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President. Lincoln had told a friend that he would hold McClellan's stirrups for the sake of victory. But he could not abdicate in favor of McClellan or any one else.
It was none of Lincoln's business to be an actual Commander-in-Chief. Yet night after weary night he sat up studying the science and art of war, groping his untutored way toward those general principles and essential human facts which his native genius enabled him to reach, but never quite understanding — how could he? — their practical application to the field of strategy. His supremely good common sense saved him from going beyond his depth whenever he could help it. His Military Orders were forced upon him by the extreme pressure of impatient public opinion. He told Grant “he did not know but they were all wrong, and he did know that some of them were.”
McClellan was not the only failure in Virginia. Burnside and Hooker also failed against Lee and Jackson. All three suffered from civilian interference as well as from their own defects. At last, in the third year of the war, a victor appeared in Meade, a good, but by no means great, commander. In the fourth year Lincoln gave the chief command to Grant, whom he had carefully watched and wisely supported through all the ups and downs of the river campaigns.
Grant's account of his first conference alone with Lincoln is eloquent of Lincoln's wise war statesmanship:
He stated that he had never professed to be a military man or to know how campaigns should be conducted, and never wanted to interfere in them. ... All he wanted was some one who would take the responsibility and act, and call on him for all the assistance needed, pledging himself to use all the power of the government in rendering such assistance.
He pointed out on the map two streams which empty into the Potomac, and suggested that the army might be moved on boats and landed between the mouths of these streams. We would then have the Potomac to bring our supplies and the tributaries would protect our flanks while we moved out. I listened respectfully, but did not suggest that the same streams would protect Lee's flanks while he was shutting us up. I did not communicate my plans to the President; nor did I to the Secretary of War or to General Halleck.
Trust begot trust; and some months later Grant showed war statesmanship of the same magnificent kind. McClellan had become the Democratic candidate for President, to the well-founded alarm of all who put the Union first. In June, when Grant and Lee were at grips round Richmond, Lincoln was
invited to a public meeting got up in honor of Grant with only a flimsy disguise of the ominous fact that Grant, and not Lincoln, might be the Union choice. Lincoln sagaciously wrote back: "It is impossible for me to attend. I approve nevertheless of whatever may tend to strengthen and sustain General Grant and the noble armies now under his command. He and his brave soldiers are now in the midst of their great trial, and I trust that at your meeting you will so shape your good words that they may turn to men and guns, moving to his and their support.” The danger to the Union of taking Grant away from the front moved Lincoln deeply all through that anxious summer of '64, though he never thought Grant would leave the front with his work half done. In August an officious editor told Lincoln that he ought to take a good long rest. Lincoln, however, was determined to stand by his own post of duty and find out from Grant, through their common friend, John Eaton, what Grant's own views of such ideas were. This is Eaton's account of how Grant took it:
We had been talking very quietly. But Grant's reply came in an instant and with a violence for which I was not prepared. He brought his clenched fists down hard on the strap arms of his camp chair. “They can't do it. They can't compel me to do it.” Emphatic gesture was not a strong point with Grant. "Have you said this to the President?" "No," said Grant, “I have not thought it worth while to assure the President of my opinion. I consider it as important for the cause that he should be elected as that the army should be successful in the field.”
When Eaton brought back his report Lincoln simply said, “I told you they could not get him to run till he had closed out the rebellion."
On the twenty-third of this same gloomy August, lightened only by the taking of Mobile, Lincoln asked his Cabinet if they would endorse a memorandum without reading it. They all immediately signed. After his reëlection in November he read it out: “This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be reëlected. Then it will be my duty to so cooperate with the President-elect as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration, as he will have secured his election on such ground that he cannot possibly save it afterwards." He added that he would have asked McClellan to throw his whole influence into getting enough recruits to finish the war before the fourth of March. “And McClellan," was Seward's comment, "would have said 'Yes, yes,' and then done nothing."
Lincoln's reëlection was helped by Farragut's victory in August, Sherman's in September, and Sheridan's raid through the Shenandoah Valley in October. But it was also helped by that strange, vivifying touch which passes, no one knows how, from the man who best embodies a supremely patriotic cause to the masses of his fellow patriots, and then, at some great crisis, when they scale heights which he has long since trod, comes back in flood and carries him to power.
Lincoln stories were abroad; the true were eclipsing the false; and all the true ones gained him increasing credit. Naval reformers, and many others too, enjoyed the homely wit with which he closed the first conference about such a startlingly novel craft as the plans for the Monitor promised: “Well, Gentlemen, all I have to say is what the girl said when she put her foot into the stocking: 'It strikes me there's something in it."" The army enjoyed the joke against the three-month captain whom Sherman threatened to shoot if he went home without leave. The same day Lincoln, visiting the camp, was harangued by this prospective deserter in presence
of many another man disheartened by Bull Run. “Mr. President: this morning I spoke to Colonel Sherman and he threatened to shoot