Elias Nason.

The life and public services of Henry Wilson, late vice-president of the United States online

. (page 23 of 33)
Online LibraryElias NasonThe life and public services of Henry Wilson, late vice-president of the United States → online text (page 23 of 33)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

feehngs and those of my brother-officers of the army (with
whom I have conversed) warranted, for your able and
zealous efforts to mve to the service the fullest war devel-
opment and efficiency. It is pleasing to remember the
pains you took to obtain accurate information, wherever it
could be found, as a basis for wise legislation ; and we hope
it may be long before the army loses your valuable services
in the same capacity.

With great esteem,

Yours very truly,

WiNFiELD Scott.
Hon. H. Wilson, Chairman Senate Military Committee.

Such strenuous action for the soldier in the Senate-cham-
ber, camp, and hospital, such cordial sympathy with hini
in his toils and suffi^rings, gained for Mr. Wilson the envi-
able name of "The Soldier's Friend."

Mr. Wilson was personally present at the disastrous bat-
tle of Bull Run, July 21, aiding and encouraging officers
and privates as he had opportunity. Attempts were made
by the confederates to secure his person ; but he returned
to Washington in safety. Undismayed by the repulse, he
said to one of his friends on Monday following, " This is
our chastisement for fio;htinoj on the sabbath. But we are
right in principle : God is on the side of right ; and we shall
win if we obey him. We want more men ; we must go
to work for them ; and, just as soon as possible, I intend to
raise a reo;iment in Massachusetts."


On the adjournment of Congress, the president was
desirous that Mr. Wilson should be appointed brigadier-
general of volunteers ; but, as this would compel the
resignation of his seat as senator, he preferred to carry out
his original design of raising a regiment of men at home.
Obtaining authority for this, he returned to Massachusetts,
issued an address, held an enthusiastic meeting in Faneuil
Hall, and commenced recruiting. Such was his popularity,
that, in the space of forty days, he raised nearly two
thousand three hundred men. They were strong, in-j
telligent farmers, mechanics, and tradesmen, from th^
good families of the Commonwealth. Out of them wer4
formed the Twenty-second Regiment, a part of the Twenty-
third Regiment, one company of sharpshooters, and two
batteries of artillery. The first company went into camp
at Lynnfield on the second day of September ; and on that
day Mr. Wilson received his commission from the governor
as colonel, wdth the distinct understanding, however, that
liis senatorial duties would permit liim to remain with the
regiment only for a brief period ; and that he would, on
leavino- it, endeavor to find some able commander to
assume his place. On the eighth day of October, the
regiment, with full ranks, and armed w^tli Enfield rifles,
together with the company of sharpshooters and the third
battery of light artillery, left for Washington. Previous
to his departure, Mr. Wilson received as a present from
some friends a fine Morgan horse, with saddle and hous-
ings, as a testimonial of their confidence and regard ; and
a si)lendid flag was presented by Robert C. Winthrop to
the regiment on Boston Common. On their way to Wash-
ington, these troops were most enthusiastically greeted
by the peo])le. In New York a banquet was prepared for


them, attended by eminent men of every party. A beau-
tiful flag was presented to the regiment by the late dis-
tinguished lawyer, James T. Brady. They arrived at
Washington on the eleventh day of October ; and two days
later, crossing the Potomac, went into camp with Gen.
Martin dale's brigade in Fitz-John Porter's division at
Hall's Hill in Viroinia. His duties in connection with the
Senate rendered it necessary for Mr. Wilson to leave his
fine regiment : and he therefore gave up his commission on
the 28th of October ; and the accomplished Jesse D. Gove
(killed June 2T, 1862, at Gaines's Mills, Va.) was ap-
pointed to fill the vacancy.

When the recviment, after the unfortunate battle of
Ball's Blufi", Oct. 29, was expected to advance to an en-
gagement with the enemy, Mr. Wilson ofiered to share
the danger ; but, as circumstances changed, his personal
presence was not demanded.

This regiment, and especially the third battery under
the command of the able and heroic Augustus P. Martin,
performed effective service in many warm engagements
during the Rebellion. " The valuable and efficient service
you have rendered your country," said Gen. Charles
Griffin in a letter to the commander of the regiment at the
expiration of its term of service in October, 1864, " during
the past three years of its eventful history, is deserving of
its gratitude and praise."

Mr. Wilson always took the liveliest interest in tlii;
regiment, and provided for the intellectual and moral ad
vancement, as w^ell as for the personal comforts, of tlif
men ; for he believed that *' bayonets which think figh*
best." The manner in which its officers and men regardeJ
him may be seen from the following letter, dated —


Hall's Hill, Ya., Oct. 21, 1861.

My dear Sir, — I know not what I am going to
write : but I know what is in my heart ; and that is, a
deep respect and affection for yourself.

My father died more than four years since ; and I have
not met, until I knew you, one whom I coukl look up to
with that mingled respect and affection which is due to a
father. You have chidden only when it was for our good,
and have exhibited a kindness and benevolence of heart
which no man shall ever dare to deny to you before me.

Be assured, sir, that I fully appreciate your acts of kind-
ness to me'; and they have been many, — so many, indeed,
that I have come slowly to the conclusion that a man
may, even in these days, occupy a high position witliout
abandoning his good qualities. May God prosper you in
your labors for our beloved country ! I tremble when I
think what power is in your hands to do our country good
or evil, and only pray that you may never be swerved
from that bright pathway along which you are now
journeying. Wm. S. Tilton.

On resigning his position as colonel of the Twenty-
second Regime'Jit, Mr. Wilson, by the pressing invitation
of the secretary of war, took position for a brief period
as an aide-de-camp on Gen. McClellan's staff, in order that
he might, by practical observation of the condition of the
army, ''increase its power and efficiency by his labors in the
legislative hall. The organization of fresh forces on so
va'st a scale demanded practical knowledge of the art of
war ; and the best place to obtain it was at head-quarters
on the field. But senatorial duties soon compelled him to
return to Washington ; and, in. the letter accepting^ his
resignation as an aide-de-camp, Gen. Williams said, " The


reasons assigned in your letter (Jan. 9) are such, that
the general is not permitted any other course than that of
directing the acceptance of your resignation. He wishes
me to add that it is with regret that he sees the termina-
tion of the pleasant official relations which have existed
between you and himself, and that he yields with reluc-
tance to the necessity created by the pressure upon you of
other and more important public duties."

He cheerfully bore his own expenses while raising his
regiment, and received no pay whatever for his services as
colonel or as Gen. McCleHan's aide-de-camp.

To the infamous charge of W. H. Russell of '' The Lon-
don Times," that Senator Wilson was interested in large
shoe contracts, and had taken better care of himself and
his fortunes than of a suffering nation, he made the foUow-
mg distinct and unequivocal reply ; —

"Natick, Nov. 9, 1861.
« To tlie Editor of ' The Boston Journal : * —

" I ask you, and other conductors of public journals iri
Massachusetts willing to do me a personal favor, to pub-
lish this explicit denial of the truthfulness of the story
some person or persons have invented and put in circula-
tion, that I have a government contract for a million
pairs of shoes, by which I am to realize the sum of a
quarter of a million of dollars. This story, in all its parts
and in every form, is utterly false ; and the person or
persons originating it knew it to be a false and wicked
slander. I have no contract, I have had no contract, with
the government, either directly or indirectly, for shoes, or
for any thing else ; nor have I now, nor have I had, any
interest in any contract of any person whatever with the
government. I not only .have no contract with the


government, nor interest in the contracts of others, but
no man now has, nor has had, any contract with the gov-
ernment through any agency or influence of mine. The
government, since the 4th of March, has made no contract
with any man, for any purpose whatever, through any
agency or influence of mine ; and it never will make con-
tracts through any agency or influence of mine. As a
senator of Massachusetts, mindful of her interests, I have
sometimes reminded the department of the manufacturing
and mechanical skill of her people ; of their losses by this
wicked Rebellion ; of their readiness to furnish men and
money to sustain the national cause ; of their capacity to
furnish the army, at the lowest rates, needed articles : and
I have expressed the hope that the agents of the govern-
ment, in their purchases, would not forget the people of
my State. This much I have said ; this much I felt I had
a right to say ; and this much I felt it my duty to say.
But to all men, who have asked me by word or letter to
aid them in obtaining contracts of the government, I have
said that my sense of propriety would not permit me to
have any thing to do with contracts ; that I could not, in
any way, aid in procuring contracts ; that no man ever
had, or ever would have, contracts through my agency or
influence. This has been, now is, and will ever be, my

While many men in power most shamefully enriched
themselves and families by " the spoils of war," the record
of Henry Wilson is absolutely clean and clear. " I am
not worth enough," said he in one of his addresses, " to
buy a pine coffin for my burial." Immaculate as an old
Roman patriot, he stands unscathed by any charge of
bribery, venality, or corruption.



Eleven States were now in open rebellion against the
government. A Southern confederacy had been formed,
with Jefferson Davis at the head ; many forts and arsenals .
had been seized, and a vast confederate army was in the
field. Old landmarks had been broken down, and a new
order of things had begun. Four million slaves were
panting to be free. The capital of the nation had become
a camping-ground, and open war was the order of the day.
It was forced upon the government : the South must
take the consequences. The president had, on the six-
teenth day of August, declared a state of insurrection ;
and the leading questions were, " How shall the Union be
preserved ? " " How increase and officer, and impart
efficiency to, the army?" "What shall be done with
slaves and rebel property?" "How, at the least ex-
pense of blood, crush the Rebellion ? "

Rapid, efficient, and decisive legislation was demanded
for the exigency ; and it was fortunate for the country that
strong men were in the halls of Congress. For the most
part they were true reformers, educated in. the school of
freedom, and prepared for the tremendous issue. Among
them Henry Wilson stood prominent. He had studied
America, her spirit and her institutions ; he saw distinctly
where the merit of the question lay ; and, though he
shuddered at the sacrifice, he felt certain of the ultimate

Enterhig with indomitable Industry upon business at
the second session of the Thirty-seventh Congress, he
introduced, and carried to enactment, many bills and
resolutions which had an immediate bearing on the effi-
ciency of the army and the government. Among the
more important measures was a bill providing for the ap-
pointment of persons to procure from volunteers their


respective allotments of pay for their families, which was
enacted Dec. 24, 1861 ; a bill regulating courts-martial in
the army ; " a bill to provide for the better organization
of the signal department of the army," approved on the
twenty - second day of February, 1862,; a bill for the
" appointment of sutlers in the volunteer service ; " a bill
" to increase the efficiency of the medical department of
the army ; " a bill to facilitate the discharge of enlisted
men for physical disability ; a joint resolution providing for
" the presentation of medals of honor to the enlisted men
of the army and volunteer forces who may distinguish
themselves in battle ; " a bill, introduced on the eighth
day of July, " to amend the act calling forth the militia to
execute the laws, suppress insurrections, and repel inva-
sions," which became a law on the 17th of July, 1862.

By this important act the president is authorized to
receive persons of African descent for any military service
for which they are competent; and all Africans rendering
such service shall be free. This act authorized, for the
first time, the drafting of negroes, and their regular intro-
duction as soldiers into the service of the United States.

Mr. Wilson also, on the 23d of December, introduced
the bill into the Senate, dismissing from the service offi-
cers guilty of surrendering fugitive slaves to their masters.
After much discussion, it became a law March 13, 1862.

It was framed to protect those slaves, who, as our armies
advanced into the rebel States, fled to them fcir refuge,
and wdio offered, in the words of Mr. Wilson, " to work
and fight for the flag whose stars for the first time gleamed
upon their vision with the radiance of liberty."

On resigning his office as secretary of war during this
session, Mr. Cameron addressed to him the following
letter ; —


Washington, Jan. 27, 1862.

My dear Sir, — No man, in my opinion, in the whole
country, has done more to aid the war department is
preparing the mighty army now under arms than your-
self; and, before leaving this city, I think it my duty tc
offer to you my sincere thanks as its late head.

As chairman of the Military Committee of the Senate,
your services were invaluable. ♦At the first call for troops,
you came here ; and up to the meeting of Congress, a
period of more than six months, your labors w^ere inces-
sant. Sometimes in encouraging the administration by
assurances of support from Congress, by encouraging
volunteering in your own State, by raising a regiment
yourself when other men began to fear that compulsory
drafts might be necessary, and in the Senate by preparing
the bills, and assisting to get the necessary appropria-
tions, for organizing, clothing, arming, and supplying the
army, you have been constantly and profitably employed
in the great cause of putting down the unnatural Re-

For the many personal favors you have done me since
the beginning of this struggle I shall ever be grateful.
Your friend truly,

Simon Cameron.
Hon. Henry Wilson.

On the 16th of December, 1861, he introduced a bill
" for the release of certain persons held to service or labor
[that is, for the abolition of slavery] in the District of
Columbia." " If it shall become a law of the land," said
Mr. AVilson, " it will blot out shivery forever from the
national capital, transform three thousand personal chattels
into freemen, obliterate oppressive, odious, and hateful laws


and ordinances which press with merciless force upon per-
sons, bond or free, of African descent, and reheve the na-
tion from the responsibihties now pressing upon it. An
act of beneficence like this will be hailed and applauded
by the nations, sanctified by justice, humanity, and religion,
by the approving voice of conscience, and by the blessing
of Him who bids us " break every yoke, undo the heavy
burden, and let the oppressed go free."

This bill met with bitter opposition from the secession
element in Congress, but was finally passed ; and the
president gave it his approval on the sixteenth day of April,
1862. The freedmen tlien assembled in their churches, and
ofiPered thanks to God for their deliverance.

In the enactment of this law Mr. Wilson saw the
realization of those hopes which he had expressed in his
first public speech, made a full quarter of a century before,
in Strafford (N. H.) Academy. He surely had been
led in a way he knew not to the accomplishment of a
part in rending the chain of the bondman, for which his
name will ever be held by the friends of freedom in grate-
ful remembrance.

The following letters from two eminent philanthropists
express the general sentiment of the North in respect to
Mr. Wilson's course : —

New York, April 28, 1862.
Hon. Henry Wilson, Senator in Congress from Massachusetts.

My dear Sir, — I have to day read your speech of March
27, " On the Bill to abolish Slavery in the District of
Columbia," for the second time, and must drop you a line
to say that it deserves to be written in letters of gold, and
be put into the hands of every citizen of the United States.
To you, especially, is the country indebted for the passage
of this bill. May the country ever be grateful 1 and may



the blessing of the God of tlie oppressed rest upon you !
As a native of Massachusetts, and the son of a Massachu-
setts mechanic, I feel thankful that one of her senators has,
under the divine blessing, accomplished such a humane

Although it will at all times give me pleasure to hear
from you, I do not expect, that, amidst your arduous labors,
3'ou can acknowledge the receipt of the many letters
addressed to you. My object is not now, more than here-
tofore, to draw from you a response, but to assure you of
the very grateful sense I have of your successful services
in the case to which I have alluded, and of the eminent
services rendered to your country throughout your whole
senatorial career.

Respectfully and truly yours,

Lewis Tappan.

The Jay Homestead, Katouch,
l^.Y., April 17, 1862.

My dear Gen. Wilson, — I must thank you, and con-
gratulate you that our National Government sits, at last, in a
free capital. Your part in the accomplishment of this great
triumph of national justice and national dignity will be
long remembered by a grateful people ; and, if you had not
done so much else for the country, you might safely rest
your historic fame on that single act and your sturdy efforts
to crown it with success.

For myself, I can hardly recall without emotion my
boyish efforts to arouse attention to the atrocity of slavery
in Washington, commenced nearly thirty years ago, and
those of my father, which I find, from one of his petitions,
commenced in 1826, as I read the record of the vote in
the House, and the president's message, and thank God that


the work of abolition has begun, and the first great step
boldly taken towards the position of a free republic.

I trust the good work will be pushed speedily. Slavery
is doomed ; and it is worse than useless to prolong the agony
of dissolution.

Always faithfully yours, .

John Jay.






The Conflicting Powers. — The Army and Congress. — Position of Mr. Wilson.

— Bill for Sutlers. — Signal Service. — Pay to Officers. —'Medical Depart-
ment. — Volunteers. — Seniority of Commanders. — Storekeepers. — District
of Columbia. — Medals. — Pay in Advance. — Abolition in District of Co-
lumbia. —The Confederates. — Militia Bill. — President's Proclamation.—
Rosecrans. — Bureau of Emancipation. — Enrolment Bill. — Remarks. —
Colored Youth. — Wounded Soldiers. — Corps of Engineers. — Letter of Dr.
Silas Pteed. — Fall of Vicksburg. — Conference with the Cabinet. — Battle
of Gettysburg. — Gen. Grant. — Address before the Antislavery Society. ~
Thanks to the Army. — Bounties. — Ambulances.— Colored Soldiers Free.

— Thirteenth Amendment. — Speech. — Appropriation Bill. — Wives and
Children of Colored Soldiers Free. — Fourth of July at Washington. — Gen.
Grant. — " New-Bedford Mercury." — A Letter.

AT the commencement of the year 1862 the Union
was coming slowly and steadily up to bear the tre-
mendous strain of the Rebellion ; and the moral grandeur
of the scene has never been surpassed in any crisis of a
distracted nation. On the one hand were dissolution and
anarchy ; on the other hand, the Constitution and the lib-
eration of the slave. The destinies of unborn millions
were in the conflict. Will the government meet the exi-
gency ? Yes; for, while our loyal soldiers were bravely


gathering to roll back the tide of war upon the field, our
loyal Congress-men were as bravely toiling to sustain them,
and to break the chains of servitude in the halls of legisla-
tion. Here, indeed, the battles are really fought. The
army is but an exponent of power : the power itself is in
the principles that move the army ; and these are settled by
the action of the people's representatives. As one of those
noble men whose doings will render the Thirty-seventh
and Thirty-eighth Congresses ever memorable, Mr. Wilson
exhibited clear-sightedness which no intricacies could baf-
fle, hope which no disasters could repress, courage which
no danger could appall, and patriotism which no bribe could

In the full confidence of the government, he gave his
whole energies of heart and hand to its support, and still
brought forward measure after measure for the prosecu-
tion of the war, and for the overthrow of a system, which,
recognizing the right of property in man, had caused the
war. But little more than a bare enumeration of the meas-
ures which he introduced can here be given.

On the 2d of January, 1862, he presented the bill ap-
pointing sutlers and defining their duties in the volunteer
service ; which, after several amendments,- became a law on
the 19th of the following March. On the 9th of January
he introduced a bill for the better organization of the sig-
nal department of the army, which was approved on the
22d day of February ; and on the 28th of January a bill
to define the pay and emoluments of certain officers of the
army, and for other purposes, which, after a long discus-
sion, became a law on the 17th of July, 1862. On the
7th of February he brought forward a bill to increase the
efficiency of the medical department of the army, which,
after several amendments, became a law on the sixteenth


day of April, 1862. A joint resolution for the payment of
the moneys of any State to its volunteers was introduced
by him on the 11th of March, and became a law on the
nineteenth day of April following ; and also another, on the
14th of March, assigning command in the same field or
department to oflScers of the same grade without regard to
seniority, which was enacted on the 4th of April, 1862.
On the 7th of May his bill for the appointment of medical
storekeepers was brought forward, and approved by the
president on the 20th of the same month. Ever anxious
for the improvement of the colored people in the District
of Columbia, Mr. Wilson, on the 8th of May, moved, as
an amendment to Mr. Grimes's educational bill, that all
persons of color in that District shall be amenable to the
same laws, and tried in the same manner, as the fi-ee white
people, which received the approval of the president on the
eleventh day of July, 1862 ; and thus the " black code " was
abolished forever in the national capital. Ever mindful
of the services of the soldier, he reported, on the thirteenth
day of May, a joint resolution for the preparation of two
thousand medals of honor, " with suitable devices, to be
presented to such non-commissioned officers and privates as
should distinguish themselves by gallantry in action and
other soldier-like qualities ; " and this became a law on the
twelfth day of July, 1862. For the further encouragement
of enlistments, he introduced a joint resolution on the 4th
of June (enacted on the 21st of the same month), that the
soldier who enlisted might receive one month's wages in
advance ; and on the 12th of June he brought forward an
additional bill for the abolition of slavery in the District of

Online LibraryElias NasonThe life and public services of Henry Wilson, late vice-president of the United States → online text (page 23 of 33)