President Lincoln Busy with Military and Fugitive Slave Issues

June 11, 1862      

The military situation in Virginia remains confused.  Union General George B. McClellan writes Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton: “I wish it to be distinctly understood that whenever the weather permits I will attack with whatever force I may have, although a larger force would enable me to gain much more decisive results.  I would be glad to have McCall’s Infantry sent forward by water at once without waiting for his Artillery & Cavalry.”

President Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton try to stiffen the resolve of generals operating in the Shenandoah Valley.  They consistently overstate the resources available to Confederate General Stonewall Jackson.   Union General John C. Frémont writes President Lincoln: “Will you allow me to halt at Mount Jackson instead of Harrisonburg, which is not a line of defense, and exposes me to be cut off. . . . My troops are very much distressed for want of supplies.”   In response, President Lincoln writes Fremont: “Accounts which we do not credit, represent that Jackson is largely reinforced, and is turning upon you. Stand well on your guard, get your forces well in hand, and keep us well and frequently advised; and if you find yourself really pressed by a superior force of the enemy, fall back cautiously towards, or to, Winchester, according to circumstances; and we will in, due time, have Gen. Banks in position to sustain you.  Do not fall back of Harrisonburg, unless upon tolerably clear necessity. We understand Jackson is on the other side of the Shenandoah from you, and hence can not, in any event, press you into any necessity of a precipitate withdrawal.”

Jurisdiction over fugitive slaves apprehended in the District of Columbia had been split between U.S. Marshall Ward Hill Lamon and General James Wadsworth.  Lamon, a southern-born friend of Lincoln, was apt to support the rights of slaveowners.  New Yorker Wadsworth, an ardent opponent of slavery, was inclined to support the rights of the fugitives.  The two men clashed bitterly.  Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning writes: “At night went to the Presidents at his request, to meet Marshall Lamon & Genl Wadsworth, the military Governor of the District, and try to devise some mode to prevent collisions between the civil and military authorities in the execution of the fugitive slave law.  I proposed that Lamon should be permitted to execute all the writs which came to his hands, give Genl Wadsworth notice of arrest, reporting to him every day, holding each slave twenty-four hours after such report & notice — that if in the opinion of the Genl any of the slaves so arrested, belonged to rebels, and were entitled to military protection, all such should be given up by the Marshall to him — All others were to be proceeded with under the fugitive slave laws.  Both gentlemen agreed to the proposition, and the President approved it.

“I was much pleased with Genl Wadsworth.  He is a calm, sensible, just and reasonable man, intent upon doing his duty in a sensible and reasonable manner, with no tincture of fanaticism about him, but firm in his hostility to slavery and rebellion. I then went with the President down to the parlor and spent the evening with a few friends, and partook of a collation of strawberries.

Published in: on June 11, 2012 at 12:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

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