President Visits War and Navy Departments

September 8, 1862

Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase writes in his diary that he “went to War Department, where found the President, [Secretary of War Edwin] Stanton and [General James] Wadsworth.  The President said he had felt badly all day. Wadsworth said there was no danger of an attack on Washington, and that he man ought to be severely punished who intimated the possibility of its surrender.  The President spoke of the great number of stragglers he had seen coming into town this morning; and of the immense losses by desertion.”  The President himself wrote General George B. McClellan, operating near Rockville, Maryland: “How does it look now?”

Located next to the War Department was the Navy Department.  Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles writes in his diary: “The President called on me to know what we had authentic of the destruction of the Rebel steamer in Savannah River.  He expressed himself very decidedly concerning the management or mismanagement of the army.  Said, ‘We had the enemy in the hollow of our hands on Friday, if our generals, who are vexed with Pope, had done their duty; all of our present difficulties and reverses have been brought upon us by these quarrels of the generals.’  These were, I think, his very words.  While we were conversing, Collector Barney of New York came in.  The President said, perhaps before B. came, that Halleck had turned to McClellan and advised that he should command the troops against the Maryland invasion.  ‘I could not have done it,’ said he, ‘for I can never feel confident that he will do anything effectual.’ He went on, freely commenting and repeating some things said before B. joined us.  Of Pope he spoke in complementary terms as brave, patriotic, and as having done his duty in every respect in Virginia, to the entire satisfaction of himself and Halleck, who both knew and watched, day and night, every movement.  On only one point had Halleck doubted any order P. had given; that was in directing one division, I think Heintzelman’s, to march for the Chain Bridge, by which the flanks of that division was exposed.  When that order reached him by telegraph, Halleck was uneasy, for he could not countermand it in season, because the dispatch would have to go part of the way by courier.  However, all went off without disaster; the division was not attacked.  Pope, said the President, did well, but there was here an army prejudice against him, and it was necessary he should leave.  He had gone off very angry, and not without cause, but circumstances controlled us.”  Welles added:

This combination against Pope was, Barney says, part of the plan carried out, and the worst feature to him was the great demoralization of his soldiers.  They were becoming reckless and untamable.  In these remarks the President concurred, and said he was shocked to find that of 140,000 whom we were paying for in Pope’s army only 60,000 could be found.  McClellan brought away 93,000 from the Peninsula, but could not to-day count on over 45,000.  As regarded demoralization, the President said, there was no doubt that some of our men permitted themselves to be captured in order that they might leave on parole, get discharged, and go home.  Where there is such rottenness, is there not reason to fear for the country?

Barney further remarked that some very reliable men were becoming discouraged, and instanced Cassius M. Clay, who was advocating an armistice and terms of separation or of compromise with the Rebels.  The President doubted if Clay had been rightly understood, for he had a full and free talk with him, when he said had we been successful we could have had it in our power to offer terms.

            In a conversation this morning with Chase, he said it was a doubtful matter whether my declining to sign the paper against McClellan was productive of good or harm.”

Published in: on September 8, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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