President Discusses Emancipation

June 18, 1862

Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning writes: “Before I was up this morning the President sent his carriage for me to out to Soldiers Home to breakfast with him.  I called by Willard’s Hotel and took out the great New York Merchant A T Stewart, and Judge Hilton of New York.   We were out there until 10 ½ A.M. and then drove in with the President, and his little son Tom, who came to see, and play with Emma.   The conversation at the Presidents was chiefly on public affairs.  Mr Stewart is very earnest in his support of the Union cause, and urged that McClelland should be superceded and Gel Pope given the command of the Army of the Potomac.  He had no confidence in McClellan   During the conversation the President stated, what he on several previous occasions communicated to me, that his opinion always had been that the great fight should have been at Manassas — that he would entrench at York Town, and we would have the same difficulties to encounter there — that McClellan was opposed to fighting at Manassas, and he, the President, then called a Council of twelve generals, and submitted his proposition for fight at Manassas to them, and that eight of them decided against him, and four concurred with him, of whom Heintzelman was one.  The majority being so great against him he yielded, but subsequent events had satisfied him he was right.”

            Vice President Hannibal Hamlin was not a close confidant of the president, but as he later recalled, he visits President Lincoln this day prior to leaving Washington for the summer.   Lincoln essentially orders Hamlin to stay as he wants to talk to him that night at the Soldiers Cottage in northeast Washington where Lincoln stayed on warm summer nights.   “Well, Mr. President, if you have any commands for me, of course I will stay,” Hamlin tells Lincoln.    ‘I want you to go with me to the Soldiers’ Home tonight.  I have something to show you,” says the President.

After a horseback ride escorted by a cavalry escort and dinner together, the president and vice president meet in the library of the Soldiers’ Home.   Although historians have disputed his account, Hamlin recalls that Lincoln reads him a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation that would be issued in September.   “Hamlin, you have often urged me to issue a proclamation of emancipation.  I am about to do it.  I have it here, and you will be the first person to see it,” Lincoln reportedly tells the vice president.  He then reads the document, requesting Hamlin to suggest changes – two of which the President reportedly agrees to.  Lincoln “was much moved at the step he was taking,’ Hamlin later remembers.

President Lincoln writes General George B. McClellan: “Yours of last night just received, and for which I thank you.  If large re-inforcements are going from Richmond to Jackson, it proves one of two things, either that they are very strong at Richmond, or do not mean to defend the place desperately.  On reflection, I do not see how re-inforcements from Richmond to Jackson could be in Gordon’sville as reported by the Frenchman.  It induces a doubt whether the Frenchman & your deserters have not all been sent to deceive.”

President Lincoln writes McClellan: “Yours of to-day making it probable that Jackson has been reinforced by about ten thousand from Richmond, is corroborated by a despatch from Gen. King at Frederick’sburg, saying a Frenchman just arrived from Richmond by way of Gordons’ville, met ten to fifteen thousand passing through the latter place to join Jackson.”

If this is true, it is as good as a reinforcement to you of an equal force.  I could better dispose of things if I could know about what day you can attack Richmond, and would be glad to be informed, if you think you can inform me with safety.

McClellan telegraphs Abraham Lincoln: “I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your dispatch of today.  Our army is well over the Chickahominy except the very considerable forces necessary to protect our flanks and communications.  Our whole line of pickets in front runs within six miles of Richmond.  The rebel line runs within musket range of ours.  Each has heavy supports at hand.  A general engagement may take place any hour.  Any advance by us involves a battle more or less decisive.  The enemy exhibit at every point a readiness to meet us.  They certainly have great numbers and extensive works.  If ten or fifteen thousand men have left Richmond to reinforce Jackson it illustrates their strength and confidence.  After tomorrow we shall fight the rebel army as soon as Providence will permit.  We shall await only a favorable condition of the earth and sky & the completion of some necessary preliminaries.”

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Published in: on June 18, 2012 at 12:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

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