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

Monday, August 27, 2012

Madison, Wednesday, Aug. 27. I had to pass through the regular scramble-game for my rations, and drew the bounty in the afternoon, went around town and bought my outfit, ready to leave.

Willard’s Hotel, Washington
August 27, 1862

Here I am once more in the city of Washington. Since I last wrote the first detachment of our regiment has arrived at Fortress Monroe, and is now in camp at Acquia Creek, while I have come up here to see about this business of Pope’s staff. I find the old city much as usual, but still not the same. It was indeed pleasant for me to get here and at least to see something familiar once more, and I looked at all the public buildings and even at Willard’s as at old friends. Once more I have really slept in a bed and I really never enjoyed anything in my life, in its kind, more than the delicious little supper which Gautier got up for me. You don’t know how much eight months of coarse fare improve one’s faculties for gastronomic enjoyment, and last evening I experienced a new sensation.

Here I am though, and what next? Shall I go onto Pope’s staff? I think not. This is a very different place from Hilton Head and here I am learning many strange things which make me open my eyes very wide, which make me sorrow over our past and do not encourage me for the future. Here I have access to certain means of information and I think I can give you a little more light than you now have. Do you know that just before leaving the Peninsula McClellan offered to march into Richmond on his own responsibility? Do you know that in the opinion of our leading military men Washington is in more danger than it ever yet has been? Do you know that but for McDowell’s jealousy we should have triumphantly marched into Richmond? Do you know that Pope is a humbug and known to be so by those who put him in his present place? Do you know that today he is so completely outgeneraled as to be cut off from Washington? Yet these are not rumors, but facts, doled out to me by members of McClellan’s and Halleck’s staffs.

Our rulers seem to me to be crazy. The air of this city seems thick with treachery; our army seems in danger of utter demoralization and I have not since the war begun felt such a tug on my nerves as today in Washington. Everything is ripe for a terrible panic, the end of which I cannot see or even imagine. I always mean to be one of the hopeful, but just now I cast about in vain for something on which to hang my hopes. I still believe in McClellan, but I know that the nearest advisers of the President — among them Mr. Holt — distrust his earnestness in this war. Stanton is jealous of him and he and Pope are in bitter enmity. All pin their hope on Halleck and we must do as the rest do; but it is hinted to me that Stanton is likely to be a block in Halleck’s way, and the jealousies of our generals are more than a new man can manage. We need a head and we must have it; a man who can keep these jealousies under subordination; and we must have him or go to the wall. Is Halleck going to supply our need? I hope he is, but while the question is in doubt we may lose Washington. You will think that I am in a panic and the most frightened man in Washington. I assure you it is not so. I do consider the outside condition of affairs very critical, but it is my glimpse behind the scenes, the conviction that small men with selfish motives control the war without any central power to keep them in bounds, which terrifies and discourages me.

Take the history of the Peninsular campaign. My authorities are one aid of McClellan’s and Halleck’s Assistant Adjutant General, but the facts speak for themselves, and the inferences any man may draw. Stanton, contrary to the first principle of strategy and for motives not hard to comprehend, divides Virginia into four independent departments. McClellan takes charge of one and a column is taken from him to form another under charge of McDowell. It is solemnly promised McClellan that McDowell shall join him before Richmond, and meanwhile he is retained where he is to protect Washington. Mark the result. McClellan fights the battle of Hanover Court House, with all its loss of life and time, simply to open the road for McDowell to join him and he does open it. McDowell’s advance guard hears his cannon on that day, but McDowell does not stir, and McClellan, still looking for him, forms that fatal Chickahominy front of twenty miles. Doubtless McDowell was kept back by orders, but in how far was he instrumental in procuring these orders to suit himself? McClellan’s staff do not hesitate to say that he dictated them on pretence of danger to Washington, in reality because his advance would have absorbed his command in that of McClellan. Take the pretence. Jackson makes his raid in the valley of the Shenandoah, and again McDowell’s advance hears the sound of his guns. Washington is in danger now. As before he does not move and Jackson escapes and returns to attack McClellan. Had McDowell done his duty either for McClellan or against Jackson, we should now have Richmond and McClellan would now be the conquering hero. He did neither and is now in disgrace, as subordinated to Pope; but McClellan is not the conquering hero. Not half an hour ago Halleck’s nephew and private secretary told me that I could not imagine the trouble these jealousies gave his uncle. Said he, “McDowell and Sigel will not fight under Pope. McClellan and Pope are not in sympathy”; and he added an intimation that McClellan was most restive under Halleck.

Under these circumstances what can we expect? What can we hope for? Sigel stands well, but all our army officers are bitter and jealous against him. In Burnside there is indeed hope. He has been true and generous and, what is much, successful. He did not hesitate to award to McClellan the credit of planning his Carolina campaign, and, unlike McDowell, when told to send to McClellan all the troops he could spare, he at once sent him twenty-eight regiments and six batteries, leaving himself and the Major General under him some 3000 men in all. We have some grim old fighters who do their work and do not scheme. Such they tell me are Sumner and Heintzelman; but even of these the last is outspoken against McClellan because he will not fight with more energy. The simple truth is the man has not come and now we mean to supply his place with vast numbers of undrilled recruits. Shall we succeed? You can judge as well as I.

Thus the war is gloomily enough approaching its last and bloodiest stage. Unless Halleck is the man of iron who can rule, it will be discordant numbers against compact strategy. We must face the music, though we do not like the tune….

August 27th. At six P. M., called all hands to muster, when Lieutenant Commander James S. Thornton transferred the command of this ship to Captain James S. Palmer, late of the Iroquois, which was the occasion of a few remarks from Capt. Palmer to the ship’s company. At nine P. M. Lieutenant Com. Thornton left the ship, to take command of the gunboat Winona.

Warrenton Junction, Aug. 27.

Dear Father, — We arrived here this morning and find that the enemy are at Manassas Gap, between us and Washington. General Pope, in my opinion, is a complete failure. He can handle 10,000 men, but no more. We still have communication with Washington via Aquia Creek. I hope we shall see a successful issue to this trouble.

August 27, Tuesday. Called on the Attorney-General in relation to the appointment of a chaplain, — a singular case. When the Cumberland was sunk in March last, and a considerable portion of her crew, it was supposed the chaplain was lost. This fact brought a large flock of clerical gentlemen to Washington for the place. The first who reached here was Rev. K. of Germantown, and the President in the kindness of his heart wrote a note requesting that Mr. K. might, if there was nothing to prevent, have the place of the supposed drowned. It was not certain, however, that there was a vacancy, — we were daily hearing of escaped victims who were preserved, — and duty forbade an immediate appointment. Congress, before adjourning, enacted a law that no person should be appointed chaplain who was over thirty-five. Mr. K. is forty-eight, but, unwilling to relinquish the place, he pressed the President with his friends and procured from him another letter, directing the appointment to be made now, if it was one that could have been made then. On bringing this to me, I told the reverend gentleman it was in disregard of the law, and could not be made in my opinion; that I must at all events see the President before any steps were taken and advise him of the facts.

This I did, and by his request called on the Attorney General. That gentleman, as I expected, requests a written application for his opinion.

Have a letter from Admiral Foote, who has thought a second time of his conclusions in his letter to Mr. Faxon, expresses regret, and very handsomely apologizes. I had expected this; should have been disappointed in the man if he had not made it.


27th.—One year ago to-day I received notice to be ready to march with three days rations, at a moment’s notice; and three days less than a year ago we settled down near this place to bag the army of rebels at Manassas and to close the war. We then stayed settled till they left us. We followed to take them wherever found; overtook them at Young’s Mills, on the Peninsula. After a while we followed them to Yorktown. Again sat down and dug holes to bag ’em. They went away, and we followed to take them at Richmond, but they getting out of patience at our tardiness, stopped, and we blundered on them at Williamsburg, where they saved us the trouble and mortification of digging, dying and waiting, by coming out and attacking us. Having blundered into this fight, we followed on to Richmond. For weeks and weeks we digged and died again, giving the enemy time to collect his forces from all parts of the country, when he came out, and instead of being quietly bagged, drove such of us as were living from our pits, and now here we are back again with our National Capitol in sight on one side, and the guns of the pursuing rebels in hearing on the other. Last night he burned one of our bridges between here and Manassas, and this morning it is said and believed he captured, within our hearing, a brigade sent out to aid Gen. Pope, whilst here sit we idle all the day. Have the people yet begun to question the infallibility of Gen. McClellan? If ever there was an abused army on the face of the earth, this is one, and it will yet pass into a by-word that McClellan holds the army, whilst his Generals abuse it or use it for their own ambitious or mercenary purposes.

It now looks as if we need not leave this ground to fight, but that the enemy will advance and give fight on this very spot. Even now, whilst I write this sentence, five of the 12th Pennsylvania Cavalry, of a company left at Manassas, ride into camp. They say they were surprised this morning, (the old story,) and that these five are all that escaped. Pope they say is surrounded by Jackson. I admire this man Jackson. He has snap in him, and deserves to succeed. Admiration of him, and of his energy, are unmistakable all through our lines. Our men are discouraged, disheartened, and constantly express the wish that they had such a General to lead them to honorable battle.

Late at Night.—Oh! could I have been proved a croaker, an alarmist, an anything rather than witness what I have seen to-day. Another Bull Run. My writing has been arrested by the noise of teams on the road. What a sight! The road for miles crowded with straggling cavalrymen, infantry, and hundreds of contrabands with their packs and babies, all fleeing from the fight begun last night at Manassas. Miles of teams, batteries of artillery, retreating here in sight of our Capitol, before an enemy whose Capitol we were to have danced in a year ago! Have I misjudged our leaders in my frequent bewailings? Have I croaked without reason? Would to God I had, instead of having to witness the scenes of this day. I am impatient for the advance of the enemy, and hope he will be at us by the next rising of the sun. After the late disgraceful scenes, my mortification prompts me to wish that we may settle this matter now and here. What has this Army of the Potomac done? What attempted? But hold! A rumor is just here that Gen. McClellan has stopped the running of the ferry boats between Washington and Alexandria, and that he has ordered all the water conveyances now in the river to lay alongside of the docks at Alexandria. What does it mean? Is it only a camp rumor? I hope so, for if true it can mean nothing short of a preparation to embark the retreating masses. I will not believe this, for it would imply that we mean to yield our defences here—our strong forts—without any attempt at defence. I will not credit it, for give the enemy possession of Arlington Heights, and Washington cannot hold out a day. Eight months ago we boasted an army 700,000 strong. Where are they, and what doing? We are driven back here. Buell is in danger at the South. Forts Henry and Donelson surrounded for want of troops to defend them. Morgan unsupported in Kentucky. At this rate what will be worth that political advancement for which our Generals plan and sacrifice each other? What place will the nation have worthy a man’s ambition? If it be through tribulation that a nation is perfected, what a perfect nation we soon shall be. I have for a long time wished to resign, but I cannot now; my regiment is in danger, and I must see it through. Then for home.

Wednesday, 27th—Companies G and B came out this morning to relieve us from picket duty at the big cut. We have had very little rest while on picket and patrol during the last forty-eight hours. Our regiment has begun building fortifications here at Bolivar; some negroes drifting into camp have been put to this work. The rebels to the south of us are getting bolder, and have driven in some of our outer pickets.

Wednesday, 27th. In the morning did very little. Read some. In the afternoon Delos and I went down to see Charlie. He was about going to water his horses. Stayed a short time and read a Lorain Netvs. Nothing particular. Saw a corpse, a Co. A. man. Went in and saw several sick men. Two from Co. H. are doomed to die. Boys sat about as carelessly as ever, playing cards and swearing. Washed the dishes when I got home. Played ball a little.

Wednesday 27th.—Crossed Pinelog Mountain to-day; had hard work getting wagons and artillery over. Marched eighteen miles.

August 27—Three of our companies got Enfield rifles to-day.