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

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I wanted to get the whole of the army of Vicksburg drunk at my own expense. I wanted to fight some small man and lick him.

July 23, 2013

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

Henry Adams to Charles Francis Adams, Jr.

[London,] July 23, 1863

I positively tremble to think of receiving any more news from America since the batch that we received last Sunday. Why can’t we sink the steamers till some more good news comes? It is like an easterly storm after a glorious June day, this returning to the gloomy chronicle of varying successes and disasters, after exulting in the grand excitement of such triumphs as you sent us on the 4th. For once there was no drawback, unless I except anxiety about you. I wanted to hug the army of the Potomac. I wanted to get the whole of the army of Vicksburg drunk at my own expense. I wanted to fight some small man and lick him. Had I had a single friend in London capable of rising to the dignity of the occasion, I don’t know what might n’t have happened. But mediocrity prevailed and I passed the day in base repose.

It was on Sunday morning as I came down to breakfast that I saw a telegram from the Department announcing the fall of Vicksburg. Now, to appreciate the value of this, you must know that the one thing upon which the London press and the English people have been so positive as not to tolerate contradiction, was the impossibility of capturing Vicksburg. Nothing could induce them to believe that Grant’s army was not in extreme danger of having itself to capitulate. The Times of Saturday, down to the last moment, declared that the siege of Vicksburg grew more and more hopeless every day. Even now, it refuses, after receiving all the details, to admit the fact, and only says that Northern advices report it, but it is not yet confirmed. Nothing could exceed the energy with which everybody in England has reprobated the wicked waste of life that must be caused by the siege of this place during the sickly season, and ridiculed the idea of its capture. And now the announcement was just as though a bucket of iced-water were thrown into their faces. They could n’t and wouldn’t believe it. All their settled opinions were overthrown, and they were left dangling in the air. You never heard such a cackling as was kept up here on Sunday and Monday, and you can’t imagine how spiteful and vicious they all were. Sunday evening I was asked round to Monckton Milnes’ to meet a few people. Milnes’ himself is one of the warmest Americans in the world, and received me with a hug before the astonished company, crowing like a fighting cock. But the rest of the company were very cold. W. H. Russell was there, and I had a good deal of talk with him. He at least did not attempt to disguise the gravity of the occasion, nor to turn Lee’s defeat into a victory. I went with Mr. Milnes to the Cosmopolitan Club afterwards, where the people all looked at me as though I were objectionable. Of course I avoided the subject in conversation, but I saw very clearly how unpleasant the news was which I brought. So it has been everywhere. This is a sort of thing that can be neither denied, palliated, nor evaded; the disasters of the rebels are unredeemed by even any hope of success. Accordingly the emergency has produced here a mere access of spite, preparatory (if we suffer no reverse) to a revolution in tone.

It is now conceded at once that all idea of intervention is at an end. The war is to continue indefinitely, so far as Europe is concerned, and the only remaining chance of collision is in the case of the iron-dads. We are looking after them with considerable energy, and I think we shall settle them.

It is utterly impossible to describe to you the delight that we all felt here and that has not diminished even now. I can imagine the temporary insanity that must have prevailed over the North on the night of the 7th. Here our demonstrations were quiet, but, ye Gods, how we felt! Whether to laugh or to cry, one hardly knew. Some men preferred the one, some the other. The Chief was the picture of placid delight. As for me, as my effort has always been here to suppress all expression of feeling, I preserved sobriety in public, but for four days I’ve been internally singing Hosannahs and running riot in exultation. The future being doubtful, we are all the more determined to drink this one cup of success out. Our friends at home, Dana, John, and so on, are always so devilish afraid that we may see things in too rosy colors. They think it necessary to be correspondingly sombre in their advices. This time, luckily, we had no one to be so cruel as to knock us down from behind, when we were having all we could do to fight our English upas influence in front. We sat on the top of the ladder and did n’t care a copper who passed underneath. Your old friend Judge Goodrich was here on Monday, and you never saw a man in such a state. Even for him it was wonderful. He lunched with us and kept us in a perfect riot all the time, telling stories without limit and laughing till he almost screamed.

I am sorry to say, however, that all this is not likely to make our position here any pleasanter socially. All our experience has shown that as our success was great, so rose equally the spirit of hatred on this side. Never before since the Trent affair has it shown itself so universal and spiteful as now. I am myself more surprised at it than I have any right to be, and philosopher though I aspire to be, I do feel strongly impressed with a desire to see the time come when our success will compel silence and our prosperity will complete the revolution. As for war, it would be folly in us to go to war with this country. We have the means of destroying her without hurting ourselves.

In other respects the week has been a very quiet one. The season is over. The streets are full of Pickford’s vans carting furniture from the houses, and Belgravia and May Fair are the scene of dirt and littered straw, as you know them from the accounts of Pendennis. One night we went to the opera, but otherwise we have enjoyed peace, and I have been engaged in looking up routes and sights in the guide book of Scotland. Thither, if nothing prevents and no bad news or rebel plot interferes, we shall wend our way on the first of August. The rest of the family will probably make a visit or two, and I propose to make use of the opportunity to go on with Brooks and visit the Isle of Skye and the Hebrides, if we can. This is in imitation of Dr. Johnson, and I’ve no doubt, if we had good weather, it would be very jolly. But as for visiting people, the truth is I feel such a dislike for the whole nation, and so keen a sensitiveness to the least suspicion of being thought to pay court to any of them, and so abject a dread of ever giving any one the chance to put a slight upon me, that I avoid them and neither wish them to be my friends nor wish to be theirs. I have n’t the strength of character to retain resentments long, and some day in America I may astonish myself by defending these people for whom I entertain at present only a profound and lively contempt. But at present I am glad that my acquaintances are so few and I do not intend to increase the number.

You will no doubt be curious to know, if, as I say, I have no acquaintances, how I pass my time. Certainly I do pass it, however, and never have an unoccupied moment. My candles are seldom out before two o’clock in the morning, and my table is piled with half-read books and unfinished writing. For weeks together I only leave the house to mount my horse and after my ride, come back as I went. If it were not for your position and my own uneasy conscience, I should be as happy as a Virginia oyster, and as it is, I believe I never was so well off physically, morally and intellectually as this last year.

I send you another shirt and a copy of the Index, the southern organ, which I thought you would find more interesting this week than any other newspaper I can send. It seems to me to look to a cessation of organized armed resistance and an ultimate resort to the Polish fashion. I think we shall not stand much in their way there, if they like to live in a den of thieves.

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