Tag Archives: New York Tribune

The Radical Republican Convention

May 31, 1864 – Radicals and other disgruntled Republicans held a convention in Cleveland to nominate a candidate to defeat President Abraham Lincoln’s bid for reelection.

Maj Gen John C. Fremont | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Many Republicans were dissatisfied with Lincoln’s performance, particularly his “lenient” plan to bring the southern states back into the Union. Some had proposed replacing Lincoln with Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, but Chase had been discredited by the Pomeroy Circular. When Major General John C. Fremont, who had long quarreled with Lincoln before resigning in 1862, expressed interest in running against him, his backers quickly organized an assembly at Chapin Hill a week before the Republican National Convention took place.

This Radical convention sought to protest the “imbecile and vacillating policy of the present Administration in the conduct of the war.” Organizers expected thousands to attend, but only about 400 actually showed. Of these, only 158 were delegates, many of whom held no significant political influence. They were mostly abolitionists and German immigrants loyal to Fremont (especially in Missouri), but some Democrats attended in an attempt to form a new “Radical Democratic” alliance against Lincoln.

Many Radicals who learned that the convention would be stacked with Fremont supporters refused to attend. Republicans and Democrats who pushed for Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant to oppose Lincoln also stayed away. Even Horace Greeley, the influential editor of the New York Tribune who called for this convention in the first place, withdrew his support.

The most prominent name associated with the convention was abolitionist Wendell Phillips, and even he did not attend. Instead he submitted a written statement calling the Lincoln administration “a civil and military failure, and its avowed policy ruinous to the North in every point of view…”

Phillips condemned Lincoln’s reconstruction plan because it “makes the freedom of the negro a sham, and perpetuates slavery under a softer name,” and he concluded, “If Mr. Lincoln is re-elected I do not expect to see the Union reconstructed in my day, unless on terms more disastrous to liberty than even disunion would be.”

Delegates adopted a platform that advocated:

  • A constitutional amendment to permanently abolish slavery and “secure to all men absolute equality before the law”
  • Granting black men the right to vote
  • Congress, not the president, administering reconstruction
  • Seizing the land of Confederates by military force and redistributing it to Federal soldiers, former slaves, or anyone else the Radicals deemed worthy
  • Abolishing the Electoral College and electing the president by popular vote
  • Limiting the president to one term
  • Barring the president from violating civil liberties, including suspending the writ of habeas corpus

Fremont was nominated by acclamation. The delegates expected him to run a strong race, just as he did as the first ever Republican presidential candidate in 1856. As a nod to the small Democratic constituency in attendance, Democratic Brigadier General John Cochrane was nominated vice president. Fremont agreed to run in the naïve hope that Radicals and Democrats could form a broad enough coalition to beat Lincoln in November.

In his acceptance statement, Fremont declared that he represented “a view to prevent the misfortune of (Lincoln’s) reelection,” which “would be fatal to the country.” He condemned Lincoln’s mismanagement of the war. However, he ignored the party’s pledge to uphold social and political equality, and he openly opposed the Radical plan to redistribute confiscated land.

A pundit called this disappointing convention “a most magnificent fizzle” that only featured “disappointed contractors, sorehead governors, and Copperheads.” Noting the delegates’ lack of political clout, the pro-Lincoln New York Times called the assembly “a congregation of malcontents… representing no constituencies, and controlling no votes.” Most Radicals renounced this party for its alliance with Democrats and ultimately acknowledged that the best way to advance their agenda was to back Lincoln.

When Lincoln was told that only 400 people attended this assembly, he thumbed through a Bible until he came upon 1 Samuel 22:2 and read, “And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them: and there were with him about 400 men.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 172; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10517, 10691-713; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7910-31; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 447; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 624; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 511-12; 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. 715-16; Schweikart, Larry and Allen, Michael, A Patriot’s History of the United States (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), p. 342; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q264

The New York Draft Riots

July 15, 1863 – Rioting over Federal conscription entered its third day, leaving New York City in the hands of a violent, angry mob.

The first enforced Federal military draft began in accordance with the Enrollment Act passed in March. In major northern cities, the names of men eligible for the draft were placed in wheels and randomly drawn until quotas were met. The notion of being forced into the military added to growing northern resentment of both the war and the Lincoln administration.

That resentment was especially strong in New York, one of the few northern states dominated by anti-administration politicians. Governor Horatio Seymour loudly denounced President Abraham Lincoln’s unconstitutional attacks on civil liberties, and New York City, the largest in the North, was led by an anti-administration mayor. Of the city’s major newspapers, the World and the Journal of Commerce were openly hostile to Lincoln, and the Herald was often critical as well. Only the Times and the Tribune tended to favor Lincoln’s handling of the war.

The governor and the mayor did nothing to allay fears among the city’s massive immigrant population that blacks freed by the Emancipation Proclamation could come north and take their jobs while they were being drafted to fight a war they did not support. Especially repulsive to potential draftees was the provision allowing men to hire substitutes or pay $300 to avoid military service.

For two days, Federal officials drew names in New York’s Ninth District Provost Marshal’s office at Third Avenue and 46th Street. Resentment built as those names appeared in city newspapers. Resentment boiled over on the third day, when a predominantly Irish mob attacked the draft office with stones, bricks, clubs, and bats. Officials were beaten, the lottery wheel was destroyed, and the building was burned. Police tried to stop the violence, but they were quickly overwhelmed.

Rioting in New York | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

A rampage through the city ensued, resulting in the burning of businesses, hotels, police stations, and the mayor’s home. Over 1,000 rifles were looted from the Second Avenue armory. Rioters burned the ground floor of the Tribune office; employees of the Times used three Gatling guns to keep the mob from destroying their building.

Protestors targeted wealthy-looking men, screaming, “Down with the rich!” and attacking anyone suspected of being “a $300 man.” The mob also attacked businesses where workers had been replaced by automation, such as grain-loading elevators and street sweepers.

Blacks were beaten, tortured, and killed, with rioters “chasing isolated Negroes as hounds would chase a fox.” Several blacks were hanged on lampposts, including a crippled coachman who was also burned as the mob chanted, “Hurrah for Jeff Davis!”The Colored Orphan Asylum was burned, but police saved most of the orphans. Businesses employing blacks were also burned. A heavy rain helped extinguish the fires, but the riot continued for two more days.

Lincoln received reports of the violence from Tribune managing editor Sydney H. Gay, and they added to the anxiety he already had from the Confederate army escaping to Virginia after the Battle of Gettysburg. Troops were pulled from the Army of the Potomac and directed to help restore order in New York, even though Seymour did not request Federal intervention.

The unrest increased on the 14th as rioters stopped streetcars, cut telegraph wires, and wrecked railroad tracks. They seized blacks from restaurants and other places of employment, including foreign blacks aboard a British ship at port. Some rioters attacked the New York Tribune offices again, shouting, “We’ll hang (managing editor) Horace Greeley to a sour apple tree!”

By the 15th, rioters controlled New York City. A witness stated that “three objects–the badge of a defender of the law, the uniform of the Union army, the skin of a helpless and outraged race–acted upon these madmen as water acts upon a rabid dog.”

The War Department hurried several regiments to help police, along with cadets from West Point and men from the forts in New York Harbor under Major General John E. Wool. All Federal naval vessels in the area were called to provide aid as well; Commander Hiram Paulding soon had a gunboat squadron in the harbor, ready to shell the city if necessary.

Workers joined the rioters in attacking the homes of prominent Republicans, as Seymour unsuccessfully tried to stop the violence. An announcement suspending the draft in New York and Brooklyn eased the riot somewhat, but it did not completely end until Federal troops arrived. Many rioters were killed at Gramercy Park as the Federals used artillery and bayonets to stop their advance.

Civilian resistance against authority ended soon after, and peace was finally restored by the 17th. City merchants quickly organized a relief effort for black victims of the rioting and their families. The Democrat-controlled New York City Council approved a measure authorizing the use of tax revenue to pay commutation fees for those who could not afford to buy their way out of the draft.

This was the worst draft and race riot in American history. An estimated 50,000 people participated in the lawlessness, with 105 killed and at least 2,000 injured. Property damage was assessed at $1.5 million, with 50 buildings destroyed. However, one scholar determined that the death toll was not nearly as high as the sensational newspaper accounts claimed (the New York Tribune claimed that 350 had died); most people had not “died anywhere but in the columns of partisan newspapers.”

Smaller riots occurred in Boston; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Rutland, Vermont; Wooster, Ohio; and Troy, New York. Lincoln rejected calls to create a commission to investigate the cause of the rioting because the findings would “have simply touched a match to a barrel of gunpowder… One rebellion at a time is about as much as we can conveniently handle.”

Some urged an indefinite draft suspension, while Democrats sought to have it declared unconstitutional. However, Lincoln insisted that the draft continue.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 133-34; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 62; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 308-09; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9506; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 636; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 328-29, 333; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 536-37; Klein, Maury, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 225-26; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 89; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 384-87, 389; 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. 609-10; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 244; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q363

The Prayer of Twenty Millions

August 20, 1862 – Horace Greeley published an editorial in his influential New York Tribune that challenged President Abraham Lincoln to enforce the newly enacted laws against slavery to preserve the Union. This prompted a rare public response from the president.

Horace Greeley | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Horace Greeley | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The Sioux uprising, combined with recent Confederate victories and rumors of slave emancipation, harmed the Lincoln administration’s popularity in the North. One of Lincoln’s most prominent critics was Greeley, who wrote an open letter on August 19 and published it the next day in his newspaper under the title “The Prayer of Twenty Millions.”

Claiming to represent the sentiments of his readers, Greeley alleged that many who had voted for Lincoln were “sorely disappointed and deeply pained by the policy you seem to be pursuing with regard to the slaves of the Rebels.” He wrote:

“We require of you, as the first servant of the Republic, charged especially and preeminently with this duty, that you EXECUTE THE LAWS… We think you are strangely and disastrously remiss in the discharge of your official and imperative duty with regard to the emancipating provisions of the new (Second) Confiscation Act. Those provisions were designed to fight Slavery with Liberty.”

Greeley accused Lincoln of being “unduly influenced by the counsels, the representations, the menaces, of certain fossil politicians hailing from the Border Slave States… We ask you to consider that Slavery is everywhere the inciting cause and sustaining base of treason: the most slaveholding sections of Maryland and Delaware being this day, though under the Union flag, in full sympathy with the Rebellion. It seems to us the most obvious truth, that whatever strengthens or fortifies Slavery in the Border States strengthens also Treason, and drives home the wedge intended to divide the Union.”

Greeley declared, “We complain that the Union cause has suffered… from mistaken deference to Rebel slavery… On the face of this wide earth, Mr. President, there is not one disinterested, determined, intelligent champion of the Union cause who does not feel that all attempts to put down the Rebellion and at the same time uphold its inciting cause are preposterous and futile…” He concluded:

“As one of the millions who would gladly have avoided this struggle at any sacrifice but that Principle and Honor, but who now feel that the triumph of the Union is dispensable not only to the existence of our country to the well being of mankind, I entreat you to render a hearty and unequivocal obedience to the law of the land.”

Lincoln, bothered by Greeley’s accusations, took the time two days later to publicly respond to Greeley’s letter. Lincoln reiterated the goal he had explained in his 1861 inaugural address:

“I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be ‘the Union as it was.’ If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I don’t believe it would help to save the Union.”

Lincoln had written another line but chose to omit it before publishing the rebuttal: “Broken eggs can never be mended, and the longer the breaking proceeds the more will be broken.”

By this time, Lincoln had already decided to issue an emancipation proclamation, and he hoped that this moderate letter would lay the groundwork for what he knew would be a controversial, unpopular, and unconstitutional decree. On the other hand, abolitionists unaware of Lincoln’s plan condemned this response as too conciliatory toward slavery.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Civilwarhome.com/lincolngreeley.htm; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 6-7; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7781; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 470-71; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 252-54; 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. 509-10; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 600; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 150

The Homestead Act

May 20, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill into law giving away 160-acre plots to settlers who agreed to tend to the land for five years.

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Politicians had debated whether to give free land to settlers since before the U.S. Constitution was drafted in 1787. Southerners had generally opposed free land grants because they would expand the farm base and undercut the value of goods harvested on southern farms. Northerners, particularly Republicans, favored land grants because they encouraged immigration and westward expansion. Now that southern opposition in Congress was gone, the Republican majority approved “An Act to secure Homesteads to actual Settlers on the Public Domain.”

This law allowed U.S. citizens or immigrants, male or female, who were at least 21 years old to claim 160 acres if they pledged to live on it, improve upon it, and cultivate it for at least five years. The claimants could be under 21 if they were heads of households or had served at least two weeks in the military. The available land ranged from Michigan to the Dakota Territory (present-day North and South Dakota, and most of Montana and Wyoming).

Confederates or northerners who had “given aid or comfort” to the Confederates were not eligible to claim a homestead. Some argued that southerners should be included because the land being given away had been secured, at least partly, by southern efforts. Others saw it as a missed opportunity to encourage soldiers to desert the Confederate army in exchange for free land.

The claimants, or homesteaders, had to pay an $18 filing fee, or $10 to temporarily hold a plot. They were allowed to sell the land at $1.25 per acre if they fulfilled a six-month residency that included making some improvements. The terms would go into effect on January 1, 1863.

The Homestead Act fulfilled a key plank in the Republican Party’s platform, and it was strongly supported by Lincoln. It also received some support from key Democrats such as Senator Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, who saw it as a way for poor southern whites to escape from the rigid class structure in the South. Horace Greeley, prominent editor of the New York Tribune, praised the measure because he believed it would “give every poor man a home.”

Opponents argued that giving land away deprived the Federal Treasury of what could have been a large source of revenue to pay for war. Republicans opted to make up for the revenue shortfall by raising taxes and import tariffs. Anti-war politicians contended that the law aimed to entice immigrants into coming to the U.S. primarily so they could be unwittingly recruited into military service.

Within two years, homesteaders had claimed 1,261,000 acres under this law. This increased to three million acres by the war’s end, and 80 million acres claimed by nearly 600,000 homesteaders overall. This led to the agricultural and industrial development of future states west of the Mississippi River, and it helped encourage the great westward expansion (and large-scale immigration) after the war.

However, 420 of the 500 million acres given away went to speculators, cattlemen, miners, lumbermen, and railroad tycoons. Most urban laborers lacked the agricultural knowledge or the money to either pay the $10 temporary hold fee or buy farm equipment. Long-term military enlistees tried claiming homesteads after being discharged but found that the best land was already gone.

The children of homesteaders often claimed plots of their own and connected them to create large plantation-like farms like those in the South, at the expense of the small farmers. Ignorance of the landscape on the Great Plains also hindered settlement, as it was later discovered that at least 1,500 acres were often needed to successfully farm the arid region.

In the short-term, the Homestead Act increased the popularity of Lincoln and the Republicans, which had waned due to military setbacks and questionable war policies.

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References

“About the Homestead Act,” National Park Service (retrieved June 29, 2012); “AMERICAN HISTORY The Homestead Act – Creating Prosperity in America,” (Legends of America, retrieved June 29, 2012); Bolton, Charles C., Poor Whites of the Antebellum South: Tenants and Laborers in Central North Carolina and Northeast Mississippi (1993), p. 67; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 173; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 367-68; Foner, Eric, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War, 1970; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 154-55; Hansen, Zeynep K., and Libecap, Gary D., “Small Farms, Externalities, and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s,” Journal of Political Economy (Volume: 112(3), November 21, 2003), p. 665-94; “Homesteader,” The Free Dictionary By Farlex (retrieved June 29, 2012 ); “Horace Greeley,” (Tulane University, August 13, 1999, retrieved 11-22-2007); Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 214; McElroy, Wendy, “The Free-Soil Movement, Part 1,” (The Future of Freedom Foundation, 2001), p. 1; 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. 450-51; Phillips, Sarah T., “Antebellum Agricultural Reform, Republican Ideology, and Sectional Tension,” Agricultural History (74[4], 2000), p. 799–822; “The Florida Homestead Act of 1862,” Florida Homestead Services (2006, retrieved November 22, 2007), paragraphs 3, 6 and 13 (Includes data on the U.S. Homestead Act ); Trefousse, Hans L., Andrew Johnson: A Biography (Norton, 1989), p. 42; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 127; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q262

Lincoln Approves Compensated Emancipation

April 10, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln signed a joint congressional resolution pledging Federal compensation to states that implemented programs to free slaves.

16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Bing public domain

16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Bing public domain

Lincoln had asked Congress to endorse his plan by which the loyal slave states (Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri, as well as western Virginia) would receive “pecuniary aid” if they voluntarily agreed to plans for gradual emancipation. The states would then use the funds however they saw fit, including to pay for freed slaves’ job training, education, welfare, or deportation; or to compensate slaveholders for their loss of labor and property.

Since the Federal government had no right to regulate slavery within the states, this measure sought to encourage the slave states with money to decide on a process to end the institution themselves. Lincoln had implicitly warned the political leaders of these states that if they did not accept this Federal offer, wartime exigencies could someday force him to free slaves involuntarily and without compensation.

The Republican press in the northern states overwhelmingly supported this resolution. An article in the New York Tribune declared, “This message constitutes of itself an epoch in the history of our country. It is the day-star of a new National dawn.” However, the more moderate New York Times questioned the large costs of such a program.

Some Radical Republicans in Congress argued that this plan was too lenient toward slaveholders. Abolitionists contended that bribing states to end slavery was immoral. Constitutionalists asserted that paying slave states to end slavery upset the Federal requirement to deal with all states equally, as the slave states would receive special treatment at the expense of the free states.

In the end, the resolution was approved by a vote of 88 to 31 in the House of Representatives, and 32 to 10 in the Senate. It was rejected by 85 percent of the Democrats and slave-state Unionists in Congress. This discouraged Lincoln because it demonstrated no change in their stance against it since he had met with the slave state congressmen in March. Moreover, this resolution was never enforced because none of the slave states would voluntarily end slavery.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 81-82; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 158; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7352; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 536; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 136; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 192, 197-98; 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. 499; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 270; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition, 2012), Q262

McClellan Invades Northern Virginia

March 10, 1862 – General-in-Chief George B. McClellan’s Federals finally entered northern Virginia, but the Confederate retreat from that area jeopardized McClellan’s overall strategy.

Federal General-in-Chief George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Histmag.org

Federal General-in-Chief George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Histmag.org

On the night of the 9th, President Abraham Lincoln met with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and General McClellan. Lincoln announced that he had received word of General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of the Potomac falling back behind the Rappahannock River. If true, this would block McClellan’s planned landing at Urbanna. Lincoln’s secretaries, John Hay and John Nicolay, recorded that McClellan received the news “with incredulity which at last gave way to stupefaction.”

McClellan, who had said for months that Johnston’s Confederates were too strong to confront, now hurried his own Army of the Potomac to pursue them. As General Philip Kearny’s Federals chased the Confederate rear guard, the bulk of McClellan’s army poured across the Potomac River into northern Virginia:

  • General Irvin McDowell’s division moved from Arlington to Centreville
  • General Edwin V. Sumner’s division occupied Manassas Junction
  • Other divisions advanced to Fairfax Court House

They found little more than wrecked railroad equipment and burned supplies. Even worse, the Federals soon discovered that many of the fortifications that McClellan had considered impregnable were manned by “Quaker guns,” or logs painted black to resemble cannon. Moreover, the abandoned camps indicated that no more than 50,000 enemy troops, or one-third the size of the force that McClellan had guessed, could have been stationed there.

A New York Tribune reporter submitted his article from what he called “Camp Disappointment, near Centreville.” Another correspondent stated that “the fancied impregnability of the position turns out to be a sham.” One reporter wrote, “Utterly dispirited, ashamed, and humiliated, I return from this visit to the rebel stronghold, feeling that their retreat is our defeat.”

Still, McClellan maintained that the abandoned defenses were “quite a formidable series of works.” While Johnston had held the line largely through bluff, he had been given enough time to build very strong defenses in certain points, especially overlooking a likely Federal approach northeast from Centreville. McClellan asserted that this area would have been “somewhat uncomfortable for new troops to carry by storm.”

Although Johnston’s withdrawal allowed for a deeper Federal probe into Virginia, Federal officials, particularly the Radical Republicans and the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, were generally unimpressed with McClellan’s “hollow victory.” After McDowell gave him a tour of the Bull Run battlefield, McClellan directed the army to fall back to Alexandria while he pondered his next move.

The Urbanna plan was no longer tenable, but McClellan did not want to altogether abandon the idea of moving down the Virginia coast. When the U.S.S. Monitor recently drove the C.S.S. Virginia away from Hampton Roads, it opened the possibility for McClellan to move his army even further down the coast. He could land the Federals at Fort Monroe, on the peninsula formed by the York and James rivers. From there he could advance 70 miles up to Richmond, with only two waterways in his path.

McClellan, having previously discussed this possibility with Stanton, wired him from Fairfax Court House:

“I have just returned from a ride of more than 40 miles… The rebels have left all their positions, and, from the information obtained during our ride to-day, I am satisfied that they have fallen behind the Rapidan, holding Fredericksburg and Gordonsville… They left many wagons, some caissons, clothing, ammunition, personal baggage, etc… Having fully consulted with General McDowell, I propose occupying Manassas with a portion of Banks’s command, and then at once throwing all forces I can concentrate upon the line agreed upon last week… I presume you will approve this course…”

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 83, 86-87; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13385-93; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 183; 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. 423-24; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q162

Lincoln’s Compensated Emancipation Plan

March 6, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln submitted a message asking Congress to consider a plan of gradual, compensated slave emancipation.

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

In his message, Lincoln called for a joint resolution declaring “that the United States ought to co-operate with any state which may adopt gradual abolishment of slavery, giving to such state pecuniary aid, to be used by such state in it’s (sic) discretion, to compensate for the inconveniences public and private, produced by such a change of system.” No U.S. president had ever submitted such an extraordinary legislative proposal to Congress before.

Lincoln asserted that the plan would help keep border slave states (i.e., Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri) from seceding. He wrote that “the leaders of the existing rebellion entertain the hope that this Government will ultimately be forced to acknowledge the independence of some part of the disaffected region, and that all the slave States north of such part will then say, ‘The Union for which we have struggled being already gone, we now choose to go with the Southern section.’ To deprive them of this hope substantially ends the rebellion, and the initiation of emancipation deprives them of it and of all the States initiating it.”

If the border states would “surrender on fair terms their own interest in Slavery rather than see the Union dissolved,” Lincoln believed it would hasten the war’s end. In this way, Lincoln argued for ending slavery not for moral reasons, but to preserve the Union and destroy the “proposed confederacy.”

To those concerned that such a plan would be too expensive, Lincoln argued that “less than one half-day’s cost of this war would pay for all the slaves in Delaware at four hundred dollars per head,” and 87 days’ worth of expenses would compensate for all the remaining slaves in Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri.

Lincoln maintained that such a plan was constitutional because it served the “general welfare,” with each state being able to decide for itself whether or not to take part. Opponents quickly countered that individual states could not enter into special relationships with the Federal government, such as one that would give the slave states a financial benefit that free states could not enjoy, even though they would be helping to fund said benefit.

The president urged the border state congressmen to support this measure because it was “impossible to foresee all the incidents, which may attend and all the ruin which may follow it.” This was an implied warning that if they rejected the plan, involuntary emancipation without compensation might someday be imposed.

In a meeting with Lincoln four days later, the border state congressmen questioned the constitutionality of the plan, inferred that Federal coercion toward emancipation would be resisted, and expressed fears that freeing slaves would harm race relations.

Lincoln countered that the plan “would not be half as onerous, as would be an equal sum, raised now, for the indefinite prossecution (sic) of the war.” In a letter to New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, Lincoln stated that “we should urge it persuasively, and not menacingly, upon the South.” Nevertheless, congressmen from the border slave states maintained strong opposition to any Federal interference with slavery.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 14906-32; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7306-17; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 117; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 459-60; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 179, 184-85; 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. 498-99; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 270; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q162