President Lincoln Discusses War with Senator Orville H. Browning

November 29, 1862

Illinois Senator Orville H.  Browning, a long-time friend of President Lincoln who had recently been defeated for reelection, has a long talk at White House as Congress prepares to reconvene:  “At 12 I called on the President.   He was apparently very glad to see me, and received me with much cordiality.  We had a long familiar talk.   When speaking of the result of the recent elections I told him that his proclamations had been disasterous to us.  That prior to issuing them all loyal people were united in support of the war and the administration.  That the masses of the democratic party were satisfied with him, and warmly supporting him, and that their disloyal leaders could not rally them in opposition — They had no issue without taking ground against the war, and upon that we would annihilate them.   But the proclamations had revived old party issues — given them a rallying cry – capitol to operate upon and that we had the results in our defeat.   To this he made no reply.

I added that the Republican party could not put down the rebellion — that no party could do it — that it required a union of all loyal men in the free states to give us success, and that without that union we must disastrously fail.   To all this he fully assented.

I asked him weather Genl Pope was a failure, or whether he had been sacrificed by the bad faith of his officers.  He replied that he knew no reason to suspect any one of bad faith except Fitz John Porter, and that he very much hoped an investigation would relieve him from suspicion, but that at present he believed his disobedience of orders, and his failure to go to Popes aid in the battle of Friday had occasioned our defeat, and deprived us of a victory which would have terminated the war.   That all Popes orders, and al his movements had met with the full approval of Genl Halleck and himself with one exception. That during the conflict between Popes and the rebel army, he Ope, had placed a portion of his army in a position, which he pointed out to me on the map, which alarmed him, but that no bad results followed — in fact it had turned out fortunately

That after the last battle fought by Pope the army was much demoralized, and it was feared the enemy would be down on Washington.   In this emergency he had called McClellan here to take upon him the defence of the City — That he soon brought order out of chaos, and got the army in good condition. That for such work McClellan had great talents — Indeed for organizing, disciplining and preparing an army for the field and handling it in the field he was superior to any of our Genls. That when the rebels crossed into Maryland he sent for Burnsides and told him he must take command of our army, march against the enemy and give him battle.  Burnsides declined — said the responsibility was too great — the consequences of defeat too momentous — he was willing to command a Corps under McClelland, but was not willing to take the chief command of the army –hence McClellan was reinstated.  The battles of South Mountain and Antietam were fought with ability — as well as any Genl could have fought them, but McLellan was too slow in his movements.   He could and ought to have prevented the loss of Harper’s Ferry, but was six days marching 40 miles, and it was surrendered.  He did not follow up his advantages after Antietam.  The army of the enemy should have been annihilated, abut it was permitted to recross the Potomac without the loss of a man, and McClellan would not followed. He coaxed, urged & ordered him, but all would not do.  At the expiration of two weeks after a peremptory order to that effect he had only 3/4 of his army across the River, and was six days doing that, whereas the rebel army had effected a crossing in one day.

He concluded as he has in all the conversation I have had with him about McClellan by saying that his great defect was his excess of caution.   I asked him about what Butler told me in Springfield that Fitz John Porter & Genl Griffing had sent a despatch to McClellan to hold on, that they had Pope where they could ruin, and that this despatch was in the Presidents hands — He said there was no shadow of foundation for such a story and no truth in it.  I asked him about Burnsides army before Fredercksburg, and whether it was likely soon to accomplish any thing.  He answered that Burnsides was now here consulting upon that subject — That he and Hallack had just left the room as I entered   That to get at the enemy he had to cross the Rappanhannock, and that to cross in the face of an opposing strength, and could not ascertain it.  They had just been debating whether to move immediately, or whether to wait a few days till some collateral movement could be made to create a diversion which would render the passage less difficult, and that the question would be decided to day   Burnside had then gone with Halleck and would receive his final orders before he left him.

President Lincoln asks Attorney General Edward Bates for help regarding discord among Unionists in Missouri, factions of which plagued President Lincoln until his death: “Few things perplex me more than this questions between Gov. [Hamilton] Gamble, and the War Department, as to whether the peculiar force organized by the former in Missouri are ‘State troops,’ or ‘United States troops.’  Now, this is either an immaterial, or a mischievous question.  First, if no more is desired than to have it settled what name the forces is to be called by, it is material.  Secondly, if it is desired for more than the fixing a name, it can only be to get a position from which to draw practical interferences, then it is mischievous.  Instead of settling one dispute by deciding the question, I should merely furnish a nest full of eggs for hatching new disputes.  I believe the force is not strictly either ‘State troops’ or ‘United States troops.’  It is of mixed character.  I therefore think it is safer when a practical question arises, to decide that question directly, and not indirectly, by deciding a general abstraction supposed to include it, and also including a great more.  Without dispute, Gov. Gamble appoints the officers of this force, and fills vacancies when they occur.  The question now practically in dispute is ‘Can Gov. Gamble make a vacancy, by removing an officer, or accepting a resignation?  Now, while it is property that this question shall be settled, I do not perceive why either Gov. Gamble, or the government here, should care which way it is settled.  I am perplexed with it only because there seems to be pertinacity about it.  It seems to me that it might be either way without injury to the service; or that offer of the Secretary of War to let Gov. Gamble make vacancies, and he, the Secretary, to ratify the making of them, ought to be satisfactory.”

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Published in: on November 29, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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