Controversies Bedevil President Lincoln

May 11, 1863

Bright skies cannot lighten President Lincoln’s woes.  Journalist Noah Brooks writes: “After a week of almost continuous northeast storms of wind and rain, the sky is again clear, and the warm May sunshine asserts its dominion over the banks of the Potomac.  The clouds have lifted in all directions, and the loyal and true are listening to the bugles and the drums of the marching regiments – horse and foot – with hearts beating higher than ever before, with hope, faith and expectation.”

Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles writes in his diary regarding the continuing controversy with Britain over the disposition of ships seized by the Union navy: “The President sent a note to my house early this morning, requesting me to call at the Executive Mansion on my way to the Department.  When there he took from a drawer two dispatches written by the Secretary of state to Lord Lyons, in relation to prize captures.  As they had reference to naval matters, he wished my views in regard to them and the subject-matter generally,  I told him these dispatches were not particularly objectionable, but that Mr. Seward in these matters seemed not to have correct apprehension of the duties and rights of the Executive and other Departments of the Government.  There were, however, in this correspondence allusions to violations of international law and of instructions which were within his province, and which it might be well to correct; but as a general thing it would be better that the Secretary of State and Executive should not, unless necessary, interfere in these matters, but leave them where they properly and legal belonged, with the judiciary.  [I said] that Lord Lyons would present these demands or claims as long as the Executive would give them consideration,–acquiesced, responded, and assumed to grant relief,–but that it was wholly improper, and would, besides being irregular, cause him and also the State and Navy Departments great labor which does not belong to either.  The president said he could see I was right, but that in this instance, perhaps, it would be best, if I did not seriously object, that these dispatches should go one; but he wished me to see them.”

President Lincoln writes Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase regarding the continuing controversy over customs officials in the Territory of Washington: “I have just learned that Henry C. Wilson, whom I had appointed as the successor of Victor Smith, at Puget Sound, is dead. Please send me a commission for Frederick A. Wilson.”

President Lincoln writes Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton regarding the continuing political and military upheaval in Missouri, where two Union factions argued over how to deal with slavery: “I have again concluded to relieve Genl Curtis. I see no other way to avoid the worst consequences there. I think of Gen. Schofield for his successor; but I do not wish to take the matter of a successor out of the hands of yourself and Genl Halleck.”  The president had recently received a communication from Missouri residents: ““The disorders in this Military department are frightful. Crime in almost every from is committed with impunity. These disorders are not accidental but result from party principles and organization encouraged and assisted by the Military power which instead of being exerted for our protection is being used to promote the evils of which we complain.”

Looking for news about military operations along the Mississippi River, President Lincoln writes General John A. Dix in Virginia: “Do the Richmond papers have anything about Grand Gulf or Vicksburg?”

Published in: on May 11, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Uncertainty Grips Washington and Cabinet in Wake of Chancellorsville

May 10, 1863

Presidential aide John G. Nicolay writes home: “As soon as the President received the news that Hooker had returned to this side of the Rappahannock with his army he and Genl. Halleck at once went down there to satisfy himself as to its true condition.  Considering that the movement had taken him somewhat by surprise he came home tolerably well reconciled to it, although the information of the entire success of Stonemans cavalry expedition, which we have since received makes it pretty plain that it would have been better for Hooker to have remained on the other side, and to have fought out the battle there – at least so it seems to me.  Still Hooker did not have all these data to judge from and therefore perhaps decided rightly.  It was however a great disappointment to the country, which is terribly impatient for military success.”

Attorney General Edward Bates writes in his diary that  Agriculture Commissioner “Isaac Newton called to see me and…detailed a long conversation that the Postmaster General had sought and had with him.”  They discussed pressure to replace most members of the Lincoln cabinet.

It disclosed no less than a plan to revolutionize the entire cabinet – Seward and Stanton, and perhaps Bates, indeed all except Welles, to be displaced – Chase to have Seward’s place – and, if that could not be, then Sumner to have it – Holt or Butler or Banks to have Stanton’s, and Preston King Chase’s.  And all this to be accomplished by a very simple operation, i.e., old Mr. Blair to be the private counsellor – not to say dictator – of the President.

Mr. Blair complained that his father had not, of late, been admitted, as much as he desired, to private conferences with the President.  And he urged Mr. Newton to use his influence with the President to bring about more intimate relations.  That the old man was, beyond all question, the ablest and best informed politician in America – and was known to be such! [Said] that, under his advice the President could be saved a world of trouble, and the nation [be] far better served, than in any other way!

Mr. Blair spoke in the bitterest of terms of the Secretaries of State and War – that the former was an unprincipled liar, the truth not in him – the latter a great scoundrel, making all sorts of fraudulent contracts to put money into his own pockets – that, in that way, ‘Cameron was a fool to him’ – and good deal more of that sort.

“Being asked, I advised Mr. Newton to have nothing to do with the intrigue – to take care of himself and his own department, and let Mr. Blair manage his hazardous plots in his own way and at his own risk.  He seemed to see the absurdity of trying to make old Mr. Blair the governing power behind the throne, and the great likelihood that the attempt would recoil upon the heads of the contrivers.

Evidently the Postmaster General is in dead earnest; for I have abundunt other proof that he is full in the faith that Wisdom will die with his father and him!

I knew before his very bad opinion of Seward and Stanton and his jealousy of Chase.  And as to me, I knew that he was disappointed and dissatisfied because I declined, from the start, to be an agent of ‘the Blairs.’  In fact, that clique has mistaken cunning for wisdom, and they believe fully in trick and contrivance.  They believe me, a mere mar-plot – and that, as Cardinal Wolsey said of Bishop Gardener – ‘He was a fool, for he would needs be virtuous.  I’ll have none such near his Highness!’

True, I have no confidence in Seward, and very little in Stanton; but that does not make me confide in tricky politicians who have not the first conception of statesmanship.

Mr. Lincoln has been overburdened with the weight of public affairs.  But, if our arms should be crowned with great successes (as I fondly hope) he will then become more independent and self-reliant, and less likely to submit to the dictation of any clique. Now, the extreme leaders have subordinated everything to the negro – law, justice, policy – the war itself – to their mania for abolition!

Published in: on May 10, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

President Lincoln Follows on Military Affairs

May 9, 1863

The aftermath of the Battle of Chancellorsville continues to preoccupy President Lincoln, who accompanied by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton witnesses a test of “liquid fire” near the White House.  Always alert to inventors and cranks promoting military inventions, President Lincoln writes Peter H. Watson: “Mr. Watson, Assistant Secretary of War, please see the bearer, who is the man of whom I spoke in reference to a diving invention.”

Lincoln writes General John A. Dix: “It is very important for Hooker to know exactly what damage is done to the Railroads, at all points between Fredericksburg and Richmond. As yet we have no word as to whether the crossings of the North and South Ana, or any of them, have been touched. There are four of these crossings, that is, one on each road on each stream. You readily perceive why this information is desired. I suppose Kilpatrick or Davis can tell. Please ascertain fully what was done, & what is the present condition, as near as you can, and advise me at once.”

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

President Deals with Patronage, Proclamations and Army of the Potomac

May 8, 1863

President Lincoln writes Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase: “I address this to you personally, rather than officially, because of the nature of the case. My mind is made up to remove Victor Smith as Collector of the Customs at the Puget Sound District. Yet, in doing this, I do not decide that the charges against him are true. I only decide that the degree of dissatisfaction with him there is too great for him to be retained. But I believe he is your personal acquaintance & friend; and if you shall desire it, I will try to find some other place for him.”  He also writes Chase: “Please send me, at once, an appointment of Henry Clay Wilson, of Washington Territory, to be collector of customs for the Puget Sound district, in place of Victor Smith.”

President Lincoln writes General Joseph Hooker, still commander of the Army of the Potomac after the battle of Chancellorsville: “The news is here, of the capture, by our forces of Grand Gulf—a large & very important thing. Gen. [August] Willich, an exchanged

prisoner, just from Richmond, has talked with me this morning. He was there when our cavalry cut the roads in that vicinity. He says there was not a sound pair legs in Richmond, and that our men, had they known it, could have safely gone in and burnt every thing & brought us Jeff. Davis. We captured and parold three or four hundred men. He says, as he came to City point, there was an army three miles long (Longstreet’s he thought) moving towards Richmond. Milroy has captured a despatch of Gen. Lee, in which he says his loss was fearful, in his late battle with you.”

President Lincoln issues a proclamation regarding aliens subject to military service: “Whereas the Congress of the United States, at its last Session, enacted a law, entitled ‘An Act for enrolling and calling out the National Forces and for other purposes,’’ which was approved on the 3d. day of March, last: and whereas it is recited in the said act that there now exist in the United States an insurrection and rebellion against the authority thereof, and it is, under the constitution of the United States, the duty of the Government to suppress insurrection and rebellion, to guaranty to each state a republican form of Government, and to preserve the public tranquillity; and whereas, for these high purposes, a military force is indispensable, to raise and support which all persons ought willingly to contribute; and whereas no service can be more praiseworthy and honorable than that which is rendered for the maintenance of the Constitution and Union, and the consequent preservation of free government: and whereas, for the reasons thus recited, it was enacted by the said statute that all able bodied male citizens of the United States, and persons of foreign birth who shall have declared on oath their intention to become citizens under and in pursuance of the laws thereof, between the ages of twenty and forty-five years, (with certain exceptions not necessary to be here mentioned,) are declared to constitute the national forces, and shall be liable to perform military duty in the service of the United States when called out by the President for that purpose:

And whereas it is claimed by and in behalf of persons of foreign birth, within the ages specified in said act, who have heretofore declared on oath their intentions to become citizens under, and in pursuance of, the laws of the United States, and who have not exercised the right of suffrage or any other political franchise under the laws of the United States, or of any of the States thereof, that they are not absolutely concluded by their aforesaid declaration of intention from renouncing their purpose to become citizens, and that, on the contrary, such persons, under treaties or the law of nations, retain a right to renounce that purpose, and to forego the privileges of citizenship and residence within the United States, under the obligations imposed by the aforesaid Act of Congress:—

Now, therefore, to avoid all misapprehensions concerning the liability of persons concerned to perform the service required by such enactment, and to give it full effect, I do hereby order and proclaim that no plea of alienage will be received or allowed to exempt from the obligations imposed by the aforesaid Act of Congress, any person of foreign birth who shall have declared on oath his intention to become a citizen of the United States under the laws thereof, and who shall be found within the United States at any time during the continuance of the present insurrection and rebellion, at or after the expiration of the period of sixty-five days from the date of this proclamation; nor shall any such plea of alienage be allowed in favor of any such person who has so, as aforesaid, declared his intention to become a citizen of the United States, and shall have exercised, at any time, the right of suffrage, or any other political franchise, within the United States under the laws thereof, or under the laws of any of the several States.

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

President Lincoln Visits General Hooker in Wake of Chancellorsville Defeat

May 7, 1863

President Lincoln, who left Washington on Wednesday, confers with General Joseph Hooker and General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck at Hooker’s headquarters to discuss military strategy in the wake of the recent defeat at Chancellorsville.   General George Meade, who will succeed Hooker in several weeks, is summoned to the meeting.   Historian Freeman Cleaves writes in Meade of Gettysburg: “Summoned to headquarters to see Lincoln and Halleck, Meade was politely received.  During a two-hour visit, including lunch, ‘all sorts of things’ were discussed, but little was said regarding Chancellorsville, nor were any opinions asked.  Lincoln appeared almost indifferent.  The result of the battle, Meade quoted him as saying, ‘was in his judgement most unfortunate…he did not blame any one — he believed every one had done all in his power; and that the disaster was one that could not be helped.’  Lincoln was tired of changing generals after every battle, but if his summons to Meade was for the purpose of gaining a better acquaintance, he probably had not wasted his time.”

Charles F. Benjamin wrote in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War: “When General Hooker telegraphed to Washington that he had brought his army back to the north side of the river, because he could not find room for it to fight at Chancellorsville, President Lincoln grasped General Halleck and started for the front post-haste. He would likewise have taken the Secretary of War, in his anxiety, but for the obvious indelicacy of the latter’s appearance before Hooker at such a moment. Mr. Lincoln went back to Washington that night, enjoining upon Halleck to remain till he knew ‘everything.’” Benjamin added: “When he got back to his post, a conference of the President and Secretary of War with himself was held at the War Department, whereat it was concluded that both the check at Chancellorsville and the retreat were inexcusable, and that.. Hooker must not be in trusted with the conduct of another battle.  Halleck had brought a message from Hooker to the effect that as he had never sought the command, he could resign it without embarrassment, and would be only too happy if, in the new arrangement, he could have the command of his old division and so keep in active service.”

Lincoln later returns to Washington and writes General Hooker: “The recent movement of your army is ended without effecting it’s object, except perhaps some important breakings of the enemies communications. What next? If possible I would be very glad of another movement early enough to give us some benefit from the fact of the enemies communications being broken, but neither for this reason or any other, do I wish anything done in desperation or rashness. An early movement would also help to supersede the bad moral effect of the recent one, which is sure to be considerably injurious. Have you already in your mind a plan wholly, or partially formed? If you have, prossecute it without interference from me. If you have not, please inform me, so that I, incompetent as I may be, can try [to] assist in the formation of some plan for the Army.”

Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles writes in his diary: “Our people, though shocked and very much disappointed, are in better tone and temper than I feared they would be. The press had wrought the public mind to high expectation by predicting certain success, which all wished to believe.  I have not been confident, though I had hopes.  Hooker has not been tried in so high and responsible a position.  He is gallant and efficient as commander of a division, but I am apprehensive not equal to that of General-in-Chief.  I have not, however, sufficient data for a correct and intelligent opinion.  A portion of his plan seems to have been well devised, and his crossing the river well executed.  It is not clear that his position at Chancellorsville was well selected, and he seems not to have been prepared for Stonewall Jackson’s favorite plan of attack.  Our men fought well, though it seems not one half of them were engaged. I do not learn why [General George} Stoneman was left, or why Hooker recrossed the river without hearing from him, or why he recrossed at all.”

It is not explained why Sedgwick and his command were left single-handed to fight against greatly superior numbers — the whole army of Lee in fact — on Monday, when Hooker with’ all his forces was unemployed only three miles distant. There are, indeed, many matters which require explanation.

Published in: on May 7, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Rain and Battlefield News Depress Washington

May 6, 1863

Rain drenches Washington before news of the disastrous Battle of Chancellorsville arrives.  President Lincoln drafts but does not send a telegram to General Joseph Hooker, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia: “Are you suffering with dust this morning?”  The President later writes Hooker: “The great storm of yesterday and last night, has interrupted the telegraph; so that we think fit to send you Gen. Dix despatch of the contents of Richmond papers. I need not repeat the contents. We also try to get it to you by Telegraph. We have nothing from your immediate whereabouts since your short despatch to me, of the 4th. 4/20. P.M. We hear many rumors, but do not exactly know what has become of Sedgwick. We have heard no word of Stoneman, except what is in Dix’s despatch about Col. Davis which looks well. It is no discouragement that you have already fought the bulk of Longstreet’s force, nor that Jackson is severely wounded. And now, God bless you, and all with you. I know you will do your best. Waste no time unnecessarily, to gratify our curiosity with despatches.”

Later, Lincoln writes Hooker: “We have, through Gen. Dix, the contents of Richmond papers of the fifth (5th) Gen. Dix’s despatch in full, is going to you by Capt. Fox of the Navy. The substance is Gen. Lee’s despatch of the third (3rd) Sunday claiming that he had beaten you, and that you were then retreating across the Rappahannock; distinctly stating that two of Longstreet’s Divisions fought you on Saturday; and that Gen. Paxton was killed, Stonewall Jackson severely wounded, and Generals Heth  and A. P. Hill slightly wounded. The Richmond papers also state, upon what authority, not mentioned, that our Cavalry have been at Ashland, Hanover Court-House and other points, destroying several locomotives, and a good deal of other property, and all the Railroad Bridges to within five (5.) miles of Richmond.

In a third telegram, Lincoln writes Hooker: “General Hooker: Just as I had telegraphed you contents of Richmond papers, showing that our cavalry has not failed, I received General Butterfield’s of 11 a.m. yesterday.  This, with the great rain of yesterday and last night, securing your right flank, I think puts a new face upon your case; but you must be the judge.”  Hooker responds: “Have this moment returned to camp. On my way received your telegrams of 11 a.m. and 12.30. The army had previously recrossed the river, and was on its return to camp. As it had none of its trains of supplies with it, I deemed this advisable. Above, I saw no way of giving the enemy a general battle with the prospect of success which I desire. Not to exceed three corps, all told, of my troops have been engaged. For the whole to go, there is a better place nearer at hand. Will write you at length to-night. Am glad to hear that a portion of the cavalry have at length turned up. One portion did nothing.”

Navy Secretary Gideon Welles writes in his diary: “We have news, via Richmond, that Stoneman has destroyed bridges and torn up rails on the Richmond road, thus cutting off communication between that city and the Rebel army. Simultaneously with this intelligence, there is a rumor that Hooker has recrossed the river and is at Falmouth. I went to the War Department about noon to ascertain the facts, but Stanton said he had no such intelligence nor did he believe it. I told him I had nothing definite or very authentic, — that he certainly ought to be better posted than I could be, — but I had seen a brief telegram from young Dahlgren, who is on Hooker’s staff, dated this A.m., “Headquarters near Falmouth — All right.” This to me was pretty significant of the fact that Hooker and his army had recrossed. Stanton was a little disconcerted. He said Hooker had as yet no definite plan; his headquarters are not far from Falmouth. Of course nothing farther was to be said, yet I was by no means satisfied with his remarks or manner.

An hour later Sumner came into my room, and raising both hands exclaimed, “Lost, lost, all is lost!” I asked what he meant. He said Hooker and his army had been defeated and driven back to this side of the Rappahannock. Sumner came direct from the President, who, he said, was extremely dejected. I told him I had been apprehensive that disaster had occurred, but when I asked under what

circumstances this reverse had taken place, he could give me no particulars.

I went soon after to the War Department. Seward was sitting with Stanton, as when I left him two or three hours before.’ I asked Stanton if he knew where Hooker was. He answered, curtly, “No.” I looked at him sharply, and I have no doubt with incredulity, for he, after a moment’s pause, said, “He is on this side of the river, but I know not where.” “Well,” said I, “he is near his old quarters, and I wish to know if Stoneman is with him, or if he or you know anything of that force.” Stanton said he had no information in regard to that force, and it was one of the most unpleasant things of the whole affair that Hooker should have abandoned Stoneman.

In the aftermath of Chancellorsville, journalist Noah Brooks wrote: “The first intimation of the fact [of the defeat at Chancellorsville] was known here at three o’clock on Wednesday afternoon, the 6th, when the War Department received a dispatch from General [Daniel] Butterfield, Hooker’s Chief of Staff, informing that Bureau that for prudential reasons the army had been withdrawn from the south side of the Rappahannock and was safely encamped in its former position.  Had a thunderbolt fallen upon the President he could not have been more overwhelmed.  One newly risen from the dead could not have looked more ghostlike.  It actually seemed that we had been overwhelmed.  One newly risen from the dead could not have looked more ghostlike.  It actually seemed that we had been overwhelmed and forced to abandon the campaign, and had been driven back, torn and bleeding, to our starting point, where the heart-sickening delay, the long and tedious work of reorganizing a decimated and demoralized army would again commence.  Despair seemed to dwell in every word of that curt and fatal dispatch, which was the first to pass over the wires after an interruption of a whole day, in consequence of breakages made by the swollen streams.”

Brooks wrote: “I was at the White House on Wednesday, May 6 [1863], and the President, who seemed anxious and harassed beyond any power of description, said that while still without any positive information as to the result of the fighting at Chancellorsville, he was certain in his own mind that ‘Hooker had been licked.’  He was only then wondering whether Hooker would be able to recover himself and renew the fight.  The President asked me to go into the room then occupied by his friend Dr. [Anson] Henry, who was a guest in the house, saying possibly we might get some news later on.

“In an hour or so, while the doctor and I sat talking, say about three o’clock in the afternoon, the door opened, and Lincoln came into the room.  I shall never forget that picture of despair.  He held a telegram in his hand, and he closed the door and came toward us I mechanically noticed that his face, usually sallow, was ashen in hue.  The paper on the wall behind him was of the tint known as ‘French gray,’ and even in that moment of sorrow and dread expectation I vaguely took in the thought that the complexion of the anguished President’s visage was almost exactly like that of the wall.  He gave me the telegram, and in a voice trembling with emotion, said, ‘Read it – news from the Army.’  The dispatch was from General Butterfield, Hooker’s chief of staff, addressed to the War Department, and was to the effect that the Army had been withdrawn from the south side of the Rappahannock, and was then ‘safely encamped’ in its former position.  The appearance of the President, as I read aloud these fateful words, was piteous.  Never as long as I knew him, did he seem to be so broken, so dispirited, and so ghostlike.  Clasping his hands behind his back, he walked up and down the room, saying ‘My God!  My God!  What will the country say!  What will the country say!’

“He seemed incapable of uttering any other words than these, and afer a little time he hurriedly left the room.  Dr. Henry, whose affection for Lincoln was deep and tender, burst into a passion of tears.  I consoled him as best I could, and while we were talking and trying to find a gleam of sunshine in this frightful darkness, I saw a carriage drive up to the entrance of the White House, and looking out, beheld the tall form of the President dart into the vehicle, in which sat General Halleck, and drive off.  Immediately after, an attendant came to tell us that the President and General Halleck had gone to the Army of the Potomac, and that Mr. Lincoln would return next day, and would like to see me in the evening.

“The wildest rumors were at once set on foot; but it was known that the President and General Halleck had gone to the front, taking a special steamer at the Navy Yard at four o’clock that afternoon.  It was commonly believed that Hooker was or would be put under arrest; that Halleck would be placed in command of the Army of the Potomac; that Stanton had resigned; that Lee had cut Hooker to pieces, and was approaching Washington by the way of Dumfries; that McClellan was coming on a special train from New York, and that [Franz Sigel, [Benjamin Butler, [John] Fremont, and several other shelved generals, had been sent for in hot haste.  The crowd at Willard’s Hotel that night was so great that it was difficult to get inside the doors.  The friends of McClellan, and the Copperheads generally, sprang at once into new life and animation, and were dotted through the gloomy crowds with smiling faces and unsuppressed joy.”

One of President Lincoln’s aides, William O. Stoddard, recalled how news of the defeat was received at the White House: “My desk was piled high with unopened mail, but the shock of [John G. Nicolay’s] message brought with it a numbness of body and spirit, and I sat staring at the closed doors across the hall. How would the President take this, the severest blow of all!  Behind lay one sickening defeat after another: Bull Run, the dreary Peninsula campaign and the bloody sacrifice of Fredericksburg, and now this one more ghastly defeat…..

“It was an awful day in Washington.  We could not hear the thunders of artillery or the rattle of musketry, but the hospitals overflowed with the wounded, and burying parties rattled along the streets..   It was a city of despair and death, and the White House was as quiet as though a coffin had its solemn place in one of the rooms.  The very few who had called that day seemed to walk on tiptoe, as though in fear of waking the dead.  Only those on important business were allowed to pass.

“Long hours meant nothing to me, and it was nine o’clock when I first saw Seward, Halleck and Stanton come out of Lincoln’s room and walk slowly away.  I was alone on that floor of the White House, except for the President across the hall behind the now-half-open door.  It seemed to me the hall and the silent rooms were full of shadows, some of which came in and sat down by my desk to ask me what I thought would become of the Union cause and the country.  Not long afterward, a dull, heavy, regularly repeated sound came out of Lincoln’s room and found its way to mine.  As I listened I became aware that this was the measured tread of the President’s feet.  He was walking the length of the rom, to and fro, from wall to wall, on the farther side of the Cabinet table.”

Published in: on May 6, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Discussions of Military Situation in Northern Virginia

May 5, 1863

Presidential aide John G. Nicolay writes home: “Hooker has been fighting nearly a week on the Rappahannock, but as yet without any decisive results so far as we know.”

Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles writes in his diary about meetings at the White House and later at the Navy Department nearby: “But little of importance at the Cabinet. The President read a brief telegram which he got last evening from General Hooker, to whom, getting nothing from the War Department, he had applied direct to ascertain whether the Rebels were in possession of the works on the heights of Fredericksburg. Hooker replied he believed it was true, but if so it was of no importance. This reply communicates nothing of operations, but the tone and whole thing — even its brevity — inspire right feelings. It is strange, however, that no reliable intelligence reaches us from the army of what it is doing, or not doing. This fact itself forebodes no good.”

[Senator Charles] Sumner came in this afternoon and read to me from two or three documents — one the late speech of the Solicitor of the Treasury in the British Parliament on the matter of prize and prize courts — which are particularly favorable to our views in the Peterhoff case. From this we got on to the absorbing topic of the army under Hooker. Sumner is hopeful, and if he did not inspire me with his confidence, I was made glad by his faith. The President came in while we were discussing the subject, and, as is his way, at once earnestly participated. His suggestions and inferences struck me as probable, hopeful, nothing more. Like the rest of us, he wants facts; without them we have only surmises and surmises indicate doubt, uncertainty. He is not informed of occurrences as he should be, but is in the dark, with no official data, which confirms me in the belief that the War Department is in ignorance, for they would not withhold favorable intelligence from him, yet it is strange, very strange. In the absence of news the President strives to feel encouraged and to inspire others, but I can perceive he has doubts and misgivings, though he does not express them. Like my own, perhaps, his fears are the result of absence of facts, rather than from any information received.

In Ohio, former Congressman Clement Vallandigam is arrested for a seditious speech by General Ambrose Burnside.

Published in: on May 5, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Washington Anxious Over Battle of Chancellorsville

May 4, 1863

President Lincoln is preoccupied with the military situation in northern Virginia. He writes General  Joseph Hooker: “We have news here that the enemy has reoccupied heights above Fredericksburg. Is that so?”

Presidential aide John G. Nicolay writes home: “We have been in a terrible suspense here for two days as to the result of the battle which Gen. Hooker is fighting on the Rappahannock, nor have we yet any definite information on the subject.” Journalist Noah Brooks writes that “we know that our armies are now moving, and that there seemst ob e no reason why Hooker should not force the rebels on the Rappahannock to meet him on something like equal terms as to position.  It is not believed here that they can meet him in equal force.

Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles writes in his diary of meeting President Lincoln at the War Department as he awaited news from the battlefield: “Great uneasiness and uncertainty prevail in regard to army movements. I think the War Department is really poorly advised of operations. I could learn nothing from them yesterday or to-day. Such information as I have is picked up from correspondents and newsgatherers, and from naval officers who arrive from below.”  He adds:

I this P.M. met the President at the War Department. He said he had a feverish anxiety to get facts; was constantly up and down, for nothing reliable came from the front. There is an impression, which is very general, that our army has been successful, but that there has been great slaughter and that still fiercer and more terrible fights are impending.

Published in: on May 4, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

News from Battle of Chancellorsville is Scarce

May 3, 1863

President Lincoln is clearly in the dark about military movements in northern Virginia, where General Joseph Hooker is being outsmarted by Confederate General Robert E. Lee.  He writes General Daniel Butterfield: “Where is Gen. Hooker? Where is Sedgwick? where is Stoneman?”  He meets at the War Department with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and later awaits war telegrams with Assistant Secretary of War Gustavus V. Fox.

Presidential aide John G. Nicolay writes home: “The grand army of the Potomac, under Hooker’s leadership is again in motion, having begun on Monday last, and crossed the Rappahannock both above Fredericksburg on Tuesday and Wednesday last.  We know very little as yet as to what was attempted, or what has been accomplished, except that that part of it which crossed above has gained a very important and advantageous (apparently) position on the flank of the rebel position at Fredericksburg.”

Published in: on May 3, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Battle of Chancellorsville Begins

May 2, 1863

Union and Confederate forces are massing for battle around Chancellorsville, Virginia.  Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles writes in his diary: “Thick rumors concerning the Army of the Potomac, — little, however, from official sources. I abstain from going to the War Department more than is necessary or consulting operators at the telegraph, for there is a hazy uncertainty there. This indefiniteness, and the manner attending it, is a pretty certain indication that the information received is not particularly gratifying. Whether Hooker refuses to communicate, and prevents others from communicating, I know not. Other members of the Cabinet, like myself, are, I find, disinclined to visit the War Department under the circumstances.”   The War Department Telegraph Office is where President Lincoln receives his information about military developments.

Maryland Congressman Henry Winter is concerned about treatment of his friend, Admiral Samuel Du Pont, who military operations against Charleston, South Carolina, have been widely criticized within the Lincoln Administration.  “Davis was not about to stand idly by while his closest friend was so ‘disgracefully’ treated.  On May 2 he went to see the President and presented Du Pont’s side of the dispute,” wrote historian Gerald S. Hening.  “ He emphasized that from the very beginning the admiral had had serious reservations about the capabilities of the monitors; that he had favored a combined sea and land operation rather than a purely naval one; and that he had all along regarded the attack as ‘a desperate undertaking, a Balaklava charge, risking more than success justified…’  Lincoln maintained that these views had never been conveyed to him by either Du Pont or the Navy Department. Quickly responding, Davis pointed out that Du Pont, on countless occasions, had expressed these sentiments to Fox, but the latter had kept them to himself and had fed everyone ‘dreamy hopes and visions’ instead of facts.  Somewhat surprised by these revelations, Lincoln promised to call for and read Du Pont’s full report on the Charleston expedition.  Davis could not have been more pleased with the interview, and was convinced that once the president became aware of the situation he would use his influence in Du Pont’s behalf.:

President Lincoln writes Pennsylvania Governor Andrew G. Curtin: “Gen. [Henry W.] Halleck tells me he has a despatch from Gen. Schenck this morning, informing him that our forces have joined, and that the enemy menacing Penn. will have to fight or run to-day. I hope I am not less anxious to do my duty to Pennsylvania, than yourself; but I really do not yet see the justification for incurring the trouble and expense of calling out the militia. I shall keep watch and try to do my duty.”

President Lincoln wrote Secretary of State William H. Seward regarding a diplomatic vacancy – always a plum patronage position: “Have we any committal as to the vacant consulate at Havanna? If we have not, I am for giving it to Hon. Caleb Lyon, and of doing it at once.”

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