Gen. Henry W. Halleck, one of the most vilified of all generals of that era, was described by a reporter as a “cold, calculating owl,” brooding “in the shadows,” and “distilling evil upon every noble character.” He married the granddaughter of Alexander Hamilton and ironically held the same nationalist and centralizing views of his wife’s grandfather. Halleck predicted before 1861 that the North “will become ultra-antislavery, and I fear, in the course of the war will declare for emancipation and thus add the horrors of a servile to that of a civil war.” He saw Lincoln adopt the same policy as the British in the Revolution and War of 1812: emancipating slaves by edict to incite the horrors of race war in the American South.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
Halleck, Agent of Revolution
“During the excitement following Lincoln’s death [Secretary of War Edwin M.] Stanton virtually took over the government. Among other high-handed acts, he did what the martyred President never desired – the Secretary ordered Halleck out of Washington. [Working to] ingratiate himself with his superiors, Halleck, in Richmond, did everything he could to gain Stanton’s approval.
[Told by Richmond bankers of] wild rumors about “Jeff. Davis and his partisans” fleeing with a large amount of [gold] specie” . . . Halleck . . . ordered Sheridan to Sherman’s headquarters , in Greensboro, North Carolina, telling him to look for Davis and his “wagons” of gold on the way. [On] April 23 , Halleck wired Sheridan: “Pay no attention to the Sherman-Johnston truce. It has been disapproved by the President. Try to cut off Jeff. Davis’ specie.”
The Treasury Department had issued special permits and only those possessing them were entitled to buy or sell in the South. “It is now perfectly evident that these [treasury] agents are resolved that no one shall buy or sell even the necessities of life except through themselves or their favorites,” Halleck fumed. “I know of no better system for robbing the people and driving them to utter desperation.” Old Brains’ greatest objection was that if the system continued “the military must feed the people or permit them to starve.”
Still Halleck could not resist the temptation to use his power occasionally. On April 28 he issued a series of General Orders, one of which proclaimed: “No marriage license will be issued until the parties desiring to be married take the oath of allegiance to the United States, and no one can marry them unless he has.”
To insure that Virginians received proper indoctrination, Halleck closed all churches in which the clergyman refused to read the prescribed prayer for the President – they would be opened by “any other clergyman of the same denomination will read such service.”
While attempting to bring Southern churches under Northern control, Halleck also did his bit in the attempt to prove that secession had been a conspiracy on the part of a few high-placed Confederates He seized former Cabinet member Robert M.T. Hunter’s papers and forwarded them to Stanton with the notation that they included “inclosures of a suspicious character.”
[Halleck] was anxious to use the Civil War to build up the regular army (as opposed to an armed mob composed of State militia troops) serving under nationally-trained professionals. From the day they mustered in until the day they mustered out, Halleck tried to make the Federal troops feel the hand of the national army. Conscription, which increased the power of the nation and its army as opposed to the States and their militia forces, received active support from Halleck.
He was convinced that opposition [to conscription] came not from idealists but from traitors [and] had no qualms about the means used to enforce national conscription: “Loyal men at home must act at home,” he felt. “They must put down the slightest attempt at disorder.”
Halleck saw to it that conscription was merely the beginning of the contacts with the federal government and its army that the American citizen soldier experienced. Once the men were in the service, Halleck and his staff, rather than the State governments, supplied their needs. The operating procedure was brutally simple and efficient; and it was part of a general trend toward centralization in all areas of American life. The total result was revolution.
And it was a nation, not a Union, that the troops had saved. Politically, economically, socially, and militarily, the Civil War had created a new nation upon the wreck of the old Union. Halleck, who realized that the powerful army he wanted needed a powerful nation to support it, was an important agent in the revolution.
He used troops to quell draft riots, break strikes that threatened the national effort, ensure Republican victories at the polls and suppress traitorous politicians. He rejected the democratic ideal that opposition is not only loyal but necessary. He constantly condemned those who opposed, not just Lincoln’s administration, but the whole fabric of centralization; he believed that only centralization could lead to victory.
During the political campaign of 1864, Halleck supported Lincoln as the lesser of evils [though] would have preferred Lincoln to act with Bismarckian ruthlessness . . . Old Brains realized that America’s entrance into the modern world [of centralization] might be slightly hindered, or slightly helped, by individuals, but that by 1864 it could no longer be halted. Politically, socially, and militarily, centralization had become institutionalized; Halleck had done his share in making that possible.”
Halleck: Lincoln’s Chief of Staff, Stephen E. Ambrose, LSU Press, 1962, (pp. 199-200; 202-203; 208-211)