[Ed. – While not strictly speaking a “soldier’s letter,” this correspondent was one of the most faithful writers to the The Congregationalist, a religious periodical published in Boston by Galen James & Co. Deacon James was deacon of the 2nd Trinitarian Church in Medford and had bought an interest in the publication that would become The Congregationalist in 1849. Deacon James was a strong temperance and anti-slavery supporter. His son, Horace, was also a frequent correspondent of the newspaper while serving as Chaplain of the 25th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and, later, the head of a Freedmen’s Bureau in North Carolina. “Spectator” was known to be a minister in one of the Washington Churches, but which one remains a mystery still. He was a very faithful correspondent, writing a weekly letter from the heart of the Union war effort, Washington, D.C. Militarily, this letter only relates to Meade’s withdrawal to the north side of the Rappahannock. This action took place on the cusp of General Grant assuming command of the armies of the Union. Two pieces of interesting information come from this letter; One is the discussion on the rising tide of philanthropy among the people of the North. The other was the plan, as understood by the correspondent, to enlist slaves in the border states by compensating the owners and then freeing the former slaves when they joined the army. While compensated emancipation has long been discussed by civil war scholars, I have never heard it framed in quite this fashion.]
Correspondence of the Congregationalist.
Notes from the Capital.
Washington, D.C., Oct. 19, 1863
The retreat of the army of the Potomac that I hinted at in a postscript to my last letter, is a long retreat indeed, sixty miles or more, and now the army is once more where the people of Washington can go out for a short drive to see it, as has been the case so much of the time for the last two years. Gen. Meade is not longer required to travel by rail ninety miles to attend a cabinet consultation, or to make a flying visit to the War Department. His army is now near its base of supplies, and it can attack the enemy without crossing two rivers. His position, therefore, is greatly improved, and it by no means follows as a consequence of his retreat that he has abandoned all idea of offensive operations this fall. The weather is now favorable for “strategic operations.” The army can march, for the roads are good, and we may expect fair weather for some weeks yet. The public seem to interpret the retrograde movement favorably, as officials here do. They do not regard it as a symptom of weakness, exactly, nor do they believe that Gen. Meade retreated because he was afraid to meet Lee in battle. As for the disloyal, and those who secretly sympathize with the rebellion, they are so stunned with the election results in Ohio and Pennsylvania, that they can extract very little comfort from the retreat of Meade’s army.
There may be no more serious fighting either here or in the West this fall, but this is not the expectation at the present time. If there should be none, then the winter will be improved by both sides in increasing and disciplining their armies. The rebels, it is believed, cannot raise one hundred thousand more men for their armies – the President seems determined that we shall raise three hundred thousand. If this can be done I do not see how it is possible for the rebellion to hold out another year, and if we had three generals as enterprising as Grant the spring campaign would drive them from every rebel state.
Several hundred wounded soldiers have arrived here within a few days, and our hospitals begin to fill up. Thanks to state agencies, and the ever watchful Sanitary Commission, they are well cared for. This war is not teaching men simply how to fight – it is teaching men and women how to be generous and humane. The benevolence of the people towards the soldiers, in all parts of the country is great, and it is one of the most hopeful signs of the time. War in itself is always cruel and demoralizing. But it is educating the people of the free states to a nobility of feeling they lacked before it broke out. Trade and a business intercourse with slavery had well nigh destroyed the American people. The war teaches a grand lesson of self-sacrifice.
The best act of Mr. Stanton’s life is his order permitting slaves to enlist in all the border states. Loyal masters are to receive $300. for each slave who shall enlist, and the slave himself receives his freedom. Disloyal masters will receive no pecuniary compensation. This is a terrible blow at slavery. It will destroy the entire system, root and branch, in Maryland, within a year. The war itself renders slave-property (I use the language of slave territory – we call it property, because slaveholders assume it to be such,) the war renders slave property valueless, or nearly so, and even secession owners are ready to come forward and claim the compensation to be awarded by the War Department, pretending themselves to be loyal. Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri will feel this blow speedily, or rather the institution of slavery in those states will feel it.
We shall soon have a large negro army – certainly not less than fifty thousand by the first of April – enough, I trust, to preserve order in the rebel states after we shall have beaten the rebel armies. What a spectacle will be afforded to the world if we should be successful in overcoming the armies of the South? The negro-troops would unquestionably be employed as a military police all through the South, to preserve order among their old masters! Such will be the fate of the proud, arrogant, murderous race of slave-masters in the South unless they avert it by accepting the pardon which the President will unquestionably offer them like sensible men, abandoning their rebellious notions and slavery, and joining heartily the loyal people of the North in making a great and free republic.