The Confederates who clung to those pieces of battered bunting knew they would never again wave as martial ensigns above embattled hosts; but they wanted to keep them, just as they wanted to keep the old canteen with a bullet-hole through it, or the rusty gray jackets that had been torn by canister. They loved those flags, and will love them forever, as mementoes of the unparalleled struggle. They cherish them because they represent the consecration and courage not only of Lee's army, but of all the Southern armies, because they symbolize the bloodshed and the glory of nearly a thousand battles. . . .
During these last scenes at Appomattox some of the Confederates were so deprest in spirit, so filled with apprehensions as to the policy to be adopted by the civil authorities at Washington, that the future seemed to them shrouded in gloom. They knew that burnt homes and fenceless farms, poverty and ashes, would greet them on their return from the war. Even if the administration at Washington should be friendly, they did not believe that the Southern States could recover in half a century from the chaotic condition in which the war had left them. The situation was enough to daunt the most hopeful and appal the stoutest hearts. . . .
The arms were stacked and the battle-flags were folded. Those sad and suffering men, many of them weeping as they saw the old banners laid upon the stacked guns like trappings on the coffin of their dead hopes, at once gathered in compact mass around me. Sitting on my horse in the midst of them, I spoke to them for the last time as their commander. In all my past life I had never undertaken to speak where my own emotions were so literally overwhelming. I counselled such course of action as I believed most conducive to the welfare of the South and of the whole country. I told them of my own grief, which almost stifled utterance, and that I realized most keenly the sorrow that was breaking their hearts and appreciated fully the countless and stupendous barriers across the paths they were to tread.
Reminding them of the benign Southern climate, of the fertility of their lands, of the vastly increased demand for the South's great staple and the high prices paid for it, I offered these facts as legitimate bases of hope and encouragement. I said to them that through the rifts in the clouds then above us I could see the hand of Almighty God stretched out to help us in the impending battle with adversity; that He would guide us in the gloom, and bless every manly effort to bring back to desolated homes the sunshine and comforts of former years. . . .
As I began to speak from my horse, large numbers of Union soldiers came near to hear what I had to say, giving me a rather queerly mixed audience. The Hon. Elihu Washburne, afterward United States Minister to France, the close friend of both President Lincoln and General Grant, was present at the surrender, as the guest of the Union commander. He either heard this parting speech or else its substance was reported to him. As soon as the formalities were ended, he made himself known to me, and in a most gracious manner exprest his pleasure at the general trend of my remarks. He assured me that the South would receive generous treatment at the hands of the general Government. My special object in referring to Mr. Washburne in this connection is to leave on record an emphatic statement made by him which greatly encouraged me. I can never forget his laconic answer to my inquiry: "Why do you think, Mr. Washburne, that the South will be generously dealt with by the Government?" "Because Abraham Lincoln is at its head," was his reply.
I knew something of Mr. Lincoln's past history, of his lifelong hostility to slavery, of his Emancipation Proclamation and vigorous prosecution of the war; but I had no knowledge whatever of any kindly sentiment entertained by him toward the Southern people. The emphatic words of Mr. Washburne, his intimate friend and counselor, greatly interested me. I was with Mr. Washburne for several succeeding dayswe rode on horseback together from Appomattox back toward Petersburg; and his description of Mr. Lincoln's character, of his genial and philanthropic nature, accompanied with illustrative anecdotes, was not only extremely entertaining, but was to me a revelation. He supported his declaration as to Mr. Lincoln's kindly sentiments by giving an elaborate and detailed account of his meeting with our commissioners at Hampton Roads. He exprest the opinion that the President went to that meeting with the fixt purpose of ending the war by granting the most liberal terms, provided the Southern commissioners acquiesced in the sine qua nonthe restoration of the Union.
We parted at Petersburg, and among the last things he enjoined was faith in the kindly purposes of Abraham Lincoln in reference to the Southern people. Mr. Washburne said that the President would recommend to Congress such legislation as in his opinion would promote the prosperity of the South. He was emphatic in his declaration that Mr. Lincoln desired only the restoration of the Unionthat even the abolition of slavery was secondary to this prime object. He stated that the President had declared that if he could restore the Union without abolition, he would gladly do it; if he could save the Union by partial abolition of slavery, he would do it that way; but that if it became necessary to abolish slavery entirely in order to save the Union, then slavery would be abolished; that as his great object had been achieved by the surrender of Lee's army, it would speedily be known to the Southern people, that the President was deeply concerned for their welfare, that there would be no prosecutions and no discrimination, but that the States' governments would be promptly recognized, and every effort made to help the Southern people. These impressive assurances were adding strength to my hopes when the whole country was shocked by the assassination of the President. . . .
The magnanimity exhibited at Appomattox justifies me in recording here my conviction that, had it been possible for General Grant and his soldiers to foresee the bloody sweat which through ten successive years was to be wrung from Southern brows, the whole Union army would then and there have resolved to combat all unfriendly legislation. Or, later, if Booth's bullet had not terminated the life filled with "charity to all and malice toward none," President Lincoln's benign purposes, seconded by the great-hearted among our Northern countrymen, would have saved the South from those caricatures of government which cursed and crushed her.
In looking back now over that valley of deaththe period of reconstructionits waste and its woe, it is hard to realize that the worn and impoverished Confederates were able to go through it. The risen South of to-day is a memorial of the same patience, endurance, and valor which immortalized the four years' struggle for Southern independence.
1 From Gordon's "Recollections of the Civil War." By permission of the publishers, Charles Scribner's Sons. Copyright, 1904. General Gordon is here writing of what took place at Appomattox in his own command on the day of Lee's surrender.
LINCOLN'S SPEECH ON THE SUBJECTHIS LAST WORDS IN PUBLIC
(April 11, 1865)
We meet this evening, not in sorrow but in gladness of heart. The evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond, and the surrender of the principal insurgent army, give hopes of a righteous and speedy peace, whose joyous expression can not be restrained. In the midst of this, however, He from whom all blessings flow must not he forgotten. A call for a National Thanksgiving is being prepared, and will be duly promulgated. Nor must those whose harder part gives us the cause for rejoicing be overlooked. Their honors must not be parceled out with others. I, myself, was near the front, and had the high pleasure of transmitting much of the good news to you; but no part of the honor for the plan or execution is mine. To General Grant, his skilful officers and brave men all belongs. The gallant navy stood ready, but was not in reach to take active part.
By these recent successes, the reorganization of the national authorityreconstruction, which has had a large share of thought from the firstis prest much more closely upon our attention. It is fraught with great difficulty. Unlike a case of war between independent nations, there is no authorized organ for us to treat with. No one man has authority to give up the rebellion for any other man. We simply must begin with and mold from disorganized and discordant elements. Nor is it a small additional embarrassment that we, the loyal people, differ among ourselves as to the mode, manner and measure of reconstruction.
As a general rule, I abstain from reading the reports of attacks upon myself, wishing not to be provoked by that to which I can not properly offer an answer. In spite of this precaution, however, it comes to my knowledge that I am much censured for some supposed agency in setting up and seeking to sustain the new State Government of Louisiana. In this I have done just so much and no more than the public knows. In the annual message of December, 1863, and the accompanying proclamation, I presented a plan of reconstruction,2 as the phrase goes, which I promised, if adopted by any State, should be acceptable to and sustained by the Executive Government of the nation, I distinctly stated that this was not the only plan which might possibly be acceptable; and I also distinctly protested that the Executive claimed no right to say when or whether members should be admitted to seats in Congress from such States.
This plan was in advance submitted to the then Cabinet, and distinctly approved by every member of it. One of them suggested that I should then, and in that connection apply the Emancipation Proclamation to the theretofore excepted parts of Virginia and Louisiana; that I should drop the suggestion about apprenticeship for freed people, and that I should omit the protest against my own power in regard to the admission of members of Congress. But even he approved every part and parcel of the plan which has since been employed or touched by the action of Louisiana.
The new Constitution of Louisiana,3 declaring emancipation for the whole State, practically applies the proclamation to the parts previously excepted. It does not adopt apprenticeship for freed-people, and is silent, as it could not well be otherwise, about the admission of members of Congress. So that, as it applied to Louisiana, every member of the Cabinet fully approved the plan. The message went to Congress, and I received many commendations of the plan, written and verbal, and not a single objection to it from any profest emancipationist came to my knowledge, until after the news reached Washington that the people of Louisiana had begun to move in accordance with it.
From about July, 1862, I had corresponded with different persons supposed to be interested in seeking a reconstruction of a State government for Louisiana. When the message of 1863, with the plan before mentioned reached New Orleans, General Banks wrote me that he was confident that the people, with his military cooperation, would reconstruct substantially on that plan. I wrote to him and some of them to try it. They tried it, and the result is known. Such has been my only agency in getting up the Louisiana government. As to sustaining it, my promise is out, as before stated; but as bad promises are better broken than kept, I shall treat this as a bad promise, and break it whenever I shall be convinced that keeping it is adverse to the public interest, but I have not yet been so convinced.
I have been shown a letter on the subject (supposed to be an able one), in which the writer expresses regret that my mind has not seemed to be definitely fixt on the question whether the seceded States, so called, are in the Union or out of it. It would, perhaps, add astonishment to his regret, were he to learn that since I have found profest Union men endeavoring to answer that question I have purposely forborne any public expression upon it. As appears to me, that question has not been, nor yet is, a practically material one, and that any discussion of it, while it thus remains practically immaterial, could have no effect other than the mischievous one of dividing friends. Whatever it may hereafter become, that question is bad as the basis of a controversy, and good for nothing at alla merely pernicious abstraction.
We all agree that the seceded States, so called, are out of their proper practical relation with the Union, and that the sole object of the Government, civil and military, in regard to those States, is again to get them into that proper practical relation. I believe that it is not only possible, but, in fact, easier, to do this without deciding, or even considering, whether those States have ever been out of the Union, than with it. Finding themselves safely at home, it would be utterly immaterial whether they had ever been abroad. Let us all join in doing the acts necessary to restore the proper practical relations between those States and the Union, and each forever after innocently indulge his own opinion, whether in doing the acts he brought the States from without into the Union, or only gave them proper assistance, they never having been out of it.
The amount of constituency, so to speak, on which the new Louisiana government rests, would be more satisfactory to all if it contained 50,000 or 30,000, or even 20,000, instead of only about 12,000, as it does. It is also unsatisfactory to some that the elective franchise is not given to the colored men. I would myself prefer that it were now conferred on the very intelligent and on those who served our cause as soldiers. Still the question is not whether the Louisiana government, as it stands, is quite all that is desirable. The question is, will it be wiser to take it as it is, and help to improve it, or to reject and disperse it? Can Louisiana be brought into proper practical relation with the Union sooner by sustaining or by discarding her new State government? Some 12,000 voters in the heretofore slave State of Louisiana have sworn allegiance to the Union, assumed to be the rightful political power of the State, held elections, organized a State Government, adopted a free-State constitution, giving the benefit of the public schools equally to black and white, and empowered the legislature to confer elective franchise upon the colored men.
This legislature has already voted to ratify the constitutional amendment recently passed by Congress abolishing slavery throughout the nation.4 These 12,000 persons are thus fully committed to the Union, and to perpetuate freedom in the State, committed to the very things, and nearly all things the nation wants, and they ask the nation's recognition and its assistance to make good their committal.
Now, if we reject and spurn them, we do our utmost to disorganize and disperse them. We, in fact, say to the white man, You are worthless, or worse; we will neither help you, nor be helped by you. To the blacks we say: This cup of liberty, which these, your old masters, held to your lips, we will dash from you, and leave you to the chances of gathering the spilled and scattered contents in some vague and undefined when, where and how.
If this course of discouraging and paralyzing both white and black has any tendency to bring Louisiana into proper practical relations with the Union, I have so far been unable to perceive it. If, on the contrary, we sustain and recognize the new government of Louisiana, the converse of all this is made true. We encourage the hearts and nerve the arms of 12,000 to adhere to their work and argue for it, and proselyte for it, and fight for it, and feed it, and grow it, and ripen it to a complete success.
The colored man, too, in seeing all united for him, is inspired with vigilance, and energy and daring to the same end. Grant that he desires the elective franchise, will he not attain it sooner by saving the already advanced steps toward it than by running backward over them? Concede that the new government of Louisiana is only to what it should be as the egg is to the fowl, we shall sooner have the fowl by hatching the egg than by smashing it.
Again, if we reject Louisiana, we also reject our vote in favor of the proposed amendment to the National Constitution. To meet this proposition, it has been argued that no more than three-fourths of those States which have not attempted secession are necessary to validly ratify the amendment. I do not commit myself against this further than to say that such a ratification would be questionable and sure to be persistently questioned, while a ratification by three-fifths of all the States would be unquestioned and unquestionable.
I repeat the question: Can Louisiana be brought into practical relation with the Union sooner by sustaining or by discarding her new State Government? What has been said of Louisiana will apply to other States. As yet these great peculiarities pertain to each State, and such important and sudden changes occur in the same State, and withal so new and unprecedented is the whole case, that no exclusive or inflexible plan can safely be prescribed as to details and collaterals. Such an exclusive and inflexible plan would surely become a new entanglement. Important principles may and must be inflexible. In the present situation, as the phrase goes, it may be my duty to make some new announcement to the people of the South. I am considering, and shall not fail to act when satisfied that action will be proper.
1 As reported in the New York Tribune. The circumstances in which Lincoln made this speech (only two days had passed since Lee's surrender), were thus described in the New York Tribune: "The Executive Departments including the President's Mansion, were again illuminated and adorned with transparencies and national flags, as also many places of business and private dwellings. Bonfires were placed in many parts of the city, and rockets fired. Thousands of persons of both sexes repaired to the Executive Mansion, and, after several airs had been played by the band, the President, in response to numerous calls, appeared at an upper window and spoke." Lincoln read his speech from a carefully prepared manuscript. In making it, Nicolay and Hay state that he acted, "in defiance of precedent and even of his own habit." Three nights later he was shot.
2 Early in 1863 Lincoln had desired that Louisiana, then in control of Federal troops, might form a Union government and resume the place among the States which in Lincoln's view it had never lost.
3 Early in 1864 Louisiana formed a Union government, and in September of this year chose a legislation and elected members of Congress, but the House of Representatives refused to admit these members.
4 The Thirteenth Amendment.