January 20, 1865 (Friday)
Secretary of War Edwin Stanton had just returned from a visit with William Tecumseh Sherman in Savannah. On this date, he dropped by the Cabinet meeting to let the others know what he saw. Naval Secretary Gideon Welles kept a record of the event, recalled in his typical sass and pomposity.
Stanton gave an interesting detail of his trip to Savannah and the condition of things in that city. His statements were not so full and comprehensive as I wished, nor did I get at the real object of his going, except that it was for his health, which seems improved.
There is, he says, little or no loyalty in Savannah and the women are frenzied, senseless partisans. He says much of the cotton was claimed as British property, they asserting it had the British mark upon it. Sherman told them in reply he had found the British mark on every battle-field. The muskets, cartridges, caps, projectiles were all British, and had the British mark upon them. I am glad he [Sherman] takes this ground and refuses to surrender up property purchased or pretended to be purchased during the War, but which belongs in fact to the Confederate government. Mr. Seward has taken a different and more submissive view, to my great annoyance on more than one occasion, though his concessions were more generally to French claimants.
I am apprehensive, from the statement of Stanton, and of others also, that the Rebels are not yet prepared to return to duty and become good citizens. They have not, it would seem, been humbled enough, but must be reduced to further submission. Their pride, self-conceit, and arrogance must be brought down. They have assumed superiority, and boasted and blustered, until the wretched boasters had brought themselves to believe they really were a superior class, better than the rest of their countrymen, or the world.
Generally these vain fellows were destitute of any honest and fair claim to higher lineage or family, but are adventurers, or the sons of adventurers, who went South as mechanics or slave-overseers. The old stock have been gentlemanly aristocrats, to some extent, but lack that common-sense energy which derives its strength from toil.
The Yankee and Irish upstarts or their immediate descendants have been more violent and extreme than the real Southerners, but working together they have wrought their own destruction. How soon they will possess the sense and judgment to seek and have peace is a problem. Perhaps there must be a more thorough breakdown of the whole framework of society, a greater degradation, and a more effectual wiping out of family and sectional pride in order to eradicate the aristocratic folly which has brought the present calamities upon themselves and the country.
If the fall of Savannah and Wilmington will not bring them to conciliatory measures and friendly relations, the capture of Richmond and Charleston will not effect it. They may submit to what they cannot help, but their enmity will remain. A few weeks will enlighten us.1
- Sources: Diary by Gideon Welles. The goings on in the early winter of 1865 are generally scant. I apologize for a copy/paste job, but Welles’ words are fun enough on their own. [↩]