A brilliant account of the doomed effort to end the Civil War through diplomacy.
In February 1865 three "commissioners," all prominent members of the Confederate government, met with Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward on a riverboat near Hampton Roads, Va., to explore the possibility of a negotiated end to the Civil War, an event briefly portrayed in the recent film Lincoln. The project appeared hopeless from the start; schemes were launched to derail the conference before it could begin, deftly defeated by further chicanery on the parts of the commissioners and Ulysses Grant. Legal and political difficulties beset the conference as well, given the commissioners' lack of authority to conclude an agreement, Jefferson Davis' claim that he had no authority to dissolve the Confederacy, and Lincoln's refusal to recognize the existence of a separate government in Richmond. In this excellent debut, Boston-based attorney Conroy vividly captures the hope, weariness, despair and anger of the moment and the complexity of feelings on both sides. Everyone yearned for peace, but in the end, Southern hard-liners clung to an increasingly incredible denial of their impending defeat, and Northern radicals bent on vengeance made agreement impossible even at this late stage of the war. The author lays out this tragic and fascinating story in a style that is witty, acerbic and ironic. His characters stand out as strikingly distinctive individuals, including the bitter, delusional dead-ender Davis, a man "with a politeness so studied as to be almost sarcastic"; Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, with his "nerve-chilling stare and his perfumed beard"; and Stanton’s agent, the officious Maj. Thomas Eckert, who "descended from Washington City like the coming of the Lord." Towering over all is Lincoln, desperate to end the killing but, despite the fears of the radical Republicans, adamant about reunion and the end of slavery as the price of peace.
A splendid addition to any Civil War library.