Sunday morning, the 20th of September, the President showed me Rosecrans’ despatches of the day before, detailing the first day's fighting, and promising a complete victory on the next day. The President was a little uneasy over the promise, and very uneasy that Burnside was not within supporting distance.
The next morning he came into my bed-room before I was up, and sitting down on my bed said: — “Well, Rosecrans has been whipped as I feared. I have feared it for several days. I believe I feel trouble in the air before it comes. Rosecrans says we have met with a serious disaster — extent not ascertained. Burnside instead of obeying the orders which were given on the 14th, & going to Rosecrans, has gone up on a foolish affair to Jonesboro to capture a party of guerillas who are there.”
Day by day the news brightens up. Thomas held his own magnificently, and virtually whipped the enemy opposed to him. The scattered divisions came together. The enemy halted. Rosecrans established himself again at Chattanooga. The stampede seemed to be over.
On Wednesday night, the 23d, coming home, I found on my table some interesting despatches from the rebel papers which I thought the President would like to read. They contained pretty full accounts of rebel losses in the late battles; among other things chronicling the death of B. Hardin Helm, Mrs. L.’s brother-in-law, who spent some time with the family here and was made a paymaster by the President. I took them over to the War Department to give them to an orderly to carry to the President. I found there the Secretary of War who was just starting to the Soldiers' Home to request the President to come to the Department to attend a council to be held there that night, rendered expedient, as he said, by recent despatches from Chattanooga.
While I was in the room they were endeavoring to decipher an intricate message from Rosecrans giving reasons for the failure of the battle. The Secretary says: “I know the reasons well enough. Rosecrans ran away from his fighting men and did not stop for thirteen miles.” A moment after, he broke in: “No, they need not shuffle it off on McCook. He is not much of a soldier. I never was in favor of him for a Major-General. But he is not accountable for this business. He and Crittenden both made pretty good time away from the fight to Chattanooga, but Rosecrans beat them both.”
I went out to the Soldiers' Home through a splendid moonlight, and found the President abed. I delivered my message to him as he dressed himself, and he was considerably disturbed. I assured him as far as I could that it meant nothing serious, but he thought otherwise, as it was the first time Stanton had ever sent for him. When we got in, however, we found a despatch from Rosecrans stating that he could hold Chattanooga against double his number; could not be taken until after a great battle; his stampede evidently over.
They came together to discuss the practicability of reinforcing Rosecrans from Meade. Present: A. Lincoln, Halleck, Stanton, Seward, Chase, Watson and Hardie, and for a while McCallum. It was resolved to do it. The 11th and 12th Corps were selected for the purpose, Hooker to be placed in command of both. Finished the evening by a supper with Stanton, where few ate.
On the morning of the 26th Gen'l H , 11th Corps, came in as he was passing through town. A fine, handsome, thoughtful looking New an exchanged prisoner whom the rebs captured at Gettysburg; later in the evening came S , 12th Corps. He said he would call in the morning. He did so, Sunday morning, accompanied by Governor S . The result of the visit, a request by the President to General R urging him to take S from H 's force and give H some corresponding force. S does not seem to me a very large man. He seems peevish, irritable, fretful. H says he is all that on account of his digestive apparatus being out of repair. H does not speak unkindly of him while he never mentions H but to attack him.
To-night (Sept. 27) drove out to the Soldiers' Home with Hooker. The President who had been spending the evening at the War Department, arranging some plan by which Burnside may be allowed to continue his occupation and protection of East Tennessee, went out at nine o'clock, and Hooker, who wanted to take leave, went out afterwards picking me up on the street. He does not specially approve of the campaign down there. He thinks we might force them to fight at disadvantage, instead of allowing them to continually choose the battle-ground. Does not think much can be made by lengthening Rosecrans’s line indefinitely into Georgia. Atlanta is a good thing on account of the railroads and storehouses and factories. But a long line weakens an army by constant details, while the enemy, falling back gradually, keeps his army intact till the itinerary equalises the opposing forces.
Hooker goes in the morning. I hope they will give him a fair show. Slocum's hostility is very regrettable. Hooker is a fine fellow. The President says: — “Whenever trouble arises I can always rely upon Hooker’s magnanimity.” The President this morning asked him to write to him. I told him if he did not wish to write to the Tycoon, he might write to me. I wish I were able to go with him. But Nicolay is in the mountains getting beef on his bones, and I am a prisoner here. With Rosecrans, Sherman, Burnside and Hooker, they will have a magnificent army there in a few days and some great fighting if Burnside does not run. Deserters say R. P. Hill is coming. I don't believe that.
SOURCES: Clara B. Hay, Letters of John Hay and Extracts from Diary, Volume 1, p. 103-7; For the whole diary entry see Tyler Dennett, Editor, Lincoln and the Civil War in the Diaries and letters of John Hay, p. 92-4.