On 31 Jan. 1865 – the day after my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull returned to his 6th N.Y. Heavy Artillery regiment from hospital – an expectant hush fell over the battle lines outside Petersburg, Va., as rumors of peace talks swept through the ranks.
That day in Washington, D.C., the U.S. House of Representatives passed the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — abolishing slavery and involuntary servitude.
And at the front, troops from North and South massed behind their parapets to watch a three-man Confederate delegation make its way by carriage to meet the Union ambulance that would transport them to the peace conference with the U. S. government.
Cheers rang out from both sides as soldiers spotted the carriage — a tangible symbol that the U.S. Civil War was marching inexorably to an end — even if the shape of that end was not completely clear.
The peace conference was held aboard the River Queen steamship anchored at Hampton Roads, Va., near Fortress Monroe — known as “Freedom Fortress” for sheltering so many African Americans since the Civil War began.
On 3 Feb. 1865 — two days after he approved sending the 13th Amendment to state legislatures for ratification — Pres. Abraham Lincoln , along with Sec. of State William H. Seward, represented the federal government at the meeting with the Confederate representatives.
Political, economic and military developments clearly pointed to a victory for the North. But the South’s delegation would not yield on ending slavery or rejoining the Union — so they went back the way they came with no agreement. And the troops went back to the trenches where the fighting resumed in earnest.
What was my great, great grandfather’s view on all of this? I can’t know for sure, since I have inherited no journals or correspondence. But his fellow artillerists from the 6th NYHA — Sgt. William Thistleton who kept a diary and Pvt. Orson L. Reynolds who regularly wrote home — were silent about the conference while it was taking place.
Almost as if they sensed that the talks would come to nothing and that the great victories of the Civil War — abolishing slavery and preserving the Union — would only be won by fighting the war to the finish.
© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.