Lincoln Calls for More Volunteers

July 2, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln issued a call for 300,000 more volunteers “so as to bring this unnecessary and injurious war to a speedy and satisfactory conclusion.” He used political guile to downplay the Federal defeats on the Virginia Peninsula, which were the main reason for the call.

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The War Department, confident that the war would soon end after the string of victories in early 1862, closed the military recruitment offices in April. But since then, the North’s war prospects had turned bleak, and it became clear that closing those offices had been premature. Lincoln wanted more volunteers, but he feared that recent newspaper reports of military disaster in Virginia would cause a “general panic and stampede.” Therefore, he and Secretary of State William H. Seward designed a plan that would enable Lincoln to ask for volunteers while masking the reason why.

On July 1, Seward met with the North’s top politicians and financiers in New York City. He brought a letter written by Lincoln for the occasion: “I expect to maintain this contest until successful, or till I die, or am conquered, or my term expires, or Congress or the country forsake me… Yours, very truly, A. Lincoln.”

Fearing that this sounded too drastic, Seward instead suggested that the northern governors call on Lincoln to ask them for volunteers to follow up “the recent successes of the Federal arms” and bring forth a “speedy restoration of the Union.” The governors of 17 northern states, as well as the president of the Unionist Kentucky Military Board, agreed to this scheme and signed a document written by Seward which read in part:

“We respectfully request, if it meets with your entire approval, that you at once call upon the several States for such number of men as may be required… to garrison and hold all of the numerous cities and military positions that have been captured by our armies, and to speedily crush the rebellion that still exists in several of the Southern States, thus practically restoring to the civilized world our great and good Government.”

Seward dated the document “June 28,” or before most of the reports of the Federal defeat and retreat on the Peninsula had been published.

The next day, Lincoln issued the call in “accordance” with the urgings of the governors; this absolved him of appearing desperate for manpower. Recruiting offices reopened throughout the northern states, and administration supporters such as James S. Gibbons, a Quaker abolitionist, wrote poems such as “We Are Coming, Father Abraham, Three Hundred Thousand More” (with music by Stephen Foster and Luther O. Emerson).

When appeals to patriotism did not garner the results they had in 1861, Federal officials tried enticing men to enlist by offering larger bounties. But northerners could see the war tipping to the Confederacy’s favor, and they were not so quick to volunteer this time around.

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References

Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7569; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 525; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 235-36; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 490-91; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 432-33; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 93

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