previous next

Chapter 19: observations upon matters connected with the War.

  • Tribute to individual staff officers
  • -- closing days of the Rebellion -- an interview with Lincoln -- disposal of colored troops discussed -- Butler proposes to take them to the Isthmus of Darien and dig a canal across -- Lincoln's death stops the enterprise -- Conferences with President Johnson -- belief that traitors should have been punished, and their property confiscated and given to Northern soldiers -- Johnston's terms of surrender to Sherman drawn by the Confederate Cabinet -- Davis would have continued the War -- his imprisonment in irons -- at President Johnson's request, Butler suggests a method for trying Davis: a military commission, with an appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States

I think it is due that some word should be said in particular, before closing this account of my military life, of certain gentlemen of my staff and officers who contributed so largely to any success achieved by me. I think I have sufficiently dealt with those who got in my way.

Gentlemen holding staff positions in the army, and especially at Washington in time of peace, who have been educated at West Point, in the language of General Sherman, “too commonly construe themselves into the élite, as made of better clay than the common soldier.” I had a few of such detailed to me, but they never stayed long, and I will not trouble myself to speak of them.

My personal staff, that is, my aides-de-camp, I selected from civil life. For my field staff who should have charge of the technical matters of military campaigning, such as chief quartermaster, chief commissary, chief of artillery, chief of ordnance, engineers, surgeons, and inspectors, I took the most experienced and best officers I could get. Gallantly, well, and faithfully did they serve, evincing great ability and entire loyalty to their chief, and there were no better officers or men. But as such staff officers, they had no opportunity to distinguish themselves in their line of duty so as to come into much notice in the course of the history of military campaign, although their services were invaluable.

When I led the First Brigade of Massachusetts troops into Washington in April, 1861 I had but three staff officers. Two of these served only until the 16th of May, and when I was commissioned major-general they left. One of them, Major Haggerty, served with [891] me until I was relieved at New Orleans. I have had occasion to speak of him before, and now have only to add that he was a very able man, and good soldier, sometimes serving as judge advocate general.

When I took command of the Department of New England, I had as assistant adjutant-general and chief of ordnance, Maj. George C. Strong. I have said of him all I could say of any man, during the progress of this work. While I was at home unemployed in 1863, Major Strong's love of battle and hope of glory impelled him not to wait until I could have another appointment, and having been promoted he was sent to Charleston to report to General Gillmore. He was put in command of a brigade and ordered to assault Fort Wagner, where he lost his life by a wound that caused him a lingering and painful illness. Upon my recommendation the President appointed him a major-general, and his commission reached him on his dying bed.

Col. George A. Kensel was my chief of artillery and inspector-general. He was a Kentuckian, having been appointed to West Point by General Breckinridge, but was loyal to the cause. He was one of the young artillery officers who, when I went to Fortress Monroe in 1861, had accepted an appointment made through the kindness of a friend as quartermaster instead of lieutenant of artillery, which was his lineal rank.

Disgusted with his employment in substantially civil affairs, while his comrades were in the field, he applied to me for an appointment on my staff. He went with me to New Orleans, was detailed as chief of ordnance, and served with me through that campaign. He accompanied me to the Army of the James, and served there through the war. A braver or more loyal officer was not in the army. I can give no better illustration of his courage than by a short anecdote. In the movement on Drury's Bluff, which I have hereinbefore described, I had occasion to send an order in writing in great haste by a route which lay between the lines of the two armies where fighting was going on between the Tenth Corps and the enemy. Kensel was sitting beside me as I wrote the order and gave it to one of my staff, saying: “You must ride between the two lines, because that distance will be scarcely a mile. If you go the other road you will be stopped by Proctor's Creek, and have [892] to go around to the ford, and that will take you quite two hours.” That aid was Captain Martin, who was a volunteer. I turned to Kensel and said: “My personal staff are all absent as you see. It is very important that that order shall reach Gillmore at once. The chances are very great that Martin will be killed.” Tearing the written duplicate from my despatch book, I continued: “Will you please take this order, and follow Martin?” He took it without a word except to say, “Good by, General,” and was soon lost to my sight in the fog. Fortunately both orders got through. Kensel died in command of a military post as a major of artillery several years after the war.

My quartermaster was a volunteer, Capt. Paul R. George, of whom I can say no more words of commendation than I have already said. He died in 1864.

My commissary was my brother, of whom I see no occasion to speak further.

My surgeon in this department was my neighbor and family physician, Dr. Gilman Kimball, one of the ablest and most skilful surgeons of our State.

While I was at Annapolis, I found it necessary to establish hospitals, meaning to make an extensive depot hospital for the sick soldiers who would be forwarded to Washington through Annapolis. I called upon the surgeon-general to furnish me a surgeon for that purpose, and was told that none could be spared, and that I must furnish myself. I called upon Doctor Kimball, who put aside his most lucrative practice, and came down there to serve his country. When I left the Department of Annapolis he accompanied me to Fortress Monroe to see to it that my hospitals were properly organized. The army hospitals there, being only for two or at most three companies of regular troops, would not answer for the sick from the ranks of fifteen thousand men. As soon as his work in organizing the hospital service there was fully performed, he returned home to his practice. When I came back to Lowell in command of the Department of New England, as it was known that I should leave that department in the course of a few months, he accepted service again temporarily in order to aid the cause. His services were invaluable to me because he taught me what a hospital should be, and the necessity of my giving active and personal attention to the [893] inspection of my hospitals, and I followed his suggestions in that regard during my whole term of service.

Of my personal staff, Maj. Joseph Bell left his large practice as a lawyer to go with me to the South with the New England division. If I knew any words that I could add to what I have said of him I would say them.

Capt. R. S. Davis, of Boston, was upon my staff, holding the position of assistant adjutant-general of the Department of New England, and went with me to New Orleans. He served through that campaign, joined me in the Department of Virginia and North Carolina, and served until he was relieved late in the summer of 1864 for sickness. He died in China, where he went on a mercantile enterprise.

Another of my volunteer aids who left the law books he was writing to join the service with me, was J. Burnham Kinsman, afterwards brevet major-general. He volunteered without pay and without anything but an acting appointment. He served me as long as I was in the service, and distinguished himself very greatly for gallant conduct. He was appointed by the President as lieutenant-colonel in the regular army, and attached to the staff of General Wool, and by the President's request Wool assigned him to serve on my staff. He was afterwards employed by the Secretary of War, serving him directly upon important matters where great prudence, courage, and discretion were required. For his meritorious services he was promoted to brevet major-general, when Mr. Rawlins, who knew him in the Army of the James, was Secretary of War. It was well deserved, but was not recommended by me, because I had at one time previous to his appointment an idea that my recommendation might do him more harm than good. I have already spoken of his services as I think they deserve to be spoken of.

Another volunteer aid was Lieut. Haswell C. Clarke, of Boston, quite a young man, hardly arrived at his majority. He served with me faithfully and well in the Department of New England, in the Department of the Gulf, and in the Army of the James. A brave and gallant young officer, he did his duty thoroughly and acceptably wherever he was called.

At my request and by the designation of General McClellan, [894] there was added to my staff at New Orleans as engineer, Gen. Godfrey Weitzel, in commendation of whom as an officer and a loyal friend I can say no more than has been said of him in previous chapters. He also died while serving as brigadier-general in the regular army.

While at New Orleans, Col. J. W. Shaffer, a personal friend of Mr. Lincoln, was detailed to me as chief quartermaster, in which capacity he served upon my staff. He also went with me to the Army of the James, and was there promoted to be chief of my staff. He served as such until he went home in the summer of 1864 suffering with a disease which afterwards caused his death, having been appointed governor of Utah Territory. His services, although not of a character that makes men so distinguished in a campaign as to find a place in history, were of the greatest value in whatever position he found himself.

With Colonel Shaffer there was sent to me Brig.-Gen. J. W. Turner. He had graduated at West Point. He was my chief commissary, and afforded me very great and efficient aid in seeing to the provisioning not only of the army, but of a large portion of the people of New Orleans, including a very great number of dependent negroes. His services were such in his department that personally I had no occasion for thought of any danger that my commissariat would not be ready for any emergency. When Colonel Shaffer left, he acted as my chief of staff. His services were so valuable in the field while serving in the Army of the James that he was promoted to brigadier-general. He afterwards became major-general commanding a division in the Eighteenth Army Corps, and distinguished himself in action on several occasions. He was detailed from Bermuda Hundred to go over with his division to hold the lines while Grant's troops left them to attack the enemy on the occasion of the explosion of the mine. Finding that there was no movement of the enemy toward the point occupied by his troops, he went over and entered the mine after the explosion, when the cavity was filled as if with a swarm of bees by the colored soldiers, and there was no general of division or brigade or field officer in that mine but himself, and he had no business to be there. He was an intelligent and capable military officer, and possessed a further qualification — he was a good business man. After the war was over he went to [895] Chicago, and established himself in business there. Later he was called to St. Louis, where he was put at the head of public works of that city, and where he now lives with his family deserving many years.

I had another volunteer aid in New Orleans, Capt. John Clark, who acted as assistant commissary. He had been editor, and I think proprietor, of the Boston Courier, and when I seized the Delta newspaper he and Lieutenant-Colonel Brown, of the Eighth Vermont, volunteered to keep up the publication as a Union journal. They did it with exceeding ability and success, and I have a lively and strong remembrance of the aid they gave me through that newspaper in writing truly the state of things in New Orleans. Captain Clark died soon after the war.

When I got to New Orleans I had not with me a single surgeon who had ever treated a case of yellow fever. I made an appeal to the surgeon-general to send me an army surgeon if he had one who was able to deal with what I looked upon as the most dangerous foe to my army. Through the necessary detentions and delays of official correspondence, it was many weeks before I received a reply, so that 1 had to make all my dispositions against that enemy before I got any assistance of professional skill. But when it did come it brought Dr. Charles MacCormick. He was a man very considerably advanced in years, who had been a surgeon in the United States Army for quite a long period, and had been stationed at New Orleans during the great epidemic of yellow fever which more than decimated the city in 1853, of which I have spoken. Doctor MacCormick deserves that a book should be written upon his services, for they deserve much more than the brief notice my limits will permit me here to give. He was exceedingly efficient in organizing the hospitals for which I had taken possession of some of the largest buildings in the city, notably the St. Louis Hotel. He gave me great confidence because he entirely approved of what I had done, and relieved me from the load of care and anxiety which was added my labors. He went with me to the Army of the James, and such were his exertions that we had an army in better health than any other army in the field. He continued to serve with me until his own health failed. He died in the city of New York several years after the war. He was one of the truest friends I ever had. [896]

Lieut.-Col. Jonas H. French was also upon my staff for a short time in New Orleans after he had been deprived of his command of the Thirty-First Massachusetts Volunteers by Governor Andrew. When General Shepley was designated by the President as Governor of Louisiana, Lieut.-Col. French was promoted from acting provost marshal on my staff to the post of provost marshal general of the State of Louisiana, and remained in that office when I left New Orleans. To his energy and ability the quiet and good order of the populace of New Orleans may be largely ascribed.

Col. S. H. Stafford, of a New York Regiment, who had been acting as assistant provost marshal, took Colonel French's place on my staff when he was promoted, and showed himself to be a brave, determined, and thorough executive officer who fully executed the duty devolved upon him by all orders. Afterwards he commanded a brigade in Hinks' division of colored troops in the Army of the James. He is not now living.

I had detailed upon my staff Lieut. J. W. Cushing, of the Thirty-First Massachusetts Volunteers, as acting chief quartermaster, and Lieut. James E. Esterbrook, of Worcester, of the Thirtieth Massachusetts, as acting chief commissary, who served until the detail from Washington of Shaffer and Turner.

When I was sent to New Orleans I had three brigadier-generals assigned to me: Gen. J. W. Phelps, Gen. Thomas Williams, and General Sherman. The latter died from heart failure very soon after he joined me.

I had no better soldier or officer, none in whose care I felt any more safe to leave everything in possession, than General Phelps. I had got him his promotion in 1861, and asked to have him transferred to the Army of the Gulf. He had but one fault: he was an anti-slavery man to a degree that utterly unbalanced his judgment. While in command of a portion of the troops on Ship Island in the Gulf of Mexico near the State of Mississippi, he, in the winter of 1861-62, upon his own motion, issued a proclamation of emancipation of the slaves. No notice was taken of it, as it was simply a dead letter. He disciplined his troops very admirably, and upon my arrival in New Orleans, I put him in command of the forces stationed above the city at Carrolton. The history of that command I have already stated. Differing with me on the slavery questions [897] because I held that nothing could be done about freeing the slave, except through the President, he resigned his command and reported to Washington to argue the question with the President, so that I lost him. He is now deceased.

Of General Williams and his services I said all that ever can be said in my general order of notice of his untimely death.

Gen. George F. Shepley was promoted to be brigadier-general and at the same time was appointed Governor of Louisiana.

I would that space permitted me to speak in detail of other officers, regimental commanders, etc. But they made their own mark, especially in the histories of their several regiments, and as I cannot speak of all as I would do, it would seem invidious to mention any.

In November, 1863, when I relieved General Foster in the command of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina, he took his personal staff with him, and the departmental staff reported to me.

Most of my staff at New Orleans whom I have already noticed were assigned to duty, and need not be further mentioned.

Maj. J. L. Stackpole, the judge advocate-general of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina, who had been acting as provost judge, I replaced with Major Bell, and remitted Major Stackpole to his duties as judge advocate-general, in the performance of which I found him one of the most competent officers that I have ever seen filling that position. He was faithful, diligent, and a good lawyer, and he retained his position during my command. He now pursues his profession in the city of Boston, with the esteem of all who know him.

I also found upon the departmental staff Lieut.-Col. Herman Biggs, chief quartermaster, a thoroughly able and efficient officer. I shall never cease to remember with gratitude his great aid in enabling me to make the expedition, of which I have heretofore spoken, up the river with the Army of the James to City Point.

I found Lieut.-Col. John Cassels as provost marshal of the department. I did not reappoint him when I made up my staff.

There are no more arduous duties in the administration of a military department than those devolving upon the provost marshal. He is charged with the arrest of all citizens whose doings make such action necessary, and also to put in close confinement the officers [898] or soldiers whose detention may be ordered. He is charged with the duty of breaking up all irregular places in which any infractions of the law either military or civil are carried on. In short, he is the chief of police of the department, and he is also charged with the prosecution of all civil offences before the provost court. If he is an honest and efficient man that makes him exceedingly obnoxious, so that my experience was that if no complaints were made against a provost marshal he clearly was not doing his duty.

I had scarcely taken possession of my office before the traders, sutlers, liquor dealers, and citizens who had been dealt with before the provost court came flocking in with complaints against Colonel Cassels. He, of course, was an utter stranger to me, and if I put him in charge of the office, it would result in his having in his possession very considerable amounts of money to be accounted for, and I knew bribes would be offered to induce him to wink at all sorts of transgressions. I thought it my duty, therefore, to investigate fully without saying anything to him and even without letting him know that I was investigating him, until I should come to something on which I could base a serious charge. I therefore announced an officer of the Twenty-Seventh Massachusetts as provost marshal, and that sent Colonel Cassels back to his regiment, the Eleventh Pennsylvania Cavalry.

I had brought with me some secret service men on whom I could rely, but who were not announced to be on my staff, or even to be known to me by sight. I had one there before I came, for the purpose of investigating certain matters in regard to the recruitment of negro troops. I investigated every complaint made regarding Cassels that was not utterly frivolous, and I came to the conclusion that these complaints were beyond all question the ebullitions of spleen or hatred. Among other things Cassels was charged with having taken a sum of money from one man, another sum from another, and so on, always for his own use; but by an examination of the records of his office, which had been placed in the hands of the acting provost marshal, I found that in every instance the sums were not only admitted to have been taken, but that he had charged himself with those sums on the books to be turned over on the settlement of his accounts. I finished my examination about 11 o'clock [899] P. M., on the 8th of December, and sent an orderly to Colonel Cassels' tent with directions that he should report to me forthwith. He immediately reported to me, and I said to him: “You are appointed lieutenant-colonel and aide-de-camp on my staff, and detailed as provost marshal of the department. You will proceed to duty to-morrow morning. I have examined all the complaints against you, and I believe they are all unfounded, and that you are an honest man.”

He held that office, and fulfilled its duties to my entire satisfaction so long as I was in command. When I was relieved his accounts and conduct were investigated at great length in the most vindictive manner, but nothing was developed to his discredit.

I ought not to forget the unwearying pains taken to serve me and the faithful endeavor of my two assistant quartermasters, Capt. William H. James at Fortress Monroe, and Capt. George S. Dodge, who was assistant quartermaster during the campaign at Bermuda Hundred. Captain Dodge is deceased. Captain James is an honored business man in Philadelphia.

Lieut. Frederick Martin was a volunteer lieutenant on my staff. For gallantry of conduct as well in New Orleans as in the Army of the James, I promoted him to be aide-de-camp with the rank of captain and had him assigned as commissary of musters, the duties of which he performed to my entire acceptance. I have spoken of Colonel Kensel as having carried a second order through a line of fire on May 16, 1864; Captain Martin was my aid who took the first one.

In the early part of the campaign two very young men came to me with high recommendations. One was Sidney B. DeKay, of New York, whom I accepted as an aid although he had not reached his majority. His services were so energetic and faithful that he remained on my personal staff until the last. After the war was over, a war broke out between Turkey and Greece, and he went to Athens and took a position in the Greek army, serving with great distinction until he received an accidental wound from the falling of a carbine which disabled him from further service. Later he served as assistant district-attorney of the United States of the city of New York, and remained one of my most valued friends until his death, a short time ago. [900]

The other was Mr. John I. Davenport, of Brooklyn, New York, who came to me as a stenographer. I soon employed him in ascertaining the strength of Lee's army, and put him at the head of my Bureau of Information with the rank of lieutenant, and made him my military secretary. His capacity, which he has shown since for many years, so that he has made a proud name for himself in the service of the government as chief supervisor of elections in the city of New York for many years, coupled with his great energy, enabled him to render

John I. Davenport.

almost invaluable service to the country. I showed his reports of the condition of Lee's army in our front to General Grant, and after examining them and comparing them with the information received from his own source, Grant said: “This is a more accurate roster of the strength of Lee's army than I believe Lee himself has.” Our strong, personal friendship, only increasing in strength, remains to this day.

I have no occasion to remark here upon the good conduct of my several commanders of corps, divisions, brigades, and regiments of [901] the Army of the James. I cannot give space to speak of them all as I would wish to do, but that is not necessary, for they made history for themselves wherein their great services appear; and I have mentioned many of them in this, my own history, as it progressed. If I had only had as corps commanders at first, men like those who were my corps commanders at last, and almost without exception their subordinates, the Army of the James would have had a more brilliant story told of the results of their bravery, conduct, and efforts in the service of their country.

By the middle of January, 1865, to Grant and to all who knew the condition of the Confederate army and the impossibility of their recruiting more soldiers, it was evident that Lee must abandon Petersburg and Richmond and take a position further south, coming, if possible, in conjunction with Johnston. It was also apparent that as soon as he began that retreat and could no longer fight behind intrenchments, he would be easily defeated, by reason of the increased morale of our army derived from following him, and by reason of his great want of supplies. As the winter had been a very rainy one, the roads he would have to go over would be almost impassable early in the season; consequently he must wait until milder weather and the drying up of the mud before he could make the move. So confident was Grant of this that early in March he recalled Sheridan with his ten thousand cavalry. Sheridan had been operating in the Shenandoah Valley, and came down toward the north side of the James River so as to join Grant at once with his whole force. As soon as Sheridan's horses had been rested and his army had been refitted, Grant, fearing all the time that Lee would escape him, commenced a series of operations on Lee's right flank to drive him into Richmond and hold all communication on the south side. Hence the battle of Five Forks, which was successful. Lee made a counter attack on Grant's right wing, which was at first quite successful, his lines being broken through the day so that Meade was cut off from his headquarters; but that disaster was soon repaired. From that moment Grant had no further doubt of the end and was very much concerned lest Lee should vacate Petersburg in the night and escape him, of course abandoning Richmond. Grant was being all the time reinforced by troops from the North and other sources, while Lee could get no more reinforcements. This impossibility of [902] obtaining reinforcements led Lee to make a proposition to the Confederate government to arm the slaves as a last resort, but this was rejected.

I had anticipated this condition of want of reinforcements of the Confederacy, and in a conversation with General Grant many months before, I stated to him that Lee could get no more reinforcements unless they should arm the slaves. I had long previously told him that by their conscription they had already robbed the cradle and the grave to get troops, which phrase Grant says in his Memoirs he copied from me.1

Although I had no command in the army assigned me and had not asked for any, I retained the full confidence of the President, and from time to time when I happened to be in Washington, where indeed I was much of the time, he talked with me very freely. In those conversations I assured him that it was only a matter of months, if not of weeks, when the question would be before him on what terms a peace could be concluded. He said he cared for but two things: That the power of the United States over its territory should be acknowledged by the several Confederate States, and thus the Union be preserved; and that his emancipation proclamation should be agreed by the rebels to be the law of the whole land. Beyond these two things, but one question disturbed him, and that would not arise until peace was established. He told me that he had-met, in the last of January, the Confederate commissioners who came to Hampton Roads to treat of peace, and that he informed them very distinctly of these terms, and that he stated to them he would substantially leave to them all other terms upon which they could come into the Union and consent to live with us as a part thereof.2 [903]

A conversation was held between us after the negotiations had failed at Hampton Roads, and in the course of the conversation he said to me:--

But what shall we do with the negroes after they are free? I can hardly believe that the South and North can live in peace, unless we can get rid of the negroes. Certainly they cannot if we don't get rid of the negroes whom we have armed and disciplined and who have fought with us, to the amount, I believe, of some one hundred and fifty thousand men. I believe that it would be better to export them all to some fertile country with a good climate, which they could have to themselves.

You have been a stanch friend of the race from the time you first advised me to enlist them at New Orleans. You have had a good deal of experience in moving bodies of men by water,--your movement up the James was a magnificent one. Now, we shall have no use for our very large navy; what, then, are our difficulties in sending all the blacks away?

If these black soldiers of ours go back to the South I am afraid that they will be but little better off with their masters than they were before, and yet they will be free men. I fear a race war, and it will be at least a guerilla war because we have taught these men how to fight. All the arms of the South are now in the hands of their troops, and when we capture them we of course will take their arms. There are plenty of men in the North who will furnish the negroes with arms if there is any oppression of them by their late masters.

I wish you would carefully examine the question and give me your views upon it and go into the figures, as you did before in some degree, so as to show whether the negroes can be exported. I wish also you would give me any views that you have as to how to deal with the negro troops after the war. Some people think that we shall have trouble with our white troops after they are disbanded, but I don't anticipate anything of that sort, for all the intelligent men among them were good citizens or they would not have been good soldiers. But the question of the colored troops troubles me exceedingly. I wish you would do this as soon as you can, because I am to go down to City Point shortly and may meet negotiators for peace there, and I may want to talk this matter over with General Grant if he isn't too busy.


I said: “I will go over this matter with all diligence and tell you my conclusions as soon as I can.”

The second day after that, I called early in the morning and said: “Mr. President, I have gone very carefully over my calculations as to the power of the country to export the negroes of the South, and I assure you that using all your naval vessels and all the merchant marine fit to cross the seas with safety, it will be impossible for you to transport them to the nearest place that can be found fit for them,--and that is the Island of San Domingo,--half as fast as negro children will be born here.”

“I am afraid you are right, General,” was his answer; “but have you thought what we shall do with the negro soldiers?”

I said:

I have formulated a scheme which I will suggest to you, Mr. President. We have now enlisted one hundred and fifty thousand negro troops, more or less, infantry, cavalry, and artillery. They were enlisted for three years or for the war. We did not commence enlisting them in any numbers until the latter part of 1863 and in 1864. I assume that they have a year at least on an average to serve, and some of them two to three years. We have arms, equipment, clothing, and military material and everything necessary for three hundred thousand troops for five years. Until the war is declared ended by official proclamation, which cannot be done for some very considerable time, they can be ordered to serve wherever the commander-in-chief may direct.

Now I have had some experience in digging canals. The reason why my canal, which was well dug, did not succeed you know. My experience during the war has shown me that the army organization is one of the very best for digging. Indeed, many of the troops have spent a large portion of their time in digging in forts and intrenchments, and especially the negroes, for they were always put into the work when possible. The United States wants a ship canal across the Isthmus of Darien at some proper and convenient point. Now, I know of a concession made by the United States of Colombia of a strip thirty miles wide across the Isthmus for that purpose. I have the confidence of the negroes. If you will put me in command of them, I will take them down there and dig the canal. It will cost the United States nothing but their pay, the clothing that they wear will be otherwise eaten by the moths, the arms are of no worth, as we have [905]

Emancipation proclamation.

[906] [907] so many of them in excess; the wagons and equipments will otherwise rust out. I should set one third of them to digging. I should set another third to building the proper buildings for shelter and the rest to planting the ground and raising food. They will hardly need supplies from the government beyond the first season, having vegetable supplies which they will raise and which will be best for their health. After we get ourselves established we will petition Congress under your recommendation to send down to us our wives and children. You need not send down anybody to guard us, because if fifty thousand well-equipped men cannot take care of ourselves against anybody who would attack us in that neighborhood, we are not fit to go there. We shall thus form a colony there which will protect the canal and the interests of the United States against the world, and at least we shall protect the country from the guerilla warfare of the negro troops until the danger from it is over.

He reflected a while, having given the matter his serious attention, and then spoke up, using his favorite phrase: “There is meat in that, General Butler; there is meat in that. But how will it affect our foreign relations? I want you to go and talk it over with Mr. Seward and get his objections, if he has any, and see how you can answer them. There is no special hurry about that, however. I will think it over, but nothing had better be said upon it which will get outside.”

“ Well, then, Mr. President,” I said, “I will take time to elaborate my proposition carefully in writing before I present it to Mr. Seward.”

I bowed and retired, and that was the last interview I ever had with Abraham Lincoln.

Some days afterwards I called at Mr. Seward's office, reaching it, as near as I can remember, about two o'clock in the afternoon. He promptly and graciously received me, and I stated to him that I came to see him at the request of the President, to place before him a plan that I had given to the President for disposing of the negro troops.

“Ah,” he said, “General, I should be very glad to hear it. I know Mr. Lincoln's anxiety upon that question, for he has expressed it to me often, and I see no answer to his trouble. But you must [908] dinner with me at six o'clock, and after dinner we will discuss the matter at our cigars.”

Shortly before six o'clock, however, as he was returning from his drive, he was thrown from his carriage by his horses becoming frightened and running away, and was so seriously injured that his life was despaired of. He lay on his sick-bed until the 14th of April, when Lincoln was assassinated, and he himself was so brutally assaulted that he was detained in bed for many weeks afterwards.

Meantime, Mr. Lincoln had gone to City Point and remained absent several days, returning only to meet the assassin's pistol.

On the night of the 14th of April, I took the train at Washington for New York, and in the morning met in the train the newspapers announcing the assassination. On the night of April 16 I returned to Washington in order to be present to give aly assistance in this crisis of the country.

I remained in Washington for some time in conference with Mr, Stanton, who was the moving spirit of that day, and with President Johnson. Previous to this time I had had no special relation with Johnson, but the fact that his oft-repeated declarations upon taking the presidential office, that the Rebellion must be subjugated, and the traitors must take back seats, were in the line of my own thought, brought me into conference with him. I believed those were his true views of the situation and that he thought the Rebellion ought to end, as it should have, in subjugation, so that all the Confederate State governments should be wiped out as well as the Confederate government. The governments of those States were part and parcel of the Confederacy and should, in my view, have been entirely obliterated. I thought enough of the army should be retained to provide a stable military government for the South until the white men should be taught what loyalty to the Union was, and I believed that the negroes should be taught what their position as citizens was before the right of suffrage should be accorded to them. I advised and so urged that the States in rebellion should be divided into territories held under military control for a sufficient length of time to teach them that the lost cause and the lost Confederation was utterly obliterated and to be forgotten. I advised that those territories should be given specific names. For instance, Virginia should be the territory of Potomac; North Carolina, the territory of Cape [909] Fear; South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, the territory of Jackson; Louisiana, the territory of Jefferson; Texas, the territory of Houston, and Arkansas, the territory of Lincoln. I believed that the lines of those territories should be so drawn as to cut up the boundaries of the original-States so that there should be nothing of State pride left. By their proceedings the people of these States had forfeited all honorable mention, and when they should be fit to come back into the Union,--which they would have been at an early day,--they should come in with the boundaries and names given, and that would have blotted out forever all brotherhood of Confederation against the United States.

I would have confiscated the real estate of all those who had voluntarily taken an active part in the Rebellion. I would have permitted all to run away who desired to and expatriate themselves as they had tried to do by bloody war,--and some of them by so going away justified the propriety of my suggestion. Their lands so forfeited I would have divided among the private soldiers of the army, to be theirs at the end of five years of occupation.

The terms of surrender of Johnston's army agreed to by Sherman3 I would have revoked, as President Johnson did with the advice of his Cabinet, but I should not have advised that Halleck be sent down to violate a truce, as was done, because that was breaking faith. But there was a justification for the action of Johnson and his Cabinet in going so far as they did. I know the information upon which they acted. They were informed of the fact that Johnston called to his assistance the cabinet of Jeff Davis to draw those terms of surrender, and they were drawn by Mr. Reagan, one of the members of Davis' cabinet. As evidence, fac-simile of them is produced on the next three pages by courtesy of Brev. Brig.-Gen. H. V. Boynton.

It is true Sherman does not copy Reagan's words exactly, but he copies his paper so far as the substance is concerned, wording it differently so as to make it his own, or, as Johnston says, to make it fuller, and he adds that Sherman wrote his copy with Reagan's before him. These terms had been submitted to Davis and his cabinet, and they were of the unanimous opinion that such terms would restore State governments to power and give the Confederacy a chance for existence. Especially would they save slavery, because when the [910]

[fac-simile of the original draft of Sherman's terms with Johnston, as drawn by John H. Reagan, the Confederate Postmaster-General.]


[fac-simile of the original draft of Sherman's terms with Johnston, as drawn by John H. Reagan, the Confederate Postmaster-General.]


[fac-simile of the original draft of Sherman's terms with Johnston, as drawn by John H. Reagan, the Confederate Postmaster-General.]

[913] Confederate State governments were once restored to power then they could establish slavery in their several States, and under the Constitution, as it then stood, the United States could not abolish it.

President Johnson and his Cabinet understood that there was some agreement expressed or implied among the leading officers of Sherman's army whom he had called together in conference, that the army should sustain these terms. They also knew that a paper had been circulated among the commanders making a closer union upon that subject. They further knew the obstinacy of Sherman in sustaining his opinions, and they feared this. Indeed, they looked upon it as almost treasonable in intent, which I did not. They knew also what is disclosed in the agreement, namely, that Sherman proposed to his leading officers, and they agreed to it, that a ship should be provided at Charleston for the escape from the country of Davis and such of his cabinet and others as chose to go with him.

Now Davis was intent upon getting to Texas and there making new headway against the United States, and he was so far committed to the plan that after the surrender of the army he made his flight in order to get to a vessel on the Florida coast and sail for Texas, and there, west of the Mississippi, to continue to prosecute the war.

They also felt it important to take away the command of his army from Sherman, and they were justified in coming to that conclusion, certainly, because Sherman had written that if the government should undertake to break the truce with Johnston that he had declared, he would resist it. That was in his official report to Grant, and when Grant asked him to change it, saying that he thought that language was unnecessary, Sherman said: “He [Halleck] knew I was bound in honor to defend and maintain my own truce and pledge of faith even at the cost of many lives.”

I insert here the reasons given by the authorities at Washington for rejecting the convention of Sherman and Johnston which, as I have said, was unanimously accepted by the rebel cabinet, and the rejection by one cabinet and the acceptance by the other arrived at Raleigh on the same day, and before they had heard of the assassination of Lincoln :--

First. It was an exercise of authority not vested in General Sherman, and on its face shows that both he and Johnston knew that General Sherman had no authority to enter into any such arrangement. [914]

Second. It was an acknowledgment of the rebel government.

Third. It is understood to re-establish rebel State governments that had been overthrown at the sacrifice of many thousands of loyal lives and immense treasure, and placed arms and munitions of war in the hands of rebels at their respective capitals, which might be used as soon as the armies of the United States were disbanded, and used to conquer and subdue loyal States.

Fourth. By the restoration of the rebel authority in their respective States, they would be enabled to re-establish slavery.

Fifth. It might furnish a ground of responsibility by the Federal Government to pay the rebel debt, and certainly subjects loyal citizens of the rebel States to debts contracted by rebels in the name of the States.

Sixth. It put in dispute the existence of loyal State governments, and the new State of West Virginia, which had been recognized by every department of the United States Government.

Seventh. It practically abolished the confiscation laws, and relieved rebels of every degree who had slaughtered our people, from all pains and penalties for their crimes.

Eighth. It gave terms that had been deliberately, repeatedly, and solemnly rejected by President Lincoln, and better terms than the rebels had ever asked in their most prosperous condition.

Ninth. It formed no basis of true and lasting peace, but relieved the rebels from the pressure of our victories, and left them in condition to renew their effort to overthrow the United States Government and subdue the loyal States, whenever their strength was recruited, and any opportunity should offer.

Sherman believed that the terms would be accepted as those of a military convention which could not well be disregarded; and in his letter to Johnston of April 21, 1864, he says:--

Although strictly speaking, this is no subject of a military convention, yet I am honestly convinced that our simple declaration of a result will be accepted as good as law everywhere. Of course, I have not a single word from Washington on this or any other point of our agreement, but I know the effect of such a step by us will be universally accepted.

I have put forward these facts because I think they justify the President and Secretary of War in their action, and in some degree excuse General Sherman by taking away implications of bad motives. I do this under some little pressure of conviction against him, because, [915] as has been seen, my terms of acceptance and capitulation would have been very different from his. And although subsequent events have shown me that the States have got together again never to be disunited, yet I think we should have much sooner come together and without the harshness of feeling which has existed so long between the North and the South, and without the horrible butcheries of the negroes that have taken place. For the two races of the South have not got together, and I feel that there is great danger they will not do so save by another conflict of arms.

After the capture of Jefferson Davis en route across the Mississippi to carry on the war, he was held in close confinement for almost two years in Fortress Monroe and a part of the time in irons. Although an “outlaw,” I have always regretted this, for the chains were not necessary for his safe keeping, and I have a horror of punishing men before they are convicted either by imprisonment or by the enormous bail imposed by some foolish judges of the lower order, not as a means of restraining the prisoner, but by way of expressing their horror of the crime with which he is charged. I do not know how far I should have been stirred in the direction of putting Davis in chains had I stood beside the death-bed of Mr. Lincoln as did Stanton, who fully believed for months that Davis incited the crime, which beyond all controversy now was not the fact.

While President Johnson held to the opinions originally expressed that traitors must take back seats and be punished, and while he had Davis in custody and the general impression of the people of the North was that Davis was implicated immediately or remotely in the fact of Lincoln's death, the President was much embarrassed as to what he should do with Davis and in what manner he should be tried. His acts of treason had all been committed in the Southern States and by the Constitution he must be tried, if tried by a civil court, by a jury of the vicinage of those acts. There certainly could not be a jury got in those States fairly impanelled, some of whom would not have been of his political faith, and interference with the selection of the jury by the prosecutor or otherwise was of all things the most to be condemned.

Mr. Johnson, on the recommendation of Senator Wade, who at the first of his administration was his warmest supporter, but when Johnson changed became one of his bitterest foes, sent for me as a [916] lawyer to consult with him on this question. We talked over the difficulties of this position and the effect. As it would not do to try Mr. Davis by a negro jury in Virginia, and as such a trial, continuing perhaps at great length and occupying the public mind, might cause great bitterness of feeling especially in the South, he asked me if I could devise a way in which it might be best legally brought to trial so as to give him a fair trial, and requested that I should give some attention to that subject.

After reflection and examination of the subject, I suggested to him that this might be done: Davis, while making his escape, was captured as a prisoner of war. He was confined in Fortress Monroe, a garrisoned fort of the United States in the military district of Virginia, where his criminal acts, if any, had been perpetrated, then and ever afterwards under martial law. As the war still existed, the President as commander-in-chief might call a military commission in due form to advise him what should be done in regard to the offences of Mr. Davis against the Constitution and laws both civil and military. That commission should be composed of five, seven, or nine, of the major-generals in the army, to be selected by the President, to pass upon the facts and give him advice as to what he should do. This is all that a military commission can do, and is what was done in the case of Major Andre, a captured prisoner of war in the Revolution, the commission in his case being headed by General Lafayette. And as to the conduct of such a commission on the trial, I supposed that the fact of my being the senior major-general of the army might put me at the head of it. If so, I should conduct it substantially in this way: Charges should be preferred against Mr. Davis, of committing treason in carrying on war against the United States in the district of Virginia, and the overt acts alleged against him should be his reviewing of troops in arms against the United States and giving orders to them in person as the commander in that district. The proof of those facts would be easy and certain even if they were denied. The other fact necessary for a conviction would be his oath of office as Secretary of War of the United States wherein he had sworn to bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States.

I assumed that when Mr. Davis was brought before that commission duly convened under proper orders, and allowed counsel of his own [917] selection, the first thing that would be set up would be the objections to the jurisdiction of the military tribunal.

To that the tribunal should answer that being ordered there by the President of the United States to do what they were doing, they were not at liberty to disobey the orders of the commander-in-chief.

That the next thing that would be set up would be the legal existence of the Confederate government, and the rights of the State to secede, and his acting in conformity with the directions of his own State after secession.

To that it should be answered:

All of us sitting here have fought four years to decide those questions in the negative, and therefore it would be useless to have them argued here.

In answer to the charges preferred against you, do you wish to deny the facts to be true as set out therein? If you do you are at liberty to call for proofs.

I assumed that he would not deny any of the facts. If he did they could be established in an hour's time.

Then he should be asked: “Have you any further facts to set up in justification of your action thus proved? If so, let your witnesses be called.” His witnesses having been heard, the commission would order him to proceed with his defence.

After the hearing the commission would order the prisoner to be remanded and would enter into consultation. I assumed that the result would be, that we should come to the conclusion to advise the President that he was guilty of the acts alleged against him, and that he would then be called before the commission and informed of the conclusions of the commission substantially in the following form: “After considering your case the commission will advise the President and Commander-in-Chief that you are guilty of the treasonable acts alleged against you in the manner and form in which they are set forth, and will advise that he should proceed with your execution by hanging on a day to be by him fixed. But the commission is not insensible that you have raised some very important questions of law, and we wish to do everything we can to give you the advantage of them by a decision of the highest tribunal. We therefore notify you that we shall advise the executive to give time in which all that has been done here can be brought before the Supreme Court of the United States in some proper manner, of which there are several, concerning which your [918] learned counsel will instruct you. And if that Court shall decide any one of the questions that you have raised here in your favor, or that in anything this commission has over-stepped its power in doing any act or omitting to do anything which it should have done according to its powers and duty, so that your trial has not been a fair and just one according to military law and usage, the President will be advised in any such case that you be discharged and go of these accusations without day, and if he deem it expedient that he grant you executive clemency.”

I said: “If that is done in due order, Mr. President, no man will say that Davis has not had a fair. trial, and you will have referred the question of his guilt to the highest court of the country and will be at liberty to act at your discretion under the best guides you have. At any rate you will have lifted the burden of this case from yourself to the courts.”

The President said that he thought well of this plan and would take it into consideration.

Soon after this he began to waver in his determination that treason should be punished and traitors take back seats, and the commission was never called together. I understood that Mr. Secretary Welles alone of the Cabinet objected to my plan and said the trial must be by jury under the Constitution.

Decorative Motif.

1 Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant, Vol. II., p. 435.

2 His proposition made to the rebel commissioners at Hampton Roads, as Grant reports it, (Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant, Vol. II., pp. 422, 423), was that “there would be no use in entering into any negotiations unless they would recognize, first, that the Union on a whole must be forever preserved, and, second, that slavery must be abolished. If they were willing to concede these two points, then he was ready to enter into negotiations, and was almost willing to hand them a blank sheet of paper with his signature attached, for them to fill in the terms upon which they were willing to live with us in the Union and be one people.”

These terms got into the newspapers in a more or less exaggerated form, and caused a great deal of excitement in the North. They were looked upon as being a giving up of the war in this, that these men who had fought us for four years, and whom we had conquered, should then say upon what terms they would come and live with us as one people (i.e., the terms upon which they would permit us to live with them as one people), so that many, many harsh things were said against Lincoln in the press of the country, and among the people, especially the radical portion who were now in majority, which pained him very much.

3 See Appendix No. 47.

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 Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
United States (United States) (18)
Washington (United States) (9)
Fortress Monroe (Virginia, United States) (5)
Louisiana (Louisiana, United States) (4)
West Point (Georgia, United States) (3)
Texas (Texas, United States) (3)
New York (New York, United States) (3)
Hampton Roads (Virginia, United States) (3)
City Point (Virginia, United States) (3)
Darien, Ga. (Georgia, United States) (2)
Charleston (South Carolina, United States) (2)
Bermuda Hundred (Virginia, United States) (2)
Annapolis (Maryland, United States) (2)
Worcester (Massachusetts, United States) (1)
West Virginia (West Virginia, United States) (1)
Utah (Utah, United States) (1)
Upper Town (Nevada, United States) (1)
Turquie (Turkey) (1)
St. Louis (Missouri, United States) (1)
South Carolina (South Carolina, United States) (1)
Ship Island (Mississippi, United States) (1)
Richmond (Virginia, United States) (1)
Raleigh (North Carolina, United States) (1)
Proctor's Creek (Virginia, United States) (1)
North Carolina (North Carolina, United States) (1)
New England (United States) (1)
Morris Island (South Carolina, United States) (1)
Mississippi (Mississippi, United States) (1)
Massachusetts (Massachusetts, United States) (1)
Jefferson (West Virginia, United States) (1)
Jeff Davis (Georgia, United States) (1)
Jackson (Mississippi, United States) (1)
Harrisburg (Texas, United States) (1)
Gulf of Mexico (1)
Georgia (Georgia, United States) (1)
Florida (Florida, United States) (1)
Five Forks (Virginia, United States) (1)
Dominican Republic (Dominican Republic) (1)
Colombia (Nuevo Leon, Mexico) (1)
China (China) (1)
Chicago (Illinois, United States) (1)
Brooklyn (New York, United States) (1)
Arkansas (Arkansas, United States) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1864 AD (4)
1861 AD (3)
1863 AD (2)
April 14th (2)
January, 1865 AD (1)
May 16th, 1864 AD (1)
April 21st, 1864 AD (1)
November, 1863 AD (1)
1862 AD (1)
April, 1861 AD (1)
1853 AD (1)
December 8th (1)
May 16th (1)
April 16th (1)
March (1)
January (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: