The Writings of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 6 by Abraham Lincoln
Correspondence with General A. E. Burnside. January 8, 1863.
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC
HIS EXCELLENCY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Since my return to the army I have become more than ever convinced that the general officers of this command are almost unanimously opposed to another crossing of the river; but I am still of the opinion that the, crossing should be attempted, and I have accordingly issued orders to the engineers and artillery to prepare for it. There is much hazard in it, as there always is in the majority of military movements, and I cannot begin the movement without giving you notice of it, particularly as I know so little of the effect that it may have upon other movements of distant armies.
The influence of your telegram the other day is still upon me, and has impressed me with the idea that there are many parts of the problem which influence you that are not known to me.
In order to relieve you from all embarrassment in my case, I inclose with this my resignation of my commission as major-general of volunteers, which you can have accepted if my movement is not in accordance with the views of yourself and your military advisers.
I have taken the liberty to write to you personally upon this subject, because it was necessary, as I learned from General Halleck, for you to approve of my general plan, written at Warrenton, before I could commence the movement; and I think it quite as necessary that you should know of the important movement I am about to make, particularly as it will have to be made in opposition to the views of nearly all my general officers, and after the receipt of a despatch from you informing me of the opinion of some of them who had visited you.
In conversation with you on New Year's morning I was led to express some opinions which I afterward felt it my duty to place on paper, and to express them verbally to the gentleman of whom we were speaking, which I did in your presence, after handing you the letter. You were not disposed then, as I saw, to retain the letter, and I took it back, but I now return it to you for record if you wish it.
I beg leave to say that my resignation is not sent in in any spirit of insubordination, but, as I before said, simply to relieve you from any embarrassment in changing commanders where lack of confidence may have rendered it necessary.
The bearer of this will bring me any answer, or I should be glad to hear from you by telegraph in cipher.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
A. E. BURNSIDE,
HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY, WASHINGTON,
MAJOR-GENERAL BURNSIDE, Commanding, etc., Falmouth:
GENERAL:--Your communication of the 5th was delivered to me by your aide-de-camp at 12 M. to-day.
In all my communications and interviews with you since you took command of the Army of the Potomac I have advised a forward movement across the Rappahannock. At our interview at Warrenton I urged that you should cross by the fords above Fredericksburg rather than to fall down to that place; and when I left you at Warrenton it was understood that at least a considerable part of your army would cross by the fords, and I so represented to the President. It was this modification of the plan proposed by you that I telegraphed you had received his approval. When the attempt at Fredericksburg was abandoned, I advised you to renew the attempt at some other point, either in whole or in part, to turn the enemy's works, or to threaten their wings or communications; in other words, to keep the enemy occupied till a favorable opportunity offered to strike a decisive blow. I particularly advised you to use your cavalry and light artillery upon his communications, and attempt to cut off his supplies and engage him at an advantage.
In all our interviews I have urged that our first object was, not Richmond, but the defeat or scattering of Lee's army, which threatened Washington and the line of the upper Potomac. I now recur to these things simply to remind you of the general views which I have expressed, and which I still hold.
The circumstances of the case, however, have somewhat changed since the early part of November. The chances of an extended line of operations are now, on account of the advanced season, much less than then. But the chances are still in our favor to meet and defeat the enemy on the Rappahannock, if we can effect a crossing in a position where we can meet the enemy on favorable or even equal terms. I therefore still advise a movement against him. The character of that movement, however, must depend upon circumstances which may change any day and almost any hour. If the enemy should concentrate his forces at the place you have selected for a crossing, make it a feint and try another place. Again, the circumstances at the time may be such as to render an attempt to cross the entire army not advisable. In that case, theory suggests that, while the enemy concentrates at that point, advantages can be gained by crossing smaller forces at other points to cut off his lines, destroy his communication, and capture his rear-guards, outposts, etc. The great object is to occupy the enemy to prevent his making large detachments or distant raids, and to injure him all you can with the least injury to yourself. If this can be best accomplished by feints of a general crossing and detached real crossings, take that course; if by an actual general crossing, with feints on other points, adopt that course. There seem to me to be many reasons why a crossing at some point should be attempted. It will not do to keep your large army inactive. As you yourself admit, it devolves on you to decide upon the time, place, and character of the crossing which you may attempt. I can only advise that an attempt be made, and as early as possible.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
H. W. HALLECK,
January 8, 1863.
I understand General Halleck has sent you a letter of which this is a copy. I approve this letter. I deplore the want of concurrence with you in opinion by your general officers, but I do not see the remedy. Be cautious, and do not understand that the government or country is driving you. I do not yet see how I could profit by changing the command of the Army of the Potomac; and if I did, I should not wish to do it by accepting the resignation of your commission.