President Lincoln Acts Decisively to End Defeatist Talk in the Army

September 27, 1862

Lincoln aide John Hay wrote in his diary that on Thursday night, “The President and I were riding to Soldiers Home; he said he had heard of an officer who had said they did not mean to gain any decisive victory but to keep things running on so that they the army might manage things to suit themselves.  He said he should have the matter examined and if any such language had been used, his head should go off.”  Historian Bruce Tap wrote:“One of the most disturbing and revealing incidents in the army that fall concerned the dismissal of Maj. John J. Key, a staff officer working in the office of General-in-chief Halleck and the brother of Thomas, a colonel on McClellan’s staff. Shortly after Antietam, John Key was overheard expressing his opinion about why the rebel army was not destroyed after the battle; ‘That is not the game,….the object is that neither army shall get much advantage of the other; that both shall be kept in the field till they are exhausted, when we will make a compromise and save slavery.’  When interviewed by Lincoln, Key apparently made no attempt to deny the statement, and Lincoln promptly dismissed him from service.” After meeting with Key in late morning, the President proceeds to end Key’s military career.  The previous day, President Lincoln had ordered:

I am informed that in answer to the question “Why was not the rebel army bagged immediately after the battle near Sharpsburg?” propounded to you by Major Levi C. Turner, Judge Advocate &c. you answered “That is not the game’” `”The object is that neither army shall get much advantage of the other; that both shall be kept in the field till they are exhausted, when we will make a compromise and save slavery.” I shall be very happy if you will, within twentyfour hours from the receipt of this, prove to me by Major Turner, that you did not, either litterally, or in substance, make the answer stated.

General George B. McClellan writes to General Henry W. Halleck: “In the last battles the enemy was undoubtedly greatly superior to us in number, and it was only by very hard fighting that we gained the advantage we did; as it was, the result was at one period very doubtful and we had all we could do to win the day.  If the enemy receives considerable reinforcements and we none, it is possible that I may have too much on my hands in the next battle.”

My own view of the proper policy to be pursued is to retain in Washington merely the force necessary to garrison it and to send everything else available to reinforce this Army.  The railways give us the means of promptly reinforcing Washington should it become necessary.  If I am reinforced as I ask, and am allowed to take my own course, I will hold myself responsible for the safety of Washington.

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Published in: on September 27, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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