Excitement over Merrimac Subsides in Washington

March 10, 1862

A White House Cabinet Meeting Reviews Battle Between Monitor and Merrimac

Fresh from a speech in New York City defending the Administration, Carl Schurz wrote of his visit to the White House where President Lincoln enjoyed telling the Wisconsin political leader about the previous day’s crisis regarding the Monitor and the Merrimack: “When I saw Mr. Lincoln the next day, his mind was still so full of the great event that it gave him evident delight to tell me the whole story.  He described so vividly the arrival of the first tidings of disaster, and his own and the several cabinet members’ dismay at the awful prospect thus opened, and their sighs of relief when the telegraph announced the appearance of the ‘the little cheese-ox’ which drove the rebel goliath off the field, that I have been for years under the impression of having been personally in the President’s room when it all happened, and when the despatches successively arrived.  A careful scrutiny of circumstances convinced me at last — to my regret, I must confess — that I was not at the White House that day, but the day following.  This is one of the cases which have made me very anxious to verify my memory by all attainable outside evidence in writing this story.

Before leaving Mr. Lincoln, I gave him as good a report as I could of our emancipation meeting on the 6th of March, and of the general situation in New York.  Mr. Lincoln expressed his satisfaction with what had been done, and trusted that the public discussion of the subject would go on so as to familiarize the public mind with what would inevitably come if the war continued.  He was no altogether without hope that the proposition he had presented to the Southern States in his message of March 6th would find favorable consideration, at least in some of the Border States.  He had made the proposition in perfect good faith; it was, perhaps, the last of the kind; and if they repelled it, theirs was the responsibility.  I remember how grave he looked when he said this.  The merry twinkle, which had glimmered in his deep-set eyes when he told the story of the little cheese-box, had altogether given way to an expression of deep melancholy, as he added: “An awful responsibility either way.”
The conversation then turned upon my own personal situation.  I repeated to Mr. Lincoln that I wished to resign my position as Minister to Spain; that it was an intolerable thought to me to lead a life of ease and luxury and comparative idleness while the republic was fighting for its life, and most of the men of my age were in the field at the post of danger; and that now, our relations with spain being in a satisfactory condition, and my business of reporting to him on the public sentiment in Europe, and of lending a helping hand in quickening the anti-slavery current being substantially accomplished, I was anxious to enter the army.  Mr. Lincoln said that, remembering how reluctantly I had gone abroad last June he had thought about this himself, and had talked with Mr. Seward about it.  Seward had told him that he was very well satisfied with my services; that I had won for myself a good position with the Spanish Government; and that he wanted me to go back to Madrid.

President Lincoln is aware of the limitations of the Monitor’s abilities.  He writes Navy Secretary Gideon Welles: “I have just seen Lieut Worden, who says the ‘Monitor’ could be boarded and captured very easily–first, after boarding, by wedging the turret, so that it would not turn, and then by pouring water in her & drowning her machinery.  He is decidedly of opinion she should not go sky-larking up to Norfolk.”

General George B. McClellan, meanwhile, was balking at implementing the president’s order to form his army into four corps.  McClellan wrote Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton: “You have entirely misunderstood me, & the idea I intended to convey was simply that I could not under the pressure of the new aspect of affairs immediately carry out the Presdt’s order as to the formation of Army Corps.  If it is your order to wait until the Corps can be formed I will of course wait.  I will comply with the Presdt’s order as soon as possible.  I intended to do so tomorrow, but circumstances have changed.  If you desire it I will at once countermand all the orders I have given for an advance until the formation of Army Corps is completed.  I have only to add the orders I have given tonight to advance early tomorrow morning were dictated solely by the present position of affairs.

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

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