Henry Halleck “a singed cat-better than he looks.”

Henry Halleck

The quote above is from John Hay, President Lincoln’s private secretary who attributes it to a “western gentleman” (probably Abraham Lincoln).  Like many of Lincoln’s homespun sayings there is a lot of truth here.  Halleck is one of the Civil Wars most misunderstood and maligned characters.  A well known military intellectual and author in the old Army, and a brilliant attorney in California at the start of the war, Winfield Scott considered it essential that Halleck return to Washington as quickly as possible to assume the aging Scott’s responsibilities.  Halleck could very well have been the commander in chief of the Army had he not dallyed in returning to Washington from California at the start of the war.  Instead, George McClellan was named to the top post.  When Halleck himself became the commander in chief  in the summer of 1862, he failed to deliver when Lincoln needed him most.  A hallmark of Halleck’s career was his seeming inability to provide direct orders and assume responsibility for military operations.  Undoubtedly a first class administrator, Halleck lacked the personality and assertiveness to to make his presence felt in Washington.  Lincoln who had high hopes for Halleck was almost immediately disappointed as Halleck failed to take firm control during the Maryland Campaign.  Collected mostly from John F. Marszalek’s  Commander of All Lincoln’s Armies.  A Life of General Henry W. Halleck (Cambridge MA:  The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.  2004), my quotes paint a picture of a man who never failed to excite the greatest emotions on both sides of the opinion track.  See them here.


One Response

  1. My curiosity (no pun reference to cats intended) got the better of me when I came across this quote in the works of Walt Whitman. See “Specimen Days,” referencing “J.T.L. of company F, 9th New Hampshire.”

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