Our One Common Country: Abraham Lincoln and the Hampton Roads Peace Conference of 1865

Our One Common Country: Abraham Lincoln and the Hampton Roads Peace Conference of 1865

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by James Conroy
     
 

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Our One Common Country explores the most critical meeting of the Civil War. Given short shrift or overlooked by many historians, the Hampton Roads Conference of 1865 was a crucial turning point in the War between the States. In this well written and highly documented book, James B. Conroy describes in fascinating detail what happened when leaders from both sides

Overview

Our One Common Country explores the most critical meeting of the Civil War. Given short shrift or overlooked by many historians, the Hampton Roads Conference of 1865 was a crucial turning point in the War between the States. In this well written and highly documented book, James B. Conroy describes in fascinating detail what happened when leaders from both sides came together to try to end the hostilities. The meeting was meant to end the fighting on peaceful terms. It failed, however, and the war dragged on for two more bloody, destructive months. Through meticulous research of both primary and secondary sources, Conroy tells the story of the doomed peace negotiations through the characters who lived it. With a fresh and immediate perspective, Our One Common Country offers a thrilling and eye-opening look into the inability of our nation's leaders to find a peaceful solution. The failure of the Hamptons Roads Conference shaped the course of American history and the future of America's wars to come.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
10/07/2013
In early February 1865, in the midst of the Civil War, a group of Southern and Northern politicians—including President Lincoln—met at Hampton Roads, Va., to negotiate peace between the two warring factions, however skeptically. Plans centered on a proposal to overcome their differences by invading Mexico together, and throughout the peacemaking attempts, the politicians sought secrecy (often in vain) because of strong disapproval from the media and certain peers. Needless to say, the peace conference was a failure. Conroy’s impressively thorough and engaging document details the events leading up to, during, and immediately after the Hampton Roads Peace Conference, which has never before been the sole subject of a book. The book illuminates the conflicting, passionate views on the Civil War—and on the appropriate way to end the war—while giving fascinating insight into the war’s major players: Lincoln and his secretary of state, William H. Seward; Confederate president Jefferson Davis and his vice president, Alexander Stephens; the Blair family of Washington power brokers; and generals Grant, Meade, Lee, and Longstreet. Conroy draws on private journals, official notes, newspaper reports, and more as he untangles this important, but often overlooked, moment in history. (Jan)
From the Publisher
"Conroy is a terrific writer who tells the story of one of the war's least known episodes, the Hampton Roads Peace Conference. But it is the way he describes the people around Lincoln, their interaction with him and each other that makes this such a good read. Great anecdotes—if you're like me you'll find yourself pausing every few pages and saying, 'I never knew that'—my favorite kind of book!" —Bob Schieffer, CBS News"A richly detailed, carefully analyzed, and well-written account of the Hampton Roads meeting. . . . An excellent and long-needed addition to Civil War historiography." —Michael B. Ballard, author of Grant at Vicksburg: The General and the Siege and A Long Shadow: Jefferson Davis and the Final Days of the Confederacy"In this massively researched, exceptionally well-written book, James Conroy has illuminated and set in its historical context an episode familiar and yet hitherto not closely examined. By carefully inserting vignettes of the actual fighters into the Big Picture, he gives his account an immediacy and human dimension rarely found in serious historical works. This is, moreover, a page-turner to be read for sheer pleasure." —Hiller B. Zobel, author of The Boston Massacre"Exhaustively researched and engagingly written, James Conroy's account of the Hampton Roads Conference makes an important contribution to the field of Civil War studies. General readers will enjoy the memorable portraits of individuals and the convincing re-creation of popular emotions as the war ground toward its close. Scholars will have to take more seriously the abundant evidence of the priority that Lincoln gave to conciliating Southern whites, in order to gain their cooperation in Reconstruction." —Paul D. Escott, Reynolds Professor of History, Wake Forest University, and author of After Secession: Jefferson Davis and the Failure of Confederate Nationalism "Conroy's impressively thorough and engaging document details . . . the Hampton Roads Peace Conference, which has never before been the sole subject of a book. . . . [It] illuminates the conflicting, passionate views on the Civil War . . . while giving fascinating insight into the war's major players."—Publishers Weekly"A brilliant account of the doomed effort to end the Civil War through diplomacy. 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. The author lays out this tragic and fascinating story in a style that is witty, acerbic and ironic. A splendid addition to any Civil War library."—Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review) A "sparkling account … An appealing cast of bullies and eccentrics populates every chapter … Conroy shows that it is possible to write exciting prose with scholarly integrity intact." – Harold Holzer, Civil War Monitor
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2013-11-17
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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780762778072
Publisher:
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Publication date:
01/07/2014
Pages:
416
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

Shortly after breakfast on a springlike day in the winter of 1865, Abraham Lincoln slipped out of the White House unnoticed with an Irish valet and a carpetbag and into a waiting carriage.  A locomotive hitched to a railway car had been summoned to take him to Annapolis, where the fastest steamboat on Chesapeake Bay was ready to run him south.  In a moment unique in history, the Commander in Chief had agreed to sit down and reason with the enemy in the midst of a shooting war.

            Having gone on ahead of him to Fort Monroe, the massive Union stronghold at Hampton Roads, Virginia, his Secretary of State, William Seward, a keen politician and a world-class charmer, was preparing to receive him and his guests on the paddle-wheeler River Queen, the Air Force One of its day.  Their old friend Alec Stephens, the eccentric Vice President of the Confederate States of America, was on his way to meet them with two other Rebel peace envoys in Ulysses S. Grant’s dispatch boat.  On the edge of his authority, Grant had passed them through his siege line to the cheers of the combatants on both sides, wined and dined them at his headquarters with Julia Dent Grant, evaded Lincoln’s orders to turn them away unheard, and convinced the embattled President to give peace a chance.    

With much of the South in Northern hands, its crippled armies cornered, and the means to resist nearly gone, the Rebellion was all but broken.  The issue was how it would end.  Over 600,000 young Americans were dead.  A Federal push to victory would cost thousands of more lives, humiliate the South, and complicate the healing of a reconstructed Union.  Reasonable men on both sides were coming to Hampton Roads in search of a way out. 

            On the other side of Grant’s siege line, Robert E. Lee was praying for their success and Jefferson Davis was plotting their failure.  Under pressure from his left to accept Lincoln’s invitation to send “any agent” to negotiate a reunion of “our one common country,” the defiant Confederate President had chosen as his spokesmen three leaders of Richmond’s growing antiwar movement and given them a mandate to bring peace to “two countries.”  Expecting them to fail, he was poised to proclaim their rejection as a Yankee insult, discredit his internal political opposition, and incite the Southern people to a war of desperation in a single stroke.  To avert a pointless death struggle, the President of the United States and the men in Grant’s dispatch boat would have to square that circle.

Meet the Author

James B. Conroy practices law in Boston. He previously served as a Senate and House press secretary and speechwriter in Washington, D.C., as well as an administrative assistant (chief of staff) for a New York City congressman. His legal writing has been published in the Massachusetts Law Review and the Massachusetts Lawyers' Weekly.

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Our One Common Country: Abraham Lincoln and the Hampton Roads Peace Conference of 1865 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An excellent and entertaining insight to the Hampton Roads Conference, which was a tragically failed attempt to end the bloodiest war fought by Americans. The limning of the dominant personalities and their interactions, during and after attempting to put an earlier end to the bloody carnage that gripped the United States, during 1860s, carries one like a powerful open-throttled freight train careening along its iron tracks. An absolute must read for American Civil War buffs. An excellent example of superb documentation not overpowering a fascinating narrative. I highly recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you love Abe as much as I do you'll love this book! Also a knee slapper Abe would have liked is Hector's Juice an e-book.