This is a book by John Beatty, who was a Union brigadier general during the Civil War. A Republican and a banker before the war, Beatty enlisted in the 3rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry as a private. He quickly earned his commission and rose to be a brigade commander under Major General William S. Rosecrans in the Tullahoma Campaign. He also participated in the Battle of Chattanooga, helping to take Missionary Ridge. He resigned his commission in 1864 and became a banker again. After the war he was elected to the House of Representatives and represented Ohio’s 8th District.
The book is a memoir taken from a journal Beatty kept during his time in the army. As such, it’s a primary source, and is a compelling read. It contains the events he witnessed and in which he participated, along with his own observations.
He began his service in western Virginia. On June 29, 1861, he recorded, “The country people here have been grossly deceived by their political leaders. They have been made to believe that Lincoln was elected for the sole purpose of liberating the negro; that our army is marching into Virginia to free their slaves, destroy their property, and murder their families; that we, not they, have set the Constitution and laws at defiance, and that in resisting us they are simply defending their homes and fighting for their constitutional rights.” [pp. 11-12] That area saw conflicts between Unionist and secessionist Virginians as well. On July 8, 1861, Beatty wrote, “The few Union men of this section have, for weeks past, been hiding away in the hills. Now the secessionists have taken to the woods. The utmost bitterness of feeling exists between the two. A man was found to-day, with in a half mile of this camp, with his head cut off and entrails ripped out, probably a Union man who had been hounded down and killed.” [p. 16] The next day, showing that unlike many he didn’t expect a short war and that he welcomed emancipation early in the war, he wrote, “I am not confident of a speedy termination of the war. These people are in the wrong, but have been made to believe they are in the right–that we are the invaders of their hearthstones, come to conquer and destroy. That they will fight with desperation, I have no doubt. Nature has fortified the country for them. He is foolishly oversanguine who predicts an easy victory over such a people, intrenched amidst mountains and hills. I believe the war will run into a war of emancipation, and when it ends African slavery will have ended also. It would not, perhaps, be politic to say so, but if I had the army in my own hands, I would take a short cut to what I am sure will be the end–commence the work of emancipation at once, and leave every foot of soil behind me free.” [pp. 19-20]
The book also contains moments of humor, such as, “Fox, my servant, went out this afternoon and bought a basket of bread. He brought in two chickens also, which he said were presented to him. I suspect Fox does not always tell the truth.” [p. 29]
Beatty had a chance to converse with some confederate prisoners while in western Virginia. He writes, “The Southern soldiers mentioned above are encamped for the night a little over a mile from here. About dusk I walked over to their camp. They were gathered around their fires preparing supper. Many of them say they were deceived, and entered the service because they were led to believe that the Northern army would confiscate their property, liberate their slaves, and play the devil generally. As they thought this was true, there was nothing left for them to do but to take up arms and defend themselves.” [pp. 30-31]
Also valuable are Beatty’s observations of his fellow officers. He has no use for the commander of his regiment, Col. Isaac H. Marrow. Beatty will actually force Marrow to resign his commission by threatening to bring formal charges against him in early 1862. Marrow was back in uniform a month later on Major General David Hunter’s staff, but he resigned again in May of 1863, citing “continued ill health.” [Roger D. Hunt, Colonels in Blue: Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia, pp. 83-84] He also has some pointed observations of others. On July 27, 1861 he wrote, “I came from the quarters of Brigadier-General [Newton] Schleich a few minutes ago. He is a three-months’ brigadier, and a rampant demagogue. Schleich said that slaves who accompanied their masters to the field, when captured, should be sent to Cuba and sold to pay the expenses of the war. I suggested that it would be better to take them to Canada and liberate them, and that so soon as the Government began to sell negroes to pay the expenses of the war I would throw up my commission and go home. Schleich was a State Senator when the war began. He is what might be called a tremendous little man, swears terribly, and imagines that he thereby shows his snap. Snap, in his opinion, is indispensable to a military man. If snap is the only thing a soldier needs, and profanity is snap, Schleich is a second Napoleon. This General Snap will go home, at the expiration of his three-months’ term, unregretted by officers and men. Major Hugh Ewing will return with him. Last night the Major became thoroughly elevated, and he is not quite sober yet. He thinks, when in his cups, that our generals are too careful of their men. ‘What are a th-thousand men,’ said he, ‘when (hic) principle is at stake? Men’s lives (hic) shouldn’t be thought of at such a time (hic). Amount to nothing (hic). Our generals are too d–d slow’ (hic). The major is a man of excellent natural capacity, the son of Hon. Thomas Ewing, of Lancaster, and brother-in-law of W. T. Sherman, now a colonel or brigadier-general in the army. W. T. Sherman is the brother of John Sherman.” [pp. 35-36] Schliech ended his three months duty at the end of July, 1861, and was back in uniform as the colonel of the 61st Ohio in April of 1862. “Facing charges of cowardice at the battle of Freeman’s Ford, VA, Aug. 22, 1862, he resigned Sept. 23, 1862 because ‘the relations between myself and some few of the officers of the regiment are such that the public service must be prejudiced by our all remaining in the same regiment.’ ” [Hunt, op. cit., p. 113]
Beatty has very positive things to say about General Joseph Jones Reynolds: “General Reynolds is a graduate of West Point, and has the theory of war completely; but whether he has the broad, practical common sense, more important than book knowledge, time will determine. As yet he is an untried quantity, and, therefore, unknown.” pp. 36-37] Reynolds will eventually become something of a mentor to Beatty. Reynolds had been a classmate of Ulysses S. Grant’s and before the war did frontier duty and a stint as an instructor at West Point. Resigning in 1857, he was an engineering instructor at Washington University in St. Louis and entered the grocery business. With the outbreak of the Civil War he became colonel of the 10th Indiana and then a brigadier general of volunteers. After the death of his brother in January of 1862 he resigned again, but was back that September and became a major general in November 1862. In October of 1863 he was made Chief of Staff of George H. Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland. In January 1864 he took command of the defenses of New Orleans and the following July he took command of the XIX Corps. He commanded the Department of Arkansas from November 1864 to April 1866. [Ezra J. Warner, Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders, pp. 397-398]
On August 7, 1861, Beatty recorded his impressions on meeting Major W. H. F. “Rooney” Lee: “At eleven o’clock a courier came in hot haste from the front, to inform us that a flag of truce, borne by a Confederate major, with an escort of six dragoons, was on the way to camp. Colonel Wagner and I rode out to meet the party, and were introduced to Major Lee, the son, as I subsequently ascertained, of General Robert E. Lee, of Virginia. The Major informed us that his communication could only be imparted to our General, and a courier was at once dispatched to Huttonville. At four o’clock General Reynolds arrived, accompanied by Colonel Sullivan and a company of cavalry. Wagner and I joined the General’s party, and all galloped to the outpost, to interview the Confederate major. His letter contained a proposition to exchange prisoners captured by the rebels at Manassas for those taken at Rich mountain. The General appointed a day on which a definite answer should be returned, and Major Lee, accompanied by Lieutenant-Colonel Owen and myself, rode to the outlying picket station, where his escort had been halted and detained. Major Lee is near my own age, a heavy set, but well-proportioned man, somewhat inclined to boast, not overly profound, and thoroughly impregnated with the idea that he is a Virginian and a Lee withal.” [pp. 46-47]
By November of 1861, Beatty and the 3rd Ohio are in Kentucky, camped near Louisville. “As we marched through the city my attention was directed to a sign bearing the inscription, in large black letters, ‘NEGROES BOUGHT AND SOLD.’ We have known, to be sure, that negroes were bought and sold, like cattle and tobacco, but it nevertheless, awakened new, and not by any means agreeable, sensations to see the humiliating fact announced on the broad side of a commercial house. These signs must come down” [p. 84]
After Mallow’s resignation, Beatty took over as colonel of the 3rd Ohio. He very forthrightly details some of the problems he had with discipline due to the resentment of some soldiers, and he reflects on whether or not his method was a mistake, deciding that whether it was a mistake or not he had best stick by it. Eventually he would turn things around, and his regiment would stick by him. By March of 1862 he and his regiment were in Tennessee. “We have much trouble with escaped negroes. In some way we have obtained the reputation of being abolitionists, and the colored folks get into our regimental lines, and in some mysterious way are so disposed of that their masters never hear of them again. It is possible the two saw-bones, who officiate at the hospital, dissect, or desiccate, or boil them in the interest of science, or in the manufacture of the villainous compounds with which they dose us when ill. At any rate, we know that many of these sable creatures, who joined us at Bowling Green and on the road to Nashville, can not now be found. Their masters, following the regiment, made complaint to General Buell, and, as we learn, spoke disparagingly of the Third. An order issued requiring us to surrender the negroes to the claimants, and to keep colored folks out of our camp hereafter. I obeyed the order promptly; commanded all the colored men in camp to assemble at a certain hour and be turned over to their masters; but the misguided souls, if indeed there were any, failed to put in an appearance, and could not be found. The scamps, I fear, took advantage of all who desire to preserve the Union as it was, and greatly to the chagrin of the gentlemen who expected to take them handcuffed back to Kentucky. One of these fugitives, a handsome mulatto boy, borrowed five dollars of me, and the same amount of Doctor Seyes, not half an hour before the time when he was to be delivered up, but I fear now the money will never be repaid.” [pp. 117-118]
On crossing the Tennessee River into Northern Alabama, Beatty reflected, on April 20, 1862, on how white southerners were treated and how black southerners were treated: “The white rebel, who has done his utmost to bring about the rebellion, is lionized, called a plucky fellow, a great man, while the negro, who welcomes us, who is ready to peril his life to aid us, is kicked, cuffed, and driven back to his master, there to be scourged for his kindness to us. Billy, my servant, tells me that a colored man was whipped to death by a planter who lives near here, for giving information to our men. I do not doubt it. We worm out of these poor creatures a knowledge of the places where stores are secreted, or compel them to serve as guides, and then turn them out to be scourged or murdered. There must be a change in this regard before we shall be worthy of success.” [p. 132]
Beatty is against the “rosewater policy” of conciliation and favors turning to a harder war, which he calls “the true policy.” On May 2, 1862, he wrote, “At Paint Rock the train was fired upon, and six or eight men wounded. As soon as it could be done, I had the train stopped, and, taking a file of soldiers, returned to the village. The telegraph line had been cut, and the wire was lying in the street. Calling the citizens together, I said to them that this bushwhacking must cease. The Federal troops had tolerated it already too long. Hereafter every time the telegraph wire was cut we would burn a house; every time a train was fired upon we should hang a man; and we would continue to do this until every house was burned and every man hanged between Decatur and Bridgeport. If they wanted to fight they should enter the army, meet us like honorable men, and not, assassin-like, fire at us from the woods and run. We proposed to hold the citizens responsible for these cowardly assaults, and if they did not drive these bushwhackers from amongst them, we should make them more uncomfortable than they would be in hell. I then set fire to the town, took three citizens with me, returned to the train, and proceeded to Huntsville. Paint Rock has long been a rendezvous for bushwhackers and bridge burners. One of the men taken is a notorious guerrilla, and was of the party that made the dash on our wagon train at Nashville.” [pp. 138-139] On May 5, he wrote, “General Mitchell is well pleased with my action in the Paint Rock matter. The burning of the town has created a sensation, and is spoken of approvingly by the officers and enthusiastically by the men. It is the inauguration of the true policy, and the only one that will preserve us from constant annoyance.” [p. 139]
Detailed to serve on the court-martial board for Colonel John B. Turchin, Beatty is dismissive of his commanding general, Don Carlos Buell. “There are many wealthy planters in this section. One of the witnesses before our court has a cotton crop on hand worth sixty thousand dollars. Another swears that Turchin’s brigade robbed him of twelve hundred dollars’ worth of silver plate. Turchin’s brigade has stolen a hundred thousand dollars’ worth of watches, plate, and jewelry, in Northern Alabama. Turchin has gone to one extreme, for war can not justify the gutting of private houses and the robbery of peaceable citizens, for the benefit of individual officers or soldiers; but there is another extreme, more amiable and pleasant to look upon, but not less fatal to the cause. Buell is likely to go to that. He is inaugurating the dancing-master policy: ‘By your leave, my dear sir, we will have a fight; that is, if you are sufficiently fortified; no hurry; take your own time.’ To the bushwhacker: ‘Am sorry you gentlemen fire at our trains from behind stumps, logs, and ditches. Had you not better cease this sort of warfare? Now do, my good fellows, stop, I beg of you.’ To the citizen rebel: ‘You are a chivalrous people; you have been aggravated by the abolitionists into subscribing cotton to the Southern Confederacy; you had, of course, a right to dispose of your own property to suit yourselves, but we prefer that you would, in future, make no more subscriptions of that kind, and in the meantime we propose to protect your property and guard your negroes.’ Turchin’s policy is bad enough; it may indeed be the policy of the devil; but Buell’s policy is that of the amiable idiot. There is a better policy than either. It will neither steal nor maraud; it will do nothing for the sake of individual gain, and, on the other hand, it will not crouch to rebels; it will not fear to hurt the feelings of traitors; it will not fritter away the army and the revenue of the Government in the insane effort to protect men who have forfeited all right to protection. The policy we need is one that will march boldly, defiantly, through the rebel States, indifferent as to whether this traitor’s cotton is safe, or that traitor’s negroes run away; calling things by their right names; crushing those who have aided and abetted treason, whether in the army or out. In short, we want an iron policy that will not tolerate treason; that will demand immediate and unconditional obedience as the price of protection.” [pp. 152-153] On July 18, 1862 he wrote, “The star of the Confederacy appears to be rising, and I doubt not it will continue to ascend until the rose-water policy now pursued by the Northern army is superseded by one more determined and vigorous. We should look more to the interests of the North, and less to those of the South. We should visit on the aiders, abettors, and supporters of the Southern army somewhat of the severity which hitherto has been aimed at that army only. Who are most deserving of our leniency, those who take arms and go to the field, or those who remain at home, raising corn, oats, and bacon to subsist them? Plain people, who know little of constitutional hair-splitting, could decide this question only one way; but it seems those who have charge of our armies can not decide it in any sensible way. They say: ‘You would not disturb peaceable citizens by levying contributions from them?’ Why not? If the husbands, brothers, and fathers of these people, their natural leaders and guardians, do not care for them, why should we? If they disregard and trample upon that law which gave all protection, and plunge the country into war, why should we be perpetually hindered and thwarted in our efforts to secure peace by our care for those whom they have abandoned? If we make the country through which we pass furnish supplies to our army, the inhabitants will have less to furnish our enemies. The surplus products of the country should be gathered into the Federal granaries, so that they could not, by possibility, go to feed the rebels. The loyal and innocent might occasionally and for the present suffer, but peace when once established would afford ample opportunity to investigate and repay these sufferers. Shall we continue to protect the property of our enemies, and lose the lives of our friends? It is said that it is hard to deprive men of their horses, cattle, grain, simply because they differ from us in opinion; but is it not harder still to deprive men of their lives for the same reason? The opinions from which we differ in this instance are treasonable. The man who, of his own free will, supplies the wood is no whit better than he who kindles the fire; and the man who supplies the ammunition neither better nor worse than he who does the killing. The severest punishment should be inflicted upon the soldier who appropriates either private or public property to his own use; but the Government should lay its mailed hand upon treasonable communities, and teach them that war is no holiday pastime.” [pp. 153-154] Beatty approves very much of the Confiscation Act. “We can not boast of what is occurring in this department. The tide seems to have set against us every-where. The week of battles before Richmond was a week of defeats. I trust the new policy indicated by the confiscation act, just passed by Congress, will have good effect. It will, at least, enable us to weaken the enemy, as we have not thus far done, and strengthen ourselves, as we have hitherto not been able to do. Slavery is the enemy’s weak point, the key to his position. If we can tear down this institution, the rebels will lose all interest in the Confederacy, and be too glad to escape with their lives, to be very particular about what they call their rights.” [pp. 157-158]
Beatty wants to strike against slavery, but he is also against the policy of recruiting new regiments instead of filling existing regiments with new recruits. “The repulse at Fredericksburg, while it has disabled thousands, has disheartened, if not demoralized a great army, and given confidence and strength to the rebels every-where. It may be, however, that this defeat was necessary to bring us clearly to the point of extinguishing slavery in all the States. The time is near when the strength of the President’s resolution in this regard will be put to the test. I trust he will be firm. The mere reconstruction of the Union on the old basis would not pay humanity for all the blood shed since the war began. The extinction of slavery, perhaps, will. While the North raises immense numbers of men, and scatters them to the four winds, the enemy concentrates, fortifies, and awaits attack. Will the man ever come to consolidate these innumerable detachments of the National army, and then sweep through the Confederacy like a tornado? It is said that many regiments in the Eastern army number less than one hundred men, and yet have a full complement of field and company officers. This is ridiculous; nay, it is an outrage upon the tax-payers of the North. Worse still, so long as such a skeleton is called a regiment, it is likely to bring discredit upon the State and Nation; for how can it perform the work of a regiment when it has but one-tenth of a regiment’s strength? These regiments should be consolidated, and the superfluous officers either sent home or put into the ranks.” [pp. 194-195]
Beatty is frank about his opinions regarding what the folks at home are doing to weaken the war effort. On February 6, 1863 he said, “A lot of rebel papers, dated January 31st, have been brought in. They contain many extracts clipped from the Northern Democratic press, and the Southern soul is jubilant over the fact that a large party in Ohio and Indiana denounce President Lincoln. The rebels infer from this that the war must end soon, and the independence of the Southern States be acknowledged. Our friends at home should not give aid and comfort to the enemy. They may excite hopes which, in time, they will themselves be compelled to help crush.” [pp. 216-217] The next day he wrote, “People may say Rosecrans had at the battle of Murfreesboro nearly one hundred regiments. A regiment should contain a thousand men; in a hundred regiments, therefore, there should have been one hundred thousand men. With this force he should have swallowed Bragg; but they must understand that the largest of these regiments did not contain over five hundred men fit for duty, and very many not over three hundred. The men in hospital, the skulkers at home, and the skedaddlers here, count only on the muster and pay-rolls; our friends at home should remember, therefore, that when they take a soldier by the hand who should be with his regiment, and say to him, ‘Poor fellow, you have seen hard times enough, stay a little longer, the army will not miss you,’ that some other poor fellow, too brave and manly to shirk, shivers through the long winter hours at his own post, and then through other long hours at the post of the absentee, thus doing double duty; and they should bear in mind, also, that in battle this same poor fellow has to fight for two, and that battles are lost, the war prolonged, and the National arms often disgraced, by reason of the absence of the men whom they encourage to remain at home a day or two longer. If every Northern soldier able to do duty would do it, Rosecrans could sweep to Mobile in ninety days; but with this skeleton of an army, we rest in doubt and idleness. There is a screw loose somewhere.” [pp. 217-218]
This is really an outstanding book for the student of the war. It’s a great read, in fact is an enjoyable read, and provides a lot of details about the officers and soldiers on the Union side. I can highly recommend it.