This Month in Civil War History: David W. Nelson, February 1865

This Week in Civil War History: David W. Nelson, February 1865

We have followed the Civil War diary of David W. Nelson (117th New York State Volunteers, Company A Onondaga County) throughout the course of the Civil War, and with the conflict coming to a close, he writes about peace talks, their initial failure as well as life in on the Isle of Gallops in Boston Harbor, where his Company was stationed in February 1865.

This week in Civil War history, President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William H. Seward (who spent a significant amount of time in Auburn, New York) met with commissioners from the Confederacy, which were represented by Vice President Alexander H. Stephens, Senator Robert M. T. Hunter, and Assistant Secretary of War John A. Campbell. The meeting was held on a Union steamboat, the River Queen, in Hampton Roads near Fortress Monroe. The participants in the Hampton Roads Conference, as the meeting has come to be known, agreed to keep no written records of the talks. Later each side would tell their own version of these events.


The Union Ship “River Queen”

Nelson doesn’t see the potential for an immediate impact of these talks, as he states in a journal entry on February 2nd, “I have little Faith in any peace talk as yet. I doubt if the country in ready for it yet.”

Here’s what else Nelson reports from the field:

16th entry 1 February 1865: Another month opens and still I am on this barren out of the way place. News of peace continues today, papers has a report of criminal prisoners from the Reb capitol.  I do not get any letters from home. Weather is open and warm.

17th entry 2 February 1865: This is a fine day. The morning papers inform us of the passage of the act to amend the Constitution to abolish slavery in the United States Peace Commissioners are said to be on their way from the South to Washington. I have little Faith in any peace talk as yet. I doubt if the country in ready for it yet.  Still no letters from home.

18th entry 3 February 1865: This is a very pleasant day and makes one think of home, but no home for me just yet.  I leave the cook house today.  Papers say the President has gone to Fort Monroe to meet southern commissioners from the South.  Send letter to Libbie.  Out on Dress Parade.

19th entry  4 February 1865: Here we still are fast on this Island, yet and no appearance of getting away very soon.  Not much news with papers this morning that is reliable , all sorts of (peace are prevalent.)

20th entry 5 February 1865: Mistake here.  Recv’d 2 letters this morning from Libbie, …..after so long a time without letters of course was glad to hear from home.  It appears that for some reason my letters have not reached home.  I write to Mother.  No important news.  Peace is not yet.  Weather thawing, while it is wet and disagreeable  under foot.  Another squad comes from the Grove today.

 21st entry 6 February 1865: Weather pretty cold this morning.. The Peace Conference seems to have broken up without having come to any terms beneficial to either side.