July 14, 1862 (Monday)
“Let us understand each other,” said Union General John Pope to his new Army of Virginia. “I have come to you from the West, where we have always seen the backs of our enemies; from an Army whose business it has been to seek the adversary and to beat him when he was found; whose policy has been attack and not defense.”
General Pope, who had recently threatened to make Rebel civilians and guerrillas equally “pay the price,” was clearly not looking to make friends. He had offended the South as a whole, and with this address to his troops, he was offending the entire Union Army of the Potomac, most of all, it’s leader, General George B. McClellan.
Pope assured his men that they would have “opportunity to win the distinction you are capable of achieving,” but first cautioned that certain phrases had to be dismissed from their minds. While in the west, the Federal forces attacked, in the east, he heard of taking “strong positions and holding them,” of “lines of retreat,” and “bases of supplies.” No more.1
These phrases, while militarily sound, in Pope’s mind, had been too relied upon as excuses. Of course, he made no direction mention of McClellan’s dirge-like campaign towards Richmond, but then, he didn’t have to. It was well known that Pope held little but contempt for most of the eastern officers, especially McClellan. The feelings were found to be very much reciprocal.
General Pope would later claim that he directed the proclamation to his own men, not to the men of the Army of the Potomac. But then, that was also a problem. Prior to hearing or reading the address, most of the newly-formed Army of Virginia had taken a liking to Pope. Here was a man who would fight. Here was a man who was pursuing the Rebels. After this date, however, what became known at “Pope’s Bull,” was seen by the men in the ranks as a thorough lashing of their commanders, whom they had mostly grown to respect. Pope had not been in the Shenandoah Valley with Stonewall Jackson’s foot cavalry. He could not know. He had been in the west with his arrogance and whatever victories he attained were against lesser Confederate Generals.
The officers of the Army of Virginia were even less amused. At best, he was a “blow hard,” a “weak and silly man.” At worst, he was turning his own army against him.2
President Lincoln was unhappy with General McClellan for many of the same reasons Pope stated in his thinly-veiled critique of the eastern philosophy of warfare. Unlike Pope, he couldn’t wear it on his sleeve. He now fully realized that McClellan would not fight – that the campaign on the Virginia Peninsula was through.
It was in this climate, realizing that Richmond was not about to fall, that he returned to the idea of emancipating the slaves. The previous day, in a carriage ride with Naval Secretary Gideon Welles and Secretary of State William Seward to the funeral of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton’s infant child, Lincoln revealed 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.”
While the slaves were not in arms against the Federal forces (it was illegal for any black man, free or slave, to join the Confederate army), they freed up white southern men, who would otherwise need to stay home to plow their fields, run their businesses or take care of their families. In the army itself, slaves built fortifications, cooked, drove the wagons and did hard labor, freeing up white southern soldiers, who would otherwise be kept away from the firing lines.
This was the first he had ever mentioned such an idea and asked both Cabinet members what they thought of such a proposal. Both Welles and Seward saw just how huge even the whisper of such a decree would be, and declined to give his opinion until he had time to mull it over.3
Complete emancipation would, of course, have to wait. For the time being, he turned to Congress, who were debating the offer of compensated emancipation to any state that would abolish slavery, and another Confiscation Act. Concerning the former, Lincoln drafted the bill himself.
In it, he proposed that the Federal government would pay an amount to be decided, plus six percent interest in the form of a bond, for every single slave that had been counted in the 1860 census. If the abolition was immediate, the states would be compensated immediately. If it were gradual, the government would spread out the payments.4
The measure was leveled at the border states of Kentucky, Missouri and Maryland – still highly sought after by the Confederate government. If they could be enticed to free their slaves, it would send a clear message to Richmond that these states would never join their rebellion.
Though Lincoln was convinced of the necessity of abolishing slavery, he was not quite ready to live side-by-side with freed blacks. That, or he realized that the white politicians of the border states were not yet ready. “I do not speak of emancipation at once,” reminded the President when speaking to delegates of the border states a few days prior, “but of a decision at once to emancipate gradually. Room in South America for colonization can be obtained cheaply, and in abundance, and when numbers shall be large enough to be company and encouragement for one another, the freed people will not be so reluctant to go.”
In time, Lincoln’s views on this subject would evolve, but for the time being, slaves aided the Confederate war effort. Their freedom, which was not nearly as free as it could have been, would mean the slow degradation of the rebellion.
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p473-474. [↩]
- General John Pope by Peter Cozzens, University of Illinois, 2000. [↩]
- Diary of Gideon Welles by Gideon Welles, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1911. [↩]
- “Message to Congress, July 14, 1862” as printed in Abraham Lincoln; Complete Works, Vol. 2 edited by John G. Nicholay and John Hay, The Century, 1920. [↩]