August 4, 1862
As he approached issuance of the draft emancipation, President Lincoln is sensitive to any action that might awaken northern racism and opposition to his Administration. President Lincoln tells a group of Westerners that he would use blacks as laborers but not as soldiers. The New York Tribune reported: “The deputation came away satisfied that it is the determination of the Government not to arm negroes unless some new and more pressing emergency arises. The President argued that the nation could not afford to lose Kentucky at this crisis, and gave it as his opinion that to arm the negroes would turn 50,000 bayonets from the loyal Border States against us that were for us.
Upon the policy of using negroes as laborers, the confiscation of Rebel property, and the feeding the National troops upon the granaries of the enemy, the President said there was no division of sentiment. He did not explain, however, why it is that the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Virginia carry out this policy so differently. The President promised that the war should be prosecuted with all the rigor he could command, but he could not promise to arm slaves or to attempt slave insurrections in the Rebel States. The recent enactments of Congress on emancipation and confiscation he expects to carry out.
Historian Allan Nevins wrote: “A warm discussion followed, which Lincoln was said to have closed with the words: ‘Gentlemen, you have my decision. It embodies my best judgment, and if the people are dissatisfied, I will resign and let Mr. [Hannibal Hamlin try it.’ Such heat had been generated that one caller exclaimed: ‘I hope, in God’s name, Mr. President, you will!’”
General George B. McClellan wrote General Henry W. Halleck about Halleck’s order to abandon the Peninsula campaign: “Your telegram of last evening is received. I must confess that it has caused me the greatest pain I ever experienced, for I am convinced that the order to withdraw this Army to Acquia Creek will prove disastrous in the extreme to our cause — I fear it will be a fatal blow.
Several days are necessary to complete the preparations for so important a movement as this & while they are in progress I beg that careful consideration may be given to my statements.
This Army is now in excellent discipline & condition; we hold a debouche on both banks of the James River, so that we are free to act in any direction, & with the assistance of the gun boats I consider our communications as now secure. We are (25) twenty five miles from Richmond & are not likely to meet the enemy in force sufficient to fight a battle until we have marched (15) fifteen to (18) eighteen miles, which brings us practically within (10) ten miles of Richmond. Our longest line of land transportation would be from this point, (25) twenty five miles; but with the aid of the gun boats we can supply the Army by water, during its advance, certainly to within (12) twelve miles of Richmond. At Acquia Creek we would be (75) seventy five miles from Richmond, with land transportation all the way.
From here to Fort Monroe is a march of about (70) seventy miles, for I regard it as impracticable to withdraw this Army and its material except by land.
The result of the movement would thus be to march (145) one hundred and forty five miles to reach a point now only (25) twenty five miles distant, & to deprive ourselves entirely of the powerful aids of the gun boats & water transportation.