President Lincoln Exchanges Communications with General William T. Sherman

September 17, 1864

President Lincoln writes General William T. Sherman: “I feel great interest in the subjects of your despatch mentioning corn and Sorghum, & a contemplated visit to you.” Sherman had wired General Halleck two days earlier: “`My report is done, and will be forwarded as soon as I get a few more of the subordinate reports. I am awaiting a courier from General Grant. . . . Governor Brown has disbanded his militia, to gather the corn and sorghum of the State. I have reason to believe that he and Stephens want to visit me, and I have sent them a hearty invitation. I will exchange 2,000 prisoners with Hood, but no more.”

Sherman responds: I will keep the Department fully advised of all developements as connectedwith the subject in which you feel so interested. A Mr. [Augustus R.] Wright, former member of Congress from Rome Ga and a Mr. [William] King of Marietta are now going between Gov Brown and myself. I have said that some of the people of Georgia are now engaged in rebellion begun in error and perpetuated in pride; but that Georgia can now save herself from the devastation of war preparing for her, only by withdrawing her quota out of the confederate army, and aiding me to repel Hood from the border of the State; in which event instead of desolating the land, as we progress I will keep our men to the high roads and commons, and pay for the corn and meat we need and take. I am fully conscious of the delicate nature of such assertions, but it would be a magnificent stroke of policy, if I could without wasting a foot of ground or of principle arouse the latent enmity to Jeff Davis, of Georgia.”

Sherman adds regarding Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens, whom Lincoln had known in Congress in the late 1840s: “The people do not hesitate to say, that Mr. Stevens was, and is, a Union man at heart, and they feel that Jeff Davis will not trust him, or let him have a share in his government.”

Former Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase writes in his diary: “I have seen the President twice since I have been here. Both times third persons were present, and there was nothing like private conversation. His manner was cordial and so were his words; and I hear of nothing but good-will from him. But he is not at all demonstrative, either in speech or manner. I feel that I do not know him, and I found no action on what he says or does…It is my conviction that the cause I love and the general interests of the country will be best promoted by his re-election, and I have resolved to join my efforts to those of almost the whole body of my friends in securing it…I have been told that the President said he and I could not get along together in the Cabinet. Doubtless there was a difference of temperament, and on some points, of judgment. I may have been too earnest and eager, while I thought him not earnest enough and too slow. On some occasions, indeed, I found that it was so. But I never desired any thing else than his complete success, and never indulged a personal feeling incompatible with absolute fidelity to his Administration. To assure that success I labored incessantly in the Treasury Department, with what results the world knows. When I found that the use of my name in connection with the presidency would interfere with my usefulness in that department, I seized the opportunity offered by the expression, by a majority of the Union members of the [Ohio] Legislature, of a preference for Mr. Lincoln, to ask that no further consideration should be given to my name. After that, I advised all friends who consulted me, in reference to the action of the Baltimore Convention, to give him their support. But it would be uncandid not to say that I felt wronged and hurt by the circumstances which preceded and attended my resignation, and that I was far from satisfied with the indications that Mr. Lincoln sympathized more with those who assailed and disparaged than with those who asserted and maintained the views held by me in common with the great majority of the supporters of his Administration. I think even now there would never have been any difficulty about our getting along together, could he have understood my sentiments just as they were, and if he had allowed me to understand his freely and unreservedly…” (not completed)

Navy Secretary Gideon Welles writes in his diary: “There was a special Cabinet-meeting to-day on the subject of the abandoned plantations. A person of the name of Wright wishes the President to put him in possession of what he claims to be his plantation, now in the occupancy of Mr. Flanders, the Treasury agent. It seems that F. has fifty-two of these plantations,–or had some time since, perhaps he has more now.”

The President said serious questions were rising in regard to this description of property; appeals were made to him, and he could not undertake to investigate and adjust them. Quite a discussion took place in which the President, Mr. Bates, and Mr. Stanton took the principal part. It was not made distinctly to appear how these plantations came into the hands of Mr. Flanders, the Treasury agent. AL who were present, except Mr. bates and myself, seemed to take it for granted that it was legitimate and proper. They said the law had prescribed how abandoned plantations became forfeit. Mr. Stanton said he had given the subject great attention and most thorough investigation, and he made a somewhat emphatic and labored argument, telling the President (very properly I think) he could not, and ought not to, take upon himself the details of these embarrassing questions; that when Admiral Farragut and General Butler took possession of New Orleans, many of the inhabitants fled, leaving their plantations, and kept themselves within the Rebel lines; thousands of negroes were left unprovided for. It became necessary for the government to provide for them; the military authorities had take up their deserted plantations and seized others, and let them out for the negroes to work. When Mr. Chase got his Treasury agents at work, it was thought best to turn these plantations over to him. After a little time, Chase became sick of his bargain, and desired the War Department to retake possession and responsibility but he (S.) had, declined.

Attorney General Edward Bates writes in his diary:Speci[i]al meeting of C.C. call[e]d to consider of claims of certain persons in Louisiana to have restored to them, their plantations, which had been seised by the Military, and, after being sometime in possession of the Quarter

Master, turned over to a Treasury agent (mr. Flanders). It evidently appeared that the President and the Secs. Of Treasury and War had never considered how and by what authority those plantations were held – Mr. Fessenden insists that Flanders has no authority under his Department, and considers him, in that regard, the agent of the War Dept. But Mr. Stanton says no – the War office, having turned over the plantations to a treasury agent, had nothing more to do with them. Still, the question remained how to dispose of them; and there seemed to be no sensible understanding upon the subject – Nobody had considered the elements of the case – under what right or power, they were seized, for what uses and purposes held, or by whom to be controlled and disposed of –

The subject being tangled in this manner, I suggested several thoughts to bring the case to more definite issues – i. A – I asked what is meant by a plantation? To which I was sarcastically answered, ‘Why, of course, the place where planting is done’ – which raised a laugh at my expense – Then, said I, being only the place, my question is fully answered – It is land only – not stock, implements, machinery, nor any outfit, beyond the land. That will do – the act of, 63 relates to personal property – and these plantations were seised and these transactions occur[r]ed long before the act of July 2d., 64, which is the first that gives power to the treasury agent, to lease (and there is now [no] power given to any one else[)].

It was suggested by the secy. of War, that as these plantations were originally seised by the military power, so they ought now to be disposed of by military order.

To that I answered, that military seisure could only be for military use – that it was no claim of title, but is possession only, and continues so long only as the possession is needed, and continues in fact – and that it applies to friends as well as foes. And, besides all this, that these plantations were actually and formally surrendered and turned over to the Treasury agent – and so the military connection with them had ceased.

I then suggested the difficulties of making any Executive order, civil or military, as to the delivery of possession, and that the best way would be to leave the parties entitled, to assert their claims, in the courts. Mr. Staanton said the courts might give the possession to traitors in arms. I replied that the laws had made provisiosn of their own for the forfeiture nd confiscation of land of rebels; and that I did not know that [the] question of confiscation could be tried, collaterally, in an action for possession. He rejoined that a Judge could not, in any case, give possession to a rebel – I said, how is he to know that [the] plaintiff is a rebel, till he is tried and convicted? If the Judge decide a case otherwise than according to law, he ought to be impeached and broken – He resumed (rather in furore) if the Judge should give the land to a traitor he ought to be shot and I would give the order! I could not help replying – You might have force enough to ensure impunity for the crime, but, by law, you would be subject to be hanged for the murder![‘]”

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