Today in History:

33 Series I Volume XLVII-I Serial 98 - Columbia Part I


General Weitzel, with the approval of Mr. Lincoln and General Grant, then on the spot; a firm belief that I had been fighting to re-establish the Constitution of the United States; and last, and not least, the general and universal desire to close a war any longer without organized resistance, were the leading facts that induced me to pen the "memorandum" of April 18, signed by myself and General Johnston.

It was designed to be, and so expressed on its face, as a mere "basis" for reference to the President of the United States and constitutional commander-in-chief, to enable him, if he close, at one blow to dissipate the military power of the Confederacy which had threatened the national safety for years. It admitted of modification, alteration, and change. It had no appearance of an ultimatum; and by no false reasoning can it be construed into an usurpation of power on my part. I have my opinions on the questions involved, and I will stand by the memorandum; but this forms no part of a military report. Immediately on my return to Raleigh I dispatched one of my staff, Major Hitchcock, to Washington, enjoining him to be most prudent and careful to avoid the spies and informers that would be sure to infest him by the way, and to say nothing to anybody until the President could make known to me his wishes and policy in the matter.

The news of President Lincoln's assassination on the 14th of April (wrongly reported to me by telegraph as having occurred on the 11th) reached me on the 17th, and was announced to my command on the same day in Special Field Orders, Numbers 56. * I was duly impressed with its horrible atrocity and probable effect upon the country; but when the property and interests of millions still living were involved I saw no good reason to change my course, but thought rather to manifest real respect for his memory by following after his death that policy which, if living, I feel certain he would have approved, or at least not rejected with disdain.

Up to that hour I had never received one word of instruction, advice, or counsel as to the "plan or policy" of Government looking to a restoration of peace on the part of the rebel States of the South. Whenever asked for an opinion on the points involved I had always evaded the subject. My letter to the mayor of Atlanta has been published to the world,+ and I was not rebuked by the War Department for it.

My letter to Mr. N ---- W


, at Savannah, was shown by me to Mr. Stanton before its publication, and all that my memory retains of his answer is that he said, like my letters generally, it was sufficiently "emphatic, and could not be misunderstood. "

Both these letters asserted my belief that, according to Mr. Lincoln's proclamations and messages, when the people of the South had laid down their arms and submitted to the lawful power of the United States, ipso facto the war over as to them; and furthermore, that if any State in rebellion would conform to the Constitution of the United States, "cease war," elect Senators and Representatives to Congress, if admitted (of which each House of Congress alone is the judge), that State became instanter as much in the Union as New York or Ohio. Nor was I rebuked for this expression, though it was universally known and commended on at the time. And again, Mr. Stanton, in person, at Savannah, speaking of the terrific expenses of the


*See Part III.

+See Vol. XXXIX, Part II, p. 418.