Monday, February 4, 1861
The early February weather in Montgomery was clear and crisp with a bright sun shining high overhead as the thirty-seven delegates from six seceded states (Texas had not arrived just yet) entered the Alabama Senate chambers. The galleries were packed with excited onlookers.
A prayer was offered and the delegates introduced themselves as a roll call. Names like James Chesnut (who not too long ago offered to drink all the blood spilled in the war), Robert Barnwell Rhett (who upped Chesnut’s challenge by offering to eat all the bodies of those slain)1, Robert Toombs and Alexander Stephens rang through the halls.
Howell Cobb, with a long political biography of US Senator, Georgia Governor, Speaker of the House and most recently Secretary of the Treasury behind him, was nominated and unanimously elected Convention President.
Cobb declared the separation from the Union as “perfect, complete and perpetual.” Continuing, he laid out the work the Convention must do: “The great duty is now imposed upon us of providing for these States a government for their future security and protection.”
A vote to elect a Convention secretary and a committee of five delegates to establish rules for the Convention was formed and then, after only an hour, the Convention adjourned for the day. The ball was rolling, but these things take time.2
In Washington DC, the Peace Conference was getting underway as the Southern states were forming a new government. Former Governor of Kentucky, Charles S. Morehead called the meeting to order and proposed the editor of the Cincinnati Gazette, J.C. Wright, as temporary chairman.
The roll was called, finding a mere 11 states (so far) in attendance. A committee was formed to establish rules for the conference and, like the Southern Convention, they adjourned after barely an hour, to meet at the same time the next day.3
Not too far away from the Willard Hotel, Senators Judah Benjamin and John Slidell from Louisiana were giving their farewell speeches to their fellow congressmen.
Benjamin’s speech was tender and, with the hindsight of history, naive. “With those around me from the Southern States, I part as men part from brothers on the eve of a temporary absence, with a cordial pressure of the hand and a smiling assurance of the speedy renewal of sweet intercourse around the family hearth.”
Speaking to the Southern people and the supporters of Southern people, but keeping a stern eye towards the North, Benjamin concluded, “when in after days the story of the present shall be written; when history shall have passed her stern sentence on the erring men who have driven unoffending brethren from the shelter of their common home, your names shall derive fresh lustre from the contrast; and when your children shall hear, oft-repeated, the familiar tale, it will be with glowing cheek and kindling eye; their very souls will stand a tip-toe as their sires are named; and they will glory in their lineage from men, of spirits as generous and of patriotism as high-hearted as ever illustrated or adorned the American Senate.”4
General Twiggs, soon to be former commander of the Department of Texas, had been relieved of his duties over a week ago. News, however, traveled slowly. General Winfield Scott again ordered Colonel Carlos Waite to take over the Department, relieving General Twiggs. Also included was an order to move troops and artillery to the Rio Grande where a steamer was waiting to meet them.
On this same date, Twiggs wrote to Washington asking for advice for the fifth time. Also, Colonel Robert E. Lee was relieved of his duties in Texas and ordered to Washington to meet with General Scott.5
- These quotes seem to have been attributed to them a few years after. Chesnut’s was first appeared in the October 27, 1863 edition of the Charleston Daily Courier. [↩]
- History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama biography, Volume 1 by Thomas McAdory Owen. [↩]
- The Letters and Times of the Tylers, Volume 2 by Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Whittet & Shepperson, 1885. [↩]
- Richmond Daily Dispatch, February 6, 1861. [↩]
- Official Records Vol. 1, p 586-587. [↩]