Military Secrets Go Public, Creating a Firestorm. Lee Advises that the Confederacy Do the Right Thing.
On February 28, 1864, Brigadier General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick and Colonel Ulric Dahlgren led four thousand Union troops in a daring attempt to enter Richmond and release Union prisoners of war. However, the raid brought greater damage to the Union than the Confederacy. Papers found on the body of Colonel Dahlgren, [who was killed in an ambush,] . . . outlined plans for the released prisoners to hold the city and wait for Union reinforcements; to burn Richmond thereafter; and to murder Jefferson Davis and his cabinet. Amid a firestorm of Southern indignation, Robert E. Lee wrote to [the Union commander of the Army of the Potomac General] George Gordon Meade. Lee’s letter sparked a Union investigation that settled blame on the deceased Colonel Dahlgren. Meanwhile, Lee responded to an inquiry from Confederate Secretary of War Seddon counseling against executing prisoners captured during the raid who may not have known the contents of the captured documents. [Lee wrote,] ‘I do not think that reason & reflection would justify such a course. I think it better to do right, even if we suffer in so doing, than to incur the reproach of our consciences & Posterity.'”
– Submitted by Vermont Humanities Council Executive Director Peter Gilbert
Library of Congress Illustrated Timeline of the Civil War, Margaret E. Wagner, p. 169.
A Busy Wartime President Deeply Involved in Solving Individuals’ Personal Problems
March 1, 1864. Lincoln’s letter of March 1, 1864 to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton suggests just how much the President was involved in individuals’ personal problems and issues, including people asking for a favor related to a relative in the army or a stranger asking to be appointed postmaster of a town somewhere in the country. Note that Lincoln has seen this petitioner twice and this is at least the second letter he has written on her behalf.
A poor widow, by the name of Baird, has a son in the army, that for some offence has been sentenced to serve a long time without pay, or at most, with very little pay. I do not like this punishment of withholding pay — it falls so very hard upon poor families. After he has been serving in this way for several months, at the tearful appeal of the poor Mother, I made a direction that he be allowed to enlist for a new term, on the same conditions as others. She now comes, and says she can not get it acted upon. Please do it. Yours truly
– Submitted by Vermont Humanities Council Executive Director Peter A. Gilbert
Lincoln Speeches and Writings 1859-1865, Library of America, p. 577.