April 11, 1864

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Telegram Sent on: April 11, 1864.
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Office U.S. Military Telegraph

War Department

Washington, D.C. April 11 1864

Major General Butler, Fort Monroe, VA

Mrs. L. is so unwell that I now think we will not make the contemplated trip this week. Will notify you in time. Will probably get a boat

here, but will accept yours if necessary. Thanks for your kind interest in the case.

A. Lincoln

Historical analysis

This analysis makes use of a heuristic for historical thinking know as SCIM-C developed by David Hicks, Peter Doolittle and Tom Ewing. For more about this historical thinking heuristic please see [ttp://www.historicalinquiry.com http://www.historicalinquiry.com]

Summary of the telegram

President Lincoln's telegram is in response to Major General Benjamin Butler's telegram [1] asking the president if he should send a boat to pick up Lincoln for a potential visit to Fort Monroe, Virginia. Lincoln politely declines the invitation for the boat and the visit due to Mary Todd Lincoln's recent illness. Lincoln apparently still wants to make a visit to Major General Butler.

Context for this telegram

During March of 1864, General Ulysses S. Grant was given the position of Lieutenant General of the Union Army. Having been given the power by the president, [2] Grant changed the way the Union looked at battle, prisoners of war, and discipline for U.S. troops. [3] Major General Butler was not known for his military skills.[4] The only reason he was not relieved from his military service before early 1865 was because of his political clout. Although his military skills were lacking and his career was raked with corruption, his influence in the political arena was necessary for Lincoln's re-election.[5] Therefore, Butler was necessary for use in the military.[6] General Grant's refocus of military strategy had no room for Major General Butler's mistakes and corruption, yet Grant was required to maintain Butler in service until after the election. After Lincoln's re-election in 1864, Butler was no longer seen as a necessary part of the Union military offensive. H e was relieved of duty in early 1864.

Inferences about the telegram

A few inferences can be made based on the context and content of President Lincoln's telegram. We know Lincoln wanted to visit General Butler. T hough the purpose of his visit is not clear, we can infer, based on the context of the telegram, that Lincoln wanted to go to Fort Monroe for one of two reasons. The first reason would be to discuss political strategy. [7] The re-election of Lincoln was critical to the war effort. Butler was Lincoln's first choice for vice president nomination.[8] Though Butler refused, we know Lincoln trusted this general's political expertise, although it is not clear if he approved of Butler's military strategy.

The second reason Lincoln could have wanted to visit Butler was to chastise the rogue general. While Butler was in command of the Army of the James, he miscalculated several offensives and left Grant alone to face General Lee in the fall of 1864. [9] Butler was unchecked as one of the senior members of the military and Grant's attention held elsewhere. Lincoln could have been attempting to suppress a thorn in his side, only to realize the advantages of Butler's political connections.


  1. http://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=lincoln;cc=lincoln;view=text;idno=lincoln7;rgn=div1;node=lincoln7%3A644
  2. http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/mcc:@field(DOCID+@lit(mcc/017))
  3. http://millercenter.org/academic/americanpresident/grant/essays/biography/2
  4. Thomas J. Goss, The War within the Union High Command: Politics and Generalship During the Civil War, pp. 25-26.
  5. http://www.mrlincolnswhitehouse.org/inside.asp?ID=131&subjectID=2
  6. The Mississippi Valley Historical Review Vol. 33, No. 4 (Mar., 1947), pp. 537-570 Published by: Organization of American Historians http://www.jstor.org/stable/1902799
  7. http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/jala/21.1/simpson.html
  8. http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAcivilwar5.htm
  9. http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/jala/21.1/simpson.html

Analysis conducted by Candice Brewer