LONGSTREET, James, General, C. S. A. Letter signed ("James Longstreet"), with his left hand, to Maj. General E. O. C. Ord, Headquarters, 1st Army Corps, 3 March 1865. 1 page, 4to., docketed on verso by Gen. John Gibbon. LONGSTREET. ALS ("J. Longstreet") TO JEFFERSON DAVIS, 31 December 1863. 1 p., 4to, blue paper, mounted.
LEE PROBES GRANT ABOUT POSSIBLE NEGOTIATIONS IN MARCH 1865
Longstreet's 1865 letter to a former friend, Union General Ord, was part of a complex maneuver by top commanders on both sides to find a negotiated end to the bloodshed. Signing with a shaky left hand, Longstreet's message reads in full: "I have the honor to transmit a communication from General R. E. Lee, Commdg Armies of the Confederate States, to Lieutenant General Grant, in relation to the interview suggested in our conversation of the 28th Ult. Should General Grant assent to the proposed meeting, and to the time and place suggested by General Lee, I have the honor to request that you will notify me as speedily as convenient, so that fitting arrangements may be made thereto."
Longstreet uses his left hand because a bullet wound in his neck and shoulder shattered the nerves in his right arm (we also have a pre-wounding sample from Longsteet, his short 31 December 1863 letter to President Jefferson Davis acknowledging a telegram). The shot came from his own men during the Wilderness fighting on 6 May 1864, almost a year to the day, and only a few miles from the exact spot, on which "friendly fire" killed Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville. Longstreet recuperated for several months and returned to the field in early 1865. "The partial paralysis of his right arm still hampered, but he could write swiftly now with his left, and he had as many ideas as ever" (Freeman, 3:627). In February 1865 he was pitted in the lines across from his prewar friend, Maj. General Edward O. C. Ord. During a parley over prisoner exchanges, Ord suggested to Longstreet that since the politicians couldn't end the slaughter, the generals should try it themselves. Longstreet and Grant were old friends, as were their wives, Julia Grant and Louise Longstreet. Ord suggested an armistice to allow the ladies to meet, and then during the pause, perhaps Lee and Grant could take the time to talk peace. Longstreet told Lee of his conversations with Ord and convinced Lee (with Jefferson Davis's permission) to send Grant a letter on 2 March 1865 (not included here) which expressed "the hope that upon an interchange of views it may be found practicable to submit the subjects of controversy between the belligerents to a military convention."
That is undoubtedly the letter referred to in General Gibbons's docket on the verso: "Headquarters Army of the James, March 3d 1865. Respectfully forwarded to Lt. Gen. Grant." Grant immediately forwarded Lee's message to the war Department (see lots 269 and 296 for Lincoln and Grant's exchange on this proposal). Stanton received it in the Capitol building, in the presence of Lincoln, who immediately drafted a negative reply, telling Grant "to have no conference with General Lee unless it be for the capitulation of Gen. Lee's army...you are not to decide, discuss, or confer upon any political question." Gen. Gibbon was one of the surrender commissioners at Appomattox, and in 1876, led the relief column to the site of the Little Big Horn massacre. (2)