Saturday morning, the 30th of August, I rode out into the country and turned in at the Soldiers' Home. The President’s horse was standing by the door, and in a moment the President appeared, and we rode into town together.
We talked about the state of things by Bull Run and Pope’s prospect. The President was very outspoken in regard to McClellan’s present conduct. He said that it really seemed to him McC. wanted Pope defeated. He mentioned to me a despatch of McC.s in which he proposed, as one plan of action, to “leave Pope to get out of his own scrape and devote ourselves to securing Washington.” He spoke also of McC’s dreadful panic in the matter of Chain Bridge, which he had ordered blown up the night before, but which order had been countermanded; and also of his incomprehensible interference with Franklin’s Corps which he recalled once, and then, when they had been sent ahead by Halleck’s order, begged permission to recall them again; and only desisted after Halleck’s sharp injunction to push them ahead till they whipped something, or got whipped themselves. The President seemed to think him a little crazy. Envy, jealousy and spite are probably a better explanation of his present conduct. He is constantly sending despatches to the President and Halleck asking what is his real position and command. He acts as chief alarmist and grand marplot of the army.
The President, on my asking if Halleck had any prejudices, rejoined: — “No! Halleck is wholly for the service. He does not care who succeeds or who fails, so the service is benefited.”
Later in the day we were in Halleck’s room. Halleck was at dinner and Stanton came in while we were waiting for him, and carried us off to dinner. A pleasant little dinner and a pretty wife as white and cold and motionless as marble, whose rare smiles seemed to pain her. Stanton was loud about the McC. business. He was unqualifiedly severe upon McClellan. He said that after these battles there should be one court-martial, if never any more. He said that nothing but foul play could lose us this battle, and that it rested with McC. and his friends. Stanton seemed to believe very strongly in Pope. So did the President, for that matter. We went back to the Headquarters and found General Halleck. He seemed quiet and somewhat confident. He said the greatest battle of the century was now being fought. He said he had sent every man that could go to the field. At the War Department we found that Mr Stanton had sent a vast army of volunteer nurses out to the field, probably utterly useless, over which he gave Genl Wadsworth command.
Everything seemed to be going well and hilarious on Saturday, and we went to bed expecting glad tidings at sunrise. But about eight o'clock the President came to my room as I was dressing, and calling me out, said: — “Well, John, we are whipped again, I am afraid. The enemy reinforced on Pope and drove back his left wing, and he has retired to Centreville where he says he will be able to hold his men. I don't like that expression. I don't like to hear him admit that his men need holding.”
After awhile, however, things began to look better, and, people's spirits rose as the heavens cleared. The President was in a singularly defiant tone of mind. He often repeated, “We must hurt this enemy before it gets away.” And this morning, Monday, (September 1), he said to me, when I made a remark in regard to the bad look of things: — “No, Mr. Hay, we must whip these people now. Pope must fight them; if they are too strong for him he can gradually retire to these fortifications. If this be not so, — if we are really whipped, and to be whipped, we may as well stop fighting.”
It is due in great measure to his indomitable will that army movements have been characterized by such energy and celerity for the last few days. There is one man who seems thoroughly to reflect and satisfy him in everything he undertakes. This is Haupt, the Railroad man at Alexandria. He has, as Chase says, a Major General's head on his shoulders. The President is particularly struck with the business-like character of his despatch, telling in the fewest words the information most sought for, which contrasted so strongly with the weak, whining, and incorrect despatches of the whilom General-in-Chief. If heads or shoulder straps could be exchanged, it would be a good thing, in either case, here. A good railroader would be spoiled, but the General gained would compensate. The corps of Haupt starting from Alexandria, have acted as pioneers, advance-guard, voltigeurs, and every other light infantry arm of the service.
SOURCES: Clara B. Hay, Letters of John Hay and Extracts from Diary, Volume 1, p. 60-4; Tyler Dennett, Editor, Lincoln and the Civil War: in the Diaries and letters of John Hay, p. 44-7.