Lincoln’s Scarce But Well-Compensated Patriots
Russian Minister to Washington Baron de Stoeckl supported his government’s intrigues with Lincoln’s regime but privately believed a negotiated settlement between North and South and Confederate independence was preferable to the bloodbath instigated by Lincoln and the Radicals. It is said that he had easy access to Secretary of State William Seward’s office — the latter was obviously courting Russian favor and an alliance against England and France, both of which came close to recognizing the Southern Confederacy.
With his unique position to view internal American affairs, “Stoeckl persisted in his belief that the North could never subjugate the South. The Union, he felt, could not endure . . . he was sure it was divided forever. “It is difficult to witness events without being convinced that a return to the old system is impossible.” His communiques during the war are well-preserved and one excellent source is “Lincoln and the Russians” written by Albert A. Woldman in 1952.
When Washington was again in danger of attack in mid-1862, Stoeckl wrote that “General Halleck has been ordered to Washington to take charge of military operations.” He wrote that Lincoln was experiencing great difficulty in replenishing the depleted military ranks and “the government has been compelled to offer a premium of $25 a man.” Later he reported that premiums up to $50 have been offered, yet there are few volunteers. Two weeks later, Lincoln issued another call for volunteers, with premiums up to $300.
“Mr. Lincoln told me himself one day that in case of necessity he could count upon two or three million men. Experience has demonstrated that such estimates are inaccurate . . . at the outset the armed services absorbed the adventurous types, the poor, the unemployed laborers and the foreigners who filled the large cities. Not many of these classes remain. The new recruits must come from the farmers, businessmen and, in general, the prosperous classes who are opposed to the war.”
He added that “those who volunteered at the outset never dreamed of the dangers and privations which awaited them. It was generally believed that the mere presence of the Northern army would coerce the South into rejoining the Union. The ever-increasing number of mangled, sick, crippled or maimed soldiers who have returned to their homes has opened the eyes of the Northerners to the horrors of war.
Men no longer volunteer for military service. Bonuses of $250 to $300 are being offered to volunteers without spurring enlistments. As a result, the government was forced to resort to conscription . . . But it is doubtful if the government will succeed in recruiting the number Lincoln has fixed in his call.”
When the House of Representatives passed a bill authorizing the President to arm 150,000 Negroes, Stoeckl reported that “the Democratic Party regarded this measure as humiliating for the nation” since it was an admission that “an army of a million men cannot win without the help of some 100,000 Negroes.” Stoeckl continues, “Mr. [Thaddeus] Stevens, the author of this measure, said that the federal army . . . scarcely numbered 500,000 men under arms; that half these troops were scheduled to return home soon since their term of service expired next May; that volunteers are no longer enlisting; and that conscription was so unpopular that the government hesitated to invoke it again.”
“At the beginning of the war men came forward in large numbers. It is difficult to procure volunteers even by offering them bounties of $700 to $800. This state of affairs is not surprising. All the adventurous spirits that there were — all the unemployed in the great cities — immigrants brought here from Europe by poverty, have been absorbed by the army. Only force will be able to drag (the prosperous classes) away from their homes, and it is doubtful they will submit willingly to it.”
His perspective on Radical Republican leaders was revealing: Stoeckl wrote that “Peace, no matter what the terms, is the only means of resolving this situation. But the leaders in charge of affairs do not want it. Thier slogan is all-out war. Any compromise would endanger their political existence. They are politicians of low-caliber — men without conscience, ready to do anything for money . . . They constitute the swarm of speculators, suppliers of material, war profiteers through whose hands pass a large portion of the millions of dollars spent daily by the federal government. Aside from these and some fanatics, practically everybody else desires the cessation of hostilities.”
Baron de Stoeckl held a low opinion of Lincoln’s commanding general, Ulysses Grant. Grant earned the nickname “butcher” as a general who could count on limitless recruits to hurl against the enemy. Stoeckl wrote Russian Prince Gortchakov in late May 1864 that “General Grant has so far given no proof of being a great strategist. It appears that he undertakes no maneuvers, and that he simply drives his masses of men against the fortified positions of Lee trying to crush him by sheer superiority of numbers.”