Cabinet Meeting at White House

May 26, 1863

Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles writes in his diary regarding today’s cabinet meeting at which the release of a spy is discussed: “There was a sharp controversy between Chase and Blair on the subject of the Fugitive Slave Law, as attempted to be executed on one Hall here in the district.  Both were earnest, Blair for executing the law, Chase for permitting the man to enter the service of the United States instead of being remanded into slavery.  The President said this was one of those questions that always embarrassed him. It reminded him of a man in Illinois who was in debt and terribly annoyed by a pressing creditor, until finally the debtor assumed to be crazy whenever the creditor broached the subject.  ‘I,’ said the President, ‘have on more than one occasion, in this room, when beset by extremists on this question, been compelled to appear to be very mad.  I think,’ he continued, ‘none of you will ever dispose of this subject without getting made.’”

President Lincoln writes Chicago Congressman Isaac N. Arnold: “Your letter advising me to dismiss Gen. Halleck is received. If the public believe, as you say, that he has driven Fremont, Butler, and Sigel from the service, they believe what I know to be false; so that if I were to yield to it, it would only be to be instantly beset by some other demand based on another falsehood equally gross. You know yourself that Fremont was relieved at his own request, before Halleck could have had any thing to do with it— went out near the end of June, while Halleck only came in near the end of July. I know equally well that no wish of Halleck’s had any thing to do with the removal of Butler or Sigel. Sigel, like Fremont, was relieved at his own request, pressed upon me almost constantly for six months, and upon complaints that could have been made as justly by almost any corps commander in the army, and more justly by some. So much for the way they got out. Now a word as to their not getting back. In the early Spring, Gen. Fremont sought active service again; and, as it seemed to me, sought it in a very good, and reasonable spirit. But he holds the highest rank in the Army, except McClellan, so that I could not well offer him a subordinate command. Was I to displace Hooker, or Hunter, or Rosecrans, or Grant, or Banks? If not, what was I to do? And similar to this, is the case of both the others. One month after Gen. Butler’s return, I offered him a position in which I thought and still think, he could have done himself the highest credit, and the country the greatest service, but he declined it.  When Gen. Sigel was relieved, at his own request as I have said, of course I had to put another in command of his corps. Can I instantly thrust that other out to put him in again?

And now my good friend, let me turn your eyes upon another point. Whether Gen. Grant shall or shall not consummate the capture of Vicksburg, his campaign from the beginning of this month up to the twenty second day of it, is one of the most brilliant in the world. His corps commanders, & Division commanders, in part, are McClernand, McPherson,  Sherman, Steele, Hovey,  Blair, & Logan. And yet taking Gen. Grant & these seven of his generals, and you can scarcely name one of them that has not been constantly denounced and opposed by the same men who are now so anxious to get Halleck out, and Fremont & Butler & Sigel in. I believe no one of them went through the Senate easily, and certainly one failed to get through at all.  I am compelled to take a more impartial and unprejudiced view of things. Without claiming to be your superior, which I do not, my position enables me to understand my duty in all these matters better than you possibly can, and I hope you do not yet doubt my integrity.

Colonel Silas W. Burt, aide to Governor Horatio Seymour,  delivers a dispatch from Seymour to President Lincoln at the Soldiers’ Home, where President Lincoln normally spends nights during the summer: “After the servant returned and announced that the President would receive us, we sat for some time in painful silence.  At length we heard slow, shuffling steps come down the carpeted stairs, and the President entered the room as we respectfully rose from our seats.  That pathetic figures has ever remained indelible in my memory.  His tall form was bowed, his hair disheveled; he wore no necktie or collar, and his large feet were partly incased in very loose, heel-less slippers.  It was very evident that he had got up from his bed or had been very nearly ready to get into it when were announced, and had hastily put on some clothing and those slippers that made the flip-flap sounds on the stairs.”

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Published in: on May 26, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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