President Lincoln Contemplates State of West Virginia

December 15, 1862

At the White House , Senator Orville H. Browning meets with President Lincoln: ““Went at night to the Presidents with Judge Norton, Genl & Mrs N B Buford & Mrs Genl Jno: Buford.  Left them with Mrs Lincoln and I went up and talked with the President.  I took him the bill creating the State of New Virginia.  He was distressed at its passage, and asked me how long he could retain it before approving or vetoing.  I told him ten days.  He wished he had more.  That I would give him a few days more.  That I would not now lay it before him, but would retain it and furnish him a copy to examine which I did.  I asked him as to the strength of our army at Fredericksburg — He said with Siegels corps which had joined it numbered 170,000.  He was troubled about the army, and did not know what was to become of it.  It had crossed the Rappahannock, fought a battle with an intrenched enemy at great disadvantage, and with great loss, and without accomplishing any valuable result — Now it could not advance — he feared it could not stay where it was, and it would be dangerous to retreat across the River in the face of the enemy   I afterwards took the ladies and gentlemen before mentioned up into the Presidents room and gave them the benefit of fifteen minutes interview.”

In the wake of the Fredericksburg debacle, the weight is heavy on President Lincoln.   Historian Allan Nevins write: “The storm of sorrow and wrath which at once swept the North fell more heavily on Lincoln, Stanton and Halleck than on Burnside, whose reluctance to command was well known.  Privately if not publicly, people castigated Lincoln worst of all, for they did not know that he had warned Burnside that he would fail unless he moved promptly , and that he had given the general complete freedom.  He had in fact sent Burnside no message, much less orders, since their meeting in late November.  But many naturally held him responsible for what Joseph Medill called the Central Imbecility.  George Bancroft was extremely severe.  ‘How can we reach the President with advice?’ he demanded of a friend.  ‘He is ignorant, self-willed, and is surrounded by men some of whom are as ignorant as himself.’  The Democratic press of course seized the occasion for lamenting anew the President’s removal of McClellan, and correctly observed that he would not have committed Burnside’s blunder.  At the other political extreme Zach Chandler was writing his wife: ‘The fact is that the country is done for unless something is done at once….The President is a weak man, too weak for the occasion and those fool or traitor generals are wasting time and yet more precious blood in indecisive battles and delays.”

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Published in: on December 15, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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