Confederate Raid Discussed by Cabinet

July 12, 1864

The attack of Confederate troops under General Jubal Early has been stalled. Presidential aide John Hay writes in his diary: “The President seemed in a pleasant and confident humor today. The news from [General William T.] Sherman, if confirmed, is good — that the enemy intend to desert Atlanta.

The President again made the tour of the fortifications; was again under fire at Ft Stevens; a man was shot at his side.

The militia of the District are offering their services and the Department clerks are also enrolling themselves. In Judge Lewis’ office 87 men enlisted and organized themselves in 15 minutes.

Last night the President’s guard of Bucktails was sent to the front.

Mr Britton A. Hill called this evening, in great trepidation, and said he was apprehensive of a sudden attack on the Navy Yard.

President Lincoln writes General Grant: “Vague rumors have been reaching us for two or three days that Longstreet’s corps is also on its way this vicinity. Look out for it’s absence from your front.”

Navy Secretary Gideon Welles writes in his diary: “Went to the President’s at 12, being day of regular Cabinet-meeting. Messrs. Bates and Usher were there. The President was signing a batch of commissions. Fessenden is absent in New York. Blair informs me he has been early at the council chamber and the President told him no matters were to be brought forward. The condition of affairs connected with the Rebels on the outskirts was discussed. The President said he and Seward had visited several of the fortifications. I asked where the Rebels were in force. He said he did not know with certainty, but he thought the main body at Silver Spring.

I expressed a doubt whether there was any large force at any one point, but that they were in squads of from 500 to perhaps 1500 scattered along from the Gunpowder to the falls of the Potomac, who kept up an alarm on the outer rim while the marauders were driving off horses and cattle. The President did not respond farther than to again remark he though there must be a pretty large force in the neighborhood of Silver Spring.

I am sorry there should be so little accurate knowledge of the Rebels, sorry that at such a time there is not a full Cabinet, and especially sorry that the Secretary of War is not present. In the interviews which I have had with him, I can which I have had with him, I can obtain no facts, no pinions. He seems dull and stupefied. Others tell me the same.

It was said yesterday that the mansions of the Blairs were burned, but it is to-day contradicted.

Rode out this P.M. to Fort Stevens. Went up to the summit of the road on the right of the fort. There were many collected. Looking out over the valley below, where the continual popping of the pickets was still going on, though less brisk than yesterday, I saw a line of our men lying close near the bottom of the valley. Senator Wade came up beside me. Ours views corresponded that the Rebels were few in front, and that our men greatly exceeded them in numbers. We went together into the fort, where we found the President, who was sitting in the shade, his back against the parapet towards the enemy.

Generals Wright and McCook informed us they were about to open battery and shell the Rebel pickets, and after three discharges an assault was to be made by two regiments who were lying in wait in the valley.

The firing from the batter was accurate. The shells that were sent into a fine mansion occupied by the Rebel sharpshooters soon set it on fire. As the firing from the fort ceased, our men ran to the charge and the Rebels fled. We could see them running across the fields, seeking the woods on the brow of the opposite hills. It was an interesting and exciting spectacle. But below we could see here and there some of our own men bearing away their wounded comrades. I should judge the distance to be something over three hundred yards. Occasionally a bullet from some long-range rifle passed above our heads. One man had been shot in the fort a few minutes before we entered.

As we came out of the fort, four or five of the wounded men were carried by on stretchers. It was nearly dark as we left. Driving in, as was the case when driving out, we passed fields as well as roads full of soldiers, horses, teams, mules. Camp-fires lighted up the woods, which seemed to be more eagerly sought than the open fields.

The day had been exceedingly warm, and the stragglers by the wayside were many. Some were doubtless sick, some were drunk, some weary and exhausted. Then men on horseback, on mules, in wagons as well as on foot, batteries of artillery, caissons, an innumerable throng. IT was exciting and wild. Much of life and much of sadness. Strange that in this age and country there is this strife and struggle, under one of the most beneficent governments which ever blessed mankind and all in sight of the Capitol.

Presidential aide Edward Duffield Neil recalled: “While the cavalry were in the fields around my house the enemy’s infantry was marching toward the capital, by what was called the Seventh Street road, and they set fire to the residence of the Hon. Montgomery Blair, who had been Postmaster-General. As I sat in my room at the President’s the smoke of the burning mansion was visible, but business was transacted with as much quietness as if the fore were hundreds of miles distant. Mr. Fox, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, had, in a private note, informed the President that if there was any necessity to leave the city, eh would find a steamer in readiness at the wharf at the foot of Sixth Street.

About one o’clock of the afternoon of each day of the skirmishing the President would enter his carriage and drive to the forts in the suburbs and watch the soldiers repulse the invaders.”

Journalist Noah Brooks writes: “The President and his family have been living out at the Soldiers Home, about four miles only this side of the rebel line of skirmishers; but on Sunday night Secretary Stanton sent out a carriage and a guard and brought in the family, who are again domesticated at the White house. The lonely situation of the President’s Summer resident would have afforded a tempting chase for a daring squad of rebel cavalry to run some risks for the chance of carrying off the President, whom we could ill afford to spare just now….”

Along Secretary of State William H. Seward, President and Mrs. Lincoln visit the string of forts protecting northwest Washington. John H. Cramer wrote in Lincoln Under Enemy Fire, President Lincoln, MTL and Many accounts of the visits attest that the President exposed himself to enemy fire. On July 12, an army surgeon standing very near to him was seriously wounded and General Horatio Wright told the President he had to get out of the line of fire. Other accounts suggest that the President was peremptorily ordered to get down from his position by young Captain Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Yelling “Get down, you fool.”

A conflict among Union commanders prevented a decisive followup against the Confederates. Civil War historian Shelby Foote wrote: ““Taking Early’s failure to attack this morning as a sign that the rebels were preparing to withdraw, probably after nightfall, [General Wright] wanted to hit them before they got away unscathed. In particular he wanted to drive off their skirmishers, who had crept to within rifle range of Fort Stevens and were sniping at whatever showed above the parapet. However, when he requested permission, first of the fort commander and then of the district commander, Major Generals Alexander McCook and C.C. Augur – both of whom outranked him, although neither had seen any action for nearly a year, having been retired from field service as a result of their poor showings, respectivley, at Chicamauga and Port Hudson – they declined, saying that they did not ‘consider it advisable to make any advance until our lines are better established.”

According a Washington newspaper : “President Lincoln and Mrs. Lincoln passed along the line of the city defense in a carriage last night, and were warmly greeted by the soldiers where they made their appearance amongst them. The night was beautiful, a peaceful moonlight, and a large proportion of the population of the city was out to a late hour, waiting in anticipation that the rebels might make some demonstration in pursuance of their old tactics of night attacks. Considerable attention was attracted by the signaling going on between the different stations at the Soldiers’ Home, 18th Street and elsewhere, and especially the brilliant lights displayed from the tower at the Soldiers’ Home, seen for a long distance.”

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