Lincoln Would be Glad to See General Milroy but knows "...He Wishes to Ask for What I Have Not to Give"

October 19, 1863

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Lincoln Would be Glad to See General Milroy but knows "...He Wishes to Ask for What I Have Not to Give"
Autograph Note Signed
1 page | SMC 570

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      Background

      When General Robert Huston Milroy - eccentric on the battlefield, cruel to civilians, scornful of West Pointers - lost half his command at the Second Battle of Winchester, General Halleck had him arrested for the debacle, and so set into motion Milroy’s letter-writing campaign to secure his release, defend his actions, blacken Halleck’s name, and demand a Court of Inquiry. On June 28th, 1863, he wrote to Lincoln to complain of, among other injustices, his imprisonment at the hands of the “incompetent unprincipled tyrant” Halleck, who had set out to destroy him “with the blind unreasoning hatred of an Indian”; and then to ask that he be not only freed, but restored to a command, for he loved his country more than life. Lincoln answered immediately. He did not doubt Milroy’s devotion to the Union, he said, but he could not return him to command because he had just lost a division and “prima facie the fault is on you; and while that remains unchanged, for me to put you in command again, is to justly subject me to the charge of having put you there on purpose to have you lose another.” Furthermore, Lincoln says he has “scarcely seen anything from you at any time, that did not contain imputations against your superiors, and a chafing against acting the part they had assigned you. You have constantly urged the idea that you were persecuted because you did not come from West-Point, and you repeat it in these letters. This, my dear general, is I fear, the rock on which you have split.” But Milroy was not daunted; he persisted in his letters - and charges; and by the end of July, Lincoln finally directed that a Court of Inquiry be held on August 7th… which Milroy then stated he would not attend, complaining that the Court, being lower in rank than himself, was not fit to hear him. Eventually, however, the Inquiry was held: Milroy was found blameless, his superiors not quite; and the findings were passed to Judge Advocate Holt, who in turn exonerated Milroy. Holt’s judgment only wanted Lincoln’s endorsement to be official. At which point, according to the autograph statement on the verso, Milroy went “after” Lincoln - whom he called “Old Abe” – “for his decision on the evidence in my case before the Court of Inquiry referred to him for his decision.” Apparently Lincoln had not yet received Holt’s report, or had the time to review it, by October 19th - and so, in one of the most elegant, gentle and telling turns of phrase, he responded here to the insistent Milroy with this single sentence:
      I would be glad to see Gen. Milroy, were it not that I know he wishes to ask for what I have not to give.

      On October 27, 1863, Lincoln signed off on the findings, and Milroy, finally, had his justice. The following day, the General picked up his pen, and set out to ruin Halleck…

      A month or so later, the Indiana delegation asked Lincoln that Milroy be given a command. Lincoln acceded, and wrote Grant: Milroy, he said, “is not a difficult man to satisfy… Believing in our cause, and wanting to fight in it, is the whole matter with him.” But Grant would not have him; or Meade, or Sherman. Although Milroy eventually found a place in the Western Theater, he served chiefly, and unhappily, in an administrative capacity. There was, however, one more round of furious letter-writing in him: when ordered to offer, post-bellum, amnesty to guerillas, he fired off so many indignant and insubordinate letters to his superiors, that he was sent back to Indiana in July, and mustered out, at last.


      Autograph Note Signed (“A. Lincoln”), as President, 1 page, sextodecimo, no place [Washington, D.C.], October 19, 1863. To General Robert H. Milroy.
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      I would be glad to see Gen. Milroy, were it not that I know he wishes to ask for what I have not to give.

      A. LINCOLN

      Oct 19, 1863.

      Page 2/2

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      I had asked old Abe for his decision on the evidence in my case before the Court of Inquiry, referred to him for his decision. I had been after him several times about it & the other side is his ans[wer]. Oct. 19,

      R H MILROY