A Peace Conference Fiasco at Niagara Falls (Article 74)

“The recent Niagara Falls Peace tryst, was a gathering of un-elected men, who were sanctioned by neither Lincoln or Jefferson; and who only accomplished further inflamement of passions, North and South. We have Horace Greeley and the Tribune to blame for this scandal.” – editorial by a competitor of Greeley’s at another newspaper.

In July 1864, Horace Greeley, publisher of the New York Tribune, decided to become a negotiator for peace. When he learned that several Southern representatives had gathered in Niagara Falls, Canada, and were prepared to discuss peace terms, Greeley encouraged President Abraham Lincoln to participate. Although he received a response from Lincoln, it was not as enthusiastic as Greeley hoped; but he pressed on without any real authority. The meetings were held among several men including a minor political influence peddler, three Confederate operatives with no credentials, and Greeley, whose ego was only surpassed by his outrage and vindictiveness when he perceived a slight. With that cast of characters, the conference was a failure; however, the incident gave Abraham Lincoln the opportunity to clearly express his conditions for peace, and in that respect, the meeting served some purpose.

Those gathered in the Canadian town of Niagara Falls, plus others in New York City and in Washington DC, over a two-week period included, in addition to Greeley, William “Colorado” Jewett, who was known to Lincoln and Greeley, and who had been on the periphery of several schemes, usually unsuccessful, to influence politicians. Jewett had been the person who notified Greeley that “Southern Peace Commissioners” were in Canada. Those “commissioners” were Clement Clay, of Alabama, and Jacob Thompson, of Mississippi, both former U.S. Senators before the Civil War, and Professor James Holcomb of the University of Virginia. Also, in attendance was George Sanders whose role has never been clearly defined, but was a liaison to some Northerners who sought Canadian help in opposing the American Civil War. And, eventually, Lincoln sent John Hay, one of his secretaries with a message for Greeley.

By mid-1864, many in the North had become very tired of the war. In June, Abraham Lincoln had been re-nominated for a second term, but the delegates were not enthusiastic about his re-election chances. The people wanted peace, and peace at almost any price. Thompson, Clay, and Holcomb, staying in Canada, let the word out that they were authorized by the Confederacy to confer about possible peace terms. As they hoped, Jewett, whose political machinations were well known, contacted Horace Greeley, publisher/editor of the New York Tribune, who immediately contacted President Abraham Lincoln.

On July 7, 1864, Greeley wrote to Lincoln and encouraged his participation in discussions. In his long letter Greeley wrote, “Our bleeding, bankrupt, almost dying country also longs for peace-shudders at the prospect for new conscriptions (Lincoln was contemplating a new draft), of further wholesale devastations, and of new rivers of human blood. And, a wide-spread conviction that the Government (meaning Lincoln) is not anxious for peace, and do not improve proffered opportunities to achieve it, is doing great harm now, and, is morally certain, unless removed, to do far greater in the coming elections.” Greeley was giving a veiled threat to Lincoln that if word got out that he refused any opportunity for peace, he would lose the 1864 Presidential election. And, Greeley would have been ready to be the one who would spread that word through his newspaper and other contacts.

Greeley added an admonition for Lincoln, “Mr. President, I fear you do not realize how intently the people desire any peace consistent with the national integrity and honor. I do not say that a just peace is now attainable, though I believe it to be so. But I do say, that a frank offer by you to the insurgents of terms…will…prove an immense and sorely needed advantage to the national cause; it may save us from a northern insurrection. I beg you to invite those now at Niagara to exhibit their credentials and submit their ultimatum.” (The words “do” and “offer” were underlined in Greeley’s letter and not by this author)

Lincoln did not believe that Jefferson Davis had authorized any delegation. However, not wanting to give the New York editor ammunition to accuse him being unwilling to hear a possible prospect for peace, Lincoln wrote Greeley and suggested that he go to Niagara Falls and determine if their credentials were, in fact, legitimate authority on behalf of Jefferson Davis. Then, if they possessed such written credentials, Greeley should tell them that Lincoln would grant them safe-passage to Washington.

Lincoln’s apparent trust in Greeley might seem strange since Greeley had done everything possible to prevent Lincoln’s re-nomination. But Greeley’s vanity was such that he assumed Lincoln would (or at least should) value his advice. Privately, Lincoln referred to Greeley as, “an old shoe — good for nothing now, whatever he has been.”

Greeley desperately wanted some conference to occur and just as desperately, now wanted to be part of it. He wrote Lincoln on July 13: “I have now information on which I can rely that two persons duly commissioned and empowered to negotiate for peace are at Niagara Falls, in Canada. Their names, only given in confidence, are the Hon. Clement C. Clay, of Alabama, and Hon. Jacob Thompson, of Mississippi. If you should prefer to meet them in person, they require safe-conducts for themselves, and for George N. Sanders, who will accompany them. In negotiating directly with yourself, you would be enabled at all times to act upon the freshest advices of the military situation. All that is assumed is a mutual desire to terminate this wholesale slaughter, and it seems to me high time that an effort to this end should be made. I am quite sure that a frank, earnest, anxious effort to terminate the war on honorable terms would immensely strengthen the Government in case of its failure, and would help us in the eyes of the civilized world, which now accuses us of obstinacy, and indisposition even to seek a peaceful solution of our sanguinary, devastating conflict.” (This is an edited version; Greeley never used a few words, when he had a chance to use many.)

Lincoln sent another message to Greeley encouraging him to verify the credentials of the emissaries and offering safe-passage if Greeley believed they were valid and urged him on by stating, “I was not expecting you to send me a (another) letter but to bring me a man or men.”

President Lincoln could not afford to alienate Greeley or to appear to reject a genuine peace overture. But, Lincoln smelled a rat! And, he thought it was time to bring the matter to a close. He was ready to teach the meddlesome Greeley a few lessons on the art of politics (and of over-confidence). And, Lincoln realized that he could use Greeley’s actions to show the country that any such negotiations were either unauthorized by Jefferson Davis or doomed to failure because of irreconcilable differences.

John Hay, Lincoln’s secretary, was dispatched to New York bearing a personal, confidential note for Greeley from Lincoln which clearly stated his position.  But this time the letter was addressed “To Whom It May Concern” and Lincoln wrote, “Any proposition which embraces the restoration of peace, the integrity of the whole Union, and the abandonment of slavery, and which comes by and with an authority that can control the armies now at war against the United States will be received and considered by the Executive government of the United States, and will be met by liberal terms on other substantial and collateral points; and the bearer, or bearers thereof shall have safe conduct both ways.” Lincoln was sure the letter would be leaked to the press; in fact, he counted on it! 

Greeley now had his authorization from Lincoln, but even he must have recognized that the President left no “wiggle room” for the future existence of the Confederacy or continuation of slavery by including language about the “…integrity of the whole Union and abandonment of slavery” in the letter. But, Greeley plowed on; and, after some disagreement over the exact terms of safe-passage” for the Confederates who feared arrest when they crossed the border, Greeley headed for Niagara Falls.  Upon arrival he notified the Confederates of Lincoln’s safe-conduct pass and willingness to meet, if Greeley could be satisfied that they were truly authorized by Jefferson Davis to speak on behalf of the Confederacy.

Greeley told the Confederates, “I am informed that you are duly accredited from Richmond as the bearers of propositions looking to the establishment of peace; that you desire to visit Washington in the fulfilment of your mission. If my information be thus far substantially correct, I am authorized by the President of the United States to tender you his safe-conduct on journey proposed, and to accompany you at the earliest time that will be agreeable to you.”  

Then things began to fall apart.

The Southern “delegates” hesitated; and then admitted that they had no credentials from Jefferson Davis but were earnest in trying to broker a peace deal. They declared that no negotiations were possible based on Lincoln’s continuing insistence that the Confederacy dissolve and the seceded states rejoin the United States. Further, they said that they intended to inform Davis and his administration that their sincere efforts had been rebuffed. Greeley realized that he had been used. The Southerners would make it appear to not only their constituents, but to Northerners and the world at large, that it was Lincoln and the Union which were roadblocks to peace, not the Confederacy.

Greeley thought he could shrewdly bring the two side together before any firm negotiating positions were stated; but in fact, he had been out-maneuvered by Lincoln and the Southerners.

The entire episode was an embarrassment for Greeley, who did not take any slight very well. To further his discomfort, the Southern delegates released Lincoln’s letters to the press and declared that Lincoln’s demand that slavery be abolished was the primary cause for failure of the peace initiative. Democratic newspapers in the North and almost all newspapers in the South, accused Lincoln of continuing the war for the sole purpose of ending slavery; knowing that a majority in the North supported the war only to re-unite the Union (but not to end slavery). Even many of Lincoln’s political friends believed that his “To whom it may concern” letter would cost him re-election because it was a declaration that the war was now to be fought to abolish slavery; a notion not accepted by many in the North.

While Lincoln had gambled that he would not lose too many constituents with his position; he also knew that the Democratic Presidential Candidate, expected to be former General George McClellan, would press the point in his bid to wrest the presidency from Lincoln in November 1864. Lincoln’s best hope was that events over the next few months, including prospective Union victories, would show Northerners that the Union was winning, that the Confederacy would lose, and, with the victories, Lincoln believed voters would accept emancipation along with re-union. But, the fact was that Lincoln himself was never certain he could win another term.

However, for now, Lincoln had to do some damage control and issued a statement that, “If there was anybody or any delegation at Niagara Falls, or anywhere else, authorized to represent the Southern Confederacy and to treat for peace, they had free conduct and safety to Washington and return.” Lincoln later said, “Instead of Mr. Greeley doing it that way, he went there as an ambassador, and with an array of reporters established himself on the American side and opened negotiations with these two alleged envoys across the bridge. I had reason to believe that these envoys were without authority, because President Davis had said to this friend of mine and of his that he would treat (meaning to negotiate) on no terms whatever but on absolute recognition of the independence of the Southern Confederacy.” The friend to whom Lincoln was referring was James Gilmore, who had met with Jefferson Davis and was told by Davis that, “The war must go on until the last man of this generation falls in his tracks, unless you acknowledge our right to self -governance.”  

Not any wiggle room there either!

Lincoln later said, “Of course, they never came, because their mission was a subterfuge. But they made Greeley believe in them, and the result is that he is still attacking me for needlessly prolonging the war for purposes of my own.” Greeley did finally support Lincoln for re-election, but only after the Union had established the likely-hood of victory when Atlanta fell in September 1864. Greeley liked to back winners and Lincoln won that election.

It has been said that, “No attempt at peace in time of war is wasted.” While the Niagara meetings did not plant a seed for real peace, the episode did provide Abraham Lincoln with the opportunity to, again, declare his position that he would never accept the continuation of the Confederate States, but, instead, only full restoration of the Union.

And, the Civil War would continue until that outcome was finally reached.

Sherman’s Andersonville Dilemma (Article 73)

In April, 1864, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman had been given a mission by his superior officers; to take his over 60,000 Union troops out of Tennessee, into Georgia. Once there, he was to conquer Atlanta, move southeast through Macon (a strategic rail center) and then march to the sea to take Savannah. The strategy behind the Georgia campaign was not to just capture important Southern cities, but to split the diminishing Confederate forces and to demoralize the population so that they would seek an earlier end to the Civil War. An ancillary mission was to, hopefully, weaken the Confederate resistance against General Grant’s forces in Virginia by Robert E. Lee’s army; as Sherman moved his troops further south and around those battlefields.

General Sherman completed his mission, but under a historical cloud. The Georgia campaign is forever marked in history for the burning of Atlanta and for the widespread (and some say unnecessary) destruction of homes and farms during his army’s “March to the Sea” toward Savannah.

But, during that same time-period, there was another immense human tragedy taking place in Georgia, near a town called Andersonville, in a prison named Camp Sumter. The Union soldiers, held there as prisoners-of-war, suffered under inhumane conditions; a situation, at least in part, known to many Northern civilian and military officials. By the time Sherman was preparing to leave Tennessee for Georgia, he was aware of the existence of Camp Sumter, if not of the full scope of the unfolding tragedy. In spite of that knowledge, Sherman’s Georgia campaign strategy did not include the liberation of the lightly defended prison complex; and some critics suggest that it should have.

The prison had been started in December 1863, with a plan to house 10,000 Union prisoners, but was still unfinished when the first prisoners began to arrive in February 1864. In only a few months the prison population swelled to over 33,000 and conditions deteriorated rapidly. Sherman was at least somewhat aware of the deplorable conditions within the prison since a few men had escaped and told of the many prisoners who had died, and were dying, of starvation and disease. His large army would be within about 140 miles of Andersonville during his two-month siege of Atlanta (from early July-September 3rd), and even closer, about 50 miles, as the army marched through Macon, Georgia; on the way to Savannah. However, Sherman decided to not veer the army off course to liberate the thousands of Union prisoners suffering at Camp Sumter. By most estimates, at least 13,000 prisoners died there with many succumbing from the time Sherman entered Georgia in April 1864 until their liberation in April 1865.

Why did Sherman not prioritize the liberation of the Andersonville prisoners? Certainly, many more would have survived if they had been rescued anytime during Sherman’s nine-month campaign in Georgia.

Sherman gave various reasons for his decision.  After he completed his march to the sea in December 1864 he said he had been given a mission that was never altered. Then, just after the war, he said that he could not justify dividing his forces since he could not be sure of the size and capabilities of Confederate General John Bell Hood’s forces which were in the area. Later, he said that, while it would have been a humanitarian mission to relieve the suffering of the prisoners, if he had divided his forces to essentially begin a second and separate campaign, it would have put the remaining soldiers under his command at greater risk in battle against the enemy. He also explained that he could not have cared for the prisoners without halting his campaign; which was probably a fact, since he had organized his force to travel quickly, (read lightly), from Atlanta and obtained most of his food supplies by foraging off the land. Therefore, Sherman believed that he could not have fed and cared for another 30,000 sick soldiers.

What is often lost is that he did permit a voluntary, but limited, attempt at liberating Andersonville in July 1864 when he agreed that General George Stoneman could undertake a rescue mission after his 2,200 men destroyed railroad tracks near Atlanta and otherwise disrupted General Hood’s supply lines. General Stoneman had requested that Sherman grant permission for the liberation effort after completing his primary mission; and General Sherman agreed that Stoneman’s idea might work. In his memoirs, Sherman wrote, “There was something most captivating in the idea, and the execution was within the bounds of probable success.” Sherman recalled that, in his orders to Stoneman, he wrote, “If you can bring back to the army any or all of those prisoners of war, it will be an achievement that will entitle you, and your command, to the love and admiration of the whole country.”

But, it was not to be!

The attempt ended in a disaster for the Union Army when Stoneman was caught in a pincer action between two Confederate forces. Stoneman decided that he and 700 of his troops would remain in place to provide withering cover fire for 1,500 of his men who would attempt an escape through enemy lines. The larger group did break out; however, soon afterward, Stoneman and the 700 remaining troops ran out of ammunition, were captured, and became prisoners themselves. Fortunately for Stoneman and his men, they were not taken to Andersonville, and were exchanged a few months later for a like number of Confederate soldiers in Union hands.

A few weeks after Stoneman’s failed attempt at liberation of Andersonville, on September 1, 1864, Confederate forces under General John Bell Hood pulled out of Atlanta and the city was surrendered the next day. Sherman sent a famous message to Abraham Lincoln writing, “Atlanta is ours, and fairly won.” During the siege, the Union Army had fired thousands of artillery shells into the city, some of which caused fires. Then when Confederate General Hood abandoned the city, he ordered the destruction of military facilities, equipment, and supplies which he could not carry; some by setting more fires. Because Hood’s army remained in the area, Sherman chose to extend his stay in Atlanta to defend the city, and did not leave for Macon and then Savannah until mid-November. But then, before he set off on his famous “March to the Sea” on November 15, Sherman had his forces set fire, or otherwise destroy, any remaining facilities that might be of future use to Confederate troops, including warehouses, factories, and railroad facilities.

When those later fires became uncontrollable, the result was the infamous “Burning of Atlanta.”

Sherman left the devasted city in the hands of a small defensive unit, and took his remaining 60,000 troops toward Savannah, Georgia, about 250 miles to the southeast.  As he passed within about fifty miles of Andersonville, we do not know if he considered a second attempt to liberate the prisoners held at Camp Sumter; we only know that no attempt was made.

Moving generally in front of Sherman’s advance, Confederate troops foraged their way across Georgia taking food, horses, mules and equipment from local farmers, many of whom, but not all, willingly shared what little they had with the Southern soldiers. Sherman’s troops followed the Confederate troops through the countryside, also foraging, but in their case, they often stole any remaining food and livestock they found, leaving the families destitute; and often burned the houses and barns of the farmers who resisted.

When Sherman arrived in Savannah on December 21, 1864, Confederate troops had already abandoned the city, and the citizens quickly surrendered. Therefore, unlike Atlanta, their town was spared. Sherman remained near Savannah for a few weeks to rebuild his supplies and rest his army.  With Bell’s Confederate troops scattered, some critics of Sherman argue that he could have then sent a contingent from Savannah back to liberate the Andersonville prisoners because his primary “mission” was complete; but, by that time Sherman had other plans. In January 1865, ten months after he entered Georgia, he turned his troops northward towards the Carolinas; where he would engage Confederate troops and forage off the small farms on his way back to established Union lines.

As time went on, General Sherman continued to reflect on his decision to not make further attempts to liberate Andersonville. After Stoneman’s capture, Sherman wrote, “Nothing but natural and intense desire to accomplish an end so inviting to one’s feelings would have drawn me to commit a military mistake at such a crisis, as that of dividing and risking my cavalry so necessary to the success of my campaign.” It appears Sherman’s only regret was that he divided his forces (no matter how small the contingent) to allow Stoneman’s liberation attempt. After the Stoneman debacle, Sherman wrote to his wife, “I have already lost Stoneman & near 2,000 Cavalry in attempting to rescue the Prisoners at Macon (Andersonville). I get one hundred letters a day to effect the exchange or release of these Prisoners.” But Sherman would not yield to those hundreds of appeals. In his memoirs, Sherman wrote, “(There were)…more than twenty-five thousand prisoners confined in a stockade designed for only ten thousand; debarred of the privilege of gathering wood out of which to make huts; deprived of sufficient healthy food, and the little stream that ran though their prison-pen poisoned and polluted by the offal from their cooking and butchering houses above.”

Some historians blame much of the suffering at Andersonville on the Union decision, in early 1864, to stop permitting most prisoner exchanges, which had been a common practice until that time. Union leaders including Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War, and General Ulysses S. Grant, did not support additional prisoner exchanges with the Confederacy because they did not want to help re-enforce the diminishing Southern armies. There was some logic to the decision as it was common for released Confederates to be pressed back into service, while the Union army did not necessarily need the additional troops gained from any exchange. General Grant wrote in a letter “It is hard on our men held in Southern prisons not to exchange them, but it is humanity to those left in the ranks to fight our battles. Every man (Confederate soldier) released on parole or otherwise, becomes an active soldier against us at once, either directly or indirectly. If we commence a system of exchange which liberates all prisoners taken, we will have to fight on until the whole South is exterminated.”

General Sherman had to live with his decisions to never again attempt to liberate Andersonville and to cause such destruction throughout Georgia. But his mission was to conquer Atlanta and destroy the city’s ability to provide supplies to the Confederate armies, to then drive across Georgia to cut the Confederacy in half, and to take Savannah. He accomplished his mission, and, for most Generals, despite other collateral suffering, that is their sufficient reward; it evidently was for General William Tecumseh Sherman. To him, he did his job!

The prisoners at Andersonville just had to wait.

Simon Cameron – Scandal in the Cabinet (Article 72)

“I have the ability to make money, I do not need to steal it.”  – Simon Cameron

Newly elected President Abraham Lincoln asked Pennsylvania Congressman Thaddeus Stevens about the honesty of Simon Cameron, also from Pennsylvania, who was seeking the Cabinet position of either Secretary of War or Secretary of Treasury. Stevens, well known for his acerbic wit, supposedly replied, “I do not believe he would steal a red-hot stove.” After his comments were leaked to Cameron who protested, Stevens then said, “On second thought, he would steal the hot stove.”

One contemporary of Cameron’s attempted to explain his combination of a gregarious personality and selfish interests by saying, “I always knew I would be fleeced, but I did enjoy the fleecing.” Cameron’s early years are difficult to explain because Cameron offered various versions over time; for example, early in his business career he claimed to be an orphan, but he was not. He became an apprentice with a printer and, at 21, started his own newspaper. He became a successful business man and a Pennsylvania political leader who was known to provide patronage to his friends and to withhold it from others. He was adept at raising money to finance rail lines, manufacturing facilities and a bank. Much of his own cash flow came from his appointment as the Pennsylvania state printer. He served as a U.S. Senator from his state both before and then after the Civil War. He often signed documents and letters as “General” but had never served in the military. When asked, he said that it derived from his position as Adjutant General of Pennsylvania (a largely administrative position) early in his career. He was derisively referred to in some newspapers as “The Great Winnebago Chief” for his self-rewarding efforts in settling a Native American dispute, and by others as “The Czar of Pennsylvania” for his control over much of the state’s political machinery.

Cameron’s quote that he did not “need to steal” was probably accurate because “Czar” Cameron was a master at patronage, the politician’s currency; simply stated as, “do something for me or mine, and I’ll do something for you or yours.” He understood the power of patronage and wielded it in local and state politics for years.

However, by 1860, Cameron had higher ambitions and hoped he might become the Republican Presidential nominee at that year’s convention; but, when he realized several others had more committed delegates, he set his sights on being named Treasury Secretary. The ultimate Republican nominee, Abraham Lincoln, wanted his Cabinet to be geographically (and politically) diverse and he sought Cabinet members with their region as one qualifier; which gave Cameron a chance despite his record of cronyism. Although Lincoln had warned his floor managers at the Chicago Republican convention to not bind him to any federal appointments in return for delegate votes, Cameron may have received such assurances and Lincoln felt obligated to consider him for some post. Since he had a better qualified candidate for Treasury Secretary, in Salmon Chase, Lincoln finally asked Cameron to be the Secretary of War. Both were important Cabinet posts in an administration which faced, at best, the break-up of the United States and, at worst, the prospect of Civil War; and Cameron accepted Lincoln’s offer.

After his inauguration, on March 4,1861, Lincoln did not want the administration to appear on a war footing, as he still held some hope that no more than the initial seven states would attempt secession and that some peaceful resolution was possible rather than civil war. Cameron agreed with Lincoln’s cautious approach and, other than working with the aging and hobbled General Winfield Scott to re-build the Army manpower lost from defections and resignations by southerners, Cameron took little action to improve the status of the Army. Until April 15, 1861!

When the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter, Lincoln, his Cabinet, and the senior Generals still on duty, needed to quickly ramp up the Union army. In addition to more men, the U.S. Army would need more weapons, new facilities, uniforms, horses and mules, wagons, tents, and new roads and railroad tracks to move the men and equipment.  The War Department, led by Simon Cameron, devised an effective two-stage plan to rapidly build and equip the forces that would soon reach over 200,000 troops; an unprecedented scale! First, he looked to Northern state and local militias which already had trained and equipped units. He promised that the Federal government would fully repay the states and towns if they would send men and material from their militias to prepare for the defense of Washington DC and to defend critical railroad routes and telegraph lines.  At the federal level, Cameron coordinated with General-in-Chief, Winfield Scott, to expand the Army’s Quartermaster Corps and hired several hundred clerks at the War Department to process procurement orders. Almost all Quartermaster soldiers and civilian procurement clerks worked diligently and honorably to equip the new army. However, lurking in the background, were manufacturers, merchants, and traders who saw an opportunity and seized it. Some were aided by a few soldiers and government clerks who were in a position to steer lucrative contracts and did so for a bribe.

Soon, Cameron was being accused of offering contracts to those he knew, and he was an easy target for those charges. Cameron had called on other successful businessmen, capable of ramping up businesses to meet the Army’s various needs, to “pitch in for the good of the cause.” Reliance on acquaintances was not, in and of itself, unusual, as almost any leader expected to rapidly build something from nothing would put trust in those already known. But, Simon Cameron made, or allowed others to make, terrible procurement decisions; some of which were million-dollar mistakes. (When, as they say, a million dollars was real money!)

There are two truisms about war; some people will die and some people will get rich.

In the case of the Civil War, it did not take long for examples of corruption to become public. Some contract abuses were reported by competitors who did not win an army contract, some surfaced because an honest government clerk noticed an irregularity, and a few were discovered by reporters. But, by far, the most evidence of corruption came to light when the ultimate customer, those who served in the Army, received worthless products. Those included uniforms that fell apart, shoes with paper soles, old weapons marked as new, ammunition that did not match the weapons sent, spoiled food, and near-death horses and mules presented as healthy. Even products that met specifications were often outrageously overpriced.

Any large organization eventually reflects the moral code of its leader. The War Department needed structure and ethical boundaries; but Simon Cameron was incapable of providing either. He valued action over diligence, promptness over inspection, and loyalty over competence, especially when he was spending government money, or buying on government credit.  Critics pointed out, rightly so, that he did not amass his fortune by being so cavalier with his own money. And, Cameron did not satisfy anyone when he said, “I have the ability to make money, I do not need to steal it.” The fact is, he probably never did directly steal from the government, nor is there any evidence he personally accepted a bribe in return for steering contracts to acquaintances. But he often did fail to act decisively when an individual or company was caught over charging, (such as Colt Fire Arms), or providing less than that for which the government had paid, (such as J.P. Morgan’s Hall Carbines, which did not work, and Brooks Brothers, whose shoddy uniforms fell apart).

To some degree, Lincoln must share part of the blame. He had heard rumors of Cameron’s favoritism and poor management practices but chose to focus his own attention on actual war issues against the enemy and political issues in Washington, rather than the inefficiencies within the Army’s procurement processes. Lincoln may have rationalized that, in spite of the corruption, necessary supplies were being delivered at a record pace. But, by the end of 1861, congressional investigations into the mis-conduct within the War Department led Lincoln to consider replacing Cameron, before a public spectacle forced his hand.

However, Cameron instead presented Lincoln with an unexpected gift; a different politically incendiary reason to push him out of the Cabinet. Cameron usurped Presidential authority!

Without consulting Lincoln, Cameron sent to Congress his annual report which included a proposal to arm escaped slaves and Black Freedmen and to form them into special fighting units for use against southern forces.  The militarization of former slaves had previously been proposed by abolitionists, but Lincoln rejected it (at the time) because he was concerned the Union might lose the support of the four border states (Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri) where slavery was still legal. Lincoln had previously stopped Union Generals from arming slaves and told his Cabinet the time was not right for such a radical step. While Cameron had now given Lincoln a better reason to remove him, Lincoln knew that he needed to appease Cameron’s Pennsylvania voters and legislators and the abolitionists who supported the arming former slaves. So, Lincoln did what Presidents have always done, he offered Cameron another job – the Ambassadorship to Russia! Lincoln’s initial private termination letter to Cameron was terse and uncomplimentary; and Cameron was said to be devastated. Then, as Lincoln often did, he issued a second, softer, public letter which graciously claimed that he had accepted Cameron’s resignation with regret and that the Country would benefit from Cameron’s service in Russia. Lincoln’s second letter, for which Cameron would always be grateful, served to blunt some of, but not all of, the future criticism of Cameron’s brief tenure as Secretary of War.

Lincoln then reached out to an old antagonist, Edwin Stanton, who was a Democrat, a Washington Lawyer, and an outspoken Unionist. Stanton had already counseled Cameron on several occasions about procurement contracts, so, he was well aware of the corruption scandals being investigated by Congress. Lincoln and Stanton had crossed paths before, when, as a prominent eastern business attorney, Stanton had refused to work with Lincoln (at the time a country lawyer), humiliating Lincoln in the process. However, in typical Lincoln fashion, that episode did not deter him from offering Stanton the position in his Cabinet. Stanton still viewed Lincoln as an incompetent President; but, Stanton accepted the assignment as the new Secretary of War because, he told others, “It was best for the Country.” And it was! Over the next three years, Stanton led the War Department honorably and effectively; and, over time he came to appreciate and admire Abraham Lincoln as President.

Some historians find a conspiracy theory in Lincoln’s appointment of Stanton to be Secretary of War. At the time Lincoln selected Stanton, he was unaware that it was actually Stanton, as counselor to Cameron, who had written Cameron’s message to Congress which supported the arming of Black Freedmen and run-away slaves; the very document that had cost Cameron his job! While those historians speculate whether Lincoln, with that knowledge in hand, might have made a different choice; most historians agree that Stanton was the right person, at the right time, to end the chaos in the War Department.

But what of Cameron?

Cameron’s appointment as Ambassador to Russia was narrowly confirmed by the Senate. Then, Ambassador Cameron took such a long (and expensive) journey throughout Europe on his way to St. Petersburg, that he spent little time there on his diplomatic responsibilities. And, within months of arriving in Russia, Cameron presented Lincoln with another gift; he asked to be relieved of his mission. Lincoln would finally be rid of this nemesis.

Cameron resumed his business enterprises and again became a political force in Pennsylvania, returning to the U.S. Senate in 1867. He served in the Senate until 1877, and typical of Cameron’s self-dealing, he only resigned in a deal that assured his son would be appointed to his seat. And, for the rest of his life, Cameron claimed that, under the circumstances of a necessary rapid build-up of an army, he was successful as Secretary of War; and, he said, that Lincoln’s kind public statement, and the subsequent Union victory, proved his point.

But most historians view his tenure less favorably. He was disorganized to the extreme and did not follow up on early signs of corruption. Then, often, when contractors were caught bilking the Army and/or those were identified who aided their efforts by accepting bribes or favors, Cameron failed to act quickly to punish the culprits. But, despite congressional hearings about the rampant corruption within and around the War Department, Cameron was never personally charged with malfeasance. None of the investigations uncovered any evidence that Cameron personally accepted a bribe or diverted funds for his own use. The fact was that Simon Cameron benefited by trading in favors and patronage, rather than outright theft or graft.

So, does Simon Cameron deserve his poor reputation as Secretary of War? While he did equip a large army, his management oversight was lacking, his mistakes were many and expensive, and he never established clear moral and ethical boundaries within the War Department.

On the other hand, he was never caught stealing a hot stove.

Jefferson Davis – The Rest of the Story (Article 71)

“Dear Varina,

This is not the fate to which I invited you when the future was rose-colored for us both.”

Jefferson Davis wrote those words to his wife, Varina, as he sat in a small dark cell in 1865. Only four years earlier he had been acclaimed by his Southern constituents as the first President of the Confederate States of America. What circumstances led to his capture, what were the charges against him which caused his imprisonment, how did the legal case against him proceed, and, how did he spend the rest of his life?

In early April, 1865, the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, was expected to fall to Union troops within weeks, if not days. To protect his wife and children from harm, he directed that a special armed escort accompany her on a journey further south where they might be safe. Davis and his political entourage abandoned the capital few days later on a different course, but with some hope for intersecting with Varina’s group over the next few weeks.  Davis was not ready to give up the fight to maintain the Confederate cause, and he planned to re-organize Southern Armies in South Carolina or Georgia. Then later, as he became convinced that the troops in those states could not re-form into an effective fighting force, he decided to head for Texas where a large Confederate Army was still in place.

First, however, he was determined to meet with his wife before he veered further west. Davis and Varina had been able to exchange messages by using dedicated couriers who travelled between the groups; therefore, Davis knew it was only a matter of time before he could meet with his wife, and then they could plan on the safest location for her and the children.

After almost five weeks on the run, on May 9, 1865, their two groups met near Irwinsville, Georgia. There husband and wife retired to a tent, a far cry from the Presidential mansion, or in fact, any of the homes the two had enjoyed throughout their lives. Early the next morning, Union soldiers surrounded the encampment, and an officer yelled for Davis to surrender. His wife later said that he considered trying to escape into the dark woods, but quickly realized the futility of such an attempt. So, in their last private moments, he told his wife that he might be executed on the spot, but believed she would be treated courteously by the Union officers; and then, he surrendered.

He was quickly restrained and moved away from the tent, but was not harmed.  And, as he expected, his wife was treated respectfully and informed that her husband was alive; but was a prisoner. Davis was then transported to the federal prison at Fort Monroe in Virginia, where he would await his fate.

And, he would wait for two long years.

The public masses, both north and south, were eager to get any news of the captured Confederate President, and newspapers and pamphleteers rushed copies out, some more than once in a day. Since the Union administration was tight-lipped about his capture, his condition, or the plans for any trial, the papers were full of speculation. Some, in an attempt to damage Davis’s reputation, falsely reported that he had tried to flee his captors disguised in his wife’s clothes.

Davis considered himself a head-of-state and, as such, believed he should have been given a certain degree of respect by his jailers; but he was not. Once he was at Fort Monroe, he again anticipated execution, perhaps after the formality of a quick trial, but he still expected the same result. He was ill, coughed continually, and had little appetite. Understanding the anger in the North towards him, especially considering the assassination of President Lincoln, he assumed his fate was already decided. As the days turned into weeks, he heard nothing from the guards or administrators about a trial, so, he was left to awaken each day not knowing if it might be his last.

At first, he was kept in isolation, but, over time, he was moved to a larger, more comfortable cell, his food improved, he was provided with a bible, and was permitted to write and receive letters. Davis was aware that other confederate officials had also been arrested and imprisoned, including Vice President Alexander Stephens; but they were all released within months. Then, in May 1866, a year after his capture, in a humanitarian gesture never fully explained, his wife and a daughter were permitted to take up residence with Davis in officer’s quarters within the Fort. Their other children were left with relatives in Georgia and later in Canada. For the next year, the prisoner and his family were treated respectfully; but still they were unsure of what would be his fate. Would he continue to be in limbo, or would there be a trial; and, if so, would his sentence be prison or death? It is unlikely that he considered acquittal, or even release on bail, as a possibility.

But, actually, nothing definitive had been decided about Jefferson Davis. The opinions among the leaders of the Federal Government, including President Johnson, and even in the general public, were deeply divided about what to do with their prisoner. Execution was favored by some (of course after a quick trial for history’s sake), others supported a long prison sentence, and some opposed any public trial which would give Davis a forum to argue that secession was legal. In fact, Salmon Chase, the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, had already said that, while secessionists committed crimes against federal property, their acts were not treasonous under the Constitution.

In the last year of his incarceration, numerous articles were written which were sympathetic to Davis’s situation, some by Varina, which began to change public opinion in his favor and which caused lawyers and judges to question the legal processes. After two years, and many petitions on his behalf to federal courts and to President Johnson, a judge ruled that Davis was entitled to a bail hearing. Bail was set at $100,000.00 (similar to about $4 million today) and an unusual group combined to sign the bond agreement (meaning they would pay if Davis failed to show for a trial); including Horace Greely and Garret Smith each an avowed Unionist and abolitionist, and Cornelius Vanderbilt, a wealthy northern industrialist. The motives of those who sought Davis’s release were varied but most simply wanted to put the Civil War behind the country and move toward reconciliation of North and South.

By May, 1867, Davis was free on the bail bond, but still under threat of criminal charges. Several motions were made in Federal Court in early 1868 which might have led to a trial, but the impeachment and trial of President Andrew Johnson, which began on February 14 and ended on March 26 (with acquittal) delayed the case. Then, in December 1868, a District Court in Washington DC, which could have heard any trial, requested that the U.S. Supreme Court review the case. On Christmas Day, 1868, President Johnson, fearing that a decision might favor Davis, but also wanting to move on with re-construction without the focus on Davis, issued an unusual pardon for all Confederate officials, specific only to the charge of treason, (leaving them open to other criminal charges) and instructed the Justice Department to drop the treason case against Davis. Over time, Johnson issued full and complete pardons for hundreds of Confederate officials who applied, but Davis refused to request a pardon.  After all of that time, there was no trial, no acquittal or conviction, and no pardon; therefore, Davis remained in a type of legal and political no-man’s-land. Some called him a person without a country.

And he was broke!

His plantation in Mississippi, which had been owned by his brother, was in ruins and his investments in Confederate enterprises and bonds were worthless. He needed a job; and fortunately for Davis, there were admirers who were in a position to help.

From 1868 until 1877, Davis was offered several positions with businesses which hoped to gain from an association with him. He was a popular figure in Canada and Great Britain and explored mercantile opportunities there, but nothing seemed to work out; likely because those enterprises needed business from the Northern states, where Davis was not respected. In 1869, he had his best opportunity for a career in business when he became the president of a life insurance company in Memphis; however, that company failed in the 1873 financial panic. Former Confederate officials referred him to opportunities as a college president of the University of the South in Tennessee and at, what is now, Texas A&M, but the salaries for those positions were not sufficient to support his family’s life-style.

Several acquaintances encouraged Davis write his memoirs, but he usually said that he did not feel comfortable writing and that even if he did, he was not sure there was an audience for his message. He did accept a few assignments from periodicals to commemorate specific events, but he considered writing a chore and was usually only paid about $250.00 or less for each article. But by, 1875, Davis was ready to commit to writing a memoir and several factors had caused him to change his mind. He had not been healthy since the start of the Civil War and his two-year imprisonment worsened several chronic conditions. He also realized that his own mortality was on the horizon and he did want to tell his version of history. And, finally, he needed the money.

Writing his memoirs was not a linear task. The process took several twists including a change of publishers but, by 1877, he had developed the outline of what would become a two-volume work. The memoir would cover two basic themes. First, he intended to explain his reasons for the formation of the Confederacy, which was very important to Davis.  Second, he would cover his assessment of the battle strategies and the Generals who led the effort, which was not as important to Davis, but was very important to the publishers who thought that would sell more books. Woven through those two themes would be a reverence for the “cause” for which so many Confederates fought (and so many died). In fact, the original working title for the book was Our Cause, but that did not survive early editing.

In 1877, Sarah Anne Dorsey, a wealthy widow who had known Davis for years, invited him to stay at her estate and plantation called Beauvoir, near Biloxi, Mississippi. As a writer herself, Mrs. Dorsey believed that she could help Davis with his memoirs through not only her encouragement, but also her editing and composition skills. Aware of Davis’s dire financial situation, she offered to deed to him a small home on the estate and, when Davis balked at the charitable gesture, agreed to sell him the property for a relatively bargain price and carried back a three-year contract. Then to assure that Davis (and/or his surviving family) would not be financially inconvenienced if she died before him, she left her entire estate to him or, if he died earlier, to his daughter. Some biographers have tried to suggest that Davis and Mrs. Dorsey were more than friends, pointing out that Varina seldom stayed at the estate; however, most historians consider that idle speculation. The fact is that Varina Davis enjoyed a more urban and socially active life-style than was available at Beauvoir (or, for that matter, than would have been enjoyed by her husband).  And, it was not the first time, nor would it be the last time, that they chose to live apart.

Earlier, Varina had only occasionally resided in Memphis, when her husband worked there at the life insurance company; but instead, she spent long periods in England and travelled throughout Europe as the guest of wealthy friends. Some historians believe that Varina extended her European stay in 1871 for a deeply personal reason. Jefferson Davis had evidently become infatuated with Virginia Clay, the wife of a former Confederate official, and while there is no evidence the two were unfaithful, their conduct was noticed by mutual friends and, as always happens, the gossip reached Varina. Her only public reaction was to simply stay in Europe, and then later in other American cities, and to avoid Memphis; however, we do not know what her private reactions may have been.

In any case, after the Civil War, long separations were the norm for Jefferson Davis and Varina; and both husband and wife seemed to adapt to that style of living arrangement.

By 1881, Davis was again struggling with his memoirs, when an editor, William Tenney, was sent by the publisher to assist Davis. The two men worked well together, which was remarkable since Davis did not usually work well with anyone, and by 1881, the two-volume “The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government” was published. The book became a mainstay in many Southern households and also sold reasonably well in the Northern states. Also, Mrs. Dorsey had died in 1879, leaving him the Beauvoir estate and several other valuable parcels, and he considered that as home for the rest of his life.

Davis’s money problems were over.

He also found that he enjoyed writing, especially to promote the validity of secession and of the Lost Cause, which was a (flawed) rationale for the formation of the Confederacy. He wrote another book in 1889 called “A Short History of the Confederate States of America” which included additional anecdotes provided by other former Confederate officials. Varina edited a version of that last memoir in 1890.

Davis became gravely ill in November 1889 while on a steamboat on the Mississippi River and intended to return home to Beauvoir. Varina was notified and, concerned about her husband, managed to meet with the riverboat near New Orleans. His doctors, however, deemed him too ill to travel back to his home and he was offered a place to rest and recuperate at the home of a former Confederate officer who lived in New Orleans. He never recovered and died in his host’s home on December 6, 1889. Varina was at his side, holding his hand.

Jefferson Davis was 81 years old.

So, what is Davis’s legacy? It must first be noted that some in the South still believe the Confederate cause was noble, that a state’s right to secede was constitutional, and that Jefferson Davis deserves respect for leading the good fight against overwhelming odds. But, generally, most biographers and Civil War historians have a more nuanced view.

Certainly, for the first fifty years of his life, except for his support of slavery, he had been an exemplary citizen of the United States. He had fought courageously in the Mexican War, had been a U.S. Senator, and even Secretary of War in President Franklin Pierce’s cabinet. He had frequently argued against secession but eventually grew more frustrated with northern pressure to control slavery, which he believed was the rightful privilege for the White aristocracy in the South. But in 1860, he decided to resign from the U.S. Senate and align himself with those who supported secession. For the next five years, he led a war against the United States which caused horrific casualties and destruction, and, as a result, he was considered a traitor to many in the North. And, his overconfidence in his own abilities and unwillingness to delegate, led him to make judgement errors as the chief administrator and the Commander-in Chief while he was the President of the Confederate States of America; which caused criticism even by some Southerners. Most historians further conclude that he was misguided about the constitutionality of secession and that his commitment to slavery tarnished his legacy to those who find human bondage a travesty.

Clearly, as he said in a letter to his wife, Jefferson Davis expected a more “rose-colored” legacy.

Contact the author by e-mail at  gadorris2@gmail.com or see other articles at the web-site www.alincolnbygadorris.com


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.


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