Abraham Lincoln, Vol. I.
John T. Morse

Part 5 out of 5

Postmaster-General Blair and General Meigs being added to the council.
The postmaster-general condemned a direct advance as "strategically
defective," while Chase descanted on the "moral power" of a victory. The
picture of the two civilians injecting their military suggestions is not
reassuring. Meigs is somewhat vaguely reported to have favored a "battle
in front."

McDowell and Franklin had not felt justified in communicating these
occurrences to McClellan, because the President had marked his order to
them "private and confidential." But the commander heard rumors of what
was going forward,[156] and on January 12 he came from his sick-room to
see the President; he was "looking quite well," and apparently was "able
to assume the charge of the army." The apparition put a different
complexion upon the pending discussions. On the 13th the same gentlemen
met, but now with the addition of General McClellan. The situation was
embarrassing. McClellan took scant pains to conceal his resentment.
McDowell, at the request of the President, explained what he thought
could be done, closing "by saying something apologetic;" to which
McClellan replied, "somewhat coldly if not curtly: 'You are entitled to
have any opinion you please.'" Secretary Chase, a leader among the
anti-McClellanites, bluntly asked the general to explain his military
plans in detail; but McClellan declined to be interrogated except by the
President, or by the secretary of war, who was not present. Finally,
according to McClellan's account, which differs a little but not
essentially from that of McDowell, Mr. Lincoln suggested[157] that he
should tell what his plans were. McClellan replied, in substance, that
this would be imprudent and seemed unnecessary, and that he would only
give information if the President would order him in writing to do so,
and would assume the responsibility for the results.[158] McDowell adds
(but McClellan does not), that the President then asked McClellan "if he
had counted upon any particular time; he did not ask what that time was,
but had he in his own mind any particular time fixed, when a movement
could be commenced. He replied, he had. 'Then,' rejoined the President,
'I will adjourn this meeting.'" This unfortunate episode aggravated the
discord, and removed confidence and cooeperation farther away than ever

The absence of the secretary of war from these meetings was due to the
fact that a change in the War Department was in process
contemporaneously with them. The President had been allowed to
understand that Mr. Cameron did not find his duties agreeable, and might
prefer a diplomatic post. Accordingly, with no show of reluctance, Mr.
Lincoln, on January 11, 1862, offered to Mr. Cameron the post of
minister to Russia. It was promptly accepted, and on January 13 Edwin M.
Stanton was nominated and confirmed to fill the vacancy.[159] The
selection was a striking instance of the utter absence of vindictiveness
which so distinguished Mr. Lincoln, who, in fact, was simply insensible
to personal feeling as an influence. In choosing incumbents for public
trusts, he knew no foe, perhaps no friend; but as dispassionately as if
he were manoeuvring pieces on a chessboard, he considered only which
available piece would serve best in the square which he had to fill. In
1859 he and Stanton had met as associate counsel in perhaps the most
important lawsuit in which Mr. Lincoln had ever been concerned, and
Stanton had treated Lincoln with his habitual insolence.[160] Later,
in the trying months which closed the year 1861, Stanton had abused the
administration with violence, and had carried his revilings of the
President even to the point of coarse personal insults.[161] No man, not
being a rebel, had less right to expect an invitation to become an
adviser of the President; and most men, who had felt or expressed the
opinions held by Mr. Stanton, would have had scruples or delicacy about
coming into the close relationship of confidential adviser with the
object of their contempt; but neither scruples nor delicacy delayed him;
his acceptance was prompt.[162]

[Illustration: Edwin M. Stanton]

So Mr. Lincoln had chosen his secretary solely upon the belief of the
peculiar fitness of the individual for the special duties of the war
office. Upon the whole the choice was wisely made, and was evidence of
Mr. Lincoln's insight into the aptitudes and the uses of men. Stanton's
abilities commanded some respect, though his character never excited
either respect or liking; just now, however, all his good qualities and
many of his faults seemed precisely adapted to the present requirements
of his department. He had been a Democrat, but was now zealous to
extremity in patriotism; in his dealings with men he was capable of much
duplicity, yet in matters of business he was rigidly honest, and it was
his pleasure to protect the treasury against the contractors; he loved
work, and never wearied amid the driest and most exacting toil; he was
prompt and decisive rather than judicial or correct in his judgments
concerning men and things; he was arbitrary, harsh, bad-tempered, and
impulsive; he often committed acts of injustice or cruelty, for which he
rarely made amends, and still more rarely seemed disturbed by remorse or
regret. These traits bore hard upon individuals; but ready and
unscrupulous severity was supposed to have its usefulness in a civil
war. Many a time he taxed the forbearance of the President to a degree
that would have seemed to transcend the uttermost limit of human
patience, if Mr. Lincoln had not taken these occasions to show to the
world how forbearing and patient it is possible for man to be. But those
who knew the relations of the two men are agreed that Stanton, however
browbeating he was to others, recognized a master in the President, and,
though often grumbling and insolent, always submitted if a crisis came.
Undoubtedly Mr. Lincoln was the only ruler known to history who could
have cooeperated for years with such a minister. He succeeded in doing so
because he believed it to be for the good of the cause, to which he
could easily subordinate all personal considerations; and posterity,
agreeing with him, concedes to Stanton credit for efficiency in the
conduct of his department.

It is worth while here to pause long enough to read part of a letter
which, on this same crowded thirteenth day of January, 1862, the
President sent to General Halleck, in the West: "For my own views: I
have not offered, and do not now offer, them as orders; and while I am
glad to have them respectfully considered, I would blame you to follow
them contrary to your own clear judgment, unless I should put them in
the form of orders.... With this preliminary, I state my general idea of
this war to be that we have the greater numbers and the enemy has the
greater facility of concentrating forces upon points of collision; that
we must fail unless we can find some way of making our advantage an
overmatch for his; and that this can only be done by menacing him with
superior forces at different points at the same time, so that we can
safely attack one or both if he makes no change; and if he weakens one
to strengthen the other, forbear to attack the strengthened one, but
seize and hold the weakened one, gaining so much."

In a personal point of view this short letter is pregnant with interest
and suggestion. The writer's sad face, eloquent of the charge and burden
of one of the most awful destinies of human-kind, rises before us as we
read the expression of his modest self-distrust amid the strange duties
of military affairs. But closely following this comes the intimation
that in due time "_orders_" will come. Such was the quiet, unflinching
way in which Lincoln always faced every test, apparently with a tranquil
and assured faith that, whatever might seem his lack of fitting
preparation, his best would be adequate to the occasion. The habit has
led many to fancy that he believed himself divinely chosen, and
therefore sure of infallible guidance; but it is observable far back,
almost from the beginning of his life; it was a trait of mind and
character, nothing else. The letter closes with a broad general theory
concerning the war, wrought out by that careful process of thinking
whereby he was wont to make his way to the big, simple, and fundamental
truth. The whole is worth holding in memory through the narrative of the
coming weeks.

The conference of January 13 developed a serious difference of opinion
as to the plan of campaign, whenever a campaign should be entered upon.
The President's notion, already shadowed forth in his memorandum of
December, was to move directly upon the rebel army at Centreville and
Manassas and to press it back upon Richmond, with the purpose of
capturing that city. But McClellan presented as his project a movement
by Urbana and West Point, using the York River as a base of supplies.
General McDowell and Secretary Chase favored the President's plan;
General Franklin and Postmaster Blair thought better of McClellan's. The
President had a strong fancy for his own scheme, because by it the Union
army was kept between the enemy and Washington; and therefore the
supreme point of importance, the safety of the national capital, was
insured. The discussion, which was thus opened and which remained long
unsettled, had, among other ill effects, that of sustaining the
vexatious delay. While the anti-McClellan faction--for the matter was
becoming one of factions[163]--grew louder in denunciation of his
inaction, and fastened upon him the contemptuous nickname of "the
Virginia creeper," the friends of the general retorted that the
President, meddling in what he did not understand, would not let the
military commander manage the war.

Nevertheless Mr. Lincoln, dispassionate and fair-minded as usual,
allowed neither their personal difference of opinion nor this abusive
outcry to inveigle into his mind any prejudice against McClellan. The
Southerner who, in February, 1861, predicted that Lincoln "would do his
own thinking," read character well. Lincoln was now doing precisely this
thing, in his silent, thorough, independent way, neither provoked by
McClellan's cavalier assumption of superior knowledge, nor alarmed by
the danger of offending the politicians. In fact, he decided to go
counter to both the disputants; for he resolved, on the one hand, to
compel McClellan to act; on the other, to maintain him in his command.
He did not, however, abandon his own plan of campaign. On January 27, as
commander-in-chief of the army, he issued his "General War Order No. 1."
In this he directed "that the 22d day of February, 1862, be the day for
a general movement of the land and naval forces of the United States
against the insurgent forces;" and said that heads of departments and
military and naval commanders would "be held to their strict and full
responsibilities for prompt execution of this order." By this he
practically repudiated McClellan's scheme, because transportation and
other preparations for pursuing the route by Urbana could not be made
ready by the date named.

Critics of the President have pointed to this document as a fine
instance of the follies to be expected from a civil ruler who conducts a
war. To order an advance all along a line from the Mississippi to the
Atlantic, upon a day certain, without regard to differing local
conditions and exigencies, and to notify the enemy of the purpose nearly
a month beforehand, were acts preposterous according to military
science. But the criticism was not so fair as it was obvious. The order
really bore in part the character of a manifesto; to the people of the
North, whose confidence must be kept and their spirit sustained, it
said that the administration meant action at once; to commanding
officers it was a fillip, warning them to bestir themselves, obstacles
to the contrary notwithstanding. It was a reveille. Further, in a
general way it undoubtedly laid out a sound plan of campaign,
substantially in accordance with that which McClellan also was evolving,
viz.: to press the enemy all along the western and middle line, and thus
to prevent his making too formidable a concentration in Virginia. In the
end, however, practicable or impracticable, wise or foolish, the order
was never fulfilled. The armies in Virginia did nothing till many weeks
after the anniversary of Washington's birthday; whereas, in the West,
Admiral Foote and General Grant did not conceive that they were enforced
to rest in idleness until that historic date. Before it arrived they had
performed the brilliant exploits of capturing Fort Henry and Fort

On January 31 the President issued "Special War Order No. 1," directing
the army of the Potomac to seize and occupy "a point upon the railroad
southwestward of what is known as Manassas Junction;... the expedition
to move before or on the 22d day of February next." This was the
distinct, as the general order had been the indirect, adoption of his
own plan of campaign, and the overruling of that of the general.
McClellan at once remonstrated, and the two rival plans thus came face
to face for immediate and definitive settlement. It must be assumed
that the President's order had been really designed only to force
exactly this issue; for on February 3, so soon as he received the
remonstrance, he invited argument from the general by writing to him a
letter which foreshadowed an open-minded reception for views opposed to
his own:--

"If you will give satisfactory answers to the following questions, I
shall gladly yield my plan to yours:--

"1st. Does not 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 communications, while mine would?

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

To these queries McClellan replied by a long and elaborate exposition of
his views. He said that, if the President's plan should be pursued
successfully, the "results would be confined to the possession of the
field of battle, the evacuation of the line of the upper Potomac by the
enemy, and the moral effect of the victory." On the other hand, a
movement in force by the route which he advocated "obliges the enemy to
abandon his intrenched position at Manassas, in order to hasten to
cover Richmond and Norfolk." That is to say, he expected to achieve by a
manoeuvre what the President designed to effect by a battle, to be
fought by inexperienced troops against an intrenched enemy. He
continued: "This movement, if successful, gives us the capital, the
communications, the supplies, of the rebels; Norfolk would fall; all the
waters of the Chesapeake would be ours; all Virginia would be in our
power, and the enemy forced to abandon Tennessee and North Carolina. The
alternative presented to the enemy would be, to beat us in a position
selected by ourselves, disperse, or pass beneath the Caudine forks." In
case of defeat the Union army would have a "perfectly secure retreat
down the Peninsula upon Fort Monroe." "This letter," he afterward wrote,
"must have produced some effect upon the mind of the President!" The
slur was unjust. The President now and always considered the views of
the general with a liberality of mind rarely to be met with in any man,
and certainly never in McClellan himself. In this instance the letter
did in fact produce so much "effect upon the mind of the President" that
he prepared to yield views which he held very strongly to views which he
was charged with not being able to understand, and which he certainly
could not bring himself actually to believe in.

Yet before quite taking this step he demanded that a council of the
generals of division should be summoned to express their opinions. This
was done, with the result that McDowell, Sumner, Heintzelman, and
Barnard voted against McClellan's plan; Keyes voted for it, with the
proviso "that no change should be made until the rebels were driven from
their batteries on the Potomac." Fitz-John Porter, Franklin, W.F. Smith,
McCall, Blenker, Andrew Porter, and Naglee (of Hooker's division) voted
for it. Stanton afterward said of this: "We saw ten generals afraid to
fight." The insult, delivered in the snug personal safety which was
suspected to be very dear to Stanton, was ridiculous as aimed at men who
soon handled some of the most desperate battles of the war; but it is
interesting as an expression of the unreasoning bitterness of the
controversy then waging over the situation in Virginia, a controversy
causing animosities vastly more fierce than any between Union soldiers
and Confederates, animosities which have unfortunately lasted longer,
and which can never be brought to the like final and conclusive
arbitrament. The purely military question quickly became snarled up with
politics and was reduced to very inferior proportions in the noxious
competition. "Politics entered and strategy retired," says General Webb,
too truly. McClellan himself conceived that the politicians were leagued
to destroy him, and would rather see him discredited than the rebels
whipped. In later days the strong partisan loves and hatreds of our
historical writers have perpetuated and increased all this bad blood,
confusion, and obscurity.

The action of the council of generals was conclusive. The President
accepted McClellan's plan. Therein he did right; for undeniably it was
his duty to allow his own inexperience to be controlled by the
deliberate opinion of the best military experts in the country; and this
fact is wholly independent of any opinion concerning the intrinsic or
the comparative merits of the plans themselves. Indeed, Mr. Lincoln had
never expressed positive disapproval of McClellan's plan _per se_, but
only had been alarmed at what seemed to him its indirect result in
exposing the capital. To cover this point, he now made an imperative
preliminary condition that this safety should be placed beyond a
question. He was emphatic and distinct in reiterating this proviso as
fundamental. The preponderance of professional testimony, from that day
to this, has been to the effect that McClellan's strategy was sound and
able, and that Mr. Lincoln's anxiety for the capital was groundless. But
in spite of all argument, and though military men may shed ink as if it
were mere blood, in spite even of the contempt and almost ridicule which
the President incurred at the pen of McClellan,[164] the civilian will
retain a lurking sympathy with the President's preference. It is
impossible not to reflect that precisely in proportion as the safety of
the capital, for many weighty reasons, immeasurably outweighed any other
possible consideration in the minds of the Northerners, so the desire to
capture it would be equally overmastering in the estimation of the
Southerners. Why might not the rebels permit McClellan to march into
Richmond, provided that at the same time they were marching into
Washington? Why might they not, in the language afterward used by
General Lee, "swap Queens?" They would have a thousand fold the better
of the exchange. The Northern Queen was an incalculably more valuable
piece on the board than was her Southern rival. With the Northern
government in flight, Maryland would go to the Confederacy, and European
recognition would be sure and immediate; and these two facts might,
almost surely would, be conclusive against the Northern cause. Moreover,
memory will obstinately bring up the fact that long afterward, when
General Grant was pursuing a route to Richmond strategically not
dissimilar to that proposed by McClellan, and when all the circumstances
made the danger of a successful attack upon Washington much less than it
was in the spring of 1862, the rebels actually all but captured the
city; and it was saved not alone by a rapidity of movement which would
have been impossible in the early stages of the war, but also by what
must be called the aid of good luck. It is difficult to see why General
Jackson in 1862 might not have played in fatal earnest a game which in
1864 General Early played merely for the chances. Pondering upon these
things, it is probable that no array of military scientists will ever
persuade the non-military world that Mr. Lincoln was so timid, or so
dull-witted, or so unreasonable, as General McClellan declared him to

Another consideration is suggested by some remarks of Mr. Swinton. It is
tolerably obvious that, whether McClellan's plan was or was not the
better, the President's plan was entirely possible; all that could be
said against it was that it promised somewhat poorer results at somewhat
higher cost. This being the case, and in view of the fact that the
President's disquietude concerning Washington was so profound and his
distrust of McClellan's plan so ineradicable, it would have been much
better to have had the yielding come from the general than from the
President. A man of less stubborn temper and of broader intellect than
belonged to McClellan would have appreciated this. In fact, it was in a
certain sense even poor generalship to enter upon a campaign of such
magnitude, when a thorough and hearty cooeperation was really not to be
expected. For after all might be ostensibly settled and agreed upon, and
however honest might be Mr. Lincoln's intentions to support the
commanding general, one thing still remained certain: that the safety of
the capital was Mr. Lincoln's weightiest responsibility, that it was a
matter concerning which he was sensitively anxious, and that he was
perfectly sure in any moment of alarm concerning that safety to insure
it by any means in his power and at any sacrifice whatsoever. In a word,
that which soon did happen was precisely that which ought to have been
foreseen as likely to happen. For it was entirely obvious that Mr.
Lincoln did not abandon his own scheme because his own reason was
convinced of the excellence of McClellan's; in fact, he never was and
never pretended to be thus convinced. To his mind, McClellan's reasoning
never overcame his own reasoning; he only gave way before professional
authority; and, while he sincerely meant to give McClellan the most
efficient aid and backing in his power, the anxiety about Washington
rested immovable in his thought. If the two interests should ever, in
his opinion, come into competition, no one could doubt which would be
sacrificed. To push forward the Peninsula campaign under these
conditions was a terrible mistake of judgment on McClellan's part. Far
better would it have been to have taken the Manassas route; for even if
its inherent demerits were really so great as McClellan had depicted,
they would have been more than offset by preserving the undiminished
cooeperation of the administration. The personal elements in the problem
ought to have been conclusive.

An indication of the error of forcing the President into a course not
commended by his judgment, in a matter where his responsibility was so
grave, was seen immediately. On March 8 he issued General War Order No.
3: That no change of base should be made "without leaving in and about
Washington such a force as, in the opinion of the general-in-chief and
the commanders of army corps, shall leave said city entirely secure;"
that not more than two corps (about 50,000 men) should be moved en route
for a new base until the Potomac, below Washington, should be freed from
the Confederate batteries; that any movement of the army via Chesapeake
Bay should begin as early as March 18, and that the general-in-chief
should be "responsible that it moves as early as that day." This greatly
aggravated McClellan's dissatisfaction; for it expressed the survival of
the President's anxiety, it hampered the general, and by its last clause
it placed upon him a responsibility not properly his own.

Yet at this very moment weighty evidence came to impeach the soundness
of McClellan's opinion concerning the military situation. On February 27
Secretary Chase wrote that the time had come for dealing decisively with
the "army in front of us," which he conceived to be already so weakened
that "a victory over it is deprived of half its honor." Not many days
after this writing, the civilian strategists, the President and his
friends, seemed entitled to triumph. For on March 7, 8, and 9 the North
was astonished by news of the evacuation of Manassas by Johnston. At
once the cry of McClellan's assailants went up: If McClellan had only
moved upon the place! What a cheap victory he would have won, and
attended with what invaluable "moral effects"! Yet, forsooth, he had
been afraid to move upon these very intrenched positions which it now
appeared that the Confederates dared not hold even when unthreatened!
But McClellan retorted that the rebels had taken this backward step
precisely because they had got some hint of his designs for advancing by
Urbana, and that it was the exact fulfillment, though inconveniently
premature, of his predictions. This explanation, however, wholly failed
to prevent the civilian mind from believing that a great point had been
scored on behalf of the President's plan. Further than this, there were
many persons, including even a majority of the members of the Committee
on the Conduct of the War, who did not content themselves with mere
abuse of McClellan's military intelligence, but who actually charged him
with being disaffected and nearly, if not quite, a traitor. None the
less Mr. Lincoln generously and patiently adhered to his agreement to
let McClellan have his own way.

Precisely at the same time that this evacuation of Manassas gave to
McClellan's enemies an argument against him which they deemed fair and
forcible and he deemed unfair and ignorant, two other occurrences added
to the strain of the situation. McClellan immediately put his entire
force in motion towards the lines abandoned by the Confederates, not
with the design of pressing the retreating foe, which the "almost
impassable roads" prevented, but to strip off redundancies and to train
the troops in marching. On March 11, immediately after he had started,
the President issued his Special War Order No. 3: "Major-General
McClellan having personally taken the field at the head of the army of
the Potomac,... he is relieved from the command of the other military
departments, he retaining command of the Department of the Potomac."
McClellan at once wrote that he should continue to "work just as
cheerfully as before;" but he felt that the removal was very
unhandsomely made just as he was entering upon active operations.
Lincoln, on the other hand, undoubtedly looked upon it in precisely the
opposite light, and conceived that the opportunity of the moment
deprived of any apparent sting a change which he had determined to make.
The duties which were thus taken from McClellan were assumed during
several months by Mr. Stanton. He was utterly incompetent for them, and,
whether or not it was wise to displace the general, it was certainly
very unwise to let the secretary practically succeed him.[165] The way
in which, both at the East and West, our forces were distributed into
many independent commands, with no competent chief who could compel all
to cooeperate and to become subsidiary to one comprehensive scheme, was a
serious mistake in general policy, which cost very dear before it was
recognized.[166] McClellan had made some efforts to effect this
combination or unity in purpose, but Stanton gave no indication even of
understanding that it was desirable.

The other matter was the division of the army of the Potomac into four
army corps, to be commanded respectively by the four senior generals of
division, viz., McDowell, Sumner, Heintzelman, and Keyes. The propriety
of this action had been for some time under consideration, and the step
was now forced upon Mr. Lincoln by the strenuous insistence of the
Committee on the Conduct of the War. That so large an army required
organization by corps was admitted; but McClellan had desired to defer
the arrangement until his generals of division should have had some
actual experience in the field, whereby their comparative fitness for
higher responsibilities could be measured. An incapable corps commander
was a much more dangerous man than an incapable commander of a division
or brigade. The commander naturally felt the action now taken by the
President to be a slight, and he attributed it to pressure by the band
of civilian advisers whose untiring hostility he returned with
unutterable contempt. Not only was the taking of the step at this time
contrary to his advice, but he was not even consulted in the selection
of his own subordinates, who were set in these important positions by
the blind rule of seniority, and not in accordance with his opinion of
comparative merit. His irritation was perhaps not entirely


[146] A reconnoissance or "slight demonstration" ordered for the day
before by McClellan had been completed, and is not to be confounded with
this movement, for which he was not responsible.

[147] For example, see his _Own Story_, 82; but, unfortunately, one may
refer to that book _passim_ for evidence of the statement.

[148] N. and H. iv. 469.

[149] _Ibid._ v. 140.

[150] Letter to Lincoln, February 3, 1862.

[151] _Army of Potomac_, 97. Swinton says: "He should have made the
lightest possible draft on the indulgence of the people." _Ibid._ 69.
General Webb says: "He drew too heavily upon the faith of the public."
_The Peninsula_, 12.

[152] The Southern generals had a similar propensity to overestimate the
opposing force; _e.g._, Johnston's _Narrative_, 108, where he puts the
Northern force at 140,000, when in fact it was 58,000; and on p. 112 his
statement is even worse.

[153] The Southerners also had the same notion, hoping by one great
victory to discourage and convince the North and make peace on the basis
of independence; _e.g._, see Johnston's _Narrative_ 113, 115. Grant
likewise had the notion of a decisive battle. _Memoirs_, i. 368.

[154] The position taken by Messrs. Nicolay and Hay, I think, fully
warrants this language.

[155] General Palfrey says of this committee that "the worst spirit of
the Inquisition characterized their doings." _The Antietam and
Fredericksburg_ (Campaigns of Civil War Series), 182.

[156] Through Stanton; McClellan, _Own Story_, 156.

[157] Only a few days before this time Lincoln had said that he had no
"right" to insist upon knowing the general's plans. Julian, _Polit.
Recoll._ 201.

[158] It appears that he feared that what he said would leak out, and
ultimately reach the enemy.

[159] For an interesting account of these incidents, from Secretary
Chase's Diary, see Warden, 401.

[160] Lamon, 332; Herndon, 353-356; N. and H. try to mitigate this
story, v. 133.

[161] He did not always feel his tongue tied afterward by the
obligations of office; _e.g._, see Julian, _Polit. Recoll._ 210.

[162] For a singular tale, see McClellan, _Own Story_, 153.

[163] In fact, the feeling against McClellan was getting so strong that
some of his enemies were wild enough about this time to accuse him of
disloyalty. He himself narrates a dramatic tale, which would seem
incredible if his veracity were not beyond question, of an interview,
occurring March 8, 1862, in which the President told him, apparently
with the air of expecting an explanation, that he was charged with
laying his plans with the traitorous intent of leaving Washington
defenseless. McClellan's _Own Story_, 195. On the other hand, McClellan
retaliated by believing that his detractors wished, for political and
personal motives, to prevent the war from being brought to an early and
successful close, and that they intentionally withheld from him the
means of success; also that Stanton especially sought by underhand means
to sow misunderstanding between him and the President. _Ibid._ 195.

[164] McClellan afterward wrote that the administration "had neither
courage nor military insight to understand the effect of the plan I
desired to carry out." _Own Story_, 194. This is perhaps a mild example
of many remarks to the same purport which fell from the general at one
time and another.

[165] See remarks of Mr. Blaine, _Twenty Years of Congress_, i. 368.

[166] _E.g._, McClellan, _Rep._ (per Keyes), 82; Grant, _Mem._ i. 322;
and indeed all writers agree upon this.



The man who first raised the cry "On to Richmond!" uttered the formula
of the war. Richmond was the gage of victory. Thus it happened, as has
been seen, that every one at the North, from the President down, had his
attention fast bound to the melancholy procession of delays and
miscarriages in Virginia. At the West there were important things to be
done; the States of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri, trembling in the
balance, were to be lost or won for the Union; the passage down the
Mississippi to the Gulf was at stake, and with it the prosperity and
development of the boundless regions of the Northwest. Surely these were
interests of some moment, and worthy of liberal expenditure of thought
and energy, men and money; yet the swarm of politicians gave them only
side glances, being unable for many minutes in any day to withdraw their
eyes from the Old Dominion. The consequence was that at the East matters
military and matters political, generals and "public men" of all
varieties were mixed in a snarl of backbiting and quarreling, which
presented a spectacle most melancholy and discouraging. On the other
hand, the West throve surprisingly well in the absence of political
nourishment, and certain local commanders achieved cheering successes
without any aid from the military civilians of Washington. The contrast
seems suggestive, yet perhaps it is incorrect to attach to these facts
any sinister significance, or any connection of cause and effect. Other
reasons than civilian assistance may account for the Virginia failures,
while Western successes may have been won in spite of neglect rather
than by reason of it. Still, simply as naked facts, these things were

Upon occurrences outside of Virginia Mr. Lincoln bestowed more thought
than was fashionable in Washington, and maintained an oversight strongly
in contrast to the indifference of those who seemed to recognize no
other duty than to discuss the demerits of General McClellan. The
President had at least the good sense to see the value of unity of plan
and cooeperation along the whole line, from the Atlantic seaboard to the
extreme West. Also at the West as at the East he was bent upon
advancing, pressing the enemy, and doing something positive. He had not
occasion to use the spur at the West either so often or so severely as
at the East; yet Halleck and Buell needed it and got it more than once.
The Western commanders, like those at the East, and with better reason,
were importunate for more men and more equipment. The President could
not, by any effort, meet their requirements. He wrote to McClernand
after the battle of Belmont: "Much, very much, goes undone; but it is
because we have not the power to do it faster than we do." Some troops
were without arms; but, he said, "the plain matter of fact is, our good
people have rushed to the rescue of the government faster than the
government can find arms to put in their hands." Yet, withal, it is true
that Mr. Lincoln's actual interferences at the South and West were so
occasional and incidental, that, since this writing is a biography of
him and not a history of the war, there is need only for a list of the
events which were befalling outside of that absorbing domain which lay
around the rival capitals.

Along the southern Atlantic coast some rather easy successes were
rapidly won. August 29, 1861, Hatteras Inlet was taken, with little
fighting. November 7, Port Royal followed. Lying nearly midway between
Charleston and Savannah, and being a very fine harbor, this was a prize
of value. January 7, 1862, General Burnside was directed to take command
of the Department of North Carolina. February 8, Roanoke Island was
seized by the Federal forces. March 14, Newbern fell. April 11, Fort
Pulaski, at the mouth of the Savannah River, was taken. April 26,
Beaufort was occupied. The blockade of the other Atlantic ports having
long since been made effective, the Eastern seaboard thus early became a
prison wall for the Confederacy.

At the extreme West Missouri gave the President some trouble. The
bushwhacking citizens of that frontier State, divided not unequally
between the Union and Disunion sides, entered upon an irregular but
energetic warfare with ready zeal if not actually with pleasure.
Northerners in general hardly paused to read the newspaper accounts of
these rough encounters, but the President was much concerned to save the
State. As it lay over against Illinois along the banks of the
Mississippi River, and for the most part above the important strategic
point where Cairo controls the junction of that river with the Ohio,
possession of it appeared to him exceedingly desirable. In the hope of
helping matters forward, on July 3, 1861, he created the Department of
the West, and placed it under command of General Fremont. But the choice
proved unfortunate. Fremont soon showed himself inefficient and
troublesome. At first the President endeavored to allay the local
bickerings; on September 9, 1861, he wrote to General Hunter: "General
Fremont needs assistance which it is difficult to give him. He is losing
the confidence of men near him.... His cardinal mistake is that he
isolates himself;... he does not know what is going on.... He needs to
have by his side a man of large experience. Will you not, for me, take
that place? Your rank is one grade too high;... but will you not serve
the country, and oblige me, by taking it voluntarily?" Kindly
consideration, however, was thrown away upon Fremont, whose self-esteem
was so great that he could not see that he ought to be grateful, or that
he must be subordinate. He owed his appointment largely to the friendly
urgency of the Blair family; and now Postmaster-General Blair, puzzled
at the disagreeable stories about him, went to St. Louis on an errand of
investigation. Fremont promptly placed him under arrest. At the same
time Mrs. Fremont was journeying to Washington, where she had an
extraordinary interview with the President. "She sought an audience with
me at midnight," wrote Lincoln, "and taxed me so violently with many
things that I had to exercise all the awkward tact I have to avoid
quarreling with her.... She more than once intimated that if General
Fremont should decide to try conclusions with me, he could set up for
himself." Naturally the angry lady's threats of treason, instead of
seeming a palliation of her husband's shortcomings, tended to make his
displacement more inevitable. Yet the necessity of being rid of him was
unfortunate, because he was the pet hero of the Abolitionists, who stood
by him without the slightest regard to reason. Lincoln was loath to
offend them, but he felt that he had no choice, and therefore ordered
the removal. He preserved, however, that habitual strange freedom from
personal resentment which made his feelings, like his action, seem to be
strictly official. After the matter was all over he uttered a fair
judgment: "I thought well of Fremont. Even now I think well of his
impulses. I only think he is the prey of wicked and designing men; and I
think he has absolutely no military capacity." For a short while General
Hunter filled Fremont's place, until, in November, General Henry W.
Halleck was assigned to command the Department of Missouri. In February,
1862, General Curtis drove the only regular and considerable rebel force
across the border into Arkansas; and soon afterward, March 7 and 8,
within this latter State, he won the victory of Pea Ridge.

In Tennessee the vote upon secession had indicated that more than two
thirds of the dwellers in the mountainous eastern region were Unionists.
Mr. Lincoln had it much at heart to sustain these men, and aside from
the personal feeling of loyalty to them it was also a point of great
military consequence to hold this district. Near the boundary separating
the northeastern corner of the State from Kentucky, the famous
Cumberland Gap gave passage through the Cumberland Mountains for the
East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad, "the artery that supplied the
rebellion." The President saw, as many others did, and appreciated much
more than others seemed to do, the desirability of gaining this place.
To hold it would be to cut in halves, between east and west, the
northern line of the Confederacy. In the early days a movement towards
the Gap seemed imprudent in face of Kentucky's theory of "neutrality."
But this foolish notion was in time effectually disposed of by the
Confederates. Unable to resist the temptation offered by the important
position of Columbus at the western end of the State on the Mississippi
River, they seized that place in September, 1861. The state legislature,
incensed at the intrusion, immediately embraced the Union cause and
welcomed the Union forces within the state lines.

This action opened the way for the President to make strenuous efforts
for the protection of the East Tennesseeans and the possession of the
Gap. In his annual message he urged upon Congress the construction of a
military railroad to the Gap, and afterward appeared in person to
advocate this measure before a committee of the Senate. If the place had
been in Virginia, he might have gained for his project an attention
which, as matters stood, the politicians never accorded to it. He also
endeavored to stir to action General Buell, who commanded in Kentucky.
Buell, an appointee and personal friend of General McClellan, resembled
his chief somewhat too closely both in character and history. Just as
Mr. Lincoln had to prick McClellan in Virginia, he now had to prick
Buell in Kentucky; and just as McClellan, failed to respond in Virginia,
Buell also failed in Kentucky. Further, Buell, like McClellan, had with
him a force very much greater than that before him; but Buell, like
McClellan, would not admit that his troops were in condition to move.
The result was that Jefferson Davis, more active to protect a crucial
point than the North was to assail it, in December, 1861, sent into East
Tennessee a force which imprisoned, deported, and hanged the loyal
residents there, harried the country without mercy, and held it with the
iron hand. The poor mountaineers, with good reason, concluded that the
hostility of the South was a terribly serious evil, whereas the
friendship of the North was a sadly useless good. The President was
bitterly chagrined, although certainly the blame did not rest with him.
Then the parallel between Buell and McClellan was continued even one
step farther; for Buell at last intimated that he did not approve of the
plan of campaign suggested for him, but thought it would be better
tactics to move upon Nashville. It so happened, however, that when he
expressed these views McClellan was commander-in-chief of all the
armies, and that general, being little tolerant of criticism from
subordinates when he himself was the superior, responded very tartly and
imperiously. Lincoln, on the other hand, according to his wont, wrote
modestly: "Your dispatch ... disappoints and distresses me.... I am not
competent to criticise your views." Then, in the rest of the letter, he
maintained with convincing clearness both the military and the political
soundness of his own opinions.

In offset of this disappointment caused by Buell's inaction, the western
end of Kentucky became the theatre of gratifying operations. So soon as
policy ceased to compel recognition of the "neutrality" of the State,
General Grant, on September 6, 1861, entered Paducah at the confluence
of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers. By this move he checked the water
communication hitherto freely used by the rebels, and neutralized the
advantage which they had expected to gain by their possession of
Columbus. But this was only a first and easy step. Farther to the
southward, just within the boundaries of Tennessee, lay Fort Henry on
the Tennessee River and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland, presenting a
kind of temptation which Grant was less able to resist than were most of
the Union generals at this time. Accordingly he arranged with Admiral
Foote, who commanded the new gunboats on the Mississippi, for a joint
excursion against these places. On February 6, Fort Henry fell, chiefly
through the work of the river navy. Ten days later, February 16, Fort
Donelson was taken, the laurels on this occasion falling to the land
forces. Floyd and Pillow were in the place when the Federals came to it,
but when they saw that capture was inevitable they furtively slipped
away, and thus shifted upon General Buckner the humiliation of the
surrender. This mean behavior excited the bitter resentment of that
general, which was not alleviated by what followed. For when he proposed
to discuss terms of capitulation, General Grant made that famous reply
which gave rise to his popular nickname: "No terms except unconditional
and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately
upon your works."

Halleck telegraphed the pleasant news that the capture of Fort Donelson
carried with it "12,000 to 15,000 prisoners, including Generals Buckner
and Bushrod R. Johnson, also about 20,000 stands of arms, 48 pieces of
artillery, 17 heavy guns, from 2000 to 4000 horses, and large quantities
of commissary stores." He also advised: "Make Buell, Grant, and Pope
major-generals of volunteers, and give me command in the West. I ask
this in return for Forts Henry and Donelson." Halleck was one of those
who expect to reap where others sow. The achievements of Grant and Foote
also led him, by some strange process of reasoning, to conclude that
General C.W. Smith was the most able general in his department.

Congress, highly gratified at these cheering events, ordered a grand
illumination at Washington for February 22; but the death of the
President's little son, at the White House, a day or two before that
date, checked a rejoicing which in other respects also would not have
been altogether timely.

The Federal possession of these two forts rendered Columbus untenable
for the Confederates, and on March 2 they evacuated it. This was
followed by the fall of New Madrid on March 13, and of Island No. 10 on
April 7. At the latter place between 6000 and 7000 Confederates
surrendered. Thus was the Federal wedge being driven steadily deeper
down the channel of the Mississippi.

Soon after this good service of the gunboats on the Western rivers, the
salt-water navy came in for its share of glory. On March 8 the ram
Virginia, late Merrimac, which had been taking on her mysterious iron
raiment at the Norfolk navy yard, issued from her concealment, an ugly
and clumsy, but also a novel and terrible monster. Straight she steamed
against the frigate Cumberland, and with one fell rush cut the poor
wooden vessel in halves and sent her, with all on board, to the bottom
of the sea. Turning then, she mercilessly battered the frigate Congress,
drove her ashore, and burned her. All this while the shot which had
rained upon her iron sides had rolled off harmless, and she returned to
her anchorage, having her prow broken by impact with the Cumberland, but
otherwise unhurt. Her armor had stood the test, and now the Federal
government contemplated with grave anxiety the further possible
achievements of this strange and potent destroyer.

But the death of the Merrimac was to follow close upon her birth; she
was the portent of a few weeks only. For, during a short time past,
there had been also rapidly building in a Connecticut yard the Northern
marvel, the famous Monitor. When the ingenious Swede, John Ericsson,
proposed his scheme for an impregnable floating battery, his hearers
were divided between distrust and hope; but fortunately the President's
favorable opinion secured the trial of the experiment. The work was
zealously pushed, and the artisans actually went to sea with the craft
in order to finish her as she made her voyage southward. It was well
that such haste was made, for she came into Hampton Roads actually by
the light of the burning Congress. On the next day, being Sunday, March
9, the Southern monster again steamed forth, intending this time to make
the Minnesota her prey; but a little boat, that looked like a
"cheese-box" afloat, pushed forward to interfere with this plan. Then
occurred a duel which, in the annals of naval science, ranks as the most
important engagement which ever took place. It did not actually result
in the destruction of the Merrimac then and there, for, though much
battered, she was able to make her way back to the friendly shelter of
the Norfolk yard. But she was more than neutralized; it was evident that
the Monitor was the better craft of the two, and that in a combat _a
outrance_ she would win. The significance of this day's work on the
waters of Virginia cannot be exaggerated. By the armor-clad Merrimac and
the Monitor there was accomplished in the course of an hour a revolution
which differentiated the naval warfare of the past from that of the
future by a chasm as great as that which separated the ancient Greek
trireme from the flagship of Lord Nelson.

As early as the middle of November, 1861, Mr. Lincoln was discussing
the feasibility of capturing New Orleans. Already Ship Island, off the
Mississippi coast, with its uncompleted equipment, had been seized as a
Gulf station, and could be used as a base. The naval force was prepared
as rapidly as possible, but it was not until February 3 that Captain
Farragut, the commander of the expedition, steamed out of Hampton Roads
in his flagship, the screw steam sloop Hartford. On April 18 he began to
bombard forts St. Philip and Jackson, which lie on the river banks
seventy-five miles below New Orleans, guarding the approach. Soon,
becoming impatient of this tardy process, he resolved upon the bold and
original enterprise of running by the forts. This he achieved in the
night of April 24; and on April 27 the stars and stripes floated over
the Mint in New Orleans. Still two days of shilly-shallying on the part
of the mayor ensued, delaying a formal surrender, until Farragut, who
had no fancy for nonsense, sharply put a stop to it, and New Orleans, in
form and substance, passed under Northern control. On April 28 the two
forts, isolated by what had taken place, surrendered. On May 1 General
Butler began in the city that efficient regime which so exasperated the
men of the South. On May 7 Baton Rouge, the state capital, was occupied,
without resistance; and Natchez followed in the procession on May 12.

[Illustration: The Fight Between The Monitor And The Merrimac]

With one Union fleet at the mouth of the Mississippi and another at
Island No. 10, and the Union army not far from the riverside in
Kentucky and Tennessee, the opening and repossession of the whole stream
by the Federals became a thing which ought soon to be achieved. On June
5 the gunboat fleet from up the river came down to within two miles of
Memphis, engaged in a hard fight and won a complete victory, and on the
next day Memphis was held by the Union troops. Farragut also, working in
his usual style, forced his way up to Vicksburg, and exchanged shots
with the Confederate batteries on the bluffs. He found, however, that
without the cooeperation of a land force he could do nothing, and had to
drop back again to New Orleans, arriving there on June 1. In a few weeks
he returned in stronger force, and on June 27 he was bombarding the
rebel works. On June 28, repeating the operation which had been so
successful below New Orleans, he ran some of his vessels by the
batteries and got above the city. But there was still no army on the
land, and so the vessels which had run by, up stream, had to make the
dangerous gauntlet again, down stream, and a second time the fleet
descended to New Orleans.

General Halleck had arrived at St. Louis on November 18, 1861, to take
command of the Western Department. Perhaps a more energetic commander
would have been found ready to cooeperate with Farragut at Vicksburg by
the end of June, 1862; for matters had been going excellently with the
Unionists northeast of that place, and it would seem that a powerful
and victorious army might have been moving thither during that month.
Early in March, however, General Halleck reported that Grant's army was
as much demoralized by victory as the army at Bull Run had been by
defeat. He said that Grant "richly deserved" censure, and that he
himself was worn out by Grant's neglect and inefficiency. By such
charges he obtained from McClellan orders relieving General Grant from
duty, ordering an investigation, and even authorizing his arrest. But a
few days later, March 13, more correct information caused the reversal
of these orders, and March 17 found Grant again in command. He at once
began to busy himself with arrangements for moving upon Corinth. General
Buell meanwhile, after sustaining McClellan's rebuke and being taught
his place, had afterward been successful in obtaining for his own plan
preference over that of the administration, had easily possessed himself
of Nashville toward the end of February, and was now ready to march
westward and cooeperate with General Grant in this enterprise. Corinth,
lying just across the Mississippi border, was "the great strategic
position" at this part of the West. The Mobile and Ohio Railroad ran
through it north and south; the Memphis and Charleston Railroad passed
through east and west. If it could be taken and held, it would leave, as
the only connection open through the Confederacy from the Mississippi
River to the Atlantic coast, the railroad line which started from
Vicksburg. The Confederates also had shown their estimation of Corinth
by fortifying it strongly, and manifesting plainly their determination
to fight a great battle to hold it. Grant, aiming towards it, had his
army at Pittsburg Landing, on the west bank of the Tennessee, and there
awaited Buell, who was moving thither from Nashville with 40,000 men.
Such being the status, Grant expected General A.S. Johnston to await in
his intrenchments the assault of the Union army. But Johnston, in an
aggressive mood, laid well and boldly his plan to whip Grant before
Buell could join him, then to whip Buell, and, having thus disposed of
the Northern forces in detail, to carry the war up to, or even across,
the Ohio. So he came suddenly out from Corinth and marched straight upon
Pittsburg Landing, and precipitated that famous battle which has been
named after the church of Shiloh, because about that church the most
desperate and bloody fighting was done.

The conflict began on Sunday, April 6, and lasted all day. There was not
much plan about it; the troops went at each other somewhat
indiscriminately and did simple stubborn fighting. The Federals lost
much ground all along their line, and were crowded back towards the
river. Some say that the Confederates closed that day on the way to
victory; but General Grant says that he felt assured of winning on
Monday, and that he instructed all his division commanders to open with
an assault in the morning. The doubt, if doubt there was, was settled
by the arrival of General Buell, whose fresh forces, coming in as good
an hour as the Prussians came at Waterloo, were put in during the
evening upon the Federal left. On Sunday the Confederates had greatly
outnumbered the Federals, but this reinforcement reversed the
proportions, so that on Monday the Federals were in the greater force.
Again the conflict was fierce and obstinate, but again the greater
numbers whipped the smaller, and by afternoon the Confederates were in
full retreat. Shiloh, says General Grant, "was the severest battle
fought at the West during the war, and but few in the East equaled it
for hard, determined fighting." It ended in a complete Union victory.
General A.S. Johnston was killed and Beauregard retreated to Corinth,
while the North first exulted because he was compelled to do so, and
then grumbled because he was allowed to do so. It was soon said that
Grant had been surprised, that he was entitled to no credit for winning
clumsily a battle which he had not expected to fight, and that he was
blameworthy for not following up the retreating foe more sharply. The
discussion survives among those quarrels of the war in which the
disputants have fought over again the contested field, with harmless
fierceness, and without any especial result. Congress took up the
dispute, and did a vast deal of talking, in the course of which there
occurred one sensible remark. This was made by Mr. Richardson of
Illinois, who said that the armies would get along much better if the
Riot Act could be read, and the members of Congress dispersed and sent

General Grant found that General Halleck was even more obstinately in
the way of his winning any success than were the Confederates
themselves. As commander of the department, Halleck now conceived that
it was his fair privilege to do the visible taking of that conspicuous
prize which his lieutenant had brought within sure reach. Accordingly,
on April 11, he arrived and assumed command for the purpose of moving on
Corinth. Still he was sedulous in his endeavors to neglect, suppress,
and even insult General Grant, whom he put nominally second in command,
but practically reduced to insignificance, until Grant, finding his
position "unendurable," asked to be relieved. This conduct on the part
of Halleck has of course been attributed to jealousy; but more probably
it was due chiefly to the personal prejudice of a dull man, perhaps a
little stimulated by a natural desire for reputation. Having taken
charge of the advance, he conducted it slowly and cautiously,
intrenching as he went, and moving with pick and shovel, in the phrase
of General Sherman, who commanded a division in the army. "The
movement," says General Grant, "was a siege from the start to the
close." Such tactics had not hitherto been tried at the West, and
apparently did not meet approval. There were only about twenty-two miles
to be traversed, yet four weeks elapsed in the process. The army
started on April 30; twice Pope got near the enemy, first on May 4, and
again on May 8, and each time he was ordered back. It was actually May
28, according to General Grant, when "the investment of Corinth was
complete, or as complete as it was ever made." But already, on May 26,
Beauregard had issued orders for evacuating the place, which was
accomplished with much skill. On May 30 Halleck drew up his army in
battle array and "announced in orders that there was every indication
that our left was to be attacked that morning." A few hours later his
troops marched unopposed into empty works.

Halleck now commanded in Corinth a powerful army,--the forces of Grant,
Buell, and Pope, combined,--not far from 100,000 strong, and he was
threatened by no Southern force at all able to face him. According to
the views of General Grant, he had great opportunities; and among these
certainly was the advance of a strong column upon Vicksburg. If he could
be induced to do this, it seemed reasonable to expect that he and
Farragut together would be able to open the whole Mississippi River, and
to cut the last remaining east-and-west line of railroad communication.
But he did nothing, and ultimately the disposition made of this splendid
collection of troops was to distribute and dissipate it in such a manner
that the loss of the points already gained became much more probable
than the acquisition of others.

Early in July, as has been elsewhere said, Halleck was called to
Washington to take the place of general-in-chief of all the armies of
the North; and at this point perhaps it is worth while to devote a
paragraph to comparing the retirement of McClellan with the promotion of
Halleck. Some similarities and dissimilarities in their careers are
striking. The dissimilarities were: that McClellan had organized the
finest army which the country had yet seen, or was to see; also that he
had at least made a plan for a great campaign; and he had not suppressed
any one abler than himself; that Halleck on the other hand had done
little to organize an army or to plan a campaign, had failed to find out
the qualities of General W.T. Sherman, who was in his department, and
had done all in his power to drive General Grant into retirement. The
similarities are more worthy of observation. Each general had wearied
the administration with demands for reinforcements when each already
outnumbered his opponent so much that it was almost disgraceful to
desire to increase the odds. If McClellan had been reprehensibly slow in
moving upon Yorktown, and had blundered by besieging instead of trying
an assault, certainly the snail-like approach upon Corinth had been
equally deliberate and wasteful of time and opportunity; and if
McClellan had marched into deserted intrenchments, so also had Halleck.
If McClellan had captured "Quaker guns" at Manassas, Halleck had found
the like peaceful weapons frowning from the ramparts of Corinth. If
McClellan had held inactive a powerful force when it ought to have been
marching to Manassas, Halleck had also held inactive another powerful
force, a part of which might have helped to take Vicksburg. If the
records of these two men were stated in parallel columns, it would be
difficult to see why one should have been taken and the other left. But
the explanation exists and is instructive, and it is wholly for the sake
of the explanation that the comparison has been made. McClellan was "in
politics," and Halleck was not; McClellan, therefore, had a host of
active, unsparing enemies in Washington, which Halleck had not; the
Virginia field of operations was ceaselessly and microscopically
inspected; the Western field attracted occasional glances not conducive
to a full knowledge. Halleck, as commander in a department where
victories were won, seemed to have won the victories, and no politicians
cared to deny his right to the glory; whereas the politicians, whose
hatred of McClellan had, by the admission of one of themselves, become a
mania,[167] were entirely happy to have any one set over his head, and
would not imperil their pleasure by too close an inspection of the new
aspirant's merits. These remarks are not designed to have any
significance upon the merits or demerits of McClellan, which have been
elsewhere discussed, nor upon the merits or demerits of Halleck, which
are not worth discussing; but they are made simply because they afford
so forcible an illustration of certain important conditions at
Washington at this time. The truth is that the ensnarlment of the
Eastern military affairs with politics made success in that field
impossible for the North. The condition made it practically inevitable
that a Union commander in Virginia should have his thoughts at least as
much occupied with the members of Congress in the capital behind him as
with the Confederate soldiers in camp before him. Such division of his
attention was ruinous. At and before the outbreak of the rebellion the
South had expected to be aided efficiently by a great body of
sympathizers at the North. As yet they had been disappointed in this;
but almost simultaneously with this disappointment they were surprised
by a valuable and unexpected assistance, growing out of the open feuds,
the covert malice, the bad blood, the partisanship, and the wire-pulling
introduced by the loyal political fraternity into campaigning business.
The quarreling politicians were doing, very efficiently, the work which
Southern sympathizers had been expected to do.


[167] George W. Julian, _Polit. Recoll._ 204.



To the people who had been engaged in changing Illinois from a
wilderness into a civilized State, Europe had been an abstraction, a
mere colored spot upon a map, which in their lives meant nothing. Though
England had been the home of their ancestors, it was really less
interesting than the west coast of Africa, which was the home of the
negroes; for the negroes were just now of vastly more consequence than
the ancestors. So even Dahomey had some claim to be regarded as a more
important place than Great Britain, and the early settlers wasted little
thought on the affairs of Queen Victoria. Amid these conditions,
absorbed even more than his neighbors in the exciting questions of
domestic politics, and having no tastes or pursuits which guided his
thoughts abroad, Mr. Lincoln had never had occasion to consider the
foreign relations of the United States, up to the time when he was
suddenly obliged to take an active part in managing them.

At an early stage of the civil dissensions each side hoped for the
good-will of England. For obvious reasons, that island counted to the
United States for more than the whole continent of Europe; indeed, the
continental nations were likely to await and to follow her lead.
Southern orators, advocating secession, assured their hearers that "King
Cotton" would be the supreme power, and would compel that realm of
spinners and weavers to friendship if not to alliance with the
Confederacy. Northern men, on the other hand, expressed confidence that
a people with the record of Englishmen against slavery would not
countenance a war conducted in behalf of that institution; nor did they
allow their hopes to be at all impaired by the consideration that, in
order to found them upon this support, they had to overlook the fact
that they were at the same time distinctly declaring that slavery really
had nothing to do with the war, in which only and strictly the question
of the Union, the integrity of the nation, was at stake. When the issue
was pressing for actual decision, each side was disappointed; and each
found that it had counted upon a motive which fell far short of exerting
the anticipated influence. It was, of course, the case that England
suffered much from the short supply of cotton; but she made shift to
procure it elsewhere, while the working people, sympathizing with the
North, were surprisingly patient. Thus the political pressure arising
from commercial distress was much less than had been expected, and the
South learned that cotton was only a spurious monarch. Not less did the
North find itself deceived; for the upper and middle classes of Great
Britain appeared absolutely indifferent to the humanitarian element
which, as they were assured, underlay the struggle. Perhaps they were
not to be blamed for setting aside these assurances, and accepting in
place thereof the belief that the American leaders spoke the truth when
they solemnly told the North that the question at issue was purely and
simply of "the Union." The unfortunate fact was that it was necessary to
say one thing to Englishmen and a different thing to Americans.

That which really did inspire the feelings and the wishes, and which did
influence, though it could not be permitted fully to control, the action
of England, had not been counted upon by either section of the country;
perhaps its existence had not been appreciated. This was the intense
dislike felt for the American republic by nearly all Englishmen who were
above the social grade of mechanics and mill operatives. The extent and
force of this antipathy and even contempt were for the first time given
free expression under the irresistible provocation which arose out of
the delightful likelihood of the destruction of the United States. The
situation at least gave to the people of that imperiled country a chance
to find out in what estimation they were held across the water. The
behavior of the English government and the attitude of the English press
during the early part of the civil war have been ascribed by different
historians to one or another dignified political or commercial motive.
But while these influences were certainly not absent, yet the English
newspapers poured an inundating flood of evidence to show that genuine
and deep-seated dislike, not to say downright hatred, was by very much
the principal motive. This truth is so painful and unfortunate that many
have thought best to suppress or deny it; but no historian is entitled
to use such discretion. From an early period, therefore, in the
administration of Mr. Lincoln, he and Mr. Seward had to endeavor to
preserve friendly relations with a power which, if she could only make
entirely sure of the worldly wisdom of yielding to her wishes, would
instantly recognize the independence of the South. This being the case,
it was matter for regret that the rules of international law concerning
blockades, contraband of war, and rights of neutrals were perilously
vague and unsettled.

Earl[168] Russell was at this time in charge of her majesty's foreign
affairs. Because in matters domestic he was liberal-minded, Americans
had been inclined to expect his good-will; but he now disappointed them
by appearing to share the prejudices of his class against the republic.
A series of events soon revealed his temper. So soon as there purported
to be a Confederacy, an understanding had been reached betwixt him and
the French emperor that both powers should take the same course as to
recognizing it. About May 1 he admitted three Southern commissioners to
an audience with him, though not "officially." May 13 there was
published a proclamation, whereby Queen Victoria charged and commanded
all her "loving subjects to observe a strict neutrality" in and during
the hostilities which had "unhappily commenced between the government of
the United States and certain States styling themselves 'the Confederate
States of America.'" This action--this assumption of a position of
"neutrality," as between enemies--taken while the "hostilities" had
extended only to the single incident of Fort Sumter, gave surprise and
some offense to the North. It was a recognition of belligerency; that is
to say, while not in any other respect recognizing the revolting States
as an independent power, it accorded to them the rights of a
belligerent. The magnitude very quickly reached by the struggle would
have made this step necessary and proper, so that, if England had only
gone a trifle more slowly, she would soon have reached the same point
without exciting any anger; but now the North felt that the queen's
government had been altogether too forward in assuming this position at
a time when the question of a real war was still in embryo. Moreover,
the unfriendliness was aggravated by the fact that the proclamation was
issued almost at the very hour of the arrival in London of Mr. Charles
Francis Adams, the new minister sent by Mr. Lincoln to the court of St.
James. It seemed, therefore, not open to reasonable doubt that Earl
Russell had purposely hastened to take his position before he could hear
from the Lincoln administration.

When Mr. Seward got news of this, his temper gave way; so that, being
still new to diplomacy, he wrote a dispatch to Mr. Adams wherein
occurred words and phrases not so carefully selected as they should have
been. He carried it to Mr. Lincoln, and soon received it back revised
and corrected, instructively. _A priori_, one would have anticipated the
converse of this.

The essential points of the paper were:--

That Mr. Adams would "desist from all intercourse whatever, unofficial
as well as official, with the British government, so long as it shall
continue intercourse of either kind with the domestic enemies of this

That the United States had a "right to expect a more independent if not
a more friendly course" than was indicated by the understanding between
England and France; but that Mr. Adams would "take no notice of that or
any other alliance."

He was to pass by the question as to whether the blockade must be
respected in case it should not be maintained by a competent force, and
was to state that the "blockade is now, and will continue to be, so
maintained, and therefore we expect it to be respected."

As to recognition of the Confederacy, either by publishing an
acknowledgment of its sovereignty, or officially receiving its
representatives, he was to inform the earl that "no one of these
proceedings will pass unquestioned." Also, he might suggest that "a
concession of belligerent rights is liable to be construed as a
recognition" of the Confederate States. Recognition, he was to say,
could be based only on the assumption that these States were a
self-sustaining power. But now, after long forbearance, the United
States having set their forces in motion to suppress the insurrection,
"the true character of the pretended new state is at once revealed. It
is seen to be a power existing in pronunciamento only. It has never won
a field. It has obtained no forts that were not virtually betrayed into
its hands or seized in breach of trust. It commands not a single port on
the coast, nor any highway out from its pretended capital by land. Under
these circumstances, Great Britain is called upon to intervene, and give
it body and independence by resisting our measures of suppression.
British recognition would be British intervention to create within our
own territory a hostile state by overthrowing this republic itself." In
Mr. Seward's draft a menacing sentence followed these words, but Mr.
Lincoln drew his pen through it.

Mr. Adams was to say that the treatment of insurgent privateers was "a
question exclusively our own," and that we intended to treat them as
pirates.[169] If Great Britain should recognize them as lawful
belligerents and give them shelter, "the laws of nations afford an
adequate and proper remedy;"--"_and we shall avail ourselves of it_,"
added Mr. Seward; but again Mr. Lincoln's prudent pen went through these
words of provocation.

Finally Mr. Adams was instructed to offer the adhesion of the United
States to the famous Declaration of the Congress of Paris, of 1856,
which concerned sundry matters of neutrality.

The letter ended with two paragraphs of that patriotic rodomontade which
seems eminently adapted to domestic consumption in the United States,
but which, if it ever came beneath the eye of the British minister,
probably produced an effect very different from that which was aimed at.
Mr. Lincoln had the good taste to write on the margin: "Drop all from
this line to the end;" but later he was induced to permit the nonsense
to stand, since it was really harmless.

The amendments made by the President in point of quantity were trifling,
but in respect of importance were very great. All that he did was here
and there to change or to omit a phrase, which established no position,
but which in the strained state of feeling might have had serious
results. The condition calls to mind the description of the summit of
the Alleghany Ridge, where the impulses given by almost imperceptible
inequalities in the surface of the rock have for their ultimate result
the dispatching of mighty rivers either through the Atlantic slope to
the ocean, or down the Mississippi valley to the Gulf of Mexico. A few
adjectives, two or three ever so little sentences, in this dispatch,
might have led to peace or to war; and peace or war with England almost
surely meant, respectively, Union or Disunion in the United States. In
fact, no more important state paper was issued by Mr. Seward. It
established our relations with Great Britain, and by consequence also
with France and with the rest of Europe, during the whole period of the
civil war. Its positions, moderate in themselves, and resolutely laid
down, were never materially departed from. The English minister did not
afterward give either official or unofficial audiences to accredited
rebel emissaries; the blockade was maintained by a force so competent
that the British government acquiesced in it; no recognition of the
Confederacy was ever made, either in the ways prohibited or in any way
whatsoever; it is true that bitter controversies arose concerning
Confederate privateers, and to some extent England failed to meet our
position in this matter; but it was rather the application of our rule
than the rule itself which was in dispute; and she afterward, under the
Geneva award, made full payment for her derelictions. The behavior and
the proposal of terms, which constituted a practical exclusion of the
United States from the benefits of the Treaty of Paris, certainly
involved something of indignity; but in this the country had no actual
_rights_; and to speak frankly, since she had refused to come in when
invited, she could hardly complain of an inhospitable reception when,
under the influence of immediate and stringent self-interest, her
diplomatists saw fit to change their course. So, on the whole, it is not
to be denied that delicate and novel business in the untried department
of foreign diplomacy was managed with great skill, under trying
circumstances. A few months later, in his message to Congress, at the
beginning of December, 1861, the President referred to our foreign
relations in the following paragraphs:--

"The disloyal citizens of the United States, who have offered the ruin
of our country in return for the aid and comfort which they have invoked
abroad, have received less patronage and encouragement than they
probably expected. If it were just to suppose, as the insurgents have
seemed to assume, that foreign nations, in this case, discarding all
moral, social, and treaty obligations, would act solely and selfishly
for the speedy restoration of commerce, including especially the
acquisition of cotton, those nations appear as yet not to have seen
their way to their object more directly or clearly through the
destruction than through the preservation of the Union. If we could dare
to believe that foreign nations are actuated by no higher principle than
this, I am quite sure a sound argument could be made to show them that
they can reach their aim more readily and easily by aiding to crush this
rebellion than by giving encouragement to it.

"The principal lever relied on by these insurgents for exciting foreign
nations to hostility against us, as already intimated, is the
embarrassment of commerce. Those nations, however, not improbably saw
from the first that it was the Union which made as well our foreign as
our domestic commerce. They can scarcely have failed to perceive that
the effort for disunion produces the existing difficulty; and that one
strong nation promises more durable peace and a more extensive,
valuable, and reliable commerce than can the same nation broken into
hostile fragments.

"It is not my purpose to review our discussions with foreign states;
because, whatever might be their wishes or dispositions, the integrity
of our country and the stability of our government mainly depend not
upon them but on the loyalty, virtue, patriotism, and intelligence of
the American people. The correspondence itself with the usual
reservations is herewith submitted. I venture to hope it will appear
that we have practiced prudence and liberality toward foreign powers,
averting causes of irritation, and with firmness maintaining our own
rights and honor."

While this carefully measured language certainly fell far short of
expressing indifference concerning European action, it was equally far
from betraying any sense of awe or dependence as towards the great
nations across the Atlantic. Yet in fact beneath its self-contained
moderation there unquestionably was politic concealment of very profound
anxiety. Since the war did in fact maintain to the end an entirely
domestic character, it is now difficult fully to appreciate the
apprehensions which were felt, especially in its earlier stages, lest
England or France or both might interfere with conclusive effect in
favor of the Confederacy. It was very well for Mr. Lincoln to state the
matter in such a way that it would seem an unworthy act upon their part
to encourage a rebellion, especially a pro-slavery rebellion; and very
well for him also to suggest that their commerce could be better
conducted with one nation than with two. In plain fact, they were
considering nothing more lofty than their own material interests, and
upon this point their distinguished statesmen did not feel the need of
seeking information or advice from the Western lawyer who had just been
so freakishly picked out of a frontier town to take charge of the
destinies of the United States. The only matter which they contemplated
with some interest, and upon which they could gather enlightenment from
his words, related to the greater or less degree of firmness and
confidence with which he was likely to meet them; for even in their eyes
this must be admitted to constitute one of the elements in the
situation. It was, therefore, fortunate that Mr. Lincoln successfully
avoided an appearance either of alarm or of defiance.

But, difficult as it may have been skillfully to compose the sentences
of the message so far as it concerned foreign relationships, some
occurrences were taking place, at this very time of the composition,
which reduced verbal manoeuvring to insignificance. A sudden and
unexpected menace was happily turned into a substantial aid and
advantage; and the administration, not long after it had firmly declared
its resolution to maintain its clear and lawful rights, was given the
opportunity greatly to strengthen its position by an event which, at
first, seemed untoward enough. In the face of very severe temptation to
do otherwise, it had the good sense to seize this opportunity, and to
show that it had upon its own part the will not only to respect, but to
construe liberally as against itself, the rights of neutrals; also that
it had the power to enforce its will, upon the instant, even at the cost
of bitterly disappointing the whole body of loyal citizens in the very
hour of their rejoicing.

The story of Mason and Slidell is familiar: accredited as envoys of the
Confederacy to England and France, in the autumn of 1861, they ran the
blockade at Charleston and came to Havana. There they did not conceal
their purpose to sail for England, by the British royal mail steamship
Trent, on November 7. Captain Wilkes of the United States steam sloop of
war San Jacinto, hearing all this, lay in wait in the Bahama Channel,
sighted the Trent on November 8, fired a shot across her bows, and
brought her to. He then sent on board a force of marines to search her
and fetch off the rebels. This was done against the angry protests of
the Englishman, and with such slight force as constituted technical
compulsion, but without violence. The Trent was then left to proceed on
her voyage. The envoys, or "missionaries," as they were called by way of
avoiding the recognition of an official character, were soon in
confinement in Fort Warren, in Boston Harbor. Everywhere at the North
the news produced an outburst of joy and triumph. Captain Wilkes was the
hero of the hour, and received every kind of honor and compliment. The
secretary of the navy wrote to him a letter of congratulation, declaring
that his conduct was "marked by intelligence, ability, decision, and
firmness, and has the emphatic approval of this department." Secretary
Stanton was outspoken in his praise. When Congress convened, on December
1, almost the first thing done by the House of Representatives was to
hurry through a vote of thanks to the captain for his "brave, adroit,
and patriotic conduct." The newspaper press, public meetings, private
conversation throughout the country, all reechoed these joyous
sentiments. The people were in a fever of pleasurable excitement. It
called for some nerve on the part of Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Seward suddenly
to plunge them into a chilling bath of disappointment.

Statements differ as to what was Mr. Seward's earliest opinion in the
matter.[170] But all writers agree that Mr. Lincoln did not move with
the current of triumph. He was scarcely even non-committal. On the
contrary, he is said at once to have remarked that it did not look right
to stop the vessel of a friendly power on the high seas and take
passengers out of her; that he did not understand whence Captain Wilkes
derived authority to turn his quarter-deck into a court of admiralty;
that he was afraid the captives might prove to be white elephants on our
hands; that we had fought Great Britain on the ground of like doings
upon her part, and that now we must stick to American principles; that,
if England insisted upon our surrendering the prisoners, we must do so,
and must apologize, and so bind her over to keep the peace in relation
to neutrals, and to admit that she had been wrong for sixty years.

The English demand came quickly, forcibly, and almost offensively. The
news brought to England by the Trent set the whole nation in a blaze of
fury,--and naturally enough, it must be admitted. The government sent
out to the navy yards orders to make immediate preparations for war; the
newspapers were filled with abuse and menace against the United States;
the extravagance of their language will not be imagined without actual
reference to their pages. Lord Palmerston hastily sketched a dispatch to
Lord Lyons, the British minister at Washington, demanding instant
reparation, but couched in language so threatening and insolent as to
make compliance scarcely possible. Fortunately, in like manner as Mr.
Seward had taken to Mr. Lincoln his letter of instructions to Mr. Adams,
so Lord Palmerston also felt obliged to lay his missive before the
queen, and the results in both cases were alike; for once at least
royalty did a good turn to the American republic. Prince Albert, ill
with the disease which only a few days later carried him to his grave,
labored hard over that important document, with the result that the
royal desire to eliminate passion sufficiently to make a peaceable
settlement possible was made unmistakably plain, and therefore the
letter, as ultimately revised by Earl Russell, though still disagreeably
peremptory in tone, left room for the United States to set itself right
without loss of self-respect. The most annoying feature was that Great
Britain insisted upon instant action; if Lord Lyons did not receive a
favorable reply within seven days after formally preferring his demand
for reparation, he was to call for his passports. In other words, delay
by diplomatic correspondence and such ordinary shilly-shallying meant
war. As the London "Times" expressed it, America was not to be allowed
"to retain what she had taken from us, at the cheap price of an
interminable correspondence."

December 19 this dispatch reached Lord Lyons; he talked its contents
over with Mr. Seward informally, and deferred the formal communication
until the 23d. Mr. Lincoln drew up a proposal for submission to
arbitration. But it could not be considered; the instructions to Lord
Lyons gave no time and no discretion. It was aggravating to concede what
was demanded under such pressure; but the President, as has been said,
had already expressed his opinion upon the cardinal point,--that England
had the strength of the case. Moreover he remarked, with good common
sense, "One war at a time." So it was settled that the emissaries must
be surrendered. The "prime minister of the _Northern States of
America_," as the London "Times" insultingly called Mr. Seward, was wise
enough to agree; for, under the circumstances, to allow discourtesy to
induce war was unjustifiable. On December 25 a long cabinet council was
held, and the draft of Seward's reply was accepted, though with sore
reluctance. The necessity was cruel, but fortunately it was not
humiliating; for the President had pointed to the road of honorable exit
in those words which Mr. Lossing heard uttered by him on the very day
that the news arrived. In 1812 the United States had fought with England
because she had insisted, and they had denied, that she had the right to
stop their vessels on the high seas, to search them, and to take from
them British subjects found on board them. Mr. Seward now said that the
country still adhered to the ancient principle for which it had once
fought, and was glad to find England renouncing her old-time error.
Captain Wilkes, not acting under instructions, had made a mistake. If he
had captured the Trent and brought her in for adjudication as prize in
our admiralty courts, a case might have been maintained and the
prisoners held. He had refrained from this course out of kindly
consideration for the many innocent persons to whom it would have caused
serious inconvenience; and, since England elected to stand upon the
strict rights which his humane conduct gave to her, the United States
must be bound by their own principles at any cost to themselves.
Accordingly the "envoys" were handed over to the commander of the
English gunboat Rinaldo, at Provincetown, on January 1, 1862.

The decision of the President and the secretary of state was thoroughly
wise. Much hung upon it; "no one," says Arnold, "can calculate the
results which would have followed upon a refusal to surrender these
men." An almost certain result would have been a war with England; and a
highly probable result would have been that erelong France also would
find pretext for hostilities, since she was committed to friendship with
England in this matter, and moreover the emperor seemed to have a
restless desire to interfere against the North. What then would have
been the likelihood of ultimate success in that domestic struggle,
which, by itself, though it did not exhaust, yet very severely taxed
both Northern endurance and Northern resources? It is fair also to these
two men to say that, in reaching their decision, instead of receiving
aid or encouragement from outside, they had the reverse. Popular feeling
may be estimated from the utterances which, even after there had been
time for reflection, were made by men whose positions curbed them with
the grave responsibilities of leadership. In the House of
Representatives Owen Lovejoy pledged himself to "inextinguishable
hatred" of Great Britain, and promised to bequeath it as a legacy to his
children; and, while he was not engaging in the war for the integrity of
his own country, he vowed that if a war with England should come, he
would "carry a musket" in it. Senator Hale, in thunderous oratory,
notified the members of the administration that if they would "not
listen to the voice of the people, they would find themselves engulfed
in a fire that would consume them like stubble; they would be helpless
before a power that would hurl them from their places." The great
majority at the North, though perhaps incapable of such felicity of
expression, was undoubtedly not very much misrepresented by the
vindictive representative and the exuberant senator. Yet a brief period,
in which to consider the logic of the position, sufficed to bring nearly
all to intelligent conclusions; and then it was seen that what had been
done had been rightly and wisely done. There was even a sense of pride
in doing fairly and honestly, without the shuffling evasions of
diplomacy, an act of strict right; and the harder the act the greater
was the honor. The behavior of the people was generous and intelligent,
and greatly strengthened the government in the eyes of foreigners. By
the fullness and readiness of this reparation England was put under a
moral obligation to treat the United States as honorably as the United
States treated her. She did not do so, it is true; but in more ways than
one she ultimately paid for not doing so. At any rate, for the time
being, after this action it would have been nothing less than indecent
for her to recognise the Confederacy at once; and a little later
prudence had the like restraining effect. Yet though recognition and war
were avoided they never entirely ceased to threaten, and Mr. Chittenden
is perfectly correct in saying that "every act of our government was
performed under the impending danger of a recognition of the
Confederacy, a disregard of the blockade, and the actual intervention of
Great Britain in our attempt to suppress an insurrection upon our own


[168] Lord John Russell was raised to the peerage, as Earl Russell, just
after this time, _i.e._, in July, 1861.

[169] An effort was made to carry out this theory in the case of the
crew of the privateer Savannah; but the jury failed to agree, and the
attempt was not afterward renewed, privateersmen being exchanged like
other prisoners of war.

[170] Mr. Welles declares that Seward at first opposed the surrender;
but Mr. Chittenden asserts that he knows that Mr. Seward's first opinion
coincided with his later action; see Mr. Welles's _Lincoln and Seward_,
and Chittenden's _Recollections_, 148.


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