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.
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
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
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.
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.