Salmon Chase, Treasury Secretary, was disappointed that Gideon Welles, Navy Secretary, would not join in with War Secretary Edwin Stanton’s plot against General George McClellan (image above). “It appears as if there was a combination [i.e., conspiracy] by two [Stanton and Chase] to get their associates [in Lincoln’s Cabinet] committed, seriatim, in detail, by a skillful ex parte movement without general consultation.” (Diary of Gideon Welles)
The “general consultation” would be the regularly scheduled Cabinet meetings. The “ex parte” was a maneuver outside of the regular meetings.
At the Cabinet meeting of September 2, 1862, “There was a more disturbed and desponding feeling than I [Gideon Welles] have ever witnessed in council; the President [Lincoln] was greatly distressed.”
Edwin Stanton and Salmon Chase had intrigued against General McClellan. “A part of this intrigue has been the withdrawal of McClellan and the Army of the Potomac from before Richmond and turning it into the Army of Washington under [General John] Pope.” (Diary of Gideon Welles)
But the defeat of General Pope at the Second Battle of Bull Run (late August 1862), and the consequent placing of General McClellan in command of the retreating and disorganized Union forces “interrupted the intrigue which had been planned for the dismissal of McClellan…” (Welles, op. cit.)
Allan Pinkerton, originally in charge of the Union’s secret police, was joined at the hip with General McClellan. Edwin Stanton, installed as the War Secretary in January 1862, was under the tutelage of William Seward, Secretary of State. But Stanton only feigned subservience to Seward. Stanton was a prototype of “The Corporation Man”: outwardly submissive to superiors; inwardly scheming to take over. Stanton attempted to encroach upon the turf of Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, but was rebuffed. However the secret police under Allan Pinkerton made a different tempting target for the power grabber. To capture control of the secret police, though, Stanton needed first to de-throne General McClellan.
At the very start of General McClellan’s leadership of Union forces, wrote Allan Pinkerton (Spy of the Rebellion), “the General and the President had each matured a plan for the conduct of the war, and, in many respects, these were diametrically opposed to each other.”
So whose plan ought to have been followed, Lincoln’s or McClellan’s? “But if a President disclaims all knowledge of military affairs, as President Lincoln did, it then becomes a question how far he should defer the conduct of a war to his appointed Commander-in-Chief, who is supposed to be chosen on account of his skill and sagacity in military matters, and upon his presumed fitness for the position. In President Lincoln’s hesitation between the advice of his Generals in the field, and the views urged by his Cabinet lay the foundation of many of the blunders and mistakes of the war, the trouble being, as one writer affirms, that ‘instead of one mind, there were many minds influencing the management of military affairs.'” (Pinkerton, Spy of the Rebellion)
“Too many cooks spoil the broth.” This helped ruin General McClellan’s “Peninsula Campaign” of March-July 1862. At “the critical period of the campaign, McDowell’s forces were held at Washington when McClellan expected him to re-enforce the army of the Potomac.” (Pinkerton, op. cit.)
“Not Wanted – Victory in the East” was how Otto Eisenschiml summarized the situation in chapter 24 of his book, Why Was Lincoln Murdered? (1937). Eisenschiml theorized an early victory by the Union was not wanted in order that the war would drag on, thereby embittering the people of the North and furthering a plan to subjugate the South and abolish slavery. Add to this, “too many cooks spoil the broth” as well as the colossal egotism of Edwin Stanton, and you have an able General, George McClellan, as a convenient scapegoat for failure.
General Robert E. Lee was once asked, “Who, in your opinion, was the ablest Northern general of the war?”
“McClellan, by all odds,” replied Lee. (Eisenschiml, op. cit.)