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panies were ordered to take a certain battery and they went across a stream and did take the position, in the face of a foe numbering something like three thousand men — three regiments under General Cobb — and during all that time were not supported or reinforced by the general who was upon the ground. At last they retired, and the rebel papers report that all but eight were slaughtered. That is not true, but the slaughter was not only great, but useless.
Now, I am informed by a most respectable gentleman, a civilian, who was present at the time, and saw the general, that he was grossly drunk, and it was reported had fallen from his horse twice on that day; that one side of his person was covered with mud, and that his face was also covered with mud and had some blood on it. Under these circumstances, while I do not know that he was responsible for this blunder, yet if there are any men in the army who get into the condition that I am assured he was in, they deserve to be stricken from the rolls. No such man ought to be allowed to control the destinies of brave men.
Two days later he told his wife, “My resolution against drunken generals is exciting commotion, but 'let the galled jades wince.' I should hardly present such a matter unless my proof was of a sort to put the question beyond dispute.”
Having taken his position, he would not yield, but defended it even to his wife:
I see [he wrote on May ist] you regard my words about General Smith as unfortunate. That may be true, but it would have been cowardly not to have uttered them sustained by an eyewitness who stands unimpeached. The officers cannot testify against a superior and have any position afterwards. The “Tribune's” correspondent would be drummed out of camp if he did not stand up for all the officers. Some of the Colonels are no better than the General. But I don't expect them to be saints. All I ask is that they shall be sober when they are spending Vermonters at the rate of 160 an hour.
In spite of the heavy losses and privations, the war was still only in the early stages of its course, and perhaps it was
as well that no one could foresee how much blood was still to be shed before the end. Morrill wrote cheerfully when he could. On June 8th he wrote:
The news on the Mississippi to-day of another victory of our fleet at Memphis is good. Now if we can only soundly thrash the rebels at Richmond, I shall think the Rebellion will be put down during my lifetime.
The latter part of the summer he seems to have spent at home in Vermont. In September he wrote again from Washington:
The war news dull. Now the Administration must redouble their blows — heavy and hot — or I shall fear the result. It is no child's play. The stake is momentous. I presume all this is understood.
These war letters we owe to the fact that Mrs. Morrill remained in Strafford instead of accompanying her husband to Washington, as she seems to have done for the sessions of '62–63 and '63–64, for there is a gap until May, 1864. By this time the end began to be visible. Grant was in supreme command and, with Sherman coöperating with him in the West and South, set in motion the grim and costly attacks which ultimately broke the armies of the South. Morrill's letters written early in May reveal somewhat the toll of the battles of the Wilderness, Spottsylvania, and Cold Harbor. On May 7th he wrote:
The news to-day here is that we have won a great victory. I pray to God it may be so. It is necessary to us and to our enemies that we whip them speedily. To-morrow I expect to see here the ambulance train with the wounded. Brave fellows! I know they will be well cared for, that they will forever be proud of their scars, and that they will have life pensions, but I do trust we shall get through with this bloody work this year.
Four days later more details came and they were grievous:
Our Vermont Brigade suffered in loss of prisoners, killed and wounded terribly. I have been this morning to Carver Hospital to see a few of our wounded who have arrived here. They are comfortable and feel satisfied that we are doing well, and that the fight, though bloody, is one that will result in our complete success. I hope so, but all the news is not so good as I could wish, especially that concerning Banks. And on the 14th he wrote in a solemn vein:
The news yesterday was very good. To-day we have none. But Oh! how many hearts from this day on all over our land will bleed and forever bleed. Here is a father lost a son. He was a Colonel (Barney) and a fine officer, and the father says also a Christian. He is sad, but quite reconciled that he gave his life for his country. Here is a brother of a wounded Lieutenant. He can't get to him. I got him off on his way at last, and how grateful he was! Here were two doctors from Vermont — five hundred miles away -- hasting here to bind up wounds without money and without price. God bless them! They are needed. Here is a father, (Senator Fessenden) one son already lost, another with a leg just amputated at New Orleans, and a third under Hooker in Georgia fighting for the last week, whose safety he would be glad to know. Here is a mother seeing her son (Henry) with his pack and musket moving off with his Regiment 1700 strong to the field of blood — her tears cannot be held back, proud as she is, but the boy smiles and moves on.
The day almost dawns, for it does seem as though the strength of even demons must give over after the hard knocks they have just received. We shall emerge a great and free people and those who have been in this struggle will need no other badge of distinction.
THE WAR: FINANCE
WHILE Morrill, like everybody else, was stirred by the struggle in the field which held all hearts, his immediate duty lay in the comparatively dull province of ways and means, and especially in the unattractive department of finance.
With the departure of the representatives of the seceding States in 1861, Congress had become less an arena of debate and more a giant committee for the conduct of business. Questions of sovereignty and the Constitution, slavery and its extension, ceased to head the list of topics of debate, and gave place to questions of national finance. The Committee on Ways and Means now held the center of the stage, and of this committee the withdrawal of the Southern members left Morrill the senior member. Precedent directed that he be named Chairman, but, as we have seen, he declined in favor of Thaddeus Stevens. On Morrill's shoulders, however, fell the brunt of the labor on tariff and revenue bills. It was early decided that his bill should be retained as a basis for the tariff measures of the war and the duties under it greatly increased.
The tariff, important as it was and remained, soon took a secondary place as a source of revenue. The vast expenditures of the war required not only direct taxation, but also enormous loans. To these problems of internal revenue and finance Morrill bent his utmost energies. Here he shone. In fact it is not too much to say that in this field his talents found their freest play and his powers their fullest application. He approached greatness in several fields, and in none of them nearer than in that of finance. More than one of
his contemporaries testified to his financial acumen; Henry Winter Davis declared he was the ablest financier of the time, and he had the profound respect of such Secretaries of the Treasury as Chase, Fessenden, McCulloch, and Sherman.
One cannot resist speculating on what would have been the effect upon his fame if the contingency to which he referred in after life had become actual and he had taken Chase's place at the Treasury. The incident arose out of the “legal-tender" discussion of 1862, in which, as we shall see, Morrill took a strenuous part. “At one time,” said Morrill, "Mr. Chase, while Secretary of the Treasury, was resolved to issue his greenbacks and I did not favor that system. I was in favor of issuing legal-tenders redeemable in United States bonds. Mr. Chase was so decided that he must put the greenbacks out that he came to me and said: 'Unless this measure passes, you can have my place. I will indorse you for the Treasury Department and you can be selected.' But I had no idea of letting things come to that pass, and I suppressed further opposition to the measure.”
Whether the exchange of Morrill for Chase would have been prudent is of no moment now, but it might have prevented some ills. Certain it is that of the three departments of legislation in which he labored, not without distinction tariff, public education, and finance — the last was the one in which Morrill was best fitted to win preëminence. As an educational authority he lacked experience as well as a thorough grounding in theory; as a tariff man, though he won great reputation and had an advantage over nearly all those who have labored in the field by reason of his immediate first-hand experience in importing as well as merchandising, yet it may be doubted whether he ever mastered the principles of international trade. But whenever he turned his attention to finance, his grasp became firm and decisive;