Chapter 24: private letters.
[ May 20 to June 26, 1862. ]
May 20, 12.30 A. M., Tunstall's Station.. . . I moved headquarters and four divisions here to-day, about six miles from the White House. I rode myself to Bottom's bridge in the rain, and made a short reconnoissance of it. Found the enemy there, though not in great force. The engineers will make a close examination to-morrow morning, driving the enemy's pickets. The advanced guard also is near New bridge. We are gradually drawing near the rascals. I think they intend to fight us in front of Richmond; if they do it will be a decisive battle. Our camp here is one of the most beautiful I ever saw. The country is lovely, and the view from the high hill on which are headquarters is really magnificent. This evening, when the bivouac-fires were lighted, the scene was grand beyond description. There are some very fine plantations in this vicinity. What fools their owners are to submit themselves to the necessity of being overrun and devastated! An army leaves a wide swath in its rear, but my men are generally behaving very well.
May 21, 1.30 A. M., Tunstall's Station.. . . Headquarters will move to-morrow some seven or eight miles more to the front .. . .
Wednesday morning (same letter).. . . Porter's troops have been marching past for a couple of hours, and the rumbling of wagons has been going on for some time. . . .
A little later.I have just learned that some of our troops have succeeded in crossing the Chickahominy at Bottom's bridge. . .
May 22, 6.30 P. M., camp near Chickahominy.. . . I have  just returned from a ride to the front, where I have taken a good look at the rebel lines. I suppose I must have ridden some thirty miles or less to-day. Some one just brought me a bouquet of wild white flowers — a negro at that. I clutched it most eagerly, as reminding me of one who two years ago became my wife. It is on the table in front of me as I write; in a tin tumbler, to be sure, but none the less pure and white.
May 23 P. M. (continuation of same letter).Soon after I finished the last page I was taken quite sick, and continued so most of the night. I have remained in my tent all day, feeling quite miserable, but will be all right and able to ride out in the morning. . . . The occurrences of the next few days are quite uncertain. I have secured one passage of the Chickahominy, and hope to get two more to-morrow. I have been within six miles of the rebel capital, and our balloonists have been watching it all day. The intentions of the enemy are still doubtful. I go on prepared to fight a hard battle, but I confess that the indications are not now that he will fight. Unless he has some deep-laid scheme that I do not fathom, he is giving up great advantages in not opposing me on the line of the Chickahominy. He could give me a great deal of trouble and make it cost me hundreds or thousands of lives . . . God knows that I am sick of this civil war, although no feeling of the kind unsteadies my hand or ever makes me hesitate or waver. It is a cruel necessity. I am very glad that the President has come out as he did about Hunter's order. . . . If I succeed in getting the two additional passages of the river to-morrow I will move next day. In fact, I hope to have a strong advanced guard within a couple of miles of Richmond to-morrow evening. Then I shall be able to examine the enemy's position and arrange for the battle. I will not fight on Sunday if I can help it. If I am obliged to do so I will still have faith that God will defend the right, and trust that we have the right on our side. How freely I shall breathe when my long task of months is over and Richmond is ours! I know the uncertainty of all human events. I know that God may even now deem best to crush all the high hopes of the nation and this army. I will do the best I can to insure success, and will do my best to be contented, with whatever result God sees fit to terminate  our efforts. I am here on the eve of one of the great historic battles of the world--one of those crises in a nation's life that occur but seldom. Far more than my fate is involved in the issue. I have done the best I could; I have tried to serve my country honestly and faithfully. All I can now do is to commit myself to the hands of God and pray that the country may not be punished for my sins and shortcomings.
11 P. M.. . . Have had some skirmishes and cannonading to-day. Successful in all.
May 25, Sunday, 3.30 P. M., Cold Harbor.. . . Have been rather under the weather the last three days. Had to ride out in the rain yesterday, and was kept up very late last night, so I was not so well as I might have been this morning. . . . It cleared off about sunset yesterday, and to-day has been bright and pleasant, drying up the roads rapidly. They have been so cut and bad as to prevent any movements in force or with rapidity. Fortunately the ground dries rapidly here, and will soon be in such condition that we can move anywhere. I have this moment received a despatch from the President, who is terribly scared about Washington, and talks about the necessity of my returning in order to save it. Heaven save a country governed by such counsels! I must reply to his telegram, and finish this by and by. . . . I feel much better this afternoon — quite myself again., . . If I should find Washington life as bad after the war as it was when I was there, I don't. think I could be induced to remain in the army after peace.
10 P. M. (same letter).It seems, from some later despatches I have received, that Banks has been soundly thrashed, and that they are terribly alarmed in Washington. A scare will do them good, and may bring them to their senses. . . . I have a fire in my tent to-night.
May 26, 8 P. M., camp near New bridge.. . . We broke up the last camp about two and moved to this place, which is quite on the banks of the Chickahominy and very near New bridge. It, of course, commenced raining about an hour after we started; but as it was not a very heavy rain, we got on very well. . . . I have been troubled by the old Mexican complaint, brought on, I suppose, by exposure to the wet, but I am really substantially  well again. . . . Fitz starts off in the morning on a trip that will take a day to go and one to return; the object being to cut off and disperse a force of the enemy threatening my right and rear, also to destroy the railroad bridges. When this is done I will feel very comfortable in that direction, and shall be quite ready to attack. My men are in such excellent condition and such good spirits that I cannot doubt the result. The people here have not much Union feeling, but are becoming heartily tired of the war, especially as they now feel its evils in their midst — a fate from which I pray that God may deliver our own Northern States. My camp is about four and a half to five miles from Richmond. . . . Had the instructions I left for Banks and Wadsworth been complied with we should have been spared the shame of Banks's stampede. . . . I feared last night that I would be ordered back for the defence of Washington!
May 27, 11.45 P. M.. . . I sent Fitz-John out this morning to “pick up” a large force of the enemy who were threatening my right and rear, also to burn the bridges of the two railways of the South Anna. The old fellow has done splendidly. Thrashed 13,000 badly, and I am momentarily expecting to hear the details of his second attack. We are getting on splendidly. I am quietly clearing out everything that could threaten my rear and communications, providing against the contingency of disaster, and so arranging as to make my whole force available in the approaching battle. The only fear is that Joe's heart may fail him . . . .
New bridge, May 29, 8 P. M.. . . I rode some forty-odd miles yesterday, got wet, had nothing to eat all day, and returned to camp about two o'clock this morning, noble old Dan taking me through most splendidly. Found myself quite sick this morning — my old Mexican enemy. I had been fighting against it for several days with more or less success. But this morning I gave up and sent for the doctor, in whose hands I placed myself. . . . Feel a great deal better to-night; the pain gone and my head clearer. . . . Fitz did his work nobly, as I expected. I rode to his battle-field yesterday and several miles beyond it. The railroad bridge across the South Anna was burned yesterday and to-day, thus effectually cutting off railroad  communication between Richmond and the North. Lawrence Williams arranged both affairs very handsomely. The country around Hanover Court-House is very beautiful . . . .
June 2, 8 P. M., New bridge.It has been impossible for me to write to you for the last two or three days. I was quite sick on Friday and Saturday; on the last day rose from my bed and went to the field of battle; remained on horseback most of the time until Sunday evening. I came back perfectly worn out and exhausted; lay down at once, and, though I could not sleep much I got some rest. I think to-night will bring me quite up again; I am not anxious. The Chickahominy is now falling, and I hope we can complete the bridges to-morrow. I can do, nothing more until that is accomplished. The enemy attacked on Saturday and Sunday with great ferocity and determination; their first attack alone was successful. Casey's division broke. As the other divisions came up they checked the enemy, and we gradually got the better of him; he was badly handled before night. On Sunday morning he renewed the attack and was everywhere repulsed in disorder and with heavy loss. We had regained all the ground lost, and more, last night; to-day we are considerably in advance of the field of battle. It is certain that me have gained a glorious victory; I only regret that the rascals were smart enough to attack when the condition of the Chickahominy was such that I could not throw over the rest of the troops to follow up the success; but the weather now seems. settled, and I hope the river will be low enough to-morrow to enable me to cross. I am tired of the sickening sight of the battle-field, with its mangled corpses and poor suffering wounded! Victory has no charms for me when purchased at such cost. I shall be only too glad when all is over and I can return where I best love to be. . . . Your father is quite well; so are all the staff. I don't think any of your friends were hurt in the battle; several colonels killed and some wounded.
June 3, 10 A. M., New bridge.. . . There has been some heavy cannonading within the last hour, and I learned that the enemy were advancing on Sumner. I am awaiting further news before going to the front; in the meantime working hard at the bridges over the confounded Chickahominy. We may have  another fight at any hour now; I can't tell when or where. I expect some 5,500 troops from Fortress Monroe to-night, which will go some ways towards replacing my losses; hope that one regiment arrived last night. If the enemy will give me time to get these fresh troops in line I will be obliged to them exceedingly; I am none too strong, I can assure you. But all will go well . . .
June 5, 9 A. M. (Thursday), New bridge.We have had a terrible time during the last few days: torrents of rain constantly falling; ground a sea of mud; the Chickahominy a booming river; bridges swept away; the railroad pretty much used up — in short, about all the troubles that armies fall heir to, except defeat! But I am so grateful that God gave us the victory that I will not complain of minor evils. The enemy must have been very badly whipped not to have renewed his attack under the very favorable circumstances of the last few days.
P. M.Have been, as usual, interrupted. . . . The enemy has opened from two or three batteries, and is blazing away upon our working parties at the bridges; some of our heavy batteries have opened upon him, and will, I hope, soon silence them. I feel much better to-day, and if secesh will permit me to remain quiet until to-morrow morning I am sure that I shall be quite well. My head feels clearer to-day, and I feel generally better, though somewhat weak. My report of the battle (telegraphic) was incorrectly printed in some respects in the papers, and, of course, raises a tempest in a teapot. I never saw so much selfishness and petty feeling in my life as I have seen developed during this unhappy war. . . . This camp-life in the mud is becoming tedious; yet here, I am tied up, the confounded river running like mad, and no present chance of crossing the rest of the troops, although we are doing all that can be done. . . . The artillery still keeps up its firing. I must send again for news. . . .
June 6.. . The bad weather still continues, horrid in the extreme. . . . It seems that Joe Johnston was seriously, if not dangerously, wounded in the last battle. I had occasion to write him some letters to-day which ought to be answered, so I can probably tell by the reply how it really is. . . . I am receiving  reinforcements now which will soon repair our losses and enable me to act with freedom of motion. . . .
10 P. M.. . . Have been, as usual, very quiet to-day, lying down almost all the time, and leaving my tent scarcely at all, . . . It has at last cleared up, and for some days, I think . . . . It is now quite certain that Joe Johnston was severely wounded last Saturday--now said to be in the shoulder by a rifle-ball. I think there is very little doubt that it is so. That places Smith, G. W., in command. I have drawn nine regiments from Fort Monroe--the first use I made of the command given me of that place; the last of them will be up to-morrow. These will go far — towards filling our ranks. The losses in the late battle were about 5,500; of course we have lost many by disease. I am promised either McCall's or King's division in a very few days. If I learn to-morrow that they will surely be here in three or four days I will wait for them, as it would make the result certain and less bloody. I can't afford to have any more men killed than can be avoided . . . .
June 7, 8.30 A. M. (same letter).. . . The sun is struggling very hard this morning with the clouds; thus far the latter has rather the better of him, but I hope the old fellow will persevere and beat them out in an hour or two. I presume the mystery of the two telegraphic messages has been cleared up before this. I said that none of your acquaintances were killed. The operator must have been unmanned by excitement, for my official despatches were terribly bungled in many ways. One of the two similar despatches must have been sent on the operator's own account. I think I sent you but two altogether that day. Did not that solution occur to you?
June 8, 1862.Gen. Prim and staff, some nine or ten in number, have arrived. They went direct to the battle-field from the railway, so I will be spared until evening, when I shall be in for it. How Charles will make out I cannot imagine. It is a terrible nuisance to take care of these parties in camp. They always come entirely unprovided, and it puts every one to great inconvenience to take care of them. I had sense enough, when I went to the Crimea, to take tents, messing apparatus, servants,  horses, etc., so that I was perfectly independent. But none of these foreigners seem to follow so good an example. . . . I had occasion day before yesterday to send a letter to Joe Johnston in reply to a request of us for permission to send in and get the bodies of a couple of generals and half a dozen colonels supposed to be killed. An answer came yesterday apologizing for the delay in replying to my communication (which involved other matters), and also apologizing for some of his people firing at Sweitzer, who carried the flag of truce. Well, whom do you think the letter came from? From no one else than A. P. Hill, major-general commanding the Light Division. . . . I hope we shall have clear weather for a few days, so that it will be possible to move and use artillery, as well as to get it over the river. You have no idea of the state of the ground now ; just as much as a horse can do to make his way! We have pretty quiet times; a little artillery-firing and picket-skirmishing by way of breaking the monotony--voila tout! I suppose both sides are gathering for the great battle. I have received ten regiments since the battle, nine of which from Fort Monroe, one from Baltimore; and one from Washington will arrive to-night. I am also promised McCall's division at once. If the promise is kept I shall be quite strong again. . . . Am much better to-day-quite myself.
June 9.. . . A large dose of Spaniards yesterday. Gen. Prim and staff arrived and are quartered on us, some seven in all — a rather inconvenient addition to the mess. On the other hand, however, they are very gentlemanly and a very nice set of people. Gen. Prim speaks only French and Spanish. He is a dark-faced, black-haired, bright, young-looking man of forty-five. I like him much. His chief of staff, Gen. Milans, is a perfect old trump, who speaks English and looks for all the world like a French marquis of the stage. His hair and beard are iron gray; his moustache of the most approved pattern of the Spanish cavaliers of old; a cane suspended to his button-hole; red pants tucked in high boots; a loose green coat covered with silver embroidery; the funniest little hat imaginable — on the whole a most peculiar picture, such as I never saw before. They are delighted with what they have seen (I hear the funny little fellow's voice now: “G ‘d-mornina, sir; hope yo’ well” ), fully  appreciate the great difficulties under which we have been laboring, and will do much, I think, towards giving a just idea in Europe of the difficulties we have to contend against in this most singular of all campaigns. . . . I had a telegram from McDowell last evening stating that he was ordered down here with his command, and assuring me that he received the order with great satisfaction. The secretary and President are becoming quite amiable of late; I am afraid that I am a little cross to them, and that I do not quite appreciate their sincerity and good feeling. “Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes.” How glad I will be to get rid of the whole lot! I had another letter from our friend A. P. H. yesterday in reply to mine to Joe Johnston; so I am now confident that Joe is badly wounded. In my reply sent this morning I ignore Hill entirely, and address mine to the “Commanding general, etc.,” so G. W. will have to come out this time. I hope to arrange for a general exchange of prisoners, and thus relieve our poor fellows who have been so long confined. I must do secesh the justice to say that they now treat our wounded and prisoners as well as they can. . . .
June 10, 7.30 A. M.. . . It is again raining hard, and has been for several hours! I feel almost discouraged — that is, I would do so did I not feel that it must all be for the best, and that God has some great purpose in view through all this. It is certain that there has not been for years and years such a season; it does not come by chance. I am quite checked by it. First, the Chickahominy is so swollen and the valley so covered with water that I cannot establish safe communications over it; then, again, the ground is so muddy that we cannot use our artillery: the guns sink up to their axle-trees. I regret all this extremely, but take comfort from the thought that God will not leave so great a struggle as this to mere chance. If He ever interferes with the destinies of men and nations, this would seem to be a fit occasion for it. So whenever I feel discouraged by adverse circumstances I do my best to fall back on this great source of confidence, and always find that it gives me strength to bear up against anything that may occur. I do not see how any one can fill such a position as I do without being constantly forced to think of higher things and the Supreme Being. The great responsibility, the feeling of personal weakness and incompetency,  of entire dependence on the will of God, the thousand circumstances entirely beyond our control that may defeat our best-laid plans, the sight of poor human suffering — all these things will force the mind to seek rest above. . . . I feel quite well to-day, by far better than at any time before. I think that if I can stand the test of this rainy day all must be right. I will not go out while it rains, if I can help it. . . The Spaniards are still here, and I fear will remain some time, unless this rain drives them off. Prim is very well, but it is a nuisance to be obliged to be polite when one's head is full of more important things. . . . Still raining very hard. I don't know what will become of us!
June 11, New bridge, A. M.. . . Am very well to-day, and the weather is good. . . . Will start in half an hour or so for the other side of the river. It threatens rain again, so that I do not believe I can make the entire tour — probably only on Smith and Sumner; do the rest to-morrow. Besides, I do not care to ride too far to-day, as I have not been on horseback before since the day of the battle. I must be careful, for it would be utter destruction to this army were I to be disabled so as not to be able to take command. Burnside left yesterday; thinks there is a great deal of Union feeling in North Carolina, and that our gaining possession of Richmond will at once bring North Carolina back into the Union. . . . I half-doubt whether there is much Union feeling south of North Carolina. . . . McCall's division has commenced arriving; some of them reached the White House last night. This relieves me very much.
June 12, 8 A. M., New bridge. . . Am about to break up this camp and move over the Chickahominy to Dr. Trent's house; to the vicinity, at least, for I abominate houses when on the field. In addition have to take a farewell ride some seven or eight miles up this side of the river to look again at the ground and give the last instructions to Porter and Franklin for their guidance on this side of the river. I took quite a ride yesterday, the first since the battle, and got through with it nicely. I am about as nearly well now as I expect to be in this climate; bright and strong enough to fight a much better battle than any  yet. I had a wonderful telegram from the Secretary of War last night; he declares that he is and ever has been my best friend!
June 14, camp at Dr. Trent's Saturday A. M... . . Your letters reached me yesterday morning just as I was starting out on a hot ride around the lines. Did not return until late, and then they got up, a stampede on the other side of the Chickahominy which kept me busy until bed-time. Some of the enemy's cavalry got in to the railroad, cut the telegraph-wires, and burned some wagons. I do not know particulars yet, but the cavalry and some infantry are out after them, and will, I hope, repay secesh for his impudence. As it is, the telegraph is broken and may not be re-established for several hours. . . . It is terribly hot, so much so that one can hardly exist. I was up before six this morning, and even then found it overpowering; the sun bakes down. I have the best possible place for a camp, right on the summit of a high hill, under the shade of a couple of large walnut-trees, but the trouble this morning is that no air whatever is stirring. Am quite well now; took a long ride in the hot sun yesterday and did not feel it very much; am not quite strong yet, and have to be a little careful. . . . Yesterday morning secesh commenced a very warm fire of artillery quite early, but killed only one man. By and by, however, Smith got some of his sharpshooters near their guns, drove off the gunners and kept them off all day, so that there was no more firing. There has been none to-day. I learn that the enemy moved away their guns during the night; this is probably true. A couple of days more of this weather will dry the roads and fields so as to render them practicable and enable me to try it again. I am heartily tired of inactivity, and shall be only too glad to settle this matter, have the battle, and get through with our work. . . . Senator Rice was here this morning. . . .
June 15, 10.15 P. M., camp Lincoln.. . . We have had several skirmishes. The rebels have attacked our pickets on several points, but were everywhere beaten back with the loss of several killed and a respectable number of prisoners. . . . The worst interruption of all was a “party” of ladies and gentlemen that — had no more sense than to insist upon coming up here, Senator — and a lot of others. All of whom  I was really glad to see, although this was no place for them. I am sorry to say that when I heard of their arrival I “swore” a little internally, and sent Russell flying out of my tent, declaring that I would not see any of them. But soon afterwards Senator — came here, and he was so kind and friendly that I was at once mollified. I talked with him some time, and he went back to Van Vliet's tent. I then gave to Averill my orders for a surprise-party to-morrow, to repay secesh for his raid of day before yesterday. Then went over to call on Mrs.--. There I was in for it. I was presented to all the ladies, listened to Mrs.--'s version of her trip to Richmond, and very rapidly beat a retreat, giving business as an excuse. Charles got up a lunch for the party, a rainstorm coming on in the meanwhile. When they were nearly through I took Averill over and talked with them for a while. Then they adjourned to my tent. The two dear old mesdames were just as good as they could be; can I say more? When they left they asked me to give them sprigs from the bower in front of my tent, so I send you one, too. . . . I do not think our rain of to-day will do much harm, The chances now are that I will make the first advance on Tuesday or Wednesday. By that time I think the ground will be fit for the movements of artillery and that all our bridges will be completed. I think the rebels will make a desperate fight, but I feel sure that we will gain our point. Look on the maps I sent you a day or two ago, and find “Old Tavern,” on the road from New bridge to Richmond; it is in that vicinity that the next battle will be fought. I think that they see it in that light, and that they are fully prepared to make a desperate resistance. I shall make the first battle mainly an artillery combat. As soon as I gain possession of the “Old Tavern” I will push them in upon Richmond and behind their works; then I will bring up my heavy guns, shell the city, and carry it by assault. I speak very confidently, but if you could see the faces of the troops as I ride among them you would share my confidence. They will do anything I tell them to do. I could not help laughing when, on the day of the last battle, I was riding along in front, a man jumped out in an interval of the cheering and addressed me quite familiarly, saying: “Halloo, George! how are you? You are the only one of the whole crowd of generals that is worth a--.”  I won't fill up the last word, but the whole command shouted, “That's so!” . . I think there is scarcely a man in this whole army who would not give his life for me, and willingly do whatever I ask. I have tried them more than once, and whenever I am near they never fail me. The next battle will doubtless be a desperate one, but I think that I can so use our artillery as to make the loss of life on our side comparatively small. . . .
June 17, 4 P. M.The weather yesterday and to-day has been splendid. It is clear and bright, but a delightfully cool breeze has been blowing constantly. The roads and fields are drying beautifully. The river is falling rapidly; our bridges are nearly finished, and we shall soon be on the move.
Camp at Trent's house, June 21, 1862, 10 A. M.. . We have had good weather for the last few days, and have been improving it as best we could. Both parties are active, but the nature of the country is such as to make our progress difficult in the extreme. I hope to knock secesh out of Old Tavern and its vicinity within a couple of days; shall try it, at all events. . . . I see the Abolitionists have got a new dodge in my behalf — the White House business! In the first place, I never saw Col. Lee in my life, and, of course, never made any arrangement with him. The house was guarded simply from motives of respect for the memory of Washington, which I thought would be appreciated by every honest person in the country. The adjacent property has been freely used for all necessary purposes. The house has never been needed for a hospital, and would not accommodate over thirty or forty persons anyhow. The “spring” alluded to is one of a great many. There are plenty there, and this one is prohibited only because access to it brings people too near the house. I was not even sure that it was guarded, and do not even now know whether it is anything more than the guard placed over all springs near camps to prevent them from being misused by the men. So you have the truth of the White House story, all of which was in the possession of the secretary some ten days ago. I yesterday sent Tripler down to investigate the whole matter, and when I receive his report will nail the lie  to the counter,--wrote a letter to the secretary, in which he repeats the spring story as of his own knowledge; that is, he asserts it as a fact! One thing is certain: I will some day or other repay some of these people with interest, and make them feel ashamed of themselves, if there is such a thing in their composition, which I rather doubt. I can't tell you how sick I am of this kind of life. I suppose it is the “cross” that it is my lot to bear, and that I should not repine. I know it is wrong, and I do my best to bear everything contentedly; but sometimes the old, impatient spirit will break out and I lose my temper. But I will keep on trying to do my best. . . .
June 22, Sunday, 3 P. M.. . . By an arrival from Washington to-day I learn that Stanton and Chase have fallen out; that McDowell has deserted his friend C. and taken to S.! Alas! poor country that should have such rulers. I tremble for my country when I think of these things; but still can trust that God in His infinite wisdom will not punish us as we deserve, but will in His own good time bring order out of chaos and restore peace to this unhappy country. His will be done, whatever it may be! I am as anxious as any human being can be to finish this war. Yet when I see such insane folly behind me I feel that the final salvation of the country demands the utmost prudence on my part, and that I must not run the slightest risk of disaster, for if anything happened to this army our cause would be lost. I got up some heavy guns to-day, and hope to give secesh a preliminary pounding to-morrow and to make one good step next day. The rascals are very strong, and out-number me very considerably; they are well entrenched also, and have all the advantages of position, so I must be prudent; but I will yet succeed, notwithstanding all they do and leave undone in Washington to prevent it. I would not have on my conscience what those men have for all the world. I am sorry that I shall lose the dear old Prince de Joinville in a few days; he is obliged to return to Europe. Gen. Prim has sent me his photograph. . . . It is quite hot this afternoon. . . . It is almost time for our evening skirmish, Secesh has been very quiet to-day; scarcely fired a shot. I am very glad of it, as it has enabled me to give my men a good, quiet rest for Sunday.