Contributing Editors for this page include Thomas Warf


#84 on the list of 150 Most Teachable Lincoln Documents

Annotated Transcript

“Yours of the 23rd. is received; and I am constrained to say it is difficult to answer so ugly a letter in good temper.”

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HD Daily Report, December 31, 1861

The Lincoln Log, December 31, 1861

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Posted at YouTube by “Understanding Lincoln” course participant Thomas Warf, August 2014

How Historians Interpret

“Other squabbles among generals exasperated Lincoln. David Hunter and John G. Foster quarreled about which of them would control a part of Foster’s corps that happened to be situated in Hunter’s department. John M. Schofield threatened to resign his command in Missouri because Samuel R. Curtis would not authorize him to undertake offensive action. Curtis in turn objected to orders transferring some of his troops to the Vicksburg front. To Lincoln’s relief, Grant conducted the Vicksburg campaign without grumbling.”

–Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (2 volumes, originally published by Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008) Unedited Manuscript by Chapter, Lincoln Studies Center, Volume 2, Chapter 30 (PDF), 3291-3292.


“Nine months into his term the new president, whose letters would prove to be full of perhaps surprisingly explicit moral sagacity, would give some advice to General David Hunter that could have been directed to his own lowly status and alleged lack of preparation for the highest office, and taken as an indication of Lincoln’s own moral self-shaping. Hunter, a man whom Lincoln knew, had been sending him a ‘flood of grumbling’ letters and had complained about being in command of ‘only 3000.’ Lincoln, preparing his response, first insisted that he was Hunter’s friend and therefore could ‘dare to make a suggestion.’ Then he told Hunter – in a December 31, 1861 letter – that his grumbling about the smallness of his role was the best way to ruin himself. Lincoln in aid of his point then called up from his memory of English poetry a line from Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man: ‘Act well your part there all the honor lies.’”

–William Lee Miller, President Lincoln (New York: Knopf, 2008).


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Executive Mansion, Washington,
Dec. 31, 1861.
Major General Hunter. 
Dear Sir:
Yours of the 23rd. is received; and I am constrained to say it is difficult to answer so ugly a letter in good temper. I am, as you intimate, losing much of the great confidence I placed in you, not from any act or omission of yours touching the public service, up to the time you were sent to Leavenworth, but from the flood of grumbling despatches and letters I have seen from you since. I knew you were being ordered to Leavenworth at the time it was done; and I aver that with as tender a regard for your honor and your sensibilities as I had for my own, it never occurred to me that you were being “humiliated, insulted and disgraced”; nor have I, up to this day, heard an intimation that you have been wronged, coming from any one but yourself. No one has blamed you for the retrograde movement from Springfield, nor for the information you gave Gen. Cameron; and this you could readily understand, if it were not for your unwarranted assumption that the ordering you to Leavenworth must necessarily have been done as a punishment for some fault. I thought then, and think yet, the position assigned to you is as respo[n]sible, and as honorable, as that assigned to Buell. I know that Gen. McClellan expected more important results from it. My impression is that at the time you were assigned to the new Western Department, it had not been determined to re-place Gen. Sherman in Kentucky; but of this I am not certain, because the idea that a command in Kentucky was very desireable, and one in the farther West, very undesireable, had never occurred to me. You constantly speak of being placed in command of only 3000. Now tell me, is not this mere impatience? Have you not known all the while that you are to command four or five times that many?
I have been, and am sincerely your friend; and if, as such, I dare to make a suggestion, I would say you are adopting the best possible way to ruin yourself. “Act well your part, there all the honor lies.” He who does something at the head of one Regiment, will eclipse him who does nothing at the head of a hundred.
Your friend as ever,