Lincoln, the War, and the Elections of 1862: Part Two

Carl Schurz was a rather headstrong individual who could be rather insistent when he thought he was right. Thus when he read Abraham Lincoln’s November 10 reply to his criticism of the administration in the wake of political and military defeat, it did not take him long to respond, and to do so in rather pointed fashion.


Headquarters 3d Div. 11. Corps

Centreville Nov. 62

Dear Sir

Your favor of the 10th inst. did not reach me until the 17th. If there was anything in my letter of the 8th that had the appearance of presumption, I ask your kind indulgence. You must forgive something to the sincerity of my zeal, for there is no living being on this continent, whose wishes for the success of your Administration are more ardent than mine. The consciousness of perfect good faith gave me the boldness to utter my honest convictions without reserve. I do not know how many friends you have faithful enough to tell you things which it may not be pleasant to hear; I assure you, they are not the worst. In risking the amenities of undisturbed private relations they fulfill a duty, which many who call themselves friends, have not the courage to understand and to appreciate. In this spirit I wrote to you, with full confidence in the loftiness of your own way of thinking. If some of the opinions I expressed were unjust, it will be an happy day for me when I shall be able conscientiously to acknowledge my error. But whatever I may have said, it was but a mild and timid repetition of what many men say, whose utterances might perhaps have more weight with you than mine.

I fear you entertain too favorable a view of the causes of our defeat in the elections. It is of the highest importance to yourself and to the people, that amidst the perplexities of your situation and the enormous responsibilities of your office, you should sift the true nature of the disaster to the very bottom. I throw myself upon your patient kindness in replying to some of your statements.

That a large proportion of Republicans have entered the army, and that thereby the party-vote was largely diminished, cannot be doubted. But you must recollect, that at the commencement of the war you were sincerely and even enthusiastically sustained by the masses of the people, and that the “Administration-party” was not confined to the old Republican ranks. You had the people of the loyal states with you. This immense Administration-party did not insist upon your regulating your policy strictly by the tenets of any of the old party-platforms; they would have cheerfully sustained you in anything and everything that might have served to put down the rebellion. I am confident, you might have issued your emancipation-manifesto, you might have dismissed your Generals one after the other, long before you did it — and a large majority of the people would have firmly stood by you. All they wanted was merciless energy and speedy success. You know it yourself, there are now many prominent democrats supporting you, who go far beyond the programme of the Chicago platform.

Whatever proportion of Republicans may have entered the army, — if the Administration had succeeded in preserving its hold upon the masses, your majorities would at any moment have put the majorities of 1860 into the shade, and no insidious party-contrivances could have prevailed against you. But the general confidence and enthusiasm yielded to general disappointment, and there were but too many Republicans, who disturbed and confused by the almost universal feeling, that there must be a change, either voted against you or withheld their votes. I know this to be a fact.

That some of our newspapers “disparaged and vilified the Administration” may be true, — although in our leading journals I have seen little else than a moderate and well-measured criticism. I know of none that had ever impeached your good faith or questioned your motives. If there were no real and great abuses, the attacks on your Administration were certainly unjustifiable. But if there were, then, I think, the misfortune was not that the abuses were criticised, but that the responsible individuals were not promptly and severely held to account. It is my opinion, and I trust I shall hold it as long as I live, that a party, in order to remain pure and efficient, must be severe against its own members; it can disarm the criticism of its opponents by justly criticising and promptly correcting itself. But however that may be, I ask you in all candor, what power would there have been in newspaper-talk, what power in the talk of demagogues based upon newspaper-talk, had the Administration been able to set up against it the evidence of great successes?

I feel, that in regard to one important point I have not been quite clear in my letter of the 8th. When speaking of “your friends” I did not mean only those who in 1860 helped to elect you; I did not think of old, and, I may say, obsolete political obligations and affinities. But I meant all those, who, fully understanding and appreciating the tendency of the great revolution in which we are engaged, intend to aid and sustain you honestly in the execution of the tremendous task which has fallen to your lot. Nor did I, when speaking of the duty and policy of being true to ones friends, think of the distribution of favors in the shape of profitable offices. But I did mean that in the management of the great business of this revolution only such men should be permitted to participate, who answer to this definition of “friends”, and on whose sympathies you can rely as securely as upon their ability.

I am far from presuming to blame you for having placed old democrats into high military positions. I am also aware that McClellan and several other generals had been appointed on the recommendation of Republican Governors and members of Congress. It was quite natural that you appointed them, when the necessities of the situation were new and pressing and everybody was untried. But it was unfortunate that you sustained them with in their power and positions with such inexhaustible longanimity after they had been found failing; — failing not only in a political but also in a military sense.

Was I really wrong in saying that the principal management of the war had been in the hands of your opponents? Or will perhaps anybody assert, that such men as McClellan and Buell and Halleck have the least sympathy with you or your views and principles?– Or that their efficiency as military leaders has offered a compensation for their deficiency of sympathy, since the first has in 18 months succeeded in effecting literally nothing except the consumption of our ressources with the largest and best appointed army this country ever saw; — since the second by his criminal tardiness and laxity endangered even the safety of Cincinnati; and since the appearance of the third on the battlefield of Shiloh served suddenly to arrest the operations of our victorious troops and to make shortly afterwards the great Army of the West disappear from the scene as by enchantment, so as to leave the country open to the enemy? Has it not been publicly stated in the newspapers and apparently proved as a fact, that from the commencement of the war the enemy was continually supplied with information by some of the confidential subordinates of so important an officer as Adjutant General Thomas? Is it surprising, that the people at last should have believed in the presence of enemies at your own headquarters and in the unwillingness of the Government to drive them out? As for me, I am far from being inclined to impeach the loyalty and good faith of any man; but the coincidence of circumstances is such, that if the case were placed before a popular jury, I would find it much easier to act on the prosecution than on the defence.

You say that our Republican generals did no better; I might reply that between two Generals of equal military efficiency I would in this crisis give a Republican the preference. But that is not the question. I ask you most seriously — what Republican general has ever had a fair chance in this war? Did not McClellan, Buell, Halleck and their creatures and favorites claim, obtain and absorb everything? Were not other Generals obliged to go begging merely for a chance to do something for the country, and were they not turned off as troublesome intruders while your Fitzjohn Porters flourished?

No, sir, let us indulge in no delusions as to the true causes of our defeat in the elections. The people, so enthusiastic at the beginning of the war, had made enormous sacrifices. Hundreds of millions were spent, thousands of lives were lost apparently for nothing. The people had sown confidence and reaped disaster and disappointment. They wanted a change, and as an unfortunate situation like ours is apt to confuse the minds of men, they sought it in the wrong direction. I entreat you, do not attribute to small incidents, as the enlisting of Republican voters in the army and the attack of the press, what is a great historical event. It is best that you, and you more than anybody else in this Republic, should see the fact in its true light and appreciate its significance: the result of the elections was a most serious and severe reproof administered to the Administration. Do not refuse to listen to the voice of the people. Let it not become too true what I have heard said; that of all places in this country it is Washington where public opinion is least heard, and of all places in Washington the White House.

The result of the election has complicated the crisis. Energy and success, by which you would and ought to have commanded public opinion, form now the prestige of your enemies. They are a great and powerful weapon. Your enemies will not stop where they are, and, unless things take soon a favorable turn, not only our troubles may soon involve not only the moral power but the physical existence of the government. Only relentless determination on your part can turn the tide. You must reconquer the confidence of the people at any price, or your administration is lost.

One word in vindication of the writer of this letter. I pray you most earnestly, not to attribute the expressions of grief and anxiety coming from devoted friends like myself to a pettish feeling of disappointment for not “seeing their peculiar views made sufficiently prominent.” When a man’s whole heart is in a cause like ours, then I think, he may be believed not to be governed by small personal pride. Besides, the spectacle of war is apt to awaken solemn and serious feelings in the heart of one who has some sympathy with his fellow beings. I command a few thousands of brave and good fellows, entitled to life and happiness just as well as the rest of us; and when I see their familiar faces around the campfire and think of it, that to-morrow they may be called upon to die, — to die for a cause which for this or that reason is perhaps doomed to fail, and thus to die in vain; — and when I hear the wailings of so many widows and orphans, and remember the scenes of heart-rending misery and desolation I have already witnessed — and then think of a possibility, that all this may be for nothing, — then, I must confess, my heart begins sometimes to sink within me and to quail under what little responsibility I have in this business. I do not know, whether you have ever seen a battlefield. I assure you, Mr. President, it is a terrible sight.

Truly and faithfully yours

C. Schurz.

Those historians who criticize George McClellan for being a bit too blunt in some of his correspondence might do well to read Schurz’s letter, especially the concluding paragraph. Even Schurz had cause to reread and rethink it, or at least his editor did, as a comparison of the text that later appeared in Schurz’s published writings with the original suggests.

A patient if somewhat frustrated Lincoln responded to Schurz again:

Executive Mansion, Washington, Nov. 24. 1862.

Gen. Carl Schurz
My dear Sir

I have just received, and read, your letter of the 20th. The purport of it is that we lost the late elections, and the administration is failing, because the war is unsuccessful; and that I must not flatter myself that I am not justly to blame for it. I certainly know that if the war fails, the administration fails, and that I will be blamed for it, whether I deserve it or not. And I ought to be blamed, if I could do better. You think I could do better; therefore you blame me already. I think I could not do better; therefore I blame you for blaming me. I understand you now to be willing to accept the help of men, who are not republicans, provided they have ‘heart in it.” Agreed. I want no others. But who is to be the judge of hearts, or of ‘heart in it”? If I must discard my own judgment, and take yours, I must also take that of others; and by the time I should reject all I should be advised to reject, I should have none left, republicans, or others—not even yourself. For, be assured, my dear sir, there are men who have ‘heart in it” that think you are performing your part as poorly as you think I am performing mine. I certainly have been dissatisfied with the slowness of Buell and McClellan; but before I relieved them I had great fears I should not find successors to them, who would do better; and I am sorry to add, that I have seen little since to relieve those fears. I do not clearly see the prospect of any more rapid movements. I fear we shall at last find out that the difficulty is in our case, rather than in particular generals. I wish to disparage no one—certainly not those who sympathize with me; but I must say I need success more than I need sympathy, and that I have not seen the so much greater evidence of getting success from my sympathizers, than from those who are denounced as the contrary. It does seem to me that in the field the two classes have been very much alike, in what they have done, and what they have failed to do. In sealing their faith with their blood, Baker, an[d] Lyon, and Bohlen, and Richardson, republicans, did all that men could do; but did they any more than Kearney, and Stevens, and Reno, and Mansfield, none of whom were republicans, and some, at least of whom, have been bitterly, and repeatedly, denounced to me as secession sympathizers? I will not perform the ungrateful task of comparing cases of failure.

In answer to your question “Has it not been publicly stated in the newspapers, and apparantly proved as a fact, that from the commencement of the war, the enemy was continually supplied with information by some of the confidential subordinates of as important an officer as Adjutant General Thomas?” I must say “no” so far as my knowledge extends. And I add that if you can give any tangible evidence upon that subject, I will thank you to come to the City and do so.

Very truly Your friend A. Lincoln

Lincoln’s response must be read in in multiple contexts. After all Schurz was not aware of all the paperwork that crossed the president’s desk. Among those letters presented to him that he chose to address the day he wrote Schurz was a letter to Major John J. Key, recently dismissed from service as a staff officer for McClellan.

Executive Mansion, Washington, Nov. 24, 1862

Major John J. Key 
Dear Sir:

A bundle of letters including one from yourself, was, early last week, handed me by Gen. Halleck, as I understood, at your request. I sincerely sympathise with you in the death of your brave and noble son.

In regard to my dismissal of yourself from the military service, it seems to me you misunderstand me. I did not charge, or intend to charge you with disloyalty. I had been brought to fear that there was a class of officers in the army, not very inconsiderable in numbers, who were playing a game to not beat the enemy when they could, on some peculiar notion as to the proper way of saving the Union; and when you were proved to me, in your own presence, to have avowed yourself in favor of that “game,” and did not attempt to controvert the proof, I dismissed you as an example and a warning to that supposed class. I bear you no ill will; and I regret that I could not have the example without wounding you personally. But can I now, in view of the public interest, restore you to the service, by which the army would understand that I indorse and approve that game myself? If there was any doubt of your having made the avowal, the case would be different. But when it was proved to me, in your presence, you did not deny or attempt to deny it, but confirmed it in my mind, by attempting to sustain the position by argument.

I am really sorry for the pain the case gives you, but I do not see how, consistently with duty, I can change it.

Yours, &c.

A. Lincoln.

Some two months before Lincoln penned this letter, he had met with Key to discuss a report that Key had explained why the Army of the Potomac had failed to pursue and destroy the Army of Northern Virginia after Antietam. As the New York Times later reported it:

Maj. KEY responded, that “the immediate destruction of the rebel army was not the programme.” It would be better, he said, to let the war linger on indecisively, and with advantages to both aides, until the end of Mr. LINCOLN’s term, when it “could be settled on a compromise which would save Slavery.”

Upon hearing Key’s explanation, Lincoln dismissed him from the service. That Major Key’s brother, Colonel Thomas M. Key, was on McClellan’s staff made this even a bigger story in the minds of many observers.

William Styple’s McClellan’s Other Story offers new information on exactly the game in question, and I highly recommend it.

In short, the president had much to put up with that November, and the end was not yet in sight.

Lincoln, the War, and the Elections of 1862: Part One

Abraham Lincoln decided in the fall of 1862 to change generals. In the aftermath of the October elections Don Carlos Buell was stripped of command of the Army of the Ohio, with William S. Rosecrans named to take his place (much to the unhappiness of George H. Thomas, who had previously turned down a chance to command that army prior to Perryville, and who apparently still thought he should be first choice). Several weeks later, with voters about to go to the polls in the November midterm elections, Lincoln sent word to the Army of the Potomac that George B. McClellan’s time in charge had expired … although Ambrose Burnside took the job only after learning that Lincoln would otherwise tap Joseph Hooker for the command.

The midterm elections represented a setback for the administration, although exactly how much of one has been discussed by historians. Certainly Lincoln understood the impact of the results. Some people said that voters had repudiated the administration’s emancipation policy as going too far, while others chided the president for seemingly dragging his heels when it came to an earnest prosecution of the war. One of the latter critics was Carl Schurz, a German immigrant and Republican supporter now in military service as a general. On November 8, in the wake of McClellan’s removal and the election results, Schurz decided to share his opinions with the president in a letter that the general’s wife delivered to the White House.

Headquarters 3d Div. 11. Corps

New-Baltimore Va. Nov. 8th 1862.

Dear Sir,

Will you, after the great political defeat we have suffered, listen a moment to the words of a true friend who means to serve you faithfully, and in whose judgment you once, perhaps, reposed some confidence?

The defeat of the Administration is owing neither to your proclamations, nor to the financial policy of the Government, nor to a desire of the people to have peace at any price. I can speak openly, for you must know that I am your friend. The defeat of the Administration is the Administration’s own fault.

It admitted its professed opponents to its counsels. It placed the Army, now a great power in this Republic, into the hands of its enemy’s. In all personal questions to be hostile to the party of the Government seemed to be a title to consideration. It forgot the great rule, that, if you are true to your friends, your friends will be true to you, and that you make your enemies stronger by placing them upon an equality with your friends. Is it surprising that the opponents of the Administration should have got into their hands the government of the principal states after they have had for so long a time the principal management of the war, the great business of the national government?

Great sacrifices and enormous efforts had been made and they had been rewarded only by small results. The people felt the necessity of a change. Many of your friends had no longer any heart for the Administration as soon as they felt justified in believing that the Administration had no heart for them. I do not speak of personal favors but of the general conduct of the war. A change was sought in the wrong direction. This was the true cause of the defeat of your Government.

You have now made a change. This evening the news reached us that the command of the Army of the Potomac has passed into new hands. But the change of persons means little if it does not imply a change of system. Let us be commanded by generals whose heart is in the war, and only by such. Let evey general who does not show himself strong enough to command success, be deposed at once. Let every trust of power be accompanied by a corresponding responsibility, and all may be well yet.

There is but one way in which you can sustain your Administration, and that is by success; and there is but one thing which will command success, and that is energy. In whatever hands the State-governments may be, — as soon as you are victorious, they will be obliged to support you; and if they were all in the hands of your friends, — if you do not give them victories, they will after a while be obliged to oppose you. Therefore let us have energy without regard to anything that may stand in your way. Let not the Government be endangered by tender considerations. If West-Point cannot do the business, let West-Point go down. Who cares? It is better, that a thousand generals should fall than that the Republic should be jeopardized a single moment.

To-day we are still strong enough to meet the difficulties that stand against us. We do not know what we shall be to-morrow.–

Faithfully yours

C. Schurz.

Everyone is an expert in hindsight, of course. Other people thought the election results were due to opposition to emancipation. Lincoln believed that both the lack of military progress and the divisive nature of his emancipation policy had contributed to the outcome.

Nevertheless, the president thought it worthwhile to respond to Schurz.

Executive Mansion, Washington, Nov. 10. 1862.

“Private & confidential”
Gen. Schurz.
My dear Sir

Yours of the 8th. was, to-day, read to me by Mrs. S[churz]. We have lost the elections; and it is natural that each of us will believe, and say, it has been because his peculiar views was not made sufficiently prominent. I think I know what it was, but I may be mistaken. Three main causes told the whole story. 1. The democrats were left in a majority by our friends going to the war. 2. The democrats observed this & determined to re-instate themselves in power, and 3. Our newspaper’s, by vilifying and disparaging the administration, furnished them all the weapons to do it with. Certainly, the ill-success of the war had much to do with this.

You give a different set of reasons. If you had not made the following statements, I should not have suspected them to be true. “The defeat of the administration is the administrations own fault.” (opinion) “It admitted its professed opponents to its counsels” (Asserted as a fact) “It placed the Army, now a great power in this Republic, into the hands of its’ enemys” (Asserted as a fact) “In all personal questions, to be hostile to the party of the Government, seemed, to be a title to consideration.” (Asserted as a fact) “If to forget the great rule, that if you are true to your friends, your friends will be true to you, and that you make your enemies stronger by placing them upon an equality with your friends.” ‘Is it surprising that the opponents of the administration should have got into their hands the government of the principal states, after they have had for a long time the principal management of the war, the great business of the national government.”

I can not dispute about the matter of opinion. On the the [sic] three matters (stated as facts) I shall be glad to have your evidence upon them when I shall meet you. The plain facts, as they appear to me, are these. The administration came into power, very largely in a minority of the popular vote. Notwithstanding this, it distributed to it’s party friends as nearly all the civil patronage as any administration ever did. The war came. The administration could not even start in this, without assistance outside of it’s party. It was mere nonsense to suppose a minority could put down a majority in rebellion. Mr. Schurz (now Gen. Schurz) was about here then & I do not recollect that he then considered all who were not republicans, were enemies of the government, and that none of them must be appointed to to [sic] military positions. He will correct me if I am mistaken. It so happened that very few of our friends had a military education or were of the profession of arms. It would have been a question whether the war should be conducted on military knowledge, or on political affinity, only that our own friends (I think Mr. Schurz included) seemed to think that such a question was inadmissable. Accordingly I have scarcely appointed a democrat to a command, who was not urged by many republicans and opposed by none. It was so as to McClellan. He was first brought forward by the Republican Governor of Ohio, & claimed, and contended for at the same time by the Republican Governor of Pennsylvania. I received recommendations from the republican delegations in congress, and I believe every one of them recommended a majority of democrats. But, after all many Republicans were appointed; and I mean no disparagement to them when I say I do not see that their superiority of success has been so marked as to throw great suspicion on the good faith of those who are not Republicans.

Yours truly, A. Lincoln

This would not be the end of the exchange, as we shall see. But even this correspondence suggests the difficulties under which Lincoln had to labor … and how many generals (or politicians in uniform) presumed to give him advice.

Lincoln and the Problem of Virginia: Part One

In the fall of 1862 Abraham Lincoln was a frustrated man. During the year he had seen George McClellan approach the gates of Richmond, only to be turned away during the Seven Days Battles. The Union commander pointed to Lincoln’s own concern with Confederate activity in the Shenandoah Valley as depriving the Army of the Potomac of critical manpower, while Lincoln’s own preference for an overland campaign moving upon Richmond from the north had not borne fruit. Lee’s invasion of Maryland after defeating the Yankees at Second Manassas looked to be as much an opportunity as a threat to the president, but he wondered whether McClellan had frittered away his chance for success at Antietam. In the aftermath of that battle, Lincoln had gone to visit McClellan in the field in a meeting that did not go well … and certainly failed to achieve the results the president desired. Just over a week after returning to Washington, he penned this letter to his general:

Executive Mansion, Washington, Oct. 13, 1862.

Major General McClellan
My dear Sir

You remember my speaking to you of what I called your over-cautiousness. Are you not over-cautious when you assume that you can not do what the enemy is constantly doing? Should you not claim to be at least his equal in prowess, and act upon the claim?

As I understand, you telegraph Gen. Halleck that you can not subsist your army at Winchester unless the Railroad from Harper’s Ferry to that point be put in working order. But the enemy does now subsist his army at Winchester at a distance nearly twice as great from railroad transportation as you would have to do without the railroad last named. He now wagons from Culpepper C.H. which is just about twice as far as you would have to do from Harper’s Ferry. He is certainly not more than half as well provided with wagons as you are. I certainly should be pleased for you to have the advantage of the Railroad from Harper’s Ferry to Winchester, but it wastes all the remainder of autumn to give it to you; and, in fact ignores the question of time, which can not, and must not be ignored.

Again, one of the standard maxims of war, as you know, is “to operate upon the enemy’s communications as much as possible without exposing your own.” You seem to act as if this applies against you, but can not apply in your favor. Change positions with the enemy, and think you not he would break your communication with Richmond within the next twentyfour hours? You dread his going into Pennsylvania. But if he does so in full force, he gives up his communications to you absolutely, and you have nothing to do but to follow, and ruin him; if he does so with less than full force, fall upon, and beat what is left behind all the easier.

Exclusive of the water line, you are now nearer Richmond than the enemy is by the route that you can, and he must take. Why can you not reach there before him, unless you admit that he is more than your equal on a march. His route is the arc of a circle, while yours is the chord. The roads are as good on yours as on his.

You know I desired, but did not order, you to cross the Potomac below, instead of above the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge. My idea was that this would at once menace the enemies’ communications, which I would seize if he would permit. If he should move Northward I would follow him closely, holding his communications. If he should prevent our seizing his communications, and move towards Richmond, I would press closely to him, fight him if a favorable opportunity should present, and, at least, try to beat him to Richmond on the inside track. I say “try”; if we never try, we shall never succeed. If he make a stand at Winchester, moving neither North or South, I would fight him there, on the idea that if we can not beat him when he bears the wastage → of coming to us, we never can when we bear the ← wastage of going to him. This proposition is a simple truth, and is too important to be lost sight of for a moment. In coming to us, he tenders us an advantage which we should not waive. We should not so operate as to merely drive him away. As we must beat him somewhere, or fail finally, we can do it, if at all, easier near to us, than far away. If we can not beat the enemy where he now is, we never can, he again being within the entrenchments of Richmond.

Recurring to the idea of going to Richmond on the inside track, the facility of supplying from the side away from the enemy is remarkable—as it were, by the different spokes of a wheel extending from the hub towards the rim—and this whether you move directly by the chord, or on the inside arc, hugging the Blue Ridge more closely. The chord-line, as you see, carries you by Aldie, Hay-Market, and Fredericksburg; and you see how turn-pikes, railroads, and finally, the Potomac by Acquia Creek, meet you at all points from Washington. The same, only the lines lengthened a little, if you press closer to the Blue Ridge part of the way. The gaps through the Blue Ridge I understand to be about the following distances from Harper’s Ferry, to wit: Vestal’s five miles; Gregorie’s, thirteen, Snicker’s eighteen, Ashby’s, twenty-eight, Mannassas, thirty-eight, Chester fortyfive, and Thornton’s fiftythree. I should think it preferable to take the route nearest the enemy, disabling him to make an important move without your knowledge, and compelling him to keep his forces together, for dread of you. The gaps would enable you to attack if you should wish. For a great part of the way, you would be practically between the enemy and both Washington and Richmond, enabling us to spare you the greatest number of troops from here. When at length, running for Richmond ahead of him enables him to move this way; if he does so, turn and attack him in rear. But I think he should be engaged long before such point is reached. It is all easy if our troops march as well as the enemy; and it is unmanly to say they can not do it.

This letter is in no sense an order.

Yours truly

A. Lincoln.

So much for on to Richmond: advancing southward created more problems than it solved. So much too for the James River option, a proposal Lincoln never embraced. He had no problem risking another Confederate thrust northward, believing that would leave the enemy vulnerable. On the other hand, he believed it essential for his commander to keep Washington covered, suggesting that to do so would allow McClellan to receive the additional men he always wanted.

Over the next week or so we’ll trace Lincoln’s evolving thought on what to do in the eastern theater. For now, you may also want to look at this analysis and resource.

From The Soldiers’ Flag to the KKK’s Flag: Some Thoughts

Defenders of Confederate heritage who have made known their support of the Confederate Battle Flag often argue that the battle flag (in both its square version–Army of Northern Virginia–and its rectangular version–Army of Tennessee) was the soldiers’ flag, and that in honoring it one honors service and sacrifice. Some advocates go further, and claim that Confederate soldiers did not fight to defend slavery (in part because they claim so few Confederate soldiers owned slaves).

Those issues are open for discussion, of course, but let’s set them aside for the moment. Rather, let’s turn to the use of the Confederate flag by the Ku Klux Klan … and why that group uses it.

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April 14, 1865: Meetings, Meeting, Meetings

April 14, 1865, proved to be a busy day in American history. At Fort Sumter, South Carolina, Major General Robert Anderson raised the national colors over the fort four years after he had ordered them to be lowered. Henry Ward Beecher gave the main address. It was quite a celebration, and as night came fireworks lit up the sky.

There was more good news from North Carolina. Joseph Johnston contacted William T. Sherman to seek a temporary suspension of operations so the two men could meet. Sherman assented, suggesting the Appomattox terms as a basis for discussion. He would reassure Grant the next morning that he would “be careful not to complicate any points of civil policy.”

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April 12, 1865: Stacking Arms

On April 12 the Army of Northern Virginia stacked arms, furled flags, and formally completed surrendering. Much has been made of this ceremony, largely by Joshua Chamberlain and John B. Gordon, two gifted writers with vivid imaginations and healthy egos whose stories improved with age. Yet neither Grant nor Lee was present (Lee waited until after the ceremony to head back to Richmond, where his wife remained), and in fact several Confederate units had already stacked arms and signed paroles. Gordon had attempted to have his men stack arms on April 11, avoiding the ceremony, but John Gibbon and Charles Griffin, in charge of arranging the surrender, insisted upon a more formal process that would take place the next day: otherwise Gibbon would not issue paroles. Nor did everyone have arms to stack: what remained of George Pickett’s division left a mere fifty-three rifled muskets at the surrender.

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