Where Was Jefferson Davis Going (Article 70)

“I have an infirmity of which I am heartily ashamed. When I am aroused in a matter, I lose control of my feelings and become personal.” – Jefferson Davis

Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, was in his pew at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia on Sunday morning April 2, 1865, when he was handed a message sent by General Robert E. Lee. It read, “I advise that all preparation be made for leaving Richmond tonight.”

Other parishioners recalled that Davis stood up, gained his erect posture, and walked quickly out of the church. The message clearly indicated that General Lee had decided to abandon his positions near Petersburg and retreat further south to hopefully fight another day. But the retreat would essentially leave the much larger Union forces a clear path to the Confederate Capital of Richmond; and, Lee was, in effect, telling the Confederate government to abandon the city that evening.

Later that Sunday, hesitant to leave the city on such short notice, Davis sent a message to General Lee which read, “To depart from Richmond tonight would necessitate the loss of many valuables, both for the want of time to pack and of transportation.” It was clear that Davis believed that Lee could hold out longer, and he questioned Lee’s decision to retreat from the defensive positions around Petersburg. At first Lee was furious and tore the message apart saying, “I am sure I gave him sufficient time.”  But, he immediately gained composure and wrote the President a respectful message stating that it was, “absolutely necessary that we should abandon our position (Petersburg) tonight.” 

Although he seemed defiant, Davis must have expected the fall of Richmond, just perhaps not that specific day, because, several days before, he had placed his wife, Varina, and their children on a train toward Charleston, South Carolina (or even further south if necessary to avoid Union capture).  She did not want to leave without him and it finally took a forceful directive from the President to his wife for her to leave on the earlier train. Even before her husband’s directive, Varina also knew a retreat from Richmond was eminent and she had been selling many of her belongings including china, silver sets, and even some of her dresses. Still, she did not pack lightly, with 4-5 trunks of clothes and memorabilia. Jefferson Davis wanted his family to travel separately from him for two reasons; first, of course, for their safety, but also so that he could devote his energies to maintain some semblance of a functioning government. Varina later wrote that he told her, “I understand your desire to assist and comfort me, but you can do this in only one way, and that is by going yourself and taking our children to a place of safety. If I live, you can come to me when the struggle is ended; but I do not expect to survive the destruction of constitutional liberty.” While that phrasing may sound too formal today, it is probably exactly what her husband said; especially about the destruction of Constitutional liberty. Until his dying day, Davis vehemently (but mistakenly) espoused that the U.S. Constitution permitted secession by any state and that Lincoln’s destructive “war of northern aggression” against the Southern states and his Emancipation Proclamation were both unconstitutional.

But, Davis could not debate the Constitution in early April 1865.  With his family safely out of the city, Davis was able to focus on his duties in Richmond, until he received the communications from General Lee; then he prepared for his own departure.

“Offer a bottle of whiskey and keep the house in good condition for the Yankees.”  –  Jefferson Davis purportedly said to his butler as he prepared to leave the Executive Mansion with Union troops closing in.

Many lower level government officials and private citizens of Richmond had left the city days earlier, but Davis and his cabinet remained until Lee’s message. Now they too began gathering the personal and governmental effects they could carry and started on their exit, using trains gathered in Richmond for that purpose. Davis ordered the Secretary of Treasury to load, into one of the box cars, the remaining $500,000 in gold nuggets and coins available to the Confederacy, along with some gold which belonged to Richmond banks and bags of jewelry which had been donated by southern women. The stories of the box car “filled with gold” would later lead to wild speculation about a hidden fortune, and even today can still spur treasure hunters.  But, in reality, aside from the banks’ gold which Davis ordered protected, there was only the $500,000 available to the government officials, and that amount would be spent over the next five weeks.  At 11pm, Davis, his cabinet, and a few bureaucrats boarded the train, and, accompanied by only a small number of  soldiers, headed to Danville, about 150 miles further south.

Unfortunately, as Davis left Richmond, over the objections of the city’s political leaders, Confederate officials ordered the warehouse district set afire, ostensibly to keep any remaining useful materials from the invading Union forces; however, the fires quickly got out of hand, and the residential and other business areas of the city began to burn. Mobs gathered in the streets and ransacked homes and businesses, as described by one newspaper editor, “The sidewalks were encumbered with broken glass; stores were entered at pleasure and stripped from top to bottom.” Ironically, many of the fires were extinguished the next day with help from the Union soldiers who were streaming into the city; and order was restored when the soldiers broke up the mobs and arrested hundreds of the rioters.

After the rampages slowed, one Richmond woman wrote in her diary: “The Yankees are behaving well, considering it is them.” 

Although he had abandoned Richmond, Jefferson Davis was not ready to surrender the Confederate States of America.  He still had armies in the field and he believed he could regroup elsewhere and fight on.

The town of Danville quickly proved to be an unworkable temporary capital because many of its citizens did not want the Confederate officials in their town; so, Davis ordered the train to head for Greensboro, North Carolina. When he arrived, Davis first learned that Lee’s retreating troops had been overtaken by the superior forces of Union General Ulysses S. Grant near Appomattox, Virginia; and Lee had surrendered his tattered army.  Davis at first became emotional but quickly re-gained composure and sent for General Joseph Johnston and General P.G.T. Beauregard, who commanded Confederate forces in the area. The generals were surprised when, instead of asking their advice on the methodology for surrender, Davis said he intended to re-build an army made of deserters who had simply gone home, combined with pardoned confederate soldiers who, if asked, would readily violate their oath to forebear arms against the Union. When Davis asked their opinion. Johnston, who commanded an army larger than Lee’s, spoke first, “Our people are tired of war, feel themselves whipped, and will not fight.” Johnston added that his men saw Lee’s surrender as the end of the war and Beauregard only said, “I concur in all General Johnston has said.” 

The meeting was formal, but not congenial, and bordered at times as uncivil. Johnston said that the only real presidential power Davis had remaining was to end the war. Davis could not bring himself to participate in any surrender protocol and suggested that the Generals from the Union and Confederate armies could negotiate directly with each other. In other words, the Confederate military might surrender, but not the Confederate Government, nor its President.

As Davis prepared to leave Greensboro, a decision was made to abandon the train and travel on horseback and in carriages. The remaining Confederate treasury gold, now down to about $300,000 after disbursements for supplies and for General Johnston to pay a modest amount to each of his 25,000 troops, was loaded into a wagon to be pulled by a team of horses. President Davis and Generals Johnston and Beauregard then parted ways, but, not before they agreed to assign about 1,200 additional cavalry troops to Davis’s escort.

However, before General Johnston could even arrange a meeting with Union General Sherman to discuss terms of surrender, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Many in the north were convinced (mistakenly) that Jefferson Davis was responsible, and Union Secretary of War Edwin Stanton unleashed an unprecedented manhunt to find the Confederate President. The pursuers were instructed to capture Davis alive if at all possible; since both Stanton and new President Andrew Johnson wanted to try him for treason.

Now, with the death of Abraham Lincoln, Davis knew he would be chased by more men with vengeance on their minds; but he still intended to avoid capture and rally some semblance of an army to continue the fight.  He convened a “council of war” on May 2, consisting of General John Breckenridge, General Braxton Bragg, and a few other officers in his entourage and said, “It is time that we adopt some definite plan upon which the further prosecution of our struggle shall be conducted.” Like Generals Johnston and Beauregard earlier, Breckenridge, Bragg and the others were astonished. It seemed to those in attendance that only Jefferson Davis failed to realize that the cause was lost. He was told by Breckenridge that the troops which accompanied him only expected to help him reach a safe point and then they would return to their homes; in effect, his military escort was no longer a fighting force.  Davis reportedly said, “Then all is indeed lost.”

But, if he actually said that, Jefferson Davis did not mean it, at least not yet. He had still another plan to re-build a viable Confederate resistance.

In Texas!

And, he still had some gold! He appointed an acting treasurer and instructed that the Richmond banks’ gold remain segregated and placed in viable southern banks. And, planning for the future, he instructed that most of the remaining Confederate treasury’s gold be placed into a few other scattered southern banks and in London for later use by the Confederacy; except for a small amount Davis kept to facilitate his escape. Then, he released almost all of his military escorts in the belief that a small group would be more difficult for the Union soldiers to track.

Davis planned to reach General Edmund Kirby and his large force west of the Mississippi River in Louisiana and Texas. He believed that Kirby’s army should be sufficient to build a “Western” Confederacy; but, if all else failed, he would likely ask those troops make a noble last stand.  While Kirby had learned of the recent surrender of Lee and Johnston as well as other Confederate forces in nearby Mississippi and Alabama, and he knew of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, he also knew Jefferson Davis was still a free man. Davis had been able to get word to General Kirby that he was on his way west and Kirby was determined to keep fighting. On May 9, the Union commander in the west contacted Kirby and offered surrender terms similar to those Grant gave Lee, but Kirby rejected the overture; still hoping to unite with his President.

Davis had even considered an alternative to a “last stand” in Texas, with Kirby’s troops, if that option were to prove impractical. As an option, he would go into Mexico and operate a “government in exile” to keep the Confederate grievances against the United States in the international spotlight.

It is clear that Jefferson Davis could not even consider giving up the fight!

But, for the present, Davis was now determined to re-unite with his wife somewhere in Georgia and he continued to move deeper into southern territory, following what he expected to be her route, often arriving at a town only hours after she had departed. Although her route meandered for safety’s sake, Varina Davis was on her way to Texas as well. The two had been able to exchange some messages by using dedicated couriers who traveled between the groups. With information from those couriers and scouting patrols, Davis knew it was only a matter of time before he could meet with his wife, and then they would head for Texas together.

On May 9, 1865, Jefferson Davis’s entourage converged with his wife and her escorts near Irwinsville, Georgia, and, for the first time in over a month, the two shared some time together.

Then, at dawn the next morning, all of Jefferson Davis’s plans came crashing down.

Union soldiers, who had been tracking Davis for weeks, quietly surrounded their camp, and, at first light, a Union officer shouted for them to surrender. A few Union soldiers mistook movement nearby as Confederate guards and opened fire on their own men; but officers on both sides quickly re-gained control; and no Confederates fired their weapons. At first Davis thought to try to escape into the woods, but his wife restrained him; and he demurred saying, “God’s will be done.” He told his wife that he might be executed on the spot, but that he believed the Union officers would likely protect her, so she should offer no resistance. Varina then draped a shawl over his head and shoulders for warmth and Davis surrendered to his waiting captors. Perhaps to Jefferson Davis’s surprise, he was not executed, but he was restrained and quickly moved away from the area.  On the other hand, as he expected, his wife was treated respectfully and informed that her husband was alive; but was a prisoner. As quickly as possible, Davis was transported to the federal prison at Fort Monroe in Virginia, where he would await his fate; and, he would wait for two long years.

Eager to diminish Davis’s reputation, northern newspapers reported that he had tried to flee the camp where he was captured disguised in his wife’s clothes; a falsehood that dogged Davis for years and which greatly offended him. He said that such demeanor would have been “unbecoming a soldier and a gentleman,” and Davis considered himself both.

After learning of the capture of Jefferson Davis, General Kirby finally agreed to surrender his force on May 21, officially signing the document on June 2. However, there would still be a few isolated skirmishes, simply because some Southern units were as yet unaware that the Confederate States of America, for which they had fought, had ceased to exist.

Davis may have been misguided in his commitment to secession, slavery, and the formation of the Confederate States; but he was a courageous man. He had fought with honor in the Mexican War and had actually requested to be appointed as a General of the Confederate Army; and he was not pleased to instead be selected as the civilian President of the Confederate government. And, as President, he did not flee Richmond for his own safety, but only because he hoped to continue to lead the Confederate cause in some alternative form. However, May 10, 1865, outside the small community of Irwinsville, Georgia, all of his hopes and plans for the Confederacy ended.

Epilogue:

Jefferson Davis was held in federal prison for two years without a trial, before he was unceremoniously released.  Why was there no trial? As in any decision with important political implications, there were numerous factors, but three stand out. President Andrew Johnson had become concerned that a trial would only give Davis a public forum to justify the formation of the Confederacy, which could then damage re-construction efforts. Further, the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court had said that, while secessionists committed crimes against federal property, their acts were not treasonous under the Constitution. And, finally, many national and international dignitaries had petitioned for his release on humanitarian grounds; including even the Catholic Pope who had sent Davis, a Protestant, a symbolic “crown of thorns” as an expression of sympathy.

 

The Will Thomas Legion (Article 69)

“William Holland Thomas was a White man by birth, and a Cherokee by choice – and he distinguished himself in both cultures.  He became a Chief by vote of the Cherokee and a State Senator by the vote of White men and served all his peoples well. And when he became a soldier by duty, he served honorably as a son of the South.” – anonymous obituary

When Will, (or sometimes Wil) as he was known to almost everyone, was about thirteen years old, his widowed mother apprenticed him to a trading post owner, Felix Walker, who was also a U.S. Congressman.  Such arrangements were common at the time because it provided some relief to his mother and gave Will an opportunity to learn a trade. The store was near the Cherokee Nation homeland in North Carolina and served not only tribal members but also local White farmers and hunters. Will was to be given room and board, an opportunity to receive some additional education, and $100.00 upon completion of his three years of service. It was a good bargain in those days and Will worked hard to earn the respect of Mr. Walker; even becoming a voracious reader under Walker’s tutelage. As Will was nearing the end of his service as an apprentice, Walker was forced to close the business and informed Will that he could not pay the $100 that would soon be due. As a substitute for the cash compensation, Mr. Walker offered Will his small collection of books which happened to include copies of the North Carolina Legal Code. Will accepted the unusual, and unexpected, form of compensation, not because he planned at the time to actually become a lawyer, but more likely because he understood that Mr. Walker would be unable to offer anything else; and Will did value the books.  Will wanted to remain in the area and, since he had proven to be honest, resourceful, and a dedicated worker, he found enough odd-jobs to support himself.

Many of the customers at the trading post were Cherokee, and over the prior two years, Will had shown a sincere respect for their culture and began to learn the basics of their language; which earned him the friendship of tribal members. Over time, he became fluent in the native language and began to study his collection of legal books with the goal to help serve the Cherokees in matters involving state and federal laws which affected the Natives. Struck by young Will’s work ethic and commitment to embrace the traditions of his Native people, Yonaguska, Chief of the Nation, took Will under his wing and the two became as close as any father and son. At some point, Chief Yonaguska officially adopted Will and gave him the Cherokee name of Wil-usdi (Little Wil).

With the knowledge gained from his time running the trading post for Mr. Walker, Will, at about eighteen years of age, started his own small store which slowly grew into a successful series of trading posts serving White farmers, Mountain men (referred to as Highlanders), and the local Cherokees. Although he never had any university education, in his early twenties, Will was able to study under a local attorney and became sufficiently versed in the law to be recognized as a practicing lawyer; a common path to a legal career in those days. Will was popular within both the White society and the Cherokee Nation and, in addition to his trading posts, he quickly built a viable law firm serving clients from both cultures. Then, in 1831, when he was only twenty-six, he officially became a legal representative for the Cherokee Nation.

He served as the legal advisor to the Cherokee without much controversy until 1835 when, under the Indian Removal Act, the federal government began to force the relocation of Cherokee from their ancestral lands in Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia to the newly designated Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). The relocations were a blatant method of securing valuable Indian lands for acquisition by White settlers; however, to legitimize the removal, the federal government “negotiated” the New Echota Treaty with a small selective group of “Western” Cherokee elders, who the government agents knew did not have the authority to commit all of the Cherokee Nation. Political divisions among the Cherokee people erupted almost immediately because other Cherokee believed that the New Echota Treaty was illegal, and essentially, three factions of the Cherokee Nation emerged. The Western Cherokee split into two groups with the one group, which had claimed authority to sign the New Echota Treaty, accepting re-establishment to the Indian Territory, while a second group chose to try to re-negotiate the Treaty before removal in the hope for better compensation. Eventually, both factions of these “Western” Cherokee were re-located in what became known as the “Trail of Tears.”  However, the third group, the Eastern Cherokee (or Qualla), represented by Will Thomas, chose to challenge the order in federal courts. Thomas negotiated with the federal government from the perspective that, even if legal, the New Echota treaty did not apply to the Eastern (Qualla) Cherokee, who had signed an earlier treaty under which they had secured “reserved” land of about 600 acres in North Carolina. Thomas was ultimately successful, and, thereafter, the Qualla remained on their traditional land in North Carolina.

Throughout the years 1831-1839, Principal Chief Yonaguska involved Thomas (Wil-usdi to the Natives) in the administrative and financial affairs of the Qualla Cherokee and encouraged the other elders to consider Will as their next Principal Chief. The other leaders respected Wil-usdi in his own right; and, when Yonaguska died in 1839, Wil-usdi, a White man, was elected as the Principal Chief of the Qualla Cherokee Nation.

Thomas’s trading posts prospered during this period, serving White farmers and mountain dwelling hunters, as well as the Cherokee. However, as Principal Chief of the Nation of Qualla Cherokee, Thomas realized that the “reserved” land originally allotted to the Nation was limited, and a problem was developing as the Native population increased and White settlers began to encroach near the borders.  As Chief Wil-usdi, Thomas embarked on a mission to increase the size of the lands dedicated to the Cherokee. His problem; the Cherokee were prohibited from signing contracts or holding land titles except those held in trust or granted by the federal government. To assure his people had sufficient land for the future, Thomas began acquiring adjacent land in his own name and personally assumed the debts; but held the land in trust for the Cherokee. It was a grand and noble gesture; however, the loans would later prove to be a financial hardship and nearly wiped out all that Thomas had accomplished.

But for now, Will Thomas’s ability to successfully straddle the two very different societies enabled him to serve both, to the remarkable extent that he simultaneously, and honorably, served as principal Chief of the Eastern Cherokee Nation and as a State Senator in the North Carolina legislature, representing his White constituency. When asked about his loyalty to both cultures, Thomas wrote; “When entrusted with defending the rights of a White or Red man, I hope I shall always be found faithful to my trust and act worthy of the confidence reposed in me without regard to the consequences. The Indians are as much entitled to their rights as I am to mine.” 

However, by 1857, Thomas began to face financial problems as he became weighted down by the debts he incurred to acquire additional lands for the Cherokee. His local reputation bought him some time with creditors, but, the debt load was unsustainable and began to consume his income from both the trading posts and his law practice. Thomas realized that he was about to lose all for which he had worked so hard and so long; but then, fortuitously, he met, and soon proposed marriage to, Sarah Love, the daughter of a wealthy merchant. He was honest with Sarah’s father about his circumstances, reportedly saying, “I want not for land, but only for gold.” (In today’s language, he was “land rich but cash poor”). Thomas must have won over his soon to be father-in-law, because Sarah’s father not only approved the marriage, but helped Thomas stabilize his financial situation. Despite the convenient timing, and contention by some that the marriage was a monetary arrangement, by most accounts, his marriage to Sarah was respectful and happy; and they had three sons in successive years. With his debts under control, the Cherokee lands he held in trust secured, his trading posts and law practice again thriving, and now as a husband and father, life was good for Will Thomas.

But, that would soon change!

In 1859, abolitionist John Brown led a raid on a federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, in an attempt to obtain arms for a planned slave revolt. Although U.S. Army troops, led by Robert E. Lee, quickly regained control of the arsenal, and Brown was tried and executed for his crime, the thought of a future successful slave uprising sent shock waves throughout the South. As secession flames began to burn in 1860, White politician Will Thomas, now 55 years-old, reminded his constituents that the U.S. government had had acted swiftly to end Brown’s plan. Thomas also spoke out against the potential break-up of the United States and cautioned that Civil War would likely result if southern states seceded. At the same time, as Principal Chief of the sovereign Qualla Cherokee, Wil-usdi urged neutrality, but expected his people would be in harm’s way if war broke out between Northern and Southern states. At first, to Will Thomas’s relief, North Carolina resisted a secession vote and did not initially join the new Confederate States of America; however, after the attack on Fort Sumter and Union President Abraham Lincoln’s announcement that the U.S. army would be increased by 75,000 men to put down the rebellion, North Carolina voted to secede on May 20, 1861. A devoted Southerner and North Carolina legislator, Will Thomas cast his vote for secession. Then, Thomas and the other Oualla Cherokee leaders, realizing that they could not remain neutral, offered to raise troops to act as a “home guard” in North Carolina and to support, but not join, the Confederate Army.

After nearly a year, Thomas’s independent military force had grown to include four hundred Cherokee warriors and over five hundred White Highlanders; and, Thomas and his men decided that they could, and should, do more to support the Southern cause and offered to formally join the Confederate Army. Initially designated as a battalion, the term Legion was adopted because the unit combined cavalry, infantry, artillery, and even snipers and demolition experts. Thomas’s organization was controversial from the start, with some traditional Generals opposed to its bi-cultural composition and suggested that the White men and the Cherokee would not serve well together. Thomas however, convinced enough of the Generals that he knew his men and that they were, and would continue to be, an effective military unit; besides, he also knew the Confederates needed all the men they could get. He had expected his Legion to be assigned to continue guarding outposts and rail lines in North Carolina, and was surprised when the Confederate military staff, some say at the insistence of President Davis, asked Thomas to take his men into Tennessee where Union forces were beginning to have some success.  Thomas knew that his home area in North Carolina was, at the time, relatively safe from Union attack, so he agreed to lead his troops across the border; and quickly found himself facing U.S. Army forces at a place in Tennessee called Baptist Gap. To the surprise of some Confederate Generals, and perhaps the opposing Union commander, but certainly not to Thomas, the Legion held ranks in the brief battle and fought to what was probably a tactical draw, but by some accounts was a Confederate victory.

However, what happened next left Thomas, by now promoted to Major, with a public relations nightmare and put the very future existence of the Legion at risk!

After the fighting ended for the day at Baptist Gap, Thomas’s men learned that a popular young warrior had been killed and some of the angry Cherokee went back to the battlefield and scalped several dead Union soldiers. Thomas was horrified and immediately recognized that the intemperate retaliation would be condemned throughout the North and South by those both in the military as well as civilians. Under a white flag of truce, Thomas returned the scalps for proper burial to a Union Officer and apologized for both the act as well as for his failure to control his new troops. While the episode became known to the public at large through newspaper reports, most accounts included Thomas’s quick and contrite response, and the fall-out was minimized. One can surmise that there was, what is referred to today as a “sensitivity” training session for the Cherokee soldiers; because, after that one event, such desecration was never repeated.

That public relations episode aside, the Will Thomas Legion was a battlefield success story and they accomplished nearly every mission assigned by Confederate officials; and even were victorious in a few skirmishes which no one had ordered or expected. While most of their action came in Tennessee, they were given assignments in North Carolina and were once sent by Confederate Commanders into Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley (called the breadbasket of the South) to protect the Army’s food chain. The Legion was often cut off from any communication from other Southern units and would be on their own for an extended period between specific assignments; during which times, Thomas, by now promoted to Colonel, would engage in opportunistic attacks on Union supply trains, arsenals, and storehouses. Occasionally, he would receive an order with which he disagreed and would move his men toward an engagement of his own choosing. For disobeying such an order, Thomas was once ordered arrested by an indignant General but was quickly released when superior officers realized the Legion would not serve under any other officer except Will Thomas.

By early 1865, he began to realize the futility of the Confederate cause, but, he believed it was his duty to continue to lead his Legion in attacks against Union troops. However, his missions became more difficult because the casualties from three years of fighting had reduced the Legion to only about five hundred men, down from a peak of nearly two thousand. Further, he was so out of touch with Confederate officials that, in May 1865, by now back in North Carolina, he was still planning and executing attacks against Union forces; several weeks after the Capital city of Richmond had fallen, Robert E. Lee and other Generals had surrendered, Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated, and there was no functioning Confederate Government.

On May 8, 1865, unaware that the war was at an end, Colonel Thomas prepared to attack a Union staging area at Waynesville, North Carolina. The Legion’s five hundred remaining men were substantially less that the Union force which held the town; but Colonel Thomas had a plan! First, he sent a man in civilian clothes to assess the town’s fortifications and to spread the rumor that he had seen over a thousand Confederates in the surrounding hills. Then, on the night of May 9, Thomas had his men build hundreds of campfires in the hills around the town and then they yelled, screamed, and whooped all night, leading the Union commander to believe a very large force was about to attack the next morning. One Union soldier wrote later, “It looked as if the mountains were alive. Fires could be seen on every hill and the yells and war cries of the Cherokee made it impossible to think about anything, but what would happen when daybreak arrived”

Realizing the effect that the Confederate forces were having on his men and hoping to avoid further loss of lives, just after dawn, the Commander of the Union troops approached Thomas’s line and asked for surrender terms. The ruse had worked and Colonel Thomas agreed to come into Waynesville to formally accept the surrender of the Union force. During that meeting, the Union commander shared dispatches he held which announced the surrender in April of almost all Confederate armies, the death of Lincoln, and the collapse of the Confederate government. Finally convinced the war was indeed over, Thomas reversed the dialogue and offered to surrender to the Union commander. After signing a surrender document which granted pardons to him and his men, Thomas had one more deception in mind. He asked the Union Commander to issue over one thousand pardon documents because he was not yet ready to admit he only had five hundred men. Returning to his troops, Colonel Thomas announced to the Legion that their war was over, that they would receive pardons, and that they should return to their homes and families; but he had one final request. As part of the surrender terms, he had given his word that none of his men would engage in any guerrilla war-fare against Union forces and he asked that they honor his promise. The Legion then disbanded, and the Cherokee and Highlanders alike simply went home.

For Thomas personally, the war had taken a terrible financial toll as his stores were looted or burned and his lands were unproductive; but, fortunately, his wife and three boys had weathered the war under the care of her family. Also, those lands he acquired for the Cherokee remained intact, and, as one of his final acts as their Chief, Thomas assured that nearly 56,000 acres held in trust were perpetually added to the “reserved” lands of the Eastern Cherokee. However, at sixty years old, and after the deprivations of continuous warfare, Thomas’s own health was failing and the most cruel blows were emotional. The combined stresses of command during the war and then watching the dismantling of his lands and businesses were too much for Will.  He descended into a form of dementia, with only occasional times of lucidity, and was in and out of mental hospitals for the rest of his life. Certainly, a sad end for a dynamic man.

A few historians, including some affiliated with the “Western” Cherokee, have claimed that Thomas speculated in some of the Cherokee lands which were seized by the federal government during the forced relocations in 1835, and in doing so, exploited other Cherokee. As with many historical disputes, there is a measure of truth, but not the whole truth, to their assertions.  Thomas did obtain some former Cherokee land, but then, over time, sold that land and used the proceeds to acquire more property in North Carolina adjacent to the Qualla “reserved” land. He clearly was making the most of a controversial situation, but primarily to benefit the Qualla, for whom he served first as their legal advisor and then as their Principal Chief.  Most historians who are familiar with Wil Thomas’s life-story still write respectfully about the man, who by any measure, led a remarkable life. He was a successful businessman, an honorable politician, an effective Chief to the Cherokee, and he bridged two cultures. He not only brought diverse peoples together, but successfully lead them as a cohesive team in the most difficult of situations; where they faced life or death on the battlefield.

But, William Holland Thomas’s place in history was cemented on May 10, 1865 at Waynesville, North Carolina, when, in one of the last military engagements of the Civil War, his under-manned Confederate force tricked a superior Union army into surrender, and then, instead, surrendered themselves; all without a shot being fired. And, with that, the Will Thomas Legion became the stuff of legend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quotes Upon the Death of Abraham Lincoln (Article 68)

Earlier, they had been doing the mundane things people did on a Friday evening in Washington DC, reading, working, resting, having a late dinner, even attending a play at a theater; but now, they had learned Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated. After the attack on the evening of Friday, April 14, 1865, and after his death the following morning, the public reactions began in newspapers, private letters, diaries, pulpits, homes, and even battlefields. Some of the quotes are sorrowful, some pragmatic, some angry, some thoughtful, and, unfortunately, but not surprisingly in a deeply divided country, a few were even celebratory. News of Lincoln’s death sped rapidly through the Northern states by telegraph and railway distribution; however, throughout the South, it would be several days before the news became widespread because of the near total destruction of telegraph lines and railroads in that region during the War. As a result, reactions from Confederate officials and everyday citizens in the deep South only occurred several days later, or in some cases a full week, after the assassination.

But, whether the person first heard about Lincoln’s death on April 15th, or as late as April 23rd, the following quotes were made moments after hearing the news, and the individual was expressing the raw emotions felt at the time. Some of these people later gave more articulate comments, after they had time for reflection, but their initial thoughts seem more compelling to us today.

“It is all over. The President is no more.”  -Said the doctor who had attended Lincoln, to Mary Todd Lincoln, as she rested in an adjoining room.

“My husband is gone! Why did you not tell me he was dying? – Mary Todd Lincoln wailed upon learning that her husband had died a few minutes before. (She had earlier been overwhelmed and fainted, and had to be taken from the room)

“They have killed Papa dead. They’ve killed Papa dead!”  –  12 year old Tad Lincoln cried to Thomas Pendel, the White House doorkeeper, as the boy rushed into the White House. Tad had been at another theater when the owner suddenly walked out on the stage and said “The President has been shot!” 

“It cannot be, it cannot be.” – Said Robert Lincoln, the President’s oldest son, who was in the White House with John Hay, one of Lincoln’s secretaries, when he learned that his father had been shot. Unaware yet that the wound was mortal, the two young men rushed to the rooming house where the President had been taken. When he saw his father and realized that he would not recover, Robert spoke those words and began to weep.

“I know’d they’d kill him”  – Said Sarah Bush Lincoln upon hearing that her step-son had been assassinated. In their last visit, four years earlier, as Lincoln left for Washington DC and the White House, Sarah had said she feared that his enemies might kill him. Lincoln, attempting to sooth her fears, said, “No. No, Mother, they will not do that. Trust that the Lord will keep us well and we will see    each other again.”  Sarah’s sad premonition was finally proven!

“Will I be a slave again?”  – Asked an elderly Black man to a young Union soldier in the outskirts of Washington DC. The   young man wrote home that he was (at the time) unaware of the assassination and asked the old man why he would ask such a question? When told “Marse Lincoln is killed” the soldier wrote that he replied, “That cannot be true,” but within a few minutes he heard others talking about the attack on Lincoln.  He then wrote, “I sat on a low fence and cried.”

 “The Moses of my people had fallen in the hour of his triumph”     -Said Elizabeth Keckley, a former slave and seamstress for, and friend of, the President’s wife.

“The President is dead!”  – Cried William Seward, Secretary of State, who was savagely attacked as part of the assassination plot. Because of his very frail condition, no one had yet told Seward about Lincoln, but from his bed he noticed the flag at the War Department at half-staff.  Hoping to calm Seward, the attending doctor tried to deny that Lincoln was dead. But Seward, now with tears streaming, said; “No. If he were alive, he would have been the first to call on me. But, he has not been here, nor has he sent to know how I am, and there is a flag at half-mast.”

 

Frederick Douglass spoke the next day at the Rochester, N.Y., city hall in an impromptu gathering of city leaders. First, he repeated from memory these words from Lincoln’s second inaugural, “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 of the wealth piled up by the bond-man’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, that judgements of the Lord are righteous altogether.” Douglass continued in his own words, “Those memorable words – words which will live immortal in history, will be read with increasing admiration from age to age”.

 Newspapers were quick to print the news of the assassination attempt early Saturday morning, and then most issued a second edition after receiving word that Lincoln had died. These very similar headlines were coincidental, and even remarkable, as the newspapers were bitter rivals.

  “Our loss, The Great National Calamity” – New York Herald

  “The Great Calamity – The Nation’s Loss” –  New York Tribune

  “Our Great loss – The National Calamity.” –  New York Times

On the other hand, a newspaper editor in Chattanooga, Tennessee wrote: “Old Abe has gone to answer before the bar of God for the innocent blood which he permitted to shed, and for his efforts to enslave a free people.”  This was an interesting choice of words since the “free people” of whom he wrote, were the Southern Whites, many of whom either owned slaves or tolerated slavery.

“Glorious News. Lincoln and Seward Assassinated.”   – Headline in the Demopolis (Alabama) Herald.

But, the War’s two most famous Generals each expressed compassionate views.

“I have no doubt that President Lincoln will be the conspicuous figure of the war. He was incontestably the greatest man I ever knew.”    -Union General Ulysses S. Grant.

“Cowardly”, “Deplorable”, “A Crime.”  –  Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s reaction to a reporter for the New York Herald. While there is no complete text of the responses Lee gave, the reporter placed these three comments in quotation marks. The reporter also included, without quotes, that Lee condemned the assassination and said he was devastated.

On April 19th, Confederate General Breckenridge located Jefferson Davis who had fled the Capital City of Richmond two weeks earlier. The General informed Davis that Lincoln had been assassinated and was dead and (mistakenly) that Secretary of State Seward was also killed. According to the General, he ended his brief report by offering that he was regretful because the death of Lincoln was unfortunate for the future of the Southern people, to which Davis replied: “I do not know. If it were to be done, it were better if it were well done. If the same were done to Andy Johnson (Lincoln’s Vice-President), the beast, and to Secretary Stanton (Secretary of War), the job would then be complete.”  There is no evidence that Jefferson Davis was aware of the assassination plot and almost all historians believe he was not involved.

“All honor to J. Wilkes Booth. I cannot be sorry for their fate. They deserve it. They have reaped their just reward.”    – A southerner, Kate Stone, referring to Lincoln and Seward, wrote in her diary on April 16th .

“Hurrah! Old Abe Lincoln has been assassinated. It may be abstractly wrong to feel so jubilant, but I just cannot help it.”    – Another Southern woman, Emma LeConte wrote in her diary on April 19th.

But, many Southerners realized that Abraham Lincoln’s moderating influence would now be replaced by other leaders who were already seeking revenge against the South for the War; and would now be re-enforced and blame all Southerners for the death of Lincoln.

“Lincoln, old Abe Lincoln, killed, murdered. Seward wounded. Why? By whom? It is simply maddening. …I know this foul murder will bring down worse miseries on us.”  -Wrote Mary Chesnut, Southern diarist and wife of a Confederate General, on April 22nd when she first learned of the assassination. It was a full week after the attack, but news had traveled that slowly into the deep south.

 

“The South has lost her best friend in the future cases. This is the greatest possible calamity for the South.”  – Said Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston on April 17th, after being told By Union General Sherman that Lincoln was dead when the two men met to discuss surrender terms. Two days earlier, General Johnston had told Confederate President Jefferson Davis that he would surrender his army; and, when Davis suggested that they re-form an army of deserters and previously pardoned soldiers, Johnston replied that was only a wishful thought, and said, “Our people are tired of war, feel themselves whipped, and will not fight.”

“The adjutant read the dispatch to the officers and men. The sad news was received in grief and silence, for we all feel that we have lost a friend…Lincoln was truly the soldier’s friend and will never be forgotten by them.”  – Wrote Elisha Hunt Rhodes on April 15th.  Rhodes had entered the War as a sixteen year-old private and subsequently, because of his battlefield courage and prowess, rose to the rank of Colonel.

While almost all Union soldiers would express similar grief, a few did not feel that way. Private James Walker publicly declared that; “Lincoln was a Yankee SOB, who ought to have been killed long ago.”  Private Walker was immediately arrested, court-marshalled, and sentenced to death by his Commander; and only intervention by a superior officer kept the sentence from being carried out. An appeals court later commuted the sentence.

As was the custom then, people in mourning wore black arm bands or ribbons, and one seen often over those next few days quoted another famous Lincoln phrase, “With malice toward none; with Charity for all.”

“It would seem that Providence had exacted from him the last and only additional service and sacrifice he could give his country, that of dying for her sake. Those of us who knew him will certainly interpret his death as a sign that Heaven deemed him worthy of martyrdom.”  – Wrote John Nicolay, the President’s other long-time secretary, who had left Washington DC and was on his way Paris to become the American Counsel when he received the news. He immediately wrote the above note to his fiancée.

And, perhaps the most eloquent and heartfelt response came from Edwin Stanton, the gruff Secretary of War, who originally thought Lincoln was unfit for the office as President, but quickly became an admirer; even saying later, “I came to love President Lincoln.”  Stanton was present in the room and, at the President’s death, uttered the phrase that still rings true today: 

 “Now he belongs to the ages.”

 

 

 

A Quiet Teacher Becomes A Stone Wall (Article 67)

“God has fixed the time of my death. I do not concern myself about that…” – Thomas Jackson

“War means fighting. The business of a soldier is to fight… This will involve great destruction of life and property” – Thomas Jackson

His mother and father named him Thomas Jonathan Jackson, but both died while he was still a child. His sister Laura Ann called him Tom (or Dearest Tom). When he taught at Virginia Military Institute, the cadets called him Tom Fool, and, because of his religious fervor, some called him Old Blue Light. Later, at age 37, he was affectionately called “Old Jack” by the men who served under him in the Civil War.

Then, after July 21, 1861, he became known as “Stonewall” and that name stuck. Some question, however, whether the General who originally referred to Jackson as “a stone wall” intended the remark as a compliment or an insult. But, more on that later.

Thomas was born in 1824 and became an orphan at seven. He was separated from his sister, with whom he was very close, and was sent to live with first one relative then another; but never in a home with a loving and supportive father and mother. At age eleven, he ran away from the home where he had been placed and walked through the night back to where he had last lived with his mother; and a half-uncle took him in, but he was never close to the family. He worked as a farm hand and was permitted to receive a reasonable early education and he remained on that farm until he left for military school. As a boy, he was considered “slow” to learn, awkward in movements, shy to the extreme, and had few friends. When he was finally united with his sister in his early teens, they developed a loving bond that literally helped sustain Thomas in his darkest hours for the next twenty years. But, unfortunately, even that bond was broken.

Never a very good student, he was appointed to the U.S. Military Academy only after the first selectee dropped out. As a first-year cadet he struggled with academics, but adapted well to the harsh discipline; which, perhaps, was less severe than he had known as a displaced child. He was near the bottom of his class of sixty at the end of his first year, but, showed improvement each following year and finally graduated in seventeenth place in 1846. One instructor remarked on Jackson’s steady progress and said, “If he had one more year he would have been near first.” Jackson never quite mastered one task, at least to the satisfaction of his instructors. A critical skill for young Army officers was horsemanship, and cadets were expected to excel and conform to a classic posture in the saddle. Jackson was a good rider but, as a boy, had learned to lean forward in the saddle and he always drooped one shoulder while riding; so West Point instructors downgraded him. He could, at times, instructors noted, also be careless with his appearance; a habit that continued even as a Confederate General, when his uniforms were often described as rumpled or well worn. On the other hand, he did well enough in artillery and engineering to raise his over-all standing in his class. And, while he was not a popular cadet and made few close friends, he was respected for his hard work. Almost immediately upon graduation, Thomas left to fight in the War with Mexico, where he distinguished himself in several battles; and was personally singled out for recognition by General Winfield Scott, the commander of U.S. forces.

In those days, most Academy graduates had primarily sought an advanced education, not necessarily a military career, and only stayed in U.S. Army for a few years. Jackson was no exception, and he left the Army in 1851, but, he did not stray far-afield as he joined the staff at Virginia Military Institute (VMI). He was still without social graces, spoke little when in groups, and, by most accounts, was not a good teacher. Former students later recalled that he would stand nearly motionless and deliver his lectures in a monotone and expected his students to learn from textbooks, supplemented by his lectures; and he rarely provided any personal attention.  He was seen as unemotional, not very empathetic, and the only subject which could cause him to join a group discussion was religion; a topic he thought important enough for reflection. He did finally marry at age 29, but his first wife died within a year in childbirth, along with an infant.

Thomas was devastated; however, his religious faith, along with support from his sister, sustained him during this period. Jackson always had a connection to religion, but now, he went all in. He joined the local Presbyterian Church and gradually changed from a “believer” to a “near zealot” as described by one observer.  Another contemporary said, “Never have I seen a human being as thoroughly governed by duty. He lived only to please God. His daily life was a daily offering up of himself.”

He married again in 1857 to Mary Anna Morrison, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, and she shared Thomas’s devotion to his faith. She also shared his unorthodox views on slavery. While he thought human-bondage was in accordance with God’s will, he believed mistreatment of slaves was immoral. To the consternation of neighbors, he and his wife taught slave children to read and write, in violation of Virginia law. They also held Sunday school classes for children and adult slaves, as they believed they had a duty to bring their Christian message to the slaves.

Jackson hoped that Civil War could be avoided, and although VMI was a hotbed of secessionist discussion, Jackson urged caution. He had seen the devastation that war brought to communities in Mexico and believed that, if Civil War came, the state of Virginia would become a main battlefield. He had another reason to be concerned if Virginia determined to secede; he and his beloved sister, Laura Ann, began to experience strains in their relationship as she was opposed to secession and to the formation of the Confederate States of America as a separate nation.

After the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter, Jackson did not immediately leave VMI to serve in the Confederate Army; but rather, he waited to see if Virginia, which had not yet left the Union, would vote to secede.  Jackson believed secession was unnecessary and un-wise, but he vowed to follow the decision of his home state. When Virginia voted to secede and Jackson joined the Confederacy, his relationship with his sister became bitter. Laura Ann and her family were so opposed to the secessionist politics in Virginia, that they worked over the next two years to have the Union recognize West Virginia as a separate state; ripped away from the old Commonwealth of Virginia to which Thomas was so loyal.

Unfortunately, he and Laura never reconciled.

Jackson’s first assignment in the Confederate Army was as a drill instructor, directed to instill some degree of discipline in new recruits, who were often uneducated farm boys.  Jackson embraced this duty because he knew it was important to build cohesiveness within the troops in preparation for the chaos of battle. After a month, he was given command of a unit and dispatched to an area where many expected the first, and some thought possibly the last, battle of the new Civil War would occur.

The opposing armies were gathering close to Manassas Junction, Virginia, near Bull Run Creek; and Jackson would soon lead troops into battle for the first time since the Mexican War, fifteen years earlier.

His understanding of “God’s will” convinced Jackson that the Civil War was visited upon the Country as a curse by God for the nation’s many failures to follow scriptures; and, in his mind, devotion would decide the victor. That belief also gave Jackson a total lack of fear in battle. What some saw as courage, or even recklessness, Jackson saw as a belief that his death would be timed by God, not by another human being. He once said, “My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed.”

But, religious fervor aside, during the earlier war with Mexico, Jackson had proven to possess an uncanny ability to make the right tactical moves in almost every battle situation. Other officers noted that Jackson could quickly ascertain a rapidly changing battle situation and create opportunity for victory; or, what military experts refer to as “battleground sense” or “battlefield awareness.”

Then, suddenly on July 21, 1861, he became known as Stonewall!

The circumstances of the nickname are still debated by some.  Only a few months after the war started, Jackson found himself in Northern Virginia, at Manassas Junction, between the Union Capital at Washington DC and the Confederate Capital at Richmond. Union attacks were beginning to push back Confederate positions; but Jackson’s men held their ground and were in a position to reinforce the troops of General Bernard Bee, whose men were beginning to break ranks. Bee rode through his disorganized soldiers reportedly shouting; “There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here and we will conquer.” Based on an observation by a General, who did not personally hear the remarks, a few historians claim it was intended as an insult, because Jackson did not move quickly enough to provide needed support to Bee’s troops. But to most Civil War experts, and certainly all Confederate aficionados, General Bee meant that Jackson was holding his own and intended to use Jackson’s men as inspiration for a rallying cry. The debate about General Bee’s intent will go on, since the General was killed moments later. But, Jackson’s new nickname stuck, believed by most to be a compliment to his steadfastness, and General Jackson became “Stonewall” forever after. The new name was also adopted by the forces under his command, which became known as the “Stonewall Brigade.”

After that July battle, which Confederates named Manassas but the Union called Bull Run, Stonewall Jackson’s victories became the stuff of legends. While occasionally he made mistakes which caused setbacks in some battle situations, victories at places like Front Royal, Winchester, Cross Keys, Port Republic, Fredericksburg, and then a stunning victory at Chancellorsville, are all well known to those who study the Civil War.

He was not a “background” General but was always present at the battlefield which earned him the respect of his troops. He was a harsh disciplinarian, but was consistent and fair, so morale in his units remained high, despite heavy casualties. Although, one soldier who served under him reportedly said (sarcastically) of his discipline; “I think the General has shot more of us than the Yankees.”

On May 2, 1863, Stonewall Jackson, in a brilliant tactical decision, led his men in a multi-pronged assault on a larger Union force at Chancellorsville, Virginia. It was a clear victory as Confederate troops pushed back to, and even through, the Union lines. As darkness approached, General Jackson and his aides were returning to his camp after reviewing Union emplacements, when Confederate pickets mistook the riders for enemy scouts and opened fire. Jackson was hit by first one, then a second volley; and he suffered wounds to his left arm and right hand.

Upon hearing that Jackson had been wounded, General Robert E. Lee sent a message to his most dependable General; “Could I have directed events, I would have chosen for the good of the Country to be disabled in your stead.”

His wounds were serious and his arm had to be amputated. He was taken to a nearby plantation for what he expected would be a brief recovery before rejoining his men, but, after several days, he contracted pneumonia and his overall condition gradually worsened. On Sunday, May 10, 1863, eight days after being wounded, his doctor told Jackson there was nothing more to do and he would likely die that day. Jackson’s reply was; “It is the Lord’s day; my wish is fulfilled. I have always desired to die on a Sunday. Well, it is a Sunday, and I would like to meet the Lord on a Sunday.”

When Jackson died, General Lee said, “I have lost my right arm” and “I am bleeding at the heart.” But, his sister, Laura, an ardent supporter of the Union, would say, “I would rather know that he is dead than to have him a leader in the rebel army.” It seems that these two disparate sentiments capture perfectly the deep divisions in the country at the time.

A minister in Richmond said; “To attempt to portray the life of Jackson while leaving out the religious element, would be like undertaking to portray Switzerland without making mention of the Alps.” And, one of his biographers, Robert L. Dabney said, “It was the fear of God which made him so fearless of all else.”

Abraham Lincoln believed that many of the Southern Generals, who had once served in the U.S. Army, were good men who had made a misguided decision when they joined the Confederate forces. After reading an obituary of Jackson in the Washington Chronicle, Lincoln, in an extraordinary gesture, wrote to the newspaper’s publisher; “I wish to lose no time in thanking you for the article on Stonewall Jackson. He was a true Christian gentleman and soldier.”

Although from an unlikely source, it was a fitting tribute!

Contact the author at  gadorris@gmail.com and see other articles at the web-site www.alincolnbygadorris.com

The Militarization of the South (Article 66)

The names are still familiar to many of us today; Confederate President Jefferson Davis, General Joseph Johnston, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, John Magruder, P.G.T Beauregard, Braxton Bragg, Jubal Early, James Longstreet, George Pickett, Benjamin Helm (Abraham Lincoln’s brother-in-law), John Bell Hood, George Washington Custis Lee (Robert E. Lee’s son), J.E.B. Stuart, and Andrew Jackson III (grandson of President Andrew Jackson). All were from Southern states, all received their education at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and all served the Confederacy in the Civil War.

Most historians agree that the significant underlying causes for which thirteen Southern states chose to secede from the Union, and form the Confederate States of America, were economics, the sovereignty of individual states, and of course, the retention of slavery. Some historians and social scientists, make the additional argument that the South was more willing to first threaten, and then be ready to fight, a Civil War because so many of its political, social, and business leaders had received their educations at various military academies and/or had military experience. The term “Militarization of the South” was used by some as a pejorative; but is it a fair and accurate term? Then, if so, did it influence the beginning of the war and, equally important, did it affect the outcome?

Since the time of the Revolutionary War, almost all Southern states had regulated militias in which male citizens could be trained and be ready for service if called upon by their state government. Then, in late 1860 and early 1861, as various states began to secede from the Union,

the ranks of those state militias began to swell with men who had received their military training at private and state military colleges and with graduates of the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy. Of the nearly 1,100 graduates of the U.S. Academies from the classes of 1830-1860, over 300 served the Confederacy, including many who were still on active duty and resigned their commissions to join the Southern military forces. And, they were joined by even more officers from the U.S. Army and Navy who were not Academy graduates.

The new Confederate government was still organizing its military forces, so most of these volunteers initially joined the militia in their home state; and, they were prepared to defend their state from potential invasion by Union forces. However, within a few months after the start of the war, most of these state units were integrated into the Confederate armed forces.

The concept of loyalty to the state of one’s birth would seem odd to recent generations, as mobility has nearly made allegiance to a particular state obsolete; but, in the 18th and 19th centuries, it was normal. And, the political leaders, who led secessionist movements, counted on that parochial loyalty to raise armies to defend against any attempt by the Federal government to force the return of the state to the Union through military action. In fact, historians estimate that 65-75 percent of eligible men in the thirteen seceded states joined either the Confederate armed forces (Army or Navy) or their state’s militia during the war. By contrast, in the North, that percentage was likely 35-40 percent. Clearly, most of the enlisted level Confederate soldiers and many of the officers were not fighting to preserve slavery or against oppressive excise taxes; they fought because Union forces were marching into their home states.

Regardless of the motives of those who chose to fight, by mid-1861, the South had built an effective fighting force, with a solid group of educated and experienced officers to lead the troops; however, to a certain extent, southern society was already “militarized” long before the threat of Civil War.

In some ways way, southern aristocratic families resembled the feudal families of Europe who identified more with their feudal land than with a governing nation; and who protected their large land holdings by passing the inheritance to the eldest son (if there was one), rather than break up the land among several siblings. In the American South, families identified with their home state, where the family’s holdings often dated back to colonial times, before the United States was even founded. Theirs was a patriarchal society and, in general, the eldest son was expected to continue family traditions and control the family’s assets; which were often centered around plantations (and the slaves to provide the labor) or large merchant and financial enterprises. Younger sons, however, were expected to use their wealth and position in some noble service. Of course, there were a few gadflies who chose to simply enjoy the benefits of being part of the wealthy leisure class; but, most of these privileged young men sought a useful career. Aristocratic Southern families encouraged contributions to the betterment of their state and their social structure, and many of their sons became politicians (a noble career at that time), judges, lawyers, educators, merchants and even clergymen. But one of the most coveted and admired occupations was that of an Army or Naval officer.

Soon after the Revolutionary War, the new United States of America (both north and south) realized a viable military would be necessary to maintain that hard fought independence; and a source of well trained and disciplined officers would be needed. In 1801, President Thomas Jefferson (of Virginia) approved the formation of the United States Military Academy to be located at West Point, New York and the first class of cadets entered in 1802. Forty years later, Congress authorized the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, specifically as a training program for future officers in the Navy; and its first class graduated in 1854.

Since many Southern families valued a military education as a noble and desirable profession for young men, an appointment to either Academy was highly prized. However, there was such a demand for a formal and elite military education, which would lead to a commission in the U.S. Army or in a state’s “well regulated” militia, that several small colleges were formed throughout the Southern states with a component of military training and discipline. But, even the addition of those private schools could not meet all of the requests for a military education and several states, which already maintained militia forces, established and funded their own military schools. The very formation of the Citadel in South Carolina in 1839, the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in 1842, and the Louisiana Military Academy (later to become LSU), were directly a result of the increasing demand in the South for a premier military education. While not all of the graduates of these in-state academies immediately joined their local militia, they were available upon notice if their state should ever issue a call to arms.  Many fought in the war with Mexico in 1846-47, in which Southern soldiers actually comprised a larger portion of the U.S. force than the much greater populated northern states.

And, they would again respond as the South prepared for war in 1860.

Those who contend that “Militarization of the South” was a factor in the Civil War believe that the large number of Southern men with a military education and/or military experience, may have given the political leaders a sense of confidence (or over-confidence) that they could quickly defeat the northern states. Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who had graduated from West Point, fought with the U.S. Army in the Mexican War, and later was the U.S. Secretary of War, said just prior to the attack on Fort Sumter, “We will start, and finish, the war!” and, speaking of Union President Abraham Lincoln he said, “There is no fire in his fight.” In the end, both of his statements were proven wrong!

So, in answer to the earlier questions; is “Militarization of the South” a fair term; and if so, did it influence the start of the Civil War or affect the outcome?

The appreciation by Southern families of a military education and/or career was not so much a glorification of warfare, as simply one accepted way for young men to meet their implied duty to serve their society. And, their courage and sense of honor was extraordinary; as one General said (paraphrased) after a Confederate defeat, “If valor alone could have carried the day, we would have been the victors.” Therefore, the use of the term “Militarization of the South” as a pejorative is not appropriate; however, aside from that, the term is probably fair. It certainly gave secessionist leaders a level of confidence that, with their strong contingent of experienced officers to lead dedicated troops, they would quickly defeat the disorganized Union. And, even when victory did not come early, the militarized South was able to prolong the war in the hope (misplaced) that the Union, and Abraham Lincoln, would tire of the war and just accept the independence of the Confederate States.

On the other hand, that early advantage soon faded before the overwhelming mass of men and materiel available to the Union forces; and so, the “Militarization of the South” may have delayed, but it did not affect, the final outcome of the Civil War.

Contact the author at gadorris2@gmail.com or find additional articles at the website: www.alincolnbygadorris.com

 

 

Lincoln and Douglas – Beyond The Debates (Article 65)

On the podium, the visual contrast between the two men was striking; Abraham Lincoln was tall and thin, while Stephen A. Douglas was almost a foot shorter and portly. When they spoke, the audience immediately noted that Douglas had a deep, booming voice, while Lincoln’s voice was a bit higher pitched but still carried well. Although Douglas was nearly theatrical in his presentation, striding back and forth as he gestured with his hands; Lincoln was almost immobile, except for minor hand movements. And, while Lincoln would interject humor, Douglas was almost continually intense. But a more important difference was political. In Illinois, Lincoln was an influential leader of the Republican Party, while Douglas often singularly drove the Democrat Party.

However, the Illinois audiences at the seven “Lincoln – Douglas” debates, held across the state, did not come to just observe and be entertained by these two politicians, they came to hear their ideas on the compelling issues of the day. Those citizens would soon vote for either Democrat or Republican legislators, who would then select the state’s next Senator.

And both men wanted the appointment!

Interestingly, Lincoln and Douglas did not really debate; not in the modern sense anyway. One would first speak for no more than an hour, the second man would speak (often in rebuttal) for ninety minutes, and then the first speaker would follow up for thirty minutes. After the allotted times, when the two men had raised, and responded to, important political and social issues of the day, they would occasionally banter back and forth to the delight of the crowds.

By 1858, when the debates occurred, the men had known each other for twenty-five years and had become friendly, but were not considered best friends. Each man respected the other as honorable and well-intentioned, and they often agreed on political positions which affected the economy of Illinois; for example, state and federal support for roads, railroads and waterway improvements. However, they had been on the opposite sides of nearly every other political matter which faced the State of Illinois and/or the United States of America during that time; for example, Douglas supported the Mexican War in 1846, but Lincoln opposed it.

And they were on different sides of one of the most explosive and urgent issues in that century; whether any new state should be admitted to the Union if that state’s Constitution permitted slavery. Most northern states did not want to admit any new state in which slavery would be legal, while southern states were insisting that new states permit (or at least not prohibit) slavery to assure the political balance was maintained in Congress between slave states and non-slave states. Further, while both men agreed that the Constitution recognized slavery in states where it currently was legal, they differed on the longer-term question; whether slavery should exist at all within the United States.

Douglas, who had already served two six-year terms in the Senate, could have chosen to avoid the debates with Lincoln. He was not required to meet with his opponent and, after all, the Illinois legislature was already controlled by the Democrats who were not expected to lose many seats in the 1858 election; nearly guaranteeing Douglas the appointment. So why did the incumbent choose to give his challenger a platform with which to possibly unseat him? Douglas never fully explained his reasoning; however, there may have been at least four factors in his decision. First, almost every time Douglas gave a speech in a community, Lincoln, who was a popular speaker, would show up after Douglas had finished and give a counter-argument. Second, Douglas enjoyed political give and take and knew he and Lincoln would create an entertaining show for the public. Third, he knew the debates, which would center on the topics surrounding slavery, would receive national attention in the press; and Douglas intended to be a candidate for President in 1860. What better way to get his message across to voters in every state? Those first three reasons were personal and even a bit self-serving. But, his fourth reason was honorable and patriotic; he believed in the Constitution and the preservation of the Union, and honestly felt that he could protect both, currently as a Senator and then later as President. He intended to spend the next two years in the Senate guiding the pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions toward compromise (as he had successfully done in his previous two terms) and then, as President in 1861, assure those regional differences did not turn into Civil War.

For the prior ten years, Douglas had worked to bring about compromises in Congress between the states that rejected slavery (largely northern states) and those states in which slavery was legal and thriving (primarily in the South). Douglas did not believe, as many southerners did, that slavery was morally justified; he simply did not want the issue of slavery to tear apart the United States. So, whenever and wherever that threat arose, Douglas had become a mediator; or, “The Great Compromiser”, as he became known in the national press.

Lincoln and Douglas looked at the issue of slavery differently. Lincoln abhorred slavery, condemned the institution as unjust, and did not want to see slavery expanded to new states. Douglas promoted the democratic idea of “popular sovereignty” wherein a proposed new state’s citizens would vote on the question of slavery, and the U.S. Congress would accept that state into the Union, regardless of the outcome. On the other hand, Lincoln did not want any new state admitted to the Union unless that state’s constitution prohibited slavery; and he had said the country could not endure “half-slave and half-free.”

The two men did agree, however, on one national issue which, while related to the questions surrounding slavery, was distinctly different. They were both ferocious in their belief that the United States was inviolate and that any secession by southern states would be unconstitutional and illegal!

Most Americans know at least basic information about Lincoln, but conversely, know almost nothing about Stephen Arnold Douglas. He was five years younger than Lincoln, but they both began their political careers about the same time. Douglas had moved to Illinois 1833, when he was twenty, obtained his law license within a year, and quickly became active in the Democratic Party. He became a County Attorney, then in 1836, he was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives. Since Lincoln had earlier been elected to that legislative body, the two men certainly became acquainted that year, but perhaps a year or two before.

We do know that, in 1836, they were on opposite sides of a resolution which stated that slavery, although not permitted in Illinois, must be recognized as a legal and Constitutional institution in certain states and that Illinois would respect slave ownership rights which existed in those other states. In Lincoln’s opposition, he stated: “We protest against the passage, we believe slavery is founded on both injustice and bad policy.” Douglas supported the measure and it passed in the Democrat controlled legislature.

With Lincoln’s move from New Salem to Springfield, the state’s new Capital city, Douglas and Lincoln had numerous social as well as political interactions. Both men were single and considered to be eligible bachelors by the town’s matchmakers. For a short time, they both courted Mary Todd, the daughter of a Kentucky banker and slave owner; and her family much preferred Mr. Douglas who was reasonably well-to-do. But, in 1841, Mary chose Lincoln; so, it may be said that he won that round.

Douglas would not marry for another six years.

But Douglas’s political star was rising, while Lincoln’s was not. Lincoln had served four consecutive terms in the State Legislature and decided to forgo another campaign and focus on his law practice to better provide for his family.

Douglas, on the other hand, was riding a wave of support toward higher office.  Although later known as the “Great Compromiser” by the national press, by contrast, in Illinois he was referred to in the press as the “Little Giant” because of his ability to successfully drive political issues through the Legislature. At age 27, in 1841, he persuaded the legislature to expand the Illinois Supreme Court and the new law also made each new Associate Justice a District Court Judge. Then, in a bold political move, Douglas had himself appointed as one of the new Supreme Court and District Court Judges.

In 1846, when he was only thirty-three years old, he was appointed as the new U.S. Senator from Illinois and resigned from the State Supreme Court. As a Senator, he quickly became a leader because he had an ability to work both sides of the aisle to reach consensus; whether on political or economic issues. In addition to his efforts to reach compromises on the expansion of slavery, he pushed through legislation to greatly expand the nations railway network; of course, with several main lines right through Illinois.

In 1847, Douglas married the daughter of a wealthy North Carolina plantation owner and, upon the death of his father-in-law a year later, Douglas’s wife inherited the property and over one hundred slaves. Douglas was appointed manager of the estate, which provided him with a substantial income for the rest of his life. However, Douglas wanted to protect his political career in Illinois, so he appointed a subordinate manager and never was actively involved in the plantation. Of course, political opponents in the North (but not Lincoln) were always ready to accuse Douglas of being a slave-owner.

But Douglas remained popular in Illinois and was re-appointed to the Senate for another six-year term in 1852.

While Douglas’s political career continued, Lincoln, after his last term in the Illinois legislature ended in 1841, focused on his law practice for the next fifteen years; except for a single term as a U.S. Congressman in 1847. However, he did not leave politics as some claim, but rather he actively supported other Whig (later Republican) candidates for local, state and national offices; and his influence continued to grow within his Party. Because he felt obligated to his old friends in the Whig party, Lincoln even made a half-hearted attempt to gain the state’s other Senate seat in 1854. He was not surprised, nor unhappy, when he lost.

Then, in 1857 Lincoln began a methodical march toward a run for Douglas’s Senate seat, which would next come up for appointment in 1858. It was a long shot because the Democrats continued to hold a majority in the Illinois Legislature which selected U.S. Senators; however, Lincoln was popular and he hoped, if Senator Douglas would accept his challenge to debate, that he might convince some Democrats to cross-over in support of his candidacy. Lincoln must have been pleased when Douglas agreed to a series of seven debates in different communities.

Those debates, measured by attendance, enthusiasm, and publication in newspapers around the country (and a subsequent best-selling book), were successful beyond either candidate’s expectations. And, Lincoln almost pulled it off! But, in the end, enough Democrat Legislators stuck together to appoint Douglas to another six-year term.

Perhaps, however, it could be said that Lincoln really won the debates. For the first time, Lincoln’s message denouncing slavery received national attention and, combined with his speech a few months later at Coopers Union in New York, which also was widely published, laid the groundwork for a presidential campaign in 1860.

Arguably, at least until then, Stephen A. Douglas had a more successful, and influential, political career than did Abraham Lincoln. However, when Douglas returned to Washington to begin his third term, he found that the Southern aristocracy had hardened their positions to protect the institution of slavery on which their economy was based. Douglas encountered resistance to compromise and heard more threats about secession as the Senators from Southern states openly discussed the option of forming a separate nation comprised of slave holding states. As a result, Douglas began to lose influence with many of the Southern Senators due to his position that secession was unconstitutional and illegal.

Throughout 1859 and 1860, Senator Douglas worked tirelessly to forge another compromise to avoid secession by several states, which he feared could lead to a disastrous Civil War. His health began to fail and friends noticed that he was aging rapidly. His hope to become President was fading, but he did win his Democratic Party’s nomination for President in the summer of 1860. However, the party had split into factions and Southern Democrats nominated another candidate. In December, in a four-man race, Abraham Lincoln was elected. Douglas received the second most public votes behind Lincoln, but was last in the Electoral College count. His political career was over.

The secession crisis began as soon as Abraham Lincoln was elected and, by April 1861, the nation was divided; and both sides were preparing for war.

After the Confederate attack at Fort Sumter, Stephen Douglas went to see his new President to pledge his support for Lincoln’s determination to re-unite the Country and preserve the Constitution; even if that meant all-out Civil War. Lincoln showed Douglas his executive order to raise 75,000 troops to which Douglas replied “make it 200,000.” Douglas also said in the meeting; “I have had many friends in the South who must at some level still be my friends, but we will also know we are enemies.”  One of Douglas’s most famous quotes came in a speech he gave during this period when he said; “There are only two sides to this question. Every man must be for the United States or against it. There can be no neutrals in the war; only patriots and traitors.”

Over the next few months, Douglas did his best to help his President and his Country; but, he did not get very far. On June 3, 1861 he died. He was only 48 years old.

The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 became regarded by historians as the most famous and most effective in the history of the United States. Those debates articulated not only the crisis over slavery, but the potential for Civil War if secession by any states were to occur. Not even the Kennedy-Nixon debates over 100 years later, influenced events in this nation as did those seven debates – between two passionate and articulate politicians – in small towns – in the frontier state of Illinois.

Lincoln certainly deserves all the credit he receives for a grand political legacy. But, he may have never become President, had not Douglas, the “Little Giant” of Illinois, been willing to participate in those debates; and, as a result, helped introduce Abraham Lincoln to a national audience of voters.

So, in the long run, perhaps our Country was the real winner of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

Contact the author at  gadorris2@aol.com  and read other articles at the website: www.alincolnbygadorris.com

 

 

 

 

 

A Nation Divided – The Cherokees (Article 64)

For over seven months in 1861, the tension was palpable within the Cherokee Tribal Council. While there was an elected Principal Chief, the position was not autocratic and was only one of about twenty Tribal leaders. On one side of the debates, Chief John Ross urged caution, and believed the Cherokee Nation could avoid conflict by remaining neutral in the “White Man’s War” that had just started. On the other side, Stand Watie, another respected leader, spoke of a new beginning for his people as he urged alignment with the Confederate States of America; although he knew that came with the risk of battle against forces of the United States. Watie argued that, after what would surely be a quick victory over the northern states, the Confederate government would recognize the Cherokee Nation’s sovereignty and provide representation in the new country’s Congress. John Ross countered that the vast resources of the North would prevent an early victory by the South. There was one additional key argument by some Cherokees who urged siding with the Confederate government; a common interest in protecting slavery. Those tribal members wanted retain the nearly 3,000 black slaves they owned, which represented their largest “asset” and most of the Native Nation’s wealth.

The discussions went on for months, and the divisions within the Nation were clear. Again!

The Cherokee Nation had been divided before. Twenty-five years earlier, in 1835, Ross and Watie led opposing factions when White merchants in Georgia persuaded the Federal Government to permit confiscation of tribal lands which held valuable gold deposits, salt mines, timber and other resources. All of the Cherokee leaders realized that they could not win a military battle against Federal forces empowered by the Indian Removal Act of 1830; and other nearby tribes had already agreed to relocation, including Seminole, Choctaw, and Chickasaw. The question was not whether they would lose some or all of their lands, but rather which leader could negotiate the best settlement with the United States Government.  Chief Ross, who headed the Union Party, believed he could negotiate an agreement for compensation, in return for giving up a large portion of their land; but would allow the Cherokee to retain some of their property and stay in Georgia. On the other hand, Watie and other Cherokee leaders, including brothers John and Major Ridge, were convinced that Federal forces, joined by Georgia militia, would willingly and readily annihilate the Cherokee to gain all of their land. Watie’s group formed an opposition party, initially called the Ridge Party, but later known as the Treaty Party, specifically to negotiate a treaty with the United States which would avoid war and obtain reasonable compensation for their Georgia lands; but would require relocation to western Indian Territory. Watie and his co-founders of the Treaty Party claimed to represent the majority of Cherokee and signed the Treaty of New Echota with the United States; which called for removal from Georgia to Indian Territory by 1838, in return for promised financial support. John Ross did not sign the treaty and argued in the U.S. Congress and in State and Federal Courts for the next three years that the document was not valid; but he was ultimately unsuccessful.  In a rare instance of political violence among the Cherokee, several founding members of the Treaty Party were found murdered, including the two Ridge brothers; but, whether by design or by luck, Watie was not attacked and no one was ever charged with the crimes.

However, the outcome for the Cherokee people was already set in motion; and, in 1838, nearly 20,000 were removed from their homes by the U.S. Army and Georgia militia and forced to march westward nearly a thousand miles to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).  The government did not bother to keep accurate records, but at least 3,000 thousand Cherokee died on the journey; which became known as “The Trail of Tears” to many Americans, but “The Trail Where They Cried” among their own people. Over time the survivors settled into the Indian Territory and re-built a functioning society; although most relocated Cherokee were now dependent on government assistance, unlike their earlier self-sustaining culture in Georgia.

Even Principal Chief John Ross had to adapt to life in Indian Territory. Born in 1790 to a Cherokee mother and a Scottish father, he was comfortable in both Native and White cultures. He served in the War of 1812, and then began a career as a merchant and lawyer in Tennessee.  Ross became interested in Cherokee politics and relocated to Georgia to participate in the Tribal Council; and, because he was bright, bi-lingual, and energetic, he soon became an influential leader within the Cherokee Nation. John Ross was first elected to his position as Principal Chief in 1828, over thirty years before the Civil War, and continued as Chief until 1866, the year following the end of the War. While he had responsibility for management of the Cherokee Nation’s affairs, he was only one voice in their representative system.

Ross had been deeply affected by the “relocation” to Indian Territory in 1838. His large farm had been confiscated and he lost his prosperous legal practice; but to him, the worst blow of all came when his wife died during the forced march. Despite his contention that the United States had colluded with Georgians to remove the Cherokee Nation from their homeland, he had no trust that the new Confederate Government (of which Georgia was a part) would be any better for his people. So, Chief Ross had argued for the Nation to remain neutral, and, for a few months, he seemed to be holding the Cherokee Nation together. At one point, he was so confident that he notified U.S. Indian Agents in their territory that the Cherokee would not choose sides in the looming civil conflict. Ross knew better than most that the war would not be easily won by either North or South and, as a pragmatist, he wanted to keep his options open. But, he also was simply tired of conflict. He was over 70 years old, had been the Chief of the tribe for thirty years, and he did not want to see the new generation of young men further decimated by war. Some historians claim his arguments for neutrality were staged and that he really supported the Confederacy because he owned slaves; however, Ross had already granted them “freedman” status. But, because the former slaves were the second or third generations connected to the Ross family with whom they had lived and worked their entire lives, they chose to remain with Ross.

Chief Ross’s primary opponent, both in the 1835 relocation debates and now in the Civil War debates, was Stand Watie who argued for the Cherokee to align with the new Confederate government. Like Ross, Watie had lived among White society in Georgia and was educated as a lawyer; but the confiscation of the Cherokee lands and re-settlement to Indian Territory caused him to despise and distrust the United States government. Although he was an astute businessman and became one of most wealthy Cherokee in Indian Territory, Watie blamed the Federal government for numerous broken promises in violation of the New Echota treaty of 1835, which he had supported; and that certainly influenced his support for a treaty with the new Confederate government. But Watie was indifferent to the “States’ Rights” position of the Southerners, or their other political and economic grievances with the United States. He had more fundamental goals in mind! He believed that, after a quick Southern victory over the North, the Cherokee Nation would be rewarded for their loyalty with civil equality and representation in the Confederate Congress, and, at least, a possibility that they might regain some of their ancestral lands in Georgia. Equally important at the time, he fully expected that a Southern government would continue to protect the rights of Cherokee slave owners.

Although a state of War existed between the United States and the Confederate States after the bombardment of Fort Sumter in April 1861, not much happened for the next few months. Then, after the decisive Confederate victory at First Manassas (Bull Run) in July, the mood within the Cherokee Nation changed as more of their people became convinced that the Confederates would win the war.

The debates intensified and every participant understood that the stakes were high. Those outsiders who knew about the earlier murders of the members of the Treaty Party, might have expected confrontation, perhaps even violence, between the differing sides; but the Cherokee were respectful people who listened to others and gave open counsel.

And, then, on August 21, 1861, they decided.

The Cherokee Nation agreed to join forces with the new Confederate States of America. As difficult as it must have been for him, Chief Ross accepted the majority’s decision and represented the Cherokee in negotiations with the Confederacy; and then he signed the new treaties. Those agreements ended any obligations between the Cherokee Nation and the United States, and established Confederate obligations to the Cherokee for more rations, farm implements, and defined borders (within Indian Territory which was basically Oklahoma). Further, an amalgamation of Tribes would be given representation in the Confederate Congress; something the United states had discussed but never formalized. In return, the Cherokee agreed to form several Confederate military units to provide protection within their lands, but they were not to be deployed to fight U.S. forces elsewhere. Each Cherokee unit was led by a Native officer, appointed by the Confederate Army. Stand Watie was designated a Colonel and agreed to form, and lead, a unit of at least 1,000 Cherokee Cavalrymen.

In the summer of 1862, Chief John Ross was captured by U.S. Army troops and taken to Washington DC, where, in exchange for a pardon and the promise of future financial considerations for his Nation, he agreed to support the Union cause. Three of his sons even joined the Union Army and one died in a Confederate prison. He came to know President Abraham Lincoln and believed that his willingness to lead those Cherokees he represented to pledge allegiance to the Union would gain favor for his Nation when the war ended. His pledge was not a hollow gesture because he was still considered to be the Principal Chief by many Cherokees and led the largest contingent of the fractured Native Nation.

However, in Ross’s absence, Stand Watie was named a separate Principal Chief. So, the Cherokee Nation was now truly divided; just like the rest of the Country.

Watie immediately called a draft of every Cherokee male from 18-50 years of age into military units of the Confederate Army. Watie was already a strong leader before the war, but his new rank of Colonel and a few early successes against Union forces within the Indian territories, also cemented his reputation as a military commander. In 1864 he was promoted to Brigadier General and given command of a newly formed large unit, named the Indian Cavalry Brigade, which included men from other tribes such as Creek, Osage and Seminole. General Watie then moved out of Indian Territory into Arkansas (a Confederate state under constant attack and occupation by Union Forces), where he led his troops to several victories over the U.S. Army. General Watie was so dedicated to the Confederacy that he and his Cherokee soldiers continued skirmishes with Union troops until June 23, 1865; over two months after Generals Lee and Johnston had surrendered the two largest Confederate armies.

The Civil War divided the United States as a nation and split many families. The War also divided the Cherokee Nation and created familial chasms that would take a century to heal.

At the end of the war, John Ross resumed his duties as the Principal Chief of all Cherokee and began to negotiate with the United States for a new “reconstruction treaty” for his people. He tried for nearly a year to gain some concessions that would lead the Cherokee out of the consistent poverty which they had experienced in Indian Territory since 1838. However, with Abraham Lincoln gone and replaced by a new President, Andrew Johnson, who considered Indian matters less important than others he faced, Chief Ross made little progress. Exacerbating his dilemma, many Union Congressional leaders considered the whole Cherokee Nation traitorous because of the Confederate service by the followers of Stand Watie. Finally, in late 1865, Ross was able to meet with President Johnson, whose administration then recognized Chief Ross as the official spokesman for the Cherokee Nation and granted some assurances for financial aid and the promise of gradual return of control over Native affairs. In August 1866, John Ross was still in Washington trying to negotiate a new treaty for Native Sovereignty when, following another day of meetings with the Federal bureaucracy, he died. He was seventy-six years old.

After the War, Stand Watie formed a mercantile company (primarily trading in tobacco) within the Cherokee portion of Indian Territory. When the Federal government levied excise taxes on his business, he refused to pay believing that the U.S. Government could not tax Native businesses on Indian land.  He lost his case, and his business, in Federal Court. He died penniless in 1871.

The Cherokee Nation had divided over whether the United States of America or the Confederate States of America would most likely honor treaties and give them fair consideration after the Civil War. Neither choice, as events unfolded, would prove to be good for the Cherokee.

 

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Native American Dilemma – Which Side To Choose (Article 63)

“I am glad to see one real American here.”  – Said Confederate General Robert E. Lee, graciously nodding to Union Army Colonel Ely S. Parker, a member of the Seneca tribe, when surrendering at Appomattox.

“We are all Americans here.” – Said Colonel Parker, in an equally courteous reply to General Lee.

There are thousands of stories about the Civil War and those who fought for either the Union or the Confederacy and the vast majority tell of the exploits of White men (and women) who chose to serve one side or the other. There are also numerous accounts of the service of Black soldiers, most of whom fought for the Union, but there were some who served Confederate forces.

On the other hand, the service of Native Americans in the Great War, whether for the Union or the Confederacy, has not been as extensively covered. It is estimated that nearly 30,000 members of various Tribes and Nations served in the war, over 20,000 for the Union. (The Union Army records were more thorough than those of the Confederate Army, but, still not very complete, so the exact numbers will never be known). Further, it is likely that over 2,500 Native Americans died in combat, or later from wounds, during the Civil War. Some of the battles in which they participated are famous and familiar, because they involved thousands of troops; such as Antietam, Pea Ridge, Cold Harbor, Second Manassas, and the Battle of the Crater. Others fought in smaller, lesser known engagements; such as Cabin Creek, the battle for Wichita Agency, and the battle of Round Mountain. However, the size of the battle meant little to those individuals who fought close to their enemy, often in hand to hand combat; for death visited the soldiers whether the engagement was large or small and whether it was historically significant or not.

Almost all Native American Tribes and Nations, especially those whose ancestral lands were in the East, had some type of parliamentary process where representatives debated before voting on significant matters involving their people. While some tribes were able to remain neutral throughout the war, many chose one side or the other. Their reasons varied and, because there were sovereignty and existing treaty issues at stake, their choices carried great risk.  Also, mirroring the dilemma faced by many other northern and southern families, several tribes had members who fought for opposite sides; a tragedy of epic proportions for societies in which familial loyalty was so important.

In any event, their choices had severe consequences. So, what factors led certain Tribes to choose to support the Union, and others to support the Confederacy; and, in the case of one major Native Nation, to split their allegiance?

In early 1861, when the Indian Tribes and Nations were deliberating whether to align with one side or the other, or remain neutral, their decisions were not made in a vacuum of information. Every Tribe had at least a few members who were English speaking and who were knowledgeable about the customs, mannerisms, governmental policies, and especially the prejudices, of the White majorities in the North and the South.

In some instances, regional loyalties and familiarities played a part, as certain northern tribes joined the Union Army and other southern tribes fought for the Confederacy.  Also, as in all wars, enlistment into an army was an alternative to poverty; but the Union Army usually offered better, and more reliable, pay. However, there were other reasons. Some tribes chose the Confederacy because that “new” government, unlike the United States, carried no negative legacy of mistreatment of Indian communities or broken treaties. Also, several former “southern” Native Nations were slave-holders, including the Cherokee who held more Black slaves than any other Tribe/Nation, and they believed a victorious Confederacy would protect their “property” after the war.

But, certainly, in all cases, each tribe initially believed that they had chosen the winning side, and if they fought valiantly, they would be rewarded with better living conditions, increased representation, and some, who had been “relocated” to Indian Territory, hoped that they could return to ancestral lands.

The Seneca Nation, still living in New England, unanimously sided with the Union and a significant number of their young men joined the U.S. Army, including the Parker brothers, Ely and Newton. Both men, who were educated as lawyers, became officers, with Ely eventually assigned to General Grant’s staff. It was in his role as Grant’s secretary/adjutant that Colonel Parker assisted with the Articles of Surrender at Appomattox and was in the right place to have his famous exchange with Robert E. Lee. Parker was subsequently promoted to Brigadier General.

Arguably the most famous Native American military unit was Company K of the 1st Michigan regiment which included members of the Ottawa, Huron, Delaware, Oneida, and Potawami tribes, and was quickly labeled the “Sharpshooters” by their officers. The unit was fearless in battle and were known for standing together and laying series after series of clustered fire at Confederate positions. Despite heavy and concentrated return fire usually directed at them, they would not break. In July, 1864, after one such engagement at the Battle of the Crater near Petersburg, Virginia, an officer observing the “Sharpshooters” wrote in his battle report; “The men did splendid work. They were nearly surrounded, receiving forceful fire from Confederates, but never wavered. Some of them were mortally wounded, and, drawing their blouses over their faces, they chanted a death song and died – four of them in a group” And in another report, wrote “Those living, maintained return fire, until too wounded or until they were out of ammunition. Their position was held. It was bravery by all.” The Michigan Sharpshooters lost so many men in that battle, that they were kept out of further combat through the war’s end.

Other tribes which sided with the Union included the Lumbee, Iroquois, Pamunkey, and the Ojibwa.

The Confederate States of America also attracted several Tribes. Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, realized the potential value of Native Americans to supplement Confederate manpower west of the Mississippi River, mainly in Oklahoma, but also in Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri. Davis appointed an envoy to the various tribes and granted him almost unlimited authority to reach treaties, including recognition of Indian sovereignty, representation in the Confederate Congress, and even potential citizenship. These offers enticed the Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Seminole tribes to commit their allegiance to the Confederacy.

However, perhaps the Cherokee Nation, residing in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), which split into several factions over the Civil War, suffered more than any other Native American group, both during and after the War. Although once one of the largest Native Nations, the Cherokee only had about 22,000 members (and about 2,000 slaves) when the Civil War began. Many had died during the “Trail of Tears” forced relocation in the 1830s from Georgia and nearby states to Oklahoma Territory; and by the war’s end in 1865, fewer than 15,000 remained. While many non-combatants, women, children, and elderly died of malnutrition and disease in Indian Territory during the four-year Civil War, the Cherokee also lost nearly 1,000 young men as casualties of the War.

The Cherokee Nation had initially voted to side with the new Southern government, against the advice of their elected Chief and President, John Ross; however, various smaller groups, although still loyal to the Confederacy, soon divided into factions, each with their own military leaders. The largest of these break-away groups was led by Stand Watie, who was appointed as a Colonel in the Confederate Army, later promoted to Brigadier General, and who led his forces in a series of successful raids over the next four years. However, a year into the War, Chief John Ross, who had originally argued for the Cherokee Nation to remain neutral and still led the largest contingent of members, was captured by Union troops and, in exchange for a pardon, pledged his loyalty, and the loyalty of the people he represented, to the United States. Ross kept his word and worked tirelessly for the Union cause in Eastern States and in Washington DC. There, Ross became a confidant of Abraham Lincoln and had every right to expect that, after the Union won the War, the Cherokee Nation would be rewarded by the “Great President” he had come to know.

When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated near the end of the war, Chief John Ross’s influence in Washington ended, as the new President, Andrew Johnson, had little interest in Indian affairs. Further, the split in loyalties between the Watie and Ross factions caused many other Northern political leaders to mistrust the Cherokee Nation; and even Chief Ross, who championed the Union cause, could not marshal any federal assistance for his impoverished people.

When tribes made their decision to serve either the Union or the Confederacy, they certainly believed that they were backing the side that would win; and they expected (or hoped) for improved conditions for their people.  Unfortunately, whether they chose the Union or the Confederacy, those hopes were not realized. In defeat, the Confederates could offer no solace to their former allies; and the treaties those tribes signed with the South were not only worthless, but the documents labeled them as traitors to most people in the North. For the Native Americans who served the victorious Union, the U.S. government gave only token recognition, and almost no tangible rewards; a tragic disappointment for those who chose the “winning” side.

That makes their sacrifices even more poignant.

Contact the author at gadorris2@gmail.com

General Lincoln? (Article 62)

“General, I have just received your dispatch about sore tongued and fatigued horses. Will you pardon me for asking what the horses of your army have done since the battle of Antietam that fatigue anything?”  –  Abraham Lincoln to General George McClellan after the General said he could not advance that day because his horses were too tired.

“If the General is not going to use his army, I wonder if I might borrow it.”  –  Abraham Lincoln in a staff meeting, talking about General George McClellan.

“Had McClellan followed his advice, he would have taken Richmond. Had Hooker acted in accordance with his suggestions, Chancellorsville would have been a victory for the nation. Had Meade obeyed his explicit commands, he would have destroyed Lee’s army before it could have re-crossed the Potomac.” And, continuing: “The War would have ended two years earlier, President Lincoln would have served his second term, and the nation would be healed.”  – William A. Croffut, Civil War soldier, journalist, and author, writing in 1875.

As the new Commander-in-Chief, Abraham Lincoln was constantly frustrated with his Generals. He had given them the largest standing Army in the history of the United States and provided them with the equipment and munitions they requested. But still, no significant progress had been made against the smaller and lesser equipped Confederate Army. But, because he had hardly any military experience himself, he was reluctant to give specific direction to the Generals who had made a career in the Army. After all, his only experience in the military was as an Illinois militia Captain in the 1832 Black Hawk War; thirty years before he became the Commander-in-Chief. He never engaged in any direct action in that short war, and even made fun of his experience saying (paraphrased), “I fought many bloody battles with mosquitoes, I was no hero.”

Later, as a young Congressman in 1847, he had argued against the war with Mexico and showed little interest in the tactics of the Generals who carried out President Polk’s invasion plans. He simply thought the war was a “land grab” by Polk’s administration and opposed the overall mission.

Now, however, as President, he was ultimately responsible for the progress, and the outcome, of the largest military engagement in United States history. And, he was not confident that the senior commanders he had appointed were leading the nation toward a victory and preservation of the Union. Even worse, one commanding General, George B. McClellan, failed to even acknowledge the Commander-in-Chief ’s requests for definitive reports on strategic plans. In fact, McClellan had such disrespect for the President, that he once refused to see Lincoln when he called at the General’s home.

On the other side, when war broke out, the Confederates had attracted about one-third of the officers who had been in the United States Army, and that included many of most experienced and able Generals. Lincoln noted after several early military set-backs, “We were out-generaled!”

In the first year of the Civil War, Lincoln usually deferred to the plans of his generals; even when he noted to others that he disagreed with some of their strategies. Lincoln was a highly intelligent man and was prone to utilize careful logic (and an occasional metaphoric yarn) when presenting his opinion, whether about political issues or military affairs. He recognized his lack of military knowledge, including lessons which might be learned from the study of historic engagements, so he read books on battlefield tactics and strategies and conferred with other Generals. As a result, over time, he gained confidence in his own ability to understand the various military situations.

Only then, did he begin to more forcefully influence the war effort.

His primary concerns were that the Generals were hesitant to take the battle to enemy forces and that they were obsessed with “place”, which meant gaining and holding territory, even if that location held little strategic importance. (The old, “take that hill” military mentality.) And often, satisfied with their occupation of a place, they would wait for long periods before moving to another engagement. Lincoln, on the other hand, felt there were only a few strategic locations worth fighting for and defending; and he wanted the Union army to focus on overcoming rebel forces wherever they were encountered and to pursue them until they were too weakened to resist. He believed that the Union forces held such numerical advantage, in both men and supplies, that a “pursue and conquer” strategy would be successful.

One of his early attempts at directing battlefield strategy was in January 1862, when he suggested that Generals Halleck and Buell merge their two armies which were both operating around Tennessee. Urging cooperation, Lincoln wrote (in part): “We have the greater numbers. We must fail, unless we can find some way of making our advantage an over-match for his; and that can only be done by menacing him with superior forces at different points at the same time. And if he weakens one to strengthen the other, seize the weakened one.” Lincoln thought his “overwhelming force strategy” could also prevent the Confederates from re-taking a place they had lost, if the Union would pursue the enemy rather than holding the place until rebels counter-attacked. The two Generals simply ignored the President’s request.

Perhaps his only excursion into a battlefield area to actually give commands, rather than to just counsel and/or observe, occurred in May 1862 when Lincoln felt that General McClellan should reduce his forces around Yorktown in order to send more troops to re-take the nearby Norfolk Naval facilities. Lincoln felt strongly that Norfolk was one on those “places” worth taking and keeping. The Confederates were using Norfolk not only to repair and supply their ships, but also as a staging area for the ironclad CSS Virginia (formerly USS Merrimack) which endangered Union shipping. Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton went to the area and, leaving McClellan out of the discussion, directed a dual assault against Norfolk, one from gunboats sent up the James River and the other a coordinated ground attack by troops from Fort Monroe. The Confederates quickly abandoned Norfolk and scuttled the famous ironclad.  As was his style, Lincoln did not take credit for the mission’s success; but, General McClellan and his senior staff were still outraged by the interference in their battle plans.

While Lincoln readily conceded that McClellan had created and trained a great army, the President believed he had failed to lead his mass of troops consistently, and aggressively, against Confederate forces. And, eventually, he began to appoint successors.

Some were more aggressive than McClellan, but each was “out-generaled” in Lincoln’s view.

For one, there was General Joseph Hooker, who Lincoln knew would fight, but soon learned that Hooker might not choose the best battleground. When both Hooker and Lincoln realized that General Robert E. Lee was moving a large Confederate army north into Maryland and Pennsylvania, Hooker planned to circle behind and attack Richmond, the South’s Capital city. Lincoln disagreed with Hooker’s plan and gave Hooker different orders. Lincoln said, “Lee’s Army, and not Richmond, is your true objective point. Follow on his flank, shortening your (supply) lines while he lengthens his. Fight him when the opportunity offers.” Then a week later, Lincoln told Hooker, “This invasion gives you back the chance that I thought McClellan lost to cripple Lee’s army far from its base.” To Lincoln’s astonishment, Hooker replied that he would be outnumbered, which Lincoln knew to be untrue, and Hooker would not commit to attack Lee’s army. Hooker then made a devastating tactical error and chose to fight a large Confederate army at Chancellorsville; where he lost the battle and his command.

Lincoln replaced Hooker with General George Meade, and was at first elated when Meade led Union forces to the victory at Gettysburg, but then saw Meade, as had McClellan and Hooker (and others), fail to pursue and destroy Lee’s army; instead Meade allowed a retreat by Confederate forces back into Virginia. Lincoln realized that the Union forces would now be fighting in that battle-weary area between Washington and Richmond, and said, “To attempt to fight the enemy back to his entrenchments in Richmond, is an idea I have been trying to repudiate for quite a year.” While he respected General Meade, Lincoln again looked for another General who would “Chase the Rebels without let-up.”

For the first three years of the War, Lincoln was constantly either unsure if he had the right Generals in place, or absolutely certain he did not.

Until he appointed General Ulysses S. Grant! He had finally found his General.

So, with all of his earlier dissatisfaction with the various Generals before settling on Grant as the Commanding General, why did Lincoln not take an even more direct role in battlefield strategy? There were three primary reasons and all relate to Lincoln’s logical thought process, which usually included trying to anticipate options he might need if an opponent, whether legal, political or military, did the unexpected.

First, he was a master politician and knew there was an advantage to having a barrier (the Generals) between himself and the public. Lincoln did not want to be either a hero, who became Dictator/Emperor (like Napoleon) because he “won” the war, nor a scapegoat if the war were prolonged or eventually lost. But, he also believed in the Constitution’s requirement that the elected civilian President would have authority to over-see the military leadership. To Lincoln, the roles of Commander-in Chief and Commanding Generals were separate, and the Country needed both.

Second, he knew he was a persuasive leader. Lincoln realized that his lack of military credentials would always, at first, elicit skepticism so, with few exceptions, he counseled with his generals, rather than give firm orders. He did a lot of ranting to members of his cabinet, and his two dedicated secretaries, but he was usually restrained when meeting with, or writing to, his Generals.

Third, and perhaps most important, with his limited military experience, he was not always sure he was right! For example, in a telegram, Lincoln admitted to General Grant that he had been wrong to doubt Grant’s plan to invade deep into Mississippi. As usual, with Lincoln, self-doubt almost always resulted in self-control.

President Abraham Lincoln was, however, absolutely convinced that he was right to make one bold strategic military decision.

While not technically a tactical battlefield event, Lincoln’s most significant military directive may have been the inclusion of Black troops into the U.S. Army. He certainly risked the resistance of many Union military leaders, and alienation of those in the North who were opposed to making the war about freedom for slaves.  Lincoln re-enforced his decision with the Emancipation Proclamation, which he declared was a “military necessity.” He then brought thousands of willing (and soon to be proven, able) Black soldiers into the Union Army and that was, by any rationale, a direct intervention by the President in military strategy.

Throughout the Civil War, with few exceptions, Abraham Lincoln did not interfere with battlefield plans or overall military objectives; therefore, in the strictest sense of the phrase, he never really became “General Lincoln.”

But, he certainly asserted himself as “The” Commander-in-Chief.

Contact the author at  gadorris2@gmail.com

 

 

Christmas at the Lincoln White House (Article 61)

No Tree. No Cards. And, the President worked all day. Not unusual at all during the Civil War.

Some historians suggest that Abraham Lincoln was concerned with his public image and did not want to appear frivolous while a war was going on. Others have written that he lacked interest in Christmas and rejected religious rituals, and some even claim that he used work as an excuse to get away from his difficult wife. Actually, these are all unfair criticisms of the man, disguised as historical explanations, by those who want to chip away at his image.

So why then, was the Lincoln White House so stark on Christmas? Foremost, Abraham Lincoln wore the heavy duty of Presidential responsibility like a leaden cloak; it enveloped him and he could only rarely take it off. However, this was self-imposed, not due to any concerns about perceptions by his critics. To him, there was a destructive war tearing the country apart, young men were dying, and there were daily decisions to be made; and, ultimately, he was the one in charge.

However, there were also practical reasons the Lincoln White House did not have a tree, or send cards, for Christmas. First, the placement of large Christmas trees in homes and public places was not a universal custom in the United States during the mid-1800s; more likely found in the northeastern regions and in settlements with a significant German or Scandinavian presence. In fact, there had never been a Christmas tree in the White House; although some false narratives claim that Franklin Pearce had one in 1853. Even if a tree were desired by Lincoln or any of his predecessors, it would not have lasted very long. The White House was more open to the public (and relatively unguarded) in those days and a large Christmas tree in the White house would have been stripped by souvenir seekers; who were already notorious for cutting snips from curtains and carpets and stealing any small trinkets. Also, the concept of sending and receiving Christmas cards was not yet wide-spread, and any Christmas sentiment was usually in the form of personal notes to close friends and family. However, both the customs of decorated trees and pre-printed Christmas cards were already gaining favor in England; in part due to the success of Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” published in 1843. Dickens’s book promoted more of a family festival to accompany the solemn religious practices which had been prominent for centuries. The European influences gradually took hold in America and decorated trees, Christmas cards, and gifts for children became the accepted norm later in the century.

But, in the 1840s and 1850s, in Illinois, there were few Christmas trees, holiday cards, or elaborate gifts for children; however, it was a day celebrated by most families, including Abraham Lincoln, his wife Mary, and their sons.

Before he became President, previous Christmas holidays were happier, but still restrained, in the Lincoln family home; which, in many ways, reflected the regional customs.  Those who lived in, or were from, the New England and the southern states, celebrated a more robust Christmas season than did most of those on the frontier, which included, at the time, Illinois. Abraham and Mary Lincoln never participated in the relatively new trend of sending out Christmas cards nor did they have a decorated tree; as not very many people in Illinois followed either custom. The Lincolns did give small Christmas gifts to their children, usually fruit and nuts and possibly a book; certainly nothing excessive, but enough to satisfy young boys back then. Mrs. Lincoln, who appreciated the formalities of a prescribed religious service, insisted the family, including her husband, attend a local church. While Lincoln was a very spiritual man, who studied the Bible throughout his life, he never joined any church or espoused a specific religious creed. He once said; “If any church will inscribe over its altar, as the sole qualification for membership, the Savior’s condensed statement, ‘Thou shalt love the lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself ’– that church will I join.” However, Lincoln enjoyed Christmas activities with his family and he relished sharing time with friends. He was a popular lawyer and politician, and he and Mary participated in various social functions during the Christmas period in their home and at the homes of friends and political acquaintances. We do not know if Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln exchanged gifts, but, all in all, Christmas at the Lincoln’s Springfield home was quite normal for that period, and in that place.

During the Christmas holiday in 1860, the family was still living at their Springfield home. Lincoln had won the national election to become the sixteenth President of the United States, but would not be inaugurated until the following March. Civil War was being discussed and South Carolina had already declared secession from the Union, with several other southern states expected to follow; however, there was still hope that outright war could somehow be avoided. Mrs. Lincoln held a Christmas Eve reception and many of their friends and political acquaintances stopped by the home, including one of Lincoln’s oldest friends and confidants, Congressman Edward Baker, who Lincoln had asked to introduce him at the coming Inauguration.

Abraham Lincoln did become the President of the United States in March 1861, and about one month later, the Civil War, which he dreaded so much, began; and his Christmases would never again be the same.

December 25, 1861, was the Lincoln family’s first Christmas in the White House. Since that last Christmas in Illinois, war had indeed struck the country and his close friend, Edward Baker, the former Congressman from back home, was now dead, just one of the many casualties of the Civil War. Therefore, it was a solemn White House, even with two young boys, Willy and Tad, who would run through the halls, and engage in other rambunctiousness; and who probably longed for a happier day. Social activities were almost non-existent since Mrs. Lincoln did not have many friends in Washington, as both she and her husband were considered outsiders by the long-entrenched Senators, Representatives, Judges and career bureaucrats who comprised the Washington elite. (Some things never change).

A White House employee later wrote; “We did not have many doings in those days, there were too many grave things going on.”

December 25, 1862, was the second Christmas the Lincoln family spent in the White House, but this year may have been the saddest of all. Young Willy had died and Mrs. Lincoln could not seem to recover. Further, the war had become a stagnated mess of death and destruction, with some Union victories, but with a devastating defeat at Fredericksburg just before Christmas. Lincoln had announced the Emancipation Proclamation to be effective January first, and the public was split on the unilateral move the President had made. If there had been a presidential poll back then, his approval rating would have been very low. On Christmas afternoon, after a morning cabinet meeting, the President and Mrs. Lincoln visited wounded soldiers at several Washington hospitals.

December 25, 1863, was their third Christmas in the White House. Mrs. Lincoln was again receiving visitors and Tad had found some new friends, however, the President was still subdued. Although the war news was better, with several major victories for the Union armies, casualties continued to mount and the President still worked through the day.

December 25, 1864, was their fourth Christmas in the Presidential Mansion and the mood was different. President Lincoln knew that the war would not last much longer, that the Union would be preserved, and slavery would soon be outlawed. (The Senate had passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and he was prepared to press the House of Representatives on the issue.) Also, he had just been re-elected to a second four-year term by a wide margin of both voters and the Electoral College. He even received a welcome telegram from General William Tecumseh Sherman, announcing that Savanah, Georgia was now in Union hands, it read “Mr. President, I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah.” Tad, the President’s young son, who still lived in the White house, invited a group of newsboys who sold papers around the area to follow him home for dinner; without telling his parents. He knew his father would not mind, but he must have been at least a little concerned about his mother’s reaction; as she could be difficult at times. Over the holidays, President and Mrs. Lincoln held several receptions for Union military leaders, politicians, and foreign emissaries. This was probably the closest to a “normal” Christmas in the Lincoln White House.

Unfortunately, it would be the last. The President was assassinated less than four months later.

Abraham Lincoln had enjoyed traditional Christmas customs back home in Springfield with family and friends; but, for four years, in the White House, he could not. Instead, he put his country, and his responsibilities as President, first.

For that, he deserves our admiration and gratitude, not criticism.

Contact the author at  gadorris2@gmail.com