Sunday, January 5, 2014

January 3, 1864 (Saturday): An Offer of Amnesty

Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction (Library of Congress)

[Inclosure No. 1.] HDQRS. CONFEDERATE FORCES EAST TENNESSEE, January 3, 1864.
    SIR: I find the proclamation of President Lincoln of the 8th of December last in circulation in handbills amongst our soldiers.* The immediate object of this circulation appears to be induce our soldiers to quit our ranks and take the oath of allegiance to the United States Government. I presume, however, that the great object and end in view is to hasten the day of peace.
I respectfully suggest for your consideration the property of communicating any views that your Government may have upon this subject through me, rather than by handbills circulated amongst our soldiers.
     The few men who may desert under the promise held out in the proclamation cannot be men of character or standing. If they desert their cause, they disgrace themselves in the eyes of God and of men. They can do your cause no good nor can they injure ours. As a great Nation you can accept none but an Honorable peace; as a noble people you could have us accept nothing less.
     I submit, therefore, whether the mode that I suggest would not be more likely to lead to an Honorable end than such a circulation of a partial promise of pardon.
     I am, sir, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,

    Lieutenant-General, Commanding.

Official Records, Series III., Vol. 4, Part 1, Page 50.

*See Series II, Vol. VI, p.680.  

Longstreet's opposite number in east Tennessee was General J. G. Foster.  Foster had caused copies of the President's December 8 offer of amnesty to be circulated in the field and copies of it came into the hands of Longstreet's men.  Foster responded to this letter by sending twenty copies to Longstreet so he could make distribution to his men himself, making that construction of the Confederate general's comments.  This was not what Longstreet had in mind and lead to a frustrating correspondence between the two with no positive result.  It was clear at this point in the war that enthusiasm for the war was waning at home on both sides, but the discipline of both armies was well established and maintained.  Lincoln's amnesty offer set forth an early view of what reconstruction would consist of.  Generous pardons for those of lower rank, maintaining recent proclamations with regard to slavery, and reconstitution of institutions of government once ten percent of the population had taken the oath.

No comments:

Post a Comment