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

Post image for “They will be court martialed and probably shot.”–Adams Family Letters, Charles Francis Adams, Jr., to his father.

“They will be court martialed and probably shot.”–Adams Family Letters, Charles Francis Adams, Jr., to his father.

January 30, 2013

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

Camp near Potomac Run, Va.
January 28, 1863

The fine weather seems fairly to be over and the wet season to have set in. In addition to the week of rain before, which played Burnside out, it rained steadily all last night and this morning set in from the N.E. with sleet and snow, and is at it now very lively. The results of this you may imagine, but I dare not. For myself it is of little consequence. My tent is logged up, I have a good fire-place, a pretty complete outfit and am as comfortable as I have any wish to be; but I feel for my men and dare not go and look at my horses. I know just how they look, as they huddle together at the picket-ropes and turn their shivering croups to this pelting northeaster. There they stand without shelter, fetlock deep in slush and mud, without a blanket among them, and there they must stand — poor beasts — and all I can do for them is to give them all the food I can, and that little enough. Of oats there is a sufficiency and the horses have twelve quarts a day; but hay is scant, and it is only by luck that we have a few bales just now when most we need them. I have them fed four times a day — at morning, noon, night and midnight — and if they have enough to eat, they do wonderfully well, but it comes hard on them to have to sustain hunger, as well as cold and wet. It is all over, however, with any horse that begins to fail, for after a few days he either dies at the rope, or else glanders set in and he is led out and shot. I lose in this way two or three horses a week. The men do better now, as they too have logged in their tents and built fireplaces, and, as a rule, they are well clad and shod; but, after all, it comes hard on them, this being wet and always sleeping on damp ground, and we have had five funerals this month, one from the fall of a horse and four from sickness, one of which was in my company — a boy, named Pierce, from the central part of the State.

I had two men desert the other day also, and under peculiar circumstances. They were two of our recruits and did not properly belong to my Company, but were assigned to it for duty. They had cost the Government some three hundred dollars each and were good for nothing, as by far too many of these “bounty-boys” are. They were sent out as part of a detail for picket duty from my Company, under Lieutenant Merrill. On the night of the 8th of January they were posted at an important point on the extreme front of our lines, and in the immediate vicinity of Hartwood Church. When the patrol came round they had disappeared. The case was reported and I supposed that they had grown cold and drowsy and been ingeniously spirited away by guerrillas — for such things are done. At the end of ten days however one of our men accidentally found their horses tied to a tree in the woods near their posts, all saddled, just as the men had left them, and on the saddles were hanging all the men’s arms, except their pistols. There the poor brutes had stood for ten days, without food or water, until one had died in the agonies of starvation, and the other, having gnawed up all the trees around him, was reduced to a walking skeleton. This last, however, is alive and now at my picket-rope. (P. S. He died of exposure the next morning after I wrote this.) Meanwhile the human brutes, this brace of $300 men, had, I find, quietly deserted their posts as videttes and walked off, enquiring their way to Warrenton and leaving their horses and arms, except pistols, as too likely to lead to their being caught — their design evidently being to get through our lines near Alexandria and so North. Meanwhile I am doing all in my power to catch them by notifying the authorities in Washington and at home. Should I succeed, their fate is not to be envied. They will be court martialed and probably shot. If not shot, they will suffer some terrible military punishment at the Tortugas….

Meanwhile peace reigns once more in our domestic affairs — a very lively storm has purified the air. Colonel Sargent went on in his career until one day he put Lieut. Col. Curtis under arrest and then the storm burst. I rode over and stated our case to General Buchanan and he advised me as to the proper course to pursue, and the next day Sargent found his head in a hornet’s nest. Curtis forwarded a complaint on his arrest to General Averell. Major Higginson as next in command forwarded a paper in behalf of his brother officers to General Hooker, through Colonel Sargent, setting forth the Colonel’s utter ignorance and glaring incompetence, and prepared a similar paper for Governor Andrew; and Dr. Holland was brought up to the point of preferring charges against him for unwarrantable interference with the sick. At first the Colonel showed signs of bulling ahead to his destruction, but General Averell sent for him, Curtis and Higginson, and the last two stated the regimental grievances to General Averell in Sargent’s presence, glossing nothing. Sargent asked: “On account of what vice am I incompetent to command this regiment?” To which Curtis answered: “On account of no vice, Sir; you are simply utterly incompetent,” and so on, and referred him as authority to the Company officers. Averell was very anxious that “an arrangement” should be effected, and requested them to consult together. Sargent came back to camp and sent for some of the officers — his peculiar favorites. They all came up to the mark and plainly informed him that he was not able to run the machine. He then sent for Curtis and Higginson and the three had a long discussion, the result of which was that Curtis was released, Higginson withdrew his papers and peace was restored….

Friday, the 30th

I think you may as well make up your mind to passing the remaining two years of your term abroad. The war is on its last legs and it would hardly pay for England to abandon her neutral policy now, simply to get into a quarrel and revive our dying spirit. We are playing her game better ourselves. Whatever Cabinets and correspondents may say to the contrary, I feel persuaded that unless we have rapid and brilliant successes in the southwest soon, and those leading to something, the fighting in Virginia is over. The New York Herald may say what it pleases, but the Army of the Potomac is at present fearfully demoralised. Even I can see that, small means of observation as I have. You can have no idea of the disgust felt here towards the Government. Unable to run the army themselves, they take away McClellan, and when that leads to terrible disaster, they cashier Fitz John Porter, one of the best general officers we have; and now relieve Burnside, one of our best corps commanders, ridiculously displaced by these very men; Sumner, the hardest fighter and best man to take or hold a position in the whole army, and Franklin, on the whole considered the ablest officer we have — all this that Hooker may be placed in command, a man who has not the confidence of the army and who in private character is well known to be — I need not say what. This army, now, does not know under whom it is fighting. Government has taken from it every single one of its old familiar battle names, save Hooker’s. I most earnestly hope it will now break up the army, else some day it will have it marching on Washington….

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