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- The Life of Abraham Lincoln - 30/46 -
should do something more than keep up a dress parade. Lincoln laid on him this responsibility in perfect confidence.
The first thing Fremont accomplished in Missouri was to quarrel with his best friends, the Blair family. This is important chiefly as a thermometer,--it indicated his inability to hold the confidence of intelligent and influential men after he had it. About this time Lincoln wrote to General Hunter a personal letter which showed well how things were likely to go:--
"My dear Sir: General Fremont needs assistance which it is difficult to give him. He is losing the confidence of men near him, whose support any man in his position must have to be successful. His cardinal mistake is that he isolates himself and allows no one to see him; and by which he does not know what is going on in the very matter he is dealing with. He needs to have by his side a man of large experience. Will you not, for me, take that place?"
It was Louis XV. who exclaimed, "_L'etat? C'est moi!_" "The state? _I'm_ the state!" The next move of Fremont can be compared only with that spirit of the French emperor. It was no less than a proclamation of emancipation. This was a civic act, while Fremont was an officer of military, not civil, authority. The act was unauthorized, the President was not even consulted. Even had it been a wise move, Fremont would have been without justification because it was entirely outside of his prerogatives. Even had he been the wisest man, he was not an autocrat and could not have thus transcended his powers.
But this act was calculated to do much mischief. The duty of the hour was to save the Union. Fremont's part in that duty was to drive the rebels out of Missouri. Missouri was a slave state. It had not seceded, and it was important that it should not do so. The same was true of Kentucky and Maryland. It is easy to see, upon reading Fremont's proclamation, that it is the work not of a soldier, but of a politician, and a bungling politician at that.
When this came to the knowledge of the President he took prompt measures to counteract it in a way that would accomplish the greatest good with the least harm. He wrote to the general:
"Allow me, therefore, to ask that you will, as of your own motion, modify that paragraph so as to conform to the first and fourth sections of the act of congress entitled, 'An act to confiscate property used for insurrectionary purposes,' approved August 6, 1861, and a copy of which act I herewith send you. This letter is written in a spirit of caution, and not of censure."
But Fremont was willing to override both President and congress, and declined to make the necessary modifications. This placed him, with such influence as he had, in direct antagonism to the administration. That which ought to have been done by Fremont had to be done by Lincoln, upon whom was thrown the onus of whatever was objectionable in the matter. It did give him trouble. It alienated many of the extreme abolitionists, including even his old neighbor and friend, Oscar H. Browning. They seemed to think that Lincoln was now championing slavery. His enemies needed no alienation, but they made adroit use of this to stir up and increase discontent.
So matters grew no better with Fremont, but much worse for three months. The words of Nicolay and Hay are none too strong: "He had frittered away his opportunity for usefulness and fame; such an opportunity, indeed, as rarely comes."
On October 21st, the President sent by special messenger the following letter to General Curtis at St. Louis:
"DEAR SIR: On receipt of this, with the accompanying enclosures, you will take safe, certain, and suitable measures to have the inclosure addressed to Major-General Fremont delivered to him with all reasonable despatch, subject to these conditions only, that if, when General Fremont shall be reached by the messenger,--yourself or any one sent by you,--he shall then have, in personal command, fought and won a battle, or shall then be in the immediate presence of the enemy in expectation of a battle, it is not to be delivered but held for further orders."
The inclosure mentioned was an order relieving General Fremont and placing Hunter temporarily in command. It is plain that the President expected that there would be difficulties, in the way of delivering the order,--that Fremont himself might prevent its delivery. General Curtis, who undertook its delivery, evidently expected the same thing, for he employed three different messengers who took three separate methods of trying to reach Fremont. The one who succeeded in delivering the order did so only because of his successful disguise, and when it was accomplished Fremont's words and manner showed that he had expected to head off any such order. This incident reveals the peril which would have fallen to American institutions had he been more successful in his aspirations to the presidency.
Fremont had one more chance. He was placed in command of a corps in Virginia. There he disobeyed orders in a most atrocious manner, and by so doing permitted Jackson and his army to escape. He was superseded by Pope, but declining to serve under a junior officer, resigned. And that was the end of Fremont as a public man. The fact that he had ceased to be a force in American life was emphasized in 1864. The extreme abolitionists nominated him as candidate for the presidency in opposition to Lincoln. But his following was so slight that he withdrew from the race and retired permanently to private life.
Yet he was a man of splendid abilities of a certain sort. Had he practised guerilla warfare, had he had absolute and irresponsible command of a small body of picked men with freedom to raid or do anything else he pleased, he would have been indeed formidable. The terror which the rebel guerilla General, Morgan, spread over wide territory would easily have been surpassed by Fremont. But guerilla warfare was not permissible on the side of the government. The aim of the Confederates was destruction; the aim of the administration was construction. It is always easier and more spectacular to destroy than to construct.
One trouble with Fremont was his narrowness of view. He could not work with others. If he wanted a thing in his particular department, it did not concern him that it might injure the cause as a whole. Another trouble was his conceit. He wanted to be "the whole thing," President, congress, general, and judiciary. Had Lincoln not possessed the patience of Job, he could not have borne with him even so long. The kindness of the President's letter, above quoted, is eloquent testimony to his magnanimity.
LINCOLN AND MCCLELLAN.
McClellan was a very different man from Fremont. Though he was as nearly as possible opposite in his characteristics, still it was not easier to get along with him. He was a man of brilliant talents, fine culture, and charming personality. Graduating from West Point in 1846, he went almost immediately into the Mexican War, where he earned his captaincy. He later wrote a manual of arms for use in the United States army. He visited Europe as a member of the commission of officers to gather military information.
His greatest genius was in engineering, a line in which he had no superior. He went to Illinois in 1857 as chief engineer of the Central Railroad, the following year he became vice-president, and the year after that president of the St. Louis and Cincinnati Railway. At the outbreak of the war this captain was by the governor of Ohio commissioned as major-general, and a few days later he received from Lincoln the commission of major-general in the United States army.
He was sent to West Virginia with orders to drive out the rebels. This he achieved in a brief time, and for it he received the thanks of congress. He was, after the disaster at Bull Run, called to Washington and placed in command of that portion of the Army of the Potomac whose specific duty was the defense of the capital. He was rapidly promoted from one position to another until age and infirmity compelled the retirement of that grand old warrior, Winfield Scott, whereupon he was made general-in-chief of the United States army. All this occurred in less than four months. Four months ago, this young man of thirty-five years was an ex-captain. To-day he is general-in-chief, not of the largest army, but probably of the most intelligent army, the world has ever seen. He would be almost more than human if such a sudden turn of the wheel of fortune did not also turn his head.
It was Lincoln's habit to let his generals do their work in their own ways, only insisting that they should accomplish visible and tangible results. This method he followed with McClellan, developing it with great patience under trying circumstances. On this point there is no better witness than McClellan himself. To his wife he wrote, "They give me my way in everything, full swing and unbounded confidence." Later he expressed contempt for the President who "showed him too much deference." He was a universal favorite, he became known as "the young Napoleon," he had the confidence of the country and the loyal devotion of the army, and the unqualified support of the administration. Of him great things were expected, and reasonably so. In the power of inspiring confidence and enthusiasm he was second only to Napoleon.
As an organizer and drill-master he was superb. The army after Bull Run was as demoralized as an army could be. The recruits soon began to arrive from the North, every day bringing thousands of such into Washington. These required care and they must be put into shape for effective service. This difficult task he accomplished in a way that fully met the public expectation and reflected great credit upon himself.
In defense he was a terrible fighter. That is to say, when he fought at all--for he fought only in defense--he fought well. A distinguished Confederate soldier said, "There was no Union general whom we so much dreaded as McClellan. He had, as we thought, no equal." And they declared they could always tell when McClellan was in command by the way the men fought.
An illustrious comment on this is the splendid fighting at Antietam. That was one of the greatest battles and one of the most magnificent victories of the war. It showed McClellan at his best.
We know what the Army of the Potomac was previous to the accession of McClellan. Let us see what it was after his removal. "McClellan was retired," says the Honorable Hugh McCulloch, "and what happened to the Army of the Potomac? Terrible slaughter under Burnside at Fredericksburg; crushing defeat at Chancellorsville under Hooker." All this shows that McClellan narrowly missed the fame of being one of the greatest generals in history. But let us glance at another page in the ledger.
His first act, when in command at Cincinnati, was to enter into an agreement with General Buckner that the state of Kentucky should be
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