General Ambrose Burnside Takes Blame for Fredericksburg Defeat

December 21, 1862

Lincoln aide John Hay writes in an anonymous newspaper dispatch:  “General Burnside in this morning in Washington.  He says to every one with whom he converses, that the clamors against General Halleck and the Secretary of War, on account of the affair at Fredericksburg, are utterly unjust and unfounded; that the march upon Fredericksburg was his own original idea; that it was opposed both by General Halleck and the Secretary as well as by the President, who all afterwards yielded to the representations of General Burnside; that he received no orders from Washington in regard to his movements; that he crossed the river because he expected to beat the enemy; that he came back because he thought a further advance had become impracticable; that he asked for nothing from the Government which he had not received, and had no cause of complaint, but rather of sincere gratitude for the cordial and unwavering support he had received from the President, Secretary of War, and General Halleck.

“He says, further, that he has observed with pain the efforts that have been made, by newspapers of a certain class, to praise him at the expense of the Administration; to give to him all the credit, and to them all the blame, for recent movements. He thinks it would be cowardly and unmanly for him, by silence, to give a seeming assent to these atrocious insinuations, and it is understood that he has prepared a dispatch for the Associated Press giving an abstract of what I have stated.

“It is also understood that he has freely and frankly assured the President, that he hopes the Government will not have the least hesitation in removing him from the command of the army, if they can place there a man in whom they or the people have more confidence; that he will serve with cheerfulness under any commander they may choose to designate; and that he will not for an instant allow his personal feelings to weigh in the balance against what is, or seems to be, the public interest.

“It is further understood that he has been met in the same spirit of honest frankness by the President.  He has been told that no blame was attached to him by the Administration; that General Halleck, after a full survey of the army and the field, had reported that his dispositions were excellent, and that nothing but a chain of untoward circumstances prevented the realization of his most sanguine hopes.

Hay writes that “to a man like Burnside, insincerity is a crime.  His want of ambition verges upon a fault.  He went into this war with the sole thought and intention of doing his duty.  He has remained in it, to the daily sacrifice of his inclinations and detriment of his business.  He is a life-long Democrat, but a better patriot.  SO that he will not allow his friends to attack his superiors to shield him.  He will not countenance his party in charging the Administration with that for which, right or wrong, he is responsible.  HE has conquered, in this act of splendid manliness, the promptings of personal ambition and the instigations of party pressure.  And in so doing, he has done what no leading General has done before since the war began.”

Burnside may have been forthright and sincere.   Nevertheless,  Burnside’s subordinates were set on his replacement.

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Published in: on December 21, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

President Lincoln Resolves Cabinet Crisis, Rejects two Cabinet Resignations

December 20, 1862

Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase offers his resignation to President Lincoln today.  First, Secretary of the Navy Gideon  Welles urges President Lincoln not to accept Secretary of State William H. Seward’s resignation earlier in the week.  Welles, who often clashed with Seward over navy and maritime policy, writes in his diary:

My first movement this morning was to call on the President as soon as I supposed he could have breakfasted.  Governor Robertson of Kentucky was with him when I went in, but soon left.  I informed the President I had pondered the events of yesterday and last evening, and felt it incumbent on me to advise him not to accept the resignation of Mr. Seward; that if there were objections, real or imaginary, against Mr. Seward, the time, manner, and circumstances–the occasion, and the method of presenting what the Senators considered objections–were all inappropriate and wrong; that no party or faction should be permitted to dictate to the President in regard to his Cabinet; that it would be of evil example and fraught with incalculable injury to the Government and country; that neither the legislative department, nor the Senate branch of it, should be allowed to encroach on the Executive prerogatives and rights; that it devolved on him–and was his duty to assert and maintain the rights and independence of the Executive; that he ought not, against his own convictions, to yield one iota of the authority intrusted to him on the demand of either branch of Congress or of both combined, or to any party, whatever might be its views and intentions; that Mr. Seward had his infirmities and errors, but they were venial; that he and I differed on many things, as did other members of the Cabinet; that he was sometimes disposed to step beyond his own legitimate bounds and not duly respect the rights of his associates, but these were matters that did not call for Senatorial interference.  In short, I considered it for the true interest of the country, now as in the future, that this scheme should be defeated; that, so believing, I had at the earliest moment given him my conclusions.

The President was much gratified; said the whole thing had struck him as it had me, and if carried out as the Senators prescribed, the whole Government must cave in.  It could not stand, could not hold water; the bottom would be out.

I added that, having expressed my wish that he would not accept Mr. Seward’s resignation, I thought it important that Seward should not press its acceptance, nor did I suppose he would.  In this he also concurred, and asked if I had seen Seward.  I replied I had not, my first duty was with him, and, having ascertained that we agreed, I would now go over and see him.  He earnestly desired me to do so.

I went immediately to Seward’s house.  Stanton was with him.  Seward was excited, talking vehemently to Stanton of the course pursued and the result that must follow if the scheme succeeded; told Stanton he (Stanton) would be the next victim, that there was a call for a meeting at the Cooper Institute this evening.  Stanton said he had seen it; I had not.  Seward got the Herald, got me to read; but Stanton seized the paper, as Seward and myself entered into conversation, and here related what the President had already communicated,–how Preston King had come to him, he wrote his resignation at once, and so did Fred, etc., etc.  In the mean time Stanton rose, and remarked he had much to do, and, as Governor S. had been over this matter with him, he would leave.

I then stated my interview with the President, my advice that the President must not accept, not he press, his resignation.  Seward was greatly pleased with my views; said he had but one course before him when the doings of the Senators were communicated, but that if the President and country required of him any duty in this emergency he did not feel at liberty to refuse it.  He spoke of his long political experience; dwelt on his own sagacity and his great services; feels deeply this movement, which was wholly unexpected; tries to suppress any exhibition of personal grievance or disappointment, but is painfully wounded, mortified, and chagrined.  I told him I should return and report to the President our interview and that he acquiesced in my suggestions.  He said he had no objections, but he thought the subject should be disposed of one way or the other at once.  He is disappointed, I see, that the President did not promptly refuse to consider his resignation, and dismiss, or refuse to parley with, the committee.

When I returned to the White House, Chase and Stanton were in the President’s office, but he was absent.  A few words were interchanged on the great topic in hand.  I was very emphatic in my opposition to the acceptance of Seward’s resignation.  Neither gave me a direct answer nor did either express an opinion on the subject, though I think both wished to be understood as acquiescing.

President Lincoln writes Chase: “Secretary of the Treasury, please do not go out of town.”  Chase responded:

I intended going to Philadelphia this afternoon, but shall, of course, observe your ‘direction’ not to leave town.

Will you allow me to say that something you said or looked, when I handed you my resignation this morning, made on my mind the impression that, having received the resignations both of Gov. Seward and myself, you felt you could relieve yourself from trouble by declining to accept either and that the feeling was one of gratification.

“Let me assure you few things could give me so much satisfaction as to promote in any way your comfort, especially if I might promote at the same time the success of your administration, and the good of the country which is so near your heart.

‘But I am very far from desiring you to decline accepting my resignation–very far from thinking, indeed, that its non-acceptance and my continuance in the Treasury Department will be most for your comfort or further benefit of the country.

‘On the contrary I could not if I would conceal from myself that recent events have too rudely jostled the unity of your cabinet and disclosed an opinion too deeply seated and too generally received in Congress & the Country to be safely disregarded that the concord in judgment and action essential to successful administration does not prevail among its members.

By some the embarrassment of administration is attributed to me; by others to Mr. Seward; by others, still to other Heads of Departments.  Now neither Mr. Seward nor myself is essential to you or to the Country; we both earnestly wish to be relieved from the oppressive charge of our respective Departments; and we both have placed our resignations in your hands.

A resignation is a grave act; never performed by a right minded man without forethought or with reserve.  I tendered mine from a sense of duty to the country, to you, and to myself–and I tendered it to be accepted.  So did, as you have been fully assured, Mr. Seward tender his.

I trust therefore that you will regard yourself as completely relieved from all personal considerations.  It is my honest judgment that we can both better serve you and the country at this time, as private citizens, than in your cabinet…”

Welles writes of developments later in the day: “When the President came in, which was in a few moments, his first address was to me, asking if I ‘had seen the man.’  I replied that I had, and that he assented to my views.  He then turned to Chase and said, ‘I sent for you, for this matter is giving me great trouble.’  At our first interview this morning the President rang and directed that a message be sent to Mr. Chase.  Chase said he had been painfully affected by the meeting last evening, which was a total surprise to him, and, after some not very explicit remarks as to how he was affected, informed the President the had prepared his resignation of the office of the Secretary of the Treasury.  ‘Where is it?’ said the President quickly, his eye lighting upon in a moment.  ‘I brought it with me,’ said Chase, taking the paper from his pocket; ‘I wrote it this morning.’  ‘let me have it,’ said the President, reaching his long arm and fingers towards C., who held on, seemingly reluctant to part with the letter, which was sealed, and which he apparently hesitated to surrender.  Something further he wished to say, but the President was eager and did not perceive it, but took and hastily opened the letter.

‘This,’ said he, looking towards me with a triumphal laugh, ‘cuts the Gordian knot.’  An air of satisfaction spread over his countenance such as I have not seen for some time.  ‘I can dispose of this subject now without difficulty,’ he added, as he turned on his chair; ‘I see my way clear.’

Chase sat by Stanton, fronting the fire; the President beside the fire, his face towards them, Stanton nearest him.  I was on the sofa near the east window.  While the President was reading the note, which was brief, Chase turned around and looked towards me, a little perplexed.  He would, I think, have been better satisfied could this interview with the President have been without the presence of others, or at least if I was away.  The President was so delighted that he saw not how others were affected.

‘Mr. President,’ said Stanton, with solemnity, ‘I informed you day before yesterday that I was ready to tender you my resignation.  I wish you, sir, to consider my resignation at this time in your possession.’

‘You may go to your Department,’ said the President; ‘I don’t want yours.  This,’ holding out Chase’s letter, ‘is all I want; this relieves me; my way is clear; ;the trouble is ended.  I will detain neither of you longer.’  We all rose to leave, but Stanton lingered and held back as we reached the door.  Chase and myself came downstairs together.  He was moody and taciturn.  Some one stopped him on the lower stairs and I passed on, but C. was not a minute behind me, and before I reached the Department, Stanton came staving along.

Preston King called at my house this evening and gave me particulars of what had been said and done at the caucuses of the Republican Senators,–of the surprise he felt when he found the hostility so universal against Seward, and that some of the calmest and most considerate Senators were the most decided; stated the course pursued by himself, which was frank, friendly, and manly.  He was greatly pleased with my course, of which he had been informed by Seward and the President in part; and I gave him some facts which they did not.  Blair tells me that his father’s views correspond with mine, and the approval of F.P. Blair and Preston King gives me assurance that I am right.

Montgomery Blair is confident that Stanton has been instrumental in getting up this movement against Seward to screen himself, and turn attention from the management of the War Department.  There may be something in this surmise of Blair; but I am inclined to think that Chase, Stanton, and Caleb Smith have each, but without concert, participated, if not directly, by expressions of discontent to their Senatorial intimates.  Chase and Smith, I know, are a good deal dissatisfied with Seward and have not hesitated to make known their feelings in some quarters, though, I apprehend, not to the President.  With Stanton I have little intimacy.  He came into the Cabinet under Seward’s wing, and he knows it, but Stanton is, by nature, an intriguer, courts favor, is not faithful in his friendships, is given to secret, underhand combinations.  His obligations to Seward are great, but would not deter him from raising a breeze against Seward to favor himself.  Chase and Seward entered the Cabinet as rivals, and in cold courtesy have so continued.  There was an effort by Seward’s friends to exclude Chase from the Treasury; the President d not yield to it, but it is obvious that Seward’s more pleasant nature and consummate skill have enabled him to get to windward of Chase in administrative management, and the latter, who has but little tact, feels it.  Transactions take place of a general character, not unfrequently, of which Chase and others are not advised until they are made public.  Often the fact reaches them through the papers.  Seward has not exhibited shrewdness in this, [though] it may have afforded him a temporary triumph as regarded Chase, and he doubtless flatters himself that it strengthens a belief which he desires should prevail that he is the ‘power behind the throne greater than the throne itself,’ that he is the real Executive.  The result of all this has been the alienation of a portion of his old friends without getting new ones, and finally this appointment of a committee which asked his removal. The objections urged are, I notice, the points on which Chase is most sensitive.

 

Having a balanced set of resignations from both sides of the dispute, President Lincoln rejects them both – intent on keeping his Cabinet together.  President Lincoln tells New York Senator Ira Harris: “I can ride now — I’ve got a pumpkin in each end of my bag.”   When John Forney pressured the President to refuse both the resignation of Chase and Seward, Lincoln  replied: “If one goes, the other must; they must hunt in couples.”

Seward Biographer John M. Taylor wrote: “Ironically it fell to Seward to draft the stiff press release that put an end to the crisis: “The president on Saturday acknowledged the reception of the resignations of the Secretary of State and the Treasury and informed them that after due deliberation he had come to the conclusion that an acceptance of them would be incompatible with the public welfare, and thereupon requested them to resume their respective functions.  The two Secretaries have accordingly resumed their places as Heads of their Departments.”

That evening President Lincoln meets with General Ambrose  Burnside in evening regarding the future tactics of the Army of the Potomac.  President Lincoln had wired him the previous day: “Come of course, if in your own judgment it is safe to do so.”  Meanwhile, Burnside’s subordinates were plotting behind his back to undermine him and his strategy.

Published in: on December 20, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Special Cabinet Meeting at the White House

December 19, 1862

There was a special Cabinet Meeting at the White House on 10:30 AM without Secretary of State William H. Seward.   Attorney General Edward Bates writes in his diary: “The prest. (Enjoining strict secrecy) informed us that on the night of the 17th. Senator Preston King and Fredk. Seward called on him and handed in the resignations of W.H. Seward, sec; of State, and Mr. Frederick Seward, Asst. Sec., of State.

“They said, substantially, that the Republican senators, had, in caucus, determined unanimously, that the pub[li]c, interest required that Mr. Seward should retire from the adm[istratio]n.

Mr. King said that, at first, the document prepared, was against Mr. S.[eward] by name, but that afterwards, it was changed to a more general form, but still, in fact, aimed at Mr. S[eward].

That Mr. S.[eward] said that he was no longer in condition to do good service to the Country, and so, was glad to be relieved from a great and painful burden – and did not wish any effort made to retain him.

“The Prest. further informed us that the Rep[ublica]n senators [sic] apptd. a comee. of 9. [Collamer, Fessenden, Grimes, Harris, Howard, Pomeroy, Sumner, Trumbull, and Wade] who waited on him and presented the paper agreed to in the meeting which he read –

It declares that the only way to put down the rebellion and save the nation, is a vigorous prosecution of the war: It did not name any minister of state, nor allude directly to anyone; but said that it was dangerous to have any one in command of an army, who was not hearty in the cause and the policy above set forth. &c[.]

“The Prest said that he had a long conference with the Comee. who seemeed [sic] earnest and said – not malicious nor passionate – not denouncing any one, but all of them attributing to Mr. S. a lukewarmness in the conduct of the war, and seeming to consider him the real cause of our failures.

“To use the Pest’s quaint language, while they believed in the Prest’s honesty, they seemed to think that when he had in him any good purposes, Mr. S. contrived to such them out of him unperceived.

“The Prest was evidently distressed – fearing that the rest of us might take [it] as a hint to retire also – said that he could not afford to lose us – did not see how he could get along with any new cabinet, made of new materials.

“There was a good deal of conversation, not very pointed, when, upon the Pt’s suggestion, to meet us at the Pt’s to night, at 7.30, to have a free talk [we adjourned].

The P. understands that Mr. S’s resignation a irrevocable – But nothing was sd. of his successor.  At night, we met the comee. of senators and had a long talk of some 4 hours[.]

‘The Prest. stated the case and read the Resolves of the senators, and commented, with some mild severity, upon parts of it. Several senators spoke, with more or less sharpness, all of them directing their force agst Mr. S. Collomar and Fessend, mildly; Grymes, Sumner and Trumbull sharply – Grimes especially –

“Several of the cabinet spoke[.] Chase spoke a little abt. the finances[,] seemed offended, and said he would n’t have come if he had expected to be arraigned here – Blair spoke better than common, tried to shew the genl harmony of the admn. – defended Mr. S. &c and objected to the idea advanced by the Senators, that every important measure and appt. shd. undergo strict scruteny [sic] in C. C.

“I spoke at some length, agreeing with Blair, and going beyond him on the last item.

“Senator Sumner cited some bad passages in Mr. S’s lately published correspondence.  Blamed him for the publication, as unnecessary and untimely, and denounced, as untrue S’s charge that the two extremes had united to stir up servile insurrection.

Navy Secretary Gideon Welles also reported on the Cabinet session: “Soon after reaching the Department this A.M., I received a note from Nicolay, the President’s secretary, requesting me to attend a special Cabinet-meeting at Half-past ten.  All the members were punctually there except Seward.

The President desired that what he had to communicate should not be the subject of conversation elsewhere, and proceeded to inform us that on Wednesday evening, about six o’clock, Senator Preston King and F.W. Seward came into his room, each bearing a communication.  That which Mr. King presented was the resignation of the Secretary of State, and Mr. F.W. Seward handed in his own.  Mr. King then informed the President that at a Republican caucus held that day a pointed and positive opposition had shown itself against the Secretary of State, which terminated in a unanimous expression, with one exception, against him and a wish for his removal.  The feeding finally shaped itself into resolutions of a general character, and the appointment of a committee of nine to bear them to the President, and to communicate to him the sentiment of the Republican Senators.  Mr. King, the former colleague and the personal friend of Mr. Seward, being also from the same State, felt it to be a duty to inform the Secretary at once of what had occurred.  On receiving this information, which was wholly a surprise, Mr. Seward immediately wrote, and by Mr. King tendered his resignation.  Mr. King suggested it would be well for the committee to wait upon the President at an early moment, and, the Secretary agreeing with him, Mr. King on Wednesday morning notified Judge Collamer, the chairman, who sent word to the President that they would call at the Executive Mansion at any hour after six that evening, and the President sent word he would receive them at seven.

The committee came at the time specified, and the President says the evening was spent in a pretty free and animated conversation.  No opposition was manifested towards any other member of the Cabinet than Mr. Seward.  Some not very friendly feelings were shown towards one or two others, but no wish that any one should leave but the Secretary of State.  Him they charged, if not with infidelity, with indifference, with want of earnestness in the War, with want of sympathy with the country in this great struggle, and with many things objectionable, and especially with a too great ascendancy and control of the President and measures of administration.  This, he said, was the point and pith of their complaint.

The President says that in reply to the committee he stated how this movement had shocked and grieved him; that the Cabinet he had selected in view of impending difficulties and of all the responsibilities upon himself; that he and the members had gone on harmoniously, whatever had been their previous party feelings and associations; that there had never been serious disagreements, though there had been differences; that in the overwhelming troubles of the country, which had borne heavily upon him, he had been sustained and consoled by the good feeling and the mutual and unselfish confidence and zeal that pervaded the Cabinet.

He expressed a hope that there would be no combined movement on the part of other members of the Cabinet to resist this assault whatever might be the termination.  Said this movement was uncalled for, that there was no such charge, admitting all that was said, as should break up or overthrow a Cabinet, nor was it possible for him to go on with a total abandonment of old friends.

Mr. Bates stated the difference between our system and that of England, where a change of ministry involved a new election, dissolution of Parliament, etc.  Three or four of the members of the Cabinet said they had heard of the resignation; Blair the day preceding; Stanton through the President, on whom he had made a business call; Mr. Bates when coming to the meeting.

The President requested that we should, with him, meet the committee.  This did not receive the approval of Mr. Chase, who said he had no knowledge whatever of the movement, or the resignation, until since he had entered the room.  Mr. Bates knew of no good that would come of an interview.  I stated that I could see no harm in it, and if the President wished it, I thought it a duty for us to attend.  The proceeding was of an extraordinary character.  Mr. Blair thought it would be well for us to be present, and finally all acquiesced.  The President named half-past seven this evening.

Postmaster Montgomery Blair offers his resignation, but the president rejects it.

Senator Orville H. Browning encounters President Lincoln in the afternoon:  “I did not wish to thrust my opinions unsolicited upon the President, and did not go; but in the course of the afternoon I met him between the White House and War Department, and remarked to him that I had heard that Mr Seward had resigned, and asked him if it was so.  He replied that he did not want that talked about at present, as he was trying to keep things along.  This was all that passed

“He cant ‘keep them along’.   The cabinet will go to pieces.   In conversation with Mr Ewing at night he said, in allusion to the Senate caucus that he had no doubt Chase was at the bottom of all the mischief, and was setting the radicals on to assail Seward.

In the evening President Lincoln meets with the Senate delegation.  The president is prepared to play an audacious game of chess in which Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase is a very reluctant pawn.    President Lincoln is determined to maintain control of his administration and not yield his executive responsibilities to Congress.  He had planned to put Chase on the spot as the author of many misrepresentations of Cabinet intrigue and disagreements.   Historian Allan Nevins wrote: “That night, from seven-thirty till almost midnight, the White House witnessed one of the most momentous meetings in the nation’s history.  Lincoln managed it with superb adroitness.  He did not make the mistake of having the cabinet with him when the committee arrived.  Instead, the committee (without Wade) and Cabinet (without Seward) gathered in the same anteroom.  The committee trooped into Lincoln’s office first, and he asked their permission to admit the cabinet for a free discussion; when they came in, fourteen in all were seated. The President opened the proceedings in a carefully matured speech. After reading the committee resolutions and recapitulating the previous night’s conference, he launched into a defense of his Cabinet relations.”   Charles A. Jellison, biographer of William Pitt Fessenden, wrote that “The Secretary of the Treasury was caught in an unpleasant situation.  His voice had been among the loudest in condemning Lincoln’s haphazard attitude toward the Cabinet and in denouncing his colleague Seward, and he was in a sense the star witness upon whom the disgruntled Republicans had built their case.  But he was also a member of the President’s official family and to speak out openly against his chief, in the presence of his chief, would be most assuredly both embarrassing and unwise.  So it was that he chose the less hazardous path.  No, he was not aware that here had been any lack of unity in the Cabinet.  Yes, he thought that matters of importance had generally ben submitted to the Cabinet for consideration, and that there had been a general ‘acquiescence’ on public measures.”

Navy Secretary Gideon Welles writes of the session in his diary: “At the meeting…there were present of the committee Senators Collamer, Fessenden, Harris, Trumbull, Grimes, Howard, Sumner, and Pomeroy.  Wade was absent.  The President and all the Cabinet but Seward were present.  The subject was opened by the President, who read the resolutions and stated the substance of his interviews with the committee,–their object and purpose.  He spoke of the unity of his Cabinet, and how, though they could not be expected to think and speak alike on all subjects, all had acquiesced in measures when once decided.  The necessities of the times, he said, had prevented frequent and long sessions of the Cabinet, and the submission of every question at the meetings.

Secretary Chase indorsed the President’s statement fully and entirely, but regretted that there was not a more full and thorough consideration and canvass of every important measure in open Cabinet.

Senator Collamer, the chairman of the committee, succeeded the President and calmly and fairly presented the views of the committee and of those whom they represented.  They wanted united counsels, combined wisdom, and energetic action.  If there is truth in the maxim that in a multitude of counselors there is safety, it might be well that those advisers who were near the President and selected by him, and all of whom were more or less responsible, should be consulted on the great questions which affected the national welfare, and that the ear of the Executive should be open to all and that he should have the minds of all.

Senator Fessenden was skillful but a little tart; felt, it could be seen, more than he cared to say; wanted the whole Cabinet to consider and decide great questions, and that no one in particular should absorb and direct the whole Executive action.  Spoke of a remark which he had heard from J.Q. Adams on the floor of Congress in regard to a measure of his administration.  Mr. Adams said the measure was adopted against his wishes and opinion, but he was outvoted by Mr. Clay and others.  He wished an administration so conducted.

Grimes, Sumner and Trumbull were pointed, emphatic, and unequivocal in their opposition to Mr. Seward, whose zeal and sincerity in this conflict they doubled; each was unrelenting and unforgiving.

Blair spoke earnestly and well.  Sustained the President, and dissented most decidedly from the idea of a plural Executive; claimed that the President was accountable for his administration, might ask opinions or not of either and as many as he pleased, of all or none, of his Cabinet.  Mr. Bates took much the same view.

The President managed his own case, speaking freely, and showed great tact, shrewdness, and ability, provided such a subject were a proper one for such a meeting and discussion.  I have no doubt he considered it most judicious to conciliate the Senators with respectful deference, whatever may have been his opinion of their interference.  When he closed his remarks, he said it would be a gratification to him if each member of the committee would state whether he now thought it advisable to dismiss Mr. Seward, and whether his exclusion would strengthen or weaken the Administration and the Union cause in their respective States.  Grimes, Trumbull, and Sumner, who had expressed themselves decided against the continuance of Mr. Seward in the Cabinet, indicated no change of opinion.  Collamer and Fessenden declined committing themselves on the subject; had in their action the welfare of the whole country in view; were not prepared to answer the questions.  Senator Harris felt it a duty to say that while many of the friends of the Administration would be gratified, others would feel deeply wounded, and the effect of Mr. Seward’s retirement would, on the whole, be calamitous in the State of New York.  Pomeroy of Kansas said, personally, he believed the withdrawal of Mr. Seward would be a good movement and he sincerely wished it might take place.  Howard of Michigan declined answering the question.

During the discussion, the volume of diplomatic correspondence, recently published, was alluded to; some letters denounced as unwise and impolitic were specified, one of which, a confidential dispatch to Mr. Adams, was read.  If it was unwise to write, it was certainly injudicious and indiscreet to publish such a document.  Mr. Seward has genius and talent,–no one better knows it than himself,–but for one in his place he is often wanting in careful discrimination, true wisdom, sound judgment, and discreet statesmanship.  The committee believe he thinks more of the glorification of Seward than the welfare of the country.  He wishes the glorification of both and believes he is the man to accomplish it, but has unwittingly and unwarily begotten and brought on the part of Senators, by his endeavors to impress them and others with the belief that the is the Administration.  It is a mistake; the Senators dislike,–have measure and know him.

It was nearly midnight when we left the President; and it could not be otherwise than that all my wakeful moments should be absorbed with a subject which, time and circumstances considered, as of a grave importance to the Administration and the country.  A Senatorial combination to dictate to the President in regard to his political family in the height of a civil war which threatens the existence of the Republican cannot be permitted to succeed, even if the person to whom they object were as obnoxious as they represent; but Seward’s foibles are not serious failings.  After fully canvassing the subject in all its phases, my mind was clear as to the course which it was my duty to pursue, and what I believed was the President’s duty also.

Historian Helen Nicolay wrote: “Afterward Mr. Lincoln told his son Robert that as the meeting was breaking up Senator Trumbull came to him with eyes blazing and said to him, ‘Lincoln, somebody has lied like hell!’  To which the President replied quietly, ‘Not tonight.’”

Published in: on December 19, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

President Lincoln Meets with Senate Delegation Seeking Cabinet Reorganization

December 18, 1862

In the morning, President Lincoln meets with three Border State representatives – Hon. J. Kentucky’s John Crittenden, Maryland’s` J. W. Crisfield, and Missouri’s  William A. Hall  – presumably to discuss slavery and the upcoming Emancipation Proclamation.

President Lincoln responds to a note from Vermont Senator Jacob Collamer, which states: “A committee of the Republican Senators desire an interview with the President at as early an hour after six oclock this evening as may suit his convenience.” President Lincoln tersely responds: “I will see the Committee named, at 7 P.M. to-day.”

Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning writes in his diary:  “After the adjournment of the Senate the Republican Senators again met, and resumed the consideration of the question which was before us yesterday.  Many speeches were made, all expressive of want of confidence int he President and his cabinet.  Some of them denouncing the President and expressing a willingness to vote for a resolution asking him to resign. Most of those who spoke were the partizans of Mr Chase, and excepted him from the censure they bestowed upon the cabinet.

“In my remarks on yesterday I said I knew there was no more honest, upright, conscientious man than the President, and that I knew him to be in favour of the most vigorous prosecution of the war, and that he intended to prosecute until every state was restored to the Union, and every rebel compelled to submit to the authority of the government

To Trumbull repeated substantially the same thing, but said the President was thwarted in his purposes by members of the cabinet and Genl who were not for vigorous measures

Senator Harris offered a resolution declaring in substance that a reconstruction of the cabinet would give renewed confidence in the administration

Sumner moved that a Committee of seven be appointed to call on the President and represent to him the necessity of a change in men and measures. Both resolutions were adopted — every Senator present voting for them except King; Mr Foot was absent.

The Committee consisted of Collamer, Wade, Fessenden, Harris, Grimes, Sumner, Trumbull, Howard, and Pomeroy.  They are to report to another caucus to be called hereafter.

Browning writes: “In the evening went with Mr D W Wise of Boston to the Presidents.  The Servant at door reported that he was not in his office — was in the house and had directed them to say that he could not be seen to night

I told the boy to tell him I wished to see him a moment and went up in to his room.   He soon came in.   I saw in a moment that he was in distress — that more than usual trouble was pressing upon him.  I introduced Mr Wise who wished to get some items for the preparation of a biography, but soon discovered that the President was in no mood to talk upon the subject.   We took our leave.   When we got to the door the President called to me saying he wished to speak to me a moment.  Mr Wise passed into the hall and I returned.  He asked me if I was at the caucus yesterday.  I told him I was and the day before also.   Said he ‘What do these men want?’  I answered ‘I hardly know Mr President, but they are exceedingly violent towards the administration, and what we did yesterday was the gentlest thing that could be done.   We had to do that or worse.’   Said he ‘They wish to get rid of me, and I am sometimes half disposed to gratify them.’   I replied Some of them do wish to get rid of you, but the fortunes of the Country are bound up with your fortunes, and you stand firmly at your post and hold the helm with a steady hand — To relinquish it now would bring upon us certain and inevitable ruin.’   Said he ‘We are now on the brink of destruction.  It appears to me the Almighty is against us, and I can hardly see a ray of hope.’  I answered ‘be firm and we will yet save the Country.  Do not be drive from your post.   You ought to have crushed the ultra, impracticable men last summer.  You could then have done it, and escaped these troubles.   But we will not talk of the past.  Let us be hopeful and take care of the future   Mr Seward appears now to be the especial object of their hostility.   Still I believe he has managed our foreign affairs as any one could have done Yet they are very bitter upon him, and some of them very bitter upon you.’   He then said ‘Why will men believe a lie, an absurd lie, that could not impose upon a child, and cling to it and repeat it in defiance of all evidence to the contrary.’  I understood this to refer to the charges against Mr Seward.

“He then added ‘the Committee is to be up to see me at 7 O’clock.  Since I heard last of the proceedings of the caucus I have been more distressed than by any event of my life.’  I bade him good night, and left him

            At the appointed hour, President Lincoln meets with Senate committee consisting of Vermont’s Collamer, Ohio’s Benjamin F. Wade (who may not have come) , Maine’s William Pitt Fessenden, New York Ira Harris, Iowa’s James Grimes, Mass’s Charles Sumner, Illinois’s Lyman Trumbull, Michigan’s Howard and Kansas’s Pomeroy.  “The meeting then focused on Seward, who was roundly condemned by Sumner, Grimes and Trumbull.  Sumner complained about Seward’s handling of foreign affairs, especially the letter to Dayton in which Seward had equated abolitionists with the rebels.  Trumbull took Seward to task for his ‘little bell.’  Grimes insisted that he had ‘no confidence whatever’ in the secretary of state.  But when Lincoln asked bluntly whether al present wanted Seward out of the cabinet, only Pomeroy of Kansas joined the trio of Sumner, Grimes and Trumbull.  New York’s Ira Harris said that Seward’s influence in New York was such that his departure from the cabinet would injure the party, while the others were noncommittal.”

Fessenden biographer Charles A. Jellison wrote:  “After Chairman Collamer had read a paper which embodied the views of the republican caucus, the individual members of the committee proceeded to express their own feelings on the administration’s conduct of the war.  Wade complained that the war was being entrusted to men who had little sympathy with the Union cause.  Grimes and Howard singled out Seward for attack, both declaring their complete lack of confidence int he Secretary of State.  Sumner was of the same opinion.  Senator Fessenden, somewhat more tactful than his colleagues, began by expressing confidence in the patriotism and integrity of the President and making it clear that the Senate had no desire to dictate to him concerning his cabinet.  He did feel, however, that it was up to the members of the Senate, in compliance with their role as the President’s constitutional advisors, to offer him their friendly counsel, when, in their judgment, the situation seemed to merit such action.  Obviously echoing the complaints of Stanton and Chase, Fessenden declared that there was a general feeling in the country that the President was relying too heavily upon the advice of certain few individuals within the Cabinet, while paying only slight attention to the considered judgment of other members.  As an advisory board the Cabinet had simply not been permitted to play a very useful role.  It had met sporadically and infrequently, and it was common knowledge that on many occasions decisions of major importance had been reached by the President without reference to his full Cabinet, and in some instances without its knowledge.  It also felt, Fessenden continued, that Secretary of State Seward tended to exert an unfortunate influence upon his Cabinet colleagues and upon the conduct of the war.  In other words, although not explicitly stated, it was clear that Fessenden, along with the other members of the committee, was taking the President to task for depending too much upon the erratic notions of Seward and other ‘incompetents’ in the cabinet, and too little upon the matured wisdom of Chase and Stanton who represented the only true metal among the President’s advisors.

Shortly after ten o’clock the meeting came to an end.  No plan of action had been arrived at or even discussed, but the committee had the President’s assurance that he would give careful thought to the issues that had been raised.   ‘While they seemed to believe in my honesty.’ Lincoln remarked not long after the visit, ‘they also appeared to think that when I had in me any good purpose or intention Seward contrived to suck it out of me unperceived.”

Published in: on December 18, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Republican Senators Seek to Dismiss Secretary of State William H. Seward

December 17, 1862

After the Senate adjourns early in the afternoon, Republican Senators caucus at the Capitol.  Spurred on by recent election defeats, by conversations with Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase,  and by the recent military debacle at Fredericksburg, the senators decide a government shake-up is necessary.   Chase has told Maine Senator William P. Fessenden that Seward exercises a malign “backstairs influence.”  Fessenden believes executive leadership is lacking and needed: “This is not the time when legislation can do much good.  Everything must depend upon those at the head of affairs as Executive officers, and things have gone so badly thus far that the country has lost confidence in their capacity if not their integrity.’” Historian Allan Nevins wrote:

On Tuesday, December 16, immediately after the Senate’s adjournment in early afternoon, Republican members met in secret caucus.  When the doors were shut [Senator Henry] Anthony of Rhode Island asked someone to state the purpose of the gathering.  Thereupon Lyman Trumbull, rising, set the stage by asking what the Senate could do to rescue the nation; and [Morton S.] Wilkinson of Minnesota, taking the cue, launched into an invective against Seward, who had ruined the country by his halfhearted, compromising views.  Others Senators followed in a vehement clamor against the Secretary.  All were convinced that he was the nation’s evil genius.  He had obstructed a vigorous prosecution of the war, constantly advocated a patched-up peace, and overruled the demands of the earnest members of the Administration.  Lincoln was criticized on various grounds, but the general view was that he was blameworthy for yielding too much to Seward’s influence.

The Senate caucus considers introducing and passing a resolution of “no confidence” in Seward.  Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning, a friend of President Lincoln and a relative moderate who blames his recent Senate defeat on radicals, writes in his diary:

I was delayed a while in going in [to the caucus].  Trumbull I understood had made a speech before I got there assailing the administration very bitterly.  Wilkinson was speaking when I entered.  He denounced the President and Mr Seward — that latter very bitterly, and charged him with all the disasters which had come upon our arms alleging that he was opposed to a vigarous prosecution of the war — controlled the President and thwarted the other members of the Cabinet.   That he was the cause of Banks army going South instead of cooperating with Burnsides, and that even Stanton did not know where its destination was — He said our cause was lost and the country ruined.

[James W.] Grimes followed in a similar strain, and then old Ben Wade made a long speech in which he declared that the Senate should go in a body and demand of the President the dismissal of Mr Seward.  He advocated the creation of a Lieutenant Genl with absolute and despotic powers, and said he would never be satisfied until there was a Republican at the head of our armies — Fessenden followed — He said a member of the Cabinet informed him that there was a back stairs and malign influence which controlled the President, and overruled all the decisions of the cabinet, and he understood Mr Seward to be meant.   He was for demanding his removal &c

Grimes then offered a resolution of want of confidence in the Secretary of State, upon which Fessenden asked a vote by ayes and noes.  Dixon then made a speech against the resolution — King spoke against it.

“I then rose and said the war must proceed till one party of the other was brought to unconditional submission — We must conquer the rebels or they would us.  There could be no compromise &c.  The war ought to be made as vigorous and powerful as possible &c. If what was charged upon Mr Seward was true — if he was opposed to a vigorous prosecution of the war — in favor of compromise & he ought not to retain his place — but I had no evidence the charges were true, and could not, therefore, vote for the resolution &c   Admitting them to be true I did not then think the resolution should be adopted  — It was not the proper course of proceeding.   There should be harmony, and unity of purpose and action between all the departments of government, and all the loyal people or we could not succeed.  This would be war between Congress and the president, and the knowledge of this antagonism would injure our cause greatly in the Country.  It would produce strife here, and strife among the people if insisted on &c.  I thought a deputation of our body should be sent to have a full, free, and kind interview with the President — to learn the true state of case — give him their views &c   Several Senators sided with me, and  adjournment was moved till tomorrow to give time for reflection — This was opposed, and a vote demanded by Trumbull and others, but the motion to adjourn was put and carried

These ultra, radical, unreasoning men who raised the insane cry of on to Richmond in July 1861, and have kept up a war on our generals ever since — who forced thru the confiscation bills, and extorted from the President the proclamations and lost him the confidence of the country are now his bitterest enemies, and doing all in their power to break down.   They fear the indignation of the people will break in fury upon their own heads, as it should, and they are intent upon giving it another direction

Rather than confront President Lincoln directly, it was agreed by the senators to send a delegation to meet with him.  New York Senator Preston King leaves the caucus to warn Seward. “They may do as they please about me, but they shall not put the President in a false position on my account,” Seward informs King.   Seward sends his resignation – and that of his son, the assistant secretary of state – directly to the White House where the president is having dinner.   King arrives shortly thereafter and is quizzed on the meeting at the Capitol.   The president went to Seward’s house to try to get him to withdraw his resignation, but Seward was obdurate.   Seward said he would be glad to be relieved of the burdens of office.  President Lincoln responded: ‘Ah, yes, Governor, that will do very well for you, but I…can’t get out.”

Later, Francis P. Blair, Sr., father of Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, arrives at the White House to urge the reinstatement of General George B. McClellan as head of the Army of the Potomac.      Historian Allen Guelzo wrote: “ Lincoln saw this at once as a challenge to his own authority, not Seward’s.  If he could only have a cabinet that the caucus approved, he might as well hand over most of his administration into their control or, even worse, hand over the powers they were vaguely accusing Seward of exercising to Chase.  Lincoln needed the caucus and he needed Chase, but he had no intention of letting them wrench the reins of the executive branch out of his hands.”

Published in: on December 17, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

President Lincoln Seeks Reasons for General Burnside’s Withdrawal

December 16, 1862

General Henry W. Halleck telegraphs General Ambrose Burnside; “The President desires that you report the reasons of your withdrawal as soon as possible. In response to a Ambrose Burnside writes Halleck the following day:

I have the honor to offer the following reasons for moving the Army of the Potomac across the Rappahannock sooner than was anticipated by the President, Secretary, or yourself, and for crossing at a point different from the one indicated to you at our last meeting at the President’s.

During my preparations for crossing at the place I had at first selected, I discovered that the enemy had thrown a large portion of his force down the river and elsewhere, thus weakening his defenses in front; and also thought I discovered that he did not anticipate the crossing of our whole force at Fredericksburg; and I hoped by rapidly throwing the whole command over at that place, to separate, by a vigorous attack, the forces of the enemy on the river below from the forces behind and on the crests in the rear of the town, in which case we should fight him with great advantages in our favor.

To do this we had to gain a height on the extreme right of the crest, which height commanded a new road, lately built by the enemy for purposes of more rapid communication along his lines; which point gained, his positions along the crest would have been scarcely tenable, and he could have been driven from them easily by attack on his front, in connection with a movement in rear of the crest.

How near we came to accomplishing our object future reports will show.  But for the fog and unexpected and unavoidable delay in building the bridges, which gave the enemy twenty-four hours more to concentrate his forces in his strong positions, we would almost certainly have succeeded; in which case the battle would have been, in my opinion, far more decisive than if we had crossed at the places first selected.

As it was, we came very near success.  Failing in accomplishing the main object, we remained in order of battle two days – long enough to decide that the enemy would not come out of his strongholds and fight us with his infantry.  After which we recrossed to this side of the river unmolested, and without he loss of men or property.

Halleck biographer Curt Anders noted: “Unlike McClellan, General Burnside did not try to disclaim to disclaim blame for the tragic outcome or to shift it to anyone else: “The fact that I decided to move from Warrenton onto this line rather against the opinion of the President, Secretary, and yourself, and that you have left the whole management in my hands, without giving me orders, makes the more responsible.”

Responding to a request from General Henry Sibley in Minnesota, President Lincoln telegraphs: “ As you suggest, let the executions [of 39 Indians] fixed for Friday, the nineteenth (19th.) instant, be postponed to, and be done on, Friday the twentysixth (26th.) instant.”

Published in: on December 16, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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.”

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

President Anguishes over the Result of the Battle of Fredericksburg

December 14, 1862

Concerned about the results of the Battle of Fredericksburg, President Lincoln wires aide John Nicolay “What news have you?” Nicolay had already left the area where General Ambrose Burnside has ordered Union troops to recross the Rappahannock River after enduring catastrophic casualties.

In the wake of the battle President Lincoln looks for additional guidance – he summons former Secretary of War Simon Cameron to come to Washington.    After his return from the battle area General Herman Haupt, the engineer in charge of the railroads for the army, comes to the White House with Pennsylvania Congressman John Covode.   Haupt goes to the office of General Henry W. Halleck in the Winder Building with President Lincoln Haupt traveled to Aquia Landing on an engine he had commandeered and took a steamboat to Washington.   Haupt later wrote:

The President was much interested in my report, and asked me to walk with him to General Halleck’s quarters…When we arrived he requested Covode and the others present to step into the next room, as he desired to have a private conference, and then asked me to repeat the substance of my report to him, which I did.

On its conclusion, the President asked General haleck to telegraph orders to General Burnside to withdraw his army to the north side of the river.  General Halleck rose and paced the floor for some time, and then stopped, facing the President, and said decidedly: ‘I will do no such thing.  If we were personally present and knew the exact situation, we might assume such responsibility.  If such orders are issued, you must issue them yourself.  I hold that a General in command of an army in the field is the best judge of existing conditions.’

The President made no reply, but seemed much troubled.  I then remarked that I did not consider the situation to be as critical as the President imagined, and proced to describe more in detail the topographical configuration….

When I finished, the President signed and said: ‘What you say gives me a great many grains of comfort.’

Somewhat later in the evening,  New York Tribune reporter Henry Villard is brought to the White House by Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson.   Villard had covered Lincoln when he ran for the Senate in 1858 and the presidency in 1860.  After the Battle of Fredericksburg, Villard evaded Union troops attempting to prevent word of the disaster from leaking out.   He managed to hook a ride on a ship heading up the Potomac to Washington.   He sent his dispatch by train to the Tribune where editors softened its harsh conclusions about the crushing defeat and the ineptitude of Union leadership.   Villard biographers Alexandra Villard de Borchgrave and John Cullen wrote: ““In the dining room of Willard’s Hotel, Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, ‘the most persistent news-hunter in Washington,’ observed the mud that still clung to Villard’s clothing, guessed where he’d come from, and asked him for news of the battle.  The disgusted reporter spoke bluntly, and Wilson hastened away.

“Half an hour later, Villard was back in the Tribune’s offices, making out his expense account, when Senator Wilson appeared before him.  Lincoln, Wilson explained with some urgency, wished to speak to the reporter, in person, now; and shortly after ten o’clock the hardly presentable Villard found himself in the White House, being debriefed by the president of the United States.  What had been the disposition of the battle?  What was the extent of the casualties, the strength of the rebel defenses, the morale of the Union troops?  Could a renewed attack succeed?  Unawed – Lincoln was, after all, an old acquaintaince – and never one to mince words anyway.  Villard told the president that the battle had been a crippling defeat for the Union (it was, in fact, the worst defeat in the history of the American army) and that every general officer he had spoken to believed that a second attack would fail as utterly as the first.  The army, Villard declared, must fall back to the north bank of the Rappahannock or risk destruction.  The president smiled sadly.  ‘I hope it’s not so bad as all that, Henry,’ he demurred.

Earlier in the day, Mrs. Lincoln invited Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning to accompany her to church.  Browning writes in his diary:  “Mrs Lincoln sent her carriage this morning for me to go to Church with her which I did. The President did not go.  After Church she rode with me to Capitol Hill.  On our way down she told me the President was ancious to get Secretary Smith out of the Cabinet, and me in his place.  That he was anxious to have Mrs Browning and myself in Washington, and the only thing that would prevent him offering me the place would be the fear of having it said he was giving everything to Illinois, but she thought he would do it — She knew he wished to.”

Published in: on December 14, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Battle of Fredericksburg Wages as President Lincoln Waits

December 13, 1862

As the Union Army of the Potomac attacks entrenched Confederate positions on the  Prospect Hill and Marye’s Heights above Fredericksburg, Virginia, President Lincoln waits for word of the Battle in Washington.   The battle goes very badly for the Union soldiers commanded by General Ambrose Burnside.

President Lincoln writes Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton: “Will the Secretary of War please direct that Mr. [Thomas] Thoroughman may be disposed of at the discretion of Abram Jonas and Henry Asbury of Quincy, Ill., both of whom I know to be loyal and sensible men?”  Thoroughman was subsequently paroled and allowed to return to Missouri.

Published in: on December 13, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

President Concerned with Upcoming Battle at Fredericksburg

December 12, 1862

Early in the morning, President Lincoln goes to the telegraph office in the nearby War Department to learn of maneuveurs along the Rappahonick River near Frederckisburg.   He sends aide John G. Nicolay to meet with General Ambrose Burnside, commanding Union forces.  He wrote General Burnside: “Please treat him kindly, while I am sure he will avoid giving you trouble.”   Nicolay would write that he “only stayed long enough to ride through two or three of the principal streets and get off and drink a cup of coffee with some of the officers who were lunching in one of the houses.”  About this time, General in Chief Henry W. Halleck advised President Lincoln that neither he nor Halleck could second guess Burnside’s strategy and tactics as the battle approached: “I hold that a General in command of an army in the field is the best judge of existing conditions.”

During the day, President Lincoln meets with Philadelphia editor John W. Forney and in the evening he meets with Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning, who writes in his diary:

“Went to the Presidents at 6 P.M. and had a talk with him.  Among other things he said there was never an army in the world, so far as he could learn, of which so small a per centage could be got into battle as ours — That 80 pr cent was what was usual, but that we could never get to exceed 60.  That when he visited the army after the battles of South Mountain and Antietam he made a count of the troops, and there were only 93,000 present when the muster rolls showed there should be 180,00.   Whilst I was with him Cassius M Clay & some other gentlemen sent in their cards.  He was much annoyed — said to me he did not wish to see them, and finally told the servant to tell them he was engaged and could not see them to-night.

I asked him what he though of Clay.  He answered that he had a great deal of conceit and very little sense, and that he did not know what to do with him, for he could not give him a command — he was not fit for it.

He had asked to be permitted to come home from Russia to take part in the war, and as he wanted to some place to put Cameron to get him out of the War Department he consented, and appointed Clay a Majr Genl hoping the war would be over before he got home.  That when he came he was dissatisfied and wanted to go back, and was not willing to take a command unless he could control every thing — conduct the war on his own plan, and run the entire machine of Government — That could not be allowed, and he was now urging to be sent back to Russia.   What embarrassed him was that he had given him his promise to send him back if Cameron resigned.

Published in: on December 12, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment