A Slow Day at the White House

January 21, 1862

White House Reception is held at which President Lincoln is reported in fine spirits.

Published in: on January 21, 2012 at 12:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Harvard President writes President Lincoln About His Son’s Habits

January 20, 1862

Harvard President C.C. Felton wrote the president about his son, Harvard student ROBERT Todd Lincoln: “Your son has received a requisition to make up during the vacation. I take this occasion to say a word or two about him and his pursuits. Since he entered College his conduct and studies have been unexceptionable until recently; and I do not think he has even now gone far astray. But, of late, the Professors have been pained to notice that he has seemed to be on intimate terms with some of the idlest persons in his class. His studies generally have suffered detriment; and in the department of Chemistry, his failure has been complete.
“I trust this is only a temporary aberration; and I write to you, though I have no vote of censure to communicate, but in order that you may know how the case stand with him. He is good, ingenuous, frank and pleasant young man, with the ability to do well in every department. But he must guard against ‘good fellowship’. I have no doubt a word or two from you will set every thing right, for I feel quite sure that he has no bad habits as yet.

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President Lincoln Seeks to Oblige Senators

January 19, 1862

Members of Congress were often seeking to get President Lincoln to respond to a patronage request or interfere in military affairs. An unusually diverse of senators visited the White House to prevent the reassignment of an army major to New Mexico. Where President Lincoln oblige consistent with the interest of the military effort, he tried to do so. He wrote Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton: “To-day Gov. Crittenden, Senators Hale, Lane of Ia, and Nesmith [2], call and beg that Major Wallen may not be sent to New-Mexico for duty, but that he may be retained in service on this side. I sincerely desire this to be done, if it can be without too much derangement of the public service.”

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Illinois Friends Visit the White House

January 18, 1862

Senator and Mrs. Orville Browning visited the White House “At night Mrs Lincoln on whom we had called during the day, sent her carriage and I went up there and staid till 10 O’clock,” wrote Browning in his diary. “I spent an hour or two in the Presidents room in conversation with him upon public affairs. He expressed great confidence in Genl. McClelland [sic]. Adj’t Genl [Lorenzo] Thomas was spoken of, he having been assailed in executive session the day before and charged with disloyalty. The President said he did not believe there was a more loyal man in the Nation. Mr. Seward had told me the same thing in the morning. Garrett Davis Senator from Kentucky came in whilst I was with the President and in conversation upon the subject of slavery said that to save the Union he was willing, if necessary, to see slavery wiped out. Still he is very sensitive upon the subject.”

Published in: on January 18, 2012 at 12:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Quiet Day at the White House

January 17, 1862

In a month full of drama regarding military affairs, this was a relatively quiet day for President Lincoln – without any cabinet meetings or meetings with generals. Attorney General Edward Bates visited the White House to confer about a pardon case.

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New York Times Editor Asks Surgeon General Be Continued in Job

January 16, 1862

Influential New York Times Editor Henry J. Raymond wrote President Lincoln requesting that Surgeon General Clement Finley, who was 64, be retained in office despite being over the new congressional age limit of 62. Although Finley would escape reassignment, he would eventually clash with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and be removed from office in April 1862.

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Lincoln Recognizes German-American Contribution to War Effort

January 15, 1862

“I am so much better this morning that I am going before the Joint Committee. If I escape alive I will report when I get through,” wrote General George B. McClellan about his long-delayed appearance before the congressional committee. “I think Halleck is a little premature but that Buell will check his feint until the proper time arrives.”

Lincoln aide John G. Nicolay wrote: “We had another public reception here at the Executive Mansion last night, at which there was a very considerable crowd notwithstanding it was a cold and disagreeable night, I think that during the last ten days more visitors have come to the city than during any four weeks before…I suppose they [White House receptions] are both novel and pleasant to the hundreds of mere passers-by who linger a day or two to ‘do’ Washington; but for us who have to suffer the infliction once a week they get to be intolerable bores.”

President Lincoln understood that politics, even ethnic politics, could not be divorced from military concerns. He wrote General Henry W. Halleck, commanding in Missouri: “The Germans are true and patriotic, and so far as they have got cross in Missouri it is upon mistake and misunderstanding. Without a knowledge of its contents Governor Koerner, of Illinois, will hand you this letter. He is an educated and talent German gentleman, as true a man as lives. With his assistance you can set everything right with the Germans. I write this without his knowledge, asking him at the same time, by letter, to deliver it. My clear judgment is that, with reference to the German element in your command, you should have Governor Koerner with you; and if agreeable to you and him. I will make him a brigadier-general, so that he can afford to so give his time. He does not wish to command in the field, though he has more military knowledge than many who do. If he goes into the place he will simply be an efficient, zealous, and unselfish assistant to you. I say all this upon intimate personal acquaintance with Governor Koerner.”

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Two kinds of Entertainment for Residents of Washington

January 14, 1862

As usual, there was a Tuesday evening reception at the White House. As Commissioner of Buildings Benjamin Brown French wrote: “Every Saturday from 1 to 3 P.M. & every Tuesday from ½ past 8 to ½ past 10, I am required, as an official duty, to be at the President’s to introduce visitors to Mrs. Lincoln. It is a terrible bore, but, as a duty I must do it…”

With the president’s support, there was a demonstration of Greek fire – sponsored by inventor Levi Short who was promoting its military application – in Treasury Park next door to the White House.

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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  

General George B. McClellan Rallies From His Sickbed

January 12, 1862

With advance notice, General George B. McClellan came to the White House to visit the President.  As a consequence, the early afternoon “council of war” with three key generals and three key cabinet members was held but delayed until Monday.  Clearly, McClellan was worried that his job and his plans might be usurped.

The President was clearly frustrated by all the military inaction.  Illinois Senator Orville Browning was accustomed to visiting his old friend of two and a half decades at the White House.  He reported in his diary: “A very warm day.   After night went to the Presidents in same way & returned at 9 perspiring freely with walking.  Had long talk with the President about the war — He told me he was thinking of taking the field himself, and suggested several plans of operation   One was to threaten all their positions at the same time with superior force, and if they weakened one to strengthen another seize and hold the one weakened.  Another was to shell them out of their intrenchments with guns that would throw very large shell over two miles — the enemy having none of that size   Said Pensacola had gone to the Gulf to operate against New Orleans, and the movement from Cairo on Columbus was only a feint to aid Buel at Bowling Green.”

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