Washington City. — Left the suburbs of Washington to go on Leesboro Road about twelve to fifteen miles. Road full of horse, foot, and artillery, baggage and ambulance waggons. Dust, heat, and thirst. “The Grand Army of the Potomac” appeared to bad advantage by the side of our troops. Men were lost from their regiments; officers left their commands to rest in the shade, to feed on fruit; thousands were straggling; confusion and disorder everywhere. New England troops looked well; Middle States troops badly; discipline gone or greatly relaxed.
On coming into camp Major-General Reno, in whose corps we are, rode into the grounds occupied by General Cox's troops in a towering passion because some of the men were taking straw or wheat from a stack. Some were taking it to feed to horses in McMullen's Battery and to cavalry horses; some in the Twenty-third Regiment were taking it to lie upon. The ground was a stubble field, in ridges of hard ground. I saw it and made no objection. General Reno began on McMullen's men. He addressed them: “You damned black sons of bitches.” This he repeated to my men and asked for the colonel. Hearing it, I presented myself and assumed the responsibility, defending the men. I talked respectfully but firmly; told him we had always taken rails, for example, if needed to cook with; that if required we would pay for them. He denied the right and necessity; said we were in a loyal State, etc., etc. Gradually he softened down. He asked me my name. I asked his, all respectfully done on my part. He made various observations to which I replied. He expressed opinions on pilfering. I remarked, in reply to some opinion, substantially: “Well, I trust our generals will exhibit the same energy in dealing with our foes that they do in the treatment of their friends.” He asked me, as if offended, what I meant by that. I replied. “Nothing — at least, I mean nothing disrespectful to you.” (The fact was, I had a very favorable opinion of the gallantry and skill of General Reno and was most anxious to so act as to gain his good will.) This was towards the close of the controversy, and as General Reno rode away the men cheered me. I learn that this, coupled with the remark, gave General Reno great offense. He spoke to Colonel Ewing of putting colonels in irons if their men pilfered! Colonel Ewing says the remark “cut him to the quick,” that he was “bitter” against me. General Cox and Colonel Scammon (the latter was present) both think I behaved properly in the controversy.
SOURCE: Charles Richard Williams, editor, Diary and Letters of Rutherford Birchard Hayes, Volume 2, p. 346-7