January 15, 1862 (Wednesday)
Immediately after he softened his letter to Simon Cameron from a brusque dismissal to an acceptance of resignation, President Lincoln sat down with Edwin Stanton, who would be approved by the Senate to be the new Secretary of War, on this date.
Though Lincoln had Stanton pegged, he allowed Cameron to think that it was he (Cameron) who came up with the idea. He also allowed Secretary of State Seward and Treasury Secretary Chase to believe similar things. In actuality, it was Stanton’s ability to work with all three that won him over to Lincoln.
While the job offer probably pleased Stanton, it did not sit well with his wife. Stanton had been a well-paid lawyer, bringing in $50,000 a year. The Secretary of War made only $8,000. Still, he accepted.
Despite having discussed Stanton with Seward and Chase, the other Cabinet members were blindsided by the appointment. It had been brought up not even once during a daily meeting. Naval Secretary Gideon Welles had never even met Stanton.1
Apart from talking it over with his wife, Stanton also met with General George McClellan, a fellow Democrat. Stanton admitted that he wanted the position of Secretary of War, but that it would come at a great sacrifice. According to McClellan, Stanton said that the only inducement to taking the job would be that it gave him the power to aide McClellan “in the work of putting down the Rebellion; that he was willing to devote all his time, intellect, and energy to my assistance, and that together we could soon bring the war to an end.”
McClellan recalled Stanton telling him that he “wished him to accept he would do so, but only on my account.” Stanton did accept the offer, making McClellan (at least in his own mind) the reason Edwin Stanton became the Secretary of War.2
In truth, it is highly unlikely that McClellan swayed Stanton’s decision in any way at all.
Grant’s Diversion is Working, but Does It Matter?
General Grant, still executing his diversion in western Kentucky, hoping to keep the Rebels before him from reinforcing their comrades in Eastern Tennessee, visited his various commands as they spread out south from Cairo, Illinois.
The largest column, under General John McClernand, had made it nearly to Milburn, twenty-five miles southeast of Cairo. He ordered them to circle back to Blandville over the coming couple of days. They had met no enemy, but were certain that the Confederates knew of the march. They hoped that it tricked the secessionists into thinking they were heading for Fort Donelson.
Grant was also using the diversion as a sort of reconnaissance, sending cavalry as far south as Columbus, Kentucky, along the Mississippi River.3
From Columbus, Confederate General Leonidas Polk, wrote to a General Mansfield Lovell in New Orleans concerning his request that a few regiments be returned to him. Polk replied that he was already too thin in the numbers department.
“The enemy in the mean time is within three hours of my position,” wrote Polk, adding that Grant “has been concentrating a large force for an attack upon it, and, as my information is, has now about completed his plans of preparations for that purpose. Today and to-morrow are the days fixed upon for that attack.”4
Even if he had enough men to send east, General Polk, believing that Grant was about to attack him, could not. For Grant, the important thing in all of this harsh winter marching was that the Rebels were not sending reinforcements to Eastern Tennessee.
The diversion, it seems, was working. But for what cause? Though President Lincoln and General McClellan had continually urged General Buell, commanding in Kentucky, to push into Eastern Tennessee, he had taken no steps to do so. His immediate concerns were still the Rebels under General William Hardee near Bowling Green and those under General George Crittenden at Mill Springs, 100 miles to the east.