Political Certainty Matches Military Uncertainty at the White House

May 29, 1864

Presidential aide John G. Nicolay writes home: “If any doubt remained before, about the certainty of Mr. Lincoln’s renomination, it has been pretty well dispelled by t he action of the State Conventions of New York, Ohio, and Illinois during the past week, all of which have elected delegates favorable to him, and passed resolutions recommending his renomination. I suppose a similar unanimity has not occurred during the whole history of the country.”

A. T. Stone, a former Confederate now giving pro-Union speeches, writes the President to request a military commission: I hope I shall not be considered presumptious in addressing you a private letter. As you have doubtless heard something of me, and of my lectures, through the Newspapers, I shall say but little in regard to my personal history. I was unfortunately a resident of Louisiana, at the breaking out of this Rebellion. I was a quiet, unpretending citizen, just entering upon the practice of the law, and not altogether unknown to the literary world, having been for some years an occasional contributor to the “Louisville Journal,” “Memphis Appeal,” “National Intelligencer,” and other publications of less pretensions. The “Cotton Field,” was from my pen, also that Poem which first appeared in the “National Intelligencer,” and which was so extensively published, entitled “The Pin-Oak,” the great tree of the South. During the canvass of 1860, I took the stump in Louisiana for John Bell; you are of course aware that no one was permitted, there, to support Abraham Lincoln. I am personally acquainted with Davis, Benjamin, Judge Perkins, and a host of the leaders of this Rebellion. I have also an extensive, and somewhat intimate, acquaintance, with many of the leading citizens in the welthy districts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas. And I know very well who were union men, and who were not — who went in under a pressure of circumstances, and who were altogether voluntary actors — in short, I can vouch for the political status of thousands many of whom it would be advisable for the government to know. And it is quite possible, from the peculiar position I have occupied both during, and prior to, the Rebellion, that I am in possession of more information in regard to the feelings, interests, and condition of the Rebels than almost any person who has been so unfortunate as to be caught among them, and yet so fortunate as to escape.

Since the Capture of Vicksburg, at which time I was released from the Rebel Army, I have had the honor to address face to face, more than fifty thousand of my fellow-citizens, in Northern Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Southern Wisconsin. I have spoken nearly one hundred and fifty times, in all sorts of places, from “Bryan Hall,” Chicago, where I lectured on the 23 & 25th of Jany last, down to a country School house, and upon each and every occasion have I endeavored to give the people a correct idea of the animus of this infamous slaveholder’s Rebellion; and upon each and every occasion have I attempted not only to defend the Administration, but I have strennously and persistently advocated the re-nomination of that man for whom I was not permitted to raise my voice in 1860, for President of the United States. I deserve no credit for this, for I have a feeling in this matter, and it came from the heart — but I may say, and I can bring you thousands of testimonials to prove that I never spoke but I brought forth repeated, spontaneous, overwhelming expressions from my audience in favor of keeping Abraham Lincoln where he is until the Rebels acknowledge him their president. For eight months have I done this; and sir, I know the feelings of the people well — and I know you will be nominated, and elected, in spite of Fremont, the Copperheads, and the Devil! I do not presume that I have changed one man’s opinions, but I have kept the subject before them. For six weeks prior to the Republican Convention of Wisconsin, I believe the first that was held, to appoint the delegates to the Baltimore convention, I spoke in almost every considerable town in the State, with what effect the friends of the cause can testify. For this I claim nothing — when the proper time comes my friends will ask that I be permitted to fight the Rebels where I can be of service.

I have been told that I can be of more service to my country as a public speaker during the coming canvass than in any other possible way — but as I do not desire to make a money speculation out of my “Experiences,” and as I am unable to remain in the field, having already spent some hundreds of dollars of money borrowed from my friends in Ohio, I am anxious to enter the service. I shall, as soon as I am able, visit Washington for that purpose. Understanding the Negro, well — and knowing if taken by the Rebels I can hope for no quarters — I prefer a command in a negro Regt. I hope I may be permitted to say without egotism — that I doubt not a board of military examiners will pronounce my military and literary qualifications superior to nine tenths of the colonels now in the army. I have made military matters a study for years — even before the war.

You will excuse me for saying so much about myself — but as I intend to visit Washington during the month of June or July I have written this rather as an introduction than otherwise.

From South Carolina, Laura Towne sends a letter to President Lincoln from Don Carlos Rutter, a freed black slave: “My name is Don Carlos, and I hope my letter will find you and your family in perfect health.”

Will you please to be so kind Sir, as to tell me about my little bit of land. I am afraid to put on it a stable, or cornhouse, and such like, for fear it will be taken away from me again. Will you please to be so kind as to tell me whether the land will be sold from under us or no, or whether it will be sold to us at all. I should like to buy the very spot where I live. It aint but six acres, and I have got cotton planted on it, and very fine cotton too; and potatoes and corn coming on very pretty. If we colored people have land I know we shall do very well — there is no fear of that. Some of use have as much as three acres of corn, besides ground-nuts, potatoes, peas, and I don’t know what else myself. If the land can only be sold, we can buy it all, for every house has its cotton planted, and doing well, and planted only for ourselves– We should like to know how much we shall have to pay for it — if it is sold–

I am pretty well struck in age Sir, for I waited upon Mrs. Alston that was Theodosia Burr, daughter of Aaron Burr, and I remember well when she was taken by pirates, — but I can maintain myself and my family well on this land. My son got sick on the Wabash (Flagship at Hilton Head) and he will never get well, for he has a cough that will kill him at last. He cannot do much work, but I can maintain him. I had rather work for myself and raise my own cotton than work for a gentleman for wages, for if I could sell my cotton for only .20 cts a pound it would pay me.

What ever you say I am willing to do, and I will attend to whatever you tell me.

He added: “After the Government Superintendent gave me leave to pick one of the new houses I pitch upon the one I live in. Then I fill up the holes in the garden, and in the house, I lath it & fill in with moss till it is comfortable in the winter. I did a heap of work on it, and now it would hurt my heart too much to see another man have it. I should not like it at all.

Laura Towne added: “The letter above was dictated to me by a Freedman on St. Helena Island who is a refugee from Edisto, and who was formerly confidential servant in the Alston family. He can read & write, but is too old to do it with ease. He, with others of the Freedmen, often expresses a wish to speak to Massa Linkum, feeling sure that he will listen to their plea for land & do what is best for them. At Carlos desire, I took down from his own lips the words he was restless to speak to the President, intending to hand the letter to him at the Sanitary Fair, but I refrained from so doing that business might not be thrust in upon pleasure–

I have given my promise to Carlos that I will do my best to let his “own word” reach the ear in which he has unbounded trust & hope, and therefore I forward this letter to Washington, begging no one to prevent its reaching its destination.

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