MILITARY REMINISCENCES OF THE CIVIL WAR
BY JACOB DOLSON COX, A.M., LL.D.
Formerly Major-General commanding Twenty-Third Army Corps_
NOVEMBER 1863-JUNE 1865
AFFAIRS IN DISTRICT OF OHIO--PLOT TO LIBERATE PRISONERS AT JOHNSON'S ISLAND
Administrative duties--Major McLean adjutant-general--His loyalty questioned--Ordered away--Succeeded by Captain Anderson--Robert Anderson's family--Vallandigham canvass--Bounty-jumping--Action of U. S. Courts--of the local Probate Court--Efforts to provoke collision--Interview with the sheriff--Letter to Governor Tod--Shooting soldiers in Dayton--The October election--Great majority against Vallandigham--The soldier vote--Wish for field service--Kinglake's Crimean War--Its lessons--Confederate plots in Canada--Attempt on military prison at Johnson's Island--Assembling militia there--Fortifying Sandusky Bay--Inspection of the prison--Condition and treatment of the prisoners.
In the sketch I have given of the campaign in East Tennessee, I have reached the time when I joined the Twenty-third Corps in front of
Knoxville, and became part of the organization with which my fortunes were to be united till the end of the war. It is necessary, however, to go back and pick up the threads of personal experience during this autumn of 1863.
The arrangement of the business of the department which I have mentioned [Footnote: _Ante_, vol. i. p. 492.] gave me some work in addition to that which properly belonged to the District of Ohio and Michigan. I did not appear officially in it, but under
Burnside's instructions to his adjutant-general on leaving Cincinnati, the questions arising in daily administration were submitted to me, and on my advice current orders were issued in Burnside's name. This kept me in close communication with the general personally as well as officially, and made me aware of the progress of events more perfectly than I could otherwise have been. The adjutant-general in charge of the Cincinnati headquarters was Major N. H. McLean, an experienced officer of the regular army, and most systematic and able in his administrative duties. He was punctilious in his performance of duty, and was especially averse to having his military conduct seem in any way influenced by political motives. Like many other officers of the army, he made his devotion to his government as a soldier the basis of all his action, and disclaimed any interest in politics. But in the summer of 1863 politics in Ohio became too heated to allow any neutrality or even any hesitation in open declarations of principle. Vallandigham was a candidate for governor, although an exile under the judgment of the military court. Local politicians were not always discreet, and some of them demanded avowals of Major McLean, which he refused to make, not because of any sympathy with Vallandigham's partisans, but because he thought it unbecoming his military character to submit to catechising. This was enough to condemn him in the eyes of those who literally enforced the proverb that "he that is not for us is against us," and they sent to the War Department a highly colored statement of McLean's conduct, accusing him of disloyalty.
Mr. Stanton, in his characteristic way, condemned him first and tried him afterward. The first we knew of it, an order came sending McLean off to the Pacific coast,--to Oregon, I believe. General Burnside protested, and warmly sustained the major as a loyal man and able officer; but the mischief was done, and it was months before it could be undone. Indeed it was years before the injury done him in his professional career was fully recognized and a serious attempt was made to recompense him.
When Major McLean was thus removed, the business of his office fell into the hands of Captain William P. Anderson of the adjutant-general's department, who issued the orders and conducted the correspondence in General Burnside's name. The captain was a nephew of General Robert Anderson, and though the general had no sons himself, his near kinsmen gave striking evidence of the earnest and militant patriotism of a loyal Kentucky stock closely allied to a well-known Ohio family. The roster of the members of the family who saw military service is an exceptional one. [Footnote: Colonel Charles Anderson, brother of the general, was in Texas when the Civil War began, but abandoned his interests there, and coming back to Ohio was made colonel of the Ninety-third Ohio Infantry, which he led in the battle of Stone's River, where he was wounded. He was in 1863 made the Union candidate for lieutenant-governor on the ticket with John Brough, whom he succeeded as governor when Brough died in 1865.
Colonel Latham Anderson, son of Charles, graduated at West Point in 1859 and became a captain in the Fifth U. S. Infantry and colonel of the Eighth California Volunteers. His war service was mostly in New Mexico and on the frontier.
Larz Anderson, another brother of the general, was represented in the War of the Rebellion by five sons who had honorable records: (1) Nicholas Longworth Anderson was adjutant, lieutenant-colonel, and colonel of the Sixth Ohio Infantry. He was severely wounded at Stone's River and Chickamauga. He left the service at the close of the war as brevet-major-general.
(2) William Pope Anderson enlisted as a private in the Sixth Ohio Infantry, became sergeant-major and second lieutenant. He was then appointed assistant-adjutant-general with rank of captain. He was slightly wounded in the
battle of Shiloh.
(3) Edward Lowell Anderson was first lieutenant and captain in the Fifty-second Ohio Infantry. He was wounded at Jonesboro, but continued in service to the end of the war.
(4) Frederick Pope Anderson was first lieutenant in the One Hundred and Eighty-first Ohio Infantry.
(5) Larz Anderson, Jr., was a mere lad, but served without commission as volunteer aide-de-camp on the staff of Brigadier-General N. C. McLean.
William Marshall Anderson, of Chillicothe, Ohio, another brother of the general, had two sons in the war service: (1) Thomas McArthur Anderson was captain in the Fourteenth U.S. Infantry, and after the war became its colonel, and later a general officer in the Philippines.]
Including the general himself, his brother Charles, and the nephews, ten kinsmen supported the flag of the country in the field. Such a family record is so remarkable as to be worthy of preservation.
To return to the affairs of our military administration of the department and district, the situation was complicated by the fact that Vallandigham had openly declared a purpose to return to Ohio during his candidacy. I did not hesitate to let it be known that upon his doing so, the alternative in his sentence would be enforced, and that he would be sent to
Fort Warren for imprisonment. Mr. Pugh, who had been induced to accept the nomination for lieutenant-governor with him, made a visit to Windsor, in Canada (opposite Detroit), where Vallandigham met him. The result of the conference was that Vallandigham remained quietly in Canada till the election was over, leaving it to his friends to make as much political capital out of his exile as they could.
As evidence of the fierceness of the passions roused among his partisans, a few significant facts may be mentioned. The conscription law had led, as we have seen, [Footnote: Henry Reuben Anderson was second lieutenant in the Forty-third Ohio Infantry, captain in the Sixth U.S. Volunteer Infantry, and after the war was transferred to the Fourth U.S. Artillery as first lieutenant.] to wholesale frauds in the form of "bounty-jumping." It was of course the duty of the military authorities to prevent this by arresting deserters and holding them to military service and discipline under their enlistment. A common form of fraud was for a well-grown young man to offer himself as a recruit, take the oath that he was of lawful age, receive the hundreds of dollars of bounty, and then bring forward his parents to claim him as a minor enlisting without their permission. We always recognized promptly the authority of a writ of _habeas corpus_ from the Federal courts in such cases, and the judges examined the recruit and his friends carefully, to detect a fraudulent conspiracy if there was one. If the case appeared to be free from collusion and the evidence of minority sufficient, an order of release was made, conditioned on the repayment to the government of the bounty received and the expenses of the proceeding.
The depot of recruits for the army was on the south side of the river in Kentucky; but in any case that was not palpably fraudulent I directed the officers in charge to bring the recruit to Cincinnati, where Judge Leavitt's writ could reach him, and to submit the case to the United States District Court. The following letter will illustrate this, being one addressed by me to General Tillson, who commanded in Covington, which, with the region within a radius of some fifteen miles, was part of my district:--
"HEADQUARTERS, DISTRICT OF OHIO, CINCINNATI,
9th September, 1863.
GENERAL,--Judge Leavitt of the United States District Court called this morning with a Mr. Eckmann, who wishes to get his son, a minor, out of the First Heavy Artillery. The boy is named Summerfield Eckmann, and is in Company C. As you have stated to me that it is practicable to fill up the place of minors and invalids as fast as they can be got rid of, I would like to have the case looked into at once, and unless some reason unknown to me exists, have him sent to report to Colonel Boone at Kemper Barracks, where the writ from the Federal Court may be served. By agreement with the father, if the judge should discharge him, the bounty will be paid back, and you will please send a statement of what amount was paid and how his account with the government stands.
Very respectfully, your obed't serv't, (Signed) J. D. Cox, B. G. Commanding.
Brig. Gen. Davis Tillson, Com'g, etc., Covington, Ky."
All honest and deserving cases could be satisfactorily disposed of in this way. But the fraudulent "bounty-jumpers" wanted nothing so little as a full investigation before the United States Courts. These cases, therefore, if they appeared in court at all, would be brought before local judges supposed to be prejudiced against the government and who would not require restitution. To prevent this, the War Department issued instructions based on the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Ableman v. Booth, in which Chief Justice Taney had delivered the opinion. These instructions directed that in cases arising under the conscription and recruiting laws, the writ of habeas corpus should be obeyed only when issued by United States courts. With full knowledge of these instructions and of the Supreme Court decision which had been a party shibboleth in the fugitive-slave cases before the war, the Probate judge of the county seemed bent on provoking a collision with the National authorities. His court was, among courts of record, that of inferior jurisdiction in the county, and the higher courts gave us no trouble. A letter which I wrote to Governor Tod at the close of August so fully gives the details of the matter and of the view I then took of it, that I prefer to let it stand as my statement of it, rather than any paraphrase I could now make. I said:--
"I have the honour to call your attention to a persistent effort on the part of the Probate Judge of the county to produce a collision between the sheriff and posse of the vicinity and the United States government.
"You have probably noticed the newspaper accounts of a habeas corpus case before Judge ------ some time since, in which the writ was issued to Lieutenant-Colonel Boone, One Hundred and Fifteenth Ohio Volunteer Infantry, commanding at Kemper barracks in this city, directing him to bring before the court one Hicks, held as a deserter from the army.
"In accordance with instructions from the War Department, based upon the decision of Chief Justice Taney in the case of Ableman v. Booth, Lieutenant-Colonel Boone answered in writing, stating that the man was held by the authority of the United States as a deserter, and that, without intending any disrespect to the court, it was impossible for him to deliver the prisoner to the officers of a State court. Lieutenant-Colonel Boone further attached to his answer and made part of it the instructions from Washington and the order of Major-General Burnside promulgating the same, and it was thus made matter of record in the court that the case was one directly affecting the government of the United States. The judge was also notified by counsel that it was the purpose of the Federal officers to take the case to the courts of last resort should his decision be in accordance with that which he had rendered in other cases, and that the matter would thus, without doubt, be ultimately determined by the judicial decision of the highest courts having cognizance, and that there could be no occasion for collision between himself and the military authorities.
"The judge issued an attachment against Lieutenant-Colonel Boone for contempt, and directed Major-General Burnside to be made party to the record. General Burnside answered in a similar manner to Colonel Boone. The court made no personal order in General B.'s case, but directed the sheriff of the county to arrest Lieutenant-Colonel Boone and bring him before the court. The sheriff went to Colonel Boone's quarters and was there informed that the writ could not be executed, as, under orders received, the military authorities would not permit it. The sheriff so made return to the court, and has, as he informs me this morning, been again directed peremptorily by the judge to execute the writ at every hazard.
"The sheriff came to me to know what would be our course if he should raise the posse comitatus in obedience to the writ. My answer was that the United States forces would use no aggression, but that I wished him and the judge to understand distinctly that the writ could only be executed by overpowering the United States troops in open fight, and that it became all concerned to consider well before they became overt traitors by levying war against the Federal government; that I should regard them as public enemies at the first overt act and use the utmost vigor against them; and that after suppressing any disturbance they might create, my first duty would be to arrest the judge and himself and hand them over to the United States courts to be tried for treason. I likewise expressed my surprise that in a matter which was avowedly an undisguised attempt to bring the State authorities into open conflict with the National government, he had not appealed to the governor of the State, its chief executive (he being himself but a subordinate), for instructions. As he professed embarrassment as to his duty, I told him I would state what in my opinion a loyal sheriff should do in such a case; and that was to make a written return upon the writ saying that it could not be obeyed without levying open war against the United States, and was therefore returned unexecuted.... In view of the circumstances, I have thought best to lay the matter before you, that you may, if you see proper, direct the sheriff to take no steps calculated to bring the State and National authorities into collision, without full communication with and instruction from yourself as chief executive. I have no concern as to the success of any forcible attempt upon Colonel Boone, but regard it as very desirable that no such attempt should be made, and especially that it should not be precipitated, without your knowledge, by the action of the Probate Court of this county in overruling a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States. "I shall forward a copy of this letter to the Secretary of War for his information, and have the honor to remain," etc.
There were some amusing incidents connected with the sheriff's embarrassment which could not properly appear in my letter to the governor. Both he and the Probate judge were candidates for re-election, and it seemed certain that the aggressive Vallandigham faction in the party would control the nominations in the party convention. In such excited times extreme men are almost sure to take the lead. The sheriff saw very clearly that there was nothing profitable to him in a forcible attack upon the United States troops in barracks, and knew that a call upon the _posse_ would be responded to by nobody but ruffians of the criminal class who might like an opportunity to gather as a mob with a pretext of lawful authority. He complained to me with a comical distress that the judge had taken advantage of him to gain with the extremists of his party the credit for bold defiance of the government, whilst he, the sheriff, was left to bear the brunt of the real danger. I had told him in an earlier interview that if he called out the _posse_ it would be his duty to lead it in person, and had intimated that I should direct the soldiers to save bloodshed by carefully marking the leaders in an attack. I now suggested that if he should inform the judge that he should summon him first as one of the _posse_ and require him to march beside him, he would probably find the zeal for a collision diminished.
Whatever were the reasons which controlled, there was no _posse_ summoned, and I heard no more of the arrest of Colonel Boone. Both judge and sheriff lived to look back upon the episode in their lives with other feelings than those which excited them nearly to desperation in that singular political campaign. It was not always easy to draw a satisfactory line in dealing practically with such powdery elements and social conditions as those of 1863, but the best results seemed to come from carefulness not to provoke unnecessary collision with political prejudices and not to interfere with personal liberty more than was necessary, whilst showing inexorable firmness in carrying out such measures as we had to adopt. Two cases which arose in Dayton made it necessary to distinguish between two possible courses, and though there was a good deal of difference in judgment among loyal men I thought the event fully justified us in that which we pursued.
The arrest of Vallandigham had left a certain class of people in Dayton on the verge of violent outbreak. A mob had wrecked the publishing office of the Union party paper, and we had kept a small garrison at the city to preserve the peace, The "roughs" of the place were insolent to the soldiers and their officers, and it required firm discipline to keep our men as patient as we wished them to be. One day a wrangle began, and one of the city "rowdies" pulled a pistol and fired upon a soldier. We arrested the criminal, but whilst we held him, an indictment was found against him in the local court, and he was demanded by the civil authorities for trial. We knew very well that in any jury of that county enough partisans of Vallandigham would be found to prevent a conviction, but I ordered the man to be delivered up. This was pretty sharply criticised by the more ardent Union men, but I answered that it was necessary to find out whether justice could be administered by the civil authorities before applying military rule.
The delivery of the man was no doubt looked upon as an act of timidity, and it was not long before we had a repetition of the offence. I had taken pains to have the garrison at Dayton carefully instructed that they must be patient and cool, avoiding every provocation, but if attacked, the aggressor must be punished on the spot. In the second case, the man who drew his weapon was instantly shot down. There was now a demand for the soldier to be tried by the local civil court; but I said that the boot was on the other foot. The charge against the soldier was for an act performed in the line of his military duty, and of this our military courts had cognizance. The case was investigated by a military tribunal and the man justified. The result was every way satisfactory. Assaulting soldiers lost its attractiveness to town bullies, and the case in which the civilian had been left to the action of the civil courts was a standing proof of the inefficiency of those tribunals in matters where partisan passions entered, and where the unanimity of a jury was consequently impossible.
The State election occurred in October, and although there had been great fears of rioting and bloodshed, these fears were happily disappointed. There had been enough of the preliminary education as to the relations of the military authorities to the preservation of the peace, to make it generally understood that disturbances would be dangerous. The soldiers were, however, kept carefully out of sight except as they exercised their personal right to vote. They were under arms at their barracks, and no leaves of absence were given. These precautions were all that was needed. In Cincinnati the election was said to be one of the quietest and most orderly ever known. The people seemed to appreciate the gravity of the situation and to realize that it must be soberly and thoughtfully met. Hosts of men who would willingly have been in opposition to the administration party on questions of economy or of details in the conduct of the war declined to vote for Vallandigham, whose utterances had been the great matter of debate during the canvass, and whose disloyalty being thus brought home to the voters in every neighborhood, had repelled all but the most passionate of his party friends. John Brough, the Union party candidate, himself a "war democrat," was elected governor by an unprecedented majority of over a hundred thousand. The soldiers' vote had helped to swell this majority, and as returns had to be made from polling-places opened for each Ohio regiment in the field, there was considerable delay before the extent of the political victory was fully known. The home vote was enough for every practical purpose, and it, of course, was known at once. The returns from the army vote kept adding to the majority, and gave, day by day, a new stimulus to political interest, one party rejoicing over the unanimity of the country's defenders, and the other affecting to see dangers of military despotism. For this reason it was fortunate that the soldiers' vote was not necessary to decide the election, and that without it Brough's triumph went beyond any ordinary measure of party success.
The remarkable result of the election was felt throughout the country as an indication of renewed determination of the people that the war must be fought out to the complete crushing of the Rebellion and the restoration of the Union. There was a noticeable crystallization of public opinion after it. Reasonable men in the defeated party found it easy to accept conclusions which were backed up by so great majorities. Agitation was quieted, and there was an evident disposition to acquiesce in what was so evidently the popular current.
My aversion for the anomalous position of a military commandant out of the actual field of war had not been lessened by my experiences of the summer, and both directly and indirectly I renewed my requests for a field command. I had been told that the Secretary of War awaited only an opening which would permit him to assign me to duty with the advanced grade which had been given me after Antietam, and I had been advised, in a way that seemed authoritative, to wait patiently for this. It became evident in the autumn that such waiting was likely to be profitless as well as wearisome. A regular army officer had a backing in the _esprit de corps_ at the departments, and
Halleck was watchful to give the full weight of his official influence in favor of such a one. It was, perhaps naturally, assumed that a volunteer would be assisted by political friends, and if he did not make use of such influence he would fall between two stools. After my first appointment I was never aware of receiving any help from these personal influences, and had gotten whatever recognition I had from my immediate commanders in the field. Burnside had intimated that if Hartsuff's ill health should make that officer retire from the command of the Twenty-third Corps, he would assign me to it in the expectation that the corresponding rank would then be conferred by the President. If I have any regret respecting my own action in seeking active duty, it is that I did not ask for the command of one of the divisions in the corps on the movement into East Tennessee. It was Burnside's wish that I should remain in Cincinnati and I acquiesced; but I have had a lingering belief that my influence with him would have helped decide him to remain in the West had I been with him in Knoxville in October and November. Be that as it may, I was fully determined after the Ohio election was over to cease looking for anything more than a field command, according to my present rank, and to be urgent till I obtained it.
In this year the first volume of Kinglake's "History of the Crimean War" was published, and reading it in the intervals of other duty in Cincinnati, I found in it lessons of hope and confidence in our armies that were to me both stimulating and encouraging. It would not be strange if an English soldier should feel that Kinglake was quite too frank in his revelation of the mistakes and discouragements which attended England's first military operations after the "forty years' peace." But it was precisely this photographic realism and unreserve which gave the book its peculiar value. I found Lord Raglan and his subordinates intelligent men, feeling their way through doubts and mistakes to a new experimental knowledge of their task. I compared them and their work with what I had seen in our own service when a great army had to be organized and put in the field and everything had to be created anew. I saw that we had been no worse off than our neighbors, and that our tuition in the school of experience had gone on quite as rapidly as theirs. I thanked Kinglake in my heart for telling us that Raglan tested what he was doing by asking himself how "the Duke" would have done had he been there. It was only another way of applying the lessons of past experience to the present duty; but it seemed peculiarly human that the English general in the perplexities of his troublesome problem in the Crimea should summon up the shade of Wellington and ask how the practical soldier of the Spanish Peninsular War would act were he deciding for his old staff officer what he must do at the Alma or in front of Sebastopol.
The student of military history sees that the weak points in the British army on the peace establishment had been that systematic and continuous preparation for active war had not been insisted on. It needed the organizing genius of Roon and Moltke in the Prussian army to make such a mobilization as that of 1866 and that of 1870, and to show what is possible in preparing an armed host to take the field. Preparation for war has had a totally different meaning since those campaigns, and the start of a day or two in reaching the field was shown to involve the winning and losing a great campaign. As matters stood in 1854, however, the great military powers of Europe should be considered as having only the raw material of armies as they had depots of military stores, and true organization in every department had to be effected after a declaration of war. Studying it in 1863, it seemed to me that the only advantage England or France would have had over us at the outbreak of the Rebellion would have been in the greater number of men partly drilled and the greater quantities of arms and ammunition in store. Kinglake taught us that others would have had to go through most of the discouragements we had experienced, and that our aptitude in learning had been perhaps greater than theirs would have been. His unreserved disclosure of the errors and the miseries of the siege of Sebastopol was infinitely more instructive than any history which hid the humiliating facts and covered all with the glamour and glory of the final success. His faithful dealing was in the line of true discipline, though the reading of his story must have been a sore chastisement of spirit for many an English soldier and statesman. It was more effective than the comments of any "war correspondent," however capable; for it was free from every suspicion of unfriendliness, and was written with the fullest access to official evidence. I cannot help believing that the book was no small factor in the general movement in Europe toward a much more scientific comprehension and a much better practical mastery of the elements of army organization and administration in times of peace.
But what I am quite sure of is that its perusal was a source of great comfort and encouragement to me in the midst of our own struggle; because it assured me, as I compared Raglan's experience with ours, that we had not gone so far astray in learning our lesson, and were not so completely on the dunces' bench, as I had been disposed to fear. We had plenty of blunders to confess, and there was no room for over-confidence; but the book prompted every earnest soldier among us to believe that we could make still better use of our experience, and to feel bolder in relying on his own judgment and courage in drawing new expedients from our peculiar circumstances and in developing new adaptations of military science to our own campaigns. Staff schools cannot turn out great generals to order, and the man who leads will continue to be more important than any other element of an army; but no leader can work well with dull and antiquated tools, and the present generation can hardly see a great war begun with so little adequate preparation for it as was common before our great civil strife.
On the 9th of November the humdrum routine at my district headquarters was interrupted by a dispatch from the officer commanding at Detroit, Michigan, giving warning of what was more explicitly reported in one of the 10th, saying that he was positively informed that within forty-eight hours two armed steamers would attack Johnson's Island and release the prisoners held there. [Footnote: Official Records, series ii. vol. vi. pp. 491, 495, 635.]
The military prison at Johnson's Island was built for the confinement of Confederate officers who had been captured in battle, and their number was so large that to release them would be an enterprise of no little importance, if successful. The island lay in Sandusky Bay, within a few hours' sail of several Canadian ports. Its garrison consisted of a single regiment which had all the employment it needed to furnish the ordinary prison guards, and would be entirely too weak to oppose any considerable force attacking from without, especially as it would be prudent to assume that such an attack would be accompanied by an outbreak of the prisoners within.
I immediately communicated with Governor Tod and with the Commissary of Prisoners at Washington, Colonel Hoffman, and on the same day sent a battery of three-inch rifled cannon and 500 newly raised recruits to Sandusky. I telegraphed the Hon. Joshua R. Giddings, our consul-general at Montreal, asking what he could learn in Canada as to the threatened expedition. He thought it was the mere "bombast" of Confederate emissaries and refugees in the Canadian provinces, and made light of it. On the 12th, however, the Secretary of War telegraphed me that
Lord Lyons, the British ambassador, confirmed the report, and directed me to take energetic action to defeat the expected raid. The dispatch reached me at nine o'clock in the morning, and as it would be necessary to consult with the governor and get him to call out a force of State militia, I telegraphed him that I would go to Columbus on the half-past-ten train from Cincinnati, and asked him to be ready to call out the militia as soon as I could see him. I then sent messages to the commandants of militia regiments near the railway line, requesting them to call out their men at once in anticipation of an order from the governor to proceed to Sandusky. I also communicated with my subordinates in command at Detroit, Sandusky, and Columbus, giving a hint of my purposes. Finding I was likely to be late at the railway station, I sent a message to Mr. Woodward, the superintendent of the Little Miami Railroad, asking him to hold the train for me. The train had gone when the message reached him, but he ordered out an extra locomotive, and when I reached the station it was under orders to overtake the regular train. With an aide-de-camp I mounted the locomotive, and we were off at speed. The train was overtaken at Xenia, half-way to Columbus, and I was able to keep my appointment with the governor.
It happened that there was at this time a plot also to take the camp of military prisoners at Columbus, indicating a wide-spread scheme among the Confederate prisoners in Ohio, and General Mason, who commanded there, did not think it would be safe to reduce his garrison. The governor acted at once upon my suggestion, and ordered out the militia regiments which I had warned before leaving Cincinnati. My regular train had gone on, but Mr. Woodward had provided for a special one from Columbus, and we were soon speeding on in the hope of making the connection with a train going West on the Lake Shore Railway. The connection was made, though it became necessary to make what was then regarded as extraordinary speed to do it. Over one stretch of the road we ran twenty miles in eighteen minutes by the watch, and our average rate was high enough to make it a noteworthy journey. I reached Sandusky at midnight, and found reports of the militia regiments already on the way, and that the hostile expedition had not yet left Canada.
There is always a considerable amount of business labor connected with the sudden assembly of new troops in a city like Sandusky. Provision must be made for quarters and for their subsistence. The militia were not like troops accustomed to take the field, and were not provided with tents. The autumn was well advanced, and severe winter weather was likely to come at any time. Competent officers had to be selected to take responsible charge of each of the supply departments, including arms and ammunition. A battery of Parrott-rifled cannon was ordered to report to me as well as some heavy coast artillery. The first organization of means to look after the coming troops and the artillery being made, the next duty was a personal reconnoissance of my field of operations. A gentleman put at my disposal a small sailing yacht of light draught, and with a good crew and a fresh breeze the principal points of the lower bay were visited, including Johnson's Island.
Sandusky Bay is the largest land-locked body of water connected with Lake Erie. It is some twenty miles long by three or four wide, its length running east and west, and narrow tongues of land separating it from the lake. The mouth of the bay is about a mile wide, but the water is quite shallow except in the narrow channel, which is sinuous and runs very close to Cedar Point, the extremity of the long, low sandy cape which separates the eastern part of the bay from the open water. A lighthouse on the point and range lights near it give direction to vessels approaching, which run from the northwest, head on, till they seem almost ashore at the foot of the lighthouse tower, when they turn sharply to the southwest, the channel being zigzag up to the city, which lies on the southeast shore. It did not need a second glance to determine that Cedar Point was the place to fortify, and that batteries there would rake any vessel approaching the harbor, as well as on its way in, if it should succeed in passing the point.
Johnson's Island lies a mile or two inside the entrance to the bay on the western side. A narrow channel separates it from the land on that side, which is a high rocky peninsula called Marblehead. The island had been cultivated as a farm, containing a hundred acres or more, with some pleasant groves amid the fields, and with a gently undulating surface which gave it an agreeable variety and a picturesque appearance. The landing at the island was on the bay side, three or four miles from the city wharves. If a hostile force should land on the peninsula at Marblehead, it could not reach the island by reason of the channel which separates it from the land on the west. The only chance of success for such a raid was to make a surprise of it before Cedar Point could be fortified, to enter the bay and land a force sufficient to overpower the prison garrison before it should be reinforced.
Under the terms of the treaty with Great Britain, our navy was represented by a single vessel of war on Lake Erie, the steamer "Michigan," which carried a battery of eight or ten guns. She was ordered to Sandusky to co-operate with me at the same time that I was directed to go there. She was commanded by Captain John Carter, a bluff and hearty seaman of the old school, whom I found cordially ready to work with me in the most perfect harmony and mutual understanding. I lost no time in transporting my two rifled batteries to Cedar Point, and throwing up hasty earthworks to cover them. From the moment they were in position it was certain that no unarmed steamboat could enter the harbor. A part of my infantry was encamped in rear of the batteries, covered by a grove of evergreen trees, near enough to support the guns if an effort were made to land there. The rest of the infantry was assigned to increase the garrison on Johnson's Island itself. The news had spread that there was a concentration of our forces at Sandusky, and by the time we were ready for an attack the raiders were well aware that their plans had failed.
Their project had not been a hopeless one if they could have kept it secret, but that was almost impossible. The leaders in it were commonly reported to have been some of
Morgan's men who had made their way to Canada when he was captured. By the aid of Confederate agents they had procured the means to organize a considerable band of adventurers, and had chartered two steamboats which were to meet them at the mouth of the Detroit River. The assembly of such a body of men attracted the attention of the Canadian authorities, and information was sent to Lord Lyons at Washington. Our officers at Detroit also got wind of it, and employed the police and detectives to ferret out the facts. The raiders had assembled, and the boats were ready, when, on the 14th of November, they learned that their plans were exposed and the chance to succeed was lost. The less eager ones were quick to abandon the enterprise, and the bolder spirits found themselves reduced to a handful. So they scattered, threatening to try it again at some more convenient time.
As soon as the work of preparation at Cedar Point was well under way, I accepted the invitation of Captain Carter to make a reconnoissance in the "Michigan." We sailed out of the harbor and made the tour of the beautiful group of islands known as the Bass Islands, in the midst of which is the little harbor of Put-in-Bay. We were on the classic ground where Perry had won his naval victory in the War of 1812, and although we found no trace of the threatened raid, the circumstances which took us there added to the interest with which we examined the scene of Perry's glory. On my return I reported to the Secretary of War that all present danger had passed, and asked to be allowed to send the militia home. The weather had become stormy, and the State troops naturally became impatient when the need of their continued exposure seemed to be at an end. They were soon allowed to go, but it was wisely determined to put the heavy guns in a fortification on the island, where they could command the entrance to the bay and yet be so connected with the permanent garrison as to avoid the establishment of two camps with the necessary increase of expense as well as numbers.
This delayed me a fortnight at Sandusky, and the delay was quite as unwelcome to me as to the militia. I had been away from Cincinnati but a few days when I received a dispatch from General Burnside, saying that if I was still minded to accept a field command he thought he could give me one of his corps. As this was exactly what I had been wishing for, it will be easily believed that I chafed at the circumstances which seemed to tie me to the shore of Lake Erie when I longed to be on my way to East Tennessee. I laid the matter before the War Department by telegraph, and begged to be allowed to go. Mr. Stanton answered on the 22d that I could not yet leave Sandusky. I hurried the work to be done there with all possible energy, so as to remove the cause of delay, and on the 3d of December was gratified to learn that the order had been issued directing me to report in person to the general in command at Knoxville. I was not informed that I should not find Burnside there when I should arrive, and assumed that my work at Sandusky was the only cause of delay in my orders to go; but I was soon to learn of other changes which I did not anticipate.
My stay at Sandusky gave me the opportunity to make an inspection of the military prison at Johnson's Island, and I availed myself of it. As only officers were confined there, the high average intelligence and character of these would of course show itself in their personal habits and in their methods of employing the time, which hung heavy on their hands. In all such situations the energy and hopefulness of the individual are the best guaranty for continued good health, whilst ennui, listlessness, and idleness are the pretty sure forerunners of melancholy and homesickness, which lead to serious maladies. It would be hard to find a more salubrious site for a camp than Johnson's Island. Naturally well drained, diversified with grove and meadow, open to the breeze from every quarter, washed by the pure waters of Lake Erie, it is to-day, as it was then, a beautiful and attractive spot. The winter there is not usually severe. The vast body of water comprising the Great Lakes modifies the climate and tempers it so that the autumn is generally prolonged and pleasant. Winter begins late, but is apt to be changeable and disagreeable, and a raw and backward spring, with chilling winds off the frozen waters, is the part of the year most to be dreaded. Native Ohioans insist that there is no climate more wholesome and pleasant than this lake-shore belt, which is now the land of continuous vineyards and peach orchards. A native of the Gulf States would, however, find its winter and spring severe and trying, more from sudden changes than from any extremely low temperature. Taking it all in all, it is probable that no place for a prison camp could be found in the Northern States which would be liable to fewer objections.
The prison itself was constructed in the manner which seemed simplest and cheapest. A large square on the sloping hillsides was surrounded with a high wooden fence. On the outside of this, near the top, was a gallery or balcony supported on brackets.
This was the walk for the sentinels, and from it they had a commanding view of the interior of the enclosure. Sentry-boxes, looking like turrets, were at the corners and at intervals on the sides. Within, the barracks for the prisoners were on the west or northwest side, leaving the larger space open in front for exercise. The buildings were of pine boards, roughly but well constructed, so that they were dry and tight. Rows of bunks ran along the sides, filled with beds of straw. The shelter and accommodation was decidedly better than that which we made for our own troops at
Camp Dennison, our first camp of instruction. Through most of the year there was no ground for complaint. In winter, and especially on winter nights, it would be impossible to keep up anything like a steady temperature, and the thin shell of the building would soon chill through in a nipping and frosty air. We had to meet this difficulty in all winter quarters for troops, and there seemed to be no way to remove it. If one could be heavily clad, it was generally more healthful to endure a steady low temperature, than to meet the alternations of heat and cold which came of the replenishing and dying out of the fires in stoves during the long winter night. As many men have many minds, it was almost impossible to secure anything like system in a long shed-like building occupied by a little democracy of hundreds of persons.
The food was plain but good in quality, similar to the army ration, and at the time of my visit was abundant. I took occasion to go through the barracks unattended by the officers of the garrison, and encouraged the prisoners to make known any complaints. There were practically none that were not necessarily incident to the position of a prisoner of war in actual confinement. The loss of liberty, the weary pacing of the enclosure in front of their barracks, the lack of interesting occupation, home-sickness, and general discomfort,--these were the ills of which they spoke. Among the prisoners was General Jeff. Thompson, of Missouri,--the ranking officer among them, as I recollect,--and I sought an introduction to him and talked with him in regard to the prison life. He was depressed and ailing, though not consenting to go into hospital, and spoke feelingly of the discouraging monotony and ennui of their existence, but made no complaint of the administration of the prison in any way. To be exchanged was the burden of their wishes and prayers, and in this every one with ordinary human sympathies must feel with them. Games of chess, draughts, dominoes, and cards were their indoor amusements, and some of the more energetic kept up an attempt at regular out-door exercise.
It happened that the chief surgeon of the camp was an old neighbor of mine, Dr. M. C. Woodworth, and I questioned him closely as to the medical and sanitary condition. He was a man of the highest character in his profession and as a citizen. I had absolute confidence in his uprightness as well as his ability. His statements fully corroborated the conclusions I drew from my own observation. I was fully satisfied that the garrison administration was honest and humane, and that the prisoners suffered only such evils as were necessarily incident to confinement in a narrow space, and to life in temporary barracks of the kind used in all military camps.
I learned that those prisoners who had means of their own were permitted to open private accounts with merchants and bankers in the city of Sandusky, and had little difficulty in increasing their physical comforts in many ways. Since the war I have conversed with business men of that town who personally knew of these arrangements, and who have given me details of remittances and credits furnished to prisoners, and of some considerable investments made for them. A certain surveillance was necessary in such cases to give assurance that no unlawful advantage was taken of such opportunities, but there was very little if any reason to believe such leniency was abused.