On this day in 1861, Congress creates the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War in an effort to monitor both military progress and President Abraham Lincoln’s administration.
The War Committee, as it was called, was established in the aftermath of the disastrous Battle of Ball’s Bluff, Virginia,in October 1861 and was designed to provide a check over the executive branch’s management of the war. The committee was stacked with Radical Republicans and staunch abolitionists, however, and was often biased in its approach to investigations of the Union war effort.
Among other things, the War Committee investigated fraud in government war contracts, the treatment of Union prisoners held in the South, alleged atrocities committed by Confederate troops against Union soldiers, and the massacre of Native Americans at Sand Creek, Colorado in November 1864. Most of the committee’s energies were directed towards investigating Union defeats, particularly those of the Army of the Potomac. Many members were bitterly critical of generals like George McClellan and George Meade, Democratswho they believed were “soft” on slavery.
The War Committee was often at odds with the Lincoln administration’s handling of the war effort, and had particular problems with the administration’s military decisions. At the beginning of the war,the committeewas critical because the administration did not have the eradication of slavery as one of its goals. Even after the Emancipation Proclamation, the committee still found fault with many of the administration’s decisions. For instance, the groupdid not want any Democratic generals in the army. Members of the committee often leaked testimony to the press and contributed to the jealousy and distrust among Union generals. Although the committee did help to uncover fraud in war contracts, the lack of military expertise by its members often simply complicated the Northern war effort.