An Exasperated Lincoln & “Seeing the Elephant”

October 19, 1862/2012
Volume 3, Issue 42 (106 Issues Since 15 October 2010)

Lincoln Exasperated with McClellan

October 24, 1862. Five weeks after Antietam, Lincoln remained exasperated by McClellan’s continued failure to pursue Lee south, and for his general lack of action. McClellan’s excuse was that his horses were sore-tongued and fatigued. Lincoln’s response by telegram was unusually sharp: “. . . Will you pardon me for asking what the horses of your army have done since the battle of Antietam that fatigue anything?”

President Lincoln and General McClellan

President Lincoln and General McClellan


Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, vol. 5, p. 474, Rutgers University Press (1953, 1990.)


“The First Wired President” by Tom Wheeler, New York Times, May 24, 2012. 

To Experience Combat is to “See the Elephant”

October 24, 1862. George W. Tillotson, a New York sergeant, wrote his wife from Maryland: “. . .I have lost confidence in most of the head officers, for I don’t believe they want the war to end, and further, in the way things are going, it will never end, by fighting. I am not alone in this opinion, for it is one generally, and openly expressed throughout the ranks, except by some of the new troops, who have not forgotten the old home idea, that the South is a going to be scared to death by a presidents proclamation, or a call for a few hundred thousand more men, but by the time they have fully seen the elephant, the idea of scare, like that of starve, and nothing to fight with, will ‘play out.'”

Being in combat was, in the Civil War, often likened to seeing an elephant, perhaps suggesting something impressive — awesome, even — massive and hard to see or understand as a whole.


A Civil War soldier’s letters: “Save them if it cost the farm,” George W. Tillotson papers, The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History (includes photograph of Tillotson’s family)

“Seeing the elephant,’ Wikipedia

“‘Spend Much Time in Reading the Daily Papers’: The Press and Army Morale in the Civil War,” by James McPherson, American Experience

“I take up my pen: Letters from the Civil War,” online exhibition, The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

– All entries submitted by Peter A. Gilbert, Executive Director of the Vermont Humanities Council

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Filed under Civil War Book of Days: 1862

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