Page images

formed of this proposed action, and approved it fully. He told me himself that the arraignment of the Administration made in the circular was one which he thoroughly indorsed and would sustain.”

After a week's suspense the Secretary received the promised fuller answer, in these words:


WASHINGTON, February 29, 1864. Hon. Secretary of the Treasury:

MY DEAR SIR: - I would have taken time to answer yours of the 22d inst. sooner, only that I did not suppose any evil could result from the delay, especially as, by a note, I promptly acknowledged the receipt of yours, and promised a fuller answer. Now, on consideration I find there is really very little to say. My knowledge of Mr. Pomeroy's letter having been made public came to me only the day you wrote ; but I had, in spite of myself, known of its existence several days before. I have not yet read it, and I think I shall not. I was not shocked or surprised by the appearance of the letter, because I had had knowledge of Mr. Pomeroy's committee, and of secret issues which, I supposed, came from it, and of secret agents who, I supposed, were sent out by it, for several weeks. I have known just as little of these things as my friends have allowed me to know. They bring the documents to me, but I do not read them; they tell me what they think fit to tell me, but I do not inquire for more.

I fully concur with you that neither of us can be justly held responsible for what our respective friends may do without our instigation or countenance; and I assure you, as you have assured me, that no assault has been made upon you by my instigation, or with my countenance.

Whether you shall remain at the head of the Treasury Department is a question which I will not allow myself to consider from any standpoint other than my judgment of the public service, and, in that view, I do not perceive occasion for a change. Yours truly,


The Republican National Committee seasonably

issued its call for a “Union” nominating convention to meet at Baltimore on the 7th of June. The general sentiment of Republicans everywhere in favor of Lincoln's re-election was unquestionable, yet there were prominent Union men, both radical and conservative, who had other views; and from this quarter came an urgent request that the convention should be postponed to a later day. The time already fixed was some weeks later in the season than the meeting of the Chicago convention four years before, and the committee gave little heed to the demand for delay. Ultimately some of the malcontents held a convention at Cleveland, a week earlier than the Baltimore convention, intent on creating a serious schism. Their chosen candidate was General Fremont. In Missouri, the radicals of the Union party were in the ascendant, as immediate emancipationists; in Kentucky, on the other hand, a majority of the Union State Committee — much disturbed by the President's anti-slavery policy and by the enrollment of blacks as well as whites under the conscription act — decided to ally themselves with the Democratic Opposition. A new organization thus became necessary for President Lincoln's friends in Kentucky, where in 1860, as a Republican, he had received but a few hundred votes.

Experimental attempts at organizing bands of colored soldiers in New Orleans and on the Carolina coast were begun soon after the control of those positions was regained by the Government. With so large a number of “contrabands” within the Union lines, the commanding Generals thought it advisable to place some of the able-bodied ones under military discipline, to be instructed and armed should they prove to be capable and trustworthy. The President — at first far from zealous about arming the blacks — did not object to these exceptional tests, and was glad to find how well they turned out.

After entering upon his general policy of emancipation, he saw the expediency of organizing bodies of colored troops wherever the circumstances were favorable, yet it was not until the recovery of the entire country on the lower Mississippi that he ordered the work to be undertaken on a large scale.

It is improbable that his decision on this subject was hastened by wearisome importunities, though these were not lacking. Wendell Phillips, in a statement published many years later, alleged that himself, with Senator Henry Wilson, Dr. S. G. Howe, and several others, as late as January, 1863, “had a long interview with Lincoln, trying to induce him to call the negro into the ranks. All night,” said Mr. Phillips, “we argued, but he steadily refused to give us any hope.” There must have been a mistake, however, as to the time of this occurrence, for in the Emancipation Proclamation of the first day of that year the fervid orator and his companions should have already read the following not at all discouraging passage:

And I further declare and make known that such persons of suitable condition will be received into the armed service of the United States, to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.

In a general order, under date of April 24, 1863, previously approved by the President,” care was taken, in view of threats on the other side, to secure protection for colored soldiers, of whom there were many already in the service. Army commanders were instructed that "if an enemy of the United States should enslave and sell any captured persons of their army, it would be a case for the severest retaliation, if not redressed upon complaint.” Later, the President himself directly communicated instructions on this subject to all his commanding Generals, as follows:


WASHINGTON, July 30, 1863. It is the duty of every government to give protection to its citizens, of whatever class, color or condition, and especially to those who are duly organized as soldiers in the public service. The law of nations, and the usages and customs of war as carried on by civilized powers, permit no distinction as to color in the treatment of prisoners of war as public enemies. To sell or enslave any captured person on account of his color, and for no offense against the laws of war, is a relapse into barbarism, and a crime against the civilization of the age.

The Government of the United States will give the same protection to all its soldiers; and if the enemy shall sell or enslave any one because of his color, the offense shall be punished by retaliation upon the enemy's prisoners in our possession.

It is therefore ordered, that for every soldier of the United States killed in violation of the laws of war, a rebel soldier shall be executed; and for every one enslaved by the enemy or sold in slavery, a rebel soldier shall be placed at hard labor on the public works, and continued at such labor until the other shall be released and receive the treatment due to a prisoner of war.


Soon after the capture of Vicksburg, Adjutant-General Lorenzo Thomas was required to give his personal attention to the organization of colored troops in the wide field thus opened, and promptly entered upon this work. On the 9th of August (1863) the President wrote to General Grant:

General Thomas has gone again to the Mississippi valley with the view of raising colored troops. I have no doubt that you are doing what you reasonably can upon the same subject. I believe it a resource which, if vigorously applied now, will soon close this contest. It works doubly, weakening the enemy and strengthening us. We were not fully ripe for it until the river was opened. Now, I think, at least one hundred thousand can and ought to be organized along its shores, relieving all the white troops to serve elsewhere. Mr. Davis understands you as believing that the Emancipation Proclamation has helped some of our military operations, and I am glad if this is so.

The President was now much in earnest about this matter. His estimate of the number of blacks to be enlisted (one hundred thousand) — sanguine as it may have seemed at the time was destined to be far exceeded in less than a year.

Before the close of the March, 1864, the number enlisted had reached one hundred and thirty thousand. A few weeks later, replying to a delegation of Western conservatives who opposed this policy, Lincoln said:

There are now in the service of the United States nearly two hundred thousand able-bodied colored men, most of them under arms, defending and acquiring Union territory. The Democratic strategy demands that these forces be disbanded, and that the masters be conciliated by restoring them to slavery. The black men who now assist Union prisoners to escape are to be converted into our enemies, in the vain hope of gaining the good-will of their masters. We shall have to fight two nations instead of one.

You cannot conciliate the South if you guarantee to them ultimate success; and the experience of the present war proves their success is inevitable if you fling the compulsory

« PreviousContinue »