Colonel Ould, after seeing them, returned to Richmond and reported to the President, in the presence of the Secretary of War and myself, that Messrs. Jaques and Gilmore had not said anything to him about his duties as commissioner for exchange of prisoners, but that they asked permission to come to Richmond for the purpose of seeing the President; that they came with the knowledge and approval of President Lincoln, and under his pass; that they were informal messengers, sent with a view of paving the way for a meeting of formal commissioners authorized to negotiate for peace, and desired to communicate to President Davis the views of Mr. Lincoln, and to obtain the President's views in return, so as to arrange for a meeting of commissioners. Colonel Ould stated that he had told them repeatedly that it was useless to come to Richmond to talk of peace on any other terms than the recognized independence of the Confederacy, to which they said that they were aware of that, and that they were, nevertheless, confident that their interview would result in peace. The President, on this report of Colonel Ould, determined to permit them to come to Richmond under his charge. On the evening of the sixteenth of July, Colonel Ould conducted these gentlemen to a hotel in Richmond, where a room was provided for them, in which they were to remain under surveillance during their stay here, and the next morning I received the following letter:
The word “official” is underscored, and the word “peace” doubly underscored, in the original. After perusing the letter, I invited Colonel Ould to conduct the writers to my office; and on their arrival stated to them that they must be conscious they could not be admitted to an interview with the President without informing me more fully of the object of their mission, and satisfying me that they came by request of Mr. Lincoln. Mr. Gilmore replied that they came unofficially, but with the knowledge, and at the desire, of Mr. Lincoln; that they thought the war had gone far enough; that it could never end except by some sort of agreement; that the agreement might as well be made now as after further bloodshed; that they knew by the recent address of the Confederate Congress that we were willing to make peace; that they admitted that proposals ought to come from the North, and that they were prepared to make these proposals by Mr. Lincoln's authority; that it was necessary to have a sort of informal understanding in advance of regular negotiations, for if commissioners were appointed without some such understanding, they would meet, quarrel, and separate, leaving the parties more bitter against each other than before; that they knew Mr. Lincoln's views, and would state them if pressed by the President to do so, and desired to learn his in return. I again insisted on some evidence that they came from Mr. Lincoln; and in order to satisfy me, Mr. Gilmore referred to the fact that permission for their coming through our lines had been asked officially by General Grant in a letter to General Lee, and that General Grant in that letter had asked that this request should be preferred to President Davis. Mr. Gilmore then showed me a card, written and signed by Mr. Lincoln, requesting General Grant to aid Mr. Gilmore and friend in passing through his lines into the Confederacy. Colonel Jaques then said that his name was not put on the card for the reason that it was earnestly desired that their visit should be kept secret; that he had come into the Confederacy a year ago, and had visited Petersburg on a similar errand; and that it was feared if his name should become known, that some of those who had formerly met him in Petersburg would conjecture the purpose for which he now came. He said that the terms of peace which they would offer to the President would be honorable to the Confederacy; that they did not desire that the Confederacy should accept any other terms, but would be glad to have my promise, as they gave theirs, that their visit should be kept a profound secret if it fail to result in peace; that it would not be just that either party should seek any advantage by divulging the fact of their overture for peace, if unsuccessful. I assented to this request, and then rising, said: “Do I understand you to state distinctly that you come as messengers from Mr. Lincoln for the purpose of agreeing with the President as to the proper mode of inaugurating a formal negotiation for peace, charged by Mr. Lincoln with authority for stating his own views and receiving those of President Davis?” Both answered in the affirmative, and I then said that the President would see them at my office the same evening, at nine P. M.; that, at least,Spottswood House, Richmond, V., July 17, 1864.dear sir: The undersigned, James F. Jaques of Illinois, and James R. Gilmore, of Massachusetts, most respectfully solicit an interview with President Davis. They visit Richmond as private citizens, and have no official character or authority; but they are fully possessed of the views of the United States Government relative to an adjustment of the differences now existing between the North and the South, and have little doubt that a free interchange of views between President Davis and themselves would open the way to such official negotiations as would ultimate in restoring peace to the two sections of our distracted country. They therefore ask an interview with the President, and, awaiting your reply, are, Most truly and respectfully, Your obedient servants,
Hon. J. P. Benjamin, Secretary of State of Confederate States of America.