|Date(s):||November 1, 1864 to April 9, 1865|
|Location(s):||Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia | City Pointe, Virginia | Hampton Roads, Virginia|
|Tag(s):||Edward Otho Cresap Ord, Preston Blair, Abraham Lincoln, Alexander Stephens, Hampton Roads Conference, peace movement, Civil War|
|Course:||“Digital History and Pedagogy,” North Carolina State University|
|Rating:||5 (1 votes)|
The Civil War would come to an end April 9, 1865 at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia with General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant. But what led up to this momentous event were a series of exchanges between the two belligerents. The beginnings of this process towards peace, at least for the sake of this article, begins in 1864. The fact of the matter is by 1864 the Navy blockade of the South was proving more effective than ever. Atlanta had fallen and Sherman was advancing to the sea with little effective opposition from the Confederate Army. Lee was hold up within Petersburg under siege by Ulysses S. Grant. Richmond too felt the burden of relentless Union shelling. The Confederacy was being driven apart by disputes over military and government policy, particularly as the military situation worsened.
In 1864 the calls for peace were becoming increasingly loud from both sides. In the North former Union General George B. McClellan ran for president against Abraham Lincoln as a Democrat with a platform that advocated the speedy conclusion to the war. In the South, Confederate President Jefferson Davis stood defiant towards popular movements in all the southern states, particularly North Carolina and Georgia. The greatest voice for peace in the South was none other than that of the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens.
In the North another individual was actively working to bring about peace: Francis Preston Blair, Sr. The idea of a diplomatic mission to Richmond was first proposed longtime peace advocate Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune. Greeley proposed someone with sufficient diplomatic backing from Lincoln to go negotiate peace with North Carolina individually, given the strength of its peace movement. Blair was just the person. Blair agreed but felt instead that he should negotiate peace with the whole of the Confederacy. Blair, the seventy-three year-old former newspaper editor, had been a long-time advisor of presidents and an influential founder of the Republican Party. But beyond these important credentials he was also a close personal friend of Jefferson Davis.
Lincoln was receptive to Blair’s plan but told him to wait until Savannah, Georgia fell, and once it did Lincoln granted Blair a pass to go into the Confederacy and return. On January 12, 1865 Blair met privately with Jefferson Davis. Blair’s pitch to Davis was to conclude a cease fire and then once tempers had calmed down the two nations would undertake a common military mission to enforce the Monroe Doctrine in Mexico where they would depose the French backed Emperor Maximillian. In doing so the two nations would restore fraternal relations and provide for a lasting peace. Davis was skeptical but consented. Blair promised to return to Washington and propose the plan to Lincoln. Blair returned on January 18 and promptly met with Lincoln. Lincoln was not at all susceptive to the Mexican plan but offered instead to send Blair back with offers to meet with anyone willing to negotiate peace, so long as it meant the restoration of the Union in its entirety.
On January 20, Blair returned to Richmond. He conveyed to Davis Lincoln was not interested in the Mexican plan. He was unable to make any such agreements because the extreme men in Congress and therefore any further peace agreements would have to bypass the politicians. Blair instead suggested a meeting between Lee and Grant, to which Davis agreed, feeling confident in Lee’s abilities to negotiate a peace. But when Blair returned Lincoln denied authorization of any such meeting between the generals. Grant in turn was able to secure a meeting between the two sides, he was able to convince Lincoln to consent to meeting with Confederates at Fort Monroe. On January 28, Davis appointed three commissioners and gave them instructions to explore all options for peace short of sacrificing independence. Those three commissioners included: Robert Hunter, John Campbell, and Alexander Stephens. On January 31, Lincoln sent a telegram to Grant at the Union headquarters in City Point, Virginia. He indicates to Grant that a messenger is on the way to him and he is to act upon the message he receives. There is no word to what that message is about in the telegraph itself. It also indicates that a gentleman, or possibly gentlemen, are coming to pass through the Union lines. Another general is mentioned in the telegraph also, General Edward Ord, more on him later. It is possible to assume this the gentlemen in question are the three Confederate delegates en route to this peace conference. On January 29, a flag of truce was waved at the siege of Petersburg to announce the passage of the three commissioners.
On February 3, the Confederate delegation met with Lincoln personally. Lincoln quickly dismissed any notion of an alliance against France or invasion of Mexico. He clearly stated that the only peace he would consent to meant the restoration of the Union as it had existed before the war. The future of slavery was still in question, Lincoln played his cards close to the chest so as not to alienate the Confederates. He readily denied the breadth of the scope of the Emancipation Proclamation. Secretary of State Seward used the Thirteenth Amendment as bait, offering to the South the opportunity to deny passage of the amendment if they were to rejoin the Union. The only real accomplishment achieved at this meeting was the establishment of a more efficient prisoner exchange system and Lincoln’s promise to grant amnesty to former Confederates and $400,000,000 for Southern states if they ended armed resistance and ratified the Thirteenth Amendment. Campbell and Lincoln would meet twice in March where further agreements were made to follow a peace treaty. Also in March 1865, General Edward Otho Cresap Ord, the general mentioned in Lincoln’s telegraph, was assigned command of the Army of the James. During a prisoner exchange Ord to the opportunity to speak with Confederate General James Longstreet. During their conversation they discussed the possibilities of a peace agreement. They both agreed the best plan of action would be for Grant and Lee to meet to try and reach an agreement to end hostilities. Grant was open to the possibility and passed the plan on to Lincoln. Lincoln was still committed to full surrender of Lee’s army and ensured Grant would deny any form of surrender unless it was complete surrender.
Meanwhile fighting still raged around the city of Petersburg. On April 2, a corps of Ord’s Army of the James played an influential role in the breakthrough at Petersburg which resulted in flushing out Lee to Appomattox. On April 9, Ord led a forced march to relieve Major General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry and force Lee’s surrender. Ord would be present as Lee made his final surrender to Grant.
In the popular historiography for many years the South was, and in many ways still is, portrayed as the glorious “Lost Cause.” The Confederate Army was heralded for is gallantry and bravery. It would prove detrimental to that memory to show the Confederacy agreeing to peace talks so readily. In this view the noble army of Robert E. Lee fought until the bitter end when all hope in preserving the Old South was lost and there was no other choice than to surrender. It is an American tendency to memorialize loss and glorify the war effort, and historical writings have proved that sentiment. It has only been in recent memory that this peace narrative has emerged more into the popular conscious of Civil War memory.