President Lincoln Reconsiders Colonization Project, Baffles General Banks

January 3, 1863

In preparation for the Emancipation Proclamation, President Lincoln had pushed plans for voluntary colonization abroad of freed black slaves.  Secretary of State William H. Seward writes the President regarding the colonization project off the coast of Haiti: “I think it necessary to have a few precautions taken before I certify the contract of Bernard Kock1 and I will speak with you on the subject when we meet.”  Kock was in charge of the colonization project on Vache Island off the coast of Haiti where he proposed to relocate 5,000 former slaves.

Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning visits the White House: “This morning went to the Presidents and read him a letter from Mr Cowper of Norfolk Va, asserting that the rebels intended to make an attack on Fortress Monroe and capture it.  He asked me to leave the letter with him which I did, and he immediately sent for Genl Halleck.”

President Lincoln writes a note: “Let this woman have her boy out of Old Capitol Prison,” which was the local jail on Capitol Hill.

Despite his interviews the previous day with President Lincoln, General Benjamin F. Butler continues perplexed about the causes of his dismissal as commander of the Union army in New Orleans. “I rose early in the morning of the day after my interviews with the President and Stanton, Halleck and Seward.  I examined the situation with careful thought, and the result with this: I had been deliberately deprived of my command for no fault of mine, and in a manner which, to the outside world, would appear to demonstrate that it was because of some charges made against me by somebody upon some matter, or because of some unfitness for command.  The administration now refused to state the ground of my recall.  Now, if that had been stated or could be stated, ti would relieve me in every way, and I should be justified to my own people and to other nations.  If Seward had had the courage to say, or if Stanton would have said and published words amounting to this: ‘General Butler has been recalled at the request of the Emperor Napoleon,’ as was the fact, I should have been in a condition to go again into the service, if desired, with honor, and might have done credit to myself.

I came to the conclusion that Lincoln would offer me some other important command; but I also came to another conclusion, which was, that I would take no command under any circumstances unless I was returned to New Orleans.  Having determined after due thought upon a course of action, I am not easily turned from it.

Quite early after breakfast, I called on Mr. Lincoln, according to his appointment, and found him apparently awaiting my coming, for on his table were maps, charts, and some books of statistics, to which he soon made reference.

‘Mr. President,’ I said, ‘thanking you for your kind and appreciative note, I have brought my commission for your acceptance, and wish to inform you that I cannot learn why I was recalled.  The country does not know why I was recalled from New Orleans.  That leaves me open to the suspicion that it had been done because of the truth of some infamous charges that the rebels and copperheads have made against me.’

‘Put your commission back in your pocket,’ said he.  ‘I have seen no reason to change my opinion of you, which, from the beginning, has been of the highest character, as you know.  Now, I want to give you a command quite equal in extent and importance to the one which you won for yourself at New Orleans.  In it you can do great good to the country.  The question of abolition of slavery is now settled.  I want you to god down on the Mississippi River, take command there, and enlist, arm and organize as many negro troops as can be had.

He produced some maps which showed the slave population by the territories and districts.  The various sections were marked over with shaded lines, so drawn that where slavery was most prevalent, there the shading was darkest.

‘I know of no one who can do this as well as yourself.  From our correspondence, I see that you throughly believe in negro troops.  You shall have the nomination of all the officers, and I will endorse them by appointments.’

‘I am infinitely to you for your good opinion,’ I said, ‘but I could have enlisted several thousands if you had given me this full power when I was in New Orleans.  Indeed, you see the Mississippi River country is black with them, and I had only to march up the Mississippi to get them.  I would have so marched if I could have had any reinforcements; but now that march cannot be made without fighting.  Sending Banks to command in my place and then sending me down on the Mississippi to enlist troops, would be simply saying that I was not fit to command troops, but only fit for a recruiting sergeant.’

‘There is something in that,’ said he, ‘but I will give you command.  You may take Grant’s command down there.’

‘Mr. President,’ I replied, ‘I feel keenly enough my own recall and having another man put in my place without any reason given for it excepting incompetency.  I have watched Grant’s movements with care, and I see no reason why he should be recalled.  He seems to have done well enough, and I do not want to be a party to such another injustice as I suffer.  But, Mr. President, why not do this: Send me back to my old command and I will go up the Mississippi rolling up troops like a snow-ball in the soft snow.  Now, every soldier costs the country at least two thousand dollars in bounties, and in doing anything with him, getting him drilled and transported.  Those negro soldiers will cost nothing but their pay, uniforms, and rations, and the last we can get as we go along.  To recall Banks will be no aspersion upon him; it will stand on the ground that his appointment was owing to the mistake of my removal; and I cannot believe it is just to myself, my family, or the country that I should take a different command.’

He walked backward and forward once or twice along the audience chamber and returned to me with an appealing look, saying: ‘But I cannot recall Banks.’  I answered: —

‘I ought not, Mr. President, by my action to confess that I ought to have been recalled, which, by taking a different command, especially one which involves recruiting duties only, I should do.  I was once a major-general recruiting in New England; but that was to raise troops to command on an important expedition.  Besides, Mr. President, there is another thing.  You removed McClellan, a Democratic general, and sent him away in disgrace on the 5th of November, as soon as the results of the election were known, and he has sunk into a growling, fault-finding retirement.  My recall is dated the 9th, although determined on sometime before. Seward thought if he should apparently remove us together, as Democrats, and send a Republican down in my place, the country would understand that it was to benefit the anti-slavery cause, as he supposed I should turn up a growling, unappreciative, Democratic sore-head.  But that trick of his won’t work.  He has made a mistake, and he will not thus save himself before Congress.  The position that I have taken in my farewell address at New Orleans, which I shall stand by, will cause me to be looked upon as at the head, next to yourself, of the anti-slavery cause.  Since this war began, I have never failed in anything I have undertaken, and I shall not fail in this, Mr. President, and you will have no warmer supporter of your administration than I am so long as you hold your present course as regards slavery, and not let it be bedeviled by Seward.  I think I must go to Lowell, Mr. President, but here, again, is my commission.’

‘Oh,’ he answered, ‘you shall go where you please, General, but keep your commission.’

We shook hands, and I went to Lowell.

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Published in: on January 3, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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