War Council Assembles Late at Night at the War Department

September 23, 1863

President Lincoln writes General William S. Rosecrans in Chattanooga: “Below is Bragg’s despatch, as found [in] the Richmond papers. You see he does not claim so many prisoners or captured guns, as you were inclined to concede. He also confesses to heavy loss. An exchanged General of ours leaving Richmond yesterday says two of Longstreets Divisions, & his entire Artillery, and two of Picketts brigades, and Wies’ CHECK legion, have gone to Tennessee. He mentions no other.”

News from Tennessee prompts an unusual late-night summons for President Lincoln to come to the War Department from the Soldiers Home. They came together to discus the practicability of reinforcing Rosecrans from Meade.   At night, writes presidential aide John Hay: “I found on my table some interesting despatches from the Rebel papers which I thought the President would like to read.  Among other things chronicling the death of B. Hardin Helms Mrs. L’s brother in law who spent some time with the family here and was made a paymaster by the President.  I took them over to the War Department to give them to an orderly to carry to the President.  I found there the Sec. Of War who was just starting to the Solders’ Home to request the President to come to the Department to attend a council to be held there that night rendered expedient, as he said, by recent despatches from Chattanooga.”

While I was in the room they were endeavoring to decipher an intricate message from Rosecrans giving reasons for the failure of the battle.  The Secy. says “‘I know the reasons well enough.  Rosecrans ran away from his fighting men and did not stop for thirteen miles.  No, they need not shuffle it off on the McCook.  He is not much of a soldier.  I was never in favor of him for a major-general.  But he is not accountable for this business.  He and Crittenden made pretty good time away from the fight to Chattanooga, but Rosecrans beat them both.’

I went out to the Soldiers Home, through a splendid moonlight, & found the President abed.  I delivered my message to him, as he dressed himself & he was considerably disturbed.  I assured him as far as I could that it meant nothing serious, but he thought otherwise, as it was the first time Stanton had ever sent for hm.  When he got in however we found a despatch from Rosecrans stating that he could hold Chattanooga against double his number: could not be taken until after a great battle: his stampede evidently over.

They came together to discuss the practicability of reinforcing Rosecrans from Meade. Present A Lincoln, Halleck, Stanton, Seward, Chase, Watson & Hardie: and for a while McCallum.  It was resolved to do it.  The 11th and 12th Corps were selected for the purpose, Hooker to be placed in command of both.  Finished the evening with a supper by Stanton at 1 o’clock where few ate.”

Stanton told the Cabinet: “‘I propose to send 30,00 men from the Army of the Potomac.  There is no reason to expect that General Meade will attack Lee, although greatly superior in force, and his great numbers a re, where they are, useless.  In five days 30,000 men could be put with Rosecrans.”  Lincoln was skeptical: ‘I will bet that if the order is given tonight the troops could not be got to Washington in five days.’  Stanton responded:

On such a subject I don’t care to bet, but the matter has been carefully investigated, and it is certain that 30,000 bales of cotton could be sent in that time; and by taking possession of the railroads and excluding all other business, I do not see why 30,000 men cannot be sent as well.  But if 30,000 can’t be sent, let 20,000 go.’

Ultimately, Stanton’s will and determination prevailed and orders were made to transfer 20,000 men to the Tennessee front. Historian Frank A. Flowers wrote in Edwin McMasters Stanton, “Having thus conquered opposition and sent an orderly with Lincoln back to the Soldiers’ Home, he did not retire, but began setting the machinery of his thrilling plan of rescue in motion.  While waiting for the messengers to bring Lincoln and the cabinet members, he had telegraphed to John W. Garrett, Thomas A Scott, and S. M. Felton, the railway managers, to come to Washington as soon as possible, and asked for essential information from the several railway superintendents south of the Ohio River…”

President Lincoln writes Robert A. Maxwell regarding the heroic actions of General George Thomas at the Battle of Chickamauga: “I hasten to say that in the State of information we have here, nothing could be more ungraceous than to indulge any suspicion towards Gen.Thomas. It is doubtful whether his heroism and skill exhibited last Sunday afternoon, has ever been surpassed in the world.”

Presidential aide John Hay writes Hiram Barney: “The President directs me to thank you for your kind favor of the 2ast of September and to say that it will give him pleasure to sit to Mr Elliott at any time which may be convenient to him.  He is unable to name any period which will be more convenient than another.”

Published in: on September 23, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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