Chapter 44: post-bellum Pendant.

  • Old friends and their kindness
  • -- General Grant -- his characteristic letter of introduction to President Johnson -- in business in New Orleans -- political unfriendliness -- cause of criticism of military career -- appointed surveyor of customs -- the old nurse.

Some weeks after the surrender the newspapers announced that I was to visit Washington City. My old company commander, Bradford R. Alden, who had resigned from the army some years before the war, came down from New York to meet me. Not finding me, he wrote to tell me of his trip, that he was anxious about me, lest I might be in need of assistance; that in that event I should draw on him for such amount of money as I wanted. When ready to return his favor he was not in the country, and it was only through a mutual friend, General Alvord, that his address in Europe was found and the amount returned. A more noble, lovable character never descended from the people of Plymouth Rock.

About the 1st of November, 1865, business of personal nature called me to Washington. I stopped at the Metropolitan Hotel. Upon seeing the arrival in the morning papers, General W. A. Nichols, of the United States army, called and insisted that my visit should be with him and his family. The request was declined with the suggestion that the war-feeling was too warm for an officer of the army to entertain a prominent Confederate, but he insisted and urged that his good wife would not be satisfied unless the visit was made. So it was settled, and I became his guest. He was on duty at the time as assistant adjutant-general at the War Department. As I was stopping with an officer of the army, the usages of military [633] life required that I should call upon the commanding general.

The next morning I walked with General Nichols to make an official call on General Grant. He recognized us as we entered his office, rose and walked to meet us. After the usual brief call, we rose to take leave, when he asked to have us call on his family during the evening. Most of those whom we met during the evening were old-time personal friends, especially the father-in-law, Mr. Dent. When leaving, after a pleasant evening, General Grant walked with us to the gate and asked if I cared to have my pardon. I pleaded not guilty of an offence that required pardon. He said that he meant amnesty,--that he wished to know if I cared to have it. I told him that I intended to live in the country, and would prefer to have the privileges of citizenship. He told me to call at his office at noon next day; that in the mean time he would see the Secretary of War and the President in regard to the matter.

The next day he gave me a letter to the President, and said that he had seen him and thought the matter was arranged; that I should first see the Secretary of War, then the President. His strong and characteristic letter to the President was as follows:

Headquarters Armies of the United States, Washington, D. C., November 7, 1865.
His Excellency A. Johnson, President:
Knowing that General Longstreet, late of the army which was in rebellion against the authority of the United States, is in the city, and presuming that he intends asking executive clemency before leaving, I beg to say a word in his favor.

General Longstreet comes under the third, fifth, and eighth exceptions made in your proclamation of the 29th of May, 1865. I believe I can safely say that there is nowhere among the exceptions a more honorable class of men than those embraced in the fifth and eighth of these, nor a class that will more faithfully observe any obligation which they may take upon themselves. [634] General Longstreet, in my opinion, stands high among this class. I have known him well for more than twenty-six years, first as a cadet at West Point and afterwards as an officer of the army. For five years from my graduation we served together, a portion of the time in the same regiment. I speak of him, therefore, from actual personal acquaintance.

In the late rebellion, I think, not one single charge was ever brought against General Longstreet for persecution of prisoners of war or of persons for their political opinions. If such charges were ever made, I never heard them. I have no hesitation, therefore, in recommending General Longstreet to your Excellency for pardon. I will further state that my opinion of him is such that I shall feel it as a personal favor to myself if this pardon is granted.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant, U. S. Grant, Lieutenant-General.

Supported by this generous endorsement, I called on the Secretary of War, who referred me to the President. After a lengthy interview the President asked to have the matter put off until next day, when I should call at noon. The next day he was still unprepared to make decision, but, after a long, pleasant talk, he said,--

There are three persons of the South who can never receive amnesty: Mr. Davis, General Lee, and yourself. You have given the Union cause too much trouble.

I replied, “You know, Mr. President, that those who are forgiven most love the most.”

“Yes,” he said, “you have very high authority for that, but you can't have amnesty.”

During a subsequent session of Congress, General Pope sent in a list of names from Georgia for whom he asked relief from their political disabilities. General Grant, after approving it, made request to one of his friends in Congress to have my name put on the list, and I was extended relief soon after it was given to General R. E. Lee.

In January, 1866, I engaged in business in New Orleans [635] with the Owen brothers,--William, Miller, and Edward, old soldiers of the Washington Artillery,--as cotton factors, and speedily found fair prosperity. Before the year was out I was asked to take position in an insurance company, but declined, and repeated applications were refused under plea of limited business experience, but, under promise of ample and competent assistance, I accepted the place with a salary of five thousand dollars, and my affairs were more than prosperous until I was asked an opinion upon the political crisis of 1867.

As the whole animus of the latter-day adverse criticisms upon, and uncritical assertions in regard to, the commander of the First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia had its origin in this matter of politics, a brief review of the circumstances is in order.

As will be readily recalled by my older readers (while for the younger it is a matter of history), President Johnson, after the war, adopted a reconstruction policy of his own, and some of the States were reorganized under it with Democratic governors and legislatures, and all would have followed. But Congress, being largely Republican, was not satisfied, and enacted that the States could not be accepted unless they provided in their new constitutions for negro suffrage. In case they would not, the State governments should be removed and the States placed in the hands of general officers of the army as military governors, who should see that the States were reorganized and restored to the Union under the laws.

Under the severe ordeal one of the city papers of New Orleans called upon the generals of Confederate service to advise the people of the course that they should pursue,naming the officers. I thought it better policy to hold the States, as they were organized, under the President's policy, shape their constitutions as directed by Congress, and have the States not yet reorganized follow the same course. My letter upon the subject was as follows: [636]

New Orleans, La., June 3, 1867.
J. M. G. Parker, Esq.: Dear Sir,--
Your esteemed favor of the 15th ultimo was duly received.

I was much pleased to have the opportunity to hear Senator Wilson, and was agreeably surprised to meet such fairness and frankness from a politician whom I had been taught to believe harsh in his feelings towards the people of the South.

I have considered your suggestion to wisely unite in efforts to restore Louisiana to her former position in the Union “ through the party now in power.” My letter of the 6th of April, to which you refer, clearly indicates a desire for practical reconstruction and reconciliation. There is only one route left open, which practical men cannot fail to see.

The serious difficulty arises from want of that wisdom so important for the great work in hand. Still, I will be happy to work in any harness that promises relief to our discomfited people and harmony to the nation, whether bearing the mantle of Mr. Davis or Mr. Sumner.

It is fair to assume that the strongest laws are those established by the sword. The ideas that divided political parties before the war-upon the rights of the States--were thoroughly discussed by our wisest statesmen, and eventually appealed to the arbitrament of the sword. The decision was in favor of the North, so that her construction becomes the law, and should be so accepted.

The military bill and amendments are the only peace-offerings they have for us, and should be accepted as the starting-point for future issues.

Like others of the South not previously connected with politics, I naturally acquiesced in the ways of Democracy, but, so far as I can judge, there is nothing tangible in them, beyond the issues that were put to test in the war and there lost. As there is nothing left to take hold of except prejudice, which cannot be worked for good for any one, it seems proper and right that we should seek some standing which may encourage hope for the future.

If I appreciate the issues of Democracy at this moment, they are the enfranchisement of the negro and the rights of Congress in the premises, but the acts have been passed, are parts of the laws of the land, and no power but Congress can remove them.

Besides, if we now accept the doctrine that the States only can legislate on suffrage, we will fix the negro vote upon us, for he is [637] now a suffragan, and his vote, with the vote that will go with him, will hold to his rights, while, by recognizing the acts of Congress, we may, after a fair trial, if negro suffrage proves a mistake, appeal and have Congress correct the error. It will accord better with wise policy to insist that the negro shall vote in the Northern as well as the Southern States.

If every one will meet the crisis with proper appreciation of our condition and obligations, the sun will rise to-morrow on a happy people. Our fields will again begin to yield their increase, our railways and waters will teem with abundant commerce, our towns and cities will resound with the tumult of trade, and we will be reinvigorated by the blessings of Almighty God.

Very respectfully yours, James Longstreet.

I might have added that not less forceful than the grounds I gave were the obligations under which we were placed by the terms of our paroles,--“To respect the laws of Congress,” --but the letter was enough.

The afternoon of the day upon which my letter was published the paper that had called for advice published a column of editorial calling me traitor! deserter of my friends! and accusing me of joining the enemy! but did not publish a line of the letter upon which it based the charges! Other papers of the Democracy took up the garbled representation of this journal and spread it broadcast, not even giving the letter upon which they based their evil attacks upon me.

Up to that time the First Corps, in all of its parts, in all of its history, was above reproach. I was in successful business in New Orleans as cotton factor, with a salary from an insurance company of five thousand dollars per year.

The day after the announcement old comrades passed me on the streets without speaking. Business began to grow dull. General Hood (the only one of my old comrades who occasionally visited me) thought that he could save the insurance business, and in a few weeks I found myself at leisure. [638]

Two years after that period, on March 4, 1869, General Grant was inaugurated President of the United States, and in the bigness of his generous heart called me to Washington. Before I found opportunity to see him he sent my name to the Senate for confirmation as surveyor of customs at New Orleans. I was duly confirmed, and held the office until 1873, when I resigned. Since that time I have lived in New Orleans, Louisiana, and in Gainesville, Georgia, surrounded by a few of my old friends, and in occasional appreciative touch with others, South and North.

Of all the people alive I still know and meet, probably no one carries me farther back in recollections of my long life than does my “old nurse.” Most of the family servants were discharged after the war at Macon, Mississippi, where some of them still reside, among them this old man, Daniel, who still claims the family name, but at times uses another. He calls promptly when I visit Macon and looks for “something to remember you by.” During my last visit he seemed more concerned for me than usual, and on one of his calls asked,

“Marse Jim, do you belong to any church?”

“Oh, yes,” I said, “I try to be a good Christian.”

He laughed loud and long, and said,--

“ Something must have scared you mighty bad, to change you so from what you was when I had to care for you.”

In a recent letter he sent a message to say that he is getting to be a little feeble.

Blessings on his brave heart!

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