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German General Blames Lincoln for Defeat

October 31, 2012   View Discussion

German General Blames Lincoln for Defeat

Patrick Young, Esq.

by Patrick Young, Esq. - Blogger

When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, he instantly became a saintly figure to most Northerners. It is the image of Saint Lincoln that was passed down for generations after his death. We should remember though that in 1862 Lincoln was still a politician, and in the fall of that year his party had suffered a serious political defeat in the elections.

Years later, Lincoln’s secretaries would recall that after the election “Mr. Lincoln was exposed to the bitterest assaults and criticisms” from the left wing of his own party. Even though the president had just issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, the “radicals” believed that his policies had been too moderate. They argued that slavery should have been abolished immediately and that Democratic generals like George McClellan should have never been given important commands.

Lincoln became exasperated with his critics. According to Lincoln’s secretaries; “To one friend who assailed him with peculiar candor, he made a reply which may answer as a sufficient defense to all the radical attacks…”

In his autobiography, German leader Carl Schurz admitted “That ‘friend’ was I.”

Schurz was the radical who had attacked America’s secular saint at the very time Lincoln was creating the legal framework to end slavery.

Schurz was then serving as a Union general in the Army of the Potomac. Lincoln was his commander in chief. Under the circumstances, a letter from a general criticizing a president for his political defects was unusual. But Schurz was a “political general” with an emphasis on “political.” He wrote to the president as a self-appointed spokesman for the left wing of his party. Schurz said later that “I wrote…to Mr. Lincoln, giving voice to the widespread anxiety as I understood and felt it.”

The upshot of Schurz’s opinion is contained early in his first letter to Lincoln when he charged that “The defeat of the Administration is the Administration’s own fault.”

Lincoln and Schurz exchanged four letters on the elections. Lincoln’s exasperation with his ally Schurz comes through in phrases like this “I just received and read your letter…The purport of it is that we lost the late elections…because the war is unsuccessful, and that I must not flatter myself that I am not justly to blame for it. ..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…”

Lincoln got particularly nasty at Schurz’s implication that the president was politically incompetent. Reminding Schurz that not everyone thought the immigrant himself was a great general, Lincoln wrote; “e assured, my dear sir, there are men who…think you are performing your part as poorly as you think I am performing mine.”

Lincoln rejected Schurz’s call to purge Democrats from the army’s high command. Lincoln told Schurz that he needed competent generals more than he needed political loyalists. When it came to leading the army, Lincoln wrote, “I must say I need success more than I need sympathy, and that I have not seen the so much greater evidence of getting success from my sympathizers, than from those who are denounced as the contrary.” In short, Republican generals had disappointed as often as Democrats.

In his autobiography, Schurz said that Lincoln later forgave his criticism as that of a dedicated “anti-slavery man.” Schurz wrote that he met with the president and that Lincoln slapped the immigrant general on the knee and laughed “Didn’t I give it to you hard in my letter?”

Perhaps.

Or perhaps after the assassination at Ford’s Theater Carl Schurz needed to show that he had “gotten right” with America’s secular saint.

Lincoln being escorted by angels into heaven after his assassination.



Video

This interview with Doris Kearns Goodwin on her book Team of Rivals gives a hint of the problem for any of Lincoln’s contemporaries who disagreed with him.



“Behind the Lines” Interview with Jim Downs

Jim Downs, Assistant Professor of History and American Studies at Connecticut College and author of “Sick From Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering During the Civil War and Reconstruction”

Due to Hurricane Sandy, we were unable to insert our normal footnotes. This will be corrected when we have power back.

The Immigrants’ Civil War is a series that will examine the role of immigrants in our bloodiest war. Articles will appear monthly between 2011 and 2015, the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. Here are the articles we have published so far:

1. Immigrant America on the Eve of the Civil War - Take a swing around the United States and see where immigrants were coming from and where they were living in 1861.

2. 1848: The Year that Created Immigrant America - Revolutions in Europe, famine and oppression in Ireland, and the end of the Mexican War made 1848 a key year in American immigration history.

3. Carl Schurz: From German Radical to American Abolitionist- A teenaged revolutionary of 1848, Carl Schurz brought his passion for equality with him to America.

4. Immigrant Leader Carl Schurz Tells Lincoln to Stand Firm Against Slavery.

5. ...And the War Came to Immigrant America -The impact of the firing on Fort Sumter on America’s immigrants

6. The Rabbi Who Seceded From the South

7. The Fighting 69th-Irish New York Declares War

8. The Germans Save St. Louis for the Union

9. New York’s Irish Rush to Save Washington

10. Immigrant Day Laborers Help Build the First Fort to Protect Washington-The Fighting 69th use their construction skills.

11. Carl Schurz Meets With Lincoln To Arm the Germans

12. Immigrants Rush to Join the Union Army-Why?- The reasons immigrants gave for enlisting early in the war.

13. Why the Germans Fought for the Union

14. Why Did the Irish Fight When They Were So Despised?

15. The “Sons of Garibaldi” Join the Union Army

16. The Irish Tigers From Louisiana

17. Immigrant Regiments on Opposite Banks of Bull Run -The Fighting 69th and the Louisiana Tigers

18. The St. Louis Germans Set Out To Free Missouri

19. Wilson’s Creek Drowns Immigrant Dream of Free Missouri

20. English-Only in 1861: No Germans Need Apply

21. After Bull Run: Mutineers, Scapegoats, and the Dead

22. St. Louis Germans Revived by Missouri Emancipation Proclamation

23. Jews Fight the Ban on Rabbis as Chaplains

24. Lincoln Dashes German Immigrants Hopes for Emancipation

25. When Hatred of Immigrants Stopped the Washington Monument from Being Built

26. Inside the Mind of a Know Nothing

27. The Evolution of the Know Nothings

28. The Know Nothings Launch a Civil War Against Immigrant America

29. The Know Nothings: From Triumph to Collapse

30. The Lasting Impact of the Know Nothings on Immigrant America.

31. Lincoln, the Know Nothings, and Immigrant America

32. Irish Green and Black America: Race on the Edge of Civil War

33. The Democratic Party and the Racial Consciousness of Irish Immigrants Before the Civil War

34. The Confederates Move Against Latino New Mexico

35. Nuevomexicanos Rally As Confederates Move Towards Santa Fe—But For Which Side?

36. The Confederate Army in New Mexico Strikes at Valverde

37. The Swedish Immigrant Who Saved the U.S. Navy

38. The Confederates Capture Santa Fe and Plot Extermination

39. A German Regiment Fights for “Freedom and Justice” at Shiloh-The 32nd Indiana under Col. August Willich.

40. The Know Nothing Colonel and the Irish Soldier Confronting slavery and bigotry.

41. Did Immigrants Hand New Orleans Over to the Union Army?

42. Did new Orleans’ Immigrants See Union Soldiers As Occupiers or Liberators?

43. Union Leader Ben Butler Seeks Support in New Orleans-When General Ben Butler took command in New Orleans in 1862, it was a Union outpost surrounded by Confederates. Butler drew on his experience as a pro-immigrant politician to win over the city’s Irish and Germans.

44. Union General Ben Butler Leverages Immigrant Politics in New Orleans

45. Thomas Meager: The Man Who Created the Irish Brigade

46. Thomas Meagher: The Irish Rebel Joins the Union Army

47. Recruiting the Irish Brigade-Creating the Irish American

48. Cross Keys: A German Regiment’s Annihilation in the Shenandoah Valley

49. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Richmond-The Irish brigade in the Peninsula Campaign from March 17 to June 2, 1862.

50. Peninsula Emancipation: Irish Soldiers Take Steps on the Road to Freedom-The Irish Brigade and Irish soldiers from Boston free slaves along the march to Richmond.

51. Slaves Immigrate from the Confederacy to the United States During the Peninsula Campaign

52. The Irish 9th Massachusetts Cut Off During the Seven Days Battles

53. Union Defeat and an Irish Medal of Honor at the End of the Seven Days

54. Making Immigrant Soldiers into Citizens-Congress changed the immigration laws to meet the needs of a nation at war.

55. Carl Schurz: To Win the Civil War End Slavery

56. Carl Schurz: From Civilian to General in One Day

57. Did Anti-German Bigotry Help Cause Second Bull Run Defeat?

58. Immigrant Soldiers Chasing Lee Into Maryland

59. Scottish Highlanders Battle at South Mountain

60. Emancipation 150: “All men are created equal, black and white”- A German immigrant reacts to the Emancipation Proclamation

61. The Irish Brigade at Antietam

62. Private Peter Welsh Joins the Irish Brigade

63. Preliminaries to Emancipation: Race, the Irish, and Lincoln

64. The Politics of Emancipation: Lincoln Suffers Defeat

Cultural

Painting of the Return of the 69th from Bull Run Unearthed

Blog Posts

Why I’m Writing The Immigrants’ Civil War

Cinco de Mayo Holiday Dates Back to the American Civil War
New Immigrants Try to Come to Terms with America’s Civil War

Important Citizenship Site to be Preserved-Fortress Monroe

Should Lincoln Have Lost His Citizenship?

The First Casualties of the War Were Irish-Was that a Coincidence?

Civil War Anniversaries-History, Marketing, and Human Rights

Memorial Day’s Origins at the End of the Civil War

Germans Re-enact the Civil War-But Why Are They Dressed in Gray?

Leading Historians Discuss 1863 New York City Draft Riots

The Upstate New York Town that Joined the Confederacy

Civil War Blogs I Read Every Week

Book Reviews

The Harp and the Eagle: Irish American Volunteers and the Union Army, 1861 to 1865 by Susannah Ural Bruce

Jews and the Civil War: A Reader Edited by Jonathan Sarna and Adam Mendelsohn

Civil War Citizens edited by Susannah Ural Bruce

Germans in the Civil War: The Letters They Wrote Home edited by Walter Kamphoefner and Wolfgang Helbich

A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War By Amanda Foreman

Irish Green and Union Blue by Peter Welsh

Immigration Vacation -Civil War Sites

Fort Schuyler- Picnic where the Irish Brigade trained

 

 

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