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Saturday, September 3, 2016

Abraham Lincoln, Military Meddler

            Unless Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant or Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman succeeded in capturing or destroying at least one of their objectives (Richmond, the Army of Northern Virginia, Atlanta, or the Army of Tennessee) by November, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln could scarcely hope to win re-election.  If Lincoln met with defeat, the country could expect its then current division to become permanent.  A Democrat would occupy the White House who would, in Lincoln’s words, “have secured his election on such ground that he could not possibly save [the Union].”[1]
No one had done more than Lincoln himself to create this predicament.  Earlier that year, before the president appointed Grant general-in-chief of the Union’s armies, Grant had intended to begin the Campaign of 1864 in the east by transporting his army by sea to Suffolk, Virginia.  He would thus have arrived bloodlessly at a position similar to his present one, which had cost more than 72,000 casualties to reach.[2]  From Suffolk, he would have headed inland along the Blackwater River against the railroads connecting Richmond with the Deep South.  Lincoln had objected to Grant’s plan because a move by sea would leave Washington unprotected, something the president’s party could not tolerate.[3]  Such a move would create another problem for Lincoln.  It would admit the correctness of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan’s bloodless move by sea to the York-James Peninsula in 1862, though McClellan’s campaign there had ended in failure and mutual recriminations.  Such an admission would never do, because the 1864 presidential election was shaping up as a contest between Old Abe and Little Mac. 
Lincoln had also meddled in the Campaign of 1864 in the west by insisting on the Red River Expedition into northwest Louisiana.  This deprived Sherman of about 10,000 soldiers he was counting on for the beginning of his campaign in north Georgia.[4]  It also precluded an expedition aimed at Mobile that would have tied up enemy troops sent to defend Atlanta.[5]  Against a more capable opponent than Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, Sherman’s campaign might never have gotten going.[6]  Denied about 10,000 more troops on veteran furloughs, Sherman had to reduce the scope of his plans in a manner that significantly slowed the progress of his campaign.[7]
In the furor over the casualties incurred as a result of the change of plans in the east that Lincoln had foisted on Grant, most of the criticism fell upon the general-in-chief.  His nickname of “Unconditional Surrender,” based on his initials and earned at Fort Donelson—his first great victory—changed to “Unceasing Slaughter” during his gory progress from the Rapidan to the James.  That Grant never complained about the Rail-Splitter’s meddling, and just kept going forward, forged a bond of absolute loyalty between Lincoln and his general-in chief. 



[1] Abraham Lincoln, “Blind Memorandum,” August 23, 1864.  Abraham Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 
[2] Grant’s casualties came to approximately 72,526.  He had lost about 54,926 in the Overland Campaign.  General summary from the Rapidan to the James River, May 5-June 24, 1864, War of the Rebellion:  A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 70 vols. in 128 parts (Washington, D.C., 1880-1901) Series 1, 36, 1:188 (cited hereinafter as OR, with no series indicated unless it is other than Series 1.  He had lost around 11,386 in his assaults on Petersburg.   Edward H. Bonekemper, III. A Victor, Not a Butcher: Ulysses S. Grant's Overlooked Military Genius (Washington, D.C., 2004), 313.  During May, the Army of the James lost approximately 6,214, which I include in Grant’s losses.  Return of Casualties in the Union Forces, commanded by Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, U. S. Army (compiled from nominal lists of casualties, returns, &c.), May 5-31, OR 36, 2:18; Return of Casualties in the Union Forces, commanded by Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, U. S. Army, June 1-14, OR 36, 2:19.
[3] U. S. Grant, Major-General, to Maj.-Gen. H. W. Halleck, General-in-Chief of the Army, January 19, 1864, OR 33:394-395; William Glenn Robertson, Back Door to Richmond:  The Bermuda Hundred Campaign, April-June 1864 (Cranbury, N.J., 1987), 13-14; John Horn, The Petersburg Campaign:  June 1864-April 1865 (Conshohocken, Pa., 1993), 12-13; Richard M. McMurry, Atlanta 1865:  Last Chance for the Confederacy (Lincoln, Neb., 2000), 12.  For the case in favor of a movement by sea against Richmond’s communications, see William Swinton, Campaigns of the Army of the Potomac, A Critical History of Operations in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania from the Commencement to the Close of the War, 1861-1865 (New York, 1882), 406-409.  For the case against a movement by sea against Richmond’s communications, see Andrew A. Humphreys, The Virginia Campaign of ’64 and ’65:  The Army of the Potomac and the Army of the James (New York, 1883), 7-9.  Grant’s memoirs, which include his official report in the appendix to vol. 2, fail to mention this matter.  U. S. Grant, Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant (2 vols.) (New York, 1886), 2:124-145, 555-632.
[4] Albert Castel, Decision in the West:  The Atlanta Campaign of 1864 (Lawrence, Kan., 1992), 66, 90, 99, 118; McMurry, Atlanta 1864, 52, 54-55. 
[5] Ibid., 51. 
[6] The record shows that Gen. Pierre Gustave Toutant “Gus” Beauregard, though he had no better relations with Confederate President Jefferson Davis than Johnston, offered a better choice.  Unlike Johnston, who had scarcely tried to relieve Vicksburg during the summer of 1863, Beauregard had successfully defended Charleston.  In the spring of 1864, while Johnston steadily retired toward Atlanta, Beauregard gave battle to Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler and bottled him up in Bermuda Hundred, then successfully defended Petersburg against assaults by first Butler and afterward Grant.  At times during August 1864, Beauregard counterattacked the Unionists as effectively as Gen. Robert E. Lee.  See John Horn, The Siege of Petersburg:  The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864 (El Dorado Hills, Ca., 2015), 179-183, 290, 293.
The problem for Davis lay in that if Beauregard had defended Atlanta, who would have defended Petersburg other than Johnston?  In that case, the Cockade City could expect, like Atlanta, to fall into Federal hands and take Richmond along with it before the November election.
[7] McMurry, Atlanta 1864, 55, 57-58; Castel, Decision in the West, 99, 121, 123.
[8] Welch citing Furgurson on Cold Harbor.  #