President Lincoln Waits for Reports on Battle of Seven Pines

June 1, 1862

President Lincoln spends much of the day anxiously anticipating  news of the Battle of Seven Pines just east of Richmond Virginia– in the morning with Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus V. Fox.  The battle – the largest in the eastern sector of the Civil War to date — had begun the previous day when Confederates had almost overwhelmed Union forces.  Lincoln aide John G. Nicolay writes that “the first despatch came along about eleven o’clock on Saturday night, giving only vague rumors it is true, but leaving the inference very evidence that we were having the worst of it.”

Lincoln sends General George B. McClellan a series of telegrams after McClellan wrote Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton: “We have had a desperate battle, in which the corps of Sumner, Heintzelman, and Keyes have been engaged against greatly superior numbers.”  About 1:15 PM, Lincoln  sends the first two telegrams in quick succession: “You are probably engaged with the enemy.  I suppose be made the attack.  Stand well on your guard–hold all your ground, or yield any only, inch by inch and in good order.  This morning we merge Gen. [John] Wool’s department into yours, giving you command of the whole, and sending Gen. [John A.] Dix to Fortress-Monroe, and Gen. Wool to Fort McHenry.  We also send Gen. [Franz] Sigel to report to you for duty.”

Lincoln is trying to organize Union forces to put maximum pressure on the Confederates.  He follows up by writing McClellan: “You are already notified that Gen. Sigel is to report to you for duty.  I suggest–(do not order) that he have command of such of the forces about Fort-Monroe, Norfolk, Newport-News, &c. as you may see fit to put into active service, or such other command as may be suitable to his rank.” At 5 P.M, Lincoln again wrote McClellan: “Thanks for what you could, and did say, in your despatch of noon to-day to the Sec. of War.  If the enemy shall not have not renewed the attack this afternoon, I think the hardest of your work is done.

Shields’ advance came in collision with part of the enemy yesterday evening six miles from Front-Royal in a direction between Winchester & Strausburg, driving them back, capturing a few prisoners and one rifled cannon.  Firing in that direction to-day, heard both from Harper’s Ferry and Front Royal, indicate a probability that Fremont has met the enemy.
We have concluded to send Gen. Sigel to Harper’s Ferry, so that what I telegraphed you about him this morning, is revoked.  Dix goes to Fort-Monroe to-night.

While President Lincoln worries, Mrs. Lincoln goes to New York Presbyterian Church with Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning: “Mrs. Lincoln called this morning and Judge Norton and myself went to Dr Gurley’s Church with her.  About 6 P M I went to the Presidents and walked with him and Mrs Lincoln in the grounds, then went with President to War Department to get further news of the fight at Richmond which commenced yesterday.  The enemy had attacked us — the battle was terrible but we had driven them back, and the victory was ours.”

Nicolay writes of the slow trickle of news that the White House received regarding the Battle of Seven Pines:: “We got no more information until noon when we heard that after a severe conflict during the forenoon, we had finally repulsed the enemy at all points.  It seems that they attacked us at about one o’clock on Saturday and whipped us pretty badly until night, but that we recovered our losses during the next morning.  We have as yet no particulars of the affair though one or two dispatches received this morning indicate that it is more of a success for us than we at first supposed.”

Published in: on June 1, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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