Possible Command Change for Army of the Potomac Discussed

June 2, 1863

General John F.  Reynolds visits the White House to deny interest in replacing General Joseph Hooker as commander of the Army of the Potomac.   Historian Freeman Cleaves writes in Meade of Gettysburg writes: “Rumor… had it that Reynolds would receive the command.  But going straight to the White House, he advised the President that he neither wanted the command nor would accept it unless given free rein.  Not so much his taciturn self with Lincoln, Reynolds talked rather freely concerning Hooker.  Appearing unmoved, Lincoln, however, said he was not disposed to throw away a gun because it missed fire, but ‘would pick the lock and try it again,’ Nevertheless,  Reynolds had scored.  By taking the initiative and going to Lincoln, he would avoid the possibility of any peremptory order assigning him to an unsought and unwanted command.”

Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles writes in his diary: “Chase, Blair, Bates, and myself were at the Cabinet-meeting.  Seward was absent, but his son was present.  So also was Judge Otto, Assistant Secretary of the Interior.  Stanton, though absent, sent no representative.  He condemns the practice of allowing assistants to be present in Cabinet council, a practice which was introduced by Seward, and says he will never submit or discuss any important question, when an assistant is present.  I think this is the general feeling and the practice of all.

There was some discussion of affairs at Vicksburg.  The importance of capturing that stronghold and opening the navigation of the river is appreciated by all, and confidence is expressed in Grant, but it seems that not enough was doing.  The President said Halleck declares he can furnish no additional troops.  As yet I have seen nothing to admire in the military management of General Halleck, whose mind is heavy and, if employed at all, is apparently engaged on something else than the public matter in hand.  At this time when the resources of the nation should be called out and activity pervade all military operations, he sits back in his chair, doing comparatively nothing.  It worries the President, yet he relies upon Halleck and apparently no one else in the War Department.  No one more fully realizes the magnitude of the occasion, and the vast consequences involved, than the President; he wishes all to be done that can be done, but yet in army operations will not move or do except by the consent of the dull, stolid, inefficient, and incompetent General-in-Chief.”

Stanton does not attend one half of the Cabinet-meetings.  When he comes, he communicates little of importance.  Not infrequently he has a private conference with the President in the corner of the room, or with Seward in the library.  Chase, Blair and Bates have each expressed their mortification and chagrin that things were so conducted.  To-day, as we came away, Blair joined me, and said he knew not what we were coming to; that he had tried to have things different.

Journalist Noah Brooks visits the White House.  He subsequently writes: “On the night of June 2d, just before leaving for South Carolina, your correspondent had a conversation with the President, in which I expressed some natural anxiety that a rebel raid might occur soon, and that activity in this vicinity might come up in my absence.  The President said that all indications were that there would be nothing of the sort, and that an advance by the rebels could not possibly take place so as to put them on this side of the Rappahannock, unless Hooker was very much mistaken, and was to be again out-generaled.  Hooker was mistaken, and was out-generaled. In the course of his somewhat blundering programme, after the army of Lee was across the Potomac, he ordered the evacuation of Harper’s Ferry, as that point was of no special importance to us so long as the rebels had other channels of retreat and communication, and French’s force was needed in the field.  Halleck protested against this action and notified French that he was not subject to Hooker’s orders, at which Hooker asked to be relieved.  One of Meade’s first orders was the evacuation of Harper’s Ferry, and no interference was made with him, it is a fair supposition that the objection of Halleck was only a subterfuge to get rid of Hooker.  General Hooker has the popular sympathy in his misfortunes, for he is unquestionably brave, high-spirited and gallant, but the public also believe that he was not the man for the emergency, and Meade assumes his difficult role in the face of the enemy with a great sigh of relief from the people.”

President Lincoln writes General Ulysses S. Grant, who is commanding a Union attack on Vicksburg, Mississippi.  He is anxious that Grant be supported by General Nathaniel Banks, the Union commander in Louisiana: “Are you in communication with Gen. Banks? Is he coming towards you, or going further off? Is there, or has there been anything to hinder his coming directly to you by water from Alexandria?”

President Lincoln responds to members of the Presbyterian General Assembly regarding their support for Administration policies: “It has been my happiness to receive testimonies of a similar nature, from I believe, all denominations of Christians. They are all loyal, but perhaps not in the same degree, or in the same numbers; but I think they all claim to be loyal. This to me is most gratifying, because from the beginning I saw that the issues of our great struggle depended on the Divine interposition and favor. If we had that, all would be well. The proportions of this rebellion were not for a long time understood. I saw that it involved the greatest difficulties, and would call forth all the powers of the whole country. The end is not yet.

The point made in your paper is well taken as to “the Government” and the “administration” in whose hands are those interests. I fully appreciate its correctness and justice. In my administration I might have committed some errors. It would be, indeed, remarkable if I had not. I have acted according to my best judgment in every case. The views expressed by the Committee accord with my own; and on this principle ”the Government” is to be supported though the administration may not in every case wisely act.  As a pilot, I have used my best exertions to keep afloat our ship of State, and shall be glad to resign my trust at the appointed time to another pilot more skillful and successful than I may prove. In every case, and at all hazards, the Government must be perpetuated.  Relying, as I do, upon the Almighty Power, and encouraged as I am by these resolutions which you have just read, with the support which I receive from Christian men, I shall not hesitate to use all the means at my control to secure the termination of this rebellion, and will hope for success.

I sincerely thank you for this interview, this pleasant mode of presentation, and the General Assembly for their patriotic support in these resolutions.

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Published in: on June 2, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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