|Date(s):||June 11, 1864 to April 9, 1865|
|Location(s):||Eastern North Carolina|
|Tag(s):||Civil War, Black Recruitment|
|Course:||“Digital History and Pedagogy,” North Carolina State University|
The Union military of which President Lincoln was Commander and Chief was much different than our military today. Upper officer ranks were extremely politicized and often hard for Presidents to control. A major area where Union officers’ political ambitions were apparent was in the recruitment of black soldiers to fight against the South.
On February 11th, 1865, Lincoln sent a telegram to Major General Ord ordering the suspension of sentencing on Major T.C. Jameson, who was accused of embezzelment and other financial malpractices which would result in major fines and a loss of commission. In this particular instance, the situation was very shady because of the political ramifications involved. By criminalizing Major Jameson, other high ranking officers were able to collect the political currency provided by taking credit for organizing a widely successful recruitment campaign for black soldiers in eastern North Carolina. Several respected people came forward as character witnesses for Major Jameson who fervently denied any wrongdoing. Consequently, Major Jameson was fined but none of his accussers gained the political benefits they were seeking.
In another example in Kentucky, the recruitment of black soldiers is a little more scandalous. Lincoln sent a telegram to Major General Thomas on June 18th, 1864 with clear instructions to investigate malpractices involving the recruitment of black soldiers. In the telegram, he specifically talks about reports of General Thomas’ army carrying off black people without their consent to fight for the Union in Kentucky. Obviously, President Lincoln would be concerned about this because he is fighting against the Confederacy and the system of slavery it embodies, so having his army forcing people to do things against their will would be a public relations nightmare, not to mention the immorality of it. As for the officers in the Army, “recruiting” black men both swelled their numbers for combat and provided political currency in the form of integrating blacks into the army (albeit against their will in this case). Lincoln specifically states that the army has been carrying men off “according to no rules whatever, except those of absolute violence”. By telegramming this to General Thomas, his intentions as Commander and Chief have been made abundantly clear so refusal to follow his direction would be directly violating his superior.
In a world without Lincoln’s use of the telegram, his army’s operations would be totally under the discretion of the commanding officers. Without Lincoln’s fervent use of the telegram to stay on top of things, he probably would not have knowledge of such actions occurring on his watch. Moreover, without his use of the telegram he would not be able put the responsibility on his Generals with such immediacy to rectify these situations. Not only must he control his officers in a military sense, but he must control the political fallout of their actions as well. In both of these examples, President Lincoln is utilizing the telegram to investigate, halt, or change the methods of his army, particularly his officers. He would have been seen as responsible for the actions of the Army as President by the public, good or bad, and in using the telegram, Lincoln was able to make sure that those actions were truly his directives rather than the whims of ambitious Generals making foolhardy decisions.