Chapter 16: capture of fortifications around Richmond, Newmarket Heights, Dutch Gap Canal, elections in New York and gold conspiracy.
- Across the James River
-- the demonstration of August 13
-- Butler's plan for attack on Newmarket Heights
-- an order: respectfully submitted to critics
-- gallant and brilliant charge of the colored division on Fort Newmarket and capture of Fort Harrison by General Ord
-- Butler gets between the lines
-- Lee's vain attempt to retake the position
-- Butler's log-house headquarters
-- courage of colored troops demonstrated
-- Medals for bravery
-- Dutch Gap Canal: dug and blown out to let the fleet up the River, and then the Navy is afraid to go
-- sent to New York in November to insure a fair election
-- suppressing a militia commander
-- troops in ferry-boats all about the City
-- August Belmont wants to bet
-- the gold conspiracy
-- how Butler kept the price down
-- Butler offered post of Secretary of War
-- banquet to Butler
-- Beecher names him for President
-- an unfortunate affair
In August we had a small holding on the north side of the James River
at a point known as Deep Bottom
. General Grant
wanted to get north of the James
still further up so that if it became convenient or necessary the united armies of the Potomac
and the James
,--leaving enough men in the trenches before Petersburg
to hold our position there, and in our front, to hold the position of the Army of the James at Bermuda Hundred
,--could be thrown across the river by pontoon bridges, and make a full attack upon the city of Richmond
To be able to get there before Lee
, he relied upon the fact that we had much the shorter line, as will be seen by the map. Although Lee
had a railroad, yet it was in such meagre equipment and repair that only a few troops could be transported over it rapidly to the south side of Richmond
's bluff; and Grant
proposed that his movement should be made on the north side of Richmond
against the fortifications at Chaffin
To extend his lines on the north side he detailed, on the 13th of August, Hancock
with the Second Corps, to be transported from City Point
by the river to Deep Bottom
At the same time I ordered General Birney
to go with the Tenth Corps across from Bermuda Hundred
and join Hancock
in an attack upon the enemy in that quarter.
The plan was that they should carry the enemy's fortifications,--the left of which, substantially, was Fort Wilkinson,--at a point known as Newmarket Heights, where there was a strong redoubt enclosed by a double line of abatis, and defended with artillery.1
That attack was to be made at daybreak by both corps.
's corps on board transportation to go around by river, because he supposed that by marching to the river from City Point
and embarking, their destination would be concealed and the surprise be more effectual.
The expedition was very well planned, but for a reason that was inherent in the movements of the Army of the Potomac, it was not well executed in point of time.
I had Birney
's corps ready to cross the pontoon bridge at Deep Bottom
at midnight, and as he held the right of my line, and any movement of his troops upon our side of the river would be very likely to attract attention, he waited for the Second Corps.
As I was to have nothing to do with the matter except to give orders to Birney
to move, I remained quietly at my headquarters.
The first of the vessels containing Hancock
's troops, as I was informed, reached Deep Bottom
between nine and ten o'clock in the morning.
Imagine my surprise at about eleven o'clock when General Hancock
with his staff,--who preferred to ride from the lines before Petersburg
across my pontoon bridge at Point of Rocks
, and then passing over the peninsula of Bermuda Hundred
, cross at Deep Bottom
on the pontoon bridge there,--rode up to my headquarters.
I greeted him with great cordiality, which was the state of our intercourse until the day of his death, and as we were chatting, and he seemed in no hurry, I invited him to take an early lunch with me, which, after New England
fashion, was at twelve o'clock. He did so, and between twelve and one left for a ride of about seven miles to the bridge at Deep Bottom
The attack was made quite late in the day, and was not successful.
It was renewed the next day, and was in part successful, a minor fortification and four guns being captured.
Then, deeming the position of the enemy to be too strong to be taken, Hancock
withdrew his troops back to the lines at Petersburg
, and Birney
The enemy having repulsed the two corps of our army, I supposed would become careless, not thinking the attack would be renewed.
Gen. Birney, Commanding Tenth Corps, Army of the James, and staff.
(from a Photograph.)|
With a view of finding out exactly how matters stood with them in that part of their lines, I caused my scouts and secret service men to make a most thorough investigation.
As I have stated, I had an exceedingly accurate map, drawn by the rebels themselves, of all their fortifications, and I instructed my secret service men to find out exactly how many men were holding each fortification, including the works at Chaffin
's farm and Fort Harrison
, and the connecting lines of forts between them I got such reports that upon reinvestigation I was satisfied they were correct.
This took some time, but about the 20th of September I went to General Grant
and explained to him my preparation, and asked his leave to make an attack in that quarter with such men as I could spare from the Army of the James.
I felt satisfied that I could leave comparatively few men in my intrenchments, for while I was attacking Richmond
on one side of the James
I was quite sure the enemy would not find itself sufficiently at leisure to make an attack upon my lines on the other side of the river.
I drew out my plan carefully in the shape of a general order
with explanations, and read it to General Grant
He was pleased to compliment the order in high terms, and yielded his assent.
I told him that I hoped to do two things which had not been done before — to surprise the enemy and at least gain and hold the outer line of their fortifications, and perhaps, if I had good luck, take Chaffin
's farm and get into Richmond
I further told him that I had another thing in view.
The affair of the mine at Petersburg
, which had been discussed between us, had convinced me that in the Army of the Potomac negro troops were thought of no value, and with the exception of an attack under Smith
on the 15th of June, where they were prevented from entering Petersburg
by the sloth, inaction, or I believe worse, of Smith
, the negro troops had had no chance to show their valor or staying qualities in action.
I told him that I meant to take a large part of my negro force, and under my personal command make an attack upon Newmarket Heights, the redoubt to the extreme left of the enemy's line.
If I could take that and turn it, then I was certain that I could gain the first line of the enemy's intrenchments around Richmond
I said: “I want to convince myself whether, when under my own eye, the negro troops will fight; and if I can
take with the negroes, a redoubt that turned Hancock
's corps on a former occasion, that will settle the question.”
I proposed to try this in a manner that I had not before seen attempted, either in the Army of the Potomac or elsewhere,--that is, by a regular “dash,” such as I had read of in the history of the wars of Europe
What I intended to do, and how I intended to do it, is better set forth in the order that I read to General Grant
, and which I here reproduce from my order book.
I give it as it was then written, because William F. Smith
has stated in a magazine article that I was a “child, and incapable of giving an order in the field.”
That is true or false, and to substantiate its falsity I propose to submit to military critics everywhere whether I was either “a child or incapable of giving an order in the field,” and allow my reputation as a commanding general to stand or fall with it.
Unfortunately at the date fixed for the execution of that order, the 29th of September, General Birney
The command of his corps was about to devolve upon Gen. A. H. Terry
, who would have very well executed his part, but General Birney
Just before sunset on the 28th of September I rode along the James River
on the south side from a point opposite Aikens' Landing
down to Deep Bottom
There was no more appearance of the proposed movement than if there had not been a soldier within fifty miles of the place — not the slightest appearance of any preparation for throwing a pontoon or other bridge across the river, and no pontoons in the river or in sight.
When darkness fell the work began, and at half past 11 I was again there.
A thoroughly serviceable pontoon bridge had been thrown across the river to convey infantry and artillery, and it was entirely muffled.
At five minutes of midnight the head of Ord
's column struck the bridge, and with a quiet that was wonderful the march across was performed.
I had sent an aid to Deep Bottom
, and he met me half way coming back to say that at precisely twelve o'clock Birney
's column silently began crossing the bridge, and that General Birney
had said that after he had bivouacked three divisions of colored troops as well as his own, he should remain quiet and move exactly at daybreak; and that he expected that I would take personal command of the colored troops at that time.
I rode quickly to my headquarters and snatched a few minutes' sleep.
At three o'clock I took my coffee, and at four I was crossing the Deep Bottom Bridge
At half past 4 o'clock I found the colored division, rising three thousand men, occupying a plain which shelved towards the river, so that they were not observed by the enemy at Newmarket Heights.
They were formed in close column of division right in front.
I rode through the division, addressed a few words of encouragement and confidence to the troops.
I told them that this was an attack where I expected them to go over and take a work which would be before them after they got over the hill, and that they must take it at all hazards, and that when they went over the parapet into it their war cry should be, “Remember Fort Pillow
The caps were taken from the nipples of their guns so that no shot should be fired by them, for whenever a charging column stops to fire, that charge may as well be considered ended.
As there was to be no halt after they turned the brow of the hill, no skirmishers were to be deployed.
We waited a few minutes, and the day fairly shining, the order was given to go forward, and the troops marched up to the top of the hill as regularly and quietly as if on parade.
Then the scene that lay before us was this: There dipped from the brow of the hill quite a declivity down through some meadow land.
At its foot ran a brook of water only a few inches deep, a part of the bottom, as I knew,I being gravelly and firm.
The brook drained a marsh which was quite deep and muddy, a little to the left of the direct line.
The column of division unfortunately did not oblique to the right far enough to avoid that marsh wholly.
Then rose steadily, at an angle of thirty to thirty-five degrees, plain, hard ground to within one hundred and fifty yards of the redoubt.
At this point there was a very strong line of abatis.3
A hundred yards above that, the hill rising a little faster, was another line of abatis.
Fifty yards beyond was a square redoubt mounting some guns en barbette
, that is, on top of the embankment, and held by not exceeding one thousand of the enemy.
I rode with my staff to the top of the first hill, whence everything was in sight, and watched the movement of the negroes.
The column marched down the declivity as steadily as if on parade.
At once when it came
in sight the enemy opened upon it, but at that distance there was not much effect.
Crossing the brook their lines broke in little disorder, the left of the divisions having plunged into the morass, but the men struggling through, held their guns above their heads to keep them dry. The
Arrival of first Confederate cannon captured by Gen. Butler's colored troops.
From a drawing.|
enemy directed its fire upon them; but, as in all cases of firing downwards from a fort, the fire was too high.
The leading battalion broke, but its colonel maintained his position at its head.
Words of command were useless, as in the melee they could not be heard; but calling his bugler to him the rally rang out, and at its call his men formed around him. The division was at once re-formed, and
then at double quick they dashed up to the first line of abatis.
The axemen laid to, vigorously chopping out the obstructions.
Many of them went down.
Others seized the axes.
The enemy concentrated their fire upon the head of the column.
It looked at one moment as if it might melt away.
The colors of the first battalion went down, but instantly they were up again but with new color bearers.
Wonderfully they managed to brush aside the abatis, and then at double quick the re-formed column charged the second line of abatis.
Fortunately they were able to remove that in a few minutes, but it seemed a long time to the lookers on. Then, with a cheer and a yell that I can almost hear now, they dashed upon the fort.
But before they reached even the ditch, which was not a formidable thing, the enemy ran away and did not stop until they had run four miles, I believe.
They were only fired at as they ran away, and did not lose a man.
As I rode across the brook and up towards the fort along this line of charge, some eighty feet wide and three or four hundred yards long, there lay in my path five.hundred and forty-three dead and wounded of my colored comrades.
And, as I guided my horse this way and that way that his hoof might not profane their dead bodies, I swore to myself an oath, which I hope and believe I have kept sacredly, that they and their race should be cared for and protected by me to the extent of my power so long as I lived.
When I reached the scene of their exploit their ranks broke, but it was to gather around their general.
They almost dragged my horse up alongside the cannon they had captured, and I felt in my inmost heart that the capacity of the negro race for soldiers had then and there been fully settled forever.
Meanwhile the white troops under Birney
had advanced up the Newmarket
road in the direction indicated by his orders without meeting any force except a few skirmishers and pickets who fled before him, and occupied the abandoned line of the enemy's intrenchments, which had been carried by the colored division.
Not long after I joined Birney
, neither of us having heard anything from the operations of Ord
, Captain DeKay
, my aid who had accompanied General Ord
so that he might communicate to me when desirable, rode up with haste and informed me that General Ord
had been very eminently successful; that with his troops of the Eighteenth
Corps he had, with great gallantry, stormed Fort Harrison
, a very strong work near James River
, being the salient point of their line, and captured it without very considerable loss, the enemy retreating up the river line of fortifications.
All the redoubts, as far as could be seen, had been abandoned largely because they could all be taken in the rear.
But General Ord
, desiring to reconnoitre the position, mounted upon the top of the highest point of Fort Harrison
, and stood looking at the country, and while so doing, unfortunately received a very serious wound in his ankle from a single shot of a rebel sharp-shooter, which entirely disabled him, and from which he suffered great pain.
As will be remembered, for the purpose of having a surprise the orders for the movement were intrusted only to the commanders of corps.
's staff, in their anxiety for the condition of their chief, immediately got him into an ambulance and took him to Deep Bottom
, some miles down the river, where he could have proper facilities for surgical care, but very unfortunately, he not being in condition to remember about it himself, carried away in his pocket his orders, so that General Heckman
who succeeded him in command knew not what to do.
Meanwhile General Grant
, in natural concern as to the success of the expedition, rode over from City Point
, arriving after a delay of some hours, and found my troops occupying Fort Harrison
had ridden to find me and given me information of the condition of affairs.
I asked him by what road he came.
He said: “By the Varina
road,” and I said to him: “That is covered by the enemy's line of fortifications.”
He said: “They had all been abandoned, General, I saw as I came by them.”
Thereupon I called a couple of orderlies and said: “DeKay
, ride with me to Fort Harrison
by the shortest route.”
We rode out until we got on the Varina
road, and there I could see plainly at a distance of some three or four hundred yards the line of redoubts and their connecting intrenchments apparently abandoned.
We had ridden but a short distance when I was saluted by the discharge of a shell which passed over my head.
Supposing this line of redoubts was occupied by our troops, as they ought to have been, and would have been I doubt not except for the accident to Ord
, I said: “Well, DeKay
, it is not usual to salute the commanding general
with a shell.”
He raised his glass and said: “But, General, that redoubt is occupied by the
I said: “You told me it was evacuated when you came by.”
He said: “So it was, but they have reoccupied it.”
The word was scarcely out of his mouth when an artillery shot came over, and we found ourselves in this dilemma: We must either return,--and we had got so far down that that was a pretty hazardous operation,--or we must ride on. We could not abandon our horses because the turnpike was laid over a morass, and the rebels would have only to send out a party to pick us up. So I said: “My boy, we must ride for it,” and we did. Then they opened upon us with musketry by battalion, and the singing of the minie balls as they passed over our heads was inspiriting but not pleasant music.
I confess that I put my horse to his quickest pace; and under it all, I could not help smiling to see DeKay
, who rode a fine hunter, trying to manage, as she was going at her best gait, to keep his thread-paper body between me and the fire, which continued during our ride, quite three quarters of a mile.
When we got in sight of Fort Harrison
the firing ceased.
No damage had been done except that a horse of one of the orderlies got a pretty sharp wound, and when I got to the fort I found the crupper strap of my saddle cut off, by what means I know not. I found also that a tuft of cotton under my shoulder strap, which the tailor had been kind enough to put there, was torn out. As I had not been that day where anything of the kind could have happened before, I attributed both to the shots of the enemy.
At Fort Harrison
I found General Grant
He had made a hasty examination of the premises, and found that the gorge of the fort was open towards the river and the enemy's gunboats had opened upon that gorge, and, not knowing the great success we had had on the right, he had come to the conclusion that the line of fortifications extending into the country from the river could not be held, and had better be abandoned as soon as the fort could be dismantled.
He had already sent off two very heavy guns across the bridge at Varina
In a few minutes' consultation I assured him that, in my judgment, a line could certainly be held against any force that was now on the north side of the James
, the numbers of which I knew.
It would take quite twelve hours for Lee
to get any sufficient number of his troops from Petersburg
there to attempt to dislodge us. In the meantime we could so far protect ourselves by filling up the
gorge that the fire of the rebel gunboats would be of no consequence, and at their distance the gunboats could not aid Lee
in the attack upon us. By turning the line of intrenchments I felt sure that with my force I could hold that most important line of the outer fortifications of Richmond
laughingly said: “Well, General, if you say so, and as this is your expedition, I do not think I ought to interfere.
You can take the responsibilities of your own command.
I am sorry I sent off those two guns.”
“ Well,” I said, “they would be of very little consequence here; they are siege guns and our light guns will be all that we need.
But I am afraid the men that were sent off with the guns will never know how to get them across the pontoon bridge without tipping them over into the river and losing them,” --which, unfortunately, happened.
went home, after giving us his congratulations upon what had been done and saying it was worth all we should lose unless we were driven from the works with great loss.
immediately commenced preparations for the reception of Lee
if he sent over his men. The greatest diligence was used to put ourselves in posture of defence.
The activity and enthusiasm of the negro troops in the later afternoon and night were wonderful.
The outside line of the fortification we made the inside line by occupying the ditch.
This sheltered us more than if we had not turned the line, and was of the greatest service, especially as it was a dry ditch.
, acting on the information that the enemy's line of redoubts in his front next the river had been abandoned in whole or in part, made a strenuous attack with his colored division upon the principal redoubt, known to us as Fort Gilmour.
That was the salient point in the line, and its occupation would have caused the evacuation of the whole line.
The men rushed up to the breastworks in spite of a heavy fire.
They found that the works were very high and the ditch very deep, from the bottom of the ditch to the parapet being about fifteen feet. The colored soldiers, not daunted, attempted to assault the parapet, and climbed upon each other's shoulders for the purpose of getting at the enemy.
But after a prolonged struggle and the capture of some one hundred and forty of them who got over the parapet, they were obliged to retire to the line of intrenchments they had occupied.
But the manner of their attack more than compensated for their loss, for it was another demonstration that the negro would fight.
appreciated the great importance of recovering his line, and. on the following morning, with two of his best divisions, as we were informed, he made a very energetic attempt to carry our position.
His troops were formed between us and the river so that his advance, was over a substantially open field.
and the intrenchments nearest it, captured by the gallant officers and men of the Eighteenth Corps the day before, were most bravely and inflexibly held by them.
Our loss was very considerable, and especially in officers, who I suspect were too proud and courageous to shelter themselves, as they did their men, behind the reversed intrenchments.
We lost there the very efficient General Burnham
, in memory of whose gallantry Fort Harrison
was afterwards named Fort Burnham
We lost many others of our higher field officers, so that before the battle was ended majors were in command of brigades, and captains of regiments.
Every man was a hero on that day.
Three times our line was charged by the rebel North Carolina
troops Gen. Hiram Burnham
with the most persevering energy.
But our troops held their intrenchments and in comparative shelter swept the field.
The North Carolina
division was substantially destroyed.
Nineteen battle-flags and several hundred prisoners were captured.
The day was a very rainy one, but the rebels kept up the attack until nearly night, when they withdrew.
No attack was ever afterwards made on that line, but we occupied it from that time until our negro troops marched from it to take possession of Richmond
Further up to our right about a mile from our line I bivouacked with my staff and some dozen orderlies in a grove of stunted pines.
My headquarters guard had not come from Bermuda
with me, and I
saw no necessity for detailing from the line any of my tired troops to make a guard.
The night was an exceedingly dark one.
About nine o'clock General Weitzel
's provost marshal came up to headquarters, where he naturally supposed there would be a sufficient guard, and turned over to my headquarters provost marshal some three hundred prisoners, took his receipt and rode back to his own camp, some three miles to the left, and I found myself in this singular situation — with fifteen or twenty of my staff and orderlies, having in charge that large number of prisoners on a very dark night.
I directed my orderlies, from a quantity of wood that had fortunately been cut and left there, to instruct the prisoners to build fires to dry themselves, and as our supply wagon was very well filled, the prisoners were seated upon the ground and served with rations, which in the warmth of the fire they very gratefully appreciated.
The orderlies, changing their clothes, appeared amongst them quite often and they never guessed that the general and staff of their captors were wholly within their power.
How it would be when daylight came was another question, so I sent a staff officer up to General Birney
's headquarters and asked for a couple of companies to report as soon as possible.
They got there between eleven and twelve o'clock, and were posted with a proper line of sentries, and in the morning the prisoners were marched under guard to Deep Bottom
I sent for my headquarters guard, however, and my belongings at my headquarters at Bermuda Hundred
, and took possession of a beautiful grove in which the house of a planter named Cox
was situated, This house and its outbuildings I turned over to my guards and attendants.
I had headquarters built of logs for the occupation of myself and staff, because I would rather have a fresh log house for that purpose than a planter's deserted house, which, from my experience, I found sometimes too thickly populated to be comfortable.
Those headquarters were never abandoned until Richmond
Except for the unfortunate accident of General Ord
's disability, this whole movement was most successful, but not all we had hoped for, and it was characterized by General Grant
as one of the best things of the kind done in the war.
In a book published by Maj.-Gen. A. A. Humphreys
, General Meade
's chief of staff, purporting to be a history of the movements
from the Rapidan
, this movement is narrated, and although it was carried on in obedience to my express orders and under my own personal superintendence and command, he forgets to mention that I was there at all or had anything to do with it, simply because he was, and I was not, a captain in the regular army.
I hope what I say may not give too great a sale to his book, which can be bought anywhere for a dollar.
In the attack on Newmarket Heights by my column of colored troops I violated for the first time a rule of my own military action.
I admit that as generals go I was not fit to be a general, in that I never did, nay, never could, order a movement of troops to be made without carefully stopping to count the loss I was likely to make of men in doing it, however successful it might prove.
Nor did I ever forget the still more important fact, whether the thing to be done by a given movement would be worth its cost.
And I trust I was never overweighed as to those results by the consideration that if successful the movement would result in my military renown.
In other words, for my own glory I never incurred large “butcher's bills.”
Unfortunately if I erred, it was because I deemed the lives of my men too valuable.
Sitting in my tent at night, pondering with pen in hand, and making memoranda for a military movement in the morning, I could hear in the mess-tent near me many of the officers of my command gathered together enjoying themselves with music, and genial, hilarious laughter, and I could not help the thought from intruding upon me: How many of those young men am I condemning to death or mutilation on the following day by the order I am considering, to say nothing of the gallant soldiers to be condemned with them.
Leaving out any sentiment in the matter, every man I have in my command has cost the government on the average more than three thousand dollars in his preparation to serve the Union
If I gain what I am to undertake, shall I not lose to the country more than its worth toward the termination of the war?
And as these sounds greeted my ears, more than once the pen has dropped from my hand and with deep agitation I have paced my tent, painfully reflecting upon these topics.
This shows I was no Napoleon
, for he told his men at Saragossa
, when they were falling around him, says the historian, “Never mind, boys; a single night in Paris
will make this all
I confess that if such sentiment is necessary to fit a man for a general, I am not so fitted.
But in the attack on Newmarket Heights I did deliberately expose my men to the loss of greater numbers than I really believed the capture of the redoubt was worth; for if the enemy's lines at Fort Harrison
were captured, as they were, then Newmarket Heights would have been evacuated without loss, for I do not know that they were ever reoccupied by either side afterwards during the war. Now comes the inquiry in the minds of reflecting men: “Why make the attack?”
Because it was to be done with my negro troops.
“Are we to understand that you would sacrifice your negro troops where you would not your white troops?”
No; except for a great purpose in behalf of their race and in behalf of the Union
If I have tried to make anything apparent up to this time in what I have written, it is that from prejudice and ignorance of their good qualities it was not really believed in and out of the army by military men, with a very few exceptions, that the negroes would fight.
My white regiments were always nervous when standing in line flanked by colored troops, lest the colored regiments should give way and they (the white) be flanked.
This fear was a deep-seated one and spread far and wide, and the negro had had no sufficient opportunity to demonstrate his valor and his staying qualities as a soldier.
And the further cry was that the negroes never struck a good blow for their own freedom.
Therefore, I determined to put them in position, to demonstrate the fact of the value of the negro as a soldier, “coute qui coute,” and that the experiment should be one of which no man should doubt, if it attained success.
Hence the attack by the negro column on Newmarket Heights.
After that in the Army of the James a negro regiment was looked upon as the safest flanking regiment that could be put in line.
I had the fullest reports made to me of the acts of individual bravery of colored men on that occasion, and I had done for the negro soldiers, by my own order, what the government has never done for its white soldiers — I had a medal struck of like size, weight, quality, fabrication and intrinsic value with those which Queen Victoria gave with her own hand to her distinguished private soldiers of the Crimea.
I have caused an engraving of that medal to be printed in this book in honor of the colored soldiers and of myself.
The obverse of the medal shows a bastion fort charged upon by negro soldiers, and bears the inscription, “Ferro iis libertas perveniet.
The reverse bears the words, “Campaign before Richmond
,” encircling the words, “Distingnished for courage,” while there was plainly engraved upon the rim, before its presentation, the name of the soldier, his company and his regiment.
The medal was suspended by a ribbon of red
, and blue
, attached to the clothing by a strong pin, having in front an oak-leaf with the inscription in plain letters, “Army of the James.”
These I gave with my own hand, save where the recipient was in a distant hospital wounded, and by the commander of the colored corps after it was removed from my command, and I record with pride that in that single action there were so many deserving that it called for a presentation of nearly two hundred.
Since the war I have been fully rewarded by seeing the beaming eye of many a colored comrade as he drew his medal from the innermost recesses of its concealment to show me.
Although we had now obtained a position some ways up the James
Medal for a negro Regiment.|
Medal for a negro Regiment.|
River towards Richmond
, the enemy had four iron-clads on the river.
But it was supposed they could not come below Trent
's Reach because that had been partially obstructed by the navy.
As the draft of water in one place at an ordinary low tide was not more than eight feet, and as the land was low on the north bank of the river, it was evident that we could make no further advance upon the enemy's
works upon that side of the river while they were protected by the enfilading fire of their gunboats.
I went with Captain Melancthon Smith
of the navy,--who assured me that it was impossible for the monitors and larger vessels of his fleet — they drawing sixteen feet of water and over — to get up the river further than Trent
's Reach,--to make a reconnoissance with him and devise a plan, if possible, by which he might ascend the James
with his vessels, which were then lying below at the point called “Dutch Gap
,” to the defences of Richmond
Here is a peculiar formation: The river running up by Trent
's Reach bends very sharply to the right and returns again, in an elongated horseshoe form, so directly that while it has passed over a distance of more than seven miles, the waters of the river, at a depth of twenty-five feet, approach so nearly that there is only about four hundred and twenty-five feet from the water on the upper side across the neck at Dutch Gap
to twenty-five feet of water on the lower side.
So a canal wide and deep enough for our gunboats to get through it, would require a cut less than five hundred feet long, sixteen feet deep, and sixty feet wide on the bottom and ninety at the top. Any engineer will understand that this was a cut that our troops could make easily and without any very considerable delay or expense.
After having made a reconnoissance of this position with Commodore Smith
, who then commanded the naval forces of James River
, I went down to City Point
and asked General Grant
and Chief Engineer Barnard
to come up with us and examine the premises.
This they did, and made a very careful exploration of the point.
It was known as Dutch Gap
for the reason that some enterprising German had cut down quite a gap in undertaking to build a waterway through there many years before.
We came to the conclusion that to dig the canal was a very desirable thing to do, and General Grant
directed me to undertake it.
The peninsula of land around which the river winds is at this point some sixty feet high.
This made the excavation of the canal, from the lower side, very safe, as it was protected from the direct fire of the enemy, either from their gunboats or from batteries erected on either side, until it had been cut through.
An exploration of the nature of the ground showed it to be of a very hard lime-stone gravel.
In it was imbedded a great deal of
petrified wood, whole trees being found which had been transformed into a very friable, easily broken stone, which still preserved the grain of the wood and the knots and branches of the trees.
Thus a substantially straight cut could be made in it without any danger of a slide of the earth on the sides of the excavation.
asked me how long it would take to cut the canal through.
I said, “After we get at it, sixty days,--possibly more,--depending somewhat upon the interruptions made by the enemy.”
I said I thought the best way would be, and in that General Barnard
agreed with me, to commence by placing a coffer-dam at the lower end of the canal, and then to cut the excavation wide and deep enough up to within twenty-five or thirty feet of the river on the other side, and let the bank at the upper cut stand as a shield against the enemy's direct fire.
The work proceeded according to this plan, under the direction of my skilled engineer, Maj. Peter S. Michie
, now one of the board of instructors of West Point
Military Academy, than whom I know of no better or more efficient engineer.
It was pursued with great diligence and success.
Once it was finished we could hold the James River
up to Fort Darling
with our fleet, if the naval forces of the United States
were able to compete with the enemy's fleet above, which we assumed they were able to do. And when at Fort Darling
we should be in condition to make an attack upon Richmond
itself, which would lie almost under our guns, for we would be inside of the interior defences of that city.
The enemy, appreciating the importance of this strategic undertaking, and finding that we could not be reached by direct fire of their artillery from any point, because of our “shield,” erected some mortar batteries on the other side of the James
and undertook to stop our work by a continuous and frequent fire of mortar shells, dropping them into our excavation.
After a little time they dropped them there with considerable frequency, but did very little damage, and scarcely any harm to the workmen.
At a mile and a half distance it is not easy to drop a shell with any certainty into a space three hundred feet long and ninety feet wide.
The soil, as I have said before, was very hard on the sides, so that along the banks we could dig caves, or, as they were called, bomb-proofs, in which the workmen could take refuge whenever there was any danger of a shell
falling where the explosion would be injurious to them.
The line which a shell describes on being thrown for the purpose indicated, is a parabola of about two miles. I was familiar with this matter, for I had watched the bombardment of Fort Jackson
, on the Mississippi
, during the considerable part of a week, and thus made its acquaintance.
The first thing to do was to station a couple of well-instructed men at points from which every shell could be watched during its whole flight.
These observers could tell after a little practice almost precisely where the missile would land, that is, whether it would
come in our excavation so as to do harm or not. While the men were at work these men were on watch, and a shell being seen coming, if it was likely to fall in our way, the watchmen would call out “Holes!”
whereupon the workmen would at once protect themselves by rushing into their adjacent and convenient bomb-proofs, to come out and resume their work again as soon as the shell had struck and exploded without harm.
If the shell was not to strike within the excavation or near to it, the watchers allowed it to take its course and the men were not alarmed.
So that substantially all the damage we suffered was to our single mule tipcarts, which were used for removing the earth.
A number of mules were killed or wounded, and some of the carts were stove up, but under the circumstances the work was successfully prosecuted.
When we got within twenty-five feet of the water on the upper side we put a mine under that portion, leaving an arch over it which was sufficient to sustain the weight of the superincumbent earth, and loaded that mine with some tons of gunpowder.
Our shield of earth above the mine which was twenty-five feet thick at the bottom
was gradually sloped until at the top it was scarcely more than twelve inches thick.
was very enthusiastic about the canal and kept continually urging me to complete the work.
When we were ready we were to blow up this mine and the earth over it would, of course, be thrown up into the air and fall back into our excavation.
A goodly portion of it would be in such state as to be at once easily removed with a dredger, and then the canal completed.
We got all ready in the latter part of December to explode our mine.
telegraphed me, that he had made some arrangements
to utilize the canal by a movement toward Richmond
in co-operation with the navy, and that I had better blow out the head of the canal.
Meanwhile I had procured a dredger, and in twenty-four hours, or two nights' work, when the enemy could not annoy us with their shells, the canal could be made navigable.
On Christmas day the mine was discharged.
A tall mass of hard dirt was elevated into the air and came down in fragments into the canal, low enough to allow the waters of the James River
to flow over it about three feet deep before it was dredged.
But in the meantime a very untoward occurrence had happened.
was wanted elsewhere by the Navy Department; and without giving any notice whatever to us or inquiring into his value where he was,--for he was both an intrepid and an enterprising officer,--he was relieved and sent elsewhere, and in his place a naval commander, one Parker
, was sent.
He had been a witness of the explosion and had examined the canal, and the first thing that I heard from him was by his letter to my commandant of the work, Major
, begging him not to open Dutch Gap Canal
because, this done, Parker
was afraid that the enemy's fleet would come down, and he did not know that he could sustain himself against their attack.
Here was a situation; I had been trying to make an opening by which the dog could get at the fox and destroy him, and the dog begged of me that I would not, lest the fox should eat him up. And so I never did a stroke more work on the canal, and the country rang with “another of Butler
's failures” at Dutch Gap Canal
I could not publish that letter in my justification to show that the canal was not a failure, because I should have to disclose to our enemy, as well as to our people, the fact that our navy did not consider itself capable of meeting the rebel navy on James River
As a patriot I must keep that fact quiet, and I have so done.
I may as well finish the story of this matter now by saying that I was relieved from my command of the Army of the James on the 8th of January, 1865, perhaps ten or twelve days later, and possibly this “failure” of mine was one of the grounds in the mind of the President
for my being allowed to be removed, or which caused the removal, and so I suffered.
But within less than thirty days afterwards Farragut
was summoned to City Point
to look into the naval matters on James River
The enemy, taking courage, had come down through Trent
's Reach, with three of their light-draught, iron-clad gunboats during the high water to attack our monitors lying near the lower mouth of Dutch Gap Canal
ordered his vessels to up anchor, and he ran away with them so fast down the river that he could not stop to have the draw in the pontoon bridge opened to let him through, which might have taken five minutes, and so broke through the bridge and never stopped running until he got down to City Point
He would not have stopped then had he not found that from some cause, he knew not what, he was not pursued.
What prevented the rebels from following Parker
and capturing City Point
, destroying all Grant
's transports and shipping, was that one of the rebel ironclads got aground in Trent
's Reach, and the others went back to help it off. This took so long that the night passed, and in daylight when they got the vessel off, the forts opened upon them, and they ran back up river and never came down afterwards.
A court-martial was held on Parker
, presided over by Admiral Farragut
, which found him guilty of cowardice, and he was sentenced to be dismissed from service.
This sentence was changed to a lighter punishment by Gideon Welles
, who thought cowardice excusable.
has since been dredged out, and is the main channel of commerce between Richmond
and the outer world.
The waters of James River
being diverted by the canal no longer flow around at any depth through Trent
's Reach, and that which was the former channel of the river will soon, if it has not already, become marsh land.
Dutch Gap Canal
is the only military construction of all that were done by the army which remains of use to the country in time of peace, a monument to its projector and constructor, one of “Butler
In October 28, 1864, all was quiet on the James
, and as I desired to examine some statute law and some books on international law in order to deal with the argument of Mr. Ould
, the Confederate Commissioner
of Exchange, that international law governed the right of the capturing party to return prisoners of war into slavery, I started for Fortress Monroe
on my headquarters boat, with a couple of my staff officers, and boat's crew, and orderlies.
I stopped at City Point
and called on General Grant
He welcomed me cordially.
“Are you going to do anything for a day or two?”
“Not that I know of,” said he.
“I want to go down to Fortress Monroe
,” said I, “and consult some books, and I am on my way there with your permission.”
“Why, General,” said he, “that is in your department, and you have a right to go anywhere in your department with or without my permission.”
“But not without your knowledge, General.”
I went down the river, and within three hours was at the fort.
I spent some days there, in the routine business of the department, and in other duties.
Late in the day of November 1st the telegraph operator came in and handed me a cipher despatch which he had just received, saying “This message was directed to your headquarters in the field, but knowing that you were here I brought it to you
without forwarding it to City Point
To reach my headquarters in the field such despatches were retransmitted at General Grant
I read these words:--
I ordered my vessel to be coaled as soon as possible for two days sailing.
I reflected upon the despatch.
What could it mean?
Was I to be summarily dismissed?
Was I to be promoted?
What had happened?
As in duty bound I at once telegraphed the despatch to General Grant
for his orders and received Grant
I reached my boat with my officers before the coaling was completed, and ordered the captain to stand out to Cape Henry
until he received further orders.
When fully out of sight of the fort I directed him to steam slowly until dark, and then to proceed with all speed to Washington
We arrived the next morning.
As soon as a landing could be effected I mounted my horse and rode to the War Department, where I arrived just before nine o'clock. Throwing my reins to an orderly I went to the office of the Secretary of War
, where I was instantly admitted.
Even at that early hour he had three visitors.
“I am here, Mr. Secretary
, by your orders,” said I.
“What am I to do?”
“Step into my private office and wait until I can come to you.”
I did so, and in a few minutes he came in bringing a thick bundle of papers.
“Read these papers, General.
They contain very important information from New York.
Before you get through I will be with you.”
I carefully read the papers.
They were the reports of his confidential agents and detectives, and of prominent loyal men in the city and State as to the condition of affairs there.
They contained matter sufficiently alarming, but, as is always the case, exaggerated.
In substance they stated that there was an organization of troops which was to be placed under command of Fitz John Porter
; that there was to be inaugurated in New York a far more widely extended and far better organized riot than the draft riot in July, 1863; that
the whole vote of the city of New York
was to be deposited for McClellan
at the election to be held just one week from that date; that the Republicans were to be driven from the polls; that there were several thousand rebels in New York who were to aid in the movement; and that Brig.-Gen. John A. Green
, who was known to be the confidential friend of the governor, was to be present, bringing some forces from the interior of the State
to take part in the movement.
The fact of such an organization was testified to over and over again.
The number of troops on Governor's Island
under General Dix
, who commanded the Department of the East, was shown to be very small, indeed, and was counted on as unreliable, as they were a garrison of the regular army.
The secretary came in just after I had finished reading the papers.
“What do you think of that, General?”
“Do you believe all this?”
“The information is perfectly reliable,” he replied, “and I must act upon it.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to go there and take command of the Department of the East, relieving General Dix
, and I will have sent you from the front a sufficient force to put down any insurrection.”
“I don't want to take command of the Department of the East and lose my command in the front,” said I.
“And then I think it would not be good politics to relieve General Dix
, a New Yorker, from his command, just on the eve of election.
Let me suggest that if I am to go I might be sent there with troops enough to take care of the city, and let me report to General Dix
, leaving him in command.”
“But,” said Stanton
won't do anything.
Although brave enough, he is a very timid man about such matters, as he wants to be governor of New York himself one of these days.”
“Well,” I said, “then send me with directions to report to him to command the troops that are to preserve the peace in the city of New York
But I want to go only upon the understanding that if we come to a row I shall have a confidential order from the President
by which I can relieve General Dix
at once, and take supreme
command of the fight, if there is one.
I will coddle the general and be his obedient servant until it becomes necessary to be something else, and of that you must leave me to judge.”
“Very well, but keep the peace with Dix
if you can.”
He then asked what troops I wanted, and I said:--
“A couple of batteries of artillery, say twelve pieces, and about three thousand men will be enough, but a larger show of force may be better for overawing an outbreak.”
“I suppose you will want your Massachusetts
“Oh,” said I, “not Massachusetts
men to shoot down New Yorkers; that won't do. I have as faithful, loyal, good soldiers in my New York regiments as there are in the world, and I can fully rely on them.
Perhaps I will take a Connecticut regiment or two and select the batteries.”
“Do you think there are enough?”
“Plenty, with the addition of my headquarters guard of Pennsylvanians, who have already voted in the field.”
“Make out your list of troops,” said he, “and I will have them sent.”
“Well,” I said, “you cannot get them there under a few days at best, and, Mr. Secretary
, see; I have just come from the field in a flannel blouse with my staff in the same condition.
We have not a white shirt with us.”
“Never mind that, General; there are plenty of tailors in New York.”
“Very well, Mr. Secretary
, I want a new uniform, and if you order me off in this condition of rig I shall put it in the bill.
When do you want me to go?”
“By the next train.”
“As the troops cannot get there for three days, you will permit me to have my headquarters guard sent to Fortress Monroe
to meet my own very fast boat, and come up and bring some of my staff to me?”
“Oh, yes; order anything you like.”
“All right, I am gone;” and I left Washington
for New York that night.
Our appearance there in Washington
was such that it did not draw any attention to us, so that it was not publicly known that I
was in Washington
, and no notice of my being there got into the New York papers.
I arrived in Jersey City
the next morning and was met there by a prominent loyal man of New York, one of Stanton
's correspondents, who greeted me and desired me to make his house — a very fine one on Fifth Avenue--my headquarters while I remained in the city.
I said to him:--
You know not what you ask. I will come down and dine with you, but to come into your house with my staff and orderlies, and the hundreds of people who may be brought there or visit me would drive you from your home.
Besides, I must have very much more extensive accommodations.
I had telegraphed to Assistant Quartermaster-General Van Vliet
to meet me there, and he told me that he had looked about for headquarters for me. He said that the Hoffman House
, in the rear part of which General Scott
had rooms, had not yet been opened, and that he had taken the whole of the building for my use.
Early in the morning of the 4th of November I occupied my headquarters.
As the first incident I learned that one Judge Henry Clay Dean
, in utter ignorance that I was at that time in New York, had made a speech the night before in which, according to a newspaper report, he stated that if I should attempt to march up Broadway
I would be hanged to a lamp-post, or words to that effect.
Although I had no troops in New York then except my orderlies and aids, I sent my compliments to Judge Dean
with the information that I would like to see him at my headquarters at the Hoffman House
He reported at once, and I received him. He seemed to be in a great fright.
I greeted him and told him that such a speech had been brought to my attention, and as I was sure that a gentleman of his position never could have made it in the words reported, I desired to ascertain the facts from him.
He said he had been wholly misrepresented.
“Well,” I said, . “I supposed so, and I rely upon you to correct that matter by having the report withdrawn, or, if that cannot be done, by making some explanatory statement.”
He said he certainly would, and there the matter ended.
I then reported to the commander of the Department of the East, General Dix
, and he issued an order that I was in command of the troops sent to preserve the peace in the State of New York
I suggested to him that he should put me in command of the military district comprising the States of New York and New Jersey
, as he had command of the whole department, but he expressed a disinclination so to do, and I, after a conference, yielded and said I would report to the Secretary of War
for orders, but that I hoped it would not be necessary.
I asked him how many regulars could be spared from the garrison on Governor's Island
He said he thought he could let me have five hundred men. I told him they might as well remain in the garrison as anywhere.
I had been expressly cautioned by the Secretary of War
against the machinations of Gen. John A. Green
Monday my headquarters boat came up with my guard, one hundred Pennsylvanians.
They were landed at the battery, and put into barracks there.
That day Major-General Sanford
, commanding the division of State militia in the city of New York
, called upon me and said that he proposed on the day of election to call out his division of militia to preserve the peace.
I told him that that could not be done without his reporting to me as his superior officer; that being assigned to the command of the troops in the city of New York
by the President
, I of necessity became his commander; and, further, that the Articles
of War required that I should be his commander.
Of course a militia officer could not agree to that.
I then told him that I did not need his division, and that I did not think it would be advisable to have the militia called out; that if they were called out they would be under arms, and in case of difficulty it was not quite certain which way all of them would shoot; and besides, it might cause a claim of interference with the election to have troops called out and hold positions while the election was going on, and thus might vitiate the election.
He was very obstinate about it, and said he should call out the militia.
“Then,” said I, “here is an order that you do not. You have no power to call out the militia except in a case of disturbance.”
Still he did not yield.
“Well,” I said, “if there are to be armed forces here that do not report to me, and are not under my orders, I shall have to treat them as enemies.
In case of disturbance they may suffer, for I cannot stop to select whom to shoot at of the armed troops which I find in New York not under my orders; but I certainly shall most efficiently take care of those who put them in arms.”
He told me he should apply to the governor of the State
“Your governor is a very high militia officer,” said I, “but I shall not recognize his authority here as against the authority of the United States
any more than that of any militia officer of lower grade.
And from the reported doings of Governor Seymour
in the centre of the State
in organizing new companies of militia, which I believe to be a rebellious organization, I may find it necessary to act promptly in arresting all those whom I know are proposing to disturb the peace here on election day.”
He retired in disgust, and I have never seen the clever old gentleman since.
It is sufficient to say that I at once took measures to ascertain where all the arms in the city were, and in whose possession they were.7
I immediately reported the matter to the Secretary of War8
and asked permission to issue a general order
on the subject, and to have a territorial jurisdiction given me. The Secretary of War
afterwards advised me that I had better not issue a general order
, because my right to do that would be the subject of “abstract discussion.”
But I wanted territorial jurisdiction, not so much for that as for another reason which will appear.
Meanwhile my troops had not arrived.
They were not embarked at Fortress Monroe
-such were the unaccountable delays — until Friday and Saturday.
I then issued my General Order
in which I made it plain that there were several thousand secessionists in New York.
They were there in such numbers as to impede the Union
men getting lodgings and boarding-house accommodations, the landlords saying that they could let all the room they had to Southerners at their own prices.
I took care that the Southerners should understand that means would be taken for their identification, and that whoever of them should vote would be dealt with in such a manner as to make them uncomfortable.
That was sufficient, and substantially no Southerners voted at the polls on election day.
Here another question troubled me. Although it had been thought best to have a pretty large force, say five thousand, yet I did not get thirty-five hundred.
Much the larger portion of them were New Yorkers who had voted in the field.
I consulted with Gen. Daniel Butterfield
, who was in New York on leave for some purpose, and he loyally gave me very valuable advice and assistance, for which service I here express my high and grateful appreciation.
The question was, how to have troops in readiness to put down a riot in the city on election day, and yet not have them actually there, lest the votes which they had previously cast in the field should not be counted,--for the law was that troops might vote in the field, but if they were in the State
on election day their votes should not be counted.
Examining into the difficulties of this problem, I found that there were nine ferry slips on one side of the city of New York
and ten on the other.
Into these the largest ferry-boats could be brought to land their passengers.
The ferry-boats could each comfortably accommodate more than a regiment of infantry in the saloons, and in the drive-ways as many as four pieces of artillery with their equipment.
I determined thereupon to take possession of four of the larger ferry-boats, and place two on the North River
and two on the east side of the city.
It was arranged to have on each side of the city four swift tugs always with steam up and under the command of my officers.
From my headquarters I could communicate with them by the telegraph lines, so that in case of a gathering of rioters in any part of the city I could throw four regiments there, if need be, in less time than I could march them from any place of encampment in the city.
That is, the troops being on the ferry-boats and the artillery being all harnessed, I could direct the boat to any slip where the force was needed, and the infantry could immediately land and march double quick across the island to the point where it was needed, the artillery preceding or following, as the case might be. These ferry-boats, while not in action, were to be anchored in Jersey
I made an arrangement with the manager of the Western Union Telegraph Company to bring into a room at my headquarters adjoining my office telegraph lines from more than sixty points.
was one line from High Bridge
, where a gunboat was stationed, lest somebody should attempt to break the aqueduct which brought water into the city.
There was another line from a gunboat anchored opposite Mackerelville, which was supposed to contain the worst population in New York; and still another from a gunboat anchored so as to cover the Sub-Treasury Building
and the Custom House
on Wall Street and the United States Arsenal.
There was a line from some point near each polling-place in the city.
At the several polling-places I had an officer in plain clothes, in command of my scouts and detective officers who were around the
On this officer, in case of any disturbance, the police — who were under the command of Superintendent John A. Kennedy
, a very loyal, able, and executive officer,--might call for assistance.
Any disturbance was to be immediately communicated to me by telegraph.
On the day of election the officers and men for the polls were to be on duty an hour before the polls opened.
Each telegraphic station was numbered, and the officer was to report to my headquarters hourly the state of quiet at the polls.
The remainder of my troops were held on board of transports, ready to land when the point at which they were wanted was indicated
by the tug. Steam was kept up and the cables were in readiness to be slipped when the transports were required to move.
At the request of General Dix
, instead of bringing my headquarters guard up for my protection, I sent them to guard the United States Arsenal, under command of Captain Crispin
, the commandant of the arsenal.
It is but just to say that the number of my troops lying around in transports and ferry-boats was enormously over-estimated as usual; they were understood to be fifteen thousand.
On Thursday evening, it having been generally circulated in the city that General Butler
had shut himself up in his headquarters and dared not show himself lest he should be assassinated, I sent an officer of my staff to take a stage-box for us at the opera, having got a new uniform so that I could go in full feather.
We appeared there, and were received with some applause, which I acknowledged.
I sat out the entertainment.
Between the acts Captain DeKay
of my staff, who was a society man in New York, left the box to visit one wherein he saw his aunt, and found therein Mr. August Belmont
. Mr. Belmont
made a statement publicly in his hearing that he would bet a thousand dollars that the election would go for McClellan
, and another thousand that gold would go up to 300 by the morning of election.
This being reported to me, I told Captain DeKay
to say to Mr. Belmont
that those bets would be taken; but Mr. Belmont
Friday morning, having a little leisure while waiting for my troops, at the invitation of a gentleman in New York I concluded to take a ride with my staff in Central Park
I said to my staff: “We must go in our camp rig.”
They remonstrated, because our horses, upon which were still their rawhide saddles, had been very badly bruised on their hips and thighs, and their tails had been badly defaced, in the voyage on the boat, she having met bad weather at sea.
We were a most outre
looking set. No such equipped cavalcade ever rode along those beautifully ornamented paths before.
If it had not been for our well-blacked cavalry boots, and our wicked-looking sabres clanking against the spur and stirrup, and the neatly cased revolvers fast to the belt on the left side, I think we might have been stopped by the police.
As it was, we were the observed of all observers, and it shone out in their eyes: “Is this the pomp
and circumstance of glorious war?”
We were met by the Park Commissioners
, the chairman of whom cordially addressed me with the inquiry: “Are you riding in the park for exercise?”
“Oh, no, Mr. Commissioner
; on business.
I was looking to see where would be the best place in the park to encamp my troops when I am ready to bring them on shore.”
“Oh, you would not encamp your troops here, General?”
“Why, Mr. Commissioner
,” said I, pointing over one of the beautiful lawns, “I have never seen a better camping-ground.
What is the objection to it?
Plenty of water, isn't there?”
“Well, General,” said he, “we must submit, I suppose; but I hope you won't need to.”
“Oh, well, I assure you I shall not if I don't need to. I should be happy to see you, gentlemen, at my headquarters at the Hoffman House
The next afternoon another sphere of duty quite foreign to my professional studies and military experiences was put upon me. I received a message from Mr. John A. Stewart
, United States Assistant Treasurer
in New York, asking for an interview.10
I immediately appointed an interview at my headquarters at the Hoffman House
called upon me and said:--
“General, I have just returned from Washington
, where I have been on very important public matters.
I have had an interview with the President
and Cabinet and asked them what I could do under the circumstances, if anything, and what they could do in the alarming prospect of affairs.
I stated to them, in substance, that I was well informed that a conspiracy was going on among certain brokers and bankers, whose names I gave them, together with the amount of gold transactions of each accompanied by actual deliveries, which were quite enormous.
I stated that these men had conspired together with some others, whom I did not know, to raise the price of gold to 300 on election day certainly, and perhaps on Monday.
I also told the President
and Cabinet that I was powerless to prevent the rise in the price of gold, for I had sold a good deal of gold in order to keep the price down, and in that manner had reduced the amount I held so low that I feared the conspirators had an amount of gold securities due on demand sufficient to swallow up
more than all the gold I would have left if I should sell any more for the purpose of keeping the premium down.
Should I do so, and should they make such large demands, it would bankrupt my treasury, and would of itself throw the price of gold no one knows how high.
A long consultation was had upon these subjects, and nobody could suggest anything that could be done, or give me any direction or authority how to act. At last the President
said: ‘The only thing I see that you can do is this: General Butler
is in New York in command.
I don't see exactly what he can do, but if anything can be done, he is the only man to do it, and I wish he would do anything that he believes will be for the benefit of the country.
Say this from me to him.’
I said to him: “Mr. Treasurer
, what can I do?
I have got no gold with which to ‘bear’ the market.
It would be a very dangerous experiment to arrest all these men, even if I had the power, and it might give cause for an emeute
at election time, which might not otherwise occur.
This is rather a ticklish business.
It is evident that the large amount of gold that has been thrown upon the market is Confederate gold.
Do you know where any of it came from?”
“Yes,” he said, “there has been a good deal sent from Canada
“That may be English gold,” I said.
“I cannot say whether it is or not.”
“Is it sent to one man or many men?”
“It has all been sent,” he replied, “from Montreal
to the firm of Lyons
“Well, Mr. Treasurer
, it is evident that the Confederates
have got an agent here; have you any idea who he may be?”
“I have not,” he replied, “unless it is Lyons
, for he has bought within a fortnight an amount exceeding twelve million dollars actual gold, and has received it all and sent it out of the country.”
I reflected a moment, and said: “Lyons
; I rather guess I know who he is, and if he is the man I think he is, I know he is a Confederate agent.
What do you suggest to me to do?”
“Well, General, I cannot suggest anything to be done; I don't know what you can do. It is a condition of difficulties beyond my comprehension of any remedy.”
“Well, Mr. Treasurer
, if I send to you for any information, please furnish what I want as early as possible.
It is evident that I must undertake a new class of study, with not too much time for learning, either.
Do these people know the situation of the treasury?”
“I don't think they know it exactly, for if they did I think they would demand their gold securities to be paid, and if they should demand their payment, and if I should let go enough to pay them, that would tend to increase the price of gold.”
I said: “I know Belmont
has offered to bet that gold will go up to 300 on election day, and he is a pretty cautious man in such matters.”
“Well, General,” said Stewart
, rising, “if you think of anything I can do, let me know, whatever may be the day or hour.”
It will easily be supposed that during that night and the next day, Sunday, I gave my most earnest thought to this class of subjects.
I came to a conclusion as to what I would try to do. I sent Lieutenant DeKay
early in the morning with my carriage to Lyons' house so as to be sure to get hold of him before he should go down town, with directions to give my compliments to Mr. Lyons
and ask him to ride with him to my headquarters to see me. I thought he would come, but in case he should not do so willingly I gave Lieutenant DeKay
instructions to bring him.
In a few minutes Mr. Lyons
,” said I, “there are circumstances connected with your being in New York which render it imperative for me to know your history.
I suppose I need not say to you that answers to my questions must be truthfully given, because with me when I am examining any person the sin against the Holy Ghost
“I will try to answer you as you wish, General,” he replied.
“Well, then,” I said, “I think there will be no trouble between us. Before the war where did you live, and what was your business?”
“I lived in Louisville, Kentucky
, and my business was that of dealing in finance,--a broker, perhaps.”
“Had you any connection with the Peoples' Bank of Kentucky
“I did business with that bank, and sometimes for it.”
“When did you leave Kentucky
“I cannot give the date, General, but it was when Governor Morehead
“ Where did you move yourself and business?”
“To Nashville, Tennessee
“Did you continue business there?”
“For a little while.”
“When and where did you go then?”
“To New Orleans.”
“At what time?”
“When Governor Isham
left the State
and the Union
troops occupied Nashville
“When did you leave New Orleans?”
“When you took possession of the city.”
“Were you in the same business there?”
“Were you connected with any banking firm or financial association?”
“Yes, sir; the citizens' bank.”
“Where did you go then?”
“To Liverpool, England
“Ho, ho, Mr. Lyons
, then I guess we are business acquaintances.
Are you the H. J. Lyons
who made claim on the Citizens' Bank of New Orleans from Liverpool
for a large amount of money?”
“And you claimed to have left this money there as a neutral British subject, didn't you?”
Smilingly he replied: “Yes, General.”
“ And as I remember, you did not get it?”
“No; it was stopped by your order.”
“Did you do business for any time in Liverpool
“ Where did you go then?”
“I went to Montreal
“ And went into business there?”
“Was not your business there largely with your Confederate friends,--getting their money into Canada
“Did you renew, if you had ever broken it off, your connection with the Peoples' Bank in Kentucky
“ How long did you remain in Montreal
“I came here from there in December, last.”
“Did you set up your business here in your present firm name?”
“Who came with you?”
“My brother, younger than myself.”
“Who are your partners?”
“My brother and Jesse D. Bright
, the president of the Jeffersonville Railroad, Indiana
“How much capital did you have?”
“Eighty thousand dollars in greenbacks.”
“Who put it in?”
“My brother and myself put in one half, and Bright put in the other.
I put in thirty thousand dollars and my brother ten thousand dollars.”
“This has been your place of business ever since?”
“And what is the exact form of your business, that is, what kind of broker's business do you do?”
“General speculating in gold.”
“Your business has been very profitable, hasn't it?”
“Quite profitable: yes, sir.”
“And have you had any capital furnished you to speculate with besides your own?”
“Oh, yes; my friends and correspondents have sent me very considerable amounts.”
“Well, Mr. Lyons
, I have been informed,” --reading from a paper which I held in my hand, and which the assistant treasurer
had given me--“that in the course of the last fourteen days you have bought and paid for and sent out of the country upwards of twelve million dollars in gold, and have now in your actual possession in your vaults, rising three million dollars in gold.
Is that so?”
“I cannot give the actual amount from memory,” was his answer, “but you are substantially correct.”
“Well,” I said, “if you have sent away so much gold you must have received a large portion of it from outside.
Your eighty thousand dollars in greenbacks would not have gone a great ways in buying gold at 240.
Upon your own statement, and I believe it, you, a young secessionist, left Kentucky
after secession to get away from the Union
army; and left Tennessee
when the other secessionists left there; went to New Orleans and left there as soon as the Union
troops arrived; went to Liverpool
, and there undertook, as a British neutral subject, to get a large quantity of gold for the use of the Confederates
, certainly upon the representation that you had left it there at your own bank, as a neutral British subject.
You then came to Montreal
, substantially stripped of all your means, and in connection with your brother, and the bitterest Copperhead I know, set up this business of speculating in New York, acting all the time with the Peoples' Bank of Kentucky
, which is a financial agent of Jeff Davis
It is difficult to see why, finding you here acting with other conspirators in endeavoring to put up the price of gold in order to interfere with the government, I should not take you and take care of you and punish you under the law for what you are doing and what you have done.
How long do you think the clemency of the government will shield you?”
“Then,” said he, “I suppose I am to be arrested, General?”
“No, Mr. Lyons
; where a man can give as bail three million dollars in gold,--because your gold will never go away until I get through with it and you,--there is no occasion to arrest him. I don't threaten you with arrest; I only say I am going to retain certain gold which I suppose belongs to the Confederacy
until I can fully examine into that question.
To punish you is not my business now, provided you will aid me in preventing the success of this conspiracy to raise the price of gold to 300.
You can do it, and if you will keep gold down until Wednesday morning to not more than 250,--because I am willing you should sell your gold at a little profit,--then I will give you my honor that you shall go where you please and take your gold with you. You will pardon me if I believe that even your clients, the Confederates
, won't get much of it, and if the election is determined in favor of Lincoln
it is of no consequence where the gold goes afterwards; the country will take care of that.
And if he is not elected I have not much interest
where it goes, you see where I stand.
I make no threats, but I do tell you if gold goes to 300 on election morning I shall know it, and I shall know also where both you and your gold are.”
“General,” said he, “have you talked with any of these other men as you have with me?”
“When I have talked with them,” said I, “they will put the same question to me, and I shall not answer it in their case.
What you want to know of me is whether you can go on and deal with your gold in selling it without their knowing what you know.
I think you had better sell your gold.
There is no reason why it should go up, because to-morrow will be almost a holiday, and there will be no gold wanted for shipment until Saturday, so that you have an opportunity to take care of yourself if you choose to, or to throw yourself in my face and in that of the government if you choose to. I hope, sir, you will determine this matter wisely for yourself, because your interests and mine lie together.”
“I think, General,” said he, “I will sell all my gold right off.”
“I think that would be wisdom, and I will approve of it; but I would advise you to sell it to be delivered day after to-morrow.”
We shook hands and parted, and although I have seen the gentleman since I have never spoken to him on this subject.
I made my report of the condition of affairs to the Secretary of War
on the afternoon of the 7th.11
Gold did not go higher to any appreciable extent on the morning of election.
The price increased toward night and it went for a spurt on Wednesday morning, after it was known that Lincoln
was elected, to 260, but immediately receded and never went so high again.
On Monday, the 7th, I received a letter from Hon. Simon Cameron
, asking what time I could see him, and where we could meet.
The only intimation of his business was the statement contained in his letter that Stanton
, the Secretary of War
, was going on the march, and that I should flank him.12
I replied the next day that I would be in New York City certainly until Wednesday, and would be glad to see him at my headquarters.13
I afterwards received a letter from him dated the 11th of November, stating that he would be in New York on the following Saturday
and I had the honor of a call from him at the time indicated.
He tendered me his congratulations upon our success in keeping the peace on election day, and then informed me that he had means, which I could understand, of knowing that I could be Secretary of War
if I would accept the office.
He said that there had been so much stress in the campaign put upon Stanton
's severity of action toward the rebels that it might be necessary for the pacification of the country to make a change.
I replied to him in substance that I had no reason to change the determination which I had given him in the spring, namely, that I should hold no office except an active command in the army until the war had terminated.
I said that the great encomiums I had received had not turned my head or changed my views as to my loyal duty to my country or to myself; that Stanton
had loyally stood by me in everything, and that in ordinary gratitude I could not think of taking his place, in any event, until it was certain that he would leave it whether I took it or not; that in that case it was more than doubtful, in view of the opposition of the officers of the regular army under which I was suffering, whether I could do as well as Stanton
had done, he having partially overcome a like opposition to himself; that the only change in regard to the treatment of the rebels which the President
would get from me would be that I should act more promptly in punishing rebel offenders.
said he had had a personal conversation with the President
upon this subject, and that he was very sure that he would regret my determination.
I replied to him that when I saw the President
I believed that I could convince him that what I was doing was the best for himself and the best for his cause.
answered: “Well, General, you stick to your text like an old rusty weathercock.”
We discussed for a considerable time the political situation and also the condition of the war. I expressed to him my opinion,
which I have heretofore given, and in which he then concurred, that the rebel authorities would now see the hopelessness of their carrying the war further, and would soon treat for peace, which they did.
We parted, as always, the best of friends, and he said he would see the President
Soon after this, public rumor, and some of the newspapers, were very active in discussing this topic, and I myself received many letters about it. To none of these did I return a reply, but threw them all aside, save one.
My friend, Col. Edward W. Serrell
, of New York, wrote me very intelligently upon the matter, expressing the strongest belief that, notwithstanding the opposition of the regular army, I should receive the appointment if it was known in Washington
that I would accept it.15
Early in the morning of the 8th of November, election day, I despatched trusty officers to each point where dispositions had been made, to keep the peace and to meet violence, if necessary.
I remained at my office to receive reports of the occurrences.
The remainder of the day, until the polls closed, was monotonously quiet.
The sixty lines of wire brought into the room adjoining my office such messages as these, repeated every hour without variation: “All quiet in no. 10;” “All quiet in no. 25,” and so on, as the case might be.
The only special matter reported to me was that Mr. Auguste Belmont
lost his vote, which was challenged on the ground that he had made a bet on the result of the election, and under that challenge he declined to vote.
It was also reported to me that very few of the Southerners in the city presented themselves at the polls.
That evening until a late hour was hilariously spent in listening to the good news of the election returns, and I went to bed with the reflection that loyalty to law and order had prevailed.
, expecting a movement at the front, telegraphed the War Department, urging the early return of the troops sent to New York,16
and they were returned as fast as possible; but in view of the gold conspiracy Stanton
desired me personally to remain some days longer.17
November 10, General Grant
telegraphed a very high compliment to Stanton
, at the quiet way in which the elections in New York passed off, as follows:--
The elections have passed off quietly; no bloodshed or riot throughout the land; is a victory worth more to the country than a battle won. Rebeldom and Europe will construe it so.18
On Monday, the 14th, under the direction of a committee of the most distinguished citizens of New York, a reception was given me at the Fifth Avenue Hotel.
The scene was brilliant beyond any possible conception of mine, and the reception ended with a banquet at which I was called upon to make a speech, giving to the assembly my opinion as to what should be done in the future, upon which topic, after properly acknowledging my grateful thanks for the reception, among other things I spoke as follows:--
What is the duty of the government in the present future?
War cannot last always; the history of nations shows — the experience of war demonstrates — that war must come to an end. But how?
In what way?
And war such as this, prosecuted for the purpose of breaking down the power of those opposed to the government and bringing them under the supremacy of its laws, must be terminated either by a reconciliation or by subjugation.
In view, therefore, of the unanimity of the American people, in view of the strength, the majesty, the right of the nation, may it not be suggested that now is the time to hold out to the deluded people of the South the olive branch of peace and say to them: “Come back, come back, and leave off feeding on husks, and share with us the fat of the land, and bygones shall be bygones.”
If bygones are bygones, in one country and under one law we will live in peace hereafter.
Are we not able to offer them this now?
Are we not strong enough?
Do we not stand firmly with unanimity of sentiment enough to offer peace to all if all will submit to the laws?
There might have been some complaint, I think, among a proud and chivalrous people that they would not desert their leaders by taking advantage of the unanimous proclamation of President Lincoln.
But now when we come to them and say come back, and you shall find the laws the same save so far as they have been altered by the legislative wisdom of the land, both for leaders and followers, can there be any excuse for either if they rebelliously remain in the contempt of the authority of the government?
we not in a condition now, not taking counsel from our fears or our weakness, but of our strength and magnanimity, again to make such offers of peace and amity in the most beneficent terms and for the last time?
By so doing shall we not in the eyes of the world have exhausted all the resources of statesmanship in an offer to restore peace to the country?
Who shall hinder their returning, and if they will not come back who shall complain?
Let us not permit the rebel after he has fought as long as he can then, if he chooses, to come back.
Let us state some time, perhaps the 8th of January--for the association will be as good as any — for all to lay down their arms and submit to the laws; and when that hour is passed, and every man who shall reject the proffered amity of a great and powerful nation speaking in love, in charity, in kindness, in hope of peace and quiet forever to its rebel sons,--I say then let us meet him or them with sharp, quick, decisive war, which shall bring the Rebellion to an end forever, by the extinguishment of such men wherever they may be found.
How is that to be done?
Blood and treasure have been poured out without stint or measure, until, taking advantage of the supposed depletion of the treasury, bad men having banded together by speculating in gold, which ought to be the circulating medium, have raised the price of coals upon every poor man's hearth, and the price of bread upon every poor man's table.
Let the government take some measure to stop this unholy traffic, and let it be understood that the policy of the government will be, hereafter, to pay no more bounties for the recruitment of soldiers from the taxes of the loyal North.
But take counsel from the Roman method of carrying on war and saying to our young men: “Look to the fair fields of the sunny South; they have refused our amity and offers of peace; they have turned away the day of grace; go down there in arms in support of the government, extinguish the rebellion, and you shall have what you conquer in fair division of the lands to each man in pay for his military service.
We will open new land offices wherever our army marched, dividing the lands in the rebel States among our soldiers to be theirs and their heirs forever.”
A harsh measure, it may be said, but is it not quite as just as to tax ourselves, and thus raise the price of the necessaries of life for the purpose of giving bounty to support the soldier in fighting those rebellious men, whom we have three times over solemnly called to come and enjoy with us the blessings of our liberties and be friends,--saying in 1862, come in June; in 1863, come in December; in 1864, come by the 8th of January, 1865.
When the clock strikes the last knell of that parting day, then all hope to those who have not made progress to return should be
put off forever and ever.
No longer should they be permitted to live on the land or even within the boundaries of the United States.
Let them go to Mexico, to the islands of the sea, or some place that I do not care to name,--because I know no land bad enough to be cursed with their presence — but never to live here again.
At the close of my speech the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher
was called upon to address the assemblage, which he did in his peculiar way, expressing high consideration for myself, and in the course of his remarks he named me as a possible candidate.
for the presidency in 1868.
The proceedings were interlarded with toasts, and among others there was one by Gen. Prosper M. Wetmore
of my possible candidature.
While all this was sufficiently laudatory, yet to me it was one of the most unhappy and unfortunate occurrences of my life, and it was my own fault that it was so. I only looked upon it as the effervescence of the champagne of the hour, and paid no attention to it as a sober announcement of such possible candidature.
Otherwise I cannot account for my not having had wit or wisdom enough to interpose another little speech in which I could have taken the sting all out of it. I should have been wise enough to have said something in substance like this: Gentlemen, you honor me overmuch by your high consideration.
The place you name is not due to me. You should have put forward, in my judgment, one whom I should feel honored to support — the lieutenant-general
of the army who has carried us through the memorable events of the late campaign with such success and brilliancy and genius of effort--General Grant
, who ought to be our next candidate for the presidency when Lincoln
retires, and who no doubt will be called by a grateful country to that post.
If I had had brains enough to say that, the sting would have been taken out of the whole affair; nay more, I could have been put in command of the Army of the Potomac if I wished.