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Face To Face

May 2024
1min read

It is barely two weeks after the great, bloody, and inconclusive Battle of Antietam, and slow, hesitant George B. McClellan, commanding the Army of the Potomac, has let Lee and his army escape. Determined to get some action out of him or to get rid of him, Abraham Lincoln has come to the general’s camp for an interview, on October 3,1862. One little chair has been put out and disdained. Mathew Brady’s able photographer Alexander Gardner has arranged his shot, and we have, fixed on a glass plate, one of the great face-to-face meetings in American history. The towering Lincoln, with no pleasure on his features, looks down on the defiant little soldier; the antipathy was mutual. McClellan was soon removed, and would run for President against Lincoln in 1864. Does this picture tell a historian anything he doesn’t already know? No, but it emphasizes certain aspects: the hostility, the vast difference in height of the principals. And it leads to speculations: Was, for example, the chair put out so that a standing McClellan could look down at a sitting Lincoln? Otherwise why not two chairs?

Glum, ailing, disgusted with the failure of a hostile Congress to embrace either his Treaty of Versailles or the League of Nations, Woodrow Wilson makes the ceremonial ride to the inauguration of his successor, Warren G. Harding. Wilson’s uncompromising morality was being elbowed aside by the “Ohio Gang,” but the new President seems, if anything, more joyless, more dyspeptic. One wonders what, if anything, these two gloomy men had to say to each other during the ride.

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