MILITARY REMINISCENCES OF THE CIVIL WAR
BY JACOB DOLSON COX, A.M., LL.D.
Formerly Major-General commanding Twenty-Third Army Corps
APRIL 1861--NOVEMBER 1863
WINTER QUARTERS, 1862-63--PROMOTIONS AND POLITICS
Central position of Marietta, Ohio--Connection with all parts of West Virginia--Drill and instruction of troops--Guerilla warfare--Partisan Rangers--Confederate laws--Disposal of plunder--Mosby's Rangers as a type--Opinions of Lee, Stuart, and Rosser--Effect on other troops--Rangers finally abolished--Rival home-guards and militia--Horrors of neighborhood war--Staff and staff duties--Reduction of forces--General Cluseret--Later connection with the Paris Commune--His relations with Milroy--He resigns--Political situation--Congressmen distrust
Lincoln--Cutler's diary--Resolutions regarding appointments of general officers--The number authorized by law--Stanton's report--Effect of Act of July, 1862--An excess of nine major-generals--The legal questions involved--Congressional patronage and local distribution--Ready for a "deal"--Bill to increase the number of generals--A "slate" made up to exhaust the number--Senate and House disagree--Conference--Agreement in last hours of the session--The new list--A few vacancies by resignation, etc.--List of those dropped--My own case--Faults of the method--Lincoln's humorous comments--Curious case of General Turchin--Congestion in the highest grades--Effects--Confederate grades of general and lieutenant-general--Superiority of our system--Cotemporaneous reports and criticisms--New regiments instead of recruiting old ones--Sherman's trenchant opinion.
Early in December I established my winter headquarters at Marietta on the Ohio River, a central position from which communication could be had most easily with all parts of the district and with department headquarters. It was situated at the end of the railway line from Cincinnati to the Ohio River near Parkersburg, where the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad met the Cincinnati line. The Baltimore road, coming from the east, forked at Grafton in West Virginia and reached Wheeling, as has been described in an earlier chapter. [Footnote: _Ante_, pp. 40, 42.] The river was usually navigable during the winter and made an easy communication with Wheeling as with the lower towns. I was thus conveniently situated for most speedily reaching every part of my command, in person or otherwise. It took but a little while to get affairs so organized that the routine of work ran on quietly and pleasantly. No serious effort was made by the enemy to re-enter the district during the winter, and except some local outbreaks of "bush-whacking" and petty guerilla warfare, there was nothing to interrupt the progress of the troops in drill and instruction.
A good deal of obscurity still hangs about the subject of guerilla warfare, and the relation of the Confederate government to it. There was, no doubt, a good deal of loose talk that found its way into print and helped form a popular opinion, which treated almost every scouting party as if it were a lawless organization of "bush-whackers." But there was an authoritative and systematic effort of the Richmond government to keep up partisan bodies within our lines which should be soldiers when they had a chance to do us a mischief, and citizens when they were in danger of capture and punishment. When
Fremont assumed command of the Mountain Department, he very early called the attention of the Secretary of War to the fact that Governor Letcher was sending commissions into West Virginia, authorizing the recipients to enlist companies to be used against us in irregular warfare. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xii. pt. iii. p. 75.]
The bands which were organized by the Confederate Government under authority of law, but which were free from the control of army commanders and unrestrained by the checks upon lawlessness which are found in subordination to the operations of organized armies, were called "Partisan Rangers," and protection as legitimate soldiers was promised them. They were not required to camp with the army, or to remain together as troops or regiments. They wore uniforms or not, as the whim might take them. They remained, as much as they dared, in their home region, and assembled, usually at night, at a preconcerted signal from their leaders, to make a "raid." They were not paid as the more regular troops were, but were allowed to keep the horses which they captured or "lifted." They were nominally required to turn over the beef-cattle and army stores to the Confederate commissariat, but after a captured wagon-train had been looted by them, not much of value would be found in it. Their raids were made by such numbers as might chance to be got together. Stuart, the brilliant Confederate cavalry commander, whilst crediting Mosby with being the best of the partisans, said of him, "he usually operates with only one-fourth of his nominal strength. Such organizations, as a rule, are detrimental to the best interests of the army at large." [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxiii. p. 1082.] General Lee, in forwarding one of Mosby's reports, commended his boldness and good management, but added: "I have heard that he has now with him a large number of men, yet his expeditions are undertaken with very few, and his attention seems more directed to the capture of sutlers' wagons, etc., than to the injury of the enemy's communications and outposts.... I do not know the cause for undertaking his expeditions with so few men; whether it is from policy or the difficulty of collecting them. I have heard of his men, among them officers, being in rear of this army, selling captured goods, sutlers' stores, etc. This had better be attended to by others. It has also been reported to me that many deserters from this army have joined him. Among them have been seen members of the Eighth Virginia Regiment." [Footnote: _Id_., vol xxix. pt. ii. p.652.] In the "Richmond Examiner" of August 18, 1863 (the same date as General Lee's letter), was the statement that "At a sale of Yankee plunder taken by Mosby and his men, held at Charlottesville last week, thirty-odd thousand dollars were realized, to be divided among the gallant band." [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxix. pt. ii. p. 653.]
The injury to the discipline of their own army gradually brought leading officers of the Confederates to the conviction that the "Partisan Rangers" cost more than they were worth. In January, 1864, General Rosser, one of the most distinguished cavalry officers of the South, made a formal communication to General Lee on the subject. "During the time I have been in the valley," he said, "I have had ample opportunity of judging of the efficiency and usefulness of the many irregular bodies of troops which occupy this country, known as partisans, etc., and am prompted by no other feeling than a desire to serve my country, to inform you that they are a nuisance and an evil to the service. Without discipline, order, or organization, they roam broadcast over the country, a band of thieves, stealing, pillaging, plundering, and doing every manner of mischief and crime. They are a terror to the citizens and an injury to the cause. They never fight; can't be made to fight. Their leaders are generally brave, but few of the men are good soldiers, and have engaged in this business for the sake of gain." [Footnote: _Id_., vol. xxxiii. p. 1081.] After classifying the mischiefs to the regular service, he continues: "It is almost impossible to manage the different companies of my brigade that are from Loudoun, Fauquier, Fairfax, etc., the region occupied by Mosby. They see these men living at their ease and enjoying the comforts of home, allowed to possess all that they capture, and their duties mere pastime pleasures compared with their own arduous ones, and it is a natural consequence, in the nature of man, that he should become dissatisfied under these circumstances. Patriotism fails, in a long and tedious war like this, to sustain the ponderous burdens which bear heavily and cruelly upon the heart and soul of man." [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxiii. p. 1081.] General Rosser recommended the absorption of the partisan bodies into the ordinary brigades, using their supposed talents for scouting by sending them on expeditions as regular patrols and reconnoitring parties, reporting to their proper command as soon as the duty was done.
It was upon Rosser's communication that Stuart made the endorsement already quoted, and Lee sent it forward to the War Department, further endorsed thus: "As far as my knowledge and experience extend, there is much truth in the statement of General Rosser. I recommend that the law authorizing these partisan corps be abolished. The evils resulting from their organization more than counterbalance the good they accomplish." The Secretary of War, Mr. Siddon, drafted a bill to abolish them, and it passed the Confederate House. Delay occurring in the Senate, the matter was compromised by transferring all the Rangers except Mosby's and McNeill's to the line. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 1082, 1253.] As it was to Mosby's that the reported facts applied, and all agreed that his was the best of the lot, we may imagine what must have been the character of the rest.
In the first two winters of the war, these organizations were in the height of their pernicious activity, and the loyal West Virginians were their favorite victims. We knew almost nothing of their organization, except that they claimed some Confederate law for their being. We seldom found them in uniform, and had no means of distinguishing them from any other armed horse-stealers and "bush-whackers." We were, however, made unpleasantly certain of the fact that in every neighborhood where secession sentiments were rife, our messengers were waylaid and killed, small parties were ambushed, and all the exasperating forms of guerilla warfare were abundant. Besides all this, the Confederate authorities assumed to call out the militia of counties into which they were intending to make an expedition, so that they might have the temporary co-operation of local troops. They claimed the right to do this because they had not recognized the separation of West Virginia, and insisted that the whole was subject to the laws of Virginia. The result was that the Union men formed companies of "Home Guards" for self-protection, and the conflict of arms was carried into every settlement in the mountain nooks and along the valleys. In this kind of fighting there was no quarter given, or if prisoners were taken, they were too often reported as having met with fatal accidents before they could be handed over to the regular authorities. As all this could have no effect upon the progress of the war, the more cool and intelligent heads of both sides opposed it, and gradually diminished it. Severe measures against it were in fact merciful, for the horrors of war are always least when the fighting is left to the armies of responsible belligerents, unprovoked by the petty but exasperating hostilities of irregulars. The trouble from this source was less during the winter of 1862-63 than it had been the year before, but it still gave occupation to small movable columns of our troops from time to time.
The organization of my staff was somewhat increased with the enlargement of responsibilities. Lieutenant-Colonel McElroy, who had been my adjutant-general in the campaign of 1861, returned to me as inspector-general and took the whole supervision of the equipment, drill, and instruction of the troops of the district. Major Bascom, who had received his promotion at the same time with mine, continued to be adjutant-general. The increased work in looking after supplies made more force in the commissariat a necessity, and Captain Barriger of the regular army was sent to me, my former commissary, Captain Treat, continuing on the staff. Barriger was a modest, clear-headed officer of admirable business qualifications, whom I had the good fortune to be again associated with late in the war. Three principal depots of supply were established at the bases of the principal lines of communication in the district,--Wheeling, Parkersburg, and Gallipolis. At each of these, depot commissaries and quartermasters were located, and the posts and commands at the front drew their supplies from them. Captain Fitch, my quartermaster, supervised his department in a similar way to that of the commissariat. My aides were Captain Christie and Lieutenant Conine, as before, and I added to them my brother, Theodore Cox, who served with me as volunteer aide without rank in the battles of South Mountain and Antietam, and was then appointed lieutenant in the Eleventh Ohio Infantry. He was my constant companion from this time till peace was established. The medical department remained under the care of Major Holmes, Brigade-Surgeon, who combined scientific with administrative qualities in a rare measure.
There was no military movement during the winter of sufficient importance to be told at length. Constant scouting and reconnoissances were kept up, slight skirmishes were not infrequent, but these did not prevent our sense of rest and of preparation for the work of the next spring. General Crook, with a brigade, was transferred temporarily to the command of Rosecrans in Tennessee, and Kelley, Milroy, and Scammon divided the care of the three hundred miles of mountain ranges which made our front. My own leisure gave me the opportunity for some systematic and useful reading in military history and art. An amusing interlude occurred in a hot controversy which arose between General Milroy and one of his subordinates which would not be worth mentioning except for the fact that the subordinate had afterward a world-wide notoriety as military chief of the Paris Commune in 1870.
Gustave Cluseret was a Frenchman, who was appointed in the spring of 1862 an aide-de-camp with the rank of colonel upon the staff of General Fremont, who (with questionable legality) assigned him to command a brigade, [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xii. pt. i. pp. 9, 35.] and recommended his appointment as brigadier for good conduct in the May and June campaign against Jackson. The appointment was made on October 14th, [Footnote: Army Register, 1863, p. 95.] and during the fall and winter he had a brigade in Milroy's division. Milroy was, for a time, loud in his praises of Cluseret as the _beau ideal_ of an officer, and their friendship was fraternal. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxi. p. 779.] In the winter, however, their mutual admiration was nipped by a killing frost, and a controversy sprung up between them which soon led to mutual recrimination also in the superlative degree. They addressed their complaints to
General Halleck, and as the papers passed through my headquarters, I was a witness of their berating of each other. They made a terrible din, on paper, for a while, but I cannot recall anything very serious in their accusations.
Halleck pigeon-holed their correspondence, but Milroy had powerful political friends, and Cluseret, learning that his appointment would not be confirmed by the Senate, anticipated their action, and terminated his military career in the United States by resigning two days before the close of the session of Congress. [Footnote: Army Register, 1863, p. 101. His name does not appear in the lists in the body of the Register, because he was not in the Army April 1, 1863, the date of publication.]
This brings me to the subject of Congressional action in the matter of the promotions and appointments in the army during this winter session which closed the Thirty-seventh Congress. By it I was myself to suffer the one severe disappointment of my military career. The time was one of great political excitement, for the fall elections had resulted in a great overturning in the Congressional delegations. The Democrats had elected so many representatives for the Thirty-eighth Congress that it was doubtful whether the administration would be able to command a majority in the House. The retirement of McClellan from the command had also provoked much opposition, and in the lack of full knowledge of the reasons for displacing him, political ones were imagined and charged. Public policy forbade the President to make known all his grounds of dissatisfaction with the general, and many of his own party openly questioned his wisdom and his capacity to govern. Men whose patriotism cannot be questioned shared in this distrust, and in their private writings took the most gloomy view of the situation and of the future of the country. This was intensified when Burnside was so bloodily repulsed at
Fredericksburg at the close of the first week of the session. [Footnote: Mr. W. P. Cutler, Representative from Ohio, a modest but very intelligent and patriotic man, wrote in his diary under December 16th: "This is a day of darkness and peril to the country... Lincoln himself seems to have no nerve or decision in dealing with great issues. We are at sea, and no pilot or captain. God alone can take care of us, and all his ways _seem_ to be against us and to favor the rebels and their allies the Democrats. Truly it is a day of darkness and gloom." "Life and Times" of Ephraim Cutler, with biographical sketches of Jervis Cutler and W. P. Cutler, p.296.]
As is usual in revolutionary times, more radical measures were supposed by many to be the cure for disasters, and in caucuses held by congressmen the supposed conservatism of Mr. Lincoln and part of his
cabinet was openly denounced, and the earnestness of the army leaders was questioned. [Footnote: Mr. Cutler reports a caucus of the House held January 27th, in which "Mr. ---- stated that the great difficulty was in holding the President to anything. He prided himself on having a divided cabinet, so that he could play one against the other... The earnest men are brought to a deadlock by the President. The President is tripped up by his generals, who for the most part seem to have no heart in their work." _Id_., p.301. Mr. Cutler himself expresses similar sentiments and reiterates: "It really seems as if the ship of state was going to pieces in the storm." "How striking the want of a leader. The nation is without a head." "The true friends of the government are groping around without a leader," etc. _Id_., pp. 297, 301,302] Much of this was a misunderstanding of the President and of events which time has corrected, but at the moment and in the situation of the country it was natural. It strongly affected the conduct of the federal legislators, and must be taken into the account when we try to understand their attitude toward the army and the administration of military affairs.
In the Senate, at a very early day after the opening of the session, Mr. Wilson, chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs, offered a resolution (which passed without opposition) calling upon the Secretary of War for "the number and names of the major-generals and brigadier-generals in the service of the United States, and where and how they are employed." [Footnote: Senate Journal, 3d Session, 37th Congress, Dec. 8, 1862.] This was, no doubt, the offspring of an opinion in vogue in Congress, that the President had gone beyond the authority of law in the number of these officers he had appointed. If this were true, the course taken was not a friendly one toward the administration. The whole list of appointments and promotions would be submitted to the Senate for confirmation, and if the statutory number had been exceeded, that body could stop confirming when it reached the legal limit. There were, of course, frequent consultations between the Congressional committees or the individual members and the Secretary of War; but whatever efforts there may have been to reach a quiet understanding failed. On the 21st of January, the Secretary not having responded to Mr. Wilson's resolution, Mr. Rice of Minnesota offered another (which also passed by unanimous consent), directing the Secretary of War "to inform the Senate whether any more major and brigadier generals have been appointed and paid than authorized by law; and if so, how many; give names, dates of appointment and amounts paid." [Footnote: _Id_., Jan. 21, 1863.]
Two days later the Secretary sent in his reports in response to both resolutions. To the first he replied that the interests of the public service would not permit him to state "where and how" the general officers were employed, but he gave the list of names. He gave also a separate list of six major-generals who were not assigned to any duty. [Footnote: These were McClellan, Fremont, Cassius M. Clay,
Buell (ordered before a military commission),
McDowell, and F. J. Porter (both before military courts in connection with the second battle of Bull Run).] To the second resolution he replied that "It is believed by this Department that the law authorizing the increase of the volunteer and militia forces necessarily implied an increase of officers beyond the number specified in the Act of July 17, 1862, to any extent required by the service, and that the number of appointments is not beyond such limit." If the limit of the statute named were strictly applied, he said there would be found to be nine major-generals and forty-six brigadier-generals in excess. There had been no payments of increased salary to correspond with the increased rank, except in one instance. [Footnote: Executive Documents of Senate, 3d Session, 37th Congress, Nos. 21 and 22. The nine major-generals were Schuyler Hamilton, Granger, Cox, Rousseau,
McPherson, Augur, Meade, Hartsuff, and N. B. Buford. If the number were thirteen, it would include Foster, Parke, Schenck, and Hurlbut.] The list submitted showed fifty-two major-generals in service, and one (Buford) was omitted, so that if forty should prove to be the limit, there would be thirteen in excess. This, however, was only apparently true, for the Secretary's list included the four major-generals in the regular army, whose case was not covered by the limitation of the statute. This seems to have been overlooked in the steps subsequently taken by members of Congress, and as the action was unwelcome to the President, he did not enlighten the legislators respecting their miscalculation. The business proceeded upon the supposition that the appointments in the highest rank were really thirteen in excess of the number fixed by the statute.
The state of the law was this. The Act of July 22, 1861, authorized the President to call for volunteers, not exceeding half a million, and provided for one brigadier-general for four regiments and one major-general for three brigades. The Act of 25th July of the same year authorized a second call of the same number, and provided for "such number of major-generals and brigadier-generals as may in his (the President's) judgment be required for their organization." In the next year, however, a "rider" was put upon the clause in the appropriation bill to pay the officers and men of the volunteer service, which provided "that the President shall not be authorized to appoint more than forty major-generals, nor more than two hundred brigadier-generals," and repealed former acts which allowed more. [Footnote: The several acts referred to may be found in vol. xii. U. S. Statutes at Large, pp. 268, 274, 506. The appropriation bill was passed July 5, 1862. The date July 17, 1862, in the Secretary's report seems to be a misprint.] This limit just covered those who had been appointed up to the date of the approval of the appropriation bill. Two questions, however, were still open for dispute. First, whether a "rider" upon the appropriation should change a general law on the subject of army organization, and second, whether the new limit might not allow appointments to be _thereafter_ made to the extent of the numbers stated. The report of Mr. Stanton evidently suggests such questions.
The matter was now in good shape for what politicians call "a deal," and negotiations between members of Congress and the executive were active. The result appears to have been an understanding that a bill should be passed increasing the number of general officers, so as not only to cover the appointments already made, but leaving a considerable margin of new promotions to be filled by arrangement between the high contracting parties. On the 12th of February, 1863, the Senate passed a bill providing for the appointment of twenty major-generals of volunteers and fifty brigadiers. This was not acceptable to the House. The battle of Stone's River had lately been fought in Tennessee, and representatives from the West were urgent in arguing that affairs near
Washington unduly filled the view of the administration. There was some truth in this. At any rate the House amended the bill so as to increase the numbers to forty major-generals and one hundred brigadiers, to be made by promotions, for meritorious service, from lower grades. As soon as it was known that the Military Committee of the House would report such an amendment, it was assumed that the Senate would concur, and a "slate" was made up accordingly. On the hypothesis that the list of major-generals was thirteen in excess of the forty fixed by statute, a new list of twenty-seven was made out, which would complete the forty to be added by the new bill. A similar list was prepared for the brigadiers and precisely similar negotiations went on, but for brevity's sake I shall confine myself to the list for the highest rank, in which I was personally concerned.
The House passed the amended bill on the 27th of February, and it went back to the Senate for concurrence in the amendments. But now an unexpected difficulty arose. The Senate refused to concur in the changes made by the House. It matters little whether the senators were offended at the determination of the lower House to have so large a share in the nominations, or desired to punish the President for having gone beyond the letter of the law in his promotions of 1862; the fact was that they voted down the amendments. A committee of conference between the two houses was appointed, and a compromise report was made fixing the additional number of major-generals at thirty and of brigadiers at seventy-five. Both Houses finally concurred in the report, the bill went to the President on the 1st of March, and he signed it on the next day.
There was but a single working-day of the session left, for the session must end at noon of the 4th of March. The list must be reduced. The manner in which this was done clinches the proof, if there had been any doubt before, that the list of twenty-seven was the result of negotiations with congressmen. No meddling with that list was permitted, though the use of patronage as "spoils" had some very glaring illustrations in it. The President had to make the reduction from his own promotions made earlier, and which were therefore higher on the list and in rank, instead of dropping those last added, as had seemed to be demanded by the earlier action of Congress. The only exception to this was in the case of General Schofield, whose even-handed administration of the District of Missouri and army of the frontier had excited the enmity of extreme politicians in that State and in Kansas, led by Senator "Jim" Lane, the prince of "jay-hawkers." Schofield was dropped from the twenty-seven.
A few changes had occurred in the original roster of officers, making additional vacancies. Governor Morgan of New York, who had a complimentary appointment as major-general, but had never served, resigned. Schuyler Hamilton also resigned, and Fitz-John Porter was cashiered.
The number to be sacrificed was thus reduced to six, and the lot fell on Generals N. B. Buford, G. W. Morell, W. F. Smith, H. G. Wright, J. M. Schofield, and myself. The last four won their promotion a second time and were re-appointed and confirmed at varying intervals; but of that later. Of course, in such a scramble it was only a question as to who had or had not powerful friends on the spot who would voluntarily champion his cause. No one at a distance could have any warning. The passage of the bill and action under it came together. For myself, I had gone quietly on in the performance of duty, never dreaming of danger, and it was long years after the war before I learned how the thing had in fact been done. My place had been near the top of the list, the commands which I had exercised and the responsibilities intrusted to me had been greater than those of the large majority of the appointees, and I had conclusive evidence of the approval of my superiors. The news was at first, therefore, both astonishing and disheartening. As a result of political "influences," it is sufficiently intelligible. I had at that time a barely speaking acquaintance with Senator Wade of Ohio. It was the same with Senator Sherman, but with the added disadvantage that in the senatorial contest of 1860 between him and Governor Dennison I had warmly espoused the cause of the latter. Mr. Hutchins, the representative from my district, had not been renominated, and Garfield, who was elected in his place, had not yet taken his seat, but was still in the military service in the field.
Mr. Chase had been a constant friend, but this was just the time when his differences with Mr. Lincoln had become acute, and since the 20th of December the President had in his hands the resignations of both
Chase, which enabled him to refuse both, and to baffle the party in the Senate which was trying to force him to reorganize his cabinet by excluding Seward and those who were thought the more conservative. As he expressed it, "he had a pumpkin in each end of his bag, and could now ride." [Footnote: Hay and Nicolay's "Lincoln," vol. vi. p. 271.] If, on the theory of apportioning the promotions to States, it were held that Ohio must lose one of the six nominated, it was easy to see where the balance of influence would be.
General Halleck was well known to be persistent in favoring appointments from the regular army, and would urge that the reduction should be made from those originally appointed from civil life. These were Schenck and myself. But General Schenck was a veteran member of the House of Representatives and had now been elected to the next house, in which it was known he would be a prominent character. It goes without saying, therefore, that on such a basis the black ball would come to me. [Footnote: The promotions of Ohio officers then pending, besides my own, were of Schenck, McCook, Rosecrans, Stanley, McPherson, and
Sheridan.] To complete the story of the promotions made at this time, it may be added that a short executive session of the Senate was held after the regular adjournment of Congress on the 4th of March, and that the President sent in the names of Carl Schurz and Julius Stahel to be made major-generals. For one of these a vacancy was made by the arrangement that Cassius M. Clay was reappointed minister to St. Petersburg and resigned the military rank which he had never used. The other seems to have been made by a resignation to take effect the next month. General Sumner died on the 21st of March, making another vacancy, but it is difficult to fix with accuracy the exact date of the changes which occurred. [Footnote: The reason for this difficulty is in part found in the frequent assignment of rank to officers from an earlier date than their appointment, and as the official lists are arranged according to rank, they are sometimes misleading as to date of appointment. Thus Rosecrans dates in the register from March 21, 1862, but he was not appointed till some six months later. So also Schofield when reappointed in May, 1863, was made to rank as in his first appointment, from Nov. 29, 1862.] In the case of the last two promotions Mr. Lincoln openly declared that he made them in recognition of the German element in the army and in politics. [Footnote: For an illustration of Mr. Lincoln's way of putting things in such cases, see "Military Miscellany" by Colonel James B. Fry, p. 281.]
It would be unjust to assume that members of Congress and the President were not guided by patriotic motives. The reform of the public service in matters of appointment had not then attracted much attention. Patronage was used for political purposes with complete frankness and openness. In civil offices this custom was boldly defended and advocated. There was some consciousness shown that promotions in the army ought to be controlled by a somewhat different rule, but it seemed to be thought that enough was done in the way of safeguard when the choice was confined to officers already in service, and appointments for the highest grades were not given to entirely new men from civil life. Each aspirant could find friends to sound his praises, and it was easy to assert that it was only giving preference to one's friends among officers of equal merit. Many excellent appointments were in fact made, and the proportion of these would have been greater if the judgment of military superiors had been more controlling in determining the whole list. Mr. Lincoln's humorous way of explaining his actions may give an impression of a lower standard than he actually acknowledged; but it cannot be denied that he allowed himself to be pressed into making military promotions, at times, upon purely political or personal reasons. [Footnote: Colonel Fry, who was assistant adjutant-general at Washington and in personal intercourse with the President, gives the following as a memorandum made by Mr. Lincoln himself in reference to an application to have a regular-army officer made a brigadier-general of volunteers. "On this day Mrs. ----- called upon me: she is the wife of Major ----- of the regular army. She is a saucy little woman, and I think she will torment me till I have to do it." Colonel Fry adds, "It was not long till that little woman's husband was appointed a brigadier-general." Miscellany, pp. 280, 281.]
It did not seem to occur to the authorities that the judgment of superior officers in the field should be called for and carefully considered when it was a question of promoting one of their subordinates. An instance which occurred in
General Buell's army carried this beyond the verge of the grotesque. Colonel Turchin, of an Illinois regiment, was a Russian, an educated officer who had served in the Russian staff corps. An excellent soldier in many respects, his ideas of discipline were, unfortunately, lax, and in the summer of 1862 he was courtmartialled for allowing his men to pillage a town in Tennessee. The court was an intelligent one, of which General Garfield was president. The story current in the army at the time, and which I believe to be true, is that after the court had heard part of the testimony it became apparent that they must convict, and Mrs. Turchin, who usually accompanied her husband in the field, started to the rear to procure political "influences" to save him. With various recommendations she went to Washington, and was so successful that although the sentence of the court dismissing him from the service was promulgated on the 6th of August, he had been appointed a brigadier-general of volunteers on the 5th, and he was not one of those who were dropped from the list on March 3, 1863. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xvi. pt. ii. p. 277.] The trial was one of considerable notoriety, yet it is probable that it was overlooked by the President and Secretary of War at the time the appointment was made; but it cannot need to be said that whatever grounds for leniency might have existed, it turns the whole business into a farce when they were made the basis of a promotion in the revised list six months later. To add to the perfection of the story, Mrs. Turchin had acted on her own responsibility, and the colonel did not know of the result till he had gone home, and in an assembly of personal friends who called upon him ostensibly to cheer him in his doleful despondency, his wife brought the little drama to its _denouement_ by presenting him with the appointment in their presence.
One of the worst features of the method of appointment by "slate" made up between congressmen and the executive was that it filled up every place allowed by law, and left nothing to be used as a recognition for future services in the field, except as vacancies occurred, and these were few and far between. The political influences which determined the appointment were usually powerful enough to prevent dismissal. Whoever will trace the employment of officers of the highest grades in the last half of the war, will find large numbers of these on unimportant and nominal duty, whilst their work in the active armies was done by men of lower grade, to whom the appropriate rank had to be refused. The system was about as bad as could be, but victory was won in spite of it. It was fortunate, on the whole, that we did not have the grades of lieutenant-general and general during the war, as the Confederates had. They made the one the regular rank of a corps commander and the other of the commander of an army in the field. With us the assignment of a major-general by the President to command a corps gave him a temporary precedence over other major-generals not so assigned, and in like manner for the commander of an army. [Footnote: Our system was essentially that of the first French Republic and the Consulate, under which any general of division was assignable to an army command in chief.] If these were relieved, they lost the precedence, and thus there was a sort of temporary rank created, giving a flexibility to the grade of major-general, without which we should have been greatly embarrassed.
Grant's rank of lieutenant-general was an exceptional grade, made for him alone, when, after the battle of Missionary Ridge, he was assigned to the command of all the armies.
These opinions of mine are not judgments formed after the fact. The weak points in our army organization were felt at the time, and I took every means in my power to bring them to the attention of the proper authorities, State and National. At the close of 1862 a commission was appointed by the Secretary of War to revise the articles of war and army regulations. Of this commission Major-General Hitchcock was chairman. They issued a circular calling for suggestions as to alterations supposed to be desirable, and a copy was sent to me among others. I took occasion to report the results of my own experience, and to trace the evils which existed to their sources in our military system. I called attention to the striking parallel between our practices and those that had been in use in the first French Republic, and to the identical mischiefs which had resulted. Laxity of discipline, straggling, desertion, demagoguery in place of military spirit, giving commissions as the reward of mere recruiting, making new regiments instead of filling up the old ones, absence of proper staff corps,--every one of these things had been suffered in France till they could no longer be endured, and we had faithfully copied their errors without profiting by the lesson.
In the freedom of private correspondence with Mr. Chase I enlarged upon the same topics, and urged him to get the serious attention of the President and the cabinet to them. I gave him examples of the mischiefs that were done by the insane efforts to raise new regiments by volunteering when we ought to apply a conscription as the only fair way of levying a tax on the physical strength of the nation. I said: "I have known a lieutenant to be forced by his captain (a splendid soldier) to resign on account of his general inefficiency. I have seen that same lieutenant take the field a few months later as lieutenant-colonel of a new regiment, whilst the captain still stood at the head of his fraction of a company in the line. This is not a singular instance, but an example of cases occurring literally by the thousand in our vast army during the year past.... Governor Tod (of Ohio) said to me some time ago, with the deepest sorrow, that he was well aware that in raising the new regiments by volunteering, the distribution of offices to the successful recruiters was filling the army with incompetent men whom we should have to sift out again by such process as we could!.... Have we time for the sifting process? Even if we had, how inefficient the process itself when these officers have their commissions in their pockets, and cannot be brought before a court or a military commission till much of the mischief they can do is accomplished, bad habits amongst the soldiers formed, and the work of training them made infinitely more difficult than with absolutely raw recruits. It was in view of such probable results that I expressed the hope that no more new regiments would be raised by volunteering, when, in July last, the levy of an additional force was mooted. It seemed to me that the President could well say to the world, 'Our people have shown abundant proof of their enthusiasm in support of the government by volunteering already to the number of more than half a million, a thing unprecedented in the world's history: we now, as a matter of military expediency, call for a draft to fill up the broken battalions.'" [Footnote: From private letter of Jan. 1, 1863.]
I urged with equal frankness the need of giving unity to the army by abolishing the distinction between regulars and volunteers, and by a complete reorganization of the staff. I said it seemed absurd that with nearly a million of men in the field, the Register of the Army of the United States should show an organization of some twenty regiments only, of which scarce a dozen had been in active service. "If a volunteer organization is fit to decide the _great_ wars of the nation, is it not ridiculous to keep an expensive organization of regulars for the petty contests with Indians or for an ornamental appendage to the State in peace?" The thing to be aimed at seemed to me to be to have a system flexible enough to provide for the increase of the army to any size required, without losing any of the advantage of character or efficiency which, in any respect, pertained to it as a regular army. Circumstances to which I have already alluded, probably prevented Mr. Chase from taking any active part again in the discussion of army affairs in the cabinet. Probably many of the same ideas were urged upon the President from other quarters, for there was much agitation of the subject in the army and out of it. But nothing came of it, for even the draft, when it became the law, was used more as a shameful whip to stimulate volunteering than as an honorable and right way to fill the ranks of the noble veteran regiments.
General Sherman found, in 1864, the same wrong system thwarting his efforts to make his army what it should be, and broke out upon it in glorious exasperation. [Footnote: Letter to Halleck, Sept. 4, 1864. "To-morrow is the day for the draft, and I feel more interested in it than in any event that ever transpired. I do think it has been wrong to keep our old troops so constantly under fire. Some of these old regiments that we had at
Corinth have been with me ever since, and some of them have lost seventy per cent in battle. It looks hard to put these brigades, now numbering less than 800 men, into battle. They feel discouraged, whereas, if we could have a steady influx of recruits, the living would soon forget the dead. The wounded and sick are lost to us, for once at a hospital, they become worthless. It has been a very bad economy to kill off our best men and pay full wages and bounties to the drift and substitutes." Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. v. p. 793.]