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Lincoln & Seward’s Military Coup

In 1863 Republican Senator John Sherman recalled that it was William H. Seward rather than Lincoln who ordered the seizure of Maryland’s legislators in 1861, that “the high-handed proceeding was the work of Mr. Seward, of his own mere motion, without the knowledge of Lincoln.” Seward later told a British official that the arrests had been made to influence coming Maryland elections as well. Frederick (below) was Seward’s son.

Lincoln & Seward’s Military Coup

“The Lincoln administration believed, according to Frederick Seward, that “a disunion majority” in the Maryland State house would pass an ordinance to withdraw from the Union in September 1861. Lincoln had resolved to keep that from happening. Seward recalled: “[The military was] instructed to carefully watch the movements of members of the [Maryland] Legislature . . . Loyal Union members would not be interfered with . . . but “disunion” members would be turned back toward their homes and would not reach Frederick City at all. The views of each member were well-known . . . so there would be little difficulty, as Mr. Lincoln remarked, in “separating the sheep from the goats.”

[Seward continued]: “When the time arrived . . . it was found that not only was no secession ordinance likely to be adopted, but that there seemed to be no Secessionists to present one. The two generals had carried out their instructions faithfully, and with tact and discretion . . . No ordinance was adopted, Baltimore remained quiet, and Maryland stayed in the Union.”

Many arrests of northerners at that time involved freedom of speech and freedom of the press with Seward’s State Department records citing “treasonable language, “Southern sympathizer,” secessionist” and “disloyalty” as standard reasons for arrest and confinement. Additionally, even more serious-sounding arrest reasons were vague and sometimes denoted offensive words rather than deeds: “aiding and abetting the enemy,” threatening Unionists,” or “inducing desertion,” for example. A man in Cincinnati was arrested for selling envelopes and stationery with Confederate mottoes printed on them.

When an old associate of Seward came to Washington to plead for the release of a political prisoner from Kentucky held in Fort Lafayette, the secretary of state readily admitted that no charges were on file against the prisoner. When asked whether he intended to keep citizens imprisoned against whom no charge had been made, Seward apparently answered: “I don’t care a d—n whether they are guilty or innocent. I saved Maryland by similar arrests, and so I mean to hold Kentucky.”

(The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties. Mark E. Neely, Jr. Oxford University Press. 1991, pp. 15-16; 27-30)

Martial Law is the Absence of Law

Martial Law is the Absence of Law

A review of the martial law imposed upon the island of Key West 1861-1865 was recently presented by a local college history teacher, and as a part of the North’s comprehensive military strategy during the Civil War. The audience was a local Civil War Roundtable (CWRT) group.

The lecturer noted the military takeover of the civilian government on the island in mid-January 1861 as the local commander, Capt. James Brannan surreptitiously barricaded his 44 men in the nearly completed Fort Zachary Taylor and turned its guns on the town. Overnight, the US military’s local friends and neighbors became an enemy to be treated with suspicion and contempt. Now fearing bombardment of their homes from the nearby fort, the residents became prisoners in their homes.

The reason cited for Brannan’s warlike action was overhearing “secession” talk among the residents as well as Florida’s recent decision to formally withdraw from the United States federation and become an independent State. Florida was to remain independent until it formally voted to join the Confederate States of America on April 22, 1861.

The arrival in March 1861 of more Northern troops increased armed patrols roaming the town and surveilling citizens. Arbitrary arrests were common, and Fort Taylor became an American bastille to hold prisoners of conscience. Locals, especially merchants with inventories to sell, sought favor with the military as willing informants, reporting on anyone complaining of military rule. Elected officials who disagreed with the military faced arrest and confinement, and new elections of approved candidates were held under armed supervision. Those considered “dangerous secessionists” were deported to the mainland.

What Capt. Brannan accomplished with his unilateral action, and unfortunately not pointed out by the lecturer, was to wage war against a State which is the very definition of treason in the US Constitution – Article III, Section 3. Though Brannan was applauded by his fellow officers and eventually promoted for his act, this does not absolve him of treason.

It was highly likely that Brannan was emulating Major Robert Anderson at Charleston as news of the Fort Sumter seizure could have reached him at Key West in early January. As Anderson suffered no adverse consequences for his fort seizure, Brannan perhaps saw a green light to do the same but should have been more circumspect as he certainly was aware that John Brown was hung in 1858 for waging war against Virginia – the crime being treason. Noteworthy is that Brown was tried and convicted in Virginia, where he committed his crime.

Though this speaker outlined how the island was placed under military rule, no adequate or honest discussion was provided regarding how or why military rule had suddenly materialized, how it was justified under American law, or who specifically ordered it. Martial law is generally considered to be the absence of law with arrests and detentions made at the discretion of the military commander, or those commanded by him. Missing was any explanation of how easily Northern commanders could ignore habeas corpus which was so deeply rooted in Anglo-American jurisprudence. But importantly, as Lincoln ignored the Constitution and approved the repressive actions of those like Brannan, it only encouraged more violations of the law.

The seizure of Fort Taylor came at the whim of a local military commander who was sworn to uphold the United States Constitution – and who should have clearly understood the definition of treason. Though simplistically following orders to protect the fort he was charged with commanding, the withdrawal of the State of Florida and its relationship with the United States government at Washington took precedence. After being officially advised of Florida’s decision to formally declare independence, and lacking any reason to remain on the island, which was no longer part of the United States, Capt. Brannan should have sought Florida officials to provide him with receipts for all equipment left behind before departing with his command. Though he likely would have been court-martialed for doing this, he would have been true to his oath to support the United States Constitution.

The above indicates that there is more than one viewpoint regarding this particular topic, and a more well-versed history teacher should have been able to present all credible perspectives beyond their own. In this particular case, the audience deserved a far better explanation of how military rule quickly overwhelmed a peaceful American town. The listeners were unfortunately left with a partial and limited view of this important and most revealing topic.

(For more information on this topic, see: “Key West’s Civil War: Rather Unsafe for a Southern Man to Live Here.” John Bernhard Thuersam – Shotwell Publishing and available on Amazon)

$300 Patriots and Deserters

$300 Patriots and Deserters

“As a sideline to his regular clothing business, [John N.] Eitel was a recruitment broker. During the Civil War, recruitment for the [north’s] armed services fell largely into private hands. The government itself at first encouraged private recruiting by offering a two-dollar premium to any person who brought in a recruit who was accepted into service.

Gradually this led to private brokers all but taking over the supply side of the recruiting system. And nowhere were they more active than New York City, where the New York County Board of Supervisors offered a $300 bounty for volunteers and permitted another committee to use private brokers for distribution of the bounties. When a man volunteered in New York, the broker who brought him in paid the soldier a part of the bounty price agreed upon beforehand. Then the soldier would assign the whole bounty to the broker, who would collect $300 from the New York County committee. Three hundred dollars constituted a substantial sum of money in those days, and there were thousands of recruits, the bloodiest war in American history.

Opportunities for fraud were abundant in this system not only because of the middlemen and the vast sums of money involved, but also because of the rather primitive record keeping. War Department Detective Col. Lafayette Baker wrote: “Another manner of desertion, and by far more generally practiced [between May and October 1864], was by permitting recruits to desert in transit from the rendezvous in New York to the Island or receiving ships.”

The problem of northern draftees buying substitutes in 1863 bedeviled Lincoln’s unending need for troops. Historian William Marvel writes: By early September administration officials claimed that a thousand conscripts a day were arriving in the national capital, but those men came under increasingly heavy guard. Most of them had enlisted as substitutes [and were described by one New York captain as ‘the ugliest set of Devils that ever went unhung’. Thieves thickly seeded every lot, ready to stomp or stab anyone who resisted their pilfering. Sergeants were soon tying or locking up many of the rest to prevent them from running off, but they still drained away to the rear – or to the enemy.” (Lincoln’s Mercenaries, Marvel, pg. 191).

(The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties. Mark E. Neely, Jr. Oxford University Press. 1991, pp. 95-96)

The War Secretary’s Government

The public mind of the North from April through the summer of 1865 was one of vengeance, blood and death to the “rebels.” The South was roundly blamed for “treason” as well as the horrors of Andersonville, though it was Grant – with Lincoln’s approval – who refused Southern offers of food, medicines and medical care for Northern prisoners.

The War Secretary’s Government

“The secret papers of the Lincoln administration had been kept sealed at the request of his heirs until certain persons named therein were dead. It is difficult to understand why Lincoln’s family wished to protect those at whom the finger of suspicion would have pointed by disclosure of these papers after his murder. For the papers indicated that Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, had prior knowledge of the reported plot of John Wilkes Booth and others at Mrs. Surratt’s boarding house in Washington, but had failed to either warn Lincoln or give him special protection.

It was obvious to observers at the time that the real beneficiary, should the plot have succeeded in killing the Vice-President and Secretary of State also would have been the Secretary of War – Stanton himself – who would have been next in line for the Presidency. Moreover, the Radical Republicans had refused to support Lincoln at the 1864 party convention, and this was the faction supported by and supporting Stanton in the disputes following Andrew Johnson’s accession.

Immediately following Lincoln’s assassination, Stanton was in full control of the government through martial law and was in charge of the trials of the so-called conspirators. While the hanging of so many persons without a civil trial did not arouse much comment abroad, the execution of Mrs. Surratt, because Booth had lodged at her house, was the subject of considerable discussion.

It is revealed in official testimony that Mrs. Surratt was offered her life if her son would give himself up. An effort was made by high members of the US government, including members of Congress, to obtain a civil trial for her. But the War Secretary refused on grounds that the executions were necessary to avert panic among the populace. This would indicate, of course, that the outcome of the military trial was predetermined.

Newspapers in France and Mexico began to refer to the Washington government as the “murderers of Mrs. Surratt.” The North’s bitterness against her son, Johnny Surratt, was heightened by the rumor that he was one of the leaders in the Confederate raid on St. Albans, Vermont, from Canada. A reward of $50,000 was offered for his apprehension but was never collected.”

(The Saga of Felix Senac: Legend and Life of a Confederate Agent in Europe. Regina Rapier, Bulletin of Art & History, No. 1, 1972. pp. 182-183)

The Sack of Williamsburg

The Sack of Williamsburg

“Our [25th Pennsylvania Regiment] picket line extended from the York to the James Rivers, about four miles; and with gunboats on either flank was a strong one.

One of the pickets posted at Williamsburg was at the old brick house once occupied by Governor Page of Virginia. It was built of brick imported from England. The library in the mansion was a room about eighteen by twenty feet, and the walls had been covered with books from floor to ceiling; but now the shelving had been torn down and the floor was piled with books in wretched disorder – trampled upon – most pitiful to see. In the attic of this old house the boys found trunks and boxes of papers of a century past – documents, letters, etc.

Among the latter were those bearing the signatures of such men as Jefferson, Madison, Richard Henry Lee; and one more signed by Washington.”

(25th Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteers in the War of the Rebellion. Samuel H. Putnam. Putnam, Davis and Company, Publishers. 1886, pp. 249-250)

Grant and Treason

As true then as it is today, it is not “treason” to question the autocratic actions of a republican form of government, especially through the citizen’s elected representatives. Lincoln and his sectional party wrongly considered any criticism of their policies and actions “treason.” The US Constitution defines treason in Article III, Section 3: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” It is very clear who levied war against the States, adhered to their enemies, plus gave them aid and comfort.

As he levied war against Virginia, it was Grant (with Lincoln’s approval) who directed Sheridan to lay absolute waste to the Shenandoah Valley in 1864, sufficient to starve any crows flying above and in search of food – likewise for Virginia’s citizens. Below he congratulates his underling for his violent act of treason while referring to Virginians as “the enemy.”

As is well-known, Grant went on to win the presidency only with the help of recently enfranchised freedmen marched to the polls with Republican ballots; he is afterward known as the most corrupt president in the history of the United States.

Grant and Treason

“Now one of the main objects of the expedition began to be accomplished. Sheridan went to work with his command, gathering in all the crops, cattle and everything in the upper part of the Shenandoah Valley required by our troops; and especially taking what might be of use to the enemy. What he could not take away he destroyed so that the enemy would not be invited to return. I congratulated Sheridan upon his recent great victory and had a salute of one-hundred guns fired in honor of it, the guns being aimed at the enemy around Petersburg.

I had reason to believe that the Lincoln administration was a little afraid to have a decisive battle fought at that time, for fear it might go against us and have a bad effect on the November elections. The convention which had met and made its nomination of the Democratic candidate for the presidency had declared the war a failure.  Treason was talked as boldly in Chicago at that Democratic convention as ever it had been in Charleston. It was a question of whether the government would then have had the power to make arrests and punish those who thus talked treason.”

(Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, Vol. II. Charles L. Webster & Company, 1886, pp. 331-332)

The Conspiracy Which Brought on War

President-elect Lincoln instructed his party stalwarts to either avoid what would become the Washington Peace Conference chaired by former-President John Tyler, or if in attendance to refuse any peaceful compromise as it would dissolve Republican party unity.

The Conspiracy Which Brought on War

“On February 2, 1861, Hon. Stephen A. Douglas in a letter published in the Memphis Appeal, wrote of the Republican leaders as follows:

‘They are bold, determined men. They are striving to break up the Union under the pretense of serving it. They are struggling to overthrow the Constitution while professing undying attachment to it and a willingness to make any sacrifice to maintain it They are trying to plunge the country into a cruel war as the surest means of destroying the Union upon the plea of enforcing the laws and protecting public property.’

Shortly after Douglas wrote this letter Senator Zachariah Chandler of Michigan wrote a letter to Gov. Austin Blair which proves the guilty conspiracy of the men determined on war. Virginia had solicited a conference of States to see if some plan could not be devised and agreed upon to prevent war and save the Union.

Chandler wrote Blair that he opposed the conference and that no Republican State should send a delegate. He implored the Governor to send stiff-necked delegates or none and added these sinister words: ‘Some of the manufacturing States think that a war would be awful; without a little blood-letting this Union will not be worth a curse.”

(The Conspiracy Which Brought on War, S.A. Cunningham, Confederate Veteran, Vol. XXIV, No. 10, October 1916, pg. 436)

The Choice Between War and Peace

Lincoln was without question a sharp Whig attorney who knew the intricacies of Illinois politics. On the national stage he led a conglomeration of former Whigs, anti-Catholic Know Nothings, radical abolitionists, free-soilers, Transcendentalists and tariff protectionists who valued their own interests above all. As stated in the second paragraph below he knew that his political support from this rainbow of varied interests and controlled by Radicals, would fall apart should any compromise to save the Union be embraced. He placed his party above his country.

His predecessor James Buchanan was not a supporter of secession but aware that a president waging war against a State was committing treason – Article III, Section 3 of the US Constitution. His attorney-general confirmed this. A president could not raise an army – only Congress could do this – Lincoln circumvented the Constitution with Republican governors sending him their own State troops until Congress met in July. By that time congressmen were aware that they faced arbitrary arrest for “treason” should they oppose Lincoln’s actions.

The Choice Between War and Peace

 “Lincoln’s cabinet was almost equally divided between Conservatives and Radicals. The Radicals favored an immediate attempt to resupply Fort Sumter even should this precipitate war. These men thought the new Confederacy would crumble upon the first show of force, because a small junta had caused all the trouble, and the Southern people would have no heart in a conspirators’ war.

The Conservatives believed that given peace and adequate time, the Union could be reconstituted. Would it not be better to withdraw the small garrisons from forts to so as to prevent immediate hostilities and secure the Border States to the Union? Seward knew there were no military reasons for keeping Sumter and had no doubt that it would soon be evacuated. On March 7, Lincoln told a caller that if Sumter were abandoned, he would have to leave the White House the same day.

On March 12 1861 Stephen Douglas began a debate designed to force the Radical Republicans either the accept or attack Lincoln’s peace policy as stated in his inauguration speech.

He reviewed at length the legal status of federal authority in the South. As the laws stood, the Executive could not use the army and the navy to enforce the law in the Southern States. What would be involved in the use of force? He had secured estimates from competent military authorities as to the troop requirements in the event of war. At least 285,000 men would be needed to compel submission and it would cost at least $316,000,000 to keep them in the field for a year. How could eighteen States ever pay the cost of subjugating fifteen?

The Republicans sat silent as he talked, smiling contemptuously. When he finished, Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, attacked him as the country’s outstanding alarmist. Douglas lost his temper and taunted the Republican Radicals with desiring the Union dissolved. The Republicans were unyielding, the few Northern Democrats were impotent but the galleries applauded wildly.”

(The Eve of Conflict: Stephen A. Douglas and the Needless War, George Fort Milton, Houghton, Mifflin Company, 1934, pp. 548-551)

Penalty for Not Re-Enlisting

Author Jonathan W. White’s book “Emancipation, the Union Army and the Reelection of Abraham Lincoln” (LSU Press, 2014) contends that Secretary of War Edwin Stanton utilized intimidation tactics to ensure Lincoln’s election and use the soldier vote to help accomplish it. His assistant secretary, Charles A. Dana, admitted to using the full power of the War Department to ensure Lincoln’s electoral triumph. Stanton also employed creative solutions for filling the blue ranks with soldiers.

By May 1864, the initial three-year enlistments had expired and strong measures utilized for re-enlisting the veterans. The hated draft was causing riots in northern cities, and Grant complained often of the useless soldiers he was sent — paid substitutes and draftees who often deserted at the first opportunity.

Desperate to retain the veterans, Stanton demanded additional government bounty money to entice them to stay, one-month furloughs home to show off their “Veteran Volunteer” sleeve chevrons, and commanders rewarded with promotions for re-enlistments obtained. Commanders unsuccessful in their re-enlistment efforts were denied promotion or cashiered.

The bounty money made soldiers wealthy men for the time, but naturally caused them to avoid battle in order to spend it. White estimates that only 15 percent of veteran soldiers re-enlisted, leaving 85 percent who walked away, as it had become an abolition war rather than the “save the Union” banner they had enlisted under. Additionally, they saw emancipation bringing many black freedmen north in search of employment, thus depressing wages and taking jobs from white northerners.

Penalty for Not Re-Enlisting

In May [1864] the three-years’ service of the regiment had expired; and three hundred and seventy-five men who had not reenlisted as veterans were mustered out and made their way home as best they could. On arriving in New York, they drew up and adopted a series of resolutions. They began by rehearsing an order of Col. [Henry L.] Abbot, dated May 21, urging them to “stand by their colors, and not march to the rear to the sound of the enemy’s cannon.”

The reason for their non-re-enlistment seems to be stated in the charge against Col. Abbot:

“That he has spared no pains to place over us a military aristocracy, subjecting us to every variety of petty annoyance, to show his own power, and take away our manhood; subjecting men to inhuman and illegal punishments for appealing to him for justice; disgracing others for attempting to obtain commissions in colored regiments; . . . about May 4 ordering his heavy artillery men who had not re-enlisted, into the ditch for the remainder of their term of service, thus placing us on a level with prisoners under sentence for court-martial; and finally capping the climax by leaving us to the tender mercy of provost-marshals, turning us loose on the world, without pay, without officers, without transportation, without rations and without our colors.”

(The Military & Civil History of Connecticut, During the War of 1861-1865. W. Croffut & J. Morris. Ledyard Bill. 1869, pg. 558-559)

 

Gideon Welles on Grant, Republicans and Conscription

Gideon Welles on Grant, Republicans and Conscription

Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles (1802-1878), was Connecticut-born, a Democrat until 1848, left for the Free-Soil party and then joined the nascent Republicans in 1854. Claiming to be anti-slavery, his father had been a Connecticut shipping merchant and very likely participated in New England’s transatlantic slave trade. He was appointed to Secretary of the Navy by Lincoln as a reward for past party support.

The following is excerpted from The Diary of Gideon Welles.

August 2, 1864, Tuesday: “[Grant is reticent] and, I fear, less able than he is credited. Admiral Porter has always said there was something wanting in Grant, which Sherman could always supply, and vice-versa, as regards Sherman, but that the two together made a very perfect general officer and [they] ought never to be separated. Grant relies on others but does no know men – can’t discriminate. I feel quite unhappy over this Petersburg [Crater battle] – less however from the result, bad as it is, than from an awakening apprehension that Grant is not equal to the position assigned him.

God grant that I may be mistaken, for the slaughtered thousands of my countrymen who have poured out their rich blood for three months in the soil of Virginia from the Wilderness to Petersburg. Under his generalship[, and who] can never be atoned in this world or the next if he without Sherman prove a failure. A nation’s destiny almost has been committed to this man, and if it is an improper committal, where are we?”

August 27, Saturday: Much party machinery is just at this time in motion. No small portion of it is a prostitution and abuse. The Whig element is venal and corrupt, to a great extent. I speak of the leaders of that party now associated with the Republicans. They seem to have very little political principle, they have no belief in public virtue or popular intelligence, they have no self-reliance . . . [and] little regard for constitutional restraint. Their politics and their ideas of government consist of expedients, and cunning management with the intelligent, and coercion and subordination of the less-informed.”

August 31, 1864, Wednesday: The complaints in regard to recruiting are severe and prolonged. They come in numbers. The impending draft of the army indirectly benefits the Navy, or induces persons to enter it. Their doing so relieves them and their localities from the draft. Hence the crowd and competition. Then come in the enormous bounties from the State and municipal authorities over which naval officers have no control, and which lead to bounty-jumping and corruption.”

(Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, Volume II, Howard K. Beale, editor, W.W. Norton & Company, pp. 92; 122; 129)

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