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

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

London, January 27, 1865

Our plans are so indefinite and so liable to be knocked in the head by news from your side of the water, that I feel myself about equally balanced between the probabilities of going to Italy and remaining there till summer and then bringing the family home, or of not going there at all, but staying here to pack up our duds and take them home in advance of the rest of the party. Mr. Mackay, the intelligent and gentlemanly New York correspondent of the London Times, has written to that journal, I am told, that Mr. Seward is to return to the Senate and our present Minister at the Court of St. James is to take the Secretary’s place. I suppose this tale is only an appendage to that which transfers Senator Morgan to the Treasury, for I see no other means of giving Seward a vacancy. Thank the Lord, it can’t be true, or else Mackay would n’t write it; but it’s an annoying idea to have on one’s mind, and I am not sorry that our departure is postponed if it enables us to settle our projects before going, and eliminate these disturbing quantities from our equation….

Charles Francis Adams, Jr., to his father

Boston, January 19, 1865

How was the capture of Fort Fisher received in England? That was a blow and a surprise which will, indeed, be very sweet to you. It was meant for the English market. Your friends in Liverpool cannot well but squirm under that blow and the ship building interest of the Clyde will languish. As to the rebel loan, it is well that it is not largely held by very exemplary men. As bearing on your position I suppose this is the most important success of the war, after the capture of New Orleans. It strikes a staggering blow at the weak point of all English sympathy with the rebellion and must go far to close to them the purse-strings of Europe. I am most curious to receive your reflections and feelings on the announcement of our success. How many more such vital blows as Thomas’ victory, Sherman’s march and the sealing up of Wilmington, can the Confederacy sustain and survive? Is there no end to the endurance of those people? I hope you will keep me informed of the state of English opinion, for I look all along to see the coming extinction of the rebellion first foreshadowed in European discussions.

As to General Butler, what a sad fiasco he has made! Ben Butler, of all men alive, to be extinguished in ridicule! His mistake was worse than a crime, it was a blunder, and by his published orders and unmilitary language he has accumulated upon ill luck every possible form of aggravation. It is hard to imagine how even his audacious vitality can survive such an ingenious muddle. He seems first to have cut his own throat, and then blown out his brains. . . .

Washington, January 16, 1865

I suppose the dating of this letter will surprise you a little, but so it is and here I am once more on my way home. I told you some weeks ago that I looked upon my return to Point Lookout at present as a mere experiment. Gradually I have become persuaded that the experiment was not a success, and accordingly I have broken up my establishment and am off to reestablish myself. I don’t know that I am much less well than when I returned from Boston, but I certainly am no better. Accordingly I have now settled up all my affairs in the regiment, broken up my household, packed up all my traps and am now on my way home for an indefinite period of time — certainly, I think, forty days and perhaps sixty. I shall get to Boston tomorrow evening and shall at once take steps to get myself put on some detached duty. From thence I shall write you more at length. . . .

The first news I saw this morning on arriving here was Mr. Everett’s death, and it will go out to you by the steamer which carries this. He seems to me to have died well and in good time. Over seventy, thoroughly redeemed and standing well before his countrymen, his last public words were those of charity and good-feeling. I do not see that he could have lived longer for any benefit. He passed away on the very crest of the wave. . . .

Charles Francis Adams, Jr., to his mother

Camp of 5th Maw. Cav’y
Point Lookout, Md., January 8, 1865

You drew a wrong impression from my description if you concluded that our prisoners were harshly treated. War is cruel in all its parts — a horrid blessing sent on mankind in a shape curiously like a curse; and in all wars the purest form of squalid misery to which God’s image is anywhere reduced has ever been found in the depots of prisoners. Our war is no exception to the rule, and yet our prisoners are treated with all reasonable tenderness and care. Their lives are not thought precious, but neither are those of our soldiers, and my experience and observation lead me to state as the conclusion of my best judgment that our prisoners of war at this point are, on the average the year round, as little exposed and as well fed and the wear and tear on their vital powers is as bearable, as is the average with our own soldiers in active campaign. As to that pile of coffins which so harrowed you, it is almost gone now, but I must say I think your sympathies were most unduly excited. Nelson, you know, for years carried his coffin round in the cabin of his ship. If the sight of a pile of coffins is going to shock a man he’d better keep out of the Army. And, by the way, that very pile of coffins was the best possible evidence that men did not die fast; for where men die fast the prejudice in favor of coffins does n’t last long. For instance, do you suppose coffins would be used if they were needed at the rate of ten a day?

However, impelled by your letter I thought on Friday I would look into the matter of our prisoners’ condition. Accordingly I said to myself: “In Hospitals one sees misery, and so to the Hospitals I will go,” and to them I went at once. I must confess, having done so, to a strong sense, when I got through, of pleasure and pride in the Christian spirit and forbearance of our Government. There was neither want nor misery there! I went through ward after ward, passing up and down the long rows of little beds on each of which lay a sick prisoner, with the long matted hair and wild look so peculiar to southern men. The wards were long, wooden buildings, one story high, whitewashed inside, warmed by stoves and scrupulously clean —regular military hospitals. The beds were small and of iron, and each bed had its mattress, coarse white sheets and pillow-case, and two blankets. Among all these thousands the deaths average two or three a day, and I saw but few men who seemed very sick and but one who was dying. The ward-masters and attendants were themselves prisoners and in answer to my inquiries (for I came, you see, officially) all told me that they were very comfortable and had everything which could be expected. Evidently there was no misery or’ suffering there. I confess what I saw greatly surprised me. We could hardly take more tender care of our sick soldiers. After the horrors of the southern prisons, I doubt if our countrymen (well as I think of them) would support the treatment I have described. It is too much in the spirit of Christ for common men; but abroad it should be known in justice to this much libelled country. There was more for a liberal American to be proud of in that hospital than in the greatest achievement of our armies. There was to be found, and that too under circumstances of cruel aggravation, the true spirit of Christianity infused into war. . . .

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

London, January 6, 1864 [1865]

In one sense society is much more agreeable now than it used to be. I no longer feel any dread of conversation about our affairs. The name of Sherman has of late placed us who are abroad, in a very commanding position, and our military reputation is at the head of the nations. You can imagine that this relieves us of our greatest discomfort, and in fact we now receive compliments where we used to hear nothing but sneers. Even the Times is converted, and gives us a long leader full of praise of Sherman. The fall of Savannah is needed to complete the opinion of the world here, and I suppose Savannah will fall of its own weight very soon. Then the final struggle will begin, and these good foreigners will learn a new page in history. . . .

Camp of the 5th Mass. Cav’y
Point Lookout, Md., January 1, 1865

I am back in camp and working out my salvation after a fashion. I have almost nothing to do and so enjoy a good deal of leisure. This would make my life unbearable had I not systematically gone to work to occupy myself. When I returned I brought back with me a number of books and these make my evenings something to look forward to. That I may be sure and enjoy them, I never open my books in the day time, but, until my lamps are lighted I busy myself with some sort of work. I write all my letters, transact business, study tactics, and in the afternoon drill the regiment; but when dusk comes, then comes my pleasure. At about five o’clock I have a bright fire blazing in my quarters, my lamps are lighted, and then I make myself a cigarette and feeling that I have earned my evening, settle down to my books. I never go out, and people rarely drop in on me, so that a long evening is given me from five to eleven o’clock. These I enjoy intensely. . . .

Charles Francis Adams, Jr., to his father

Camp of the 5th Mass. Cav’y
Point Lookout, Md., December 31, 1864

I am writing to you in the very last hours of the year. As it passes away I find myself looking back over its events. Whomever else it has mis-used and left the worse for its events, it certainly was a pleasant, kind and beneficent year to me. It came to me full-handed; it was to me, in my small sphere, a year of almost unmixed success. In it whatever I aimed at was accomplished. To be sure my mark was not high but I struck it. My sphere is so small, and now so isolated, that I doubt if even you can trace the causes of my satisfaction. It is worth going over my record, if only to renew pleasant associations. Just as the year began I was looking forward to my visit to you, so long the pleasant dream which made hardship bearable, as a thing hoped for long and now, perhaps, to be realised. While its realisation was yet a question, my Company, and mine alone of the regiment, enlisted anew, and when the dream was realised, I went home almost in triumph. Then came Europe and the rest from labors. When my vacation was over and the old life of hardship, now rendered doubly hard in contemplation and almost unbearable by contrast with the present, when this again stared me in the face, then I made one little effort, just pulled one little wire, and again my whole scene changed. The terrible campaign which killed so many of my friends and was one succession of increasing hardships and privations to those whom it spared, was to me a summer picnic and pleasure excursion. Presently, unsought by me and undesired, came offers of promotion. When accepted by me I did not come to my regiment empty handed. I brought them their horses, and again my attempt had been successful. Then, in October, I thought I would like to go home, and November saw me at Quincy. Now, as the year is closing, I have just gotten back, and I think you will agree with me that ’64 came to me full handed and has been to me a pleasant and a prosperous year. The events of the coming year I, for one, seek not to foresee. So far my share of happiness and success has been allotted to me and I hope to go on in the faith that all blessings were not expended in the past, and that the power which has so well looked after that, will supply its cakes and ale in due quantity also in the future. . . .

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

London, December 30, 1864

Sturgis came out one evening quite exuberant, and “What will you give for the news?” says he. It was that of Sherman’s arrival at the coast, and Hood’s defeat at Nashville. You may judge of our exultation. It seems at last that this war is going to come to its end. This last campaign will, I suppose, narrow the field of the war to the Atlantic States, and when that is done, the result is inevitable and must come soon. What a fellow Sherman is! and how well Grant is managing! The combinations of this war are getting so tremendous that there will be nothing left for us in a foreign war except to make the moon a basis, and to march our armies overland to conquer Europe. The result has thrown great consternation into the minds of the English, and with reason. This Canadian business is suddenly found to be serious, and the prospect of Sherman marching down the St. Lawrence, and Farragut sailing up it, does n’t seem just agreeable. They are annoyed at Dix’s order. If they are not sharp they will find annoyance a totally inadequate expression for it.

Camp of the 5th Mass. Cav’y
Point Lookout, Md., Christmas Day, 1864

Who is to succeed Mr. Dayton? Sumner would be the man, and I think he would like it and Seward would like to get rid of him in that place; but the Governor and Motley both coming from Massachusetts would probably stand in the way of that consummation. General Dix it seems to me would do as well as anyone and the Army could spare him. By the way, do you know I have renewed relations with Sumner? I happened to mention to Dr. Palfrey that I should rather like to, as I thought four years a good Statute of Limitations for old scores, and lately he has been saying complimentary things of the Minister. So, a few days after, the Doctor invited me to meet L’Engel at breakfast at the Club, and there I found Sumner and Dr. Howe. Sumner has run more than ever to seed and now out-Sumners himself; but he was pleasant and cordial enough. He did not press me with any inquiries about the Minister or his family. I left a card on him as I came through Washington the other day. L’Engel I saw a number of times, chiefly at the Club, and called once on Mrs. L’Engel. He comes out to England in February, but she stays here until next Summer. . . .

Charles Francis Adams, Jr., to his father, U.S. Minister to the U.K.

Camp of the 5th Mass. Cav’y
Point Lookout, Md., December 18, 1864

I did however meet Wilson [in Washington] and some of Grant’s staff, and picked up some reliable military news which it is my object now to let you have. Wilson was in a state of great excitement over the Wilmington expedition and “confidentially” told me, as he was telling every one else, how two hundred tons of powder were going to blow all Wilmington and its forts high and dry; how Butler had 20,000 picked men, including Weitzel’s black division; and how Grant had told him that, for assaulting works, black troops were inferior to none, if indeed not the best in the world. All that he had to say, however, you will get with its results in the papers. I met at the same time, however, Colonel Sharpe, chief of secret information on Grant’s staff and an old acquaintance of mine. I told him I wanted material for a letter to you and then had a long talk with him. All that he tells me is reliable. In answer to my questions he told me, that Lee had now 55,000 men in Richmond and that Grant, now that Butler was gone, confronted him with 75,000. Lee is so “dug-in” that Grant cannot assault him and he has not sufficient preponderance of force to send a suitable moveable column round into his rear. Lee is hard up for supplies. The Danville road is used only for Army supplies and on it they bring in about forty-five carloads a day, and the balance needed for the Army has been waggoned round our flank from Weldon. The citizens of Richmond depend wholly for supplies on the Central Railroad and hence the absolute necessity of Lee’s holding the valley. On hand in Richmond there are about fourteen days’ supplies and this amount cannot be increased. Meanwhile our friends in Richmond inform Sharpe that the rebel rolling stock is so reduced that on the Danville road they have some twenty-five engines and are never able to keep more than five in running order at any time; and they further say that if we can destroy the Central Railroad for thirty miles thoroughly, the material to repair the damage cannot be obtained in the South and Richmond must starve. Meanwhile Lee has sent two Divisions to oppose Sherman and replaced them by two small Divisions from Early, and Grant within forty-eight hours had ordered Sheridan to attack Early and, if successful, to try and press down and seize the Central Railroad. Meanwhile Grant, Sharpe says, considers that the Army of the Potomac has done its work for the year and that now it will observe Lee, and his (Grant’s) winter occupation will be to take Savannah, Charleston and Wilmington, shut the confederates up, and organize a cooperative force to overwhelm Lee in Richmond in the spring, should he remain there. But he does not believe that he can remain there. Said Sharpe: “A few days ago I was reading him my letters from Richmond and expressed my belief that Lee must dig out during the winter. You know how Grant sits and lets you talk and usually expresses no opinion? Then, however, he quickly looked up and said, ‘Do you think so, colonel? Well, I think so too.'”

We then went on to the constitution of Lee’s Army and in reply to my questions he told me: “Lee’s present 55,000 is not at all the old material. It is all that he can rake and scrape — clerks, Government employees, detailed men and all. Of his old fighting stock he has about 22,000 left. Those men we must kill before the country can have peace. They are old soldiers and fierce slave-holders. Those men have got to be used up.” For the rest, he told me Lee’s Army does not amount to much. All the regiments from the South are maddened at being kept in Virginia while Sherman is loose at their homes. Accordingly the desertions come in about thirty a day from Georgians, Floridians and Mississippians. “Now,” said Sharpe, “Lee’s difficulty is this: Virginia has raised sixty-two regiments; of these Lee has in his Army fifty-five, and the rest of his Army is largely made up of North Carolinians. If he gives up Virginia and North Carolina, we shall then get the soldiers from those states, and those are the men he can’t lose.”

I asked him about Lee’s means of recruiting his Army. He told me he had none; our armies overran the South and no more men were to be had. “As to their arming the negroes,” he said, “that’s out of the question. In the first place, let me tell you, in two years I have examined thousands of our men who have escaped from them to us, and I never yet heard of the first case where a black man could n’t be relied on to help them escape, and if they put arms in their hands, by —, those devils would paddle over to us so quick they could n’t catch them. Besides this arming the blacks would just disarm the 22,000 fierce rebels that Lee has left, for those are the remains of the men who fought for slavery.”

Grant he assured me was now in excellent spirits. He wants more men, but he considers that, except in his present defences, Lee has n’t got one week’s fight left in him. Sherman has demonstrated that the rebellion is a shell. Thomas’ victory leaves Lee only to contend with, and Lee’s destruction is a question only of material and time, unless he leaves Virginia and retreats into the Gulf states. There he might yet, by rallying around his Army the remnant of Hood’s, make a new front. Accordingly it is just as well to prevent his getting out of Virginia. Of forage, the enemy has none. Their cavalry has been sent down dismounted to Georgia. Of iron they have been so short as to be unable to manufacture shot requiring to be made of malleable iron. Finally, said he, “Lee can keep his Army just where it is, but he can’t attack, nor can he fight a battle. Victory or defeat would be alike ruinous. As for Hood, they’ve got to get rid of him anyhow; for even if he wins, he is killing the rebellion by his very loss of men.” The Army of the Potomac, he told me, was sadly reduced from what we had once known. “But people say it has accomplished nothing! This year in ruining itself in nine pitched battles, it ruined Lee and one week’s more fighting would have left him nothing to fight with. Meanwhile Sherman’s Army is intact, and Thomas has made a new Army which can not only hold Hood, but has destroyed him.”

Thus, you see, I have cast for you the military horoscope. What I have told you, you may rely upon, as it was told me by a man as well informed as Grant himself, and from it you may safely draw your inferences of the future. Charleston is left to Sherman, and Butler, if successful, is to press into the interior and operate on Lee’s communications on one side, while Sheridan presses them from the other — the Army of the Potomac meanwhile watching him in his works. . . .