A Future President Reflects On An Ending War

Rutherford B. Hayes

Recently, I was sorting through some letters and diaries of U.S. Presidents who fought during the Civil War and I came across an online archive of Rutherford B. Hayes’s wartime letters and diary entries. I’m looking forward to spending some time reading through the full documents online especially since Hayes operated in the Shenandoah Valley in the final months of the conflict. His writing is informative and entertaining and I’d encourage you to check it out.

Here is a letter excerpt from February 23, 1865, written by General Hayes to his wife. The postscript is especially fantastic!

Hayes mentions General Crook’s capture at Cumberland, Maryland, by Confederate raiders under Captain J. McNeill. That happened earlier in February, but the cavalry commander was exchanged after only a month’s prisoner experience.

Cumberland, Maryland, February 23, 1865.

MY DEAREST:–. . . As to the visit to Washington, the capture of General Crook may change my chance of getting permission to go there. The expense is of no importance, if it is prudent in view of the state of your health. I think I can get permission to go, but it is more questionable than it was. You should start so as to reach here by the 28th (or first of March). Stop, if you are not met by me or Dr. Joe, at the St. Nicholas, Cumberland. Telegraph me once when you start, and again when you are on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

Captain McKinley, Major Kennedy, and many other of your friends are at the St. Nicholas, if I happen not to be there. General Crook is of course in Libby by this time. If he can be exchanged soon, it will not, I think, injure him. His reputation is of the solid sort. He is spoken of by officers and men always in the right spirit. General Kelley had command of the town and of all the troops on picket. I do not hear him censured in regard to it. He should have had cavalry here, but I suppose it is not his fault that there was none. The truth is that all but “a feeble few” are taken to the coast from Savannah to Richmond, leaving these posts to take their chances. I think it is wise policy, but at the same time we are exposed to surprise and capture at any time.

You need not be surprised to hear that the enemy are across the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad at any time. I have great faith in my troops, my vigilance, and my luck, but I shall be much mistaken if the Rebels don’t overwhelm a number of our posts during the next six weeks or two months. Nothing but their extreme weakness will prevent it.

How gloriously things are moving! Columbia, Charleston, Sumter! Lee must act speedily. I should think he would gather up all the scattered forces and attack either Grant or Sherman before Sherman gets within supporting distance of Grant. But it is all guess. The next two months will be more and more interesting with the hopes, at least, in our favor largely. If Lee evacuates Richmond and moves towards Lynchburg or Danville or North (?) it merely prolongs the struggle. The evacuation of Richmond is a confession of defeat.

General Stephenson temporarily commands the Department. Well enough. If Lee leaves Richmond I shall then feel like resigning the moment things don’t suit me. The war will be substantially over and I can honorably quit.–Love to all.

Affectionately ever

R.

P. S.–The Rebels inquired for me, but were informed that I quartered with my troops. If it could be without stain I would rather like now to be captured. It would be a good experience.

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, historian, editor, and historical fiction writer. When sharing history, I try to keep the facts interesting and understandable. History is about real people, real actions, real effects and it should inspire us today.
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2 Responses to A Future President Reflects On An Ending War

  1. I LOVE reading letters from soldiers and civilians, especially ones that give insight into the author’s character. But why on earth would he think that being captured would be a good experience??? Was Libby prison not that bad?

  2. Terrance Yount says:

    A year ago I read ” Conspicuous Gallantry” the Civil War Diary and Letters of Rutherford B Hayes Abridged. This was obtained from Amazon as a ebook. 2.99. I really enjoyed this. Hayes is very descriptive about his service.

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