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Efforts for Reconstruction in April, 1865.

Judge J. A. Campbell's noble Offices—His Arbitrary Imprisonment—The character of Lincoln Appealingly exhibited.

The highly interesting papers here printed, which present a vivid picture of a period of intense anxiety to our people of the South, have been retained by me since their reception. The originals will now be deposited in the Museum building for preservation by the Confederate Memorial Literary Society, with the valuable collection of manuscripts hitherto confided to it by the Southern Historical Society.

The 3rd paper mentioned is not printed, as all of its essential details are given in the 2nd paper. It bears the statement: ‘This letter was found among Judge Campbell's papers after his arrest. It is apparently the original letter which some afterthought prevented its being sent to its destination.’

The truly noble devotion of Judge Campbell must command undying admiration, whilst the character of the ‘martyred president,’ as exhibited, must appeal to the sensibility of every one, even the most rancorous.—Ed.

Norfolk, Va., October 24th, 1904.
R. A. Brock, EsQ., Secretary, Southern Historical Society, Richmond, Va.
Dear Sir: Enclosed I send you for a place among the archives of the Southern Historical Society the following original papers written by the late Judge John A. Campbell.

1. A letter of Judge Campbell to Hon. R. M. T. Hunter, dated October 25th, 1877.

2. A statement of Judge J. A. Campbell addressed to lion. J. J. Speed, Attorney General, U. S., dated August 31, 1865, written from Fort Pulaski, Georgia. [251]

3. A letter of Judge Campbell to Hon. Horace Greely, dated April 26th, 1865, written from Richmond, Va.

The above statement and letter relate to certain interviews between Judge Campbell and President A. Lincoln, which took place in Richmond, about the 5th and 6th of April, 1865.

I received these documents from the family of Hon. R. M. T. Hunter, having been found by them among Mr. Hunter's privace papers. I was requested by them to deliver them to the family of Judge Campbell, residing in this city. I submitted them to the daughter of Judge Campbell, Mrs. V. D. Groner and was requested by her, through her son, Mr. D. L. Groner, to make such disposition of them as I deemed best, and upon my suggestion they consented to their being placed among the archives of the Southern Historical Society. This seems to be the disposition desired by Judge Campbell himself as appears from his letter to Mr. Hunter, of October 25th, 1877.

I therefore have the honor to enclose these papers to you as they may be deemed of historical value and as such worthy of preservation by our Society.

Please acknowledge receipt and oblige,

Yours very truly,

169 St. Paul Street, Bait., Oct. 25, 1877.
My Dear Sir: I enclose you a letter written to Atto. Gen. Speed, at Pulaski, and which you heard there and told me if I sent it I would remain there for life. I sent it, but my family were advised not to allow it to go forward and so it remains.

The letter to Greely was found among my papers. These give a nearly contemporary account of what took place between Pres. Lincoln and myself.

You know we sent for members of the Legislature and for you to come to Richmond. Transportation was furnished to the members. On the 13th April, 1865, I had a letter from Gen. Old, then commanding, saying, ‘I am instructed by the President to inform you that since his paper was written on the subject [252] of reconvening the gentlemen, who, under the insurrectionary government, acted in the Legislature of Virginia, events have occurred anticipating the object had in view and the convention of such gentlemen is unnecessary. He wishes the paper withdrawn and I shall recall my publications assembling them.’

On the following day, 14 April, 1865, Mr. Lincoln was assassinated.

You and myself, through Gen. Old, sent a telegram for leave to go to Washington.

Stanton's deposition is interesting in this connection.

Yours truly,

Please return these papers or file them with the Historical Society.

Fort Pulaski, Georgia, August 31st, 1865.
Hon. J. J. Speed, Atto. General.
I have a letter which contains the following sentence: ‘It is charged in substance, and I understand with strong censure, that in the matter of the call of the Virginia Legislature you abused the confidence of Mr. Lincoln, misrepresenting his views and promises and by perversion misled Gen. Weitzel into grave error of official misconduct. It is alleged that you violated and concealed the explicit condition laid down by Mr. Lincoln, that the public men of Virginia were to meet only as individuals, called together for consultation and to promote order; and it by further alleged that Mr. Lincoln's memorandum as furnished by yourself supports the views taken of your conduct. This affair was stated to be not the sole, but a cogent motive of your complicity and its continuance.’

In reply to inquiries occasioned by this statement, I learn that the Attorney General made this statement to an eminent citizen of the U. S. I hope that you will pardon me for intruding upon you a reply to the charge.

I remained in Richmond at the time of its evacuation on the 2nd and 3rd of April, by the Confederate government and troops. Scarcely another person who had occupied my position of [253] prominence in the country did so. I had determined to do so for weeks before. I had advised others to do so. I had expressed my opinion fully and repeatedly to the Executive and to members of the Legislative government that the Confederate States could not carry on their war; that peace should be made, and that the fall of Richmond (which was inevitable) would terminate the war. A letter written by me to Gen. Breckinridge, then Secretary of War, and submitted to Mr. Davis, Gen. Lee. and read to a number of members of Congress, dated 6 March, 1865, is in existence to substantiate this assertion.

I remained in Richmond to submit to the authority of the U. S., upon a full conviction that the Confederate government could not sustain itself.

On the 4th April, I reported to Gen. Shepley, the Governor of Richmond, and told him that I came to submit, and he gave me a printed order from protection from arrest. In the course of this interview he spoke of arrangements for the government of Virginia. I told him that the war was virtually ended and that the question was, as to the pacification and settlement of the country. That the election of Governor and of a government for the State was a difficult and invidious task and I recommended him to call to the aid of the U. S., men of the character and class of Mr. Hunter, in consultation—moderate and influential men who were satisfied that submission was a duty and a necessity. He was impressed with the counsel and communicated in a telegram to President Lincoln the recommendation. I have it thus that Mr. Lincoln was at City Point, and I said I should be glad to see him. The same p. m. (I think) Mr. Lincoln arrived in Richmond and Gen. Weitzel's staff officer came to my home and said Mr. L. was there and would see me.

Our interview was in presence of General Weitzel. I told Mr. Lincoln that I had no commission from the Confederate government; that it was known to Gen. Breckinridge that I should remain in Richmond, and that I should seek an interview with him that I had no permission to do so, nor was I prohibited. I told him that I regarded the war to be at an end, that the most influential of the public men of Virginia would aid in the settlement of peace and I urged him to convene them for the purpose. I stated to him that I had regarded the war as a sectional [254] one and to envalue principles. That the aims of the different sections could not be otherwise reconciled and that the fortunes of the war had resulted in favor of the U. S. That I had regarded it to be the duty of the successful party, in any event, to make a peace with the loser, as favorable as the circumstances would allow. That if the South had gained independence, still a union with the North of the closest nature consistent with their conditions was sound policy and a duty. I urged magnanimity, moderation and kindness upon him. ‘That when leniency and cruelty contend for the conquest of a kingdom the greatest player will be the surest winner.’ Mr. Lincoln expressed his approbation of these general sentiments and said the question was as to their application. He concluded to remain at Richmond till next morning, arranged for another interview, and told me to bring some citizens of Richmond with me.

I sent off for six or seven persons, but only G. A. Myers, Esq., an old and established member of the bar of Richmond, was ready to go, some were absent, others engrossed.

We met Mr. Lincoln on the Malvern (gun boat) in James River. Gen. Weitzel was present with us. Mr. Lincoln produced a written paper, which he carefully read over and commented on and gave to me the original. This paper I gave to Ger'l Ord, the 12 or 13 April, when the revoking order, hereafter mentioned, was made. I have now an engraved copy. The substance of this paper was, That the indispensable conditions for peace were 1st, That the Confederate States should cease hostilities, disband their troops, recognize the national authority; 2nd, That no armistice would be granted and no receding by the Executive from his official action in regard to slavery as contained in the messages, proclamations. All other questions would be treated of sincere liberality. He invited those who had other conditions to propose them, declared he would release confiscations to States that would act promptly and would exact confiscations as far as the future expenses from the intractable.

He said that nothing was to be released, as respects slaves.

He proceeded to say, ‘That he had said nothing in the paper as to pains and penalties. That he supposed it would not be proper to offer a pardon to Mr. Davis—whom we familiarly [255] call Jeff Davis—who says he would not have one, but that most any one can have most anything of the kind for the asking.’ He said this with emphasis and gesture.

When he had finished this, I told him that the difficulty in making a settlement then was the absence of a competent party. That Gen. Lee had herefore declined to do more than to perform his military duty and would not assume counsel, much less to act upon the question of peace. That Mr. Davis had finally excused himself from the performance of the irksome duty, by saying ‘He could not commit a suicide, and that the States in convention, only could act.’ That the Senate had declined, because of the position of the President, and that thus the subject had been neglected and disregarded. That the condition of Gen. Lee's army was precarious and its circumstances, and 1 was sure that a suspension of hostilities for a few days would bring a peace such as he desired.

I submitted to him the draft of an armistice that I had prepared in February on my return from Hampton Roads, as a plan by which a settlement could be initiated and which had been submitted to Gen. Breckinridge, Sec'y of War, and to Mr. Davis, with a view to induce their action, expecting that there might be company at the interview I had reduced some of my views to writing. Mr. Lincoln took my letter and this paper without further remark. Mr. Lincoln said further, that he had been thinking of a plan for calling the Virginia Legislature, that had been sitting in Richmond, together, and to get them to vote for the restoration of Virginia to the Union. That he had not arranged the matter to his satisfaction and should not decide upon it until after his return to City Point, and he would communicate with Gen. Weitzel. He said, ‘He deemed it important that the very legislature that had been sitting in Richmond should vote upon the question. That he had a government in Northern form—the Pierpont government—but it had but a small margin and he did not desire to enlarge it.’

He said ‘That the Virginia Legislature was in the condition of a tenant between two contending landlords and that it should attorn to the party that had established the better claim.’

Mr. Myers had been a member of the Legislature of Virginia in former years and resided in Richmond. [256]

Mr. Lincoln asked him particularly as to the state of the Legislature, whether it could be called together without difficulty, whether it had been dissolved, adjourned, or had taken a recess, &c., &c.

My suggestion to Mr. Lincoln had not extended to the call of any legal or political body. I say to you the first suggestion came from him and in the manner I state.

Mr. Myers is in Richmond and his testimony on this subject can be had. The following day (6th April) Gen. Weitzel sent for me to read a letter from Mr. Lincoln. This letter has been published. I understood that letter to authorize a call for the Virginia Legislature to come to Richmond to vote upon the restoration of Virginia to the Union and to perform any other legal acts in harmony with the policy of peace and union.

Gen. Lee was still in army and the war was still going on.

I asked Gen. W. if others than the members of the legislature would be allowed to come to Richmond. He answered yes and he would afford transportation and facilities to them. I called the members of the legislature of Virginia who were then in Richmond together, and told them of what had occurred and advised them to take the measures required, and left this whole matter in their hands. I told them I was not a Virginian, did not desire to engross any of the care and responsibility of the movement and declined to be on the committee to manage the matter. I wrote a letter to Gen. J. R. Anderson, explaining what I had done read it to Gen. Shepley in presence of Mr. Dana, Assistant Sec'y of War, and left this original to be copied in that office.

No objection was made to this letter. The letter convening the legislature was examined by Gen. Shepley and corrected by him. His corrections were assented to and the letter went forth in the form he agreed to.

After Gen. Weitzel had showed to me the letter of Mr. Lincoln, we had some conversation, in the course of which he said, ‘That he now understood what I meant, by saying that the suspension of hostilities for a few days would lead to peace. We have captured Gen. Lee's letter.’ The letter referred to, I learned, was a letter of Gen. Lee, dated 8th March, ‘65, and related to the military situation at the date and presented a [257] gloomy picture of affairs. It was addressed to Gen. Breckinridge.

On the 6th March, I had written a very full letter to Gen. Breckinridge on the situation of affairs. It was the last of several efforts to promote a negotiation for peace. Mr. Rives and Gen. Lee had conversed upon an unfinished draft of it before it was handed to Gen. B. This letter as delivered advised a call for a report from Gen. Lee and a reference of the matter to Congress.

This letter of Gen. Lee was the report required in that suggestion.

I was familiar with its contents, I felt at liberty to speak more freely and in more detail upon the subject of Gen. Lee's condition than before and had I renewed the expression of the opinion in which Gen. W. concurred, that Gen. Lee's army could not be held together if an armistice were granted and that peace must follow upon such a measure. I told him that the action of Mr. Davis in refusing all negotiation upon the basis of union had compelled conservative men to act independently of his authority. That Gov. Graham had returned to North Carolina and had already, I believed, instituted measures for securing separate State action. That the legislature would meet there in May next, and would vote for a return to the Union. I advised that the same measure that Mr. Lincoln had adopted for Virginia be extended to North Carolina and that it would be productive of beneficent consequences. Gen. Weitzel invited me to repeat in writing what I had communicated to him. This I did on the same or a following day. This letter I learn was sent to Washington. My entire action and interference has now been stated. You will see that I neither misunderstood nor misrepresented Mr. Lincoln as stated. Mr. Lincoln desired the Legislature of Virginia to be called together to ascertain and to test its disposition to co-operate with him in terminating the war. He desired it to recall the troops of Virginia from the Confederate service and to attorn to the United States and to submit to the national authority. He never for a moment spoke of the Legislature except as a public corporate body, representing a substantial portion of the State. I was in doubt whether others than the Legislature were included [258] in the permission and asked the question directly of Gen. XV. Mr. Lincoln could not have employed the language he did in his memorandum, his letter to Gen. Weitzel, or his conversation to me, with such a signification as is attached to it in the charge I am answering. It never entered into my imagination to conceive that he used the word ‘Legislature’ to express a convention of individuals having no public significance or relations. Mr. Lincoln did not fully credit the judgment that was expressed as to the condition of Gen. Lee's army. He could not realize the fact that its dissolution was certain in any event; that its day was spent. He knew if that ‘very Legislature’ that had been sitting in Richmond were convened and did vote as he desired that it would disorganize and discourage the Confederate army and government. My own information was precise and accurate. There was no motive for concealing the fact that could not be concealed very long. Mr. Lincoln's expressions and plan of settlement were generous, conciliatory and just.

They met the precise conditions of the case. I was willing :to co-operate with him on his basis to any limit. I had endeavored to bring the Confederate authorities to the same point and had failed, because they could not bear to look at the inexorable facts of their condition.

I had no motive for concealment nor interest in abusing Mr. Lincoln's confidence. My letter to Gen. Weitzel precedes the surrender of Gen. Lee. It precedes all information of what took place after the army reached Amelia C. H. We had rumors of great Confederate victories then here, but that letter contains a plain and truthful account of the state of things.

I did not mislead Gen. Weitzel. He heard every word that Mr. Lincoln spoke to me and Mr. Lincoln wrote him, not to myself. He had intercourse with Mr. Lincoln to which I was not a party. There was no explicit condition in Mr. Lincoln's letter to Gen. Weitzel. Mr, Lincoln authorized him to allow a call of the legislature and to exhibit to me his letter. The legislature was to act loyally after it met and if not, to be dispersed. That was all. The memorandum furnished to me only strengthened the conclusion that the legislature was to be convened a public corporate body. The pledge was if any State would abandon the contest and withdraw its troops, that confiscations [259] would be discharged. How was a State to comply except through its authorities? Mr. L. wanted prompt, efficient action to terminate a ruinous war, and we must infer that he expected the usual means for the purpose, but besides this he designated the Legislature as the appropriate instrument to be employed. My wishes were consistent with Mr. Lincoln's. I desired peace for a ruined, distressed people. I did not suggest benefits for myself. I did not importune for amnesty or preferment. The so-called leaders had all evacuated Richmond—President, Secretaries, Governor's officials, principal citizens, were ail gone, leaving the city in flames, leaving the people panic stricken and despairing.

It was for the people that I made intercession. I counselled the conquerors to use magnanimity, forbearance, kindness, for his own honor and advantage, not, specially for mine.

I asked no boon for myself. I am indebted to you for courtesy and kindness exhibited to Mrs. Campbell and my daughter while they were on a visit to Washington in July, and had occasion to call upon you at your office.

I have no reason to doubt that you will consider with candor, any statement that is made to you and will regret any erroneous or hasty impression that has been made upon you to my prejudice. I appeal to your sense of right in reference to this grave accusation, and to ask you to give me the evidence on which such charges and assertions depend. I have not complained of Mr. Lincoln, alteration of his policy, nor of the order revoking the call of the Virginia Legislature.

Gen. Ord assigned to me as the cause of the change of the order, the change which events had made in the condition of affairs. This change was great and Mr. Lincoln had contracted no debt by any promise or declaration to me which forbade a change in his policy. I held no commission nor power to bind any one. I was but a volunteer, entitled to assert no right under his assertions or acts. This, I took occasion to affirm in a card published in the Richmond papers. But, I have a right to be exempt from all unjust censure and from all misrepresentation of my connection with these events and from all injurious accusations. While Mrs. Campbell was in Washington son e [260] two months ago, she was informed by Mr. Stanton that the cause of my arrest was an endorsement on a letter of a man named Alston, which had been written to Mr. Davis, as President, and referred to the War Department. In the regular course of the routine of the affair, I had referred it to the A. General, ‘for attention,’ it being his duty to examine and dispose of letters between parties. My own statement and that of Gen. Cooper, Adjt. General and four of his assistants have been filed with my application for amnesty to show that this endorsement was no cause whatever to subject me to death or bonds.

As my arrest was made at night without any notice, or means to answer or to explain, I had hoped that my discharge would have been prompt upon the filing of such testimony.

I respectfully call your attention to this condition of my affairs as more than three months of captivity have been endured. Very Respectfully,

Your Obedient Servant,

Endorsed: letter to Atto. General speed.

This letter was sent from Fort Pulaski. It was thought not prudent to deliver it by my friends in Baltimore and was returned to me.

It is only as a contemporary record that I preserve it.

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