LINCOLN, Abraham. Autograph letter signed, as President ("A. Lincoln") TO LIEUT. GENERAL U. S. GRANT, Washington, 22 September 1864. 1 page, 4to, ruled paper, Executive Mansion stationery, foxing along edges and across 1-line of text, in a red morocco protective case stamped in gilt.
LINCOLN TAKES RESPONSIBILITY FOR AN ELECTION SEASON "BLUNDER": "THE SECRETARY OF WAR IS WHOLLY FREE OF ANY PART IN THIS..."
"I send this as an explanation to you," Lincoln begins, "and to do justice to the Secretary of War. I was induced, upon pressing application, to authorize agents of one of the Districts of Pennsylvania to recruit in one of the prisoner depots in Illinois; and the thing went so far before it came to the knowledge of the Secretary of War that in my judgment it could not be abandoned without greater evil than would follow its going through. I did not know, at the time, that you had protested against that class of thing being done; and I now say that while the particular job must be completed, no other of the sort will be authorized without an understanding from you, if at all. The Secretary of War is wholly free of any part in this blunder."
The blunder was an effort to recruit Union army soldiers from among Confederate prisoners of war in the Rock Island prison barracks. The "pressing application" came from a Pennsylvania colonel named Henry S. Huidekoper. He approached the administration "on behalf of the people of some parts of Pennsylvania," Lincoln wrote on 1 September (Basler, 7:530), and he wished "to pay the bounties the government would have to pay to proper persons of this class, have them enter the service of the United States, and be credited to the localities furnishing the bounty money." Pennsylvanians wanted out of the draft, and since Pennsylvania was one of the states Lincoln had to have in order to win reelection, the President wanted to be accommodating. The state, he told his aides, had "enormous weight and influence which [if] cast definitely into the scale, would close the campaign" (Donald, Lincoln, 543).
In the throes of his difficult re-election fight, Lincoln was not thinking clearly about the military complications of this move, and there were many, starting with the fervid opposition of his own Secretary of War and his top general. The commandant at Rock Island warned that many might not even want to volunteer. When the Navy tried this approach earlier, many of the volunteers were rejected for medical reasons and promptly thrown back into prison where, in the words of the commandant, they were mercilessly abused by the "rabid and malicious secesh." As it happened three "Volunteer Infantry" regiments were formed among the Rock Island inmates, but the protest against using these "galvanized Yankees" was so strong in the North as well as the South that the troops were not sent to fight their former Confederates, but shipped out west to guard the frontiers and the mail routes against Indian attack. As for Pennsylvania, Lincoln was convinced by October that he had lost the state to McClellan. But thanks in large part to the soldier's vote, which went overwhelmingly Republican, Lincoln not only carried Pennsylvania but every other northern state except New Jersey, Delaware and Kentucky.