Chapter 59:

My memoirs are drawing to a close, for the career of the Confederacy, as well as my own, is nearly ended. I found, at Danville, President Davis, and a portion of his cabinet—the Secretary of the Navy among the rest. Here was temporarily established the seat of Government. I called on the President and Secretary, who were staying at the same house, at an early hour on the morning after my arrival, and reported for duty. They were both calm in the presence of the great disaster which had befallen them and the country. Mr. Mallory could scarcely be said now to have a portfolio, though he still had the officers, and clerks of his Department around him. It was at once arranged between him, and the President, that my command should be organized as a brigade of artillery, and assigned to the defences around Danville. The question of my rank being discussed, it was settled by Mr. Davis, that I should act in the capacity of a brigadier-general. My grade being that of a rear-admiral, I was entitled to rank, relatively, with the officers of the army, as a major-general, but it was folly, of course, to talk of rank, in the circumstances in which we were placed, and so I contented myself by saying pleasantly to the President, that I would waive the matter of rank, to be discussed hereafter, if there should ever be occasion to discuss it. ‘That is the right spirit,’ said he, with a smile playing over his usually grave features.

I did not see him afterward. He moved soon to Charlotte, in North Carolina, and in a few weeks afterward, he fell into [818] the hands of the enemy. The reader knows the rest of his history; how the enemy gloated over his captivity; how he was reviled, and insulted, by the coarse and brutal men into whose power he had fallen; how lies were invented as to the circumstances of his capture, to please and amuse the Northern multitudes, eager for his blood; and finally, how he was degraded by imprisonment, and the manacles of a felony His captors and he were of different races—of different blood. They had nothing in common. He was the ‘Cavalier,’ endowed by nature with the instincts and refinement of the gentleman. They were of the race of the Roundheads, to whom all such instincts and refinements were offensive. God has created men in different moulds, as he has created the animals. It was as natural that the Yankee should hate Jefferson Davis, as that the cat should arch its back, and roughen its fur, upon the approach of the dog. I have said that the American war had its origin in money, and that it was carried on throughout, ‘for a consideration.’ It ended in the same way. The ‘long-haired barbarian’—see Gibbon's ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’—who laid his huge paw upon Jefferson Davis, to make him prisoner, was paid in money for the gallant deed. A President of the United States had degraded his high office, by falsely charging Mr. Davis with being an accomplice in the murder of President Lincoln, and offered a reward for his apprehension; thus gratifying his malignant nature, by holding him up to the world as a common felon. All men now know this charge to be false, the libeller among the rest. Gentlemen retract false charges, when they know them to be such. The charge made by Andrew Johnson against Jefferson Davis has not been retracted.

Upon leaving the presence of the President, and Secretary of the Navy, I sought out my old friend, Captain Sydney Smith Lee, of the Navy, the Assistant Secretary, who had accompanied Mr. Mallory, and arranged with him, and afterward with General Cooper, the Adjutant-General of the Army, the transformation of my sailors into soldiers. There were a great many other naval officers, besides those under my command, fugitives in Danville, and the President and Secretary had been kind enough to authorize me to employ such of them in [819] my new organization, as I might desire. But the difficulty was not in the want of officers; it was the want of men. Already my command of five hundred had dwindled down to about four hundred on my retreat from Richmond, and since my arrival in Danville. I broke these into skeleton regiments, so as to conform to the Brigade organization, and appointed Dunnington, late Captain of my flag-ship, the Colonel of one of them, and Johnston, late Captain of the Richmond, Colonel of the other. My youngest son, who had been a midshipman on board the School-ship at Richmond, and who had retreated thence with the School, on the night before the surrender, was ordered by Captain Lee to report to me, and I assigned him to a position on my staff, with the rank of a second lieutenant. Mr. Daniel, my secretary, became my other aide de-camp, and Captain Butt, late commander of the Nansemond, was appointed Assistant Adjutant-General.

We remained in the trenches before Danville ten days; and anxious, and weary days they were. Raiding parties were careering around us in various directions, robbing and maltreating the inhabitants, but none of the thieves ventured within reach of our guns. Lee abandoned his lines, on the 3d of April, and surrendered his army, or the small remnant that was left of it, to Grant, on the 9th, at Appomattox Court-House. The first news we received of his surrender, came to us from the stream of fugitives which now came pressing into our lines at Danville. It was heart-rending to look upon these men, some on foot, some on horseback, some nearly famished for want of food, and others barely able to totter along from disease. It was, indeed, a rabble rout, Hopes had been entertained that Lee might escape to Lynchburg, or to Danville, and save his army. The President had entertained this hope, and had issued a proclamation of encouragement to the people, before he left Danville. But the fatal tidings came at last, and when they did come, we all felt that the fate of the Confederacy was sealed.

A new impetus was given to desertions, and before I reached Greensboroa, North Carolina, to which point I was now removed by the orders of General Joseph E. Johnston, my command had dwindled to about 250 men. Commissioned officers [820] slunk away from me one by one, and became deserters! I was ashamed of my countrymen. Johnston, by reason of his great, personal popularity, and of the confidence which the troops had in his ability, was enabled to gather around him the fragments of several armies, whilst Grant had been pressing Lee; and but for Lee's disaster would soon have been able to hold Sherman in check very effectually. But the moment the news of Lee's surrender reached him, there was a stampede from his army. It melted away like a hillock of snow before the sunshine. Whole companies deserted at a time. Still, many true men remained with him, and with these he stood so defiantly before Sherman, that the latter was glad to enter into negotiations with him for the dispersion of his troops. The reader will be pleased to pay attention to this expression. Johnston dispersed his troops, under the capitulation which will presently be spoken of. He never surrendered them as prisoners to the enemy. The country is familiar with what occurred at Greensboroa, between Johnston and Sherman, and I do not propose to rehearse it here. Sherman, yielding to the impulses of Johnston's master-mind, entered into an agreement with the latter, which would have achieved more fame for him in the future than all his victories, if he had had the courage and ability to stand up to his work. This agreement was that the Southern States should be regarded as ipso facto, on the cessation of the war, restored to their rights in the Union. The stroke was one of a statesman. It is in times of great revolutions that genius shows itself. The Federal Government, at the time that this convention was made, was prostrate beneath the foot of the soldier, and a military man of genius might have governed it with the crook of his finger. If such a one had arisen, he might have applied the scourge to the back of the Northern people, and they would have yelped under it as submissively as any hound. They had yelped under the scourging of Abraham Lincoln. But Sherman was not the man to conceive the emergency, or to avail himself of it. He, on the contrary, permitted himself to be scourged by a creature like Stanton, the Federal Secretary of War, and if he did not yelp under the scourging, he at least submitted to it with most admirable docility. Stanton insolently rejected [821] the convention which had been entered into between the two generals, and, reminding Sherman that he was nothing but a soldier, told him to attend to his own business. Stanton knew his man, and Sherman did, afterward, attend to his own business; for he now entered into a purely military convention with Johnston.

The main features of that convention were, that Johnston should disperse his army, and Sherman should, in consideration thereof, guarantee it against molestation by the Federal authorities. It was in the interval between these two conventions, that my camp was astounded one morning, by the report that Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, was dead. He had gone to a small theatre in the city of Washington, on the evening of Good Friday, and had been shot by a madman! It seemed like a just retribution that he should be cut off in the midst of the hosannas that were being shouted in his ears, for all the destruction and ruin he had wrought upon twelve millions of people. Without any warrant for his conduct, he had made a war of rapine and lust against eleven sovereign States, whose only provocation had been that they had made an effort to preserve the liberties which had been handed down to them by their fathers. These States had not sought war, but peace, and they had found, at the hands of Abraham Lincoln, destruction. As a Christian, it was my duty to say, ‘Lord, have mercy upon his soul!’ but the d—l will surely take care of his memory.

The last days of April, and the first days of May, were employed, by General Johnston, in dispersing his army according to agreement. Commissioners, appointed by the two Generals to arrange the dispersion, and provide the dispersed troops with the guaranties that had been agreed upon, met in the village of Greensboroa, on the 1st of May, 1865. On the previous evening, I had called at the headquarters of General Johnston, where I had met Beauregard, Wade Hampton, Wheeler, D. H. Hill, and a host of other gallant spirits, who formed the galaxy by which he was surrounded. He was kind enough to give me precedence, in the matter of arranging for my departure with the Federal Commissioner. Accordingly, on the morning of the 1st of May, accompanied by my staff; I [822] rode into Greensboroa, and alighted at the Britannia Hotel, where the Commissioners were already assembled. They were Brevet Brigadier General Hartsuff, on the part of the Federals, and Colonel. Mason, on the part of the Confederates. Each guaranty of non-molestation had been prepared, beforehand, in a printed form, and signed by Hartsuff, and only required to be filled up with the name and rank of the party entitled to receive it, and signed by myself to be complete. Upon being introduced to General Hartsuff, we proceeded at once to business. I produced the muster-roll of my command, duly signed by my Assistant Adjutant-General; and General Hartsuff and myself ran our eyes over the names together, and when we had ascertained the number, the General counted out an equal number of blank guaranties, and, handing them to me, said: ‘You have only to fill up one of these for each officer and soldier of your command, with his name and rank, and sign it and hand it to him. I have already signed them myself. You can fill up the one intended for yourself in like manner.’ ‘With regard to the latter,’ I replied, ‘I prefer, if you have no objection, to have it filled up and completed here in your presence.’ ‘Oh! that makes no difference,’ he replied. ‘Very well,’ said I, ‘if it makes no difference, then you can have no objection to complying with my request.’ He now called an aide-de-camp, and desiring him to be seated at the table where we were, told him to fill up my guaranty after my dictation. I gave him my titles separately, making him write me down a ‘Rear-Admiral in the Confederate States Navy, and a Brigadier-General in the Confederate States Army, commanding a brigade.’ When he had done this, he handed me the paper; I signed it, and put it in my pocket, and, turning to the General, said, ‘I am now satisfied.’ The following is a copy of the paper:—

Greensboroa, North Carolina, May 1, 1865.
In accordance with the terms of the Military Convention, entered into on the 26th day of April, 1865, between General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Army, and Major-General W. T. Sherman, commanding the United States Army, in North Carolina, R. Semmes, Rear-Admiral, and Brigadier-General, C. S. Navy, and C. S. Army, commanding brigade, has given his solemn [823] obligation, not to take up arms against the Government of the United States, until properly released from this obligation; and is permitted to return to his home, not to be disturbed by the United States authorities, so long as he observes this obligation, and obeys the laws in force where he may reside.

R. Semmes, Rear-Admiral C. S. Navy, and. Brigadier-General C. S. Army. Wm. Hartsuff, Brevet Brigadier-General U. S. Army, Special Commissioner.

It was well I took the precautions above described, in dealing with the enemy, for, when I was afterward arrested, as the reader will presently see, the Yankee press, howling for my blood, claimed that I had not been paroled at all! that I had deceived the paroling officer, and obtained my parole under false pretences; the said paroling officer not dreaming, when he was paroling one Brigadier-General Semmes, that he had the veritable ‘pirate’ before him. I dispersed my command, on the same afternoon, and with my son, and half a dozen of my officers, a baggage-wagon, and the necessary servants, made my way to Montgomery, in Alabama, and, at that point, took steamer for my home, in Mobile, which I reached in the latter days of May.

Andrew Johnson, the Vice-President of the United States, had succeeded Mr. Lincoln as President. He was a Southern man, born in the State of North Carolina, and a citizen of Tennessee. He had been elected to the Senate of the United States, a short time before the breaking out of the war. He had belonged to the Democratic party, and had arisen from a very low origin—his father having belonged to the common class of laborers, and he having learned the trade of a tailor, which he practised after he had grown to man's estate. Gifted by nature with a strong intellect, he studied the law, and afterward embarked in politics. The word ‘embark’ expresses my idea precisely, for, from this time onward, he became a mere politician. As a rule, it requires an unscrupulous and unprincipled man to succeed in politics in America. Honorable men do, sometimes, of course, make their way to high places; but these form the exceptions, not the [824] rule. Andrew Johnson succeeded in politics. In the earlier stages of our troubles, he spoke and wrote like a Southern man, demanding, in behalf of the South, some security for the future, in the way of additional guaranties. But when these were all denied, and it became evident that his State would secede, and that he would be stripped of his senatorial honors, so recently won, if he abided by his former record, and went with his State, he abjured his record, and abandoned his State. Like all renegades, he became zealous in the new faith which he had adopted, and proved himself so good a Radical, that President Lincoln sent him back to Tennessee as a satrap, to govern, with a rod of iron, under military rule, the Sovereign State for which he had so recently demanded additional securities.

Still growing in favor with his new party, he was elected Vice-President, upon the re-election of Mr. Lincoln, in the fall of 1864. The Presidential mantle having fallen upon him, by the tragical death of Mr. Lincoln, he retained the cabinet of his predecessor, and made his zeal still more manifest to his party, by insisting on the necessity of making ‘treason odious’ —the same sort of treason enjoined upon the States by Jefferson in his Kentucky Resolutions of ‘98 and ‘99, which formed the basis of the creed of the Democratic party, to which Mr. Johnson had belonged—and punishing ‘traitors.’ A grand jury in Norfolk, Va., found an indictment for treason against General Lee, and but for the interposition of General Grant, he would have been tried, under Mr. Johnson's administration; and probably tried by a packed jury that would have hung him. Mr. Davis was already in close and ignominious confinement, as has been related. Captain Wurz, of the late Confederate States Army, who had been, for a short time, in charge of the prison at Andersonville, was tried by a Military Commission, in the city of Washington, under the shadow of the President's chair, convicted, and executed, notwithstanding he was a paroled prisoner of war. Another Military Commission, in time of peace, had convicted and executed a woman—Mrs. Surratt—on the false charge, as is now admitted by the whole country, that she was an accomplice in Mr. Lincoln's assassination. Mr. Johnson signed her death-warrant.

It was under these circumstances, that on the night of the [825] 15th of December, 1865, or seven months and a half after I had received the guaranty of General Sherman, at Greensboroa, North Carolina, that I should not be molested by the United States authorities, that a lieutenant of the Marine Corps, with a guard of soldiers, surrounded my house and arrested me, on an order signed by Mr. Gideon Welles, without the process of any court. I was torn from my family, under guard—the thieving soldiery committing some petty thefts about my premises—and hurried off to Washington. Arrived here, I was imprisoned, first, in the Navy Yard, and then in the Marine Barracks. I was kept a close prisoner, with a sentinel at my door, for nearly four months; the gentlemen about the barracks, however, doing everything in their power to render my confinement more endurable. It was the intention of the Government to throw me, as it had thrown Wurz, as a sop to the extreme Radicals of the New England States, whose commerce I had destroyed; and I was only saved by the circumstances which will be presently related. But before I relate these circumstances, I deem it pertinent to give to the reader the following letter addressed by me to President Johnson, from my place of confinement, charging his Government with breach of faith in arresting me.

To His Excellency Andrew Johnson, President of the United States.
Sir:—Being satisfied that you are anxious to arrive at a correct decision in my case,—one that shall accord, at the same time, with the honor and dignity of the United States, and with justice to myself,—I venture to address you the following brief exposition of the law and the facts of the case.

On the 26th day of April, 1865, the following military convention was entered into at Greensboroa, N. C., between General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate States Armies in North Carolina, and Major-General W. T. Sherman, commanding the United States Army in the same State, viz:—

1. All acts of war on the part of the troops under General Johnston's command to cease from this date.

2. All arms and public property to be deposited at Greensboroa, and delivered to an ordnance officer of the United States Army.

3. Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate, one copy to be retained by the commander of the troops, and the other to be given to an officer to be designated by General Sherman. Each officer and man to give his individual obligation, in writing, [826] not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly released from this obligation.

4. The side-arms of officers, and their private horses and baggage, to be retained by them.

5. This being done, all the officers and men will be permitted to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by the United States authorities so long as they observe their obligation and the laws in force where they may reside.

[Signed] W. T. Sherman, Major-General, Commanding U. S. Forces in North Carolina. [Signed] Joseph E. Johnston, General, Commanding C. S. Forces in North Carolina.

Here, Mr. President, was a solemn military convention, entered into by two generals, who had opposing armies in the field, in which convention the one and the other general stipulated for certain terms,—General Johnston agreeing to lay down his arms and disband his forces, and General Sherman agreeing, in consideration thereof, that the forces thus disbanded shall proceed to their homes, and there remain undisturbed by the United States authorities. I beg you to observe the use of the word ‘undisturbed,’ one of the most comprehensive words in our language. I pray you also to remark the formalities with which this convention was drawn. We were treated as officers commanding armies, representing, of course, if not a de jure, at least a de facto government. Our proper military titles were acknowledged. I was myself styled and treated in the muster-rolls, and other papers drawn up by both parties, a brigadier-general and a rear-admiral. The honors of war usual upon surrenders, upon terms, were accorded to us, in our being permitted to retain our side-arms, private horses, and baggage. In short, the future historian, upon reading this convention, will be unable to distinguish it in any particular from other similar papers, agreed upon by armies of recognized governments. At the date of, and some weeks prior to the ratification of this convention, I commanded a brigade of artillery, forming a part of the army of General Johnston. I was, of course, included in the terms of the convention. I complied with those terms, under orders received from General Johnston, by turning over my arms to the proper officer, and disbanding my forces. The convention was approved by the Government of the United States. Your Excellency may recollect that the first convention entered into between General Johnston and General Sherman, which provided, among other things, for the return of the Southern States to their functions under the Constitution of the United States, was disapproved by the Government, on the ground that General Sherman, in undertaking to treat of political matters, had transcended his authority. The armistice which had been declared between the two armies was dissolved, and hostilities were renewed. A few days afterward, however, new negotiations were commenced, and the convention with which we have to do was the second convention entered into by those [827] Generals, and which was a substantial readoption of the military portion of the first convention. It was this latter convention which was formally approved, both by General Grant, the Commander-inChief, under whose orders General Sherman acted, and by the Executive at Washington.

Confiding in the good faith of the Government, pledged in a solemn treaty as above stated, I returned to my home in Alabama, and remained there for the space of seven months, engaging in civil pursuits as a means of livelihood for my dependent family, and yielding a ready obedience to the laws. I had, in fact, become an officer of the law, having established myself as an attorney. It would have been easy for me, at any time within these seven months, to pass out of the country, if I had had any doubt about the binding obligation of the Greensboroa convention, or of the good faith of the Government. But I had no doubt on either point; nor have I any doubt yet, as I feel quite sure that when you shall have informed yourself of all the facts of the case, you will come to the conclusion that my arrest was entirely without warrant, and order my discharge. While thus remaining quietly at my home, in the belief that I was ‘not to be disturbed by the United States authorities,’ I was, on the 15th of December, 1865, in the night-time, arrested by a lieutenant and two sergeants of the Marine Corps, under an order signed by the Secretary of the Navy, and placed under guard; a file of soldiers in the meantime surrounding my house. I was informed by the officer making the arrest that I was to proceed to Washington in his custody, there to answer to a charge, a copy of which he handed me. This charge, and the protest which I filed the next day with the Commanding General of the Department of Alabama, against my arrest, your Excellency has already seen. The question for you then to decide, Mr. President, is the legality of this arrest. Can I, in violation of the terms of the military convention already referred to, and under which I laid down my arms, be held to answer for any act of war committed anterior to the date of that convention? I respectfully submit that I cannot be so held, either during the continuance of the war, (and the political power has not yet proclaimed the war ended,) or after the war shall have been brought to a close by proclamation, and the restoration of the writ of habeas corpus, without a flagrant violation of faith on the part of the United States. If it be admitted that I might be tried for any act dehors the war, and having no connection with it—as, for instance, for a forgery—it is quite clear that I cannot be arrested or arraigned for any act manifestly of war, and acknowledged as such, (as the act, for instance, for which I was arrested,) whether such act be in consonance with the laws of war or in violation thereof; and this for the simple reason that the military convention was a condonation and an oblivion of all precedent acts of war, of what nature soever those acts might be. I am ‘not to be disturbed,’ says the military convention. Disturbed for what? Why, manifestly, for any act of war theretofore committed against the United States. This is the only commonsense [828] view of the case; and if the convention did not mean this, it could mean nothing; and I laid down my arms, not upon terms, as I had supposed, but without terms. If I was still at the mercy of the conqueror, and my arrest asserts as much, I was in the condi tion of one who had surrendered unconditionally; but it has been seen that I did not surrender unconditionally, but upon terms— terms engrafted upon a treaty ratified and approved by the conqueror's Government. Nor is it consistent with good faith to qualify or restrain those terms, so as to make them inapplicable to acts of war that may be claimed to have been in violation of the laws of war; for this would be to refine away all the protection which has been thrown around me by treaty, and put me in the power of the opposite contracting party, who might put his own construction upon the laws of war. This very attempt, Mr. President, has been made in the case before you. I claim to have escaped, after my ship had sunk from under me in the engagement off Cherbourg, and I had been precipitated into the water, the enemy not having taken possession of me, according to the laws and usages of war, as your Excellency may read in almost every page of naval history; the Secretary of the Navy claiming the contrary. The true, and the only just and fair criterion, is, was the act for which the arrest was made an act of war? If so, there is an end of the question, and I must be discharged, for, as before remarked, the convention, if it is anything, is an oblivion of all acts of war of whatever nature.

But it may be said that, although I cannot be tried by a military tribunal during the war, I may yet be tried by a civil tribunal after the war. Let us look at this question also. I was, undoubtedly, amenable to the civil tribunals of the country, as well after as before the convention, for any offence of a purely civil nature, not founded upon an act of war—to instance, as before, the crime of forgery. If I had committed a forgery in North Carolina, I could not, upon arraignment, plead the military convention in bar of trial. Why not? Because that convention had reference only to acts of war. I was treated with, in my capacity of a soldier and a seaman. But, does it follow that I may be tried for treason? And if not, why not? The Attorney-General tells you that treason is a civil offence, and in his opinion triable exclusively by the civil courts, and he hopes you will give him plenty of occupation in trying ‘many whom the sword has spared.’ (See his letter to you of the 4th of January, 1866.) But does not that officer forget that treason is made up of acts of war; and is it not apparent that you cannot try me for an act of war? The Constitution of the United States, which the Attorney-General says he loves even better than blood, declares, in words, that treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort—all of which adherence, giving of aid and comfort, &c., are equally acts of war. There is no constructive treason in this country. Thus I can neither be tried by a military tribunal during the war, nor a civil tribunal after the war, [829] for any act of war, or for treason which consists only of acts of war.

But it may further be said that this convention, of which I am claiming the protection, is not a continuing convention, and will expire with the war, when, as Mr. Speed thinks, you may hand me over to the civil tribunals. Whence can such a conclusion be drawn? Not from the terms of the convention, for these contradict the conclusion; not by implication merely, but in totidem verbis. The terms are, ‘not to be disturbed, so long as they shall observe their obligation and the laws in force where they may reside.’ A misuse of terms, Mr. President, sometimes misleads very clever minds. And I presume it is by a misuse of terms that the Attorney-General has fallen into this error. (See his letter to your Excellency, before referred to.) That officer, while he admits that parole protects the party paroled from trial during the war, yet contends that it does not protect him from trial by a civil tribunal, for treason, after the war. As I have shown that treason can only consist of acts of war, and that the military convention is an oblivion of all acts of war, the Attorney-General, when he says that a paroled party may be tried for treason at the end of the war, (the parole being no longer a protection to him,) must mean that the parole will have died with the war. This is entirely true of a mere parole, for a parole is only a promise, on the part of a prisoner of war, that if released from imprisonment, he will not take up arms again unless he is exchanged. This parole is as frequently given by prisoners of war, who have surrendered unconditionally, as by those who have surrendered upon terms. There cannot be any parole, then, without a prisoner of war, and the status of prisoner of war ceasing, the parole ceases—cessante ratione cessat et ipsa lex. Thus far the Attorney-General is quite logical, but by confounding in his mind the certificates given to the officers and men of General Johnston's army, stating the terms of the Greensboroa convention, and guaranteeing those officers and men against molestation, in accordance with those terms, with Paroles, it is easy to see how the mistake I am exposing can have been made. But the convention made between General Johnston and General Sherman was not a mere release of prisoners on parole; nor, indeed, had it anything to do with prisoners, for none of the officers and men of General Johnston's army ever were prisoners, as may be seen at a glance by an inspection of the terms of the convention. It was a treaty between commanding generals in the field, in which the word parole is not once used, or could be used with propriety; a treaty in which mutual stipulations are made, one in consideration of another, and there is no limit as to time set to this treaty.

On the contrary, it was expressly stated that the guaranties contained in it were to continue and be in force, so long as the parties to whom the guaranties were given, should perform their part of the treaty stipulations. It was made, not in contemplation of a continuation of the war, but with a view to put an end to the war, and the guaranties were demanded by us as peace guaranties. It [830] did, in effect, put an end to the war and pacify the whole country; General Taylor in Alabama and Mississippi, and General Buckner and others in Texas, following the lead of General Johnston. Are we to be told now by an Attorney-General of the United States, that the moment the object of the convention, to wit, the restoration of peace, was accomplished, the convention itself became a nullity, its terms powerless to protect us, and that General Johnston's army surrendered, in fact, without any terms whatever? You cannot sustain such an opinion, Mr. President. It will shock the common sense and love of fair play of the American people. But to show still further that it was the intention of the parties that this should be a continuing convention, the words used were, ‘not to be disturbed by the United States Authorities,’ these words being co-extensive with the whole power of the Government. We were not only ‘not to be disturbed’ by General Sherman, or any other military commander or authority, but by any authority whatever, civil or military. Nor will it do to say that General Sherman, being merely a military man, had no authority to speak for the civil branch of the Government, for his action, as we have seen, was approved by the Administration at Washington.

One more remark, Mr. President, and I will forbear to trespass further on your time and patience. The act of war for which I was arrested, was well known to the Department of the Government making the arrest, ten months before the convention was entered into at Greensboroa. It was also well known to the same Department, that about the middle of February, 1865, I was assigned to the command of the James River Squadron, near Richmond, with the rank of a rear-admiral; being thus promoted and employed by my Government, after the alleged illegal escape off Cherbourg. If the Federal Government then entertained the design, which it has since developed, of arresting and trying me for this alleged breach of the laws of war, was it not its duty, both to itself and to me, to have made me an exception to any military terms it might have been disposed to grant to our armies? I put it to you, Mr. President, as a man and a magistrate to say, and I will rest my case on your answer, whether it was consistent with honor and fair dealing, for this Government first to entrap me, by means of a military convention, and then, having me in its power, to arrest me and declare that convention null and void, for the course recommended to you by Mr. Speed comes to this—nothing more, nothing less.

I have thus laid before you, tediously I fear, and yet as concisely as was consistent with clearness, the grounds upon which I claim at your hands, who are the guardian of the honor of a great nation, my discharge from arrest and imprisonment. I have spoken freely and frankly, as it became an American citizen to speak to the Chief Magistrate of the American Republic. We live in times of high party excitement, when men, unfortunately, are but too prone to take counsel of their passions; but passions die, and men die with them, and after death comes history. In the future, Mr. President, when America shall have a history, my record and that of the gallant [831] Southern people will be engrafted upon, and become a part of your history, the pages of which you are now acting; and the prayer of this petition is, that you will not permit the honor of the American name to be tarnished by a perfidy on those pages. In this paper I have stood strictly upon legal defences; but should those barriers be beaten down, conscious of the rectitude of my conduct, throughout a checkered and eventful career, when the commerce of half a world was at my mercy, and when the passions of men, North and South, were tossed into a whirlwind, by the current events of the most bloody and terrific war that the human race had ever seen, I shall hope to justify and defend myself against any and all charges affecting the honor and reputation of a man and a soldier. Whatever else may be said of me, I have, at least, brought no discredit upon the American name and character.

I am, very respectfully, &c.,

Raphael Semmes. Washington city, January 15, 1866.

At the time of my arrest, there was a newspaper called the ‘Republican,’ published in the city of Washington, in the interests of President Johnson. There had been some little struggle between Congress and the President, as to who should take the initiative in the wholesale hanging of ‘traitors’ which had been resolved upon. The ‘Republican,’ speaking for President Johnson, declares, in the article which will be found below, his readiness to act. He is only waiting, it says, for Congress to move in the matter. Here is the article:—

Why Don't Congress act?

As long ago as last October, the President of the United States commenced an earnest effort to initiate the trials of prominent traitors, beginning with the arch-traitor Jefferson Davis. It is now a historical record, and officially in the possession of the Congress of the United States, that, upon application to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to know at what time, if any, the United States Court for the District of Virginia would be ready to try certain high crimes against the National Government, the President received an answer from Chief-Justice Chase, that the Court would not sit in that district, while that territory was under military control, and suggested the propriety of delaying action in the matter, until Congress acted. Congress assembled. The President referred the whole subject, respectfully, to the consideration of Congress in his annual message, and subsequently, in answer to a resolution of inquiry, he sent, by special message, the correspondence alluded to above, between himself and Chief-Justice Chase.

All the facts were thus legitimately laid before the legislative branch of the Government three and a half months ago! The President, [832] some time in November last, stopped the work of pardoning, except in a few cases where the applications were accompanied by the most positive evidence of good intentions toward the Government. From among those who have applied for pardon, the President has reserved for trial about five hundred of the military and political leaders of the rebel Government—a sufficient number to begin with at least. This number, as classified by the President, we published, by permission, some time since.

Now, in view of the above statement of facts, what has Congress done? Has Congress passed any law directing how the rebels shall be tried? No. Has Congress passed any resolution requesting the President to order a military court for the trial of Davis & Co.? No. Has Congress agitated the subject at any time, in any manner, looking to a trial of the cases referred to? No.

But what have Congressmen done in their individual capacity? Many of them, from day to day, have spoken sneeringly of the President, because he has not done what he began to do, but which the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court prevented, by refusing to hold the court, and which the Congress of the United States has wholly neglected, or purposely ignored. The people, through the press of the country, and in private communication, are beginning to inquire why Congress don't act. Governors of States, ignorant of the facts, are haranguing the people about the indisposition or neglect of the President to try traitors. Why don't Congress act? The President is ready, and has been ready from the beginning, to co-operate with Congress in any constitutional measure by which traitors can be tried, to the end, that treason may thereby be made odious. We repeat the question with which we commenced, and which is echoed by the people everywhere, “Why don't Congress act?”

There is an old adage which says, ‘When rogues fall out, honest men get their rights.’ Fortunately for the ‘traitors’ of the South, Andrew Johnson, and the Congress quarrelled. Johnson undertook to reconstruct the Southern States, in his interests, and Congress claimed the right to reconstruct them in its interests. The Constitution of the United States was equally disregarded by them both. Johnson had no more respect for it than Congress. His Mode of reconstruction equally violated it, with that of Congress. It was a struggle between usurpers, which should be master—that was all. Johnson, with a single stroke of the pen, struck down all the State governments, called conventions of the people, and told the conventions what they should do. Congress might go a little further, but its violation of the Constitution could not, well, be more flagrant. The breach widened from day to day, and the quarrel at last became bitter. Neither party, opposed by the [833] other, could afford to become the hangman of the Southern people, and the very pretty little programme, which, according to the ‘Republican’ newspaper, had been arranged between the rogues, naturally fell to the ground.

Johnson finding that his quarrel with Congress had ruined him with his party, now set about constructing a new one— a Johnson party. His scheme was to ignore both the Democratic, and the Republican parties. If he could succeed in reconstructing the Southern States, to the exclusion of Congress, he might hope to get the votes of those States in the next Presidential election. But to conciliate these States, it would not do to hang ‘five hundred of the military and political leaders of the rebel Government,’ as a mere ‘beginning.’ He must pursue a different policy. He now issued first one amnesty proclamation, and then another—doling out amnesty, grudgingly, in broken doses—until he had issued three of them. By the last of these proclamations, the writer of these pages, who was true to his State, was ‘graciously pardoned’ by Andrew Johnson, who had not only been a traitor to his State, but had betrayed, besides, two political parties. A glorious opportunity presented itself for him to show himself a statesman. He has proved a charlatan instead. He cowered in his struggle with Congress, and that body has shorn him of his prerogatives, and reduced him to the mere position of a clerk. This is the second act of the drama, the first act of which was the secession of the Southern States. The form of government having been changed by the revolution, there are still other acts of the drama to be performed.

the end.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: