Jefferson Davis on why the Confederate States were fighting — part 1

James Roberts Gilmore (1822-1903) who also wrote under the pseudonym Edmund Kirke, was the author of: Among the Pines; or, South in Secession Time (1862), My Southern Friends (1863), Down in Tennessee (1864) and On the Border (1867). Gilmore published this account of the trip he had made to Richmond in July with James F. Jaquess in The Atlantic Monthly under his pen name Edmund Kirke.


The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 14, 1864

372 Our Visit to Richmond. September,



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 in a volume called “Down in Tennessee.” It may now, however, be asked why I, a “civil” individual, and not in the pay of Government, became his travelling-companion, and, at
a time when all the world was rushing North to the mountains and the watering- places, journeyed South for a conference with the arch-Rebel, in the hot and dangerous latitude of Virginia.

Did it never occur to you, reader, when you have undertaken to account for some of the simplest of your own actions, how many good reasons have arisen in your mind, every one of which has justified you in concluding that you were of “sound and disposing understanding”? So, now, in looking inward for the why and the wherefore which I know will be demanded of me at the threshold of this article, I find half a dozen reasons for my visit to Richmond, any one of which ought to prove that I am a sensible man, altogether too sensible to go on so long a journey, in the heat of midsummer, for the mere pleasure of the thing. Some of these reasons I will enumerate.

First : Very many honest people at the North sincerely believe that the revolted States will return to the Union, if assured of protection to their peculiar institution. The Government having declared
that no State shall be readmitted which has not first abolished Slavery, these people hold it responsible for the continuance
of the war. It is, therefore, important to know whether the Rebel States will or will not return, if allowed to retain Slavery. Mr. Jefferson Davis could, undoubtedly, answer that question ; and that may have been a reason why I went to see him.

Second: On the second of July last, C. C. Clay, of Alabama, J. P. Holcombe, of Virginia, and G. N. Sanders, of nowhere in particular, appeared at Niagara Falls, and publicly announced that
‘they were there to confer with the Democratic leaders in reference to’the Chicago nomination. Very soon thereafter, a few friends of the Administration received intimations from those gentlemen that they were Commissioners from the Rebel
Government, with authority to negotiate preliminaries of peace on something like the following basis, namely: A restoration of the Union as it was; all negroes actually freed by the war to be declared free, and all negroes not actually freed by
the war to be declared slaves.

These overtures were not considered sincere. They seemed concocted to embarrass the Government, to throw upon it the odium of continuing the war, and thus to secure the triumph of the peace traitors at the November election. The scheme, if well managed, threatened to be dangerous, by uniting the Peace-men,
the Copperheads, and such of the Republicans as love peace better than principle, in one opposition, willing to make a peace
that would be inconsistent with the safety and dignity of the country. It was, therefore, important to discover—what
was then in doubt— whether the Rebel envoys really had, or had not, any official authority.

Within fifteen days of the appearance of these “ Peace Commissioners,” Jefferson Davis had said to an eminent Secession divine, who, late in June, came through the Union lines by the Maryland back-door, that he would make
peace on no other terms than a recognition of Southern Independence. (He might, however, agree to two govern-

1894 Our Visit to Richmond. 373

ments, bound together by a league offensive and defensive, -— for all external purposes one, for all internal purposes two; but he would agree to nothing better.)

There was reason to consider this information trustworthy, and to believe Mr Davis (who was supposed to be a clear minded man) altogether ignorant of the doings of his Niagara satellites. If this
were true, and were proven to be true, -if the great Rebel should reiterate this declaration in the presence of a trustworthy witness, at the very time when the small Rebels were opening their Quaker
guns on the country,—would not the Niagara negotiators be stripped of their false colors, and their low schemes be exposed
to the scorn of all honest men, North andSouth ?

I may have thought so; and that may have been another reason why I went to Richmond.

Third: I had been acquainted with Colonel Jaqucss’s peace-movements from their inception. Early in June last he wrote me from a battle-field in Georgia, announcing his intention of gain visiting the Rebels, and asking an interview with me at a designated place. We met, and went to Washington together. Arriving there, I became aware that obstacles were in the way of his further progress. Those obstacles could be removed by my accompanying him ; and that, to those who know the man and his “mission,” which is to preach peace on earth and good-will among men, would seem a very good reason why I went to Richmond.

Fourth,—and this to very many may appear as potent as any of the preceding reasous,—I had in my boyhood a strange fancy for church-belfries and liberty poles. This fancy led me, in school-vacations, to perch my small self for hours on the cross-beams in the old belfry, and to climb to the very top of the tall pole which still surmounts the little village green. In my youth, this feeling was
simply a spirit of adventure; but as I grew older it deepened into a reverence for what those old bells said, and a love for the principle of which that old liberty-pole is now only a crumbling symbol. Had not events shown that Jeff. Davis had never seen that old liberty~pole, and never heard the chimes which still ring
out from that old belfry? Who knew, in these days when every wood-sawyer has a “ mission,” but I had a “ mission,” and it was to tell the Rebel President that Northern liberty-poles still stand
for Freedom, and that Northern church bells still peal out, “ Liberty throughout the land, to all the inhabitants there of ” ?

If that was my mission, will anybody blame me for fanning Mr. Davis with a “blast” of cool Northern “wind” in this hot weather ?

But enough of mystification. The straightforward reader wants a straight forward reason, and he shall have it.

We went to Richmond because we hoped to pave the way for negotiations that would result in peace.

If we should succeed, the consciousness of having served the country would, we thought, pay our expenses. If we should fail, but return safely, we might still serve the country by making public the cause of our failure. If we should fail, and not return safely, but be shot or hanged as spies,—as we might be, for we could have
no protection from our Government, and no safe-conduct from the Rebels,-two lives would be added to the thousands already sacrificed to this Rebellion, but they would as effectually serve the country as if lost on the battle-field.

These are the reasons, and the only reasons, why we went to Richmond.


WE went there in an ambulance, and we went together,—the Colonel and I; and though two men were never more unlike, we worked together like two brothers, or like two halves of a pair of shears. That we got in was owing, perhaps, to
me; that we got out was due altogether

374 Our Visit to Richmond. |September,

to him; and a man more cool, more brave, more self-reliant, and more self-devoted than that quiet “ Western parson ” it never was my fortune to encounter.

When the far-away Boston bells were sounding nine, on the morning of Saturday, the sixteenth of July, we took our
glorious Massachusetts General by the
hand, and said to him, —

“ Good bye. If you do not see us with
in ten days, you will know we have ‘ gone

“ If I do not see you within that time,” he replied, “ I’ll demand you ; and if they don’t produce you, body and soul, I’ll take two for one, -— better men than you are,—and hang them higher than Ha
man. My hand on that. Good bye.” At three o’clock on the afternoon of the same day, mounted on two raw-boned relics of Sheridan’s great raid, and armed with a letter to Jeff Davis, a white cambric handkerchief tied to a short stick, and an honest face, — this last was the Colonel’s, — we rode up to the Rebel lines. A ragged, yellow-faced boy, with a carbine in one hand, and another white handkerchief tied to another short stick in the other, came out to meet us.

“Can you tell us, my man, where to find Judge Ould, the Exchange Commissioner ? ”

“ Yas. Him and t’ other ’Change officers is over ter the plantation beyond Miss Grover’s. Ye ‘ll know it by its hevin’ nary door nur winder [the mansion, he meant]. They ’s all busted in. Foller the bridle-path through the timber, and keep your rag a-flyin’, fur our
boys is thicker ‘n huckelberries in them woods, and they mought pop ye, ef they did n’t seed it.”

Thanking him, we turned our horses into the “ timber,” and, galloping rapidly on, soon came in sight of the deserted plantation. Lolling on the grass, in the shade of the windowless mansion, we found the Confederate officials. They rose as we approached; and one of us said to the Judge,—-a courteous, middle-aged gentleman, in a Panama hat, and a suit of spotless white drillings, —

“We are late, but it’s your fault. Your people fired at us down the river, and we had to turn back and come over land.”

“You don’t suppose they saw your flag ? ”

“No. It was hidden by the trees; but a shot came uncomfortably near us. It struck the water, and ricocheted not
three yards off’. A little nearer, and it would have shortened me by a head, and the Colonel by two feet.”

“That would have been a sad thing for you; but a miss, you know, is as good as a mile,” said the Judge, evidently enjoying the “joke.”

“ We’re hear Grant was in the boat that followed yours, and was struck while at dinner,” remarked Captain Hatch, the Judge’s Adjutant,-a gentleman, and about the best-looking man in the Confederacy.

“ Indeed! Do you believe it? ”

“I don’t know, of course”; and his looks asked for an answer. “Te gave none, for all such information is contraband. W’e might have told him that Grant, Butler, and Foster examined their position from Mrs. Grover’s house,—about four hundred yards distant, — two hours after the Rebel, cannon-ball danced a break – down on the Lieutenant- General’s dinner-table.

We were then introduced to the other officials, — Major Henniken of the War Department, a young man formerly of New York, but now scorning the imputation of being a Yankee, and Mr. Charles Javins, of the Provost-Guard of Richmond. This latter individual was our shadow in Dixie. He was of medium height, stoutly built, with a short, thick neck, and arms and shoulders denoting great strength. He looked a natural-born jailer, and much such a character as a timid man would not care to encounter, except at long range of a rifle warranted to fire twenty shots a minute,
and to hit every time.


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