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06/14/16

Lincoln’s Conciliationist Generals

This entry is part 17 of 17 in the series Union General Officers

General Winfield ScottAt the onset of the Civil War Abraham Lincoln had a serious problem. There were not very many Republicans at the higher levels of the Union Army. Most of the higher officers were Democrats. There were very few generals, a mere handful in the antebellum Army. Lincoln was concerned that the war might be seen as a Republican war rather than a war of the united North.

He solved his problem in a variety of ways, some were successful, others were utter failures. The most well-known one was his attempt through General Winfield Scott to recruit Robert E. Lee for a top command. Lee demurred and accepted the commission to command the Virginia state forces.

Other top officers in the U.S. Army left to command Confederate forces. Joseph E. Johnston was the Quartermaster General who left to command Confederate troops in the field. Albert Sidney Johnston left his command of the U.S. Army Department of the Pacific in California for the eventual position as commander of the Western Department.

Many of the men who would command large formations of troops, Brigades, Divisions or Corps, had never commanded much more than a company. They learned on the job, so to speak.

At the start of the war most of the Union generals were Democrats. Some were also conciliationists. Two commanders, Brevet Lieutenant Winfield Scott and Major General George B. McClellan, personified the conciliatory policy at the beginning of the war. Both officers had many differences but on this issue they were complete agreement. They thought of the war as product of political extremism on both sides.

Throughout his military career Scott displayed tact and patience both to his troops and his adversaries. Scott advised President James Buchanan to hold the military posts in the Deep South with overwhelming force to discourage any attack by secessionists. But he was opposed to a military invasion of the South. Instead, he suggested that warships be stationed off the coast of Southern ports to collect import duties. This would establish the continued authority of the federal government.

Many of those who espoused non-confrontation believed that Unionist sentiment in the South would resurface and the seceded states would return to the Union voluntarily. Within Lincoln’s cabinet incoming Secretary of State William Seward was an adherent of conciliation.

Scott sent the following memorandum to Seward with four options for the new government to take against the South.

Hoping that, in a day or two, the new President will have, happily, passed through all personal dangers, & find himself installed an honored successor of the great Washington — with you as chief of his cabinet — I beg leave to repeat, in writing, what I have before said to you, orally, this supplement to my printed “views,” (dated October last) on the highly disordered condition of our (so late) happy & glorious union. To meet the extraordinary exigencies of the times, it seems to me that I am guilty of no arrogance in limiting the President’s field of selection to one of the four plans of procedure, subjoined: –

I. Throw off the old, & assume a new designation — the Union party; — adopt the conciliatory measures proposed by Mr. Crittenden, or the Peace convention, & my life upon it, we shall have no new case of secession, but, on the contrary, an early return of many, if not a;l the states which have already broken off from the Union, without some equally benign measure, the remaining slave holding states will, probably, join the Montgomery confederacy in less than sixty days, when this city — being included in a foreign country — would require permanent Garrison of at least 35,000 troops to protect the Government within it.

II. Collect the duties on foreign goods outside the ports of which this Government has lost the command, or close such ports by acts of congress, & blockade them.

III. Conquer the seceded States by invading Armies. No doubt this might be done in two or three years by a young able General — a Wolfe, a Desaix or a Hoche, with 300,000 disciplined men — estimating a third for Garrisons, & the loss of a yet greater number by skirmishes, sieges, battles & southern fevers. The destruction of life and property, on the other side, would be frightful — however perfect the moral discipline of the invaders.

The conquest completed at that enormous waste of human life, to the north and north west — with at least $250[,]000,000, added thereto, and cui bono? — Fifteen devastated provinces — not to be brought into harmony with their conquerors; but to be held, for generations, by heavy garrisons — at an expense quadruple the net duties or taxes which it would be possible to extract from them — followed by a Protector or an emperor.

IV. Say to the seceded — States — wayward sisters, depart in peace!

The firing on Fort Sumter ended any hope of peaceful compromise. Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers to suppress the rebellion brought the secession of four more states: Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee. Scott cast around for a new plan to bring the seceded states back into the Union with a minimum of bloodshed. The centerpiece of his Anaconda Plan was an air-tight blockade of all Southern ports. He also planned to send a strong column from Cairo, Illinois to secure the Mississippi River and split the Confederacy in two. Scott that these two actions would bring out the Unionists.

Seward asked the well-regarded Montgomery C. Meigs, then a captain, to draft a memorandum on the war in general and the Virginia situation in particular. Meigs endorsed Scott’s view that the government should defer action until the army was better trained.

A split developed within the Union government with Postmaster General Montgomery Blair calling for immediate action. He said that Scott’s group were overestimating the strength of the secessionists. Lincoln, meanwhile, decided on a policy of deliberation. Some Northern newspapers called for immediate action.

The First Battle of Bull Run would put an end to conciliation and any hopes of a rapid Union victory. The defeat of the Union field army led by Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell ushered in Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan to command the Army of the Potomac. McClellan was a Democrat and a conciliationist. These two facts would impact the Union war effort in the Eastern Theater for some time.

11/22/12

Thanksgiving Day 1863

Up until 1863, Thanksgiving Day had been celebrated informally in the United States. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln, prompted by a series of editorials written by Sarah Josepha Hale, proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day, to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November 1863.

Hale is credited as the individual most responsible for making Thanksgiving a national holiday in the United States; it had previously been celebrated only in New England. Each state scheduled its own holiday, some as early as October and others as late as January; it was largely unknown in the American South. Her advocacy for the national holiday began in 1846 and lasted 17 years before it was successful. In support of the proposed national holiday, she wrote letters to five Presidents of the United States: Zachary Taylor, Millard Filmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and Abraham Lincoln.

Her initial letters failed to persuade, but the letter she wrote to Lincoln did convince him to support legislation establishing a national holiday of Thanksgiving in 1863. The new national holiday was considered a unifying day after the stress of the American Civil War. Prior to the addition of Thanksgiving, the only national holidays celebrated in the United States were Washington’s Birthday and Independence Day.

The proclamation, written by Secretary of State William Seward reads as follows:

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union. In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed. Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.”Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln, October 3, 1863.

For all those who celebrate this Thanksgiving, give thanks for all that you have.

05/17/11

Team Of Rivals

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Well-known historian Doris Kearns Goodwin writes about the genius of Abraham Lincoln who rose from one-term congressman and circuit lawyer to the highest political position in the nation. All during a time of extreme danger for the country. As the first Republican Author Doris Kearns GoodwinParty candidate for President he overcame three better-known rivals for the nomination: William Seward, Salmon P. Chase and Edward Bates. After winning the Presidency in the hotly-contested 1860 election he watched as state after state seceded from the Union. By the time he was sworn in, a number of Southern states had left the Union. Lincoln then recruited his rivals in one of the most unusual cabinets in American history.

During the course of this 800+ page tome Goodwin examines America in the 1850’s right through to the assassination of Lincoln at Ford’s Theater. The initial part of the book examines the rivals for the Republican nomination. The second half of the book follows the Team of Rivals Book Coverwar from the vantage point of the White House. The war years also included all of the problems with incompetent generals, hostile congressman and a sometimes-recalcitrant cabinet. Lincoln was able to overcome all of this and win the respect of his former rivals to bring us through to victory.

This is a must-read for the Civil War historian: professional or amateur. It is well-researched and well-annotated with a 100 page Notes and Index section. If you would like to purchase it through my link click here.