President Lincoln Seeks Cabinet Advice On Fort Pillow Massacre

May 3, 1864

Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles write: ”At the Cabinet-meeting the President requested each member to give him an opinion as to what course the Government should pursue in relation to the recent massacre at Fort Pillow,” writes Navy Secretary Gideon Welles in his diary. “The committee from Congress who have visited the scene returned yesterday and will soon report. All the reported horrors are said to be verified. The President wishes to be prepared to act as soon as the subject is brought to his notice officially, and hence Cabinet advice in advance.

The subject is one of great responsibility and great embarrassment, especially before we are in possession of the facts and evidence of the committee. There must be something in these terrible reports, but I distrust Congressional committees. They exaggerate.

President Lincoln writes: “It is now quite certain that a large number of our colored soldiers, with their white officers, were, by the rebel force, massacred after they had surrendered, at the recent capture of Fort-Pillow. So much is known, though the evidence is not yet quite ready to be laid before me. Meanwhile I will thank you to prepare, and give me in writing your [2] opinion as to what course, the government should take in the case.

Presidential aide John G. Nicolay writes that President Lincoln “called a cabinet meeting for the discussion of the question what court the Government should take in regard to the massacre of colored soldiers at the capture of Fort Pillow by the rebels on April 12.” President Lincoln writes: “It is now quite certain that a large number of our colored soldiers; with their officers, were, by the rebel force, massacred after they had surrendered, at the recent capture of Fort-Pillow. So much is known, though the evidence is not yet quite ready to be laid before me. Meanwhile, I will thank you to prepare, and give me in writing your opinion as to what course, the government should take in the case.”

A congressional committee had been investing the massacre. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles writes in his diary: “At the Cabinet-meeting the President requested each member to give him an opinion as to what course the Government should pursue in relation to the recent massacre at Fort Pillow. The committee from Congress who have visited the scene returned yesterday and will soon report. All the reported horrors are said to be verified. The President wishes to be prepared to act as soon as the subject is brought to his notice officially, and hence Cabinet advice in advance.”

The subject is one of great responsibility and great embarrassment, especially before we are in possession of the facts and evidence of the committee. There must be something in these terrible reports, but I distrust Congressional Committees. They exaggerate.”

President Lincoln writes General William T. Sherman: “I have an imploring appeal in behalf of the citizens who say your order Non. 8 will compel them to go North of Nashville. This is in no sense, an order; nor is it even a request that you will do any thing which in the last, shall be a drawback upon your military operations, but any thing you do consistently with those operations, for those suffering people, I shall be glad of

General George B. McClellan, deprived of an army command, writes to New York attorney Samuel L. M. Barlow: “Mr. B. [Blair] insinuates that while in command of the Army of the Potomac I entertained political aspirations and that my course was guided by them.

In this he is entirely mistaken — my thought & time were devoted solely to the military affairs committed to me, and whatever political opinions I expressed were expressed officially & frankly to the Govt as a part of my duty as the Comdr of the Army, or of one of the great armies of the nation. I never looked to the Presidency & no official or personal act letter or conversation of mine will bear a contrary interpretation. I deny that my course of conduct while in command was calculated to produce the impression that I was ready as a General to lend myself to any party to supplant the Chief Magistrate etc.

Mr. Blair then intimates an attempt on my part to get control of the Govt by throwing myself into a party hostile to its Administration etc & cites the example of Lee & others as a proper course.

I have already stated the facts as to my conduct while in command. Since then, when assailed in every way by the Administration & its partisans, I have but once raised my voice — the Woodward letter — & in this I exercised the right of a citizen to repel attack & express an opinion.

Mr. B. her assumes that the reelection of Mr L & the retention of power by his party are essential to our success — I differ from him & regard success as possible only by a change of Administration & policy, therefore I should be wanting to my country did I support a party & a policy which I conscientiously believe will bring ruin upon us all.

General Henry W. Halleck provides some wise political advice to General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant, who had a strong distaste for political generals like John McClernand and Nathaniel Banks: “General Banks is a personal friend of the President, and has strong political supporters in and out of Congress. There will undoubtedly be a very strong opposition to his being removed or superseded, and I think the President will hesitate to act unless he has a definite request from you to do so, as a military necessity, you designating his superior or superior in command. On receiving such a formal request (not a mere suggestion) I believe, as I wrote you some days ago, he would act immediately.

I have no authority for saying this, but give it simply as my own opinion, formed from the last two years’ experience, and the reason, I think is very obvious. To do an act which will give offense to a large number of his political friends the President will require some evidence in a positive form to show the military necessity of that act. In other words, he must have something in a definite shape to fall back upon as his justification.

Advertisements
Published in: on May 3, 2014 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://abrahamlincolnandthecivilwar.wordpress.com/2014/05/03/president-lincoln-seeks-cabinet-advice-on-fort-pillow-massacre/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: