeseen accident after another rendered it necessary to leave behind even the smaller boats, until finally the party went on in Admiral Porter's barge, rowed by twelve sailors, and without escort of any kind. In this manner the President made his advent into Richmond, landing near Libby Prison. As the party stepped ashore they found a guide among the contrabands who quickly crowded the streets, for the possible coming of the President had been circulated through the city. Ten of the sailors, armed with carbines, were formed as a guard, six in front and four in rear, and between them the President, Admiral Porter, and the three officers who accompanied them walked the long distance, perhaps a mile and a half, to the center of the town.
The imagination can easily fill up the picture of a gradually increasing crowd, principally of negroes, following the little group of marines and officers, with the tall form of the President in its center; and, having learned that it was indeed Mr. Lincoln, giving expression to joy and gratitude in the picturesque emotional ejaculations of the colored race. It is easy also to imagine the sharp anxiety of those who had the President's safety in charge during this tiresome and even foolhardy march through a city still in flames, whose white inhabitants were sullenly resentful at best, and whose grief and anger might at any moment culminate against the man they looked upon as the incarnation of their misfortunes. But no accident befell him. Reaching General Weitzel's headquarters, Mr. Lincoln rested in the mansion Jefferson Davis had occupied as President of the Confederacy, and after a day of sight-seeing returned to his steamer and to Washington, to be stricken down by an assassin's bullet, literally "in the house of his friends."
Lincoln's Interviews with Campbell—Withdraws Authority for Meeting of Virginia Legislature—Conference of Davis and Johnston at Greensboro—Johnston Asks for an Armistice—Meeting of Sherman and Johnston—Their Agreement—Rejected at Washington—Surrender of Johnston—Surrender of other Confederate Forces—End of the Rebel Navy—Capture of Jefferson Davis—Surrender of E. Kirby Smith—Number of Confederates Surrendered and Exchanged—Reduction of Federal Army to a Peace Footing—Grand Review of the Army
While in Richmond, Mr. Lincoln had two interviews with John A. Campbell, rebel Secretary of War, who had not accompanied the other fleeing officials, preferring instead to submit to Federal authority. Mr. Campbell had been one of the commissioners at the Hampton Roads conference, and Mr. Lincoln now gave him a written memorandum repeating in substance the terms he had then offered the Confederates. On Campbell's suggestion that the Virginia legislature, if allowed to come together, would at once repeal its ordinance of secession and withdraw all Virginia troops from the field, he also gave permission for its members to assemble for that purpose. But this, being distorted into authority to sit in judgment on the political consequences of the war, was soon withdrawn.
Jefferson Davis and his cabinet proceeded to Danville, where, two days after his arrival, the rebel President made still another effort to fire the Southern heart, announcing, "We have now entered upon a new phase of the struggle. Relieved from the necessity of guarding particular points, our army will be free to move from point to point to strike the enemy in detail far from his base. Let us but will it and we are free"; and declaring in sonorous periods his purpose never to abandon one foot of ground to the invader.
The ink was hardly dry on the document when news came of the surrender of Lee's army, and that the Federal cavalry was pushing southward west of Danville. So the Confederate government again hastily packed its archives and moved to Greensboro, North Carolina, where its headquarters were prudently kept on the train at the depot. Here Mr. Davis sent for Generals Johnston and Beauregard, and a conference took place between them and the members of the fleeing government—a conference not unmixed with embarrassment, since Mr. Davis still "willed" the success of the Confederacy too strongly to see the true hopelessness of the situation, while the generals and most of his cabinet were agreed that their cause was lost. The council of war over, General Johnston returned to his army to begin negotiations with Sherman; and on the following day, April 14, Davis and his party left Greensboro to continue their journey southward.
Sherman had returned to Goldsboro from his visit to City Point, and set himself at once to the reorganization of his army and the replenishment of his stores. He still thought there was a hard campaign with desperate fighting ahead of him. Even on April 6, when he received news of the fall of Richmond and the flight of Lee and the Confederate government, he was unable to understand the full extent of the national triumph. He admired Grant so far as a man might, short of idolatry, yet the long habit of respect for Lee led him to think he would somehow get away and join Johnston in his front with at least a portion of the Army of Northern Virginia. He had already begun his march upon Johnston when he learned of Lee's surrender at Appomattox.
Definitely relieved from apprehension of a junction of the two Confederate armies, he now had no fear except of a flight and dispersal of Johnston's forces into guerrilla bands. If they ran away, he felt he could not catch them; the country was too open. They could scatter and meet again, and so continue a partizan warfare indefinitely. He could not be expected to know that this resolute enemy was sick to the heart of war, and that the desire for more fighting survived only in a group of fugitive politicians flying through the pine forests of the Carolinas from a danger which did not exist.
Entering Raleigh on the morning of the thirteenth, he turned his heads of column southwest, hoping to cut off Johnston's southward march, but made no great haste, thinking Johnston's cavalry superior to his own, and desiring Sheridan to join him before he pushed the Confederates to extremities. While here, however, he received a communication from General Johnston, dated the thirteenth, proposing an armistice to enable the National and Confederate governments to negotiate on equal terms. It had been dictated by Jefferson Davis during the conference at Greensboro, written down by S.R. Mallory, and merely signed by Johnston, and was inadmissible and even offensive in its terms; but Sherman, anxious for peace, and himself incapable of discourtesy to a brave enemy, took no notice of its language, and answered so cordially that the Confederates were probably encouraged to ask for better conditions of surrender than they had expected to receive.
The two great antagonists met on April 17, when Sherman offered Johnston the same terms that had been accorded Lee, and also communicated the news he had that morning received of the murder of Mr. Lincoln. The Confederate general expressed his unfeigned sorrow at this calamity, which smote the South, he said, as deeply as the North; and in this mood of sympathy the discussion began. Johnston asserted that he would not be justified in such a capitulation as Sherman proposed, but suggested that together they might arrange the terms of a permanent peace. This idea pleased Sherman, to whom the prospect of ending the war without shedding another drop of blood was so tempting that he did not sufficiently consider the limits of his authority in the matter. It can be said, moreover, in extenuation of his course, that President Lincoln's despatch to Grant of March 3, which expressly forbade Grant to "decide, discuss, or to confer upon any political question," had never been communicated to Sherman; while the very liberality of Grant's terms led him to believe that he was acting in accordance with the views of the administration.
But the wisdom of Lincoln's peremptory order was completely vindicated. With the best intentions in the world, Sherman, beginning very properly by offering his antagonist the same terms accorded Lee, ended, after two days' negotiation, by making a treaty of peace with the Confederate States, including a preliminary armistice, the disbandment of the Confederate armies, recognition by the United States Executive of the several State governments, reestablishment of the Federal courts, and a general amnesty. "Not being fully empowered by our respective principals to fulfil these terms," the agreement truthfully concluded, "we individually and officially pledge ourselves to promptly obtain the necessary authority."
The rebel President, with unnecessary formality, required a report from General Breckinridge, his Secretary of War, on the desirability of ratifying this most favorable convention. Scarcely had he given it his indorsement when news came that it had been disapproved at Washington, and that Sherman had been directed to continue his military operations; and the peripatetic government once more took up its southward flight.
The moment General Grant read the agreement he saw it was entirely inadmissible. The new President called his cabinet together, and Mr. Lincoln's instructions of March 3 to Grant were repeated to Sherman—somewhat tardily, it must be confessed—as his rule of action. All this was a matter of course, and General Sherman could not properly, and perhaps would not, have objected to it. But the calm spirit of Lincoln was now absent from the councils of the government; and it was not in Andrew Johnson and Mr. Stanton to pass over a mistake like this, even in the case of one of the most illustrious captains of the age. They ordered Grant to proceed at once to Sherman's headquarters, and to direct operations against the enemy; and, what was worse, Mr. Stanton printed in the newspapers the reasons of the government for disapproving the agreement in terms of sharpest censure of General Sherman. This, when it came to his notice some weeks later, filled him with hot indignation, and, coupled with some orders Halleck, who had been made commander of the armies of the Potomac and the James, issued to Meade, to disregard Sherman's truce and push forward against Johnston, roused him to open defiance of the authorities he thought were persecuting him, and made him declare in a report to Grant, that he would have maintained his truce at any cost of life. Halleck's order, however, had been nullified by Johnston's surrender, and Grant, suggesting that this outburst was uncalled for, offered Sherman the opportunity to correct the statement. This he refused, insisting that his record stand as written, although avowing his readiness to obey all future orders of Grant and the President.
So far as Johnston was concerned, the war was indeed over. He was unable longer to hold his men together. Eight thousand of them left their camps and went home in the week of the truce, many riding away on the artillery horses and train mules. On notice of Federal disapproval of his negotiations with Sherman, he disregarded Jefferson Davis's instructions to disband the infantry and try to escape with the cavalry and light guns, and answered Sherman's summons by inviting another conference, at which, on April 26, he surrendered all the forces in his command on the same terms granted Lee at Appomattox; Sherman supplying, as did Grant, rations for the beaten army. Thirty-seven thousand men and officers were paroled in North Carolina—exclusive, of course, of the thousands who had slipped away to their homes during the suspension of hostilities.
After Appomattox the rebellion fell to pieces all at once. Lee surrendered less than one sixth of the Confederates in arms on April 9. The armies that still remained, though inconsiderable when compared with the mighty host under the national colors, were yet infinitely larger than any Washington ever commanded, and capable of strenuous resistance and of incalculable mischief. But the march of Sherman from Atlanta to the sea, and his northward progress through the Carolinas, had predisposed the great interior region to make an end of strife: a tendency which was greatly promoted by the masterly raid of General J.H. Wilson's cavalry through Alabama, and his defeat of Forrest at Selma. An officer of Taylor's staff came to Canby's headquarters on April 19 to make arrangements for the surrender of all the Confederate forces east of the Mississippi not already paroled by Sherman and Wilson, embracing some forty-two thousand men. The terms were agreed upon and signed on May 4, at the village of Citronelle in Alabama. At the same time and place the Confederate Commodore Farrand surrendered to Rear-Admiral Thatcher all the naval forces Of the Confederacy in the neighborhood of Mobile—a dozen vessels and some hundreds of officers.
The rebel navy had practically ceased to exist some months before. The splendid fight in Mobile Bay on August 5, 1864, between Farragut's fleet and the rebel ram Tennessee, with her three attendant gunboats, and Cushing's daring destruction of the powerful Albemarle in Albemarle Sound on October 27, marked its end in Confederate waters. The duel between the Kearsarge and the Alabama off Cherbourg had already taken place; a few more encounters, at or near foreign ports, furnished occasion for personal bravery and subsequent lively diplomatic correspondence; and rebel vessels, fitted out under the unduly lenient "neutrality" of France and England, continued for a time to work havoc with American shipping in various parts of the world. But these two Union successes, and the final capture of Fort Fisher and of Wilmington early in 1865, which closed the last haven for daring blockade-runners, practically silenced the Confederate navy.
General E. Kirby Smith commanded all the insurgent forces west of the Mississippi. On him the desperate hopes of Mr. Davis and his flying cabinet were fixed, after the successive surrenders of Lee and Johnston had left them no prospect in the east. They imagined they could move westward, gathering up stragglers as they fled, and, crossing the river, join Smith's forces, and there continue the war. But after a time even this hope failed them. Their escort melted away; members of the cabinet dropped off on various pretexts, and Mr. Davis, abandoning the attempt to reach the Mississippi River, turned again toward the east in an effort to gain the Florida coast and escape by means of a sailing vessel to Texas.
The two expeditions sent in pursuit of him by General Wilson did not allow this consummation, which the government at Washington might possibly have viewed with equanimity. His camp near Irwinville, Georgia, was surrounded by Lieutenant-Colonel Pritchard's command at dawn on May 10, and he was captured as he was about to mount horse with a few companions and ride for the coast, leaving his family to follow more slowly. The tradition that he was captured in disguise, having donned female dress in a last desperate attempt to escape, has only this foundation, that Mrs. Davis threw a cloak over her husband's shoulders, and a shawl over his head, on the approach of the Federal soldiers. He was taken to Fortress Monroe, and there kept in confinement for about two years; was arraigned before the United States Circuit Court for the District of Virginia for the crime of treason, and released on bail; and was finally restored to all the duties and privileges of citizenship, except the right to hold office, by President Johnson's proclamation of amnesty of December 25, 1868.
General E. Kirby Smith, on whom Davis's last hopes of success had centered, kept up so threatening an attitude that Sherman was sent from Washington to bring him to reason. But he did not long hold his position of solitary defiance. One more needless skirmish took place near Brazos, Texas, and then Smith followed the example of Taylor and surrendered his entire force, some eighteen thousand, to General Canby, on May 26. One hundred and seventy-five thousand men in all were surrendered by the different Confederate commanders, and there were, in addition to these, about ninety-nine thousand prisoners in national custody during the year. One third of these were exchanged, and two thirds released. This was done as rapidly as possible by successive orders of the War Department, beginning on May 9 and continuing through the summer.
The first object of the government was to stop the waste of war. Recruiting ceased immediately after Lee's surrender, and measures were taken to reduce as promptly as possible the vast military establishment. Every chief of bureau was ordered, on April 28, to proceed at once to the reduction of expenses in his department to a peace footing; and this before Taylor or Smith had surrendered, and while Jefferson Davis was still at large. The army of a million men was brought down, with incredible ease and celerity, to one of twenty-five thousand.
Before the great army melted away into the greater body of citizens, the soldiers enjoyed one final triumph, a march through the capital, undisturbed by death or danger, under the eyes of their highest commanders, military and civilian, and the representatives of the people whose nationality they had saved. Those who witnessed this solemn yet joyous pageant will never forget it, and will pray that their children may never witness anything like it. For two days this formidable host marched the long stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue, starting from the shadow of the dome of the Capitol, and filling that wide thoroughfare to Georgetown with a serried mass, moving with the easy yet rapid pace of veterans in cadence step. As a mere spectacle this march of the mightiest host the continent has ever seen gathered together was grand and imposing; but it was not as a spectacle alone that it affected the beholder most deeply. It was not a mere holiday parade; it was an army of citizens on their way home after a long and terrible war. Their clothes were worn and pierced with bullets; their banners had been torn with shot and shell, and lashed in the winds of a thousand battles; the very drums and fifes had called out the troops to numberless night alarms, and sounded the onset on historic fields. The whole country claimed these heroes as a part of themselves. And now, done with fighting, they were going joyously and peaceably to their homes, to take up again the tasks they had willingly laid down in the hour of their country's peril.