President Awaits news of Battle of Seven Pines Near Richmond

May 31, 1862

President Lincoln spends much of the afternoon and night at the War Department’s telegraph office awaiting military news from General George B. McClellan campaign against Richmond.  Forty minutes before President Lincoln receives his first news of the battle at 11 PM, the president  writes McClellan to report on the military situation elsewhere: “A circle whose circumference shall pass through Harper’s Ferry, Front-Royal, and Strasburg, and whose center shall be a little North East of Winchester, almost certainly has within it this morning, the forces of Jackson, Ewell, and Edward Johnson. Quite certainly they were within it two days ago. Some part of these forces attacked Harper’s Ferry at dark last evening, and are still in sight this morning. Shields—with McDowell’s advance re-took Front Royal at 11 A.M. yesterday, with a dozen of our own prisoners taken there a week ago, one hundred and fifty of the enemy, two locomotives and eleven cars, some other property and stores, and saved the bridge. Fremont, from the direction of Moorefield, promises to be at or near Strasburg at 5 P.M. to-day. Banks, at Williamsport, with his old force, and his new force at Harpers Ferry, is directed to co-operate. Shields, at Front-Royal, reports a rumor of still an additional force of the enemy, supposed to be Anderson’s, having entered the valley of Virginia. This last may or may not be true. Corinth is certainly in the hands of Gen. Halleck.”

Published in: on May 31, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

President Lincoln Directs Union Forces in the Shenandoah by Telegraph

May 30, 1862

President Lincoln writes General Nathaniel Banks: “If the enemy, in force, is in or about Martinsburg, Charlestown, and Winchester, or any or all of them, he may come in collision with Fremont; in which case I am anxious that your force, with you, and at Harper’s Ferry, should so operate as to assist Fremont, if possible. The same, if the enemy should engage McDowell. This was the meaning of my despatch yesterday>”

President Lincoln sends a series of insistent telegrams to Union General John C. Frémont, urging action.   The first read: “Yours of this morning from Moorefield, just received. There can not be more than twenty, probably not more than fifteen thousand of the enemy, at or about Winchester. Where is your force? It ought this minute to be near Strasburg. Answer at once.”  He later wrote: “Yours saying you will reach Strasburg, or vicinity, at five PM, saturday, has been received and sent to Gen. McDowell, & he directed to act in view of it. You must be up to time you promise if possible.”  Finally, Lincoln wrote: “It seems the game is before you.”

President Lincoln’s worries about Frémont cause him to send four telegrams to General Irvin McDowell: “I somewhat apprehend that Frémont’s force, in it’s present condition, may not be quite strong enough in case it comes in collision with the enemy. For this additional reason, I wish you to push forward your column as rapidly as possible. Tell me what number your force reaching Front Royal will amount to.”  In his last telegram, Lincoln repeats the language he used with Fremont: “It seems the game is before you.”

Published in: on May 30, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

President issues a Flurry of Directives to Union Generals in Virginia

May 29, 1862

After sending telegrams to Generals John C. Fremont, Nathaniel Banks, and Irvin McDowell concerning operations in the Shenandoah Valley against Confederate General Stonewall Jackson, President Lincoln writes General George B. McClellan: “I think we shall be able, within three days, to tell you certainly, whether any considerable force of the enemy, Jackson, or any one else is moving onto Harper’s Ferry, or vicinity. Take this expected developement into your calculations.”

As usual, President Lincoln spent much of his time at the War Department’s Telegraph Office, especially at nigh.   Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning wrote: “At night went to Presidents, with Judge Williams.  Then went with the President to the war Department.  Returned from there to the Presidents where I met Mrs Browning, Mrs Bull & her party and returned with them home.”

Published in: on May 29, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Drama when the President Attends Ford’s Theater

May 28, 1862

Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning wrote in his diary: At night went to the Presidents — Found him at the War Department, and spent sometime with him there he pointing out the position of the Rebel forces about Richmond, and of our on the March after Jackson on the upper Potomac.”  President Lincoln writes General George B. McClellan:

I am very glad of Gen. F. J. Porter’s victory. Still, if it was a total rout of the enemy, I am puzzled to know why the Richmond and Fredericksburg Railroad was not seized. Again, as you say you have all the Railroads but the Richmond and Fredericksburg, I am puzzled to see how, lacking that, you can have any, except the scrap from Richmond to West-Point. The scrap of the Virginia Central from Richmond to Hanover Junction, without more, is simply nothing.

That the whole force of the enemy is concentrating in Richmond, I think can not be certainly known to you or me. Saxton, at Harper’s Ferry, informs us that a large force (supposed to be Jackson’s and Ewells) forced his advance from Charlestown to-day. Gen. King telegraphs us from Frederick’sburg that contrabands give certain information that fifteen thousand left Hanover Junction Monday morning to re-inforce Jackson. I am painfully impressed with the importance of the struggle before you; and I shall aid you all I can consistently with my view of due regard to all points.

Later, President arrives late to join Mrs. Lincoln for a performance by opera star Clara Louise Kellogg at Ford’s Theater.  As aide William O. Stoddard recalled the story:

There is to be a concert of music to-night, instead of a theatrical performance, at Ford’s. A prima donna will sing there, with much help. She is one of the long procession of queens of song who are great for a season and then cease to be immortal, but she is advertised as the equal of any queen who has preceded her. Mrs. Lincoln has been urged to go, and to take the President with her, and she has succeeded in obtaining his assent. Down in the Red Room, just now, she was relating to two or three of us what a task it was, in spite of the fact that he is fond of music. He is also strongly averse to a swallowtailed coat and kids, and the battle was nearly lost over the latter. She has invited quite a party to fill the President’s box, and we are not wanted there. In fact, we have so much work on hand that we shall get in a little late, at the best.

So, in the result, does the President’s entire party, for he was detained by national business, and hardly was able to keep his promise to Mrs. Lincoln. He put one of his gloves on after he left the White House, but the other will never all go on, for there is a Manassas Gap created between its thumb and forefinger, which tells of weak leather and a strong right hand.

What a dense pack there is in the theatre, and how many volunteers must recently have been paid off!

There is an immense amount of loyalty, no doubt, in this assembly, for it rises as the President enters, and gives him a round of cheers, after vigorously stamping at the first indication of his presence. He has but just seated himself when a harsh, croaking voice in the middle aisle, loud enough to be heard all over the house, exclaims:

“He hasn’t any business here! That’s all he cares for his poor soldiers!”

There was a second of angry silence. “Put him out! Put him out!” But even louder than that is the indignant declaration uttered in a wrathful accent, telling of the Rhine, as well as of common sense:

“De President has a right to hees music! He ees goot to come! He shall haf hees music! Dot ees vot I shay! He shall haf hees music!”

The somebody in the middle aisle is discovered not to be a soldier, but the discovery is made by soldiers, and they are not making any noise over it whatever. They do not hurt him. They only hoist him up bodily and carry him to the door, and, as John Bunyan says, “I saw him no more.”

The President has seemingly paid no attention to the unpleasant little incident. The orchestra took a hint from somebody and struck up a storm of patriotic music, and now, as that dies away, out walks the prima donna, and Mr. Lincoln and all the volunteers present will have their music. Whether or not he will listen to it successfully is quite another matter.

Published in: on May 28, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Shenandoah Shadows the White House

May 27, 1862

Troops under Union General Nathaniel Banks continue to flee from Confederate General Stonewall Jackson.  President Lincoln’s frustration with General John C. Fremont in the Shenandoah Valley is obvious in this telegram:  “I see you are at Moorefield. You were expressly ordered to march to Harrisonburg. What does this mean?”  The general replied: “My troops were not in condition to execute your order – otherwise than has been done.  They have marched day & night to do it.  The men had had so little to eat that many were weak for want of food & so reported by the Chief Surgeon.”

Published in: on May 27, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Washington Relieved that Banks’ Army Escaped Stonewall Jackson

May 26, 1862

Senator Orville H. Browning reports: “At President’s this morning — He had just received intelligence from [Nathaniel] Banks that he had crossed the Potomac at Williamsport with his entire army in good order.”  The president write General George B. McClellan: We have Genl Banks official report. He has saved his army & baggage & has made a safe retreat to the river & is probably safe at Williamsport. He reports the attacking force at fifteen thousand (15000).”

Worries continued at the pace at which the Peninsula campaign was proceeding in Virginia.  President Lincoln telegraphs General George B. McClellan: “Can you not cut the Acquia Creek Railroad also? What impression have you, as to intrenchments—works—for you to contend with in front of Richmond? Can you get near enough to throw shells into the city?”  The dilatory McClellan responds: “Have arranged to carry out your last orders.  We are quietly closing in upon the enemy preparatory to the last struggle. Situated as I am I feel forced to take every possible precaution against disaster & to secure my flanks against the probably superior force in front of me.  My arrangements for tomorrow are very important, & if successful will leave me free to strike on the return of the force detached.”

Meanwhile, McClellan wrote his wife: “My camp is about 4 ½ to 5 miles from Richmond.  I fancy secesh is becoming rather disturbed — he don’t know exactly what I am about.  I could not help laughing this afternoon when I received from the secy of War a copy of a dispatch from McDowell which proves them all to have been a precious lot of fools & that I have been right all the time.  Had the instructions I left for Banks & Wadsworth been complied with we should have been spared the same of Banks’ stampede.  It  laced him.  Some of the Presdt’s dispatches for the last two days have been amazing in the extreme.  I cannot do justice to them so I shall not attempt to describe them.  I feared last night that I would be ordered back for the defense of Washington!  You can imagine the course I had determined to pursue in such a contingency.

Published in: on May 26, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Military Situation Confused as President Lincoln Strives to Protect Washington

May 25, 1862

Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase returns to the White House after overnight trip to Fredericksburg to reenforce presidential orders to General Irvin McDowell.   McDowell has been ordered to stop movement to Richmond and instead cooperate with Union troops under Generals Nathaniel Banks and John C. Frémont operating in the Shenandoah Valley.  Chase reports back to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton at the War Department and then President Lincoln by telegram in early afternoon: “Since my dispatch in cipher information from the War Department that Jackson and Johnson are probably co operating with Ewell unites all opinions here upon the movement indicated by you in preference to the other lines mentioned in that dispatch. General McDowell appreciates, as you do, the importance of the service he is called on to perform. All possible exertion is being made by him and the officers under him to expedite the movement. He will remain here till the troops are all off, and then observe any further directions given by you. Having done all I can here, I shall come immediately to Washington with General Shields, and hope to arrive bv six this afternoon.”

Washington continues to be anxious.  Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase recalled: “I returned to Washington Sunday night accompanied by General Shields, and found the President, with the Secretary of War, Secretary of State, and several Senators and Representatives, at the War Department.  By this time intelligence ha d been received that Banks had retreated early on Saturday morning from Strasburg, reaching Winchester the same night, and that his retreat had been continued through Sunday, and that a portion of his troops had already arrived at Williamsport.”  Meanwhile, Secretary of War Stanton telegraphed northern governors: “Intelligence from various quarters leaves no doubt that the enemy in great force are advancing on Washington.  You will please organize and forward immediately all the volunteer and militia force of your State.”

President Lincoln first telegraphed General George B. McClellan: “The enemy is moving North in sufficient force to drive Banks before him in precisely what force we can not tell.  He is also threatening Leesburgh and Geary on the Manassas Gap Rail Road from both north and south in precisely what force we can not tell.  I think the movement is a general and concerted one, such as could not be if he was acting upon the purpose of a very desperate defence of Richmond.  I think the time is near when you must either attack Richmond or give up the job and come to the defence of Washington.  Let me hear from you instantly.”

President Lincoln later telegraphed McClellan a report on his dispositions of troops:

Your despatch received. Banks was at Strasburg with about six-thousand men, Shields having been taken from him to swell a column for McDowell to aid you at Richmond, and the rest of his force scattered at various places. On the 23rd. a rebel force of seven to ten thousand fell upon one regiment and two companies guarding the bridge at Front-Royal, destroying it entirely, crossed the Shenandoah, and on the 24th. (yesterday) pushed to get North of Banks on the Road to Winchester. Banks ran a race with them, beating them into Winchester yesterday evening. This morning a battle ensued between the two forces in which Banks was beaten back into full retreat towards Martinsburg, and probably is broken up into a total route. Geary, on the Manassas Gap R.R. just now reports that Jackson is now near Front-Royal with ten thousand following up & supporting as I understand, the force now pursuing Banks. Also that another force of ten thousand is near Orleans following on in the same direction. Stripped bare, as we are here, it will be all we can do to prevent them crossing the Potomac at Harper’s Ferry, or above. We have about twenty thousand of McDowell’s force moving back to the vicinity of Front Royal; and Gen. Fremont, who was at Franklin, is moving to Harrisonburg, both these movements intended to get in the enemies near. One more of McDowells Brigades is ordered through here to Harper’s Ferry. The rest of his force remains, for the present, at Fredericksburg.

We are sending such regiments and dribs from here and Baltimore, as we can spare, to Harper’s Ferry, supplying their places, in some sort, by calling in Militia from the adjacent States. We also have eighteen cannon on the road to Harper’s Ferry of which arm, there is not a single one yet at that point. This is now our situation. If McDowell’s force was now beyond our reach, we should be utterly helpless. Apprehension of something like this, and no unwillingness to sustain you, has always been my reason for withholding McDowells force from you. Please understand this, and do the best you can with the force you have.

General McClellan wrote more confidently from the Peninsula Campaign to President Lincoln:

Telegram received.  Independently of it the time is very near when I shall attack Richmond.  The object of enemy’s movement is probably to prevent reinforcements being sent to me.  All the information obtained from balloons, deserters prisoners & contrabands agrees in the statement that the mass of rebel troops are still in immediate vicinity of Richmond ready to defend it.

I have no knowledge of Bank’s position & force, nor what there is at Manassas, therefore cannot form a definite opinion as to force against him.  I have two Corps across Chickahominy within six miles of Richmond — the others on this side at other crossings with same distance & ready to cross when bridges completed.

More sarcastically, McClellan wrote his wife Mary Ellen:

I have this moment received a dispatch from the Presdt who is terribly scared about Washington — & talks about the necessity of my returning in order to save it.  Heaven save a country governed by such counsels!  I must reply to his telegram & finish this by & by!”

5 pm.  Have just finished my reply to his Excellency!  It is perfectly sickening to deal with such people & you may rest assured that I will lose as little time as possible in breaking off all connection with them — I get more sick of them every day — for every day brings with it only additional proofs of their hypocrisy, knavery & folly — well, well, I ought not to write in this way, for they may be right & I entirely wrong, so I will drop the subject.

“At night I went to the President’s — Intelligence from [General Nathaniel] Banks that he commenced fighting at Winchester this morning and was retreating before the enemy to Martinsburg – President entertained fears he was destroyed,” wrote Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning.  Presidential aide John G. Nicolay wrote: “Sunday is keeping up its reputation for being our most important news day.  We have been ‘stampeded’ all day with news from Gen. Banks’ army in the valley of the Shenandoah.  The enemy has appeared there in force, and has compelled him to fall back from point to point, until the probability is that he will not be able to stop before he reaches Harper’s Ferry, if indeed he is not captured before he gets there.  The rumors are that he attacked the enemy in front of Winchester at daylight this morning but was driven back, burned the town and his stores, and is in retreat on Martinsburg and Harper’s Ferry.”  Nicolay wrote his fiancée:

“There are also rumors on the street that there are riots progressing all over the city of Baltimore, and that another rising there is imminent.  So that perhaps this letter and the mail which carries it may be captured by the rebels, and not reach you at all.

“Of course the authorities here are not idle, but have set counter movements in progress which may perhaps bring down the scale on the other side.

“The city is a good deal excited.  Only a few minutes ago, a woman came up here from Willards to see me to ascertain if she had not better leave the city as soon as possible….”

Published in: on May 25, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

President Personally Directs Union Army Movements in Shenandoah Valley

May 24, 1862

After an overnight return trip up the Potomac River from Aquia Creek, President Lincoln returns to Washington Navy Yard and then the War Department.   Confederate troops under General Stonewall Jackson were threatening to overrun Union troops under General Nathaniel Banks in the Shenandoah Valley.   Lincoln understands that he can not depend on General George B. McClellan for the kind of speedy action that might relieve pressure in western and northern Virginia.   To coordinate military response, the president  has to sort through the plethora of conflicting reports from the Shenandoah Valley where General John C. Frémont was failing to follow orders and coordinate in boxing in Jackson.

Kenneth Williams wrote in Lincoln Finds a General: “First of all, at 11:12 A.M. a message went from Secretary Stanton to McDowell informing him that new events would probably cause a change in his previous orders.   Then at one o’clock Lincoln sent a dispatch to brigadier General Rufus Saxton at Harpers Ferry to straighten out the panicky reports from brigadier General at Rectortown, twenty-five miles west of Manassas and near the Manassas Gap.”  Williams wrote:

Whether the situation cleared any in the afternoon is not certain, but at five o’clock Lincoln had new instructions ready for McDowell.   After telling him that Fremont had been ordered to march from Franklin to Harrisonburg, he gave him a mission as clearly stated as any well trained commander ever wrote: ‘Your object will be to capture the forces of Jackson and Ewell, either in co-operation with general Fremont, or, in case want of supplies or of transportation interferes with his movements, it is believed that the force with which you move will be sufficient to accomplish this object alone.’  Capture Jackson and Ewell: that was the mission.   Not a thing was said about relieving a threat to Washington or any other place, but McDowell was told that if Jackson continued to operate against Banks, he — McDowell — might not be able to count upon much assistance from his brother general but might have ‘to release him.’  What would happen to Lincoln’s dispatch if it passed through the hands of a modern operations officer for correct phrasing would be hard to predict; but all of its charm would certainly be lost, and in spite of the addition of a ‘not repeat not’ it would probably be less understandable.

Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase recalled: “I was sent for to the War Department and found that intelligence had been received of the taking of Front Royal and annihilation of Kenley’s [sic] Regiment on the preceding day.  The enemy was reported to have pushed forward to Middletown and cut off the retreat of Banks, supposed to be at Strasburg.  An order was immediately dispatched to General Fremont to advance to Harrisonburg, and do all in his power for the relief of Banks.  An Order was also sent to General McDowell to detach 20,000–or one-half his force-sending them partly by land to Catlett’s station and partly by water to Alexandria and Washington.  To expedite these movements, I was directed to proceed immediately to Fredericksburg and confer personally with General McDowell.  I left accordingly the same afternoon, and reached Fredericksburg and confer personally with General McDowell.  I left accordingly the same afternoon, and reached Fredericksburg about 1 o’clock A.M. Sunday.  I found that General McDowell had given all the necessary orders for the movements directed by the President.  The march began early the next morning, and successive divisions and regiments followed, until, during the course of the day, the whole 20,000 were on their march.”

President Lincoln telegraphs McDowell:

Gen Fremont has been ordered by Telegraph to move from Franklin on Harrisonburg to relieve Gen Banks and capture or destroy Jackson & Ewell’s force.

You are instructed laying aside for the present the movement on Richmond to put twenty thousand men (20000) in motion at once for the Shenandoah moving on the line or in advance of the line of the Manassas Gap R Road. Your object will be to capture the forces of Jackson & Ewell, either in cooperation with Gen Fremont or in case want of supplies or of transportation interferes with his movement, it is believed that the force with which you move will be sufficient to accomplish the object alone.

The information thus far received here makes it probable that if the enemy operates actively against Gen Banks you will not be able to count upon much assistance from him but may even have to release him.

In response, McDowell telegraphs Secretary of War Stanton, “The President’s order has been received and is in process of execution. This is a crushing blow to us.”   President Lincoln responds to McDowell: “I am highly gratified by your alacrity in obeying my orders.   The change was as painful to me as it can possibly be to you or any one.  Everything now depends upon the celerity and vigor of your movement.’

An unhappy McDowell would complain to a New York friend:

It is now the middle of the third week since I was at Fredericksburg with a splendid little army of 41,000 men, 100 pieces of artillery, and 14,000 horse – fully equipped, admirably organized, and as a general thing well disciplined and well officered!  We were all in high spirits.  For this army which had been assembled quietly, was the next morning to march down and join the army before Richmond under McClellan.  I had been held back by peremptory written orders from the President not to cross the Rappahannock.  And not even for a while, to make the bridges over the River!!  But he had given his consent, had issued his orders that I might go as soon as Shields’ division should join.  It had joined.  The wagons were all loaded, the orders given, and were to march the next day!  When came the orders breaking us up and sending us over to the valley after Jackson!

I telegraphed the President that the order was a crushing blow to us all.  That I could not get to the valley in time to affect banks’ position.  His case would be disposed of one way or the other before I could arrive!….

But they were alarmed over the safety of Washington!  Then came this extraordinary forced march over the Piedmont and Blue Ridge mountains to Front Royal, in which I estimate that we had 4,000 men broken down.

Published in: on May 24, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

President Lincoln Visits McDowell’s Army Corps at Fredericksburg

May 23, 1862

In the morning, President Lincoln meets General Irvin McDowell at Aquia Creek.  They move by train to Fredericksburg, where President Lincoln reviews troops.   About 9 PM, the president begins return trip to Washington.   He orders McDowell to protect Washington by coordinating with Union troops being overrun in the Shenandoah Valley – rather than continuing with his advance toward Richmond to support troops under General George B. McClellan. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase recalled: “On Friday, May 23d., the President and Secretary of War visited the army at Fredericksburg and returned to Washington on Saturday morning, highly gratified by the condition of the troops and anticipating an imposing and successful advance on the Monday following.”

The same day at Front Royal in the Shenandoah Valley, Confederate General Stonewall Jackson routs a smaller force commanded by Union General Nathaniel Banks.  Confederate troops pursue Banks’ soldiers.

Published in: on May 23, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

President Lincoln Takes a Evening Carriage, Then Leaves Washington at Night

May 22, 1862

“At 6 O’clock Mrs. Lincoln called in her carriage — the President on horseback.  Capt James N Brown & myself took seats in the carriage, and went with them riding; and then had an interview with the President.   He read me a despatch of 7 or 8 pages from Genl. McClelland from the army in front of Richmond, giving position of our forces &c.

“He told me he, the President, was going to slip away as soon as I should leave him, and go, I suppose, to McDowells division.   He thought he could do some good, and be back tomorrow night.

Accompanied by Sec. Stanton and Navy Commander John Dahlgren, President Lincoln then leaves to consult with General Irvin McDowell commanding an army corps at Fredericksburg.  McDowell was scheduled to proceed toward Richmond in coordination with General George B. McClellan on the Peninsula.  McClellan writes his wife:

I am very glad that the Presdt has come out as he did about Hunter’s order — I feared he would not have the moral courage to do so.  I can’t think how Hunter could have done such a thing without authority from some one..

If I succeed in getting the two additional passages of the River tomorrow I will move next day — in fact I hope to have a strong advanced guard within a couple of miles of Richmond tomorrow evening.  Then I shall be able to examine the enemy’s positions & arrange for the battle.  I will not fight on Sunday if I can help it.  I am obliged to do so I will have faith that God will defend the right, & trust that we have the right on our side.  How freely I shall breathe when my look task of months is over & Richmond is ours!  I know the uncertainty of all human events — I know that God may even now deem best to crush all the high hopes of the nation & this army — I will do the best I can to insure success & will do my best to be contented with whatever result God sees fit to terminate our efforts.  I have long prayed that I might neither be elated by success nor unduly cast down by defeat.  I hope my prayers may be granted I am here on the eve of one of the great historic battles of the world — one of those crises in a nation’s life that occurs but seldom — far more than my fate is involved in the issue.  I have done the best I could.  I have tried to serve my country honesty & faithfully — all I can now do is to commit myself to the hands of God 7 pray that the country may not be punished for my sins & shortcomings.

Published in: on May 22, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment