Radical Republicans favored the abolition of slavery not so much for their concern regarding the black race, but because it would devastate the South’s economic system and political status in the country. After the sack of McClellan, senior and aspiring commanders were swayed to either join the Radical Republican fold or to at least support Lincoln’s administration and Radical political goals. One Northern general complained that “commissions became political patronage and promotions the reward of partisan zeal.”
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Generals Hasten to the Radical Fold
“[With General George McClellan sacked,] Republicans rejoiced that the way was now open to gain political control of the army. Radicals were at first disappointed over the appointment of Ambrose Burnside, a friend of McClellan’s, to the command of the Army of the Potomac. But they took him under their protective wing when Burnside, fearing the wrath of the Committee on the Conduct of the War after the Fredericksburg disaster, assured committee members that he favored the abolition of slavery. Moreover, he announced, he was seeking to “inspire his fellow officers with a cordial hatred of the [South’s economic] system.”
But the task of winning over the army to Republican principles was no easy one; the men were sincerely fond of their dismissed commander. Republicans had to face a growing public desire for peace as well as McClellan’s highly successful presidential-boom tour of New England early in 1863. Struggling against the all-but-overwhelming circumstances, Republicans turned the full force of their propaganda upon the civilian public and redoubled their efforts to win control of the army.
[Secretary of War Edwin] Stanton and the Committee on the Conduct of the War waged unremitting war on McClellan sympathizers among the commanders. As part of this campaign the committee court-martialed Fitz-John Porter, ruined Charles P. Stone, discipline Irvin McDowell, and caused Buell’s dismissal. Constantly they worked to prejudice Lincoln against his Democratic commanders.
Others; alarmed by the committee’s success with McClellan and others, hastened to join the Radical fold. “Fightin’ Joe” Hooker was one of these; [Ben] Butler had already been converted. Ulysses S. Grant, savagely attacked for Democratic convictions, turned the assault aside by urging employment of Negro soldiers.
Warned first of the Radicals’ plans by his brother [John Sherman] and later informed by Halleck that the Radicals were working against him in regard to the “inevitable Sambo,” Sherman was scornfully indifferent. In 1864, he announced his unequivocal opposition to that pet project of the Radicals, the recruiting of colored regiments. “The Negro is in a transitional state, and is not equal to the white man” he wrote, “I prefer Negroes for pioneers, teamsters, clerks and servants, others gradually to experiment in the art of the soldier . . .”
The fact that this conclusion was based upon practical experience rendered it all the more distasteful to Radicals. Yet they dared not attack him openly; he was too successful.”
(Veterans in Politics, the Story of the G.A.R.; Mary R. Dearing, LSU Press, 1952, excerpts, pp. 10-12)