"Lucy's Search For Her Husband"

In her first letter to Rutherford after the birth of baby Joseph, Lucy Hayes wrote, "How long the time seems since we parted&almost six months&the first time in nine happy years." Before she finished writing, a sergeant from Hayes's regiment stopped to collect the letter. A few days earlier, this same soldier, in a state of intoxication, had pushed his way past her nurse to deliver personally a message from "Lieutenant Colonel Hayes" (promoted the last of October). With typical consideration, Lucy asked Rutherford not to reprimand the sergeant because "getting home had quite overcome him."

Soldiers from the Twenty-third Regiment stopped frequently in Cincinnati to deliver messages from her husband, along with words of praise for his leadership. On one occasion, Lucy was embarrassed when her German house girl, who knew no English, left Colonel Scammon, Rutherford's commanding officer, standing in the doorway until little Webb appeared to act as an interpreter. This visit, however, went well after Scammon expressed admiration for Rutherford's character and candidly discussed army promotions with Lucy. She wrote Uncle Sardis that if soldiers and officers still liked Rutherford after the close association of camp life "his talent for governing is fixed." Without doubt, Lucy's confidence in her husband's ability sustained and supported him during the difficult years of the Civil War.

In February, Rutherford returned to Ohio to see the new baby and to visit other relatives, including his uncle in Fremont and his mother wintering in Delaware. The visit to Delaware recalled joys of childhood and memories of his beloved sister Fanny, dead since 1856 and until his marriage, the most important person in his life: his confidante, favorite correspondent, and spur to his ambitions. Now Lucy served these needs, as he tried to explain in a letter to her. "Old Delaware is gone. . ." he wrote. "Old times come up to me&sister Fanny and I trudging down to the tan yard with our little basket after kindling&all strange&You are Sister Fanny to me now, Dearest!"

During Rutherford's visit to his uncle, he arranged for Lucy and the children to move to Fremont early in the summer, where they would live in the house Sardis Birchard had built for them in Spiegel Grove. After Rutherford left, Lucy began to worry about the plan, particularly when she realized that Sophia Hayes expected to make her home with them. Knowing that her noisy, active family would irritate Sophia and Sardis, both in poor health, Lucy dreaded the continual tension. Finally, and with trepidation because of the horror she had of family "jars," Lucy revealed the extent of her concern to her husband. With support from Rutherford, Lucy and Sardis, who also had begun to question the arrangement, decided to postpone the move. Practical in her acceptance of things she could not change, Sophia wrote that Lucy really should not try to make Fremont her home until Rutherford could be with her, a move Lucy found excuses to put off until 1873.

Most of the letters Lucy wrote to her husband in 1862 reflected her hope for an early end to the war. Exhilaration after the victories in western Kentucky and Tennessee in the early spring turned to anxiety when reports of casualties suffered by Ohio troops in the battle at Pittsburg Landing (Shiloh) reached Cincinnati newspapers. Distraught when she read that two regiments, lacking ammunition and composed largely of new recruits, bore the brunt of the criticism, Lucy wrote, "Is it not cruel to disgrace so many men&when others were really to blame."

How much Lucy wished that she could do something to ease the suffering of the wounded and the dying! She often reminded her brothers, both with the medical corps, that they should be kind and tender in their treatment of the wounded. She had her opportunity in May to help four disabled soldiers, stranded with their doctor-escort in Cincinnati. Lucy and her mother lodged them in their house overnight and had coffee ready the next morning before the men boarded the train for Chicago. "I thought of you," she told Rutherford, "in a strange country&wounded and trying to get home. . .but if any one was kind to you&would I not feel thankful."

Coincidentally, at about the same time, Rutherford found himself in a "strange country" and in real danger. As commander of an expedition sent to aid Maj. James Comly, an officer of the Twenty-third, stranded in a forward position near Pearisburg (Giles Courthouse), Virginia, Hayes came under heavy enemy attack. The danger of' the seizure of' Pearisburg, near an important junction of the Virginia and East Tennessee Railroad, posed a serious threat to Confederate communications. With no hope of reinforcements the Union companies under Hayes and Comly were forced to retreat. Although disappointed by the outcome, Rutherford was satisfied by his ability to effect an orderly retreat under the fire of superior numbers of enemy troops. To counteract a false report that he suffered a serious wound, Rutherford wired Lucy, "My wound was merely a scratch on the Knee which did me no harm." Having seen an account of the action in the newspapers, Lucy appreciated the prompt dispatch from Rutherford. She wrote, "The lightness of heart that took the place of the heavy load is indescribable&now I feel you will let me know whatever happens." As soldiers' wives have always done, she gently reminded Rutherford that she should be the first notified if disaster overtook him. Her heart "glowed with pride" as she read the story of the engagement, but she mourned those who had fallen and asked, "Would not the sad intelligence [to relatives] be lightened by words of praise and condolence from their leader."

At times during the spring of 1862 Lucy felt she could not endure separation any longer, "And yet with all my heart's longing," she wrote, "I would not call you home. . .it is right&your duty, and so believing I look to the happy future when we shall be together." She wondered if he tired of reading her rambling letters for "writing is not my forte but loving is." News of the children occupied much space: she described Ruddy as a "very smart little one," Webb grew more loving and mischievous every day, Birch continued to do well in school, and the lively baby Joseph had become a "miniature likeness of R. B. H."

Both Rutherford and Lucy Hayes had been satisfied in March when President Lincoln, in deference to powerful elements of the Republican party, created a command for General Fremont called the Mountain Department. This embraced all of West Virginia and the eastern part of Tennessee. As the summer advanced, Lucy became concerned about the "vacillating conduct" of Lincoln toward Fremont, particularly perplexing because of the president's apparent support of Gen. George McClellan. Lucy's opinion of Fremont changed, however, when he hesitated to take a subordinate command under Gen. John Pope at the time the Mountain Department, the army in the Shenandoah Valley, and the troops near Washington were united to form the Army of Virginia. Paraphrasing "Abou Ben Adhem," she wrote to Rutherford, "But no he [Fremont] was not to be above all others in patriotic love."

In August 1862, Gen. Jacob Cox's Division, which included the Twenty-third Regiment, started east to reinforce the troops in Virginia. Units from West Virginia traveled by steamer down the Kanawha to the Ohio River, then up to Parkersburg, West Virginia where they changed to the railroad for the balance of the journey. The soldiers enjoyed the cheers of the civilian population and the fresh fruits and vegetables offered them as they disembarked in Meigs County to march around the shoals of the Ohio River. Lucy, spending the summer in nearby Chillicothe, wished that Rutherford had contacted her. She wrote, "Ever since I received your letter that you had passed so near me&I have not been able to write, and now I can hardly keep my thoughts from the bitter disappointment&could have seen you so easily."

Some of her feeling of depression may have been from the fear of invasion that plagued southern Ohio. In July, Col. John Morgan's cavalry made a brief dash into Kentucky, threatening Frankfort and Lexington; and at Loveland, northeast of Cincinnati, alleged Southern sympathizers burned several bridges. On September 1 came a more serious threat to Ohio when Gen. Kirby Smith and his Confederate forces occupied Lexington and appeared ready to launch an attack against Cincinnati. In response to Gov. David Tod's call for volunteers to protect the sparsely defended city, hundreds of men from all parts of Ohio descended upon Cincinnati. Fortunately, the Queen City did not have an opportunity to test its defenders, aptly nicknamed "Squirrel Hunters" because of their motley attire and assortment of weapons. Only advance units of General Smith's forces appeared to carry on diversionary skirmishes while the main Confederate army withdrew to Tennessee. During the excitement, Lucy reported, "The good people of' Cincinnati are in great alarm. They have so strong a force now that I doubt whether the rebels will attack."

In the meantime, Hayes's regiment arrived in the Washington area in the midst of a massive offensive by Confederate forces under the leadership of Gen. Robert E. Lee and Gen. Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson. Although camped along the road to Manassas Junction on August 29 and 30, no orders came through for the Twenty-third to participate in the Second Battle of Bull Run. Listening to the sound of guns, Rutherford wondered why the thousands of Union soldiers in the area were not massed together to overwhelm the army of General Jackson. Subsequently the Union armies were forced to retreat toward Washington. With Pope discredited, President Lincoln asked McClellan, who had been temporarily "shelved," to accept command of all the forces in the Washington area.

As Rutherford waited for orders to withdraw, he reread Lucy's letters and mused, "Darling wife, how this painful separation is made a blessing by the fine character it develops or brings to view. How I love her more and more!" During the first years of their marriage, Lucy's reactions sometimes baffled and bewildered Rutherford, but wartime reunions and candid comments in her letters deepened his understanding of her character and personality. Her interest and questions about war conduct and strategy also surprised and pleased him. In a letter he received shortly after Bull Run, Lucy asked Rutherford for his opinion of General McClellan. While she was neither for nor against General Pope or McClellan, she wished her husband would help her take a stand&would give her "a little resting spot."

Early in September, the Twenty-third, along with a number of other Ohio regiments, marched with McClellan's army in pursuit of General Lee's Confederate forces that had crossed the Potomac at Frederick, Maryland. From there they menaced Baltimore, Washington, and Philadelphia. On the morning of September 14, 1862, two Ohio brigades tried to seize a fortified hill in the South Mountain Range, near Sharpsburg, Maryland, where the Battle of Antietam would take place three days later. The leading regiment, commanded by Hayes, soon encountered a heavy concentration of enemy forces. In the furious fighting a musket ball struck Rutherford's left arm. Although painfully wounded, he continued to direct the action until his men insisted upon carrying him from the field. Joe Webb dressed the wound and later an ambulance took Rutherford to Middletown, Maryland where he was cared for in the home of Jacob Rudy. Expert treatment by Dr. Webb probably prevented the amputation of the arm.

The morning after the Battle of South Mountain, Rutherford dictated dispatches concerning his injury to his wife, his brother-in-law in Columbus, William Platt, and a close friend in Cincinnati, John Herron. Only Platt and Herron received the telegrams. Later Lucy learned that the orderly had money enough for only two messages and so the telegrapher selected for transmission those addressed to the men instead of the wife&an action that infuriated her. Lucy's animated account of this incident plus that of a second and misleading message, and the story of her long and frustrating search for her wounded husband became a favorite with the family. During the Hayes presidency they persuaded her to dictate it to a White House stenographer. The original draft, entitled "Lucy's Search for Her Husband," typed in capital letters on one of the early typewriters, provides the basis for the following narrative.

A few days after the Battle of South Mountain, Lucy, visiting near Chillicothe, received the following message from her husband: "I am here, come to me. I shall not lose my arm." Marks on the telegram indicated it had originated in Washington. Leaving the children with relatives and entrusting her mother to find a wet nurse for the baby, Lucy caught the morning stage to Columbus. William Platt met her at the stage office and insisted upon accompanying her to Washington. Lucy forgot the passes that would permit them to enter the military area, but, by pretending to be with another party, they evaded sentries at the Harrisburg railroad station. Finally they arrived in Washington, a week after Hayes had been wounded.

Surprised when she did not find Rutherford at the Kirkwood House where he said he would be in case of accident, Lucy began a round of the hospitals. There she encountered the bureaucratic red-tape and inefficiency that vexed wartime Washington. Personnel at the Patent Office, which had been turned into a military hospital, repulsed Lucy in what she described as a very "cruel and unfeeling manner." Nor did she have any success in efforts to secure information from the surgeon general's office in the Capitol Building. After considerable difficulty, Platt located the original draft of the telegram on which Middletown had been marked out and Washington substituted. The telegraph operator had no explanation for this.

At Lucy's insistence, they returned to the Patent Office, hoping for more information about Rutherford. Among the wounded soldiers on the steps, Lucy noticed several with "23" on their caps and called out "Twenty-third Ohio." Immediately several shouted, "Why, this is Mrs. Hayes." Much to her relief, they knew their colonel had been taken to a house on the main street of Middletown to recuperate from his wound.

By noon, Lucy and William Platt were on their way to Frederick, Maryland, as close as the railroad could take them to Middletown. As the train lurched over a roadbed damaged by the recent fighting, Lucy, standing in the aisle, tried to balance herself in a corner by the water tank. When they finally reached Frederick after a hot and dusty three-hour ride, Lucy and Platt found her brother Joe waiting for them. Every night for a week he had ridden over from Middletown.

While the men hitched Joe's horse to a rented carriage, Lucy sat on the steps of the station. "With my bundle in my hand," she said, "looking very forlorn, when a rather rough looking man said to me, 'Haven't you any place to stay tonight.' I said, 'Yes, I am going on.' " Fortunately the buggy pulled up at that moment and Lucy, Platt, and Joe crowded into the single seat.

En route to Middletown, Lucy noticed the horse shying frequently and the doctor constantly turning the buggy from one side of the road to the other. In answer to her question, he explained that their steed wanted to avoid being near dead horses lying along the road. When they finally reached the Rudy house in Middletown, Rutherford greeted his wife with the jest, "Well you thought you would visit Washington and Baltimore." For once, Lucy had lost her sense of humor and merely answered that she was glad to see him.

Lucy spent her time looking after her husband and visiting wounded soldiers in local homes and makeshift hospitals. While still in Middletown, Rutherford received information from Joe Webb, who had rejoined the regiment, that the Twenty-third had been ordered to return to West Virginia. Webb added that he knew Hayes would want to recommend a promotion for their efficient commissary sergeant, William McKinley, whose "rise from the ranks" to the White House was only beginning. It struck Joe that McKinley was "about the brightest chap spoken of for the place."

Two weeks after Lucy's arrival, Rutherford and Lucy with six or seven disabled soldiers from the Twenty-third began the tiresome journey to Ohio. On one occasion when they had to change trains, Lucy, finding no seats in the coaches, led the way into the Pullman car, occupied by a fashionable crowd returning from the health spa in Saratoga, New York. Oblivious to resentful glances, Lucy helped her "boys" into empty seats. When a telegraph messenger came through the car paging Colonel Hayes, the "society folk" became interested in the group and offered them grapes and other delicacies. Lucy disdainfully declined them. As a cousin recalled, "Even reminiscently, years afterward, as she told the story, she declined them." This attitude and actions associated with her "search" indicate that Lucy's experiences as a soldier's wife helped develop her native ingenuity and partially hidden self reliance.

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


Chapter 6 - "The Holy and Just Cause"


Chapter 8 - "Camp Life in West Virginia"


Chapter 9 - "The Last Campaign"