Wednesday, January 18, 2017

John Hay to John G. Nicolay, April 23, 1863

Hilton Head, S. C,
April 23, 1863.

In yours of the 15th received last night, you say “there was verbal indication of much wrath at the report that Dupont intended to withdraw his fleet and abandon his position.” I was surprised at this. If you have received my different letters you will see why. He would have obeyed orders had he done so. You say we have gained points d'appui for future work. The navy say not. They say they cannot lie off Morris Island to cover the landing of our troops, (or rather the crossing from Folly Island, the only practicable route), without imminent danger of being driven ashore and wrecked by the first northeasterly breeze that comes. It is not for me to say what is, or what is not, possible. My old ideas have been horribly shattered when I have seen two men, each of whom I had formerly considered an oracle on every subject connected with ships, accusing each other of ignorance and charlatanism.

I do not think Dupont is either a fool or a coward. I think there is a great deal of truth in his statement that, while the fight in Charleston harbor demonstrated the great defensive properties of the Monitors, it also proved that they could not be relied upon for aggressive operations.

With an adequate force I think Hunter could dislodge the enemy from Morris Island, and from that point make a hole in Fort Sumter; but even then little has been done. The General is sanguine. He wants a fight. I hope he may have one before I return.

To-day I start for Florida. . . . .

SOURCES: Clara B. Hay, Letters of John Hay and Extracts from Diary, Volume 1, p. 83-4; Michael Burlingame, Editor, At Lincoln’s Side: John Hay’s Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings, p. 37-8 where the entire letter appears.

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