After the firing on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, the citizens and the politicians of the North expected a quick, decisive, and relatively bloodless war. With greater resources, manpower, and a morally "superior" cause, many Northerners seemed unconcerned about the relative unpreparedness of their armed forces. The popular conception of war, shared by many of the nation's leading political leaders, held that battles were won by superior causes sustained by courage and manliness. Northerners scarcely worried about the greenness of their troops nor the inexperience of many officers. Courage was an effective substitute for training and discipline. Some of Abraham Lincoln's cabinet members predicted little real fighting—even after the firing on Sumter. New York diarist George Templeton Strong recorded comments made by Secretary of State William H. Seward, that "there would be no serious fighting after all; the South would collapse and everything serenely adjusted." For many, one battle and it would be over. Zachariah Chandler, Michigan's Republican senator, predicted that the Confederates under Beauregard would "run like cowards" at the sight of Union forces.[1]

Despite numerous military setbacks in the summer and fall of 1861, many congressmen were still convinced that an easy victory was within reach. "We can win a victory in 24 hours if only our generals will fight," Chandler told one Detroit correspondent in late Page  [End Page 1] October. In the opinion of many congressmen, the trouble was overly cautious military and executive leadership. Back in the early days of the rebellion, President Lincoln had assumed broad powers in dealing with the crisis, and Congress approved most of his actions during a special session in July. In early December, however, the attitude of Congress was markedly different. Dissatisfied with the state of the war, less confident in Lincoln, and convinced that treason lurked within the innermost circles of the North's military establishment, Congress moved quickly to establish a special joint committee to investigate Northern military setbacks and to reinvigorate the war effort. Hence, the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War was created. Armed with subpoena power, the committee was authorized to delve into all aspects of military affairs. During its tenure in the 37th and 38th Congress, it would examine major military defeats, the administration of military departments, the treatment of Northern prisoners of war, alleged Confederate atrocities, and a host of other matters. Through the threat of public disclosure in the form of either press leaks or official reports, Congress hoped to use the committee to prod cautious generals and a timid administration into action.[2]

Senate Republicans on the committee included Ohio's Benjamin F. Wade and Michigan's Zachariah Chandler. Wade and Chandler were among the foremost radical Republicans in the Senate. Trained as a lawyer, Wade had a reputation for political radicalism from his days as an Ohio state legislator. Elected to the United States Senate in 1851, he was part of a small coterie of antislavery senators. Gruff and combative, Wade took his duties as committee chairman with his usual seriousness. Zachariah Chandler was a perfect complement to Wade. Elected in 1857, Chandler was hard working and committed to the ideals of the Republican party. Outspoken in his opposition to any compromise with the South, he was an early advocate of emancipation and confiscation. The sole Democratic Senate member of the committee was Tennessee's Andrew Johnson. Although a lifelong member of the Democratic party, Johnson was the only senator from a seceded state who refused to follow his state out of the Union. His anger towards the Page  [End Page 2] leaders of the rebellion allowed him to work amicably with committee Republicans.[3]

House members of the committee included Republicans John Covode of Pennsylvania, George W. Julian of Indiana, and Daniel Gooch of Massachusetts. Covode was already experienced in congressional investigations. As a member of the 36th Congress, he chaired a committee charged with investigating alleged frauds in the James Buchanan administration. Julian was the committee's most dedicated radical. An early advocate of the abolition of slavery, he began his political career as a Whig, but moved into the Free Soil party in 1848 and was elected to a term in the House. Reelected to Congress in 1860 as a Republican, Julian's speeches provided the most forceful expression of the committee's viewpoint. Daniel W. Gooch was a second-term congressman from the Boston area. Not as well known as some of his committee colleagues, he made solid contributions to committee investigations with his legal skills. The sole Democratic House member was Moses Odell of New York. Although Odell did not always agree with his Republican colleagues, they appreciated his hard work and dedication to the committee's investigations.[4]

There are several approaches to examining the relationship between Abraham Lincoln and the Committee on the Conduct of the War. First is the constitutional one, which focuses on congressional jealousy over executive control of the war. The Constitution, after Page  [End Page 3] all, divides the war-making power of the federal government, giving the executive control of the military, but giving Congress control over appropriations and the power to declare war. Lincoln could appreciate congressional jealousy. As an obscure Whig congressman in 1847, he had criticized President Polk during the Mexican war, accusing him of ignoring Congress's right to declare war. Historians have also used the "conservatives versus the radicals" approach. Championed by T. Harry Williams, this viewpoint emphasized the ideological gap between Lincoln and the radical Republicans who dominated the committee. This approach, however, has been discredited by numerous historians. Quite obviously the personalities and temperaments of men like Wade, Chandler, Julian, and Covode were different from the President's. On numerous occasions, they browbeat the President to remove a general or endorse a piece of legislation they thought was important. They were angered when Lincoln did not give in. They complained about the President's humor and his penchant for handling conflict by telling anecdotes. Still, Lincoln and the radicals agreed more than they disagreed. Both were committed to emancipation and the free labor ideology. This agreement on fundamentals was more important than differences of personality and temperament.[5]

Similarities between the President and the committee members are easily identified, for Abraham Lincoln and his committee cohorts shared similar stories. In a real sense, they were the embodiment Page  [End Page 4] of the Republican ideology of free labor. All had begun life with few advantages. Each had risen in society through discipline, hard work, and perseverance. Although all were obviously successful, their success had been at times tempered with bitter disappointments. These were self-made men in every sense of the word.

Most significant for understanding the Civil War careers of both Lincoln and the committee members is the virtual absence of substantial military experience. Indeed, Lincoln, with his brief service as a militia captain in the Black Hawk War, had more military experience than any of the original members of the committee. As military amateurs, Lincoln and the Committee on the Conduct of the War shared the prejudices that characterized popular attitudes toward warfare. In an age in which formalized, professional training was in its infant state, the expert was often ridiculed as an irrelevant pettifogger. Military experts were no exception. However, there was an important difference in the way that Lincoln and committee members approached military affairs. While committee members seemed to stagnate in a web of popular misconceptions about military matters, Lincoln demonstrated a remarkable ability to grow, develop, and mature. Not that the Sixteenth President ever became an expert in the West Point sense of the term; nevertheless, his eventual understanding of military concepts helped him evaluate military matters and military leadership in a way that eluded his congressional counterparts.[6]

The military professional was not a figure of high esteem in the antebellum United States. Many Americans viewed the professional military as entailing a large, standing army that was inherently hostile to republican institutions. Instead of a standing army that could be abused by political leaders, the United States would rely on a virtuous citizen militia. Citizen-soldiers would require minimal training because they would be motivated by courage and valor—as essential to martial success as training and discipline. With pride, Americans could point to the Battle of New Orleans as confirmation of the superiority of citizen-soldiers over professionals; led by Andrew Jackson, relatively raw American forces defeated some of Europe's finest professional soldiers. The Page  [End Page 5] popular song, "The Hunters of Kentucky," aptly captures that attitude:

But Jackson he was wide awake, and
was not scar'd at trifles,
For well he knew what aim we take
With our Kentucky rifles.
So he led us down to Cyprus Swamp,
The ground was low and mucky,
There stood John Bull in martial pomp,
And here was old Kentucky.[7]

As a result of this positive attitude toward the citizen-soldier, there remained a good deal of skepticism and outright hostility toward the United States Military Academy, established at West Point in 1802. Not only was the need for formalized training ridiculed, professional soldiers, trained at government expense, were seen as a privileged class. Did not West Point graduates receive preferential treatment in the United States regular army? Did not West Point cadets often procure their initial appointment to the academy through the patronage of rich and wealthy benefactors? Was this simply another vestige of privilege and artificial distinction that political leaders such as Andrew Jackson stood against? "We see officers of the army on every street in this city [Washington, D.C.]", charged representative Joshua R. Giddings, "living at their ease, and at the expense of those who toil for their daily bread. These things are inconsistent with Republican institutions." With the rise of the Republican party in the 1850s, West Point and the professional military often became identified with the South. As the South was viewed as aristocratic and hierarchical, so was the professional military full of artificial and irrelevant class distinction. [8]

During the Civil War, West Point and the professional military were persistently attacked by the leading Republicans on the Committee on the Conduct of the War. Linking West Point with the aristocratic and Democratic South, Ben Wade, Zachariah Chandler, and Page  [End Page 6] George Julian, in particular, were vehement in their denunciation of the nation's military academy and regular army officers. Because many West Pointers had resigned their commissions and taken up the Confederate cause, the entire institution was discredited in the eyes of the committee members—despite many officers who had remained loyal. According to Wade, West Point was a school of disloyalty. "I do not believe there can be found an institution on the face of the earth ... that has turned out so many false, ungrateful men as have emanated from this institution." Chandler told one correspondent that the officer corps was filled with old fogies, half of which were "down right traitors & 1/2 of the other sympathize with the South."[9]

The association of West Point, the South, and the Democratic party created a model for many committee investigations. Military defeats were often blamed upon Democratic generals whose loyalty was suspect. Indeed, the committee's leading Republicans adopted almost a conspiratorial approach toward explaining military reverses. After the war, one correspondent of General Benjamin Butler recalled attending informal committee meetings at the apartment of John Covode. "The fidelity of officers in the army," he recalled, "was a constant topic of discussion." In investigating Ball's Bluff, a disaster easily explained by the inexperience and incompetence of Union officers, particularly Edward D. Baker, the committee fixed on Charles Pomeroy Stone as a scapegoat. Focusing on circumstantial evidence that implicated Stone for improper correspondence with rebel officers, the committee's investigation of Ball's Bluff led to the arrest and arbitrary imprisonment of Stone for 189 days. [10]

When George McClellan appeared unwilling to rush into battle in early 1862, committee members were among his most vociferous critics, urging his removal from command and questioning his fidelity to the cause. At a January 6, 1862, cabinet meeting, Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase reported that, "the members of the Committee, especially Messrs. Chandler, Wade, Johnson, Odell, and Covode, were very earnest in urging vigorous prosecution of the Page  [End Page 7] war, and in recommending the appointment of Genl. McDowell ... to command the Army of the Potomac." Just two months later, McClellan's inactivity convinced committee members that he was disloyal. When the Army of the Potomac advanced on Manassas after Confederate forces had withdrawn and learned that the supposed strong fortifications consisted of Quaker guns, George Julian commented, "They (committee members) were certain, at all events, that his heart [McClellan's] was not in his work." [11]

When committee members were unhappy with George Meade's pursuit of Lee after Gettysburg, they launched an investigation intended not only to prove Meade's unfitness for command, but trace it to peace sentiments associated with the copperheads. Indeed, according to committee members, the principal officers of the Army of the Potomac consisted of men whose hearts were not in the cause. Interviewing disgruntled officers known to be hostile toward Meade, committee members asked leading questions designed to elicit the appropriate responses. Thus, Ben Wade asked General Albion Howe, a divisional commander in the 6th Corps, how Meade could have allowed Lee's army to escape across the Potomac after Gettysburg. "I do not know as I can express myself better than saying that there is copperheadism at the root of the matter," Howe replied. "Do you mean that many of the high officers sympathize with those politicians of the North who are called 'peace men?'" Wade asked in a leading fashion. That class of officers was well-represented in the army, Howe responded. [12]

Lincoln, by contrast, never exhibited the same degree of suspicion toward professional soldiers. Unlike his committee counterparts, he seldom questioned the loyalty of his army officers. After the Union defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run, for instance, there was a barrage of wild rumors about the disloyalty of the highest officers in the Army of the Potomac. Members of the committee were almost hysterical in their suspicions. "Are mutinous traitorous Generals now controlling our destiny?" Chandler asked Salmon P. Chase. Lincoln calmly investigated the rumors for himself. Reluctantly, Page  [End Page 8] he dismissed Major John J. Key from the army for suggesting that Union forces did not really want to defeat the rebels after Antietam. He then personally visited the Army of the Potomac to further investigate. Although many officers were Democrats who were not enthusiastic about a Republican administration or the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln realized that this should not be confused with disloyalty. While he did not dismiss rumors of treason, neither did Lincoln overreact to these charges. When he finally dismissed McClellan from command, it was because he had the "slows," not for suspected disloyalty to the Union cause. [13]

Like his committee counterparts, Lincoln did not take defeat or missed opportunity lightly. He, too, was convinced that George Meade had missed the opportunity of the war in allowing Lee's escape after Gettysburg. His anger and grief were obvious to many who saw him in the aftermath of that battle. At a July [14], 1863, cabinet meeting, he complained bitterly to Gideon Welles, "'there is bad faith somewhere. Meade has been pressed and urged, but only one of his generals was for an immediate attack.... What does it mean, Mr. Welles? Great God! What does it mean." To son Robert Todd Lincoln, he remarked, "If I had gone up there, I could have whipped them myself." While the committee believed that Meade's failing was the result of questionable patriotism, Lincoln held back from such sensational judgments, believing that lack of military skill was the real problem. "What can I do ... with such generals as we have?" Lincoln asked Welles. "Who among them is any better than Meade?"14

Lincoln and committee members developed different ideas about combat and battle. With its distrust of West Point professionalism and dismissive attitude toward military training, the committee largely echoed popular attitudes toward fighting. According to popular opinion, courage and force of will was enough to produce battlefield victories. The committee consistently endorsed frontal Page  [End Page 9] assaults as opposed to maneuver or taking the tactical defensive, believing that superior numbers along with high morale would automatically bring victory. Indeed, the nineteenth-century cult of manliness viewed reliance on "strategy" as cowardly and unmanly.[15]

Throughout the war, individual committee members spoke in terms of this popular conception of war with little sense of a master strategy. According to Ben Wade, the nation's military academy acted as an impediment to the flowering of natural military genius. "If there were no such governmental institution [West Point]," Wade told the Senate, "men who have an inclination and genius for the art of war would undoubtedly turn their attention to it." Like the general public, committee members expected a short, decisive campaign in which the Confederate army in Virginia would be defeated and the rebellion ended. In January 1862, when George McClellan testified before the committee, Wade and Chandler ridiculed his detailed account of preparations that had to take place before the army could advance. After McClellan departed, Wade asked, "Chandler, what do you think of the science of generalship?" "I don't know much about war," Chandler retorted, "but it seems to me that this is infernal, unmitigated cowardice." A few weeks later, the committee again tried to pressure McClellan to move forward. Wade told McClellan that his army of 150,000 "could whip the whole Confederacy if they were given a chance; if I were their commander," Wade continued, "I would lead them across the Potomac, and they should not come back until they had won a victory and the war was ended, or they came in their coffins." [16]

Committee members seemed oblivious to changes in weaponry that made the type of offensive warfare they endorsed increasingly problematic. The widespread use of rifled muskets began to change tactics and, in particular, the effectiveness of frontal assaults. In many cases, defenders could break up an attacking line before they got close enough to use the bayonet. Aided by sophisticated entrenchments and artillery that utilized grape and canister, Page  [End Page 10] tactical defense gained a huge superiority over offense. Not only were frontal assaults unlikely to succeed, in some cases, they were simply foolhardy. "One rifle in a trench is worth five in front of it," commented General Jacob Cox. Committee members also deprecated the necessity of rigorous military training. As late as 1864, Ben Wade, for instance, believed that citizen-soldiers, with minimal training, could perform as good as regulars. Such a view completely ignored the size of the armies that operated during the war and the challenging terrain on which they often operated. Indeed, the difficulty that terrain presented to Union armies was immense. Contrary to the opinions of committee members, challenging terrain made offensive operations problematic in some situations. Finally, committee members continued to believe, as did many civilians, that one climactic battle would end the rebellion. Many professionals in the Northern army realized that a long-term strategy was needed. Reliance on different types of military maneuver was required. Victory would only come gradually, through depletion of the enemy's men, resources, and will to fight. Because of their amateurish notions of warfare, the committee's comments were often misguided and foolhardy. [17]

But Lincoln, too, was an amateur. Early on, he did make mistakes. For instance, he let public opinion and overanxious congressmen pressure General McDowell to fight at Bull Run. As historian Mark E. Neely, Jr., points out, some of Lincoln's early actions were unrealistic; for instance, General Order #1 was issued without regard for the condition of roads in states such as Virginia and Tennessee. He, too, like committee members was influenced by contemporary notions of manhood and the need to vigorously strike the enemy. Unlike his counterparts on the committee, however, Lincoln did not view the war with blinders on. While he did not Page  [End Page 11] always trust military professionals, neither did Lincoln arbitrarily dismiss their advice. Instead, as he had taught himself grammar, surveying, and law years earlier in Illinois, Lincoln began to study military tactics through reading and observation. As Lincoln biographer Richard Current remarks, "Lincoln again and again confessed his ignorance and showed his willingness to learn." According to some historians, the Sixteenth President made significant progress in his military education. For instance, he understood the notion of concentration in time and space, that is, putting pressure on Confederate forces on many fronts so that they could not shift troops to take advantage of interior lines. As early as January 1862 he lectured Don Carlos Buell, telling him that the only way to take advantage of superior numbers was to threaten Confederate armies "at different points, at the same time." He expressed that strategy to Ulysses Grant in the colloquial expression, "As we say out West, if a man can't skin he must hold a leg while somebody else does." Unlike committee members, Lincoln learned that direct frontal assault might be courageous, but it could also be foolish—as in the case of Fredericksburg. He continued to advocate action; yet, he also began to understand the futility of assaulting entrenched positions and the need for reliance on maneuver on some occasions. Unlike the committee, Lincoln's mastery of military matters grew during the war. And, according to military historian Archer Jones, his understanding of military affairs led him to sympathize much more with the professional soldier's viewpoint than that of the civilian.[18]

As committee members favored an all-out, no-holds-barred version of warfare against the South, they often spurned a bipartisan approach to the waging of war. Committee positions on conciliation and emancipation are instructive. Early on in the conflict, many generals and numerous politicians in the North—Republican and Democrat—favored a policy of conciliation. An outgrowth of the strategy pursued by William Henry Seward during the secession crisis and the initial month of the Lincoln administration, Page  [End Page 12] conciliation advocates asserted that secession was the work of a small group of powerful slaveholders. Average Southerners were not secessionist but simply caught up in the emotion of the moment. If a policy of conciliation was pursued, wayward Southerners would realize the error of their ways and voluntarily come back into the Union. After the firing on Sumter, Northern generals such as George B. McClellan and Don Carlos Buell favored a policy of conciliation toward Southern civilians; scrupulous regard for the rights of Southerners, with particular care not to interfere with the institution of slavery. In such fashion, the rebellion would collapse internally. Lincoln, with some exceptions, was willing to tolerate such a policy early in the war, if only because he knew it was the only way to keep all the elements of the Union war coalition in place. [19]

Committee members were among the foremost critics of the conciliation and favored attacking the institution of slavery early on. When they investigated John C. Frémont's tenure as commander of the Department of the West in early 1862, they took great pains to prove that Frémont's controversial emancipation proclamation of August 30, 1861, was a correct reading of the slavery issue. An 1863 committee report stated, "whatever opinion may be entertained at the time when the policy of emancipation should have been inaugurated or by whose authority it should be promulgated, there can be no doubt that General Frémont at that early day rightly judged in regard to the most effective means of subduing this rebellion." [20]

Committee members seemed unconcerned that endorsing such measures would alienate Democrats and border state Unionists and potentially weaken the Union war effort. Wade, Chandler, and Julian, for instance, spurned the notion of setting aside partisan labels and adopting the Union party as their mantra. Such a strategy to them seemed a dilution of Republican principles and a Page  [End Page 13] surrender to the Democrats. George Julian, for instance, regarded the Union party as an attempt by former Whigs to downplay the antislavery principles of the Republican party. He also denounced a policy of reaching out to Democrats. He told the House that his advice to Lincoln was that "his policy of conciliating the Democrats has been as ruinous to our cause as the kindred policy of conciliating rebels." For Julian and his committee colleagues, anything that suggested a compromise of Republican principles was illegitimate. [21]

Even more important was how committee members linked political orthodoxy to success on the battlefield. Since they put little stock in professional training for officers, one might well wonder what qualifications they used to judge performance. Invariably the verdict came down to a simple format: fidelity to Republican principles and the rhetoric of hard war generally drew approval, while support for conciliation and caution on emancipation drew criticism. As a result, the committee often believed that rank amateurs were as qualified as experienced officers. Military performance, in any event, often seemed a secondary consideration. John Pope, Ambrose Burnside, John C. Frémont, Joseph Hooker, and Benjamin Butler, for instance, had gained committee support for endorsing emancipation, confiscation of enemy property, speaking the rhetoric of hard war, and, particularly in Butler's case, advocating the use of African-American troops. Each commander, however, was a failure. Instead of recognizing their limitations as officers, committee members explained away their shortcomings by accusing proslavery elements among the West Point dominated officer corps of sabotaging these generals.[22]

In a speech that George Julian gave before the House in February 1863, the committee's version of waging war was clearly articulated. Julian had a simplistic method of determining the cause of Northern military defeats. As Democrats in the South had begun the rebellion, so it was Democrats in the North who controlled the army that hampered the effort to suppress the rebellion. "The disasters of the war," stated Julian, "and the perils which now threaten the country, find their best explanation in the failure of the Government to stand by its friends, and its readiness to strengthen the Page  [End Page 14] hand of its foes." In a remarkable explanation of military events, Julian then blamed every Union setback on the Democratic party and its policy of conciliation and support for slavery: "Democratic policy, through General Patterson as its representative, detained a large army in the valley of Winchester which should have marched against General Johnston and his inferior force, thus securing the defeat and route of our army, instead of decisive victory.... Democratic policy, personified by General McClellan and General Stone, sent Colonel Baker and his gallant men across the Potomac against a superior force, with one scow and two small boats as the only means of transportation." There was no need to build bridges to the opposition if the opposition was disloyal. In the committee's eyes such was the case, and to allow Democratic generals to direct the war was counterproductive as well as damaging to the morale of enlisted men. [23]

Unlike his Republican colleagues on the committee, the President believed that the only way to successfully wage war was to broaden his support beyond the Republican party. This meant cultivating the support of northern Democrats as well as border state Unionists. In order to maintain a spirit of cooperation and bipartisanship, Abraham Lincoln moved cautiously on issues that he knew were potentially explosive to the fragile Northern war coalition.[24]

The President's handling of the issue of emancipation provides a good illustration of his differences with the committee. Lincoln walked a tightrope, knowing that moving too quickly on emancipation might alienate his soldiers as well as important elements of his Northern war coalition. Early in the war, Lincoln offended many, including a number of future committee members, when he countermanded Frémont's emancipation proclamation. He very succinctly explained his reasons for acting to his friend Orville Hickman Browning, claiming it would alienate border states such as Kentucky. "I was so assured," he wrote Browning, "as to think it probable, that the very arms we had furnished Kentucky would be turned against us. I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to the lose the whole game." Lincoln's early thinking was based on conciliating the border states. When he finally felt bold enough Page  [End Page 15] to act against slavery after the battle of Antietam in September 1862, his actions still had ominous consequences. Republicans suffered several electoral reverses in a number of states. Probably most embarrassing to Lincoln was the Democratic resurgence in his own state, where emancipation spurred vigorous Democratic charges that the Republicans would turn the state of Illinois into a free black colony. With the defeat at Fredericksburg in December 1862, morale in the Army of the Potomac reached an all-time low. While many soldiers would eventually support Lincoln's position, even his cautious approach to the issue was not without pitfalls. Had a more forthright and vigorous policy on emancipation been pursued earlier in the war, as committee Republicans desired, the results could have been disastrous. [25]

What explains the sharp differences that characterized Lincoln's handling of matters such as confiscation, emancipation, and other controversial war time issues from that of his committee colleagues? If not fundamentally about ideology, what then were these disagreements about? Many Republicans had come to prominence in the 1850s utilizing harsh, anti-Southern rhetoric that emphasized the "Slave Power" conspiracy. In so doing, Douglas Democrats in the North were typecast as pawns, both willing and unwilling, of the Slave Power. Lincoln himself became skilled at this vituperative rhetoric, particularly in the 1858 senatorial campaign when he linked all the leading Democrats, North and South, in a gigantic conspiracy to expand slavery into the western territories of the United States. Once the war began, committee Republicans continued to play politics as usual. Anti-Southern rhetoric got many of these men elected in the first place, and there seemed little reason to moderate their discourse during the war. Concessions to Northern Democrats, whether in the form of military patronage or legislative Page  [End Page 16] compromise, was viewed as a sign of weakness and as diluting the principles of the Republican party. When it was argued that radical measures would alienate Democrats and border state Unionists, Republicans on the committee (as well as many Republicans in Congress) replied that moderation was the problem. The Republican loyalists wanted harsh measures and caution was, in fact, the real problem. [26]

As historian Michael Holt has pointed out, many congressional Republicans came from "safe" districts. George Julian, for instance, came from one of the most radical districts in Indiana. Daniel Gooch came from solidly Republican Massachusetts, and Zach Chandler came from Michigan, solidly Republican since 1854. Reinforced by numerous letters from supporters that seemed to endorse their political strategy, these politicians had local or, at best, statewide constituencies to worry about. For many committee Republicans, advocating radical, harsh measures was not political suicide. For Lincoln the situation was different. His constituency was not local or statewide, but national, consisting of the border states and Democratic areas as well as Republican strongholds. If he wanted to maintain a sense of war-time unity as well as gain reelection, the way he handled controversial issues was important. For instance, when George Julian visited the White House in early 1863 to lobby for the reappointment of Frémont to a military command, Lincoln rebuffed him. "It would stir the country on one side, and stir it the other way on the other," Lincoln told him. "It would please Fremont's friends, and displease the conservatives." As Lincoln told German-American leader Carl Schurz, it was simply impossible to carry on the war without giving some power and positions to the Democrats.[27]

Insofar as a unified society can probably wage war more effectively than one fraught with internal divisions, Lincoln's viewpoint seemed more sensible. Occasional outbursts of violence such as in New York City, Boston, and even in small rural communities such as Charleston, Illinois, demonstrate that even Lincoln's management Page  [End Page 17] of the war was not always successful. Yet, had the policies endorsed by the Committee on the Conduct of the War been implemented, one can only imagine a further erosion of bipartisanship, resulting in more divisions and more obstacles to a successful conclusion of the war.[28]

Both Lincoln and the Committee on the Conduct of the War faced the preeminent crisis in American history as untried amateurs. Lincoln, however, realized that the crisis called for open-mindedness, a willingness to learn and to experiment, and finally the need to broaden his political base—both for his own reelection as well as the good of the nation. The committee showed little inclination to learn or to expand its political base for the sake of the cause. They were ideologically moral men who advocated just and ethical causes, but they were also narrow-minded partisans, blinded by their own sense of importance and self-righteousness. They spent countless hours on investigations and committee hearings. They published thousands of pages of testimony and reports. In some situations, they made legitimate contributions to the war effort. In other situations, their influence was more negative, damaging the morale of the army and exacerbating factionalism among army officers. Most of the time, they consumed time and resources with little practical influence on the Northern war effort. Fortunately, for the nation, Lincoln's influence on political and military affairs had greater and more lasting impact than did the Committee on the Conduct of the War. Page  [End Page 18]


  1. Gerald F. Linderman, Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War (New York: Free Press, 1987), 8–19; The Diary of George Templeton Strong: The Civil War Years, 1860–1865, ed. Allan Nevins and Milton Halsey Thomas, 4 vols. (New York: MacMillan, 1952), 3: 144; Chandler to wife, July 16, 1861, Zachariah Chandler Papers, Library of Congress (microfilm). return to text
  2. Chandler to James F. Joy, Oct. 27, 1861, James F. Joy Papers, Burton Historical Collections, Detroit Public Library. Material on the attitudes that led to the creation of the Committee on the Conduct of the War are drawn from Bruce Tap, Over Lincoln's Shoulder: The Committee on the Conduct of the War (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998), 21–24. return to text
  3. Biographical information used in this section is from Hans Trefousse, Benjamin Franklin Wade: Radical Republican from Ohio (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1963); Sister Mary Karl George, Zachariah Chandler: A Political Biography (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1969); Albert Castel, The Presidency of Andrew Johnson (Lawrence: Regents Press of Kansas, 1979); Hans L. Trefousse, Andrew Johnson: A Biography (New York: W. W. Norton, 1989). When Johnson was appointed military governor of Tennessee, Joseph A. Wright replaced him on the committee. In the 38th Congress, Benjamin Harding of Oregon and then Charles Buckalew represented Senate Democrats. Neither was as active as Johnson in the committee's business. See Tap, Over Lincoln's Shoulder, 122–24, 176. return to text
  4. Biographical information used in this section is from A. John Dodds, "Honest John Covode," Western Pennsylvania Magazine of History 16 (1933): 175–82; Patrick W. Riddleberger, George W. Julian, Radical Republican: A Study in Nineteenth Century Politics and Reform (Indiana Historical Bureau, 1966); Tap, Over Lincoln's Shoulder, 27–30, 176. In the 38th Congress, John Covode, who unsuccessfully ran for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Pennsylvania, was replaced by Missouri's Benjamin F. Loan. Although Loan had military experience as a member of the Missouri state militia, it consisted primarily of chasing Missouri bushwackers. He commanded few troops and took part in no major engagements. return to text
  5. For Lincoln's position on the Mexican war, see David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), 122–26. For his own comments on this issue, see Abraham Lincoln to William Herndon, Feb. 1, 1848, in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 9 vols. (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1953–1955), 1:446 (hereafter cited as Collected Works). The best statement of the earlier view is T. Harry Williams, Lincoln and the Radicals (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1941). Williams's view is best contested in Hans L. Trefousse, The Radical Republicans: Lincoln's Vanguard for Racial Justice (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1969) or "The Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War: A Reappraisal," Civil War History 10 (1964): 5–19. The best historiographical overview of the committee is Brian Holden Reid, "Historians and the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War," Civil War History 38 (1992): 319–41. For the best account of the Free Soil ideology see Eric Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970). On some of Lincoln's confrontations with the Committee, see Stephen Oates, With Malice Toward None: The Life of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), 307; An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln: John G. Nicolay's Interviews and Essays, ed. Michael Burlingame (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1996), 57–58, 83–84; Michael Burlingame, The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 195. return to text
  6. For a good account of Lincoln's Black Hawk War experience, see William C. Davis, Lincoln's Men: How President Lincoln Became Father to an Army and a Nation (New York: Free Press, 1999), 8–18. On the concept of professionalism and its development in the nineteenth-century United States, see Burton J. Bledstein, The Culture of Professionalism: The Middle Class and the Development of Higher Education in America (New York: W. W. Norton, 1976). return to text
  7. Robert E. Shalhope, "The Ideological Origins of the Second Amendment," Journal of American History 69 (1982): 603–4; Marcus Cunliffe, Soldiers and Civilians: The Martial Spirit in American, 1775–1865 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1968), 179–80; "Hunters of Kentucky" quoted from John William Ward, Andrew Jackson: Symbol for an Age (New York: Oxford University Press, 1955), 218. return to text
  8. Samuel P. Huntington, The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1957), 203–4, 214; Giddings quoted from Cunliffe, Soldiers and Civilians, 105. return to text
  9. Congressional Globe, 37th Congress, 2d session, 162–65; Chandler to William Lord, Nov. 16, 1861, Robert Zug Papers, Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library. return to text
  10. Stephen M. Allen to Butler, May 26, 1890, Private and Official Correspondence of Gen. Benjamin F. Butler During the Period of the Civil War, 5 vols. (Norwood, Mass.: Plimpton, 1917), 2: 595. On the investigation of Ball's Bluff, see Tap, Over Lincoln's Shoulder, 55–80. return to text
  11. David Donald, ed., Inside Lincoln's Cabinet: The Civil War Diaries of Salmon P. Chase (New York: Longman, Green, 1954), 56–57; George W. Julian, Political Recollections, 1840–1872 (Chicago: Jansen, McClurg, 1884), 204–5. return to text
  12. Report of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of War (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1865), 1: 312–29 (Hereafter cited as CCW). For a complete account of the investigation of Meade, see Tap, Over Lincoln's Shoulder, 167–92 and Tap, "'Bad Faith Somewhere': George Gordon Meade and the Committee on the Conduct of the War," North & South 2 (August, 1999): 74–81. return to text
  13. Chandler to Chase, Sept. 13, 1862, Salmon Chase Papers, Claremont Graduate School (microfilm); Burlingame, An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln, 16; Davis, Lincoln's Men, 79–80; Donald, Lincoln, 386–89; Tap, Over Lincoln's Shoulder, 150–54. For Lincoln's attitude toward Key, see "Record of Dismissal of John J. Key," Collected Works, 5: 442–43. return to text
  14. Benjamin Thomas, Abraham Lincoln: A Biography (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1952), 388–89; The Diary of Gideon Welles, ed. John T. Morse, 3 vols. (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1911), 1: 370, 440; Lincoln's comment to Robert Todd Lincoln quoted in Burlingame, Inner World of Abraham Lincoln, 188. return to text
  15. Popular attitudes toward war are discussed in Archer Jones, Civil War Command and Strategy: The Process of Victory and Defeat (New York: Free Press, 1992), 5, passim; Albert Castel, "Mars and the Reverend Longstreet: Or Attacking and Dying in the Civil War," Civil War History 33 (1987): 103–14; Linderman, Embattled Courage, 8–12; Philip Paludan, 'A People's Contest': The Union and the Civil War, 1861–1865 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 51–54. return to text
  16. Congressional Globe, 37th Congress, 3d session, 324; Zachariah Chandler: An Outline of his Life and Public Service (Detroit: Post & Tribune, Publishers, 1880), 225–27. return to text
  17. See the following works on changes in weaponry and tactics: Edward Hagerman, "The Professionalization of George B. McClellan and Early Field Command," Civil War History 21 (1975): 113–35; John Mahon, "Civil War Infantry Assault Tactics," Military Affairs 25 (1961): 57–68; Earl J. Hess, The Union Soldiers in Battle: Enduring the Ordeal of Combat (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1997), 48–60; Linderman, Embattled Courage, 138–39; Jones, Civil War Command, 131–32, passim. Cox quote is from Grady McWhiney and Perry D. Jamieson, "No Myth! The Rifle Revolution," North & South 1 (1998): 25; Congressional Globe, 38th Congress, 1st session, 3196–97. On the challenges presented by terrain, see the comments of Mark E. Neely, Jr., "Wilderness and the Cult of Manliness: Hooker, Lincoln, and Defeat," in Lincoln's Generals, ed. Gabor S. Boritt (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 61–64. return to text
  18. Mark E. Neely, Jr., The Last Best Hope of Earth: Abraham Lincoln and the Promise of America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993), 65–66, 85–86; T. Harry Williams, Lincoln and His Generals (Alfred A. Knopf, 1952), 7–8; Douglas L. Wilson, Honor's Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998), 53–85; Richard Current, The Lincoln Nobody Knows (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1958), 134; Lincoln to Don C. Buell, Jan. 13, 1862, Collected Works, 5: 98; Donald, Lincoln, 499; Neely, "Wilderness and the Cult of Manliness," 65–66; Jones, Civil War Command, 224–25. return to text
  19. On Seward's strategy, see David Potter, Lincoln and his Party in the Secession Crisis (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1942), 240–45. The best comprehensive view on conciliation is Mark Grimsley's The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy Toward Southern Civilians 1861–1865 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995). A shorter version of this work is Mark Grimsley, "Conciliation and Its Failure, 1861–1862," Civil War History 39 (1993): 317–35. For the views of McClellan, for instance, see Stephen Sears, George B. McClellan: The Young Napoleon (New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1988), 117–18, 227–28, 324–25, passim. return to text
  20. CCW, 3: 6. For the committee's war on conciliation, see Tap, Over Lincoln's Shoulder, 38–40, 101–2. return to text
  21. Julian, Political Recollections, 223–24; George W. Julian, Speeches on Political Questions, ed. Lydia Maria Child (1872; rpt., Westport, Conn.: Negro University Press, 1970), 205. return to text
  22. Tap, Over Lincoln's Shoulder, 150–51, 180–87. return to text
  23. Congressional Globe, 37th Congress, 1064–69. return to text
  24. A good example of the Committee's perspective is seen in Zachariah Chandler's advice to Lincoln after the 1863 election. See Chandler to Lincoln, Nov. 15, 1863, Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress (microfilm). return to text
  25. Lincoln to Orville Browning, Sept. 22, 1861, in The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, ed. Richard N. Current (New York: MacMillan, 1967), 193; Bruce Tap, "Race, Rhetoric, and Emancipation: The Election of 1862 in Illinois," Civil War History 39 (1993): 101–25. For the attitude of Northern soldiers towards emancipation, see the following, Bell Irvin Wiley, The Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier of the Union (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1952), 40–42; Linderman, Embattled Courage, 82; Reid Mitchell, Civil War Soldiers: Their Expectations and their Experiences (New York: Viking Penguin, 1988), 14–15, 41–42, 102–5, 126–31; James McPherson, For Causes & Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 19–23, 117–30; William L. Burton, Melting Pot Soldiers: The Union and Ethnic Regiments, 2d edition (New York: Fordham University Press, 1998), 127, 152, 186. return to text
  26. This argument borrows heavily from Michael Holt, Political Parties and American Political Development from the Age of Jackson to the Age of Lincoln (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992), 329–32. Also see Michael F. Holt, The Political Crisis of the 1850s (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1978), 183–218. On Lincoln's strategies in the 1850s, see Robert W. Johannsen, Lincoln, the South, and Slavery: The Political Dimension (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1991). return to text
  27. Holt, Political Parties, 326–28; Julian, Political Recollections, 230; Lincoln to Carl Schurz, Nov. 10, 1862, Collected Works, 5: 493–95. return to text
  28. On the New York Draft Riots, see Iver Bernstein, New York City Draft Riots: Their Significance for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990). On the Boston draft riot, see William F. Hannah, "The Boston Draft Riot," Civil War History 36 (1990): 262–73. On the Charleston riot, see Robert D. Sampson, "'Pretty damned warm time': The 1864 Charleston Riot and the 'inalienable right of revolution,'" Illinois Historical Journal 89 (1996): 99–116. return to text