President Lincoln Meets with Black Abolitionist Frederick Douglass

August 10, 1863

Kansas Senator Samuel Pomeroy escorted black abolitionist Frederick Douglass first to see Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and then to meet with President Lincoln. Douglas told Mr. Lincoln “that there were three particulars which I wished to bring to his attention. First, that colored soldiers ought to receive the same wages as those paid to white soldiers. Second, that colored soldiers ought to receive the same protection when taken prisoners, and be exchanged as readily, and on the same terms, as any other prisoners, and if Jefferson Davis should shoot or hang colored soldiers in cold blood, the United States government should retaliate in kind and degree….Third, when colored soldiers, seeking the ‘bauble-reputation at the cannon’s mouth,’ performed great and uncommon service on the battle-field, they would be rewarded by distinction and promotion.”34 Historian Waldo E. Martin, Jr. wrote: “The threat of further Confederate brutality, Lincoln maintained, prevented the Union government from retaliating for excessive Confederate brutality toward black captives. Even though Douglass found Lincoln’s cautious and diplomatic response only partially satisfactory, he came away convinced of the president’s sincerity. When a purported commission for Douglass failed to materialize, he refused to sulk. Instead, he redoubled his agitation to ensure an abolitionist and just peace.”

Presidential aide John Hay wrote in his diary the next day: “Fred Douglass in company with Sen. Pomeroy visited the President yesterday. Frederick intends to go south and help the recruiting among his people.” Secretary of the Interior John P. Usher wrote out a pass for Douglass: “The bearer of this, Frederick Douglass, is known to us as a loyal, free, man, and is, hence, entitled to travel, unmolested. We trust he will be recognized everywhere, as a free man, and a gentleman.” President Lincoln wrote on the pass: “I concur.”

President Lincoln writes General William S. Rosecrans: “Yours of the 1st was received two days ago.  I think you must have inferred more than Gen. Halleck has intended, as to any dissatisfaction of mine with you.  I am sure you, as a reasonable man, would not have been wounded, could you have hard all my words and seen all my thoughts, in regard to you.  I have not abated in my kind feeling for and confidence in you.  I have seen most of your despatches to General Halleck – probably all of them.  After Grant invested Vicksburg, I was very anxious lest Johnston should overwhelm him from the outside, and when it appeared certain that part of Bragg’s force had gone, and was going to Johnson, it did seem to me, it was the exactly proper time for you to attack Bragg with what force had left.  In all kindness, let me say it so seems to me yet.  Finding from your desptaches to General Halleck that your judgement was different, and being very anxious for Grant, I, on one occasion, told Genl. Halleck, I thought he should direct you to decide at once, to immediately attack Bragg or to stand on the defensive, and send part of your force to Grant.  He replied he had already so directed, in substance.  Soon after, despatches from Grant abated my anxiety for him, and in proportion abated my anxiety about any movement of yours.  When afterwards, however, I saw a despatch of your arguing that the right time for you to attack Bragg was not before but would be after the fall of Vicksburg, it impressed me very strangely; and I think I so stated to the Secretary of War and General Halleck.  It seemed no other than the proposition that you could better fight Bragg when Johnston should be at liberty to return and assist him, than you could before he could so return to his assistance.

Since Grant has been entirely relieved by the fall of Vicksburg, by which Johnston is also relieved, it has seemed to me that your chance for a stroke, has been considerably diminished, and I have not been pressing you directly or indirectly.  True, I am very anxious for East Tennessee to be occupied by us; but I see and appreciate the difficulties you mention.  The question occurs, Can the thing be done at all?  Does preparation advance at all?  Do you not consume supplies as fast you get them forward?  Have you more animals today than you had at the battle of Stone River?  and yet have not more been furnished you since then than your present stock?  I ask the same questions as to your mounted force.

Do not misunderstand.  I am not casting blame upon you.  I rather think, by great exertion, you can get to East Tennessee.  But a very important question is, ‘Can you stay there?’  I make no order in the case–that I leave to General Halleck and yourself.

And now, be assured once more, that I think of you in all kindness and confidence; and that I am not watching you with an evil-eye.  Yours very truly

President Lincoln apparently had shown the letter to John Hay previous day because Hay had written in his diary that President Lincoln “wrote also to Rosecrans, in answer to Roscrans letter to him, which is one of the worst specimens of epistolary literature I have ever come across.  Rosecrans letter deprecated any dissatisfaction with his apparent slowness & gave his reasons for it: the extreme length of his lines; the scarcity of cavalry: the terrible mud of the roads: their narrowness which prevents trains from passing each other readily, &c.

The President in his answer disclaimed all unkindness or any diminution of confidence and regard. He said that when grant invested Vicksburg he was very anxious on account of Johnston and when he heard that Bragg had sent reinforcements to J. he thought that that was Rosecrans time to attack Bragg, & says with all kindness, he still thinks so.  As time wore on he became convinced that Rosecrans should either attack the enemy, or he became convinced that Rosecrans should either attack the enemy, or stand on the defensive and send reinforcements to Grant.  He gave that order to Halleck to send to R. H. Said he had already done it in substance.

After Vicksburg fell his anxiety was relieved.  He could not agree with Rosecrans in thinking that his best time for attacking Bragg would be after rather than before the falls of Vicksburg.

President Lincoln writes to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton: “I have not heard of any charges being filed against Gen. J.A. McClernand.  Art there any?” Grant had removed McClernand.  On August 3, McClernand had written to Lincoln that “it is the purpose of my enemy’s..[is] .to attempt to gloss the more than mortal injury they have done me, by bringing me before a court-martial.”

President Lincoln writes to Mrs. Rachel S. Evans: “I thank you very cordially for the beautifully-finished Cushion, received, through your courtesy, today. But grateful as I am, it must be your greatest satisfaction to reflect that the brave soldiers who reap the benefit of your compassionate kindness and liberality, are this day more grateful still.”

President Lincoln writes regarding a gift: “Mrs. Hutter, Misses Lager, and Miss Claghorn: “Permit me to return my grateful acknowledgements to the fair manufacturer and generous donors of the beautiful present which accompanies their note of the 20th July. If anything could enhance to me the value of this representation of our national ensign. so elegantly executed and so gracefully bestowed, it would be the consideration that its price has been devoted to the comfort and restoration of those heroic men, who have suffered and bled in our flag’s defense. We never should, and I am sure, never shall be niggard of gratitude and benefaction to the soldiers who have endured toil, privations and wounds, that the nation may live.”

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