Thursday, December 22, 2016

Diary of John Hay: After March 11, 1862

On the 27th of January the President issued his General War Order No. 1, to those whose direction it was to be. He wrote it without any consultation, and read it to the Cabinet, not for their sanction but for their information. From that time he influenced actively the operations of the campaign. He stopped going to McClellan’s, and sent for the General to come to him. Everything grew busy and animated after this Order. It was not fully carried out in its details. Some of the Corps anticipated, others delayed action. Fort Henry and Fort Donaldson showed that Halleck was doing his share. The Army of the Potomac still was sluggish. His next Order was issued after a consultation with all the Generals of the Potomac Army in which, as Stanton told me next morning, “we saw ten Generals afraid to fight.” The fighting Generals were McDowell, Sumner, Heintzelman and Keys, and Banks. These were placed next day at the head of the Army Corps.

So things began to look vigorous. Sunday morning, the 9th of March, the news of the Merrimac's frolic came here. Stanton was fearfully stampeded. He said they would capture our fleet, take Fort Monroe, be in Washington before night. The Tycoon thought it was a great bore, but blew less than Stanton. As the day went on, the news grew better. And at four o'clock the telegraph was completed, and we heard of the splendid performance of the Monitor. That evening we heard also of the evacuation of the Potomac batteries, the luckiest of all possible chances, as the worst thing about the Merrimac's damages was the fact that they would impede the enterprise of taking those batteries. This was McDowell’s explanation to me when I told him of it.

At evening came the news of Manassas being evacuated; this came through contrabands. McClellan started instantly over the river. The next day the news was confirmed and the next night Manassas was occupied. People said a great deal about it, and thought a great deal more.

On the evening of the 11th of March, the President requested me to call together the heads of the Departments of War, State and Treasury. Seward came first. The President read to him General Order No. 3. He approved it thoroughly. He agreed with the President when the Prest said that though the duty of relieving General McClellan was a most painful one, he yet thought he was doing Gen. McC. a very great kindness in permitting him to retain command of the Army of the Potomac, and giving him an opportunity to retrieve his errors. Seward spoke very bitterly of the imbecility which had characterised the General's operations on the upper Potomac. The Secretary of State urged that the War Order go out in the name of Stanton. He said it would strengthen the hands of the Secretary, and he needed public confidence. While he was urging this, Stanton came in, and at once insisted that it go in the President's name. He said that a row had grown up between him and McC.’s friends, and he feared it would be thought to spring from personal feeling. The President decided to take the responsibility.

Blair was not consulted. The President knew that he would object to the disposition of Frémont, and preferred to have no words about it.  Blair and the President continued on very good terms in spite of the publication of Blair’s letter to Frémont. Blair came to explain it to the President, but he told him that he was too busy to quarrel with him. If he (Blair) didn't show him the letter, he would probably never see it. He retained his old status in Cabinet councils. . . .

SOURCES: Clara B. Hay, Letters of John Hay and Extracts from Diary, Volume 1, p. 53-6; Tyler Dennett, Lincoln and the Civil War in the Diaries and Letters of John Hay, p. 36-8.

No comments: