President Lincoln Thinks Controversy May Push McClellan to Act

September 5, 1862

President Lincoln recognizes the many defects of General George B. McClellan, whom he has restored to command, replacing General John Pope after the Second Battle of Bull Run in late August.  “This morning walked with the President over to the War Department to ascertain the truth of the report that Jackson has crossed the Potomac,” writes aide John Hay in his diary.  “We went to the telegraph office and found it true.  On the way over the President said ‘McClellan is working like a beaver.  He seems to be aroused to doing [sic] something, by the sort of snubbing he got last week.  I am of opinion that this public feeling against him will make it expedient to take important command from him.  The Cabinet yesterday were unanimous against him.  They were all ready to denounce me for it, except Blair.  He has acted badly in this matter, but we must use what tools we have.  There is no man in the army who can man these fortifications and lick these troops of our into shape half as well as he.’  I spoke of the general feelings against McClellan as evinced by the Prests mail.  He rejoined, ‘Unquestionably he as acted badly toward Pope!  He wanted him to fail.  That is unpardonable.  But he is too useful just now to sacrifice.’ At another time he said ‘If he cant fight himself, he excells in making others ready to fight.”

After a meeting of the Cabinet, Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase writes in his diary: “The President, at Cabinet Meeting, read Pope’s Report, which strongly inculpates McClellan, Porter, Franklin and Griffin; and asked opinion as to its publication.  All against it, on the score of policy under existing circumstances.  President stated that Porter, Franklin and Griffin would be releived [sic] from command brought before a Court of Inquiry; and also, I think, that the Order had been made.”

The President had previously, at the Department, told me that the clamor against McDowell was so great that he could not lead his troops unless something was done to restore confidence; and proposed to me to suggest to him the asking for a Court of Inquiry.  I told him I had already done so, and would do so again.  So, availing myself of a Messenger from Gen. Pope who came during the meeting, I sent a note to McDowell, asking him to come over.  He accordingly came in the evening, and I suggested the matter to him.  He thought it hard to make the demand when there were no charges.  I told him I thought he could assume the charge made by the Michigan officer who, when dying, scrawled a letter saying he died a victim to Pope’s imbecility and McDowell’s treachery.  He reflected, and then said he would make the demand.  He staid again all night.

Historian Curt Anders wrote: “on the morning of Friday, September 5, 1862, President Lincoln and General Halleck visited McClellan’s quarters; and soon thereafter, the Young Napoleon took the army he was rebuilding into the field against the enemy.  Absent a written order giving McClellan command for the purpose of fighting Lee, the presumption was that either Lincoln or Halleck had given him instructions verbally; later, each claimed that the other had done it.”        McClellan writes his wife: “Again I have been called upon to save the country — the case is desperate, but with God’s help I will try unselfishly to do my best & if he wills it accomplish the salvation of the nation.  My men are true & will stand by me to the last.  I still hope for success& will leave nothing undone to gain it.”

How weary I am of this struggle against adversity.  But one thing sustains me — & that is my trust in God — I know that the interests at stake are so great as to justify his interference — not for me, but for the innocent thousands, millions rather, who have been plunged in misery by no fault of theirs.  It is probable that our communications will be cut off in a day or two — but don’t be worried.  You may rest assured that I am doing all I can for my country & that no shame shall rest upon you willfully brought upon you by me….

My hands are full, so is my heart…

4 pm….It makes my heart bleed to see the poor shattered remnants of my noble Army of the Potomac, poor fellows! And to see how they love me even now.  I hear them calling out to me as I ride among them — ‘George — don’t leave us again!’ ‘They shan’t take you away from us again’ et etc.  I can hardly restrain myself when I see how fearfully they are reduced in numbers & realize how many of them lie unburied on the field of battle where their lives were uselessly sacrificed.  It is the most terrible trial I ever experienced…

Published in: on September 5, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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