Saturday, August 20, 2016

William Cullen Bryant to Dr. Dewey, August 17, 1862

August 17, 1862

 . . . I must answer your letter a little. Neither you nor I understand war nor medicine ; but of medicine we know enough not to employ a physician who regularly doses all his patients, nor one who proposes to cure an inflammation of the bowels by poulticing the little finger, I judge of the merits of military men in the same way. Again, I have a right to choose between the opinions of men well acquainted with the military art, and I know that officers of great merit hold that McClellan has mismanaged the campaign throughout. Pope, one of the most successful of them, does so. (I know this;) so does Wadsworth; so does General Hitchcock, a veteran officer personally kind toward McClellan, and disposed to judge him candidly (I speak from personal knowledge); so also, I have reason to believe, do hundreds of other officers.

What the “Evening Post” has said in regard to the course taken by the Government I said in still stronger terms to Mr. Lincoln himself ten days since, when I went to Washington for the purpose. With me was Mr. K—, a millionaire (or millionary — which?) of this city, who said to him that unless the war was prosecuted with greater energy — far greater — and the confiscation and emancipation act carried into vigorous execution, not sixty days would elapse before the Government securities would be so depressed that the administration would not have a dollar to carry on the war.

Mr. Lincoln knows that McClellan is wanting in some of the necessary qualities of a general officer. He said to Mr. Field: “McClellan is one of the most accomplished officers in all the army. No man organizes or prepares an army better, but when the time for action comes he is greatly deficient.”

As to emancipation, I have none of the fears which you entertain, and the conduct of the blacks already freed — more than fifty thousand of them — convinces me that there is no ground for them. Their peaceful and docile behavior assures me that we have neither “wild disorder nor massacre to dread.” The rebellion has buried its roots so firmly into the social system of the South that they must both be pulled up together.

You anticipate a bad effect upon the recruiting service from such criticisms on the conduct of the Government as the “Evening Post” had thought it necessary to make. The mischief was done before the “Evening Post” began to criticise. A gloomy and discouraged feeling prevailed, throughout this city and this State at least, which seemed to make the raising of the necessary number of volunteers hopeless. The only remedy that the case seemed to admit was the adoption by the press and by public speakers of a more vigorous style of animadversion on the conduct of the war, and the representations of disinterested persons made personally to the President. Mayor Opdyke, William Curtis Noyes, Dr. Charles King, and many others, singly or in pairs, have visited Washington for this purpose. There is not one of these men to whom such conclusions as you have reached would not be matter of exceeding surprise. They have all regarded the cause of the Union as drifting to ruin if instant and powerful means were not applied to give things a new direction. I believe their representations, and the language held in public meetings, and to some degree also the comments of the press, have had a certain effect. I hear this morning that it was Pope who recommended Halleek to the President as a fit person to force McClellan into action, and to push on the war with vigor. Other proceedings of the administration within a few days give token that it is waking to a sense of the danger we are in from causes very much like those of which you speak.

I have written thus largely because I had some things to say which I cannot print. If I could, I would have received your rebuke without a reply.

SOURCE: Parke Godwin, A Biography of William Cullen Bryant, Volume 1, p. 176-8

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