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.”6Jaquess 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

On his return, the pastor wrote President Lincoln: “I have obtained valuable information and proposals for peace through the channel I proposed. Unofficial, but from men of character and great influence in the South, residents there. Would it be consistent for to communicate them to you? Is so, how? By telegraph, mail, or in person? Latter greatly preferred, if thought proper. I am moving strictly private. I away your answer at Barnum’s” in Baltimore.” Lincoln biographers John G. Nicolay and John Hay called the letter “ absurd” and noted “Mr. Lincoln did not need any further report from Colonel Jaquess. To his quick eye this brief letter told all the writer intended to communicate, and much more which his blinded enthusiasm could not comprehend. Admitting that he had actually been within the rebel lines, it was preposterous to suppose that in the brief space of a single week he could have gathered any considerable information concerning public sentiment; and the vague intimations of half a dozen private individuals in Richmond were worthless as exponents of the political will of the States in rebellion.”10

When Jaquess applied for permission for a second trip, Hay and Nicolay noted: “President Lincoln saw clearly enough the futility of all such projected negotiations. But he also understood the necessity of silencing clamors for peace. He therefore again gave Jaquess leave of absence, and to both permission to pass the lines; refusing, however, all authority, instruction, or any promise of protection. He would not even give the colonel a personal interview.11

Navy Secretary Gideon Welles wrote: “Colonel Jaquess is another specimen of inconsiderate and unwise, meddlesome interference. The President assented to his measure and gave him a card, or passport, to go beyond our lines. There is no doubt that the Colonel was sincere, but he found himself unequal to the task he had undertaken. Instead of persuading Jeff Davis to change his course, Davis succeeded in persuading poor Jaquess that the true course to be pursued was to let Davis & Co. do as they please. The result was that Jaquess and his friend Gilmore (alias Kirke) who went to Richmond to shear, came back shorn.”12

A few weeks later, Navy Secretary Gideon Welles complained in his diary: “Have just read the account of the interview at Richmond between Jaquess and Gilmore on one side and Jeff Davis and Benjamin on the other. What business had these fellows with such a subject? Davis asserts an ultimatum that is inadmissible, and the President in his note, which appears to me not as considerate and well-advised as it should have been, interposes barriers that were unnecessary.”13


  1. Henry Rankin, Abraham Lincoln, p. 318-319.
  2. Steven E. Woodworth, While God is Marching On: The Religious World of Civil War Soldiers, p. 94.
  3. James R. Gilmore, Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, p. 160.
  4. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VI, p. 225 (Letter to William S. Rosecrans, May 21, 1863).
  5. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VI, p. 236 (Letter to William S. Rosecrans, May 28, 1863).
  6. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VI, p. 329 (Letter to Robert C. Schenck, July 14, 1863).
  7. James R. Gilmore, Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, p. 240.
  8. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VII, p. 461 (Letter to Abram Wakeman, July 25, 1864).
  9. James R. Gilmore, Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, p. 289.
  10. John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History, Volume IX, p. 204.
  11. John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History, Volume IX, p. 206.
  12. Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Volume II, p. 109 (July 22,, 1864).
  13. Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Volume II, p. 109 (August 17, 1864).