Saturday, February 20, 2010

Abraham Lincoln and Olustee (Part 2 of 2)

Continuing our look at President Abraham Lincoln's involvement in the Olustee Campaign, after stating that the invasion of Florida was the idea of General Gillmore, Lincoln's secretary John Hay went on to give a version of events that was very different from reality.

According to Hay, not only did Gillmore propose moving into the interior, but also came up with the idea of restoring a part of Florida to the Union:

...He afterwards added another detail to his plan: to assist in bringing Florida back into the Union, in accordance with the President's Proclamation of December 8, 1863. This came in time to be regarded by the opponents of the Administration as the sole purpose of the expedition, and Mr. Lincoln has received a great deal of unjust censure for having made a useless sacrifice of life for a political end.

Hay, however, gives in his biography of Lincoln a version of events that significantly departs from reality. In fact, there is no evidence that Gillmore was planning to invade or occupy any part of Florida when he received Lincoln's letter suggesting such a move via the hand of John Hay. Upon receiving the "suggestion" of the President and the unknown verbal communication relayed by Major Hay, the general immediately made plans for a move on Florida. The decision came so fast, in fact, that his superiors had no knowledge of what was going on.

Although Hay does not say so, he was actually present when Gillmore wrote to General Halleck in Washington, D.C., to explain what was going on. In fact, he may have even assisted in the drafting of the report.

On January 31st, Gillmore reported to Halleck that his plan was:

...[F]irst to procure an outlet for cotton, lumber, timber, &c.; second, to cut off one of hte enemy's sources of commissary supplies; third, to obtain recruits for my colored regiments; fourth, to inaugurate measures for the speedy restoration of Florida to her allegiance, in accordance with instructions which I had received from the President by the hand of Maj. John Hay, assistant adjutant-general.

With regard to all of this political maneuvering, several facts are clear:
  1. The idea for the Florida campaign was proposed in a letter from Lincoln to Gillmore, not by the general himself.
  2. Lincoln's letter to Gillmore refers only to the restoration of the Union and requests that the attempt be made quickly.
  3. The President bypassed the U.S. Army's chain of command in proposing the campaign.
  4. President Lincoln took the highly unusual step of sending one of his secretaries to accompany the campaign, even commissioning him to the elevated rank of Major.
  5. John Hay also communicated verbal instructions to General Gillmore, the nature of which are not known. Clearly, though, this communication contained information that Lincoln did not want to commit to paper.
  6. These events took place at a time when President Lincoln was was not sure that he would be nominated by his own party for a second term.
Based on these facts, there really can be little doubt that the Olustee Campaign was more political than military in nature and that it resulted from a plan by Abraham Lincoln to restore Florida to the Union in time for him to count on the votes of her delegates to his party's convention.

The Battle of Olustee was the direct result of political maneuvering. In this case, more than 3,000 men in the two armies would be killed or wounded in a failed effort to assure President Abraham Lincoln a second term in office.

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timboabwe66 said...

I think your analysis is correct. Sending one of his personal secretaries with unwritten verbal orders does not sound like something that should have happened unless there was something that needed to be kept under wraps. And I dont think Gilmore would just go off like a loose cannon against the President's wishes after special verbal orders unless they had something to do with his launching of the campaign. Thanks Dale, researching this more on my own, very interesting....


Dale said...

It is very interesting, isn't it? On the surface, most things can be explained away. On this one, though, the deeper you dig, the more fire you find in addition to the smoke. The big smoking gun in my opinion is that the President not only sent a personal secretary with verbal orders, he even went so far as to commission him as a major in the U.S. Army. Something very strange was going on and, as you note, Gilmore (best known as a careful, plodding, but successful engineer) was not exactly the type to jump so far and so fast. For a good introduction, read Gilmore's reports to Halleck in the Official Records set.