The Arkansas in the Civil War Message Board

Lincoln's defense of Schofield (long)

Washington, D.C., October 5, 1863.

Hon. Charles D. Drake and others, Committee.

Gentlemen—Your original address, presented on the 30th ultimo, and the four supplementary ones, presented on the 3d instant, have been carefully considered. I hope you will regard the other duties claiming my attention, together with the great length and importance of the documents, as constituting a sufficient apology for my not having responded sooner.

These papers, framed for a common object, consist of the things demanded and the reasons for demanding them. The things demanded are: First, that General Schofield shall be relieved, and General Butler be appointed as commander of the Military Department of the Missouri; second, that the system of Enrolled Militia in Missouri may be broken up, and national forces be substituted for it; and, third, that at elections persons may not be allowed to vote who are not entitled by law to do so. Among the reasons given, enough of suffering and wrong to Union men is certainly and, I suppose, truly stated, yet the whole case as presented fails to convince me that General Schofield or the Enrolled Militia is responsible for that suffering and wrong. The whole can be explained on a more charitable and, as I think, a more rational hypothesis.

We are in civil war. In such cases there always is a main question; but in this case that question is a perplexing compound, Union and slavery. It thus becomes a question, not of two sides merely, but at least four sides, even among those who are for the Union, saying nothing of those who are against it. Thus, those who are for the Union with, but not without, slavery; those for it without, but not with; those for it with or without, but prefer it with; and those for it with or without, but prefer it without. Among these, again, is a subdivision of those who are for gradual, but not for immediate, and those who are for immediate, but not for gradual, extinction of slavery. It is easy to conceive that all these shades of opinion, and even more, may be sincerely entertained by honest and truthful men, yet all being for the Union, by reason of these differences each will prefer a different way of sustaining the Union. At once sincerity is questioned and motives are assailed. Actual war coming, blood grows hot and blood is spilled; thought is forced from old channels into confusion; deception breeds and thrives, confidence dies, and universal suspicion reigns. Each man feels an impulse to kill his neighbor, lest he be first killed by him; revenge and retaliation follow, and all this, as before said, may be among honest men only. But this is not all. Every foul bird comes abroad and every dirty reptile rises up. These add crime to confusion. Strong measures, deemed indispensable, but harsh at best, such men make worse by maladministration. Murders for old grudges and murders for pelf proceed under any cloak that will best cover for the occasion.

These causes amply account for what has occurred in Missouri, without ascribing it to the weakness or wickedness of any general. The newspaper files, those chronicles of current events, will show that the evils now complained of were quite as prevalent under Frémont, Hunter, Halleck, and Curtis as under Schofield. If the former had greater force opposed to them, they also had greater forces with which to meet it. When the organized rebel army left the State, the main Federal force had to go also, leaving the department commander at home relatively no stronger than before. Without disparaging any, I affirm with confidence that no commander of that department has, in proportion to his means, done better than General Schofield.

The first specific charge against General Schofield is that the Enrolled Militia was placed under his command, when it had not been placed under the command of General Curtis. This, I believe, is true; but you do not point out, nor can I conceive, how that did or could injure loyal men or the Union cause.

You charge that, upon General Curtis being superseded by General Schofield, Franklin A. Dick was superseded by James O. Broadhead as provost-marshal-general. No very specified showing is made as to how this did or could injure the Union cause. It recalls, however, the condition of things, as presented to me, which led to a change of commanders for the department.

To restrain contraband intelligence and trade, a system of searches, seizures, permits, and passes had been introduced by General Frémont. When General Halleck came, he found and continued the system, and added an order, applicable to some parts of the State, to levy and collect contributions from noted rebels to compensate losses and relieve destitution caused by the rebellion. The action of General Frémont and General Halleck, as stated, constituted a sort of system, which General Curtis found in full operation when he took command of the department. That there was a necessity for something of the sort was clear, but that it could only be justified by stern necessity, and that it was liable to great abuse in administration, was equally clear. Agents to execute it, contrary to the great prayer, were led into temptation. Some might, while others would not, resist that temptation. It was not possible to hold any to a very strict accountability, and those yielding to the temptation would sell permits and passes to those who would pay most and most readily for them, and would seize property and collect levies in the aptest way to fill their own pockets. Money being the object, the man having money, whether loyal or disloyal, would be a victim. This practice doubtless existed to some extent, and it was a real additional evil that it could be and was plausibly charged to exist in greater extent than it did.

When General Curtis took command of the department, Mr. Dick, against whom I never knew anything to be alleged, had general charge of this system. A controversy in regard to it rapidly grew into almost unmanageable proportions. One side ignored the necessity and magnified the evils of the system, while the other ignored the evils and magnified the necessity, and each bitterly assailed the motives of the other. I could not fail to see that the controversy enlarged in the same proportion as the professed Union men there distinctly took sides in the opposing political parties. I exhausted my wits, and very nearly my patience also, in efforts to convince both that the evils they charged on each other were inherent in the case, and could not be cured by giving either party a victory over the other.

Plainly the initiatory system was not to be perpetual, and it was plausibly urged that it could be modified at once with advantage. The case could hardly be worse, and whether it could be made better could only be determined by a trial. In this view, and not to ban or brand General Curtis, or to give a victory to any party, I made the change of commander for the department.

I now learn that soon after this change Mr. Dick was removed, and that Mr. Broadhead, a gentleman of no less good character, was put in the place. The mere fact of this change is more distinctly complained of than is any conduct of the new officer or other consequence of the change. I gave the new commander his instructions as to the administration of the system mentioned, beyond what is contained in the private letter, afterward surreptitiously published, in which I directed him to act solely for the public good and independently of both parties. Neither anything you have presented me nor anything I have otherwise learned has convinced me that he has been unfaithful to this charge.

Imbecility is urged as one cause of removing General Schofield, and the late massacre at Lawrence, Kans., is preferred as evidence of that imbecility. To my mind that fact scarcely tends to prove the proposition. That massacre is only an example of what Grierson, John Morgan, and many others might have repeatedly done in their respective raids, had they chosen to incur the personal hazard and possessed the fiendish hearts to do it.

The charge is made that General Schofield, on purpose to protect the Lawrence murderers, would not allow them to be pursued in Missouri. While no punishment could be too sudden or too severe for those murderers, I am well satisfied that the preventing of the threatened remedied raid into Missouri was the only safe way to avoid all indiscriminate massacre, thus including probably more innocent than guilty. Instead of condemning, I therefore approve what I understand General Schofield did in that latter respect.

The charges that General Schofield has purposely withheld protection from loyal people, and purposely facilitated the objects of the disloyal, are altogether beyond my power of belief. I do not arraign the veracity of gentlemen as to the facts complained of, but I do more than question the judgment which would infer that those facts occurred in accordance with the purposes of General Schofield.

With my present views, I must decline to remove General Schofield. In this I decide nothing against General Butler. I sincerely wish it was convenient to assign him a suitable command. In order to meet some existing evils, I have addressed a letter of instructions to General Schofield, a copy of which I inclose to you.

As to the Enrolled Militia, I shall endeavor to ascertain better than I now know what is its exact value. Let me say now, however, that your proposal to substitute national force for the Enrolled Militia implies that, in your judgment, the latter is doing something which needs to be done, and, if so, the proposition to throw that force away, and to supply the place by bringing other forces from the field, where they are equally needed, seems to be very extraordinary. Whence shall they come? Shall they be withdrawn from Banks or Grant or Steele or Rosecrans? Few things have been so grateful to my anxious feelings as when, in June last, the local force in Missouri aided General Schofield to so promptly send so large a general force to the relief of General Grant, then investing Vicksburg and menaced from without by General Johnston. Was this all wrong? Should the Enrolled Militia then have been broken up and General Herron detached from Grant to police Missouri? So far from finding cause to object, I confess to a sympathy for whatever relieves our general force in Missouri and allows it to serve elsewhere. I, therefore, as at present advised, cannot attempt the destruction of the Enrolled Militia of Missouri. I may add that the force being under the national military control, it is also within the proclamation in regard to the habeas corpus.

I concur in the propriety of your request in regard to elections, and have, as you see, directed General Schofield accordingly. I do not feel justified to enter upon the broad field you present in regard to the political defenses between radicals and conservatives. From time to time I have done and said what appeared to me proper to do and say. The public knows it all. It obliges nobody to follow me, and I trust it obliges me to follow nobody. The radicals and conservatives each agree with me in some things and disagree in others. I could wish both to agree with me in all things, for then they would agree with each other, and would be too strong for any foe from any quarter. They, however, choose to do otherwise, and I do not question their right. I, too, shall do what seems to be my duty. I hold whoever commands in Missouri or elsewhere responsible to me, and not to either radicals or conservatives. It is my duty to hear all, but at last I must within my sphere judge what to do and what to forbear.

Your obedient servant,