Saturday, December 1, 2007

ON THIS DAY: Friday, Dec. 6, 1861

Gentleman or Martinet?

In winter quarters in Fayetteville, western Virginia, Lt. Col. Rutherford B. Hayes of the 23rd Ohio tells his diary that he has just had “a good, long confidential talk” with his commander, Col. Eliakim Scammon (pictured here). “He is a gentleman by instinct as well as breeding and is a most warm-hearted, kindly gentleman; and yet many of the men think him the opposite of all this.”

Hayes, who has a sunny disposition and wants to prevent discord among his men, vows “to take more pains that I have to give them just ideas of him.”

It will not be easy. Jacob DolsonCox, a former Ohio state Senator who has become commander of Union forces in the Kanawha Valley, has described Scammon as “perhaps too much wedded to the routine of the service [and he is] looked upon by his subordinates as a martinet who had not patience enough with the inexperience of volunteer soldiers.”

Cox called Scammon “one of the older men of our army, somewhat under the average height and weight, with a precise politeness of manner which reminded one of a Frenchman, and the resemblance was increased by his free use of his snuff-box. His nervous irritability was the cause of considerable chafing in his command…” [although his courage under fire will win him respect].

Scammon, a West Pointer, is not a native Ohioan, but had been teaching in colleges in the state for 10 years before the war broke out.

Elsewhere today, Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant continues to demonstrate the kind of aggressiveness so lacking in the Union’s general-in-chief, George B. McClellan. Grant has a report that the Confederates have installed some heavy artillery at Belmont. He orders a cavalry raid, starting between 6 and 7 p.m. tonight, to make a sudden rush onto the site and spike the guns. Seven hundred Union cavalrymen will spend the night moving through the dark, only to find neither guns nor Confederates at Belmont. The cavalry commander will report, “To the mortification of all we returned without having seen a rebel.”

So goes the war as 1861 quietly winds down.

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