Friday, May 12, 2017

Diary of John Hay: [April 27, 1864]

On the evening of the 25th Fox, who had been frequently telegraphed by Butler to come down to Fort Monroe, determined to go, and asked me to go with him. We started for the Navy Yard at 5.30, passing Willard’s while Burnside’s splendid column was moving down 14th Street across the Long Bridge into Virginia. This is the finest looking and best appointed force I have ever yet seen. A little gorgeous and showy, reminding one of the early regiments who went shining down to Bull Run and the Peninsula as if to a picnic. The 3d N. J. Cavalry looked fine and yellow in their new cloaks and gold-braided breasts. The officers looked so superbly outlandish that it surprised one to hear them speaking in a Yankee accent, pure American as Cash Clay calls it. The black regiments looked well, and marched better than others — as in fact they always do.

We went down the river among the twilight “shadders” and got some fish and dined off shad roe and shad. Fox had brought with him some of his choice Oolong tea. . . . We got to Fortress Monroe in the morning, and Welles and I visited the “Iroquois,” Capt. Raymond Rogers, while Fox went to see the General. Coming ashore we skirmished for some time about the walls of the Fortress before we could find the right entrance. We went in; saw Schaffer and Kent who was lounging round with an air intensely ennuye√©, and who said: — “There are plenty of indications here which to a green hand would presage an early movement; but we blas√© fellows don't seem to see it; we are familiar with large promise and scanty performance.”

Joined Butler and Fox on the ramparts. Butler said he was walking there for the first time in several months; preferring to take necessary exercise on horseback. He spoke highly of the negro troops — especially of their walking powers. They start off and trot slouchingly without wasting any muscle in grace of action, he said, illustrating the shuffling step, on the ramparts, bending his knees, and dragging his feet over the oniony grass. He spoke of the delight with which Bob Ould ate the good dinners he got while at the Fort — saying that one breakfast he got at Shaffers would have cost $2,000 in Richmond. . . . . I had a good deal of a talk with Shaffer, one of “the best staff a man was ever blessed with, — Strong Turner Shaffer and Weitzell” as Butler says. Shaffer is sanguine about the coming movement. “We will fasten our teeth,” he says, “on his line of supplies, and he must leave his positions to come and beat us off;” — relying on Grant’s not being the man to let that be done quietly. . . .

Fox seemed troubled sorely by the prospect. He fears the details have not been sufficiently studied; that the forces are to bulge ahead and get badly handled; that they rely on help from the navy in places where the navy cannot possibly help, — but rather “will be useless as an elephant with his trunk unscrewed and his tusks unshipped;” that going up the James between the precipitous banks, a few riflemen on the banks will produce a panic that nothing can remedy. He seemed surprised that the navy should not have been informed of the intended movement until to-day; or that Grant should have sanctioned, and concluded that G. must be letting the thing slide on without suggestion from him, to squelch it before it was consummated, or, relying upon his other plans, might have given this column up to the fate of a reconnoissance in force which will have accomplished its object if it diverts from his front a force large enough to destroy it. . . . .

SOURCES: Clara B. Hay, Letters of John Hay and Extracts from Diary, Volume 1, p. 183-6; See Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger, Editors, Inside Lincoln’s White House,: the complete Civil War Diary of John Hay, p. 189-91 for the full entry.

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