“The other officers think me very particular and pokey, but none of them manage to be so comfortable.” Charles S. Wainwright

I recently finished reading Brevet Brigadier General Charles S. Wainwright’s diary.  (A Diary of Battle The Personal Journals of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright 1861-1865 edited by Allan Nevins New Foreword by Stephen Sears (New York:  De Capo Press 1998)

Wainwright was an aristocratic farmer from New York.  Active in militia affairs and with some experience with artillery, Wainwright was commissioned Major in the First New York Light Artillery at the beginning of the war.  His first important position was as the chief of artillery for Joseph Hooker’s Third Corp’s division stationed in Maryland.  Wainwright served with Hooker during the early days of the Peninsula campaign.  Stricken with malaria, he missed the battles around Richmond.  When Hooker moved up to command the First Corps after Second Manassas, he named Wainwright to be his artillery chief.  In Washington at the time, Wainwright was not able to join Hooker until September 18, 1862, one day after the battle.

“The whole road from Sharpsburg to the river was lined with abandoned guns, caissons and wagons; while every house, barn and shed was filled with rebel wounded, and many more lay under trees, or wretched apologies for tents. Sharpsburg itself is a small place with very comfortless looking houses, though most of them are stone or brick; a few have holes through them, made by stray cannon balls and all are crowded with rebel wounded.”

Wainwright, Charles S.

Sep 19 1862

Wainwright admired Hooker as a fighter and always maintained a friendly relationship with him but he deplored Hooker’s familiarity with subordinates, his constant intriguing, and the unsavory aspects of his headquarters.

“President Lincoln came down on Saturday afternoon instead of on Sunday and arrived at headquarters quite unexpectedly.  It is said that their arrival created quite a commotion on Hooker’s back stairs, hustling off some of his female acquaintances in a most undignified way.”

Wainwright, Charles S.

Apr 8 1862

Wainwright reports on the early arrival of President Lincoln and its effect on Hooker’s HQ

“General Hooker was in the road just to the rear of my batteries, and under fire all day, as brave as brave could be beyond a doubt.  But he seemed to know little of the ground where his infantry were fighting and I must say did not impress me at all favorably as to his powers as a general.  His great idea was to go ahead quick until you ran against the enemy, and then fight him;

Wainwright, Charles S.

May 5 1862

Wainwright’s comparing Kearny with Hooker at the Battle of Williamsburg

“I wish I could tell when Hooker is really speaking the simple truth, but he so universally finds fault with everybody, not under himself, that one can attach but little consequence to what he says.”

Wainwright, Charles S.

Sep 19 1862

Wainwright on Hooker

“Hooker may have learned a great deal since I left him, but judging from what I saw, I do not think him much of a general in the higher branches of that position. His bravery is unquestioned, but he has not so far shown himself anything of a tactician, and at Williamsburg he certainly did not appear to be master of the situation.  One great quality I think he has, a good judgment of men to serve under him.  I am asked on all sides here if he drinks.  Though thrown in very close contact with him through six months, I never saw him when I thought him the worse for liquor.  Indeed I should say that his failing was more in the way of women than whiskey.”

Wainwright, Charles S.

Jan 31 1862

Wainwright’s impressions of Hooker as Army commander

John Reynolds replaced the wounded Hooker after Antietam and Wainwright enjoyed an excellent relationship with him.  Wainwright, from first hand experience rightly considered Reynolds one of the best commanders in the Union Army and greatly respected his fighting abilities, administrative skills and antipathy for politics.

“General Reynolds is very different from Hooker, in that he never expresses an opinion about other officers.  I can get nothing from him, but now that my reports are all in shall ride around and find out what I can….”

Wainright, Charles S.

Dec 21 1862

Wainwright on Reynolds tendency towards reticence

“General Reynolds is not at all of the fancy order, so we shall probably have nothing better than our tents to live in all winter;”

Wainwright, Charles S.

Feb 8 1862

Wainwright on Reynolds simplicity

With this said, he felt that George Meade was the better fit for Army command when Hooker stepped down.

“He is a West Pointer and major of Engineers; a fine soldierly, somewhat stiff-looking man, and the most thoroughbred gentleman in his manners I have yet met within the army.  I do not know whether he will retain command of the corps, but doubt it as there are so many senior to him.”

Wainwright, Charles S.

Sep 21 1862

Wainwright’s early impression of Meade who temporarily commands First Corps

“Meade does not mean to be ugly, but he cannot control his infernal temper.”

Wainwright, Charles S.

Dec 2 1863

Wainwright on Meade’s temper

Wainwright had less to like about John Newton, Reynolds’s replacement after Gettysburg.  He regarded Newton as mostly lazy, indifferent, and wed to his creature comforts.  Newton had come out of the Sixth Corps, having served as a brigade commander under William Smith during the Maryland Campaign.

“General Newton differs very much from Reynolds in his love for the comforts of life, and for good eating.  Baked beans and cayenne pepper will never satisfy him for a meal.”

Wainwright, Charles S.

Jul 22 1863

Wainwright describing John Newton’s love of comfort

When the First Corps was disbanded, Wainwright became artillery chief of the Fifth Corps and served under Gouverneur Warren.  If Newton was indulgent, Wainwright came to regard Warren as downright crazy.  He termed Warren’s bouts of insanity as “freaks” and eventually avoided Warren whenever possible.

“I am becoming more than ever convinced that he has a screw loose, and is not quite accountable for all his freaks….”

Wainwright, Charles S.

Jul 14 1864

Wainwright reports on one of Warren’s tantrums

Wainwright witnessed the final battles around Petersburg, the pursuit of the rebel army into central Virginia, the relief of Warren by Phil Sheridan within days of the war’s end, and the surrender of the Confederate’s at Appomattox.  There, Wainwright even got a glimpse of Robert E. Lee and recorded his impressions in his journal.

“Lee is a fine, English-looking man, somewhat stout, with a florid complexion and white hair; his appearance is decidedly that of a gentleman.”

Wainwright, Charles S.

Apr 10 1865

Wainwright sees Robert E. Lee at his last meeting with Grant

Wainwright was a no nonsense officer who ran his artillery organizations by the book. A close friend of army artillery chief Henry Hunt, he was an early proponent of consolidating the artillery into brigades under corps control providing the maximum in flexibility and concentration.  Considering the great number of old Regular Army officers in the artillery, Wainwright as a volunteer advanced very far into the artillery hierarchy.  He was even placed temporarily in command of all the artillery by his old commander Joe Hooker as things fell apart during the Battle of Chancellorsville.

Wainwright was a firm adherent of the McClellan faction along with many officers of the Army of the Potomac like his old friend Marsenna Patrick.  Though he never considered McClellan as a great general, he acknowledged his strategic vision, leadership, and strong administrative and managerial skills.

“Whatever might be their opinion of McClellan as a general, no one who saw and heard him today as I did could help pronouncing him a good and great man: great in soul if not in mind.”

Wainwright, Charles S.

Nov 9 1862

Wainwright observing McClellan’s final moments in command of the Army of the Potomac

“I have finished reading McClellan’s report, and it has given me a higher opinion of him that I ever had before; I now think him about as near being a great general as it is possible to come without arriving at it.

Wainwright, Charles S.

Mar 13 1864

Wainwright on reading McClellan’s report

Firmly believing (though wrong) that the battles in the west were mere skirmishes compared to the fighting done by the Army of the Potomac, Wainwright had no great regard for Ulysses S. Grant upon the latter’s arrival.  He viewed Grant’s strategy in the Overland Campaign as unimaginative and predictable.

“He is not so hard-looking a man as his photographs make him out to be, but stumpy, unmilitary, slouchy, and Western-looking; very ordinary in fact.”

Wainwright, Charles S.

Mar 24 1864

Wainwright catches his first sight of Genl Grant

“He rode along the line in a slouchy unobservant way, with his coat unbuttoned and setting anything but an example of military bearing to the troops.”

Wainwright, Charles S.

Mar 24 1864

Grant reviews the First Corps as it is absorbed into the Fifth Corps

“I do wish Grant would try something else than this everlasting turning; he has not varied his plan of attack one iota since we left Culpeper.  Lee must know exactly what is coming now, so soon as he learns that the army is in motion….”

Wainwright, Charles S.

Oct 26 1864

Wainwright on Grant’s strategy of turning movements

If Wainwright wasn’t impressed with Grant, he even less use for the Lincoln administration.

“When calm history comes to be written, Mr. Lincoln must appear as one of the smallest of men, ever harping on trifles.”

Wainwright, Charles S.

Mar 13 1864

Wainwright on Lincoln’s apparent legacy.

“Sigel in the Valley too, had come to a full stop and has now been replaced by old Hunter.  Mr. Lincoln certainly does hold on to his fourth-rate men, however fond he may be of disgracing his best generals.”

Wainwright, Charles S.

May 31 1864

“It was near eight o’clock when the troops were dismissed, having stood half a day under a hot sun, in momentary expectation of the President’s arrival.  A specimen of Western bad manners, rather than of the much talked of Republican simplicity.”

Wainright, Charles S.

Oct 2 1862

Wainwright reporting on Lincoln’s no-show for the First Corps Review while at Sharpsburg to meet with McClellan

“It would be hard work to find the great man in his face or figure, and he is infinitely uglier than any of his pictures.”

Wainwright, Charles S.

Jan 15 1862

Wainwright describes Lincoln when he sees him at an opera

“We had got halfway there when we met the “great mogul” riding in an ambulance with some half dozen Western-looking politicians.  Republican simplicity is well enough, but I should have preferred to see the President of the United States traveling with a little more regard to appearances than can be afforded by a common ambulance, with his long legs doubled up so that his knees almost struck his chin, and grinning out of the windows like a baboon.  Mr. Lincoln not only is the ugliest man I ever saw, but the most uncouth and gawky in his manners and appearance.”

Wainwright, Charles S.

Oct 1 1862

Wainwright, a New York aristocrat who sees Lincoln at Sharpsburg after the battle

“A long haired, fat, oily, politician-looking man”

Wainwright, Charles S.

Jan 15 1862

Wainwright describes Stanton when he sees him at an opera

Wainwright’s journal is so valuable because he is articulate writer who vividly describes the landscapes, battlefields, personalities, and politics of he Army of the Potomac from nearly the beginning of that Army’s existence to the end.   Here are some more noteworthy quotes made by Wainwright.

“…And Gibbon ran his own battery down the road to within 150 yards of the corner of the woods, where it remained about ten minutes.  It was an awful place to put a battery; in front of two haystacks, and with its flank within easy range of the enemy.  I cannot see how Gibbon could have placed it there, especially when there was quite as commanding a position and a safe one only some 300 yards farther back.”

Wainwright, Charles S.

Oct 5 1862

Wainwright writing on the employment of Battery B 4th US at Antietam

“Doubleday knows enough but he is entirely impractical, and so slow at getting an idea through his head.  Wadsworth is active, always busy at something.”

Wainwright, Charles S.

Mar 8 1862

Wainwright describes Abner Doubleday compared to James Wadsworth

“I went from there to Franklin’s headquarters where I found him, Smith, and their staffs, in quite a comfortable camp; doing nothing to help things on, but grumbling and talking in a manner to do all the harm possible.”

Wainwright, Charles S.

Jan 21 1863

Wainwright describing the camp of William Franklin

“I saw General Heintzelman when up there with Hooker yesterday: ugly as his pictures are, they flatter him; a little man, of wrinkles, he wears the most uncouth dress and gets into the most awkward positions possible.  He talks way down in his throat too, having lost his palate, so that one can barely understand him.  I was much disappointed in him; could not see any signs of a great man.”

Wainwright, Charles S.

Apr 16 1862

Wainwright recalls seeing Gen Heintzelman near Yorktown when he accompanies Hooker to the front

“Ingalls, who is now chief quartermaster on his [Grant’s] staff, is the only one having a house; but then, he always took care to be better off than anyone else.”

Wainwright, Charles S.

Nov 9 1864

Wainwright on Genl Rufus Ingalls


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