1865 October 14: Little Piece of Secret History–How the Confederates Got Lee to Join Their Side
The following article comes from The Polk County Press of October 14, 1865.
A Little Piece of Secret History.
Mr. Montgomery Blair has published in Washington a letter, from which we get at another reason for the sudden order of Jeff. Davis to Beauregard [P.G.T. Beauregard] to open on Fort Sumpter. General, then Colonel, Lee [Robert E. Lee], it seems, was offered the command of the armies of the Union. He hesitated. Mr. Blair writes :
“My father¹ was authorized by the President [Abraham Lincoln] and Mr. Cameron [Simon Cameron], Secretary of War, to converse with General Lee, and ascertain whether he would accept the command of our army in the field. The latter was written for, and he met my father at my house, where they conversed for an hour or more. It was a few days before the ordinance was passed. General Lee concluded the conversation by saying secession was anarchy, and, added if he owned the four million slaves in the South, he would cheerfully sacrifice them to the union ; but he did not know how he could draw his sword on his native State. He said he would see General Scott [Winfield Scott] on the subject before he decided.”
But he was caught up by some Virginia friends, who lay in wait for him, and he did not get to see Gen. Scott :
“A committee from the Virgina convention, while the General and my father conversed, were hunting for him through the city. They met on his leaving the house. He repaired with them, to consult with the convention, as I have since learned, about some mode of settlement. “
The secessionists on this committee, who were determined to have no settlement, and were also anxious to secure Lee, saw that action was necessary and telegraphed to that effect to the rebel leaders. The result was Davis’ order to open fire on Sumter ; and that crazy-headed old hanger-on of Calhoun [Calhoun], Edmund Ruffin, of Virgina fired the first gun. As Lee’s Virgina confidents [sic] foresaw, he went over immediately. General Scott and General Thomas [Thomas], who are also Virginians, did not go over to the enemies of their country. Neither did General Philip St. George Cooke. Neither did General John W. Davidson nor General L. P. Graham, nor General William Hays, nor General John Newton, all of whom were Virginians by birth and education. Nor did scores of other officers of lower rank, all Virginians, and all faithful to the Union. But Edmond Ruffin’s first gun brought down Lee—as his last gun brought down himself.
1. Francis Preston Blair, Sr. (1791-1876) personally conveyed Lincoln’s offer to Robert E. Lee to command all the Union armies, which Lee rejected, as we see here. After Lincoln’s re-election, Blair organized the abortive Hampton Roads Conference, where peace terms were discussed with the Confederates, but no substantial issues resolved. Francis Preston Blair, Jr., was Montgomery Blair’s brother.