Second Cabinet Meeting Discusses Confederate Peace Mission

July 6, 1863

Navy Secretary Gideon Welles writes in his diary: “There was a special Cabinet-meeting at 9 A.M. on the subject of A.H. Stephens’s mission. [Secretary of State William H.] Seward came prepared with a brief telegram, which the President had advised, to the effect that Stephens’s request to come to W. was inadmissible, but any military communication should be made through the prescribed military channel.  A copy of this answer was to be sent to the military officer in command at Fortress Monroe by the Secretary of War, and the Secretary of the Navy was to send a copy to Admiral [Samuel]  Lee.  The President directed Mr. Seward to go to the telegraph office and see that they were correctly transmitted. All this was plainly prearranged by Seward, who has twice changed his ground, differing with the President when Chase and Stanton differed, but he is finally commissioned to carry out the little details which could be done by an errand boy or clerk.”

Telegraph operator Homer Bates recalled that “as further news from the scene of action reached him Lincoln began to realize that Meade was likely to lose much of the fruit of his hard-earned victory by allowing Lee’s army to escape across the Potomac. So he still kept close to the telegraph instrument during the succeeding days. But even after leaving the office his thoughts returned to it lest something should be left undone to insure decisive success.”  President Lincoln writes General-in-chief Henry W. Halleck: “I left the telegraph office a good deal dissatisfied.  You know I did not like the phrase, in Orders, No. 68, I believe, ‘Drive the invaders from our soil.’  Since that, I see a dispatch from General French, saying the enemy is crossing his wounded over the river in flats, without saying why he does not stop it, or even intimating a thought that it ought to be stopped.  Still later, another dispatch from General Pleasonton, by direction of General Meade, to General French, staying that the main army is halted because it is believed the rebels are concentrating ‘on the road toward Hagerstown, beyond Fairfield,’ and is not to move until it is ascertained that the rebels intend to evacuate Cumberland Valley.

These things all appear to me to be connected with a purpose to cover Baltimore and Washington, and to get the enemy across the river again without a further collision, and they do not appear connected with a purpose to prevent his crossing and to destroy him.  I do fear the former purpose is acted upon and the latter is rejected.

If you are satisfied the latter purpose is entertained and is judiciously pursued, I am content.  If you are not satisfied, please look to it.

Historian Fletcher Pratt wrote in Stanton: Lincoln’s Secretary of War: “On July 6 came [General Henry Haupt in person [to the White House], direct from the front, and officers with eyewitness accounts of the battle, including General Sickles, who had had a leg shot off on the second day.  Haupt was no more comforting than Meade’s order; he had seen the General the day before to tell him that the new railhead and telegraph had been carried through Hanover Junction to Gettysburg (which surprised Meade very much), and to plead with him to follow the enemy hard,” wrote historian Fletcher Pratt.  “Meade replied that his men needed rest; Haupt told him they could not be as tired as the Confederates.  ‘You must pursue lee and crush him.  His ammunition and stores must be exhausted, and his supply trains can be easily cut off.  He is in desperate straits, like a rat in a trap, and you can whip and capture him.’” According to Stanton biographer Frank A. Flower in  Edwin McMasters Stanton: “Haupt mounted an egine and rushed to Washington as fast as steam could carry him to confer with Secretary Stanton and General-in-Chief Halleck.  The former was dumbfounded by the information brought to him and requested Haupt to go with Halleck to Lincoln while he himself ‘talked’ with Meade by telegraph.  What he said to Meade was purposely left unrecorded, but an hour later he walked rapidly to the White House, where he found the conference between Lincoln, Halleck, and Haupt about concluded.  Lincoln inquired:

‘What shall we do with your man Meade, Mr. Secretary?’

‘Tell him, said Stanton to Haupt, that Lee is trapped and must be taken,’ and then, turning to Lincoln, added: ‘He can be removed as easily as he was appointed, if he makes no proper effort to end this war now, while he has Lee in a trap.’

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

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