"The Holy And Just Cause"

The story of Lucy Hayes's life in Civil War camps, her observations of the fears and prejudices of the civilian population, her encounter with Washington bureaucracy, and her efforts to provide a happy home for her children even as she agonized over the fate of her husband, exemplify the part played by so many Northern Women in the War Between the States. The letters, memoirs, and experiences of Lucy Hayes and of' many other women involved in the war effort help complete our view of the domestic side of a conflict whose battles have been well-documented but whose nonmilitary aspects may be less clear.

In the decade before the Civil War, Rutherford and Lucy shared the belief that differences between the North and South could be settled without resort to war. As the Southern states began to secede in January 1861, following the victory two months earlier of the Republican party in the presidential election, Hayes speculated in his diary whether two Americas, one free and the other slave, could exist side-by-side but reasoned that while there might be some fighting over boundary lines, general warfare could still be avoided. The next month, when Lincoln made his pre-inaugural journey to Washington, Rutherford and Lucy were members of the welcoming committee that accompanied him from Indianapolis to Cincinnati. In private conversations, Lincoln indicated that he favored a policy of kindness and delay to give time for passions to cool, but not a compromise to extend the power and influence of the slave system.

But the hopes of Lucy and Rutherford, and many other Americans, for a negotiated settlement were shattered on a fateful April day. Early in the morning of April 12, 1861, the cannons of South Carolinian batteries in Charleston opened fire on square-walled Fort Sumter, the Federal fortress in the harbor. This bombardment, followed by President Lincoln's call for militia, ended all hope for a peaceful resolution of sectional differences.

When the news of Sumter reached the Hayes family in Cincinnati, an enthusiasm for military action replaced their doubts and fears. Lucy even felt that if she had been there with a garrison of women the fort would not have surrendered. Her husband and her brother Joseph favored a vigorous war policy. Rutherford, relieved to have the period of indecision over, wrote to his uncle, "Anything is better than the state of things we have had the last few months." All day long the three little boys marched around the house beating their drums and shooting make-believe rifles. The two older women in the household took a more sober view of' the situation. Sophia Hayes, visiting at the time, read the Old Testament "vigorously" and believed they were being punished for sinfulness. Maria Webb grieved quietly over the turn of events.

A wave of' patriotism engulfed Cincinnati. Lucy reported in a letter to their niece, "The Northern heart is truly fired&the enthusiasm that prevails in our city is perfectly irresistible." She was perceptive enough, however, to note, "Those who favor secession or even sympathy with the South find it prudent to be quiet." Only a short time before the crisis, voters in Cincinnati had shown a lack of confidence in the policies of Lincoln's party. A new and temporary coalition of Democrats and Know-Nothings convinced the people that the Republican party lacked ability to deal with the situation. And so on April 1, 1861, Rutherford met defeat in his bid for reelection as City Solicitor, as other Republican candidates also fell in the wave of reaction. Half-heartedly, Rutherford returned to private law practice, taking over the office of German free-thinker and former revolutionist Friedrich Hassaurek, whom Lincoln had appointed United States minister to Ecuador for his help in swinging the vote of German workers to the Republican party. Hassaurek and his partner and half-brother, Leopold Markbreit, had many clients and friends among the Germanic population in the Cincinnati areas. The recognition by German leaders of Hayes's ability and sense of integrity would help him will future contests for public office.

For a few weeks after the Sumter incident, Rutherford tried to concentrate on his law practice, but before the end of May he and his friend, Judge Stanley Matthews, decided "to go into the service for the war." As the father of three young children&Birchard Austin, now seven years old, Webb Cook, five, and Rutherford Platt, nearly three&and as a man nearing forty, Hayes quite reasonably could have left the fighting to younger men without family responsibilities. Although motivated by patriotism, a desire for change from the routine of civilian life, and dreams of' winning glory on the battlefield, Rutherford would not have volunteered without Lucy's encouragement and enthusiasm for the "holy and just cause."

After several weeks of communication with Gov. William Dennison and other influential Ohioans, Matthews received a commission as lieutenant-colonel and Hayes as major of the newly formed Twenty-third Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Their commander, Col. William S. Rosecrans, soon received a promotion to brigadier-general, and Col. Eliakim P. Scammon was appointed to command the regiment. The Twenty-third was the first Ohio regiment enlisted for three years or the duration of the war, and the first whose field officers were appointed by the governor instead of being elected by the men-in the beginning a cause for some dissatisfaction. Volunteer companies, mostly from the northeastern part of' the state, were mustered into the regiment on June 11 and 12 at Camp Jackson (later renamed Camp Chase), then four miles west of Columbus on the National Road.

Unlike many volunteers, Hayes served in the Union Army until the end of the war in 1865. While on guard duty in West Virginia, he led forays into enemy lines, and in the theater of war east of the Appalachians he commanded units in fierce encounters with Confederate forces. He suffered bullet wounds on three occasions and other injuries when horses were shot from under him. Various promotions culminated in Rutherford's appointment on the battlefield as brigadier-general; upon his resignation from the army in May 1865, he received the brevet (honorary) rank of major general of the volunteers. Throughout the war, Lucy's pride in her husband's patriotism and bravery sustained him in difficult situations.

As her initial burst of enthusiasm faded and with Rutherford in camp, Lucy began to realize the loneliness of her situation. In her first letter to her husband, she said that she hoped to follow him wherever he might be stationed, adding, "You will find Ruddy that your foolish little trial of a wife was fit to be a soldier's wife." A few weeks later, she wrote that she was depressed because Joseph Webb had not received an appointment to Hayes's regiment. Also their friends questioned Rutherford's reasons for enlisting. Nor did it help her state of' mind to recall the tactless remark of her mother-in-law, who said she "didn't know why any man with a happy home wanted to leave it."

Rutherford tried to dispel his wife's anxieties with frequent letters, assurances of his affection, and the best news of all, Dr. Joe Webb's assignment to his regiment. As soon as possible, Rutherford arranged for Lucy and Birch to visit in Columbus while he was stationed at Camp Jackson. In a few days, Webb came to the city with his Uncle Joe, and later Mrs. Webb and little Ruddy joined Lucy and the older boys at the Platt home. The night before the regiment was scheduled to leave, Rutherford went into the city to bid goodbye to his family. Lucy, who showed more emotion at his departure than "hitherto exhibited," persuaded him to allow her to spend the night with him at camp. Rutherford wrote in his diary that they passed a happy evening going around among the men gathered at campfires in "picturesque" groups, cooking their rations for three days of travel." The next morning, July 25, 1861, Lucy and her mother watched tearfully from the station platform as the Twenty-third Regiment left for Clarksburg, Virginia (part of the area that officially became West Virginia in 1863). Seeking solace for her feeling of desolation, Lucy, her mother, and the three Hayes children then left for a visit with relatives at a farm north of Chillicothe.

Soon Rutherford's letters began to arrive with enthusiastic descriptions of the beautiful scenery and, in the beginning, the welcome received from citizens of western Virginia; as they marched beyond Clarksburg, however, the sentiment changed. The women did not hesitate to express their secessionist sympathies but the men were "prudently quiet." Earlier, Rutherford had learned that the Ohio troops were being sent to western Virginia to reinforce the mountain division of the Union Army and to forestall any attempt by the Confederacy to force the counties of western Virginia back into the Old Dominion. Now he surmised that the regiment's destination was Gauley Bridge on the Kanawha River, a strategic point for control of the area.

Lucy tried to be a good soldier's wife, but, as her husband knew, it would have been contrary to her nature to have hidden her worries completely. She wrote that the boys missed their father and Uncle Joe but enjoyed life at the farm, especially Birch, who commanded the diminutive army of his younger brothers and cousins. She described her relief' at the return of her brother James from the disastrous First Battle of Bull Run. His hospital had been temporarily overrun by enemy forces. Lucy assured her husband that she did not regret his decision to enter the army because "every day I feel our cause more holy and just." Then, showing the compassion characteristic of her personality, she added, "You know my great desire is that you and Joe constantly feel for the soldiers&do what you can to lighten their hardships."

Lucy and the children returned to Cincinnati the first of September. Carrying her fourth child and with headaches increasing during the fifth month of the pregnancy, she found it pleasant to be "quietly at home" again. Concern about Rutherford's safety added an emotional dimension to her discomfort when she learned about the regiment's first encounter with the enemy from a newspaper article. This skirmish occurred near the Gauley River on September 10. In the future, either Rutherford or Joe tried to telegraph Lucy immediately after each engagement.

Joe's letters to his sister and mother contained more information about army life than Rutherford's. Joe liked his quarters&two tents opening into each other, enclosed by boards at the top and sides. The wooden floor of' the back tent, which he shared with another doctor, was covered with "secesh carpet"; the front tent contained two benches, a rack for saddles, and a large trunk full of' medical supplies. His day began at 7 A.M. with calls on fifty or more men "Sick In Quarters." Then he visited an equal number in the hospital where typhoid fever was "playing smash" With the regiment. As acting brigade surgeon, he checked on the hospitals of the other two regiments in the afternoon, and then spent several hours filling out discharge forms. Finally, he had time to ride around the camp on the "first rate horse he had 'realized' [his mild word for commandeered]."

Along with news of the family and Cincinnati's efforts to guard against all invasion of the city, Lucy's letters reflected the public's criticism of the war effort, particularly her anger over President Lincoln's treatment of her hero, Gen. John C. Fremont. (Eventually, Fremont's incompetence and his untimely and extra legal proclamations of martial law in the state of Missouri and the manumission of the slaves of owners in the Western Division who were in rebellion forced Lincoln to remove him as commander of' the area.) Like many other civilians, Lucy had little understanding of Lincoln's problems in dealing with the border states. In one letter she worried about rumors of dissension in the president's cabinet and the "present trouble with General Fremont." She wondered if there were any "true men among our leaders&President Lincoln I fear lacks decision-he is too easy." Lucy seemed even more agitated a few weeks later when she asked her husband if he ever felt impatient, vexed and "as mad as a March Hare with all the Generals and most especially with the President of these United States&Daniel's interpretation of the handwriting on the Wall will apply to A Lincoln." This letter, reflecting her abhorrence of slavery, also admonished Rutherford not to allow the regiment to be disgraced by returning any contraband (escaped slaves) to the South.

The rumor of Fremont's removal coupled with the serious illness of her youngest son and her own discomfort as she approached her fourth confinement caused one of Lucy's most severe periods of depression. She wrote, "Fremont the last and greatest&I cannot give him up&yet it looks (dark and forbidding&it will be that last moment that I give up his honor patriotism&and power to successfully command an army."

In addition to expressing her candid opinion about the war effort, Lucy's letters included news about the family and friends. Birchard liked attending a nearby school, and Webb, whom she was trying to teach at home, provoked even as he amused her by his attempts to avoid study. Little Ruddy had recovered from the illness, more serious than she admitted to his father. Frequent visits from relatives and friends, who understood her reluctance to leave the house, comforted her. She particularly enjoyed talking to Rutherford's cousin, Elinor (Nellie) Mead of Vermont, who had come to Cincinnati to teach in Miss Nourse's fashionable school. A year later, Elinor married the famous author and editor, William Dean Howells, then American consul to Venice. Valuing the advice and sense of propriety of Lucy and her mother, Elinor asked if it were proper for her to meet Howells in Europe, where they planned to be married. Her brother, Larkin Mead, the sculptor, would accompany her to the continent. She thought this arrangement would save money and time. Evidently Lucy and Mrs. Webb approved because the marriage took place in Europe as planned.

Early in December, Joseph returned to Cincinnati to assist in the delivery of Lucy's baby. He observed in a letter to Rutherford, "This city presents none of the appearances of War; save the number of military coats one meets with; . . .all the ladies are working for the soldiers, knitting gloves, mittens & C." A few weeks later, on December 21, 1861, Lucy gave birth to her fourth son, whom the older boys affectionately named "little Joseph." When the news reached Rutherford, he admitted how much he had worried, "I love you so much," he wrote Lucy, "and have felt so anxious about you. . . . It is best it was not a daughter. These are no times for women." As the "tumult and shouting" receded, the true gravity of the war had become apparent to Rutherford and Lucy.

Explore other chapters of First Lady: The Life of Lucy Webb Hayes by Emily Apt Geer


Chapter 7 - "Lucy's Search For Her Husband"


Chapter 8 - "Camp Life in West Virginia"


Chapter 9 - "The Last Campaign"