Reveille in Washington: 1860-1865
1860 - 1865
BY MARGARET LEECH
CHAPTERS XVIII - XXV
REVEILLE IN WASHINGTON
BY MARGARET LEECH
The story of our National Capital in its greatest ordeal
FIVE years ago Margaret Leech began collecting from letters, diaries, old newspapers, and memoirs every scrap of information she could find about the life in our national capital at the time of the Civil War. Her book, from which the Atlantic has been privileged to draw four large installments, is to be the September choice of the Book-of-the-Month club. Her true narrative begins on that day in December 1860 when huge old General Scott limped into town to suppress the sedition which was openly threatening that Lincoln would never live to be President. Southerners had exerted a far-reaching influence in the Buchanan Administration; they held key posts in the Army and Navy; with their thoroughbreds, their big mansions, and their slaves, they had turned Washington into a Southern town. The Washington barracks were guarded by one old Irish caretaker General Scott said they might easily have been taken by a bottle of whiskey. By Christmas Day the talk of secession had reached such a pitch that the militia was called out to guard the Capitol building and search the cellar for explosives.
To this place of uncertainty and suspicion came a tall, lanky figure, with his dark melancholy face — Abraham Lincoln, the President-elect. And following him came a horde of Westerners, oflice seekers; and men loyal to the Union had begun to replace the Southerners as the. Republican Administration made its presence felt. Following the attack on Sumter, Southern sympathizers cut the wires and tore up the rails, and for a few days the capital lived in dread of invasion. To its rescue came the regiments from the North, storming through rebellious Baltimore, landing by ship at Annapolis, and coming up the Avenue with bands playing and flags flying. On they came until at last General McDowell had strength enough for a mass movement into Virginia. But W ashington was still honeycombed with Southern sympathizers, and before McDowell marched, on July 16, his exact plans had been passed through the lines by Mrs. Rose O’Neal Greenhow, a spy with more than a little charm. All Washington turned out to see the spandy regiments in their first engagement. But the picnic parties and the Senators in their buggies turned into a frightened rabble when the Union forces broke and swirled back in sullen retreat. Desperately in need of a new leader, Lincoln telegraphed to McClellan in the West. . . .
THE youthful McClellan was vigorous and self-confident. His appearance was stalwart. Under a thick Roman nose, a ragged, reddish moustache concealed his mouth. Rather short in stature, he had a sturdy, muscular figure, with broad shoulders and a massive throat; and the tilted French kepi suited his well-shaped head. There was a dramatic quality about him. He had imagination. With that audacity of conception which subdues or inspirits timid minds, he began at once to discuss his command in terms of three hundred thousand men.
The chaos of Washington inspired him to an almost frenzied activity. Convinced that the city was about to be attacked by an overwhelming force, he spent twelve and fourteen hours a day on horseback, and worked at his desk until early morning. The shaken little world of Washington received him with flattering respect. The President and the Cabinet — General Scott himself —deferred to him. When he visited the Senate Chamber, gray-haired men gathered around this general who was not quite thirty-five years old. ‘I almost think,’ he wrote his wife, ‘that were I to win some small success now I could become Dictator or anything else that might please me — but nothing of that kind would please me — therefore I wont be dictator. Admirable self-denial!’
He had a brilliant aptitude for organization, and, as a member of a military commission sent to observe the operations in the Crimea, had studied European armies at first hand. He was exact, methodical, and interested in detail. In Washington he saw that there were two things for him to do. He had to fortify a city. He had to forge a weapon — the Army of the Potomac.
McClellan was the man in the saddle — and even the saddle bore his name. No one looked at the President, walking through the streets or driving in his carriage in his gray suit and slouched hat. All eyes were on the young commander. He was as different from modest McDowell, walking alone on Pennsylvania Avenue, as from obese, magnificent Scott. Every street lounger knew his stocky, high-booted figure. His passing, in clouds of dust or fountains of mud, was an event, a clatter, a cavalcade. Round the corner, hellfor-leather, he posted on his favorite horse, ‘Dan Webster,’ with his staff and escort of dragoons hard put to follow him. He delighted in wearing them out, and thought nothing of a dash from the Chain Bridge all the way to Alexandria, through the Virginia encampments which made a continuous military city, more populous than the capital. McClellan wanted his troops to know and trust him. The latest raw recruits were familiar with their general’s face, called him ‘Our George’ and ‘Little Mac,’ and joined lustily in the shouts which greeted him.
McClellan’s affection for his soldiers was tempered by stern parental discipline when they proved insubordinate. There were discontented regiments, which had volunteered for three years in the spring and wanted to go home with the three months’ men. In midAugust, McClellan had two mutinies on his hands, in the Second Maine and the Seventy-ninth New York. He put them down with firmness, ordering the ringleaders sent to the Dry Tortugas, off the southern tip of Florida, to serve out their term at hard labor. In the case of the New Yorkers — the late Colonel Cameron’s Scots — McClellan blamed the officers. He took away the regimental colors and kept them in the hall at his headquarters, until the Highlanders, by subsequent good behavior, earned the right to have them restored.
His commanders of brigades and divisions were almost all men of military training. The names of Meade, Hooker, Buell, Sedgwick, Hancock, Reynolds, Kearny, Fitz-John Porter, Edwin Sumner, and W. F. Smith would all stand in newspaper headlines before a year had passed. These capable West Point graduates enabled McClellan to make great progress in organizing the volunteers. Some, like Kearny and Sedgwick and Hancock, had personalities which won the love and loyalty of their troops. Others were as unpopular as McDowell, who now commanded a division. Charles P. Stone was too strict and formal in manner to find favor with his brigade. The severe discipline of W. F. Smith, known in the Army as ‘Baldy,’ was resented by his soldiers.
Experienced staff officers were a rarity in an army which needed every trained soldier for the command of troops, and McClellan himself had few of them. His large and showy staff was headed by his father-in-law, Randolph B. Marcy, a steady old Army man of only moderate ability. A volunteer aide was the rich New Yorker, John Jacob Astor, who lived luxuriously in a wellappointed house, with his own valet, steward, and chef. McClellan also welcomed a number of foreign visitors, French, German, and English. Two of the Frenchmen were distinguished additions to Washington society, for they were princes of the House of Orleans — the Comte de Paris and the Due de Chartres. Exiled in the regime of Napoleon III, they had come to the States to offer their services to the Union cause. They were unassuming, cheerful young fellows whom everyone liked. Donning the blue uniform, they were known to their fellow officers as Captain Parry and Captain Chatters.
In the crisp, cool days of autumn, McClellan began to stage the grand reviews of the Army of the Potomac. McDowell had been censured for assembling eight regiments before Bull Run, but week after week whole divisions paraded at McClellan’s command. Hundreds of sight-seers were drawn to the capital by the fame of these military spectacles. Ladies in wide crinolines and tiny bonnets sat marveling in their carriages, and little boys and girls stared popeyed at the white gloves and glistening bayonets, the flags, the polished brass, the cannon smoke. Driving back to Washington in heavy traffic one evening, a party of Bostonians beguiled the tedium by singing. ‘John Brown’s Body,’ a favorite with the Massachusetts regiments, was among the songs. One of the party, Mrs. Julia Ward Howe, was a writer, and she had vaguely wished to set some new words to the tune. At dawn next morning she awoke in her room at Willard’s with long lines of verse swinging through her brain. She jumped out of bed, and with an old stump of pencil scrawled in the semidarkness the stanzas of ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic.’
At first there had been repeated alarms from the capital’s line of defense in Virginia. The sound of practice guns sent old ladies scuttling from the Centre Market with half-filled baskets. The cannonade of a reconnaissance brought people to the roofs to watch the puffs of smoke rising above the trectops. The late summer days, however, had unfolded no action of any consequence.
At the end of September, the disappearance of the enemy flag informed the capital that the Confederates had fallen back on Fairfax. The Union lines were advanced, and civilians journeyed out to examine Munson’s Hill. Surprise was felt, together with a little chill of doubt, on discovering that the Union forces had been defied by a few Quaker guns made of logs and pasteboard. When there was news of an engagement, however, it came from the upper Potomac, where General Stone was in command. A detachment sent across the river toward Leesburg, under the command of Colonel E. D. Baker, met with disaster at Ball’s Bluff. Near sunset of a lovely autumn day, a newspaper correspondent heard the insistent clicking of the telegraph in the inner room at McClellan’s headquarters and saw Mr. Lincoln stumble out with tears rolling down his face. Baker, with that gallantry which effaces a want of discretion, had been killed at the head of his battalion.
Retarded by the censorship, the details of Ball’s Bluff gradually reached the country. The Federals had been trapped between the cliff and the river, without enough boats to make good their return to the Maryland shore. A great part of the force had been captured, while some had been shot in the water and others drowned. There were bodies on the flooding waters of the Potomac which roared down in early November to shake the infirm structure of the Long Bridge. A soldier in light blue lay on a near-by pile of driftwood. One nearly naked corpse was washed against the wharf at the foot of Sixth Street. Others were recovered at the Chain Bridge, and near the Georgetown wharves. Opposite Fort Washington they found a private of the artillery, with a Testament, a round looking glass, and a lock of hair in his pocket.
At four o’clock one rainy November morning, the voices of orderlies and the stir and snuffle of horses sounded before McClellan’s house. A squadron of cavalry came pounding up, to wait in the darkness. The general and his staff, cloaked and hooded in black rubber, hurried down the steps and rode away, with the cavalry at their heels. No guns roared on the Potomac; it was a matter of etiquette that called them from their beds. They were going to escort General Scott to the railroad station. The young aides chatted as they rode along, speculating about the fortunes of their commander. ‘It would have been easier,’ wrote the Comte de Paris, ‘to pierce the night and fog which enveloped us.’
In the dimly lighted depot McClellan and his staff gleamed like knights in black armor, their hidden swords clanking. General Scott took a courteous leave of the man who had made his last months of service as disagreeable as possible. He sent kind messages to Mrs. McClellan and the new baby, and said that his sensations were very peculiar on leaving Washington and active life. McClellan wrote his wife that the sight of this feeble old man was a lesson to him, and asked her, if ever he became vainglorious and ambitious, to remind him of it. Whatever served him for ambition had now been realized. While retaining the command of the Army of the Potomac, he was made Generalin-Chief of the armies of the United States. The President, ventured to suggest that the increased responsibilities might be too much for one man. ‘I can do it all,’ McClellan told him quickly.
The removal of Scott and his own elevation to the chief command had not satisfied McClellan. His inflated selfesteem required that he should not be crossed or even questioned by anyone. His nerves were flayed by the fact that he had to deal, not only with his cheering troops, but with men in power. A fatmore dangerous tendency, however, had also developed in his thinking. In his political opinions he was opposed to the party in power. With some vague benevolence toward Negroes, he cared nothing about abolishing slavery. His ultra-Democratic friends and supporters, by placing a grandiose construction on McClellan’s influence and power, had encouraged him to think of himself as a superman with a mission. He devoutly believed that God was on his side, and that he was the only patriot in Washington. It occurred to him that he might ‘cheerfully take the dictatorship,’ as people were calling on him to do —not, of course, from selfish motives, but to save the country.
As a railroad executive in Illinois, he had known Lincoln, and more than once in out-of-the-way towns he had spent the night in front of a stove, listening to the country lawyer’s anecdotes. The President, always informal in his manners, felt at ease with an old acquaintance, and often called on McClellan. Sometimes he would appear before breakfast. Frequently he came at night, to learn the latest news before he went to bed. His pockets bulging with papers, —for he was trying to post himself all at once on military strategy and naval warfare, — he would enter the parlor, where the officers sat smoking, writing, and reading newspapers. Was George in? he would ask the aide. It was not necessary to send up — he would wait; he thought he would take supper with George.
One November evening Lincoln called at the general’s house in company with Secretary Seward and John Hay. They were told that McClellan had gone to an officer’s wedding, and sat down in the parlor to wait. After nearly an hour McClellan returned. Without heeding the orderly’s announcement that the President was there, he went upstairs. Thinking that there must be some mistake, Mr. Lincoln sent a servant to his room. The answer came that the general had gone to bed. John Hay thought that ‘this unparalleled insolence of epaulettes’ was ‘a portent of evil to come.’ Mr. Lincoln quietly passed it over; but he let McClellan come to him thereafter.
Washington was packed with the varied concourse of people attracted by the great army. Contractors, inventors, and cranks infested the bureaus. Officers used their furloughs to seek promotion. There was a joke about a boy who threw a stone at a dog on Pennsylvania Avenue and hit three brigadier-generals. Correspondents were there to scribble, and artists to sketch. Soldiers’ relatives mingled with sight-seeing tourists. A delegation of Creek, Seminole, and Chickasaw Indians, after inspecting the camps and forts and witnessing two reviews, expressed unlimited confidence in the success of the Union cause. Counterfeiters and confidence men assembled from all sections of the country. Petty thieves and pickpockets, ‘from the genteel, fashionable “dip” down to the vagabond handkerchief picker,’ slid through the crowds and kept the Metropolitan Police on the run. Embalmers arrived — for, even when an army does not fight, some men sicken and die. To entertain the legions of the living came dancers and singers and comedians, prize fighters and gamblers, venders of obscene literature and proprietors of ‘rum-jug shops.’ Apparent on every street was the secret invasion of the women of the town; gay light-o’-loves who swished into the music halls on the officers’ arms, whores who beckoned the drunken teamsters to shanties in the alleys. In the wake of the women followed doctors, blatant in their promises. Dr. Schuman (all diseases of a private nature, permanent cure or no charge) had arrived early to set up his Southern Medical House in the Clarendon Hotel, but he was soon obliged to compete with ‘certain swindlers in the back streets.’
The first evening levee at the White House opened the winter social season in mid-December. There was a large company, brilliant with feathers and spangles and jewelry, with brass buttons and epaulettes and swords. General McClellan was the lion of the occasion. On his arm was his wife, Nell, recently come to Washington. She was delicate and hazeleyed — ‘not what a sickly stripling fresh from college would call handsome,’ wrote the Herald correspondent. Others found Mrs. McClellan a pretty and vivacious woman. She adored her young general, and was glad to be with him and sympathize with his vexatious troubles with the Republican politicians.
Anthony Trollope, paying a visit to Washington, found it a melancholy place. Belief in McClellan was slipping away. No one had any confidence in the administration. The President did nothing. A congressional committee had blazoned the War Department’s mismanagement of contracts. As the nation slid toward bankruptcy, the capital presented the spectacle of waste on an imperial scale. The peculations of the contractors and the frauds and thievery in the Commissary Department vied with the grotesque shiftlessness of foundered horses, spoiled rations, and broken bales of hay, on which along the railroad tracks the lean Swampoodle cattle were growing fat and sleek. The people of Washington shrugged their shoulders.
General McClellan fell sick in December. The newspapers called it a cold, but the fact leaked out that he had the symptoms of typhoid. At his headquarters, all work was at a standstill. He had not delegated his powers, and no one could act in his name. Montgomery Meigs, the Quartermaster-General, was getting settled in his new office in Winder’s Building when the President visited him in great distress. He had been unable to gain admittance to McClellan’s sickroom. Sitting down in a chair before the open fire, Mr. Lincoln said, ‘ General, what shall I do? The people are impatient; Chase has no money and he tells me he can raise no more; the General of the Army has typhoid fever. The bottom is out of the tub. What shall I do?’ Meigs advised him to consult with army officers, and Lincoln sent for McDowell and Franklin. They reached an agreement, in which Meigs concurred, that the army was now strong enough to make a movement on Manassas. This decision, imparted to McClellan by Mr. Stanton, hastened the general’s convalescence. Three days after it had been impossible for the President to see him, McClellan came to a White House conference attended by Seward, Chase, Blair, and the officers whom Mr. Lincoln had consulted. The atmosphere was strained. McClellan bore no ill will to Franklin, who was his close friend, but he believed that McDowell was intriguing for his position, and plainly showed his antagonism. He resented the attitude of Mr. Chase, who blurted out a demand that McClellan explain his plans.
McClellan was in a difficult position. He considered the Virginia roads impassable for army trains and artillery, and thought it impracticable to make an advance on Manassas before spring. It was unreasonable to expect him to take all official Washington into his confidence. There was much leakage of information, and the knowledge that he did not plan to move would have been of the greatest value to the Confederates. Moreover, he was considering a new line of advance — transporting his army by way of the lower Chesapeake to the neighborhood of Richmond. McClellan was justified in reticence; not in a haughty silence. Meigs privately appealed to him to speak, to promise some movement toward Manassas. The general replied that if he told his plans to the President they would be in the New York Herald the next morning. He added that Mr. Lincoln could not keep a secret — he would tell Tad. McClellan, still a sick man, was in a morbidly distrustful frame of mind.
The Committee on the Conduct of the War sat in a room in the Capitol basement, and to its door the generals marched like schoolboys summoned for a secret examination. Ben Wade was in the chair, a grand inquisitor coarse and shrewd, with sharp little jet-black eyes. ‘We must stir ourselves,’ he said, ‘on account of the expense.’ He made another explanation: ‘We are endeavoring to see if there is any way in God’s world to get rid of the capital besieged, while Europe is looking down upon us as almost a conquered people.’
The Army of the Potomac dawdled around Washington, polishing its buttons and stirrups. The perfection on which McClellan insisted was extravagantly exemplified in his personal preparations for taking the field. Twenty-four wagons and two traveling carriages, drawn by four finely matched bay horses, had been provided for the commanding general and his staff. The carriages were ingeniously fitted for sleeping, eating, and writing en route.
On February 22, the military routine of the encampments was undisturbed by the President’s order for a movement on Manassas. Crape hung on the White House door, and in the Green Room the undertakers were busy, for Willie Lincoln had died of typhoid fever. The illuminations ordered for Washington’s Birthday in honor of the Union successes in the West, the surrender of Fort Donelson to an unknown brigadier, U. S. Grant, were hastily canceled. They buried Willie Lincoln on a day of great wind that tore the roofs off houses and slashed the flags to ribbons. The father drove, unseeing, through the wreckage in a carriage with Robert and the two Illinois Senators, Trumbull and Browning. Mrs. Lincoln was too ill to attend the funeral services.
In the moist air there was a premonition of spring. Still, beyond the narrow, mired roads, Manassas waited. McClellan firmly refused to go against that stronghold, and the transports were gathering to take the Army of the Potomac to a Virginia battlefield of their general’s choosing. He had won consent to his plan, but there was thunderous disapproval. Lincoln, distracted by sorrow for his dead boy, was almost overwhelmed by the clamor for McClellan’s removal. At seven-thirty in the morning he sent for the general, and between the two men the word ‘traitor’ flashed like a drawn sword. McClellan sprang to his feet, demanding that the President retract the expression. In agitation Mr. Lincoln disclaimed that the idea was his own. He was merely repeating what others said, that the plan of withdrawing the army from the defense of Washington had a traitorous intent. McClellan suggested that he should be careful in his language. The President again apologized.
On Sunday morning, March 9, Gideon Welles rushed over to the White House, where he found the President and Mr. Stanton in great alarm. There was bad news from Hampton Roads. For some time the government had been informed that the Confederates had been making ready an ironclad ship. They had raised the United States frigate Merrimac from Norfolk harbor, found her hull and engines serviceable, and fitted her with an iron ram and a roof of iron plates. Now there was a telegram saying that the Merrimac had come down from Norfolk to spread destruction in Hampton Roads. Wooden ships had been helpless before the armored monster, the Congress and the Cumberland shot and rammed, the Minnesota driven aground.
Stanton, Seward, Chase, McClellan, Meigs, and other officers stood around the President’s office, while the Secretary of the Navy explained that there was a ray of hope. The United States ironclad Monitor, barely completed, had reached Hampton Roads on the preceding night. Designed by the Swedish inventor, John Ericsson, she was a new experiment in fighting vessels — a queer little craft, with a low armored deck, surmounted by a revolving turret. She had been condemned by all the older naval officers; but Mr. Welles had taken the risk of bringing censure and ridicule on his department. That Sunday morning, while Washington tremblingly awaited the news from Hampton Roads, the old newspaper man from Hartford was made uncomfortably aware of the great responsibility he had assumed. When Mr. Welles said that the Monitor had two guns, against the ten carried by the Merrimac, Mr. Stanton gave him a ‘mingled look of incredulity and contempt.’ It was beyond the powers of Mr. Welles to describe that look, or the sneering tone of Mr. Stanton’s voice. The Democratic lawyer had recently been made Secretary of War. As he paced the room, he foretold the destruction of the United States Navy, the capture of Fort Monroe, the capitulation of Boston and New York. Mr. Welles was passing one of the most unpleasant days of his life, but it was not entirely devoid of secret satisfaction. He was taking the measure of the new Cabinet member, Stanton.
On Sunday night the telegraph clicked out a message which changed despair into exultation, and vindicated the judgment of the Secretary of the Navy. The little Monitor had forced the Merrimac to retire to Norfolk. It had been a drawn battle, but its effect was that of a victory. Naval history had been written in Hampton Roads, and all men read the portents of change in the battleships of the world. The foreign ministers were eager to learn the details of the combat that they might transmit to their governments the facts concerning armor-plated ships. The Swedish minister, Count Piper, was bursting with pride — the inventor Ericsson was of Swedish birth, and Dahlgren, who had devised the guns on the Monitor, was the son of a Swede.
Another momentous message was received in Washington that Sunday evening: the Confederates had evacuated Manassas. Incredulous, McClellan posted across the river. That night he ordered an advance of the whole army.
Silently, efficiently, General Joe Johnston had withdrawn his troops beyond the Rappahannock. The march of the Federals was no more than a promenade, an exercise in the neglected business of making an advance. Beyond the battle field of Bull Run, where General McDowell could not restrain his tears at the sight of the bleaching bones, the ramparts of Manassas proved to be no more than rude earthworks, with Quaker guns in the embrasures; and a fantastically-minded man named Hawthorne thought of the old tales in which great armies are kept at bay by the arts of necromancers.
The early winter night had fallen on the park to the east of the Capitol, and behind the stripped trees the white stones glimmered in the gas lamps when a carriage splashed through First Street and stopped before a corner building of dingy brick. The building had been erected for the use of Congress in 1815, while the prouder edifice across the park, burned by British soldiers, was being restored. On this winter evening of 1861, the windows, great and small alike, were disfigured by horizontal slats of wood, through which light feebly twinkled. Armed sentries paced their rounds on First Street. The Old Capitol had been turned into a military prison.
In the anteroom officers loitered, with an air of expectation, as a lady and a little girl stepped from the carriage and were escorted across the threshold. Like an eager host, Superintendent Wood hurried to meet them. It was his custom to do the honors to new arrivals. ‘Hello, Gus, you’re back again; you couldn’t stay away from us very long,’ he would say to a Virginia farmer repeatedly arrested for refusing to take the oath of allegiance. ‘I’m always glad to see your countrymen here,’ he once greeted an Englishman taken up while attempting a visit to Richmond via the Federal lines. Gentlemen he was in the habit of receiving, but a lady was a novelty in the Old Capitol. Mrs Rose O’Neal Greenhow, standing dark and handsome in the anteroom, not only had been a prominent figure in the social life of the capital, but was considered the most important Confederate spy arrested by the government. She noted that the superintendent received her with ‘great empressement,’ and seemed ‘sensible of the honor’ of being her custodian.
‘You have got one of the hardest little rebels here that you ever saw,’ piped young Rose. She was her mother ‘s daughter; and five months of romping with detectives and soldiers cannot have been conducive to mending her manners. Of Mrs. Greenhow’s entrance speech there is no record. Perhaps she did not condescend to reply to the jailer’s courtesies. Her admiration for Southern institutions embraced the conception of caste; and she understood the theatrical value of a disdainful silence. In the dreary jail she sat like Marie Antoinette, with whom she was fond of comparing herself.
The rout of Bull Run had filled Mrs. Greenhow with the exultation of a personal triumph. While she carried presents to the Confederate prisoners and schemed to deliver Washington into the conquering Beauregard’s hands, she had continued to send her dispatches to Colonel Jordan. They contained, she herself declared, ‘verbatim reports’ of the Cabinet meetings and the Republican caucuses, exact drawings of the Washington fortifications, and the ‘ minutes of M’Clellan’s private consultations, and often extracts from his notes.’ Mrs. Greenhow may have exaggerated her information, but it was extensive and valuable to the enemy. Some men who were privy to the councils of the Union or wore its uniform with apparent honor must have trembled at the news of her arrest.
After Bull Run, Rose Greenhow’s activities were soon curtailed. Suspicion fell on her almost at once, and on the sultry morning of August 23 she took her last promenade in Washington. She had been warned. She knew that she was being watched and followed. On her walk she was joined by ‘a distinguished member of the diplomatic corps,’ and it was not until she reached her door that two men stepped forward, with some mumble of verbal authority, to arrest her. One of them was in uniform and called himself Major E. J. Allen. Among the miscellaneous bits of information which Mrs. Greenhow was skillful in collecting was the knowledge that he was Allan Pinkerton, the Scottish barrel maker turned detective who headed McClellan’s secret service.
The house was filled with men. Downstairs, in the parlors divided by a red gauze, Mrs. Greenhow coolly waited while the detectives searched beds, drawers, and wardrobes, tumbled out soiled clothes, and ransacked the papers in her library. All was quietly done in the hope that if no alarm were raised some accomplices might call. But little Rose ran out to climb a tree in the garden and shout to the passers-by, ‘Mother has been arrested!’ Detectives issued from the house and dragged the eightyear-old rebel from the tree in tears. In spite of her warning, a number of Confederate sympathizers presented themselves, and were promptly taken into custody.
On that August day another clever Southern woman, Mrs. Philip Phillips, was also imprisoned in her own house. During the night the mayor of Washington, James G. Berret, was arrested by the provost guard. No one suspected Berret of being a spy. However, as an ex officio member of the Metropolitan Police Board, he had balked at repeating the oath of allegiance. His past record and his associations smacked of sympathy with secession, and Berret was whisked off on the early morning train to Fort Lafayette in New York harbor.
A War Department clerk sorted the torn scraps of letters which the Pinkerton detectives had found in Mrs. Greenhow’s stove. Some contained military information evidently intended for the enemy. There was also a letter from Donellan, the messenger who had carried the news of McDowell’s advance. Mrs. Greenhow had succeeded in destroying the key to Colonel Jordan ‘s cipher, but the amateurish cryptograms were soon translated by experts. Several of her recent dispatches, moreover, had fallen into the hands of Secretary Seward. The government was amassing ample evidence to support its contention that she was a ‘dangerous, skillful spy.’
Mrs. Greenhow had a gift for interesting men and winning their confidence. When, as Rose O’Neal, she had first come to Washington from her home in Maryland, she had been a girl so fresh and lovely that she had been called ‘the Wild Rose.’ But now she was over forty, and her smoothly parted hair was threaded with gray. Her photograph, taken by Brady in the yard of the Old Capitol, shows a handsome, resolute, time-worn face.
But Rose Greenhow triumphantly maintained a reputation for allure. The National Republican romanticized her as ‘the beautiful rebel of Sixteenth Street’ and ‘the fascinating female rebel.’ In the cold official pages of the war records is written Pinkerton’s tribute to ’her almost irresistible seductive powers.’ She had not used them in vain, he reported to General Andrew Porter, on the officers of the army; she had unscrupulously exerted them on ‘ persons holding places of honor and profit under the government,’ in order to obtain intelligence for the enemy.
Five years after the war ended, Hamilton Fish, then Secretary of State, heard a curious story from a fellow New Yorker, the newspaper proprietor and diplomat, James Watson Webb. It was the account of a confidence made to Webb by General Thomas Jordan, of the late Confederate army. Jordan told Webb that, at the outbreak of the war, he had found that an intimacy existed between Senator Wilson and ‘one Mrs. Greenhow.’ He, Jordan, had established ‘the same kind of intimacy’ with her, and then induced her to obtain official information from Wilson and forward it in cipher to the Confederates. It was from the Massachusetts Senator, as Webb repeated the story to Fish, that Mrs. Greenhow obtained the news of McDowell’s advance.
That Jordan gave Mrs. Greenhow a cipher, that she used it to communicate with the Confederates, and that she advised Beauregard of McDowell’s movement are matters of record. Mrs. Greenhow was bent on involving Henry Wilson in her disloyal activities. In her book, My Imprisonment, published in London in 1863, she definitely stated that he was implicated in certain of her intercepted dispatches. Several Republican officials, she said, were summoned to give an account of themselves before the Cabinet, Scott, and McClellan. Wilson’s was the only name she mentioned.
Moreover, in destroying much of her correspondence, Mrs. Greenhow carefully preserved a packet of love letters, which fell into Federal hands. They were signed with the initial H.’ One of them, dated January 30, 1861, is written on stationery stamped with the seal of the United States and the heading ‘Thirty-sixth Congress.’ Two letters refer to the consideration of the Pacific Railroad bill, in which Wilson took an active interest. They are hastily written notes, filled with ardor and frustration — the frustration of a man too busy to indulge his passion, and also fearful of exposure of a secret relationship.
Manuscript experts have pronounced that these letters are not in Wilson’s handwriting. The internal evidence, combined with Mrs. Greenhow’s published statement, awakens the suspicion that if he did not write them she intended them to be taken as his.
Henry Wilson, the hero of an American success story, started life as a farm laborer and learned the trade of shoemaking. He achieved his political eminence through hard work and driving ambition. With his set, scowling farmer’s face, his comfortable stomach, his ample yards of black broadcloth and his HumptyDumpty collar, he was not a figure of romance. Few of Mrs. Greenhow’s friends saw her after her arrest, but Wilson visited her room in the Old Capitol. It does not seem the act of a guilty or fearful man. If he was named as an informant in her treasonable dispatches, he must have been able to make a convincing explanation. The authorities had the letters signed ‘H.’ Wilson was a married man whose reputation would have been blasted by an intrigue, even if the lady had not been a spy for the enemy. No cloud fell on Wilson’s political fortunes. Until the end of the war he remained the zealous chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Military Affairs. In 1872 he was elected Vice President of the United States.
Mrs. Greenhow’s arrest brought her wide notoriety. Even a less theatrical woman might have fancied herself a heroine. Her house, nicknamed Fort Greenhow, was one of the sights of the capital, and tourists came to stare at it, in hopes of catching a glimpse of the famous female spy. For a short while Mrs. Greenhow divided the honors with Mrs. Philip Phillips, who was moved from her own house to Fort Greenhow with her two eldest daughters and her sister, Miss Levy. This family was presently sent beyond the Union lines and went to New Orleans. The other women who came and went in Mrs. Greenhow’s cheerless house were, according to its deposed mistress, ‘generally of the lowest class.’
Mrs. Greenhow remained aloof, and somehow contrived to keep up a steady communication with her friends on the outside. In her book she vaguely alluded to a ‘vocabulary of colors,’ introduced into the wools of her tapestry work. She also had an intermediary, known as ‘my little bird,’ and under the noses of the guard she actually succeeded in sending dispatches to the Confederacy. The Federal authorities had evidence of the weakness of Fort Greenhow; for a copy of a letter which Mrs. Greenhow wrote to Secretary Seward, bitterly detailing the outrages of her imprisonment, was printed in a Richmond newspaper. No immediate repercussions followed, and late in December the lady wrote Colonel Jordan that she expected to be sent South. This communication also was successfully sent and delivered. At this date Mrs. Greenhow began to note a change in the attitude of her jailers. The press printed a story that a missive containing plans for her escape had been discovered in a cake sent to her at Christmas. In mid-winter, after she had addressed a second angry letter to Seward, her library was searched, the window was boarded up, and all paper was removed from her desk. It was presently announced that the female prison would be closed. Mrs. Greenhow was transferred to the Old Capitol.
The Old Capitol had become a makeshift jail; no effort had been wasted on the task of strengthening its decayed walls, broken partitions, or creaking doors and stairways. Wooden slats were nailed across the windows, and high board fences filled the spaces between the buildings which casually bounded the inner quadrangle of the yard. The obstacles to the prisoners’ escape lay not in the rambling structures but in the military guard which paced the streets outside, and clanked and shouted in the corridors. But, if the Old Capitol wanted the character of a stronghold, in gloom and filth and discomfort it belonged to an ancient tradition. Lice and bedbugs abounded in the rooms, and spiderwebs festooned the soiled whitewash of the walls. Unsavory pork and beef, half-boiled beans and musty rice, made up the bill of fare. The atmosphere of the whole prison was soured by the effluvia of the open, uncleaned sinks, situated behind the cookhouse in the yard.
The Old Capitol had originally been intended only for prisoners of war; but, though Confederate soldiers continued to form the largest single group, the buildings soon housed a motley assortment of inmates. The political prisoners ranged from spies to persons vaguely suspected of disloyal sentiments. Rebel mail-carriers, smugglers, and blockaderunners were confined in the Old Capitol. There were also Federal military offenders. In the first months, a section of the Old Capitol was reserved for the Negro contrabands — former slaves of rebel masters. These destitute persons were kept in the jail as an act of charity. If they could find jobs, they were free to leave. Otherwise the government employed the able-bodied men at burying dead horses and other heavy labor. Some worked as servants in the institution, and for a consideration prepared the food for the private messes of the prisoners.
In spite of its dreariness, the jail was a sociable place. Save for the cells of the guardhouse, to which recalcitrant inmates were sent for punishment, there was little solitary confinement. Separation of the prisoners was impossible in the crowded building, in which there were few small single rooms. When their work was done, the Negroes skylarked with their women in the yard. The main occupation of the other inmates was card-playing. Week after week, except on Sundays, the interminable games went on from early morning until roll call at nine in the evening. Bluff poker, with one-cent pieces for chips, was the favorite diversion. Muggins — or Old Capitol, as this game of dominoes was locally called — was also popular. Smoking, singing, and horseplay enlivened the five large second-story rooms, formed from the chambers which had been used by Con-
gress. One was occupied by Federal officers, while three were usually filled with Virginia farmers. The central room, Number 16, was allotted to political prisoners. Through the broken and dirty panes of the great arched window which had formerly lighted the proceedings of the Senate, citizens of the Union looked out on the skeleton of the Capitol dome, and cursed the Black Republicans beneath it.
Mrs. Greenhow declined to associate with her fellow prisoners, Mrs. Baxley and Mrs. Augusta Morris, and declared that their company was ‘ but a shade less obnoxious’ than that of the Negroes.
These three recalcitrant ladies were eventually ordered to be conveyed beyond the Union lines into Virginia, if they consented to go; and they were there to be set free, on giving a parole not to return North during the war. Mrs. Greenhow was at first very angry over the decision. Her temper had been growing sharper, and her disdainful airs gave place to rages, as her hope of further usefulness to the Confederacy faded. She had become a side show for Yankee tourists, of whom she professed to be in terror, declaring that they made her think of the fishwomen of Paris during the French Revolution. She longed to revenge herself on the ‘Black Republican dogs.’ ‘I fear now that my capacity of hate will overshadow every other feeling,’ she wrote her niece, Adele Douglas.
Mrs. Greenhow had been permitted some visitors, among them the Honorable Alfred Ely of New York, in whom a friendly feeling for prisoners had been inspired by his own detention in Richmond. But now all her friends were barred. In solitude, she began to lose heart. The exploits of Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley gave her a burst of hope; but Jackson never came to set the prisoners free. Abruptly, a few days later, Wood notified Mrs. Greenhow that she was to leave for Virginia at once. There was barely time to pack. The captain of the guard conducted her through the prison to bid her fellow captives good-bye. Outside, the guard was drawn up under arms.
The door of the Old Capitol opened, and the ladies stepped into the street. At the Washington depot, soldiers held off a throng of Southern sympathizers, but at Baltimore things were better arranged. Wood, who accompanied the party, permitted the ladies to receive their friends at the Gilmore House, where they spent the night.
The Baltimore secessionists gave the ladies an ovation, waving handkerchiefs and calling ‘God bless you!’ as they embarked on the Old Point boat. The tedium of the journey was relieved by the gentlemanly captain of the boat, who gave the ladies a luncheon, with iced champagne. Under the guns of Fort Monroe, Mrs. Greenhow raised her glass to the health of President Davis and the success of the Confederate cause. She said that the toast was drunk by all present. The chief of escort discreetly kept out of the way.
On the sacred soil at last, Mrs. Greenhow flounced off, with little Rose in her wake, and a large Confederate battle flag concealed beneath her shawl. She was free from Yankee tyranny, safe in the Confederacy she had ardently served. It must have been exasperating that, in the suspicious fashion of wartime, half the people in Richmond persisted in taking her for a Federal agent. Men who knew the secrets of the Confederate high command at Manassas were quick to come to her defense. She proudly recorded Jefferson Davis’s greeting, when he visited her on the evening after her arrival. ‘But for you,’ he said, ‘there would have been no Battle of Bull Run.’
Soon after assuming office, Secretary of War Stanton took over the military telegraph, which had been centred at the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac. While McClellan was briefly absent from Washington, the outfit and the records were unceremoniously removed to the War Department, and the operators were installed in the library on the second floor. McClellan’s aide in charge of the telegraph, Captain Thomas T. Eckert, was retained at the head of the office, and became one of Stanton’s most trusted assistants.
Government censorship of the telegraph, recently controlled by the State Department, was also shifted to the War Department. The surveillance of dispatches, instituted a few days after the outbreak of war, had been irritating, but ineffective. The wires to the North, in a hum of rumors, alarms, and inaccuracies, had carried information advantageous to the enemy. The House Judiciary Committee, directed to make an investigation of the telegraph censorship, reported that ‘the censor has manifested want of both care and judgment in the exercise of his duties.’ While important news slipped through, there was often complete suppression of dispatches made up of paragraphs clipped from Washington newspapers, already in circulation. To the indignation of the correspondents, their stories were often slashed into a jumble of nonsense. In a small room, high up a flight of badly lighted stairs at the National Hotel, the censor sat importantly surrounded by soft lead pencils, heavy pens, black ink, scissors, and mucilage pots. Frequently the correspondents were obliged to hunt up this potentate at whiskey shops or at the Canterbury music hall in order to get his signature of approval on telegrams for the afternoon newspapers.
Stanton appointed the president of the American Telegraph Company, Colonel E. S. Sanford, military supervisor of telegrams, and provided penalties of arrest and imprisonment for careless administration of the censorship.
Military information was issued at Stanton’s pleasure to government officials and major generals, as well as to the public. Only the President had access to the dispatches. There was no telegraph at the Executive Mansion, and Lincoln formed the habit of going to the War Department for the news. Day and night he crossed the wooded lawn, passed through the turnstile, and followed the path to the side door of the small brick building on Seventeenth Street. All dispatches, including the President’s own, were copied in carbon on yellow tissue paper. One set was handed direct to Stanton. Another set of the latest telegrams was laid in the drawer of the cipher desk in a room directly adjoining Stanton’s, where the messages were decoded. Here Lincoln examined the telegrams, sometimes lingering with the young cipher operators, telling stories or looking over their shoulders while they worked. There were other nights when he lay silent on the couch in Stanton’s office. Out of shared responsibilities and anguish of spirit, an intimacy developed from an acquaintance that had inauspiciously begun between the two lawyers. The President admired Stanton, and depended on him. The War Secretary, in his own perfidious and intractable way, yielded loyalty and respect to Lincoln.
After the Army of the Potomac made its promenade to Manassas, the President issued a war order which won the approval of Stanton and his new allies, the Republican radicals. Lincoln’s patience had been exhausted by McClellan’s failure to anticipate the withdrawal of the Confederates, and the ease with which the Federals were able to march forward on an expedition without profit. He removed McClellan from the chief command of the armies. No successor was named. The commanders of the military departments were ordered to report to Stanton, who at once seized the papers in the War Office rooms which had been McClellan’s headquarters in his capacity of general-in-chief.
The war order was printed in the National Intelligencer on the morning after it was issued. At Fairfax, McClellan learned the news, not through official channels, but from one of his aides, who read the published item and telegraphed him. Although he was indignant at ‘the rascals’ for ‘persecuting’ him behind his back, he wrote the President a letter which was a model of patriotic self-abnegation. His attitude was such as a highminded man might assume in a personal feud. To remove himself and his army from ‘that sink of iniquity,’ Washington, to carry his campaign to the inaccurately mapped reaches of the peninsula between the York and the James Rivers, was the enterprise on which he was stubbornly set; and he gave no sensible consideration to the fact that his elaborate strategy had been made subject to a supervision which was not only inexperienced but hostile.
The Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War had resolved on a visit to Manassas. The Virginia countryside was disfigured by shattered trees, blackened ruins, and rudely marked graves. The litter of the retreating Confederates strewed the roads. Fences had been demolished, and the wheat fields were trampled plains of earth, covered with rebel soldiers’ huts.
The gentlemen of the Joint Committee were not the only ones who were curious to visit the battlefield, now that it. was restored to Federal occupation. Washington livery-stable keepers and hackmen were reaping a harvest from the trippers. A Saturday excursion train was inaugurated, while two stages made the run on three days of the week, in charge of drivers who had been taken prisoner by the rebels and were therefore qualified to act as guides. The collection of souvenirs was a craze. A commercial motive animated some of the tourists, for war curiosities found a ready market. At Fairfax, where the courthouse stood neglected, with open doors and ancient papers scattered over the floor, the excursionists carried off documents some of which dated from the reign of George III. On the field of battle, trophies were hard to find, for everything had been picked over by the Union soldiers. Cartridge boxes and haversacks, Bibles, horseshoes, rifle bullets, and scraps of iron were eagerly salvaged. Now and then industrious searchers were rewarded by a scabbard, a crooked sabre, or a bent gun-barrel; and, stowing the treasure under the carriage seat, they drove back to Washington in triumph. Often their elation was short-lived. Government property was liable to seizure, and daily at the depot the provost guard removed from citizens many pieces of swords, muskets, and side arms.
Night and day, at Alexandria and at the Washington wharves, vast quantities of stores, horses, mules and wagons, heavy guns, bales of hay, pontoon bridges, and telegraphic materials were loaded on the ships. The banks of the river were lined with spectators, staring at the embarkation of an army. Regiment after regiment, the soldiers marched on board the transports; and, as the huge paddlewheels revolved and the steamers turned toward the south, the faces on the river bank were troubled. The great army had been like a burdensome shield before the breast of Washington. When it had sallied to Manassas, it had still been interposed between the city and the enemy. Now it was disappearing down the Potomac, and, for all its new earthworks, the capital felt bereft of protection.
McClellan was already in the field when he received the news that he was to be deprived of a full army corps, on which he was counting for a flank movement on Yorktown. To the capital’s politicians, the protection of Washington was of paramount importance, overshadowing all questions of military strategy; and recent events in the Valley had served to quicken their anxiety. McClellan had intended to interpose Banks’s corps between Washington and the enemy. The main body of this force was to be stationed at Manassas, with infantry guards and cavalry detachments posted in the surrounding country. The railway was to be repaired from Alexandria to Manassas, and thence to the Shenandoah Valley, thus giving the Federal the advantageous communications which had proved so useful to the Confederates at Bull Run. It was a good plan, but before McClellan sailed it was upset by General Thomas J. Jackson, already known by the sobriquet of Stonewall, whose rebel command was in the Valley. Jackson made a daring attack on the Federal troops at Kernstown, near Winchester. It was repulsed, but the noise of battle beyond the Blue Ridge frightened Washington.
The President had repeatedly stipulated that a sufficient force should be left behind to ensure the safety of Washington. However, in his overmastering desire to perfect an army for the field McClellan neglected the claims of the city. In its growing apprehensions he had no interest at all. They were the apprehensions of unmilitary persons, and, as an expert, he was sure that his campaign against Richmond constituted the best defense of the capital. Mr. Lincoln’s secretaries observed that McClellan never feared an attack on Washington, unless he happened to be there himself. He had ringed it with fortifications, but he had never provided enough artillerymen to handle the ordnance; and, in preparing to advance, he had withdrawn regiment after regiment from the disciplined troops stationed there.
The capital now had only a bare nineteen thousand soldiers, many of them entirely untrained. Stanton’s worst suspicions were confirmed. Ben Wade’s committee, starved since the Quaker guns of Manassas for a definite grievance, raised an outcry. McDowell’s corps of thirty-five thousand men had not yet sailed, and an order detaching it from the Army of the Potomac and retaining it for the defense of Washington was issued by Stanton under the direction of the President.
A wiser and less arrogant man than McClellan might have anticipated this result. He had not done so. His plans were disarranged, and he indignantly protested that it would now be necessary to lay siege to Yorktown. The War Office saw only that McClellan still had an army of over one hundred thousand men. Smaller armies, with vastly inferior equipment, had been winning important victories, and this fact Stanton proceeded to emphasize in an order giving thanks for the successes of the Union arms in the West.
There was a latent irony in the gratitude expressed for the repulse at Pittsburgh Landing, better known to the Union as Bloody Shiloh. The slaughter of two days of fighting had appalled a nation unprepared for long casualty lists. On the first day the Federals had been driven back; it was said that Grant had been taken by surprise, and that only the arrival of reënforcements under Buell had saved him from a disastrous defeat. Sherman emerged with brightened fame from the engagement; but Grant was no longer hailed as the hero of Fort Donelson. The news of Shiloh enraged the country, and Grant was denounced as incompetent in the press and in Congress. For a second time the President jeopardized his popularity by retaining a general whose removal was vehemently demanded. There had been reports from Halleck that Grant was drinking, that he was negligent and disobedient. Sitting before the fire in his office, with his feet on the marble mantel, Lincoln listened to the Pennsylvania Republican, McClure, pleading with him that, in justice to himself, he must immediately relieve Grant from command. ‘I can’t spare this man; he fights,’ Lincoln told McClure at last.
For Lincoln, the success of McClellan’s campaign was a matter of increasingly desperate importance. The radicals were clamoring for more drastic war measures, for an immediate emancipation of the slaves. With his party split and his prestige endangered, Lincoln sorely needed the justification of a great victory for the Army of the Potomac. The country, too, showed wild impatience — the impatience which hope and confidence engender. Stanton, presumably from motives of economy, had ordered recruiting discontinued; and this fact, together with the victories in the West and the fame of McClellan’s army, produced a feeling of optimism, and a belief that the war would be ended by midsummer.
The country rejoiced to learn that the Army of the Potomac was moving at last. After a bloody encounter at Williamsburg, it continued to advance. Steamers from Fort Monroe were arriving at the Sixth Street wharf. Some brought men released from Richmond prisons on parole — happy men who were bound for home. Cheering the Stars and Stripes and singing patriotic songs, they marched to the Soldiers’ Retreat, the eating house erected at the depot. Other steamers carried quieter men from the army hospital at Yorktown.
At Shillington’s Book Store, Confederate banknotes taken at Bull Run were still on sale, and one of the Quaker guns from Centreville was exhibited under Hammack’s Restaurant at the Avenue and Fifteenth Street. The capital did not lack new trophies, those tangible souvenirs which lend reality to great events and put them within the grasp of common men. In Mr. Hood’s jewelry store on the Avenue was displayed a part of a steel vest which a Confederate captain had worn at Williamsburg. It was ironically described as bullet-proof — the hole made by the fatal ball could be plainly seen. A sailor, John E. McKay, sold some broken scraps of wood and iron, and made such a good thing of it that he fell to treating his shipmates and ended up in the guardhouse. There was magic in the rubbish, for it was all that remained of the dreaded Merrimac. The rebels had abandoned Norfolk, and the ironclad, left without a harbor, had been blown up by her own men.
Jackson, the War Office learned, had received large reënforcements. His movements were all the more alarming because they were mysterious. There were contradictory stories of his whereabouts and intentions. With the handles of their frying pans stuck in their gun barrels, his ragged troops traveled as fast and light as foxes.
Soon there was no mystery about Stonewall Jackson’s whereabouts. He was within easy reach of the capital. Every man that could be spared from Washington and Baltimore was rushed to Harper’s Ferry; and Stanton — as nervous, General Wadsworth said, as an old woman — telegraphed appeals for help to the Northern States. The newsboys’ treble cry, ‘Washington in danger!’ rang through the cities of the Union. The whole Confederate army was reported to be advancing on the Potomac. Amid general apprehension that Senators and Representatives were about to be seized as prisoners of war, militia and home-guard regiments hurried down to the rescue.
They had come on a fruitless errand. Jackson did not attempt to cross the Potomac. The alarm fell flat, as the capital learned that the rebels were swiftly retreating up the Valley. Without ever confronting McDowell’s army — that army which might have turned the tide at Richmond — Jackson had effectively dispersed it. Slipping between the Federal armies at Strasburg, Jackson executed a successful retreat, winning two more victories at Cross Keys and Port Republic before he joined the army before Richmond.
The noise of battle came at last from the neighborhood of Richmond. Through the roar of the cannonade sounded the obscure names of little, sleepy, feverridden places. Mechanicsville, Gaines’s Mill, Savage’s Station, and White Oak Swamp stood blood-spattered in the headlines; and men tried to divine from the ambiguous and censored stories what new approach to Richmond had dictated this series of engagements. Three days of silence followed. When the news of Malvern Hill broke the suspense, and it was learned that the base of the Army of the Potomac had been changed from the Pamunkey to Harrison’s Landing on the James, there could no longer be any doubt that McClellan’s movement had been a retreat. In vain the press protested that the battles of the Seven Days had been Union victories, and that a removal to the line of the James had been accomplished by the most masterly strategy. Marking the places on their big war maps, the people of the Union could plainly see that Harrison’s Landing was nearly twenty-five miles from Richmond; and at last, after the strong hope that had survived the delays and the terrible waste of men, despondency spread through the country like a sickness.
In the second summer of the war, the Union again faced disaster. Recruiting, discontinued by Mr. Stanton in April, had been resumed in June; but the failure on the Virginia Peninsula, startling the government out of its satisfaction with an army of half a million men, made a new call for troops imperative. During the uncertainty of the Seven Days, the necessity was indirectly presented to the country. Mr. Seward secretly arranged with the governors of the Northern States to request the President to make the call, and in compliance with this inspired demand Mr. Lincoln asked for three hundred thousand men. The country received the proclamation staunchly, if without enthusiasm. To attract recruits, cash bounties were offered, States and localities chipping in to increase the premiums.
After Gaines’s Mill, McClellan had sent Stanton an agitated dispatch, charging his defeat to the government because it had not sustained him. ‘If I save this army now,’he wrote in conclusion, ‘I tell you plainly that I owe no thanks to you or to any other persons in Washington. You have done your best to sacrifice this army.’ McClellan knew that these were unforgivable words — he lashed out hysterically, too far gone to care for the consequences. It happened, however, that Stanton did not read the accusation. The dispatch fell under the horrified eye of Colonel E. S. Sanford, who took it upon himself to delete the sentences, thus turning the censorship on Stanton.
When the troubled President went down with Stanton to Harrison’s Landing, there was little to reassure him in McClellan’s state of mind. In his desperate situation, the general had found time to concern himself with politics. He had written a long letter advising Mr. Lincoln on his duties — especially, the avoidance of any pronouncement against slavery — and, with incomparable brass, he handed this to the President, who read it and remarked that he was obliged to him.
The Army of the Potomac had fought magnificently. In the fires of Fair Oaks and Gaines’s Mill, McClellan had forged his weapon. Never inspirited by great success, as the Federal armies in the West had been, the Eastern soldiers had remained resolute in defeat; and at the end of the searing week of their retreat they had driven back the enemy from the slopes of Malvern Hill. They were not the sturdy, spandy boys who had sailed from Washington at the end of March. Before the toll of the Seven Days, the brigades had been decimated, not only by fighting, but by disease. On the other hand, McClellan had often been reenforced during his campaign, and was still receiving fresh troops. He had formed two new army corps, the fifth and Sixth, and had won consent to appointing to their command his friends, Fitz-John Porter and Franklin. After all his losses, McClellan still had over eighty-six thousand men present for duty. He was crying for one hundred thousand more.
Outstanding among the generals in Washington was a youngish Westerner, with a vain, slender face, an upturned nose, and a stiff rectangle of beard. This was Major-General John Pope, renowned for his victories on the Mississippi. Late in June he had been summoned to take command of the newly created Army of Virginia, formed by a consolidation of the armies of Fremont, Banks, and McDowell.
Pope, the loquacious, gave satisfaction to the Republican radicals. He issued an address to his command, eulogizing the soldiers of the West, ‘where we have always seen the backs of our enemies.’ Success and glory, he fatuously declared, were in the advance, while disaster and shame lurked in the rear. With the egoist’s want of imagination about other people’s feelings, Pope expected that his address would create ‘a cheerful spirit’ in his men. Its effect was to make him an object of dislike and ridicule, not only to the Army of Virginia, but to all the soldiers of the East. The Army of the Potomac despised him for a sneering outsider, and gibed at the boast, attributed to Pope, that his headquarters were in the saddle.
Late in June the President had surprised the country by making a flying trip to West Point, where General Scott was living in retirement. The object of this visit was kept secret, Lincoln, with a humorous reference to Stanton’s ‘tight rein,’merely stating that it had nothing to do with ‘making or unmaking any general in the country.’ The curiosity of the country was scarcely satisfied. Whatever had passed between the President and General Scott, it became clear in July that Mr. Lincoln was dissatisfied with the civilian direction of the war. In Virginia the problem was desperate. The Union had two armies, McClellan’s and Pope’s, but they could not form a junction, for the entire force of the enemy lay between them. A solution had to be found; brains were needed, expert military judgment. Out of the West, where heroes were made, the President called still another general — Henry W. Halleck, commander of the Department of the Mississippi. Grant was appointed to replace him in the West, and Halleck was named general-in-chief of the armies of the Union.
Amid tocsins and tumult, Washington clung to its life as a community. Even during Jackson’s raid many people had gone quietly about their business. The panic, said the Star, was almost entirely confined to the abolitionists. Major French, whom the President had appointed Commissioner of Public Buildings, passed the time pleasantly, playing euchre of an evening, or watching the fountain in his garden. It was no surprise to him that Jackson got away scot-free from the Federal forces in the Valley. Like other Washingtonians, French had grown skeptical of good report and evil. He had hardly believed, he wrote, that the Merrimac was blown up, until he received ‘a certified splinter from her’ — and then he had doubted whether it hadn’t come from his own woodbox.
While the Army of the Potomac was engaged on the Peninsula, Washington had felt the war in other ways than the alarm of Jackson’s raid. The price of shad was an irritating reminder — fifty and seventy-five cents a pair, because the rebel batteries had frightened off the fishermen and damaged their seines. Speculation had driven gold and silver from circulation, and people went shopping with queer light money that did not jingle in their pockets — Secretary Chase’s greenbacks and almost anybody’s shinplasters. Congress, legislating against the nuisance of the shinplasters, created a worse medium of exchange, the gummy, frail postage stamp, for which Chase promptly substituted a postage currency — facsimiles of stamps, printed on small notes of thick paper, without mucilage. Pending the issue of this scrip, Washington disdained the postage stamps and made the best of the shinplasters.
In comparison with the preceding summer, the city was free of soldiers, but they were still far too numerous for quiet and serenity. Children went straying after bands and regiments, and there were many accidents to little boys, whom careless officers asked to hold their horses. The wounded from the Peninsula were painfully borne to the wharves, and captured bands from Jackson’s army, in clothing of every shade of butternut dye, coffee-brown, yellow, and dust-color, marched to the Old Capitol.
After Congress adjourned, the city all but subsided into its summer languor. Trade was dull, and sutlers and dealers were preparing to follow in the wake of the Army of Virginia. Ladies from the regions of Virginia newly occupied by the Union forces came up to see their friends and do a little shopping. Room rates had been cut in half. The forts, said the New York Herald, had a sleepy look, as they sunned themselves on the hilltops. It would need Stonewall Jackson with half a hundred thousand men, the Herald correspondent thought, to wake up Washington.
But Washington was wide awake by mid-August. Newspaper correspondents at Fort Monroe had telegraphed that transports loaded with troops were moving down the James. The defeat of Banks at Slaughter Mountain suddenly seemed ominous. With the withdrawal of the Army of the Potomac from the Peninsula, Lee, who had replaced Joe Johnston in command of the Confederate army, was free to march north in force. The brash confidence had gone with the bright militia uniforms. There were no more military spectacles and concerts. Regimental bands had been abolished, leaving only the fife and drum corps, and the bands of the brigades. Convalescents had replaced army cooks, stewards, and messengers. The provost marshal announced that convalescents found at saloons or houses of ill fame would be considered fit for duty. The Secretary of War issued an order revoking all furloughs. The Union needed men. There was a grim urgency in the dispatch of the untrained regiments to Virginia.
The capital was praying for the arrival of the Army of the Potomac. Its fears were not exaggerated. Pope’s small and recently organized army had been engaged in constant skirmishes with Jackson. The divisions of the Army of the Potomac and of Burnside’s command began to land at Alexandria and Aquia Creek. Without wagons or artillery or sufficient ammunition, they were ordered by Halleek to join Pope. The corps commanders, Fitz-John Porter and Heintzelman, reported to Pope, as well as division commanders who had distinguished themselves on the Peninsula — Hooker, Kearny, Meade, and John F. Reynolds, the bravo and skillful general who led the Pennsylvania Reserves. In leadership and fighting material, these reënforcements were of first-rate quality; but neither officers nor men had confidence in the bragging Westerner to whose army they abruptly found themselves attached. Pope had a conglomeration of soldiers. Lee’s advancing army was a force united by confidence and loyalty, and elated by victory.
Pope was no military genius. He failed to outguess Jackson. His ears were not sharp enough to hear the tread of Longstreet’s army. But, for all his gasconade, he was courageous and energetic, and he did his best to carry out Halleck’s orders. As late as August 25, he believed that Halleck intended to command the army in person. In the fierce fighting that followed, Lee was in the field. Halleek remained at his desk in the War Department, smoking cigars and rubbing his elbows. ‘Old Brains’ won no honors as a master of military science. He gave indefinite orders and neglected to answer pressing dispatches. In vain, Pope appealed to him for information about his plans, about the reënforcements. ‘Just think of the immense amount of telegraphing I have to do,’ he wired Pope on August 26, ‘and then say whether I can be expected to give you any details as to movements of others, even when I know them.’ Through the last days of August, Halleck devoted more than three quarters of his time to the raising of new troops and to matters in the West.
In the reception of the incoming regiments, Washington showed that it had learned something of the business of running a war. At the large buildings near the depot, the Soldiers’ Rest and the Soldiers’ Retreat, the men were well fed and lodged, efficiently policed and forwarded. As the troop trains neared the capital, the commissary department was notified and gangs set to work cutting meat, cooking, and laying the tables. Promptly on their arrival, the men sat down to a hot meal. If their orders were to leave at once for the field, a day’s ration for each was cut and cooked while they ate. Rutherford B. Hayes, Lieutenant-Colonel of the Twenty-third Ohio, found that all arrangements connected with army matters in Washington were perfect. His regiment, part of a division ordered from western Virginia to defend the capital, had spent months campaigning in the wilds, and Washington was a revelation to Colonel Hayes. In his regiment there was a short, serious boy called William McKinley, a commissary sergeant for whom he was to secure promotion.
On August 26, the day that Hayes was looking about Washington with admiration, and Halleck was peevishly disclaiming responsibility, silence fell on the telegraph wires from Pope’s headquarters. Next day, the road from Manassas to Alexandria was dark with refugees. Wagonloads of women and children rolled into the small brick town. Sweating Negroes trudged through the dust. All brought stories of a raid of rebel cavalry who had captured the immense army stores at Manassas Junction. Behind them rose the smoke of burning storehouses and freight cars. Bridges were down, and the railroad was torn up.
McClellan arrived that evening at Alexandria, and reported for orders next morning. Halleck thankfully shifted to his shoulders the burden of troublesome detail. McClellan was to direct reënforcements to march to Pope’s army, and to see that the fortifications on the south side of the Potomac were equipped and fully garrisoned. McClellan was no longer the irrational man he had been at the end of the Seven Days. In a trying and anomalous position, he was calm and self-controlled. He had strenuously opposed the order to withdraw his army from the Peninsula, had begged to be allowed to move on Richmond from Harrison’s Landing. Halleck had repeatedly told him that he would have the command of the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Virginia, and the rumor of this appointment still ran persistently in Washington; but McClellan could get no definite information about his status. The duties assigned him were those of a stall officer. Ironically, one of them was to send the troops of his own army to the command of another general — a general whom McClellan distrusted, whose communications were severed, whose situation was unknown.
Late in the afternoon of the twentyninth, the War Department received a dispatch from Pope — the first in four days. The next afternoon another telegram, sent early in the morning, announced that the Federal forces still held the field. All during the sultry Saturday of August 30, the air was shaken by the thunder of artillery. The Star said that when the wind freshened from the southwest it carried an acrid smell of gunpowder. At Alexandria, McClellan heard the noise of battle. All his troops were gone. McClellan had sent off even his cavalry escort and camp guard. In the field beside the river the commander of the Army of the Potomac was left with his aides and less than a hundred men.
McClellan had been publicly humiliated, but his enemies were not satisfied. They charged him with imbecility, cowardice, and treason because he had been slow in moving from the Peninsula and had withheld support from Pope. Chase carried around a protest, addressed to the President, which he and Stanton had prepared for the signature of the other Cabinet members. It enumerated McClellan’s offenses, and demanded his immediate dismissal from the army; but Chase’s real opinion was that the general ought to be shot.
In the afternoon agitated crowds gathered around a bulletin on the Treasury, which announced a great victory. It stated that ten thousand Federal dead and wounded were lying on the old battlefield of Bull Run, and that surgeons and male nurses should gather at five o’clock to go to their assistance. Similar notices were posted by Stanton’s order in the hotels, and appeared in the afternoon newspapers, while the telegraph flashed the War Department’s appeal to the cities of the North. The medical department of the Army of the Potomac had been disrupted by the removal from the Peninsula, and in the confused movement to Pope’s assistance ambulances and almost all medical and surgical supplies had been left, behind. At a late hour it had been realized that there was no adequate preparation for attending or transporting an immense number of wounded.
A throng gathered at five o’clock at the railroad depot on Maryland Avenue. Tracks and bridges had been hastily repaired, and trains were running as far as Fairfax — freight cars, without seats. Packed to the doors, with some people riding on top, they could accommodate less than a thousand. A few women forced their way among the male nurses, but in the main it was a hard crowd. The nurses had been asked to bring stimulants for the wounded. By the 1 ime they reached Alexandria, half of them were drunk.
Meantime, from the Surgeon-General’s office at F and Fifteenth Streets to Willard’s, the streets were packed with volunteer attendants, laden with food and medicines, waiting to be conveyed in the ambulances which were to leave from the Treasury. Only a quarter of them could find room in the first train that belatedly rolled up. The rest impatiently waited. More ambulances appeared. The crowd surged forward, and fought for places, and in the crush the doctors and nurses were accompanied by many persons for whom transportation to the front was not intended. In the warm light of a fine sunset, curious citizens, women and children, Congressmen who wanted to visit the battlefield, sight-seeing officers, and convalescents from the hospitals went clattering over the Long Bridge; and a number of wellknown traitors seized this excellent opportunity to pass freely through the lines.
When all the ambulances were gone, some of those left behind appropriated carriages and horses, while a few hardy individuals started off on foot. Still there were clamors for conveyances. The Surgeon-General produced another group of ‘excited nurses.’ At the same time the quartermaster’s department began to call for wagons. It is not clear what had happened to all the wagons in Washington. Neither Franklin nor Sumner had been able to get any. Some had gone to carry supplies and ammunition to Pope, during the interruption of the railroad service. McClellan said that most of them were being used for the current supplies of the Washington garrisons. The provost marshal was called on to supply transportation, and on this mission a regiment of cavalry and two regiments of infantry scattered through Washington and Georgetown. Not only had the hackmen been deprived of their fares, but they were being impressed for a long night’s drive, on uncertain roads, with every probability of accidents. Soldiers carried out the army supplies and piled them on the seats, and the caravans moved off with a detachment of cavalry to keep them in order. Some of the drivers contrived to upset on the way, and ‘the back of the sabre was used to straighten them.’
With early morning came the shocking news that the report of victory at Bull Run had been false. The capital awakened to rumors of disaster. Some said that the army had fallen back on Centreville, others thal the Confederates were at Munson’s Hill, preparing to shell the city. A little after seven o’clock, an ambulance with a cavalry escort crossed the Long Bridge, and rattled up to Willard’s. It was instantly surrounded. The politician and diplomat, General Schenck, who commanded a division of Sigel’s corps, lay inside. He raised himself, and a peering gentleman exclaimed, ‘Why, General, is it you?’ ‘Yes,’ said Schenck, uncovering his rudely bandaged arm, ‘and they have shattered me, too.’ His words came indistinctly to the bystanders, who flew to repeat their version; and soon it was all over Washington that General Schenck had said that ‘our army was scattered to the winds.’ Hundreds of people hastened to vacate the city. At the Old Capitol the inmates joyfully listened to the stories of a few prisoners who had been captured on the preceding day, and the Fredericksburg hostages were ‘almost in ecstasies.’ The President called John Hay from his bedroom — ‘Well, John, we are whipped again, I am afraid.’
Unable to endure the suspense, McClellan had sent to the front one of his German aides — ‘a cool-headed old soldier’ named Hammerstein. And before daylight Hammerstein had returned with the news that the Federals is were beaten — ‘McDowell’s and Sigel’s corps broken,’ Heintzelman’s and Fitz-John Porter’s ‘badly cut up, but in perfect order.’ McClellan was a man of imagination. He must have been able to see it all: the defeated brigades, the abandoned guns, the shamed and weary stragglers; the dead and wounded on the lost field.
Inaction had become torture to McClellan, for Hammerstein had told him that his soldiers wanted him. On Sunday evening he saw an order, published by Stanton’s direction, stating that his command consisted of that portion of the Army of the Potomac which had not been sent to Pope. Save for the troops left at Fort Monroe, all had now been sent. McClellan’s anomalous position had at last been defined. He was in command of nothing.
Another telegram from Pope was laid on Halleck’s desk on Sunday afternoon. ‘I should like to know,’ it inquired, ‘whether you feel secure about Washington should this army be destroyed.’ Halleck had nothing to say. He had crumbled. His nerve was gone; and to the other disasters of Washington was added the disintegration of a bureaucrat. That night, ‘utterly tired out,’ he telegraphed to beg McClellan for help.
Next morning McClellan posted to the capital. He said that Halleck asked him to take charge of the Washington defenses and garrisons, actually under the command of Barnard. McClellan urged Halleck to go to the front, and finally succeeded in persuading him to send a staff officer to investigate. Meantime, he strongly recommended that the Army of Virginia should fall back on the Washington fortifications. It was the course which Pope himself advised, and Halleck sent the order. Pope’s dispatches no longer mentioned the good heart of his troops, but made sinister allusion to the want of it among the officers. Later, he reported that the enemy was between him and Washington. The fight would be desperate, and he hoped that Halleck would make all preparations for a vigorous defense of the entrenchments.
On that cloudy Monday morning, the early train brought an eager crowd to Washington. Bright, expectant, and dedicated, there descended from the cars the country practitioners, professors, undergraduates, and nurses whose hearts had been touched by the War Department’s call for volunteers to succor the wounded. No one had given another thought to them — no one, in the growing consternation, was prepared to think of them now. The nurses who had gone in the ambulance trains had been unfortunate. They had been set down on a battlefield which was in the possession of the victorious Confederates; and, interrupted in their attentions to the wounded by a body of rebel cavalry, fifty-nine ministering angels from Washington had been taken prisoner. Those who had gone by train had never reached the battlefield at all. After standing all night in the unventilated freight cars, they had been deposited on Sunday morning in the mud of Fairfax Station. There the commanding officer had orders to arrest all who had partaken too freely of whiskey. The patriots from the North found that volunteer nurses were not only superfluous but in bad repute. The War Department had ordered guards placed at the bridges and wharves to turn back ‘drunken and other nurses.’
(To be concluded)
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