New Orleans, February 26th, 1863.
Dear Sir: The military movements lately in contemplation, have, I think, been given up. This opinion may be incorrect, but is based upon the best information I can gather. The authorities attempt to maintain great secrecy in all their steps. All the contortions of the Sybil are presented without any of her inspiration. Thus far, except in preparation, the accomplishments of Gen. Banks amount to nothing. It is my opinion that a grand attack direct upon Port Hudson, is intended. If so, it may come off in four or five weeks, and I should think the chances of failure and of success will be about equal.
I do not think Gen. Banks favors the enlistment of negroes. There has been some trouble about Butler's three regiments, because most of their officers are colored, and the New England soldier could not consent to present arms to a colored officer and treat him with necessary respect. The good sense of the negroes themselves would have obviated this difficulty, if Gen. Banks had followed their suggestions. They presented to him a petition asking that the three Regiments be brigaded together, and not be mingled with the other troops, but, as they have often requested, be assigned to some post of danger where they might be able to establish a good name for themselves. This request has not been granted.
The 4th. Reg't. Native Guards, authorized by Gen. Banks, is nearly full. I understand he has permitted a Fifth to be raised. But this is nothing compared with what can and should be done. Gen. Banks seems to be much guided by his West Point officers, most of whom for some reason or other, have prejudices against negro troops. Gen. Phelps is a distinguished exception. I am glad to see his nomination as Major General. Except Gen. Phelps no officer in this Department came near Gen. Butler in ability. And this was the real ground, 1 believe, of their disagreement. The Department of the Gulf was not large enough for two such men. Each was of too emphatic character, too self willed and determined in opinion, to get along well with the other. The fortifications built by the Rebels about the city are being strengthened and guns mounted on them. We never used to think the recapture of the City possible, defended by only a few thousand men and Gen. Butler.
I used to have great admiration for McClellan, based on opinions formed among the rebels, who always spoke of him with respect—as well as of Buell. Gen. Banks is regarded by them as a gentleman. This is not a good sign. But they hated Lyon, and hate Rosecrans and Hunter and Butler and Phelps, and all who do not believe in conciliation. They like to be conciliated.
The Department of the Gulf is too big a machine to be run by any one except B. F. Butler. 1 am afraid from late accounts that he is not to return here. Perhaps Mr. Seward is hostile to him.
This is less a Union City now than when Gen. Banks came here. There is more manifestation of disloyalty than at any time during the Summer. And the reason is that no punishment, or insufficient punishment, follows offenses. It won't do, you know, to be hard on a gentleman for exercising his constitutional right of abusing the United States. Judge Peabody of the Provisional Court, is also Provost Judge. Judge Peabody is a mistake. As Provost Judge, he is only a small magistrate. A man throws up his hat and hurrahs for Jeff. Davis in the street. Judge P. fines him five dollars. An enthusiastic rebel does not repent that price for so great a privilege. Butler would have sent the offender to Fort Jackson and neither he nor any acquaintance of his, would have committed the offense again.
The policy of conciliation, in whatever form, is useless, absurd and hurtful, and whoever adopts it may justly be accused of expecting a nomination for the Presidency. I expect Mr. Bullitt on Sunday the 1st. of March. We shall work well together, and nothing shall be wanting on my part, to make the management of the Custom House as efficient as heretofore.
SOURCE: Diary and correspondence of Salmon P. Chase, Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1902, Vol. 2, p. 360-2