HotFreeBooks.com
The Every-day Life of Abraham Lincoln
by Francis Fisher Browne
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

The gloomy outlook in the Spring of 1862 was relieved by the substantial victories of General Burnside in North Carolina and of General Grant in Tennessee. The President was cheered and elated by these successes. It is related that General Burnside, visiting Washington at this time, called on the President, and that "the meeting was a grand spectacle. The two stalwart men rushed into each other's arms, and warmly clasped each other for some minutes. When General Burnside was about to leave, the President inquired, 'Is there anything, my dear General, that I can do for you?' 'Yes! yes!' was the quick reply, 'and I am glad you asked me that question. My three brigadiers, you know; everything depended on them, and they did their duty grandly!—Oh, Mr. President, we owe so much to them! I should so much like, when I go back, to take them their promotions.' 'It shall be done!' was Lincoln's hearty response, and on the instant the promotions were ordered, and General Burnside had the pleasure of taking back with him to Foster, Reno, and Parke their commissions as Major-Generals."

Our brightening prospects impelled the President to issue, on the 10th of April, the following proclamation, breathing his deeply religious spirit:

It has pleased Almighty God to vouchsafe signal victories to the land and naval forces engaged in suppressing an internal rebellion, and at the same time to avert from our country the dangers of foreign intervention and invasion. It is therefore recommended to the people of the United States that at their next weekly assemblages in their accustomed places of public worship which shall occur after the notice of this Proclamation shall have been received, they especially acknowledge and render thanks to our Heavenly Father for these inestimable blessings; that they then and there implore spiritual consolation in behalf of all those who have been brought into affliction by the casualties and calamities of sedition and civil war; and that they reverently invoke the Divine guidance for our national counsels, to the end that they may speedily result in the restoration of peace, harmony, and unity throughout our borders, and hasten the establishment of fraternal relations among all the countries of the earth.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

Early in May the President determined on a personal visit to Fortress Monroe, in order to learn what he could from his own observation of affairs in that region. The trip was a welcome respite from the cares and burdens of official life, and he gave himself up, as far as he could, to its enjoyment. The Secretary of War (Stanton) and the Secretary of the Treasury (Chase) accompanied the President. A most interesting account of the expedition is given by General Viele, who was a member of the party and thus had an opportunity to observe Lincoln closely. "When on the afternoon of May 4," says General Viele, "I was requested by the Secretary of War to meet him within an hour at the navy-yard, with the somewhat mysterious caution to speak to no one of my movements, I had no conception whatever of the purpose or intention of the meeting. It was quite dark when I arrived there simultaneously with the Secretary, who led the way to the wharf on the Potomac, to which a steamer was moored that proved to be a revenue cutter, the 'Miami.' We went on board and proceeded at once to the cabin, where to my surprise I found the President and Mr. Chase, who had preceded us. The vessel immediately got under way and steamed down the Potomac.... After supper the table was cleared, and the remainder of the evening was spent in a general review of the situation, which lasted long into the night. The positions of the different armies in the field, the last reports from their several commanders, the probabilities and possibilities as they appeared to each member of the group, together with many other topics, relevant and irrelevant, were discussed, interspersed with the usual number of anecdotes from the never-failing supply with which the President's mind was stored. It was a most interesting study to see these men relieved for the moment from the surroundings of their onerous official duties. The President, of course, was the centre of the group—kind, genial, thoughtful, tender-hearted, magnanimous Abraham Lincoln! It was difficult to know him without knowing him intimately, for he was as guileless and single-hearted as a child; and no man ever knew him intimately who did not recognize and admire his great abilities, both natural and acquired, his large-heartedness and sincerity of purpose.... He would sit for hours during the trip, repeating passages of Shakespeare's plays, page after page of Browning, and whole cantos of Byron. His inexhaustible stock of anecdotes gave to superficial minds the impression that he was not a thoughtful and reflecting man; whereas the fact was directly the reverse. These anecdotes formed no more a part of Mr. Lincoln's mind than a smile forms a part of the face. They came unbidden, and, like a forced smile, were often employed to conceal a depth of anxiety in his own heart, and to dissipate the care that weighed upon the minds of his associates. Both Mr. Chase and Mr. Stanton were under great depression of spirits when we started, and Mr. Chase remarked with a good deal of seriousness that he had forgotten to write a very important letter before leaving. It was too late to remedy the omission, and Mr. Lincoln at once drove the thought of it from his mind by telling him that a man was sometimes lucky in forgetting to write a letter, for he seldom knew what it contained until it appeared again some day to confront him with an indiscreet word or expression; and then he told a humorous story of a sad catastrophe that happened in a family, which was ascribed to something that came in a letter—a catastrophe so far beyond the region of possibility that it set us all laughing, and Mr. Chase lost his anxious look. That reminded Mr. Stanton of the dilemma he had been placed in, just before leaving, by the receipt of a telegram from General Mitchell, who was in Northern Alabama. The telegram was indistinct, and could not be clearly understood; there was no time for further explanation, and yet an immediate answer was required; so the Secretary took the chances and answered back, 'All right; go ahead.' 'Now, Mr. President,' said he, 'if I have made a mistake, I must countermand my instructions.' 'I suppose you meant,' said Mr. Lincoln, 'that it was all right if it was good for him, and all wrong if it was not. That reminds me,' said he, 'of a story about a horse that was sold at the cross-roads near where I once lived. The horse was supposed to be fast, and quite a number of people were present at the time appointed for the sale. A small boy was employed to ride the horse backward and forward to exhibit his points. One of the would-be buyers followed the boy down the road and asked him confidentially if the horse had a splint. 'Well, mister,' said the boy, 'if it's good for him he's got it, but if it isn't good for him he hasn't.' 'And that's the position,' said the President, 'you seem to have left General Mitchell in. Well, Stanton, I guess he'll come out right; but at any rate you can't help him now.' ... Mr. Lincoln always had a pleasant word to say the last thing at night and the first thing in the morning. He was always the first one to awake, although not the first to rise. The day-time was spent principally upon the quarter-deck, and the President entertained us with numerous anecdotes and incidents of his life, of the most interesting character. Few were aware of the physical strength possessed by Mr. Lincoln. In muscular power he was one in a thousand. One morning, while we were sitting on deck, he saw an axe in a socket on the bulwarks, and taking it up, he held it at arm's length at the extremity of the helve with his thumb and forefinger, continuing to hold it there for a number of minutes. The most powerful sailors on board tried in vain to imitate him. Mr. Lincoln said he could do this when he was eighteen years of age, and had never seen a day since that time when he could not.[E]

"It was late in the evening," continues General Viele, "when we arrived at Fortress Monroe.... Answering the hail of the guard-boats, we made a landing, and the Secretary of War immediately despatched a messenger for General Wool, the commander of the fort; on whose arrival it was decided to consult at once with Admiral Goldsborough, the commander of the fleet, whose flag-ship, the 'Minnesota,' a superb model of naval architecture, lay a short distance off the shore. The result of this conference was a plan to get up an engagement the next day between the 'Merrimac' and the 'Monitor,' so that during the fight the 'Vanderbilt,' which had been immensely strengthened for the purpose, might put on all steam and run her down. Accordingly, the next morning, the President and party went over to the Rip Raps to see the naval combat. The 'Merrimac' moved out of the mouth of the Elizabeth river, quietly and steadily, just as she had come out only a few weeks before when she had sunk the 'Congress' and the 'Cumberland.' She wore an air of defiance and determination even at that distance. The 'Monitor' moved up and waited for her. All the other vessels got out of the way to give the 'Vanderbilt' and the 'Minnesota' room to bear down upon the rebel terror as soon as she should clear the coast line. It was a calm Sabbath morning, and the air was still and tranquil. Suddenly the stillness was broken by the cannon from the vessels and the great guns from the Rip Raps, that filled the air with sulphurous smoke and a terrific noise that reverberated from the fortress and the opposite shore like thunder. The firing was maintained for several hours, but all to no purpose; the 'Merrimac' moved sullenly back to her position. It was determined that night that on the following day vigorous offensive operations should be undertaken. The whole available naval force was to bombard Sewall's Point, and under cover of the bombardment the available troops from Fortress Monroe were to be landed at that point and move on Norfolk. Accordingly, the next morning a tremendous cannonading of Sewall's Point took place. The wooden sheds at that place were set on fire and the battery was silenced. The 'Merrimac,' coated with mail and lying low in the water, looked on but took no part. Night came on, and the cannonading ceased. It was so evident that the 'Merrimac' intended to act only on the defensive, and that as long as she remained where she was no troops could be landed in that vicinity, that they were ordered to disembark. That night the President, with the Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Treasury, went over on the 'Miami' to the Virginia shore, and by the light of the moon landed on the beach and walked up and down a considerable distance to assure himself that there could be no mistake in the matter. How little the Confederacy dreamed what a visitor it had that night to the 'sacred soil.'"

The following morning an advance was made upon Norfolk by the route proposed by General Viele. The attempt was successful, and before night our forces were in control of the captured city. Some time after midnight, as General Viele records, "with a shock that shook the city, and with an ominous sound that could not be mistaken, the magazine of the 'Merrimac' was exploded, the vessel having been cut off from supplies and deserted by the crew; and thus this most formidable engine of destruction, that had so long been a terror, not only to Hampton Roads, but to the Atlantic coast, went to her doom, a tragic and glorious finale to the trip of the 'Miami.'"

Secretary Chase had accompanied the expedition against Norfolk, returning to Fortress Monroe with General Wool immediately after the surrender of the city. The scene which ensued on the announcement of the good tidings they brought back to the anxious parties awaiting news of them was thus described by the President himself: "Chase and Stanton had accompanied me to Fortress Monroe. While we were there, an expedition was fitted out for an attack on Norfolk. Chase and General Wool disappeared about the time we began to look for tidings of the result, and after vainly waiting their return till late in the evening, Stanton and I concluded to retire. My room was on the second floor of the Commandant's house, and Stanton's was below. The night was very warm,—the moon shining brightly,—and, too restless to sleep, I sat for some time by the table, reading. Suddenly hearing footsteps, I looked out of the window, and saw two persons approaching, whom I knew by their relative size to be the missing men. They came into the passage, and I heard them rap at Stanton's door and tell him to get up and come upstairs. A moment afterward they entered my room. 'No time for ceremony, Mr. President,' said General Wool; 'Norfolk is ours!' Stanton here burst in, just out of bed, clad in a long night-gown which nearly swept the floor, his ear catching, as he crossed the threshold, Wool's last words. Perfectly overjoyed, he rushed at the General, whom he hugged most affectionately, fairly lifting him from the floor in his delight. The scene altogether must have been a comical one, though at the time we were all too greatly excited to take much note of mere appearances."

Lincoln's general grasp of military strategy, and his keen understanding of the specific problems confronting the Army of the Potomac in the critical autumn of 1862, are well indicated in the following communication to General McClellan:

EXECUTIVE MANSION, WASHINGTON, October 13, 1862

MY DEAR SIR:—You remember my speaking to you of what I called your over-cautiousness. Are you not over-cautious when you assume that you cannot do what the enemy is constantly doing? Should you not claim to be at least his equal in prowess, and act upon the claim?

As I understand, you telegraphed General Halleck that you cannot subsist your army at Winchester unless the railroad from Harper's Ferry to that point be put in working order. But the enemy does now subsist his army at Winchester, at a distance nearly twice as great from railroad transportation as you would have to do, without the railroad last named. He now wagons from Culpepper Court-House, which is just about twice as far as you would have to do from Harper's Ferry. He is certainly not more than half as well provided with wagons as you are. I certainly should be pleased for you to have the advantage of the railroad from Harper's Ferry to Winchester; but it wastes all the remainder of autumn to give it to you, and, in fact, ignores the question of time, which cannot and must not be ignored.

Again, one of the standard maxims of war, as you know, is, "to operate upon the enemy's communications as much as possible, without exposing your own." You seem to act as if this applies against you, but cannot apply in your favor. Change positions with the enemy, and think you not he would break your communication with Richmond within the next twenty-four hours? You dread his going into Pennsylvania. But if he does so in full force, he gives up his communications to you absolutely, and you have nothing to do but to follow and ruin him; if he does so with less than full force, fall upon and beat what is left behind all the easier. Exclusive of the water line, you are now nearer Richmond than the enemy is, by the route that you can and he must take. Why can you not reach there before him, unless you admit that he is more than your equal on the march? His route is the arc of a circle, while yours is the chord. The roads are as good on yours as on his.

You know I desired, but did not order, you to cross the Potomac below instead of above the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge. My idea was, that this would at once menace the enemy's communications, which I would seize if he would permit. If he should move northward, I would follow him closely, holding his communications. If he should prevent our seizing his communications, and move toward Richmond, I would press closely to him, fight him if a favorable opportunity should present, and at least try to beat him to Richmond on the inside track. I say "try," for if we never try, we shall never succeed. If he make a stand at Winchester, moving neither north nor south, I would fight him there, on the idea that if we cannot beat him when he bears the wastage of coming to us, we never can when we bear the wastage of going to him. This proposition is a simple truth, and is too important to be lost sight of for a moment. In coming to us, he tenders us an advantage which we should not waive. We should not so operate as to merely drive him away. As we must beat him somewhere, or fail finally, we can do it, if at all, easier near to us than far away. If we cannot beat the enemy where he now is, we never can, he again being within the intrenchments of Richmond. Recurring to the idea of going to Richmond on the inside track, the facility of supplying from the side away from the enemy is remarkable, as it were, by the different spokes of a wheel, extending from the hub toward the rim, and this whether you move directly by the chord, or on the inside arc, hugging the Blue Ridge more closely. The chord-line, as you see, carries you by Aldie, Haymarket, and Fredericksburg, and you see how turnpikes, railroads, and finally the Potomac by Aquia Creek, meet you at all points from Washington. The same, only the lines lengthened a little, if you press closer to the Blue Ridge part of the way. The gaps through the Blue Ridge I understand to be about the following distances from Harper's Ferry, to wit: Vestal's, five miles; Gregory's, thirteen; Snicker's, eighteen; Ashby's, twenty-eight; Manassas, thirty-eight; Chester, forty-five; and Thornton's, fifty-three. I should think it preferable to take the route nearest the enemy, disabling him to make an important move without your knowledge, and compelling him to keep his forces together for dread of you. The gaps would enable you to attack if you should wish. For a great part of the way you would be practically between the enemy and both Washington and Richmond, enabling us to spare you the greatest number of troops from here. When, at length, running to Richmond ahead of him enables him to move this way, if he does so, turn and attack him in the rear. But I think he should be engaged long before such point is reached. It is all easy if our troops march as well as the enemy, and it is unmanly to say they cannot do it. This letter is in no sense an order.

Yours truly, A. LINCOLN. MAJOR-GENERAL MCCLELLAN.

Throughout the entire war President Lincoln was always keenly solicitous for the welfare of the Union soldiers. He knew that upon them everything depended; and he felt bound to them not only by official relations, but by the tenderer ties of human interest and love. In all his proclamations and public utterances he gave the fullest credit to the brave men in the field, and claimed for them the country's thanks and gratitude. His sympathy for the soldiers was as tender as that of a woman, and his tears were ever ready to start at the mention of their hardships, their bravery, their sufferings and losses. Nothing that he could do was left undone to minister to their comfort in field or camp or hospital. His most exacting cares were never permitted to divert his thoughts from them, and his anxious and tender sympathy included all whom they held dear. Said Mr. Riddle, in a speech in Congress in 1863: "Let not the distant mother, who has given up a loved one to fearful death, think that the President does not sympathize with her sorrow, and would not have been glad—oh, how glad—to so shape events as to spare the sacrifices. And let not fathers and mothers and wives anywhere think that as he sees the long blue regiments of brave ones marching away, stepping to the drum-beat, he does not contemplate them and feel his responsibility as he thinks how many of them shall go to nameless graves, unmarked save by the down-looking eyes of God's pitying angels." The feeling of the soldiers toward Lincoln was one of filial respect and love. He was not only the President, the commander-in-chief of all the armies and navies of the United States, but their good "Father Abraham," who loved every man, even the humblest, that wore the Union blue.

Of Lincoln's personal relations with the soldiers, enough interesting anecdotes could be collected to fill a volume. He saw much of them in Washington, as they marched through that city on their way to the front, or returned on furlough or discharge, or filled the overcrowded hospitals of the capital. Often they called upon him, singly or with companions; and he always had for them a word, however brief, of sympathy and cheer. He was always glad to see them at the White House. They were the one class of visitors who seldom came to ask for favors, and never to pester him with advice. It was a real treat for the harried President to escape from the politicians and have a quiet talk with a private soldier. Among the innumerable petitioners for executive clemency or favor, none were so graciously received as those who appeared in behalf of soldiers. It was half a victory to say that the person for whom the favor was desired was a member of the Union army.

As he wrote the pardon of a young soldier, sentenced to be shot for sleeping while on sentinel duty, the President remarked to a friend standing by: "I could not think of going into eternity with the blood of that poor young man on my hands. It is not to be wondered at that a boy raised on a farm, probably in the habit of going to bed at dark, should, when required to watch, fall asleep; and I cannot consent that he be shot for such an act." The youth thus reprieved was afterwards found among the slain on the field of Fredericksburg, with a photograph of Lincoln, on which he had written, "God bless President Lincoln," worn next his heart.

Rev. Newman Hall, of London, has repeated in a sermon an anecdote told him by a Union general. "The first week of my command," said the officer, "there were twenty-four deserters sentenced by court martial to be shot, and the warrants for their execution were sent to the President to be signed. He refused. I went to Washington and had an interview. I said: 'Mr. President, unless these men are made an example of, the army itself is in danger. Mercy to the few is cruelty to the many.' He replied: 'Mr. General, there are already too many weeping widows in the United States. For God's sake, don't ask me to add to the number, for I won't do it.'"

It came to the knowledge of Lincoln that a widow living in Boston—a Mrs. Bixby—had lost five sons in the service of their country. Without delay he addressed to the bereaved mother the following touching note:

I have been shown on the file of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant-General of Massachusetts, that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming; but I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavements, and leave only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully, A. LINCOLN.

A case of unusual interest is that of Cyrus Pringle, a Vermont Quaker who was drafted into the military service in 1863, and refused to serve on the ground that his religion and his conscience would not permit him to bear arms. His story, as recorded in his diary, was given to the world after his death ("Atlantic Monthly," February, 1913). In spite of his protests, Pringle was taken South and forced to wear a uniform and carry a gun, though he refused to use it or even to clean it. His obstinacy, as it was supposed to be, caused him much suffering, sometimes even physical punishment, all of which he bore patiently, believing that if he was steadfast in his faith relief would somehow come. It did come, but not until—after five months of hardship and distress of mind and body—his case, with that of other Quakers, finally reached the President. "I want you to go and tell Stanton," said Lincoln to the gentleman who had presented the case to him, "that it is my wish that all those young men be sent home at once." The gentleman went to Stanton with the message, but Stanton was unwilling to obey it. While they were arguing the matter, the President entered the room. "It is my urgent wish," said he. Stanton yielded, and the unfortunate Quakers were given permission to return to their homes—none too soon to save the life of Pringle, who records in his diary: "Upon my arrival in New York I was seized with delirium, from which I only recovered after many weeks, through the mercy and favor of Him who in all this trial had been our guide and strength and comfort."

Anything that savored of the wit and humor of the soldiers was especially relished by Lincoln. Any incident that showed that "the boys" were mirthful and jolly amidst their privations seemed to commend itself to him. There was a story of a soldier in the Army of the Potomac, carried to the rear of battle with both legs shot off, who, seeing a pie-woman hovering about, asked, "Say, old lady, are them pies sewed or pegged?" And there was another one of a soldier at the battle of Chancellorsville, whose regiment, waiting to be called into the fight, was taking coffee. The hero of the story put to his lips a crockery mug which he had carried, with infinite care, through several campaigns. A stray bullet, just missing the coffee-drinker's head, dashed the mug into fragments and left only its handle on his finger. Turning his head in that direction, the soldier angrily growled, "Johnny, you can't do that again!" Lincoln, relating these two stories together, said, "It seems as if neither death nor danger could quench the grim humor of the American soldier."

A juvenile "brigadier" from New York, with a small detachment of cavalry, having imprudently gone within the rebel lines near Fairfax Court House, was captured by "guerillas." Upon the fact being reported to Lincoln, he said that he was very sorry to lose the horses. "What do you mean?" inquired his informant. "Why," rejoined the President, "I can make a 'brigadier' any day; but those horses cost the government a hundred and twenty-five dollars a head!"

Lincoln was especially fond of a joke at the expense of some high military or civil dignitary. He was intensely amused by a story told by Secretary Stanton, of a trip made by him and General Foster up the Broad river in North Carolina, in a tug-boat, when, reaching our outposts on the river bank, a Federal picket yelled out, "Who have you got on board that tug?" The severe and dignified answer was, "The Secretary of War and Major-General Foster." Instantly the picket roared back: "We've got Major-Generals enough up here—why don't you bring us up some hardtack?"

On one occasion, when the enemy were threatening the defenses of Washington, the President made a personal visit to the men in the trenches, for the purpose, as he stated, of "encouraging the boys." He walked about among them, telling them to hold their ground and he would soon give them reinforcements. His presence had a most inspiring effect, and the trenches were held by a few hundred soldiers of the Invalid Corps until the promised help came and the enemy withdrew.

On a visit to City Point, Lincoln called upon the head surgeon at that place and said he wished to visit all the hospitals under his charge. The surgeon asked if he knew what he was undertaking; there were five or six thousand soldiers at that place, and it would be quite a tax upon his strength to visit all the wards. Lincoln answered, with a smile, that he guessed he was equal to the task; at any rate he would try, and go as far as he could; he should never, probably, see the boys again, and he wanted them to know that he appreciated what they had done for their country. Finding it useless to try to dissuade him, the surgeon began his rounds with the President, who walked from bed to bed, extending his hand and saying a few words of sympathy to some, making kind inquiries of others, and welcomed by all with the heartiest cordiality. After some hours the tour of the various hospitals was made, and Lincoln returned with the surgeon to his office. They had scarcely entered, however, when a messenger came saying that one ward had been overlooked, and "the boys" wanted to see the President. The surgeon, who was thoroughly tired, and knew Lincoln must be, tried to dissuade him from going; but the good man said he must go back; "the boys" would be so disappointed. So he went with the messenger, accompanied by the surgeon, shook hands with the gratified soldiers, and then returned to the office. The surgeon expressed the fear that the President's arm would be lamed with so much hand-shaking, saying that it certainly must ache. Lincoln smiled, and saying something about his "strong muscles," stepped out at the open door, took up a very large heavy axe which lay there by a log of wood, and chopped vigorously for a few moments, sending the chips flying in all directions; and then, pausing, he extended his right arm to its full length, holding the axe out horizontally, without its even quivering as he held it. Strong men who looked on—men accustomed to manual labor—could not hold the axe in that position for a moment.

In summer Lincoln's favorite home was at "The Soldiers' Rest," a place a few miles out of Washington, on the Maryland side, where old and disabled soldiers of the regular army found a refuge. It was a lovely spot, situated on a beautifully wooded hill, reached by a winding road, shaded by thick-set branches. On his way there he often passed long lines of ambulances, laden with the suffering victims of a recent battle. A friend who met him on such an occasion, says: "When I met the President, his attitude and expression spoke the deepest sadness. He paused, and, pointing his hand-towards the wounded men, he said: 'Look yonder at those poor fellows. I cannot bear it! This suffering, this loss of life, is dreadful!' Recalling a letter he had written years before to a suffering friend whose grief he had sought to console, I reminded him of the incident, and asked him: 'Do you remember writing to your sorrowing friend these words: "And this too shall pass away. Never fear. Victory will come."' 'Yes,' replied he, 'victory will come, but it comes slowly.'"



CHAPTER XX

Lincoln and McClellan—The Peninsular Campaign of 1862—Impatience with McClellan's Delay—Lincoln Defends McClellan from Unjust Criticism—Some Harrowing Experiences—McClellan Recalled from the Peninsula—His Troops Given to General Pope—Pope's Defeat at Manassas—A Critical Situation—McClellan again in Command—Lincoln Takes the Responsibility—McClellan's Account of his Reinstatement—The Battle of Antietam—The President Vindicated—Again Dissatisfied with McClellan—Visits the Army in the Field—The President in the Saddle—Correspondence between Lincoln and McClellan—McClellan's Final Removal—Lincoln's Summing-up of McClellan—McClellan's "Body-guard."

President Lincoln's relations with no other person have been so much discussed as those with General McClellan. Volumes have been written on this subject; many heated and intemperate words have been uttered and wrong conclusions reached. Whatever defects may have marked McClellan's qualities as a soldier, he must remain historically one of the most conspicuous figures of the war. He organized the largest and most important of the Union armies, and was its first commander in the field. He was one of the two out of the five commanders of the Army of the Potomac, before Grant, who led that army to victory; the other three having led it only to disastrous defeat. Great things were expected of him; and when he failed to realize the extravagant expectations of those who thought the war should be ended within a year, he received equally extravagant condemnation. It is noticeable that this condemnation came chiefly from civilians—from politicians, from Congress, from the press: not the best judges of military affairs. His own army—the men who were with him on the battlefield and risked their lives and their cause under his leadership—never lost faith in him. Of all the commanders of the Army of the Potomac, he was the one most believed in by his troops. Even after his removal, at a grand review of the army by the President, after the battle of Fredericksburg, it was not for the new commander, Burnside, but the old commander, McClellan, that the troops gave their heartiest cheers. It is worth remembering also that the war was not ended until two and a half years after McClellan's retirement, and until trial after trial had been made and failure after failure had been met in the effort to find a successful leader for our armies. The initial task of organization, of creating a great army in the field, fell upon him—a task so well performed that General Meade, his first efficient successor, said, "Had there been no McClellan there could have been no Grant, for the army [organization] made no essential improvements under any of his successors." And Grant, the last and finally victorious of these successors—who was at one time criticized as being "as great a discouragement as McClellan"—recorded in his Memoirs the conviction (already quoted in these pages) that the conditions under which McClellan worked were fatal to success, and that he himself could not have succeeded in his place under those conditions.

It is not in the province of the present narrative to enter into a consideration of the merits or demerits of McClellan as a soldier, but to treat of his personal relations with President Lincoln. Between the two men, notwithstanding many sharp differences of opinion and of policy, there seems to have been a feeling of warm personal friendship and sincere respect. Now that both have passed beyond the reach of earthly praise or blame, we may well honor their memory and credit each with having done the best he could to serve his country.

McClellan was appointed to the command of the Union armies upon the retirement of the veteran General Scott, in November of 1861. He had been but a captain in the regular army, but his high reputation and brilliant soldierly qualities had led to his being sent abroad to study the organization and movements of European armies; and this brought him into prominence as a military man. It was soon after McClellan took command that President Lincoln began giving close personal attention to the direction of military affairs. He formed a plan of operations against the Confederate army defending Richmond, which differed entirely from the plan proposed by McClellan. The President's plan was, in effect, to repeat the Bull Run expedition by moving against the enemy in Virginia at or hear Manassas. McClellan preferred a transference of the army to the region of the lower Chesapeake, thence moving up the Peninsula by the shortest land route to Richmond. (This was a movement, it may be remarked, which was finally carried out before Richmond fell in 1865.) The President discussed the relative merits of the two plans in the following frank and explicit letter to McClellan:

EXECUTIVE MANSION, WASHINGTON, D.C., February 3, 1862.

MAJOR-GENERAL MCCLELLAN.

MY DEAR SIR: You and I have distinct and different plans for a movement of the Army of the Potomac; yours to be done by the Chesapeake, up the Rappahannock to Urbana, and across to the terminus of the railroad on the York river; mine to move directly to a point on the railroad southwest of Manassas. If you will give me satisfactory answers to the following questions, I shall gladly yield my plan to yours:

1st. Does your plan involve a greatly larger expenditure of time and money than mine?

2d. Wherein is a victory more certain by your plan than mine?

3d. Wherein is a victory more valuable by your plan than mine?

4th. In fact, would it not be less valuable in this, that it would break no great line of the enemy's communication, while mine would?

5th. In case of a disaster, would not a retreat be more difficult by your plan than mine?

Yours truly, ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

To this communication McClellan made an elaborate reply, discussing the situation very fully, and answering the inquiries apparently to the satisfaction of the President, who consented to the plan submitted by McClellan and concurred in by a council of his division commanders, by which the base of the Army of the Potomac should be transferred from Washington to the lower Chesapeake. Yet Lincoln must have had misgivings in the matter, for some weeks later he wrote to McClellan: "You will do me the justice to remember I always insisted that going down the bay in search of a field, instead of fighting at or near Manassas, was only shifting, and not surmounting, a difficulty; that we would find the same enemy, and the same or equal intrenchments, at either place."

After the transfer of the Army of the Potomac to the Peninsula there was great impatience at the delays in the expected advance on Richmond. The President shared this impatience, and his despatches to McClellan took an urgent and imperative though always friendly tone. April 9 he wrote: "Your despatches, complaining that you are not properly sustained, while they do not offend me, do pain me very much. I suppose the whole force which has gone forward for you is with you by this time. And, if so, I think it is the precise time for you to strike a blow. By delay, the enemy will relatively gain upon you—that is, he will gain faster by fortifications and reinforcements than you can by reinforcements alone. And once more let me tell you, it is indispensable to you that you strike a blow.... I beg to assure you that I have never written to you or spoken to you in greater kindness of feeling than now, nor with a fuller purpose to sustain you, so far as, in my most anxious judgment, I consistently can. But you must act."

While Lincoln was thus imperative toward McClellan, he would not permit him to be unjustly criticized. Considerable ill-feeling having been developed between McClellan and Secretary Stanton, which was made worse by certain meddlesome persons in Washington, the President took occasion, at a public meeting, to express his views in these frank and manly words: "There has been a very wide-spread attempt to have a quarrel between General McClellan and the Secretary of War. Now, I occupy a position that enables me to observe that these two gentlemen are not nearly so deep in the quarrel as some pretending to be their friends. General McClellan's attitude is such that, in the very selfishness of his nature, he cannot but wish to be successful, as I hope he will be; and the Secretary of War is in precisely the same situation. If the military commanders in the field cannot be successful, not only the Secretary of War but myself, for the time being the master of them both, cannot but be failures. I know General McClellan wishes to be successful, and I know he does not wish it any more than the Secretary of War wishes it for him, and both of them together no more than I wish it. Sometimes we have a dispute about how many men General McClellan has had, and those who would disparage him say he has had a very large number, and those who would disparage the Secretary of War insist that General McClellan has had a very small number. The basis for this is, there is always a wide difference, and on this occasion perhaps a wider one than usual, between the grand total on McClellan's rolls and the men actually fit for duty; and those who would disparage him talk of the grand total on paper, and those who would disparage the Secretary of War talk of those at present fit for duty. General McClellan has sometimes asked for things that the Secretary of War did not give him. General McClellan is not to blame for asking what he wanted and needed, and the Secretary of War is not to blame for not giving when he had none to give."

The summer of 1862 was a sad one for the country, and peculiarly sad for Lincoln. The Army of the Potomac fought battle after battle, often with temporary successes, but without apparent substantial results; while many thousands of our brave soldiers perished on the field, or filled the hospitals from the fever-swamps of the Chickahominy. The terrible realities of that dreadful summer, and their strain on Lincoln, are well shown in the following incident: Colonel Scott, of a New Hampshire regiment, had been ill, and his wife nursed him in the hospital. After his convalescence, he received leave of absence, and started for home; but by a steamboat collision in Hampton Roads, his noble wife was drowned. Colonel Scott reached Washington, and learning, a few days later, of the recovery of his wife's body, he requested permission of the Secretary of War to return for it. A great battle was imminent, and the request was denied. Colonel Scott thereupon sought the President. It was Saturday evening; and Lincoln, worn with the cares and anxieties of the week, sat alone in his room, coat thrown off, and seemingly lost in thought, perhaps pondering the issue of the coming battle. Silently he listened to Colonel Scott's sad story; then, with an unusual irritation, which was probably a part of his excessive weariness, he exclaimed: "Am I to have no rest? Is there no hour or spot when or where I may escape these constant calls? Why do you follow me here with such business as this? Why do you not go to the War-office, where they have charge of all this matter of papers and transportation?" Colonel Scott told of Mr. Stanton's refusal; and the President continued: "Then probably you ought not to go down the river. Mr. Stanton knows all about the necessities of the hour; he knows what rules are necessary, and rules are made to be enforced. It would be wrong for me to override his rules and decisions in cases of this kind; it might work disaster to important movements. And then, you ought to remember that I have other duties to attend to—heaven knows, enough for one man!—and I can give no thought to questions of this kind. Why do you come here to appeal to my humanity? Don't you know that we are in the midst of war? That suffering and death press upon all of us? That works of humanity and affection, which we would cheerfully perform in days of peace, are all trampled upon and outlawed by war? That there is no room left for them? There is but one duty now—to fight. The only call of humanity now is to conquer peace through unrelenting warfare. War, and war alone, is the duty of all of us. Your wife might have trusted you to the care which the Government has provided for its sick soldiers. At any rate, you must not vex me with your family troubles. Why, every family in the land is crushed with sorrow; but they must not each come to me for help. I have all the burden I can carry. Go to the War Department. Your business belongs there. If they cannot help you, then bear your burden, as we all must, until this war is over. Everything must yield to the paramount duty of finishing the war." Colonel Scott withdrew, crushed and overwhelmed. The next morning, as he sat in his hotel pondering upon his troubles, he heard a rap at his door, and opening it found to his surprise the President standing before him. Grasping his hands impulsively and sympathetically, Lincoln broke out: "My dear Colonel, I was a brute last night. I have no excuse for my conduct. Indeed, I was weary to the last extent; but I had no right to treat a man with rudeness who had offered his life for his country, much more a man who came to me in great affliction. I have had a regretful night, and come now to beg your forgiveness." He added that he had just seen Secretary Stanton, and all the details were arranged for sending the Colonel down the Potomac and recovering the body; then, taking him in his carriage, he drove to the steamer's wharf, where, again pressing his hand, he wished him God-speed on his sad errand.

Such were Lincoln's harrowing experiences; and thus did his noble and sympathetic nature assert itself over his momentary weakness and depression.

In August of 1862 General McClellan was ordered to withdraw his army from the Peninsula. "With a heavy heart," says McClellan, "I relinquished the position gained at the cost of so much time and blood." Without being removed from his command, his troops were taken away from him and sent to join General Pope, who had been placed in command of a considerable force in Virginia, for the purpose of trying the President's favorite plan of an advance on Richmond by way of Manassas. Either from a confusion of orders or a lack of zeal in executing them, the Union forces failed to co-operate; and Pope's expected victory (Manassas, August 30) proved a disastrous and humiliating defeat. His army was beaten and driven back on Washington in a rout little less disgraceful than that of Bull Run a year before. This battle came to be known as the "Second Bull Run."

Thus the autumn of 1862 set in amidst gloom, disorder, and dismay. Our armies in and around the national capital were on the defensive; while the victorious Lee, following up his successes at Manassas, was invading Maryland and threatening Washington and the North. The President was anxious; the Cabinet and Congress were alarmed. The troops had lost confidence in General Pope, and there was practically no one in chief command. The situation was most critical; but Lincoln faced it, as he always did, unflinchingly. He took what he felt to be the wisest and at the same time the most unpopular step possible under the circumstances: he placed McClellan in command of all the troops in and around Washington. It was a bold act, and required no ordinary amount of moral courage and self-reliance. Outside the army, it was about the most unpopular thing that could have been done. McClellan was disliked by all the members of the Cabinet and prominent officials, and with especial bitterness by Secretary Stanton. Secretary Welles speaks, in his Diary, of "Stanton's implacable hostility to McClellan," and records his belief that "Stanton is determined to destroy McClellan." Welles relates that on the very day of Pope's defeat at Manassas, Secretary Stanton, accompanied by Secretary Chase, called on him and asked him to join in signing a communication to the President demanding McClellan's immediate dismissal from command of the Army of the Potomac, saying all the members of the Cabinet would sign it. The document was in Stanton's handwriting. Welles, though far from friendly toward McClellan, refused to sign the paper, and the matter was dropped. Welles adds the comment, "There was a fixed determination to remove, and, if possible, to disgrace, McClellan."

When it was rumored in Washington that McClellan was to be reinstated, everyone was thunderstruck. A Cabinet meeting was held on the second day of September, at which the President, without asking anyone's opinion, announced that he had reinstated McClellan. Regret and surprise were openly expressed. Mr. Stanton, with some excitement, remarked that no such order had issued from the War Department. The President then said, with great calmness, "No, Mr. Secretary, the order was mine, and I will be responsible for it to the country." He added, by way of explanation, that, with a retreating and demoralized army tumbling in upon the capital, and alarm and panic in the community, something had to be done, and as there did not appear to be anyone else to do it he took the responsibility on himself. He remarked that McClellan had the confidence of the troops beyond any other officer, and could, under the circumstances, more speedily and effectually reorganize them and put them in fighting trim than any other general. "This is what is now wanted most," said he, "and these were my reasons for placing McClellan in command."

Perhaps at no other crisis of the war did Lincoln's strength of character and power of making quick and important decisions in the face of general opposition, come out more clearly than on this occasion. Secretary Welles, who was present at the dramatic and stormy Cabinet meeting referred to, says: "In stating what he had done, the President was deliberate, but firm and decisive. His language and manner were kind and affectionate, especially toward two of the members, who were greatly disturbed; but every person present felt that he was truly the chief, and every one knew his decision was as fixed and unalterable as if given out with the imperious command and determined will of Andrew Jackson. A long discussion followed, closing with acquiescence in the decision of the President. In this instance the President, unaided by others, put forth with firmness and determination the executive will—the one-man power—against the temporary general sense of the community, as well as of his Cabinet, two of whom, it has been generally supposed, had with him an influence almost as great as the Secretary of State. They had been ready to make issue and resign their places unless McClellan was dismissed; but knowing their opposition, and in spite of it and of the general dissatisfaction in the community, the President had in that perilous moment exalted him to new and important trusts."

It appears from the statement of General McClellan, made shortly before his death, that on the morning of his reinstatement (before the Cabinet meeting just described) the President visited him at his headquarters, near Washington, to ask if he would again assume command. "While at breakfast, at an early hour," says McClellan, "I received a call from the President, accompanied by General Halleck. The President informed me that Colonel Kelton had returned and represented the condition of affairs as much worse than I had stated to Halleck on the previous day; that there were 30,000 stragglers on the roads; that the army was entirely defeated and falling back to Washington in confusion. He then said that he regarded Washington as lost, and asked me if I would, under the circumstances, consent to accept command of all the forces. Without a moment's hesitation, and without making any conditions whatever, I at once said that I would accept the command, and would stake my life that I would save the city. Both the President and Halleck again asserted their belief that it was impossible to save the city, and I repeated my firm conviction that I could and would save it. They then left, the President verbally placing me in entire command of the city and of the troops falling back upon it from the front."

The result of the reappointment of McClellan soon vindicated the wisdom of the step. He possessed the confidence of the army beyond any other general at that time, and was able to inspire it with renewed hope and courage. Leaving Washington on the 7th of September, in command of Pope's beaten and disintegrated forces which he had to reorganize on the march, he within two weeks met the flushed and lately victorious troops of Lee and Jackson and fought the bloody but successful battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862), which compelled Lee to retreat to the southern side of the Potomac, and relieved Washington of any immediate danger.

After the Antietam campaign, the Army of the Potomac rested awhile from its exhausting and disorganizing labors. Supplies and reinforcements were necessary before resuming active operations. This delay gave rise to no little dissatisfaction in Washington, where a clamor arose that McClellan should have followed up his successes at Antietam by immediately pursuing Lee into Virginia. In this dissatisfaction the President shared to some extent. He made a personal visit to the army for the purpose of satisfying himself of its condition. Of this occasion McClellan says: "On the first day of October, his Excellency the President honored the Army of the Potomac with a visit, and remained several days, during which he went through the different encampments, reviewed the troops, and went over the battle-field of South Mountain and Antietam. I had the opportunity, during this visit, to describe to him the operations of the army since it left Washington, and gave him my reasons for not following the enemy after he recrossed the Potomac."

Before the grand review that was to be made by the President, some of McClellan's staff, knowing that the General was a man of great endurance and expertness in the saddle, laughed at the idea of Lincoln's attempting to keep up with him in the severe ordeal of "riding down the lines." "They rather hinted," says a narrator, "that the General would move somewhat rapidly, to test Mr. Lincoln's capacity as a rider. There were those on the field, however, who had seen Mr. Lincoln in the saddle in Illinois; and they were confident of his staying powers. A splendid black horse, very spirited, was selected for the President to ride. When the time came, Mr. Lincoln walked up to the animal, and the instant he seized the bridle to mount, it was evident to horsemen that he 'knew his business.' He had the animal in hand at once. No sooner was he in the saddle than the coal-black steed began to prance and whirl and dance as if he was proud of his burden. But the President sat as unconcerned and fixed to the saddle as if he and the horse were one. The test of endurance soon came. McClellan, with his magnificent staff, approached the President, who joined them, and away they dashed to a distant part of the field. The artillery began to thunder, the drums beat, and the bands struck up 'Hail to the Chief,' while the troops cheered. Mr. Lincoln, holding the bridle-rein in one hand, lifted his tall hat from his head, and much of the time held it in the other hand. Grandly did Lincoln receive the salute, appearing as little disturbed by the dashing movements of the proud-spirited animal as if he had passed through such an ordeal with the same creature many times before. Next came a further test of endurance—a long dash over very rough untraveled ground, with here and there a ditch or a hole to be jumped or a siding to be passed. But Mr. Lincoln kept well up to McClellan, who made good time. Finally, the 'riding down the lines' was performed, amidst the flaunting of standards, the beating of drums, the loud cheering of the men and rapid discharges of artillery, startling even the best-trained horses. Lincoln sat easily to the end, when he wheeled his horse into position to witness the vast columns march in review. McClellan was surprised at so remarkable a display of horsemanship. Mr. Lincoln was a great lover of the horse, and a skilled rider. His awkwardness of form did not show in the saddle. He always looked well when mounted."

After the President's return to Washington he began urging McClellan to resume active operations; desiring him to "cross the Potomac, and give battle to the enemy or drive him south." On the 13th of October he addressed to him the long letter quoted at the end of the preceding chapter. Subsequent communications from the President to McClellan showed more and more impatience. On the 25th he telegraphed: "I have just read your despatch about sore-tongue and fatigued horses. Will you pardon me for asking what the horses of your army have done since the battle of Antietam that fatigues anything?" And the next day, after receiving McClellan's answer to his inquiry, he responded: "Most certainly I intend no injustice to anyone, and if I have done any I deeply regret it. To be told, after more than five weeks' total inaction of the army, and during which period we had sent to that army every fresh horse we possibly could, amounting in the whole to 7,918, that the cavalry horses were too much fatigued to move, presented a very cheerless, almost hopeless, prospect for the future, and it may have forced something of impatience into my despatches. If not recruited and rested then, when could they ever be? I suppose the river is rising, and I am glad to believe you, are crossing." But McClellan did not cross; his preparations for a new campaign were not yet complete; and the President, at last losing patience, removed him from command, and put Burnside in his place, November 5, 1862. And a disastrous step this proved to be. Burnside was under peremptory orders from Washington to move immediately against the Confederate forces. The result was the ill-advised attack upon Fredericksburg (December 12, 1862) and Burnside's bloody repulse. The movement was made against the judgment of the army officers then, and has been generally condemned by military critics since. Secretary Welles thus guardedly commented upon it in his Diary: "It appears to me a mistake to fight the enemy in so strong a position. They have selected their own ground, and we meet them there." But it was McClellan's unwillingness to do the very thing that Burnside is censured for having done, and that proved so overwhelming a disaster, that was the occasion for McClellan's removal.

A good illustration of Lincoln's disappointed, perhaps unreasonable, state of mind before McClellan's removal is furnished by Hon. O.M. Hatch, a former Secretary of State of Illinois and an old friend of Lincoln's. Mr. Hatch relates that a short time before McClellan's removal from command he went with President Lincoln to visit the army, still near Antietam. They reached Antietam late in the afternoon of a very hot day, and were assigned a special tent for their occupancy during the night. "Early next morning," says Mr. Hatch, "I was awakened by Mr. Lincoln. It was very early—daylight was just lighting the east—the soldiers were all asleep in their tents. Scarce a sound could be heard except the notes of early birds, and the farm-yard voices from distant farms. Lincoln said to me, 'Come, Hatch, I want you to take a walk with me.' His tone was serious and impressive. I arose without a word, and as soon as we were dressed we left the tent together. He led me about the camp, and then we walked upon the surrounding hills overlooking the great city of white tents and sleeping soldiers. Very little was spoken between us, beyond a few words as to the pleasantness of the morning or similar casual observations. Lincoln seemed to be peculiarly serious, and his quiet, abstract way affected me also. It did not seem a time to speak. We walked slowly and quietly, meeting here and there a guard, our thoughts leading us to reflect on that wonderful situation. A nation in peril—the whole world looking at America—a million men in arms—the whole machinery of war engaged throughout the country, while I stood by that kind-hearted, simple-minded man who might be regarded as the Director-General, looking at the beautiful sunrise and the magnificent scene before us. Nothing was to be said, nothing needed to be said. Finally, reaching a commanding point where almost that entire camp could be seen—the men were just beginning their morning duties, and evidences of life and activity were becoming apparent—we involuntarily stopped. The President, waving his hand towards the scene before us, and leaning towards me, said in an almost whispering voice: 'Hatch—Hatch, what is all this?' 'Why, Mr. Lincoln,' said I, 'this is the Army of the Potomac' He hesitated a moment, and then, straightening up, said in a louder tone: 'No, Hatch, no. This is General McClellan's body-guard.' Nothing more was said. We walked to our tent, and the subject was not alluded to again."



CHAPTER XXI

Lincoln and Slavery—Plan for Gradual Emancipation—Anti-slavery Legislation in 1862—Pressure Brought to Bear on the Executive—The Delegation of Quakers—A Visit from Chicago Clergymen—Interview between Lincoln and Channing—Lincoln and Horace Greeley—The President's Answer to "The Prayer of Twenty Millions of People"—Conference between Lincoln and Greeley—Emancipation Resolved on—The Preliminary Proclamation—Lincoln's Account of It—Preparing for the Final Act—The Emancipation Proclamation—Particulars of the Great Document—Fate of the Original Draft—Lincoln's Outline of his Course and Views regarding Slavery.

The emancipation of slaves in America—the crowning act of Lincoln's eventful career and the one with which his fame is most indissolubly linked—is a subject of supreme interest in a study of his life and character. For this great act all his previous life and training had been but a preparation. From the first awakening of his convictions of the moral wrong of human slavery, through all his public and private utterances, may be traced one logical and consistent development of the principles which at last found sublime expression in the Proclamation of Emancipation. In this, as always, he was true to his own inner promptings. He would not be hurried or worried or badgered into premature and impracticable measures. He bided his time; and when that time came the deed was done, unalterably and irrevocably: approved by the logic of events, and by the enlightened conscience of the world.

The final Emancipation Proclamation was issued on the first day of January, 1863. The various official measures that preceded it may be briefly sketched, together with closely related incidents. As early as the autumn of 1861 the problem of the relation of the war to slavery was brought forcibly to the President's attention by the action of General J.C. Fremont, the Union commander in Missouri, who issued an order declaring the slaves of rebels in his department free. The order was premature and unauthorized, and the President promptly annulled it. General Fremont was thus, in a sense, the pioneer in military emancipation; and he lived to see the policy proposed by him carried into practical operation by all our armies. Lincoln afterwards said: "I have great respect for General Fremont and his abilities, but the fact is that the pioneer in any movement is not generally the best man to carry that movement to a successful issue. It was so in old times; Moses began the emancipation of the Jews, but didn't take Israel to the Promised Land after all. He had to make way for Joshua to complete the work. It looks as if the first reformer of a thing has to meet such a hard opposition and gets so battered and bespattered that afterward when people find they have to accept his reform they will accept it more easily from another man."

Lincoln at first favored a policy of gradual emancipation. In a special message to Congress, on the 6th of March, 1862, he proposed such a plan for the abolition of slavery. "In my judgment," he remarked, "gradual, and not sudden, emancipation is better for all." He suggested to Congress the adoption of a joint resolution declaring "that the United States ought to co-operate with any State which may adopt a gradual abolition of slavery, giving to such State pecuniary aid to compensate for the inconvenience, public and private, produced by such change of system." In conclusion he urged: "In full view of my great responsibility to my God and to my country, I earnestly beg the attention of Congress and the people to this subject."

On the 16th of April of this year, Congress passed a bill abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia—a measure for which Lincoln had himself introduced a bill while a member of Congress. In confirming the act as President, he remarked privately: "Little did I dream in 1849, when as a member of Congress I proposed to abolish slavery at this capital, and could scarcely get a hearing for the proposition, that it would be so soon accomplished."

Emancipation measures moved rapidly in 1862. On June 19 Congress enacted a measure prohibiting slavery forever in all present and future territories of the United States. July 17 a law was passed authorizing the employment of negroes as soldiers, and conferring freedom on all who should render military service, and on the families of all such as belonged to disloyal owners. Two days later, in a conference appointed by him at the Executive Mansion, the President submitted to the members of Congress from the Border States a written appeal, in which he said:

Believing that you, in the border States, hold more power for good than any other equal number of members, I feel it a duty which I cannot justifiably waive, to make this appeal to you.... I intend no reproach or complaint when I assure you that, in my opinion, if you all had voted for the resolution in the gradual emancipation message of last March, the war would now be substantially ended. And the plan therein proposed is yet one of the most potent and swift means of ending it. Let the States which are in rebellion see definitely and certainly that in no event will the States you represent ever join their proposed confederacy, and they cannot much longer maintain the contest.... If the war continues long, as it must if the object be not sooner attained, the institution in your States will be extinguished by mere friction and abrasion, by the mere incidents of the war. It will be gone, and you will have nothing valuable in lieu of it. Much of its value is gone already. How much better for you and for your people to take the step which at once shortens the war and secures substantial compensation for that which is sure to be wholly lost in any other event! How much better to thus save the money which else we sink forever in the war! How much better to do it while we can, lest the war ere long render us pecuniarily unable to do it! How much better for you as seller, and the nation as buyer, to sell out and buy out that without which the war could never have been, than to sink both the thing to be sold and the price of it in cutting one another's throats!... I do not speak of emancipation at once, but of a decision to emancipate gradually.... Upon these considerations I have again begged your attention to the message of March last. Before leaving the capital, consider and discuss it among yourselves. You are patriots and statesmen, and as such I pray you consider this proposition, and at the least commend it to the consideration of your States and people. As you would perpetuate popular government for the best people in the world, I beseech you that you do in nowise omit this. Our common country is in great peril, demanding the loftiest views and boldest action to bring a speedy relief. Once relieved, its form of government is saved to the world, its beloved history and cherished memories are vindicated, and its happy future fully assured and rendered inconceivably grand. To you, more than any others, the privilege is given to assure that happiness and swell that grandeur, and to link your own names therewith forever.

In an interview with Mr. Lovejoy and Mr. Arnold, of Illinois, the day following this conference, Lincoln exclaimed: "Oh, how I wish the border States would accept my proposition! Then you, Lovejoy, and you, Arnold, and all of us, would not have lived in vain! The labor of your life, Lovejoy, would be crowned with success. You would live to see the end of slavery."

The first occasion on which the President definitely discussed emancipation plans with members of his Cabinet, according to Secretary Welles, was on the 13th of July, 1862. On that day, says Mr. Welles, "President Lincoln invited me to accompany him in his carriage to the funeral of an infant child of Mr. Stanton. Secretary Seward and Mrs. Frederick Seward were also in the carriage. Mr. Stanton occupied at that time for a summer residence the house of a naval officer, some two or three miles west or northwest of Georgetown. It was on this occasion and on this ride that he first mentioned to Mr. Seward and myself the subject of emancipating the slaves by proclamation in case the Rebels did not cease to persist in their war on the Government and the Union, of which he saw no evidence. He dwelt earnestly on the gravity, importance, and delicacy of the movement; said he had given it much thought, and had about come to the conclusion that it was a military necessity absolutely essential for the salvation of the Union; that we must free the slaves or be ourselves subdued, etc.... This was, the President said, the first occasion when he had mentioned the subject to anyone, and wished us to frankly state how the proposition struck us. Mr. Seward said the subject involved consequences so vast and momentous that he should wish to bestow on it mature reflection before giving a decisive answer; but his present opinion inclined to the measure as justifiable, and perhaps he might say expedient and necessary. These were also my views. Two or three times on that ride the subject, which was of course an absorbing one for each and all, was adverted to; and before separating, the President desired us to give the question special and deliberate attention, for he was earnest in the conviction that something must be done. It was a new departure for the President, for until this time, in all our previous interviews, whenever the question of emancipation or the mitigation of slavery had been in any way alluded to, he had been prompt and emphatic in denouncing any interference by the General Government with the subject. This was, I think, the sentiment of every member of the Cabinet, all of whom, including the President, considered it a local, domestic question, appertaining to the States respectively, who had never parted with their authority over it. But the reverses before Richmond, and the formidable power and dimensions of the insurrection, which extended through all the Slave States, and had combined most of them in a confederacy to destroy the Union, impelled the Administration to adopt extraordinary measures to preserve the national existence. The slaves, if not armed and disciplined, were in the service of those who were, not only as field laborers and producers, but thousands of them were in attendance upon the armies in the field, employed as waiters and teamsters, and the fortifications and intrenchments were constructed by them."

It has been shown again and again, by the words of Lincoln and by the testimony of his friends, that he heartily detested the practice of slavery, and would joyfully have set every bondman free. Before his nomination for the Presidency—indeed, from the very beginning of his public life—he had repeatedly put himself on record as opposed to slavery, but perhaps nowhere more tersely and unequivocally than in these words: "There is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence—the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I hold that he is as much entitled to them as the white man." But his respect for the laws of the land deterred him from measures that might seem of doubtful constitutionality, and he waited patiently until the right hour had struck before he issued the edict of emancipation so eagerly demanded by a large class of earnest and loyal people at the North. Many of these people, misunderstanding his views and intentions, were very impatient; and their criticisms and expostulations were a constant burden to the sorely tried Executive.

In June of this year (1862) the President was waited on by a deputation of Quakers, or Friends, fifteen or twenty in number, who had been charged by the Yearly Meeting of their association to present a "minute" to the President on the subject of slavery and the duty of immediate emancipation. The visit of these excellent people was not altogether timely. Bad news had been received from McClellan's army on the Peninsula, and Lincoln was harassed with cares and anxieties. But he gave the deputation a cordial though brief greeting, as he announced that he was ready to hear from the Friends. In the reading of the minute, it appeared that the document took occasion to remind the President that, years before, he had said, "I believe that this Government cannot permanently endure half slave and half free," and from this was implied a suggestion of his failure to perform his duty as he had then seen it. Lincoln was decidedly displeased with this criticism; and after the document had been read to the close, he received it from the speaker, then drawing himself up, he said, with unusual severity of manner: "It is true that on the 17th of June, 1858, I said, 'I believe that this Government cannot permanently endure half slave and half free,' but I said it in connection with other things from which it should not have been separated in an address discussing moral obligations; for this is a case in which the repetition of half a truth, in connection with the remarks just read, produces the effect of a whole falsehood. What I did say was, 'If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do and how to do it. We are now far into the fifth year since a policy was initiated with the avowed object and confident promise of putting an end to the slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy this agitation has not only not ceased but has constantly augmented. In my opinion it will not cease until a crisis shall have been reached and passed. "A house divided against itself cannot stand." I believe that this Government cannot permanently endure half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect that it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction, or its advocates will push it forward till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new, North as well as South.' Take this statement as a whole, and it does not furnish a text for the homily to which this audience has listened."

As Lincoln concluded, he was turning away, when another member of the delegation, a woman, requested permission to detain him with a few words. Somewhat impatiently he said, "I will hear the Friend." Her remarks were a plea for the emancipation of the slaves, urging that he was the appointed minister of the Lord to do the work, and enforcing her argument by many Scriptural citations. At the close he asked, "Has the Friend finished?" and receiving an affirmative answer, he said: "I have neither time nor disposition to enter into discussion with the Friend, and end this occasion by suggesting for her consideration the question whether, if it be true that the Lord has appointed me to do the work she has indicated, it is not probable that He would have communicated knowledge of the fact to me as well as to her?"

Something like the same views were expressed by Lincoln, on another occasion, when, in response to a memorial presented by a delegation representing most of the religious organizations of Chicago, he said, respectfully but pointedly: "I am approached with the most opposite opinions and advice, and by religious men who are certain they represent the Divine Will.... I hope it will not be irreverent in me to say that if it be probable that God would reveal His will to others, on a point so closely connected with my duty, it might be supposed he would reveal it directly to me.... If I can learn His will, I will do it. These, however, are not the days of miracles, and I suppose I am not to expect a direct revelation. I must study the plain physical facts of the case, and learn what appears to be wise and right.... Do not misunderstand me because I have mentioned these objections. They indicate the difficulties which have thus far prevented my action in some such way as you desire. I have not decided against a proclamation of emancipation, but hold the matter in advisement. The subject is in my mind by day and by night. Whatever shall appear to be God's will, I will do."

About this period the President had a very interesting conversation with Rev. William Henry Channing, in which the question of emancipation was frankly discussed. Mr. M.D. Conway, who was present at the interview, says: "Mr. Channing having begun by expressing his belief that the opportunity of the nation to rid itself of slavery had arrived, Mr. Lincoln asked how he thought they might avail themselves of it. Channing suggested emancipation, with compensation for the slaves. The President said he had for years been in favor of that plan. When the President turned to me, I asked whether we might not look to him as the coming deliverer of the nation from its one great evil? What would not that man achieve for mankind who should free America from slavery? He said, 'Perhaps we may be better able to do something in that direction after a while than we are now.' I said: 'Mr. President, do you believe the masses of the American people would hail you as their deliverer if, at the end of this war, the Union should be surviving and slavery still in it?' 'Yes, if they were to see that slavery was on the down hill.' I ventured to say: 'Our fathers compromised with slavery because they thought it on the down hill; hence war to-day.' The President said: 'I think the country grows in this direction daily, and I am not without hope that something of the desire of you and your friends may be accomplished. When the hour comes for dealing with slavery, I trust I shall be willing to do my duty, though it costs my life. And, gentlemen, lives will be lost.' These last words were said with a smile, yet with a sad and weary tone. During the conversation Mr. Lincoln recurred several times to Channing's suggestion of pecuniary compensation for emancipated slaves, and professed profound sympathy with the Southerners who, by no fault of their own, had become socially and commercially bound up with their peculiar institution. Being a Virginian myself, with many dear relatives and beloved companions of my youth in the Confederate ranks, I responded warmly to his kindly sentiments toward the South, albeit feeling more angry than he seemed to be against the institution preying upon the land like a ghoul. I forget whether it was on this occasion or on a subsequent one when I was present that he said, in parting: 'We shall need all the anti-slavery feeling in the country, and more; you can go home and try to bring the people to your views; and you may say anything you like about me, if that will help. Don't spare me!' This was said with some laughter, but still in earnest."

One of the severest opponents of President Lincoln's policy regarding slavery was Horace Greeley. He criticized Lincoln freely in the New York "Tribune," of which he was editor, and said many harsh and bitter things of the administration. Lincoln took the abuse good-naturedly, saying on one occasion: "It reminds me of the big fellow whose little wife was wont to beat him over the head without resistance. When remonstrated with, the man said, 'Let her alone. It don't hurt me, and it does her a power of good.'"

In August, 1862, Mr. Greeley published a letter in the New York "Tribune," headed "The prayer of twenty millions of people," in which he urged the President, with extreme emphasis, to delay the act of emancipation no longer. Lincoln answered the vehement entreaty in the following calm, firm, and explicit words:

EXECUTIVE MANSION, WASHINGTON, Friday, Aug. 22, 1862.

HON. HORACE GREELEY.

DEAR SIR: I have just read yours of the 19th instant, addressed to myself, through the New York Tribune.

If there be in it any statements or assumptions of fact, which I may know to be erroneous, I do not now and here controvert them. If there be any inferences which I believe to be falsely drawn, I do not now and here argue against them. If there be perceptible in it an impatient and dictatorial tone, I waive it, in deference to an old friend whose heart I have always supposed to be right.

As to the policy I "seem to be pursuing," as you say, I have not meant to leave anyone in doubt. I would save the Union. I would save it in the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored, the nearer the Union will be—the Union as it was. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object is to save the Union, and not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it. And if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it. And if I could save it by freeing some, and leaving others alone, I would do that.

What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I believe what I am doing hurts the cause; and shall do more whenever I believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors, when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views, so fast as they shall appear to be true views.

I have here stated my purpose, according to my view of official duty, and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.

Yours, A. Lincoln.

Mr. Greeley being dissatisfied with Lincoln's explanation, and the "Tribune" still teeming with complaints and criticisms of the administration, Lincoln requested Mr. Greeley to come to Washington and make known in person his complaints, to the end that they might be obviated if possible. The editor of the "Tribune" came. Lincoln said: "You complain of me. What have I done, or omitted to do, which has provoked the hostility of the 'Tribune'?" The reply was, "You should issue a proclamation abolishing slavery." Lincoln answered: "Suppose I do that. There are now twenty thousand of our muskets on the shoulders of Kentuckians, who are bravely fighting our battles. Every one of them will be thrown down or carried over to the rebels." The reply was: "Let them do it. The cause of the Union will be stronger if Kentucky should secede with the rest than it is now." Lincoln answered, "Oh, I can't think that."

It is evident that these solicitations and counsellings from outside persons were unnecessary and idle. Lincoln's far-seeing and practical mind had already grasped, more surely than had his would-be advisers, the ultimate wisdom and justice of the emancipation of the slaves. But he was resolved to do nothing rashly. He would wait till the time was ripe, and then abolish slavery on grounds that would be approved throughout the world: he would destroy slavery as a necessary step to the preservation of the Union. In the first year of the war he had said to a Southern Unionist, who warned him against meddling with slavery, "You must not expect me to give up this Government without playing my last card." This "last card" was undoubtedly the freeing of the slaves; and when the time came, Lincoln played it unhesitatingly and triumphantly. How strong a card it was may be judged by a statement made in Congress by Mr. Ashmore, a Representative from South Carolina, who said shortly before the war: "The South can sustain more men in the field than the North can. Her four millions of slaves alone will enable her to support an army of half a million." This view makes the issue plain. If the South could maintain armies in the field supported, or partly supported, by slave labor, it was as much the right and the duty of the Government to destroy that support as to destroy an establishment for the manufacture of arms or munitions of war for the Southern armies. The logic of events had demonstrated the necessity and justice of the measure, and Lincoln now had with him a Cabinet practically united in its favor. The case was well stated by Secretary Welles—perhaps the most cool-headed and conservative member of Lincoln's Cabinet—at a Cabinet meeting held six or eight weeks after the Emancipation measure had been brought forward by the President. Mr. Welles, as he relates in his Diary, pointed out "the strong exercise of power" involved in the proposal, and denied the power of the Executive to take such a step under ordinary conditions. "But," said Mr. Welles, "the Rebels themselves had invoked war on the subject of slavery, had appealed to arms, and must abide the consequences." Mr. Welles admitted that it was "an extreme exercise of war powers" which he believed justifiable "under the circumstances, and in view of the condition of the country and the magnitude of the contest. The slaves were now an element of strength to the Rebels—were laborers, producers, and army attendants; they were considered as property by the Rebels, and if property they were subject to confiscation; if not property, but persons residing in the insurrectionary region, we should invite them as well as the whites to unite with us in putting down the Rebellion." This view was in the main concurred in by the Cabinet members present, and greatly heartened the President in his course. On the 22d of September, 1862, he issued what is known as the "Preliminary Proclamation." The text of this momentous document is as follows:

I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America, and Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy thereof, do hereby proclaim and declare that hereafter, as heretofore, the war will be prosecuted for the object of practically restoring the constitutional relations between the United States and each of the States and the people thereof, in which States that relation is or may be suspended or disturbed.

That it is my purpose, upon the next meeting of Congress, to again recommend the adoption of a practical measure tendering pecuniary aid to the free acceptance or rejection of all slave States, so called, the people whereof may not then be in rebellion against the United States, and which States may then have voluntarily adopted, or thereafter may voluntarily adopt, immediate or gradual abolishment of slavery within their respective limits; and that the effort to colonize persons of African descent, with their consent, upon this continent or elsewhere, with the previously obtained consent of the governments existing there, will be continued.

That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever FREE; and the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.

That the Executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof respectively shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State, or the people thereof, shall on that day be, in good faith, represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such State shall have participated, shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State, and the people thereof, are not in rebellion against the United States.

That attention is hereby called to an act of Congress entitled "An act to make an additional article of war," approved March 13, 1862, and which act is in the words and figures following:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That hereafter the following shall be promulgated as an additional article of war, for the government of the army of the United States, and shall be obeyed and observed as such.

ARTICLE.—All officers or persons in the military or naval service of the United States are prohibited from employing any of the forces under their respective commands for the purpose of returning fugitives from service or labor who may have escaped from any persons to whom such service or labor is claimed to be due, and any officer who shall be found guilty by a court-martial of violating this article shall be dismissed from the service.

SEC. 2. And be it further enacted, That this act shall take effect from and after its passage.

Also to the ninth and tenth sections of an act entitled "An act to suppress insurrection, to punish treason and rebellion, to seize and confiscate property of rebels, and for other purposes," approved July 17, 1862, and which sections are in the words and figures following:

SEC. 9. And be it further enacted, That all slaves of persons who shall hereafter be engaged in rebellion against the government of the United States or who shall in any way give aid or comfort thereto, escaping from such persons and taking refuge within the lines of the army; and all slaves captured from such persons or deserted by them, and coming under the control of the government of the United States; and all slaves of such persons found on [or] being within any place occupied by rebel forces, and afterwards occupied by the forces of the United States, shall be deemed captives of war, and shall be forever free of their servitude, and not again held as slaves.

SEC. 10. And be it further enacted, That no slave, escaping into any State, Territory, or the District of Columbia, from any other State, shall be delivered up, or in any way impeded or hindered of his liberty, except for crime, or some offense against the laws, unless the person claiming said fugitive shall first make oath that the person to whom the labor or service of such fugitive is alleged to be due is his lawful owner, and has not borne arms against the United States in the present rebellion, nor in any way given aid and comfort thereto; and no person engaged in the military or naval service of the United States shall, under any pretense whatever, assume to decide on the validity of the claim of any person to the service or labor of any other person, or surrender up any such person to the claimant, on pain of being dismissed from the service.

And I do hereby enjoin upon and order all persons engaged in the military and naval service of the United States to observe, obey, and enforce, within their respective spheres of service, the act and sections above recited.

And the Executive will in due time recommend that all the citizens of the United States who shall have remained loyal thereto throughout the rebellion, shall (upon the restoration of the constitutional relation between the United States and their respective States and people, if that relation shall have been suspended or disturbed) be compensated for all losses by acts of the United States, including the loss of slaves.

In witness 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 twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-seventh.

By the President: ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.

Lincoln's own account of this proclamation, and of the steps that led to it, is given as reported by Mr. F.B. Carpenter. "It had," said Lincoln, "got to be midsummer, 1862. Things had gone on from bad to worse, until I felt that we had reached the end of our rope on the plan of operations we had been pursuing; that we must change our tactics and play our last card, or lose the game. I now determined upon the adoption of the emancipation policy; and, without consultation with, or the knowledge of, the Cabinet, I prepared the original draft of the proclamation, and, after much anxious thought, called a Cabinet meeting upon the subject. This was the last of July, or the first part of the month of August, 1862. This Cabinet meeting took place, I think, upon a Saturday. All were present excepting Mr. Blair, the Postmaster general, who was absent at the opening of the discussion, but came in subsequently. I said to the Cabinet that I had resolved upon this step, and had called them together, not to ask their advice, but to lay the subject-matter of a proclamation before them; suggestions as to which would be in order, after they had heard it read. Mr. Lovejoy was in error when he informed you that it excited no comment, excepting on the part of Secretary Seward. Various suggestions were offered. Secretary Chase wished the language stronger in reference to the arming of the blacks. Mr. Blair, after he came in, deprecated the policy, on the ground that it would cost the administration the fall elections. Nothing, however, was offered that I had not already fully anticipated and settled in my own mind, until Secretary Seward spoke. He said in substance: 'Mr. President, I approve of the proclamation, but I question the expediency of its issue at this juncture. The depression of the public mind, consequent upon our repeated reverses, is so great that I fear the effect of so important a step. It may be viewed as the last measure of an exhausted government, a cry for help; the government stretching forth its hands to Ethiopia, instead of Ethiopia stretching forth her hands to the government.' 'His idea,' said the President, 'was that it would be considered our last shriek on the retreat.' (This was his precise expression.) 'Now,' continued Mr. Seward, 'while I approve the measure, I suggest, sir, that you postpone its issue until you can give it to the country supported by military success, instead of issuing it, as would be the case now, upon the greatest disasters of the war!'" Lincoln continued: "The wisdom of the view of the Secretary of State struck me with very great force. It was an aspect of the case that, in all my thought upon the subject, I had entirely overlooked. The result was that I put the draft of the proclamation aside, waiting for a victory. From time to time I added or changed a line, touching it up here and there, anxiously waiting the progress of events. Well, the next news we had was of Pope's disaster at Bull Run. Things looked darker than ever. Finally, came the week of the battle of Antietam. I determined to wait no longer.[F] The news came, I think, on Wednesday, that the advantage was on our side. I was then staying at the Soldiers' Home (three miles out of Washington). Here I finished writing the second draft of the preliminary proclamation; came up on Saturday; called the Cabinet together to hear it; and it was published the following Monday."

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13     Next Part
Home - Random Browse