June 20, 1862
President Lincoln telegraphs General George B. McClellan: “We have, this morning, sent you a despatch of Gen. [Franz] Sigel corroborative of the proposition that [Stonewall] Jackson is being re-inforced from Richmond. This may be reality, and yet may only be contrivance for deception; and to determine which, is perplexing. If we knew it were not true, we could send you some more force, but as the case stands, we do not think we safely can. Still we will watch the signs, and do so if possible.”
McClellan continues to be distressed by military and civilian concerns. He responds to President Lincoln: “Your Excellency’s dispatch of 11 am received also that of Genl Sigel. I have no doubt that Jackson has been reinforced from here. There is reason to believe that Genl R S Ripley has recently joined Lee’s Army with a Brigade or Division from Charleston. Troops have arrived recently from Goldsboro.
There is not the slightest reason to suppose that the enemy intends evacuating Richmond; he is daily increasing his defenses.
I find him everywhere in force & every reconnaissance costs many lives.
Yet I am obliged to feel my way foot by foot at whatever cost — so great are the difficulties of the country. By tomorrow night the defensive works covering our position on this side of the Chickahominy should be completed. I am forced to this by my inferiority in numbers so that I may bring the greatest possible numbers into action & secure the Army against the consequences of unforeseen disaster. I would be glad to have permission to lay before your Excellency by letter or telegram my views as to the present state of military affairs throughout the whole country. In the mean time I would be pleased to learn the dispositions as to numbers & position of the troops not under my command in Virginia and elsewhere.
According to a newspaper report published the next day in the New York Tribune, President Lincoln responds to a group of Quaker leaders visiting the White House and pressing for emancipation:
The President said that, as he had not been furnished with a copy of the memorial in advance, he could not be expected to make any extended remarks. It was a relief to be assured that the deputation were not applicants for office, for his chief trouble was from that class of persons. The next most troublesome subject was Slavery. He agreed with the memorialists, that Slavery was wrong, but in regard to the ways and means of its removal, his views probably differed from theirs. The quotation in the memorial, from his Springfield speech, was incomplete. It should have embraced another sentence, in which he indicated his views as to the effect upon Slavery itself of the resistance to its extension.
The sentiments contained in that passage were deliberately uttered, and he held them now. If a decree of emancipation could abolish Slavery, John Brown would have done the work effectually. Such a decree surely could not be more binding upon the South than the Constitution, and that cannot be enforced in that part of the country now. Would a proclamation of freedom be any more effective?
Mr. [Oliver] Johnson replied as follows:
“True, Mr. President, the Constitution cannot now be enforced at the South, but you do not on that account intermit the effort to enforce it, and the memorialists are solemnly convinced that the abolition of Slavery is indispensable to your success.”
The President further said that he felt the magnitude of the task before him, and hoped to be rightly directed in the very trying circumstances by which he was surrounded.
Wm. Barnard addressed the President in a few words, expressing sympathy for him in all his embarrassments, and an earnest desire that he might, under divine guidance, be led to free the slaves and thus save the nation from destruction. In that case, nations yet unborn would rise up to call him blessed and, better still, he would secure the blessing of God.
The President responded very impressively, saying that he was deeply sensible of his need of Divine assistance. He had sometime thought that perhaps he might be an instrument in God’s hand of accomplishing a great work and he certainly was not unwilling to be. Perhaps, however, God’s way of accomplishing the end which the memorialists have in view may be different from theirs. It would be his earnest endeavor, with a firm reliance upon the Divine arm, and seeking light from above, to do his duty in the place to which he had been called.