Stanton Prepares to Replace Cameron as Secretary of War

January 11, 1862

As if the president did not have enough problems with the military command structure, Lincoln reluctantly decided that he needed to replace Secretary of War Simon Cameron.    Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase and Secretary of State William  Seward worked together to get former Attorney General Edwin M. Stanton appointed as Cameron’s replacement.
Stanton reportedly said that he would accept nomination ‘if no other pledge than to throttle treason shall be exacted.”  Few people knew of the proposed shift.  Secretary of War Edward Bates would write in his diary: “I was taken by surprise in hearing that Mr. Cameron sec. of War, has resigned, and goes to Russia….stranger still, I have not been sent for by the Prest. Nor spoken to by any member…  Upon reflection, it is not strange – When the question is of retaining or dismissing a member of the cabinet, the Prest. Could not well lay the matter before the cabinet – he must do that himself.”

The initial correspondence from Lincoln to Cameron regarding the shift affronted Cameron’s dignity.  So, President Lincoln drafted a more diplomatic note to Cameron in which he accepted Cameron’s resignation and appointed him to replace the outgoing U.S. Minister to Russia Cassius Clay:  “Though I have said nothing hitherto in response to your wish, expressed long since, to resign your seat in the cabinet, I have not been unmindful of it.  I have been only unwilling to consent to a change at a time, and under circumstances which might give occasion to misconstruction, and unable, till now to see how such misconstruction could be avoided.

But the desire of Mr. Clay to return home and to offer his services to his country in the field enables me now to gratify your wish, and at the same time evince my personal regard for you, and my confidence in your ability, patriotism, and fidelity to public trust.
I therefore tender to your acceptance, if you still desire to resign your present position, the post of Minister to Russia.  Should you accept it, you will bear with you the assurance of my undiminished confidence, of my affectionate esteem, and of my sure expectation that, near the great sovereign whose personal hereditary friendship for the United States, so much endears him to Americans, you will be able to render services to your country, not less important than those you could render at home.  Very sincerely

In a second private letter to Cameron, Lincoln wrote that the ambassadorial appointment would let Cameron “render services to your country, not less important than those you could render at home.” In a choreographed response to Lincoln, Cameron wrote: “It is impossible, in the direction of operations so extensive, but that some mistakes happen, and some complications and complaints arise.  In view of these recollections, I thank you from a full heart, for the expression of your ‘confidence in my ability, patriotism, and fidelity to public trust.’  Thus my own conscientious sense of doing my duty by the Executive and by my Country, is approved by the acknowledge heard of the Government himself.

“When I be a member of your administration, I avowed my purpose to retire from the Cabinet, as soon as my duty to my country would allow me to do so.  In your letter of this day’s date, so illustrative of your just and upright character, you revive the fact that I sometime ago, expressed the same purpose to you, and in reminding me of this you proffer for my acceptance one of the highest diplomatic positions in your gift, as an additional mark of your confidence and esteem.
In retiring from the War Dept. I feel that the mighty army of the U.S. is ready to do battle for the Constitution; that it is marshalled by gallant and experienced leaders; that it is fired with the greatest enthusiasm for the good cause, and also that my successor in this dept. is my personal friend, who unites to wonderful intellect and vigor, the grand essentials of being in earnest in the present struggle, and of being resolved upon a speedy and overwhelming triumph of our arms.  I therefore gratefully accept the new distinction you have conferred upon me and as soon as important and long neglected private business has been arranged I will enter upon the important duties of the Mission to which you have called me.

Published in: on January 11, 2012 at 12:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

President Complains the “Bottom is Out of the Tub.”

January 10, 1862

President Lincoln’s frustration with the inaction of military commanders combined with the government’s worsening economic situation overflowed in a meeting at the War Department’s Winder Building with Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs.  “The President comes to me much depressed re inactivity of army and McClellan’s sickness,” Meigs wrote.   “General, what shall I do?” the President asked General Montgomery C. Meigs. “ The people are impatient; Chase has no money…; the General of the Army has typhoid fever.  The bottom is out of the tub.  What shall I do?”

A “Council of War” was held with Generals Irvin McDowell and William  Franklin at night – General McClellan claiming to still be suffering from typhoid. Attorney General Edward Bates reported in his diary on a “free consultation” at the White House “which disclosed great negligence, ignorance and lack of preparation and forethought. Nothing is ready.  McClellan is still sick, and nobody knows his plans, if he have any (which with me is very doubtful).  The expeditions for the South do not go – nobody knows why not – The boats and bomb-rafts at Cairo are no ready – not manned – Indeed we do not know that the mortars have reached there – Strange enough, the boats are under the War Dept., and yet are commanded by naval officers.  Of course, they are neglected – no one knows any thing about them.”  Bates then reported that he suggested that Lincoln as commander in chief take firmer hold of the Union Army’s military command:

I advised the Prest. to restore all the floating force to the command of the Navy Dept. with orders to cooperate with the army, just as the Navy on the sea coast does.

Again, I urged upon the Prest., to take and act out the powers of his place, to command the commanders – and especially to order regular, periodical reports, shewing the exact state of the army, every where.  And to that end –

I renewed formally, and asked that it be made a question before the Cabinet, – my proposition, often made heretofore – that the President as “comm[an]der in Chief of the Army and Navy’ do organize a Staff of his own, and assume to be in fact, what he is in law, the Chief Commander.  His aid[e]s could save him a world of trouble and anxiety – collect and report to him all needed information, and keep him constantly informed, at a moment’s warning – keep his military and naval books and papers – conduct his military correspondence, – and do his bidding generally ‘in all the works of war[.]”

Later in the day, Lincoln sent Simon Cameron a report from General Henry W. Halleck:  “It is exceedingly discouraging. As everywhere else, nothing can be done.”

Published in: on January 10, 2012 at 12:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

President Lincoln Deals with Military Breakdown

January 9, 1862

Military problems preoccupied President Lincoln throughout January 1862.  He was getting very restless about the failure of armies in both the East and the West to take the field.   Congress was even more restless.  The president wrote General George B. McClellan: “I think you better go before the Congressional Committee the earliest moment your health will permit–to-day, if possible.”

Meanwhile, General William T. Sherman was being attacked with rumors of a mental breakdown were spreading.  His wife, Ellen Ewing Sherman, a member of a prominent Ohio political family in her own right, wrote President Lincoln to explain her husband’s actions: “Having always entertained a high regard for you and believing you to possess the kindest feelings as well as the truest honor I appeal with confidence to you for some intervention in my husband’s favor & in vindication of his slandered name.

Left for several weeks, in an enemy’s country, with but thirty thousand raw recruits to protect an extent of territory, larger than that which General McClellan held his choice & immense force to protect; with miserable arms, for the few men he had; with no arms to give the East Tenesseians, could he have sent a force through Cumberland Gap; he was almost ignored by the Military Authorities at Washington.  The public were given to understand, by the report of Adj. Genl. [Lorenzo] Thomas, that a demand for a large force, in Kentucky, was considered, at headquarters, absurd and ridiculous; and that he was expected to advance, with his inadequate force.  Being of a nervous temperament, he shrunk from the responsibility of his position, which secured him no adequate means of protecting those under him.  His request to be relieved was very cooly compiled with, & moire more readily than any request for men and arms had been.  His successor was immediately reinforced, by three or four times the number of men he had when he was notified that he ‘would be relieved;’ and with this & many other advantages, he has been there longer than Gen. Sherman and has moved but seven miles.  Yet nothing from Adj. Gen. Thomas has been telegraphed over Union holding him up to the ridicule of men or announcing that he is ‘expected to push into Tennessee.’
He was ordered to report to Gen. [Henry W.] Halleck at St. Louis & was, by him, sent to Sedalia, to inspect the troops there & ‘if necessary, take command.’  Finding the troops too much scattered, not within supporting distance and badly situated in regard to water & fuel, he ordered a change of position. Suddenly, & in consequence of reports that were made to him Gen Halleck telegraphed Gen. Sherman to return to St. Louis.  I had just arrived in St. Louis, and knowing my husband to be worn out, with anxiety & labor, I wished him to come home with me for a short visit.  Gen Halleck readily gave his consent.
“A week after he left St. Louis and when the conspirators against him (with newspaper correspondents as tools) had time to arrange their plans, the statement that ‘Gen W.T. Sherman was a madman’ was telegraphed from Sedalia to St. Louis, from St. Louis to Chicago, from Frankfort, Kentucky to Cincinnati *& from Washington City to New York, all about the same day.

An article appeared in Cincinnati Commercial the Louisville Journal and the St. Louis Democrat, on the same subject, about the same day, and all emanating from the same source.  Contradictions were immediately published but who give credence to these?  Not more than half of those who read this, the greater part will consider it ‘an effort of his friends to conceal his misfortune.’
No official contradiction has yet appeared, & no official act has yet reinstated him.  As the minister of God, to dispense justice to us, and as one who has the heart to sympathise as well as the power to act, I beseech you, by some mark of confidence, to releive my husband from the suspicions now resting on him.  He is now occupying a subordinate position in Gen. Halleck’s department, which seems an endorsement of the slander.  I do not reproach Genl Halleck as Mr. Sherman’s enemies may have shaken the confidence of the men in him, by the suspicion that he is insane & thus rendered it impolitic to appoint him to a command there.  His mind is harassed by these cruel attacks.  They were started in the west; he is exposed to their influence there, and his subordinate position gives sanction to the belief.  Newspaper slanders are generally insignificant, but this you will perceive, is of a peculiar nature and one which no man can bear with stoicism — particularly one who is nervous and sensitive.
Will you not defend him from the enemies who have combined against him, by removing him to the Army of the East?  If I were sure there would be no forward movement of the Missouri troops down the Mississippi, I would ask you to telegraph him to come on to Washington where you could dispose of him in your wisdom.
“I take the liberty of enclosing some of the articles that appeared in the papers.  The charge which he ordered in the disposition of the troops at Sedalia excited the publication; and a subsequent investigation showed he saw and fixed, at a glance the true position for the troops, which was determined on after a careful survey by Lieut. Col. McPherson under a subsequent order of Gen. Halleck.   This fact I have from Gen. Halleck’s own letter which came for my husband after he had left, and which I opened and have kept.
Adj. Gen Thomas has shown himself, more than once, an enemy of my husband.  He had it in his power and he seized the occasion, to present him in an unfavorable light, to you.  As malice cannot prevail, where justice rules, I look for a speedy relief from the sorrow that has afflicted me in this trial to my husband.

Published in: on January 9, 2012 at 12:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

President Lincoln Hosts Former Adversary at the White House

January 8, 1862

In 1842, President Lincoln and his future wife had written a series of anonymous newspaper articles caricaturing then-Illinois State Auditor James Shields.  Shields had taken such offense that he challenged Lincoln to a duel, which was only narrowly averted by the intervention of friends.  Nearly two decades later, former Senator Shields, now a Union Army general, visited the White House for an extensive discussion with his former adversary.  Shields would not be a great general, but the Irish-born politician would have the distinction of representing three different states in the U.S. Senate – Illinois, Minnesota, and Missouri.

Published in: on January 8, 2012 at 12:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Lincoln Pressures General Buell to Move South

January 7, 1862

The day after his meeting with the Joint Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War,  pressure for some kind of military movement was becoming more acute for President Lincoln, who wrote General Don Carlos Buell in Kentucky: “Please name as early a day as you safely can, on, or before which you can be ready to move Southward in concert with Gen. [Henry W.] Halleck.  Delay is ruining us; and it is indispensable for me to have something definite.  I send a like despatch to Halleck.”

That night, after a long day at work, President Lincoln greeted visitors at a two-hour White House reception.  “I was there officially to introduce ‘The American Queen’ to her numerous and most brilliant visitors,” reported Commissioner of Buildings Benjamin Brown French in his diary.  “I never have seen so elegant a reception, or one that went off better.  Mrs. Lincoln in light silk, pearl headdress & ornaments, with a wrought lace scarf, or shawl, valued at $2,500!  She was ‘got up’ in excellent taste, and looked the Queen.  Mr. Lincoln in plain black, and as kind & cordial as it is possible for a President to be. Everybody loves & respects him & deservedly, for he is one of the best men who ever lived, and the Union ought to prosper under his mild but firm & kindly rule.”

Published in: on January 7, 2012 at 12:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

President Lincoln Rejects Calls for General McClellan’s Dismissal

January 6, 1862

Before meeting with the Joint Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War at the White House in the evening, President Lincoln consults with the still-bedridden General George B. McClellan.    At the White House meeting with congressmen, Lincoln rejected calls to replace McClellan with General Irvin McDowell, who had been the army commander responsible for the loss at the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861.

In his diary, Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase reported on the meeting:  “A great deal of discussion took place.  I expressed my own views, saying that, in my judgment, Genl. McClellan was the best man for the place he held known to me – that, I believed, if his sickness had not prevented he would by this time, have satisfied everybody in the country of his efficiency and capacity–that I thought, however, that he tasked himself too severely – that no physical or mental vigor could sustain the strains he imposed on himself, often on the saddle nearly all day and transacting business at his rooms nearly all night–that, in my judgment, he ought to confer freely with his ablest and most experienced Generals, deriving from them the benefits which their counsels, whether accepted or rejected, would certainly impart, and communicating to them full intelligence of his own plans of action, so that, in the event of sickness or accident to himself, the movements of the army need not necessarily be interrupted or delayed.  I added that, in my opinion, no one person could discharge fitly the special duties of Commander of the Army of the Potomac, and the general duties of Commanding General of the Armies of the United States; and that Genl. McClellan, in undertaking to discharge both, had undertaken what he could not perform. Much else was said by various gentlemen, and the discussion was concluded by the announcement by the President that he would call on Genl. McClellan, and ascertain his views in respect to the division of the commands.”

Indiana congressman George Washington Julian was a member of the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War – which would be a continuing thorn in Lincoln’s side for most of the war.  According to Julian, “On the sixth of January, by special request of the President, the committee met him and his Cabinet at the Executive Mansion, to confer about the military situation.  The most striking fact revealed by the discussion which took place was that neither the President nor his advisers seemed to have any definite information respecting the management of the war, or the failure of our forces to make any forward movement.  Not a man of them pretended to know anything of General McClellan’s plans.  We were greatly surprised to learn that Mr. Lincoln himself did not think he had any right to know, but that, as he was not a military man, it was his duty to defer to General McClellan.  Our grand. Armies were ready and eager to march, and the whole country was anxiously waiting some decisive movement; but during the delightful months of October, November and December, they had been kept idle for some reason which no man could explain, but which the President thought could be perfectly accounted for by the General-in-Chief.  Secretary Cameron said he knew nothing of any plan for a plan for a forward movement.  Secretary Seward had entire confidence in General McClellan, and thought the demand of the committee for a more vigorous policy uncalled for.  The Postmaster-General made no definite avowals, while the other members of the Cabinet said nothing, except Secretary Chase, who very decidedly sympathized with the committee in its desire for some early and decisive movement of our forces. The spectacle seemed to us very disheartening.  The testimony of all the commanding generals we had examined showed that our armies had been ready to march for months; that the weather and roads had been most favorable since October; and that the Army of the Potomac was in a fine state of discipline, and nearly two hundred thousand strong, while only about forty thousand men were needed to make Washington perfectly safe.  Not a general examined could tell why this vast force had so long been kept idle, or what General McClellan intended to do.  The fate of the nation seemed committed to one man called a ‘General-in-Chief,’ who communicated his secrets to no human being, and who had neither age no military experience to justify the extraordinary deference of the President to his wishes.  He had repeatedly appeared before the committee, though not yet as a witness, and we could see no evidence of his pre-eminence over other prominent commanders; and it seemed like a betrayal of the country itself to allow him to hold our grand armies for weeks and months in unexplained idleness, on the naked assumption of his superior wisdom.  Mr. Wade, as Chairman of the committee, echoed its views in a remarkably bold and vigorous speech, in which he gave a summary of the principal facts which had come to the knowledge of the committee, arraigned General McClellan for the unaccountable tardiness of his movements, and urged upon the Administration, in the most undiplomatic plainness of speech, an immediate and radical change in the policy of the war.  But the President and his advisers could not yet be disenchanted, and the conference ended without results.”

President Lincoln attached great importance to Unionist sentiment in eastern Tennessee.  It was his intention that Union troops under General Don Carlos Buell were to aid those Unionists.  Lincoln was annoyed – as he often was where eastern Tennessee was concerned – by the failure of General Buell to act.  The president wrote Buell: “Your despatch of yesterday has been received, and it disappoints and distresses me.  I have shown it to Gen. McClellan, who says he will write you to-day.  I am not competent to criticise your views; and therefore what I offer is merely in justification of myself.  Of the two, I would rather have a point on the Railroad south of Cumberland Gap, than Nashville, first, because it cuts a great artery of the enemies’ communication, which Nashville does not, and secondly because it is in the midst of loyal people, who would rally around it, while Nashville is not.  Again, I cannot see why the movement on East Tennessee would not be a diversion in your favor, rather than a disadvantage, assuming that a movement towards Nashville in the main object.”

But my distress is that our friends in East Tennessee are being hanged and driven to despair, and even now I fear, are thinking of taking rebel arms for the sake of personal protection.  In this we lose the most valuable stake we have in the South.  My despatch, to which yours in an answer, was sent with the knowledge of Senator Johnson and Representative Maynard of East Tennessee, and they will be upon me to know the answer, which I cannot safely show them.  They would despair–possibly resign to go and save their families somehow, or die with them.

I do not intend this to be an order in any sense, but merely, as intimated before, to show you the grounds of my anxiety.

Published in: on January 6, 2012 at 12:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Mail Complaint Annoys President’s Secretary

January 5, 1862

During the Lincoln Administration, the White House was deluged with mail – not all of which the president could or should read.  Presidential Secretary John G. Nicolay was the presidential doorkeeper – and in effect, the keeper of the mail.  So when he learned of an annoyed letter from longtime Lincoln ally David Davis, Nicolay responded to Davis in an equally annoyed fashion

“Among a lot of letters which the President took from his table a few days ago, and gave to his Secretaries to dispose of, was a note from yourself to Mr. Dole, under date of Nov. 11th, 1861, in which among other things you say.

‘I am afraid letters addressed to Mr. Lincoln through his Secretaries don’t reach him.  That opinion is, I find, quite prevalent.’

Literally considered, this is true.  A moment’s reflection will convince you that the President has not the time to read all the letters he receives; and also, that say of a hundred miscellaneous letters, there will be a large proportion, which are obvious of no interest or importance.  These the President would not read if he could.

“Your implied charge, however, that his Secretaries suppress the important letters address to the President is as erroneous as it is unjust.  Of this class of communications they bring to him daily, many more than he can possible get time to read. So far as important letters addressed to the President, is as erroneous as it is unjust.  Of this class of communications they bring to him daily, many more than he can possibly get time to read.  So far as I know your own letters have always receiv[e]d a special attention not only from the Secretaries, but from the President himself.

“If, as you intimate, any other persons have similar just and definite grievances to lay at the door of the President’s Secretaries, it is due alike to me, to the President, and to the public service that you communicate them at once to me or to the President.

“I write this because yours is the first complaint of this character which has come from any man of standing and prominence, and because I feel sure you do not desire to wrong any one by the utterance or repetition of a mere unfounded suspicion.  I have shown this letter to the President and have his permission to send it.

Published in: on January 5, 2012 at 12:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

President Lincoln Pressures for Military Action in Eastern Tennessee

January 4, 1862

After reviewing a calvary division parading down Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, President Lincoln followed up on correspondence with General Don Carlos Buell in Kentucky whom he had urged on January 1 to act in concert with General Henry W. Halleck to put pressure on the Confederate armies in the West: “Have arms gone forward for East Tennessee? Please tell me the progress and condition of the movement in that direction. Answer,”

Published in: on January 4, 2012 at 12:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

President Lincoln Attends Lecture by New York Tribune Editor

January 3, 1862

The Smithsonian – against the better judgement of its director Joseph Henry – held a series of lectures at the Smithsonian regarding emancipation. Congressman George Julian recalled: “At one of these meetings, [New York Tribune Editor] Horace Greeley delivered a written address, which Mr. Lincoln listened to and very greatly admired. I sat by his side, and at the conclusion of the discourse he said to me: “That address is full of good thoughts, and I would like to take the manuscript home with me and carefully read it over some Sunday.” Greeley declared he ‘hoped the time was not far distant when he would be able to hold discussions farther South.’”

Published in: on January 3, 2012 at 12:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Missing in Action: General George B. McClellan

January 2, 1862

One person who was not at the White House for the New Year’s Day reception the previous day was General-in-chief George B. McClellan. So the next day, President Lincoln visited the ailing general at his nearby residence. The president wrote Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase: “I have just been with General McClellan; and he is very much better.” McClellan’s health was a continuing concern for President Lincoln as he tried to activate action by the army and fend off complaints from Congress.

Along with Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus V. Fox, the president also visited the Navy Yard in Southeast Washington where he observed an 150-pound cannon being fired. In discussion with the yard commandant, John Dahlgren, “For the first time I heard the President speak of the bare possibility of our being two nations.”

Published in: on January 2, 2012 at 12:01 pm  Leave a Comment