In late 1864 and January 1865, two American Presidents on the continent – Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis — used back-channel contacts to try to negotiate an armistice and peace agreement that would end the Civil War.
Early efforts had failed, but Lincoln, haunted by all the killings, kept hoping to restore the Union short of a total annihilation of the Southern states in rebellion. But he faced radicals in his own party – Republicans – who wanted to punish the South and inflict hardships on Southerners via military occupation and reconstruction.
As the two presidents tried to set up a peace meeting, they were having trouble getting past two preconditions, one by Lincoln and one by Davis. Lincoln required the states in rebellion to lay down their arms and agree to rejoin the Union. Davis insisted the Northern government recognize the Confederacy as an independent nation.
With two such conditions, it hardly seemed possible a peace meeting could ever take place. Yet it did – on February 3, 1865, aboard Lincoln’s personal steamship, the River Queen, moored at Hampton Roads, Virginia. I thought it would be intriguing to have Captain Bill Stamford, assigned to the Confederate War Department in Richmond, on the River Queen for that conference. After all, one of Bill’s bosses, Assistant Secretary of War John Campbell, was one of the Southern commissioners.
I’m now writing the outline for the chapters covering the peace conference. It has turned out to be more difficult and complicated than I expected. The Machiavellian maneuverings plotted by Northern and Southern politicians are too byzantine. The discussions at that peace meeting aboard Lincoln’s ship may prove too tedious for the reader more interested in adventure and sex.
I’ve had to rewrite the outline for those chapters dealing with the Hampton Roads conference as I’ve learned more about those negotiations. My earlier versions were based on overviews I found on the Civil War Trust and Encyclopedia Virginia websites. I’ve since come across the writings of Campbell and another of the Confederate delegates, Vice President Alexander Stephens. They shifted me away from doing a scene on the River Queen.
I know the Confederate peace commissioners in late January wheeled through Confederate and Yankee lines to General Grant’s headquarters at City Point. At first I thought the details were ironed out and they moved smoothly through the lines. Upon further reading, it turned out not to be the case. Grant was still up north visiting his wife and kids, so he couldn’t tell Union General Edward Ord to send the Confederates through the Federal lines to his headquarters. Instead, Lincoln got involved and eventually telegraphed Ord to send the Confederate peace commissioners through the lines to Grant’s headquarters. It was an unexpected delay revealing that Lincoln was still debating whether or not to meet with them.
Historical details are sketchy on the mode of transportation used to get to City Point, so I decided to put the CSA delegation in buggies. The eventual passage through the lines and the trip to City Point will be my first scene. It has some drama. Confederate and Union troops cheered when the delegates passed through. One historical account said they were shouting, “Peace! Peace! Peace!” I want to use the buggy ride as a way to use dialogue between Bill, his buddy Charlie and Campbell to discuss their hopes and fears for the peace conference and the future.
When I get Bill and Charlie to Grant’s headquarters, I intend to continue exploring the hopes and fears and the overall difficulty of negotiating a war-ending peace treaty. Grant put on a full-on charm offensive, wining and dining the Confederate delegates, then telegraphing Lincoln that they were open to restoration of the Union. So Lincoln agreed to meet with them. Grant liked having his wife Julia with him, and I’ve seen photos of them and their son Jesse at City Point. Julia Grant is an intriguing woman, one caught between her husband, commander of all U.S. armies, and her father, a fanatical supporter of the Confederacy. She’s very much like Bill, who has an Ohioan mother and a Tar Heel father. I’m convinced Julia and Bill need to have a heart-to-heart chat about a divided nation, divided families and the issue that split the nation apart – slavery. The Missouri woman had a worrisome time releasing her household help, all slaves. That’s right… the future first lady early in the war didn’t want to give up her slaves.
There’s another scene I want to do. It’ll take place back in Richmond inside the apartment of Bill and his wife Franny. Bill will reveal the results of the peace meeting to her, and then he’ll tell her that he expects to be ordered into the trenches. He knows Grant will soon launch his spring offensive that will likely lead to the fall of Richmond and Petersburg. Franny will be furious. She worked hard to get Bill the War Department job. He has already suffered a shell-fragment wound that required surgery and recuperation back in North Carolina. With the war all but over, she fears her new husband will die – and for nothing.
Franny won’t be right about Bill dying. But ten thousand Confederate and Union troops will die in those last weeks of the war. Those cheers when the peace commissioners went through Confederate and Yankee lines went for nothing.
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I’m an author with three fantasy novels to my credit – The Emperor’s Mistress, Thief’s Coin and Assassins’ Lair. The books make up a trilogy titled Larenia’s Shadow. A fourth novel, this one a historical romance set during the Civil War, is scheduled for publication in October. It’s called Blessed Shadows Dark and Deep. All my novels can be purchased via the website of my publisher, Wings ePress, as well as the websites of Amazon and Barnes and Noble.