The Opposition to Lincoln in 1864

THE first session of the thirty-eighth Congress closed on the 4th of July, 1864. It was the year of a presidential election, and a perverse and discontented spirit manifested itself throughout the session. Besides the open opposition of democrats, the radical element was dissatisfied with the president’s policy of conciliation, amnesty, and reconstruction, enunciated in the annual message and amnesty proclamation of the 8th of December, 1863, at the commencement of the session. The democrats were in sympathy with the rebels, and opposed to the war measures of the administration and to the war itself. The radicals opposed the renomination and reelection of President Lincoln, and those measures of the administration which tended to reconciliation and the reestablishment of the Union on the basis of the equality of political rights of the States, such as existed prior to the war of secession. With these extremists the general government had ceased to be conventional; was not a federation of States with derivative and limited powers, formed by and with the consent of the States, but was central and imperial, possessing original, inherent, unlimited, and absolute authority over persons, as well as States, throughout the republic. This combination or faction denied the political equality and refused to recognize any reserved sovereignty of the States; ignored the fact that the federal government had been created, by these local sovereignties which had established it, by a written constitution, specifying and defining the powers with which the general government is invested and expressly forbidding the exercise of any powers not granted or incident thereto; claimed that Congress had supreme power, and was an autocracy or legislative despotism with, if it chose to exercise it, authority over States and people in their social and political relations. Emancipation by the president as commanderin-chief of the military and naval forces was not sufficient without congressional assent. It was denounced as an executive assumption, and legislative action was necessary for its consummation.

War had intensified the antislavery feeling, and zeal for the slave and the emancipated colored people so kindled emotional enthusiasm as to make the radicals oblivious of law and the legal and, constitutional rights of the whites. Under the new dispensation brought about by the rebellion, it was insisted that Congress could overrule the States, which, in the formation of the federal government, had reserved to themselves control over persons in their respective limits, and claimed that the general government could decree by federal power the equality of blacks and whites, place the ignorant on a par with the intelligent, regulate by law their social and political intercourse, and bestow upon the stolid, uneducated, and incapable negroes the privilege of voting in the elections, and at the same time preclude, without legal trial, the whites who had participated or were implicated in the rebellion.

Mr. Lincoln and all his cabinet, in the first years of the war, opposed these radical innovations; but Mr. Chase ultimately, when he became a competitor for the office of president, gave his approval to negro suffrage, limiting his assent, however, to such of the colored population as could intelligently exercise the privilege. Very considerable change of opinion — called progress by the radical philanthropists—took place during the war in relation to our governmental system of granted federal powers, and the retained local authority and reserved sovereignty of the States. Emotional philanthropy was made to supersede statutory and constitutional law. Rights of persons and rights of property, which the States had refused to concede to the general government, — rights which belonged to and were under the control of the respective commonwealths, — began to be disregarded by the radicals, who were constantly increasing in numbers as the war progressed. Confusion prevailed in regard to citizenship, inhabitancy, and legal residence in a State, but the whole was generalized and absorbed in central legislative supremacy, under the specious and popular expression of “ the equality of all men before the law; ” an expression more taking in consequence of the growing hostility against slavery and the arrogance of the slave owners, who had plunged the country into civil war.

At no time had Mr. Lincoln been more depressed than when, in 1864, he wrote his desponding note of the 23d of August, stating that the democrats, in his opinion, would be successful in the approaching election. An accumulation of disheartening difficulties, internal and external in the free States — differences such as loyal and disloyal, democrat and republican, republican and radical, personal and sectional — had clouded the administration during the spring and summer, with scarcely a cheering ray to lighten or encourage the government in the mighty struggle to suppress the rebellion. Whilst putting forth the utmost energies of the nation to maintain the Union, which for three years the rebels had, with immense armies, striven to dissolve, the president, from the day of his inauguration, encountered in the free States the steady opposition of the broken, but yet powerfully organized democratic party, which had been in political sympathy with the rebels prior to his election, and which still affiliated with its old party associates.

Added to these, and quite as discouraging and more disheartening than either during the year 1864, were the embarrassing intrigues of discontented and aspiring factions among republicans, growing out of the approaching presidential election and the radical claim for legislative supremacy in the conduct of the government. The opportunity was seized, not only by personal aspirants, but by the disaffected of every description, who, although disagreeing among themselves, had the common purpose, which they exercised, of weakening the president in the public estimation, creating a distrust of Ids capacity, and impairing confidence in his administration. His ability and energy in prosecuting the war were questioned, his conciliatory policy towards the rebels and his disinclination to confiscate their property were denounced, and his amnesty and reconstruction measures were censured and condemned. The expediency of a change in the presidential office for a more resolute and arbitrary executive was urged by radical congressional leaders during the whole of the first session of the thirty-eighth Congress, and opposition to the president was continued after its adjournment.

The fiasco at Cleveland in May had not entirely extinguished the visionary dreams of aspirants and their friends, who still entertained lingering hopes that adverse affairs, or some adventitious circumstance, might induce a compromise which would withdraw both Lincoln and Fremont and result in the selection of a new candidate. The malevolence of extremists, who were bent on vengeance against the rebels and their subjugation, the confiscation of their property, the overthrow of their old established local government, the reduction of their States to provinces, and the creation of new governments for them under congressional dictation, was active and determined.

The new secretary of the treasury, who took his seat in the cabinet on the 5th of July, was dismayed and appalled, at the commencement of his executive duties, by the overwhelming calls for means to carry on the war. Neither the resources nor the credit of the country could, in his apprehension, meet the demands that were made, and he did not conceal from the president his anxiety and fears. His predecessor, after his retirement on the 30th of June, did not participate in the political party conflicts that agitated the country, and manifested no interest nor rendered any efficient support to the president in the pending political contest. Not until after the failure of the scheme to induce or compel the president and Fremont to decline, nor until after the meeting of the democratic convention at Chicago and the nomination of General McClellan, did he appear and take any active part in political affairs. Under his administration of the treasury a debt of nearly two thousand millions of dollars had been incurred, besides an absorption of the entire revenues received from every source. The condition of the finances on the accession of Mr. Fessenden was so deplorable that a stouter and healthier physique and more vigorous mental power than he possessed might have been discouraged by the prospect and requirements.

The substitution of irredeemable paper for money — making it a legal tender for debts, a policy adopted early in the war—had so inflated and depreciated the currency as to affect values and render loans to the government almost ruinous to the country. At no period of the national existence had the credit of the government been reduced to so low an ebb as in the months of July and August following the renomination of Mr. Lincoln and the retirement of Mr. Chase.

Attending this distressing state of the finances was the painful inaction of the military, particularly the inert and apparently helpless condition of our lieutenant-general and his host, who, after the sanguinary march of the army of the Potomac from the Rapidan, arrived before Richmond on the 13th of June.

Perhaps too high expectations of immediate results were entertained by the administration and the country; but days and weeks dragged on with no improvement; hope deferred made the heart sick; the president, not the general, was held accountable by the country for delay; designing partisans imputed non-action of the military to the president’s conciliatory policy, which, it was claimed, encouraged the rebels and impaired the efficiency of our troops.

While Grant, with his immense force, threatened Richmond, Lee, with greatly inferior numbers, protected the rebel capital, and, fertile in strategy and resources, checked and distracted the lieutenant-general, who had perseverance and obstinacy, and but little else. On these the president was obliged to rely, amidst censure and denunciation from the radicals, until events might favor the Union arms. The raid of Early down the Shenandoah in July, and his advance upon Washington, which, stripped of troops to recruit Grant, was in an unprotected state and might have been captured; the demonstration by the rebels upon Baltimore and the seizure of the great Northern railroads,— burning their bridges and capturing trains; the taking and setting fire to Chambersburg, carrying terror through Pennsylvania and alarming other States, were trying to the administration. Military failures and inactivity everywhere rendered the summer gloomy and disheartening. The president, while disappointed by the immobility of the army, and exerting himself to inspire the country with hope, was himself assailed with bitterness by radical chiefs who should have been his champions and supporters, and his administration and measures were unsparingly denounced by a reckless combination that condemned his policy.

The feuds of the republicans, which were in active operation in 1864, gave great encouragement to the peace democrats, who were perfecting a vigorous party organization for the presidential election. They were well aware, long before the publication of the Wade and Winter Davis protest, of the hostility of the radicals to Mr. Lincoln, to his amnesty proclamation and his reconstruction views, and of the determination to defeat him and his conciliatory policy. His amicable policy the democrats did not dislike, but, to obtain party ascendency and possession of the government, they were as zealous as the radicals to prevent his reelection.

The party and personal intrigues of secessionists, democrats, and radicals through the summer, to impair confidence in the president and overthrow the administration that was spending its strength to suppress the rebellion and preserve the national integrity, seemed a sad commentary on the patriotism of the people and the working of our political system. No small portion of the leading official minds of the country, and particularly of Congress, was involved in these intrigues against the executive struggling with reverses and with impending peril to maintain the Union and the national existence. Much has been justly written and published of what was done by the gallant officers in the field and on the waves, but comparatively little is recorded of the rials and responsibilities of those who were entrusted with the government, and especially the president, in those unhappy days. Besides encountering rebels in open, armed resistance to the government, and providing men and supplies for the forces in active service, he and his associates were compelled to meet the opposition of professed friends, on whom they felt they ought to have been enabled to relv for support, and to meet political and party assaults, secretly and openly at work for their overthrow.

The Cleveland convention, elaborately got up in May, proved a fiasco, and the Baltimore convention in June, which the discontented and mischievous elements had exerted themselves to postpone or control, had renominated Mr. Lincoln. The secretary of the treasury, around whom the extremists had through the winter and spring prepared to rally, resigned a few days after Mr. Lincoln’s renomination.

Still persistent in their sectional and hostile intentions, the radicals and the malcontents entertained an indefinite but vague hope that they might, near the close of the political campaign, compel the withdrawal of both the president and J remont and the substitution of another name, and thus unite all republicans on a more radical candidate. There was with some a lingering idea, rather than expectation, that the democratic convention, which had been postponed from the 4th of July to the 29th of August, might think it expedient to select the ex-secretary of tlie treasury for their candidate. Mr. Chase remarks in Ids diary, on the 6th of July, that Pomeroy informed him that democratic senators had said that now the secretary was out of the administration, “ We ’ll go with you now for Chase.” This, says°the exsecretary “ meant nothing but a vehement desire to overthrow the existing administration, hut might mean much if the democrats would only cut loose from slavery and go for freedom and the protection of labor by a national currency.

Jf they would do that, I would cheerfully go for any man they might nominate.’’ But as time progressed, and the drafts and calls for troops multiplied, and nonaction and military reverses prevailed, this remote thought that the democrats might nominate Mr. Chase proved delusive; for the democrats, encouraged by republican dissensions and national disaster, began to entertain a confident expectation that they might be successful with a candidate who had been earlier lelieved and for different reasons.

By midsummer it was apparent, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the democrats would, at Chicago, make General McClellan their standard-bearer. When this became evident, a last earnest effort was made by the radical extremists against Lincoln, but the result proved futile. The scheme or design to induce or compel both him and Fremont to withdraw, in order to substitute a candidate more revolutionary and acceptable to themselves, was put in operation by the radicals. The nomination of Fremont, when made, was a ruse of the master spirits, intended by them to terminate in the retirement of both Fremont and Lincoln. It was neither a wise nor profound expedient in its inception, and the expanding hopes and vigorous efforts of the democrats, who began to believe in their own success, dwarfed the intrigue. In August, when the radical demonstrations for a compromise candidate were to be made, the prospect was not promising; the chief movers held aloof, and subordinates were pushed forward to issue calls in several quarters, intended as feelers of the public pulse. The most marked and significant of these calls was in Boston, where several gentlemen, known agitators, men of some intellectual capacity, persistent abolitionists, independent of party though lately acting with the republicans, but really of very little political influence, theoretical in their views and fanatical in their prosecution, ardent admirers of Senator Sumner, with whom they acted and who acted with them, came to the front in the scheme to get rid of Mr. Lincoln.

The president, these “ independents ” were aware, did not recognize the negroes as entitled by law, or by the government as constituted, to the same soeial and political privileges as the whites; nor as possessed of the capacity, certainly not the culture, to exercise those privileges intelligently, were the federal government instead of the States empowered to act upon such subjects.

These political theorists were not reluctant to go forward in a last attempt to set aside the Cleveland and Baltimore nominations by making use of the Cleveland nominee to effect it. The letter of the Boston gentlemen to Fremont displays the animus and intent of the discontented against Mr. Lincoln.

BOSTON, August 21, 1804.


SIR, — You must be aware of the wide and growing dissatisfaction in the republican ranks with the presidential nomination at Baltimore; and you may have seen notices of a movement, just commenced, to unite the thorough and earnest friends of a rigorous prosecution of the war in a new convention, which shall represent the patriotism of all parties.

To facilitate that movement it is emphatically advisable that the candidates nominated at Cleveland and Baltimore should withdraw, and leave the field entirely free for such a united effort.

Permit us, sir, to ask whether, in case Mr. Lincoln will withdraw, you will do so, and join your fellow-citizens in this attempt to place the administration on a basis broad as the patriotism of the country and as its needs.

George L. Stearns, S. R. Urino, James M. Stone, Elizur Wright, Edward Babich, Samuel G. Howe.

This movement, emanating from hitherto pronounced friends, at a period of general depression, affected the president more than the direct assaults of the radicals in Congress. The finances were at that time low and the resources of the country apparently exhausted; the calls for men and means were enormous; the draft was opposed, and capitalists were reluctant to invest in government securities; military operations were at a stand-still; a political presidential campaign, involving every variety of issue, was in progress; the great inimical political party, striving for a change of administration, was animated, vigorous, and active, when this untoward intrigue to compel the chief magistrate to relinquish a longer official connection with the government was begun. It was an ungenerous and unfriendly request; a blow from a portion of his friends, who sought success by antagonizing him, the national executive, who was discharging the duties of chief magistrate and had the confidence of the country, with one who had neither personal nor political strength, — a request that he would put himself and the whole republican party of the country on a level with the factious gathering at Cleveland, and decline being a candidate. The proposition, presumptions and absurd, which as he and the leading minds of the administration believed, and as events proved, was made by friends of Sumner and Chase, and probably made honestly by those whose names were appended, struck the president painfully. It was made, as will be observed, on the 21st of August. On the 23d the president wrote the desponding note to which I have already referred, stating that the probabilities were that “ this administration will not be reelected.” He misjudged, for the demonstration was factious and feeble; the good sense of the people was against it, and did not respond to it.

The protest of the congressional radicals, through Wade and Winter Davis, against the amnesty and reconstruction proclamation had inspired the democrats, who were organizing for their national convention, shrewdly postponed from the 4th of July to the 29th of August; and the proposition to “swap horses when crossing the river ” — in other words to change candidates at such a crisis of the presidential campaign — had impressed them, as it did the president, with an idea that they would be triumphant in the approaching election. They had also taken encouragement from the tardy and inefficient operations of the Union armies, — particularly from the immobility of the immense force under Grant, of whom there had been high, perhaps unreasonable expectations, from the day he took his departure from the Rapidan in May, but who had really accomplished nothing except a sanguinary march to the vicinity of Richmond. The democrats had never been impressed with the genius, strategic skill, or military capacity of the lieutenant-general, but always placed a lower estimate than the republicans on his qualities as a commander; the bloody march, with its inconsequential results, had not changed but confirmed this opinion. That march had been accomplished: he reoccupied the ground from which McClellan was withdrawn, but at such a sacrifice that the grief of the country and the wailing of almost every household for its fallen heroes counterbalanced whatever joy was felt for an achievement so dearly effected. At the same time the sacrifice strengthened the democrats, who were organizing for their national convention on the basis of peace and of an abandonment of hostilities by the government.

It was believed that Richmond would be speedily captured by the armies, to reinforce which the energies and resources of the country had been severely taxed. The whole collected forces of the armies of the Potomac and the James were at the disposal of Grant, who, under the president, had been made general-in-chief of the armies of the United States. The country was impatient of delay; it had anticipated'certain success, and the belief in speedy, triumphant results was fostered by the administration. The secretary of war, to appease public expectation, published, for a time, daily bulletins, addressed to General Dix, that the army movements were onward.

The garrisons had been stripped of troops to keep the armies in full force; yet nothing had been accomplished after reaching the James, from whence McClellan had been recalled, except the sacrifice of nearly one half of the army. General Grant possessed great tenacity and persistency,—high qualities in a commander, — which enabled him to hold on to what he had in hand, and to press forward so long as he was reinforced and sustained by the administration; but unfortunately he was endowed with no genius, with little strategic skill, nor had he power to originate plans and devise measures to overcome his skillful and able antagonist. He reached the banks of the James, and he remained there, accomplishing nothing further, while the country was daily expecting to hear of the fall of Richmond. The president, and not the general, was held responsible for this procrastination: he was denounced for inefficiency and usurpation by the radicals, and accused of inability to conquer a peace by the democrats.

The wounded soldiers sent to Washington to be nursed were living witnesses of the country’s agony. Miles of hospital barracks were erected in Washington, and filled with thousands upon thousands of brave men, maimed and dying. This almost innumerable host, from among the noblest heroes and most patriotic spirits of the land, who had periled their lives and poured forth their blood for their country, was, during that sad summer, an affecting spectacle that grieved the hearts of all, and of none more than the president, who was blamed and held responsible for the killed and wounded by a large portion of his countrymen. Such of the mutilated soldiers as could get from their beds were accustomed to cheer and give glad utterance to their feelings as the president with his escort daily passed between his summer residence at the Soldier’s Home and the Executive Mansion. The always welcome voices of these brave and suffering men touched him tenderly, and were in strong contrast with the mischievous radical element which, amidst his tiring and exhaustive labors for the Union, was intriguing against him. While these gallant men who sympathized with the president lay suffering for their love of country and devotion to the Union, factious party intriguers were employing their time and talents in denunciatory complaints of his management, and in urging an unconstitutional and unjust sectional exclusion of one third of the States from the Union.

General Richard Taylor has recently stated in the North American Review: “After the battle of Chickamauga, in 1863, General Grant was promoted to the command of the armies of the United States, and called to Washington. In a conference at the war office, between him, President Lincoln, and Secretary Stanton, the approaching campaign in Virginia was discussed. Grant said the advance on Richmond should be made by the James River. It was replied that government required the interposition of an army between Lee and Washington, and would not consent, at that late day, to the adoption of a plan that would be taken by the public as a confession of previous error. Grant observed he was indifferent as to routes, but if the government preferred its own — so often tried — to the one he suggested, it must be prepared for the additional loss of one hundred thousand men. The men were promised; Grant accepted the governmental plan of campaign, and was supported to the end. The above came to me well authenticated, and I have no doubt of its correctness.”

There is no reason to doubt the veracity of General Taylor, who says this statement came to him “ well authenticated;” but those who knew the three persons said to have had “ a conference at the war office,” when General Grant came to Washington to receive the commission of lieutenant-general, will question the accuracy of the statement. It is now made public that General Grant had prescience of his reverses and losses if he took the Rapidan route, for the first time, nearly fourteen years after the event took place, when two of tlie three persons named are in their graves. While they, or either of the two, were alive, there was no claim of this sort set up to relieve the survivor and principal actor; no attempt to cast upon those now dead the responsibility of the bloody march to Richmond, which they are said to have insisted upon in opposition to the opinion and judgment of the lieutenantgeneral, whose duty it was to designate the route, and who did so: that officer had just been promoted for the express purpose of taking command of military operations and the conduct and management of the armies in the approaching campaign. It is known to those intimate with President Lincoln that, while he had usually very decided opinions of his own on military movements, and freely expressed them to his cabinet and at head - quarters, he invariably deferred (yielding what I think was sometimes his better judgment) to the generals in command, for the reason that they were military experts, professionally educated, and, if fit for their positions, were best qualified to decide upon the true course to pursue. If “ Grant said the advance on Richmond should be made by the James River,” the president, in this as in other eases, would have withdrawn his own opinion, if favorable to the march, and would not have overruled the recently created active general-in-chief.

It seems that the general himself had no very decided opinions on the subject; General Taylor says, “Grant observed he was indifferent as to routes, but if the government preferred its own — so often tried — to the one he suggested, it must be prepared for the additional loss of one hundred thousand men.” Such a statement would of itself have controlled the president, whose sympathies were great, while Grant was of an unsympathetic nature, and “indifferent” which route he took. President Lincoln was always keenly sensitive upon the subject of the lives and sufferings of the soldiers. Such a statement as General Grant is represented to have made would have shocked the compassionate nature of Lincoln, and been with him decisive against an overland march, provided he, and not the lieutenant-general, was to select the route. He would have supported the general in his preference for the James River route from that fact itself, although it seems to have been a matter of indifference to LieutenantGeneral Grant.

But is it to be supposed that Grant anticipated in March, when this conference is reported to have taken place, that in battles such as those of the Wilderness he would lose nearly thirty thousand men, at Spottsylvania ten thousand, at Cold Harbor thirteen thousand, and an aggregate which in numbers equaled the entire rebel army under Lee? Before the days of that sanguinary march, over which the whole country became frantic by reason of the slaughtered heroes who poured forth their blood for the Union, the general-in-chief is said to have known of the sacrifice to be made, was indifferent to consequences, and assented, against his convictions, to the bloody route.

But time has elapsed, and history is recording the terrible and apparently unnecessary waste of life; the general begins to feel his responsibility for the immolatiun, and an attempt is now made to relieve him and impose the responsibility upon others. As well and as truly say Sherman’s march through Georgia and the Carolinas, which was attended with no such sacrifice, was an administration measure.

General Grant’s first visit to Washington was in March, 1864. It was to receive the commission of lieutenant-general,— an office created with reluctance, and to which he had been promoted through the active exertions of Mr. E. B. Washburne, who represented the Galena district in Congress, and whose zeal in that regard was subsequently rewarded by his appointment as secretary of state, immediately after Grant’s inauguration, and his transference after ten days to the French Mission.

This visit of Grant, in March, 1864, to receive honors and full command was very brief. He arrived in Washington on the evening of Tuesday, the 8th of March, and came between nine and ten o’clock to the Executive Mansion. There was on that evening a public and very crowded presidential reception. It was there that Grant was first introduced to President Lincoln. On the following day, Wednesday the 9th, the president and cabinet were specially convened for the ceremony of presenting the commission. At one o’clock, the lieutenantgeneral entered the council chamber, accompanied by his staff and by Secretary Stanton and General Halleck, when the president formally delivered the commission, and the general, with a few written remarks, received it. A desultory conversation of half an hour took place. General Grant, after receiving the commission, inquired what special service was expected of him. The president replied that the country wanted him to take Richmond; he said our generals had not been fortunate in their efforts in that direction, and asked if the lieutenant-general could do it. Grant, without hesitation, answered that he could if he had the troops. These the president assured him he should have. This was on the afternoon of the 9th; nothing was then said of the James River or any other route. General Grant proceeded to the head-quarters of General Meade and the army of the Potomac, in front, from whence he returned to Washington on the afternoon of Friday the 11th, and came at once, on his arrival, to the council chamber, where the cabinet was in session. He did not remain a great while, spoke of his visit to the army, and said he proposed to take command in person, but would retain General Meade. When about to retire, he remarked to the president that he should leave that afternoon for Nashville, to turn over his late command to General Sherman, but would return in two weeks; having but little time, he would be glad to confer with the secretary of war and General Halleck before he left.

Neither on this nor any other occasion, when I was present, was there any expression of preference for the James River route, nor any opposition to the overland march; no statement that the march from the Rapidan would cost one hundred thousand men. Had there been anything of this kind, something of it would probably have been known to me and others. Had there been a proposition for a different route than that which General Meade had commenced, any preference expressed for the James River route, particularly if, in the estimation of the lieutenant-general, it involved one hundred thousand lives, neither the president nor any members of the government would have approved of it, after such a warning. It is represented, however, that there was warning of such a sacrifice, but it was a matter of “ indifference ” to General Grant, if the government, from pride of opinion, adhered to the overland march. General Taylor does not tell from what source the information, now for the first time made public, was derived. To be authentic it must have come from one of the three gentlemen who held the conference in the war department. It could not have been from President Lincoln, for, if I mistake not, he and General Taylor never met. When the president was assassinated, General Taylor was in the rebel service.

There were not such intimate and amicable relations between Secretary Stanton and General Taylor as would have begotten confidence of this nature. There was, in fact, mutual distrust and dislike. When General Taylor came to Washington after the close of the war, there was a movement, in which I was informed he participated, for the removal of Mr. Stanton and the appointment of General Grant to be secretary of war. This change, which finally took place at a later period, was in its inception a matter of concert or of assent on the part of both the generals. But President Johnson, who at first acquiesced, failed at the last moment to consummate the arrangement.

I was not advised of that attempt, nor party to it; knew nothing of it until after its failure; but, to quote the words of General Taylor, this information “came to me well authenticated, and I have no doubt of its correctness.”

The knowledge of the conference at the war office, in March, 1864, could therefore have scarcely been obtained from Secretary Stanton. There was, I have no doubt, a conference, at the time and place mentioned, between generals Grant and Halleck and Secretary Stanton, because to my personal knowledge and in my presence General Grant asked such a conference. Of the results I have no recollection, if I ever knew them. They were unquestionably preliminary to Grant’s assuming active command.

Stanton and Halleck, with whom Grant had this conference on the 11th of March, are known to have been committed to the plan of making Washington the base of military operations against Richmond. Secretaries Chase and Stanton had made the advance against the rebel capital by the York or James river an objection to General McClellan, when urging his removal in 1862; but the president, although disappointed in McClellan, did not act on the representations of the two secretaries who urged the general’s recall. After the seven days’ disaster before Richmond, President Lincoln consulted General Scott, then at West Point, and, with his approval, brought Halleck from Corinth to supersede McClellan at head-quarters. Halleck, after arriving at Washington, and assuming the direction of army movements, adopted the views of Stanton and Chase, and the recall of McClellan from the James then became, not a civil, but a military question for the general commanding the armies. The president, whatever may have been his opinion as to the two routes, did not yield to his two secretaries, who were not military men, or better qualified than himself to decide, but he did defer to General Halleck, and acquiesced in the order to recall the army of the Potomac from the James. No member of the cabinet, however, save the two who urged it and were opposed to McClellan, knew of that order until it was issued.

The change urged by Chase and Stanton, and indorsed by Halleck, of recalling McClellan and taking up a line of march upon Richmond, with Washington for the base, did not prove a success. Pope, Burnside, Hooker, and Meade, each acting under Halleck, had one after another failed to make an advance, and the latter general was with the army on the Rapidan when Grant came to Washington and the conference of Grant, Stanton, and Halleek took place in the war office. That “ Grant said the advance on Richmond should be made by the James River” is not improbable, for such would seem to be the common-sense view of every one, professional or otherwise, save the two secretaries and General Halleck.

A general in command does not usually surrender his plans and yield what he knows to be right to subordinates, against his own convictions, without overpowering reasons. General Grant is an exception, for, destitute of originality, he commonly acted on the ideas and plans of others. In this instance the lieutenant-general claims to have abandoned the route which he knew to be best, and, horrible to confess, — for the statement of General Taylor must have come from him, — he gave up the route which he knew to be right, and assented to that which he knew to be wrong, and which involved the awful sacrifice of one hundred thousand men, on the suggestion of persons who had opposed and procured the recall of McClellan. Either route was indifferent to Grant, and he took the worst.

In administering the government, and especially in the conduct of the armies, President Lincoln deferred to the military commanders and the conclusions at head - quarters. Is it credible that on the most important occasion of his administration — the greatest military movement of the war — the president would have departed from his uniform course, and disregarded and overruled the highest military officer in the government, who had just been promoted and was about to take command of the armies of the United States? No one who knew Abraham Lincoln can for a moment believe it. He did not so recklessly discharge his executive duties. Moreover, it is asserted that Grant gave warning that if the James River route was not taken, a loss of life exceeding in numbers the whole rebel army under Lee would be the consequence; yet that route was not taken. While Grant was unsympathetic and indifferent on this subject, President Lincoln’s sympathies were great, and such a warning would of itself have controlled him. No man more deeply deplored the loss of human life.

It is, I apprehend, a mistake to say that President Lincoln participated in any such conference as stated, but there was an interview between Grant, Stanton, and Halleck at the war office, on the 11th of March, after Grant had visited General Meade and before he returned to Nashville.

This representation, that President Lincoln preferred the sacrifice of one hundred thousand men to the confession of previous error; that he overruled and directed Grant, just made lieutenantgeneral for the purpose of taking command and directing all the armies and military movements, is an after-thought to cast from the shoulders of General Grant the responsibility of the “bloody march ” and place it upon the kindhearted president. The whole statement is ungenerous and unjust, and in conflict with the character of both the president and the lieutenant-general.

All the facts and details of current events of the period evince the mistake of General Taylor’s statement. General Grant returned from Nashville about the first of April, visited Hampton Roads, arranged for the army of the James to ascend that river, and then joining Gen eral Meade he placed himself at the head of the army of the Potomac. How communicative he was to the president may be seen from the following encouraging letter, written on the 30th of April, three days before the army broke camp and took up its line of march towards Richmond : —


LIEUTENANT - GENERAL GRANT, - Not expecting to see you before the spring campaign opens, I wish to express in this way my entire satisfaction with what you have done up to this time, so far as I understand it. The particulars of your plans I neither know nor seek to know. You are vigilant and self-reliant, and, pleased with this, I wish not to obtrude any restraints or constraints upon you. While I am very anxious that any great disaster or capture of our men in great numbers shall be avoided, I know that these points are less likely to escape your attention than they would mine. If there be anything wanting which is within my power to give, do not fail to let me know it. And now, with a brave army and a just cause, may God sustain you. Yours very truly,


There is nothing dictatorial in this letter: “ The particulars of your plans I neither know nor seek to know,” “ I wish not to obtrude any restraints or constraints upon you,” “ I am very anxious that any great disaster or capture of our men in great numbers shall be avoided,” etc.

Can any one believe for a moment that the author of that letter would consent to the additional loss of one hundred thousand men “ sooner than the adoption of a plan that would be taken by the public as a confession of previous error ” ? The whole is a calumny on the humane, self-sacrificing, and lion-hearted Lincoln.

Gideon Welles.