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

Henry Adams, private secretary of the US Minister to the UK, to his brother, Charles.

September 5, 2012

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

London, September 5, 1862

Your appointment reached us some time ago and I was rejoiced at it, because I think such a place as this gives more room for expansion than that of a regimental officer. I doubt whether the atmosphere of Lieutenants is healthy, or of Captains or Majors. I think you have grown rusty at Hilton Head and I want to hear more vigorous talk. As to your speculations about the end of the war and a peace, I won’t say that I would n’t consent to argue about it some day, but you know perfectly well that until we’ve driven the South into their cotton fields we have no chance even to offer those terms. Perhaps on the broad national question I look at the matter differently from you. Apart from other causes, I am here in Europe and of course am influenced by European opinion. Firmly convinced as I am that there can be no peace on our continent so long as the Southern people exist, I don’t much care whether they are destroyed by emancipation, or in other words a vigorous system of guerilla war carried on by negroes on our side, or by the slower and more doubtful measures of choaking them with their own cotton. Perhaps before long we shall have to use both weapons as vigorously as we are now using the last. But one thing is clear to my mind, which is that we must not let them as an independent state get the monopoly of cotton again, unless we want to find a powerful and bitterly hostile nation on our border, supported by all the moral and social influence of Great Britain in peace; certain in war to drag us into all the European complications; sure to be in perpetual anarchy within, but always ready to disturb anything and everything without; to compel us to support a standing army no less large than if we conquer them and hold them so, and with infinite means of wounding and scattering dissension among us. We must ruin them before we let them go or it will all have to be done over again. And we must exterminate them in the end, be it long or be it short, for it is a battle between us and slavery.

I see that your regiment is ordered to Virginia which shows a gleam of reason in the War Department. What it was ever sent to Port Royal for, the Lord he knows. At any rate, however, it has spared you some hard fighting, and with the prospect you have now before you, I think you need n’t be sorry for that. For my own part I confess that I value human life at a pretty low price, and God knows I set no higher value on my own than on others. I always was a good deal of a sceptic and speculator in theories and think precious small potatoes of man in general and myself in particular. But I confess to feeling very badly when the news comes of our disasters and losses. Poor Stephen Perkins. I have a kind of an idea that Stephen thought much as I do about life. He always seemed to me to take rather a contemptuous view of the world in general, and I rather like to imagine him, after the shock and the pain was over, congratulating himself that at last he was through with all the misères of an existence that had bored him and that offered him little that he cared for; and now he could turn his mind to the exploring of a new life, with new duties and a new career, after having done all that man can do to discharge his debt to his God and his fellow-men in the old. There are men enough in Europe who hold these ideas with more or less variation, but Stephen and perhaps Arthur Dexter are the only ones among us whom I should call bitten with them — with Stephen, his eyes excused them. With Arthur, his digestion.

Our life here is quiet but very busy. No more is heard of intervention. Six hundred thousand men have put an end to that, and the English think besides that the South need no help. Of late the troubles in Italy have drawn people’s minds away from us and as their harvest is very poor, our grain is too necessary to joke about….

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