Civil War Emails

During the Civil War, President Lincoln used the Telegraph to stay in constant contact with his Generals and keep his finger on the pulse of the war.

Both the Union and Confederate armies used the telegraph for the same purpose.

They both used the Telegraph to “Spam” each other with false information. Misleading each other as to the progress or frailties so as to cause chaos in their opponent’s armies.

They also tapped each other’s Telegraph lines to obtain strategic information that they hoped would provide their armies an advantage over their opponent.

According to Tom Wheeler, the author of Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mail – the Telegraph was one of the tools that helped the Union win the Civil War.

Based on the amount of telegrams that President Lincoln handled in his in & out box, he was quite the Early Adopter of this technology.

President Lincoln used telegrams much as we use our Email today. Overcoming distance and time while obtaining instant information and delegating authority while maintaining over-site and ultimate authority.

Here are two examples:

After his great victory at Vicksburg in 1863, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s thoughts turned toward Mobile, Ala. But then he got a telegram from President Lincoln.

Lincoln’s Telegram read – “I see by a telegram of yours that you are inclined quite strongly towards an expedition against Mobile. … This would appear tempting to me also, were it not that in view of recent events in Mexico, I am greatly impressed with the importance of re-establishing the national authority in Western Texas as soon as possible.”

You see, Lincoln had already been informed by another telegram that Napoleon III had invaded Mexico, defeated the Mexican armies and set up a pro-Confederate “puppet” government in Mexico City. President Lincoln wanted a stronger Union presence in the Lone Star State to discourage the French from turning their eyes upon Texas.

President Lincoln did not send an order to Grant by telegram. Micromanaging was not his style for dealing with Grant. He did not have to, as Grant caught his drift.

Another example of President Lincoln’s use of the telegraph was the many messages between the President and General George McClellan.

A brilliant engineer and highly capable organizer, George B. McClellan just wasn’t an army commander.

He survived a Confederate counterattack at Seven Pines, principally because of confusion in the Confederate army and the gallant actions of his own subordinates.

When General Robert E. Lee attacked him in the Seven Days in late June he made numerous mistakes, panicked and ordered dangerous movements of the troops. Most of the battles that McClellan fought here were Union successes but the overall outcome of the campaign was negative as a result of McClellan’s weaknesses.

Once safely entrenched away from the Confederate armies he began sending telegrams to the War Department and President Lincoln, blaming them for the defeat.

President Lincoln sent McClellan numerous telegrams asking him to take responsibility for his army, to respond faster, more precise and more deliberate.

Finally it was decided in Washington to abandon the campaign and transfer most of McClellan’s men to John Pope’s army in northern Virginia.

McClellan was restored to active duty when Pope was defeated at the 2nd Bull Run. He was reunited with his army and welcomed by his men who affectionately called him “Little Mac”, while the press called him “Mac the Unready” and “The Little Corporal of Unsought Fields”

In the Maryland Campaign he advanced to confront Lee in the western part of the state and moved uncharacteristically fast when some of his command found a copy of Lee’s orders for the movement of his troops. Lee fought several delaying actions along South Mountain in order to re-concentrate his army.

His caution returning, McClellan slowed down, and Lee was able to get most of his men in line at Antietam.

McClellan attacked piecemeal and his attacks failed to crush Lee who was heavily outnumbered with his back to the Potomac River.

Continuing his dilatory tactics, McClellan began sending telegrams to the War Department and President Lincoln making demands for more men, vast amounts of equipment and fresh mounts for his cavalry.

President Lincoln continued to challenge McClellan’s demands via telegram.

McClellan continued to delay attacking Lee with any significant force. He blamed the delay on the need for more training. President Lincoln sent telegrams challenging the need for training for an army that has been in place and succeeded in other battles.
McClellan continued to delay, sending telegrams declaring the need for fresh mounts for his cavalry as the reason for the delay.

Finally it was too late. JEB Stuart’s cavalry rode completely around the Union Army of the Potomac.

President Lincoln ended his telegram conversations with McClellan with this final telegram.

“Since you are not willing to use my Army, may I borrow it?”

This was the telegraph message that spurred the War Department in 1862 to relinquish McClellan’s command and have him sent home in Trenton NJ to await a telegram statement for his next assignment, which never came.

President Lincoln’s T-Mail was instrumental in the decisions made during the Civil War and the final outcomes that shaped the United States, as we know it today.

This is yet another posting from Teddy Burriss – maybe, just maybe you will enjoy it.