Did Lincoln Seek To Avoid War?

This essay is Chapter 13 in Mr. Taylor’s Union At All Costs: From Confederation to Consolidation(2016).

“I supported President Lincoln. I believed his war policy would be the only way to save the country, but I see my mistake. I visited Washington a few weeks ago, and I saw the corruption of the present administration—and so long as Abraham Lincoln and his Cabinet are in power, so long will war continue. And for what? For the preservation of the Constitution and the Union? No, but for the sake of politicians and government contractors.”[1] J.P. Morgan—American financier and banker, 1864.

The assertion that Lincoln genuinely attempted to avoid war has been preached since General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. The testimony of a Southern peace representative who spoke with Lincoln on April 4, 1861, in an effort to avert war provides keen insight into a side of the issue seldom heard or taught.[2] Some historians dismiss the importance of the meeting between Lincoln and Colonel John Brown Baldwin, but it is beyond dispute the meeting happened and pivotal issues were seriously discussed. On February 10, 1866, Baldwin testified before the Joint Committee on Reconstruction in Washington, D.C. His comments appeared in a pamphlet published in 1866 by the Staunton Speculator and he provided his account to a fellow Confederate in 1865 just prior to the end of the war.

Reverend Robert L. Dabney, Chief of Staff to Stonewall Jackson, met Baldwin in March of 1865 in Petersburg, Virginia, when the Army of Northern Virginia was under siege. Baldwin told Dabney, that prior to hostilities, he had been selected by the Virginia Secession Convention to surreptitiously meet with Lincoln in April 1861 and negotiate a peaceful…

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