President Lincoln Declines to Remove General Schofield in Missouri

October 5, 1863

President Lincoln sends an extensive letter to Missouri Radicals with whom he had recently met at the White House: Despite their pressure, he refuses to dismiss General John Schofield as the Union commander in the state “Among the reasons given, enough of suffering and wrong to Union men is certainly, and I suppose truly stated.  Yet the whole case, as presented, fails to convince me, that Gen. Schofield, or the Enrolled Militia, is responsible for that suffering and wrong.  The whole can be explained on a more charitable, and, as I think a more rational hypothesis.  We are in civil war.  In such cases there always is a main questions; but in this case that question is a perplexing compound–Union and Slavery.  It thus becomes a question not of two sides merely, but of at least four sides, even among those who are for the Union, saying nothing of those are against it.  Thus, those who are for the Union with, but not without slavery–those for it without, but not with–those for it with or prefer it without.  Among these again, is a subdivision of those who prefer it without.  Among these again, is a subdivision of those who are for gradual but not for immediate, and those who are for immediate, but not for gradual extinction of slavery.  It is easy to conceive that all these shades of opinion, and even more, may be sincerely entertained by honest and truthful men.  Yet, all being for the Union, by reason of these differences, each will prefer a different way of sustaining the Union.  At once sincerity is questioned, and motives are assailed.  Actual war coming, blood grows hot, and blood is spilled.  Thought is forced from old channels into confusion.  Deception breeds and thrives.  Confidence dies, and universal suspicion reigns.  Each man feels an impulse to kill his neighbor, lest he be first killed by him.  Revenge and retaliation follow.  And all this, as before said, may be among honest men only.  But this is not all.  Every foul bird comes abroad, and every dirty reptile rises up.  These add crime to confusion.  Strong measures, deemed indispensable but harsh at best, such men make worse by mal-administration.  Murders for old grudges, and murders for pelf, proceed under any cloak that will best cover for the occasion.  These causes amply account for what has occurred in Missouri, without ascribing it to the weakness, or wickedness of any general.  The newspaper files, those chroniclers of current events, will show that the evils now complained of were quite as prevalent under Fremont, Hunter, Halleck, and Curtis, as under Schofield.  If the former had greater force with which to meet it.  When the organized rebel army left the state, the main federal force had to go also, leaving the Department commander at home relatively no stronger than before.  Without disparaging any, I affirm with confidence that no commander of that Department has, in proportion to his means, done better than Gen. Schofield.

The first specific charge against Gen. Schofield is that the Enrolled Militia was placed under his command, whereas it had not been placed under the command of Gen. Curtis. The fact I believe is true; but you do not point out, nor can I conceive, how that did, or could injure loyal men, or the Union cause.

You charge that upon Gen. Curtis being superseded by Gen. Schofield, Franklin A. Dick was superseded by James O. Brodhead, as Provost Marshal-General.  No very specific showing is made as to how this did, or could injure the Union cause.

To restrain contraband intelligence and trade, a system of searches, seizures, permits, and passes, had been introduced, I think, by Gen. Fremont.  When Gen. Halleck came, he found, and continued this system, and added an order applicable to some parts of the State, to levy and collect contributions from noted rebels, to compensate losses, and relieve destitution caused by the rebellion.  The action of Gen. Fremont and Gen. Halleck, as stated, constituted a system, which Gen. Curtis found in full operation when he took command of the Department.  That there was a necessity for something of the sort was clear; but that it could only be justified by stern necessity, and that it was liable to great abuse in administration, was equally clear.  Agents to execute it, contrary to the great Prayer, were led into temptation.  Some might, while others would not resist that temptation.  It was not possible to hold any to a very strict accountability; and those yielding to the temptation, would sell permits and passes to those who would pay most, and most readily for them; and would seize property, and collect levies in the aptest way to fill their own pockets.  Money being the object, the man having money, whether loyal or disloyal, would be a victim.  This practice doubtless existed to some extent, and it was a real additional evil, that it could be and was, plausably charged to exist in great extent than it did.

When Gen. Curtis took command of the Department, Mr. Dick, against whom I never knew anything to allege, had general charge of this system.  A controversy in regard to it rapidly grew into almost unmanageable proportions.  One side ignored the necessity, and magnified the evils of the system; while the other ignored the evils, and magnified the necessity; and each bitterly assailed the motives of the other.  I could not fail to see that the controversy enlarged in the same proportion as the professed Union-men there distinctly took sides in two opposing political parties.  I exhausted my wits, and very nearly my patience also, in efforts to convince both that the evils they charged on each other, were inherent in the case, and could not be cured by giving either party a victory over the other.

Plainly the irrigating system was not to be perpetual; and it was plausably urged that it could be modified at once with advantage.  The case could scarcely be worse, and whether it could be made better, could only be determined by a trial.  IN this view, and not to ban, or brand, Gen. Curtis, or to give a victory to any party, I made the change of commander for the Department.  I now learn that soon after this change, Mr. Dick was removed, and that Mr. Broadhead, a gentleman of no less good character, was put in the place.  The mere fact of this change is more distinctly complained of, than is any conduct of the new officer, or other consequence, of the change.

I gave the new commander no instructions as to the administration of the system mentioned, beyond what is contained in the private letter, afterwards surreptiously published, in which I directed him to act solely for the public good, and independently of both parties.  Neither anything you have presented me, nor anything I have otherwise learned, has convinced me that he has been unfaithful to this charge.

Imbecility is urged as one cause for removing Gen. Schofield; and the late massacre at Lawrence, Kansas, is pressed as evidence of that imbecility.  To my mind that fact scarcely tends to prove the proposition.  That massacre is only an example of what Grierson, John Morgan, and many others, might have repeatedly done, on their respective raids, had they chose to incur the personal hazard, and possessed the fiendish hearts to do it.

The charge is made that Gen. Schofield, on purpose to protect the Lawrence murders, would not allow them to be pursued into Missouri.  While no punishment could be too sudden, or too severe for those murderers, I am well satisfied that the preventing of the threatened remedial raid into Missouri, was the only safe way to avoid an indiscriminate massacre there, including probably more innocent than guilty.  Instead of condemning, I therefore approve what I understand Gen. Schofield did in that respect.

The charges that Gen. Schofield has purposely withheld protection from loyal people, and purposely facilitated the objects of the disloyal, are altogether beyond my power of belief.  I do not arraign the veracity of gentlemen as to the facts complained of; but I do more than question the judgment which would infer that those facts occurred in accordance with the purposes of Gen. Schofield.

With my present views I must decline to remove Gen. Schofield.  In this I decide nothing against Gen. Butler.  I sincerely wish it were convenient to assign him a suitable command.

In order to meet some existing evils I have addressed a letter of instructions to Gen. Schofield, a copy of which I inclose to you….

I do not feel justified to enter upon the broad field you present in regard to the political differences between radicals and conservatives.  From time to time I have done and said what appeared to me proper to do and say.  The public knows it all.  It obliges nobody to follow me, and I trust it obliges me to follow nobody.  The radicals and conservatives, each agree with me in some things, and disagree in others.  I could wish both to agree with me in all things; for then they would agree with each other, and would be too strong for any foe from any quarter.  They, however, choose to do otherwise, and I do not question their right.  I too shall do what seems to be my duty.  I hold whoever commands in Missouri, or elsewhere, responsible to me, and not to either radicals or conservatives. It is my duty to hear all; but at last, I must, within my sphere, judge what to do, and what to forbear.

General-in-chief Henry W. Halleck himself writes Schofield a paternal letter of advice: “What is required in your department is a steady, firm, energetic rule, entirely independent of all factions or factional influences.  Nothing helps a newspaper or faction more than the cry of persecution.  I know that the President was very much embarrassed by General Burnside’s against the newspaper press.  I have not heard the President say anything about the representatives of the mammoth committee, but I don’t think they did you much harm.  They have the support of the ultra-radicals, but not of the leading men in the cabinet.  The whole thing is regarded as a political attack on the President, and your name is used merely as a cloak to strike at him.”

White House aide William O. Stoddard writes in an anonymous newspaper dispatch: “The event of the week here has been the arrival and reception of the Delegation of Missouri Radicals. Alas for them!  Not content with getting one big reception, each petty clique must afterwards sneak singly or in squads to the Executive Mansion, each to tell some slightly corrected edition of the general tale.  The general impression here is that the Delegation failed in their object, though treated with the utmost courtesy and kindness, and travelled home again with a somewhat large-sized flea in their collective ear.”  Stoddard writes: “The return of Mrs. Lincoln, to resume her wifely care of the President’s valuable health, seems to have already given amore cheerful look to his Excellency’s care-worn face.  The family are still at the Soldier’s Home, and for some weeks will remain there.”

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