Washington Preoccupied with Confederate Invasion of Maryland and Pennsylvania

June 30, 1863

Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles writes in his diary: “The President did not join us to-day in Cabinet.  He was with the Secretary of War and General Halleck, and sent word there would be no meeting.  This is wrong, but I know no remedy.  At such a time as this, it would seem there should be free and constant intercourse and interchange of views, and a combined effort.  The Government should not be carried on in the War or State Departments exclusively, nor ought there to be an attempt of that kind.”  Welles, who is often upset that the cabinet meetings do not get proper respect, writes:

I understand from Chase that the President and Stanton are anxious that Dix should make a demonstration on Richmond, but Halleck does not respond favorably, — whether because he has not confidence in Dix, or himself, or from any cause, I do not know. This move on Richmond is cherished by Chase, and with a bold, dashing, energetic, and able general might be effective, but I agree with the President that Dix is not the man for such a movement. Probably the best thing that can now be done, is to bring all who can be spared from garrison duty to the assistance of General Meade.

Lee and his army are well advanced into Pennsylvania, and they should not be permitted to fall back and recross the Potomac. Halleck is bent on driving them back, not on intercepting their retreat; is full of zeal to drive them out of Pennsylvania. I don’t want them to leave the State, except as prisoners. Meade will, I trust, keep closer to them than some others have done. I understand his first order was for the troops at Harper’s Ferry to join him, which was granted. Hooker asked this, but it was denied him by the War Department and General Halleck.

Blair is much dissatisfied. He came from the Executive Mansion with me to the Navy Department and wrote a letter to the President, urging that Dix’s command should be immediately brought up. Says Halleck is good for nothing and knows nothing. I proposed that we should both walk over to the War Department, but he declined; said he would not go where Stanton could insult him, that he disliked at all times to go to the War Department, had not been there for a long period, although the Government of which he is a member is in these days carried on, almost, in the War Department.

We have no positive information that the Rebels have crossed the Susquehanna, though we have rumors to that effect. There is no doubt the bridge at Columbia, one and a half miles long, has been burnt, and, it seems, by our own people. The officer who ordered it must have been imbued with Halleck’s tactics. I wish the Rebel army had got across before the bridge was burnt. But Halleck’s prayers and efforts, especially his prayers, are to keep the Rebels back, — drive them back across the “frontiers” instead of intercepting, capturing, and annihilating them. This movement of Lee and the Rebel forces into Pennsylvania is to me incomprehensible, nor do I get any light from military men or others in regard to it. Should they cross the Susquehanna, as our General-in-Chief and Governor Curtin fear, they will never recross it without being first captured. This they know, unless deceived by their sympathizing friends in the North, as in 1861; therefore I do not believe they will attempt it.

I have talked over this campaign with Stanton this evening, but I get nothing from him definite or satisfactory of fact or speculation, and I come to the conclusion that he is bewildered, that he gets no light from his military subordinates and advisers, and that he really has no information or opinion as to the Rebel destination or purpose.

Presidential aide John G. Nicolay writes home:”Stirring times seem to be upon us again.  It appears pretty evident that Lee has taken the most of army into Maryland and Pennsylvania, with perhaps the design of taking Baltimore or Washington – his object not being as yet sufficiently developed to say with any certainty what it is.”   President Lincoln writes General Darius N. Couch in Harrisburg: “I judge by absence of news that the enemy is not crossing, or pressing up to the Susquehannah.  Please tell me what you know of his movements.”  Couch had earlier telegraphed the President: “Part of the rebel force has left the Vicinity of Carlisle with fifty pieces of artillery, and massed towards Shippensburg. This looks like concentrating a portion of their troops down the Cumberland valley. Eight thousand of their men left York and went towards Carlisle this morning”  Couch wrote again later: “The rebel infantry force left Carlisle early this morning, on the Baltimore pike. Cavalry still on this side of that town. Early, with 8,000, left York this morning; went westerly or northwesterly. Rebels at York and Carlisle yesterday a good deal agitated about some news they had received. I telegraphed news to General Meade, care of the Secretary of War.”

Lincoln writes editor Alexander K. McClure, a prominent Republican official in southern Pennsylvania: “Do we gain anything by opening one leak to stop another? Do we gain any thing by quieting one clamor, merely to open another, and probably a larger one?”   A panicky McClure had written: “Have been twenty-four hours hoping to hasten the organization of troops. It seems impossible to do so to an extent at all commensurate with the emergency. Our people are paralyzed for want of confidence and leadership, and, unless they can be inspired with hope, we shall fail to do anything worthy of our State or Government. I am fully persuaded that to call McClellan to a command here would be the best thing that could be done. He could rally troops from Pennsylvania, and I am well assured that New York and New Jersey would also respond to his call with great alacrity. With his efficiency in organizing men, and the confidence he would inspire, early and effective relief might be afforded us, and great service rendered to the Army of the Potomac.

Unless we are in some way rescued from the hopelessness now prevailing, we shall have practically an inefficient conscription, and be powerless to help either ourselves or the National Government.

After free consultation with trusted friends of the Administration, I hesitate not to urge that McClellan be called here. He can render us and you the best service, and in the present crisis no other consideration should prevail. Without military success we can have no political success, no matter who commands. In this request I reflect what seems to be an imperative necessity rather than any preference of my own.

President Lincoln telegraphs New Jersey Governor Joel Parker: “Your despatch of yesterday received. I really think the attitude of the enemies’ army in Pennsylvania, presents us the best opportunity we have had since the war began. I think you will not see the foe in New-Jersey. I beg you to be assured that no one out of my position can know so well as if he were in it, the difficulties and involvements of replacing Gen. McClellan in command – and this aside from any imputations upon him.  Please accept my sincere thanks for what you have done, and are doing to get troops forward.” Governor Parker had  telegraphed on June 29: “The people of New Jersey are apprehensive that the invasion of the enemy may extend to her soil. We think that the enemy should be driven from Pennsylvania. There is now certainly great apathy under such fearful circumstances. That apathy should be removed. The people of New Jersey want McClellan at the head of the Army of the Potomac. If that cannot be done, then we ask that he may be put at the head of the New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania troops now in Pennsylvania, defending these Middle States from invasion. If either appointment be made, the people would rise en masse.”

Published in: on June 30, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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