Soldier Vote 1864
Benjamin P. Thomas & Harold M. Hyman

The complete returns, when compiled a few days later, showed that the Union ticket had won in all three states. In Ohio the party's majority amounted to 54,000. It took 17 or 19 congressional seats; three congressional districts had been gained by the soldier vote. In Pennsylvania the Unionists would now hold 16 congressional seats to 8 for the Democrats. The Union state ticket won by 13,000 ballosts, with soldier votes contributing materially to the victory. Morton won in Indiana by more than 20,000, and the Unionists recaptured the state legislature.

In Maryland, meanwhile, a new state constitution prohibiting slavery was submitted to the people. The home folk rejected it, 29,536 to 27,541, but soldier ballots altered these figures to 30,174 for the constitution and 29,699 against it. Henry Winter Davis credited Stanton with helping to change the outcome of the balloting.

The victory in the October state elections brought comfort to Republican leaders, but a charge of fraud in Indiana and the close vote in Pennsylvania chilled their optimism. Stanton was determined to make the most of the Unionist sentiment that prevailed in the Army in the November presidential election. Nevertheless, his temper flared when politics intruded on military security.

New York's legislature set up machinery to allow its thousands of troops to vote in the field. Arrangements were made for agents of each party to distribute and collect ballots and transmit them to each man's home precinct to be tallied. The procedure made it necessary for the agents to know the whereabouts of New York regiments, and Chauncey M. Depew, the New York secretary of state, came to Washington to obtain information from the War Department.

Day after day he called on Stanton only to be rebuffed in the most insolent manner. To divulge such information to a bunch of loose-mouthed politicians, said the Secretary, would be the same as giving it to the enemy. But Lincoln, who wanted those soldier votes so badly that he would be willing to take a carpetbag and collect them himself, intervened, and Stanton, all politeness now, called Depew to the War Department. That night the New Yorker left for home with a paper listing the location of every New York unit.

Stanton, unperturbed, decided to gain advantage from this defeat. High army officers soon found themselves under pressure to aid the Republican state agents and to place obstacles in the way of Democratic vote-counters. Marsena Patrick, provost marshal general of the Army of the Potomac, an influential New Yorker and Democrat, received a telegram from Dana accusing him of favoring the Democratic agents. "The insolence of the Secretary and of the Administration generally, is intolerable," Patrick wrote in his diary, and pressured Meade to protest against what was going on, for when the New York agents reached Baltimore, the three Democrats among them were arrested for "gross frauds and forgeries."

Patrick now complained to New York's congressmen, who were unable even to see Stanton. Grumbling about the "systematic abuse" he was suffering, Patrick had to give up the unequal contest, for it was clear that army officers who supported McClellan were not going to get a fair hearing from the Department.

Force was not the only weapon in Stanton's election battery. He assigned General John G. Barnard to write for the newspapers a history of the Peninsular campaign which would smear McClellan. The Secretary kept close watch over Barnard's work, making frequent and trenchant comments, and encouraged General Wool to take to the pen on a similar theme, to place McClellan's "generalship in a true light."

Six days before the election, Stanton ordered several commanders to furlough home all troops from crucial states who were in hospitals or otherwise unfit for the field but who could travel. Illinois, like Indiana, had made no provision for her soldiers to cast their ballots in the field. For the Republicans to lose Lincoln's home state would be worse than a military defeat. So entire regiments were furloughed home; troops jammed trains from the Mississippi to the Atlantic. Dana recalled that "all the power and influence of the War Department ... were employed to secure the re-election of Mr. Lincoln."

News came to Stanton that Governor Seymour, "under a specious pretext," intended to order out the New York National Guard to supervise the polls on election day. Stanton suspected a plot to intimidate Republican voters. He immediately wired Grant to send "loyal, suitable officers" with adequate troops to reinforce Dix. "Western men should be sent if possible," he added, and Butler, who though a drawback in the field knew how to cow a city, might well accompany them.

Grant sent Butler to see Stanton, and the Secretary confided his fears to the general. Dix aspired to be governor of New York, he said, and would not act tough in a crisis. He did not want to displace his old friend, but he would feel better with Butler there, ostensibly under Dix's command. Butler accepted the assignment, and detachments from his Army of the James embarked for New York. A few days later Butler sent Stanton a dispatch stating simply: "The quietist city ever seen." Lincoln probably never knew what had been going on in his behalf."

Lincoln, surprisingly, was alone at the White House on election day, for Seward, Usher, and Dennision had gone to their states to vote, Fessenden was raising money in New York, Bates and Welles were at their departments, and Stanton, his energy spent completely, was at home, seriously ill with chills and fever. At 7 p.m., Lincoln and Hay splashed through the driving rain from the White House to the War Department. Telegraph reports placed the President in the lead. One message announced a Republican victory in Stebenville. "Ah," said Lincoln, "it's all right; we have carried Stanton's town." In tribute to the absent War Secretary, the President proposed three cheers.

By midnight it was evident that Lincoln had won decisively. The completed tally gave him 2,203,831 votes to McClellan's 1,797,019. He had won every state except Kentucky, Delaware, and New Jersey, and his electoral vote would be 212 to 21 for the general. The men who were doing the fighting had voted for more of it in order to make their efforts worth while. Soldiers in the field gave Lincoln 119,754 votes to 34,291 for McClellan. When soldiers voted at home their ballots were not segregated, but the ratio must have been approximately the same. Without their ballots, Lincoln might have lost New York, Connecticut, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, and the arrest of New York's Democratic agents had helped to take that state. Furloughed troops swelled Republican totals in Illinois and Indiana, where soldiers also guarded the polls. All together these six states contributed 101 electoral votes, enough to elect Lincoln.


Stanton: The Life and Times of Lincoln's Secretary of War
by Benjamin P. Thomas & Harold M. Hyman, pages 331-334
Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1962