News of Gettysburg and Vicksburg Victories

July 4, 1863

The White House issues an unusual statement in the morning: “The President announces to the country that news from the Army of the Potomac, up to 10 P.M. of the 3rd. is such as to cover that Army with the highest honor, to promise a great success to the cause of the Union, and to claim the condolence of all for many gallant fallen.  And that for this, he especially desire that on this day.  He whose will, not ours, should ever be done, be everywhere remembered and reverenced with profoundest gratitude.”

Lincoln aide William O. Stoddard takes charge of arrangements for celebration of the Fourth of July.  “It was easy to find a plucky orator of the day.  As to the place, the broad Mall below the White House toward the Potomac was practically under my orders, and there the grandstand was erected.  I also had the Marine Band.  Mrs. Lincoln was backing me in all such matters. I did not speak to the President about it, but there was no doubt as to his approval.”  In anonymous newspaper dispatch, Stoddard wrote “it was just an old-fashioned ‘commemoration,’ with an unusually large show of soldiers, flags, societies, citizens, and fireworks; but morally it marked a great revolution in the composition of the population of the national capital. The fact is, that they never had a Fourth of July here before, and the ancient burghers looked on amazed to see what a fuss their new neighbors made over it.  All passed off well, however, amid cheers for the President and Gen Meade.”

Admiral Samuel P. Lee writes Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles to report on a Confederate peace mission by Vice President Alexander H. Stephens, an old friend of President Lincoln from their days together in Congress in the late 1840s: “The following Communication is just received from Mr Stephens who is on the flag of truce boat anchored above. I shall inform Mr Stephens that I await your instructions before giving him an answer.”  Stephens writes: “As military Commissioner, I am the bearer of a communication in writing from Jefferson Davis Commander-in-chief of the land and naval forces of the Confederate States to Abraham Lincoln Comd’r-in-Chief of the land & Naval forces of the United States.

Hon Robert Ould, Confederate States’ Agent of Exchange, accompanies me as Secretary.

For the purpose of delivering the communication in person and conferring upon the subjects to which it relates, I desire to proceed directly to Washington in the Steamer ‘Torpedo’ commanded by Lieut. Hunter Davidson of the Confederate States’ Navy. No person being on board but the Hon. Mr Ould, myself & the boat’s officers & crew.

President Lincoln writes to Admiral Samuel P. Lee regarding an attempted Confederate peace commission: “Your despatch transmitting a note from Mr. Alexander H. Stephens has been received.  You will not permit Mr. Stephens to proceed to Washington, or to pass the blockade.  He does not make know the subjects to which the communication in writing from Mr. Davis relates, which he bears, and seeks to deliver in person to the President, and upon which he desires to confer.  Those subjects can only be Military, or not Military, or partly both.  Whatever may be military will be readily received, if offered through the well understood Military channel.  Of course nothing else, will be received by the President, when offered, as in this case, in terms assuming the independence of the so-called Confederate States; and anything will be received and carefully considered by him, when offered by any influential person or persons, in terms not assuming the independence of the so-called Confederate States.”  Later, President Lincoln writes Lee: “The request of A. H. Stephens is inadmissible. The customary agents and channels are adequate for all needful communication and conference between the United States forces and the insurgents.”

Navy Secretary Gideon Welles writes in his diary regarding a peace commission lead by Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens: “Received this evening a dispatch from Admiral Lee, stating he had a communication from A.H. Stephens, who wishes to go to Washington with a companion as military commissioner from Jefferson Davis, Commanding General of Confederate forces, to Abraham Lincoln, President and Commanding General of the Army and Navy of the United States, and desires permission to pass the blockade in the steamer Torpedo on this mission, with Mrs. Olds, his private secretary.  Showed the dispatch to Blair, whom I met.  He made no comment.  Saw Stanton directly after, who swore and growled indignantly.  The President was at the Soldiers’ Home and not expected for an hour or two.  Consulted Seward, who was emphatic against having anything to do with Stephens or Davis.  Did not see the President till late.  In the mean time Stanton and others had seen him, and made known their feelings and views.  The President treats the subject as not very serious nor very important, and proposes to take it up to-morrow.  My own impression is that not much good is intended in this proposition, yet it is to be met and considered.  It is not necessary that the vessel should pass the blockade, or that Stephens should come here, but I would not repel advances, or refuse to receive Davis’s communication.”

Welles writes in his diary: “I was called up a midnight precisely by a messenger with telegram from Byington, dated at Hanover Station, stating that the most terrific battle of the War was being fought at or near Gettysburg, that he left the field at half-past 6 P.M. with tidings, and that everything looked hopeful.  The President was at the War Department, where this dispatch, which is addressed to me, was received.  It was the first word of the great conflict.  Nothing had come to the War Department.  There seems to have been no system, nor arrangement, for prompt, constant, and speedy intelligence.  I had remained at the War Department for news until about eleven.  Some half an hour later the dispatch from Byington to me came over the wires, but nothing from Byington to me came over the wires, but nothing from any one to Stanton or Halleck.  The operator in the War Department gave the dispatch to the President, who remained.  He asked, “Why is Byington?  None in the Department knew anything of him, and the President telegraphed to Hanover Station, asking, ‘Who is Byington?’  The operator replied, ‘Ask the Secretary of the Navy.’  I informed the President that the telegram was reliable.  Byington is the editor and proprietor of a weekly paper in Norwalk, Connecticut, active and stirring; is sometimes employed by the New York Tribune, and is doubtless so employed now.

The information this morning and dispatches from General Meade confirm Byington’s telegram. There is much confusion in the intelligence received.  The information is not explicit.  A great and bloody battle was fought, and our army has the best of it, but the end is not yet.  Everything, however, looks encouraging.

President Lincoln writes to General Robert C. Schenck, commander of Union troops in Maryland: “Your despatches about negro regiment are not uninteresting or unnoticed by us, but we have not been quite ready to respond.  You will have an answer to-morrow.”

Published in: on July 4, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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