A Complaint on the “Slowness of the War”
November 4, 1862. Carl Sandburg famously described Lincoln as “both steel and velvet, . . . hard as a rock and soft as drifting fog.” Lincoln’s letter written on November 4, 1862 in response to Major General Carl Schurz’s complaint on the “Slowness of the War” is an example of the former:
“I have 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. . . . “
– Submitted by Tom Ledoux
Albert Bushnell Hart, ed., Selected Writings of Abraham Lincoln, 242-244.
The Day after the Election, Lincoln Fires McClellan
On November 5, 1862, the day after the midterm elections, Lincoln ordered that General McClellan turn over command of the Army of the Potomac to General Ambrose Burnside. Lincoln had waited until after the election so as to not alienate Democrats further. “He is an admirable engineer,’ Lincoln said, ‘but he seems to have a special talent for a stationary engine” (1)
McClellan was never wanting for self-confidence. After he read Lincoln’s order, he said, “They have made a great mistake. Alas for my poor country.” (2)
While Lincoln’s order effectively ended McClellan’s military career, it jump-started his political career; he would be Lincoln’s opponent in the Presidential election two years later.
But Burnside was no military savior. Only when Lincoln offered the post to him three times did Burnside accept. Ulysses S. Grant called Burnside “an officer who was generally liked and respected. He was not, however, fitted to command an army. No one knew this better than himself.”
Five weeks later, Burnside would lead his army to defeat at Fredericksburg and would be replaced by “Fighting Joe” Hooker.
After Fredericksburg, William Thompson Lusk would write his mother bitterly, “. . . the high aspirations that swelled our bosoms a few days ago. Once more unsuccessful, and only a bloody record to show our men were brave. . . . [The army] has strong limbs to march and meet the foe, stout arms to strike heavy blows, brave hearts to dare — but the brains, the brains! Have we no brains to use the arms and limbs and eager hearts with cunning? Perhaps Old Abe has some funny story to tell appropriate to the occasion.” (3)
1.) Isac Arnold, The Life of Abraham Lincoln, 300.
2.) David Donald, ed., Divided We Fought: A Pictorial History of the War, 1861-1865, 1952, 138.
3.) Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod, My Brother’s Face: Portraits of the Civil War in Photographs, Diaries, and Letters, 67.
A Letter Home from Hazen Hooker
November 6, 1862. In a letter home nineteen-year-old Private Hazen Blanchard Hooker, Co. G, Third Vermont Regiment, asked his family to write more upbeat letters and ones that reported on the ordinary, day-to-day activities. He urged family members to not be downhearted, and expressed his confidence that he would return home safely.
Camp in the woods, Va No[v]. 6 1862
Friends at home, . . .
. . . I want when you write to me not to write such mournful letters. Write more what is going on day after day on the old priest Wosester [Leonard Worcester] farm, how much the oxen girth, how many times the horse strap has broke on the old . . . lumber wagon which I have rod many miles. . .. do not pitch you[r] letters all on the key of A minor. The majer key is what we Soldiers want lively and full of bright hopes of the future. Why need you be so down hearted. I am gitting along first rate, never felt better in my life. True we have seen some hard times, but never mind that. Job was surely afflicted, but he was patient, and came out all right. So it will be with your son Hazen, if you only think so. I am confident that I shall be permited to return home again some time. My every thought and feeling seems to say, you shall again see your native land, though many miles [are] betwexed it and you. (1)
Private Hooker was killed May 5, 1864 at the Battle of the Wilderness. He died amidst fierce fighting at the strategic junction of Brock Road and Plank Road, which General Grant ordered held “at all hazards.” His body was never recovered. (2)
1.) A Vermont Hill Town in the Civil War: Peacham’s Story, Peacham Historical Association, May 2012.
2.) George Grenville Benedict, Vermont in the Civil War (Burlington, VT: Free Press Association, 1888), 421.