President Lincoln Tells General McClellan to “Save Your Army”

June 28, 1862

President Lincoln writes West Point Cadet Quentin Campbell regarding his unhappiness at the U.S. Military Academy. : “Your good mother tells me you are feeling very badly in your new situation.  Allow me to assure you it is a perfect certainty that you will, very soon, feel better – quite happy – if you only stick to the resolution you have taken to procure a military education.  I am older than you, have felt badly myself, and know, what I tell you is true.  Adhere to your purpose and you will soon feel as well as you ever did.  On the contrary, if you falter, and give up, you will lose the power of keeping any resolution, and will regret it all your life.  Take the advice of a friend, who, though he never saw you, deeply sympathizes with you, and stick to your purpose.

President Lincoln also responds to a plaintive, belligerent and insubordinate telegram from General George McClellan to Secretary of War Edwin H. Stanton regarding McClellan’s reverses in the middle of the Seven Days’ Battles: “I now know the full history of the day.  On this side of the river (the right bank) we repulsed several strong attacks.  On the left bank our men did all that men could do, all that soldiers could accomplish, but they were overwhelmed by vastly superior numbers, even after I brought my last reserves into action.  The loss on both sides is terrible.  I believe it will prove to be the most desperate battle of the war.

The sad remnants of my men behave as men.  Those battalions who fought most bravely and suffered most are still in the best order.  My regulars were superb, and I count upon what are left to turn another battle, in company with their gallant comrades of the volunteers.  Had I 20,000 or even 10,000 fresh troops to use to-morrow I could take Richmond, but I have not a man in reserve, and shall be glad to cover my retreat and save the material and personnel of the army.
If we have lost the day we have yet preserved our honor, and no one need blush for the Army of the Potomac.  I have lost this battle because my force was too small.
I again repeat that I am not responsible for this, and I say it with the earnestness of a general who feels in his heart the loss of every brave man who has been needlessly sacrificed to-day.  I still hope to retrieve our fortunes, but to do this the Government must view the matter in the same earnest light that I do.  You must send me very large re-enforcements; and send them at once.  I shall draw back to this side of Chickahominy, and think I can withdraw all our material.  Please understand that in this battle we have lost nothing but men, and those the best we have.
In addition to what I have already said, I only wish to say to the President that I think he is wrong in regarding me as ungenerous when I said that my force was too weak.  I merely intimated a truth which to-day has been too plainly proved.  If, at this instant, I could dispose of 10,000 fresh men, I could gain a victory to-morrow.  I know that a few thousand more men would have changed this battle from a defeat to a victory.  As it is, the Government must not and cannot hold me responsible for the result.
I feel too earnestly to-night.  I have seen too many dead and wounded comrades to feel otherwise than that the Government has not sustained this army.  IF you do not so now the game is lost.
If I save this army now, I tell you plainly that I owe no thanks to you or to any other persons in Washington.
You have done your best to sacrifice this army.

The last two sentences of McClellan’s telegram were not forwarded by Col. Edward S. Sanford.  Writing the history of the War Department’s telegraph office from his own knowledge and experience, David Homer Bates later explained: “Such insubordinate, and might fairly be held to be treasonable. When it reached the War Department, Major Johnson sent for Sanford, who at once said that the charge made by McClellan was false, and that he, as military supervisor of telegrams, would not allow it to go before the Secretary of War.  He therefore directed the despatch to be recopied, omitting the last paragraph, and the copy, so revised, was delivered to Stanton.  McClellan’s biographer, William C. Prime, referring to this incident, charges Stanton with having received  McClellan’s scathing condemnation without denial or comment; but neither Stanton nor Lincoln ever knew that Sanford had suppressed an important part of an official despatch, or, at least, not until after the event.

President Lincoln writes McClellan: “Save your Army at all events.  Will send re-inforcements as fast as we can.  Of course they can not reach you to-day, to-morrow, or next day.  I have not said you were ungenerous for saying you needed re-inforcement.  I thought you were ungenerous in assuming that I did not send them as fast as I could.  I feel any misfortune to you and your Army quite as keenly as you feel it yourself.  If you have had a drawn battle, or a repulse, it is the price we pay for the enemy not being in Washington.  We protected Washington, and the enemy concentrated on you; had we stripped Washington, he would have been upon us before the troops sent could have got to you.  Less than a week ago you notified us that reinforcements were leaving Richmond to come in front of us.  It is the nature of the case, and neither you or the government that is to blame.  Please tell at once the present condition and aspect of things.”  He added a postscript: “Gen. Pope thinks if you fall back, it would be much better toward York River, than towards the James.  As Pope now has charge of the Capital, please confer with him through the telegraph.”

Published in: on June 28, 2012 at 12:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

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