Stanton: The Life and Times of Lincoln's Secretary of War

By Benjamin P. Thomas; Harold M. Hyman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXVIII
NO ONE WILL STEAL IT NOW

IT WAS amusing to see how afraid everyone was of the War Office," one of General Sherman's friends remarked later. In mid- February, however, the President saw nothing to smile at.

After the humiliating refusal of chief clerk Potts to serve as a sacrificial lamb by becoming War Secretary ad interim, Johnson cast about for other possibilities. Welles, always eager to strike at Stanton, suggested that the President order Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas to return to his titular post. The adjutant's duties, though secondary in importance to Stanton's and Grant's, included responsibility for personnel assignments and records. Having Thomas in charge of these matters would confront Stanton and Grant with an important Department functionary who, long out of favor with the Secretary and commanding general, would be dependent for support on the White House. In addition, bringing Thomas back would reduce the status of the acting chief adjutant, "Stanton's man," General Townsend. Johnson seized on the suggestion.1

Thomas, however, was a frail reed to employ as a staff. Except for field duty in the Seminole and Mexican wars, this sixty-three-year-old West Point graduate had spent his military career as a Washington desk soldier. Tall, thin to the point of gauntness, with a shock of white hair and a scraggly beard, Thomas was known in the Army as a tippler and an eccentric. He enjoyed very little popularity and almost no personal influence with his fellow officers, and up to this time was unknown to the public. If the President expected Thomas to rally any sub.

____________________
1
S. Van Vleit to Sherman, May 29, 1868, W. T. Sherman Papers, LC; Morse, Welles Diary, III, 278-80.

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