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History, Robert E. Lee and Abraham Lincoln

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COMMENT: In the Tues­day, 9/28/2021 West­ern Edi­tion of The New York Times, there is an op-ed col­umn by biog­ra­ph­er Allen C. Gueizo about the dilem­mas fac­ing some­one under­tak­ing to write about his­tor­i­cal fig­ures who have been vil­lain­ous in their con­duct. (He is deal­ing with that in con­junc­tion with writ­ing about Gen­er­al Robert E. Lee.)

One of the insti­tu­tion­al dif­fi­cul­ties fac­ing any would-be chron­i­cler of the con­tem­po­rary polit­i­cal land­scape and its antecedents is the para­mount real­i­ty of insti­tu­tion­al­ized lying about events–what the Sea­graves called “His­to­ry Laun­der­ing,” which leads to “His­tor­i­cal Amne­sia.”

In FTR#691, we set forth the Con­fed­er­ate Secret Ser­vice’s cen­tral role in the suc­cess­ful plot to assas­si­nate Pres­i­dent Lin­coln.

Two Con­fed­er­ate Generals–one of Lee’s cousins and one of his sons–appear to have been involved in the plot:

. . . . On 23 Sep­tem­ber 1864, Colonel Edwin Gray Lee, a cousin of Gen­er­al Robert E. Lee, was pro­mot­ed to brigadier gen­er­al. Lee had been involved in clan­des­tine oper­a­tions ear­li­er in the war, and in Decem­ber 1864 he was sent to Cana­da to take over some of the Con­fed­er­ate under­cov­er work from Jacob Thomp­son and Clement C. Clay, the com­mis­sion­ers who had been oper­at­ing there since the spring of that year. One can­not elim­i­nate the sus­pi­cion that his pro­mo­tion may have been relat­ed to deci­sions made at the pre­sumed meet­ing of 12–15 Sep­tem­ber in Rich­mond.

On 20 Octo­ber 1864, Brigadier Gen­er­al G. W. C. “Custis” Lee, Gen­er­al Robert E. Lee’s old­est son, was pro­mot­ed to major gen­er­al. Custis had been one of the lead­ers of the abortive Point Look­out raid in July. Now he was giv­en com­mand of anoth­er ad hoc task force, a ‘syn­thet­ic’ divi­sion, made up of var­i­ous reserve units in Rich­mond and some troops in a qui­et part of the defen­sive line east of Rich­mond. Some of these troops appear to have been used lat­er to pro­vide secu­ri­ty for the escape route that Booth was plan­ning to use. One sus­pects that Custis Lee’s pro­mo­tion was relat­ed to the plan­ning for the Lin­coln oper­a­tion. . . .

Come Ret­ri­bu­tion by William A. Tid­well, James O. Hall and David Win­fred Gad­dy; Uni­ver­si­ty Press of Mis­sis­sip­pi [SC]; Copy­right 1988 by the Uni­ver­si­ty Press of Mis­sis­sip­pi; ISBN 0–87805-348–4.; p. 22.

An Epis­co­pal min­is­ter who was relat­ed by mar­riage to Lee also may have been in on the Lin­coln assas­si­na­tion con­spir­a­cy.

Much of the plan­ning for the Lin­coln oper­a­tion was based in Mon­tre­al, a sub­ject that is cov­ered at greater length lat­er in the pro­gram.

. . . . John Wilkes Booth began in Sep­tem­ber to recruit a team to help him cap­ture Lin­coln. In mid-Octo­ber he went to Mon­tre­al, Cana­da, where he met Con­fed­er­ate agents who may have played some role in the direc­tion of the action part of the plan against Lin­coln. In Novem­ber, Booth returned to Wash­ing­ton. There is no indi­ca­tion that he and Con­rad met, but they were in Wash­ing­ton simul­ta­ne­ous­ly for sev­er­al days before Con­rad left to report his find­ings to Rich­mond.

In late Sep­tem­ber, an Epis­co­pal min­is­ter, the Rev­erend Doc­tor Kensey Johns Stew­art, made a trip from Cana­da into the Con­fed­er­a­cy. Stew­art was relat­ed by mar­riage to the Lee fam­i­ly. He had served as a chap­lain under Gen­er­al Winder, who man­aged one of the Con­fed­er­ate orga­ni­za­tions involved in clan­des­tine oper­a­tions. In 1863, Stew­art had gone to Eng­land and lat­er to Cana­da. His cor­re­spon­dence and oth­er doc­u­ments reveal that he was involved in some secret activ­i­ty with Pres­i­dent Jef­fer­son Davis and oth­er Con­fed­er­ate agents in Cana­da. In Octo­ber 1864, he left Cana­da and went to Bal­ti­more, trav­eled through south­ern Mary­land, and crossed the Potomac in a makeshift boat at the spot that Booth lat­er planned to use as the cross­ing with a cap­tive Lin­coln. He went to Cawood’s Sig­nal Corps camp, where he wrote to Gen­er­al Lee. He lat­er went to Rich­mond, con­ferred with Davis, vis­it­ed Lee, and returned to Cana­da after hav­ing been allo­cat­ed $20,000 in Secret Ser­vice funds by Davis. Because of Stew­art’s past asso­ci­a­tion with some of the crit­i­cal geog­ra­phy involved in Booth’s planned escape route, and because of his high-lev­el con­tacts, it is pos­si­ble that he may have been involved in plan­ning part of the Lin­coln oper­a­tion. . . .

Come Ret­ri­bu­tion by William A. Tid­well, James O. Hall and David Win­fred Gad­dy; Uni­ver­si­ty Press of Mis­sis­sip­pi [SC]; Copy­right 1988 by the Uni­ver­si­ty Press of Mis­sis­sip­pi; ISBN 0–87805-348–4.; pp. 21–22.

The dif­fi­cul­ty of accu­rate­ly pre­sent­ing his­to­ry would cer­tain­ly be reduced by telling the truth about key events. How many peo­ple are aware of the Con­fed­er­ate Secret Ser­vice’s suc­cess­ful plot to mur­der Lin­coln?


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