Lincoln Aide Reports Back to Work

April 30, 1862

John Hay, presidential assistant secretary who would later be secretary of state under President Theodore Roosevelt, returns to work at the White House after a visit to Illinois.  President Lincoln seldom left the White House – except to visit the war front.  Aides John Hay and John G. Nicolay became his eyes and ears when they made either business trips for Lincoln or took vacations – which Lincoln never did.  Hay and Nicolay’s close relationship with their boss would later result in a multivolume biography of him.

Published in: on April 30, 2012 at 12:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

Problems with Army Commissions Trouble the President

April 29, 1862

Ever deferential to military leaders, President Lincoln inquires of General George B. McClellan: “Would it derange, or embarrass your operations, if I were to appoint Capt. Charles Griffin, a Brigadier General of volunteers? Please answer.”   McClellan answers positively and Griffin is nominated and confirmed by the Senate.

President Lincoln has more trouble with a nomination sent to the War Department, complaining to Secretary Edwin M. Stanton: “I think as much as two weeks ago, I directed the appointment of Col. [A.E.] Jones, named within. Let it be done.”  Jones was duly nominated but never confirmed.

Published in: on April 29, 2012 at 12:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

Treatment of General Charles P. Stone Questioned

April 28, 1862

President Lincoln responds to an inquiry regarding General Charles Stone, who was being punished for his alleged responsibility in the Union defeat (and 1000 casualties) at Ball’s Bluff the previous October, President Lincoln write Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, serving as president of the Senate: “In the wake of  In answer to the Resolution of the Senate in relation to General Charles Stone, I respectfully state he was arrested and imprisoned under my authority and with my sanction, upon evidence which, whether he be guilty or innocent, required in my judgment such proceedings to be had against him for the safety and welfare of the Country.  He has not been tried because in the state of Military operations at the time of his arrest, and ever since, the Officers to constitute a Court, and for Witnesses, could not be withdraw from duty, without serious injury to the service.  He will be tried without any unnecessary delay, the Charges and Specifications will be furnished him in due season, and every facility for his defence will be afforded by the War Department.’

Two days later, when Massachusetts Senator Henry Hamlin complains that the letter was dated from the War Department, President Lincoln revises the letter from the White House.  Stone was held in prison until the summer when he was released; no charges against him were ever prosecuted.  Subsequently, he served briefly in the Union Army, but his real claim to fame came in the 1870s when he served as chief of staff to the Egyptian army.

Published in: on April 28, 2012 at 12:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

New Orleans Surrenders: McClellan is Besieged

April 27, 1862

Hearing rumors of the surrender of New Orleans, Commander John Dahlgren went to the White House from the Washington Navy Yard.  ‘There’s the dispatch, read it.” said President Lincoln.

The cabinet has a rare evening session.   Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, buttressed by General James Wadsworth, accuse General George B. McClellan of failing to follow orders requiring him to provide adequate troops for Washington’s protection. McClellan writes Stanton: “From the beginning I had intended, so far as I might have the power to carry out my own views, to abandon the line of Manassas as the line of advance — I ever regarded it as an improper one; my wish was to adopt a new line, based upon the waters of the lower Chesapeake.  I always expected to meet with strong opposition on this line, the strongest that the rebels could offer, but I was well aware that after overcoming this opposition the result would be decisive, & pregnant with great results….

This order [removing Fort Monroe from his command] deprived me of the support of another Division which had been authorized to form for active operations from among the troops near Fort Monroe.  Thus when I came under fire, I found myself weaker by five Divisions (near 50,000 men) than I had expected when the movement commenced.  It is more than probable that no General ever was placed in such a position before.  Finding myself thus unexpectedly weakened & with a powerful enemy strongly entrenched in my front I was compelled to change my plans & become cautious.  Could I have retained my original force I confidently believe that I would now have been in front of Richmond instead of where I now am — the probability is that that city would now have been in our possession.

President Lincoln also writes Andrew Johnson, the war governor of Tennessee who would later be Lincoln’s second vice president: “Your despatch of yesterday just received–as also, in due course, was your former one.  The former one, was sent to Gen. Halleck, and we have his answer, by which I have no doubt he, Gen. Halleck, is in communication with you before this.  Gen. Halleck understands better than we can here, and he must be allowed to control in that quarter.  If you bare not in communication with Halleck, telegraph him at once, fully, and frankly.”

Published in: on April 27, 2012 at 12:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

President Lincoln Almost Killed by French Navy

April 26, 1862

Accompanied by Secretary of State William H. Seward and Navy Commander John Dahlgren, visits the French frigate Gassendi  in the Potomac river.  As Assistant Secretary of State Frederick H. Seward recalled the visit: “Champagne and a brief conversation in the captain’s cabin came next; then a walk up and down her decks to look at her armament and equipment.  Though the surroundings were all new to Mr. Lincoln, he bore himself with his usual quiet, homely, unpretentious dignity on such occasions, and chatted affably with some of the officers who spoke English.  The visit over, we were escorted tot he side ladder, and re-embarked in our barge.

As Mr. Lincoln took his seat in the stern he said: ‘Suppose we row around her bows.  I should like to look at her build and rig from that direction.’  Captain Dahlgren of course shifted his helm accordingly.  The French officers doubtless had not heard or understood the President’s remark, and supposed were pulling off astern in the ordinary way.
We had hardly reached her bow, when, on looking up, I saw the officer of the deck pacing the bridge, watch in hand and counting off the seconds, ‘Un, deux, trois,’ and then immediately followed the flash and deafening roar of a cannon, apparently just over our heads.  Another followed, then another and another in rapid succession.  We were enveloped in smoke and literally “under fire” from the frigate’s broadside.  Captain Dalhgren sprang to his feet, his face aflame with indignation, as he shouted: ‘Pull like the devil, boys!  Pull like hell!”
They obeyed with a will, and a few sturdy strokes took us out of danger.  After he had resumed his seat and calmed down, I said in a low voice: ‘Of course those guns were not shotted, and we were below their range?”
He answered, gritting his teeth, “yes, but to think of exposing the President to the danger of having his head taken off by a wad!”
I did not know, until he explained, that the wadding blown to pieces by the explosion sometimes commences dropping fragments soon after leaving the gun.  Whether Mr. Lincoln realized the danger or not, I never knew.  He sat impassively through it, and made no reference to it afterwards.”

Published in: on April 26, 2012 at 12:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

Washington Learns that Union Forces Captured New Orleans

April 25, 1862

President Lincoln is told by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton that the Union Navy under  David G. Farragut has captured New Orleans.  Union ships slipped past Confederate forts commanding the river the previous day.  On arrival in New Orleans, Farragut demanded the surrender of the city, parts of which were already on fire.  The city does not surrender until April 28.

Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning makes one of his regular social-political visits to the White House: “At night I went to the Presidents.   He was alone and complaining of head ache.  Our conversation turned upon poetry, and each of us quoted a few lines from [British poet Thomas] Hood.  He asked me if I remembered the Haunted House.  I replied that I had never read it.  He rang his bell — sent for Hood’s poems and read the whole of it to me, pausing occasionally to comment on passages which struck him as particularly felicitous.  His reading was admirable and his criticisms evinced a high and just appreciation of the true spirit of poetry.  He then sent for another volume of the same work, and read me the ‘lost heir’, and then the ‘Spoilt Child’ the humour of both of which he greatly enjoyed.   I remained with about an hour & a half, and left high in high spirits, and a very genial mood; but as he said a crowd was buzzing about the d about the dor like bees, ready to pounce upon him as soon as I should take my departure, and bring him back to a realization of the annoyances and harrassments of his position.

Published in: on April 25, 2012 at 12:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

President Greets Salvador Ambassador

April 24, 1862

President Lincoln tells Lorenzo Montufar, the new ambassador from Salvador: “At any time the arrival of a Minister from San Salvador would be an interesting event. It is peculiarly so now. Republicanism is demonstrating its adaptation to the highest interests of society—the preservation of the State itself against the violence of faction. Elsewhere on the American continent it is struggling against the inroads of anarchy, which invites foreign intervention:

Let the American States, therefore, draw closer together and animate and reassure each other, and thus prove to the world that, although we have inherited some of the errors of ancient systems, we are nevertheless capable of completing and establishing the new one which we have now chosen. On the result largely depends the progress, civilization, and happiness of mankind.

Published in: on April 24, 2012 at 12:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

Generfal McClellan’s Failures and Friendship

April 23, 1862

President Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton talk over the disposition of Union troops protecting Washington.   Sec. Stanton issues orders to General McDowell not to cross Rappahannock River and pursue Confederates who recently evacuated Fredericksburg, Virginia.

General George B. McClellan, whose letters to his wife betray his anger at President Lincoln, writes the commander in chief: “I am well aware of the firm friendship & confidence you have evinced for me, & instead of again thanking you for it will endeavor to assure that it is not misplaced.” He goes on to discuss his preparations for battle:

Do not misunderstand the apparent inaction here — not a day, not an hour has been lost, works have been constructed that may almost be called gigantic — roads built through swamps & difficult ravines, material brought up, batteries built.  I have tonight in batter & ready for action 5 100 pdr  Parrott guns, 10 4 1/2″ Ordnance guns, 18 20 pdr Parrotts, 6 Napoleon guns & 6 10 pdr Parrotts — this not counting the batteries in front of Smith & on his left — 45 guns.  I will add to it tomorrow night 5 30 pdr Parrotts, 6 20 pdr Parrotts, from 5 to 10 13″ mortars, & (if it arrives in time) 1 200 pdr Parrott.  Before sundown tomorrow I will essentially complete the redoubts necessary to strengthen the left of the 1st Parallel; & will construct that Parallel as far as Wormley’s Creek from the left, & probably all the way to York River tomorrow night.  I will then be secure against sorties.  It has become necessary to make tomorrow morning early a ‘forced reconnaissance’ to gain some information as to the ground on the left flank of the proposed 1st Parallel –this ground is strongly held by the enemy’s pickets, is swampy & covered with thick brush & timber — I cannot now tell what facilities they possess for crossing the stream in force — to gain this information I have ordered Col Gove to move with Regt, the 22nd Massachusetts, early in the morning — I have taken all possible precautions, so that the object may be gained without loss — yet it is possible that many lives may be lost — there is no other way of accomplishing the object, & I merely wish to state beforehand what the purpose is, in order that the result may be understood.  I do not propose to open fire at present unless the enemy attempt to interfere with the construction of the 1st Parallel & the new batteries which will be commenced at once.  If he will permit it I will at once build a battery at close range for 5 more 100 pdrs & another 200 pdr rifle, batteries for the 10 & 8 inch mortars, 8″ howitzers, & additional 30 & 20 pounder Parrotts, in the mean time pushing the approaches forward as rapidly as possible.  I still hope that we will not be seriously interfered with until I can open an overwhelming fire & give the assault from a reasonable distance under its cover.  My course must necessarily depend to a great extent upon that of the enemy — but I see the way clear to success & hope to make it brilliant, although with but little loss of life.  I expect great aid from the Galena — Franklin will probably land as soon as she arrives — his preparations ought to be completed tomorrow.

Published in: on April 23, 2012 at 12:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

Emancipation Commissioner Replaced

April 22, 1862

President Lincoln replaces James G. Berret as a commissioner to adjudicate claims under Washington’s compensated emancipation plan.  Lincoln writes former Washington Mayor Berret, who declined to participate, complaining about his imprisonment for sedition (because he refused to sign a loyalty pledge): “In so far as your letter assumes that the tendering you the office without your solicitation or knowledge, attests my confidence in your loyalty to the United States, now and heretofore, you are entirely right. So far, however, as it assumes that, in my judgment, your imprisonment mentioned, was wholly undeserved, an explanatory word from me is due. I think you made a mistake which justified men having less evidence to the contrary than I had, to suspect your loyalty, and to act accordingly. The arrest, though made by my general authority, was in fact made without my knowledge at the time; but being done, the question of undoing it was a little different from that of the original making; and required a little time to solve it satisfactorily.”

Lincoln and Berret would reconcile.  In Berret’s place, Lincoln nominates former Postmaster General Horatio King.

Published in: on April 22, 2012 at 12:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

Confederates Evacuate Fredericksburg

April 21, 1862

President Lincoln writes Gen. George B.  McClellan of the Confederate evacuation of Fredericksburg, Virginia: “Fredericksburg is evacuated and the bridges destroyed by the enemy–and a small part of McDowell’s command occupies this side of the Rappahannock opposite the town.  He purposes moving his whole force to that point.

Published in: on April 21, 2012 at 12:17 pm  Leave a Comment