President Lincoln Seeks Aid for Former Landlady

July 21, 1864

As a one-term congressman in the late 1840s, Abraham Lincoln had boarded at Mrs. Ann Spriggs’ boarding house on Capitol Hill. As president, Lincoln now writes Secretary of the Treasury William P. Fessenden: “The bearer of this is a most estimable widow lady, at whose house I boarded many years ago when a member of Congress. She now is very needy; & any employment suitable to a lady could not be bestowed on a more worthy person.” Mrs. Spriggs apparently got a job as a Treasury clerk.

Washington political fixer Francis P. Blair, Sr. visits with General George B. McClellan in New York. He wants McClellan, who had been without a command since November 1862, to request that President Lincoln reinstate him. Such a move might effectively remove McClellan as a potential presidential candidate. Historian David Long write in The Jewel of Liberty: “In a July 22 response to Blair that McClellan prepared but never sent, he wrote that he was ‘not an aspirant for the Presidency,’ although he believed that ‘no true man should refuse it, if it is spontaneously conferred upon him, and he is satisfied that he can do good to his country by accepting it.’

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Published in: on July 21, 2014 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

President Lincoln Tries to Mediate Chicago Political Fight

July 20, 1864

Attorney General Edward Bates writes in his diary:“Yesterday, in C.C. The President brought up the matter of the military proceedings at Norfolk   Made a long statement, [of] the quarrel between Gov Pierepoint [Pierpont] and Genl. Butler – say little, about the orders of Shepley and butler, and nothing at all about my letter – Some conversation took place in which the Prest. Said he was much perplexed to now what to do &c[.]   Mr. Stanton, sec [of] War said it was a high-handed measure – In answer to some question of Mr. Fessenden, Sec [of the’Trasy. I said ‘I[t] is a bald usurpation.’ Afterwards Mr. F.[essenden] said it was clearly against law, and Gen butler ought to be ordered to be ordered [sic] to revoke the orders, and abstain from doing any thing under the mock election[.]

“Mr. Seward, Sec of State, (who always shuffles around a knotty point, by some trick) thought that as It was a question of military necessity, it ought to be refered to Genl. Grant! (Just to stave it off) I ansd. That the Secy of State could not have read Genl Shepley’s order, which put it on a different footing – I told the prest that, in my judg[men]t, it was a simple question of jurisdiction – whether the military should put down the civil law – I was only the law-officer of the Govt. without any power, but would protect my office and my self, by putting of record, the opinions and views which I had on these subjects, &c[.]

“All admitted that the Govt. of Va. Was fully recognized by every branch of the U.S. govt. (referring to the W.Va. Act) &c – I do not remember that Welles and Usher said any thing, except that Mr. Welles said that Genl butler had given permits to trade in the N.C. sounds – and some of them had been detected in trading with the agent of the enemy – selling whisky, shoses [sic] &c{.]

I think the Prest: can[‘] get over revoking the orders but I fear, reluctantly and ungracefully[.]

Marginal note.] July 31. I am mortified that the President has not yet announced his determination on this important business. It ought not to have occupied an hour. The Genls proceedings are flat usurpation, and ought to have been put down instantly. The admn. Cannot but feel the evils of such barbarous government.

President Lincoln involves himself in a Chicago political fight regarding the renomination of Congressman Isaac N. Arnold, a congressional ally of the President. He writes Chicago Postmaster John L. Scripps: “I have received, and read yours of the 15th. Mine to you, was only a copy, with names changed, of what I had said to another Post-Master, on a similar complaint, and the two are the only cases in which that precise complaint, and the two are the only cases in which that precise complaint has, as yet, been made to me. I think that in these cases I have stated the principle correctly for all public officers, and I certainly wish all would follow it. But, I do not quite like to publish a general circular on the subject, and it would be rather laborious to write a seperate letter to each.”

On July 4, Scripps had written: “That I am opposed to the renomination of Mr. Arnold is true; but that I have, at any time, either directly or indirectly, used my ‘official power’ to defeat his renomination, is utterly untrue…Mr. Arnold well knew the falsity of the charge at the time he preferred it…But he knew what he would do were he similarly situated, and I suppose could not credit the fact; and so he went whining to you about the ‘official power’ of this office being thrown against him…

‘And now will you permit me…to take the liberty of suggesting that…it would be well for you to give to the various heads of…offices the same instructions…which you were induced to give to me through Mr. Arnold’s deliberate misrepresentations…’

Published in: on July 20, 2014 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Cabinet Discusses Illinois Prison Riot

July 19, 1864

Navy Secretary Gideon Welles writes in his diary: “At the Cabinet-meeting to-day, the President brought forward specially the riot in Coles County, Illinois [on March 28, 1864] , and the controversy between Governor Peirpont and General Butler, with especial reference in the latter case to affairs at Norfolk, where the military authorities have submitted a vote to the inhabitants where they will be governor by martial law. Of course the friends of civil administration, who denied the validity of the whole proceeding, would not vote, and the military had it all as they pleased. This exhibition of popular sovereignty destroying itself pleases Butler. He claims to have found large quantities of whiskey, which he seized and sold. But all the whiskey in Norfolk is there under permits issued by himself. While Butler has talents and capacity, he is not to be trusted. The more I see of him, the greater is my distrust of his integrity. All whiskey carried to Norfolk is in violation of the blockade.”

President Lincoln appoints three members of board of directors of Union Pacific Railroad and Telegraph company – Jesse L. Williams of Indiana, former Congressman George Ashmun of Massachusetts, and Charles Sherman of Ohio.

President Lincoln writes out a statement in regard to a Republican conflict in Philadelphia involved Congressman William D. Kelley and Postmaster Cornelius A. Walborn: “We the undersigned citizens of Philadelphia, state that, after considerable investigation, and inquiry, we believe there are in the Philadelphia Post-Office between two hundred and fifty and three hundred employees under the Post-Master, and that no one of them openly supports the renomination of Judge Kelly for Congress, and that several of them say and intimate privately that it is because they are restrained by the Post-Master.”

Published in: on July 19, 2014 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Supposed Peace Talks Collapse

July 18, 1864

President Lincoln calls for 500,000 volunteers. Historian David Long writes in The Jewel of Liberty: “Since the draft would come on the eve of the all-important state elections in Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, it was the greatest blow yet against the prospects of Union victory. Many Republicans feared electoral defeat because the administration had said that earlier draft calls would be the last.”   President Lincoln declared:

Whereas, by the act approved July 4, 1864, entitled ‘an act further to regulate and provide for the enrolling and calling out the National forces and for other purposes,’ it is provided that the President of the United States may, ‘at his discretion, at any time hereafter, call for any number of men as volunteers, for the respective terms of one, two and three years for military service,’ and ‘that in case the quota of [or] any part thereof, of any town, township, ward of a city, precinct, or election district, or of a county not so subdivided, shall not be filled within the space of fifty days after such call, then the President shall immediately order a draft for one year to fill such quota or any part thereof which may be unfilled.’

And whereas, the new enrolment, hertofore ordered, is so far completed as that the aforementioned act of Congress may now be put in operation for recruiting and keeping up the strength of the armies in the field for garrison, and such military operations as be required for the purpose of suppressing the rebellion, and restoring the authority of the United States Government in the insurgent States:

Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do issue this my call for five hundred thousand volunteers for the military service, Provided, nevertheless, that this call shall be reduced by all credits which may be established under section 8 of the aforesaid act on account of persons who have entered the naval service during the present rebellion, and by credits for men furnished to the military service in excess of calls heretofore made. Volunteers will be accepted under this call for one, two or three years, as they may elect, and will be entitled to the bounty provided by the law, for the period of service for which they enlist.

And I hereby proclaim, order and direct, that immediately after the fifthday of September, 1864, being fifty days from the date of this call, a draft for troops to serve for one year shall be had in every town, township, war of a city, precinct or election district or county not so subdivided to fill the quota which shall be assigned to it under this call, or any part thereof, which may be unfilled, by volunteers on the said fifty day of September 1864.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this eighteenth day of July,

in the year of Our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty four, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-ninth.

Smelling a rat, President Lincoln insists that New York Tribune editor Greeley take the lead in the negotiations so Greeley had gone to Niagara Falls. President Lincoln writes the supposed Confederate peace commissioners: “Any proposition which embraces the restoration of peace, the integrity of the whole Union, and the abandonment of slavery, and which comes by and with an authority that can control the armies now at war against the United States will be received and considered by the Executive government of the United States, and will be met by liberal terms on other substantial and collateral points; and the bearer, or bearers thereof shall have safe-conduct both ways.” The Confederates reject the message which is delivered by Greeley, accompanied by John Hay.

Greeley writes President Lincoln: “I have communicated with the Gentlemen in question & do not find them so empowered as I was previously assured they say that—

We are however in the confidential employment of our Government & entirely familiar with its wishes & opinions on that subject & we feel authorized to declare if the circumstances disclosed in this correspondence were communicated to Richmond we would at once be invested with the authority to which your letter refers or other Gentlemen clothed with full power would immediately be sent to Washington with the view of hastening a consumation so much to be desired & terminating at the earliest possible moment the calamities of war We respectfully solicit through your intervention a safe conduct to Washington & thence by any route which may be designated to Richmond—

President Lincoln understood the supposed peace effort to be a political canard designed to influence the presidential election, not a serious effort at negotiation. Historian William Hanchett wrote in The Lincoln Murder Conspiracies: “With carefully contrived indignation, the Confederate commissioners announced publicly that they had been betrayed by Lincoln. His first communication promising safe conduct passes had included no conditions for negotiations. His second note, rudely addressed ‘To Whom It May Concern’ rather than to the individuals concerned, had destroyed any possibility of peace by stating the conditions of negotiation in advance. The president, they said, was simply pursuing his old and discredited policy of trying to force the South to submit unconditionally to the United States. The people of the Confederate States sincerely wanted peace, the commissioners stated, but few of them would ‘purchase it at the expense of liberty, honor, and self-respect.’ Lincoln was demanding that the people of the southern states give up their constitutions and ‘barter away their priceless heritage of self-government.’

Lincoln biographer Ida M. Tarbell wrote: “After the episode had been dropped from public consideration, Senator Harlan of Iowa is reported to have said to Lincoln: ‘Some of us think, Mr. Lincoln, that you didn’t send a very good ambassador to Niagara.’ ‘Well, I’ll tell you about that, Harlan,’ replied the President. ‘Greeley kept abusing me for not entering into peace negotiations. He said he believed we could have peace if I would do my part and when he began to urge that I send an ambassador to Niagara to meet Confederate emissaries, I just thought I would let him go up and crack that nut for himself.’ Reviewing the record, we cannot escape the conviction that Lincoln’s chief object was to give the troublesome editor an opportunity to make a fool of himself. If that be the fact, it is comforting evidence, despite the myths surrounding his memory, that Lincoln was not infallible.”

President Lincoln writes General William T. Sherman in Georgia: “I have seen your despatches objecting to agents of Northern States opening recruiting stations near your camps. An act of congress authorizes this, giving the appointment of agents to the States, and not to this Executive government. It is not for the War Department, or myself, to restrain, or modify the law, in it’s execution, further than actual necessity may require. To be candid, I was for the passage of the law, not apprehending at the time that it would produce such inconvenience to the armies in the field, as you now cause me to fear. Many of the States were very anxious for it, and I hoped that, with their State bounties, and active exertions, they would get out substantial additions to our colored forces, which, unlike white recruits, help us where they come from, as well as where they go to. I still hope advantage from the law; and being a law, it must be treated as such by all of us. We here, will do what we consistently can to save you from difficulties arising out of it. May I ask therefore that you give your hearty co-operation?”

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President Lincoln Cautions General Ulysses S. Grant

July 17, 1864

President Lincoln writes Union General Ulysses S. Grant: “In your despatch of yesterday to Gen. Sherman, I find the following, towit: ‘I shall make a desparate effort to get a position here which will hold the enemy without the necessity of so many men.’

Pressed as we are by lapse of time, I am glad to hear you say this; and yet I do hope you may find a way that the effort shall not be desparate in the sense of great loss of life.

President Lincoln writes General David Hunter, commander of the Union army in the Shenandoah Valley: “Yours of this morning received. You misconceive. The order you complain of was only nominally mine; and was framed by those who really made it, with no thought of making you a scape-goat. It seemed to be Gen. Grant’s wish that the forces under Gen. Wright and those under you should join and drive at the enemy, under Gen. Wright. Wright had the larger part of the force, but you had the rank. It was thought that you would prefer Crook’s commanding your part, to your serving in person under Wright. That is all of it. Gen. Grant wishes you to remain in command of the Department, and I do not wish to order otherwise.”

President Lincoln telegraphs Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin: “Please come here, as soon as convenient, and you and I will absolutely fix up the 2nd. Heavy Artillery matters, before you leave.” Curtin responds: “I regret that I cannot leave Harrisburg at this time having fully expressed my views as to the two (2) Heavy Artillery P.V. in my letters of the 16th and 18th June. I do not know of anything now I could suggest. . . . I have directed my military agent . . . to call and see you. . . . He is fully informed and can give you facts of importance in reference to the present condition of the men.”   Curtin wanted to replace the regiment’s commander.

New York Tribune Editor Horace Greeley writes the supposed Confederate peace commissioners at Niagara Falls “I am informed that you are duly accredited from Richmond as the bearers of propositions looking to the establishment of peace; that you desire to visit Washington in the fulfilment of your mission; and that you further desire that Mr. George N. Sanders shall accompany you. If my information be thus far substantially correct, I am authorized by the President fo the United States to tender you his safe-conduct on journey proposed, and to accompany you at the earliest time that will be agreeable to you.”

Published in: on July 17, 2014 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

President Lincoln Involved in Two Peace Missions

July 16, 1864

From New York City Presidential aide John Hay delivers President Lincoln’s letter to Horace Greeley. Hay telegraphs President Lincoln: “Arrived this morning at 6 AM and delivered your letter few minutes after. Although he thinks some one less known would create less excitement and be less embarrassed by public curiosity, still he will start immediately if he can have an absolute safe conduct for four persons to be named by him.

Your letter he does not think will guard them from arrest and with only those letter he would have to explain the whole matter to any officer who might choose to hinder them. If this meets with your approbation I can write the order in your name as A. A. G. or you can sent it by mail.

President Lincoln telegraphed back to Hay: “Yours received. Write the Safe-conduct, as you propose, without waiting for one by mail from me. If there is, or is not, any thing in the affair, I wish to know it, without unnecessary delay.”

Lincoln ordered: “The President of the United States directs that the four persons whose names follow, towit: Hon. Clement C. Clay Jacob Thompson   Prof. James B. Holcombe George N. Sanders Shall have safe conduct to the City of Washington in company with the Hon. Horace Greeely, and shall be exempt from arrest or annoyance of any kind from any officer of the United States during their journey to the said City of Washington.:

Former Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning writes in his diary: “Called at the Presidents and spent an hour. Among other things he showed me a letter from Genl Halleck to Mr Stanton demanding that P M Genl Blair should be dismissed from the cabinet for saying the officers in command in Washington were poltroons for permitting the rebels to blockade th4e City and burn private residences almost under our guns. It was sent by Stanton to the President — He read me the letter and his reply, in which he said he should be the sole judge of when, and for what to dismiss a cabinet officers.”

Attorney General Edward Bates writes in his diary:“The President does not yet answer my demand for the revocation of the arbitrary orders of Genls Shepley and Butler, for ab[o]lishing civil law at Norfolk, Va.”

“The President, I fear, is in a most unpleasant dilemma. I am sure he sees and feels the wrong done, but cannot pluck up the spirit to redress the evil, much less to punish the wrong-doers. Well may he say, with King David – ‘These sons of Zeruiah be hard to me.’”

James Gilmore and Colonel James F. Jaquess cross Union lines on way to Richmond for peace talks.

Published in: on July 16, 2014 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Lincoln Administration Disappointed by the Escape of the Retreating Confederates

July 15, 1864

Navy Secretary Gideon Welles writes in his diary: “We had some talk at Cabinet-meeting to-day on the Rebel invasion. The President wants to believe there was a large force, and yet evidently his private convictions are otherwise. But the military leaders, the War Office, have insisted there was a large force. We have done nothing, and it is more gratifying to our self-pride to believe there were many of them, especially as we are likely to let them off with considerable plunder scot-free.” Attorney General Edward Bates writes in his diary:“To day, I spoke my mind, very plainly, to the Prest. (In presence of Seward, Welles and Usher) abt the ignorant imbecility of the late military operations, and my contempt for Genl Halleck.”

President Lincoln himself is more than disappointed Former Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning writes in his diary: “Met the President between the War Department & White House — Said he was in the Dumps — that the rebels who had besieged us were all escaped.”

President Lincoln writes New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley: “I suppose you received my letter of the 9th. I have just received yours of the 13 and am disappointed by it. I was not expecting you to send me a letter, but to bring me a man, or men. Mr. Hay goes to you with my answer to yours of the 13th.”

President Lincoln gives presidential aide Hay the following letter to deliver to Greeley: “Yours of the 13th. is just received; and I am disappointed that you have not already reached here with those Commissioners, if they would consent to come, on being shown my letter to you of the 9th. Inst. Show that and this to them; and if they will come on the terms stated in the former, bring them. I not only intend a sincere effort for peace, but I intend that you shall be a personal witness that it is made.”

Published in: on July 15, 2014 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Washington Life Returns to Normal

July 14, 1864

Attorney General Edward Bates writes in his diary: “The raiders have retired across the Potomac with all their booty safe! Nobody seems disposed to hinder them.” Presidential aide John Hay writes in his diary: “Nothing of importance yet. This evening a the President started to the Soldiers’ Home I asked him “what news? & he said, “Wright telegraphs that he thinks the enemy are all across the Potomac but that he has halted & sent out an infantry reconnaissance, for fear he might come across the rebels & catch some of them.” The Chief is evidently disgusted.”

Hay is sent north to meet New York Tribune Editor Horace Greeley. He writes to White House aide Edward D. Neill: “I am going to New York on business. Will be gone only a very few days.”

I leave matters in your hands till my return. There will probably be little to do. Refer as little to the President as possible. Keep visitors out of the house when you can. Inhospitable, but prudent.

President Lincoln writes Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton: “Your note of to-day, inclosing Gen. Halleck’s letter of yesterday, relative to offensive remarks supposed to have been made by the Post-Master-General concerning the Military officers on duty about Washington, is received. The General’s letter, in substance demands of me that if I approve the remarks, I shall strike the names of those officers from the rolls; and that if I do not approve them, the Post-Master-General shall be dismissed from the Cabinet. Whether the remarks were really made I do not known; nor do I suppose such knowledge is necessary to a correct response. If they were made I do not approve them; and yet, under the circumstances, I would not dismiss a member of the Cabinet therefor. I do not consider what may have been hastily said in a moment of vexation at so severe a loss is sufficient ground for so grave a step. Besides this, truth is generally the best vindication against slander. I propose continuing to be myself the judge as to when a member of the Cabinet shall be dismissed.” Halleck had written: “As there have been for the last few days a large number of officers on duty in and about Washington who have devoted their time and energies night and day, and have periled their lives, in the support of the Government, it is due to them as well as to the War Department that it should be known whether such wholesale denouncement & accusation by a member of the cabinet receives the sanction and approbation of the President…If so the names of the officers accused should be stricken from the rolls of the Army; if not, it is due to the honor of the accused that the slanderer should be dismissed from the cabinet…”

About this time, Lincoln composes a memo to his cabinet: “I must myself be the judge, how long to retain in, and when to remove any of you from, his position. It would greatly pain me to discover any of you endeavoring to procure anothers removal, or, in any way to prejudice him before the public. Such endeavor would be a wrong to me; and much worse, a wrong to the country. My wish is that on this subject, no remark be made, nor question asked, by any of you, here or elsewhere, now or hereafter.

Published in: on July 14, 2014 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Confederates Retreat from Washington

July 13, 1864

Presidential aide John Hay writes in his diary: “The news this morning would seem to indicate that the enemy is retiring from every point.

The President thinks we should push our whole column right up the River Road & cut off as many as possible of the retreating raiders.

There seems to be no head about this whole affair. Halleck hates responsibility: hates to give orders. Wright, Gillmore & McCook must of course report to somebody & await somebody’s orders which they don’t get.

I rode out to the front this morning, R.T.L. and I. We visited Wright’s Headquarters first. On our way out we found the road full of black men and women who had come out to see the fun & had been turned back by the hard-hearted guard.

From New York, Tribune Editor Horace Greeley writes President Lincoln: “I have now information on which I can rely that two persons duly commissioned and empowered to negotiate for peace are at this moment not far from Niagara Falls, in Canada, and are desirous of conforming with yourself, or with such persons as you may appoint and empower to treat with them. Their names (only given in confidence) are Hon. Clement C. Clay, of Alabama, and Hon. Jacob Thompson, of Mississippi. If you should prefer to meet them in person, they require safe-conducts for themselves, and for George N. Sanders, who will accompany them. Should you choose to empower one or more persons to treat with them in Canada, they will of course need no safe-conduct; but they cannot be expected to exhibit credentials save to commissioners empowered as they are. In negotiating directly with yourself, all grounds of cavil would be avoided, and you would be enabled at all times to act upon the freshest advices of the military situation. You will of course understand I know nothing, and have proposed nothing as to terms, and that nothing is conceded or taken for granted by the meeting of persons empowered to negotiate for peace. Al that is assumed is a mutual desire to terminate this wholesale slaughter, if a basis of adjustment can be mutually agreed on, and it seems to mehigh time that an effort to this end should be made. I am of course quite other than sanguine that a peace can now be made, but I am quite sure that a frank, earnest, anxious effort to terminate the war   on honorable terms would immensely strengthen the Government in case of its failure, and would help us in the eyes of the civilized world, which now accuses us of obstinacy, and indisposition even to seek a peaceful solution of our sanguinary, devastating conflict. Hoping to hear that you have resolved to act in the premises, and to act so promptly that a good influence may even yet be exerted on the North Carolina election next month.

General Henry W. Halleck fulminates about complaints from Postmaster General Montgomery about the Confederate destruction of his family home in Silver Spring, Maryland.

I deem it my duty to bring to your notice the following facts: I am informed by an officer of rank and standing in the military service that the Hon. M. Blair, Postmaster-General, in speaking of the burning of his house in Maryland, this morning, said, in effect, that ‘the officers in command about Washington are poltroons; that there were not more than 500 rebels on the Silver Spring road, and we had 1,000,000 of men in arms; that it was a disgrace; that General Wallace was in comparison with them far better, as he would at least fight.’

As there have been for the last few days a large number of officers on duty in and about Washington who have devoted their time and energies, night and day, and have periled their lives in the support of the Government, it is due to them, as well as to the War Department, that it should be known whether such wholesale denouncement and accusation by a member of the Cabinet receives the sanction and approbation of the President of the United States.

If so, the names of the officers accused should be stricken from the rolls of the Army; if not, it is due to the honor of the accused that the slanderer should be dismissed from the Cabinet.

Published in: on July 13, 2014 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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.”

Published in: on July 12, 2014 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment