Edwin M. Stanton Officially Appointed as Secretary of War

January 13, 1862

This was an active day on the war front – as the replacement of Simon Cameron with Edwin M. Stanton as secretary of war was announced.  Stanton’s appointment was sent to the Senate for confirmation.

At the White House at 11 A.M., a special cabinet meeting was held, followed by a “Council of War” with General George B. McClellan, who refused to give details of his plans.

“…it was brought out — largely through Postmaster General Blair — that McClellan had given up the idea of an attack on Manassas in favor of a movement down the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay, thence up the Rappahannock to Urbanna, or up the York River toward Richmond.   McDowell knew nothing of this plan, believing that a movement upon Manassas was still intended as soon as roads permitted…Although the President was not impressed by the new plan of operation, believing with McDowell that all the difficulties attending a movement against Manassas would be found, together with many new ones, in the Urbanna or the peninsula venture, he directed Meigs in the second meeting to study the necessary water transportation problem.”

Generals could be as touchy as members of the Cabinet or members of Congress where relations with President Lincoln were concerned.  President Lincoln was usually careful not to dictate military tactics to generals, but instead make known his desires and have them implement those desires consistent with conditions on the ground.  In response to a letter from General Don Carlos Buell, the president distinguished between “views” and “orders”:

Your despatch of yesterday is received, in which you say ‘I have received your letter and Gen. McClellan’s; and will, at once devote all my efforts to your views, and his.’  In the midst of my many cares, I have not seen or asked to see, Gen. McClellan’s letter to you.  For my own views, I have not offered, and do not now offer them as orders; and while I am glad to have them respectfully considered, I would blame you to follow them contrary to your own clear judgment–unless I should put them in the form of orders.  As to Gen. McClellan’s views, you understand your duty in regard to them better than I do.  With this preliminary, I state my general idea of this war to be that we have the greater numbers, and the enemy has the greater facility of concentrating forces upon points of collision; that we must fail, unless we can find some way of making our advantage an over-match for his; and that this can only be done by menacing him with superior forces at different points, at the same time; so that we can safely attack, one, or both, if he makes no change; and if he weakens one to strengthen the other, forbear to attack the strengthened one, but seize, and hold the weakened one, gaining so much.  To illustrate, suppose last summer, when Winchester ran away to re-inforce Mannassas, we had forborne to attack Mannassas, but had seized and held Winchester.  I mention this to illustrate, and not to criticise.  I did not confidence in McDowell, and I think less harshly of Patterson than some others seem to.  In application of the general rule I am suggesting, every particular case will have its modifying circumstances, among which the most constantly present, and most difficult to meet, will be the want of perfect knowledge of the enemies movements.  This had it’s part in the Bull-Run case; but worse, in that case, was the expiration of the terms of the three months men.  Applying the principle to your case, my idea is that Halleck shall menace Columbus, and ‘down river’ generally; while you menace Bowling-Green, and East Tennessee.  If the enemy shall concentrate at Bowling-Green, do not retire from his front; yet do not fight him there, either, but seize Columbus and East Tennessee, one or both, left exposed by the concentration at Bowling Green.  It is matter of no small anxiety to me and one which I am sure you will not over-look, that the East Tennessee line, is so long, and over so bad a road.  Yours very truly

General George B. McClellan, meanwhile sent the president an unctuous note suggesting that he was back in command after his long illness: “I enclose for your Excellency’s perusal copies of letters from Genl Halleck which will explain themselves.

I have replied to him in regard to my letter of the 3rd that he had not read it carefully.  In it I told him what I wanted done asked his views, as well as the number of troops he could spare for the purpose.

Will your Excellency be good to return me the enclosed when you have got through with them.   All goes well.  I worked until after midnight yesterday, & that with a good deal of work today has fatigued me so much that I will hardly be able to call upon you today.

I am rapidly getting matters in hand again & will carry out the promise made to you yesterday.

Published in: on January 13, 2012 at 12:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

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