Monday, December 31, 2012

January 1, 1863 (Thursday): Unhappy New Year

General Henry Halleck

Washington, January 1, 1863
Major-General HALLECK:
    MY DEAR SIR: General Burnside wishes to cross the Rappahannock with his army, but his grand division commanders all oppose the movement. If in such a difficulty as this you do not help, you fail me precisely in the point for which I sought your assistance. You know what General Burnside's plan is, and it is my wish that you go with him to the ground, examine it as far as practicable, confer with the officers, getting their judgment and ascertaining their temper; in a word, gather all the elements for forming a judgment of your own, and then tell General Burnside that you do approve or that you do not approve his plan. Your military skill is useless to me if you will not do this.
     Yours, very truly,


    JANUARY 1, 1863
    Withdrawn, because considered harsh by General Halleck.


Washington, January 1, 1863
Honorable E. M. STANTON,
Secretary of War, Washington, D. C.:
    SIR: From my recent interview with the President and yourself, and from the President's letter of this morning, which you delivered to me at your reception, I am led to believe that there is a very important difference of opinion in regard to my relations toward generals commanding armies in the field, and that I cannot perform the duties of my present office satisfactorily at the same time to the President and to myself. I therefore respectfully ask that I may be relieved from further duties as General-in-Chief.*
     Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

    H. W. HALLECK.

WASHINGTON, D. C., January, 1, 1863
   Since leaving you this morning, I have determined that it is my duty to place on paper or not, as you see proper.
    I am in command, as you know, of nearly 200,000 men, 120,000 of whom are in the immediate presence of the enemy,and I cannot conscientiously retain the command without making an unreserved statement of my views.
    The Secretary of War has not the confidence of the officers and soldiers, and I feel sure that he has not the confidence of the country. In regard to the latter statement, you are probably better informed than I am. The same opinion applies with equal force in regard to General Halleck. It seems to be the universal opinion that the movements of the army have not been planned with a view to co-operation and mutual assistance.#
     I have attempted a movement upon the enemy, in which I have been repulsed, and I am convinced, after mature deliberation, that the army ought to make another movement in the same direction, not necessarily at the same points on the river; but I am not sustained in this by a single grand division commander in my command. My reasons for having issued the order for making this second movement I have already given you in full,and I can see no reasons for changing my views. Doubtless this difference of opinion between my general officers and myself results from a lack of confidence in me. In this case it is highly necessary that this army should be commanded by some other officer, to whom I will most cheerfully give way.
    Will you allow me, Mr. President, to say that it is of the utmost importance that you be surrounded and supported by men who have the confidence of the people and of the army,and who will at tall times give you definite and honest opinions in relation to their separate departments, and at the same time give you positive and unswerving support in your public policy, taking at all times their full share of the responsibility for that policy? In no positions held by gentlemen near you are these conditions more requisite than those of the Secretary of War and General-in-Chief and the commanders of your armies. In the struggle now going on, in which the very existence, of our Government is at stake, the interests of no one man are worth the value of a grain of sand, and no one should be allowed to stand in the way of accomplishing the greatest amount of public good.
     It is my belief that I ought to retire to private life. I hope you will not understand this to savor of anything like dictation. My only desire is to promote the public good. No man is an accurate judge of the confidence in which he is held by the public and the people around him, and the confidence in my management may be entirely destroyed, in which case it would be a great wrong for me to retain this command for a single day; and, as I before said, I will most cheerfully give place to any other officer.
     I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

    Major-General, Commanding Army of the Potomac.

WASHINGTON, January 1, 1863-8.10 p.m.
General J. G. PARKE, Chief of Staff:
     Am still detained by the President and General Halleck, but hope to be down by daylight in the morning. What have you new?

*As duplicates are found among General Halleck's papers, and no copy is found in the War Department files, it is presumed that the application was withdrawn upon withdrawal of the President's letter.

#This letter is printed from General Burnside's copy; it does not appear among Mr. Lincoln's papers. See also Burnside to Lincoln, January 5 (p.944), and Halleck to Burnside, January 7 (p. 953.)

Series I., Vol. 21, Part 1, Page 940-942.

An extraordinary exchange.  The President has been approached by Burnsides' corp commanders and told they and the troops have no confidence in his plan to resume the offensive.  Lincoln turns to Halleck for counsel and does not receive it.  Halleck asks to resign.  Burnside asks to resign and states in his letter the troops have no confidence in Stanton and Halleck.  It is hard to imagine a less auspicious start to the new year.

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