Special Sunday Cabinet Meeting Discusses Use of Black Soldiers & Emancipation

August 3, , 1862

Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase recalled: “I received a summons to a Cabinet Meeting.  The President spoke of the Treaty said to have been formed between the Cherokees and Confederates, and suggested the expediency of organizing a force of whites and blacks, in separate Regiments, to invade and take possession of their country.  Statistics of the Indians were sent for, from which it appeared that the whole fighting force of the Cherokees could hardly exceed 25000 men.  Mr Usher, Assistant Secretary of the Interior was not in favor of the expedition.  He thought it better to deal indulgently with deluded Indians, and make their deluders feel the weight of the Federal authority.  Most, on the whole, seemed to concur with him.

Mr. Usher mentioned a report that the Louisville Democrat had come out openly for disunion, saying that it was now manifest that the Government was in the hands of the Abolitionists.  The President said, this was equivalent to a declaration of hostility by the entire Douglas Party of Kentucky, and manifested much uneasiness.

There was a good deal of conversation [in the Cabinet meeting] on the connection of the Slavery question with the rebellion.  I expressed my conviction for the tenth or twentieth time, that the time for the suppression of the rebellion without interference with slavery had long passed; that is was possible, probably, at the outset, by striking the insurrections wherever found, strongly and decisively; but we had elected to act on the principles of a civil war, in which the whole population of every seceding State was engaged against the Federal Government, instead of treating the active secessionists as insurgents and exerting our utmost energies for their arrest and punishment;– that the bitternesses of the conflict had now substantially united the white population of the rebel States against us;– that the loyal whites remaining, if they would not prefer the Union without Slavery, certainly would not prefer Slavery to the Union; that the blacks were really the only loyal population worth counting and that, in the Gulf States at least, their right to Freedom ought to be at once recognized, while, in the Border States, the President’s plan of Emancipation might be made the basis of the necessary measures for their ultimate enfranchisement; – that the practical mode of effecting this seemed to me quite simple; – that the President had already spoken of the importance of making of the freed blacks on the Mississippi, below Tennessee, a safeguard to the navigation of the river;– that Mitchell with a few thousand soldiers, could take Vicksburgh;– assure the blacks freedom on condition of loyalty; organize the best of them in companies, regiments &c., and provide, as far as practicable, for the cultivation of the plantations by the rest;– that Butler should signify to the slaveholders of Louisiana that they must recognize the freedom of their workpeople by paying them wages;– and that Hunter should do the same thing in South Carolina.

Mr. Seward expressed himself as in favor of any measure likely to accomplish the results I contemplated, which could be carried into effect without Proclamations; and the President said he was pretty well cured of objections to any measure except want of adaptedness to put down the rebellion; but did not seem satisfied that the time had come for the adoption of such a plan as I proposed.

There was also a good deal of conversation concerning the merits of Generals.  I objected pretty decidedly to the policy of selecting nearly all the highest officers from among men hostile to the Administration and continuing them in office after they had proved themselves incompetent, or at least not specially competent, and referred to the needless defeat of McClellan and the slowness of Buell.  Seward asked what I would do.  I replied, Remove the men who failed to accomplish results, and put abler and more active men in their places.  He wished to know whom I would prefer to Buell.  I answered that if I was President, or Secretary of War authorized to act by the President, I would confer with the General in Chief; require him to name to me the best officers he knew of; talk the matter over with him; get all the light I could; and then designate my man.

Chase writes: “The President read a communication from Genl. [Henry]  H[alleck] proposing that 200,000 militia should be drafted for 9 months, and that the 300,000 men to fill old and form new regiments should be obtained without delay; and to prevent the evil of hasty and improper appointments and promotions, that a Board of Officers should be organized, to which all proposed action of that sort should be referred.  The General condemned, respectfully but as decidedly, the inconsideration which [George B.] McClellan and [Don Carlos] Buell in their important commands; and I was sorry to hear him say, in reply to a question of the President, as to what use could be made of the black population of the borders of the Mississippi, ‘I confess, I do not think much of the negro.’”

President Lincoln wrote Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles: “Allow me to request that you will afford all facilities not inconsistent with public interests to Captain Diller and Dr. Wetherell for some chemical experiments which they desire to make privately under my direction.”  They were working on a new gunpowder formula.

General Halleck sent a telegram to General George B. McClellan – which was bound to agitate his mercurial subordinate: “It is determined to withdraw your army from the Peninsula to Aquia Creek.  You will take immediate measures to effect this, covering the movement the best you can.  Its real object and withdrawal should be concealed even from your own officers.  Your material and transportation should be removed first.  You will assume control of all the means of transportation within your reach, and apply to the naval forces for all the assistance they can render you.”

Published in: on August 3, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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