I started for Grant's headquarters. We left the Navy Yard at two o'clock in the afternoon. The party consisted of Fox, Dyer, Wise, M. Blair, Pyne, Ives, Forbes, Ives, Tom Welles Foster, a Chinese English merchant, and Reid of the Gazette . The day was sad, blowy, bleak, and a little wet.
We dined, and some played cards and all went to bed. When we got up in the morning, we were at Hampton Roads. We made no stay there, but after communicating with the Admiral D. D. Porter, we started up the James River, he following in his flagship, the Malvern. He overtook us about noon or a little after, and came on board with Captain Steadman of the Navy. Porter is a good-looking, lively man, a very off-hand talker, a man not impressing me as of a high order of talent, — a hale-fellow; a slight dash of the rowdy.
In the afternoon we passed by the island of Jamestown. On the low, flat, marshy island, where our first colony landed, there now remains nothing but ruins. An old church has left a solitary tower as its representative. A group of chimneys mark the spot of another large building. On the other side of the river, there is high, fine, swelling land. One cannot but wonder at the taste or judgment that selected that pestilential site in preference to those breezy hills. They probably wished to be near their boats, and also thought a river was a handy thing to have between them and the gentle savages that infested the shores of the James.
Fort Powhatan we saw also — where a battalion of negroes flaxed out Fitz Hughs command of the F. F. Vs.
We arrived at City Point at three o'clock. There are very few troops there but quite a large fleet lying in the river.
We went ashore; walked through the frame building standing in place of that blown up by the late fearful explosion. We climbed the steep hill, whose difficulty is mainly removed by the neat stairs that Yankee care has built since our occupation of the Point. At the top of the hill, we found a young sentry who halted us, and would not let us go further, till Porter, throwing himself on his dignity, which he does not use often, said: “Let that General know that Admiral Porter and Mr. Fox are here to see him.” He evidently impressed the sentry, for he said, after an instant's hesitation:— “Go ahead! I reckon it's all right.”
A common little wall-tent being indicated, we went up to beard the General. At our first knock he came to the door. He looked neater and more careful in his dress than usual; his hair was combed, his coat on, and his shirt clean, his long boots blackened till they shone. Everybody was presented.
After the conference was over we went back to the boat; the General accompanied us. We started down the river and soon had dinner. . . . . After dinner we all gathered around Grant who led the conversation for an hour or so. He thinks the rebels are about at the end of their tether, and said:— “I hope we will give them a blow this winter that will hasten their end.”
He was down on the Massachusetts idea of buying out of the draft by filling their quota with recruits at $300, from among the contrabands in Sherman's army. “Sherman’s head is level on that question,” he said in reply to some strictures of Mr. Forbes; “he knows he can get all these negroes that are worth having anyhow, and he prefers to get them that way rather than to fill up the quota of a distant State and thus diminish the fruits of the draft.” Sherman does not think so hopefully of negro troops as do many other Generals. Grant himself says they are admirable soldiers in many respects; quick and docile in a charge; excellent in fatigue duty. He says he does not think that an army of them could have stood the week's pounding at the Wilderness and Spottsylvania as our men did; “in fact no other troops in the world could have done it,” he said.
Grant is strongly of the belief that the rebel army is making its last grand rally; that they have reinforced to the extent of about 30,000 men in Virginia, Lee getting 20,000 and Early getting 10,000. He does not think they can sensibly increase their armies further. He says that he does not think they can recover from the blows he hopes to give them this winter.
He is deeply impressed with the vast importance and significance of the late Presidential election. The point which impressed him most powerfully was that which I regarded as the critical one — the pivotal centre of our history —the quiet and orderly character of the whole affair. No bloodshed or riot, — few frauds, and those detected and punished in an exemplary manner. It proves our worthiness of free institutions, and our capability of preserving them without running into anarchy or despotism.
Grant remained with us until nearly one o'clock at night — Monday morning — and then went to his own boat, the “Martin,” to sleep till day. Babcock, Dunn, and Badeau, of his staff, were with him.
. . . . We left Fort Monroe at 3½, and arrived at Washington Tuesday morning, the 15th, at 7 a. m.
SOURCES: Clara B. Hay, Letters of John Hay and Extracts from Diary, Volume 1, p. 245-50; Michael Burlingame & John R. Turner Ettlinger, Editors, Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay, p. 249-51.