Executive Mansion, Washington,
Major General Hunter. Dec. 31, 1861.
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, A. LINCOLN
Major General Hunter’s endorsement on the envelope containing Lincoln’s letter is as follows: “The President in reply to my `ugly letter.’— This letter was kept on his table for more than a month, and then sent by a private conveyance, with directions to hand it to me only when I was in a good humor!!!!.—” Hunter’s letter of December 23, 1861, is in part as follows: “I am very deeply mortified, humiliated, insulted and disgraced. . . . I am sent here [Fort Leavenworth] into banishment, with not three thousand effective men under my command, while one of the Brigadiers, General Buell, is in command of near one hundred thousand men in Kentucky. The only sin I have committed is my carrying out your views in relation to the retrograde movement from Springfield. . . . So it appears that I have been deprived of a command, suitable to my rank, for presuming to answer. . . official questions put to me by the Secretary of War. . . for in no other way was I connected with the Fremont troubles. . . .”