When visiting the grave of a Civil War personality, what comes to mind? Of course, I know that is dependant on a number of things. For me, as strange as it may seem to some, one of my favorite graves to visit is that of John Brown Baldwin. Yes, Baldwin met with Lincoln, like any number of people, so that’s not the thrill of standing next to his grave. Rather, the thrill is that Baldwin had a conversation with Lincoln that may well have brought the rumblings of war to a standstill, even if only temporarily.
As some may already know, Baldwin was a firm Unionist and, though the Wikipedia citation states otherwise, voted for secession (he was one of a few who initially voted against secession on April 17, but changed their vote). I’ve been long intrigued by the discussion had between Baldwin and Abraham Lincoln on April 4, 1861. As I have already stated, Baldwin was in a unique position in April 1861. Yet, the thing that bothers me is that his testimony was presented on February 10, 1866 (an early dose of the events of the “Civil War as memory” anyone?), and it didn’t entirely mesh with a conversation that John Minor Botts had with Lincoln (as presented in his testimony of February 15, 1861). So, who was not exactly on the level in 1866? Sad to say, the board couldn’t ask Lincoln in 1866! I can’t help but think that either one or both Baldwin and Botts were influenced in their testimony by any number of things that took place during the war. Four months after his meeting with Lincoln, Baldwin was appointed colonel of the 52nd Virginia Infantry. So, some might think that the level of his conditionality as a Unionist was fairly obvious (but no so fast… considering his being allowed to serve as a member of the Virginia Legislature from 1865-67). On the other hand, Botts met some pretty harsh treatment as an enduring Unionist throughout the war. He, of course, was a member of the Virginia Loyalists Convention of 1866.
If I could have been assured that I would not be among those flies “swatted,” I would have relished the opportunity to have been the fly on the wall in both Baldwin’s meeting with Lincoln and Botts’ subsequent meeting, just to know the facts as they stood in April 1861, and not as they were remembered in the wake of all that had transpired, by 1866.