John Brown Baldwin.

Interview between President Lincoln and Col. John B. Baldwin, April 4th, 1861 : statements & evidence online

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Online LibraryJohn Brown BaldwinInterview between President Lincoln and Col. John B. Baldwin, April 4th, 1861 : statements & evidence → online text (page 3 of 5)
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Question. — Was it not your main object and puriiose?

Answer.— It was the only object that I had. The object I had in going on was
to meet what I regarded, and what our friends in the Convention regarded, as an
overture to what we had long desired— an understanding with Mr. Lincoln. "NYe
thought that if we could get into communication with him, and could _ convey to
liim a clear and honest exposition of the sentiments prevailing in Virginia, we
could influence his policy in such a way as to enable us to bring about a settlement
of the affair. At the time I was here I saw, and was introduced to, in the Presi-
dent' s room, a number of governors of States. It was at the time the nine gover-
nors had the talk here with the President— the time when there was an immen.^e
outside pressure brought to bear upon the President. We thought in Virginia
that if we could only present fairly to the mind of Mr. Lincoln the necessities of
our situation, the dilhcultics with which we were surrounded, and the prospectof
.success oil the line of policy which we could suggest, that we could accomplish
something towards settling the question. I. came on to Washington, not with any
defined purpose at all, but with the general purpose of trying to establish a good
understanding with him, and inducing him, as tar as possible, to take the views
which universally prevailed among Union men in the Pvichmond Convention.

Question.— Do you pos.sess a good memory? _ ,• , , j

Answer. — My literal memory is not good. I cannot say that it is peculiarly bad ;
but. in reference to results.^ as bearing on a line of policy or argument which I pur-
sued, I think my memory is unusually good.

Question. — You are by profession a counsellor-at-law?

Answer.— -Yes. T r' , i "" 't "■/ * .«.

Question.— Accustomed to listen to the details of testimony? ■*'^ "' -''y-' ^■^'".

Answer.— I am, sir. My habit is to take no notes oi testimony at all ; and I
habitually conduct cases with forty or fifty witnesses, taking no minute whatever
except of the name of the witness. My ni(5mory is sutficiently accurate, and is so
recognized by my associates at the bar, that when a bill of exceptions in regard to
facts developed on the trial is to be made, they very often call upon me to vrvite
the testimony from my memory in preference to writing it from such notes as were
taken by the"bar. But I do not recollect it in the way the witnesses gave it. _ I re^
collect it as it clusters around the course of argument which I am preparing in m\
own mind during the case as it tits upon the line of my own thought. I recollect
all that a number of witnesses said on the same subject, and n^t a continuous re-
collection of what each witness said.

Question.— You recollect the substance and the result? , .'

_:^,i,^.e,..-Yes. sir : the snb.^.tance and n-ult, •'™'"' »'0>» '•'l'-«^''J ^''■*


. Question. — Is it, in your ojnuicin, in any degree likely that iu tliis narrative you
Hre mistaken as to any material I'aet that transpired in the conversatiou ?

Answer. — I think not. 1 may have omitted entire branches of what occurred.
It may be that entire subjects which I have not mentioned at all might be brought
to my mind ; but as to the subjects whieh I have touched I have as much confi-
dence in the recollection which I have of them as I can have in my reeollection of
anything transpiring that far off. It was a subject of more interest to me than
anything that ever happened to me, and when I returned I repeated it over and
over again to the gentlemen who had concurred in sending me, and it impressed
itself deeply on my mind.

Question. — You think you cannot be mistaken when j'ou say that Mr. Lincoln
did not assure you, in any form, tliat it was his purpose to withdraw the garrison
from Sumter and Pickens at that time?

Answer. — Of course I would not be willing to say, if I heard that 3Ir. Lincoln
had given a different representation of it, that it was impossible he shoiild ha_ve
done so. I have no reason to believe that 3Ir. Lincoln was a man capable of in-
tentional misrepresentation in a matter of that sort; therefore I vrould not, of
course, undertake to say that it was impossible he could have intended to convey
that impression. If I were certified that Jlr. Lincoln had said he intended to give
me that impression I should be bound to concede it, although at the same time I
should be bound to say that the idea never occurred to me, and that when I first
heard that such an idea had been suggested I was as much sui-prised as I was ever

in my lite. *;i[/o/woo-f ni7^!';f;;l ."li^ j-rbwui .uk. oij ..K' ( Mi- ".Ui/i'-
n/9:' " ' ' ' ■ ■ "■■ ... , ,

.!. .ii-.dn fj/ii i ■'.>>['

(ioi»/)i-ff;JO 'i) -lUvy-.n '. Jfebriiary 15th, 1866.

Testimony of Joloi M. Botts.

Question. — Have you any recollection of John B. Baldwin, of Virginia, who
was a member of that convention, paying a visit to President Lincoln just before
the firing on Fort Sumter?

Answer. — I know nothing of it except what I derived from Mr. Lincoln himself,
and from a subsequent interview with, and admission on the part of, Mr. Baldwin,
of the material portions of Mr. Lincoln's statement tome.

Question. — Go on and state the substance of Mr. Lincoln's statement to j'ou.

Answer. — I arrived in Washington on the 5th day of April, 1861. On Sunday
afternoon, the Tth, I received a note from 3Ir._ Lincoln, saying he would be glad
to see me during the evening. I went up to his house and spent from 7 o'clock
until 11 o'clock in company with Mr. Lincoln, during which time we hada great
deal of conversation upon the general aftairsof tlie countrj-, and especially inrefer-
ence to the condition of things in Virginia. During the conversation j>Ir. Lincoln
said to me that he had, about a week or ten days before that, pos.sibly a fortnight,
written to Mr. Summers, with whom we had both served in Congress together,
asking him to come to Washington without delay, as he had a most important
proposition to make to him, and that if he could not come himself he would send
some other prominent influential L^nion man of the convention to him ; that he
had not heard from Mr. Summers until the Friday preceding, which was the 5th ;
that on that day Mr. John B. Baldwin, a member of the convention, had present-
ed himself to him as having been sent up by Mr. Summers on the invitation of
Mr. Lincoln ; that when he made this announcement Mr. Lincoln said to him : — -
■ "Ah, Mr. Baldwin, why did you not come sooner? I have been waiting and ex-
pecting some of you gentlemen of that convention to come to me for more thana
week past. I had a most important proposition to make to you. I am afraid
j-ou have come too late. However, I wUl make the proposition now."_ Said he,
"Mr. Baldwin, we have in Fort Sumter with 3Iajor Anderson about eighty men,
and I learn fi-om Major Anderson that his provisions are nearly exhausted — that
he has so much beef, so much pork, so many bushels of beans, potatoes, etc., but
that his bread will not last longer than a particular day. I forget whether he said
the next Wednesday or Wedn'esday after, but at that time his bread would give
out. I have not only written to (Torernor Pickens, but I have sent aspecial mes-
\ senger to him to say 'that if he will allow Major Anderson to obtain his marketing


at the Charleston market, or if he objects to allowing our people to land at Charles-
ton, if he will have it sent to him, that I will make no effort to provision the fort ; ■
but that if he does not do that, I will not permit these people to starve, and that
I shall send provisions down — that I shall send a vessel loaded with bread," (that
was his expression, by w^hich, of course, I understood provisions generall}',) "and
that if he fires on that vessel he will fire upon an unarmed vessel loaded with
nothing but bread ; but I shall at the same time send a fleet along with her, with'
instructions not to enter the harbor of Charleston unless that vessel is fired into ;
and if she is, then the fleet is to enter the harbor and protect her. Now," said he,
''j\Ir. Baldwin, that fleet is now Ij'ing in the harbor of New York, and will be
ready to sail this afternoon at five o'clock ; and although I fear it is almost too
late, yet I will submit, anyway, the projiosition which t intended when I sent for
Mr. Summers. Your convention in ilichmond, Mr. Baldwin, has been sitting
now nearly two months, and all that they have done has been to shake the rod,
over ray head. You have recently taken a vote in the Virginia convention on the
right of secession, which was rejected by ninety to forty-five, a majority of two- .
thirds, showing the strength of the Union party in that convention ; and if you
will go back to Ilichmond and get that Union majority to adjourn and go home'
without passing the ordinance of secession, so anxious am I for the preservation
of the peace of this country, and to save Virginia and the other border States from
going out, that I will take the responsibility of evacuating Fort Sumter, and take,
the chance of negotiating with the cotton States which have already gone out." —
"Well," said I, "Mr. Lincoln, how did Mr. Baldwin receive that proposition !"
Raising his hands up in this way, (illustrating,) he said : "Sir, he would not listen
to it for a moment ; he hardly treated me with civility. He asked me what I
meant by an adjournment; did I mean an adjournment sme die. 'Why, of course,
Mr. Baldwin, ' said I, 'I mean an adjournment sine die. I do not mean to assume
such a responsibility as that of surrendering that fort to the people of Charleston
upon your adjournment, and then for you to return in a week or ten days and pass
your ordinance of secession after I have given up the fort. ' '

As a matter of course I felt very much incensed that Mr. Baldwin should have
rejected a proposition which, it was manifest, as I thought at that time, would be
the only means of saving the country from the calamities through which it has
passed; and I said at once : "Mr. Lincoln, will you authorize me to make that
proposition to the Union men of the Convention ? I will take the steamboat to-
morrow morning and have a meeting of the Union men to-morrow night, and I
will guarantee, with my head, that they will adopt your proposition, and adopt it
wilhngly and cheerfully." "Oh," said Mr. Lincoln, "it is too late; the fleet has
sailed, and I have no means of communicating wath it." "Well," said I, "will
you authorize me to mention this circumstance for your own benefit ? because the
attempt will be made by all the demagogues in the Southern country to impose
the responsibilities of this war upon your shoulders ; and they will say that you .
have come here for the purpose of making war upon the institutions of the South,
and that you cannot be driven from it." His reply was : "Well, not just now,
Botts ; after awhile you may." The inference I drew from it was this : that Mr.
Lincoln was assuming a responsibility which would, at that day, have been ex-
tremely distasteful to those who had elevated him to the presidency, but which I
think it is due now to history and to the character of Mr. Lincoln to make known,
for it should elevate him in the minds of all men, to see how anxious he was, and
■what personal sacrifices he was prepared to make, in order to save the country
from that ruinous and destructive war which he foresaw. . .jj,^

Question. — Did you take any memorandum of that conversation? 'f^ "

Answer. — I did not. There was no necessity for it. It was impressed so'
strongly upon my mind that it could never be obliterated.

Question. — Was anj^body else present at that conversation ?

Answer. — There was not ; but Mr. Lincoln has made the same statement to
others, whose names I will give you before I conclude. i

Question. — Did Mr. Lincoln say anything about issuing a proclamation, calling
a Convention of the States, with a view to settle these difficulties?

Answer. — He did not.

Question. — Are you quite sure of that?

Answer. — I am quite sure he did not. .-■-'- - '■■i^' - ')


Question. — Are you perfectly sure, aceortling to your best recollection, that Mr,
Lincoln told you that he had made that proposition to Mr. Baldwin to evacuate
Fort Sumter on this condition ?

Answer. — I know it as well as I know you are standing before me, and that I
am answering your question.

Question. — Are you blessed with a good, retentive memory?

Answer. — I think that is jiretty generally conceded by those who know me best ;
but it needs no distinct recollection on that subject, for t will proceed to show that
the truth of this conversation was admitted to me in the presence of another gen-
tleman. Although there was no person present when iMr. Lincoln made this com-
munication to me, there was another gentleman present when Mr. Baldwin ad-
mitted it.

Question. — Go on with your narrative.

An.swer. — Of course, as Mr. Lincoln had declined to give me aut|iority

Question. — He did not wish you to mention the conversation just then?

Answer. — ^Just at that time ; after awhile I might. —I was very much surprised
that, after we got into the war, he did not make it known. I thought Mr. Lin-
coln would introduce the subject, and make that representation in his first commu-
nication to Congress. I thought it was due to himself that he should. Inasumch
as Mr. Lincoln expressed a desire that I should not say anything about it at that
time, of course I did not, in a general way. I remained in Washington until
Monday morning, the 15th day of April, which was the day his proclamation was
is.sued. The next evening — my house in Richmond being, as it were, something
like the headquarters of the Union party when I was at home — quite a number of
gentlemen called upon me. In the course of conversation, I mentioned it in rather
a private way, because I did not feel myself at liberiy then to make it a general
communication to the gentlemen in the room. I mentioned, in a private way, to
Mr. J. F. Lewis, ot Rockingham county, W"ho was a very warm and zealous friend
of Mr. Baldwin, and who had the most unlimited confidence in his loyalty and pa-
triotism, this conversation that I had with Mr. Lincoln, and I asked Mr.Lewis if
he had heard anything of it. He said he had not heard a word of it, and "more-
over," said he, "I do not belieye it. I would not believe any man that I was not
entirely familiar with, who would charge that John Baldwin had taken upon him-
self such a responsibility as to have rejected the proposition, or to have withheld
it from his Union colleagues in the Convention, who would most gladly have
adopted it. And," said he, "if you do not object to it, I would like to ask Mr.
Baldwin about it. " Said I, "so fer from my objecting to it, I prefer that you
would ask him, as you have intimated a doubt of the veracity of Mr. Lincoln.'"—
Mr. Lewis left my house at the usual bed hour, and I think he visited Mr. Bald-
win that night ; whether it was that night or the next morning, I am not prepared
to say : but before I was out of bed the next morning Mr. Lewis came to my room
and told me that he had seen Mr. Baldwin, and that Mr. Baldwin had acknowl-
edged to him that the proposition was made, and that, upon his telling him that
I felt very much concerned about his having taken such a responsibility upon him-
self, Mr. Baldwin said he would like to see 3Ir. Botts and make an explanation
on the subject, and of the reason why he had rejected it. "And," said 3Ir. Lewis,
"he has consented to come up with me immediately after breakfast, and, as soon
as 1 can have breakfast, I shall bring him up here in a hack. ' ' Shortly after I had
finished my breakfast, Mr. Lewis and Mr. Baldwin were announced. I went into
the front room, and Mr. Lewis, Mr. Baldwin being present, said to me, after the
exchange of salutations, "Well, Mr. Botts, Mr. fialdwin has come up here to
make pome explanation to j'ou about the circumstances connected with the con-
versation witl^ Mr. Lincoln, and why he declined to accept the proposition.' —
"Well," said I, "Mr. Baldwin, is it true that Mr. Lincoln did propose to you
that if the Convention would adjourn and go home without passing the ordinance
of secession, he would evacuate Fort Sumter?" "Yes," said Mr. Baldwin, "he
did." "Mj' God," said I, "Mr. Baldwin, why did you reject such a propositiou
as that?" The only answer he made me was by taking out his watch and saying,
"it only wants twenty minutes of the hour of meeting of the Convention, when a
most important vote is to be taken," (which I knew to be the vote on the ordi-
nance of secession ;) "I am obliged to be there punctually at the hour, and I have
not time to make the explanation I desire, but 1 will avail myself of the earlie.?t
opportunity to make a full explanation of the whole of it."" From that day to


tins I have not laid my eyes on 3Ir. Baldwin, nor have I. heai-J any esiilanatioii
tVoiu him, nor have I had directly any communication from him. I have been
informed that 3Ir. Bal'iwin ,s:ots very much excited whenever the subject is men-
tioned in his presence ; and I have also been told that his brother-in-law, Mr. Ro-
bert (xray, of Eockingham county, has said that, on one occasion, when he spoke
to Mr. Baldwin about it, he became very much ezcited indeed, and threatened
what he would do towards Mr. Botts if Mr. Botts should attempt to use that
against him. It was not until about two or three weeks that I ever heard of any
denial on the part of 3Ir. Baldwin. Mr. Alexander Rives was at my house and
communicated the fact to me that ■Mr. Baldwin's friends, in his neighborhood^
(Charlottesville,) were saying that Mr. Baldwin denied this oanversation between!
Mr. Lincoln and himself, when I replied, ''I do not believe it. I believe that
John Baldwin is too honorable a man to make a denial of ariy thing so palpable
and so true, and which he knows could be proved upon hinj. ' ' But on hearing
this from Mr. Rives, I immediately wrote to Mv. Lewis, saying to liim, ia sub-
stance, "You know, Lewis, tliat I have written a history of this war for thirty
years before it broke out, and that I have given this circumstance as an incident
connected with the war, as due to history and due to the memoiy of Mr. Lincoln,
which I think will go to elevate him in the eyes of all good men for the sacrifice
lie was willing to make for the good of his country ; and you are the oidy person
by whom I can prove Mr. Baldwin's admission ; therefore I want to fortify myself
with the proof in the event that hereafter 3Ir. Baldwin may deny it. You must
write me a letter giving me substantially everything that you recollect about it."
Mr. Lewis promised me to do it ; but he has never done it. I have met with him
once or twice since, and have said to him, "You have forgotten to wi'ite me that
letter, and I must be fortitied with proof" One day during last week I met with'
Mr. Lewis at Willard's hotel, and in the course of our conversation I said, "Lewis,
you have never written me that letter yet, and, as life is very uncertain, I do not
mean to let you die without leaving it behind you, and I do not mean to leave you
now until you give me that letter." To which he replied, ''There is no occasion
for it. I have put it all down in my testimony before the Reconstruction Commit-'
tee on oath;" so that instead of 3Ir. Lewis coming to sustain me, I am now com-
ing here to sustain Mr. Lewis. I want to mention farther, that there was some
other gentleman whom I met here during the winter, whose name I biaii^e myself
very much for forgetting, ( names and figures I never can recollect, but circum^
stances and conversations that come under my observation, if thoy leave an im-
pression upon my mind at all, are very distinct, and are as fresh in my memorj',
1 believe, for forty years past, as they would have been had they occun-ed yester-
day,) and who told me that 3L-. Lincoln had mentioned the same thing to him.—
Within the last four weeks, in conversation with C-rovernor Peirpoint on this sub-
ject, expressing my surprise at having it intimated that Mr, Bald\vin denied it,
Governor Peirpoint remarked to me that Mr. Lincoln made the same statement to
him. I may have confounded the conversation of Governor Peirpoint with that
of the gentleman who spoke to me at Willard's ; but it was one or the other of
them, and I think Governor Peirpoint, who said that 3L-. Lincoln communicated
the same facts to him, with this addition, that Mr. Baldwin also demanded the
surrender of Portress Monroe ; to which I replied, 'Mr. Lincoln made no such
communication as that to me. ' "

Question.— 'There are two circumstances, then, tending t6 corroborate your state-
ment — that made by the gentleman at the hotel, and that made by Crovernor Peir-
point. Is there any other circumstance of a corroborative natm-e ? Pid Mr. Lin-
coln repeat this conversation to anybody else?

Answer. — Not that I am aware of I have talked very Httle about this thing.
There was no occasion for it during the existence of the rebellion. I alwa3\s in-
tended—for the book which I have written was written in 1861— <;ommunicating it
in that history of the war, or the antecedents of the war, and there has been little
opportunity to do it since. I have conversed with very few persons on the sub-

Question. — If there be any other circumstance connected with that particular
transaction going to corroborate the statement wdiich you have made, will you re-
late it ?

Answer. — I do not recollect any, except I believe that the fleet did sail about
that time, and it can be ixadib- ascertained whether Mr. Lincoln did send a mes-


Ksngcr to trovernor Pickens with that communication, which Would be a coiTobo-
rating circumstance.

Question. — Have you ever heard of the existence of such a communication?

Answer. — I thinlc I have seen some mention of it in the papers ; lout 1 do not
i'ccollect exactly when or by whom. There is another circumstance which is par-
tially corroborative. I?i an interview which I had with Mr. Chase, then Secretary
of tiie Treasury, now Chief Justice of the United States, I made some allusion to
Mr. Lincoln's proposition, and 3Ir. Chase asked me what proposition I alluded to.
1 said, "his proposition ?-<ilative to the action of the A'^irginia Convention," Said
he, "I do not know what that is; what is it?" To which I replied,- "Well, Mr.
Chase, if you don't know it, it is not for me to communicate it." I had taken it
for granted that it had been mentioned ; but I suppose that Mr. Lincoln had for-
bore to mention it to his cabinet until he ascertained whether it would be success-
ful or not. Another circumstance presents itself at this moment to my mind
which does serve to corroborate this statement. Mr. John Lewis was the colleague
gue in the Convention of Mn Algernon S. G ray, and they occupied the same room.
Mr. Lewis told me that when he mentioned to Mr. Gray the conversation which
had passed between him and myself in reference to Mr. Lincoln's proposition to
Mr. Baldwin, Mr. Gray exhibited the most extraordinary surprise, that he sprang
out of bed and said, "A\ here in the world did you get that from?" Mr. Lewis
told him that Mr. Botts had just returned from Washington, and had communi-
cated it to him that night, to which Mr. Gray replied, "I did not suppose there
were more than three men in the city of llichmond who knew it. ' ' Mr. Gray has
informed me that he has been summoned to appear before this committee, and
that would be a very proper subject of interrogation-. You asked me if I were
•certain that Mr. Lincoln said aothing about a proclamation calling a National^
Convention. I am sure of it, because it was a proposition which I had myself
submitted to Mr. Lincoln at an earlier day. I came here — I do not recollect the
date — during the agony under which we werft laboring everywhere, and I submit-
ted to Mr. Bates,' the Attorney General, with whom i was very intimate, a prop-
osition which he requested me to submit at once to Mr. Seward. I submitted it
to Mr. Seward, and Blr. ScAvard requested me at once to lay it before the Presi-
dent, and he gave me a note to the President, saying that I had a most important
suggestion to make to him. I went at once to Mr. Lincoln and I made the sug-

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Online LibraryJohn Brown BaldwinInterview between President Lincoln and Col. John B. Baldwin, April 4th, 1861 : statements & evidence → online text (page 3 of 5)