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January 27, 1862 – Lincoln lashes out at his generals


One hundred and fifty years ago today, on January 27, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued War Order No. 1. In this order, all land and sea forces were to advance on February 22, 1862.

Lincoln had grown tired of excuses and inactivity from his generals. His armies had time after time delayed in seizing the offensive against Confederate forces.

This move sent a message to the commanders regarding Lincoln’s irritation with the pace of the war.

Edwin Stanton had replaced the corrupt Simon Cameron as secretary of war. The president, himself, had also been brushing up on military strategy. He reasoned that “if enough force were brought to bear on the Confederates simultaneously, they would break”. If the Confederates “…weakened one to strengthen another”, his Union army could “seize and hold the one weakened”.

His primary reason for this order was General George McClellan. He commanded the Army of the Potomac in the East. The general was contemptuous of the president and this was becoming increasingly apparent ever since his appointment by Lincoln in July 1861. McClellan was reluctant to share his plans with the president “and exhibited no signs of moving his army in the near future”.

Lincoln’s plan to instill a sense of urgency in his military leaders worked in the west. Under General Ulysses S. Grant, the armies in Tennessee moved and captured Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River. The president’s order “called for strict accountability for each commander who did not follow the order”. McClellan failed to respond but Lincoln had to handle the general carefully. McClellan was backed by a number of Democrats and he had transformed the Army of the Potomac into fine fighting shape over the winter months. The president had no choice but to allow McClellan to continue to command in the field.

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  1. It seems presidents have always had to deal with egos and tempermental politicians and military leaders. Very interesting post. It sort of gives a picture of how the war was handled.

  2. Hi, Paisley! I think General McClellan became a thorn in Lincoln’s side over the course of the war. He was just too cautious. The war may have ended much sooner if another general had been at the helm right from the start.

    I thought it was interesting that Lincoln, himself, was brushing up on military strategy.

  3. Interesting information, Susan. I thought that General Stanton was also not a fan of Lincoln. Is that wrong? I thought he was implicated by Sandburg in the conspiracy to kill Lincoln. That’s probably all muddled as I read all of that Lincoln stuff before last night. 🙂

  4. Hi, Caroline! Stanton was Secretary of War from 1862 to 1868. Lincoln appointed him and the two developed a close working relationship.

    You can find more info here

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