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

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The deliciously ludicrous result was thus arrived at…

May 2, 2015

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

Charles Francis Adams, Jr., to his brother, John Quincy

H.Q. 5th Mass. Cav’y
May 2, 1865

Now about my arrest and release, as I presume the whole family will desire the story I will send the facts to you and you can send my letter to the Governor. The subject is too disagreeable and too much of a bore to write many letters about it. Here is the whole story. At three o’clock in the morning of the 16th I received an order from General Ord, dated 13th, placing me “in arrest for neglect of duty in allowing my command to straggle and maraud,” and ordering me to Fort Monroe for trial. I reported at the Fort at five o’clock that afternoon and remained there, apparently utterly forgotten and unnoticed until the 27th. I was well enough satisfied that nothing could come of it, for I knew what my orders were and what had been done by me; but it was both vexatious and annoying. I was, in fact, buried alive and could get no replies to any of my letters or communications. At last tired of waiting, on the 22d I resolved to force the fighting somehow and sent in an application to be allowed to go to Richmond. Not waiting for an answer to that on the 24th I sent in another to be released, and, before I heard from either, on the 26th, General Ord came down to see his family at the Fort and I then requested a personal interview. This I obtained. At last, then, in the thirteenth day of my arrest, I had got my hand in. Whether I played it out or not, you will now judge.

As the result of my interview I was released from arrest and, the same evening, joined the General and his family on his boat to Richmond. General Ord treated me with marked attention and civility, though, of course, I did not refer to any matters of business, and, on getting to Richmond, he at once gave me an order exonerating me from all blame and directing me to resume command of my regiment. This I had n’t the slightest idea of doing under the circumstances, and now the farce began. They had all gone off at half-cock on a parcel of verbal complaints of citizens against my regiment, and now they only had blind wrath to show, and lots of it, but neither facts nor evidence. Meanwhile it was my innings. My course was, not to defend my regiment, but, allowing all they said, simply to demand facts on which to punish officers and men. They had n’t one to give. Gradually a noticeable change took place in my position. I became an ill-used, injured man to whom redress was due. Meanwhile, before my release, an inspection of my regiment, with a view to smashing it and me generally, had been ordered and had taken place the very day before my release. I had the Inspector’s report hunted up at once and submitted to General Ord. The Inspector submitted facts and the General in command asked for orders. That report was at once referred to ME by General Ord to recommend what orders should be given. This grew ludicrous. The next day I sent back the report endorsed, recommending simply that all questions and complaints in relation to the regiment be referred to me for investigation and settlement, and that no future complaints be received, except in writing, and all such be at once referred to me. The same day orders in accordance with my recommendation were issued. I was told to put the regiment in camp wherever I chose, and they promised me that I should n’t be troubled any more. The deliciously ludicrous result was thus arrived at, that, after being under arrest a fortnight, the Inspector’s report on the very facts on which I was to stand a trial was referred to me, and finally the facts themselves sent back to me to do what I saw fit about them. They had gone off at H.Q. on the half-cock and with just the usual result.

The whole difficulty seemed to arise from certain horse-stealing propensities of my men. They stole horses at just the wrong time and place. Meanwhile, in other respects, I must confess they are as hard a pack to manage as any I ever had to handle and a most inveterate set of stragglers and pilferers. They can only understand the sternest discipline and must be punished to enforce discipline in a way I never heard of in my old regiment. I no longer wonder slave-drivers were cruel. I am. I no longer have any bowels of mercy…



In May orders came for an expedition large enough to crush out all resistance in Texas. Colonel Adams, though reluctantly, determined to remain with his regiment, believing that he owed something to his position and that “it would not do for a Colonel to set the example of resignation in the face of a distant and dangerous expedition.” A large cavalry force, under the command of Sheridan, was to reduce to submission or destroy General Kirby Smith’s army. The regiment prepared for transportation and only awaited final orders, when Colonel Adams’ health again broke down, through exposure, and on June 1st he set out for Quincy. After five days of trying experience he reached that place, much reduced in weight, wretchedly weak, unable to take up any work or project, mentally depressed and quite broken in spirit. For more than a month he remained in this state when a stay at St. Johns and the Isles of Shoals quite restored him. His military career was ended by his discharge, August 1, after an active service of three years, seven months and twelve days. He turned to civil occupations, practically beginning life anew. The rest is characteristically related in the “Autobiography.”

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