Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Diary of John Hay: April 30, 1864

. . . . The President came loafing in as it grew late and talked about the reception which his Hodges letter had met with. He seemed rather gratified that the Tribune was in the main inspired by a kindly spirit in its criticism. He thought of, and found, and gave to me to decipher Greeley’s letter to him of the 29th July, 1861. This most remarkable letter still retains for me its wonderful interest as the most insane specimen of pusillanimity that I have ever read. When I had finished reading, Nicolay said: — “That would be nuts to the Herald, Bennet would willingly give $10,000 for that.” To which the President, tying the red-tape round the package, answered, — “I need $10,000 very much, but he couldn't have it for many times that.”

The President has been powerfully reminded by General Grant’s present movements and plans, of his (President's) old suggestion so constantly made and as constantly neglected, to Buell and Halleck et al., to move at once upon the enemy's whole line so as to bring into action our great superiority in numbers. Otherwise, by interior lines and control of the interior railroad system, the enemy can shift their men rapidly from one point to another as they may be required. In this concerted movement, however, great superiority of numbers must tell; as the enemy, however successful where he concentrates, must necessarily weaken other portions of his line and lose important positions. This idea of his own, the President recognized with especial pleasure when Grant said it was his intention to make all the line useful — those not fighting could help the fighting: — “Those not skinning, can hold a leg,” added his distinguished interlocutor.

It seems that Banks’ unhappy Red River expedition was undertaken at the order and under the plan of General Sherman, who, having lived at Alexandria, had a nervous anxiety to repossess the country. Grant assented from his confidence in Sherman, and Halleck fell into the plan. Had not this wasteful enterprise been begun, Banks would now be thundering at the gates of Mobile and withdrawing a considerable army from Sherman’s front at Chattanooga.

Sherman has asked for an extension from the 2d to the 5th to complete his preparation against Dalton. He says that Thomas’ and Schofield’s armies will be within one day's march of Dalton by to-night, and that McPherson will be on time.

A little after midnight, as I was writing those last lines, the President came into the office laughing, with a volume of Hood’s Works in his hand, to show Nicolay and me the little caricature, “An unfortunate Bee-ing,” seemingly utterly unconscious that he, with his short shirt hanging about his long legs, and setting out behind like the tail feathers of an enormous ostrich, was infinitely funnier than anything in the book he was laughing at. What a man it is! Occupied all day with matters of vast moment, deeply anxious about the fate of the greatest army of the world, with his own fame and future hanging on the events of the passing hour, he yet has such a wealth of simple bonhommie and goodfellowship, that he gets out of bed and perambulates the house in his shirt to find us that we may share with him the fun of poor Hood's queer little conceits. . . . .

SOURCES: Clara B. Hay, Letters of John Hay and Extracts from Diary, Volume 1, p. 188-91; See Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger, Editors, Inside Lincoln’s White House,: the complete Civil War Diary of John Hay, p. 192-4 for the full entry. For the illustration of “An unfortunate Bee-ing” see Thomas Hood, Hood's Own: Or, Laughter from Year to Year, p. 217

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