Civil War Daily Gazette

A Day-By-Day Accounting of the Conflict, 150 Years Later

‘Confederate Politics’

The Prisoner Exchange Restarted – Black Prisoners Now Included

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January 24, 1865 (Tuesday) The exchange of prisoners had broken down in late 1863 for several reasons. First, it more greatly aided the South than the North, as far as percentages were concerned. Second, the South refused to treat black prisoners as equal to white prisoners. Instead, they often sold them back into slavery or returned them to their owners. But now things were changing. The Confederacy was kicking around the idea of forcing their own slaves into the army, dangling the promise of emancipation over them should they win the war. While the details were still in the development stage, this very idea cast a new light on exchanges. Originally, the South refused to exchange captured black soldiers because they didn’t believe black people were in fact soldiers. But now that they were in the process of making them so, some saw this as an opportunity to restart the prisoner exchange. And so on this date, Robert Ould, the Confederacy’s exchange commissioner, proposed that “all of them [prisoners] be delivered to you in exchange,… Read More

‘On the Eve of an Internal Revolution’ – Davis to Send Peace Commissioners

Francis Preston Blair, Sr.

January 23, 1865 (Monday) Francis P. Blair, Sr. was back in Richmond, visiting again with old friends and personally delivering a message to Jefferson Davis, himself a comrade, from President Lincoln. Writing to Blair, but looking directly at Davis, Lincoln had scrawled on the back of a letter: “You having shown me Mr. Davis’s letter to you of the 12th instant, you may say to him that I have constantly been, am now, and shall continue, ready to receive any agent whom he, or any 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.” His return sparked interest and suspicion, especially from Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens. “Blair is back again,” he said to a friend. “What he is doing I do not know but presume the President is endeavoring to negotiate with him for negotiation – that same thing which on 17 Nov. seemed to him so absurd.” The 17th of November stuck in Stephens mind as it… Read More

‘One Common Country’ – Lincoln Reject’s Davis’ Proposal

That would be one, not two, Jeff.

January 18, 1865 (Wednesday) Francis P. Blair Sr. had just returned from Richmond. There, he had spoken with a few Confederate congressmen, as well as the Vice-President, Alexander Stephens. His main purpose for going, however, was to meet with Jefferson Davis, which he did twice. Blair and Davis had a long history together, which “began as far back as when I was a schoolboy at Lexington, Kentucky,” recalled Davis, “and he a resident at that place. In later years we had belonged to the same political party, and our views had generally coincided. There was much, therefore, to facilitate our conference.” Both held each other not only in high respect, but as close friends. For instance, Varina Davis had greeted Blair with: “Oh you Rascal, I am overjoyed to see you,” or so the story goes. The Davis’ even sent baby clothes for Blair’s grandson home with the patriarch. Blair arrived back in Washington on the 16th, reporting to Lincoln that night the results of the meeting with Davis. Lincoln made no comments, but wrote… Read More

War With Mexico is Peace? – Blair and Davis Talk

Blair: How about a war with Mexico!

January 12, 1865 (Thursday) Francis Preston Blair, Sr., father of Lincoln’s retired Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, and General Francis Blair, who was now with Sherman’s army. The elder Blair, though a former Democrat from Virginia, he had helped found the Republican Party and supported Lincoln in 1860. Though a Unionist, he maintained friendships across the lines, including with Confederate President Jefferson Davis. He believed that this friendship might be able to convince Davis that a peace conference was in order. And so with Lincoln’s blessing, though not his official support, Blair made his way to City Point, and was then ushered into the fortified city. The next morning, he arrived at the Confederate White House to the friendly salutations of the Davis’. Since he was not authorized to speak for the Lincoln Administration, Blair confessed that what he had to say “were perhaps merely the dreams of an old man.” With that, he read from a prepared draft, hoping to get all of his points before Davis. Blair wished for the cessation of hostilities and… Read More

Lee Supports Slave Soldiers, Gradual Emancipation

Robert E. Lee

January 11, 1865 (Wednesday) The debate over whether the Confederate armies should force slaves into their ranks was churning its way across the South. State legislatures, citizens, officers, and even the President all had opinions. Though Robert E. Lee had spoken in favor of such a measure, on this date he wrote to Andrew Hunter, a Virginia state senator, clearly expressing his views. Lee began by considering the relationship between the white and black population – largely that of master and slave. He thought it best not to create “any sudden disturbance of that relation unless it be necessary to avert a greater calamity to both.” Though he would “prefer to rely upon our white population to preserve the ratio between our forces and those of the enemy,” that simply was no longer a possibility. Lee was looking not to the next battle or even the next campaign, but to a “continued war.” For that, they needed more men, and since the only men left available were slaves, Lee wished to draw upon them. If… Read More

‘If Slaves Will Make Good Soldiers Our Whole Theory of Slavery is Wrong’

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January 8, 1865 (Sunday) In the ongoing debate in the South about whether or not to draft slaves into the Confederate ranks, two more prominent voices expressed their fears, warnings and misgivings about this peculiar turn the peculiar institution was taking. The first such name is that of General Howell Cobb, once governor of Georgia. He now commanded a small force in Georgia. On this date, from Macon, Cobb wrote to Secretary of War James Seddon. Howell began his letter assuring Seddon that he had been doing his very best at recruiting conscripts for the Rebel ranks, but feared that many “never will be reached.” His answer to the dwindling numbers was “the policy of opening the door for volunteers.” He was convinced that “the freest, broadest, and most unrestricted system of volunteering is the true policy, and cannot be too soon resorted to.” How this was any different from what the Confederacy had been doing for the past four years, he did not say. But what Cobb believed would not work was grafting slaves… Read More

The Southern Argument Against Arming Slaves

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January 6, 1865 (Friday) While some in the South, like Davis and Lee were desperate enough to consider the idea of conscripting slaves into the ranks of the Confederate Army, many were not so warm to the idea. Such an opinion was expressed on this date in the Macon Telegraph: Amid the storm of revolution, governments are apt to forget the principles to secure which they were instituted, and by which they should be controlled. All history admonishes us of this truth….it would be constantly kept in view, though all the bloody phases and terrible epochs of this relentless war, that slavery was the casus belli—that the principle of State Sovereignty, and it’s sequence, the right of secession, were important to the South principally, or solely as the armor that encased her peculiar institution–and that every life that has been lost in this struggle was an offering on the altar of African Slavery. In the light of this great an solemn truth, is it not a matter of wonder and astonishment, that Southern men should… Read More

Davis Ponders How to Fill Confederate Ranks

Jefferson Davis

January 5, 1865 (Thursday) From his office in Richmond, there was little Jefferson Davis believed he could do. His armies numbered, in total 155,000 men. Being winter, and with much of them under seige, it was impossible to know how many would be available to him should fighting begin anew. The Army of Northern Virginia, crouched behind embrasures around Petersburg and Richmond numbered only 60,000. John Bell Hood’s tired and beaten Army of Tennessee could muster not even 20,000. The remaining, roughly 80,000 men, were scattered to the wind, garrisoning outposts and forts all across the south. Nearly half of the Rebel forces were rendered impotent against the almost half-million soldiers under Federal arms. For months now, General Lee had held his own against Grant at Petersburg, though the Federals more than doubled his figures. The true threat came instead from William Tecumseh Sherman’s army, now at Savannah and amassing 60,000. Should they be able to join with Grant, there was no hope at all for Lee nor, as some were arguing, for the South.… Read More

The Failed Confederate Plot to Burn New York City

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November 25, 1864 (Friday) Though news of Sherman’s swath being cut through Georgia had not filtered too far beyond the state, Philip Sheridan’s gutting of the Shenandoah Valley was as terrifying as it was loathed. Most in the South could do nothing, save fume and rant. A few, however, plotted their retaliation. It all started in October, when Jacob Thompson, former United States Secretary of the Interior (under Buchanan) devised a plan to set New York City ablaze. President Jefferson Davis had sent Thompson to Canada earlier in the year as a sort of head of the Confederate Secret Service. It was he who tried to orchestrate plots to free the prisoners on Johnson’s Island. Thompson was a veritable fountain of failed plots. Still, he continued. At his headquarters in Toronto, he met with escaped prisoner Robert Cobb Kennedy, folding him into a plan already stewing. It was originally suggested and planned by Col. Robert Martin, and funded by not only Thompson, but Confederate Senator Clement Clay. The idea was for a group of eight,… Read More

‘By the Spectacle of Our Divisions’ – Davis Stamps Out Some States Rights Fires

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November 17, 1864 (Thursday) With William Tecumseh Sherman about to march through Georgia, the state’s senators were understandably concerned. So much were they, that some wrote and signed the “Resolutions on the Subject of Independence and Peace.” While these were not passed, their very existence undermined the entire concept of a united South. Basically, they put forward that it was the individual states, and not the Confederate government, that should sue for peace. Specifically, they wished that a peace convention would “treat for peace through the medium of a convention of States.” If this idea caught on, Davis and his more-Federal-than-not government would essentially be abandoned. It was not just Georgia’s senators, but Governor Joseph Brown, as well as Confederate Vice-President, Alexander Stephens. And so, a few senators took it upon themselves to inform their President, who, upon this date, wrote a fairly lengthy rebuttal. “The immediate and inevitable tendency of such distinct action by each State is to create discordant instead of united counsels,” wrote Davis at the start of his reply, “to suggest… Read More

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