WASHINGOTN, May 15, 1862.
The appearance of the President in the field as commander, so far as he acted in that capacity at Norfolk, has delighted the soldiers hereabout exceedingly. They think if he had had actual oversight and command during the weary months that have passed, that there would have been more business done, and they have faith in his practical good sense and ready judgment. They attribute to him solely the movement upon Norfolk. And in all this they are probably correct. In the Norfolk matter they unquestionably are. It was against the advice and decided judgment of Com. Goldsborough that the movement upon Sewell’s point and Craney Island, with a view to cleaning out the Merrimac and an approach upon Norfolk was made. The story, apparently authentic, is that the Commodore declared that no scientific man would, under existing circumstances, venture an attack upon Sewell’s Point, and he was greatly exercised about the result of a collision with the Merrimac. The president, however, allowing that science might all be with the Commodore, still insisted on shooting at the enemy’s works. And with what results the world knows. I suppose there is no reasonable doubt but that a similar order, issued five or six months ago, would have been attended with the same results. Still, the lesson and the stimulus imparted to our Navy by the Merrimac may have been worth to us more than all the consequences of an earlier capture of Norfolk, notwithstanding the mortification it caused us.
An effort is making to get Gen. Dix removed from command at Baltimore. If all the reports from Union men there are true, he ought to be. The spirit of his “shoot him on the spot” dispatch to New Orleans doubtless pointed him out as the man of proper firmness and energy to deal with the chafing and venomous rebels at Baltimore. But they seem to have the power of “honey-fugling” him completely The Union men there complain that he employs all his blandness and social arts to win the secessionists over to his side, feeling that the Union men are all right any how, and do not need consideration or particular favor at his hands. They complain that rebels are treated with more kindness and consideration than loyal Union men, and that they have to bear the taunts without the means of retaliation and witness the treatment of rebels and the frequent discriminations in their favor with mortification. I think there is at least more truth in this representation of the matter than there ought to be. People from here visiting Baltimore, often confirm it, and express indignation at the way things are managed there.
But affairs are, unfortunately, conducted in a similar manner in most other places where our commanders have taken possession of rebel strongholds. A native Southerner, now at Nashville, a man of unusual sagacity and correctness of observation who is assisting in the work of restoring Tennessee to the Union, in an official capacity, in a private letter that I lately received from him, makes a complaint of a similar nature there. He says:
“Andrew Johnson has a carte blanche of power. His will is law. And yet Jefferson Davis has more authority to-day in the city of Nashville than Johnson. You are incredulous. I repeat it, with all the emphasis of which I am capable. And in my judgment there is ample reason why this should be so. Wherein lies the remedy? The hand of the government must be laid heavily on the rebels. Rebel newspapers must be crushed. Rebels must not be permitted to talk about the return of “our army.” – Expressions of disloyalty must be vigilantly watched and promptly punished. But men are deterred from being loyal by the hissing threats that fill the atmosphere, that they will be punished when the rebel army returns. Men continue to be disloyal, because it is safe to be so, let the war terminate as it may, and because it is unsafe to be loyal in certain contingencies.”
This last clause doubtless contains the true philosophy of the case. It is understood here, however, that Gov. Johnson, who did relax for a time the vigorous treatment inaugurated at the outset in Tennessee, which resulted as my friend describes, has now returned to, and will hereafter pursue, without any let-up, the more vigorous and common sense policy at first proposed.
The council of old grannies and Jeremy Didler politicians, under the lead of Vallandigham, Crittenden, and Kellogg of Illinois having, as its first effect, failed to do anything except to enlarge the dimensions of the Lovejoy bill and insure a more vigorous effort to pass it – an effort which resulted in triumphant success, and while a shade of doubt hung over it in the position that it occupied previous to the “conservative” meeting to defeat it – has pretty much concluded that its mission is not so very clear and promising as was first believed, and the eminent, overshadowing, self sacrificing, enlarged love of country that prompted it will hardly be sufficient, under the circumstances, to carry on the enterprise longer than may be necessary to bury it with becoming decency.
– Published in The Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, Burlington, Iowa, Saturday, May 24, 1862, p. 1