Sunday, March 24, 1861
President Lincoln’s two friends and old colleagues, Stephen Hurlbut and Ward Hill Lamon, arrived late the night before in Charleston. Both were sent by Lincoln, but both had different missions. As previously stated, Hurlbut’s reason for being there was to ascertain if any pro-Union feelings remained in Charleston. Lamon’s mission, on the other hand, wasn’t (and still isn’t) very clear.
What is clear is that when they arrived, there was no “they.” Lamon made the papers and caught the attention, even upon his arrival. Hurlbut, whose mission was of a more clandestine nature, went unmentioned. It’s been suggested that Lamon was there as a decoy to draw attention away from Hurlbut. If that is true, he did a splendid little job.
The Richmond Daily Dispatch had an envoy in Charleston who published a piece about Lamon almost a week after his arrival. “President Lincoln’s confidential friend, sent here as Envoy Extraordinary, to see about the ‘evacuation,'” arrived in the evening. He “took lodgings at the Charleston Hotel, and registered from Virginia.”
Lamon was originally from Virginia, but moved to Illinois with his family when he was nine. This fact was probably not known by the correspondent. Nevertheless, he made quite the big deal of it: “I saw it myself, and let none of your readers say this is untrue. Mr. Lamon was either ashamed of his State, (Illinois,) or he was alarmed.”
Of this supposed lie, the reporter wonders “how a gentleman entrusted with so important a mission, from such a distinguished source — indeed, I do not see how a gentleman, could at all tell such a fib.”
He concedes that Lamon “is quite a good looking man for a Hoosier; wears long black, hair combed behind his ears, and looks like a Methodist preacher, but I hardly think so good, after telling that fib.”
Another odd tidbit is also noted “on good authority, that he had a man along as secretary, who was arrested and jailed for an old debt due here by him, for a tailor’s bill contracted years ago, whilst a resident of this place.–Pretty kettle o’fish.”
Was this “secretary” Stephen Hurlbut? Nobody was arrested, so it’s hard to tell on what “good authority” the reporter was trusting.1
The reporter makes no mention at all of Hurlbut in his report that covers Lamon’s entire stay in Charleston. Lamon, however, in his usually self-serving autobiography, writes that “the Hurlbuts [originally from Charleston – husband and wife both made the trip] went to the house of a kinsman.”
Lamon reports that several Virginians were on the train with him and also checked in at the Charleston Hotel. They wrote their names, and scrawled “Virginia” as their address. In opposition to what the Dispatch‘s correspondent wrote, Lamon claims that he signed his name, but drew a line where his address was to be written.
Lamon recalls that on this date he met with James L. Pettigrew, a known Union man. Lincoln, says Lamon, requested him to do so. Pettigrew remarked that few sympathized with him and he rarely left the house because of it. Union was out of the question. “Peaceable secession or war was inevitable.”2
In an odd twist, Stephen Hurlbut would send a report to Lincoln on the 27th detailing his meeting with Pettigrew (spelled “Petigru”). Their meeting lasted two hours. It’s possible that both Lamon and Hurlbut saw Pettigrew together, though neither mentions the other.3
What exactly transpired is, of course, unknown. It seems, from Lamon’s description, that it was he and not (only) Hurlbut who was sent to Charleston to fish out Union sentiment. That is, most definitely, untrue. It doesn’t mean that Lamon never spoke with this Pettigrew fellow, but anything he writes must be taken with a grain of salt.
- Richmond Daily Dispatch, March 30, 1861. The reporter had the date of Lamon’s arrival incorrectly stated as the 24th. In truth, it was the 23rd. I have chosen to do some catching up on this date, however. [↩]
- Recollections of Abraham Lincoln, 1847-1865 by Ward Hill Lamon. [↩]
- Abraham Lincoln: A History, Volume 3 by John George Nicolay and John Hay, Century Co, 1890. [↩]