A Post-Fredericksburg Message from Lincoln to the Army

For a president renowned for his literary skills, President Lincoln’s message to the Army of the Potomac following its loss at the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862, stands out as a particularly feeble piece of writing. Certainly the lopsided loss was disheartening enough, but to have it come as it did so close to Christmas must have been especially dispiriting.

I dug up the text of his brief message while putting some finishing touches on Seizing Destiny: The Army of the Potomac’s Valley Forge and the Civil War Winter that Saved the Union, and I thought I’d pass it along:

Message to the Army of the Potomac

Executive Mansion, Washington, December 22, 1862.

            To the Army of the Potomac: I have just read your Commanding General’s preliminary report of the battle of Fredericksburg. Although you were not successful, the attempt was not an error, nor the failure other than an accident. The courage with which you, in an open field, maintained the contest against an entrenched foe, and the consummate skill and success with which you crossed and re-crossed the river, in face of the enemy, show that you possess all the qualities of a great army, which will yet give victory to the cause of the country and of popular government. Condoling with the mourners for the dead, and sympathizing with the severely wounded, I congratulate you that the number of both is comparatively so small.

I tender to you, officers and soldiers, the thanks of the nation.

1 Response to A Post-Fredericksburg Message from Lincoln to the Army

  1. To broaden the perspective, Lincoln’s message came two days after Earl Van Dorn destroyed the U.S. supply base at Holly Springs, Mississippi, forcing General Grant to abandon his move on Vicksburg. At the same time N.B. Forrest was destroying the Mobile & Ohio Railroad which would hamper the rebuilding of Grant’s line of supply and John Hunt Morgan was wrecking the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, making it impossible for Rosecrans to advance beyond Murfreesboro (although Rosecrans had not yet moved out of Nashville). For Lincoln the picture was bleak indeed. The Emancipation Proclamation was to go into effect on January 1 and all the December news was very bad. This makes Rosecrans’ success at Murfreesboro (although limited in immediate effect) all the more important.

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