previous next

Chapter 5: private letters.
[July 27 to Sept. 30, 1861.]

July 27, 1861, Washington, D. C.

I have been assigned to the command of a division composed of the departments of northeastern Virginia (that under McDowell) and that of Washington (now under Mansfield). Neither of them like it much, especially Mansfield; but I think they must ere long become accustomed to it, as there is no help for it. . . . I find myself in a new and strange position here: President, cabinet, Gen. Scott, and all deferring to me. By some strange operation of magic I seem to have become the power of the land.

I see already the main causes of our recent failure; I am sure that I can remedy these, and am confident that I can lead these armies of men to victory once more. I start to-morrow very early on a tour through the lines on the other side of the river. It will occupy me all day long, and a rather fatiguing ride it will be, but I will be able to make up my mind as to the state of things. Refused invitations to dine to-day from Gen. Scott and four secretaries; had too many things to attend to. . . .

I will endeavor to enclose with this the “thanks of Congress,” which please preserve. I feel very proud of it. Gen. Scott objected to it on the ground that it ought to be accompanied by a gold medal. I cheerfully acquiesce in the thanks by themselves, hoping to win the medal by some other action, and the sword by some other fait d‘éclat.

July 30, Washington

. . Had to work until nearly three this morning. . . . I am getting my ideas pretty well arranged in regard to the strength of my army; it will be a very large one. I have been employed in trying to get the right kind of general officers. . . . Have been working this morning at a bill allowing me to appoint as many aides as I please from civil life and from the army. . . .

I went to the Senate to get it through, and was quite overwhelmed [83] by the congratulations I received and the respect with which I was treated. I suppose half a dozen of the oldest made the remark I am becoming so much used to: “Why, how young you look, and yet an old soldier!” It seems to strike everybody that I am very young. They give me my way in everything, full swing and unbounded confidence. All tell me that I am held responsible for the fate of the nation, and that all its resources shall be placed at my disposal. It is an immense task that I have on my hands, but I believe I can accomplish it. . . . When I was in the Senate chamber to-day and found those old men flocking around me; when I afterwards stood in the library, looking over the Capitol of our great nation, and saw the crowd gathering around to stare at me, I began to feel how great the task committed to me. Oh! how sincerely I pray to God that I may be endowed with the wisdom and courage necessary to accomplish the work. Who would have thought, when we were married, that I should so soon be called upon to save my country?

Aug. 2.

Rode over the river, looked at some of the works, and inspected three or four regiments; worked at organizing brigades — just got through with that. I handed to the President to-night a carefully considered plan for conducting the war on a large scale. . . . I shall carry this thing on en grand and crush the rebels in one campaign. I flatter myself that Beauregard has gained his last victory. We need success and must have it. I will leave nothing undone to gain it. Gen. Scott has been trying to work a traverse to have — made inspector-general of my army and of the army. I respectfully declined the favor. . . .

I have on the staff Seth Williams as adjutant-general; Barnard as chief-engineer; Van Vliet, chief-quartermaster; H. F. Clarke, chief-commissary; Barry, chief of artillery; Meade will be senior topographer; Dr. Tripler, medical director. I have applied for Kingsbury as chief of ordnance, and for Armstrong and Sweitzer as aides-de-camp. I dine with the President to-morrow, where I presume I shall meet Prince Napoleon. . . . You would laugh if you could see the scores of queer letters I receive in these days. I am sorry to say I do not answer any of them; I do no writing myself, except to you. . . . I was in the saddle [84] nearly twelve hours yesterday. I broke down your father and sent Seth home half an hour since, neither of them having been out all to-day.

Aug, 4.

I dined at the President's yesterday. I suppose some forty were present--Prince Napoleon and his staff, French minister, English ditto, cabinet, some senators, Gen. Scott, and myself. The dinner was not especially interesting; rather long, and rather tedious, as such things generally are. I was placed between Col. Pisani, one of the prince's aides, who spoke no English, and a member of the — legation who labored under the delusion that he spoke our native tongue with fluency. I had some long talks with the prince, who speaks English very much as the Frenchmen do in the old English comedies. He is an intelligent man. . . . It made me feel a little strangely when I went in to the President's last evening with the old general leaning on me; I could see that many marked the contrast. . . . I have Washington perfectly quiet now. You would not know that there was a regiment here. I have restored order very completely already.

Aug. 8.

. . . Rose early to-day (having retired at three A. M.), and was pestered to death with senators, etc., and a row with Gen. Scott until about four o'clock; then crossed the river and rode beyond and along the line of pickets for some distance. Came back and had a long interview with Seward about my “pronunciamiento” against Gen. Scott's policy. . . . I have scarcely slept one moment for the last three nights, knowing well that the enemy intend some movement and fully recognizing our own weakness. If Beauregard does not attack to-night I shall look upon it as a dispensation of Providence. He ought to do it. Every day strengthens me. I am leaving nothing undone to increase our force; but the old general always comes in the way. He understands nothing, appreciates nothing.

Aug.--.--On Sunday, instead of going to church, was sent for by the President immediately after breakfast, and kept busy until midnight, when I returned from a long ride too tired to talk even. Yesterday in the saddle from ten to five, and then persecuted until after midnight. To-day the President sent for me [85] before I was up; have been at work ever since, and soon start out to receive a brigade and some batteries.

Aug, 9, 1861, A. M.

I have had a busy day: started from here at seven in the morning, and was in the saddle until about nine this evening; rode over the advanced position on the other side of the river, was soundly drenched in a hard rain, and have been busy ever since my return. Things are improving daily. I received three new regiments to-day; fitted out one new battery yesterday, another to-day, two to-morrow, about five day after. Within four days I hope to have at least 21 batteries — say 124 field-guns--18 companies of cavalry, and some 70 regiments of infantry. Gen. Scott is the great obstacle. He will not comprehend the danger. I have to fight my way against him. Tomorrow the question will probably be decided by giving me absolute control independently of him. I suppose it will result in enmity on his part against me; but I have no choice. The people call upon me to save the country. I must save it, and cannot respect anything that is in the way.

I receive letter after letter, have conversation after conversation; calling on me to save the nation, alluding to the presidency, dictatorship, etc. As I hope one day to be united with you for ever in heaven, I have no such aspiration. I would cheerfully take the dictatorship and agree to lay down my life when the country is saved. I am not spoiled by my unexpected new position. I feel sure that God will give me the strength and wisdom to preserve this great nation; but I tell you, who share all my thoughts, that I have no selfish feeling in this matter. I feel that God has placed a great work in my hands. I have not sought it. I know how weak I am, but I know that I mean to do right, and I believe that God will help me and give me the wisdom I do not possess. Pray for me, that I may be able to accomplish my task, the greatest, perhaps, that any poor, weak mortal ever had to do. . . . God grant that I may bring this war to an end and be permitted to spend the rest of my days quietly with you!

I met the prince (Napoleon) at Alexandria to-day and came up with him. He says that Beauregard's head is turned; that Joe Johnston is quiet and sad, and that he spoke to him in very kind terms of me.


Aug. 12.

. . . Every day shows some progress. If Beauregard will give me another week or ten days I will feel quite comfortable again. I have been anxious, especially as the old man and I do not get along very well together.

Aug. 13.

I am living in Corn. Wilkes's house, the northwest corer of Jackson Square, close by where you used to visit Secretary Marcy's family. It is a very nice house. I occupy the three front rooms on the second story; Van Vliet the room in rear of mine; Judge Key behind him; Colburn the story above. I receive the staff every morning until ten and every evening at nine. Quite a levee it makes, and a rather fine-looking set they are. Kingsbury arrived last night. Did I tell you that Hudson is one of my regular aides?

Aug. 14.

Rode to McCall's camp, out to the line of pickets, and followed that to the Aqueduct Bridge, thence home by W. F. Smith's camp; got home at ten P. M.

Midnight, 15th.

. . . I am almost tired out; I cannot get one minute's rest during the day, and sleep with one eye open at night, looking out sharply for Beauregard, who, I think, has some notion of making a dash in this direction. Gen. Scott is the most dangerous antagonist I have. Our ideas are so widely different that it is impossible for us to work together much longer--tant pour cela. My day has been spent much as usual. . . . Rose at 6.30; did any reasonable amount of business, among which may be classed quelling a couple of mutinies among the volunteers; started on my usual ride at 4.30, came home at nine; have been hard at work ever since. As to my mutinous friends, I have ordered sixty-three of the 2d Maine regiment to be sent as prisoners to the Dry Tortugas, there to serve out the rest of the war as prisoners at hard labor. I reduced the others (79th N. Y.) by sending out a battalion, battery, and squadron of regulars to take care of them. The gentlemen at once laid down their arms, and I have the ringleaders in irons. They will be tried and probably shot to-morrow. An example is necessary to bring these people up to the mark; and if they will not fight and do their duty from honorable motives, I intend to coerce them and let them see what they have to expect if they pretend to [87] rebel. I deprived the 79th of their colors, and have them downstairs, not to be returned to them until they have earned them again by good behavior. The great trouble is the want of officers of regiments. We have good material, but no officers.

Aug. 14, 1861.

I was so occupied yesterday that I could not write. Profs. Mahan and Bache at breakfast. Then came the usual levee. Then Burnside turned up, and I had to listen to his explanation of some slanders against him; then some naval officers; then I don't know how many others before dinner. After dinner I rode out until about nine, when I found the President had been to see me and wanted me at the White House. After I got through there I went to see Montgomery Blair on business. Then, on my return, found some more of the cabinet, McDowell, etc., so that it was after midnight when I got to my room, completely fatigued. So my days and nights pass, a steady course of conversations and orders all day. Except when I get out for a ride, no relief for mind or body.

Washington, 16th.

. . . I am here in a terrible place: the enemy have from three to four times my force; the President, the old general, cannot or will not see the true state of affairs. Most of my troops are demoralized by the defeat at Bull Run; some regiments even mutinous. I have probably stopped that; but you see my position is not pleasant. . . . I have, I believe made the best possible disposition of the few men under my command; will quietly await events, and, if the enemy attacks, will try to make my movements as rapid and desperate as may be. If my men will only fight I think I can thrash him, notwithstanding the disparity of numbers. As it is, I trust to God to give success to our arms, though He is not wont to aid those who refuse to aid themselves. I am weary of all this. I have no ambition in the present affairs; only wish to save my country, and find the incapables around me will not permit it. They sit on the verge of the precipice, and cannot realize what they see. Their reply to everything is, “Impossible! Impossible!” They think nothing possible which is against their wishes.

Aug. 16, 6 P. M.

. . Gen. Scott is at last opening his eyes to the fact that I am right and that we are in imminent danger. [88] Providence is aiding me by heavy rains, which are swelling the Potomac, which may be impassable for a week; if so we are saved. If Beauregard comes down upon us soon I have everything ready to make a manoeuvre which will be decisive. Give me two weeks and I will defy Beauregard; in a week the chances will be at least even.

Aug. 18.

My command is at last extended, so that I take in Banks in the Shenandoah and Dix at Baltimore. . . . The true reason why I did not bring you here was that I did not deem it safe. We may have to fight a battle under the defences of Washington within a week, and I did not care to have you exposed to the chances. If Beauregard does not attack within two days he has lost every chance of success. If by the time you receive this letter you have not heard of a battle through the telegraph you may be easy and contented.

Aug. 19.

. . If this week passes without a battle, and reinforcements come in, I shall feel sure that the dangerous point is turned.

6 P. M.

I have been inspecting the defences over the river and find them quite strong. We are becoming stronger in our position every day, and I hope for large reinforcements this week.

Aug. 20.

. . . If Beauregard does not attack this week he is foolish. He has given me infinite advantages, and you may be sure I have not neglected the opportunity. Every day adds to the strength of my defences, to the perfection of the organization, and some little to our forces. I have now about 80 field-guns (there were but 49 at Bull Run), and by Saturday will have 112. There were only some 400 cavalry at Bull Run; I now have about 1,200, and by the close of the week will have some 3,000. I am gaining rapidly in every way. I can now defend Washington with almost perfect certainty. When I came here it could have been taken with the utmost ease. In a week I ought to be perfectly safe and be prepared to defend all Maryland; in another week to advance our position.

. . . The men were very enthusiastic and looked well. My old State will come out handsomely. I have been much vexed to-night by sundry troublesome things; the only comfort has been [89] your father's arrival, which is a great relief to me. I like to see that cool, steady head near me.

Aug. 23.

. . . Yesterday I rode to Alexandria and reviewed four brigades — that is, seventeen regiments. . . Beauregard has missed his chance, and I have gained what I most needed-time! . . .

I do not live at all; merely exist, worked and worried half to death. I have no privacy, no leisure, no relaxation, except in reading your letters and writing to you. We take our meals at Wormley's: a colored gentleman who keeps a restaurant just around the corner in I Street. I take breakfast there pretty regularly; sometimes have it sent over here. As to dinner, it takes its chances, and generally gets no chance at all, as it is often ten o'clock when I get back from my ride, and I have nothing to eat all day. . . .

Aug. 25.

Yesterday started at nine A. M., rode over Long Bridge and reviewed Richardson's brigade, then went three miles further and at twelve reviewed Blenker's brigade at Roach's Mills, then rode some ten miles looking for a position in which to fight a battle to cover Alexandria should it be attacked. I found one which satisfies me entirely. I then returned to Fort Runyon, near the head of Long Bridge, and reviewed the 21st New York, after which reviewed four batteries of light artillery. . . . This morning telegram from other side announcing enemy advancing in force. Started off aides and put the wires at work; when fairly started alarm proved false. . . Friend Beauregard has allowed the chance to escape him. I have now some 65,000 effective men; will have 75,000 by end of week. Last week he certainly had double our force. I feel sure that the dangerous moment has passed.


. . . Reviewed Sherman's command (seven regiments) near Fort Corcoran; then McDowell's (eight regiments) at the race-course; then rode to the ground in front of Alexandria-twelve hours in saddle,

Aug. 31.

Drove out yesterday as far as McCall's camp, and to-day down over the river for several hours. Have not yet ventured [90] on horseback again; may try it to-morrow. . . . Our defences are becoming very strong now, and the army is increasing in efficiency and numbers quite rapidly. I think Beauregard has abandoned the idea of crossing the river above us, and I learned to-day again that my movements had entirely disconcerted their plans and that they did not know what to do. They are suffering much from sickness, and I fancy are not in the best possible condition. If they venture to attack us here they will have an awful time of it. I do not think they will dare to attack. We are now ready for them. The news from every quarter to-night is favorable. All goes well.

Sept. 4, 1861.

I took an early dinner, and then mounted the bay, Sturgis's horse, and rode to McCall's camp at Tennallytown. Sweitzer and Colburn went with me, as usual when hard riding is expected; also the ordinary escort of a sergeant and ten dragoons . . . . Learned that the firing at Great Falls amounted to little, and that the orders I had before given to send another regiment and another battery were sufficient. Then rode to Little Falls (Chain Bridge) and went along the whole picket-line.


.--. . . Had my dinner just after writing the above, and then rode to review a brigade and 32 guns away over beyond the Capitol. Just as I got through Seth rode up with a message to the effect that the enemy were in force near Smith (W. F.) I rode rapidly home, changed my horse, and rode out to Smith's camp. I determined at once to throw Smith across the river, and went over with his brigade myself till I saw him in position, and then came back at 1.30 pretty well tired out.

Sept. 6.

Rode along pickets from Corcoran to Chain Bridge. Found everything in good condition and ready for a battle. If B. attacks now he will inevitably be defeated with terrible loss. . . . I feel now perfectly secure against an attack; the next thing will be to attack him.

Sept. 8.

What a shame that any one should spread such a wicked rumor in regard to my being killed! I beg to assure you that I have not been killed a single time since I reached Washington. So don't believe any such absurd rumors. How lucky [91] that you did not hear the report until after you received the telegram! I had another bouquet this morning, one from the “Lady President.” Mr. Lincoln came this morning to ask me to pardon a man that I had ordered to be shot, suggesting that I could give as a reason in the order that it was by request of the “Lady President.”


.--Inspected works from Corcoran to Albany; reviewed McDowell's division and another brigade; condition of troops excellent. Received proceedings of court-martial sentencing a dozen men to death; too severe and unjust.

Sept. 27.

. . . He (the President) sent a carriage for me to meet him and the cabinet at Gen. Scott's office. Before we got through the general “raised a row with me.” I kept cool. In the course of the conversation he very strongly intimated that we were no longer friends. I said nothing, merely looked at him and bowed. He tried to avoid me when we left, but I walked square up to him, looked him fully in the eye, extended my hand, and said, “Good-morning, Gen. Scott.” He had to take my hand, and so we parted. As he threw down the glove and I took it up, I presume war is declared. So be it. I have one strong point — that I do not care one iota for my present position.


.--I started early in the day to be present at the presentation of colors to McCall's division by Gov. Curtin. It was long and fatiguing. I then rode over the Chain Bridge and back by Fort Corcoran. When I returned I had a great deal of tedious work to do and fell asleep in the midst of it. This morning I have had a siege with the Sanitary Committee, and don't think I will ride out to-day. How did you learn that Buckner and Smith have joined the rebel army? I can hardly believe it. You have no idea how the men brighten up now when I go among them. I can see every eye glisten. Yesterday they nearly pulled me to pieces in one regiment. You never heard such yelling. Did I tell you that Lawrence Williams has been promoted and leaves my staff? I do not in the least doubt his loyalty. I enclose a card just received from “A. Lincoln” ; it shows too much deference to be seen outside.

No date.

The enemy were stampeded this morning, and while [92] they were in terror I rapidly occupied all their positions and had the satisfaction of going out with our advance and seeing the last of their cavalry.

No date (Sept. 30?)

A most unhappy thing occurred last night among some of W. F. Smith's raw regiments. They three times mistook each other for the enemy and fired into each other. At least six were killed and several wounded, besides two horses were killed. It is dangerous to make night — marches on that account; but Smith's march was delayed by causes I could not foresee, and it was necessary to advance at all hazards. The manoeuvring in advance by our flanks alarmed the enemy, whose centre at Munson's and Upton's was much advanced. As soon as our pickets informed me that he had fallen back I rushed forward and seized those very important points. We now hold them in strength and have at once proceeded to fortify them. The moral effect of this advance will be great, and it will have a bad influence on the troops of the enemy. They can no longer say that they are flaunting their dirty little flag in my face, and I hope they have taken their last look at Washington. . . .

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: