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

Charles Francis Adams, Jr., to his father.

August 27, 2012

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

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….

Previous post:

Next post: