The Tragic Conflict: The Civil War and Reconstruction

By William B. Hesseltine | Go to book overview

38
General Sherman Negotiates Peace

Jacob Donalson Cox

To understand Sherman's negotiations with Johnston, we must recall the general's attitude toward the rebellious States and his views on the subject of slavery. Originally a conservative Whig in politics, deprecating the antislavery agitation, as early as 1856 he had written to his brother, "Unless people both North and South learn more moderation, we'll 'see sights' in the way of civil war. Of course the North have the strength and must prevail, though the people of the South could and would be desperate enough." In 1859 he was still urging concessions instead of insisting on the absolute right.... But he was also one of the clearest sighted in seeing that when slavery had appealed to the sword it would perish by the sword. In January, 1864, he expressed it tersely: "The South has made the interests of slavery the issue of the war. If they lose the war, they lose slavery." At the end of the same month, he said, "Three years ago, by a little reflection and patience, they could have had a hundred years of peace and prosperity; but they preferred war. Last year they could have saved their slaves, but now it is too late-all the powers of earth cannot restore to them their slaves any more than their dead grandfathers." And in the same letter, written to a subordinate with express authority to make it known to the Southern people within our lines, he said of certain administrative regulations: "These are well-established principles of war, and the people of the South, having appealed to war, are barred from appealing for protection to our Constitution, which they have practically and publicly defied. They have appealed to war, and must abide its rules and laws."

Two years later Thaddeus Stevens, as radical leader in Congress,

JACOB DONALSON COX, Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, 2 vols. ( New York, 1900), Ch. xlix.

General Cox, Cincinnati lawyer, served on Sherman's staff, and later was in Grant's Cabinet. Sherman's agreement with Joseph E. Johnston met violent opposition in the Cabinet of Andrew Johnson, and Grant went to Greensborough to soften the blow to Sherman's pride. General Cox's story relates not only the last days of the Confederate government, but presents, as well, Lincoln's last plans for a moderate reconstruction program. The rejection of the Sherman-Johnson Convention produced, indeed, the interregnum which Sherman feared, and the disbanded Southern soldiers, wandering to their homes, wrought great damage.

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