Lincoln’s Cabinet Almost Agrees to Arm Freed Slaves; Morgan’s Raid at an End

July 21, 1862 (Monday)

Gideon Welles, Naval Secretary

It had been a week since President Lincoln had attended the funeral of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton’s infant son. In a short carriage ride to the ceremony, he revealed to two members of his Cabinet that he “had about come to the conclusion that it was a military necessity, absolutely essential for the salvation of the nation, that we must free the slaves or be ourselves subdued.”1

In that time, Lincoln had the chance to hone his thoughts into a cohesive proclamation, while the Cabinet members pondered the logic of such a move. Specially, they did their best to justify a move that would be seen as unconstitutional. If the Southern states were still under the jurisdiction of the Constitution, then they were well within their rights to own slaves. But since they were in rebellion and had denied the Constitution and the authority of the United States Federal government, they willingly forfeited their rights. If they wished to hide behind the United States Constitution, they would have to once again become part of the United States.2

Salmon P. Chase, Treasury Secretary

The Cabinet, it seems, had not met, even unofficially, since then. This morning, however, Lincoln wished to see them assembled at 10am. With very little notice, they gathered at the White House. The President had prepared several orders, which he wished to discuss.

The first concerned the desire of some Union commanders to subsist their armies off the land, feeding themselves on the crops of the South. All Cabinet members agreed whole-heartedly with this idea. Secondly, Lincoln wished to employ freed slaves as laborers. This was also universally accepted by each member. The third item called for an accounting of property and slaves taken from the South so they could be properly compensated. All thought it was a fine idea, except Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase (who would be responsible for keeping such records). Last, Lincoln brought up the subject of colonizing the freed slaves in some tropical place. This discussion, however, quickly drifted to other subjects when Secretary of War Edwin Stanton brought up some ideas proposed by General David Hunter, commanding troops in the Carolinas.

Seriously... we've got this.

Hunter had been called upon to reinforce General George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac outside of Richmond. While he was perfectly fine with sending troops, he pointed out that his garrisons would be depleted. In light of such depletion, he requested the right to enlist any willing body, paying no attention at all to the color of their skin.

This was a touchy, divisive subject. Secretaries Stanton, Seward and Chase liked the idea, while the rest weren’t abhorrently against it (Postmaster General Montgomery Blair – more a Unionist than an abolitionist – was not there to voice his dissent).

Lincoln wasn’t quite ready to come out in favor of arming black men, and so decided to continue the meeting the following day.3


Morgan has the “Best Mounted Men in the World.”

John Hunt Morgan’s raid into Kentucky was drawing to a close. Union cavalry under General Green Clay Smith had driven his partisans out of Paris on the 17th and the following day the Rebels gathered at Richmond, well south of Cynthiana, the crest of Morgan’s wave.

Green Clay Smith was a bit slow. Also, someone should have fixed that curtain before taking his picture.

Morgan wanted to make a stand in Richmond, but he figured that the Federals by now knew that he only had 900 men under his command. The element of surprise was long gone and the Union cavalry had at least twice his number. Seeing no other option, he continued south towards Tennessee.4

Little did Morgan know, however, that to the Federals, his 900 men seemed like several times as many. General Smith, through his own scouting and so-called “reliable” reports, placed Morgan’s numbers at 4,000.5 General Jeremiah Boyle, commander of all Kentucky forces, estimated 500 less, but it was still quite a bit more than Morgan actually had.

As time went on, however, General Boyle was able to discern a more realistic figure. By the 20th, he admitted to General Don Carlos Buell, commander of the Union Army of the Ohio in northern Alabama, that Morgan probably never had more than 1,200 men at any given time. “The rebel lies alarmed some of my commanding officers,” wrote Boyle, “and produced consternation among the people.” He neglected to remember that the lies alarmed and produced much consternation in himself, as well. 6

Just as Boyle was figuring out Morgan’s true numbers, the Confederate rangers arrived at Somerset, well ahead of their pursuers. It was hardly a leisurely ride. Morgan drove his men and mounts so hard that the horses captured with the artillery piece at Cynthiana gave out and died before reaching Richmond.

While at Somerset, Morgan’s telegrapher, “Lightening” Ellsworth took control of the lines and countermanded all of General Boyle’s orders to pursue. This seemed to buy them some time (though really, it was the slow pursuit more than anything that afforded such luxury). There were also 150 Union supply wagons and storehouses in the town. Morgan took as many shoes, blankets and other supplies as his men could carry, and burned the rest.

Map of Morgan's First Kentucky Raid.

They crossed the Cumberland River near the Mill Springs battlefield, ventured through Monticello and arrived back at Livingston, Tennessee on this date. They met no organized Union force, but were compelled to brush aside a few bushwackers here and there. 7

All in all, Morgan viewed his first large raid as a glowing success. It has lasted twenty-four days, during which, as he later reported, he “traveled over a thousand miles, captured seventeen towns, destroyed all the Government supplies and arms in them, dispersed about fifteen hundred Home Guards and paroled nearly twelve hundred regular troops. I lost in killed, wounded and missing of the number that I carried into Kentucky about ninety.” 8

After hearing that Morgan had made it into Tennessee, Smith called off the chase. General Boyle could understand why. The raid had sent him into a blind panic, during which he called for any troops he could get, completely sure until the very end that Morgan would drive his entire command out of Kentucky. And even as the Confederate raider slipped across the border, Boyle mused with an honest respect: “He has the best mounted men in the world.”9

  1. Diary of Gideon Welles by Gideon Welles, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1911. []
  2. The History of Emancipation by Gideon Welles, 1872. []
  3. Diary by Salmon P. Chase, 1903. []
  4. Morgan’s Cavalry by Basil Wilson Duke, Neale Pub. Co., 1906. []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 16, Part 1, p760. Smith’s report. []
  6. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 16, Part 1, p747-748. []
  7. Morgan’s Cavalry by Basil Wilson Duke, Neale Pub. Co., 1906. []
  8. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 16, Part 1, p770. Morgan’s report. []
  9. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 16, Part 1, p749. []
Creative Commons License
Lincoln’s Cabinet Almost Agrees to Arm Freed Slaves; Morgan’s Raid at an End by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


View all posts by