President Lincoln and Vice President Hamlin Confer

October 13, 1862

In the evening, President Lincoln and Vice President Hannibal Hamlin confer at the Soldiers Home.   President Lincoln is losing patience with the inaction of the Army of the Potomac.  He writes General George B. McClellan: You remember my speaking to you of what I called your over-cautiousness. Are you not over-cautious when you assume that you can not do what the enemy is constantly doing?  Should you not claim to be at least his equal in prowess, and act upon the claim?”

As I understand, you telegraph Gen. Halleck that you can not subsist your army at Winchester unless the Railroad from Harper’s Ferry to that point be put in working order. But the enemy does now subsist his army at Winchester at a distance nearly twice as great from railroad transportation as you would have to do without the railroad last named. He now wagons from Culpepper C.H. which is just about twice as far as you would have to do from Harper’s Ferry. He is certainly not more than half as well provided with wagons as you are. I certainly should be pleased for you to have the advantage of the Railroad from Harper’s Ferry to Winchester, but it wastes all the remainder of autumn to give it to you; and, in fact ignores the question of time, which can not, and must not be ignored.

Again, one of the standard maxims of war, as you know, is “to operate upon the enemy’s communications as much as possible without exposing your own.” You seem to act as if this applies against you, but can not apply in your favor. Change positions with the enemy, and think you not he would break your communication with Richmond within the next twentyfour hours? You dread his going into Pennsylvania. But if he does so in full force, he gives up his communications to you absolutely, and you have nothing to do but to follow, and ruin him; if he does so with less than full force, fall upon, and beat what is left behind all the easier.

Exclusive of the water line, you are now nearer Richmond than the enemy is by the route that you can, and he must take. Why can you not reach there before him, unless you admit that he is more than your equal on a march. His route is the arc of a circle, while yours is the chord. The roads are as good on yours as on his.

You know I desired, but did not order, you to cross the Potomac below, instead of above the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge.  My idea was that this would at once menace the enemies’ communications, which I would seize if he would permit.  If he should move Northward I would follow him closely, holding his communications.  If he should prevent our seizing his communications, and move towards Richmond, I would press closely to him, fight him if a favorable opportunity should present, and, at least, try to beat him to Richmond on the inside track.  I say “try”; if we never try, we shall never succeed. If he make a stand at Winchester, moving neither North or South, I would fight him there, on the idea that if we can not beat him when he bears the wastage of coming to us, we never can when we bear the wastage of going to him. This proposition is a simple truth, and is too important to be lost sight of for a moment. In coming to us, he tenders us an advantage which we should not waive. We should not so operate as to merely drive him away. As we must beat him somewhere, or fail finally, we can do it, if at all, easier near to us, than far away. If we can not beat the enemy where he now is, we never can, he again being within the entrenchments of Richmond.

Recurring to the idea of going to Richmond on the inside track, the facility of supplying from the side away from the enemy is remarkable—as it were, by the different spokes of a wheel extending from the hub towards the rim—and this whether you move directly by the chord, or on the inside arc, hugging the Blue Ridge more closely. The chord-line, as you see, carries you by Aldie, Hay-Market, and Fredericksburg; and you see how turn-pikes, railroads, and finally, the Potomac by Acquia Creek, meet you at all points from Washington. The same, only the lines lengthened a little, if you press closer to the Blue Ridge part of the way. The gaps through the Blue Ridge I understand to be about the following distances from Harper’s Ferry, towit: Vestal’s five miles; Gregorie’s, thirteen, Snicker’s eighteen, Ashby’s, twenty-eight, Mannassas, thirty-eight, Chester fortyfive, and Thornton’s fiftythree. I should think it preferable to take the route nearest the enemy, disabling him to make an important move without your knowledge, and compelling him to keep his forces together, for dread of you. The gaps would enable you to attack if you should wish. For a great part of the way, you would be practically between the enemy and both Washington and Richmond, enabling us to spare you the greatest number of troops from here. When at length, running for Richmond ahead of him enables him to move this way; if he does so, turn and attack him in rear. But I think he should be engaged long before such point is reached. It is all easy if our troops march as well as the enemy; and it is unmanly to say they can not do it.

This letter is in no sense an order.

Presidential aide John G. Nicolay writes his fiancee: “The crowd still continues here as usual, and leaves me but little time for anything but to listen to their importunities and requests, and to invent and plead excuses and explanations for their disappointments.  It is very irksome, very.”

“Nothing of interest has transpired here during the week past.  Buells fight in Kentucky is still enveloped in much doubt and anxiety.  Stuarts rebel cavalry have made another astonishing dash into Pennsylvania, and made a complete circuit around McClellan’s army, escaping again into Virginia unhurt.  It is little thing, accomplishing not much actual harm, and yet infinitely vexatious and mischievous.  The President has well-nigh lost his temper over it.  I wish he would sometime get angry enough to dismiss about half the officers in the army– I think the remaining half would do more work and do it better by the example.”

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