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The peace Commission-Hon. R. M. T. Hunter's reply to President Davis' letter.

[We deeply regret that there should be serious differences of opinion among distinguished leaders in our great struggle for Southern independence, and sincerely deprecate any personal feeling which may creep into the discussion of these differences; but, on the whole, it is, perhaps, better that these things should be ventilated by living actors than left to the uncertainties of future discussion. We have published, therefore, Mr. Hunter's first. paper on the Peace Commission and Mr. Davis' letter in reply, and we now publish, without note or comment of our own, Mr. Hunter's rejoinder.]

To Rev. J. William Jones, D. D., Secretary Southern Historical Society:
Dear Sir: In your last issue I observe a letter from the Hon. Jefferson Davis, from which it appears that he takes offence at my letter to the Philadelphia Times, giving an account of the conference at Hampton Roads between Messrs. Lincoln and Seward and the Confederate Commissioners. No offence was intended and no good cause of offence was given by that account when fairly construed, in my opinion. The chief point of offence seems to have been that I said, “Even President Davis and his friends began to feel that it was expedient that the Confederate Government should show some desire for peace upon fair terms.” Whether it was offensive because it imputed their sudden wish to the effect of Mr. Blair's mission, or because it implied that it had not always existed, I cannot clearly discover from the letter. Surely it was no disgrace to any man to think a little more seriously of peace after Mr. Blair's representations of the dangers of a further continuance of the war than before. I was told by a senator who had conversed with Mr. Blair, (I never conversed with him upon this subject,) that he affirmed our chances for success in the war to be utterly hopeless, as he said that the Federals would man their armies from abroad and pay them with our confiscated property. Was there nothing in all this to make aConfederate a little more thoughtful of the future? An entire brigade composed almost wholly of foreigners had been slaughtered on Marye's Hill at the battle of Fredericksburg; and it was well known that acts of confiscation had actually passed the Federal Congress. Under the circumstances [304] in which we were then placed, could it be imputed as an offence in any one at the head of our Government that he thought the necessity for peace a little more urgent than he had ever done before? He seems, too, to have taken umbrage at my describing this desire of peace as new. He says: “When Mr. Hunter penned these statements he must have known that the inaugural address .of President Davis under the, Provisional Government, delivered four years prior to the period of which he wrote, expressed a strong desire for peace; that a few days after his inauguration he appointed commissioners to go to Washington with full authority to negotiate for a peaceful and equitable settlement between the two governments; that in many, if not in all of his messages to Congress, there was shown the same desire to terminate the war by any settlement that would be fair and honorable to both parties; that hoping something from the relation of personal friendship formerly existing between President Lincoln and Vice-Presi-,dent Stephens, the latter was sent to seek an interview with Mr. Lincoln, in which, beginning with the subject of suffering prisoners, it was expected that other questions might be reached in the interests of peace.” Upon declamations of vague generalities in inaugural addresses and messages to Congress I set little account. But did President Davis ever intimate the terms upon which he would accept peace? Did he ever originate any negotiation or make any overture for peace upon any terms on which it could probably be obtained? I never doubted but that he would accept peace if our independence were acknowled. But did he ever offer peace on any conditions short of this? At the beginning I believe he did offer to make peace if our independence were .acknowledged and the public property fairly divided. This was fair enough, it is true; but did any one, even President Davis, sup-,pose that such terms would be accepted at that time? As to Vice-President Stephens' mission being an offer for settlement and peace on fair terms, I can only say he did not think so. In the 2nd vol. of .his History of the War, p. 506, speaking of this mission, he says, “as undertaken,” “it was not the one proposed by me, nor was it as undertaken in any sense an attempt to offer terms of negotiation for peace.”

It seems he also objected to my stating that the insertion in our instructions that “we should treat on the basis of two countries,” [305] (an order which it was rumored that Mr. Benjamin had in vain endeavored to have stricken out,) gave great offence, and a correspondence with that gentleman is introduced to show that he did not ask to have these words stricken out, but had only failed to introduce them in a draft of instructions drawn by himself, and that he agreed to “your insertion of them as a means of protecting your character and honor.”

I did not assert this as a fact in regard to Mr. Benjamin, but merely related it as a “rumor,” which, if true, proved a difference of opinion between that gentleman and Mr. Davis on that subject.

I did not deal with those words critically. I did not pronounce them as right or wrong, but treated them historically, and said they made difficulties in securing an interview. Mr. Davis denies that they did so; but I doubt not but that my colleagues, Messrs. Stephens and Campbell, will confirm my statements.

Mr. Davis asserts that we were instructed to confer at Washington. Whether he means that we had no right to confer anywhere else I know not. If he considered the place as a matter of importance he should have been more specific, and doubtless he would have been obeyed. But we all supposed that the main object of the commission was the conference, and that the place was a matter of little or no importance. Taking the instructions and the circumstances under which they were issued together, no one, I think, would have concluded differently.

None, I think, would have inferred from that conversation that the place was a matter of importance, as the main design of the conference was not to treat of peace, but to ascertain the disposition of the enemy. I thought any limitation of the range of discussion was unwise and inexpedient, but I did not say so in the communication which seems to have given offence. Thus it seems to have been viewe by the other party as an improper limitation on the field of discussion, although I did not anticipate the objection I confess; I suppose from Mr. Benjamin's correspondence that he did also. I considered the objection when made as idle and frivolous. In a matter concerning so deeply the happiness and welfare of a great people, I regarded such small points as absurd and frivolous.

At the time when this debate occurred I considered the introduction unfortunate, but if intended as a restriction upon making [306] a treaty of peace on the condition of reunion I should have considered them as right at that time. I knew when we started on that mission that the Confederacy was very low in point of resources; but the extent of our destitution I did not understand, until on our way to City Point Judge Campbell gave me the substance of his recent letter to Mr. Breckenridge on that subject, stating our utter destitution. I never supposed that we were authorized to treat for peace when sent on that mission; and if we had been, none of the Confederate commissioners, in my opinion, would at that time have accepted peace on the condition of reunion. I certainly would not, nor if it had been offered on such conditions would it have been accepted then either by the President or the Confederate senate. Such at least was and is my opinion.

During our absence on this trip, Fort Fisher, the last. of our forts, where blockade runners with their supplies could be received, was taken by the enemy. To the world without we were hermetically sealed by the blockade; and within the Confederacy, the letter of Judge Campbell, assistant secretary of war, represented our supplies of clothes, food, and arms as nearly, if not entirely exhausted.

But at Old Point Mr. Lincoln had declared he would not treat --with us with arms in our hands; a cruel and unwise declaration, for what is that but a demand for a surrender at discretion. How can a beligerent lay down his arms before treating without submnitting himself to the mercy of his adversary? Under the influence of this feeling, in which we nearly all concurred, I did declare in a speech at the African church, that my feelings were outraged ,by such a declaration, and urged a continued resistance sooner than submit to such terms, or if we should be forced to yield, to anake that submission as dear to the enemy as possible. But a ,considerate friend of mine who heard me told me that he had never listened to me with so little pleasure, and thought me wrong all the --while. “Knowing as I did,” he said, “that our means of resistance were nearly all gone, and that our defeat was inevitable, I ought not to have endeavored to inflame the minds of the people and make any possible accomodation short of absolute submission impossible.” I defended myself at the time, but have often thought since that under the circumstances I ought not to have made the speech. I [307] did not utterly neglect my duty to the people, but endeavored to soften their fall as much as possible.

Shortly after my return to Richmond, in an interview I had with the President in his own house, not at my instance, but at his invitation, I urged that if he thought as I did, that all chance of our success was gone and further resistance hopeless, it became him to consider whether some accomodation with the enemy might not be obtained which would be better than the terms that would be allowed us after a surrender at discretion. I urged it upon him that he owed it to his own reputation and character as well as to a gallant people to leave some evidence of his having endeavored to mitigate their sufferings and secure them some relief when further resistance had become hopeless.

I told him, further, that I knew the difficulties in the way of his making the first propositions for treating to the Senate; that many would treat it as a confession of despair, and this might only impel the enemy to greater exertions; but thai I thought I could promise that the Senate would pass resolutions requesting him to negotiate for peace and ascertain the terms that could be had, if he would allow me to assure them that he could carry them out and do his utmost to settle the matter on the best terms possible. I assured him that I thought there would be no difficulty in obtaining these resolutions, by which the Senate would-have assumed the responsibility and take it from his shoulders. I said that, if necessary, I would introduce the resolutions myself, and we could draw them together.

There was a senator of high character and of many noble qualities sick at a neighboring house. He had so much influence in the Confederacy that, if he had been for peace, the movement would have been irresistible in the Congress if backed by the Government. Upon the proposition of one of us — I forget whichwe went to see him and discussed the matter. Unfortunately, as I thought then, and still think, he did not concur with me. When questioned during these interviews of my own opinion as to the chances of peace, I replied that I could not say, whilst remembering Mr. Lincoln's declaration that he would not treat whilst we retained arms in our hands, but said that the interests for peace were so great that I doubted if he would be allowed to retain that extreme ground; but at any rate, if we made just efforts for peace [308] and failed through the cruelty or vengeance of our enemy, the fact of our having made the attempt would relieve our Government, and particularly the President, from much responsibility that would otherwise attach to us. (Mr. Lincoln came to Richmond just before his death, and spoke of propositions of peace in a conversation with Judge Campbell, which indicated that we might, perhaps, have maintained our autonomy in the states, which would have been vastly better than what did occur after the surrender.) 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? It is true there was no positive pledge of secresy in these conversations, but, from their nature and the circumstances discussed, their confidential character was to have been implied, and ought to have been respected.

The main reasons which led me to think that the President ought to move in this matter were found in the condition of our resources, which could not be revealed to the world without doing much mischief. Indeed, it was impossible to do it: so that I was taken at a great disadvantage. How the character of the conversation got out I never did know, but always had my suspicions.

It was not very long after this before General Lee came to my room one night to talk upon this subject of peace. It was the last time I ever saw him, and our conversation ran nearly through the night. He said if I thought there was a chance for any peace which would secure better terms than were likely to be given after a surrender at discretion, he thought it my duty to make the effort. I related to him my former effort and its result. I told him it would do no sort of good, for any effort I might make would be misrepresented and laid before the public as soon as it was made, with a view to injure my influence, in which it would probably be suecessful. I told him I would engage in no confidential work with Mr. Davis unless the former affair were satisfactorily explained. For, although I did not know that Mr. Davis had revealed the former conversation, yet the circumstances under which it was reported and the use made of it were suspicious. He again [309] repeated his remark that, in his opinion, it was my duty to offer such resolutions in the Senate. He said if he were to recommend peace negotiations publicly it would be almost equivalent to surrender. I told him I was aware of this, but, if he thought the chance for success desperate, I thought he ought to say so to the President. To this he made no reply. In the whole of this conversation he never said to me he thought the chances were over; but the tone and tenor of his remarks made that impression on my mind. He spoke of a recent affair in which the Confederates had repelled very gallantly an attempt of the Federals to break his line. The next day, as he rode along the lines, one of the soldiers would thrust forth his bare foot and say, “General, I have no shoes.” Another would declare, as he passed, “I am hungry; I haven't enough to eat.” These and other circumstances betraying the utmost destitution he repeated with a melancholy air and tone which I shall never forget.

Gen. Breckenridge came to me not long after this and repeated Lee's advice in so nearly the same words that I begun almost to suspect them of concert of action. I related to him the first transaction, as I had done to General Lee, and told him I saw no hope for peace unless the President would pledge himself to co-operate, which I hardly thought he would do. In this I may have been guilty of forgetting some high-sounding asseverations for peace in his first inaugural after the establishment of the Provisional Government, but I hardly think that my recent experience with him would have justified me in considering him as a firm and longproclaimed advocate for peace.

But how came it that we were in the terrible state of destitution described by Judge Campbell in his letter to General Breckenridge, dated March 5th, 1865. “At present,” he says, “these embarrassments have become so much accumulated that the late Commissary-General pronounces the problem of the subsistence of the army of Northern Virginia, in its present position,. unsolvable; and the present Commissary-General requires the fulfilment of conditions, though not unreasonable, nearly impossible. The remarks upon the subject of subsistence are applicable to the forage, fuel, and clothing requisite for the army service, and in regard to the supply of animals for cavalry and artillery. The transportation by railroad south of this city (Richmond) is now [310] limited to the Danville road. The present capacity of that road is insufficient to bring supplies adequate to the support of the army of Northern Virginia, and the continuance of that road at even its existing condition cannot be relied on. It can render no assistance in facilitating the movement of troops. ... The Chief of Ordnance reports that he has a supply of 25,000 arms, He has been dependent on a foreign market for one-half of the arms used. This source is nearly cut off.” It was quite cut off a few days after by the fall of Fort Fisher, the only port through which we could introduce supplies from abroad.

How came the country to be so bare of the supplies necessary for the efficient prosecution of the war. When we seceded the country had gathered in a large crop of cotton-between four and five millions of bales. That amount of cotton, in my opinion, would have exchanged for food, clothing, arms, medical stores, and all the necessary supplies in abundance for the war-enough, probably, to have enabled General Lee, with the troops which he handled with such consummate ability, to have conquered a peace upon fair terms. But those who believed “that cotton was king” had an extravagant notion of its value and a queer theory as to its use. They believed that the Government ought to acquire it, and sell it to supply its wants. An impracticable view, in my opinion. Government makes a poor trader, in peace or in war, and could not have commanded the means to utilize such a crop. But the people and the Government were in favor of prohibiting private individuals from using the article by selling it where it would bring the most, and exercised a strict surveillance over the subject. On the contrary, the only mode of effecting the exchange spoken of above was through private individuals, and if this had been allowed and encouraged early in the war, as ought to have been done, that exchange might have been made — if not wholly, to a great extent-and the horrors of the war much abated.

Whilst this state of things continued, those abroad who had accumulated cotton profited by the blockade, and had no interest to raise it. The time when the wants of the cotton market would make both Yankees and English count upon raising the blockade never came, and the cotton remained on hand, for the most part with but little benefit to any one-reminding me of an old woman I once heard of; who, coming into possession of some money unexpectedly [311] by the death of a relation, was applied to by a nephew for the loan of it. No, indeed, she said; she would lock it in her trunk and live upon the interest. Upon a par with this was the Confederate policy as to cotton, which, I believe, might have saved the cause if it had been properly used. But early in the war the Government would not have allowed its use, as I would have proposed, if privileged to decide upon the matter, while the Government was very far from acting on any such policy; for Mr. Ruffin, who had much to do with the Commissary Department, assures me that after all access to foreign markets had been closed, and the only avenue of approach for supplies to the Confederacy was through Federal territory, the Commissary Department was prevented by the Government from exchanging cotton with the Federals for commissary stores. The fear of hostile criticism at home on the part of our Government was intense, I believe; but,, that it could prevent the necessary action in such a case as this surprised me very much, I confess. If I did not know it before, I was destined to learn how necessary it was to have a great man at the head of a government, to serve a people in spite of themselves. The capacity to brave public opinion in the discharge of duty is rare, I know. I have no right to blame any man for wanting it, nor do I; for all men are as God and themselves have made them, and for that they are in no manner responsible to me. But when Mr. Davis knew the state of destitution into which we had fallen, if he had possessed this abiding; love of peace since the adoption of the permanent government, is it not strange that he would do nothing to secure it by accommodation, except what was done in the abortive effort at Old Point? Did I give any just cause of offence in pressing on him a different view of his duties? And yet I seem to have done it, judging by his conduct towards me since.

General Wigfall, that erratic child of genius and misfortune, used sometimes to say that he almost thought at times that Mr. Barnwell and myself would be nearly as responsible for the failure which was coming on the country through the maladministration of Mr. Davis as he himself, for we sustained him in all that he did. It was true that we supported him to the best of our ability, for, placed at the head of the Government, we believed that it was of vital importance to uphold him. It seems from his conduct towards [312] me since my return from the conference at Old Point that he has felt no obligation for my course. “Drawing (says he) perhaps, as men frequently do, upon his own consciousness, he does injustice to the heroic mothers of the land in representing them as flinching from the prospect of having their boys of sixteen or under exposed to the horrors and hardship of military service.” I confess to feeling reluctance to seeing such boys exposed to the hardships and sufferings of war, and Mr. Davis much mistakes a mother's heart if he supposes she could behold her boy of sixteen or under exposed to the hardships of war under such circumstances with indifference. Had the policy been long pursued of sending these boys to the war without clothes to cover them, without sufficient food to sustain them, without even the arms necessary to make their puny strength as efficient as it might be, and altogether in a condition in which they could neitherinjure their enemies nor help their friends, but must inevitably have been useless and unnecessary death, he would have heard from those mothers in a style very different from what he seems to suppose. When these involuntary Curtii had been devoted to the infernal gods and the massacre of the innocents had been accomplished, the parents of those children would not have characterized his policy as either valiant or patriotic, but would have spoken of it in terms very far from complimentary. It would have been said that, if the country required the sacrifice of a military victim, the President himself, by age and station, would have played the part of Curtius far better and should have himself become the victim, and yet in no history of his flight from Richmond to the woods in Georgia where he was captured have 1 seen it stated that his head was once turned towards the enemy with that purpose. Nor do I blame him. Voluntary self-sacrifice is neither called for nor proper in any case. It would then have been nearly as insensate as the wanton sacrifice of the children under circumstances when they could do no service, but must have perished either from starvation or in battle. The character for valor which is won by exposing others to unprofitable and unnecessary suffering with insensibility and indifference is not worth much, and yet how often is it sought in that very way. “The destruction of the youth of a country,” said a celebrated writer and statesman of antiquity, “is like robbing the year of its spring.” Rob the year of [313] its spring, and we may no more expect either seed-time or harvest; but the country must become utterly waste and desolate, a fit subject for such melancholy speculations as travellers some times make over a land wasted and depopulated by the ravages of war. But I will pursue this subject no further.

There is yet another fling made at me which I ought, perhaps, to notice. He says that my opposition to theconscribing of negroes was a chief obstacle to the passage of a bill for it. That my opposition to this bill was some obstacle to its passage I had supposed, but that it was a chief obstacle, I had not imagined. I say this not to avoid the responsibility of opposition to that ill-starred measure. I wish I could have defeated it altogether, for I regard its approach to a passage as a stain upon Confederate history. It afforded, I believe, plausible ground against them for the accusation of falsehood in professing to secede from the United States Government, in part, and mainly on the plea that it was, by reason of their fear that the party in power would emancipate the negroes in defiance of the constitution and in violation of their pledge, which, as we believed, was implied in their adoption of that instrument, by which they bound themselves to protect the institution. And now it would be said we had done the very thing which we professed to fear from them, and without any more constitutional right than they would have had, if they had done the same thirg. I never believed that our cause had the. least chance of success under the Government which proposed the absurd and inischevous law which so nearly passed the Senate. It was viewed, I think, by nearly all considerate people as a confession of despair by the Government, and I think they no longer had the least confidence in it. The effect of its passage, I believed, would be to drive the negro from us into the embraces of the Federals, from a place where he was doing us much good as a laborer, to another in which he would render the enemy some service as a soldier. Had that bill remained long on the statute book we should have had, I think, the same dispute as to negro suffrage which we have lately witnessed, with this difference: the actual dispute was between the conqueror and the conquered, in that which probably would have been produced the character would have been intercenine, and as between neighbors and friends, far more violent and bitter than between enemies; but it was an impracticable [314] measure, and incapable of execution from the beginning. Judge Campbell, in the same letter to General Breckenridge from which I have been quoting, says: “I do not regard the slave population as a source from which an addition to the army can be successfully derived. If the use of slaves had been resorted to in the beginning of the war for service in the engineer corps, and as teamsters and laborers, it might have been judicious. Their employment since 1862 has been difficult, and latterly almost impracticable. The attempt to collect 20,000 has been obstructed and nearly abortive. The enemy have raised almost as many from the fugitives occasioned by the draft as ourselves from its execution. General Holmes reports 1,500 fugitives in one week from North Carolina. Colonel Blount reported a desertion of 1,210 last summer in Mobile; and Governor Clarke of Mississippi entreats the suspension of a call for them in that state. As a practicable measure I cannot see how a slave force can be collected, armed, and equipped at the present time.” I find in an abstract of some remarks I made on this bill in March, 1865, reported in the Examinor, that I said: “The commandant of conscripts, with authority to impress twenty thousand slaves between last September and the present time, (March 7, 1865,) had been able to get but 4,000, and of these 3,500 had been obtained from Virginia and North Carolina, and five hundred from Alabama.”

To the passage of such a bill as this Mr. Davis says “my opposition was a chief obstacle.” That I did oppose it I neither deny nor repent. Indeed, I have been in the habit of considering the introduction of Ibhis bill in the Senate as a virtual termination of the war, though, doubtless, not so designed. But from that period I think the Government lost the confidence of the country, and all hope of success was over; for we then virtually adopted the policy which we professed to fear from our adversaries, and discredited our country for sincerity and truthful dealing. But it was introduced without much previous notice, and I hold the Government, not the country, responsible for its adoption. As a military measure it fell still-born from the Government, and did not last long enough to produce the full measure of its probable mischiefs.

“A true-hearted Confederate,” says Mr. Davis, “it might have been thought reasonably, instead of seeking to put the President in the attitude of renewing efforts for conference after previous [315] rejections, without any intervening overtures from the other indicating a — more conciliatory spirit, would rather have made prominent the fact that it was the assurance of one coming directly from President Lincoln which led to the appointment at that time of the Commission.”

If I ever knew of that assurance through Mr. Blair I had forgotten it when I wrote the article for the Philadelphia Times, and it seems I was not so far wrong when I said Mr. Davis' desire for peace, great as it was, began about the time of Mir. Blair's visit to Richmond. I was not so far wrong, because Mr. Davis himself says that the mission was sent because of a message from AMr. Lincoln through Mr. Blair, and he thinks no true-hearted Confederate would have represented the mission as proceeding from any other cause until the demands of etiquette had been complied with as in this case. Such, at least, I understand to be his ground of offence. Now, I leave it to any impartial person to say if I did not suppose a far more creditable cause of action when I referred to the terrible condition of the country as creating in his mind a desire for peace than he did for himself in assigning this “red-tape” reason for his action? Would he have regarded more this question of etiquette than the suffering of a great and gallant people who had trusted him to lead them? In other words, would he have beheld that sad condition with insensibility and indifference and refused to treat even for relief until the demands of his dignity had been satisfied? What could have been more sacred than his duty when that people had nearly reached the point where they could no longer resist than to obtain for them some relief by treaty, if possible, from the ruin and penalties likely to befall them if forced to surrender at discretion? With my conception of a President's duty in such a case, I place him in far better position than he puts himself in regard to this conference.

In Mr. Davis' opinion, as a “true-hearted Confederate,” I ought to have preferred to think that he sent the mission because of Mr. Lincoln's message rather than from a consideration of the sufferings of the country. In my opinion, I should have been no truehearted man if I preferred that he should have been influenced by Mr. Lincoln's message more than by a desire to mitigate the miseries by a treaty, if possible, inevitably about to fall on the country unless averted in that manner. On the contrary, I should [316] have considered him wanting in a conception of duty and a true sense of the obligation he owed to a gallant and confiding people who had honored him and placed him in supreme command to defend and protect them.

If Mr. Davis says he had a strong desire for peace from the time of the adoption of the permanent Government I accept the fact upon his statement, and there let it stand. I cannot be pressed into service as a witness to that fact by having it said that I must have known it. I knew of no such thing, nor do I know of any occurrence in Mr. Davis' history which justifies such a belief. If he had made propositions for peace soon after the second battle of Cold Harbor, I think it probable that on the basis of reunion, to which we came at last, we might have saved everything else for which we were contending. But, unfortunately, none of us understood the true nature of the crisis — I no more than the rest. I do not, therefore, blame Mr. Davis for an omission of which I was as likely to have been guilty as he was. Indeed, I do not wish to blame him at all. Nothing is more unseemly in my eyes than disputes between those who have held prominent positions in the Confederacy during the war. Nothing but the necessity of self-defence would induce me to engage in such a dispute, and the responsibility, in my opinion, rests not upon me, but upon him who made the attack.

Very respectfully,

note.-Mr. Davis says, in his letter: “The truth is that the phraseology of the instructions constituted no embarrassment to them at all.” This he asserts positively, in opposition to my statement to the contrary, about a matter of which he had no personal knowledge. Hear Mr. Stephons and Judge Campbell in corroboration of my statement. These gentlemen and myself were the only Confederates who had any personal knowledge of what happened at the Conference. A comparison of his statement with theirs, I think, will not much help his character for historical accuracy.

House of Representatives, Washington, D. C., 3d November, 1877.
Hon. Robert M. T. Hunter, Richmond, Va.:
my dear Sir: Your letter of a few days ago was duly received. I think you were entirely correct in saying that the expression of [317] “the two countries” by President Davis in his letter to Mr. Blair did throw difficulties in the way of the reception of the Peace Commissioners (so-called) by President Lincoln on the notable occasion to which you refer.

I do not understand you to say in your letter to the Philadelphia Times that these words gave rise to any obstacle in the progress of the Conference or the object for which it was sought, except in the reception of the Confederate Commissioners. It was upon this point mainly our delay at City Point hinged.

But upon all these questions and matters my views have been very fully as well as minutely given in The war between the States. &c., vol. 2, page 576, et seq., to which I refer you for details.

Yours very truly,

169 St. Paul street, Baltimore, 31st October, 1877.
my dear Sir: Your letter of the 28th instant has been received and I proceed to comply with your request. The Commissioners appointed in 1865 to confer with the President of the United States concerning peace were furnished with a letter addressed to Mr. Francis P. Blair by President Lincoln, wherein the latter consented to receive persons coming from those in authority in the Southern States who desired to make peace on the basis “of one common country.” This letter we were to exhibit a, the lines of the Federal armies and told it would serve us as a passport to Washington City.

The letters of appointment for the Commissioners, and I believe the treasure with which our expenses was to be borne were delivered to me by Mr. Washington, of the State Department of the Confederate States, at night, after our interview with the Executive. I noticed to Mr. Washington the letter of appointment did not correspond to the letter of Mr. Lincoln to Mr. Blair, and that it might make difficulty.

I learnt from him there had been a discussion and a difference between Mr. Davis and Mr. Benjamin on the subject, and it had been so settled. We left the morning after, and I gave to Mr. Stephens and to yourself the papers on the way to Petersburg.

There was detention at Petersburg. The Federal officers did not understand our passport, if I may so call it, and had to apply to Washington City. While awaiting instructions, and within two or three days after our departure General Grant allowed us to go to City Point, his headquarters. Within two days or more Colonel Eckert, an officer of the United States, arrived at City Point from Washington City. He had a copy of the letter from President Lincoln to Mr. Blair. With General Grant he came to [318] us, and enquired whether we accepted the conditions of the letter he bore, and which we had been advised of and furnished with?

The only answer we could make was to submit our letter of appointment to observation. The discrepancy between obtaining a peace on the basis of “one common country” and a peace “between two countries” was pointed out, and we were told we could not proceed. We argued that peace was desirable and desired, and that the information sought was how peace was to be had. I remember our friend Mr. Stephens suggested that neither note was accurate, for that thirty-six countries (States) were involved. General Grant and Colonel Eckert retired and conferred, and were most emphatic in their refusal after this information. We addressed one, and perhaps more letters, to those officers, to change the resolution so that the expedition might not be wholly abortive, but without result.

During the night following General Grant visited the Commissioners, and sat with Mr. Stephens and yourself for some time. I was sick and not present.

As a consequence of his intercourse he telegraphed President Lincoln favorably in respect to the Conference, and recommended that he should see the Commissioners. The following day, perhaps, we heard that a conference would take place at Hampton Roads, and perhaps on the day after the Conference took place. The correspondence of the Commissioners, the report of General Grant, and the result of the Conference were communicated to the Congress of the United States by President Lincoln in February, 1865. By a reference to these the dates may be seen. I speak only from memory.

At Hampton Roads Mr. Stephens, with clearness and precision, stated the conditions we had been instructed to place before the President and the dispositions we had in respect to them, and which we had supposed were more or less settled upon.

President Lincoln disclaimed all knowledge of any such proposed connections, denied having given any sort of authority to any one to hold out any expectations of any arrangements of the kind being made, and declared that he would listen to no proposition which did not include an immediate recognition of the National authority in all the States and the abandonment of resistance to it.

I confess that these answers did not surprise me, and that any other would have filled me with amazement.

Very truly, your friend,


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