President Lincoln Issues Special War Order No. 1

January 31, 1862

Tired of General George B. McClellan’s excuses, President Lincoln issued Special War Order No. 1 designed to push McClellan into action.  Advance was ordered on “a point upon the Rail Road South Westward of what is known of Manassas Junction . . . to move before, or on, the 22nd. day of February next,”   Aide John Hay later wrote that President Lincoln “wrote it without any consultation and read it to the Cabinet, not for their sanction but for their information.  From that time he influence actively the operations of the Campaign.  He stopped going to McClellan’s and sent for the General to come to him.  Everything grew busy and animated after this order.  It was not fully carried out in its details.”

The same day, General George B. McClellan sent President Lincoln an extensive explanation for the lack of forward movement by the Union Army.  He began: “I ask you indulgence for the following paper, rendered necessary by circumstances.

I assumed command of the troops in the vicinity of Washington on Saturday July 27 1861, 6 days after the Battle of Bull Run.

I found no army to command, a mere collection of regiments cowering on the banks of the Potomac, some perfectly raw, others dispirited by their recent defeat.

Nothing of any consequence had then been done to secure the southern approaches to the Capital by means of defensive works; nothing whatever had been undertaken to defend the avenues to the city on the northern side of the Potomac.

The troops were not only undisciplined, undrilled & dispirited — they were not even placed in military positions — the city was almost in a condition to have been taken by a dash of a single regiment of cavalry.

Without one day’s delay I undertook the difficult task assigned to me — the task the Hon Secty knows was given to me without my solicitation or foreknowledge.  How far I have accomplished it will best be shown by the past & present.  The Capital is secure against attack — the extensive fortifications erected by the labor of our troops enable a small garrison to hold it against a numerous army; the enemy have been held in check; the State of Maryland is securely in our possession; the detached counties of Virginia are again within the pale of our laws, & all apprehension of trouble in Delaware is at an end; the enemy are confined to the positions they occupied before 21 July; — more than all this, I have now under my command a well drilled & reliable Army to which the destinies of the country may be confidently committed.  This Army is young, & untried in battle, but it is animated by the highest spirit, & is capable of great deeds.  That so much has been accomplished, & such an Army created in so short a time from nothing will hereafter be regarded as one of the highest glories of the Administration & the nation.

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January 30, 1862

President Abraham Lincoln works all morning at War Department, next to the White House.  Lincoln often reviewed telegrams from the war front at the telegraph office, which was transferred from McClellan’s headquarters to the office of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton at Stanton’s insistence.  Lincoln probably spent time working on “Special War Order No. 1″ that would be issued the next day.

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President Meets with Wife of General William T. Sherman

January 29, 1862

Ellen Sherman, wife of embattled General William T. Sherman, the Kentucky commander, visited the White House to plead her husband’s case. She wrote her husband that she inquired of the president if Lincoln “thought you insane when in command at Fort Corcoran. I told him you were no more so now. That I had known you since you were ten years old and you were the Same now that you had always been.” Sherman would be eventually play a vital role as a key subordinate of General Ulysses S. Grant and as commander of the Army of the Cumberland.

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Another Tuesday Evening Reception at the White House

January 28, 1862

In the evening, the Lincolns held their regular Tuesday reception at the White House. “Mr. Lincoln took his position in the Blue Room, and shook hands with those who passed him for two hours, wrote the New York Herald. “At the expiration of this time he took the arm of Mrs. Senator [Zachariah] Chandler, and proceeded to the great East Room, and promenaded but a short time, and then withdrew from the scene. Mrs. Lincoln was never more elegantly attired, and of course was the centre of attraction.”

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President Lincoln Pushes for Mortar Use by Navy

January 27, 1862

In addition to the stalled situation of the Union Army, President Lincoln was concerned about the development of military ordnance for both the army and the navy.   He was particularly anxious about the use of  Navy mortars on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.   Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus Fox writes Navy officer Andrew Foote: ‘It is impossible for us to shake off from our Dep’t. some little blame with regard to these mortars, for people will never care to investigate the whole facts.”

The President is very much exercised in the matter, and I do not blame him.  He telegraphed to Pitsburg and they replied that two beds were ready.  I doubt if the history of any war ever furnished such an exposure.  The plan matured and commenced last summer, the boats built, the gun boats in good condition, the river high, the time come to make the movement coincide with others, and only two beds ready.  The President has determined to remove Ripley from the Ordnance, and it has shaken the confidence in many others.  The result of the whole matter is a delay, and change of Programme.  Our twenty mortar vessels have partly sailed and will probably all be off in the course of ten days.  I think their success under Porter will shame the Army people for their great crime in neglecting these boats.   [Henry W.] Halleck seems to take no interest in your part of the expedition, but I advise him to obey orders about furnishing you with men. Your daily telegraph to Wise, goes to the President, who very wisely had taken this matter into his own hands.

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Lincoln Pushes Development of Mortars

January 26, 1862

Delays in the production and deployment of navy mortars on the Mississippi River annoy President Lincoln and he tells Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus V. Fox that he will “to take these army matters into his own hands. He meets with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to help resolve difficulties in the production of mortar boats.

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Snow Covers Washington but Not Military Problems

January 25, 1862

“An inch or two of coarse, crusted snow this morning – An exceedingly sloppy day. Walked to Mr. Carrolls to breakfast. After breakfast spent an hour with the President,” reported Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning. The afternoon was probably less pleasant since the cantankerous Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War met with Lincoln regarding his dismissal of General John C. Frémont from command.

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Possible Replacement of Head of Army Ordnance

January 24, 1862

President Lincoln had a strong interest in science and engineering. As president, he applied that interest to the development of weapons for the Union Army and Navy – even testing weapons on the White House lawn or visiting the Navy Yard to watch ordnance tests. The head of army ordnance, James Wolfe Ripley, was obstreperous and short-sighted about implementing military innovations.

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton suggested that a change was necessary. Lincoln endorsed his note: “The Secretary of War has my authority to exercise his discretion in the matter within mentioned.” Regrettably for the equipment of Union forces, Ripley would remain in office for more than a year. He opposed the production of breech-loading rifles – a position that ultimately led to his dismissal.

Lincoln’s mind must have been stimulated to consider other ordnance matters because he wrote Stanton: “On reflection, I think you better make a peremptory order on the ordnance officer at Pittsburg to ship the ten mortars and two beds to Cairo instantly, and all others as fast as finished, till ordered to stop, reporting each shipment to the department here.”

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President Lincoln Combines Work with Pleasure

January 23, 1862

President Lincoln sometimes acted as an employment advisor for visitors to the White House. “This man wants to work—so uncommon a want that I think it ought to be gratified,” wrote the president about one unidentified man. “I shall be obliged by any Head of …a Bureau, or Department who can and will find work for him.”

The Lincolns to the New York Academy of Music to watch parts of two operas—Giuseppe Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” and Vincenzo Bellini’s “I Puritani.” The Washington Evening Star writes: “The President and Mrs. Lincoln were present, and on his appearance in one of the private boxes he was greeted with hearty applause.”

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President Lincoln Rejects a Military Aide

January 22, 1862

Secretary of war Edwin M. Stanton seeks to assign Adjutant Lorenzo Thomas to attend President Lincoln, who rejects the suggestion saying it “ would be an uncompensating incumbrance both to him and me. When it shall occur to me to go anywhere, I wish to be free to go at once . . . It is better too, for the public service, that he shall give his time to the business of his office, and not to personal attendance on me.” Stanton, nevertheless, would not give up seeking an assignment for Thomas outside the War Department.

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