Albany, N. Y.
Newport, R. I., July 20, 1862.
My Dear Mr. Weed,—I have made several attempts to see you during your fleeting visits to New York, but have not been so fortunate as to find you in.
Our national affairs are in a most critical position, more so than they have been at any time since the beginning of this unfortunate war.
What frightens me more than the disasters in the field, is the apathy and distrust which I grieve to say I meet at every step, even from men of standing, and hitherto of undoubted loyalty to the Union.
You know my own feelings and convictions on the subject of our national troubles, and I am sure I can speak to you in all candor, without the fear of having my thoughts misconstrued, though you may, perhaps, not share my views.
My firm conviction is, that any other solution to our present difficulties than a reconstruction of but one government overall the States of our confederacy would entail upon us and our children an inheritance of the most fearful consequences, which would end in the utter disintegration and ruin of the whole country.
There are only two modes by which to prevent such a calamity, which is certainly, at this moment, more threatening than it has ever been before. The one is, by an energetic and unrelenting prosecution of the war to crush the rebellion ; the other would be to negotiate with the leaders of that rebellion (to which it would be madness to withhold the character of a gigantic revolution) and to see whether it may not yet be possible to re-establish a Federal Union.
Both alternatives present difficulties of the gravest nature, and which they did not possess in the same degree at the beginning of the contest.
Our army has been decimated by disease and the casualties of war. I am informed from reliable sources that McClellan has barely seventy thousand men, all told, and Pope’s army, including the corps of McDowell, Sigel, and Banks, is said to number barely forty thousand men. What can we expect to do with such a force against Richmond, which is defended by an enemy having probably double that number under arms, flushed with recent successes, commanded by generals at least equal to ours, directed by one master-spirit, and occupying a central position in a country hostile to us?
It is true the President has called out three hundred thousand men, but it would be a fatal delusion to believe that this number would be sufficient to crush the enemy, even if it were sure that, under the present system of volunteers, the men would come forward.
I think I make a liberal estimate if I put the figure of the Federal armies, all told, at four hundred thousand effective men, and this number will be reduced to at least three hundred thousand before the new levies can be brought into the field.
When we stopped recruiting in the midst of our successes, we dealt a fatal blow to our army, and it is really a wonder to me that our commanding generals consented to submit to such a measure, which crippled them at a time when an overwhelming force became necessary to finish up the good work. It was a policy hardly less suicidal than if we had stopped sending supplies and ammunition to our men in the field. Where we would have found last winter ten men eager to enlist, anxious to share in our trhimphs, we will scarcely now find one, so deep is the gloom and distrust which has taken hold of our people. It would be worse than folly to shut our eyes to this fact. I think ours is the first instance in history where a government shut off supplies of men in the midst of a gigantic war. Look at England. Her enlistments in the Crimean war lasted until the very day of the conclusion of peace.
There is only one way to remedy our fatal error, that is, for the President at once to establish a system of conscription, by which, instead of three hundred thousand, at least five hundred thousand men should be called under arms.
A straightforward proclamation of the President, setting forth the necessities of the case and appealing to the patriotism of the people, will give more confidence than all the ill-concealed attempts at palliating our desperate condition.
Instead of levying new regiments, commanded by inexperienced officers of their own choosing, and who, for a year to come, would barely add any thing to our efficiency in the field, the raw recruits ought to be collected at camps of instruction, in healthy localities, East and West, where, under the direction of West Point graduates, they should be drilled and disciplined.
From thence, as thev are fit for active service, they should be furnished to the army to be incorporated into the old regiments, without reference to States, and only where they are most needed. This is the only way to create for this war an efficient United States army, and will strike a severe blow to that fatal heresy (State sovereignty and State pride) which lies at the bottom of all our misfortunes. Besides, such a mode would be infinitely more economical, and the raw recruits, mixed with our old soldiers, would be, of course, much more reliable and steady under the enemy’s fire than in separate regiments commanded by officers just as inexperienced as themselves.
Simultaneously with these measures, which ought to be taken with the utmost vigor and dispatch, we must infuse more life and energy in our naval department.
The fact is, we have made a great mistake to undertake a war on a gigantic scale by land, where our opponents are, at least, nearly as strong as we are, instead of throwing our best resources and energies upon that mode of warfare where we could have had the enemy at our mercy. Had we, at the very outset of the rebellion, ordered fifty iron gun-boats, even at a cost of one million dollars apiece, we should, before last January, have been in possession of every Southern port. With two hundred thousand men we could have held, by land, the line of the Potomac, Missouri, and Tennessee, and thus hemmed in, we would have brought the South to terms, just as Russia had to sue for peace after the fall of Sebastopol.
I think it is still in our power to accomplish this, though the task has become more difficult since Charleston, Savannah, and Mobile have been so strongly fortified during the last six months. No time, money, and efforts should be spared to build at least twenty more large new iron steamships, with which to take and hold every important city on the rebel coast, from North Carolina to Texas.
If authority for all these measures is not vested in the President, he ought at once to call an extra session of Congress.
I have thus far given you my views of the steps which I consider indispensable, if the sword is to be the arbiter of our future, but is there no other way of saving our country from all the horrors and calamities which even a successful war must entail upon us ?
It may appear almost hopeless to attempt to bring the South back to the Union by negotiation. Men and women alike, in that distracted portion of our country, have become frantic and exasperated by the teachings of unprincipled leaders and the miseries of civil war. Still, I cannot bring myself to the belief that the door to a reconciliation between the two sections is irrevocably and forever shut. The losses and sufferings which have befallen us have been felt tenfold in the revolted States, and the thinking men of the South must see that a continuation of the war must end in the utter destruction of their property and institutions. The frightful carnage of many a battle-field must have convinced each section of the bravery of its opponents, and how much better it would be to have them as friends than foes.
While I am convinced that the President would be willing to see the South in the lawful possession of all its Constitutional rights, I have not lost all hope, that with these rights guaranteed, a re-union of the two sections might be accomplished. In any event, it seems to me that an attempt at negotiation should be made, and that the time for it has not entirely passed away.
If one or two conservative men, who, without holding any official position, possess influence and weight enough with our people and the government to inspire confidence in their statements to the leading men of the South could be found, to proceed under the authority, or at least with the knowledge of the President, to Richmond, in order to open negotiations, I think success might crown their efforts.
It is impossible, and would be presumptuous in me, to point out the conditions of such a compromise, but I think that propositions would prove acceptable to the South which contained in their general outline an amnesty for all political offences during the war, and the calling of a national convention for the purpose of reconstructing the Federal compact, with such modifications in the Constitution as our late sad experience has demonstrated to have become necessary.
The war debts of the North and South might either be borne by each respective section, or better, be funded and assumed bv the general government. The Monroe Doctrine to be strictly and uncompromisingly enforced, which would require and justify a larger standing national armv and navy than heretofore, thus giving us a chance to make provisions for such of their military leaders who, repenting their past errors, are willing again to serve that flag to which, as friends and as foes, they owe all the distinction they have ever achieved.
I know that some of these concessions will be very distasteful to our people—they can be to no one more so than to myself. Every sacrifice must, however, be brought at the altar of our country when we can restore it to peace and prosperity, and with our blood and with our treasure we must also be ready to yield our prejudices, and even our convictions.
I firmly believe that the President would find the hearty support of the vast majority of our people in such a policy, and he ought not to lose any time in carrying out these views. Such men, for instance, as yourself and Governor H. Seymour, would soon be able to find out whether the men who are guiding the destinies of the South could be brought to listen to the dictates of reason and moderation.
Before we enter upon a new phase in this terrible war, which must carry with it horror and misery. far greater than what we have witnessed yet, I cannot but think that patriotism and humanity alike call for an earnest effort toward reconciliation and peace.
If our offers should be rejected, we shall stand justified before God and men, and our good cause will have His blessing and the world’s sympathy.