Hiram Parks Bell: Second Confederate Congress
The following is Chapter 12 from Hiram Parks Bell’s Men and Things, published 1907:
“In October, 1863, I was elected representative from the Ninth District to the second Congress of the Confederate States. The Congress met in Richmond in December. The House of Representatives was composed of the following gentlemen, from:
“Alabama---Thomas J. Foster, William R. Smith, M.H. Cruickshank, David Clopton, F.S. Lyon, W.P. Chilton, James L. Pugh, James S. Dickinson.
“Arkansas---Felix I. Batson, Rufus K. Garland, T.B. Handley, Augustus H. Garland.
“Florida---S. St.George Rogers, R.B. Hilton.
“Georgia---Julian Hartridge, W.E. Smith, M.H. Blandford, Clifford Anderson, John T. Shewmake, Jos. H. Echols, James M. Smith, George N. Lester, Hiram P. Bell, Warren Akin.
“Kentucky---W.B. Machen, George W. Triplett, Henry E. Read, George W. Ewing, James S. Chrisman, H.W. Bruce, Humphry Marshall, E.M. Bruce, James W. Moore, B.F. Bradley, John M. Elliott.
“Louisiana---Charles J. Viller, Charles M. Conrad, Duncan F. Kenner, L.J. Dupree, John Perkins, Jr.
“Mississippi---J.A. Orr, W.D. Holder, Israel Welch, H.C. Chambers, O.R. Singleton, E. Barksdale, John T. Lampkin.
“Missouri---Thomas L. Sneed, N.T. Norton, John B. Clark, A.H. Conrow, G.G. Vest, P.S. Wilks, R.A. Hatcher.
“North Carolina---W.N.H. Smith, R.R. Bridges, James T. Leach, Thomas C. Fuller, Josiah Turner, John A. Gilmer, James M. Leach, James G. Ramsay, B.S. Gaither, George W. Logan.
“South Carolina---James H. Witherspoon, William Porcher Miles, L.M. Ayer, W.D. Simpson, James Farrow, W.W. Boyce.
“Tennessee---J.B. Heiskell, W.G. Swan, A.S. Colyar, J.P. Murray, H.S. Foote, E.A. Keeble, Jas. McCallam, Thomas Menees, J.D.C. Atkins, John V. Wright, M.W. Clusky.
“Texas---S.M. Darden, C.C. Herbert, A.M. Branch, F.B. Sexton, John R. Baylor, S.H. Morgan.
“Virginia---R.L. Montague, R.H. Whitfield, W.C. Wickham, Thomas Gholson, Thomas Bocock, John T. Goode, Jr., W.C. Rives, D.C. DeJannette, D. Funsten, T.W.M. Holliday, John B. Baldwin, W.R. Staples, S.A. Miller, Robt. Johnston, C.W. Russell.
Delegates from the Territories
“Arizona Territory---M.H. McWillie, Cherokee Nation; E.C. Bowdinot, Choctaw Nation; R.M. Jones, Creek and Seminole Nations; S.B. Callahan.
“Thomas S. Bocock of Virginia was elected speaker, and A.R. Lamar of Georgia, clerk.
“The First Congress under the permanent Confederate Government had been in session often during its term and had made provision by law for the use of all our men and means in supporting the prosecution of the war. That body had enacted the Conscript law, which placed every able-bodied man and boy between the ages of 18 and 45 in the Confederacy (except in the border States) and established the Conscript Bureau, charged with the duty of their enrollment in the military service of the Government. It had imposed enormous taxes upon the people, including a heavy tax in kind; in a word---it had reaped the field of resources and but little to glean, by the Second Congress, had been left. Up to July, 1863---in the language of the French minister, M. Douyrs de l’Hays, the ‘struggle seemed to be balanced’ with the scales inclining in favor of the Confederacy. But upon the result of the Battle of Gettysburg and the siege of Vicksburg, ‘gravitation, shifting, turned the other way’ and with separation from the trans-Mississippi portion of the Confederacy by the Federal control of the river and the loss of supplies drawn therefrom; for that reason, the fortunes of the Confederacy had something of the appearance of desperation. The proposition of France to the English and Russian Governments, to unite with her in an effort to secure an armistice, with the view of myolitions for peace, had been declined. Foreign governments recognized under their interpretation of International Law the sufficiency of the blockade of Confederate ports. The neutrality of these governments prevented our privateers from entering their ports with their captures for adjudication as prizes; and, therefore, they had to be burned or sunk at sea.
“The railroads were worn out and transportation crippled. The constant withdrawal of labor from the farms diminished the production of supplies; great numbers of so-called ‘homeguards’ and ‘details’ were scouring the country in search of conscripts and deserters. Trusted leaders like Johnson, Jackson, Polk and a host of others of inferior rank but equal courage, like Ashby, Morgan, Barksdale, Cleburne, and hundreds of others, had fallen. The women and such children as were large enough to aid them were making a most heroic struggle to keep the wolf away. The State governments, as fast and as much as they could, were doling out pittances of corn, flour, and cotton-cards to aid them in the fearful effort for food and clothing. The men who had passed middle life and raised families, who were accustomed to peaceful pursuits of agriculture and the enjoyment of domestic life without military aptitude or ambition, were unfit for soldiers. Soldiers are made as well as born, and more made than born soldiers. The city of Richmond was practically beleaguered by an army of overwhelming numbers amply equipped, bountifully supplied, and ably commanded. It was defended by a force wholly inadequate in numbers, badly clothed, and poorly fed. Judge George N. Lester and myself called on a certain Sunday to see our friends in the trenches around the city. The late Judge H.L. Hutchins, Jr., the colonel commanding a battalion of sharpshooters, invited us to dinner. The spread consisted of thin, green, sour sorghum syrup and coarse corn bread. This was no fault of the Government nor its officials. It was the misfortune of our situation. The government exhausted all of its power and resources in the effort to provide for the necessities and comforts of its heroic defenders, yet these brave men stood by their flag and defended their convictions with a valor never surpassed, under the leadership of a General without an equal. It was under these conditions and surroundings that the Second Confederate Congress met, transacted the public business, and witnessed the dying agonies of a Government, instituted to preserve and perpetuate the inalienable right of self-government.
“It is interesting to consider the military operations around the city of Richmond while Congress was in session. In the latter part of the winter and early portion of the spring, Grant and Lee were confronting each other north of Richmond. The former, with an army of 141,000 troops and an available reserve of 137,602. The force of the latter numbered 50,000 with no reserves. The campaign was opened by a movement of Kilpatrick, Custer, and Dalgreen to cut Lee’s communication with Richmond, and by a sudden dash, release the Federal prisoners, assassinate President Davis and his cabinet, and sack and burn the city. Dalgreen was met by the War and Treasury Departments Clerks and volunteer citizens, not liable to military duty, at the outer defenses of the city and repulsed with considerable loss---he being among the killed. Custer retreated, burning the bridges behind him; Sheridan, with 8,000 troops, was approaching when Stewart gathered up a force of 7,100 men, and by a detour and forced marches, flanked him and appeared in his front at ‘Yellow Tavern’ six miles from Richmond, where, being reinforced by the department clerks, he was engaged and repulsed. The brave Stewart, at the head of his column with every chamber of his pistol empty, fell, mortally wounded. On May 1st, Gen. Butler arrived at Bermuda Hundred.
“On May 3rd, Grant and Lee fought the great battle of the ‘Wilderness,’ which continued for three days. The United States forces being driven back, Grant withdrew and swung around to Spottsylvania Courthouse, where Lee promptly met him, and the fight was renewed and the field made historic by a baptism of blood. The armies confronting and fighting almost daily moved in the direction of Richmond until they met in the terrible death grapple of slaughter and blood at Cold Harbor. I shall never forget the feelings I experienced while standing on Capitol Hill in Richmond, listening at the guns sounding the death knell of the Confederacy.
“While these environments were not favorable to calm and deliberate legislation, the Congress was undismayed and entered in a business-like way upon the discharge of its duties. In fact, its duties were few and simple---only to provide for the increase of the army and its support, and for these purposes there were no means or resources of men, money, or supplies to be obtained. The only thing that could be done, therefore, was to go through the form of legislation. This, Congress proceeded to do. The questions of leading interest, discussed and considered, were the increase of taxation, the extension of conscription, the suspension of the writ of Habeas Corpus, the employment of negroes in the ranks, and the appointment of a Peace Commission.
“It must be remembered that the men in the trenches had families at home, struggling against starvation. When the tax bill was under consideration, I submitted an amendment exempting the products of the garden, orchard, and dairy, when used for the support of the family and not for sale. Hon. Charles M. Conrad---not distinguished for comeliness of person, who wore a wig of rather long, faded hair of nondescript color---by way of ridicule, proposed to amend my amendment by adding ‘butter and eggs.’ Another statesman, who had been imbibing freely (it was in night session), moved to add ‘beeswax and tallow.’ Quite a ripple of amusement passed through the House at my expense. When it subsided, I arose and spoke as follows:
“Mr. Speaker: ‘I accept both amendments, for the reason that they extend the aid which my amendment is designed to give to the toiling women and children of the country to prevent their starvation. I apprehend that their gallant husbands and fathers in the trenches around this beleaguered capitol, upon whom we depend for our personal safety, will not appreciate the statesmanship that would deride by ridicule an effort to help those dearer to their hearts than the blood they so freely give for our protection. Nor will their respect be increased for the wisdom and gravity of legislators who can derive amusement from such derision. I confess my surprise at this feeble effort at wit, coming from the gentleman from Louisiana. He is a sort of favorite with me. I was charmed by his appearance the first time I saw him. Indeed, I had come to the conclusion to beg of him the favor of a lock of his beautiful hair to keep as a souvenir of both his exalted statesmanship and his personal pulchritude.’
“After thoroughly discussing the bills to increase taxation and extend conscription, with the certainty that neither could be done, Congress passed them both. The first law provided for the enrollment of those between the ages of 18 and 45 years. The new law included those between 17 and 50 years of age. While the chairman of the committee on military affairs, Hon. W. P. Miles, was discussing the conscript bill with regard to including ministers of the Gospel, a member asked him a question, ‘Did not St. Paul labor? Was he not a tent maker?’ to which, in much confusion, he replied, ‘I will say to the gentleman, that I cannot answer his question at present, as I am not fresh from the authorities upon the subject.’ Perhaps the ablest discussion of the Congress was that upon the suspension of the writ of Habeas Corpus. It was not suspended. The question of enlisting the negroes into the ranks as soldiers was long disputed, and the bill for that purpose finally passed. Grant had said that the Confederacy had ‘robbed the cradle and the grave’ to recruit its armies, and had calculated on success with mathematical certainty on the basis that when the last Confederate soldier was dead, the United States would still have an army left. The argument was that they could not conquer the Confederates, but that by holding on long enough, they could destroy them. And it was for this reason that the United States Government, under Grant’s advice, refused to exchange prisoners. Every Confederate held in prison was equivalent to a dead soldier. The Confederacy had put its last man into the field. The Union had an army that quadrupled its numbers, already in the field, with large resources of men at home; and the world from which to recruit its depleted ranks, with agents abroad actively engaged in enlisting mercenaries. The United States Government, therefore, cruelly allowed thousands of brave men on both sides to suffer, languish, and die in prison rather than exchange them in conformity to the usage of civilized warfare. To put the negroes into the ranks in sufficient numbers to do any good would have soon diminished the production of supplies to the starvation point. If they had the capability of becoming soldiers, the time required for their organization and training made their employment too late. The Confederacy was rapidly tottering to its fall.
“The members of the House of Representatives were, in the main, able men. There was among them a small class of impulsive, enthusiastic optimists, inclined to radicalism. There was another class of wise, practical, conservative men, who knew that it required men and money to prosecute successful war; and that the Confederacy had neither. This class clearly saw that the end was near. Anxious to save whatever could be secured from the final wreck and make a last desperate effort to accomplish that object, they favored an effort at negotiation, the appointment of a commission to the Government of the United States, to ascertain upon what terms peace could be made and the war ended. Four men, Adkins of Tenn., Echols, Lester and Bell of Georgia, were quietly active and prominent in originating this movement. It was soon discovered that many members favored it.
“In the meantime, Francis P. Blair appeared in Richmond from Washington upon what was understood or conjectured to be a sort of unofficial peace mission. The sentiment in favor of an effort at negotiation grew rapidly. A meeting was held at the ‘Ballard House,’ over which Hon. W.A. Graham, Senator from North Carolina, presided. At this meeting, after full consideration, it was resolved to introduce and press the passage in the House of Representatives a resolution authorizing and requesting the President to appoint a commission for that purpose. The morning after the meeting the Richmond Sentinel came out in an article with the sensational headlines: ‘Treason! Treason!’ bitterly denouncing the meeting as a traitorous conspiracy against the Confederacy.
“When President Davis was informed of this movement, he stated promptly and frankly that if it was thought best, he would appoint the commission at once without awaiting the action of Congress. He had an interview with the vice-president upon the subject, in which it was determined to appoint the commission. The President asked Mr. Stephens to suggest a commissioner; he named Judge Campbell. The President then named Senator Hunter and asked Mr. Stephens to be a member of it, to which he agreed. And the Hampton Roads Commission was raised.
“It was a bright Sunday morning when the commissioners left Richmond to meet the United States Commission upon this high embassy. The result of the meeting is history. When the Confederacy embarked on her career, one of her first acts was the dispatch of commissioners to the United States Government at Washington to settle all matters of controversy peaceable by negotiation. They were rejected. In the final catastrophe she went down with the olive branch held out to her foes. Surely she is exempt from responsibility for the bloodshed and slaughter which negotiation might have avoided.
“The friends of this movement, to secure peace, had but little hope of success, but they felt better after exhausting their last effort in that direction. The failure seemed to intensify the determination to die in the last ditch. Mr. Davis made a stirring speech to a large crowd in the African Church. Dr. James A. Duncan, the eloquent pastor of the Broad Street Methodist Church, preached a masterful sermon form the text ‘The Sword of the Lord and Gideon’ intended to strengthen the spirit of resistance and rekindle the light of dying hope. But great speeches and eloquent sermons cannot beat great armies, led by able generals. Soldiers, supplies, arms, equipments, and money are the instruments that win battles. President Jefferson Davis and his Cabinet and Congress, General Lee and his officers and men, did all possible to be done to insure success. And what they did with the means at command will forever stand the wonder of history.
“An agricultural people without a government, an army, a navy, a treasury or factory, and their ports closed by blockade, improvised all these in incredibly short time and prosecuted a war of defense against an enemy numbering three to their one, for four years. They fought 600 battles, winning a greater number of them than they lost---a record without parallel. And at last, when their beloved Confederacy went down, it fell like Sparta at Thermopylae, when its defenders had poured out liberty’s ‘last libation.’
“It appears to a layman incapable of military criticism, who necessarily forms his judgment upon facts and results, that some Confederate commanders exhibited a skill and genius, that if equaled, was certainly never surpassed. Such is shown by Jackson in his celebrated valley campaign in which, by divining the intention of the enemy, information of his strength and location, accurate calculation of time, and the celerity of his own movements with vastly inferior numbers, he defeated a large Federal Army by attacking in detail, under Banks, Milroy, Freemont, and Shields. And then he threw his troops, at the critical moment, in to the Confederate lines at Frazier’s Farm, Gaines’ Mill, and Malvern Hill, and aided in the defeat of McClellan.
“By the same high quality of military leadership, Lee, with three troops to his one against him, repulsed Grant at the Wilderness; met him at Spottsylvania; slaughtered him at Cold Harbor, and kept him out of the Confederate Capitol. Lieutenant R.W. Dowling, commanding the garrison (44 Irishmen) at Fort Grigsby, a weak earthwork with 15 guns located at Sabine Pass, was attacked by a Federal fleet of 23 vessels and a force estimated at from 10,000 to 15,000 men. In an engagement lasting an hour and thirty minutes, the garrison sank two gunboats, crippled a third one, killed 50, captured 18 heavy guns, besides small arms, supplies, etc., and 150 prisoners, including the commander of the fleet. The fleet was driven away and not a man hurt. This simple story reads like the wildest romance.
“About the last of February or first of March, 1865, Congress having done all it could do---suffering from my wound and seeing that the impending doom must soon come---I left Richmond, with the Hon. Warren Akin and two Alabamians, for my home. When we reached Greensboro, N.C., we learned that all the railroad bridges has been burned by the military or washed away by the floods. We went to Newton, to the end of the Western N.C. Railway, and thence took the chances. After much effort and difficulty, we succeeded in hiring a four-horse wagon and team, which the rain and mud made necessary, to carry four men with light baggage to Spartanburg. From this place, we proceeded by rail to Abbeville. Akin’s family had refugeed to Elberton and mine to Jefferson. From Abbeville to Elberton we were taken by another wagon ‘and four.’
“Strange and unaccountable things sometimes occur in human history. Riding along in the wagon from Newton to Spartanburg, Col. Akin told me a dream he had the night before he left Richmond. He dreamed that he was at home and picked up his son Elbert, a boy of 15 years, lying on the ground, the blood flowing from his mouth, and found him dead. Sitting on the veranda at Abbeville, he rose, stating that he would go to the post office across the public square and see if he could get any news from home. I noticed him as he left the office, open a letter, which he read, walking slowly. I discovered in a moment from his movements (though 50 yards distant) that it contained sad news. Mrs. Akin had sent him a letter to Richmond, which he failed to receive, giving particulars. In the letter just received from Mrs. Akin, among other things, she incidentally said: ‘Since our beloved Elbert’s death,’ without any other or further allusion to the subject. This was the first news of his eldest son’s death. Although he maintained his calmness, I could see that his feelings were intensely wrought up with the mingled emotions of grief, anxiety, and uncertainty.
“When we reached the Savannah River, it was so swollen by recent rains that the ferryman peremptorily refused to put us across. After earnest importunities of argument and extravagant offers of pay, at last Col. Akin said to him with an emphasis that touched his heart and overpowered his will: ‘I live in Elberton; my son is dead, and I am going to reach Elberton this night.’ ‘What is your name?’ asked the ferryman. ‘Akin,’ replied the Colonel. ‘Are you any kin to the man who was killed in a horse race the other day in Elberton?’ asked the ferryman. The ferryman, against his judgment, finally consented, with our aid, to put us across. By running the boat near the bank, whose friction neutralized the forces of the current to a proper distance, he shot it like an arrow diagonally across the raging flood and struck the opposite landing. I spent that night in the hospitable but bereaved home of my friend. No illusion was made to the sorrow during the night. Next morning, as I bade him good-bye at the gate, he pointed to a large locust tree near, and said it was against that tree that Elbert was thrown and killed. The dream precisely revealed the facts. Elbert and another boy had ridden the horses to water. Returning, for amusement, they undertook to see which was the fastest horse, with the result here recorded. To me, it seems a wonder that a boy was ever raised to manhood.
“I had the adventure of a train wreck near Athens, but escaped injury, and after a journey of ten or twelve days---which can now be made in a shorter time---I reached home. A few days thereafter, at Appomattox, the curtain fell upon the bloody tragedy. It was soon followed by two crimes of monstrous enormity---the assassination of President Lincoln in Ford’s Theatre at Washington and the shackling in irons of President Davis in Fortress Monroe upon the basely false charge of complicity therein.”