“I believe you to be a brave and skilful soldier, which, of course, I like. I also believe you do not mix politics with your profession, in which you are right. You have confidence in yourself, which is a valuable, if not indispensable, quality. You are ambitious, which within reasonable bounds does good rather than harm; but I think that during General Burnside’s command of the army you have taken counsel with your ambition, and thwarted him as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong to the country and to a most meritorious and honorable brother-officer. I have heard, in such a way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the army and the government needed a dictator. Of course, it is not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only those generals who gain successes can set up dictators. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship.”
General Fry, who was Provost-Marshal of the War Department and received daily instructions from the President in regard to the draft for troops, which was one of the most embarrassing and perplexing questions that arose during the war, illustrates this peculiar trait by an anecdote. He says:
“Upon one occasion the Governor of a State came to my office bristling with complaints in relation to the number of troops required from his State, the details of drafting the men, and the plan of compulsory service in general. I found it impossible to satisfy his demands, and accompanied him to the Secretary of War’s office, whence, after a stormy interview with Stanton, he went alone to press his ultimatum upon the highest authority. After I had waited anxiously for some hours, expecting important orders or decisions from the President, or at least a summons to the White House for explanation, the Governor returned, and said, with a pleasant smile, that he was going home by the next train, and merely dropping in en route to say good-by. Neither the business he came upon nor his interview with the President was alluded to.
“As soon as I could see Lincoln I said: ’Mr. President, I am very anxious to learn how you disposed of Governor ——. He went to your office from the War Department in a towering rage. I suppose you found it necessary to make large concessions to him, as he returned from you entirely satisfied.’
“‘Oh no,’ he replied, ’I did not concede anything. You know how that Illinois farmer managed the big log that lay in the middle of the field? To the inquiries of his neighbors, one Sunday, he announced that he had got rid of the big log. “Got rid of it!” said they. “How did you do it? It was too big to haul out, too knotty to split, and too wet and soggy to burn; what did you do?” “Well, now, boys,” replied the farmer, “if you won’t divulge the secret, I’ll tell you how I got rid of it. I plowed around it.” Now,’ said Lincoln, ’don’t tell anybody, but that’s the way I got rid of Governor ——. I plowed around him, but it took me three mortal hours to do it, and I was afraid every moment he’d see what I was at.’”