President Lincoln Confers with General Irvin McDowell

April 20, 1862

In the morning, President Lincoln General Irvin meets McDowell in morning at Aquia Creek.   Historian David H. Donald noted the president’s adventuresome nature was on display. ” When they reached the Potomac Creek, McDowell called their attention to a trestle bridge his men were erecting a hundred feet above the water in that deep and wide ravine. ‘Let us walk over,’ exclaimed the President boyishly, and though the pathway was only a single plank wide, he led the way. About halfway across Stanton became dizzy and Dahlgren, who was somewhat giddy himself, had to help the Secretary. But Lincoln, despite the grinding cares of his office, was in fine physical shape and never lost his balance.” McDowell joins Lincoln on Potomac River trip back to Washington, where they dine at the Naval Yard with Commandant John Dahlgren. Later, Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning visits the White House: “At night I went to the Presidents and had a long talk with him about the condition of things at York Town and Corinth.

From the Yorktown peninsula, General George B. McClellan writes the president: “I enclose herewith a copy of the first reliable map we have prepared of this vicinity — it will give you a good general idea of positions.  In a day or two we will have one on a larger scale which will be more satisfactory to you.  I will soon send you one of the immediate front of Yorktown on which I will mark the batteries now being entrenched & send such information as will enable you to put down the new works as they progress.

We are now actually at work, & nearly through, with 6 batteries for guns, have commenced a series for 10 13″ mortars, & commence tomorrow morning another gun battery.  As soon as these are armed we will open the first parallel & other batteries for 8″ & 10″ mortars & some heavy guns.  Everything is going on admirably & we shall soon open with a terrific fire.  I hope to hear hourly of the arrival of Franklin’s Division, & shall lose no time in placing him in position.  I hope the Galena will be here to assist us very soon.
Genl Robt Lee is in command in our front — Johnston is under him!  I learn that there has been quite a struggle on the subject between Davis & his Congress, Davis insisting upon Johnston.  I prefer Lee to Johnston — the former is too cautious & weak under grave responsibility — personally brave & energetic to a fault, he yet is wanting in moral firmness when press by heavy responsibility & is likely to be timid & irresolute in action.
The difficulties of our position are considerable, that is the enemy is in a very strong position — but I never expected to get to Richmond without a hard fought battle, & am just as willing to fight it here as elsewhere — I am confident of success, not only of success but of brilliant success.  I think that a defeat here substantially breaks up the rebel cause.  They are making great efforts — enforcing the conscription with the utmost vigor, & now have their regiments full — whether the infusion of raw & perhaps unwilling men will benefit them remains to be seen.  I doubt whether it is a disadvantage to us.

Published in: on April 20, 2012 at 12:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

President Meets Gen. Irvin McDowell

April 19, 1862

Accompanied by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, Treasury Secretary Salmon P.  and Chase, Navy Commander John Dahlgren, and a prominent New York Repubican merchant, President take a cruise down Potomac River to meet Gen. Irvin McDowell at his headquarters on Aquia Creek.  McDowell’s troops had been withheld from General George B. McClellan to protect the capital.

Published in: on April 19, 2012 at 12:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

General McClellan Complains to His Wife

April 18, 1862

“No Genl ever labored under greater disadvantages, but I will carry it through in spite of everything,” wrote General George B. McClellan to his wife Ellen.  To Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, McClellan boasts: “I cannot hope such good fortune as that the enemy will take the offensive.  I am perfectly prepared for any attack the enemy may make…I bet that the Presdt will be satisfied that the enemy cannot gain anything by attacking me — the more he does attack the better I shall be contented.” McClellan writes President Lincoln again to demand more troops:

If compatible with your impressions as to the security of the Capital and not interfering with operations of which I am ignorant I would be glad to have McCall’s Division so as to be enabled to make a strong attack upon West Point to turn position of the enemy.  After all that I have heard of things which have occurred since I left Washington & before I would prefer that Genl McDowell should not again be assigned to duty with me [crossed out: Better that some other field of action should be given him.]

Published in: on April 18, 2012 at 12:07 pm  Leave a Comment  

Admiral Farragut Masses Troops for Attack on New Orleans

April 17, 1861

In Mississippi, Union Admiral David Farragut prepares to mount an army-navy assault up the Mississippi River on New Orleans.  Back east, criticism of General George B. McClellan continues.  The New York Tribune reports: “Why George B. McClellan was called to the onerous and responsible position he has held for the past seven months, will never be fully explained. When appointed Major-General of Volunteers by Governor Dennison, of Ohio, he was Superintendent of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad, a dilapidated concern, which had long been on its last legs:–It is putting it in very soft language to say that his standing among railroad managers was not high. In used, the truth would bear me out in asserting that it was rather middling, if not decidedly low. He had put his name to a large volume five years before, as one of the American Military Commission to the Crimes. Of this respectable, though somewhat jejune work the public supported him to be the author. It was known only to a few that it was merely a compilation and translation from European publications — that an enterprising bookseller (unaware of this fact) had seat a good many copies across the Atlantic for sale which ware returned upon his hands because foreign traders dare not sell them, lest they be sued for infringing copyrights — and that in reality he was no more the author of the substantial parts of this book than he was of the Even in pretty wall informed circles, it is still asserted that Captain McClellan was selected by the other two members of the mean Commission (Majors Mordecai and Belafied) to draw up the report to the Secretary of War. This is an error. Each member published a book, and that of McClellan is the smallest and most inconsiderable of the three.
The country was appalled at the disaster of Bull Run. it could not be denied that Gen. McDowell had failed. War is inexorable.–It sacrifices lives and reputations with remorseless hand. Public opinion demanded that McDowell be instantly displaced from the command of the army of the Potomac.–Neither the President nor Gen. Scott dared to resist the execution of the decree. It is now felt that great injustice was done to McDowell. But a victim was demanded to appease popular clamor, and he was offered up in looking around for his successor, it was found that the selection was confined to a very narrow range. The oldest and most experienced Generals in the army, excepting Gen. Wool, who was then under some mysterious ban, had joined the rebels. The campaign in Western Virginia where McClellan, by virtue of his Major-Generalship, was senior officer, had been successful. He had sent shrilling telegrams, and written imposing dispatches to Washington, describing the successes in his Department.: The writer continued:

Having set up an idol, all patriotic men, of high and low degree, instantly commenced offering incense at its shrine — though nobody could tell exactly why, nor has anybody yet found out. Everybody reposed implicit confidence in him; all waited for his nod with reverential aspect; his slightest word was treasured up and repeated in whispers; his most casual look was scanned as if big with meaning; and then be was so silent, so reticent, so uncommunicative! There was a mystery about him. He did not confer with his subordinate Generals, and they recollected that the great Napoleon did just so by his Marshals. The newspapers abounded with sketches of his personal appearance, and the show-windows ran over with photographs of ‘”the Major-General Commanding”’ in all conceivable and inconceivable attitudes, the most frequent and popular of which in that therein he is mounted on a furious charger, at the head of his serried columns, leading his impetuous men, amid a tempest of fire, straight up to the enemy’s entrenchments….
As the new year approached, ‘”Why don’t be moved”’ said some impatient observer, infatuated with the delusion that war means fighting. ‘”He is waiting for something to turn up!”’ responded grave believers in strategy. Well, it did turn up at Hill Spring. –Why don’t be move now ? He is waiting for Burnside. His plan contemplates a general once upon the foe all along the lines from Hatteras to Kansas. When they are ready at the extremities, the centre will fall with crushing weight upon Manassas, and the rebellion will be ended. Be patient. By and-by the gallant Burnside, after encountering and mangling obstacles immeasurably worse than all the mud that can be piled between the Potomac and the Rappahannock, opens fire at Roanoke in the East, while Fort Henry, on the Tennessee, and Donelson, on the Cumberland, their brave assailants wallowing to their armpits in the mire, send the echo back to Albemarle….
But, at last, the army is going to move.–Why? When the people began to learn that this gorgeous pageant on the Potomac had already cost them about $300,000,00, and was involving them in an annual tax of $20,000,000, and was running up a debt that their great-grandchildren would not see the end of, they commenced to inquire whether this attempt to make a colossal military chieftain out of a second-rate railroad superintendent was not too costly an experiment; and they began to hint at a change. Acting upon this hint, a robust official opened his mouth and spoke. He presented to ‘”the Major General Commanding”’ the alternative, either to move his army or move himself; either to take his columns away from the Potomac, or to yield up their lead to other hands. Will he move? I think he will, and at an early day. Where? If I know, I would not tell. Will he find the foe? I am not sure that he will soon find him in large numbers.

Published in: on April 17, 2012 at 12:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

President Signs Legislation Abolishing Slavery in District of Columbia

April 16, 1862

Illinois Congressman Isaac N. Arnold recalls: “The bill passed the House by ninety-two ayes to thirty-eight noes, and, on the 16th of April, was approved by the president.  Lincoln said: ‘Little did I dream in 1849, when I proposed to abolish slavery at this capital, and could scarcely get a hearing for the proposition, that ti would be so soon accomplished.’  Still less did he anticipate that he as president would be called upon to approve the measure.”

Despite some misgivings, President Lincoln signs legislation to emancipate slaves in the nation’s capita.  He writes members of Congress:

The Act entitled “An Act for the release of certain persons held to service, or labor in the District of Columbia” has this day been approved, and signed.

I have never doubted the constitutional authority of congress to abolish slavery in this District; and I have ever desired to see the national capital freed from the institution in some satisfactory way.  Hence there has never been, in my mind, any question upon the subject, except the one of expediency, arising in view of all the circumstances.  If there be matters within and about this act, which might have taken a course or shape, more satisfactory to my jud[g]ment, I do not attempt to specify them.  I am gratified that the two principles of compensation and colonization, are both recognized, and practically applied in the act.

In the matter of compensation, it is provided that claims may be presented within ninety days from the passage of the act “but not thereafter”; and there is no saving for minors, femes-covert, insane or absent persons.  I presume this is an omission by mere over-sight, and I recommend that it be supplied by an amendatory or supplemental act.

The president also appoints three commissioners to “act for abolition of slavery in District of Columbia.”

Published in: on April 16, 2012 at 12:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Army Needs Soldiers; Governors Respond

April 15, 1862

Eight Northern governors telegraphed Secretary War Edwin M. Stanton, that they would meet their recent troop quotas.  Meanwhile President Lincoln supports the war by using his presidential salary to buy Treasury notes.

Published in: on April 15, 2012 at 12:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

President Lincoln Concerned with Blacks in South Carolina and District of Colombia

April 14, 1862

After a Cabinet meeting “to consider establishing military government over islands along coast of South Carolina,” Attorney General Edward Bates reacts skeptically in his diary; “C.C. called specially today, to consider of a proposition to establish a miltiary govt. over the sea islands!!  It seems that it is an abolition contrivance, to begin the establishment of a negro country along that coast.  After a little conversation, [Edwin M.] Stanton, in a few words, shewed it up, and it was agreed to leave the whole matter to the War Dept.”

Meanwhile, legislation to abolish slavery in the nation’s capitol was making its way through Congress.  “A night went to Presidents to lay before him the bill to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia.  Had a talk with him.  He told me he would sign the bill, but would return it with a special message recommending a supplemental bill making savings in behalf of infants &c. And also some other amendments,” wrote Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning.

He further told me he regretted the bill had been passed in its present form — that it should have been for gradual emancipation — that now families would at once be deprived of cooks, stable boys &c and they of their protectors without any provision for them.    He further told me that he would not sign the bill before Wednesday — That old Gov Wickliffe had two family servants with him who were sickly, and who would not be benefitted by freedom, and wanted time to remove them, but could not get them out of the City until Wednesday, and that the Gov had come frankly to him and asked for time.   He added to me that this was told me in the strictest confidence.

President Lincoln would eventually sign the legislation for compensated emancipation without any restriction.  In Congress in 1849, Lincoln himself had proposed legislation to end slavery in Washington.  Senator Charles Sumner would write of the sequence of events: “We adjourned on Friday at 5 o’clk till Monday–not knowing then that the Bill would pass the House that day.  It did not pass till after 6 o’clk, when the House promptly adjourned till Monday.  The Bill was not enrolled or signed by the Speaker, so that had the Senate come together on Saturday, it could not have received it.  In point of fact, the Bill, though hastened did not reach the Senate till Monday evng after 5 o’clk when it was promptly despatched to the President.

I regretted that the Presdt. held the Bill back for two days — making himself, as I told him, for the time being, the largest slave-holder in the country.  During all this time poor slaves were in concealment, waiting on the day of Freedom to come out from the hiding places.

Published in: on April 14, 2012 at 5:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

No Day of Rest for President

April 13, 1862

President Lincoln continues to be concerned with the situation on the Virginia war front.  “At night I went to the Presidents, to get him to go with me to the Secretary of War to get a pass for Rev Mr. Emery of Quincy, and others to visit our Camps and Hospitals — He was already at the War Department,” wrote Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning in his diary.  “I followed and got the pass from Mr Stanton — There an hour.” The War Department was located next door to the White House and Lincoln frequently went there – to read telegrams or get away from petitioners at the White House.

Published in: on April 13, 2012 at 12:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Lincoln Son Robert Gets $25; South Carolina Blacks Get Freedom…Temporarily

April 12, 1862

President Lincoln wrote a check for $25 to his son Robert, a student at Harvard.  Meanwhile on the barrier islands of South Carolina, Union General David Hunter frees slaves behind Union lines in Department of South.   He does not have presidential authorization for his action, which is later reversed by President Lincoln.

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

General McClellan is Angry and Demanding

April 11, 1862

“Don’t worry about the wretches — they have done nearly their worst & can’t do much more.  I am sure that I will win in the end, in spite of all their rascallity,” General George B. McClellan writes bitterly to his wife Ellen.  “History will present a sad record of these traitors who are willing to sacrifice the country & its army for personal spite & personal aims. The people will soon understand the whole matter & then woe betide the guilty ones.”

McClellan, who always thought he was outmanned by the Confederates,  also wrote Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton demanding more troops: “The reconnaissances of today prove that it is necessary to invest and attack Gloucester Point.  Give me Franklin’s & McCall’s Divisions under command of Franklin & I will at once undertake it.”  Stanton was clearly among those to whom McClellan was referring in his letter to his wife.  In his Stanton, he pressed the case for what he could do if more troops were forwarded to him.

If circumstances of which I am not aware make it impossible for you to send me two Divisions to carry out the final plan of campaign I will run the risk & hold myself responsible for the results if you will give me Franklin’s Division.  If you still confide in my judgment I entreat that you will grant this request — the fate of our cause depends upon it.
Although willing under the pressure of necessity to carry this through with Franklin alone, I wish it to be distinctly understood that I think two Divisions necessary.  I wish it to be distinctly understood that I think two Divisions necessary.  Franklin & his Division are indispensable to me.  Genl Barnard concurs in this view.  I have determined upon the point of attack & am at this moment engaged in fixing the position of the batteries.

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