How Lincoln Practiced Patience

The Civil War’s most deadly conflict, the Battle of Gettysburg, resulted in a Union victory. But it also rang as a missed opportunity for the North, as President Abraham Lincoln saw the battle as an opportunity to potentially end the war had Union forces kept the Confederate army from retreating south of the Potomac River.

Lincoln, let it be known, was pissed. So pissed that he drafted a fairly nasty letter to Union General George Meade a month and a half later. The letter, captured recently in a management article for Inc.com by Yester contributor Ilan Mochari, read as follows:

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. If you could not safely attack Lee last Monday, how can you possibly do so South of the river, when you can take with you very few more than two thirds of the force you then had in hand? It would be unreasonable to expect, and I do not expect you can now effect much. Your golden opportunity is gone, and I am distressed immeasurably because of it.

“Clearly, this is a stern rebuke,” Mochari writes. “You could even argue that it is personal.”

But Lincoln never sent the letter to Meade. It wasn’t found until after the president’s death.

The incident offers some insight into Lincoln’s management style, showing how he blew off steam in private even as he practiced those renowned people skills in private.

According to the Library of Congress, even if Lincoln didn’t send the catty letter off, Meade still knew the president was angry. The general offered his resignation, but Lincoln did not accept it.