Presidents Overrules Reporter’s Court-Martial

March 20, 1863

New York Herald reporter Thomas W. Knox was courtmartialed in February by order of General William T. Sherman for disobeying his orders.  James M. Perry wrote in  Bohemian Brigade: The Civil War Correspondents: “When word of the verdict reached Washington, a number of reporters, acting individually and led by ‘Colonel’ John W. Forney, absentee owner of the Philadelphia Press and secretary of the Senate, signed a memorial to President Lincoln calling on him to set the verdict aside.

“Knox’s friend, the New York Tribune’s Albert Richardson, was working in Washington at the time, and he led a delegation of newspaper reporters and a Colorado congressman that delivered the memorial to the president.

“Lincoln told a few stories – in one, he said that if Longfellow’s stream was ‘Minne-haha,’ a smaller one he and Richardson had seen on a western trip years earlier should be known as the ‘Minneboohoo’ – they all settled down to talk about Knox.  The president said he would set the verdict aside only if Grant agreed.

We reminded him that this was improbable, as Sherman and Grant were close personal friends.  After a few minutes, he replied, with courtesy, but with emphasis: –

‘I should be glad to serve you or Mr. Knox, or any other loyal journalist.  But, just at present, our generals in the field are more important to the country than any of the rest of us.  It is my fixed determination to do nothing whatever which can possibly embarrass any of them.  Therefore, I will do cheerfully what I have said, but it is all I can do.’

President Lincoln issues orders today: “Whereas, it appears to my satisfaction that Thomas W. Knox, a correspondent of the New York Herald, has been, by the sentence of a court-martial, excluded from the military department under the command of Major-General Grant, and also that General Thayer…and many other respectable persons are of opinion that Mr. Knox’s offense was technical, rather than willfully wrong, and that the sentence should be revoked; Now, therefore, said sentence is hereby so far revoked as to allow Mr. Knox to return to General Grant’s head-quarters, and to remain if General Grant shall give his express assent, and to again leave the department, if General Grant shall refuse such assent.

William Lilley writes President Lincoln regarding his dismissal form his quartermaster post: “I ask a perusal of the following statement of facts as a matter of sheer justice–

I was appointed Quarter Master on the 16th of October 1861, and was with General Sherman’s Expedition in South Carolina. I was rejected by the Senate on the 15th of Jan’y 1862, on mistaken grounds– On my arrival in Washington I appeared before the Military Committee and satisfied them that they had done me injustice– On the representation of Senator Wilson2 in the presence of Judge Johnston of Kansas you issued an order for my reinstation. This order bears date the 9th of August, 1862.3 On the 11th of the same month I handed it to Secretary Stanton. For a period of seven months therefore he has kept me idle, on hotel expenses, awaiting his action on your written order, giving me, from time to time, such answers as would seem to preclude my right to leave the city. The very last time I saw him, some ten days since, he said that he would attend to it before the adjournment of the Senate.

Now, Sir, I have no complaints to make, no harsh language to use, and had this been an ordinary application I should have long since been attending to my own private affairs. But I was anxious to remove the stigma that attaches to the man who receives an adverse vote of the Senate, more especially as I was assured by Senators King, Wade, Lane, Sherman, Nesmith and several others that there was “not the remotest doubt but that I would go through if my name was again sent in;” and as I had your order that this should be done, I suggest that no prudent man would have retired from the field.

I have no disposition to complain of the course Secretary Stanton has seen proper to pursue. I merely state facts– But I respectfully ask if this be proper treatment to a man who has ever been an ardent supporter of this war? Who has proved his loyalty by receiving the notice of his Commander in the official report of the battle of Port Royal Ferry? Besides, is this course good policy? Is it calculated to arouse the energy of the country in support of your administration? If Secretary Stanton meant to disobey your order was it not acting in bad faith towards me to keep me in ignorance of it for seven long months?

Charles Dana, on an investigation trip to the western military commands, writes Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton: “There is absolutely no information here respecting affairs down the River. Gen Rosecrans having abandoned Forts Henry and Heiman and ordered them to be levelled and a rebel force having appeared at Heiman, Hurlbut1 on Asboth’s2 reporting the facts ordered him to reoccupy Heiman considering it to be the key to both Columbus and Paducah – Asboth accordingly proceeded there by water with two Regiments of Infantry — two cannon and some cavalry, and found a small body of cavalry Shirk cooperated in the movement and destroyed all the flats and skiffs collected by the rebels to force facilitate their operations on both sides of the Tennessee Hereafter two small Gunboats will patrol that river as far up as Savannah.”

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Published in: on March 20, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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