Camp Maskell, Near Gauley Bridge, December 20, 1862.
Dear Uncle:— Dr. Webb went home on a thirty-day furlough a few days ago. Our good health here makes a surgeon almost unnecessary. We now have only one man in hospital — a chance case of erysipelas. Our camp is improving. We are almost out of the mud and the greater part of our cabins finished.
Another serious reverse. Burnside's repulse at Fredericksburg is bad enough as it looks from my point of view. It would seem as if neither party in eastern Virginia was strong enough to make a successful invasion of the territory of the other — which is equivalent to saying that the Rebellion can there sustain itself as long as, it stands on the defensive. I don't like two things in this campaign of General Burnside. (1) It looks as if his first delay opposite Fredericksburg was an error. (2) To attack an enemy of equal (or nearly equal strength) behind entrenchments is always an error. This battle is a set-off for Antietam. That forced the Rebels back across the Potomac. This forces us back across the Rappahannock. We suffer, I fear, a larger proportionate loss. I suspect the enemy lost but little, comparatively. Now remains our last card, the emancipation of the slaves. That may do it. Some signs of wavering are pointed out by the correspondents, but I trust the President will now stand firm. I was not in a hurry to wish such a policy adopted, but I don't now wish to see it abandoned. Our army is not seriously weakened by the affair at Fredericksburg and very slight events will change the scale in our favor. Push on the emancipation policy, and all will yet go well.
Our partisanship about generals is now rebuked. General McClellan has serious faults or defects, but his friends can truly claim that if he had retained command, this disaster would not have occurred. The people and press would perhaps do well to cultivate patience. It is a virtue much needed in so equal a struggle as this. If the people can hold out, we shall find the right man after [a] while.
But I bore you with reflections that must occur to every one.
R. B. Hayes.
SOURCE: Charles Richard Williams, editor, Diary and Letters of Rutherford Birchard Hayes, Volume 2, p. 377-8