Saturday, January 31, 2015

January 31, 1865: Jefferson Davis to Robert E. Lee

On this day 150 years ago, Confederate President Jefferson F. Davis sent a series of communications to Robert E. Lee about the state of the Confederacy's war effort.
RICHMOND, VA., January 31, 1865.

General R. E. LEE,

Petersburg, Va.:

GENERAL: Yours of the 29th and 30th received. The reported withdrawal of troops from Thomas' army would indicate that General Beauregard had been mistaken as to the contemplated movement from the Tennessee River toward Mobile, and may relieve us of the anxiety felt for the condition in which that section would be left, when two corps were withdrawn from the Army of Tennessee. But it will hardly warrant a further reduction of the small force left with General Taylor, which, in addition to holding the remainder of Thomas' army in check, may have to re-enforce the garrison at Mobile, against which a large force is now said to be moving. I have not heard from General E. Kirby Smith in reply to my letter of last month, which again urged him to send all the troops he could spare to the east side of the river. Notwithstanding the considerations which were discussed at our last interview I have, under the state of facts communicated in your letter of the 30th this day received, sent to General Smith the following telegram in cipher:

RICHMOND, VA., January 31, 1865.

Since my last letter to you reiterating the proposition for you to send such force as you could spare to the east side of the Mississippi River, the enemy had continued to withdraw troops from the west to the east and is now moving a large force from Tennessee to Virginia. Under these circumstances I think it advisable that you should be charged with the military operations on both banks of the Mississippi River, and that you should endeavor, as promptly as possible to cross that river with as large a force as may be prudently withdrawn from your present department. Please answer immediately, that I may know what to expect.


The Congress have not adopted any of those recommendations for increasing the strength of the army which I presented to them in the early days of November last, and I am not able to anticipate such action as will fulfill the hopes we then entertained. I would again suggest for consideration the policy of selecting suitable officers from those who can be temporarily spared, and sending them home to collect absentees and obtain recruits for the companies of your army. So far as the failure in that service is due to the inefficiency of enrolling officers, it would seem probable that good results would follow from the means suggested. I have not heard of General Beauregard's arrival in Georgia, but suppose he is now there, and hope he may be able to obtain a considerable auxiliary force through his influence over the governor, and otherwise. If you can suggest anything additional which would promise in this, our hour of necessity, to increase our means for defense, I would be glad, so far as it devolves upon me, to make the attempt.

With great respect, yours, &c.,


January 31, 1865: Congress passes the 13th Amendment

On this day 150 years ago, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The U.S. Senate had previously passed the amendment on April 8, 1864. The text of the 13th Amendment:
Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
When the amendment passed, a spontaneous celebration broke out on the floor of the House of Representatives.

January 31, 1865: Lincoln denies the presence of peace commissioners

On this day 150 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln used some verbal sleight of hand to imply that no peace negotiations were underway. Replying to a message from J.M. Ashley, Lincoln said that he knew of no peace commissioners in the city, thereby creating the impression that there were no commissioners and allowing passage of the 13th Amendment by the U.S. House of Representatives.
DEAR SIR:—The report is in circulation in the House that Peace Commissioners are on their way or in the city, and is being used against us. If it is true, I fear we shall lose the bill. Please authorize me to contradict it, if it is not true.

Respectfully, J.M. ASHLEY.
To the President.


So far as I know there are no Peace Commissioners in the city or likely to be in it.
A. LINCOLN. January 31, 1865
Lincoln had in fact ordered that the Confederate peace commissioners be detained at City Point, Virginia, and Lincoln himself would travel to meet them near Fortress Monroe rather than allowing them to travel to Washington, D.C. This incident was portrayed in the movie "Lincoln."

A messenger is coming to you on the business contained in your despatch. Detain the gentlemen in comfortable quarters until he arrives, and then act upon the message he brings, as far as applicable, it having been made up to pass through General Ord's hands, and when the gentlemen were supposed to be beyond our lines.

Lincoln then proceeded to instruct Secretary of State William H. Seward as to how the peace commissioners were to be treated and on what basis the talks would be carried out.
HON. WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State

You will proceed to Fortress Monroe, Virginia, there to meet and informally confer with Messrs. Stephens, Hunter, and Campbell, on the basis of my letter to F. P. Blair, Esq., of January 18, 1865, a copy of which you have. You will make known to them that three things are indispensable to wit:

1. The restoration of the national authority throughout all the States.
2. No receding by the Executive of the United States on the slavery question from the position assumed thereon in the late annual message to Congress, and in preceding documents.
3. No cessation of hostilities short of an end of the war and the disbanding of all forces hostile to the Government.

You will inform them that all propositions of theirs, not inconsistent with the above, will be considered and passed upon in a spirit of sincere liberality. You will hear all they may choose to say and report it to me. You will not assume to definitely consummate anything.

Yours, etc.,

Friday, January 30, 2015

January 30, 1865: Lincoln's instructions to Major T.T. Eckert

On this day 150 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln gave detailed instructions to a special messenger sent to confer with three would be Confederate peace negotiators.

SIR:-You will proceed with the documents placed in your hands, and on reaching General Ord will deliver him the letter addressed to him by the Secretary of War. Then, by General Ord's assistance procure an interview with Messrs. Stephens, Hunter, and Campbell, or any of them, deliver to him or them the paper on which your own letter is written. Note on the copy which you retain the time of delivery and to whom delivered. Receive their answer in writing, waiting a reasonable time for it, and which, if it contain their decision to come through without further condition, will be your warrant to ask General Ord to pass them through as directed in the letter of the Secretary of War to him. If by their answer they decline to come, or propose other terms, do not have them pass through. And this being your whole duty, return and report to me.

Yours truly,

January 30, 1865: The Diary of Lt. Col. George Nichols

On this day 150 years ago, George Nichols recorded the beginning of Sherman's march through the Carolinas. George Nichols was a staff officer with William Tecumseh Sherman's army.
January 30th-The actual invasion of South Carolina has begun. The 17th Corps and that portion of the 15th which came around by way of Thunderbolt Beaufort moved out this morning, on parallel roads, in the direction of McPhersonville. The 17th Corps took the road nearest the Salkahatchie River. We expect General Corse, with the 4th Division of the 15th Corps, to join us at a point higher up. The 14th and 20th Corps will take the road to Robertville, nearer the Savannah River. Since General Howard started with the 17th we have heard the sound of many guns in his direction. To-day is the first really fine weather we have had since starting, and the roads have improved. It was wise not to cut them up during the rains, for we can now move along comfortably. The well-known sight of columns of black smoke meets our gaze again; this time houses are burning, and South Carolina has commenced to pay an installment, long overdue, on her debt to justice and humanity. With the help of God, we will have principal and interest before we leave her borders. There is a terrible gladness in the realization of so many hopes and wishes. This cowardly traitor state, secure from harm, as she thought, in her central position, with hellish haste dragged her Southern sisters into the caldron of secession. Little did she dream that the hated flag would again wave over her soil; but this bright morning a thousand Union banners are floating in the breeze, and the ground trembles beneath the tramp of thousands of brave Northmen, who know their mission, and will perform it to the end.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

January 29, 1865: Confederate peace commissioners depart

Alexander H. Stephens
On this day 150 years ago, Confederate war clerk John B. Jones noted in his diary the departure of three Confederate peace commissioners--among them Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens--for the Union lines. These men hoped to travel to Washington, D.C. and negotiate a peace settlement that would lead to Southern independence.
January 29th.—Clear, and moderating.

To-day at 10 a.m. three commissioners start for Washington on a mission of peace, which may be possibly attained. They are Vice-President Stephens, Senator R. M. T. Hunter, and James A. Campbell, Assistant Secretary of War, and formerly a judge on the bench of the Supreme Court of the United States, all of them heartily sick of war, and languishing for peace. If they cannot devise a mode of putting an end to the war, none can. Of course they have the instructions of the President, with his ultimata, etc., but they will strive earnestly for peace.

What terms may be expected? Not independence, unless the United States may be on the eve of embarking in a foreign war, and in that event that government will require all the resources it can command, and they would not be ample if the war should continue to be prosecuted against us. Hence it would be policy to hasten a peace with us, stipulating for valuable commercial advantages, being the first to recognize us over all other powers, hoping to restore the old trade, and ultimately to reconstruct the Union. Or it may proceed from intimations of a purpose on the part of France and England to recognize us, which, of itself, would lead inevitably to war. The refusal of the United States to recognize the Empire of Mexico is an offense to France, and the augmentation of the armament of the lakes, etc. is an offense to England. Besides, if it were possible to subjugate us, it would be only killing the goose that lays the golden egg, for the Southern trade would be destroyed, and the Northern people are a race of manufacturers and merchants. If the war goes on, 300,000 men must be immediately detailed in the United States, and their heavy losses heretofore are now sorely felt. We have no alternative but to fight on, they have the option of ceasing hostilities. And we have suffered so much that almost any treaty, granting us independence, will be accepted by the people. All the commissioners must guard against is any appearance of a protectorate on the part of the United States. If the honor of the Southern people be saved, they will not haggle about material losses. If negotiations fail, our people will receive a new impulse for the war, and great will be the slaughter. Every one will feel and know that these commissioners sincerely desired an end of hostilities. Two, perhaps all of them, even look upon eventual reconstruction without much repugnance, so that slavery be preserved.