First Bull Run Lincoln Dodges Responsibility for the Loss at 1st Manassas

W. Richardson

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All of those weeks since the firing on Fort Sumter the public, press, and crowd-catering politicians were yelling: “On to Richmond!” In June, Lincoln’s Secretary of the Interior, Smith, had sent word home to Indiana: “Matters are approaching a crisis & we will very probably soon have a fight.”. . .

McDowell brought his plan to General Scott. The two pondered it. On June 29 they discussed it with Lincoln, the Cabinet, and the senior generals. The President favored an immediate advance, although Scott pleaded for another plan. But the aged Chief of Staff yielded when he saw how anxious Lincoln was for a quick drive on Manassas. McDowell pleaded for more time in which to organize, drill, and discipline his army. Lincoln answered McDowell: “You are green, it is true; but they [the Confederates] are green, also; you are green alike.”. . .

Lincoln, on the night following Bull Run, did not sleep. “The President,” noted his secretaries, “did not go to bed that night; morning found him still in the executive office, hearing repetitions of those recitals [about the battle] and making memoranda of his own conclusions.”. . .

The loyal-state populations, from Maine to Minnesota, from Maryland to Missouri, even over the plains and mountains to remote and rather indifferent California and Oregon, fell into despair. They sought to blame someone for Bull Run, particularly the President. Doubts about him as a leader were angrily voiced. Inadequacy, weakness, even “imbecility,” were attributed to him.
Elderly and infirm General Scott, even though he had agreed reluctantly to the advance on Manassas against his own better judgment, quixotically took responsibility for the disaster on himself, in the presence of the President, Cabinet members, and members of Congress at an Executive Mansion conference held on July 23. . . the aged Chief of Staff insisted that he alone was to blame. He told the President and those present: “I am the greatest coward in America. I have fought this battle, sir, against my judgement; as God is my judge, after my superiors had determined to fight it, I did all in my power to make the Army efficient. I deserve removal because I did not stand up when my Army was not in condition for fighting, and resist it to the last.”

Lincoln replied to Scott: “Your conversation seems to imply that I forced you to fight this battle.”

Source: The Real Abraham Lincoln: A Complete One-Volume History of His Life and Times, By Reinhard H. Luthin, pp. 289-290, 291-293.

Respectfully,
William
 

WJC

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Responsibility, then as now, falls on the President. That said, Scott's statement is crafted to show that while volunteering to take responsibility, he asserted that it was not his responsibility.
Right or wrong, Lincoln called him out on this.
 

Andy Cardinal

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There was of course tremendous popular pressure and political pressure to advance.
And most of the three months men's enlistment were about to expire.

From McDowell's JCCW testimony (p. 38): "I wanted very much a little time; all of us wanted it. We did not have a bit of it. The answer was: "You are green it is true; but they are green also; you are green alike."

Report of the Joint Committee
 

W. Richardson

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Responsibility, then as now, falls on the President. That said, Scott's statement is crafted to show that while volunteering to take responsibility, he asserted that it was not his responsibility.
Right or wrong, Lincoln called him out on this.


If responsibility falls on the President, then Lincoln's statement was not a call out, but a attempt to dodge that responsibility. Lincoln made a mistake at rushing into a battle. A mistake we all would probably do under the pressure he was under. Scott was willing to take them blame, Lincoln was not.

Respectfully,
William
 

W. Richardson

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There was of course tremendous popular pressure and political pressure to advance.
And most of the three months men's enlistment were about to expire.

From McDowell's JCCW testimony (p. 38): "I wanted very much a little time; all of us wanted it. We did not have a bit of it. The answer was: "You are green it is true; but they are green also; you are green alike."

Report of the Joint Committee


You are correct in what you stated, but Lincoln was wrong to attempt to dodge the responsibility. He was under extreme pressure no doubt. He made a mistake, but could not own up to it.

Respectfully,
William
 

Andy Cardinal

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You are correct in what you stated, but Lincoln was wrong to attempt to dodge the responsibility. He was under extreme pressure no doubt. He made a mistake, but could not own up to it.

Respectfully,
William
Lincoln was a master politician and was skilled at avoiding situations where the blame fell squarely on him. Of course as commander-in-chief he bears ultimate responsibility for all decisions in the end, but he was often able to make it appear that others were responsible. A good example was placing McClellan in command of the field army that pursued Lee in September 1862. Ultimately it was Lincoln's decision, but he had Halleck to serve as a buffer between himself and the critics. It makes sense really, and is probably how he was able to successfully navigate the turbulence within the Union war effort.
 

Andy Cardinal

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But does that not go against his mythical Godly reputation? :smile:

I can't say Lincoln was a master politician as much as he was cunning, but I could be wrong.

Respectfully,
William
I would say that no one is "Godly" in the real flesh, which does not mean that they aren't great men or women. I would say Lincoln and Lee are probably the most mythical of all figures from the Civil War (maybe I should include Jackson too). The mythical part is what we put on them after the fact. The fun part is trying to know the real person. But the myths make that awfully hard to do.
 

W. Richardson

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I would say that no one is "Godly" in the real flesh, which does not mean that they aren't great men or women. I would say Lincoln and Lee are probably the most mythical of all figures from the Civil War (maybe I should include Jackson too). The mythical part is what we put on them after the fact. The fun part is trying to know the real person. But the myths make that awfully hard to do.

Totally agree................

Respectfully,
William
 

Horrido67

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Yes, as Commander in Chief, Lincoln should bear the responsibility. All deaths, destruction and other human miseries. However, Lincoln proved that those who doubted him wrong by winning the war. I believe there is a Civil War song called "that's what's the matter". Winning the war and keeping the Union together mattered the most...to the Union.

Had the Union impeached Lincoln for whatever reasons in 1861 and replaced him with someone who was considered more qualified, would the war have ended sooner in favor of the Union? Interesting.

Thank you for posting a thought-provoking post, William, I appreciate it.
 

W. Richardson

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Yes, as Commander in Chief, Lincoln should bear the responsibility. All deaths, destruction and other human miseries. However, Lincoln proved that those who doubted him wrong by winning the war. I believe there is a Civil War song called "that's what's the matter". Winning the war and keeping the Union together mattered the most...to the Union.

Had the Union impeached Lincoln for whatever reasons in 1861 and replaced him with someone who was considered more qualified, would the war have ended sooner in favor of the Union? Interesting.

Thank you for posting a thought-provoking post, William, I appreciate it.


I think Lincoln did a masterfully wonderful job leading the United States during the war. I think he was the best qualified to lead the United States at that time. His myth makers have made him to be a God. He was nothing near a God. He had his faults as we all do, but to try and dodge what he forced to have done? The "mythical" Lincoln would have accepted the blame gracefully. A true great leader would have. Yet we must not forget that he was also a politician, and they have to "save face" as well........................so in that aspect the quote "Your conversation seems to imply that I forced you to fight this battle." fits the true Lincoln.................I just wonder if he was able to state that with a straight face. :smile:

Respectfully,
William
 
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jackt62

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The buck stops with the President even if the actual failing is with subordinate commanders. Good example is JFK taking full responsibility for the Bay of Pigs fiasco, despite the fact that he ultimately knew that his military advisors fed him unrealistic information prior to the operation. Insofar as Bull Run is concerned, Lincoln had to balance public pressure to "do something" with the actual state of the federal military as acknowledged by McDowell. I'm not sure what other choice McDowell had if he did not feel comfortable with executing the mission except to offer his resignation. That too, would have caused a political problem for Lincoln.
 

jackt62

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Part of the problem was Lincoln's lack of military knowledge at that stage of the war. It took him a few years of study and understanding until he understood the necessity of appointing a military commander (Grant) who Lincoln would not constantly second guess.
 
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