Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War Meets with President

March 4, 1864

President meets with leaders of the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War about replacement of General George Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac.  Historian Bruce Tap wrote in Over Lincoln’s Shoulders: “Solely on the basis of Sickles’s, Doubleday’s, and Howe’s testimonies, the committee, represented by Wade, Chandler, and Loan, sought and received an interview with the president and Secretary of War Stanton on March 4.  They presented Lincoln with their evidence and demanded Meade’s removal.  Although they would not name a specific replacement, they said they would be satisfied with Hooker.  If Lincoln refused to cooperate, the committee would be compelled ‘to make the testimony public.’…But Lincoln did refuse to cooperate.  Undoubtedly noting the glaring one-sideness of the evidence, perhaps Lincoln suggested that the committee interview Meade and some of his corps commanders before passing judgment.”

Navy Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles writes in his diary: “A pleasant Cabinet-meeting. Chase and Blair both absent. Seward and Stanton had a corner chat and laugh about Chase, whose name occasionally escaped them, and whom they appeared to think in a dilemma, and they were evidently not unwilling we should know the subject of their conversation. I could not avoid hearing some of their remarks, though I changed my position to escape them.”

Admiral John Dahlgren visits President Lincoln seeking word about his son, Captain  Ulric Dahlgren, and his raid on Richmond.  President Lincoln telegraphs General Benjamin F. Butler: “Admiral Dahlgren is here, and of course is very anxious about his son. Please send me at once all you know, or can learn of his fate.”   Although there is at yet no news, Ulric had indeed been killed on March 2.

After a meeting with President Lincoln, abolitionist New Yorker James W. White writes from New York regarding a change in military leadership: “There was another suggestion which I desired to make when I had the pleasure of speaking with you this afternoon, but which I withheld for further reflection. I have considered it further, and conclude to submit it to you, and respectfully ask you not to decide against it until I have an opportunity of giving you my reasons for it more fully upon my return from Martinsburgh.

The suggestion is — to make a change in the War Department — to put General Butler in Mr. Stantons place, and send General Halleck to Fortress Monroe or some other department; and let General Grant be General in Chief, in the field, of all our armies — under you, of course, — but giving him, at the same time, the fullest liberty of judgment and action, and holding him to the strictest and most prompt accountability for mistakes or disasters.– Under this system the people will never blame you for a reverse, if any shall come.

I entreat you, President, not to reject this suggestion from any personal delicacy or apprehension, that your enemies may say, that you made this change in order to buy off a rival candidate.

Do what is right, and, with entire confidence, leave the consequences to God.

At night, the Lincoln family watch Edwin Booth in “Richelieu” at visit Grover’s Theatre.

Earlier, President Lincoln had a conversation about the play’s author with painter Francis Carpenter: “In March, 1864, Edwin Forrest came to Washington to fulfil an engagement at Ford’s Theatre.  It was announced one day that he was to appear that evening in ‘Richelieu.’ I was with the President, when Senator Harris of New York came in. After he had finished his business, which was to secure the remittance of the sentence of one of his constituents, who had been imprisoned on what seemed insufficient grounds, I told the President that Forrest was to play Richelieu that evening, and, knowing his tastes, I said it was a play which I thought he would enjoy, for Forrest’s representation of it was the most life-like of anything I had ever seen upon the stage. ‘Who wrote the play?’ said he. ‘[Edward] Bulwer,’ I replied. ‘Ah!’ he rejoined; ‘well, I knew Bulwer wrote novels, but I did not know he was a play-writer also. It may seem somewhat strange to say,’ he continued, ‘but I never read an entire novel in my life!’ Said Judge Harris, ‘Is it possible?’ ‘Yes,’ returned the President, ‘it is a fact. I once commenced ‘Ivanhoe, but never finished it.’ This statement, in this age of the world, seems almost incredible — but I give the circumstance as it occurred.

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