July 26, 1862 (Saturday)
In the mind of General-in-Chief Henry Halleck, now in command of all Union armies, George B. McClellan would probably attack Richmond once he was reinforced with 20,000. Thankfully, Halleck could easily round up this much-needed resource. They came from the armies of General Ambrose Burnside, near Fortress Monroe, and General David Hunter, at Hilton Head, South Carolina. To have these commanders give up so many troops would be taxing, but the figure promised McClellan would leave both, in Halleck’s opinion, with enough to continue their operations.
That was not, however, General Hunter’s opinion. Having already sent seven regiments, he was more recently asked to send ten more. Writing to Washington on this date, Hunter revealed that “no more could be spared without seriously jeopardizing the important basis of operations and depots of stores in this department.”1
Sending the first seven regiments forced him to completely abandon two islands near Charleston, the birthplace of secession. Sending more would certainly cause him to give up more. Hunter had recently shared with Washington an idea for recruiting more troops by enlisting the recently-freed slaves in his department. Give them a gun to fight for the freedom of others and they would, believed Hunter, fight.2
Lincoln, however, was not quite ready to take that step.
Despite Hunter’s pleas to keep his troops, Halleck probably believed that a few more regiments could be siphoned from the troops in South Carolina to meet the request for 20,000.
Though only a day had passed since McClellan was completely fine with the extra 20,000, everything was about to change. Richmond had released Union wounded and prisoners who had been exchanged. These men, numbering over 1,000, had a few stories for McClellan. Troops from all over the South were converging upon Richmond, they informed him. There were 8,000 from Charlotte, several thousand more from Charleston, thousands from the lower south, even some from Beauregard’s old army! All were on their way to reinforce General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. McClellan could do nothing but conclude that “the Southern States are being drained of their garrisons to reinforce the Army in my front.”
McClellan was no longer asking Halleck for the 20,000 first offered. He now wanted all of Burnside’s and Hunter’s men, a combined force that totaled 35,000. But that was hardly all he wanted. “Can you not possibly draw 15,000 or 20,000 men from the West to reinforce me temporarily,” asked McClellan of Halleck. Overnight, his acquiescence of 20,000 troops had evolved into a request for upwards of 55,000.3
Halleck was still en route to Washington from his visit with McClellan at Harrison’s Landing, but he would be greeted by this telegram when he arrived.
Lincoln: With Friends Like This….
Things weren’t going so well for Union General Benjamin Butler in New Orleans. Since occupying the city in early May, he had won very few friends and quite possibly turned sour whatever little Union sentiment had existed. New Orleans was an international port. Ambassadors and consuls from several European nations resided in the city. Their opinions of Butler could sway the opinions of their executives.
Secretary of State William Seward and President Lincoln batted around the idea of removing Butler, but instead promoted Col. George Shepley, the military commandant of the city, to the military governor of Louisiana. Hoping to further please the consuls, they also sent Reverdy Johnson, a Democratic legislator from Maryland. Johnson had openly fought with Lincoln in the early days of the war. He also had it out with Butler when they found that Baltimore wasn’t big enough for the both of them.
Butler was incredibly unhappy about Johnson’s arrival, figuring that he was sent to side with the consuls. Back in Washington, Postmaster General Montgomery Blair was also against the new appointment, as Johnson had been caught lying to Butler in the past. “Yes,” responded Seward, “but he was paid to do that. Now he is paid to lie the other way.”
As Johnson made himself at home, both Shepley and Butler went about their business, offending the consuls of nation after nation. Johnson’s job was to sort it all out.4
Shortly after his arrival, Reverdy Johnson wrote President Lincoln, expressing his opinions of the situation in Louisiana. “Whatever Union feeling (& it is said to have been extensive—) there was,” reported Johnson, “has nearly subsided, & principally, from an impression that it is the purpose of the Govt. to force the Emancipation of the slaves.” If this impression wasn’t “at once corrected, this State cannot be, for years, if ever, reinstated in the Union.”5
Drawing on his new policies and bolstered by the draft of his unpublished Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln gave his reply. “It seems the Union feeling in Louisiana is being crushed out by the course of General Phelps,” responded the President, adding, “Please pardon me for believing that is a false pretense.” After all, the people of Louisiana were intelligent enough to see that Lincoln had never planned to free the slaves or invade their soil.
“With perfect knowledge of this,” he continued, “they forced a necessity upon me to send armies among them, and it is their own fault, not mine, that they are annoyed by the presence of General Phelps.” The remedy for this was simple. If they wanted to remove General Phelps, they needed to remove the necessity for General Phelps.
Lincoln then turned from sarcastic to harsh. “If they can conceive of anything worse than General Phelps, within my power, would they not better be looking out for it? They very well know the way to avert all this is simply to take their place in the Union upon the old terms. If they will not do this, should they not receive harder blows rather than lighter ones?”
It was, Lincoln continued, as if Johnson were saying that Lincoln was harming his dear friends with Butler and Phelps. But the President had no choice but to “distrust the wisdom if not the sincerity of friends, who would hold my hands while my enemies stab me. This appeal of professed friends has paralyzed me more in this struggle than any other one thing.”
In closing, Lincoln hardly lightened. He was, he said, “a patient man—always willing to forgive on the Christian terms of repentance; and also to give ample time for repentance. Still I must save this government if possible. What I cannot do, of course I will not do; but it may as well be understood, once for all, that I shall not surrender this game leaving any available card unplayed.” 6
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 14, p365. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 14, p363. [↩]
- Letter from McClellan to Halleck, July 26, 1862. As found in The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan edited by Stephen W. Sears, Da Capo Press, 1992. [↩]
- When the Devil Came Down to Dixie by Chester G. Hearn, Louisiana State University, 1997. [↩]
- Letter from Reverdy Johnson to President Lincoln, July 16, 1862. The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. [↩]
- President Lincoln to Reverdy Johnson, July 26, 1862. The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. [↩]