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THE TURNING OF THE TIDE
AFTER Chancellorsville one of Lincoln's private secretaries, working at the office over his mail until 3 A.M., heard the President's footfall as he Jeft. Returning at eight o'clock he saw his chief still in the room eating a solitary breakfast, before him the written instructions to Hooker to push forward and fight again.
A few weeks later the President had a dream. A ship passed before his sleeping vision, sailing away rapidly, badly damaged, with victorious Union vessels in close pursuit. Also there appeared the close of a battle on land, the enemy routed, our forces in possession of a position immensely important. The same dream had come to him before Antietam. Coming before Gettysburg it heralded fortune of far greater scope.
For three days the Confederates attacked the Federal army, charging and recharging up the hills with fearful slaughter, and when they were driven back for the last time, July 3, the total in killed and wounded Union soldiers was 23,186, with a total almost as great for the Southern army, which could ill afford the equal loss. Lee slowly retired across the Potomac, and Meade, reënforced, with fresher troops, refused to attack. Lincoln was as sharp as his patient nature would allow. Meade's phrase, “driving the invaders from our soil,” particularly displeased him, partly, perhaps, because the whole country was our soil, but more because it showed that he had not yet found a general who could conceive the idea of following up advantage and destroying his adversary. On account of the President's comments Meade asked to be relieved. Lincoln wrote, in a letter which he never sent, this view of the struggle:
"I am very, very grateful to you for the magnificent success you gave the cause of the country at Gettysburg; and I am sorry now to be the author of the slightest pain to you. But I was in such deep distress myself that I could not restrain some expression of it. I have been oppressed nearly ever since the battles at Gettysburg by what appeared to be evidences that yourself and General Couch and General Smith were not seeking a collision with the enemy, but were trying to get him across the river without another battle. What these evidences were, if you please, I hope to tell you at some time when we shall both feel better. The case, summarily stated, is this: You fought and beat the enemy at Gettysburg, and, of course, to say the least, his loss was as great as yours.
He retreated, and you did not, as it seemed to me, pressingly pursue him; but a flood in the river detained him till, by slow degrees, you
were again upon him. You had at least twenty thousand veteran troops directly with you, and as many more raw ones within supporting distance, all in addition to those who fought with you at Gettysburg, while it was not possible that he had received a single recruit, and yet you stood and let the flood run down, bridges be built, and the enemy move away at his leisure without attacking him. And Couch and Smith! The latter left Carlisle in time, upon all ordinary calculation, to have aided you in the last battle at Gettysburg, but he did not arrive. At the end of more than ten days, I believe twelve, under constant urging, he reached Hagerstown from Carlisle, which is not an inch over fifty-five miles, if so much, and Couch's movement was very little different.
Again, my dear general, I do not believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee's escape. He was within your easy grasp, and to close upon him would, in connection with our other late successes, have ended the war. As it is, the war will be prolonged indefinitely. If you could not safely attack Lee last Monday, how can you possibly do so south of the river, when you can take with you very few more than two-thirds of the force you then had in hand ? It would be unreasonable to expect, and I do not expect you can now effect much. Your golden opportunity is gone, and I am distressed immeasurably because of it.
“I beg you will not consider this a prosecution or persecution of yourself. As you had learned that I was dissatisfied, I have thought it best to kindly tell you why.”
Things dragged along. Meade thought of attacking Lee later, at a disadvantage, merely to satisfy the administration, an idea which Lincoln rejected. By October, however, we find the President writing to General Halleck:
“Doubtless, in making the present movement, Lee gathered in all available scraps, and added them to Hill's and Ewell's corps; but that is all, and he made the movement in the belief that four corps had left General Meade; and General Meade's apparently avoiding a collision with him has confirmed him in that belief. If General Meade can now attack him on a field no worse than equal for us, and will do so with all the skill and courage which he, his officers, and men possess, the honor will be his if he succeeds, and the blame may be mine if he fails."
The same Fourth of July which told the nation of the saving victory of Gettysburg saw another almost equally important and far more brilliant victory in the West, the part of the country where most of the best Federal generals had been working with little knowledge from Washington. The capture of Vicksburg brought for the first time very prominently before the President's notice the general who of all the Union soldiers best combined ability with the offensive spirit necessary for an actual conquest by beating his way into the heart of the enemy's country. Lincoln had commented in a few appreciative words on a kindly and tactful proclamation made by General Grant early in the war, but had paid no special attention to him, as, indeed, nobody had. “Keep still and saw wood” was a maxim which Lincoln appreciated. Grant acted on it. While the other generals quarrelled for promotion he only asked to fight. There were ten pegs where there was one hole to put them in, as Lincoln said. The urgency of Fremont's friends that he should have a command reminded the President of the youth who was advised to take a wife. “ Willingly. But whose wife shall I take?” To General Rosecrans, who, troubled by the dawning appreciation that Grant was the fighter, began to pull wires, the President said the country would “never care a fig whether you rank General Grant on paper, or he so ranks you.”
In 1862, when the other generals were voluminously telling what they needed, Grant telegraphed to Halleck, “ If permitted, I could take and hold Fort Henry on the Tennessee.” Five days after he received permission the fort was his. Grant then moved upon Fort Donelson. He had virtuously informed Halleck of his intention, but the superior officer's instructions to confine himself to fortifying Fort Henry came after Grant already had his grip on Donelson. The commander asked for terms, and Grant said none would be considered except "unconditional sur
“ render." Grant in his memoirs explains his haste: “I was very impatient to get at Fort