President Visits War Front

July 8, 1862

At an early hour, President Lincoln and his party arrives at Fortress Monroe where he confers with military leaders.  At 6 PM, the presidential party arrives at Harrison’s Landing ton view the military situation for himself and question General George B. McClellan.  A military review took place in the evening.  Presidential aided Edward D. Neill recalled: “Attracted by cheering, I looked in the direction from which it came and saw two horsemen.  One had short legs, but a fine body and presence above the hips, and was on a large horse, in military dress.  It was General McClellan.  The other, six feet four inches in height, upon a smaller horse, so that his feet seemed very near the ground, dressed as a civilian, with a tall silk hat, was Abraham Lincoln.  As he rode in front of the army the shouts of thousands of weary men showed that his presence had cheered them; yet no soldier who saw him that day, looking so much like the typical Brother Jonathan of the caricatures, can ever forget the scene.”

Historian John Sears wrote that Lincoln “closely questioned General McClellan about their condition.  Matters of war strategy were very much on the president’s mind.  In the wake of the fiasco in the Shenandoah and the conflict over the defense of Washington, Lincoln had gathered together the scattered commands to form the new Army of Virginia and brought John Pope from the western theater to command it.  The question now to be addressed was cooperation between the Army of Virginia and the Army of the Potomac.  One possibility was withdrawing McClellan’s army from the Peninsula to link it was Pope’s in a new overland offensive.”  Sears wrote: “Lincoln already knew McClellan’s opinion of the matter well enough.  The campaign against Richmond should only be renewed from his base at Harrison’s Landing.  McClellan insisted, and ‘reinforcements should be sent to me rather much over than much less than 100,000 men.’ The president posed the question of withdrawal to the army’s five corps commanders.  Keyes and Franklin said the army should be withdrawn.  Porter, Heintzelman, and Sumner said it was secure where it was, and to leave the Peninsula would invite the troops’ demoralization.  ‘To withdraw the Army would be the ruin of the country,’ Heintzelman thought.”

Historian David H. Donald wrote of Lincoln: “When he left Harrison’s Landing soon thereafter, he came away convinced, as he sardonically put it, that ‘McClellan…had so skillfully handled his troops in not getting to Richmond as to retain their confidence.’  Already though, he felt a nagging sense that McClellan had wasted not only time but lives.  As he sat on the Ariel and met with Little Mac, Lincoln occasionally looked through a telescope at the military hospitals lining the bank, waving his handkerchief at the wounded soldiers in their tents who waved at him.”

General McClellan writes Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton: “Your letter of the 5th instant by General Marcy has made a deep impression on my mind.  Let me in the first place express my sympathy with you in the sickness of your child, which I trust may not prove fatal.”

I shall be better understood by you and our friendly relations will become more fixed if I am permitted to recur briefly to the past.
When you were appointed Secretary of War I considered you my intimate friend and confidential adviser; of all men in the nation you were my choice for that position.  It was the unquestionable prerogative of the President to determine the military policy of the administration and to select the commanders who should carry out the measures of the government.  To any action of this nature I could of course take no personal exception.  But from the time you took  office, your official conduct towards me as commander in chief of the Army of the U.S. and afterwards as commander of the Army of the Potomac was marked by repeated acts done in such manner as to be deeply offensive to my feelings and calculated to affect me injuriously in public estimation.  After commencing the present campaign your concurrence in the withholding of a large portion of my force, so essential to the success of my plans, led me to believe that your mind was warped by a bitter personal prejudice against me.  Your letter compells me to believe that I have been mistake in regard to your real feelings and opinions and that your conduct so unaccountable to my own fallible judgment, must have proceeded from views and motives which I did not understand.
I have made this frank statement, because I thought that it would best accord with the spirit of your communication.
It is with a feeling of great relief that I now say to you that I shall at once resume on my part the same cordial confidence which once characterized our intercourse.  You have more than once told me that together we could save this country, it is yet not too late to do so.
To accomplish this, there must be between us the most entire harmony of thought and action and such I offer you.  The crisis through which we are passing is a terrible one.  I have briefly given in a confidential letter tot he President my views.  (Please ask to see it.)  As to the policy which ought to govern this contest on our part.  You and I during last Summer so often talked over the whole subject that I have only expressed the opinions then agreed upon between us.  The nation will support no other policy.  None other will call forth its energies in time to save our cause, for none other will our Armies continue to fight.  I have been perfectly frank with you.  Let no cloud hereafter arise between us.

Published in: on July 8, 2012 at 12:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

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