Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Diary of John Hay: April 20, 1861

Colonel Washington called this morning but could not see the President.

It would seem like a happy chance to have a General Washington living and fighting among us at this time.

The streets were full of the talk of Baltimore. It seems to be generally thought that a mere handful of men has raised this storm that now threatens the loyalty of a State.

I went up with Nicolay, Pangborn and Whitley to see the Massachusetts troops quartered in the Capitol. The scene was very novel. The contrast was very painful between the grey-haired dignity that filled the Senate Chamber when I saw it last, and the present throng of bright-looking Yankee boys, the most of them bearing the signs of New England rusticity in voice and manner, scattered over the desks, chairs and galleries, some loafing, many writing letters slowly and with plough-hardened hands, or with rapid-glancing clerkly fingers, while Grow stood patient by the desk and franked for everybody. The Hall of Representatives is as yet empty. Lying on a sofa and looking upward, the magnificence of the barracks made me envy the soldiers who should be quartered there. The wide-spreading sky-lights overarching the vast hall like heaven, blushed and blazed with gold and the heraldic devices of the married States, while, all around it, the eye was rested by the massive simple splendor of the stalagmitic bronze reliefs. The spirit of our institutions seemed visibly present to inspire and nerve the acolyte, sleeping in her temple beside his unfleshed sword . . . .

The town is full to-night of feverish rumors about a meditated assault upon the town, and one, which seems to me more probable, on Fort McHenry. The garrison there, is weak and inadequate, and in spite of the acknowledged bravery of Robinson and Hazard, it must fall if attacked.

Ellsworth telegraphs that his regiment has been raised, accepted, and that he wants them sent to Fort Hamilton for preliminary drill. Cameron authorised the answer that the commander there should have orders to that effect. Much is hoped from the gallant Colonel's Bloodtubs. They would be worth their weight in Virginia currency in Fort McHenry to-night.

The Massachusetts men drilled to-night on the Avenue. They afford a happy contrast to the unlicked patriotism that has poured ragged and unarmed out of Pennsylvania. They step together well, and look as if they meant business.

Jim Lane wrote a note to the President to-day, offering to bring any assignable number of northern fighting men over the border at the shortest possible notice. Gen. Scott seems to think that four or five thousand men will be a sufficient garrison to hold this town against any force that may be brought out from Maryland or Virginia woods.

SOURCES: Clara B. Hay, Letters of John Hay and Extracts from Diary, Volume 1, p. 13; Tyler Dennett, Editor, Lincoln and the Civil War in the Diaries and Letters of John Hay, Da Cappo Press, 1988 (Paperback), p. 4-6

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