George Streynsham Master.

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and he wished me to come immediately, as he was
about to send a boat directly to that place.

" I spent the night with General Wadsworth, and
leamea from him that orders had been received
from head-quarters to be ready for a march at an
hour's notice. Understanding fi*om this that a new
movement against the enemy was on foot, I resolved
to prolong my stay. General Wadsworth thought
the reported demoralization of the army was very
much exaggerated, and that the only trouble was in
the disafltection of some of the officers, who had
been greatly favored bv McClellan, and were hoping
for his return to the chief command. However, he
said he had been so much censured the year before
for his free speaking concerning the officers, that he
had resolved to hold his tongue for the future. • *
His quarters were not especially comfortable, and
it was easy to see on the one hand that he had very
little experience in taking care of himself, and on
the other that he allowed servants to take very little
care of him. He had a small stove in his tent, the
door of which was constantly falling from its hinges
whenever he attempted to replenish the fire. In-
stead of having a servant to attend to this, he did it
himself; and, instead of having a holder, he invari-
ably poured water upon the door until it was cool
enough for handling. I spoke to him of his lack
of luxury in his style of^ living, when he made
answer that he thought it best to give his subor-
dinate officers an example of plain living while in
camp. I doubt whether this has as much effect
ujxon troops as is often supposed. I am inclined to
think that privates even like to see their command-
ing officers surrounded by something of the osten-
tation that befits their rank. Judging from his
conversation on business matters with his aids.
General Wadsworth seemed to me to have but little
practical acquaintance wiih the details of his com-
mand. He complained somewhat of not being
more closely connected with head-quarters, where
his general sentiments and interest in the war could
be brought to bear more directly upon the councils
of the campaign.

"The next day (Sunday) I walked over to the
Twenty-fourth Michigan Regiment. They were
very comfortably housed in huts, and were anticipa-
ting the order to move with a good deal of ap-
prehension. Their experience of long marches
through heavy rains, and of bivouacs on the cold
wet ground, had given special zest to the compara-
tive comfort they were then enjoying. I dined with
Colonel Morrow of this regiment, — a frank, clear-
headed gentleman, formerly a lawyer and judge in
Detroit. He said there was a good deal of dis-
satisfaction — or, rather, of despondency — among the
officers and men, due mainly, in his opinion, to a
lack of military successes and to a want of con-
fidence in General Burnside. I asked him why they
lacked confidence in him. He replied, because he
had no confidence in himself; he had said more than
once that he did not feel competent to command that
army. I spoke of this as only the natural modesty
of a truly capable man. Yes, he said, that was
true; but he (General B.) had not only stokfn of
his incompetency, but had gone before tlie Con-
-nressional Committee and sworn to it. As an in-

~ice of the feeling among his officers, he said that

one of his lieutenants had recently sent in his resig-
nation, based on the fact that he aid not approve of
the policy on which the Government was now con-
ducting the war ! Colonel Morrow thought a re-
organization of the army important to its usefulness,
and said he believed the best course would be to put
at its head some general who had never been mixed
up with its quarrels and rivalries, in whom all would
have confidence, and who should bring with him the
prestige of success. General Rosecrans seemed to
answer this description better than any other man.

" Toward night, General Wadsworth, having given
me a horse and an orderly, I rode about eight miles to
General Burnside's head-quarters. He received me
with great cordiality, and made me at once at home.
He told me he would be glad to have me mess with
him, and that I should sleep in the tent of Lieu-
tenant Goddard, one of his aids. He told me of th^
orders he had issued for the march of the army the
next day, intending to make an attack upon the
enemy across the river early on Tuesday morning.
General Pleasonton, of the cavalry, however, had
reported that during the preceding night he had
heard the rumbling of artillery on the opposite side,
and other indications that the enemy was massing
troops above Fredericksburg. This led the Genenu
to suppose that the enemy might have discovered
his plan, which was to deceive them by feints into
the belief that he intended to cross ten miles below
the dty, and then make the actual crossing eight
miles above, at Bank's Ford. In order to render
himself certain on this point, he postponed the
movement a day, and sent a trusty spy, named
McGhec, to ascertain the movements of the enemy.

" The General told me the manner in which this
spy conducted his operations. The rebels had
pickets only at the places where crossing was feasi-
ble ; there were many others where the nigh, steep
banks on either side rendered it impossible. Mc-
Ghee's habit was to let himself down the bank by a
rope at one of these points, cross on a raft which he
kept concealed in the bushes, and communicate with
one of several Union residents on the other side.
On this occasion he spent nearly the whole day
waiting for an old man who lived within the rebel
lines to traverse the neighborhood in his farm-wagon
and ascertain the facts. Toward night, he brought
a letter from this man, — a wretched scrawl, badly
spelled, and evidently from a very ignorant person,
but containing the important inK}rmation that the
enemy had sent one brigade considerably above
Bank's Ford to provide against a crossing at the
United States Ford, but that there were no troops
or guns at the former place. This was all that
General Burnside wished to know, and he forthwith
proceeded to put his plan in execution.

" On Monclay evening, as we were sitting round
the table after dinner, we heard the strains of a fine
band of music in front of the General's tent, and
an officer soon announced that Generals Franklm
and Smith had called to see the. commander. I at
once withdrew to Lieutenant Goddard's tent, and,
after reading awhile, went to bed, meantime having
heard a good deal of loud talking in the General's

" The next morning (Tuesday) the General asked
me to take a promenade with him. As we were
walking, he tola me that he found it extremely diffi-
cult to carry any operations into effect for lack of
codperation among nis officers. Generals Franklin
and Smith, he said, had spent the whole of the
preceding evening in remonstrating and protesting
against the projected movement. They had said
everything in their power to show that it must prove

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a failure. They thought any movement now would
be fatal. The enemy were too strong, and our own
troops were not in a fighting mood. They had no
conhdence in success, and General Franklin said the
New Jersey troops in his division had been greatly
disinclined to fignt by reason of the election to the
United States Senate of Wall (an open secessionist
recently released from Fort Lafayette), which they
cited as proving that their State was opposed to the
war. General Burnside said they were so violent
in their opposition, and apparently so determined in
their hostility to the movement, that, if lie had forty-
eight hours more of time, he would relieve them
from their commands and put others in their places.
He said he told them he had weighed all their
objections, had examined the ^ound personally and
with great care, and had decided upon the move-
ment as feasible. He should put tnem across the
river on Wednesday mominc;, and leave with them
the responsibility for the conduct of their commands.
They left head-quarters at about eleven.

"Orders were issued that ni|[ht for the movement
of the troops next day, to be in position for opera*
tions on Wednesday morning. At six o'clock on
that day, batteries were to open upon the enemy at
Skinner's Neck, below Fredericksburg, as if covering
a movement there. At seven, four pontoon bridges
were to be thrown across the river at Bank's Ford,
above the city. Hooker's division was to cross
first, and occupy one designated range of heights,
and Franklin's was to follow and Hold another.
These two positions, which were not defended by
the enemy, would command them completely and
give us access to their rear.

«* When I first came over to head-quarters, in the
course of conversation I had told the General of the
resignation of the Michigan lieutenant He at once
sent for the paper and for the officer, and on Mon-
day, while 1 was sitting in his tent, they were
brought in. The General read the resignation care-
fully, and then turned to the officer. He asked him

sundry questiohs, found that his name was ,

from Detroit, and then upbraided him in terms of

frcat severity, for his cowardly and mutinous con-
uct. What right had he to sit in judgment on the
policy of the Grovemment? Suppose every officer
were to do the same, what would become of the
army? He ended by telling him that he should
dismiss him in disgrace for cowardice and disloyaltv,
and that, if he should live to the age of Methusalen,
he could never effiice the brand. He then ordered
him under arrest, and sent him on board the guard-
ship. My brother afterward told me that he was
not a bad fellow, but that he had become tired of
the war, and desperate in his eagerness to go home
upon hearing of the death of his child and the dan-
gerous illness of his wife. General Bum side's
manner was very vigorous, and the rebuke, coming
as it did from an earnest and sincere mind, was very

** The night of Monday was clear and the weather
moderate. By morning It had become cloudy, and
a cold north-east wind seemed to threaten rain or
snow. The movement of the troops began about
10 o'clock^ and throughout the dav they continued
to pass along the road back from tne river and be-
hind Falmouth. The troops seemed to be in good
spirits, and moved with a good degree of speed.

" In the afternoon I rode with Mr. William
Swinton [the 'Times* correspondent with the
army of the Potomac, and now Professor of History
in tne University of California] to General Sum-
ner's head-quarters, which were at the Phillipp's
house, a large, fine, brick country mansion, about

midway between general head-quarters and the
river, and a mile and a half from bo^h. General
Sumner received me with great cordiality. He
was in fine spirits, — full of talk and of loyalty, —
and impressea me as being one of the finest speci-
mens of the old soldier to be found in any service.
He gave us at dinner a bottle of champagne, but it
did not make him in the least communicative as to
approaching movements, though he went so far as '
to say that if we would stav with him three or four
days he thought he could show us vwrk. We rode
back at 7, and intending to make an early start so
as to be on the ground as soon as operations should
commence, I went to my tent early. The General
had put a very fine gray horse, with an orderly, at
my disposal, and we were all to start at half-past
five A. M.

♦'At about 8 P. M. it began to rain, at first
slowly ; soon the wind rose and the rain became a
driving sleet, and through all the rest of the night
the tempest fairly howled around and through the
tent, and I spent nearly the whole night in thmking
of the poor fellows who had left their camps, ana
would be compelled to bivouac for the night on the
cold wet ground, without tents, and with the pros-
pect of a bloody battle in the morning.

" In the morning, I got up at five, found that the
General had not slept at all, and had received re-
ports that the rain had arrested the movement of
the pontoons and artillery, and that nothing could
be done by the time designated. He did not come
to breakfast, but had tea and toast sent to his sleep-
ing tent. At seven, with four of his staff, he
started up the river. It continued to rain hard, and
as I knew this would render the time of commenc-
ing the movement wholly uncertain, I resolved to
stay in my tent until the sound of artillery should
announce the opening of the ball. The result was
that I stayed in my tent all day. It rained and
blew without ceasing. At five in the afternoon the
General returned. He said the rain had made the
ground so soft that it was impossible to move.
Horses and wagons sank into the mud beyond hope
of extrication. Twenty horses failed to start a sin-
gle caisson. Men had been trying, 150 to each, to
haul the pontoons, but without effect. The troops
had not suffered much from their exposure, and
were still in good spirits. But the horses and
mules were worn out, and hundreds had died in the
harness. The General ordered a regiment of cav-
alry to dismount and make pack horses of their
animals, to carry forage and lignt commissary stores
to the front, and directed (Sptain Myers, of the
Quartermaster's Department, to bring up by extra
train from Acquia Creek, a supply of whisky, so
as to give each man a whisky ration in the morning.

"General Burnside said that Franklin, Hooker,
and Woodbury continued to protest, verbsdly and in
writing, against the movement, and that it seemed as
if they had done everything in their power to retard
and thwart it. General Wilcox soon came in
bringing a letter from General Woodbury, in which
he said that the bridges could not be put down, and
that even if twenty bridges could be built the move-
ment ought not to be made. Similar remarks were
repeated from other officers. During dinner a tele-
gram announced that the bridges over which
Slocum's division must march to join the main body
were down. The General was greatly perplexed by
this untoward turn of events, but continued cheerful
and hopefiil nevertheless. He was sure it would
all come out right at last.

** Thursday, January 22nd, — ^The night was drizzlv
and windy, but without heavy rain. Dr. Churcn

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waked me at eight, and I went in to breakfast with
General Bumside, General Parks, Chief-of-staff, and
Dr. Church. The General said he had received fresh
protests against the movement from the generals
charged with its execution. General Hooker had
sent down word that the chances were nineteen to
one against its success. Franklin said success was
impossible, Woodbury had repeated the opinion
expressed in his letter of the day before. After
breakfast, Mr. Swinton told me that General Hooker
had talked very openly about the absurdity of the
movement the day before, — that he had denounced
the commanding general as incompetent, and the
President and Government at Washmgton as imbe-
cile and * played out.* Nothing would go right, he
said, until we had a dictator, and the sooner the
better. This, Mr. Swinton said, was the preneral
tenor of General Hooker's conversation, which was
perfectly free and unrestrained.

*' General Bumside said that reports came in that
the enemy had discovered the point at which a
crossing was intended, and were evidently taking
precautions against it. The mud continued to im-
pede operations on our side; in this respect the
rebels had somewhat the advantage of us, inasmuch
as they had a plank road running up from Fredricks-
burgh alone the river. General Bumside said he
had decided to eo to Washington and lay the whole
matter before the President and General Halleck,
leaving them to decide whether he should go forward
with the movement or not. He disliked to go, —
thought that perhaps he ought to take the whole
responsibility himself. He knew that the whole
country demanded a movement, and that the army
and the cause needed a success. But he also knew
how very difficult it would be to achieve a success
while the sentiments of his genieral officers were so
decidedly against the movement. I told him there
could be no difficulty in making the public under-
stand the absolute necessity of postponing the
movement after the rain commenced: the real
trouble would be to answer the question, why the
movement had not taken place sooner^ while the
weather was good and the roads hard.

" He said he had attempted a movement two or
three times. After the dcteat at Fredericksburg, —
whidi was due, he said, to General Franklin's dis-
obedience of his orders, — he planned another advance
for December 3 1 st. The main attack was committed
to General Sumner, while General Averill, with a
picked force of cavalry and fl3ring artillery (2,500 in
all), was to make an extensive and startling raid
upon the communications of the enemy to divert his
attention. He had planned the whole movement
with great care. Everything was ready, the orders
were given, and the cavalry nad proceeded nearly a
day's march on the way, when ne received a tele-
gram from President Lincoln, saying : * I have good
reasons for saying you must make no movement
-without consulting me.' General Bumside at once
recalled the expcSition and went to Washington.
He called upon the President, and was told that
certain of his subordinate officers had represented to
him that the movement was very hazardous and
almost certain to end disastrously. It was for this
reason that he had sent him the despatch. General
Bumside could not ascertain who these officers were
(Mr. Swinton told me they were General Newton
:and General John Cochrane), nor could he receive
any permission to go on with his movement. After
a good deal of conversation, he told the President
he was satisfied the country had lost confidence in
'^ - i Secretary of War, General Halleck, and himself,
^hat in his judgment all three should resign.

" The next morning he wrote the President a let-
ter stating the same thing, and giving a variety of
reasons therefor, accompanying £e letter with his
own resignation. He then went to Stanton and
told him what he had written. Stanton repUed: * If
you had as much confidence in yourself as others
nave in you, all would go well enough.' The Presi-
dent complained that no one would shoulder a par-
ticle of responsibility which could be thrown off
upon him. General Bumside's resignation was
refused, and he went back to his command. Thus
ended this attempt at a forward movement. Then
came the attempt which had just been thwarted by
the rain, having first been delayed by the hostility
of his generals and the condition of the pontoons.

** At ten General Bumside left by a special train
for Washington. After he had gone, I nad a good
deal of conversation with Genend Parks, his chief-
of-staff, who had been in former times a special
favorite of Jefferson Davis. He said he was satis-
fied that the rebellion had been planned for a long
time, and that Davis was very busy in arranging
it while he was secretary of war under President
Pierce. One trifling circumstance that satisfied him
of this was, that he would never suffer any clerk to
open the mails sent to the department. He always
opened them himself, and after selecting such letters
as he wished, he handed the others over to the proper
clerks. When he was not at the department upon
their arrival, he had them sent to his house; ana if
he happened to be out of town, they were always
opened oy his wife. General Parks said this showed
clearly that he carried on, during all the time he was
in the office, a correspondence designed to be secret,
and he had now no doubt that it was on this very
subject of secession.

*< General Parks told me a good deal concerning
the battle of Fredericksburg, in confirmation of
what General Bumside had already told me. He
said the General had ordered Franklin to push at
least one division against the rebel right, and to sup-
port it strongly. Franklin sent Meade's corps (the
smallest of all) to the attack. Meade, however,
broke the rebel lines, and actually got among their
ammunition wagons and supply-train in the rear;
and if he had been properly and promptly supported,
he certainly would have tumed them completely,
and, as Bumside said, captured every gun. Franlc-
lin was very slow in sending support of any kind,
and when he did so, they were too wesdc for the pur-
pose. He afterward gave as a reason for this, that
ne was afraid the enemy would seize his bridges if
he sent away too large a force. This was the reason
why the battle was lost. The next day. General
Bumside proposed to put himself at the nead of his
old Ninth Corps, 20,000 strong, and renew the
attack upon the rebel right, so confident was he of
his ability to break them. He (Bumside) afterward
told me that if General Franklin had obeyed his
orders, he would have captured every gun in the
rebel army.

**At 12 o'clock, taking the General's gray horse, I
rode with Dr. Church to the advanced position of
the army,— about eight miles. The road was muddy ;
but, having a hard bottom, was auite passable, even
for cannon. It was only when tney tumed into the
fields, or were obliged to take the country roads,
that the mud became absolutely unconquerable.
We found General Wadsworth in a small wood-
house on a little farm, having just arrived and made
it his headquarters. He said the men of his divi«
sion had not suffered very seriously from the aigl&t
march, and that they were rapidly making them-
selves comfortable in the woods. We told tiim we

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hiul heard that the moTement was to be abandoned.
He said fu would not abandon it if he had command.
We suggested that cannon could not be moved at
alL 'Dien, he replied, he would make the attack
with infantry, for the rebels couldn't move cannon
any better than we could. He seemed in eood
spirits, and wished me, on my return to New York,
to tell his wife that I left him heating water on the
fire to shave himself.

**■ We returned to head-quarters at five, and found
General Bumside there already. After we had joked
him a little about the rapidity of his journey to Wash-
ington, he told us he had been only to Acouia
Creek. Before leaving^ camp he had telegraphed to
General Halleck as follows : ' I wish very much to
see }rou for an hour. Will ^ou come down to
Acquia, or shall I go to Washmgton ? ' On reach-
ing Acqnia Creek he found a reply : * Use your own
judgment about coming up/ to which he answered
at once: * Yours received. I shall not come.'
He seemed greatly annoyed and vexed at the appar-
ent indifierence of General Halleck to the move-
ment of the army and to his wbhes, and said he
should not go to Washington to see him. While we
were talking Lieutenant Bo wen came down from
General Hooker's head-quarters and said that Hooker
was denouncing the attempted movement very
freely and without the slightest restraint; even if
the weather had been perfectly good, he said, the
attempt to cross wotud have proved a failure.
General Burnside said he should send to the
President his unconditional resignation of his com-
mand — sending at the same time the removal of
several of his field officers. I made no remark
at the time, seeing that he was too much dis-
turbed and excited to give the matter proper con-

^ Friday f Jan. 2jrd» — In the morning after break-
fast General Bumside told me he had changed his
mind about accompanying his letter of resignation
with the removal of officers. He feared this would
look too much like attempting to make conditions
with the government, whicn he said he had no rieht
to do. He had determined to resign and send his
letter to Washington by special messenger. After
Pope's repulse, when Washington was thought to
be in great danger from the rebels, who were push-
ing into Marylai^d, General McClellan had refused
Co resume command of the Army of the Potomac un-
less Mr. Stanton or General Halleck should first be
removed. H^ had not done this formally, but had
told his friends that he should insist on these con-
ditions. General Burnside said he talked with him
until three o'clock in the morning to dissuade him
from making any such conditions. He found him
excessively stubborn about it, and finally told him
that he had no right to take such a course, and that
he could not possibly maintain his position before the

Online LibraryGeorge Streynsham MasterThe Century, Volume 19 → online text (page 73 of 160)