Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

January 2012

31st. Letter from Will Hudson. Wrote to Sarah Felton. Secesh arrested. Whiskey emptied out on the streets. Third Battalion arrived. Found new quarters in a house out by the seminary.


Jan. 31, This morning a small schooner was seen coming down the sound. A boat went out and met her; she contained seven darkies who said they stole the schooner and left in her from Roanoke island. They were put aboard the steamer S. R. Spaulding, and the little schooner hitched astern. They can probably give some valuable information in regard to affairs on the island. The New York is stuck on the swash, and several boats and tugs are trying to pull her across; she will probably get off tomorrow. They will then all be across, except the Louisiana, which will be here in a day or two. We got a big mail today; any quantity of letters and newspapers, and the boys are cheered up wonderfully to hear from home.


31st.—As a relief to the dullness induced by bad weather, and disappointed hopes that something will turn up to awaken the activity of the army, I am constantly amused by the merry chirpings of myriads of “crickets on the hearth.”[1] Now and then after night-fall a little mouse, nearly white, suddenly appears amongst them, and such a scampering, “such a gettin’ up stairs I ever didn’t see.” Mousey looks around for a little while as if surprised at their timidity, then sets up a-beautiful little song of his own, much resembling the trilling efforts of the young canary. Yes, I have the reality of a singing mouse; and at all hours of the night, either he or the crickets may be heard, in their cheering and now familiar singings. A few nights ago I heard a sound as of some small animal struggling in the water. I arose quickly, and on striking a light, found my little musical companion struggling in the water-pail for dear life. He had “leaped before he looked.” I had him. I warmed him, and dried him, and then I let him go. And why should l not have let him go? True, I sometimes see him gliding away with stolen portions of my dearly-bought cheese. Now and then the print of his little foot, just pulled out of Virginia mud, is found on my butter roll. Once, as I was preparing for breakfast, I found the little fellow taking his morning bath in my cream cup. But what are all these? The cheese I can afford to divide with him. I cut the print of his little foot from my butter roll, and enjoy what is left all the better. Though I lose the cream from my coffee, I become more attached to the cup, because it has afforded pleasure to my little friend. Have we any roses without thorns, good people without failings, or friends without faults? When I examine the catalogue of my friends, should I strike off every one who has a failing, I fear I should have very few left. Go on, then, little mousey, this world was intended alike for you and me. There is not a night but your little song more than pays me for all your depredations of the day, and for all my interest in and affections for you.

[1] My quarters are now, an old farm house with one room, with an immense rough stone chimney, and a flag-stone hearth.


Friday 31st

A cloudy damp day, in the office as usual. Engaged the Pat office Draughtsman to make drawings for my Door Fastener. I shall make application for a pat next week. Remained at home this evening except going to Mr Hartleys for Julia at 9 o’clock. I have been writing the specification for my Patent. The boys are all happy in the promise of new Boots tomorrow. Paid some Bills today, ought to have more money. Wood & coal bill for Jan’y $9.00, two fires only. Oak wood $10.00. We are very saving of fuel, no Servants this winter to waste it. We are all servants this winter. Indications of snow tonight which means more mud if that were possible.


The three diary manuscript volumes, Washington during the Civil War: The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, 1861-1865, are available online at The Library of Congress.


Friday, 31st—This is the end of January. Company E has been at Lookout Station thirty-seven days, and while our army service has not been hard, yet we are anxious to leave for more active service.


Camp Union, January 31, 1862. — Inspection day. Good weather until dark when a rain “set in.” Had a review and inspection. Satisfactory. Cannon firing with a new brass six-pounder, cast by Greenwood. First two shots four hundred and fifty yards, plumb in line, two and one-half feet below the centre of the target. At parade, had practice in musket firing — six rounds — eight hundred shots. Put one hundred and fifty-four balls in a board five feet high by twenty inches broad — one hundred yards. Very good. A jolly evening. Read the letters in the 27th and 28th Commercials to Avery, Bottsford, Captain Moore, Dr. Webb, etc.; then a talk and laugh at campaign jokes. Colonel Scammon returned from Raleigh; thinks the mud too deep for forward movements for a month or six weeks.


Washington, D. C, Jan. 31, 1862.

Dear Father, — I am lodging at a house on 14th St., just opposite Willard’s, and taking my meals at Willard’s. Perkins[1] is in the same room with me, and in case you come on here at any time and cannot get in at Willard’s, you will find it a good place to get a room at this house, Mrs. Dull’s. . . .

James arrived here this evening and says the horse is all right, with the exception of a cold which he caught coming on last night in an open car. I shall buy a rubber blanket for the animal, and think he will be all right then.

I started with Perkins to go out to camp this morning, but we broke down on the way out, and had to return, not getting back in time to start again to-day. It is just as well, as I shall have to go to-morrow morning with all my baggage, etc., and report to General Porter. I have had to wait for James, or else I should have gone immediately to camp.

The roads are in a most horrible condition, the mud being the worst I have ever seen. I shall be glad to reach camp and get settled down as I am tired of waiting here in Washington. If it had not been for Perkins I should have been very unpleasantly off indeed.

I saw Sowdon[2] a few minutes after my arrival here Thursday. He was just starting for home, not having obtained his commission.

I am perfectly well and in good health, and received your medicines safely. . . .


[1] William E. Perkins, of Harvard 1860, my classmate

[2] Arthur J. C. Sowdon, Harvard 1857.


London, January 31, 1862

We are going ahead just as usual and our position has not varied. The only fault I am disposed to find is the old and chronic one with our Chief, and for that matter, with me also, of not extending his relations enough. I want him to cultivate the diplomatic corps, which has been greatly neglected and from which many advantages may be drawn. About the English it does not so much matter. They are so extremely jealous of whatever looks like foreign influence that on the whole they are better left to themselves. We have now a tolerably good organization in our branch of the press, and Weed is extending this rapidly. He can do everything that we cannot do, and a single blunder on our side that would bring the Legation into discredit, would much more than compensate for any advantage we are likely to get from bold action. Since my exposure in the papers here, I have wholly changed my system, and having given up all direct communication with the public, am engaged in stretching my private correspondence as far as possible. This I hope to do to some purpose, and with luck I may make as much headway so, as I could in any other way.

The two unhung arrived after all. Evidently they are born for the gallows, as the sea casts them out. Their detention of two months was a great stroke of luck for us in my opinion. Their party here had made all their preparations for a war, and stopped their old game almost wholly. Peace was a great blow to them, and has disconcerted all their plans. For two months they ceased to send supplies to the South; they kept the Nashville in port; and they worked on a whole line of manœuvres which are now regularly knocked into a cocked hat. Slidell might have been dangerous in France, for the Emperor was very shaky, but Seward’s course and Weed’s dexterity just turned the corner and now Slidell’s first reception is the announcement of Napoleon’s continued neutrality. Up to the last moment the beggars were confident that directly the opposite course would be taken. Then, in expectation of a war, the Nashville was kept in port. The Tuscarora arrived just in time; and now Mason is received here with the news that the Nashville can no longer remain in port but that both she and the Tuscarora must proceed to sea.


And now the great battle is coming and we shall see lively times. Parliament meets on the 6th. The reprobates are as usual very sanguine that there will be intervention, and that the Ministry will be compelled to recognize or resign. A battle there will be, no doubt, but unless we are defeated at home, I think we shall yet maintain ourselves here. The opposition to intervention of any sort will be bitter in the extreme. They are well organised, I understand, but they are too vulnerable to stand a long contest, and we shall not give up with a short one. Still, much is yet in the dark as to our relative strength. Lord Russell distinctly stated the other day, in private conversation with the Duc D’Aumale, that he thought we should conquer the South in the end. If he thinks so he surely won’t countenance interference. And if the Ministry are firm, we are safe.


Parliament will bring society, and this I dread. The son of the American Minister is likely to meet with precious little favorable criticism in London society in these days, and, after all, I ‘m very little of a society man. I do not mean to press myself on this quarter, but rather to avoid notice and be all the more active where no one sees me. I can’t do much, but I think I can make myself of some use.

I was surprised to hear that you were to go to Port Royal. I can’t conceive of your being placed there except for service, but I should guess that at least half your regiment would be more likely to break their own necks than to hurt an enemy in a battle. If you see the correspondent of the London Star there, a youth named Edge, pray make his acquaintance and tell him that Moran, Wilson and I are all particularly anxious to know whether that travelling suit is worn out yet, or the telescope used up. He is not a bad fellow, though rather long-winded, and his employers are warm allies of ours here with great influence. They like his letters, as we all do, but wish there were more of them and longer. At last accounts he was doing the fever and toping on quinine. I hope you will forswear that luxury, not uncommon, it appears, in that neighborhood.

We are dreading the next news. I hardly dare think of a battle and we all are tacitly agreed not to talk about it. I am sorry to say that our advices are not quite so satisfactory as we would like. But the darkest hour before the dawn. . . .


London, January 31, 1862

The disputed mock-heroes, who came so near creating a war between people vastly better than themselves, have arrived safe and sound in this city. But for the usual notice in the newspapers nobody would have known it. I doubt whether the presence of one person more or less will have any very serious effect upon the current of public events, which depends far more upon the results now taking place with you than upon any action here…. In the meanwhile the newspapers indulge their respective fancies as freely as ever. Their abuse is not very pleasant, but I am always consoled for it, when I reflect that Lord Lyons is likely to get about as much on his side. The balance of national invective being thus kept about even, I do not see why we cannot consider the one side as neutralising the other, and nothing left…. In any event I shall retain the conviction that the endeavor to excite enmity against us here has a purely political origin, and does not find its root deep in the heart of the community. It pleases an influential class to think that the demon of democracy may be laid at home, if it can be stripped of its American garb. Perhaps they are right, though I do not believe it. No more fatal mistake can be committed by them than that of taking up the cause of a slaveholding oligarchy to prove the fact. Every step in its progress would be a new argument against them. For it would more and more establish the fact of their want of sympathy with free institutions and the progress of the age. Hence the decline of their power over the public mind would be precipitated rather than retarded, and the end would come just as surely….


JANUARY 31ST.—What if these men (they have passports) should be going to Washington to report the result of their reconnoissances in Tennessee? The Tennessee River is high, and we have no casemated batteries, or batteries of any sort, on it above Fort Henry.