When Abraham Lincoln met Israel Richardson

Dept. of Michigan, Camp 2 SUV members at General Richardson's grave

It was a Fall day-Saturday, October 4, 1862- when President Lincoln met with General Israel B. Richardson.  Richardson was 47 years old and had made Michigan his home.  But on that particular day, neither Lincoln nor Richardson were in Michigan-they were in Maryland-at a place that would become known as the “Antietam Battlefield.”  It wasn’t a “social call” on Lincoln’s part, really. He came to the Pry house to “pay his respects” -as the General had been wounded in the fight.  Maybe their would be days yet future when Lincoln and Richardson could socialize.  Maybe after the war Lincoln could visit Richardson in Michigan. Lincoln had only been to Michigan once-and that was years ago as a stumping politician.  General Richardson’s wounds had not been considered mortal.  He was expected to resume his role as ‘Fighting Dick’- a name even the old General Winfield Scott was familiar with.  At home, was his newly-wed wife Fannie.  She and Richardson had been married not quite a year and a half.  He had much to live for and to be proud of.

President Lincoln probably climbed the stairs up to the re-cooperating General.  Richardson had been placed in an upstairs room.  General McClellan had been using the Pry house as his headquarters.  In fact, the property was also being used as a sort of hospital for officers.  What might have Lincoln said to General Richardson?  Well, surely Lincoln wished him well.  Lincoln was kind and polite. After Lincoln’s visit to him, he would stop and see some wounded Confederates in a nearby house.  There may have been some business discussed between the President and the General.  Lincoln, apparently, was looking to possibly replace General McClellan.  Maybe-just maybe-he had given thought to General Richardson as that replacement.  Maybe it was discussed.  According to postwar writings of Captain Charles Draper- one of Richardson’s aides- Lincoln had, indeed, given the idea some thought.  What it true?  Who knows!  Captain Draper said it was.  We’ll never really know what conversation Lincoln and Richardson had. But it is very curious that Lincoln made his choice for McClellan’s replacement (Ambrose Burnside) just days after General Richardson expired on November 3, 1862.

General Richardson died?  Yes, he wasn’t  supposed to-but infection had set in.  Such sad news it must have been.  Richardson’s life- and his hopes and dreams were over.  His wife became a widow.  Michigan mourned en mass. Lincoln and the Union lost a great soldier.  On his body went back to Michigan-first to Detroit and then to Pontiac.  Lincoln would only, himself, live a few more short years longer than the General. Then whatever Lincoln and Richardson discussed on that October day in 1862-was to become forever unknown (except for Draper’s account?).   In the tales of the great “what-might-have-beens”- the thought of General Israel B. Richardson taking command instead of Burnside leaves one tantalized.   Obviously, it was not meant to be.  Yet, on the day that Lincoln met with Israel Richardson,  the future looked so different than what it turned out to be.  October skies gave way to grey November-cold as the grave.



Information partially gleaned from Civil War Times (June 1971).

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