President Lincoln Discusses Charleston Strategy

February 15, 1863

In a meeting at the White House, President Lincoln discusses military strategy to recapture Charleston with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus V. Fox, General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, and General John G. Foster.  As Fox later writes: “ Foster related carefully, everything of interest, and developed his plan for the attack upon Charleston viz: the Iron Clads to protect him upon Morris Island whilst he erected batteries to reduce Sumpter; such an idea was so insignificant and so characteristic of the Army, that I could not help expressing myself to that effect.  Foster said you and he had measured across the upper end of James Island and that it was too wide to be covered by guns from the iron clads, assuming that they could get to Charleston, and that there were 19,000 men upon the Island with 3 months provisions.  I then asked Gen Halleck, what would be the result of the Iron Clads reaching a position off the city.  He replied the entire evacuation of James Island.  I repeated the question to him Cullum and Foster all Engineers, afterwards at Gen Halleck’s office and he and Cullum both said it would be all up with them if we could pass the forts. I then said to Foster why attack the forts?  He finally acknowledge that if we could get to the city it would be no use.  The idea of a siege Meets with such disfavor that the president wished me to go down and see you.  But though I consented yesterday it seems impossible to leave at this time.  The Nahant leaves to-day or tomorrow, and is the only Iron Clad we can add without creating a delay that the Government and country seem to be very impatient of.  Finances, politics, foreign relations, all seem to ask for Charleston before Congress time, my dear Admiral, we only say do it, but I beg of you not to take these soldiers too closely into your counsels in a purely naval matter.  The two Rodgers are worth the whole of them. It seems to me very clear that our course is to go in and demand a surrender of the Forts or the alternative of destruction to their city.  If the obstructions prevent this, it will be time enough to assist the Army in laying siege.  I believe you will do what is best in the most superb manner and you will be successful.

Later, President Lincoln entertains General Benjamin F. Butler at a private dinner.  Lincoln seeking to find a role for Butler, who had been dismissed as the governor of New Orleans the previous fall.

Attorney General Edward Bates writes in his diary that Postmaster General Montgomery Blair: “ For some time back Mr. B. has been very assiduous in his Court to the Prest., and I heard that he is making, sub rosa, fair weather with the democrats, trying to smooth the way to make Genl. Butler Secy of War.  We are now at the middle of Mr. L[incoln]’s term, and most administio]ns., even in good times, wane towards the latter end,[.] Mr. B. probably thinks it good policy to have strong friends on both sides.”  He adds: ““It is hard game to play, and I doubt whether Mr. Bl. Has skill to keep his balance even.

Published in: on February 15, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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