Friday, June 23, 2017

Diary of John Hay: Sunday, September 25, 1864

Yesterday Nicolay who has been several days in New York telegraphed to the President that Thurlow Weed had gone to Canada, and asking if he (N.) had better return. I answered he had better amuse himself there for a day or two. This morning a letter came in the same sense. The President, when I showed it to him, said, — “I think I know where Mr. W. has gone. I think he has gone to Vermont not Canada. I will tell you what he is trying to do. I have not as yet told anybody.

“Some time ago, the Governor of Vermont came to me ‘on business of importance’ he said. I fixed an hour and he came. His name is Smith. He is, though you wouldn't think it, a cousin of Baldy Smith. Baldy is large, blonde, florid. The Governor is a little, dark sort of man. This is the story he told me, giving General Baldy Smith as his authority.

“When General McClellan was here at Washington, Baldy Smith was very intimate with him. They had been together at West Point, and friends. McClellan had asked for promotion for Baldy from the President, and got it. They were close and confidential friends. When they went down to the peninsula, their same intimate relations continued, the General talking freely with Smith about all his plans and prospects; until one day Fernando Wood and one other politician from New York appeared in camp and passed some days with McClellan. From the day that this took place Smith saw, or thought he saw, that McClellan was treating him with unusual coolness and reserve. After a little while he mentioned this to McC. who, after some talk, told Baldy he had something to show him. He told him that these people who had recently visited him, had been urging him to stand as an opposition candidate for President; that he had thought the thing over, and had concluded to accept their propositions. and had written them a letter (which he had not yet sent) giving his idea of the proper way of conducting the war, so as to conciliate and impress the people of the South with the idea that our armies were intended merely to execute the laws and protect their property, etc., and pledging himself to conduct the war in that inefficient, conciliatory style. This letter he read to Baldy, who, after the reading was finished, said earnestly:— ‘General, do you not see that looks like treason? and that it will ruin you and all of us.’ After some further talk, the General destroyed the letter in Baldy’s presence, and thanked him heartily for his frank and friendly counsel. After this he was again taken into the intimate confidence of McClellan. Immediately after the battle of Antietam, Wood and his familiar came again and saw the General, and again Baldy saw an immediate estrangement on the part of McClellan. He seemed to be anxious to get his intimate friends out of the way, and to avoid opportunities of private conversation with them. Baldy he particularly kept employed on reconnoissances and such work. One night Smith was returning from some duty he had been performing, and seeing a light in McClellan’s tent, he went in to report. Several persons were there. He reported and was about to withdraw when the General requested him to remain. After everyone was gone, he told him those men had been there again and had renewed their proposition about the Presidency:— that this time he had agreed to their proposition, and had written them a letter acceding to their terms, and pledging himself to carry on the war in the sense already indicated. This letter he read then and there to Baldy Smith.

“Immediately thereafter Baldy Smith applied to be transferred from that army.

“At very nearly the same time, other prominent men asked the same; Franklin, Burnside and others.

“Now that letter must be in the possession of Fernando Wood, and it will not be impossible to get it. Mr. Weed has, I think, gone to Vermont to see the Smith’s about it.”

I was very much surprised at the story and expressed my surprise. I said I had always thought that McClellan’s fault was a constitutional weakness and timidity which prevented him from active and timely exertion, instead of any such deep-laid scheme of treachery and ambition.

The President replied:— “After the battle of Antietam I went up to the field to try to get him to move, and came back thinking he would move at once. But when I got home he began to argue why he ought not to move. I peremptorily ordered him to advance. It was nineteen days before he put a man over the river. It was nine days longer before he got his army across, and then he stopped again, delaying on little pretexts of wanting this and that. I began to fear he was playing false, — that he did not want to hurt the enemy. I saw how he could intercept the enemy on the way to Richmond. I determined to make that the test. If he let them get away, I would remove him. He did so, and I relieved him.

“I dismissed Major Key for his silly, treasonable talk because I feared it was staff-talk, and I wanted an example.

"The letter of Buell furnishes another evidence in support of that theory. And the story you have heard Neill tell about Seymour’s first visit to McClellan, all tallies with this story.”

SOURCES: Clara B. Hay, Letters of John Hay and Extracts from Diary, Volume 1, p. 224-8; Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger, Editors, Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay, p. 230-3.

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