President Distraught about Confederates’ Escape

July 15, 1863

The usually patient President Lincoln is beside himself with aggravation about the failure of General George Meade to press the pursuit of General Robert E. Lee before Confederates could cross the Potomac into Virginia.  Presidential aide John Hay writes: “R.T.L. says the Tycoon is grieved silently but deeply about the escape of Lee.  He said, “If I had gone up there, I could have whipped them myself.”  I know he had the idea.”

Lincoln aides Hay and  John G. Nicolay wrote of Robert Todd’s recollection: “Entering my father’s room right after the battle of Gettysburg,” said Robert, “I found him in tears with his heard bowed upon his arms resting on the table at which he sat.  “Why, what is the matter, father?” I asked.  For a brief interval he remained silent, then raised his head, and the explanation of his grief was forthcoming.  ‘My boy,’ he said, ‘when I heard that the bridge at Williamsport had been swept away, I sent for General Haupt and asked him how soon he could replace the same.  He replied, “If I were uninterrupted I could build a bridge with the material there within twenty-four hours, and Mr. President, General Lee has engineers as skillful as I am.”  Upon hearing this I at once wrote Meade to attack without delay, and if successful to destroy my letter, but in case of failure to preserve it for his vindication.  I have just learned that at a council of war of Meade and his generals, it has been determined not to pursue Lee, and now the opportune chance of ending this bitter struggle is lost.”

 

Former Secretary of War Simon Cameron had telegraphed on July 14: “I left the Army of the Potomac yesterday believing that the decision of Genl Meades Council of war on Sunday night not to attack the rebels would allow them to escape.  His army is in fine spirits & eager for battle.  They will win if they get a chance.  Genl Couch has a fine army between Carlisle & Green Castle but will move no further south without orders under the strong belief that his duty is to guard the Susquehanna.  In my opinion the Susquehanna needs no guard.  I have urged him from the beginning to join Meade.  I hope in God that you will put forth your authority & order every man in arms between the Susquehanna & the Potomac to unite with Meade so that he may have no reason for delay in giving battle before the falling of the flood allows Lee to escape.”

President Lincoln writes to Cameron: “Your despatch of yesterday received.  Lee was already across the river when you sent it.  I would give much to be relieved of the impression that Meade, Couch, Smith and all, since the battle at Gettysburg, have strive only to get Lee over the river without another fight.  Please tell me, if you know, who was the one corps commander who was for fighting, in the council of War on Sunday-night.”

President Lincoln wrote J. O. Brodhead in Missouri regarding the arrest of editor McKee: “The effect on political position, of McKee’s arrest, will not be relieved any, by it’s not having been made with that purpose.”   Brodhead had written Lincoln: ““Be assured that, whatever you may have heard, the arrest of McKee had nothing whatever to do with his political position. This can be fully and satisfactorily explained.”

President Lincoln writes former Secretary of War Simon Cameron: ‘Your despatch of yesterday received. Lee was already across the river when you sent it. I would give much to be relieved of the impression that Meade, Couch, Smith and all, since the battle at Gettysburg, have striven only to get Lee over the river without another fight. Please tell me, if you know, who was the one corps commander who was for fighting, in the council of War on Sunday- -nigh.”   Cameron had written the previous night: “I left the Army of the Potomac yesterday believing that the decision of Genl Meades Council of war on Sunday night not to attack the rebels would allow them to escape. His army is in fine spirits & eager for battle. They will win if they get a chance. Genl Couch has a fine army between Carlisle & Green Castle but will move no further south without orders under the strong belief that his duty is to guard the Susquehanna. In my opinion the Susquehanna needs no guard. I have urged him from the beginning to join Meade. I hope in God that you will put forth your authority & order every man in arms between the Susquehanna & the Potomac to unite with Meade so that he may have no reason for delay in giving battle before the falling of the flood allows Lee to escape.”

President Lincoln issues a proclamation for a day of Thanksgiving: “It has pleased Almighty God to hearken to the supplications and prayers of an afflicted people, and to vouchsafe to the army and the navy of the United States victories on land and on the sea so signal and so effective as to furnish reasonable grounds for augmented confidence that the Union of these States will be maintained, their constitution preserved, and their peace and prosperity permanently restored. But these victories have been accorded not without sacrifices of life, limb, health and liberty incurred by brave, loyal and patriotic citizens. Domestic affliction in every part of the country follows in the train of these fearful bereavements. It is meet and right to recognize and confess the presence of the Almighty Father and the power of His Hand equally in these triumphs and in these sorrows:

Now, therefore, be it known that I do set apart Thursday the 6th. day of August next, to be observed as a day for National Thanksgiving, Praise and Prayer, and I invite the People of the United States to assemble on that occasion in their customary places of worship, and in the forms approved by their own consciences, render the homage due to the Divine Majesty, for the wonderful things he has done in the Nation’s behalf, and invoke the influence of His Holy Spirit to subdue the anger, which has produced, and so long sustained a needless and cruel rebellion, to change the hearts of the insurgents, to guide the counsels of the Government with wisdom adequate to so great a national emergency, and to visit with tender care and consolation throughout the length and breadth of our land all those who, through the vicissitudes of marches, voyages, battles and sieges, have been brought to suffer in mind, body or estate, and finally to lead the whole nation, through the paths of repentance and submission to the Divine Will, back to the perfect enjoyment of Union and fraternal peace.

President Lincoln writes Leonard Swett: “Many persons are telegraphing me from California, begging me, for the peace, of the State, to suspend the military enforcement of the writ of possession, in the Almedan case, while you are the single one who urges the contrary. You know I would like to oblige you, but it seems to me my duty, in this case, is the other way.”

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Published in: on July 15, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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