We’ve all been there. Someone says something, does something that rubs us the wrong way and we vent about it to a friend, coworker or on social media. And it comes back to haunt us.
Maybe if we followed the example set by Abraham Lincoln, things would be better.
After the Battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln was furious with Gen. George Meade, the commanding officer of the Army of the Potomac.
Meade had scored a victory but had allowed Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia to escape. Even though a flooded Potomac River blocked the rebel army’s path of retreat for 10 days.
After receiving the report of Lee’s escape, Lincoln went to his office and wrote a letter to Meade.
At first, Lincoln congratulated Meade on his victory at Gettysburg. But then he launched into criticism of Meade’s actions.
“But I was in such deep distress myself that I could not restrain some expression of it — I had been oppressed nearly ever since the battles at Gettysburg, by what appeared to be evidences that your self, and Gen. Couch, and Gen. Smith, were not seeking a collision with the enemy, but were trying to get him across the river without another battle,” Lincoln wrote. “…You fought and beat the enemy at Gettysburg; and, of course, to say the least, his loss was as great as yours — He retreated; and you did not, as it seemed to me, pressingly pursue him; but a flood in the river detained him, till, by slow degrees, you were again upon him. You had at least twenty thousand veteran troops directly with you, and as many more raw ones within supporting distance, all in addition to those who fought with you at Gettysburg; while it was not possible that he had received a single recruit; and yet you stood and let the flood run down, bridges be built, and the enemy move away at his leisure, without attacking him.”
Then Lincoln continued, “Again, my dear general, I do not believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee’s escape — He was within your easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would, in connection with our other late successes, have ended the war — As it is, the war will be prolonged indefinitely. … Your golden opportunity is gone, and I am distressed immeasurably because of it.”
In other words, Lincoln was saying that Gen. Meade had failed him and every death that would occur for the rest of the war would be the general’s fault.
Lincoln wrote a few more things, thoroughly venting his frustrations, then folded the letter and placed it in an envelope. He then signed the envelope and put it away in his desk drawer.
He never sent the letter.
Turns out it was a practice of Lincoln, from time to time, to vent his anger and frustrations with people by writing a letter which he would never mail. Lincoln would just place the letter in his desk drawer and come back later with a calmer attitude and a clear head to better address the problem.
In this day and age of texting and social media, we should learn from Lincoln’s example and read through and carefully think about what we write. And maybe hit the delete key.
By the way, Gen. Meade remained in command of the Army of the Potomac for the rest of the war — with no reprimand or black mark on his record.
Ned Jilton II is a page designer and photographer for the Times News as well as the writer of the “Marching with the 19th” Civil War series. You can contact him at njilton@ timesnews.net .