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[222]

Letter from President Davis-reply to Mr. Hunter.

[We publish the following letters, as we have done the previous papers on this subject, without comment of our own, except to say that both sides having been heard, we hope the distinguished gentlemen will now consent to close the controversy, at least in our pages.]

Mississippi City, March 27th, 1878.
Rev. J. W. Jones, D. D., Secretary of Southern Historical Society:
Dear sir: In the December number of your magazine was published an article by Hon. R. M. T. Hunter, purporting to be a reply to my answer to his previous article published in a Northern paper and copied into your magazine. In the beginning of his second article Mr. Hunter avows that “no offence was intended” by the first one. His right to declare what was his intention is admitted. Whether the assumption that my action in sending commissioners as soon as Mr. Lincoln gave assurance that they would be received was to be ascribed, not to the avowed desire for peace between the two countries, but, as presented by Mr. Hunter, to the recently recognized danger from public dissatisfaction with the Confederate Executive, was to be construed as “offensive,” or otherwise, each man will decide for himself, according to his standard of personal and official honor.

I will not encumber your pages by following the verbose and contradictory article through its windings, but will leave Mr. Hunter, who was at one time Secretary of State, and subsequently a Senator in the Confederacy, to enjoy the shelter he seeks under an ignorance of the addresses and messages of the President of the Confederate States.

There are, however, few Virginians of that time who can be so little informed as not to know that the executive department of the Confederate Government, with the necessary books and papers, was removed from Richmond to Danville, Virginia, when the army which covered the capital was compelled to retreat, and that at Danville the President issued an address to arouse the people to the defence of the soil of the State. Yet, importing his phraseology from beyond the country of the President and his friends, Mr. Hunter denominates that removal “a flight,” and states “in [223] no history of his flight from Richmond to the woods in Georgia, where he was captured, have I seen it stated that his head was once turned towards the enemy,” &c.

Perhaps the search after some new chasm into which he could “Curtius” --like plunge the most prized of his country's possessions-i. e., himself-prevented Mr. Hunter from learning that the President was at Danville exerting himself for the common defence, and that there were gaps in the ranks of Lee's army which a patriot might have filled more usefully than in playing a travesty of “Curtius” by keeping far from the field, where the defenders of his State were gallantly contending against its invaders.

I will not further consider his sophomoric twaddle about Curtius and the murder of the innocents, or his lame effort to show that he meant only — that the phrase, “the two countries,” embarrassed the commissioners in their progress to Hampton Roads. Indeed, I should not have deemed that his article required my notice, but for the unfounded insinuation that a confidential interview which he had held with me had been reported to my aids, and by them used to his injury.

Premising that I have no recollection of such an interview as he describes, I must express my surprise that any one should, after the lapse of thirteen years, be able to report fully a conversation of which, when it ended, he never expected to hear again. I do, however, remember a visit made to me in the executive office, some time after the Hampton Roads conference, by Senators Hunter, Graham, and Orr, to induce me to offer to negotiate on the basis of abandoning our independence; and that I closed the conversation by asking them to send me a resolution of the Senate, and promising to make a prompt reply. I assembled the Cabinet as soon as the Senators left me, and made a statement to them of the interview, which I would not have permitted to be held confidentially. I then went to the house of Senator Barnwell, who was ill, stated the matter to him, and asked him to see that the resolution expected should be so unequivocal that my issue with the cabal should be distinctly understood by the people. Then, for the first time, my faith in Mr. Hunter was impaired; and confidence is a plant which will not bear “topping.”

That he should have thought I distrusted while yet confiding in him, must find its solution elsewhere than in my conduct. Perhaps [224] his suspicion originated in the same source from which came the unfriendly and injurious terms which it appears from his own statement he employed secretly against me.

It is true that I believed his usefulness diminished by his timidity; but before having the advantage of his philosophy, as expounded in the article now under notice, I had concluded to take him as God made him, esteeming him for his good qualities, despite his defects; and now regret that these last have proved greater than was supposed.

I have waited for answers to enquiries about the only point in Mr. Hunter's article to which a response was considered obligatory, and this has delayed my communication to the present date. Of the aids who were then near to me, one is abroad; the answers of the other three are annexed, and they require no explanation.

The characters of those gentlemen would render worse than useless a defence against the absurd suspicion that they were employed in backbiting gossip about a visitor to the house of their chief.

I remain yours, respectfully, Jefferson Davis.


Letter from G. W. C. Lee.

Lexington, Va., 15th January, 1878.
My dear friend:

I received last week your letter of the 4th instant, and showed it to Colonel Johnston, who said that he would write to you on the subject of your enquiry without delay.

To the best of my recollection and belief, I never heard, before the receipt of your letter of the 4th instant, of Mr. Hunter's interview with you, in the interests of peace, referred to in the letter published over his signature in the December number of the Southern Historical Society Papers, which I have just read for the first time; nor do I remember to have ever heard a word from you that could be repeated to his disparagement.

I do remember, however, that you were not in the habit of talking to me about public matters out of the line of my duties, and with which I had no special concern.

With many thanks for your kind wishes, and with my very sincere prayers for the happiness of yourself and household, I remain faithfully,

Your friend and servant, G. W. C. Lee. Hon. Jefferson Davis, Mississippi City, Miss.


[225]

Letter from Wm. Preston Johnston.

My dear sir: Your letter has been received calling my attention to a statement of the Hon. R. M. T. Hunter, made in the Southern Historical Society Papers for December, 1877, page 308.

Mr. Hunter, after detailing a confidential conversation said to have been held with you, says: “After we separated I scarcely expected to hear more from this conversation; but soon, perhaps the next day after, I heard it was bruited all over Richmond that I had been thoroughly conquered, had submitted, and was disposed to make peace on any terms, with many other disparaging remarks. Amongst others, the President's aids were said to be freely discussing these matters. How did they get hold of them, &c.?”

At that time your aids, on duty at Richmond, were Colonels Wood, Lubbock, and myself. I can only speak for myself. It is very difficult, after thirteen years, for me to remember many things I once knew well; but so far as I can recollect, this is the first time I ever heard that Mr. Hunter had such a conversation with you as that detailed by him.

I do remember that about that time — that is to say, early in 1865--a friend, a Member of Congress, if I am not mistaken, called my attention to Mr. Hunter, near St. Paul's church, and used almost the expressions which Mr. Hunter employs. He father stated, to my great surprise, that there was a cabal in the Senate to supersede Mr. Davis and put Mr. Hunter at the head of the govment.

It was my surprise which impressed this upon me, for I supposed that your relations with Mr. Hunter were of the most confidential character.

I would further state, that I do not believe it possible for you to have revealed any conversation confidential in its character. The statement is moreover improbable in many aspects. I was not living with you; I met you generally at the office. I rode frequently with you on horseback; more than all others put together. Your conversation was friendly and familiar, but it generally turned upon anything else than the business of the hour, as your rides were for relaxation. Your business with your aids related to war, not politics.

I never knew, until this correspondence arose, that any except the kindest relations existed between Mr. Hunter and yourself. I knew that he was frequently consulted by you, and was regarded as in perfect accord with you. I have always heard you speak of him kindly-even affectionately. It is therefore with regret that I learn that a different state of feeling exists.

Very sincerely yours, Wm. Preston Johnston.


[226]

Letter from F. R. Lubbock.

Galveston, March 21st, 1878.
Rev. J. William Jones, Sec. S. H. Society, Richmond, Va.:
Dear sir: I have quite recently seen in the Southern Historical Society Papers, for December last, a communication from the Hon. R. M. T. Hunter, of Virginia, purporting to be a rejoinder to a letter of the Hon. Jefferson Davis, appearing in the November number of the Southern Historical Society Papers, in reply to a former communication of Mr. Hunter on the subject of the Peace Commission conference at Hampton Roads.

The paper of Mr. Davis I have not seen, but I desire to advert briefly to some of the statements contained in Mr. Hunter's rejoinder, which I believe my official relations to President Davis, as a member of his staff, not only entitle but qualify me to intelligently consider.

After relating that he had an interview with the President, shortly subsequently to the conference, respecting the urgent necessity of some efforts to procure terms of accommodation from the enemy, Mr. Hunter proceeds to say (page 308):

After we separated I scarcely expected to hear more from the conversation; but soon, perhaps the next day after, I heard it was bruited all over Richmond that I had been thoroughly conquered, had submitted, and was disposed to make peace on any terms, with many other disparaging remarks. Amongst others the President's aids were said to be freely discussing these matters. How did they get hold of them? It is true there was no positive pledge of secrecy in these conversations, but from their nature and circumstances discussed, their confidential character was to have been implied and ought to have been respected.

At the time of the alleged interview and subsequently until his capture, I had the honor of being one of the “President's aids,” and was most intimately and cordially associated with him and the remaining members of his official family; and I beg to say, that he never spoke a word to me on the theme suggested by Mr. Hunter; nor did I ever hear a word spoken by one of his “aids” implying any disparagement of Mr. Hunter, or indicating that any facts had been gotten “hold of” respecting the alleged or any other interview with Mr. DaVis.

It is almost incredible to me that any one at all acquainted with the character of Mr. Davis could indulge a suspicion, however faint, that he could have been capable of betraying trust or of breaking faith.. Of all men he is the last to whom such imputation could attach.

It is equally beyond belief that he could have tolerated, much less inspired in his staff, any assault upon the motives or character of Mr. Hunter.

The Confederate President was immeasurably superior to any such thing. Whether Mr. Hunter's great solicitude for “accommodation” became known to the public, I know not — it is not at all unlikely that the views of so distinguished a gentleman were divined by his compeers and associates in Congress. [227]

It may be that the course claimed by Mr. Hunter to have been advised by him, would have been the wiser. Indeed, in the light of the present, it might have been wiser not to have fought at all, but to have surrendered at Lincoln's call for 75,000 men!

But whatever men may think of that, I believe it will not be considered extravagant to say that a proposition to surrender the cause and abandon the battle for freedom, after the conference at Hampton Roads, would have been received (and justly, as I think,) by the army and the people as the inspiration of either pusillanimity or treason.

I have the honor to be, yours very truly and respectfully, F. R. Lubbock, Ex-Aide-de-Camp to President Jefferson Davis.

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