President Lincoln Drafts Response to Democratic Criticism

September 12, 1864

President Lincoln responds to recent newspaper criticism of his behavior when visiting the Antietam battlefield in October 1862. He drafts a response for U.S. Marshall Ward Hill Lamon: “The President has known me intimately for nearly twenty years, and has often heard me sing little ditties. The battle of Antietam was fought on the 17th. day of September 1862. On the first day of October, just two weeks after the battle, the President, with some others including myself, started from Washington to visit the Army, reaching Harper’s Ferry at noon of that day. In a short while Gen. McClellan came from his Head Quarters near the battle ground, joined the President, and with him, reviewed the troops at Bolivar Heights that afternoon; and, at night, returned to his Head Quarters, leaving the President at Harper’s Ferry. On the morning of the second, the President, with Gen. Sumner, review the troops respectively at Loudon Heights and Maryland Heights, and at about noon, started to Gen. McClellan’s Head Quarters, reaching there only in time to see very little before night. On the morning of the third all started on a review of the three corps, and the Cavalry, in the vicinity of the Antietam battle ground. After getting through Gen. Burnsides Corps, at the suggestion of Gen. McClellan, he and the President left their horses to be led, and went into an ambulance or ambulances to go to gen. Fitz. John Porters’s Corps, which was two or three miles distant. I am not sure whether the President and Gen. Mc. were in the same ambulance, or in different ones; but myself and some others were in the same with the President. On the way, and on no part of the battleground, and on what suggestion I do not remember, the President often heard me sing, and had always seemed to like very much. I sang them. After it was over, some one of the party, (I do not think was the President) asked me to sing something else; and I sang two or three little comic things of which Picayune Butler was one. Porter’s Corps was reached and reviewed; then the battle ground was passed over, and the most noted parts examined; then, in succesion the Cavalry, and Franklin’s Corps were reviewed, and the President and party returned to Gen. McClellan’s Head Quarters at the end of a very hard, hot, and dusty day’s work.

Next day, the 4th. the President and Gen. Mc. visited such of the wounded as till remained in the vicinity, including the now lamented Gen. Richardson; then proceed[ed] to and examined the South-Mountain battle ground, at which point they parted, Gen. McClellan returning to his Camp, and the President returning to Washington, seeing, on the way, Gen Hartsuff, who lay wounded at Frederick Town. This is the whole story of the singing and it’s surroundings. Neither Gen. McClellan or any one else made any objection to the singing; the place was not on the battle field, the time was sixteen days after the battle, no dead body was seen during the whole time the president was absent from Washington, nor even a grave that had not been rained on since it was made.

A Democratic newspaper, the New York World had reported on September 9 that “one of Mr. Lincoln’s Jokes–The second verse of our campaign song published on this page was probably suggested by an incident which occurred on the battle-field of Antietam a few days after the fight. While the President was driving over the field in an ambulance, accompanied by Marshal Lamon, General McClellan, and another officer, heavy details of men were engaged in the task of burying the dead. The ambulance had just reached the neighborhood of the old stone bridge, where the dead were piled highest, when Mr. Lincoln, suddenly slapping Marshal Lamon on the knee, exclaimed: ‘Come, Lamon, give us that song about Picayune Butler; McClellan has never heard it,’ ‘Not now, if you please,’ said General McClellan, with a shudder; ‘I would prefer to hear it some other place and time.’”

President Lincoln writes Isaac M. Schermerhorn: “Yours inviting me to attend a Union Mass Meeting at Buffalo is received. Much is being said about peace; and no man desires peace more ardently than I. Still I am yet unprepared to give up the Union for a peace which, so achieved, could not be of much duration. The preservation of our Union was not the sole avowed object for which the war was commenced. It was commenced for precisely the reverse object –to destroy our Union. The insurgents commenced it by firing upon the Star of the West, and on Fort Sumpter, and by other similar acts. It is true, however, that the administration accepted the war thus commenced, for the sole avowed object of preserving our Union; and it is not true that it has since been, or will be, prossecuted by this administration, for any other object. In declaring this, I only declare what I can know, and do know to be true, and what no other man can know to be false.

In taking the various steps which have led to my present position in relation to the war, the public interest and my private interest have been perfectly paralel, because in no other way could I serve myself so well, as by truly serving the Union. The whole field has been open to me, where to choose. No place-hunting necessity has been upon me urging me to seek a position of antagonism to some other man, irrespective of whether such position might be favorable or unfavorable to the Union.

Of course I may err in judgment but my present position in reference to the rebellion is the result of my best judgment, and according to that best judgement, it is the only position upon which any Executive can or could save the Union. Any substantial departure from it insures the success of the rebellion. An armistice–a cessation of hostilities–is the end of the struggle, and the insurgents would be in peaceable possession of all that has been struggled for. Any different policy in regard to the colored man, deprives us of his help, and this is more than we can bear. We can not spare the hundred and forty or fifty thousand now serving us as soldiers, seamen, and laborers. This is not a question of sentiment or taste, but one of physical force which may be measured and estimated as horse–owner and Steam-power are measured and estimated. Keep it and you can save the Union. Throw it away, and the Union goes with it. Nor is it possible for any Administration to retain the service of these people with the express or implied understanding that upon the first convenient occassion, they are to be re-inslaved. It can not be; and it ought not to be.

Lincoln does not send the letter, deciding instead to write Schemerhorn: “I beg you to pardon me for having concluded that it is not best for me now to write a general letter to a political meeting. First, I believe it is not customary for one hold the office, and being a candidate for re-election, to do sop; and secondly, a public letter must be written with some care, and at some expense of time, so that having begun with your meeting, I could not well refuse others, and yet could not get through with all having equal claims.”

President Lincoln writes General Ulysses S. Grant about battles in the Shenandoah Valley: “Sheridan and Early are facing each other at a dead lock. Could we not pick up a regiment here and there, to the number of say ten thousand men, and quietly, but suddenly concentrate them at Sheridan’s camp and enable him to make a strike? This is but a suggestion.”

Ohio judge Bellamy Storer writes President Lincoln: There is no doubt now, but every vestige of opposition to the Baltimore nominations, among those who claimed to seek the same object, has disappeared.”

We are united, more strongly than ever, and more harmonious than ever in our efforts.

I have no fear of the result. Ohio will respond as she did in 1860, by a largely increased majority. I doubt if a single peace man is returned to the next Congress from this state.

Let us thank the great Ruler, for all his signal mercies to our country.

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

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