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Chapter 10: private letters, [Oct. 1, 1861, to March 12, 1862.]

Oct.--, 1861.--Yesterday rode to Chain Bridge, thence to Upton's Hill, and did not get back until after dark. . . . I can't tell you how disgusted I am becoming with these wretched politicians.


.--. . . The enemy made some demonstrations up the river this morning, which prevented me from crossing the river until 1.30; then I rode to Munson's Hill, etc., and found everything going on well. We shall be ready by to-morrow to fight a battle there, if the enemy should choose to attack; and I don't think they will care to run the risk. I presume I shall have to go after them when I get ready; but this getting ready is slow work with such an administration. I wish I were well out of it. . . . We almost expected a little row up the river yesterday, but it amounted to nothing. The enemy fired 112 shots with artillery at our people at Great Falls, slightly grazing one man's arm and wounding a horse slightly. Fine shooting that! They must learn to do better if they hope to accomplish anything. Some of our men have been behaving most atrociously lately in burning houses; some eighteen have been burned in the last two or three days. I will issue an order to-day informing them that I will hang or shoot any found guilty of it, as well as any guards who permit it. Such things disgrace us and our cause. Our new position in advance is a fine one. It throws our camps into a fine, healthy country, with excellent drill-grounds and everything fresh and clean — an infinite improvement over our old places, where the men had been stuck down close to the river for months. It removes them also further from the city, so they will be less liable to temptation.

Oct. 2 (?)

. . . Gen. Gibson's funeral takes place this morning. [168] I am becoming daily more disgusted with this administration-perfectly sick of it. If I could with honor resign I would quit the whole concern to-morrow; but so long as I can be of any real use to the nation in its trouble I will make the sacrifice. No one seems able to comprehend my real feeling — that I have no ambitious feelings to gratify, and only wish to serve my country in its trouble, and, when this weary war is over, to return to my wife. . . .

Oct. 6.

. . . I am quite sure that we shall spend some time here together after your recovery. Preparations are slow, and I have an infinite deal to do before my army is really ready to fight a great battle. Washington may now be looked upon as quite safe. They cannot attack it in front. My flanks are also safe; or soon will be. Then I shall take my own time to make an army that will be sure of success. . . . Gen. Scott did try to send some of my troops to Kentucky, but did not succeed. They shall not take any from here, if I can help it. The real fighting must be here: that in Kentucky will be a mere bagatelle. You need not be at all alarmed by any apprehensions you hear expressed. I have endeavored to treat Gen. Scott with the utmost respect, but it is of no avail. . . . I do not expect to fight a battle near Washington; probably none will be fought until I advance, and that I will not do until I am fully ready. My plans depend upon circumstances. So soon as I feel that my army is well organized and well disciplined, and strong enough, I will advance and force the rebels to a battle in a field of my own selection.

A long time must yet elapse before I can do this, and I expect all the newspapers to abuse me for delay; but I will not mind that.

No date.

. . . I must ride much every day, for my army covers much space. It is necessary for me to see as much as I can every day, and, more than that, to let the men see me and gain confidence in me. . . . I started out about three this afternoon and returned at ten; rode down to the vicinity of Alexandria, and on my return (en route) received a despatch to the effect that the rebels at 6.30 this morning were breaking up their camps at Manassas — whether to attack or retreat I do not [169] yet know. If they attack they will in all probability be beaten, and the attack ought to take place to-morrow. I have made every possible preparation and feel ready for them. . . .

Oct. 9.

. . . I have a long ride to take to-day; will probably advance our right some three or four miles by may of getting more elbow-room and crowding G. W. up a trifle. The more room I get the more I want, until by and by I suppose I shall be so insatiable as to think I cannot do with less than the whole State of Virginia. The storm has entirely changed the weather, and I am afraid may affect the health of the men for a few days; for it is now cold and wet. The review of yesterday passed off very well; it was a superb display, by far the finest ever seen on this continent, and rarely equalled anywhere There were 104 guns in the review (a number greater than Lauriston's famous battery at Wagram) and 5,500 cavalry. The ground was wet, so I did not venture to let them pass at a trot or gallop; they passed only at a walk. . . I was tired out last night. My horse was young and mild, and nearly pulled my arm off. The cheering of the men made him perfectly frantic, and, as I had to keep my cap in my right hand, I had only my left to manage him.

Oct. (10?).

I have just time to write a very few lines before starting out. Yesterday I threw forward our right some four miles, but the enemy were not accommodating enough to give us a chance at them, so I took up a new position there and reinforced it by sending McCall over to that side. I am now going over again to satisfy myself as to the state of affairs, and perhaps edge up another mile or so, according to circumstances. When I returned yesterday, after a long ride, I was obliged to attend a meeting of the cabinet at eight P. M. and was bored and annoyed. There are some of the greatest geese in the cabinet I have ever seen — enough to tax the patience of Job. . . .

Oct. (11?)-. . .I rode all over our new positions yesterday to make some little changes and correct errors, as well as to learn the ground more thoroughly myself. It rained most of the day, which did not add to the pleasure of the trip. Secesh [170] keeps quiet, wonderfully so. I presume he wants to draw me on to Manassas to repeat the Bull Run operation; but I shan't go until ready. I may occupy Vienna in a few days, especially if he does not show himself in force; but I am very well contented with our present positions, as places where we can drill and discipline the troops to great advantage. We have the men now in a fine open country, high and healthy, good clean fresh and green camp-grounds, and the morale of an advance,

Oct. 14.

What do you think I received as a present yesterday? Some poor woman away up in the middle of New York sent me half a dozen pair of woollen socks — I beg pardon, I see it is from Pennsylvania, not New York. I enclose the note.

Oct. 16.

. . . Just received a telegram to the effect that the rebels had attacked a small force we have in Harper's Ferry, and had been handsomely repulsed with the loss of quite a number of men and one gun. . . . In front of us the enemy remain quiet, with the exception of occasional picket-firing.


.--. . . I am firmly determined to force the issue with Gen. Scott. A very few days will determine whether his policy or mine is to prevail. He is for inaction and the defensive; he endeavors to cripple me in every way; yet I see that the newspapers begin to accuse me of want of energy. He has even complained to the War Department of my making the advance of the last few days. Hereafter the truth will be shown.

Oct. 16.

I have just been interrupted here by the President and Secretary Seward, who had nothing very particular to say, except some stories to tell, which were, as usual, very pertinent, and some pretty good. I never in my life met any one so full of anecdote as our friend. He is never at a loss for a story apropos of any known subject or incident.

Oct. 19.

Gen. Scott proposes to retire in favor of Halleck. The President and cabinet have determined to accept his retirement, but not in favor of Halleck. . . . The enemy have fallen back on Manassas, probably to draw me into the old error. I hope to make them abandon Leesburg to-morrow.


Oct. 20 or 21.

. . . I yesterday advanced a division to Dranesville, some ten miles beyond its old place, and feel obliged to take advantage of the opportunity to make numerous reconnoissances to obtain information as to the country, which is very beautiful at Dranesville, where I was yesterday. The weather is delightful. The enemy has fallen back to Centreville and Manassas, expecting us to attack there. My object in moving to Dranesville yesterday and remaining there to-day was to force them to evacuate Leesburg, which I think they did last night.

Oct. 24.

Have ridden more than forty miles to-day, and have been perfectly run down ever since I returned.

Oct. 25.

. . . How weary I am of all this business! Care after care, blunder after blunder, trick upon trick. I am well-nigh tired of the world, and, were it not for you, would be fully so. That affair of Leesburg on Monday last was a horrible butchery. The men fought nobly, but were penned up by a vastly superior force in a place where they had no retreat. The whole thing took place some forty miles from here, without my orders or knowledge. It was entirely unauthorized by me, and I am in no manner responsible for it.

Col. Baker, who was killed, was in command, and violated all military rules and precautions. Instead of meeting the enemy with double their force and a good ferry behind him, he was outnumbered three to one and had no means of retreat. Cogswell is a prisoner; he behaved very handsomely. Raymond Lee is also taken. I found things in great confusion when I arrived there. In a very short time order and confidence were restored. During the night I withdrew everything and everybody to this side of the river, which, in truth, they should never have left.

Oct. 26, 1.15 A. M.

For the last three hours I have been at Montgomery Blair's, talking with Senators Wade, Trumbull, and Chandler about war matters. They will make a desperate effort to-morrow to have Gen. Scott retired at once; until that is accomplished I can effect but little good. He is ever in my way, and I am sure does not desire effective action. I want to get [172] through with the war as rapidly as possible. . . . I go out soon after breakfast to review Porter's division, about five miles from here.

Oct. 30.

I know you will be astonished, but it is true, that I went this evening to a fandango. The regulars just in from Utah gave a little soiree to the other regulars; music, a little dancing, and some supper. I went there intending to remain ten minutes, and did stay fully an hour and a half. I met Mrs. Andrew Porter, Mrs. Palmer and her mother, Mrs. Hancock, and several other army ladies. It was very pleasant to get among old acquaintances once more.

Oct. 31.

. . . You remember my wounded friend Col. Kelly, whom we met at Wheeling? He has just done a very pretty thing at Romney — thrashed the enemy severely, taken all their guns, etc. I am very glad to hear it. . . . “Our George” they have taken it into their heads to call me. I ought to take good care of these men, for I believe they love me from the bottom of their hearts; I can see it in their faces when I pass among them. I presume the Scott war will culminate this meek. Whatever it may be, I will try to do my duty to the army and to the country, with God's help and a single eye to the right. I hope that I may succeed. I appreciate all the difficulties in my path: the impatience of the people, the venality and bad faith of the politicians, the gross neglect that has occurred in obtaining arms, clothing, etc.; and, above all, I feel in my inmost soul how small is my ability in comparison with the gigantic dimensions of the task, and that, even if I had the greatest intellect that was ever given to man, the result remains in the hands of God. I do not feel that I am an instrument worthy of the great task, but I do feel that I did not seek it. It was thrust upon me. I was called to it; my previous life seems. to have been unwittingly directed to this great end; and I know that God can accomplish the greatest results with the weakest instruments-therein lies my hope. I feel, too, that, much as we in the North have erred, the rebels have been far worse than we.

No date.

I have just returned from a ride over the river, where I went pretty late, to seek refuge in Fitz Porter's camp. [173] You would have laughed if you could have seen me dodge off. I quietly told the duke to get our horses saddled, and then we slipped off without escort or orderlies, and trotted away for Fitz-John's camp, where we had a quiet talk over the camp-fire. I saw yesterday Gen. Scott's letter asking to be placed on the retired list and saying nothing about Halleck. The offer was to be accepted last night, and they propose to make me at once commander-in-chief of the army. I cannot get up any especial feeling about it. I feel the vast responsibility it imposes upon me. I feel a sense of relief at the prospect of having my own way untrammelled, but I cannot discover in my own heart one symptom of gratified vanity or ambition.

Nov. 2, 1.30 A. M.

I have been at work, with scarcely one minute's rest, ever since I arose yesterday morning — nearly eighteen hours. I find “the army” just about as much disorganized as was the Army of the Potomac when I assumed command; everything at sixes and sevens; no system, no order, perfect chaos. I can and will reduce it to order. I will soon have it working smoothly.

Nov. 3.

I have already been up once this morning — that was at four o'clock to escort Gen. Scott to the depot. It was pitch-dark and a pouring rain; but with most of my staff and a squadron of cavalry I saw the old man off. He was very polite to me; sent various kind messages to you and the baby; so we parted. The old man said that his sensations were very peculiar in leaving Washington and active life. I can easily understand them; and it may be that at some distant day I, too, shall totter away from Washington, a worn-out soldier, with naught to do but make my peace with God. The sight of this morning was a lesson to me which I hope not soon to forget. I saw there the end of a long, active, and ambitious life, the end of the career of the first soldier of his nation; and it was a feeble old man scarce able to walk; hardly any one there to see him off but his successor. Should I ever become vainglorious and ambitious, remind me of that spectacle. I pray every night and every morning that I may become neither vain nor ambitious, that I may be neither depressed by disaster nor elated by success, and that I may keep one single object in view — the good of my [174] country. At last I am the “major-general commanding the army.” I do not feel in the least elated, for I do feel the responsibility of the position. And I feel the need of some support. I trust that God will aid me.


.--. . . A deputation of thirty waited on me and presented me with that sword from the city of Philadelphia. It is certainly a very fine one. I listened meekly to a speech and replied in my usual way--i.e., in very few words. I then had a collation — I abominate the word, it is so steamboaty — in the back parlor. Wormley did himself credit on the occasion, and got it up very well indeed. The President came in during the proceedings. . . . After that I came back and received quite a number of congratulatory calls; then went to dine with Andrew Porter, where I had a very pleasant time — Andrew and his wife, her brother, her sister-in-law, Seth, and myself.

Nov 7.

I am very glad to learn that my order changed Gen. Scott's feelings entirely, and that he now says I am the best man and the best general that ever existed.

No date.

Yesterday I was so busily engaged in getting Halleck off to Missouri and Buell to Kentucky that I had but little time to look about me.

Nov. 10.

Yesterday worked at the office until noon and then started to review Porter's division. Got soaked and had a chill: all right this morning. Before breakfast the President and Seward came in.

Nov. 11, 1.30 A. M.--Went to Chase's at eight P. M. to meet some New York financiers; left them in good spirits. Have just finished Halleck's instructions.


, 1861.--You will have heard the glorious news from Port Royal. Our navy has covered itself with glory and cannot receive too much credit. The thing was superbly done and the chivalry well thrashed. They left in such haste that officers forgot even to carry away their swords. But one white man was found in Beaufort, and he drunk! The negroes came flocking [175] down to the river with their bundles in their hands. ready to take passage. There is something inexpressibly mournful to me in that — those poor, helpless, ignorant beings, with the wide world and its uncertainties before them; the poor serf, with his little bundle, ready to launch his boat on the wide ocean of life he knows so little of. When I think of some of the features of slavery I cannot help shuddering. Just think for one moment, and try to realize that at the will of some brutal master you and I might be separated for ever! It is horrible; and when the day of adjustment comes I will, if successful, throw my sword into the scale to force an improvement in the condition of these poor blacks. I do think that some of the rights of humanity ought to be secured to the negroes. There should be no power to separate families, and the right of marriage ought to be secured to them. . . .

Nov. 12.

Last night the German division gave a grand torchlight procession and serenade. What little I saw of it was very fine, but I had to attend a pseudo cabinet meeting while it was in progress, so that I saw by no means the whole of it. Quite a party came here to see the performance.

Nov. 17

. . . I find that to-day is not to be a day of rest for me. This unfortunate affair of Mason and Slidell has come up, and I shall be obliged to devote the day to endeavoring to get our government to take the only prompt and honorable course of avoiding a war with England and France. . . . It is sickening in the extreme, and makes me feel heavy at heart, when I see the weakness and unfitness of the poor beings who control the destinies of this great country. How I wish that God had permitted me to live quietly and unknown with you! But His will be done! I will do my best, try to preserve an honest mind, do my duty as best I may, and will ever continue to pray that He will give me that wisdom, courage, and strength that are so necessary to me now, and so little of which I possess.

The outside world envy me, no doubt. They do not know the weight of care that presses on me. . . . I will try again to write a few lines before I go to Stanton's to ascertain what the law of nations is on this Slidell and Mason seizure. . . . I went to the White House shortly after tea. I then went to the Prince [176] de Joinville's. We went up-stairs and had a long, confidential talk upon politics. The prince is a noble character, one whom I shall be glad to have you know well. He bears adversity so well and so uncomplainingly. I admire him more than almost any one I have ever met with. He is true as steel; like all deaf men, very reflective; says but little, and that always to the point. . . After I left the prince's I went to Seward's, where I found the President again. . . . The President is honest and means well. As I parted from him on Seward's steps he said that it had been suggested to him that it was no more safe for me than for him to walk out at night without some attendant. I told him that I felt no fear; that no one would take the trouble to interfere with me. On which he deigned to remark that they would probably give more for my scalp at Richmond than for his. . . .


.--. . . Went to the Prince de Joinville's, where I found Barry, Dahlgren, and the family. If it would at all comfort you I might do what I have never done — carry a pistol in my pocket, especially as I received two days since a lamb-like present of four revolvers of different sizes, bringing my private armory up to something like eleven pistols of various dimensions. What more can be asked of any one?


.--Some infatuated individual sent me, a day or two ago, a “McClellan Polka.” What in the world did he expect me to do with it? Not to whistle or dance it, I hope.


.--. . . I have been at work all day nearly on a letter to the Secretary of War (Cameron) in regard to future military operations. I have not been at home for some three hours, but am concealed at Stanton's to dodge all enemies in shape of “browsing” Presidents, etc. . . .

1 A. M.

I am pretty thoroughly tired out. The paper is a very important one, as it is intended to place on record that I have left nothing undone to make this army what it ought to be, and that the necessity for delay has not been my fault. I have a set of men to deal with unscrupulous and false; if possible they will throw whatever blame there is on my shoulders, and I do not intend to be sacrificed by such people. I still trust that the all-wise Creator does not intend our destruction, and that in [177] His own good time He will free the nation from the men who curse it, and will restore us to His favor. I know that as a nation we have grievously sinned; but I trust there is a limit to His wrath, and that ere long we will begin to experience His mercy. . . . . I cannot guess at my movements, for they are not within my control. I cannot move without more means, and I do not possess the power to control those means.

The people think me all-powerful. Never was there a greater mistake. I am thwarted and deceived by these incapables at every turn.

I am doing all I can to get ready to move before winter sets in, but it now begins to look as if we were condemned to a winter of inactivity. If it is so the fault will not be mine; there will be that consolation for my conscience, even if the world at large never knows it. . . .

I have one great comfort in all this — that is, that I did not seek this position, as you well know; and I still trust that God will support me and bear me out. He could not have placed me here for nothing. . . .

Nov. 25.

. . . After dinner yesterday rode over the river. I came back after dark in a driving snow-storm. . . . It has cleared off since last night, and is quite cold to-day. It was a very disagreeable ride last night — dark as pitch, roads bad, and the snow driving hard. . . .

Nov. 27.

. . . Went to a grave consultation at Secretary Chase's in regard to the reopening of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. . . .

After the review of the regulars I went down to the river to see the volunteer pontoniers throw a bridge-train. I went through the usual routine of being presented to an infinite number of ladies. Made a close inspection of the camp and of the men, and then returned.

Nov. 30, 1861.

I was hard at work until half-past 4, when I came back to dinner. Gen. Banks dined with me. When he left I had several business calls. At eight all the officers of the 4th Infantry, just returned from California, came to pay their respects. When they left I went to Com. Goldsborough, where he, Fox, Prof. Bache, and myself remained in [178] serious consultation about naval and military movements until after midnight.

Sandy Hook, near Harper's Ferry, Monday A. M., Feb. 27, 1862.

. . . Here I still am. I crossed the river as soon as the bridge was finished, and watched the troops pass. It was a magnificent spectacle, one of the grandest I ever saw. As soon as my horse and escort got over I rode out to the line of pickets and saw for myself that everything was right and ready for an attack. The position is a superb one. I got over about 12 guns and 8,000 infantry before dark; also a squadron of cavalry. I heard in the afternoon a rumor that G. W. Smith was expected at Winchester with 15,000 men. Although I did not fully credit it, I nevertheless took all the military precautions necessary, and felt perfectly secure during the night. The enemy are not now in sight, but I have sent out cavalry patrols that may bring in intelligence of value. It was after dark and raining hard when I recrossed the bridge. The narrow road was so completely blocked up that it was a very difficult matter to make one's way among the wagons. It rained hard and was very cold during the night. . . . Slept in a car; I was up most of the night, telegraphing, etc. This morning it is blowing a hurricane, but the bridge stands well thus far. Burns's brigade came up during the night. I left them in the cars and crossed them this morning early. The wagons have gone over; a regiment of cavalry is now crossing, another battery will follow, and I will have everything well cleared up before the arrival of Abercrombie's brigade, which should be here by two o'clock. I will get it over before dark, also the heavy artillery and regular cavalry, if it arrives. I hope to be able to occupy Charleston to-morrow and get Lander to Martinsburg. It will then require but a short time to finish matters here. The roads on the other side are good; the country more open than near Washington. You have no idea how the wind is howling now — a perfect tornado; it makes the crossing of the river very difficult, and interferes with everything. I am anxious about our bridge. . . .

Fairfax Court-House, March 11, 1862.--. . . None of our wagons came up until after I rode out this morning, so we got along as best we could last night. Someone lent me some blankets, [179] and somebody else a cot, so I was very well off. To-night I have my own bed. I started at about nine this morning and rode first to Centreville. We found there quite a formidable series of works, which would have been somewhat uncomfortable for new troops to carry by storm. Thence I rode over horrid roads to the celebrated Manassas, which me found also abandoned. Thence to the battle-field of last July, .and over pretty much the whole of it. Thence home via Stone Bridge and Centreville, reaching here about half-past 8. I rode Kentuck to-day, and as he was fretful he fatigued me very much, so that it is impossible for me to go to Washington to-night, notwithstanding your father's pressing telegram. I regret that the rascals are after me again. I had been foolish enough to hope that when I went into the field they would give me some rest, but it seems otherwise. Perhaps I should have expected it. If I can get out of this scrape you will never catch me in the power of such a set again. The idea of persecuting a man behind his back! I suppose they are now relieved from the pressure of their fears by the retreat of the enemy, and that they will increase in virulence. Well, enough of that; it is bad enough for me to be bothered in that way without annoying you with it. The country which me passed to-day was very desolate. I think Manassas is the most desolate and forbidding spot I ever beheld. They have not destroyed many of their winter-quarters, which are very well built and comfortable — far more so than I expected to see them. From the great number of camps scattered about it is evident that they had a very large force here. They must have left in a great hurry, for they abandoned a great deal of baggage, tents, stores, ammunition, caissons, wagons, etc. It seems that the order was given very suddenly. They left on Sunday, except a rear-guard. It is said by “intelligent contrabands” and others that the men were very much disgusted and disheartened. . . .

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