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

Post image for “I am growing and developing here daily, but in such strange directions.”–Adams Family Letters, Charles Francis Adams, Jr., to his brother, Henry.

“I am growing and developing here daily, but in such strange directions.”–Adams Family Letters, Charles Francis Adams, Jr., to his brother, Henry.

January 26, 2013

Adams Family Civil War letters; US Minister to the UK and his sons.

Potomac River, Va.
January 23, 1863

I do wish you took a little more healthy view of life. You say “whether my present course of life is profitable or not I am very sure yours is not.” Now, my dear fellow, speak for yourself. Your life may be unprofitable to you, and if it is, I shall have my own ideas as to why it is so; but I shall not believe it is until I see it from my own observation. As to me my present conviction is that my life is a good one for me to live, and I think your judgment will jump with mine when next we meet. I can’t tell how you feel about yourself, but I can how I feel about myself, and I assure you I have the instinct of growth since I entered the army. I feel within myself that I am more of a man and a better man than I ever was before, and I see in the behavior of those around me and in the faces of my friends, that I am a better fellow. I am nearer other men than I ever was before, and the contact makes me more human. I am on better terms with my brother men and they with me. You may say that my mind is lying fallow all this time. Perhaps, but after all the body has other functions than to carry round the head, and a few years’ quiet will hardly injure a mind warped, as I sometimes suspect mine was, in time past by the too constant and close inspection of print. I never should have suspected it in time past, but to my surprise I find this rough, hard life, a life to me good in itself. After being a regular, quiet respectable stay-at-home body in my youth, lo! at twenty-seven I have discovered that I never knew myself and that nature meant me for a Bohemian—a vagabond. I am growing and developing here daily, but in such strange directions. Let not my father try to tempt me back into my office and the routine of business, which now seems to sit like a terrible incubus on my past. No! he must make up his mind to that. I hope my late letters have paved the way to this conviction with him. If not, you may as well break it to him gently; but the truth is that going back to Boston and its old tread-mill is one of the aspects of the future from which my mind fairly revolts. With the war the occupation of this Othello’s gone, and I must hit on a new one. I don’t trouble myself much about the future, for I fear the war will not be over for years to come. Of course I don’t mean this war, in its present form: that we all see is fast drawing to a close; but indications all around point out to me a troubled future in which the army will play an important part for good or evil, and needs to be influenced accordingly. I shall cast my fate in with the army and the moment reorganization takes place on the return of peace and the disbandment of volunteers I shall do all I can to procure the highest grade in the new army for which I can entertain any hope. I now lament extremely my early education and life. I would I had been sent to boarding school and made to go into the world and mix with men more than my nature then inclined me to. I would I had been a venturous, restive, pugnacious little black-guard, causing my pa-r-i-ents much mental anxiety. In that case I should now be an officer not at all such as I am. But after all it is n’t too late to mend and enough active service may supply my deficiencies of education still. Meanwhile here I am, and here I am contented to remain. The furlough fever has broken out in our regiment, and the officers, right and left, are figuring up how they can get home for a time. Three only of us are untouched and declare that we would n’t go home if we could, and the three are Greely Curtis, Henry Higginson and myself. Our tents and the regimental lines have become our homes….

I ‘ve all along told you, you ought to remain in London, and I say so still; for that is your post and, pleasant or unpleasant there you should remain. I have told you all along, however, that I did n’t like the tone of your letters. Your mind has become morbid and is in a bad way — for yourself — both for the mens sana and corpus sanum. A year of this life would be most advantageous. Your mind might rest and your body would harden. My advice to you is to wait until you can honorably leave your post and then make a bolt into the wilderness, go to sea before the mast, volunteer for a campaign in Italy, or do anything singularly foolish and exposing you to uncalled for hardship. You may think my advice absurd and never return to it again. I tell you I know you and I have tried the experiment on myself, and I here suggest what you most need, and what you will never be a man without. If you joined an expedition to the North pole you might not discover that terra incognita, but you would discover many facts about yourself which would amply repay you the trouble you had had. All a man’s life is not meant for books, or for travel in Europe. Turn round and give a year to something new, such as I have suggested, and if you are thought singular you will find yourself wise.

Tuesday, 26th

I suppose you in London think it strange that I do not oftener refer to the war in my letters and discuss movements. The truth is that you probably know far more of what is going on than I do, who rarely see papers, still more rarely go beyond the regimental lines and almost never meet any one possessed of any reliable information. As a rule, so far as my knowledge goes, the letters of correspondents of the press are very delusive. They get their information from newspaper generals and their staffs and rarely tell what they see. Now and then, very rarely, I see a plain, true, outspoken letter of an evident eye-witness. The small means of observation I have are enough, however, to convince me that the army of the Potomac is thoroughly demoralized. They will fight yet, but they fight for defeat, just as a brave, bad rider will face a fence, but yet rides for a fall. There is a great deal of croaking, no confidence, plenty of sickness, and desertion is the order of the day. This arises from various causes; partly from the defeat at Fredericksburg and the failure, but mostly from the change of commanders of late. You or others may wonder or agree, as you choose, but it is a fact that McClellan alone has the confidence of this army. They would rally and fight under him tomorrow and under him only. Burnside has lost, and Hooker never had their confidence.

Under these circumstances my mind recurs more and more to the plan of the war which I suggested to you in my last letters from Hilton Head, after the seven days’ fight. This army I now think should be broken up and the bulk of it at once transferred to the South West, where it could seize and hold against everything the territory west of the Mississippi. This would give us that river and its tributaries, including the States of Tennessee and Kentucky; it would circumscribe and ultimately destroy the Southern confederacy, and would settle forever the slavery question in the young South West. One measure alone would decide all this: let the army know that they are to have the territory they occupy and Congress pass liberal laws encouraging the army to settle where they have fought. I think that at least 100,000 fighting men would become coloni, would send for their families or marry and there settle; and this would at once insure to that immense country inhabitants, defenders and free labor. This would be now, as it was then, my plan of the war, and I would abandon at once the moral effect of the capture of Richmond in favor of the great material fact of an open Mississippi. That this will be the future plan of the war there are already indications, but I hardly hope that we shall throw our whole strength into it, as we should to insure success. I have given up philosophising and do not often, except in very muddy weather indulge in lamentation. I think indeed you in London will all bear witness that my letters, under tolerably adverse circumstances, have been reasonably cheerful, and I hope they will remain so, even if the days become blacker than these blackest days I ever saw. We all feel that we are right and that being right, there is for us good in this plan of Providence, if our philosophy could but find it out. Do you remember the first lines of the last chorus in Samson Agonistes? They begin, “Though we oft doubt,” and I have often tried to recall them lately, but cannot get them all. I hope to live to see the philosophy of this struggle, and see the day when the Lord “will to his faithful servant in his place, bear witness gloriously.” Meanwhile, if it is your place to wield the pen, to my no small astonishment I find the sword becoming my weapon and, each in his place, we are working off our shares of the coil. Let us try to do it in our several ways to the best of our ability and uncomplainingly receive whatever fate betides us.

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