Page images

distance of about five miles, Hood's men were swept away. His right was withdrawn from the river during the night, and a new position taken up along the Granny White Hills.

Thomas renewed the action next morning. When the dense fog had lifted enough to disclose the enemy's position, Schofield and Steedman brought up their forces; the newly formed Confederate line was flanked; a charge was made in front; and Hood's advance works were cleared. A general assault followed, by which his left and center were completely broken. Wood and Steedman now heavily assaulted the hostile right, which after a desperate struggle was at length utterly routed. Soon after midday Hood was in full retreat, leaving about three thousand dead and wounded on the field. He lost several thousand prisoners and fifty-three guns. Prompt pursuit largely increased his losses, which were never officially reported in full. *

West of the Alleghanies there was no longer a formidable Confederate army. Sherman at Savannah had his face set towards Virginia. Breckinridge had retired to the North Carolina mountains, where his force and other army remnants were getting organized under Johnston as their chief. Thomas could well spare Schofield to occupy Wilmington, North Carolina, when the intended reduction of Fort Fisher, in that quarter, should be accomplished. For this object a combined military and naval expedition had been prepared earlier in the season, but was delayed until December. The

* On the Union side, 387 were killed and 2,562 wounded.

first attempt, under Butler and Porter, had come to naught, Butler having landed his men on Christmas day and re-embarked them on the day following, after only an indefinite reconnoissance. This excursion closed the military career of General Butler, who was soon after succeeded by General E. O. C. Ord, as commander of the Army of the James. Porter remained off Wilmington, believing, as he informed Grant, that with a proper military leader the fort could be taken. A force was accordingly sent under General Alfred H. Terry, and Fort Fisher, with all its defenders, guns, and supplies, was captured on the 15th of January. General Schofield, whose corps had been ordered from the west, was put in command in North Carolina, his men arriving at the mouth of Cape Fear River just after the fall of Fort Fisher. Sheridan had long since swept the Shenandoah Valley clear of the enemy and closed its gateways; Grant was tightening his grip upon Petersburg and Richmond; all along the sea coast from the Chesapeake Bay to the Rio Grande a rigid blockade was maintained, and nearly every important port was now

possession of the Government. The resources of the Confederates were greatly straitened and their armies daily dwindling Why should the struggle, with its terrible cost and its inevitable result, be farther prolonged?

During the holiday season of peace and good-will a veteran politician of the Jackson era, Francis P. Blair, sought permission to pass through the army lines in order to visit the Chief of the Southern Confederacy, with whom, as with many other public men at Richmond, he had long been acquainted. At first the President was disinclined to grant the request — which might


in some way prove less harmless than such a permit as he had given to unknown Colonel Jacques at an earlier day. Finally he gave Mr. Blair a card on which was written:

Allow the bearer, F. P. Blair, Sr., to pass our lines, go South and return. December 28, 1864. A. LINCOLN.

This self-appointed mediator went to Richmond, was kindly received by the Confederate leader, and came back with a note from him, dated January 12th, stating his (Davis's) willingness “to enter into conference with a view to secure peace to the two countries.” The President in turn (on the 18th) gave Mr. Blair a note, saying:

You having shown me Mr. Davis's letter to you of the 12th inst., 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 to me with a view of securing peace to the people of our one common country.

Again Mr. Blair visited Richmond, and on the 21st delivered this note to Mr. Davis, who "read it over twice,” whereupon Mr. Blair remarked that the part about “our one common country” related to the part of Mr. D.'s letter about "the two countries," to which Mr. D. replied that he so understood it.

On the 28th, after Mr. Blair had gone home, Davis gave credentials to Messrs. A. H. Stephens, R. M. T. Hunter, and J. A. Campbell as commissioners, according to the terms of Lincoln's note of the 18th, and they applied (on the 29th) for leave to pass through the Union lines on their way to Washington. Grant being temporarily absent from City Point, Ord, next in command, asked instructions from Secretary Stanton, who directed that the commissioners should not be passed until the General heard from the President. After much waiting, there came this dispatch from Grant, to whom the commissioners had meanwhile made direct application:

I have sent directions to receive these gentlemen, and expect to have them at my quarters this evening, awaiting your instructions.

The Lieutenant-General was notified that Major Eckert (chief of the military telegraph service) had been sent to City Point, with orders as to conditions precedent to passing the gentlemen from Richmond. Later on the same day (the 31st), at the desire of the President, Secretary Seward started for Fortress Monroe with the following letter of instructions:


WASHINGTON, January 31, 1865. Hon. Wm. H. Seward, Secretary of State:

You will proceed to Fortress Monroe, Virginia, there to meet and informally confer with Messrs. Stephens, Hunter and Campbell, on the basis of my letter to F. P. Blair, Esq., of January 18, 1865, a copy of which you have.

You will make known to them that three things are indispensable, to wit:

1. The restoration of the national authority throughout all the States.

2. No receding by the Executive of the United States, on the slavery question, from the position assumed thereon in the late annual message to Congress and in preceding documents.

3. No cessation of hostilities short of an end of the war, and the disbanding of all forces hostile to the Government.

You will inform them that all propositions of theirs not inconsistent with the above will be considered and passed upon in a spirit of sincere liberality. You will hear all they have to say, and report it to me. You will not assume to definitely consummate anything. Yours, etc.,


The President telegraphed to Grant (February ist): “Let nothing which is transpiring change, hinder, or delay your military movements or plans.”

Mr. Seward announced his arrival off Fort Monroe on the evening of the ist, adding: “Richmond party not here; I remain here." The same night Major. Eckert reported from City Point that he had communicated with the gentlemen in question, and received a reply that was not satisfactory.” The real difficulty, however, was that they wished “to go to Washington to confer informally with the President personally,” while Major Eckert was only authorized to procure them a pass to Fort Monroe, where they would “ be met in due time by some person, or persons, for the purpose of such informal conference" as before indicated.

On receiving Major Eckert's report, the President intended to recall Secretary Seward; but before he had done so, the following dispatch to Stanton was received from Grant (early in the morning of the 2d):

Now that the interview between Major Eckert, under his written instructions, and Mr. Stephens and party has ended, I will state confidentially, but not officially, to become a matter of record, that I am convinced, upon conversation with Messrs. Stephens and Hunter, that their intentions are good and their desire sincere to restore peace and union. I have not felt myself at liberty to express even views of my own or to account for my reticency. This has placed me in an awkward position, which I could have avoided by not

« PreviousContinue »