Saturday, February 11, 2017

Diary of John Hay: September 9, 1863

Dined with Wise.  Met Hooker, Butterfield and Fox. Hooker was in fine flow. Before dinner we talked about Halleck and his connection with Hooker’s resignation. He says he was forced to ask to be relieved by repeated acts which proved that he was not to be allowed to manage his army as he thought best, but that it was to be manoeuvred from Washington. He instanced Maryland Heights, whose garrison he was forbidden to touch, yet which was ordered to be evacuated by the very mail which brought his (H 's) relief. And other such many.”

At dinner he spoke of our army. He says: “It was the finest on the planet. He would like to see it fighting with foreigners. It gave him an electric feeling to be with it. It was far superior to the Southern army in everything but one. It had more valor, more strength, more endurance, more spirit; the rebels are only superior in vigor of attack. The reason of this is that, in the first place our army came down here capable of everything but ignorant of everything. It fell into evil hands — the hands of a baby, who knew something of drill, little of organisation, and nothing of the morale of the army. It was fashioned by the congenial spirit of this man into a mass of languid inertness destitute of either dash or cohesion. The Prince de Joinville, by far the finest mind I have ever met with in the army, was struck by this singular, and as he said, inexplicable contrast between the character of American soldiers as integers and in mass. The one active, independent, alert, enterprising; the other indolent, easy, wasteful and slothful. It is not in the least singular. You find a ready explanation in the character of its original General. Stoneman is an instance of the cankerous influence of that staff. I sent him out to destroy the bridges behind Lee . He rode 150 miles and came back without seeing the bridges he should have destroyed. He took with him 4,000 men; he returned with 4,500. His purposeless ride had all the result of a defeat. He claimed to have brought in an enormous train of negroes and other cattle. He brought 30 contrabands and not a man or a mule. He is a brave, good man, but he is spoiled by McClellan.

“After the battle of Malvern and after the battle of Fair Oaks we could have marched into Richmond without serious resistance, yet the constitutional apathy of this man prevented.”

Says Butterfield: — “On the night of the battle of Malvern I saw the red lights of Meyer's signal officer, blazing near me, and I went to him to gain information. He told me he had just received a despatch from Gen'l McClellan asking where was Gen'l F. J. Porter, he wanted news. I volunteered a despatch: — ‘We have won a glorious victory, and if we push on and seize our advantage, Richmond is ours.’ The day of Gaines' Mills, I had taken my position when Porter ordered me out of it into a hollow where I was compelled to assume a strictly defensive position. I once or twice terribly repulsed the enemy, but my orders peremptorily forbade pursuit. I had to keep up the spirits of the men by starting the rumor that McClellan was in Richmond. I am sure I thought he would be there that day. In the night, going to Gen'l McClellan's head-quarters, he asked me what about our Corps. I told him that with a few strong divisions we could attack and drive the enemy. He said he hadn't a man for us.”

[Fox] said that the night before the evacuation of Yorktown he staid in McClellan's tent. McC. said he expected to bag 78,000 of them. “You won't bag one,” replied Tucker. And he didn't.

Hooker says:— “Marcy sometimes sent important orders which McClellan never saw. On one occasion when I had advanced my pickets very near Richmond I received an order through Heintzelman, — “Let Genl Hooker return from his brilliant reconnoissance. We cannot afford to lose his division.” I did not see how my division could be lost, as in that country there was no cutting me off. I started back, however, and soon met McClellan himself who asked me what it meant, my withdrawal. I showed him his own order. He said he had never seen it, and I ordered my men back. I returned over the swamp, and held my position for weeks afterwards.”

Hooker and Butterfield both agree as to the terrible defeat the rebels suffered at Malvern and the inefficiency which suffered them to escape without injury. They say there was a Corps, fresh and unharmed, which might have pursued the rebels and entered Richmond in triumph (Franklin’s).

. . . . Hooker drank very little, not more than the rest, who were all abstemious, yet what little he drank made his cheek hot and red, and his eye brighter. I can easily understand how the stories of his drunkenness have grown, if so little affects him as I have seen. He was looking very well to-night. A tall and statuesque form— grand fighting head and grizzled russet hair— red-florid cheeks and bright blue eye, forming a fine contrast with Butterfield, who sat opposite. A small, stout, compact man, with a closely chiselled Greek face and heavy black moustaches, like Eugene Beauharnais. Both very handsome and very different. . . .

SOURCES: Clara B. Hay, Letters of John Hay and Extracts from Diary, Volume 1, p. 95-9; For the whole diary entry see Tyler Dennett, Editor, Lincoln and the Civil War in the Diaries and letters of John Hay, p. 84-6.

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