A Civil War peace overture

On 12 Jan. 1865 — while my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull was in hospital at Bermuda Hundred, Va. — Jefferson Davis, head of the Confederacy, wrote a letter to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln proposing talks to secure peace for the “two countries.” In reply to the overture, Lincoln said that he would only discuss a peace settlement for “one common country.”

Point of Rocks in Bermuda Hundred, Va. (1864). My ancestor was transferred to the General Hospital at Point of Rocks, at left, on 16 Jan. 1865, as plans for peace talks were being made. Image: villagenewsonline.com

Troops were still on the ground and battles were still being fought — but the Confederacy was unravelling.

Confederate soldiers were deserting in increasing numbers. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution — abolishing slavery and involuntary servitude — was headed for a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives. And on 15 Jan. 1865, the Union Army successfully stormed Fort Fisher in North Carolina — cutting off Confederate access to the sea.

So in late January 1865 plans were made for peace talks to be held, stirring hopes among combatants, civilians and convalescents — one of them my great, great grandfather — that the Civil War might at last be nearing its end.

Pvt. Orson Reynolds, from my ancestor’s 6th N.Y. Heavy Artillery regiment, captured the sentiment of Union Army soldiers in an 18th Jan. 1865 letter to his wife:

All has been quiet along our lines for a few days past. I hear today a gun occasionally. We are inclined to think the rebellion is about played out. One hundred guns were fired here yesterday on the taking of Fort Fisher. Our soldiers would like to have the rebellion cease as they are heartily tired of the war…

I have dreamed of being at home for the last two nights…The Johnnies continue to come into our lines whilst our soldiers scarcely ever desert to them. This is a good omen.

Similar dreaming and discussions were likely also going on in military hospital wards among ill and injured soldiers, including my ancestor Arthur Bull — combatants on whom the war had taken a toll.

The movement of the peace delegation through the battlefields ushered in a brief respite from the fighting and offered a fleeting glimpse of the Civil War’s end.

But before the talks began, my ancestor’s unit — the 6th New York Heavy Artillery — had another important battle engagement. More in the next post.

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