The Preachers: James Jaquess
Contemporary biographer Henry Rankin wrote about one Methodist preacher from Mr. Lincoln's circuit riding days in Illinois. "Lincoln was attending the circuit court in Petersburg at the time referred to. Mother thought it was in June, 1846, for it was soon after his nomination, by the Whigs in May of 1846, as their candidate for Congress. Lincoln was at my parents' home spending the evening. The Rev. J.F. Jacquess [sic] was also present. He was the Methodist minister on the Petersburg circuit that year, and made his home at my father's when not out of town on the circuit. Jacquess came of a vigorous frontier ancestry. His youth and early manhood were full of strenuous toil. He was ten years younger than Lincoln; a graduate of the Indiana University, and of the Transylvania University College of Law of Lexington, Kentucky. A warm personal friendship had been growing up between Lincoln and Jacquess ever since the latter had come to Illinois. This continued during Lincoln's life, and while he was President, Jacquess was intrusted by him with a confidential mission to Richmond which proved of great importance at the time. The circumstances that made this mission desirable and the results of the conference have been told fully by writers on both the Federal and Confederate sides since the close of the war."1
James Jaquess joined the Army in the Civil War, helping to organize the Seventy-third Illinois. It was called the "Preacher Regiment" because of the number of ministers who had joined the unit.2 In May 1863, Jaquess proposed a mission into the South in which he would try to mobilize opposition to the war among Methodists. New York businessman James R. Gilmore brought the letters from Illinois to President Lincoln. "Here is a man, cool, deliberate, God-fearing, of exceptional sagacity, and worldly wisdom, who undertakes a project that strikes you and me as chimerical; he attempts to bring about single-handed, and on his own hook, a peace between two great sections,"1863, President Lincoln wrote Gilmore. "He is very far from being a fanatic. He is remarkably level-headed; I never saw a man more so."3 Mr. Lincoln was circumspect, however, ordering General William S. Rosecrans not to send him to Washington and to have Rev. Jaquess "write me fully on the subject he has in contemplation."4
A week later, President Lincoln wrote General William Rosecrans: "I have but a slight personal acquaintance with Col. Jaquess, though I know him very well by character. Such a mission as he proposes I think promises good, if it were free from difficulties, which I fear it cannot be. First, he can not go with any government authority whatever. This is absolute and imperative. Secondly, if he goes without authority, he takes a great deal of personal risk - he may be condemned, and executed as a spy. If, for any reason, you think fit to give Col. Jaquess a Furlough, and any authority from me, for that object, is necessary, you hereby have it for any length of time you see fit."5 Colonel Jaquess was persistent and moved on to Baltimore, where he had Major General Robert Schenck contact the President on his behalf. The President replied: "Mr Jaquess is a very worthy gentleman; but I can have nothing to do, directly, or indirectly, with the matter he has in view."6 Jaquess was sent South and tried unsuccessfully to arrange an interview with Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
Gilmore and Jaquess, however, persevered. In July 1864, President Lincoln gave Gilmore and Jaquess a pass to General Ulysses S. Grant's headquarters in Virginia. Gilmore claimed that the President agreed that a peace overture was a good idea - as a way of smoking out Davis' position. But Gilmore said that "Jaquess couldn't do it. He couldn't draw Davis's fire; he is too honest. You are the man for that business...." Gilmore claimed that President Lincoln said Jaquess "feels that he is acting as God's servant and messenger, and he would recoil from anything like political finesse."7
The two men visited Richmond - but without affect. Mr. Lincoln complained that Jefferson Davis "declared to Jaquess and Gilmore that he had no terms of peace but the independence of the South - the dissolution of the Union..."8 Gilmore said the President told him: "It is important that Davis's position should be known at once. It will show the country that I didn't fight shy of Greeley's Niagara business without a reason...This may be worth as much to us as half a dozen battles."9