“Wilson Small,” July 8.
Dear Mother, — For the last two hours I have been watching President Lincoln and General McClellan as they sat together, in earnest conversation, on the deck of a steamer close to us. I am thankful, I am happy, that the President has come, — has sprung across that dreadful intervening Washington, and come to see and hear and judge for his own wise and noble self.
While we were at dinner some one said, chancing to look through a window: “Why, there’s the President!” and he proved to be just arriving on the “Ariel,” at the end of the wharf close to which we are anchored. I stationed myself at once to watch for the coming of McClellan. The President stood on deck with a glass, with which, after a time, he inspected our boat, waving his handkerchief to us. My eyes and soul were in the direction of general headquarters, over where the great balloon was slowly descending. Presently a line of horsemen came over the brow of the hill through the trees, and first emerged a firm-set figure on a brown horse, and after him the staff and body-guard. As soon as the General reached the head of the wharf he sprang from his horse, and in an instant every man was afoot and motionless. McClellan walked quickly along the thousand-foot pier, a major-general beside him, and six officers following. He was the shortest man, of course, by which I distinguished him as the little group stepped on to the pier. When he reached the “Ariel,” he ran quickly up to the after-deck, where the President met him and grasped his hand. I could not distinguish the play of his features, though my eyes still ache with the effort to do so. He is stouter than I expected, but quicker, and more leste. He wore the ordinary blue coat and shoulder-straps; the coat, fastened only at the throat, and blowing back as he walked, gave to sight a gray flannel shirt and a — suspender!
They sat down together, apparently with a map between them, to which McClellan pointed from time to time with the end of his cigar. We watched the earnest conversation which went on, and which lasted till 6 P. M.; then they rose and walked side by side ashore,— the President, in a shiny black coat and stovepipe hat, a whole head and shoulders taller, as it seemed to me, than the General. Mr. Lincoln mounted a led horse of the General’s, and together they rode off, the staff following, the dragoons presenting arms and then wheeling round to follow, their sabres gleaming in the sunlight. And so they have passed over the brow of the hill, and I have come to tell you about it. The cannon are firing salutes, — a sound of strange peacefulness to us, after the angry, irregular boomings and the sharp scream of the shells to which we are accustomed.
All day we have had the little “Monitor” and the ugly “Galena” (flag-ship) and the “Maritanza” beside us, a stone’s throw off. Last evening Commodore John Rodgers, at present commanding on the James, came to see us, and rowed us up the river and round the “Monitor” and his own vessel, the “Galena.” Ugly as she is, I must confess the latter has the most fighting look of anything that I have seen connected with war; she reminds me of Rab in a dog-fight. But they say she is a failure, and a downright fraud upon the Government. She looks something like a Chinese junk, broad at the water-line, and running in from that. She has two large lumps on one side, caused by shots that have passed through her and lodged in the iron casing on the other side.
There is a funny little Rebel gunboat close beside us, captured on Friday by the “Maritanza.” A shell exploded in her boiler, tearing out her intestines, as it were, and doubling her up into the drollest little object. The “Teaser” they call her. The prettiest sight I see is the signalling,—flags by day, and lamps by night; the most incomprehensible, graceful thing that can be seen. The “Galena,” the “Monitor,” and the “Maritanza,” which went off this morning to prevent General Longstreet with twenty thousand men from attempting to cross the river, are just coming in to their evening anchorage, and beginning the pretty signals, which are being answered from the roof of the Harrison House.
Things are not as gloomy here as you fear. The tone and temper of the army are magnificent. If reinforcements are sent, all will be well. Everything depends on the Administration at this moment, — not on the army; that is now made up of veterans, and knows and rejoices in its strength.
Commodore Rodgers has just been to invite us on board his ship. We have accepted for nine o’clock to-morrow morning, though it is a chance if she is not on duty at that and every other hour. He offered also to take us over the “Monitor.” After that — having seen the “Monitor ” and McClellan — I wish to go home. There is no more work for a woman here. The Government is doing well by the sick and wounded. The Sanitary Commission may justly claim that it has led the Government to this; and it can now return to its legitimate supplemental work, — inspecting the condition of the camps and regiments, and continuing on a large scale its supply business. But as for us, we ought to go; to stay here doing nothing, is a sarcasm on the work we have already done.