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150 Years Ago: Friday, December 19, 1862


George Templeton StrongSource: Library of Congress

George Templeton Strong
Source: Library of Congress

George Templeton Strong writes in his journal of the Fredericksburg disaster, revealing increasing public frustration and a loss of patience for their Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and their Commander-in-Chief, President Abraham Lincoln:

“Our loss at Fredericksburg is crawling up to 17,000. It is generally held that Stanton forced Burnside to this movement against his earnest remonstrance and protest. Perhaps Stanton didn’t. Who knows? But there is universal bitter wrath against him throughout this community, a deeper feeling more intensely uttered than any I ever saw prevailing here. Lincoln comes in for a share of it. Unless Stanton be speedily shelved, something will burst somewhere. The general indignation is fast growing revolutionary. The most thorough Republicans, the most loyal Administration men, express it most fiercely and seem to share the personal vindictiveness of the men and women whose sons or brothers or friends have been uselessly sacrificed to the vanity of the political schemes of this meddling murderous quack. His name is likely to be a hissing, till it is forgotten, and the Honest Old Abe must take care lest his own fare no better. A year ago we laughed at the Honest Old Abe’s grotesque genial Western jocosities, but they nauseate us now. If these things go on, we shall have pressure on him to resign and make way for Hamlin. (TCWP note: Hannibal Hamlin is the Vice President)

From his headquarters in Falmouth, Virginia, Commanding General of the Army of the Potomac, Ambrose Burnside, seems to be escaping a lot of the criticism when it comes to the loss at Fredericksburg. Given the uproar of the country, he writes a letter defending his actions and also accepting responsibility to General-in-Chief Henry Halleck in Washington, who has generally supported his plan and efforts during the forty days he has been in command:

General: I have the honor to offer the following reasons for moving the army of the Potomac across the Rappahannock sooner than was anticipated by the president, secretary of war and yourself, and for crossing at a point different from the one indicated to you at our last meeting at the president’s.

During my preparations for crossing at the pace I had first selected, I discovered that the enemy had thrown a large portion of his force down the river and elsewhere, thus weakening his defenses in front, and also thought I discovered that he did not anticipate the crossing of our whole force at Fredericksburg, and I hoped, by rapidly throwing the whole command over at that place, to separate, by a vigorous attack, the forces of the enemy on the river below from the forces behind and in the rear of the town, in which case we could fight him with great advantage in our favor. To do this we had to gain a height on the extreme right of the crest, which height commanded a new road lately made by the enemy for the purpose of more rapid communication along his line, which point gained, his position along the crest would have been scarcely tenable, and he could have been driven from them easily by an attack on this point in connection with a movement in the rear of the crest.

How near we came of accomplishing our object, but for the fog and unexpected and unavoidable delay in building the bridges, which gave the enemy twenty-four hours more to concentrate his forces in his strong positions, we would almost certainly have succeeded. In which case the battle would have been, in my opinion, far more decisive than if we had crossed at the place first selected. As it was we came very near success.

Failing in accomplishing the main object, we remained in order of battle two days, long enough to decide that the enemy would not come out of his strongholds to fight us with his infantry, after which we re-crossed to this side of the river, unmolested and without the loss of men or property.

As the day broke, our long lines of troops were seen marching to their different positions as if going on parade. Not the least demoralization or disorganization existed.

To the brave officers and soldiers who accomplished the feat of thus re-crossing the river in the face of the enemy, I owe everything. For the failure in attack I am responsible, as the extreme gallantry, courage and endurance shown by them was never exceeded, and would have carried the points, had it been possible.

To the families and friends of the dead I can only offer my heartfelt sympathies; but for the wounded I can offer my earnest prayer for their comfortable and final recovery.

The fact that I decided to move from Warrenton on to this line, rather against the opinion of the President, Secretary of War, and yourself, and that you left the whole movement in my hands, without giving me orders, makes me responsible.

Our killed amounts to 1152, our wounded to about 9000, and our prisoners 700, which last have been paroled and exchanged for about the same number taken by us. The wounded were all removed to this side of the river, and are being well cared for, and the dead were all buried under a flag of truce. The surgeons report a much larger proportion of slight wounds than usual, 1632 only being treated in hospitals.

I am glad to represent the army at the present time in good condition.

Thanking the government for the entire support and confidence which I have always received from them, I remain, General,

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

A. E. Burnside, Maj. Gen. Commanding Army of the Potomac.

Later Burnside receives a communication for him; Lincoln requests that he “Come, of course, if in your own judgment it is safe to do so.

Newspapers are across the country are filled with print regarding Lincoln’s “Cabinet Crisis”, specifically calling for Secretary of State William Seward’s resignation. Some rumors are going around that Seward has already resigned; they are correct. Two days ago Seward quietly handed a resignation letter to Lincoln for not only himself, but also for his assistant and son Frederick Seward. Lincoln has yet to accept it or respond to it.

Lincoln's Cabinet as of 12/19/1862 (l to r): Stanton, Chase, Lincoln, Welles, Seward (sitting), Smith, Blair, Bates)Source: Library of Congress

Lincoln’s Cabinet as of 12/19/1862 (l to r): Stanton, Chase, Lincoln, Welles, Seward (sitting), Smith, Blair, Bates
Source: Library of Congress

The “delegation of nine” Senators arrive at the White House tonight as a follow-up to their meeting with Lincoln last night. They find not only Lincoln, but the members of his Cabinet with the exception of Seward. Lincoln clearly states the concerns that the nine Senators have expressed, and one by one asks each Cabinet member if they agree with the assessment. Postmaster General Montgomery Blair disagrees with their message and offers to resign if it will put the matter to rest, but it is never accepted. One by one each Cabinet member refutes the Senators observations, their request for a partial reconstruction of the Cabinet and the removal of Seward, with the exception of Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase.

Chase was the one personally responsible for feeding the Senators the information they approached Lincoln with; if he agrees with the Senators, then he goes against the rest of the Cabinet and the President. If he disagrees, then it becomes obvious to the Senators that he’s a liar. Chase tries to walk a fine line by stating that while the Cabinet is often consulted in many important matters, he is sometimes not as involved or informed by Lincoln and Seward as he would like. After Lincoln’s brilliant and calm handling of the situation, and the displayed unity by the Cabinet, the Senators come to the conclusion that no changes need to be made to the Cabinet; Seward can keep his position. An embarrassed Chase goes home for the night and writes a resignation letter that he will deliver to Lincoln tomorrow. Seward will learn of the night’s events as several Cabinet members head over to his house after the meeting to let him know what transpired. To Seward it is a great relief, but he still expects that his resignation will be accepted.

Out West, C.S.A. President Jefferson Davis and General Joseph E. Johnston meets up with Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton in Grenada, Mississippi to discuss the defense of Vicksburg. They travel by train to Jackson where Davis reviews the troops; by nighttime they are on the train again, headed for Vicksburg where Davis can view this critical city he is determined to keep in Confederate hands.

About thecivilwarproject

Like many others, I have a passion for the Civil War era, and for decades have chosen to spend my much of free time researching this topic - particularly the people, as the human component is what I find most fascinating. The site is not a source of revenue for me, nor is it tied in with a company or individual behind the scenes. It is my own personal venture. It is because of this genuine bond of respect and affection I feel towards this period in our history that I created "The Civil War Project." If this is your first time visiting the site, I welcome you and thank you for your interest. If you have any feedback or questions, please feel free to contact me at thecivilwarproject@yahoo.com.

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