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Chapter 20: Peace conference at Hampton Roads.--the campaign against Richmond.

  • Self
  • -- constituted Peace -- seekers in Richmond, 526. -- Peace conference in Hampton Roads, 527. -- War -- meeting in Richmond -- Confederates expecting foreign aid, 528. -- the employment of slaves in the military service, considered by the Conspirators, 529. -- position of the belligerent forces, 530. -- a Confederate naval raid on the James River, 531. -- the Nationals begin a flanking movement from the Weldon road, 532. -- operations on the Confederate right, 533. -- stirring movements in the Shenandoah Valley, 534. -- Richmond threatened by Sheridan -- great alarm there, 535. -- the condition of the Confederacy considered perilous, 536. -- Lee tries to escape -- capture of Fort Steadman, 537. -- Grant's preparations for a Grand advance, 538. -- the Confederate right again menaced, 539. -- National troops at Dinwiddie Court -- House, 540. -- Lee Strikes another blow for his safety, 541. -- battle of the five Forks, 542. -- assault on the Petersburg lines, 543. -- Lee orders the evacuation of Richmond and Petersburg, 544. -- flight of the Conspirators and their followers from Richmond. 545. -- Richmond set on fire by the Conspirators, 546. -- Weitzel on the alert -- signaling, 547, 548. -- surrender of Richmond to the National troops, 549. -- the Repossesion of the Confederate capital, 550. -- rejoicings at Washington, and among the loyal people, 551.

At the opening of the spring of 1865, the Rebellion was so shorn of its inherent strength and props that it was ready to fall. The last effort to win peace by other means than by conquering it, had been tried in vain. That effort was a notable one, as the outline here given will show.

We have seen how futile were the missions of Mr. Greeley to Niagara, and of Messrs. Jaques and Gillmore to Richmond, the previous summer, in the interest of peace.1 A few months later, Francis P. Blair, senior, a venerable politician of Maryland, who had given his support to the administration, and who was personally acquainted with the principal actors in the rebellion, then in Richmond, conceived the idea that he might bring about reconciliation and peace by means of his private influence. So he asked the President for a pass through Grant's lines, and on the 26th of December,

Mr. Lincoln handed him a card on which was written--“Allow the bearer, F. P. Blair, Sr., to pass our lines to go south, and return,” and signed his name to it. “I was

Robert Ould.

informed,” said Mr. Lincoln, in response to a resolution of the House of Representatives,
February 8, 1865.
“that Mr. Blair sought the card as a means of getting to Richmond, Virginia, but he was given no authority to speak or act for the Government, nor was I informed of any thing he would say or do, on his own account, or otherwise.”

With this the self-constituted peace commissioner went to Richmond, where,--for several days, he was the guest of Robert Ould, the Confederate Commissioner for the exchange of prisoners, and had several interviews with Davis. Finally, at the middle of January, he made his way back to Washington, with a letter written to himself by Jefferson Davis, in which the [527] Chief Conspirator expressed a willingness to appoint a commission “to renew the effort to enter into a conference with a view to secure peace to the two countries.” This letter Blair placed in Mr. Lincoln's hands. Ready to show his willingness for peace on proper terms, the President wrote a note to Blair, that might be shown to Davis, in which he said, “You may say to him that I have constantly been, am now, and shall continue ready to receive any agent whom he or any other influential person, now resisting the National authority may informally send me, with a view of securing peace to the people of our common country.” With this letter Blair returned to Richmond, and his reappearance there excited high hopes of peace, for he was regarded as a commissioner authorized by the Government. The expression “our common country,” in Mr. Lincoln's letter, as opposed to Davis's words, “the two countries,” deprived the latter of all hope of a negotiation on the terms of independence for the “Confederate States.” But he was compelled to yield to the popular desire for an end of the war, and appointed commissioners to proceed to Washington to confer on the subject. These were Alexander H. Stephens, John A. Campbell, and R. M. T. Hunter. The latter was one of the most active members of the Confederate Senate. They were permitted to go on a steamer only as far as Hampton Roads, without the privilege of landing, and there, on board of the vessel that conveyed them, they held a conference of several hours

Feb. 3, 1865.
with the President and Secretary of State.2

Davis's commissioners were very cautious, yet, during the conference, what they desired and what the Government expected, were clearly defined. An amicable spirit prevailed, and question after question was deliberately discussed and disposed of. What they seemed most to desire was a post-ponement of the settlement of the real question at issue, and upon which the war was waged, namely, the separation of the “Confederate States” from the Union. They desired to bring about a sort of armistice, by which an immediate peace might be secured, and the trade and commerce of the different sections of the Union might be resumed. To this the President firmly replied, that the Government would agree to no cessation or suspension of hostilities, except on the basis of disbandment of the insurgent forces, and the recognition of the National authority throughout the Republic; also, that the complete restoration of the National authority, everywhere;, was an indispensable condition of any assent, on the part of the Government, to whatever form of peace might be proposed. He declared that he should not recede from the position he had taken on the subject of slavery. The commissioners were then informed that Congress had, three days before,

January 31.
adopted an amendment to the Constitution, which would [528] doubtless be ratified by the requisite number of States,3 for the prohibition of slavery throughout the Republic.

The conference had no other result than that of the efforts made in July, which was to more clearly define the views of the Government and the Conspirators.4 The commissioners returned to Richmond, when Davis laid

Feb. 5, 1865.
their report, submitted to him, before the “Congress.” On the following day a great meeting was held in Richmond, which was addressed by Davis and the Governor of Virginia. The former said, in reference to Mr. Lincoln's expression “our common country” : “Sooner than we should ever be united again, I would be willing to yield up every thing I have on earth, and, if it were possible, would sacrifice my life a thousand times before I would succumb.” Then, with his usual pretense of confidence in final victory, he called upon the people to unite with those already in arms, “in repelling the foe, believing,” he said, “that thereby we will compel the Yankees, in less than twelve months, to petition us for peace upon our own terms.” 5 The meeting passed resolutions spurning with indignation the terms offered by the President, as “a gross insult” and “premeditated indignity” to the people of the “Confederate States.” And at a great war-meeting held on the 9th, at which

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