Focused on War, President Responds to Letter about Peace

March 19, 1862 

“Engaged, as I am, in a great war, I fear it will be difficult for the world to understand how fully I appreciate the principles of peace,” President Lincoln wrote in response to a letter from a New England Quaker leader.  “Grateful to the good people you represent for their prayers in behalf of our common country, I look forward hopefully to an early end of war, and return of peace.”

A special meeting was held at the White House, presumably about military campaigns.  General George B. McClellan reported to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton regarding his operations: “I have the honor to submit the following notes on the proposed operations of the active portion of the Army of the Potomac.

The proposed plan of campaign is to assume Fort Monroe as the first base of operations taking the line by Yorktown and West point upon Richmond as the line of operations, Richmond being the objective point.  It is assumed that the fall of Richmond involves that of Norfolk and the whole of Virginia; also that we shall fight a decisive battle between West Point and Richmond, to give which battle the rebels will concentrate all their available forces, understanding as they will that it involves the fate of their cause.  It therefore follows —
1st.  That we should collect all our forces, and operate upon adjacent lines, maintaining perfect communications between our columns.
2d.  That no time should be lost in reaching the field of battle.
The advantages of the Peninsula between the York and James Rivers are too obvious to need explanation.  It is also clear that West Point should as soon as possible be reached and used as our main depot, that we may have the shortest line of land transportation for our supplies, and the use of the York River.
There are two methods of reaching this point —
1st.  By moving directly from Fort Monroe as a base and trusting to the roads for our supplies, at the same time landing a strong corps as near Yorktown as possible in order to turn the rebel lines of defence south of Yorktown.  Then to reduce Yorktown and Gloucester by a siege in all probability, involving a delay of weeks perhaps.
2d.  To make a combined naval and land attack upon Yorktown, the first object of the campaign.  This leads to the most rapid and decisive results.  To accomplish this the Navy should at once concentrate upon the York River all their available and most powerful batteries.  Its reduction should not in that case require many hours: a strong corps would be pushed up the York River all their available and most powerful batteries.  Its reduction should not in that case require many hours: a strong corps would be pushed up the York under cover of the Navy directly upon West Point immediately upon the fall of Yorktown and we could at once establish a new base of operations at a distance of some twenty five miles from Richmond — with every facility for developing and bringing into play the whole of our available force on either or both banks of the James.
It is impossible to urge too strongly the absolute necessity of the full cooperation of the Navy, as a part of this programme.  Without it the operations may be prolonged for many weeks and we may be forced to carry in front several strong positions which by their aid could be turned without serious loss of either time or men.
It is also of first importance to bear in mind the fact already alluded to, that the capture of Richmond necessarily involves the prompt fall of Norfolk — while an operation against Norfolk if successful at the beginning of the campaign facilitates the reduction of Richmond merely by the demoralization of the rebel troops involved, and that after the fall of Norfolk we should be obliged to undertake the capture of Richmond, by the same means which would have accomplished it in the beginning having mean while afforded the rebels ample time to perfect their defensive arrangements — for they would well know from the moment the Army of the Potomac changed its base to Fort Monroe that Richmond must be its ultimate object.
It may be summed up in few words that for the prompt success of this campaign it is absolutely necessary that the Navy should at once throw its whole available force, its most powerful vessels, against Yorktown.  There is the most important point — there the knot to be cut.  An immediate decision upon the subject matter of this communication is highly desirable, and seems called for by the exigencies of the occasion.

Illinois Senator Orville H. Browing paid one of his frequent visits to the White House:
“At 6 P.M. went to the Presidents and had a talk with him.  During the conversation he told me that only a few days before Mr. Vanderbilt of New York called to see him, and said substantially Mr President, last summer I proposed to the Navy Department to give the Government ship which bears my name, the Vanderbilt, but they declined to accept her.  She is the best ship in the world.  I superintended her building, and know every piece of timber in her.   I know all about ships, and she is the best ship in t he world.  I can afford to give $5,000,000 to put down this rebellion, & have come to renew to you the offer of the Vanderbilt.  I wish to give her to the Government   The President answered we will take her.  Vanderbilt then said ‘I have another ship, the next best one in the world.  I will have her completely iron armored, if you desire it, and when she is done you shall pay me a reasonable price for her, I charging nothing for my personal services, in superintending her completion’    He was authorised by the Secretary of war to go on and complete her as, and on the terms proposed.”

President Lincoln also evinced his usual interest in military innovation, according to Browning: “I had met Peter Peckham and a Mr Taylor at the Presidents to give them an opportunity of exhibiting to the President a newly invented fuse which they wished to give the government the benefit of.  They came into his room, and exhibited the fuse and its operations, and I left them with him.”

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Published in: on March 19, 2012 at 12:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

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