President Lincoln Addresses White House Serenade about Union Victories

July 7, 1863

President Lincoln’s mood lifts quickly when he is told of Vicksburg capture.  Navy Secretary Gideon Welles writes in his diary: The President said this morning, with a countenance indicating sadness and despondency, that [General George] Meade still lingered at Gettysburg, when he should have been at Hagerstown or near the Potomac, to cut off the retreating army of Lee.  While unwilling to complain and willing and anxious to give all praise to the general and army for the great battle and victory, he feared the old idea of driving the Rebels out of Pennsylvania and Maryland, instead of capturing them, was still prevalent among the officers.  He hoped this was not so, said he had spoken to [General Henry W.] Halleck and urged that the right tone and spirit should be infused into officers and men, and that General Meade especially should be reminded of his (the President’s) wishes and expectations.  But General Halleck gave a short and curt reply, showing that he did not participate and sympathize in this feeling, and said the President, ‘I drop the subject.’

This is the President’s error.  His own convictions and conclusions are infinitely superior to Halleck’s,–even in military operations more sensible and more correct always,–but yet he says, ‘It being strictly a military question, it is proper I should defer to Halleck, whom I have called here to counsel, advise, and direct in these matters, where is an expert.’  I question whether he should be considered an expert.  I look upon Halleck as a pretty good scholarly critic of other men’s deeds and acts, but as incapable of originating or directing military operations.

President Lincoln writes Halleck: “We have certain information that Vicksburg surrender to General Grant on the 4th of July.  Now, if General Meade can complete his work, so gloriously prosecuted thus far, by the literal or substantial destruction of Lee’s army, the rebellion will be over.”

“When Lincoln came to the office,” reported telegraph operator Homer Bates, “he received Grant’s despatch announcing the capture of Vicksburg with many thousand prisoners, and this welcome news coming so soon after Meade’s victory at Gettysburg revived his spirits.”

President Lincoln receives word of Union capture of Vicksburg while at the War Department. Navy Secretary Welles writes in his diary about how he transmitted the news: “At the moment of receiving this delegation I was handed a dispatch from Admiral Porter, communicating the fall of Vicksburg on the fourth of July.  Excusing myself to the delegation, I immediately returned to the Executive Mansion.  The President was detailing certain points relative to Grant’s movements on the map to Chase and two or three others, when I gave him the tidings.  Putting down the map, he rose at once, said we would drop these topics, and ‘I myself will telegraph this news to General Meade.’  He seized his hat, but suddenly stopped, his countenance beaming with joy; he caught my hand, and, throwing his arm around me, exclaimed: ‘What can we do for the Secretary of the Navy for this glorious inteligence?  He is always giving us good news.  I cannot, in words, tell you my joy over this result.  It is great, Mr. Welles, it is great!’

We talked across the lawn together.  ‘This,’ said he, ‘will relieve Banks.  It will inspire me.’  The opportunity I thought a good one to request him to insist upon his own views, to enforce them, not only on Meade but on Halleck.

President Lincoln meets with Maine’s top elected officials – Vice President Hannibal Hamilton, Senator William P. Fessenden and Senator Lott M. Morrill.  The president writes: “The gentlemen named in the attached resolution, have presented it to me this morning. It explains itself. Please carefully consider the subject, and do the best in regard to it which you can consistently with the general public service.”  The clipping declared: “Resolved, That Hon. Hannibal Hamlin, Vice-President of the United States, and our two Senators in Congress, be requested to repair immediately to Washington, for the purpose of urging upon the President the importance and necessity of placing along the coast a sufficient naval and military force to protect the commerce of the country from piratical depredations of the rebels, and to have the same accomplished in such manner as shall be most efficient and expeditious.

Addressing a serenade the White House in the wake of Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg: “I am very glad indeed to see you to-night, and yet I will not say I thank you for this call, but I do most sincerely thank Almighty God for the occasion on which you have called.  [Cheers.]   how long ago is it?–eighty odd years–since on the Fourth of July for the first time in the history of the world a nation by its representatives, assembled and declared as a self-evident truth that ‘all men are created equal.’ [Cheers.]  That was the birthday of the United States of America.  Since then the Fourth of July has had several peculiar recognitions.  The two most distinguished men in the framing and support of the Declaration were Thomas Jefferson and John Adams–the one having penned it and the other sustained it the most forcibly in debate-0-the only    two of the fifty-five who sustained [signed?] it being elected President of the United States.  Precisely fifty years after they put their hands to the paper it pleased Almighty God to take both from the stage of action.  This was indeed an extraordinary and remarkable event in our history.  Another President, five years after, was called from this stage of existence on the same day and month of the year; and now, on this last Fourth of July just passed, when we have a gigantic Rebellion, at the bottom of which is an effort to overthrow the principle that all men were [are?] created equal, we have the surrender of a most powerful position and army on that very day, [cheers] and not only so, but in a succession of battles in Pennsylvania, near to us, through three days, so rapidly fought that they might be called one great battle on the 1st, 2d and 3d of the month of July; and on the 4th the cohorts of those who opposed the declaration that all men are created equal, ‘turned tail’ and run.  [Long and continued cheers.]  Gentlemen, this is a glorious theme, and the occasion for a speech, but I am prepared to make one worthy of the occasion.  I would like to speak in terms of praise due to the many brave officers and soldiers who have fought in the cause of the Union and liberties of the country from the beginning of the war.  There are trying occasions, not only in success, but for the want of success.  I dislike to mention the name of one single officer lest I might do wrong to those I might forget.  Recent events bring up glorious names, and particularly prominent ones, but these I will not mention.  Having said this much, I will now take the music.”

After President Lincoln’s speech, the serenaders proceeded to the nearby house of Secretary of State William H. Seward for another round of songs and speeches.

Meanwhile, Meade was dilatory in responding to Administration requests to attack the retreating troops of General Robert E. Lee before they made it across the Potomac River to Virginia.

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

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