LOL, I am DEFENDING Stephens, don't you see?
But, David, you said:
" Cherry-picking 1860s press columns does not prove an overall sentiment within the Confederacy. "
What proves, (or at least strongly indicates) maybe not overall, but quite probably majority, opinion in the CSA, is not quotes. It is the VOTE itself, taken by the CSA congress that denied Lee his final hope for victory. Either these congressmen were way out of line and not in the mainstream with their vote, or else they were adequately representing the majority opinions of their constituents.
It a "quotes vs votes" issue. Quotes can be cherry-picked. Votes cannot. This vote was absolutely crucial to the future of the CSA, or at least they thought so when the issue was raised and debated. It was clearly very important to them, a matter they took very seriously. They had no foreknowledge, only suspicions maybe, that it was already too late.