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"So Ends The Great Rebel Army…”
To Union Colonel Charles S. Wainwright, Lincoln was a weak President, Grant an uninspired commander, Lee a slippery foe. His outspoken diary, never published before, memorably describes the Civil War’s final year
October 1962 | Volume 13, Issue 6
Sheridan is still doing good work in the valley. On Thursday, he reports after maneuvering all day he attacked Early at four P.M. in his lines, which were strongly posted at Fisher’s Hill, carrying everything before him, and capturing sixteen guns. At times I cannot help thinking that these victories are the beginning of the end, the death-blows to the rebellion. Certain it is that either Sheridan has an overwhelming majority of numbers, or the life has gone out of the rebels.
Since we have again settled down politics have once more begun to occupy much of the talk; I know no other way to express it, for it is mere talk. I have received circulars from Governor Seymour containing the law of New York State with regard to soldiers in the field voting. I do not approve of their voting at all; but, if they must, I think the New York plan by which each man’s vote will be deposited in his own town the best. Should I vote it will be for McClellan, or rather against Lincoln.
We have been quite quiet here since Sunday; but rumours of an early move are prevalent, some of them even going so far as to prophecy the fall of Richmond before the election. I have no hope of that long desired event being so soon brought about; but fully expect another winter of it on the sacred soil. There are, however, certain indications of the commencement of the end of the rebellion in the character, numbers, and reports of the deserters who come in. Every morning more or less who have crossed the lines the preceding night are marched up to headquarters. Nor arc they all of that wretched, ragged class of stragglers and shirks who have come in previously, but a number of real men, soldiers, are mixed in, who say that their cause is played out; that they have no more hopes of success, and give it up.
My own three years were out yesterday! I came very near forgetting it, for so accustomed have we become to it, that three years of war do not seem so much to look back upon as one did at the time of my first anniversary. I have been trying tonight to recall some of the thoughts and feelings which came across me during the first months of my service, but find it almost impossible.
How completely, too, have my ideas of great men changed in the last three years; not but what I still believe in geniuses like Gustavus, Napoleon and a dozen others perhaps, but when you leave these out and come down to the ordinary man called great, the illusion is completely dispelled, and I see how a mere lucky hit or the fortunate combination of circumstances have given most of them their reputations. I say now without hesitation that there is not a great man living in this country; certainly not a great general in cither army or anything approaching to it. The objects of the war, also, have completely changed: the real question of the salvation of the Union has been so completely overlaid by the insurance of a continuation in power of the Republican party that it is only by digging deep down that I can find the object for which alone I am fighting.
All continues quiet here. As the time for the Presidential election draws near, politics absorb more and more of the time and thoughts of officers and men. The camps are full of civilians sent down to secure the soldiers’ votes for one side or the other. His party being in power at Washington, the friends of Mr. Lincoln of course outnumber their opponents two to one. There will no doubt be a great deal of influence exerted by some officers over the men under their command.
General Crawford is quite a politician, strong on the side of those in power; from his talk one would be led to believe that nothing but certain ruin was in reserve for the country should Mr. Lincoln not be elected. Hunt, on the contrary, is an out-and-out Democrat, beside being a warm personal friend of McClellan. Hc holds that the réélection of Lincoln will prolong the war another four years, and then result in the breaking up of the Union. I do not believe in the extreme views of either side. The rebellion must cease in another year from mere inanition in my opinion. The two parties are equally corrupt, and equally far from my views in their extreme doctrines; while I believe both of the presidential candidates to be sound, and almost identical in their personal views. Both of them, too, are wanting in nerve. But Mr. Lincoln is much the worse, I believe, in this respect. We know that he is already completely in the hands of the radicals of his party, while there is at least a chance that McClellan, if elected, may not fall into the same snare.
This evening we can think and talk of nothing but another victory gained by Sheridan in the valley. His dispatch is hardly as bombasting as some of his others, though the little word “I” is to be found in almost every line of it. Sheridan was in Winchester at the commencement of the fight, and General Wright in command. The rebels were the attacking party, and completely successful at first, driving our whole force back four miles and capturing twenty pieces of artillery. Their second attack at one P.M. was repulsed and at three P.M. , a counter attack made resulting in a complete victory on our part.