August 9, 1863

Today, 150 years ago, Abraham Lincoln sat for a photographer at Alexander Gardner’s Washington studio. At one point he tried to strike an informal pose.

AL 8963

The president’s private secretary, John Hay, accompanied the president to the studio on this pleasant Sunday, and reported that his boss “was in very good spirits. He thinks that the rebel power is at last beginning to disintegrate [and] that they will break to pieces if we only stand firm now.” The key, he believed, was the Confederate military. “If that were crushed the people would be ready to swing back to their own bearings.”

Meanwhile, he added, it was time to reclaim Texas (in part to block the French) as well as to calm down William S. Rosecrans, who in Hay’s opinion had written “one of the worst specimens of epistolary literature I have ever come across.”

Lincoln’s reply to Rosecrans was finalized next day:

Executive Mansion, Washington, August 10, 1863.

My Dear General Rosecrans

Yours of the 1st was received two days ago. I think you must have inferred more than Gen Halleck has intended, as to any dissatisfaction of mine with you. I am sure you, as a reasonable man, would not have been wounded, could you have heard all my words and seen all my thoughts, in regard to you. I have not abated in my kind feeling for and confidence in you. I have seen most of your despatches to General Halleck—probably all of them. After Grant invested Vicksburg, I was very anxious lest Johnston should overwhelm him from the outside, and when it appeared certain that part of Bragg’s force had gone, and was going to Johnston, it did seem to me, it was the exactly proper time for you to attack Bragg with what force he had left. In all kindness, let me say, it so seems to me yet. Finding from your despatches to General Halleck that your judgement was different, and being very anxious for Grant, I, on one occasion told Gen. Halleck, I thought he should direct you to decide at once, to immediately attack Bragg or to stand on the defensive, and send part of your force to Grant. He replied he had already so directed, in substance. Soon after, despatches from Grant abated my anxiety for him, and in proportion abated my anxiety about any movement of yours. When afterwards, however, I saw a despatch of yours arguing that the right time for you to attack Bragg was not before but would be after the fall of Vicksburg, it impressed me very strangely; and I think I so stated to the Secretary of War and General Halleck. It seemed no other than the proposition that you could better fight Bragg when Johnston should be at liberty to return and assist him, than you could before he could so return to his assistance.

Since Grant has been entirely relieved by the fall of Vicksburg, by which Johnston is also relieved, it has seemed to me that your chance for a stroke, has been considerably diminished, and I have not been pressing you directly or indirectly. True, I am very anxious for East Tennessee to be occupied by us; but I see and appreciate the difficulties you mention. The question occurs, Can the thing be done at all? Does preparation advance at all? Do you not consume supplies as fast as you get them forward? Have you more animals today than you had at the battle of Stone River? and yet have not more been furnished you since then than your entire present stock? I ask the same questions as to your mounted force.

Do not misunderstand. I am not casting blame upon you. I rather think, by great exertion, you can get to East Tennessee. But a very important question is, “Can you stay there?” I make no order in the case—that I leave to General Halleck and yourself.

And now, be assured once more, that I think of you in all kindness and confidence: and that I am not watching you with an evileye.

Yours very truly

A. Lincoln

This reminds me of the letters Lincoln wrote to McClellan (and Hooker in June 1863). But that was August 10. What was on his mind when he posed in Gardner’s studio on August 9? Perhaps he was thinking of this letter, which he wrote the same day.

Executive Mansion, Washington, August 9, 1863.

My dear General Grant: 

I see by a despatch of yours that you incline quite strongly towards an expedition against Mobile. This would appear tempting to me also, were it not that in view of recent events in Mexico, I am greatly impressed with the importance of re-establishing the national authority in Western Texas as soon as possible. I am not making an order, however. That I leave, for the present at least, to the General-in-Chief.

A word upon another subject. Gen. Thomas has gone again to the Mississippi Valley, with the view of raising colored troops. I have no reason to doubt that you are doing what you reasonably can upon the same subject. I believe it is a resource which, if vigorously applied now, will soon close the contest. It works doubly, weakening the enemy and strengthening us. We were not fully ripe for it until the river was opened. Now, I think at least a hundred thousand can, and ought to be rapidly organized along it’s shores, relieving all the white troops to serve elsewhere.

Mr. Dana understands you as believing that the emancipation proclamation has helped some in your military operations. I am very glad if this is so. Did you receive a short letter from me, dated the 13th. of July?

Yours very truly 

A. Lincoln

Alex Trebek would have trouble with the spelling of the word dispatch. But then we all know who once bragged about being a fact checker for that show.

Lincoln had already observed that Grant was not always a prompt correspondent:

Washington, D. C., July 27 1863

Major General Burnside, Cincinnati, O 

Let me explain. In Gen. Grant’s first despatch after the fall of Vicksburg, he said, among other things, he would send the Ninth Corps to you. Thinking it would be pleasant to you, I asked the Secretary of War to telegraph you the news. For some reason, never mentioned to us by Gen. Grant, they have not been sent, though we have seen out-side intimations that they took part in the expedition against Jackson. Gen. Grant is a copious worker, and fighter, but a very meagre writer, or telegrapher. No doubt he changed his purpose in regard to the Ninth Corps, for some sufficient reason, but has forgotten to notify us of it.

A. Lincoln

Eventually Grant would write Lincoln, but that’s a subject for another day. For now you can see a commander in chief at work, not content with recent achievements, looking to quash the rebellion by military means.

(Both texts are from The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln).

Other August 9 events …

1862: Battle of Cedar Mountain;

1945: The United States drops an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan;

1974: Richard M. Nixon resigns as President of the United States;

1988: First night game at Wrigley Field; Wayne Gretzky traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings.

8 thoughts on “August 9, 1863

  1. Tony August 9, 2013 / 3:07 pm

    “… one of the worst specimens of epistolary literature …”

    To what is he referring?

    • Brooks D. Simpson August 9, 2013 / 3:34 pm

      Am incoming letter from Rosecrans, dated August 1, 1863. Rosecrans wrote Halleck a separate letter.

      • John Foskett August 10, 2013 / 10:34 am

        What was the text of the August 1 letter? I’m familiar with Rosecrans’ whiny response to Stanton’s telegram about Vicksburg but not this one.

        • Brooks D. Simpson August 10, 2013 / 10:44 am

          You asked for it:


          Winchester Aug. 1st 1863

          Major [General?] on his return from Washing told me you would not deem it improper for me to write you unofficially.

          Genl Hallecks dispatches imply that you not only feel solicitude for the advance of this Army but dissatisfaction at its supposed inactivity.

          It is due to your Excellency to state a few facts in a condensed form which from time to time been laid before Genl. Halleck and the War Department in my dispatches.

          1. What first delayed this army after I assumed command of it was that we were at Nashville 183 miles by rail Louisville our depot of supplies and had to bring them over the L. & Nashville R. R. 45 miles of which had been so destroyed that it took all the force we could work on it night and for twenty days to put it in running order; and then it took 25 days more to bring over it our clothing ammunition and get 30 days rations ahead — the minimum deemed necessary to warrant an advance

          2nd. What hindered us from occupying the country and using its forage subsistence & animals was the want of an adequate cavalry force to beat the enemy’s cavalry and cut off all his supplies beyond the reach of his infantry supports.

          The want of five thousand more mounted men cost us all these the battle of Stones River and fifty millions of dollars in delay.

          3d What prevented us from taking more advanced position after the battle of Stones River was the same want of mounted force without the advance beyond Murfreesboro would only have increased our hazzards and the wear and tear of our men and teams without countervalling benefit.

          To the nature of the soil in this part of Tennessee that the rains of winter render wagoning on any but turnpikes next to impossible, until the ground settles

          4th When the ground was settled the contest at Vicksburg was going on and was deemed inexpedient by moving on Bragg — to furnish the pretext for his retiring on Chattanooga whence he could reinforce Johnson against with comparative safety. Corps and Division commanders with but two or three exceptions opposed the movement.

          6th While the movement was successful in driving the Rebels out of Middle Tenn. it did not injure them as much as would have been done but for the unprecedent rains [a for eighteen?] days in succession which delayed us nearly 90 hours, and prevented us from gaining the rebel rear before he was aware of our intentions.

          7th Compare the position of this army with that of any other in the United States. What has to draw its supplies a distance of 260 miles inland, through a country exposed to hostile cavalry raids? Your excellency knows that to move an army and subsist it during a certain of days march is a very slight thing from being to subsist and supply it with ammunition Nor is this latter problem to be solved by getting a sufficient number of wagons. You must have roads of such capacity as to enable the trains to pass each other and encamp.

          8th. We have now before 60 miles of barren mountains traversed by a few poor roads; to cross not the little Shenandoah a few miles from the Potomac. Our bridge material is brought from Louisville by rail and must hauled over the mountains a [total?] distance of 300 miles and we must cross a river not at present Fordable for a length of 500 miles from 800 to 1800 yards wide and secure our crossing the face of a strong opposing force.

          This problem is also one of the first magnitude.

          We have gunboats to aid us and if our communications are interrupted no broad Mississippi covered with transports to supply us.

          9. If we cross the Tennessee we must do it with expectation of maintaining our selves not only against the present but any prospective opposing. The political moral injury to our cause of retrograde movements is such that it would be better for us to go a mile a day & make sure.

          You will not be surprized if in face of these difficulties it takes time organize the means of success. Our roads must be opened stores brought forward and put in places of security bridging trains got ready and the Enemy must be kept in ignorance of our plans. We must know the Country which appear very differently in reality from what is shown on maps.

          asking pardon for the length of this letter I remain

          Very Respectfully

          W. S Rosecrans

          Maj Genl

          • John Foskett August 10, 2013 / 11:41 am

            Thanks. Good thing that Rosy wasn’t charged with handling Operation Overlord.

  2. Ned B August 10, 2013 / 5:07 am

    I am interested in the end of the first paragraph of Lincoln to Grant of August 9th: ” I am not making an order, however. That I leave, for the present at least, to the General-in-Chief.” This puts the onus for the Texas campaign on Halleck.

  3. Joshism August 10, 2013 / 6:17 pm

    When I saw the title of this post I was expecting something about Lee tendering his resignation to Jeff Davis.

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