The Great Conspiracy

Toward the end of February, the Rebel General Longstreet having
requested an interview with General Ord "to arrange for the exchange of
citizen prisoners, and prisoners of war, improperly captured," General
Grant authorized General Ord to hold such interview t and "to arrange
definitely for such as were confined in his department, arrangements for
all others to be submitted for approval." In the course of that
interview "a general conversation ensued on the subject of the War,"
when it would seem that Longstreet suggested the idea of a composition
of the questions at issue, and Peace between the United States and the
Rebels, by means of a Military Convention. It is quite probable that
this idea originated with Jefferson Davis, as a /dernier ressort/; for
Longstreet appears to have communicated directly with Davis concerning
his interview or "interviews" with Ord. On the 28th of February, 1865
the Rebel Chief wrote to Lee, as follows:

"RICHMOND, VA., February 28.

"Gen. R. E. LEE, Commanding, etc.,

"GENERAL: You will learn by the letter of General Longstreet the result
of his second interview with General Ord. The points as to whether
yourself or General Grant should invite the other to a Conference is not
worth discussing. If you think the statements of General Ord render it
probably useful that the Conference suggested should be had, you will
proceed as you may prefer, and are clothed with all the supplemental
authority you may need in the consideration of any proposition for a
Military Convention, or the appointment of a Commissioner to enter into
such an arrangement as will cause at least temporary suspension of
"Very truly yours
Thereupon General Lee wrote, and sent to General Grant, the following

"HEADQUARTERS C. S. ARMIES, March 2, 1865.
"Lieut. Gen. U. S. GRANT,
"Commanding United States Armies:

"GENERAL: Lieut.-Gen. Longstreet has informed me that, in a recent
conversation between himself and Maj.-Gen. Ord, as to the possibility of
arriving at a satisfactory adjustment of the present unhappy
difficulties by means of a Military Convention, General Ord stated that
if I desired to have an interview with you on the subject, you would not
decline, provided I had authority to act. Sincerely desirous to leave
nothing untried which may put an end to the calamities of War, I propose
to meet you at such convenient time and place as you may designate, with
the hope that, upon an interchange of views, it may be found practicable
to submit the subjects of controversy between the belligerents to a
Convention of the kind mentioned.

"In such event, I am authorized to do whatever the result of the
proposed interview may render necessary or advisable. Should you accede
to this proposition, I would suggest that, if agreeable to you, we meet
at the place selected by Generals Ord and Longstreet, for the interview,
at 11 A.M., on Monday next.

"Very respectfully your obedient servant,
"R. E. LEE, General."
Upon receipt of this letter, General Grant sent a telegraphic dispatch
to Secretary Stanton, informing him of Lee's proposition. It reached
the Secretary of War just before midnight of March 3rd. He, and the
other members of the Cabinet were with the President, in the latter's
room at the Capitol, whither they had gone on this, the last, night of
the last Session of the Thirty-Eighth Congress, the Cabinet to advise,
and the President to act, upon bills submitted to him for approval. The
Secretary, after reading the dispatch, handed it to Mr. Lincoln. The
latter read and thought over it briefly, and then himself wrote the
following reply:

"WASHINGTON, March, 3, 1865, 12 P.M.

"LIEUTENANT GENERAL GRANT: The President directs me to say to you that
he wishes you to have no Conference with General Lee, unless it be for
the capitulation of General Lee's Army, or on some other minor and
purely Military matter. He instructs me to say to you that you are not
to decide, discuss, or confer upon any political question. Such
questions the President holds in his own hands, and will submit them to
no Military Conferences or Conventions. Meanwhile you are to press to
the utmost your Military advantages.
"Secretary of War."
General Grant received this dispatch, on the day following, and at once
wrote and sent to General Lee a communication in which, after referring
to the subject of the exchange of prisoners, he said: "In regard to
meeting you on the 6th inst., I would state that--I have no authority to
accede to your proposition for a Conference on the subject proposed.
Such authority is vested in the President of the United States alone.
General Ord could only have meant that I would not refuse an interview
on any subject on which I have a right to act; which, of course, would
be such as are purely of a Military character, and on the subject of
exchange, which has been entrusted to me."

Thus perished the last reasonable hope entertained by the Rebel
Chieftains to ward off the inevitable and mortal blow that was about to
smite their Cause.

The 4th of March, 1865, had come. The Thirty-Eighth Congress was no
more. Mr. Lincoln was about to be inaugurated, for a second term, as
President of the United States. The previous night had been vexed with
a stormy snow-fall. The morning had also been stormy and rainy. By
mid-day, however, as if to mark the event auspiciously, the skies
cleared and the sun shone gloriously upon the thousands and tens of
thousands who had come to Washington, to witness the second Inauguration
of him whom the people had now, long since, learned to affectionately
term "Father Abraham"--of him who had become the veritable Father of his
People. As the President left the White House, to join the grand
procession to the Capitol, a brilliant meteor shot athwart the heavens,
above his head. At the time, the superstitious thought it an Omen of
triumph--of coming Peace--but in the sad after-days when armed Rebellion
had ceased and Peace had come, it was remembered, with a shudder, as a
portent of ill. When, at last, Mr. Lincoln stood, with bared head, upon
the platform at the eastern portico of the Capitol, where four years
before, he had made his vows before the People, under such very
different circumstances and surroundings, the contrast between that time
and this--and all the terrible and eventful history of the interim--
could not fail to present itself to every mind of all those congregated,
whether upon the platform among the gorgeously costumed foreign
diplomats, the full-uniformed Military and Naval officers of the United
States, and the more soberly-clad statesmen and Civic and Judicial
functionaries of the Land, or in the vast and indiscriminate mass of the
enthusiastic people in front and on both sides of it. As Chief Justice
Chase administered the oath, and Abraham Lincoln, in view of all the
people, reverently bowed his head and kissed the open Bible, at a
passage in Isaiah (27th and 28th verses of the 5th Chapter) which it was
thought "admonished him to be on his guard, and not to relax at all, in
his efforts," the people, whose first cheers of welcome had been stayed
by the President's uplifted hand, broke forth in a tumult of cheering,
until again hushed by the clear, strong, even voice of the President, as
he delivered that second Inaugural Address, whose touching tenderness,
religious resignation, and Christian charity, were clad in these
imperishable words:

"FELLOW COUNTRYMEN: At this second appearing to take the Oath of the
Presidential office, there is less occasion for an extended address than
there was at the first. Then, a statement, somewhat in detail, of a
course to be pursued, seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration
of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly
called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still
absorbs the attention and engrosses the energy of the Nation, little
that is new could be presented. The progress of our Arms, upon which
all else depends, is as well known to the public as to myself; and it
is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high
hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

"On the occasion corresponding to this, four years ago, all thoughts
were anxiously directed to an impending Civil War. All dreaded it--all
sought to avert it. While the Inaugural Address was being delivered
from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without War,
Insurgent agents were in the city, seeking to destroy it without War--
seeking to dissolve the Union, and divide the effects, by negotiation.
Both parties deprecated War; but one of them would make War rather than
let the Nation survive; and the other would accept War rather than let
it perish--and the War came.

"One-eighth of the whole population were colored Slaves, not distributed
generally over the Union, but localized in the Southern part of it.
These Slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew
that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the War. To strengthen,
perpetuate and extend this interest was the object for which the
Insurgents would rend the Union, even by War; while the Government
claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement
of it. Neither Party expected for the War the magnitude or the duration
which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of
the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself
should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less
fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the
same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem
strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in
wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us
judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be
answered--that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His
own purposes. 'Woe unto the World because of offences! for it must
needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence
cometh.' If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those
offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which,
having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and
that He gives to both North and South this terrible War, as the woe due
to those by Whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any
departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living
God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope--fervently do we pray--
that this mighty scourge of War may speedily pass away. Yet, if God
wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman's two
hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until
every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn
with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must
be said, 'The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the
right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the
work we are in; to bind up the Nation's wounds, to care for him who
shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do
all which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting Peace among
ourselves, and with all Nations."

With utterances so just and fair, so firm and hopeful, so penitent and
humble, so benignant and charitable, so mournfully tender and sweetly
solemn, so full of the fervor of true piety and the very pathos of
patriotism, small wonder is it that among those numberless thousands
who, on this memorable occasion, gazed upon the tall, gaunt form of
Abraham Lincoln, and heard his clear, sad voice, were some who almost
imagined they saw the form and heard the voice of one of the great
prophets and leaders of Israel; while others were more reminded of one
of the Holy Apostles of the later Dispensation who preached the glorious
Gospel "On Earth, Peace, good will toward Men," and received in the end
the crown of Christian martyrdom. But not one soul of those present--
unless his own felt such presentiment--dreamed for a moment that, all
too soon, the light of those brave and kindly eyes was fated to go out
in darkness, that sad voice to be hushed forever, that form to lie
bleeding and dead, a martyred sacrifice indeed, upon the altar of his


Meantime, Sherman's Armies were pressing along upward, toward Raleigh,
from Columbia, marching through swamps and over quicksands and across
swollen streams--cold, wet, hungry, tired--often up to their armpits in
water, yet keeping their powder dry, and silencing opposing batteries or
driving the Enemy, who doggedly retired before them, through the
drenching rains which poured down unceasingly for days, and even weeks,
at a time. On the 16th of March, 1865, a part of Sherman's Forces met
the Enemy, under General Joe Johnston, at Averysboro, N. C., and forced
him to retire. On the 19th and 20th of March, occurred the series of
engagements, about Mill Creek and the Bentonville and Smithfield cross-
roads, which culminated in the attack upon the Enemy, of the 21st of
March, and his evacuation, that night, of his entire line of works, and
retreat upon Smithfield. This was known as the Battle of Bentonville,
and was the last battle fought between the rival Forces under Sherman
and Johnston. The Armies of Sherman, now swollen by having formed a
junction with the troops under Schofield and Terry, which had come from
Newbern and Wilmington, went into camp at Goldsboro, North Carolina, to
await the rebuilding of the railroads from those two points on the
coast, and the arrival of badly needed clothing, provision, and other
supplies, after which the march would be resumed to Burksville,
Virginia. By the 25th of March, the railroad from Newbern was in
running order, and General Sherman, leaving General Schofield in command
of his eighty thousand troops, went to Newbern and Morehead City, and
thence by steamer to City Point, for a personal interview with General
Grant. On the same day, Lee made a desperate but useless assault, with
twenty thousand (of his seventy thousand) men upon Fort Stedman--a
portion of Grant's works in front of Petersburg. On the 27th, President
Lincoln reached City Point, on the James River, in the steamer "Ocean
Queen." Sherman reached City Point the same day, and, after meeting the
General-in-Chief, Grant took him on board the "Ocean Queen" to see the
President. Together they explained to Mr. Lincoln the Military
situation, during the "hour or more" they were with him. Of this
interview with Mr. Lincoln, General Sherman afterwards wrote: "General
Grant and I explained to him that my next move from Goldsboro would
bring my Army, increased to eighty thousand men by Schofield's and
Terry's reinforcements, in close communication with General Grant's
Army, then investing Lee in Richmond, and that unless Lee could effect
his escape, and make junction with Johnston in North Carolina, he would
soon be shut up in Richmond with no possibility of supplies, and would
have to surrender. Mr. Lincoln was extremely interested in this view of
the case, and when we explained that Lee's only chance was to escape,
join Johnston, and, being then between me in North Carolina, and Grant
in Virginia, could choose which to fight. Mr. Lincoln seemed unusually
impressed with this; but General Grant explained that, at the very
moment of our conversation, General Sheridan was passing his Cavalry
across James River, from the North to the South; that he would, with
this Cavalry, so extend his left below Petersburg as to meet the South
Shore Road; and that if Lee should 'let go' his fortified lines, he
(Grant) would follow him so close that he could not possibly fall on me
alone in North Carolina. I, in like manner, expressed the fullest
confidence that my Army in North Carolina was willing to cope with Lee
and Johnston combined, till Grant could come up. But we both agreed
that one more bloody battle was likely to occur before the close of the
War. Mr. Lincoln * * * more than once exclaimed: 'Must more blood be
shed? Cannot this last bloody battle be avoided?' We explained that we
had to presume that General Lee was a real general; that he must see
that Johnston alone was no barrier to my progress; and that if my Army
of eighty thousand veterans should reach Burksville, he was lost in
Richmond; and that we were forced to believe he would not await that
inevitable conclusion, but make one more desperate effort."

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