I trust that it may not be thought that in this chapter I am going to take upon myself the duties of a military critic. I am well aware that I have no capacity for such a task, and that my opinion on such matters would be worth nothing. But it is impossible to write of the American States as they were when I visited them, and to leave that subject of the American army untouched. It was all but impossible to remain for some months in the Northern States without visiting the army. It was impossible to join in any conversation in the States without talking about the army. It was impossible to make inquiry as to the present and future condition of the people without basing such inquiries more or less upon the doings of the army. If a stranger visit Manchester with the object of seeing what sort of place Manchester is, he must visit the cotton mills and printing establishments, though he may have no taste for cotton and no knowledge on the subject of calicoes. Under pressure of this kind I have gone about from one army to another, looking at the drilling of regiments, of the manoeuvres of cavalry, at the practice of artillery, and at the inner life of the camps. I do not feel that I am in any degree more fitted to take the command of a campaign than I was before I began, or even more fitted to say who can and who cannot do so. But I have obtained on my own mind’s eye a tolerably clear impression of the outward appearance of the Northern army; I have endeavored to learn something of the manner in which it was brought together, and of its cost as it now stands; and I have learned — as any man in the States may learn, without much trouble or personal investigation — how terrible has been the peculation of the contractors and officers by whom that army has been supplied. Of these things, writing of the States at this moment, I must say something. In what I shall say as to that matter of peculation, I trust that I may be believed to have spoken without personal ill feeling or individual malice.
While I was traveling in the States of New England and in the Northwest, I came across various camps at which young regiments were being drilled and new regiments were being formed. These lay in our way as we made our journeys, and, therefore, we visited them; but they were not objects of any very great interest. The men had not acquired even any pretense of soldier-like bearing. The officers for the most part had only just been selected, having hardly as yet left their civil occupations, and anything like criticism was disarmed by the very nature of the movement which had called the men together. I then thought, as I still think, that the men themselves were actuated by proper motives, and often by very high motives, in joining the regiments. No doubt they looked to the pay offered. It is not often that men are able to devote themselves to patriotism without any reference to their personal circumstances. A man has got before him the necessity of earning his bread, and very frequently the necessity of earning the bread of others besides himself. This comes before him not only as his first duty, but as the very law of his existence. His wages are his life, and when he proposes to himself to serve his country, that subject of payment comes uppermost as it does when he proposes to serve any other master. But the wages given, though very high in comparison with those of any other army, have not been of a nature to draw together from their distant homes, at so short a notice, so vast a cloud of men, had no other influence been at work. As far as I can learn, the average rate of wages in the country since the war began has been about 65 cents a day over and beyond the workman’s diet. I feel convinced that I am putting this somewhat too low, taking the average of all the markets from which the labor has been withdrawn. In large cities labor has been much higher than this, and a considerable proportion of the army has been taken from large cities. But, taking 65 cents a day as the average, labor has been worth about 17 dollars a month over and above the laborer’s diet. In the army the soldier receives 13 dollars a month, and also receives his diet and clothes; in addition to this, in many States, 6 dollars a month have been paid by the State to the wives and families of those soldiers who have left wives and families in the States behind them. Thus for the married men the wages given by the army have been 2 dollars a month, or less than 5l. a year, more than his earnings at home, and for the unmarried man they have been 4 dollars a month, or less than 10l. a year, below his earnings at home. But the army also gives clothing to the extent of 3 dollars a month. This would place the unmarried soldier, in a pecuniary point of view, worse off by one dollar a month, or 2l. l0s. a year, than he would have been at home; and would give the married man 5 dollars a month, or 12l. a year, more than his ordinary wages, for absenting himself from his family. I cannot think, therefore, that the pecuniary attractions have been very great.
Our soldiers in England enlist at wages which are about one-half that paid in the ordinary labor market to the class from whence they come. But labor in England is uncertain, whereas in the States it is certain. In England the soldier with his shilling gets better food than the laborer with his two shillings; and the Englishman has no objection to the rigidity of that discipline which is so distasteful to an American. Moreover, who in England ever dreamed of raising 600,000 new troops in six months, out of a population of thirty million? But this has been done in the Northern States out of a population of eighteen million. If England were invaded, Englishmen would come forward in the same way, actuated, as I believe, by the same high motives. My object here is simply to show that the American soldiers have not been drawn together by the prospect of high wages, as has been often said since the war began.
They who inquire closely into the matter will find that hundreds and thousands have joined the army as privates, who in doing so have abandoned all their best worldly prospects, and have consented to begin the game of life again, believing that their duty to their country has now required their services. The fact has been that in the different States a spirit of rivalry has been excited. Indiana has endeavored to show that she was as forward as Illinois; Pennsylvania has been unwilling to lag behind New York; Massachusetts, who has always struggled to be foremost in peace, has desired to boast that she was first in war also; the smaller States have resolved to make their names heard, and those which at first were backward in sending troops have been shamed into greater earnestness by the public voice. There has been a general feeling throughout the people that the thing should be done — that the rebellion must be put down, and that it must be put down by arms. Young men have been ashamed to remain behind; and their elders, acting under that glow of patriotism which so often warms the hearts of free men, but which, perhaps, does not often remain there long in all its heat, have left their wives and have gone also. It may be true that the voice of the majority has been coercive on many — that men have enlisted partly because the public voice required it of them, and not entirely through the promptings of individual spirit. Such public voice in America is very potent; but it is not, I think, true that the army has been gathered together by the hope of high wages.
Such was my opinion of the men when I saw them from State to State clustering into their new regiments. They did not look like soldiers; but I regarded them as men earnestly intent on a work which they believed to be right. Afterward when I saw them in their camps, amid all the pomps and circumstances of glorious war, positively converted into troops, armed with real rifles and doing actual military service, I believed the same of them — but cannot say that I then liked them so well. Good motives had brought them there. They were the same men, or men of the same class, that I had seen before. They were doing just that which I knew they would have to do. But still I found that the more I saw of them, the more I lost of that respect for them which I had once felt. I think it was their dirt that chiefly operated upon me. Then, too, they had hitherto done nothing, and they seemed to be so terribly intent upon their rations! The great boast of this army was that they eat meat twice a day, and that their daily supply of bread was more than they could consume.
When I had been two or three weeks in Washington, I went over to the army of the Potomac and spent a few days with some of the officers. I had on previous occasions ridden about the camps, and had seen a review at which General McClellan trotted up and down the lines with all his numerous staff at his heels. I have always believed reviews to be absurdly useless as regards the purpose for which they are avowedly got up — that, namely, of military inspection. And I believed this especially of this review. I do not believe that any commander-inchief ever learns much as to the excellence or deficiencies of his troops by watching their manoeuvres on a vast open space; but I felt sure that General McClellan had learned nothing on this occasion. If before his review he did not know whether his men were good as soldiers, he did not possess any such knowledge after the review. If the matter may be regarded as a review of the general — if the object was to show him off to the men, that they might know how well he rode, and how grand he looked with his staff of forty or fifty officers at his heels, then this review must be considered as satisfactory. General McClellan does ride very well. So much I learned, and no more.
It was necessary to have a pass for crossing the Potomac either from one side or from the other, and such a pass I procured from a friend in the War-office, good for the whole period of my sojourn in Washington. The wording of the pass was more than ordinarily long, as it recommended me to the special courtesy of all whom I might encounter; but in this respect it was injurious to me rather than otherwise, as every picket by whom I was stopped found it necessary to read it to the end. The paper was almost invariably returned to me without a word; but the musket which was not unfrequently kept extended across my horse’s nose by the reader’s comrade would be withdrawn, and then I would ride on to the next barrier. It seemed to me that these passes were so numerous and were signed by so many officers that there could have been no risk in forging them. The army of the Potomac, into which they admitted the bearer, lay in quarters which were extended over a length of twenty miles up and down on the Virginian side of the river, and the river could be traversed at five different places. Crowds of men and women were going over daily, and no doubt all the visitors who so went with innocent purposes were provided with proper passports; but any whose purposes were not innocent, and who were not so provided, could have passed the pickets with counterfeited orders. This, I have little doubt, was done daily. Washington was full of secessionists, and every movement of the Federal army was communicated to the Confederates at Richmond, at which city was now established the Congress and headquarters of the Confederacy. But no such tidings of the Confederate army reached those in command at Washington. There were many circumstances in the contest which led to this result, and I do not think that General McClellan had any power to prevent it. His system of passes certainly did not do so.
I never could learn from any one what was the true number of this army on the Potomac. I have been informed by those who professed to know that it contained over 200,000 men, and by others who also professed to know, that it did not contain 100,000. To me the soldiers seemed to be innumerable, hanging like locusts over the whole country — a swarm desolating everything around them. Those pomps and circumstances are not glorious in my eyes. They affect me with a melancholy which I cannot avoid. Soldiers gathered together in a camp are uncouth and ugly when they are idle; and when they are at work their work is worse than idleness. When I have seen a thousand men together, moving their feet hither at one sound and thither at another, throwing their muskets about awkwardly, prodding at the air with their bayonets, trotting twenty paces here and backing ten paces there, wheeling round in uneven lines, and looking, as they did so, miserably conscious of the absurdity of their own performances, I have always been inclined to think how little the world can have advanced in civilization, while grown-up men are still forced to spend their days in such grotesque performances. Those to whom the “pomps and circumstances” are dear — nay, those by whom they are considered simply necessary — will be able to confute me by a thousand arguments. I readily own myself confuted. There must be soldiers, and soldiers must be taught. But not the less pitiful is it to see men of thirty undergoing the goose-step, and tortured by orders as to the proper mode of handling a long instrument which is half gun and half spear. In the days of Hector and Ajax, the thing was done in a more picturesque manner; and the songs of battle should, I think, be confined to those ages.
The ground occupied by the divisions on the farther or southwestern side of the Potomac was, as I have said, about twenty miles in length and perhaps seven in breadth. Through the whole of this district the soldiers were everywhere. The tents of the various brigades were clustered together in streets, the regiments being divided; and the divisions combining the brigades lay apart at some distance from each other. But everywhere, at all points, there were some signs of military life. The roads were continually thronged with wagons, and tracks were opened for horses wherever a shorter way might thus be made available. On every side the trees were falling or had fallen. In some places whole woods had been felled with the express purpose of rendering the ground impracticable for troops; and firs and pines lay one over the other, still covered with their dark, rough foliage, as though a mighty forest had grown there along the ground, without any power to raise itself toward the heavens. In other places the trees had been chopped off from their trunks about a yard from the ground, so that the soldier who cut it should have no trouble in stooping, and the tops had been dragged away for firewood or for the erection of screens against the wind. Here and there, in solitary places, there were outlying tents, looking as though each belonged to some military recluse; and in the neighborhood of every division was to be found a photographing establishment upon wheels, in order that the men might send home to their sweethearts pictures of themselves in their martial costumes.
I wandered about through these camps both on foot and on horseback day after day; and every now and then I would come upon a farm-house that was still occupied by its old inhabitants. Many of such houses had been deserted, and were now held by the senior officers of the army; but some of the old families remained, living in the midst of this scene of war in a condition most forlorn. As for any tillage of their land, that, under such circumstances, might be pronounced as hopeless. Nor could there exist encouragement for farm-work of any kind. Fences had been taken down and burned; the ground had been overrun in every direction. The stock had of course disappeared; it had not been stolen, but had been sold in a hurry for what under such circumstances it might fetch. What farmer could work or have any hope for his land in the middle of such a crowd of soldiers? But yet there were the families. The women were in their houses, and the children playing at their doors; and the men, with whom I sometimes spoke, would stand around with their hands in their pockets. They knew that they were ruined; they expected no redress. In nine cases out of ten they were inimical in spirit to the soldiers around them. And yet it seemed that their equanimity was never disturbed. In a former chapter I have spoken of a certain general — not a fighting general of the army, but a local farming general — who spoke loudly, and with many curses, of the injury inflicted on him by the secessionists. With that exception I heard no loud complaint of personal suffering. These Virginian farmers must have been deprived of everything — of the very means of earning bread. They still hold by their houses, though they were in the very thick of the war, because there they had shelter for their families, and elsewhere they might seek it in vain. A man cannot move his wife and children if he have no place to which to move them, even though his house be in the midst of disease, of pestilence, or of battle. So it was with them then, but it seemed as though they were already used to it.
But there was a class of inhabitants in that same country to whom fate had been even more unkind than to those whom I saw. The lines of the Northern army extended perhaps seven or eight miles from the Potomac; and the lines of the Confederate army were distant some four miles from those of their enemies. There was, therefore, an intervening space or strip of ground, about four miles broad, which might be said to be no man’s land. It was no man’s land as to military possession, but it was still occupied by many of its old inhabitants. These people were not allowed to pass the lines either of one army or of the other; or if they did so pass, they were not allowed to return to their homes. To these homes they were forced to cling, and there they remained. They had no market; no shops at which to make purchases, even if they had money to buy; no customers with whom to deal, even if they had produce to sell. They had their cows, if they could keep them from the Confederate soldiers, their pigs and their poultry; and on them they were living — a most forlorn life. Any advance made by either party must be over their homesteads. In the event of battle, they would be in the midst of it; and in the mean time they could see no one, hear of nothing, go nowhither beyond the limits of that miserable strip of ground!
The earth was hard with frost when I paid my visit to the camp, and the general appearance of things around my friend’s quarters was on that account cheerful enough. It was the mud which made things sad and wretched. When the frost came it seemed as though the army had overcome one of its worst enemies. Unfortunately cold weather did not last long. I have been told in Washington that they rarely have had so open a season. Soon after my departure that terrible enemy the mud came back upon them; but during my stay the ground was hard and the weather very sharp. I slept in a tent, and managed to keep my body warm by an enormous overstructure of blankets and coats; but I could not keep my head warm. Throughout the night I had to go down like a fish beneath the water for protection, and come up for air at intervals, half smothered. I had a stove in my tent; but the heat of that, when lighted, was more terrible than the severity of the frost.
The tents of the brigade with which I was staying had been pitched not without an eye to appearances. They were placed in streets as it were, each street having its name, and between them screens had been erected of fir poles and fir branches, so as to keep off the wind. The outside boundaries of the nearest regiment were ornamented with arches, crosses, and columns, constructed in the same way; so that the quarters of the men were reached, as it were, through gateways. The whole thing was pretty enough; and while the ground was hard the camp was picturesque, and a visit to it was not unpleasant. But unfortunately the ground was in its nature soft and deep, composed of red clay; and as the frost went and the wet weather came, mud became omnipotent and destroyed all prettiness. And I found that the cold weather, let it be ever so cold, was not severe upon the men. It was wet which they feared and had cause to fear, both for themselves and for their horses. As to the horses, but few of them were protected by any shelter or covering whatsoever. Through both frost and wet they remained out, tied to the wheel of a wagon or to some temporary rack at which they were fed. In England we should imagine that any horse so treated must perish; but here the animal seemed to stand it. Many of them were miserable enough in appearance, but nevertheless they did the work required of them. I have observed that horses throughout the States are treated in a hardier manner than is usually the case with us.
At the period of which I am speaking — January, 1862 — the health of the army of the Potomac was not as good as it had been, and was beginning to give way under the effects of the winter. Measles had become very prevalent, and also small-pox, though not of a virulent description; and men, in many instances, were sinking under fatigue. I was informed by various officers that the Irish regiments were on the whole the most satisfactory. Not that they made the best soldiers, for it was asserted that they were worse, as soldiers, than the Americans or Germans; not that they became more easily subject to rule, for it was asserted that they were unruly; but because they were rarely ill. Diseases which seized the American troops on all sides seemed to spare them. The mortality was not excessive, but the men became sick and ailing, and fell under the doctor’s hands.
Mr. Olmstead, whose name is well known in England as a writer on the Southern States, was at this time secretary to a sanitary commission on the army, and published an abstract of the results of the inquiries made, on which I believe perfect reliance may be placed. This inquiry was extended to two hundred regiments, which were presumed to be included in the army of the Potomac; but these regiments were not all located on the Virginian side of the river, and must not therefore be taken as belonging exclusively to the divisions of which I have been speaking. Mr. Olmstead says: “The health of our armies is evidently not above the average of armies in the field. The mortality of the army of the Potomac during the summer months averaged 3 1/2 per cent., and for the whole army it is stated at 5 per cent.” “Of the camps inspected, 5 per cent.,” he says, “were in admirable order; 44 per cent. fairly clean and well policed. The condition of 26 per cent. was negligent and slovenly, and of 24 per cent. decidedly bad, filthy, and dangerous.” Thus 50 per cent. were either negligent and slovenly, or filthy and dangerous. I wonder what the report would have been had Camp Benton, at St. Louis, been surveyed! “In about 80 per cent. of the regiments the officers claimed to give systematic attention to the cleanliness of the men; but it is remarked that they rarely enforced the washing of the feet, and not always of the head and neck.” I wish Mr. Olmstead had added that they never enforced the cutting of the hair. No single trait has been so decidedly disadvantageous to the appearance of the American army as the long, uncombed, rough locks of hair which the men have appeared so loath to abandon. In reading the above one cannot but think of the condition of those other twenty regiments!
According to Mr. Olmstead two-thirds of the men were native born, and one-third was composed of foreigners. These foreigners are either Irish or German. Had a similar report been made of the armies in the West, I think it would have been seen that the proportion of foreigners was still greater. The average age of the privates was something under twenty-five, and that of the officers thirty-four. I may here add, from my own observation, that an officer’s rank could in no degree be predicated from his age. Generals, colonels, majors, captains, and lieutenants had been all appointed at the same time, and without reference to age or qualification. Political influence, or the power of raising recruits, had been the standard by which military rank was distributed. The old West Point officers had generally been chosen for high commands, but beyond this everything was necessarily new. Young colonels and ancient captains abounded without any harsh feeling as to the matter on either side. Indeed, in this respect, the practice of the country generally was simply carried out. Fathers and mothers in America seem to obey their sons and daughters naturally, and as they grow old become the slaves of their grandchildren.
Mr. Olmstead says that food was found to be universally good and abundant. On this matter Mr. Olmstead might have spoken in stronger language without exaggeration. The food supplied to the American armies has been extravagantly good, and certainly has been wastefully abundant. Very much has been said of the cost of the American army, and it has been made a matter of boasting that no army so costly has ever been put into the field by any other nation. The assertion is, I believe, at any rate true. I have found it impossible to ascertain what has hitherto been expended on the army. I much doubt whether even Mr. Chase, the Secretary of the Treasury, or Mr. Stanton, the Secretary of War, know themselves, and I do not suppose that Mr. Stanton’s predecessor much cared. Some approach, however, may be reached to the amount actually paid in wages and for clothes and diet; and I give below a statement which I have seen of the actual annual sum proposed to be expended on these heads, presuming the army to consist of 500,000 men. The army is stated to contain 660,000 men, but the former numbers given would probably be found to be nearer the mark:—
Wages of privates, including sergeants and corporals $86,640,000 Salaries of regimental officers 23,784,000 Extra wages of privates; extra pay to mounted officers, and salary to officers above the rank of colonel l7,000,000 ------------ $127,424,000 or 25,484,000 pounds sterling.
To this must be added the cost of diet and clothing. The food of the men, I was informed, was supplied at an average cost of l7 cents a day, which, for an army of 500,000 men, would amount to 6,200,000 pounds per annum. The clothing of the men is shown by the printed statement of their War Department to amount to $3.00 a month for a period of five years. That, at least, is the amount allowed to a private of infantry or artillery. The cost of the cavalry uniforms and of the dress of the non-commissioned officers is something higher, but not sufficiently so to make it necessary to make special provision for the difference in a statement so rough as this. At $3.00 a month the clothing of the army would amount to 3,600,000 pounds. The actual annual cost would therefore be as follows:
Salaries and wages 25,484,400 pounds. Diet of the soldiers 6,200,000 " Clothing for the soldiers 3,600,000 " ---------- 35,280,400 "
I believe that these figures may be trusted, unless it be with reference to that sum of $l7,000,000, or 3,400,000 pounds, which is presumed to include the salaries of all general officers, with their staffs, and also the extra wages paid to soldiers in certain cases. This is given as an estimate, and may be over or under the mark. The sum named as the cost of clothing would be correct, or nearly so, if the army remained in its present force for five years. If it so remained for only one year, the cost would be one-fifth higher. It must of course be remembered that the sum above named includes simply the wages, clothes, and food of the men. It does not comprise the purchase of arms, horses, ammunition, or wagons; the forage of horses; the transport of troops, or any of those incidental expenses of warfare which are always, I presume, heavier than the absolute cost of the men, and which, in this war, have been probably heavier than in any war ever waged on the face of God’s earth. Nor does it include that terrible item of peculation, as to which I will say a word or two before I finish this chapter.
The yearly total payment of the officers and soldiers of the army is as follows. As regards the officers, it must be understood that this includes all the allowances made to them, except as regards those on the staff. The sums named apply only to the infantry and artillery. The pay of the cavalry is about ten per cent. higher:—
Lieutenant-General* 1850 pounds. Major-general 1150 " Brigadier-General 800 " Colonel 530 " Lieutenant-Colonel** 475 " Major 430 " Captain 300 " First Lieutenant 265 " Second Lieutenant 245 " First Sergeant 48 " Sergeant 40 " Corporal 34 " Private 31 "
* General Scott alone holds that rank in the United States Army.
** A colonel and lieutenant-colonel are attached to each regiment.
In every grade named the pay is, I believe, higher than that given by us, or, as I imagine, by any other nation. It is, however, probable that the extra allowances paid to some of our higher officers when on duty may give to their positions for a time a higher pecuniary remuneration. It will of course be understood that there is nothing in the American army answering to our colonel of a regiment. With us the officer so designated holds a nominal command of high dignity and emolument as a reward for past services.
I have already spoken of my visits to the camps of the other armies in the field, that of General Halleck, who held his headquarters at St. Louis, in Missouri, and that of General Buell, who was at Louisville, in Kentucky. There was also a fourth army under General Hunter, in Kansas, but I did not make my way as far west as that. I do not pretend to any military knowledge, and should be foolish to attempt military criticism; but as far as I could judge by appearance, I should say that the men in Buell’s army were, of the three, in the best order. They seemed to me to be cleaner than the others, and, as far as I could learn, were in better health. Want of discipline and dirt have, no doubt, been the great faults of the regiments generally, and the latter drawback may probably be included in the former. These men have not been accustomed to act under the orders of superiors, and when they entered on the service hardly recognized the fact that they would have to do so in aught else than in their actual drill and fighting. It is impossible to conceive any class of men to whom the necessary discipline of a soldier would come with more difficulty than to an American citizen. The whole training of his life has been against it. He has never known respect for a master, or reverence for men of a higher rank than himself. He has probably been made to work hard for his wages — harder than an Englishman works — but he has been his employer’s equal. The language between them has been the language of equals, and their arrangement as to labor and wages has been a contract between equals. If he did not work he would not get his money — and perhaps not if he did. Under these circumstances he has made his fight with the world; but those circumstances have never taught him that special deference to a superior, which is the first essential of a soldier’s duty. But probably in no respect would that difficulty be so severely felt as in all matters appertaining to personal habits. Here at any rate the man would expect to be still his own master, acting for himself and independent of all outer control. Our English Hodge, when taken from the plow to the camp, would, probably, submit without a murmur to soap and water and a barber’s shears; he would have received none of that education which would prompt him to rebel against such ordinances; but the American citizen, who for awhile expects to shake hands with his captain whenever he sees him, and is astonished when he learns that he must not offer him drinks, cannot at once be brought to understand that he is to be treated like a child in the nursery; that he must change his shirt so often, wash himself at such and such intervals, and go through a certain process of cleansing his outward garments daily. I met while traveling a sergeant of a regiment of the American regulars, and he spoke of the want of discipline among the volunteers as hopeless. But even he instanced it chiefly by their want of cleanliness. “They wear their shirts till they drop off their backs,” said he; “and what can you expect from such men as that?” I liked that sergeant for his zeal and intelligence, and also for his courtesy when he found that I was an Englishman; for previous to his so finding he had begun to abuse the English roundly — but I did not quite agree with him about the volunteers. It is very bad that soldiers should be dirty, bad also that they should treat their captains with familiarity, and desire to exchange drinks with the majors. But even discipline is not everything; and discipline will come at last even to the American soldiers, distasteful as it may be, when the necessity for it is made apparent. But these volunteers have great military virtues. They are intelligent, zealous in their cause, handy with arms, willing enough to work at all military duties, and personally brave. On the other hand, they are sickly, and there has been a considerable amount of drunkenness among them. No man who has looked to the subject can, I think, doubt that a native American has a lower physical development than an Irishman, a German, or an Englishman. They become old sooner, and die at an earlier age. As to that matter of drink, I do not think that much need be said against them. English soldiers get drunk when they have the means of doing so, and American soldiers would not get drunk if the means were taken away from them. A little drunkenness goes a long way in a camp, and ten drunkards will give a bad name to a company of a hundred. Let any man travel with twenty men of whom four are tipsy, and on leaving them he will tell you that every man of them was a drunkard.
I have said that these men are brave, and I have no doubt that they are so. How should it be otherwise with men of such a race? But it must be remembered that there are two kinds of courage, one of which is very common and the other very uncommon. Of the latter description of courage it cannot be expected that much should be found among the privates of any army, and perhaps not very many examples among the officers. It is a courage self-sustained, based on a knowledge of the right, and on a life-long calculation that any results coming from adherence to the right will be preferable to any that can be produced by a departure from it. This is the courage which will enable a man to stand his ground, in battle or elsewhere, though broken worlds should fall around him. The other courage, which is mainly an affair of the heart or blood and not of the brain, always requires some outward support. The man who finds himself prominent in danger bears himself gallantly, because the eyes of many will see him; whether as an old man he leads an army, or as a young man goes on a forlorn hope, or as a private carries his officer on his back out of the fire, he is sustained by the love of praise. And the men who are not individually prominent in danger, who stand their ground shoulder to shoulder, bear themselves gallantly also, each trusting in the combined strength of his comrades. When such combined courage has been acquired, that useful courage is engendered which we may rather call confidence, and which of all courage is the most serviceable in the army. At the battle of Bull’s Run the army of the North became panic-stricken, and fled. From this fact many have been led to believe that the American soldiers would not fight well, and that they could not be brought to stand their ground under fire. This I think has been an unfair conclusion. In the first place, the history of the battle of Bull’s Run has yet to be written; as yet the history of the flight only has been given to us. As far as I can learn, the Northern soldiers did at first fight well; so well, that the army of the South believed itself to be beaten. But a panic was created — at first, as it seems, among the teamsters and wagons. A cry was raised, and a rush was made by hundreds of drivers with their carts and horses; and then men who had never seen war before, who had not yet had three months’ drilling as soldiers, to whom the turmoil of that day must have seemed as though hell were opening upon them, joined themselves to the general clamor and fled to Washington, believing that all was lost. But at the same time the regiments of the enemy were going through the same farce in the other direction! It was a battle between troops who knew nothing of battles; of soldiers who were not yet soldiers. That individual high-minded courage which would have given to each individual recruit the self-sustained power against a panic, which is to be looked for in a general, was not to be looked for in them. Of the other courage of which I have spoken, there was as much as the circumstances of the battle would allow.
On subsequent occasions the men have fought well. We should, I think, admit that they have fought very well when we consider how short has been their practice at such work. At Somerset, at Fort Henry, at Fort Donelson, at Corinth, the men behaved with courage, standing well to their arms, though at each place the slaughter among them was great. They have always gone well into fire, and have general]y borne themselves well under fire. I am convinced that we in England can make no greater mistake than to suppose that the Americans as soldiers are deficient in courage.
But now I must come to a matter in which a terrible deficiency has been shown, not by the soldiers, but by those whose duty it has been to provide for the soldiers. It is impossible to speak of the army of the North and to leave untouched that hideous subject of army contracts. And I think myself the more specially bound to allude to it because I feel that the iniquities which have prevailed prove with terrible earnestness the demoralizing power of that dishonesty among men in high places, which is the one great evil of the American States. It is there that the deficiency exists, which must be supplied before the public men of the nation can take a high rank among other public men. There is the gangrene, which must be cut out before the government, as a government, can be great. To make money is the one thing needful, and men have been anxious to meddle with the affairs of government, because there might money be made with the greatest ease. “Make money,” the Roman satirist said; “make it honestly if you can, but at any rate make money.” That first counsel would be considered futile and altogether vain by those who have lately dealt with the public wants of the American States.
This is bad in a most fatal degree, not mainly because men in high places have been dishonest, or because the government has been badly served by its own paid officers. That men in high places should be dishonest, and that the people should be cheated by their rulers, is very bad. But there is worse than this. The thing becomes so common, and so notorious, that the American world at large is taught to believe that dishonesty is in itself good. “It behoves a man to be smart, sir!” Till the opposite doctrine to that be learned; till men in America — ay, and in Europe, Asia, and Africa — can learn that it specially behoves a man not to be smart, they will have learned little of their duty toward God, and nothing of their duty toward their neighbor.
In the instances of fraud against the States government to which I am about to allude, I shall take all my facts from the report made to the House of Representatives at Washington by a committee of that House in December, 1861. “Mr. Washburne, from the Select Committee to inquire into the Contracts of the Government, made the following Report.” That is the heading of the pamphlet. The committee was known as the Van Wyck Committee, a gentleman of that name having acted as chairman.
The committee first went to New York, and began their inquiries with reference to the purchase of a steamboat called the “Catiline.” In this case a certain Captain Comstock had been designated from Washington as the agent to be trusted in the charter or purchase of the vessel. He agreed on behalf of the government to hire that special boat for 2000l. a month for three months, having given information to friends of his on the matter, which enabled them to purchase it out and out for less than 4000l. These friends were not connected with shipping matters, but were lawyers and hotel proprietors. The committee conclude “that the vessel was chartered to the government at an unconscionable price; and that Captain Comstock, by whom this was effected, while enjoying THE PECULIAR CONFIDENCE OF THE GOVERNMENT, was acting for and in concert with the parties who chartered the vessel, and was in fact their agent.” But the report does not explain why Captain Comstock was selected for this work by authority from Washington, nor does it recommend that he be punished. It does not appear that Captain Comstock had ever been in the regular service of the government, but that he had been master of a steamer.
In the next place one Starbuck is employed to buy ships. As a government agent he buys two for 1300l. and sells them to the government for 2900l. The vessels themselves, when delivered at the navy yard, were found to be totally unfit for the service for which they had been purchased. But why was Starbuck employed, when, as appears over and over again in the report, New York was full of paid government servants ready and fit to do the work? Starbuck was merely an agent, and who will believe that he was allowed to pocket the whole difference of 1600l.? The greater part of the plunder was, however, in this case refunded.
Then we come to the case of Mr. George D. Morgan, brother-inlaw of Mr. Welles, the Secretary of the Navy. I have spoken of this gentleman before, and of his singular prosperity. He amassed a large fortune in five months, as a government agent for the purchase of vessels, he having been a wholesale grocer by trade. This gentleman had had no experience whatsoever with reference to ships. It is shown by the evidence that he had none of the requisite knowledge, and that there were special servants of the government in New York at that time, sent there specially for such services as these, who were in every way trustworthy, and who had the requisite knowledge. Yet Mr. Morgan was placed in this position by his brother-inlaw, the Secretary of the Navy, and in that capacity made about 20,000l. in five months, all of which was paid by the government, as is well shown to have been the fact in the report before me. One result of such a mode of agency is given; one other result, I mean, besides the 20,000l. put into the pocket of the brother of the Secretary of the Navy. A ship called the “Stars and Stripes” was bought by Mr. Morgan for 11,000l., which had been built some months before for 7000l. This vessel was bought from a company which was blessed with a president. The president made the bargain with the government agent, but insisted on keeping back from his own company 2000l. out of the 11,000l. for expenses incident to the purchase. The company did not like being mulcted of its prey, and growled heavily; but their president declared that such bargains were not got at Washington for nothing. Members of Congress had to be paid to assist in such things. At least he could not reduce his little private bill for such assistance below 1600l. He had, he said, positively paid out so much to those venal members of Congress, and had made nothing for himself to compensate him for his own exertions. When this president came to be examined, he admitted that he had really made no payments to members of Congress. His own capacity had been so great that no such assistance had been found necessary. But he justified his charge on the ground that the sum taken by him was no more than the company might have expected him to lay out on members of Congress, or on ex-members who are specially mentioned, had he not himself carried on the business with such consummate discretion! It seems to me that the members or ex-members of Congress were shamefully robbed in this matter.
The report deals manfully with Mr. Morgan, showing that for five months’ work — which work he did not do and did not know how to do — he received as large a sum as the President’s salary for the whole Presidential term of four years. So much better is it to be an agent of government than simply an officer! And the committee adds, that they “do not find in this transaction the less to censure in the fact that this arrangement between the Secretary of the Navy and Mr. Morgan was one between brothers-inlaw.” After that who will believe that Mr. Morgan had the whole of that 20,000l. for himself? And yet Mr. Welles still remains Secretary of the Navy, and has justified the whole transaction in an explanation admitting everything, and which is considered by his friends to be an able State paper. “It behoves a man to be smart, sir.” Mr. Morgan and Secretary Welles will no doubt be considered by their own party to have done their duty well as high-trading public functionaries. The faults of Mr. Morgan and of Secretary Welles are nothing to us in England; but the light in which such faults may be regarded by the American people is much to us.
I will now go on to the case of a Mr. Cummings. Mr. Cummings, it appears, had been for many years the editor of a newspaper in Philadelphia, and had been an intimate political friend and ally of Mr. Cameron. Now at the time of which I am writing, April, 1861, Mr. Cameron was Secretary of War, and could be very useful to an old political ally living in his own State. The upshot of the present case will teach us to think well of Mr. Cameron’s gratitude.
In April, 1861, stores were wanted for the army at Washington, and Mr. Cameron gave an order to his old friend Cummings to expend 2,000,000 dollars, pretty much according to his fancy, in buying stores. Governor Morgan, the Governor of New York State, and a relative of our other friend Morgan, was joined with Mr. Cummings in this commission, Mr. Cameron no doubt having felt himself bound to give the friends of his colleague at the Navy a chance. Governor Morgan at once made over his right to his relative; but better things soon came in Mr. Morgan’s way, and he relinquished his share in this partnership at an early date. In this transaction he did not himself handle above 25,000 dollars. Then the whole job fell into the hands of Mr. Cameron’s old political friend.
The 2,000,000 dollars, or 400,000l., were paid into the hands of certain government treasurers at New York, but they had orders to honor the draft of the political friend of the Secretary of War, and consequently 50,000l. was immediately withdrawn by Mr. Cummings, and with this he went to work. It is shown that he knew nothing of the business; that he employed a clerk from Albany whom he did not know, and confided to this clerk the duty of buying such stores as were bought; that this clerk was recommended to him by Mr. Weed, the editor of a newspaper at Albany, who is known in the States as the special political friend of Mr. Seward, the Secretary of State; and that in this way he spent 32,000l. He bought linen pantaloons and straw hats to the amount of 4200l., because he thought the soldiers looked hot in the warm weather; but he afterward learned that they were of no use. He bought groceries of a hardware dealer named Davidson, at Albany, that town whence came Mr. Weed’s clerk. He did not know what was Davidson’s trade, nor did he know exactly what he was going to buy; but Davidson proposed to sell him something which Mr. Cummings believed to be some kind of provisions, and he bought it. He did not know for how much — whether over 2000l. or not. He never saw the articles, and had no knowledge of their quality. It was out of the question that he should have such knowledge, as he naively remarks. His clerk Humphreys saw the articles. He presumed they were brought from Albany, but did not know. He afterward bought a ship — or two or three ships. He inspected one ship “by a mere casual visit:” that is to say, he did not examine her boilers; he did not know her tonnage, but he took the word of the seller for everything. He could not state the terms of the charter, or give the substance of it. He had had no former experience in buying or chartering ships. He also bought 75,000 pairs of shoes at only 25 cents (or one shilling) a pair more than their proper price. He bought them of a Mr. Hall, who declares that he paid Mr. Cummings nothing for the job, but regarded it as a return for certain previous favors conferred by him on Mr. Cummings in the occasional loans of 100l. or 200l.
At the end of the examination it appears that Mr. Cummings still held in his hand a slight balance of 28,000l., of which he had forgotten to make mention in the body of his own evidence. “This item seems to have been overlooked by him in his testimony,” says the report. And when the report was made, nothing had yet been learned of the destiny of this small balance.
Then the report gives a list of the army supplies miscellaneously purchased by Mr. Cummings: 280 dozen pints of ale at 9s. 6d. a dozen; a lot of codfish and herrings; 200 boxes of cheeses and a large assortment of butter; some tongues; straw hats and linen “pants;” 23 barrels of pickles; 25 casks of Scotch ale, price not stated; a lot of London porter, price not stated; and some Hall carbines of which I must say a word more further on. It should be remembered that no requisition had come from the army for any of the articles named; that the purchase of herrings and straw hats was dictated solely by the discretion of Cummings and his man Humphreys, or, as is more probable, by the fact that some other person had such articles by him for sale; and that the government had its own established officers for the supply of things properly ordered by military requisition. These very same articles also were apparently procured, in the first place, as a private speculation, and were made over to the government on the failure of that speculation. “Some of the above articles,” says the report, “were shipped by the Catiline, which was probably loaded on private account, and, not being able to obtain a clearance, was, in some way, through Mr. Cummings, transferred over to the government — SCOTCH ALE, LONDON PORTER, SELECTED HERRINGS, and all.” The italics, as well as the words, are taken from the report.
This was the confidential political friend of the Secretary of War, by whom he was intrusted with 400,000l. of public money! Twenty-eight thousand pounds had not been accounted for when the report was made, and the army supplies were bought after the fashion above named. That Secretary of War, Mr. Cameron, has since left the cabinet; but he has not been turned out in disgrace; he has been nominated as Minister to Russia, and the world has been told that there was some difference of opinion between him and his colleagues respecting slavery! Mr. Cameron, in some speech or paper, declared on his leaving the cabinet that he had not intended to remain long as Secretary of War. This assertion, I should think, must have been true.
And now about the Hall carbines, as to which the gentlemen on this committee tell their tale with an evident delight in the richness of its incidents which at once puts all their readers in accord with them. There were altogether some five thousand of these, all of which the government sold to a Mr. Eastman in June, 1861, for 14s. each, as perfectly useless, and afterward bought in August for 4l. 8s. each, about 4s. a carbine having been expended in their repair in the mean time. But as regards 790 of these now famous weapons, it must be explained they had been sold by the government as perfectly useless, and at a nominal price, previously to this second sale made by the government to Mr. Eastman. They had been so sold, and then, in April, 1861, they had been bought again for the government by the indefatigable Cummings for 3l. each. Then they were again sold as useless for 14s. each to Eastman, and instantly rebought on behalf of the government for 4l. 8s. each! Useless for war purposes they may have been, but as articles of commerce it must be confessed that they were very serviceable.
This last purchase was made by a man named Stevens on behalf of General Fremont, who at that time commanded the army of the United States in Missouri. Stevens had been employed by General Fremont as an agent on the behalf of government, as is shown with clearness in the report, and on hearing of these muskets telegraphed to the general at once: “I have 5000 Hall’s rifled cast-steel muskets, breach-loading, new, at 22 dollars.” General Fremont telegraphed back instantly: “I will take the whole 5000 carbines. . . . I will pay all extra charges.” . . . . And so the purchase was made. The muskets, it seems, were not absolutely useless even as weapons of war. “Considering the emergency of the times?” a competent witness considered them to be worth “10 or 12 dollars.” The government had been as much cheated in selling them as it had in buying them. But the nature of the latter transaction is shown by the facts that Stevens was employed, though irresponsibly employed, as a government agent by General Fremont; that he bought the muskets in that character himself, making on the transaction 1l. 18s. on each musket; and that the same man afterward appeared as an aid-de-camp on General Fremont’s staff. General Fremont had no authority himself to make such a purchase, and when the money was paid for the first installment of the arms, it was so paid by the special order of General Fremont himself out of moneys intended to be applied to other purposes. The money was actually paid to a gentleman known at Fremont’s headquarters as his special friend, and was then paid in that irregular way because this friend desired that that special bill should receive immediate payment. After that, who can believe that Stevens was himself allowed to pocket the whole amount of the plunder?
There is a nice little story of a clergyman in New York who sold, for 40l. and certain further contingencies, the right to furnish 200 cavalry horses; but I should make this too long if I told all the nice little stories. As the frauds at St. Louis were, if not in fact the most monstrous, at any rate the most monstrous which have as yet been brought to the light, I cannot finish this account without explaining something of what was going on at that Western Paradise in those halcyon days of General Fremont.
General Fremont, soon after reaching St. Louis, undertook to build ten forts for the protection of that city. These forts have since been pronounced as useless, and the whole measure has been treated with derision by officers of his own army. But the judgment displayed in the matter is a military question with which I do not presume to meddle. Even if a general be wrong in such a matter, his character as a man is not disgraced by such error. But the manner of building them was the affair with which Mr. Van Wyck’s Committee had to deal. It seems that five of the forts, the five largest, were made under the orders of a certain Major Kappner, at a cost of 12,000l., and that the other five could have been built at least for the same sum. Major Kappner seems to have been a good and honest public servant, and therefore quite unfit for the superintendence of such work at St. Louis. The other five smaller forts were also in progress, the works on them having been continued from 1st of September to 25th of September, 1861; but on the 25th of September General Fremont himself gave special orders that a contract should be made with a man named Beard, a Californian, who had followed him from California to St. Louis. This contract is dated the 25th of September. But nevertheless the work specified in that contract was done previous to that date, and most of the money paid was paid previous to that date. The contract did not specify any lump sum, but agreed that the work should be paid for by the yard and by the square foot. No less a sum was paid to Beard for this work — the cormorant Beard, as the report calls him — than 24,200l., the last payment only, amounting to 4000l., having been made subsequent to the date of the contract. Twenty thousand two hundred pounds was paid to Beard before the date of the contract! The amounts were paid at five times, and the last four payments were made on the personal order of General Fremont. This Beard was under no bond, and none of the officers of the government knew anything of the terms under which he was working. On the 14th of October General Fremont was ordered to discontinue these works, and to abstain from making any further payments on their account. But, disobeying this order, he directed his quartermaster to pay a further sum of 4000l. to Beard out of the first sums he should receive from Washington, he then being out of money. This, however, was not paid. “It must be understood,” says the report, “that every dollar ordered to be paid by General Fremont on account of these works was diverted from a fund specially appropriated for another purpose.” And then again: “The money appropriated by Congress to subsist and clothe and transport our armies was then, in utter contempt of all law and of the army regulations, as well as in defiance of superior authority, ordered to be diverted from its lawful purpose and turned over to the cormorant Beard. While he had received l70,000 dollars (24,200l.) from the government, it will be seen from the testimony of Major Kappner that there had only been paid to the honest German laborers, who did the work on the first five forts built under his directions, the sum of 15,500 dollars, (3100l.,) leaving from 40,000 to 50,000 dollars (8000l. to 10,000l.) still due; and while these laborers, whose families were clamoring for bread, were besieging the quartermaster’s department for their pay, this infamous contractor Beard is found following up the army and in the confidence of the major-general, who gives him orders for large purchases, which could only have been legally made through the quartermaster’s department.” After that, who will believe that all the money went into Beard’s pocket? Why should General Fremont have committed every conceivable breach of order against his government, merely with the view of favoring such a man as Beard?
The collusion of the Quartermaster M’Instry with fraudulent knaves in the purchase of horses is then proved. M’Instry was at this time Fremont’s quartermaster at St. Louis. I cannot go through all these. A man of the name of Jim Neil comes out in beautiful pre-eminence. No dealer in horses could get to the quartermaster except through Jim Neil, or some such go-between. The quartermaster contracted with Neil and Neil with the owners of horses; Neil at the time being also military inspector of horses for the quartermaster. He bought horses as cavalry horses for 24l. or less, and passed them himself as artillery horses for 30l. In other cases the military inspectors were paid by the sellers to pass horses. All this was done under Quartermaster M’Instry, who would himself deal with none but such as Neil. In one instance, one Elliard got a contract from M’instry, the profit of which was 8000l. But there was a man named Brady. Now Brady was a friend of M’Instry, who, scenting the carrion afar off, had come from Detroit, in Michigan, to St. Louis. M’instry himself had also come from Detroit. In this case Elliard was simply directed by M’Instry to share his profits with Brady, and consequently paid to Brady 4000l., although Brady gave to the business neither capital nor labor. He simply took the 4000l. as the quartermaster’s friend. This Elliard, it seems, also gave a carriage and horses to Mrs. Fremont. Indeed, Elliard seems to have been a civil and generous fellow. Then there is a man named Thompson, whose case is very amusing. Of him the committee thus speaks: “It must be said that Thompson was not forgetful of the obligations of gratitude, for, after he got through with the contract, he presented the son of Major M’instry with a riding pony. That was the only mark of respect,” to use his own words, “that he showed to the family of Major M’instry.”
General Fremont himself desired that a contract should be made with one Augustus Sacchi for a thousand Canadian horses. It turned out that Sacchi was “nobody: a man of straw living in a garret in New York, whom nobody knew, a man who was brought out there”— to St. Louis —“as a good person through whom to work.” “It will hardly be believed,” says the report, “that the name of this same man Sacchi appears in the newspapers as being on the staff of General Fremont, at Springfield, with the rank of captain.”
I do not know that any good would result from my pursuing further the details of this wonderful report. The remaining portion of it refers solely to the command held by General Fremont in Missouri, and adds proof upon proof of the gross robberies inflicted upon the government of the States by the very persons set in high authority to protect the government. We learn how all utensils for the camp, kettles, blankets, shoes, mess pans, etc., were supplied by one firm, without a contract, at an enormous price, and of a quality so bad as to be almost useless, because the quartermaster was under obligations to the partners. We learn that one partner in that firm gave 40l. toward a service of plate for the quartermaster, and 60l. toward a carriage for Mrs. Fremont. We learn how futile were the efforts of any honest tradesman to supply good shoes to soldiers who were shoeless, and the history of one special pair of shoes which was thrust under the nose of the quartermaster is very amusing. We learn that a certain paymaster properly refused to settle an account for matters with which he had no concern, and that General Fremont at once sent down soldiers to arrest him unless he made the illegal payment. In October 1000l. was expended in ice, all which ice was wasted. Regiments were sent hither and thither with no military purpose, merely because certain officers, calling themselves generals, desired to make up brigades for themselves. Indeed, every description of fraud was perpetrated, and this was done not through the negligence of those in high command, but by their connivance and often with their express authority.
It will be said that the conduct of General Fremont during the days of his command in Missouri is not a matter of much moment to us in England; that it has been properly handled by the committee of Representatives appointed by the American Congress to inquire into the matter; and that after the publication of such a report by them, it is ungenerous in a writer from another nation to speak upon the subject. This would be so if the inquiries made by that committee and their report had resulted in any general condemnation of the men whose misdeeds and peculations have been exposed. This, however, is by no means the case. Those who were heretofore opposed to General Fremont on political principles are opposed to him still; but those who heretofore supported him are ready to support him again. He has not been placed beyond the pale of public favor by the record which has been made of his public misdeeds. He is decried by the Democrats because he is a Republican, and by the anti-abolitionists because he is an Abolitionist; but he is not decried because he has shown himself to be dishonest in the service of his government. He was dismissed from his command in the West, but men on his side of the question declare that he was so dismissed because his political opponents had prevailed. Now, at the moment that I am writing this, men are saying that the President must give him another command. He is still a major-general in the army of the States, and is as probable a candidate as any other that I could name for the next Presidency.*
* Since this was written, General Fremont has been restored to high military command, and now holds rank and equal authority with McClellan and Halleck. In fact, the charges made against him by the committee of the House of Representatives have not been allowed to stand in his way. He is politically popular with a large section of the nation, and therefore it has been thought well to promote him to high place. Whether he be fit for such place either as regards capability or integrity, seems to be considered of no moment.
The same argument must be used with reference to the other gentlemen named. Mr. Welles is still a cabinet minister and Secretary of the Navy. It has been found impossible to keep Mr. Cameron in the cabinet, but he was named as the minister of the States government to Russia, after the publication of the Van Wyck report, when the result of his old political friendship with Mr. Alexander Cummings was well known to the President who appointed him and to the Senate who sanctioned his appointment. The individual corruption of any one man — of any ten men — is not much. It should not be insisted on loudly by any foreigner in making up a balance-sheet of the virtues and vices of the good and bad qualities of any nation. But the light in which such corruption is viewed by the people whom it most nearly concerns is very much. I am far from saying that democracy has failed in America. Democracy there has done great things for a numerous people, and will yet, as I think, be successful. But that doctrine as to the necessity of smartness must be eschewed before a verdict in favor of American democracy can be pronounced. “It behoves a man to be smart, sir.” In those words are contained the curse under which the States government has been suffering for the last thirty years. Let us hope that the people will find a mode of ridding themselves of that curse. I, for one, believe that they will do so.
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