Friday, December 14, 2007

ON THIS DAY, Saturday, Dec. 14, 1861

One Happy Soldier

Rutherford B. Hayes, lieutenant colonel of the 23rd Volunteer Infantry, is a doting husband and father, and a successful lawyer in Cincinnati. He also is loving the life of a volunteer soldier in the mountains of western Virginia, faithfully recording in his diary every sunny morning, including today’s: “A fine day, warm and bright—the tenth [such day]!"

Only the day before he recorded, with apparent pleasure, his rough-and-ready lifestyle:

Since I came to [western] Virginia in July, I have not shaved; for weeks at a time I have slept in all clothes except boots (occasionally in boots and sometimes with spurs), a half dozen times on the ground without shelter, once on the snow. I have worn no white clothing (shirts, drawers, etc.) for four months…

Hayes’ sunny disposition—he almost sounds as if he wakes up singing—mayhelp the morale of some of his men, but must irritate others who are homesick and tired of snow, cold, and boredom.

>>> Elsewhere, Brig Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, alerted to a possible enemy attack on his outposts along the Mississippi River south of Cairo, Illinois, tells his commanders to keep their men close by. (The danger will fade away, however.)

IN THE NEWS ELSEWHERE: Today, President Abraham Lincoln turns over to the Senate the documents it requested in the case of Col. Dixon S. Miles, alleged to have been drunk at the Battle of Bull Run. Although a military court of inquiry had found that a fellow officer was justified in calling Miles drunk, the court decided evidence was lacking for a court martial and, moreover, organizing the court would cause the Army “the greatest inconvenience at the present” and would “not be for the interests of the service.” With 21st Century hindsight, that was a very bad call. Slightly more than a year later, Miles’ inept defense of the Union position at Harpers Ferry will result in the largest surrender of U.S. troops in the war. Miles will be mortally wounded by an artillery shell, which some will say was fired by his own men, angry at his poor performance. Was all that in "the interests of the service"?

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