President Lincoln and General McClellan Debate Strategy

May 21, 1862

President Lincoln holds a series of meeting on military issues – including ones with Generals Henry W. Halleck and Ambrose Burnside.  President Lincoln writes General George B. McClellan: “Your long despatch of yesterday just received.  You will have just such control of Gen. McDowell and his force as you therein indicate.  McDowell can reach you by land sooner than he could get aboard of boats if the boats were ready at Frederick’sburg,–unless his march shall be resisted, in which case, the force resisting him, will certainly not be confronting you at Richmond.  By land he can reach you in five days after starting, whereas by water he would not reach you in two weeks,  judging by past experience.  Franklin’s single Division did not reach you in ten days after I ordered it.”

General George B. McClellan had written a lengthy defense of his actions:

Your dispatch of yesterday respecting our situation and the batteries at Fort Darling was rec’d while I was absent with the advance, where I have also been all this day.  I have communicated personally with Capt. [Louis] Goldsborough & by letter with Capt. Smith.  The vessels can do nothing without cooperation on land, which I will not be in position to afford for several days.  Circumstances must determine the propriety of a land attack.

It rained again last night, and rain on this soil soon makes the roads incredibly bad for army transportation.  I personally crossed the Chickahominy today at Bottom’s bridge ford and went a mile beyond, the enemy being about half a mile in front.  I have three Regts on the other bank guarding the rebuilding of the bridge.  Keyes’ Corps is on the New Kent road, near Bottom’s bridge.  Heintzelman is on the same road, within supporting distance.  Sumner is on the R.R. connecting right with left.  Stoneman with advance guard is within one mile of New bridge. Franklin with two Divisions is about two miles this side of Stoneman.  Porter’s Division with the Reserve of Infantry & Artillery is within supporting distance.  Head Quarters will probably be at Coal [Cold] Harbor tomorrow, one mile this side of Franklin.  AL the bridges over the Chickahominy are destroyed.

The enemy are in force on every road leading to Richmond, within a mile or two west of the stream.  Their main body is on the road from New bridge encamped along it for four five miles, spreading over the open ground on both sides.  Johnston’s Head Quarters are about two miles beyond the bridge.

All accounts report their numbers as greatly exceeding our own.  The position of the rebel forces, the declarations of the Confederate authorities, the resolutions of the Virginia legislature, the action of the City Govt., the conduct of the citizens, and all other sources of information accessible to me, give positive assurance that our approach to Richmond, involves a desperate battle between the opposing armies.

All our Divisions are moving toward the foe.  I shall advance steadily and carefully & attack them according to my best judgment, and in such manner as to employ my greatest force

I regret the state of things as to Genl. McDowell’s command.  We must beat the enemy in front of Richmond.  One Division added to this Army for that effort would do more to protect Washington than his whole force can possibly do anywhere else in the field.  The rebels are concentrating from all points for the two battles at Richmond & Corinth.  I would still most respectfully suggest the policy of our concentrating here by movements on water.  I have heard nothing as to the probabilities of the contemplated junction of McDowell’s force with mine.  I have no idea when he can start, what are his means of transportation, or when he may be expected to reach this vicinity.  I fear there is little hope that he can join me overland in time for the coming battle.  Delays on my part will be dangerous.  I fear sickness & demoralization.  This region is unhealthy for northern men, and unless kept moving I fear that our soldiers may become discouraged.  At present our numbers are weakening from disease, but the men remain in good heart.

I regret also the configuration of the Department of the Rappahannock.  It includes a portion even of the City of Richmond.  I think that my own Department should embrace the entire field of active military operations designed for the capture of that city.

Again, I agree with your Excellency that one bad General is better than two good ones.  I am not sure that I fully comprehend your orders of the 17th inst. Addressed to myself & Genl McDowell.  If a junction is effected before we occupy Richmond, it must necessarily be east of the RR to Fredericksburg, & within my Department.  This fact, my superior rank, & the express language of the 62d Article of War will place his command under my orders unless it is otherwise specially directed by your Excellency.  I consider he will be under my command except that I am not to detach any portion of his forces, or give any order which can put him out of position to cover Washington.  If I err in my construction I desire to be at once set right.  Frankness compels me to say, anxious as I am for an increase of force, that the march of McDowell’s column upon Richmond by the shortest route, will in my opinion uncover Washington as to any interposition by it, as completely as its movement by water.  The enemy cannot advance by Fredericksburg on Washington.  Should they attempt a movement, which to me seems utterly improbable, their route would be by Gordonsville & Manassas.  I desire that the extent of my authority over Genl. McDowell may be clearly defined, lest misunderstandings & conflicting views may produce some of those injurious results which a divided command has so often caused.  I would respectfully suggest that this danger can only be surely guarded against by explicitly placing Genl. McDowell under my orders in the ordinary way, & holding me strictly responsible for the closest observance of your instructions.  I hope, Mr. President, that it is not necessary for me to assure you that your directions would be observed in the utmost good faith, & that I have no personal feelings which could influence me to disregard them in any particular.

I believe that there is a great struggle before this Army, but I am neither dismayed nor discouraged.  I wish to strengthen its force as much as I can, but in any event I shall fight it with all the skill, caution, & determination that I possess, & I trust that the result may either obtain for me the permanent confidence of my Government, or that it may close my career.

General George McClellan writes fellow Union general Ambrose E. Burnside:

I feel very proud of Yorktown; it and Manassas will be my brightest chaplets in history; for I know that I accomplished everything in both places by pure military skill.  I am very proud and grateful to God that he allowed me to purchase such great success at so trifling a loss of life.  We came near being badly beaten at Williamsburg.  I arrived on the field at 5 p.m. and found that all thought we were whipped and in for a disaster.  You have been glad to see, old fellow, how the men cheered and brightened up when they saw me.  In five minutes after I reached the ground a possible defeat was changed into certain victory.  The greatest moral courage I ever exercised was that night, when, in the fact of urgent demands from almost all quarter for re-enforcements to hold our own, I quietly sent back the troops I had ordered up before I reached the field.  I was sure that Johnston would leave during the night if he understood his business, or that I could be able to thrash him in the morning by a proper use of the force I had.  It turned out that Jo. left!  Hancock conducted himself magnificently; his charge was elegant!

I expect to fight a desperate battle in front of Richmond, and against superior numbers, somewhat intrenched.  The Government have deliberately placed me in this position.  If I win, the greater the glory.  If I lose, they will be damned forever, both by God and men.

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President Lincoln Visits Navy Yard and Senator Browning

May 20, 1862

President Lincoln takes some rare time out from the White House.  In the afternoon, President Lincoln and other dignitaries visit the Washington Navy Yard to witness a “the capability of the description of iron armor adopted by our Navy Department to resist shot.”  In the evening, President Lincoln rides to the home of Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning, where he joins Mrs. Lincoln for a ride with Browning.

President Lincoln also signs Homestead Act and legislation creating schools in Washington outside of the city center.

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President Lincoln Repudiates General Hunter’s Emancipation Proclamation

May 19, 1862

President Lincoln is zealous to protect his own authority over any emancipation measures not authorized by Congress.  On May 9,  General David Hunter had ordered emancipation of Blacks in Southern Department.  President Lincoln now revokes that order which he says has caused “some excitement, and misunderstanding:”

I, Abraham Lincoln, president of the United States, proclaim and declare, that the government of the United States, had no knowledge, information, or belief, of an intention on the part of General Hunter to issue such a proclamation; nor has it yet, any authentic information that the document is genuine.  And further, that neither General Hunter, nor any other commander, or person, has been authorized by the Government of the United States, to make proclamations declaring the slaves of any State free; and that the supposed proclamation, now in question, whether genuine or false, is altogether void, so far as respects such declaration.

I further make known that whether it be competent for me, as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, to declare the Slaves of any state or states, free and whether at any time, in any case, it shall have become a necessity indispensable to the maintainance of the government, to exercise such supposed power, are questions which, under my responsibility, I reserve to myself, and which I can not feel justified in leaving to the decision of commanders in the field.  These are totally different questions from those of police regulations in armies and camps.

On the sixth day of March last, by a special message, I recommended to Congress the adoption of a joint resolution to be substantially as follows:

Resolved, That the United States ought to co-operate with any State which may adopt a gradual abolishment of slavery, giving to such State pecuniary aid, to be used by such State in its discretion to compensate for the inconveniences, public and private, produced by such charge of system.

The resolution in the language above quoted, was adopted by large majorities in both branches of Congress, and now stands an authentic, definite, and solemn proposal of the nation to the States and people most immediately interested in the subject matter.  To the people most immediately interested in the subject matter.  To the people of those states I now earnestly appeal.  I do not argue.  I beseech you to make the arguments for yourselves.  You can not if you would, be blind to the signs of the times.  I beg of you a calm and enlarged consideration of them, ranging, if it may be, far above personal and partizan politics.  This proposal makes common cause for a common object, casting no reproaches upon any.  It acts nor the pharisee.  The change it contemplates would come gently as the dews of heaven, not rending or wrecking anything.  Will you not embrace it?  So much good has not been done, by one effort, in all past time, as, in the providence of God, it is now your high previlege to do.  May the vast future not have to lament that you have neglected it.

Diplomat-general Carl Schurz writes President Lincoln: “Your proclamation repudiating Gen. Hunters emancipation-manifesto, appeared in the papers of this city this morning and was of course quite generally discussed.  Although nobody had a right to be disappointed, yet many seemed to be so, and among the more advanced members of our party there was again much talk about hesitation, pusillanimity etc. etc. Many others who would have been glad to see Hunter sustained were well pleased with the rest of the proclamation opening a prospect of future action in the same direction.”

Published in: on May 19, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

President Lincoln Visits Army Hospital in Washington

May 18, 1862

First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln attends New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, a few blocks from the White House,  with Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning and his daughter.  “Mrs Lincoln called in the morning, and I and Emma went with her to Dr Gurleys Church,” writes  Browning in his diary.  “At 3 P M the President sent for me, and he and I rode out to the Hospital at Columbia College — Went all through it, and shook hands with and talked to all the sick and wounded.”  Such visits to the numerous army hospitals in the Washington area were often made by President Lincoln and more often by his wife.

During the Afternoon, president Lincoln met with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton regarding General George M. McClellan’s persistent requests for more troops.  They continues to be concerned about the safety of Washington from Confederate attack.  Historian Kenneth Williams wrote: “The order was an important one, and in its preparation Stanton consulted not only with the President but with Generals Meigs, Joseph G. Totten, and James W. Ripley and Colonel Joseph P. Taylor.  The two civilians who were conducting the war were by no means trying to play things alone; nor were they seeking advice only from the elderly [General Ethan Allen] Hitchcock.”

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Illinois Congressman Visits Still Mourning First Family

May 17, 1862

Illinois Congressman Elihu Washburne, a longtime friend of the Lincolns, writes his wife: “Last night I went up to see old Abe, and after I got through I thought I would pop in and see Mrs. Old Abe, particularly as she was so gracious when I saw her last September. I found her holding her hands all alone in a great big room in the great big White House. She received me very cordially and rather reproached me for not having been more friendly. She well knew the reason. She was very much affected when she spoke of her boy that died last winter — that the house seemed to her like a tomb and that she could not bear to be in it. “

President Lincoln is concerned about failure of gun boats to penetrate Confederate defenses of Richmond. Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus V. Fox to writes Admiral L.M. Goldsborough, urging him to move his fleet to Virginia: “I think you better get all the vessels you can spare, out of the North Carolina sounds to leave in York & James rivers and at Norfolk so as to give you the whole of the present force of regulars which are now with you.

“Please write me unofficially what you think of it, so that we can pull together in accomplishing it. The Pres’t seems very much disappointed at the gun boats not being in Richmond. Rodgers seems to have fallen back. I am afraid the army people are holding him in check. It would be natural; Halleck held Foote back at Clarksville, so that Buell could enter Nashville. If I were you I would take all the gun boats you can muster {Letter illegible. Eds.] one of them and take Richmond with the Navy. It is a dash that would immortalize you, and cover the Navy with additional laurels.

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Quiet Day in Washington

May 16, 1862

News has not yet reached Washington of General Benjamin F. Butler’s order the previous day to treat the women of New Orleans be treated as prostitutes.  President Lincoln is clear that no general has the right to issues orders regarding emancipation.  He writes Secretary of Chase Salmon P. Chase: “No commanding general shall do such a thing, upon my responsibility, without consulting me.”

President Lincoln also sends to the Senate a treaty with Kansas Native Americans: “I transmit herewith for the constitutional action of the Senate, a treaty negotiated on the 13th of March 1862, between H. W. Farnsworth, a Commissioner on the part of the United States, and the authorized representatives of the Kansas tribe of Indians.  A communication from the Secretary of the Interior, together with a letter of the Commissioner of Indian affairs suggesting certain amendments to the treaty, and enclosing papers relating thereto, are also transmitted.”

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President Lincoln approves Department of Agriculture

May 15, 1862

During President Lincoln’s administration, the Cabinet consisted of the Departments of Interior, Navy, State and War plus the Postmaster General and the Attorney General.   Today, President Lincoln authorizes a new Department of Agriculture, but without cabinet status.

President Lincoln writes General George B. McClellan near Richmond regarding their continuing dispute over the resources available to McClellan: “Your long despatch of yesterday is just received.  I will answer more fully soon.  Will say now that all your despatches to the Secretary of War have been promptly shown to me.  Have done, and shall do, all I could and can to sustain you–hoped that the opening of James River, and putting Wool and Burnside in communication, with an open road to Richmond, or to you, had effected something in that direction.  I am still unwilling to take all our force off the direct line between Richmond and here.”

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McClellan Campaign Concerns President Lincoln

May 14, 1862

Senator Orville H. Browning writes in his diary about his conversation with President Lincoln: “At night went to the Presidents and had a long talk with him about his expedition to York Town, Fortress Monroe &c.  He gave me all the details and particulars of his trip and what he did.   He sent Commodore Rodgers up James River with a fleet after having had a struggle with Goldsborough on the subject.  He also devised and Caused to be executed the march upon York Town under Wool which resulted in its Capture — having, himself, the day before explored the Coast and found a landing place for the troops.”

General George B. McClellan writes President Lincoln in his own defense and to request more troops:

I have more than twice telegraphed to the Secretary of war, stating that, in my opinion, the enemy were concentrating all their available force to fight this army in front of Richmond, and that such ought to be their policy.  I have received no reply whatever to any of these telegraphs.  I beg leave to repeat their substance to your Excellency and to ask that kind consideration which you have ever accorded to my representations and views.  All my information from every source accessible to me, establishes the fixed purpose of the rebels to defend Richmond against this Army by offering us battle with all the troops they can collect from East, West, and South, and my own opinion is confirmed by that of all my commanders whom I have been able to consult.

Casualties, sickness, garrisons, and guards have much weakened my force and will continue to do so.  I cannot bring into actual battle against the enemy more than eighty thousand men at the utmost, and with them I must attack in position, probably entrenched, a much larger force, perhaps double my numbers.  It is possible that Richmond may be abandoned without a serious struggle but the enemy are actually in great strength between and there and it would be unwise and even insane for me to calculate upon anything except a stubborn and desperate resistance.  If they should abandon Richmond it may well be that it is done with the purpose of making the stand at some place in Virginia south or west of there, and we should be in condition to press them without delay.  The Confederate leaders must employ their utmost efforts against this Army in Virginia, and they will be supported by the whole body of their military officers, among whom there may be said to be no Union feeling, as there is also very little among the higher class of citizens in the seceding states.  I have found no fighting men left in this Peninsula.  All are in the ranks of the opposing foe.  Even if more troops than I now have should prove unnecessary for the purposes of military occupation our greatest display of imposing force in the Capital of the Rebel Government will have the best moral effect.  I most respectfully and earnestly urge upon your Excellency that the opportunity has come for striking a fatal blow at the enemies of the Constitution and I beg that you will cause this Army to be reinforced without delay by all the disposable troops of the Government.  I ask for every man that the War Department can send me.  Sent by water, they will soon reach me.  Any commander of the reinforcements whom your Excellency may designate will be acceptable to me, whatever expression I may have heretofore addressed to you on the subject.  I will fight the enemy, whatever their force may be, with whatever force I may have, and I firmly believe that we shall beat them, but our triumph should be made decisive and complete.  The soldiers of this Army love their Government and will fight well in its support.  You may rely upon them.  They have confidence in me as their General and in you as their President.  Strong reinforcements will at least save the lives of many of them.  The greater the force, the more perfect will be our combinations and the less our loss.

For obvious reasons, I beg you to give immediate consideration to this communication and to inform me fully, at the earliest moment, of your final determination.

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President Address Religious and Military Issues – And Gives Thanks

May 13, 1862

President Lincoln responds the General Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Church visiting the White House:  “I welcome here the representatives of the Evangelical Lutherans of the United States.  I accept with gratitude their assurances of the sympathy and support of that enlightened, influential, and loyal class of my fellow-citizens in an important crisis which involves, in my judgment, not only the civil and religious liberties of our own dear land, but in a large degree the civil and religious liberties of mankind in many countries and through many ages.  You well know, gentlemen, and the world knows, how reluctantly I accepted this issue of battle forced upon me, on my advent to this place, by the internal enemies of our country.  You all know, the world knows the forces and the resources the public agents have brought into employment to sustain a Government against which there has been brought not one complaint of real injury committed against society, at home or abroad.  You all may recollect that in taking up the sword thus forced into our hands this Government appealed to the prayers of the pious and the good, and declared that it placed its whole dependence upon the favor of God.  I now humbly and reverently in your presence, reiterate the acknowledgement of that dependence, not doubting that, if it shall please the Divine Being who determine the destinies of nations that this shall remain a united people, they will, humbly seeking the Divine guidance, make their prolonged national existence a source of new benefits to themselves and their successors, and to all classes and conditions of mankind.”

President Lincoln also writes the president of a Philadelphia synagogue to thank him for “a copy of a Prayer recently delivered at your Synagogue, and to thank you heartily for your expressions of kindness and confidence.”

President Lincoln speaks to the soldiers of the Twelfth Indiana Regiment:

It has not been customary heretofore, nor will it be hereafter, for me to say something to every regiment passing in review.  It occurs too frequently for me to have speeches ready on all occasions.  As you have paid such a mark of respect to the Chief Magistrate, it appears proper that I should say a word or two in reply.

Your Colonel has thought fit, on his own account and in your names, to say that you are satisfied with the manner in which I have performed my part in the difficulties which have surrounded the nation.  For your kind expressions I am extremely grateful, but, on the other hand, I assure you that the nation is more indebted to you, and such as you, than to me.  It is upon the brave hearts and strong arms of the people of the country that our reliance has been placed in support of free government and free institutions.

For the part that you and the brave army of which you are a part have, under Providence, performed in this great struggle, I tender more thanks–greatest thanks that can be possibly due–and especially to this regiment, which has been the subject of good report.  The thanks of the nation will follow you, and may God’s blessing rest upon you now and forever.  I hope that upon your return to your homes you will find your friends and loved ones well and happy.  I bid you farewell.

Published in: on May 13, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

President Arrives Back in Washington; Confirms Determination to End

May 12, 1862

Along with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, President Lincoln returns to Washington aboard the USS Baltimore from Hampton Roads

President Lincoln meets with Wisconsin Republican Carl Schurz, recently the American Minster to Spain who now wants to command a brigade that of three German-American regiments.  A week later Schurz would write Lincoln: “You told me a week ago in the course of our confidential conversation, that you expected to be left without support at the next congressional elections by the Republican party as well as the democratic; by the latter, because you were too radical and by the former, because you were not radical enough It is indeed true, that misunderstandings between yourself and the Republicans may possibly arise. After you had explained your policy to me the other day I left you perfectly happy and contented, fully convinced that, in spite of appearances to the contrary, you were determined to use all your constitutional power to deliver this country of the great curse, and so I would receive all your acts and manifestations with the utmost confidence.”

Published in: on May 12, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment