President Lincoln Responds to Problem Generals

January 8, 1863

President Lincoln responds to the resignation letter written on January 5 by General Ambrose Burnside, commander of the Army of the Potomac.  Burnside had written: “Since my return to the Army I have become more than ever convinced that the General Officers of this command are almost unanimously opposed to another crossing of the river; but I am still of the opinion that the crossing should be attempted, & I have accordingly issued orders to the Engineers and Artillery to prepare for it.  There is much hazzard in it as there always is in the majority of Military Movements, and I cannot begin the movement without giving you notice of it, particularly as I know so little of the effect that it may have upon other movements of distant armies.  The influence of your telegraph the other day is still upon me, and has impressed me with the idea that there are many parts of the problem which influence you that are not known to me.  In order to relieve you from all embarrassment in my case, I enclose with this my resignation of my commission of Major General of Volunteers which you can have accepted, if my movement is not in accordance with the views of yourself, and your military advisers.  I have taken the liberty to write to you personally upon this subject because it was necessary as I learn from Genl Halleck for you to approve of my general plan written at Warrenton, before I could commence the movement, and I think it quite as necessary that you should know of the important movement I am about to make–particularly as it will have to be made in opposition to the views of nearly all my General Officers, & after the receipt of a dispatch from you informing me of the opinion of some of them who had visited you.

“I beg leave to say that my resignation is not sent in, in any spirit of insubordination, but as I before said simply to relieve you of any embarrassment in changing commanders where lack of confidence may have rendered it necessary.

President Lincoln replied to Burnside: “I understand Gen. Halleck has sent you a letter of which this is a copy.  I approve the letter.  I deplore the want of concurrence with you, in opinion by your general officers, but  I do not see the remedy.  Be cautious, and do not understand that the government, or country, is driving you.  I do not yet see how I could profit by changing the command of the A.P. & if I did, I should not wish to do it by accepting the resignation of your commission.”

President Lincoln writes to General John A. McClernand, who had raised an army to operate in the Mississippi River valley: “Your interesting communication by the hand of Major [Walter B.] Scates is received.  I never did ask more, nor ever as willing to accept less, than for all the States, and the people thereof, to take and hold their places, and their rights, in the Union, under the Constitution of the United States.  For this alone have I felt authorized to struggle; and I seek neither more nor less now.  Still, to use a coarse, but an expressive figure, broken eggs can not be mended.  I have issued the emancipation proclamation, and I cannot retract it.”

After the commencement of hostilities I struggled nearly a year and a half to get along without touching the “institution”; and when finally I conditionally determined to touch it, I gave a hundred days fair notice of my purpose, to all the States and people, within which time they could have turned it wholly aside, by simply again becoming good citizens of the United States.  They chose to disregard it, and I made the peremptory proclamation on what appeared to me to be a military necessity.  And being made, it must stand.  As to the States not included in it, of course they can have their rights in the Union as of old.  Even the people of the states included, if they choose, need not to be hurt by it.  Let them adopt systems of apprenticeship for the colored people, conforming substantially to the most approved plans of gradual emancipation; and, with the aid they can have from the general government, they may be nearly as well off, in this respect, as if the present trouble had not occurred, and much better off than they can possibly be if the contests continues persistently.

As to any dread of my having a “purpose to enslave, or exterminate, the whites of the South,” I can scarcely believe that such dread exists.  It is too absurd.  I believe you can be my personal witness that no man is less to be dreaded for undue severity, in any case.

If the friends you mention really wish to have peace upon the old terms, they should act at once.  Every day makes the case more difficult.  They can so act, with entire safety, so far as I am concerned.

I think you would better not make this letter public; but you may rely confidently on my standing by whatever i have said in it.  Please write me if any thing more comes to light.

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Published in: on January 8, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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