President Abraham Lincoln exhibited an unwavering resolve throughout the American Civil War to support freed blacks. That resolve was evident on Thursday, December 17, 1863 when the president forwarded to Congress a plan by the Freedmen’s Aid Society to establish a federal bureau of emancipation to assist freed blacks.
While Congress elected not to act on Lincoln’s recommendation until it established the Freedmen’s Bureau in March 1865, the president continued to support efforts to improve the status of the black man in America.
By mid-December 1863 both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis were heavily involved in military and foreign policy matters. In Washington on Saturday, December 19, 1863 President and Mrs. Lincoln, fully understanding the foreign policy significance of the moment, hosted an elaborate reception for the officers of the Russian warships visiting the east coast of the United States; numerous members of Congress and administration officials were present.
During the war, both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis had their detractors. Jefferson Davis in particular had strong political rivals, who by the end of 1863 included his vice president, Alexander Stephens of Georgia.
However, in the Confederate Congress, perhaps no man more bitterly opposed Jefferson Davis than Representative Henry S. Foote, who had defeated Davis for the l85l Mississippi gubernatorial post and now represented Tennessee in the Confederate Congress.
On Friday, December 18, 1863 Abraham Lincoln, in a letter to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, acknowledged that he believed it necessary to remove General John McAllister Schofield from command of the Union Department of Missouri.
For some time the president had been concerned about relations between the Missouri Unionist state government and General Schofield; Missourians had been lobbying Lincoln since mid-October to replace the general.
On Wednesday, December 16, 1863 Union General John Buford died in Washington, D.C. of typhoid. Born into a prominent Kentucky family that subsequently moved to Illinois, Buford attended Knox College and then West Point from where he graduated in 1848.
When the Civil War started, Buford was made assistant inspector general of the defenses of Washington, D.C. He subsequently served under the commands of Pope, McClellan, Hooker, and Burnside. But it was at Gettysburg where Buford gained his greatest fame.
In mid-December 1863 both sides in the war announced important command changes. For the Federals, on December the 9th, General John Foster replaced Ambrose Burnside in command of the Union Army of the Ohio.
During the Civil War, many families experienced divided loyalties to the North and the South. That was true even for the extended family of Abraham Lincoln. His brother-in-law was Confederate General Benjamin Hardin Helm, married to Emilie Todd, the half-sister of Mary Todd Lincoln.
After rejecting an offer by Lincoln to become the Union Army paymaster, Helm had joined the Confederate army initially as a colonel and was later promoted to brigadier general. In command of Kentucky’s so-called Orphan Brigade, Helm was killed at Chickamauga.
On Monday, December.7, 1863 sixteen Confederates, led by Lieutenant John Braine, seized the USS Chesapeake which was running from New York to Portland, Maine. After overwhelming the ship’s crew, the Chesapeake sailed first to Saint John’s, New Brunswick and subsequently to Halifax Harbor, Nova Scotia, Canada.
On December 16, Union gunboats would recapture the Chesapeake. One of the seized Confederates was a British subject, and local authorities threatened to use shore batteries against the American ships unless the Englishman was released.
On Tuesday, December 8, 1863 in his annual message to Congress read to both congressional houses on the following day, President Abraham Lincoln reported that the nation’s foreign relations were peaceful and friendly for the most part, that the western territories were in satisfactory condition despite isolated Indian difficulties, that the blockade of the Southern coastline was increasingly efficient, and that the balance in the U.S. Treasury was over $5,300,000. Lincoln optimistically declared, “The crisis which threatened to divide the friends of the Union is past.”
On Tuesday, December 8, 1863 Abraham Lincoln issued the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, pardoning those who “participated in the existing rebellion,” provided they take an oath of allegiance to the Union.
High ranking Confederate military and civilian authorities, all who had resigned U.S. military commissions at the beginning of the war, and those who abused blacks or whites as prisoners of war were excluded. If one tenth of the citizens who had voted in the election of 1860 so wished, a new state government would be recognized in any seceded state.