From The Civil War: The Final Year Told by Those Who Lived It
For nearly two years New-York Daily Tribune editor Horace Greeley had been intermittently seeking ways to bring about a peaceful settlement of the Civil War when Colorado mining promoter William Cornell Jewett wrote to him on July 5, 1864, that “two Ambassaders—of Davis & Co. are now in Canada—with full & complete powers for a peace” and that the Confederate envoys wished to meet with Greeley and President Lincoln. Greeley forwarded Jewett’s correspondence to Lincoln, who replied: “If you can find, any person anywhere professing to have any proposition of Jefferson Davis in writing, for peace, embracing the restoration of the Union and abandonment of slavery, what ever else it embraces, say to him he may come to me with you.”
On July 20 Lincoln’s assistant secretary John Hay crossed into Canada with Greeley and offered safe conduct to Washington for James P. Holcombe and Clement C. Clay. Instead of responding to Hay, the two Confederates addressed a letter to Greeley, in which they accused Lincoln of refusing to negotiate in good faith, and released it, along with earlier correspondence, to the Associated Press. The agents had, in fact, never been authorized by the government at Richmond to negotiate a peace settlement; as historian Reinhard H. Luthin writes, they were actually “intent, not on peace, but determined to cause confusion in Federal councils and doubts in mass Northern minds.”
Greeley returned to New York, where James Gordon Bennett, editor of the rival New York Herald, attacked “poor Greeley that nincompoop without genius” for “cuddling with traitors.” Clay, Holcombe, and their fellow Confederates continued to meet with Democrats and pursue what had all along been their primary aim: to influence the upcoming presidential nomination and the 1864 election.
Meanwhile, in early July President Lincoln gave Colonel James F. Jaquess, a Methodist minister on leave from the 73rd Illinois Infantry, and James R. Gilmore, an author of books and sketches under the pen name Edmund Kirke, permission to travel to Richmond and hold unofficial talks on peace terms with Confederate leaders. The two emissaries crossed into Confederate-held territory on July 16 and met with Davis and his secretary of state Judah P. Benjamin the next day. They returned, as Lincoln hoped and expected, with an unyielding statement from Davis regarding the Confederacy’s war aims. Gilmore published a letter about his trip in the Boston Evening Transcript on July 22:
I have not, however, exchanged a word with Mr. Greeley, or even seen him, for fully three months, and I have no connection with, in fact I know nothing of, his “negotiations.” This much, however, in reference to that much-talked-of matter, being a Yankee, I can guess. It will result in nothing.Gilmore concluded that, while the Confederate agents in Canada may have “‘pulled the wool’ over the eyes of Mr. Greeley, they have not pulled it over the eyes of Mr. Lincoln.” His wryly humorous yet pointed account of this mission appeared in the next issue of The Atlantic Monthly.
Notes: On page 341, the glorious Massachusetts General refers to Union Army major general Benjamin F. Butler, who commanded the Army of the James along the James River in Virginia. Brigadier General Robert S. Foster (p. 342) led the Third Brigade of the First Division, Tenth Corps, Army of the James. On page 348, Gilmore mistakenly refers to Jefferson Davis as “President” under Franklin Pierce; he was actually secretary of war in the Pierce administration. Mr. Ashley’s Reconstruction Bill (p. 352) refers to legislation introduced in December 1863 by Ohio Republican James M. Ashley, authorizing the president to appoint provisional military governors in the rebelling states. The governors would organize elections for state constitutional conventions in which suffrage would be extended to black men but denied to those who had fought against the Union or held office in a secessionist government. The bill was tabled in February 1864. Castle Thunder (p. 356) was the Confederate prison in Richmond used to house political prisoners and suspected spies.
* * *Why my companion, the Rev. Dr. Jaquess, Colonel of the Seventy-Third Regiment of Illinois Volunteers, recently went to Richmond, and the circumstances attending his previous visit within the Rebel lines,—when he wore his uniform, and mixed openly with scores of leading Confederates,—I shall shortly make known to the public. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!