Saturday, February 1, 2020

George S. Denison to Salmon P. Chase, February 12, 1863

(Private and Confidential)
New Orleans, February 12th, 1863.

Dear Sir: Enclosed is General Orders No. 14—in part concerning Plantation supplies, etc.

Also, copy of contract between T. P. May, an intelligent and progressive planter, and white laborers to be employed by him in raising cotton and sugar. It is a great experiment and Mr. May is the man to succeed in it. He is a young man—at heart an Abolitionist, and his plantation is one of the finest in Louisiana.

My late announcement of the commencement of military movements was premature. Everything moves very slowly here. The movement has not actually commenced however.

A force under Weitzel will advance up the Teche. Another force will advance westwardly from Plaquemine on the River. The two forces will meet at New Iberia or St. Martinsville.

Bute la Rose is a lake or wide bayou between Plaquemine and St. Martinsville, and at this point is a rebel battery and fortifications. This will be reduced by the Plaquemine force aided by gunboats.

After the junction of the two forces at or near St. Martinsville a force of 3,000 or 4,000 will be detached and accompany the gunboats up the Atchafalaya bayou to Red River near its mouth.

The Gunboats to be used are those built by Gen. Butler— of very light draft and iron-clad.

You will understand the above statement by reference to the Rebel map I sent you.

Affairs here are not in a prosperous condition. Great dissatisfaction exists in at least some portions of the army. Even Gen. Banks new troops to some extent—and Butler's old troops to a man, would hail Butler's return with enthusiasm. Banks' policy seems to be conciliatory and hesitating. He seems afraid of responsibilities. General Butler is utterly fearless. Several desertions have occurred, by soldiers who wish to be taken and paroled, but this is kept secret here.

It is my opinion that Government has made exchanges too easy. It would be better to allow no exchange of prisoners. Then we should not hear of disgraceful surrenders—or of desertions by men sick of the service. In this and other respects the war should be made sharper and more earnest. The greater advantage of exchanges as now permitted, is in favor of the Rebels, and the disadvantage is our own. Our men will not so easily surrender and rarely desert, if they know they must endure, for the rest of the war, the privations and discomforts of the Confederacy. Now they have every inducement to do both.

Gen. Banks seems to me to be no judge of men. He selects honest subordinates for the most part—but his staff are, generally, green, inexperienced—of little ability—and one or two of them are fit objects of ridicule. Conciliation, inefficiency, inexperience and hesitation characterize all proceedings. There is no use in such criticism, however, when the President himself sends here as his private correspondent a vulgar little scoundrel like Dr. Zachary—who takes bribes and whose only object is to make money.

Personally I like Gen. Banks exceedingly, but a Northern man needs six months experience here in order to be efficient in this peculiar country and .among its peculiar people. Gen. Butler has that experience, and his return would at once change everything for the better.

The nine months men are dissatisfied and demoralized. I think Butler could not only remove such feeling, but make most of them re-enlist. Whatever Butler did, pleased and satisfied the Army, because they had confidence in, and admired him. This is not at all true of Gen. Banks.

The sooner Gen. Butler comes back the better it will be.

In one respect there is a very disagreeable condition of things here. A host of speculators, Jews and camp-followers, came hither in the track of Banks' expedition. They have continued to arrive and every steamer brings an addition to the number. Each expects to be a millionaire in six months. They have few scruples about the means of satisfying their cupidity.

I regard them as natural enemies, and in our constant war, they are generally worsted. The whole crowd, and Dr. Zachary among them, with eager expectancy like wolves about to seize their prey, await the advent of the new collector, who is a good natured man, and supposed to be easily imposed upon.

I think that spies, intriguers, dishonest speculators, and liars are more abundant here now than any where else in America. It seems as if everything must be accomplished by intrigue and management. It was not so three months ago.

In troublous times like these each man of merit has opinions—proclaims them—defends and sustains them, else he is, politically speaking, a "trimmer."

I told Gen. Banks so the other day.

I am not familiar with Banks' political history. Was he ever a Trimmer?

Perhaps he is a conservative! To a friend of mine Gen. Banks the other day declared himself to be neither a proslavery nor anti-slavery man.

What is he then?

I do not know, Mr. Chase, anything about your feelings toward Gen. Banks or any one else, but write always my own opinions without reference to those of others.

SOURCE: Diary and correspondence of Salmon P. ChaseAnnual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1902, Vol. 2, p. 358-60

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