Controversy about General/Congressman Frank Blair Consumes Washington

April 28, 1864

Under criticism for allowing Congressman Frank Blair to return to his position as a general in the army, President Lincoln sends a statement regarding two congressmen-generals to the House of Representatives: “In obedience to the Resolution of your Honorable body, a copy of which is herewith returned, I have the honor to make the following brief statement which is believed to contain the information sought.

Prior to, and at the meeting of the present Congress, Robert C. Schenck, of Ohio, and Frank P. Blair, Jr. of Missouri, members elect thereto, by and with the consent of the Senate, held commissions from the Executive, as Major Generals in the Volunteer Army. Gen. Schenck tendered the resignation of his said commission and took his seat in the House of Representatives, at the assembling thereof, upon the distinct verbal understanding with the Secretary of war and the Executive, that he might, at any time during the session, at this own pleasure, withdraw said resignation, and return to the field. Gen. Blair was, by temporary assignment of Gen. Sherman, in command of a corps, through the battles in front of Chattanooga, and in the march to the relief of Knoxville, which occurred in the latter days of November, and early days of December last; and, of course was not present at the assembling of Congress. When he subsequently arrived here, he sought, and was allowed by the Secretary of War and the Executive, the same conditions, and promise as allowed and made to Gen. Schenck. Gen. Schenck has not applied to withdraw his resignation; but when Gen. Grant was made Lieut. General, producing some change of commanders, Gen. Blair sought to be assigned to the command of a corps. This was made known to Generals Grant and Sherman and assented to by them, and the particular corps for him designated. This was all arranged and understood, as now remembered, so much as a month ago; but the formal withdrawal of Gen. Blair’s resignation, and making the order assigning him to the command of the corps, were not consummated at the War Department until last week–perhaps on the 23rd. of April, Inst. As a summary of the whole it may be stated that Gen. Blair holds no military commission or appointment, other than as herein stated; and that it is believed he is now acting as a Major General upon the assumed validity of the commission herein stated, in connection with the facts herein stated, and not otherwise. There are some letters, notes, telegrams, orders, entries, and perhaps other documents, in connection with this subject, which it is believed would throw no additional light upon it; but which will be cheerfully furnished, if desired.

Presidential aide John Hay writes in his diary: “The Prest tells a queer story of Meigs. When McClellan lay at Harrison’s land, Meigs came one night to the President & waked him up at Soldiers’ Home to urge upon him the immediate flight of the Army from that point — the men to get away on transports and the horses to be killed as the [army?] cd not be saved. “Thus often,” says the President, “I who am not a specially brave man have had to sustain the sinking courage of these professional fighters in critical times.”

“When it was proposed to station Halleck here in general command, he insisted, to use his own language, on the appt of a General-in-Chief who shd be held responsible for results. We appointed him & all went well enough until after Pope’s defeat, when he broke down — nerve and pluck all gone– and has ever since evaded all possible responsibility — little more since that than a first-rate clerk.”

Navy Secretary Gideon Welles writes in his diary: “General Frank Blair has resigned his seat to the House, and the President has revoked the acceptance of his military resignation. This is a stretch of power and construction that I do not like. Much censure will fall on the President for this act, and it will have additional edge from the violent and injudicious speech of General Blair denouncing in unmeasured terms Mr. Chase. He also assails the appointees of Chase, and his general policy touching agent’s permits in the valley of the Mississippi as vicious and corrupt. I have an unfavorable opinion of the Treasury management there and on the coast, and there are some things in the conduct of Chase himself that I disapprove.”

The Blairs are pugnacious, but their general views, especially those of Montgomery Blair, have seemed to me sound and judicious in the main. A forged requisition of General Blair has been much used against him. A committee of Congress has pronounced the document a forgery, having been altered so as to cover instead of $150 worth of stores some $8000 or $10,000. He charges the wrong the Treasury agents, and Chase’s friends, who certainly have actively used it. Whether Chase has given encouragement to the scandal is much to be doubted. I do not believe he would be implicated in it, though he has probably not discouraged, or discountenanced it. Chase is deficient in magnaminity and generosity. The Blairs have both, but they have strong resentments. Warfare with them is open, bold and unsparing. With Chase it is silent, persistent, but regulated with discretion. Blairs make no false professions. Chase avows no enmities.

Presidential aide John G. Nicolay writes General Benjamin F. Butler regarding the recent visit of President Lincoln’s sister-in-law, Martha White to Washington: “I thank you for your kind letter of the 21st inst., answering my inquiries in the case of Mrs. White. I sent the enclosed brief editiorial to the N.Y. Tribune, which appeared in its issue of yesterday. I felt myself that the whole canard was too silly and trivial to merit an official contradiction, but thought that a correction in this shape was due and proper, and troubled you with the matter only that I might get the exact facts, to have them put in as few words as possible.”

President Lincoln writes his wife: “The draft will go to you. Tell Tad the goats and father are very well–especially the goats.”

Lowell H. Harrison wrote in Lincoln of Kentucky: “Louisville Journal editor George D. Prentice was involved in one of Lincoln’s special clemency cases. His son Clarence had entered Confederate service and was a major when he was captured in Louisville in April 1863; he had slipped into town to visit his family. Sent to Camp Chase, he was to be tried as a spy. The parents’ other son had been killed while fighting with John Hunt Morgan, and the parents were distraught at the thought of losing Clarence as well. On April 28, 1863, Prentice implored the president ‘to let him go on his taking that simple oath anywhere outside of the United States and of the rebel Confederacy. I know his plans. His mother will go with him and he will never bear arms against us again. I will be surety for this with fortune and life.’ Judge Advocate Joseph Holt recommended that Clarence be exchanged instead; Clarence had not indicated a willingness to take the oath of allegiance, and no one could be sure that he would not take up arams again if an opportunity presented itself. Lincoln issued a parole order to Secretary Stanton on May 16, 1863, but it was apparently not used. Major Prentice was exchanged, and he ended the war as a Confederate colonel.”

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Published in: on April 28, 2014 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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