Monday, December 10, 2007

ON THIS DAY: Monday, Dec. 9, 1861

“Turning the Bloodhounds Loose”

It is Monday in Washington, D.C., and a very good day for a certain U.S. Senator from Ohio who is so aggressive that he is called a “bloodhound” by his fellow Senators. For his bluntness, he also is known as “Bluff Ben.”

He is Benjamin Wade, from strongly abolitionist Ashtabula County in northeastern Ohio, and he is ruthlessly anti-slavery and burningly ambitious. He is a “Radical Republican,” which means he wants slavery ended now and the South punished until it screams for mercy.

Wade’s eyebrows are bushy, his eyes are cold, and his mouth usually downturned. He looks like a tough customer. He is.

He also is a Radical Republican leader. Radical Republicans are zealots with one-track minds, single-issue thinkers unable or unwilling to acknowledge life’s complexities. Radical Republicans are blind to the political realities which oblige more liberally minded President Lincoln to take a go-slow approach to the emancipation of the slaves. They also seem deficient in the kind of mercy which makes Lincoln a humane man, forgiving of others, dedicated to inclusionism instead of exclusionism.

On this day, the Senate approves creation of what will become know as the Committee on the Conduct of the War (CCW), composed of both Senators and Representatives. Ben Wade will become its chairman. Created out of frustration with the Army of the Potomac’s failures and inaction, the CCW’s task will be to scrutinize every aspect of the war. In its poking and prying, harassing and scolding, it will both serve the Union cause and discredit it. Led by Wade, it will behave like a pack of bloodhounds.

Useful service will come through its civilian sharp-eyed checking on the military and the military's not-always-illustrious performance. It will uncover incompetence and corruption. To the Committee’s shame, however, it will also damage reputations unnecessarily and interfere with matters in which it had no expertise. There will be more than a whiff about it of what someday will become known as McCarthyism.

And that will be at least partly because of Bluff Ben Wade. Wade is afraid of no one and respectful of few. He has called Abraham Lincoln’s military leadership “your rosewater war” and told the President to his face that he is responsible for every military mistake the Union side has ever made, and that, as a result, he is not one mile from Hell. (Lincoln replied that Hell was indeed only one mile from the White House, meaning the distance to Wade’s Capitol Hill.)

The war will go on and after Lincoln had led the Union to victory, Wade will come within an inch to occupying the White House himself. But that’s another story, and it will come much later.

Your suggestions, comments, and questions are always welcome. Address the author:

For more information about the author’s book, go to

No comments: