It is difficult to say that there is an important topic about the American Civil War not written about over and over again. Yet, James Conroy is able to find one. It may sound strange that there has not been a book written about a peace conference from the war, much less one President Lincoln attended. While there have been manuscripts written about this conference, however, many printed in journals of history or included in larger works on Lincoln or some other aspect of the war, Our One Common Country is the first book that focuses solely on the February 1865 Hampton Roads Peace Conference.
The peace conference took place outside of Petersburg, Virginia, during the first week of February 1865. The northern representatives were President Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward, and the southern representatives were Vice President Alexander Stephens, Senator Robert Hunter, and Assistant Secretary of War John Campbell. While the book is about the peace conference, Conroy provides excellent background on the relationships between the major players, as well as the beliefs and views each man possessed of not just the other participants but also the war itself. Once we understand their relationships and attitudes, it is possible to discern their actions leading up to and during the peace conference. By allowing the reader to see the relationships among many of these men before the war, Conroy really drives home the idea that war pitted brother against brother and friend against friend. [End Page 88]
Conroy includes every person who played a part in the peace conference. From Lincoln and Jefferson Davis to Thurlow Weed and John Orr, Conroy is able to tell a complete story because he incorporates even the smallest details. While it may seem the biggest friction would be between the opposing sides at the peace conference, the book shows that the conference itself was actually cordial, while the tensest arguments occurred internally. Be it the Copperheads or Radical Republicans in the North arguing over whether the conference should occur or the emerging peace movement in the South speaking against Jefferson Davis and his supporters who refused to budge on their conditions for peace, these disagreements would prove to be the reason the war did not end in February.
On a side note, while the book can stand on its own, it is also a valuable asset to anyone who enjoyed Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. The events explored here were pivotal to those that occurred during the movie. While the movie focused primarily on the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, the peace conference was integral to some of the members of Congress who had promised to vote for the amendment if peace talks were allowed to happen. Our One Common Country is the perfect supplementary work for anyone looking to expand his or her knowledge beyond what Lincoln provided.
This work is essential for any Civil War enthusiast. While many people are interested in the battles and the military aspects of the war, any true Civil War aficionado will want to understand how people tried to end the war. Conroy uses a large quantity of personal journals, letters, and other primary sources to help bring this little written about topic to life. Had the Hampton Roads Peace Conference been successful, the war would have ended sooner with many lives saved in the process. Going to war is easy to understand; the warring sides finding peace was difficult, and this book shows this point brilliantly.