President Lincoln Meets with and Sleeps in Tent Next to General McClellan

October 2, 1862

After reviewing troops near Harper’s Ferry, President Lincoln moves to the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac.  He dines with General George B. McClellan – and discusses the Emancipation Proclamation that Lincoln had issued after the Battle of Antietam.  Historian Brooks D. Simpson wrote: “…Lincoln traveled north to visit McClellan’s headquarters, where he alternated between conferring with the general and his corps commanders and visiting portions of the army.   Wainwright was disappointed to see the ‘great Mogul’ arrive in an army ambulance ‘with some half-dozen half-dozen Western-looking politicians.’  The sight prompted the New York aristocrat to snarl: ‘Republican simplicity is well enough, but I should have preferred to see the President of the United States traveling with a little more regard to appearances than can be afforded by a common ambulance, with his long legs doubled up so that his knees almost struck his chin, and grinning out of the windows like a baboon.  Mr. Lincoln not only is the ugliest man I ever saw, but the most uncouth and gawky in his manners and appearance.’  A private in the 20th maine seemed equally unimpressed, reporting that ‘old Abe Lincoln was…[as] homely as stump fence.’

The president toured the battlefield with McClellan as his guide.   Perhaps he did not understand the slight to his host when he appeared less than attentive as the general pointed out the features of the field from his command post at the Pry House, but Lincoln made matters worse when he finally piped up, ‘Let us go and see where Hooker went in’ — as if he wanted to explore in detail where a fighting general led his men, instead of remaining distant from the field with a commander who pretended to direct matters.  That Hooker’s criticisms of McClellan’s handling of operations were well known served to increase Little Mac’s ill-concealed annoyance with his superior.  Even more frustrating, when McClellan and his escort arrived at the location of the Union right flank, the president had disappeared.  McClellan dispatched one staff officer after another to find the errant chief executive, as dusk came, the general finally discovered that ‘Mr. Lincoln had suddenly changed his mind, and driven back to camp.’

“Lincoln’s behavior also annoyed other officers.  Patrick noted that the entire First Corps — none other than Hooker’s command — had waited all afternoon to be reviewed.  At last, John Reynolds, the new corps commander, and Meade attempted to ‘hunt up’ the president, only to learn that after his abbreviated battlefield tour he had ‘ran away, in an Ambulance, & drove to Sharpsburg, without putting off the Review, or saying a word to Mcclellan.’  Four hours of waiting thus went for naught, and the men ‘marched hungry and thirsty back to camp.’  The president kept Hooker’s heroes waiting the following day as well, finally arriving some four hours after he was scheduled to appear.  His actions were inexcusable.  Whatever his problems with McClellan, his erratic behavior was unfair to the soldiers, who expressed exasperation with such ‘damn foolishness!’”

Lincoln’s actions left a bad impression with McClellan’s supporters, although perhaps they were beyond influencing in any case.  It is unclear exactly what the president sought to find out during his visit.  Anything more than a cursory review of the army would have revealed that the men needed supplies, especially shoes and clothing, but Lincoln’s later comments suggest that he was not concerned with such things.   Although he allowed himself to be photographed with detective Allan Pinkerton, who helped provide McClellan with information that bolstered the general’s extravagant estimates of Confederate numbers, the president made his own assessment of McClellan’s strength, which he concluded exceeded 88,000 men (he excluded the Twelfth Corps from his estimate).”

McClellan  complains to his wife: “I do think that man Halleck is the most stupid idiot I ever heard of — either that or he drinks hard — for he cannot even comprehend the English language…

I found the Presdt at Genl Sumner’s qtrs at Harper’s Ferry  — none of the Cabinet were with him, merely some Western officers such as McClernand & others.  His ostensible purpose is to see the troops & the battle fields.  I incline to think that the real purpose of his visit is to push me into a premature advance into Virginia.  I may be mistaken, but think not.  The real truth is that my army is not fit to advance — the old rgts are reduced to mere skeletons & are completely tired out — they need rest and filling up.  The new rgts are not fit for the field.  The remains of Pope’s army are pretty well broken up & ought not to be made to fight for some little time yet.  Cavalry & artillery horses are broken down — so it goes.

These people don’t know what an army requires & therefore act stupidly…

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Published in: on October 2, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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