Civil War Daily Gazette

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

‘Confederate Politics’

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’


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


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


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


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

Davis Proposes Arming the Slaves Only if Necessary to Win the War


November 7, 1864 (Monday) Throughout the history of the war, Confederate President Jefferson Davis was concerned most with saving territory rather than armies. In trying to save Vicksburg, for example, he sacrificed an entire army, losing the city anyway. His top western generals argued that this philosophy was short-sighted, but Davis pursued this path regardless. And now, when so much territory had been lost, Davis seemed to finally see the error of his ways. In a speech delivered to the Confederate Congress on this date, while he detailed the gains of territory (mostly in Texas and Louisiana), he seemed to have turned a new leaf. The loss of Atlanta could hardly be ignored, and since John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee remained a working force, he instead chose to change his mind on these matters. “The truth so patent to us must, ere long, be forced upon the reluctant Northern mind,” said Davis, who must so recently have had it forced upon his own. “There are no vital points on the preservation of which the… Read More

Confederates to Attack Camp Douglas, Free the Prisoners?

Camp Douglas

November 6, 1864 (Sunday) “The city is filling up with suspicious characters,” wrote Col. B.J. Sweet, “some of whom we know to be escaped prisoners, and other who were here from Canada during the Chicago convention, plotting to release the prisoners of war at Camp Douglas.” Benjamin Sweet had overseen the ins and outs of Camp Douglas since early May, and since his reign began, conditions in the prison had deteriorated, as he cut rations, enacted harsher punishments, and general ruled from his Chicago office as a loathsome tyrant. And it was from his Chicago office where he began to become paranoid of a possible prison break. This wouldn’t have been the first attempt by the Rebels to free their comrades, so his suspicions were understandable. However, in a letter written upon this date, he posits that he had “every reason to believe that Colonel [Vincent] Marmaduke, of the rebel army, is in the city under an assumed name….” He went on to name several other officers he believed where following Marmaduke’s supposed footsteps. “I… Read More

The Slaves and Free Negroes Can Be Impressed Just as Any Other Property


October 6, 1864 (Thursday) The Confederate government was doing almost everything in their power to fill up their armies with conscripts, former soldiers, ex-partisan rangers, and pretty well any male who could carry a musket. But the Richmond Enquirer understood that there was an untapped wealth of soldiers within the slave population. Earlier in the war, the Confederate Congress thought it best to fill every available noncombatant role with a black man. This would free up the white man for duty. If fully carried out, this would, calculated the Enquirer, “give ten thousand men to the Army of Northern Virginia.” It reasoned that “the slaves and free negroes can be impressed just as any other property, and the law provides for their support and clothing, and pays the owner soldier’s wages.” Believing this was not going quite far enough, the newpaper asserted that “the question of making soldiers of negroes, of regularly enlisting them and fighting them for their safety, as well as our own, must have presented itself to every reflecting mind.” The editor… Read More

The Only Wartime Photographs Taken of Andersonville Prison


August 17, 1864 (Wednesday) Andrew Riddle was a photographer well before the war, learning the trade in 1846. Five years later, he opened his own studio in Baltimore. In 1856, he moved to Columbus, Georgia and continued his profession, opening a couple of branch studios in Macon and Rome. When the war broke out, he moved his studio to Richmond, but was hardly content in staying in the city. In October of 1862, he was captured attempting to smuggle photographic supplies from Washington. While the supplies were confiscated, he was allowed to go free. Undaunted, a few months later, he was captured yet again for the same offense and sentenced to eight months in prison. Once again free, he returned to Macon, but was conscripted as a private in the engineer corps. The Confederacy used him as a map maker and a photographer – the only official one in the entire South. This was how he found himself at Andersonville on this date. The photographs were taken on the 16th and developed on the 17th… Read More

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