Charles Francis Adams.

Charles Francis Adams, 1835-1915; an autobiography; online

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as well as ourselves, and sat or lay upon the turf. Inured to

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danger by contact long and close, and thoroughly tired in
body as overwrought in mind, we listened for the battle to
begin; and, shortly after noon, the artillery opened. We did
not know it — we could see nothing in that direction — but
it covered the famous advance of Pickett's Virginia division
upon Meade's centre — that wonderful, that unsurpassed
feat of arms; and, just then, lulled by the incessant roar
of the cannon, while the fate of the army and the nation
trembled in the balance, at the very crisis of the great con-
flict, I dropped quietly asleep. It was not heroic; but it was,
I hold, essentially war, though by no means war as imagined
in the work-room of the theoretic historian."

Of my first trip to Europe — that delightful burst of sun-
light from the midst of the awful storm-clouds of those years
— I have elsewhere made record; so here I pass on. The
change from home and office life was to me at that period so
thoroughly enjoyable that I never at all realized what line
and company life in war was until released from it. Once
released, and knowing another existence, a return to it
seemed unendurable. While on my English leave I shrank
from the thought. It so chanced that my college as well as
life-long friend, Theodore Lyman, was then attached to
Meade's Headquarters. He had no army rank, but, knowing
Meade personally, the matter had been arranged. He had
got Governor Andrew to appoint him on his military staff,
and then to detail him for service at the Headquarters of
the Army of the Potomac. It was an ingenious and to me
as well as to him a most useful arrangement; and Theodore
at least availed himself of it to the utmost. More than any
of us he rose to the magnitude of the occasion and derived
advantage from the opportunities of a great experience. I

War and Army Life 155

have elsewhere expressed my sense of this.* He now by an
act of extreme friendliness got me out of the most disagree-
able and trying position in which, on the whole, I ever found
myself involved, rendering me a service I never adequately
repaid ; though subsequently I did write his Memoir — forty
years later, in 1906, for the Proceedings of the Historical
Society.- It was a somewhat elaborate Memoir also, and
gave much satisfaction to his widow, an old friend of mine,
and a grand-daughter of that Jonathan Russell, whom J. Q.
Adams so victimized somewhere about 1822. The fact was,
Theodore Lyman realized my position. In my great per-
plexity I wrote to him, and he explained the situation to
Meade. So my squadron was by special order detached
from the regiment and directed to report to the Headquar-
ters of the Army of the Potomac for escort duty. Taken
altogether, the most opportune act of friendship ever done
me, it saved my army life from utter failure; but I did not
know how to avail myself of my opportunities, and that
life was not what it should have been.

Thus, when I returned from England in April, 1864, just
in time for Grant's awful Wilderness campaign — full of
doubt and anxiety, determined somehow to get away from
the regiment — this order had preceded me, and I found my
squadron already transferred. Only once do I remember
going back to the regiment. Chamberlain was then in com-
mand. A large, rough, self-made man, he had been wild and
adventurous in his youth, serving as a trooper in the Mexican
war. Wholly lacking in refinement and education, he was a
dashing fellow in his way; and on the whole, I fancy, the
best officer that regiment ever had. Knowing his business

^ z Mass. Hist. Soc. Proceedings, xii. 62. » lb., xx. 147.

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fairly well, he was more In s}Tnpathy with the men. At
Kelly's Ford he had the year before been severely wounded
— two carbine bullets in his face. He was now lieutenant-
colonel in command ; for the regiment was not full enough
to permit the mustering in of a full colonel. On my reporting
back for duty, I saw Chamberlain, and he urged me strongly
to get myself and the squadron returned to the regiment.
We sat on the grass there in that dreary Virginia camp,
discussing the matter, and he then offered me the place next
himself in command. I, however, was obdurate. I declined
even to consider the proposition — it involved a daily con-
tact with the things I loathed. Chamberlain and I then
parted good friends, and afterwards remained such. He a
year later succeeded me in command of the Fifth Cavalry,
at last getting his colonelcy.

My experience at the Headquarters of the Army of the
Potomac continued about six months — from April to
October. The change was great, and a pleasant one. There,
and there only, did I see some of the large operations of war-
fare, and find myself in contact with men high in command.
I went to the Headquarters a perfectly well man; but the
seeds of malarial disease were, I imagine, implanted, and
during the summer of 1864 I began slowly to break down.
I now know well enough what the trouble was. I was poi-
soned by Incessant feeding on hard-tack and meat freshly
killed and fried in pork-fat, and the inordinate drinking of
black coffee — quarts of it, each day. We all did so; we and
the medical men evincing an equal lack of either knowledge
of or regard for the most elementary rules of hygiene. My
present realizing sense of our ignorance and recklessness fills
me with a sort of disgusted surprise. We seem all round, at

TVar and Army Life 157

home as In the army, to have been Httle more than Ignorant
and unobservant children. This disregard of ordinary pre-
cautions I stood longer than most, living meanwhile during
the summer of 1864 on the river-banks of the Appomattox,
surrounded by decaying animal matter; but, with even the
most Iron of constitutions, it was only a question of time.
I began to break down in August, 1864; and, in May, 1865,
was a mere physical wreck.

At Headquarters I came in contact with, or had a chance
in a way to observe, all the men whose names were then
famous In Army of Potomac circles, from Grant down. Here,
as everywhere, my lack of savoir-faire — of natural objective-
ness — my utter deficiency in quick discernment and tact,
my Inability to avail myself of opportunity, and to do or say
the right thing at the proper moment — all this, as I now
see, stood sadly in my way. I did not ingratiate myself to
the degree that would have been easily possible with one
differently constituted. At the same time I must confess
that even now, looking back, the men I saw handling large
affairs In those military operations do not seem to me to
have been as a rule imposing. The truth of old Oxenstiern's
remark forced itself continually on me. General Meade was
a gentleman and man of high character; but he was Irritable,
petulant and dyspeptic. He did not give the idea of calm,
reserved force. Grant did; but Grant was a man of coarse
fibre, and did not Impress with a sense of character. Hancock
was a dashing field-marshal; a handsome, superb commander
of a corps. Warren left on me a sense of lightness. Hum-
phreys and Sedgwick were the only two generals I ever met
who inspired me with an adequate sense of force and reli-
ability. Officers, they were also quiet, unassuming gentlemen.

158 Charles Francis Adams

About them there was no pretence, no posing for effect, no
stage tricks. I felt for them a profound respect; and, could
I have been a staff officer on the corps commanded by either,
I should have found my proper army position. Sheridan I
never saw until long after the war was over, and then only
casually. He was essentially an Irish adventurer — a species
of brilliant Charles O'Malley; with a well-developed natural
aptitude for military life, he was not conspicuous for char-
acter. Thomas, I never laid eyes on; but I imagine he was
a man of the Sedgwick type — solid and full of character.
Sherman, I only saw after the war was over; but he then
impressed me much, more than any of those I have named,
not even excepting Humphreys. He bore the stamp of true
genius. Curiously natural, very fond of talking, there was
about him nothing of the poseur. He was a delightful dinner-
table companion, humorous, easy, striking, full of reminis-
cence. He and Humphreys, very different, but each great,
were my two army ideals; under either, it would have been
a delight and glory to serve. This satisfaction did not fall
to me, partly from that natural obtuseness which has ever
stood between me and my opportunities, partly from a mis-
taken adhesion to that narrow sense of obligation and duty
to which I have made reference, both here and in my Memoir
of Theodore Lyman. ^

I had joined the Headquarters a few days only before the
opening of Grant's terrible Wilderness campaign. I was then
in perfect health. I remember well the fine April morning
when my bugler blew "To Horse" just as Meade mounted,
and, followed by his staff, headed towards Richmond. He
did not go far that day; nor for many following days. I was
^ 2 Mass. Hist. Soc. Proceedings, xx. 160.

JVar and Army Life 159

with the Headquarters from that time on, until we halted
before Petersburg, and the long siege of Richmond was well
advanced. At first, while the army was on its way to the
James, continually fighting and flanking, I was, owing to
the entire absence of cavalr>^, frequently called upon for
difficult and dangerous service. I had to skirmish, scout and
cover the army's flank under the orders and eye of the com-
manding general. I did my work fairly well, and when I was
leaving for another command Meade in a personal letter
mentioned all the occasions specifically, and kindly com-
mended my conduct. While the army was in movement,
therefore, I could not have desired a better position. My
only trouble was that I did not know how to magnify it.

Of this very memorable campaign and the impressions it
left on me at the time, I have little question my letters home
and to my friends would to-day tell the story so far as I was
concerned. That would be contemporaneous evidence; but
speaking of it as reminiscence, I can only say that the gen-
eral impression left upon me is one of monotonous discour-
agement. The heroic is not greatly In evidence. Looking
back, the thing which stands prominently forth, writ very
large, is my sense of the utter incompetence of Major-
General Benjamin F. Butler of Massachusetts, and the ter-
rible disasters and loss of life that incompetence directly
involved. The figure cut by Grouchy in the Waterloo cam-
paign is heroic and almost innocuous compared with it. On
this point I have since expressed myself with such force and
emphasis as I can command. Grant's plan of campaign went
absolutely to pieces at the very outset because of Butler's
utter military incapacity, and his inability either to see an
opportunity, much more to seize it. At the beginning, as I

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have shown in my recently published papers, the winning
card was in his hand, and the fact was pointed out to him
clearly by his subordinates. He did not know enough to
recognize it as the winning card, or to play it when pointed
out to him as such. The military element did not enter in
any degree into Butler's composition, and the Army of the
Potomac, including myself, paid the penalty. I think it not
too much to say that the loss of life and casualties thus
entailed were to be numbered by the tens of thousands. As
I remember that awful campaign and those months passed
in front of Petersburg, I entertain a very bitter feeling to-
wards Major-General Benjamin F. Butler. Though I never
saw him while he was in command, yet I was very sensible
at the time of the disappointment and loss his being in com-
mand entailed upon us. But I have borne my evidence on
all these points in print, and on more than one occasion. It
can be found, if any one is curious enough to look it up,
in my original paper on Mr. Rhodes's fifth volume, in the
Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society,^ in my
Memoir of Theodore Lyman in the next volume of those
Proceedings^ and finally, in my published Studies: Military
and Diplomatic} It is needless here to repeat what I have
there said.

But here I would like to refer to a matter which has for
years been to me a constant annoyance. Never since it was
there placed have I passed by the front of the State House
without feeling a sense of wrong and insult at the presence,
opposite the head of Park Street, of the equestrian statue of
Hooker. That statue I look upon as an opprobrium cast on
every genuine Massachusetts man who served in the Civil

» 2 Proceedings, xix. 348. * lb., xx. 162. ' Pages 267-81.

TVar and Army Life 1 6 1

War. Hooker In no way and in no degree represents the
typical soldiership of the Commonwealth. His record, either
as an officer or as a man, was not creditable. Chancing to be
born in Massachusetts, he was in 1861 and from that time
forward little better than a drunken, West Point military
adventurer. A showy officer, and one capable of fairly good
work in a limited command — that of a brigade or division
— he was altogether devoid of character; insubordinate and
intriguing when at the head of a corps, as a commander he
was in nearly every respect lacking. It is true that after
superseding Burnside he did some effective work towards
organizing the Army of the Potomac. Nevertheless, that
was a period in its history when, so far as character was con-
cerned, the Army of the Potomac sank to its lowest point.
It was commanded by a trio, of each of whom the least said
the better. It consisted of "Joe" Hooker, "Dan" Sickles,
and "Dan" Butterfield. All three were men of blemished
character. During the winter (1862-63), when Hooker was
in command, I can say from personal knowledge and experi-
ence, that the Headquarters of the Army of the Potomac
was a place to which no self-respecting man liked to go, and
no decent woman could go. It was a combination of bar-
room and brothel. Then, as if it was not sufficiently annoy-
ing to any Massachusetts man who had borne a respectable
part in the Civil War, it was proposed to erect in front of
the State House a statue of Butler in addition to that of
Hooker. This may yet be done. If it is done, I can only hope
it will not be until after my death. That will be altogether
too much ! Hooker on one side, and Butler on the other ! —
two men in connection with neither of whom during the Civil
War a good word can be said. An equestrian statue of

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Charles Lowell would have represented something typical
of Massachusetts, greatly to the credit of the Common-
wealth. But Hooker and Butler! — as one who wore the uni-
form my feeling would be much that of a Frenchman if, in
the most conspicuous place of Paris, he every day was forced
to contemplate statues of Grouchy and Bazaine, supposed
to be representative of the best soldier type France had to

Returning to my individual experience at that time, after
the army crossed the James in June, 1864, and settled down
before Petersburg, the whole situation, so far as I was con-
cerned, became changed. I was no longer called on for special
duties; I did not move with the staff; I became in fact a mere
commander of orderlies. Of this I soon wearied. We were,
too, encamped in low lands, for convenience of access to
water on account of the horses, and my health for the first
time manifestly began to fail. I had stood it two years and
eight months, and my turn had now come. It was a marvel
it had not come before, and my exemption up to this late
day spoke volumes for my constitutional strength. But, as I
look back, I wonder at my own obtuseness. I seem never to
have taken the trouble to obser\^e or to draw inferences which
should have been obvious. With a suggestively growing sick-
list it never occurred to me to change my camp to higher
ground or dryer soil, to put my men in motion on some pre-
text, or to alter my own diet. I stupidly blundered along,
myself sickening day by day.

In September, the monotony became terrible, and my
enteric troubles so pronounced that I went into hospital,
under care of my college friend, E. B. Dalton, then in com-
mand of the Reserve Hospital of the Army. I shared his tent.

TVar and Army Life 163

Of him I cannot speak too highly. He was one of the few
absolutely iirst-class characters I ever knew. Gentle, manly,
refined, high-toned, courageous and self-respecting — to be
his friend was indeed an honor. He must now (191 2) have
been dead hard upon forty years. His picture still hangs in
my dressing-room, and I remember hun as a man of the
loftiest order of character. His later history was awfully and
dramatically tragic — afflictions rained upon him and broke
him down. He was one of perhaps a dozen I have known,
the deaths of whom have left distinct vacancies in my life;
because of them the world has for me since been appreciably

Dalton soon saw the gravity of my case, and he advised
me to go home, and get well. Curiously enough, he did not
advise me to stop drinking coffee, to eat no fried food, and
to change my camp. These simple precautions never seemed
to suggest themselves to our army medical men. The fact
was my intestines were actually corroded with concentrated
nourishment. I needed to live on bread, vegetables and tea;
I did live on pork, coffee, spirits and tainted water. Un-
doubtedly, also, I was suffering from malarial poison. I
needed active campaign work; but I was tired of the war
and of army life.

At just this time the unsought offer came to me of the
lieutenant-colonelcy of the Fifth Cavalry, a regiment at the
head of which was my old Fort Independence friend, Harry
Russell. I hesitated long; but, at last, determined to accept.
I did not care for the increased rank, still less for the pay;
but I was tired of orderly duty; sick, I needed a change, and
I felt, and felt rightly, that a colored regiment would prove
an interesting study. I left my old command at Petersburg,

1 64 Charles Francis Adams

and never saw it again; in early October, I think it was, I
joined my new regiment, then not mounted and doing guard
duty at Point Lookout, Maryland, where was a camp of
Confederate prisoners of war. Here my disease grew rapidly
on me. I was now a thoroughly sick man; and, in November,
I got myself ordered home. I had then been three years away.
Getting somewhat better, I shortly returned to duty; but
only to break down again. Before the close of the year I was
back in Boston.

This was for me a memorable leave of absence, for, in it,
I became engaged. I had met the young lady a year before,
while staying at Newport with my sister, Mrs. Charles Kuhn,
just before sailing for Europe. Fresh from two whole years
of army life, I suppose I was then in a susceptible state. In
any event, I thought I had never met so charming and
attractive a person as she who, twenty-one months later,
became my wife. The second daughter of Edward Ogden,
originally of New York, then living at Newport, I had
thought much of her during the year which elapsed after my
flying visit to Newport in January, 1864, and now, invalided
in Boston, I found myself attracted to Newport. My sister
had gone to Europe; the Ogdens were in deepest affliction
over the death of the only son, killed in action in Virginia
six months before; and I had no excuse for going to Newport.
I went all the same; and, in less than a week, we were engaged.
That last sick-leave was thus made a very pleasant as well as
memorable episode for me.

Things now came in rapid sequence. The war was mani-
festly drawing to a close: for the capture of Fort Fisher fol-
lowed hard on the battle of Nashville; and that seemed a
mere sequence to Sherman's march to the sea, and the fall of

TVar and Army Life 1 6 5

Savannah. During those winter weeks of 1864-65 the flags
were incessantly displayed in honor of some new victory.
I was engaged, and in a Newport dreamland. A letter from
Harry Russell next advised me that he had resigned, and
that I must take charge of the regiment; and, almost at the
same time, a message reached me from General Humphreys,
telling me that he was about to succeed Hancock in command
of the Second Corps, and inviting me to take the place of
inspector-general of his command. That was a very intoxi-
cating period. Patience, and minding my own business had
carried me through my troubles, and I was rising surface-
ward, corklike.

Large and small, I have made many mistakes in my life;
not more perhaps than the average man, but still a sufficiency
— mistakes of judgment, mistakes of temper and utterance,
social mistakes, and, above all, mistakes due to lack of dis-
cernment. One or two of these, mistakes of judgment, have
been vital, affecting my whole subsequent course of life;
mistakes like taking the wrong fork of the road to a destina-
tion, when it was a mere turn of the hand which road was
taken. Other of my mistakes, though not vital, were impor-
tant; matters for life-time regret. Among my half-dozen mis-
takes of this sort, I now distinctly scored one. Acting, I will
do myself the justice to say, largely under a sense of obliga-
tion and duty, I did not hesitate an instant; I elected to
remain with my regiment. From every point of view I de-
cided wrong; for I did the regiment no good and myself much
harm. The whole experience afforded an excellent instance
of good intentions misdirected. In the first place, by an
ingenious move through my influential friends at the Head-
quarters of the Army of the Potomac, I got the regiment

1 66 Charles Francis Adams

mounted. Mistake number one. The regiment was doing
very good service, dismounted, as a garrison and on guard
over the prisoners' camp at Point Lookout. To mount it,
meant only the waste of twelve hundred much-needed
horses. Then, having got it mounted, through the same
channels I worked it into active service. Mistake number
two; as the only result of so doing was to afford myself con-
vincing proof that the negro was wholly unfit for cavalry
service, lacking absolutely the essential qualities of alertness,
individuality, reliability and self-reliance. He could not
scout; he could not take care of himself in unfamiliar posi-
tions. That regiment was in exactly its proper place at Point
Lookout. I merely took the negro out of it, and put him
where he was of no possible use. I did the service harm, the
regiment no good. As for myself, I sacrificed the whole ripe
reward and happy culmination of my three years of service.
True, I had the satisfaction of leading my regiment into
burning Richmond, the day after Lee abandoned it. I did
have that satisfaction; and it was a great one. But it was
purchased at a great cost. And that was all I got. Then
came a few weeks of wretched breaking down, until I became
a confirmed invalid, and had to crawl ignominiously home,
leaving my regiment ordered to Texas and almost in a state
of mutiny. It was a bitter and humiliating termination of
nearly four years of faithful effort. And all from a sense of
duty! And I might have been in at the death with Hum-
phreys and the Second Corps ! It was all very bitter and so
wholly unnecessary!

Forced to be content with the march into Richmond, a
few weeks later, about the 20th of May, I dragged myself on
to my horse, and left my command. I was then a mere wreck

TVar and Army Life 167

— pitiably reduced and weak. Eaten up with malarial poi-
son, I weighed scarcely one hundred and thirty pounds,
while my knees would at night so ache from mere weakness
that sleep was out of the question. Intestinally corroded, I
was never free from the influence of opium, which acting on
my nerves drove me almost to insanity. Weeks later, a short
sea voyage brought me relief; the physicians were of no use.
Had they in May prescribed an ocean voyage to Europe and
back, I would have been convalescent in a month. As it was,
in June, I think, I was quietly mustered out of the service,
and became once more a civilian. A great experience was
over, and its close was for me a Dead Sea apple. But I
intended it well !



Passing the summer in Newport, I was married in No-
vember, and went immediately to Europe. The next eleven
months I passed — or rather we passed — in London, at
Rome and Paris, and finally in England, getting back to
America in the following October (1866). My going to

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Online LibraryCharles Francis AdamsCharles Francis Adams, 1835-1915; an autobiography; → online text (page 16 of 21)