"The Last Campaign"
If the soldiers of the Twenty-third Regiment could have foretold the hardships and slaughter of the campaign of 1864, there would have been little gaiety and few cheers on that sparkling spring morning when they marched away from Camp White on the Kanawha River. Nor could Lucy Hayes, smiling and waving to the columns until they passed out of sight, guess the full extent of the anxiety she would feel as she waited for news from the battlefield.
After leaving West Virginia, Lucy and her family, as they had after previous separations, sought refuge for their loneliness with the kind and affectionate relatives in Chillicothe. She was now pregnant for the fifth time. Since this might be a long visit, Lucy rented two rooms in a pleasant and conveniently located boarding house. A large play-yard for the children and space for a garden were included. Lucy considered the rent of fifty dollars a month as quite reasonable.
While Lucy moved her family into the crowded quarters in Chillicothe, the West Virginia divisions took part in important raids in southwestern Virginia. In contrast to 1862, when Union forces led by Comly and Hayes were forced to withdraw from the Pearisburg-Blacksburg area without inflicting serious damage, this larger force, led by Gen. George Crook, accomplished its objectives. They destroyed many miles of track and several stations essential to the operation of the strategic Tennessee and Virginia Railroad. Before returning to their base camp, the Union forces also burned the famous Dublin Bridge over the New River. In a letter to his mother and Lucy, Dr. Joe Webb described the destruction of the large and beautiful covered bridge: "Amid the cheers of the troops, the waving of banners, the strains of the bands, the booming of artillery. . .the splendid Bridge goes down, and had it not been for the recollection of those left behind it would have been a gay day for us all." As soon as they returned to their camp in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, Rutherford telegraphed news of his safety to his wife, and Lucy, who had read about the heavy casualties in the newspapers, felt a weight had been lifted from her heart. She reported that eight-year-old Webb talked only of the "glory of victory," but eleven-year-old Birch thought more of the "desolate homes and hearts."
While the regiment rested before a second thrust into Virginia, Rutherford wrote that the new flag Lucy had sent was flying before headquarters. She protested that she had meant the flag for the soldiers and not the staff: "[To] let them know how near they are to me&that not a day passes that our gallant soldiers are not remembered by me." Anxious to please his wife, Rutherford arranged to have the flag presented to the regiment at dress parade.
During the time Hayes's brigade took part in perilous raids in rebel territory, the family in Chillicothe talked and thought of little else but the war. The anguished cry, "Could I only know that you will be returned to me," appears in Lucy's correspondence with her husband. Worried about the fate of her cousin, Willie McKell, who later died in a Confederate prison, and fearing that wounded soldiers of the regiment left with their nurses in enemy territory might be taken to Danville Prison, she criticized President Lincoln for excessive kindness to rebel prisoners. In reply, Rutherford scolded her for suggesting that Lincoln should or could protect Union prisoners by a policy of retaliation. He thought such a policy should be avoided as much as possible. "There are enough 'brutal Rebels' no doubt," he explained, "but we have brutal officers and men too. . . . And there are plenty of humane Rebels."
After a short rest from the rigorous raids, General Crook's Army of the Kanawha received orders to join Union forces in northern Virginia. En route, Rutherford spent a weekend with his family at the Boggs farm, north of Chillicothe. Lucy appreciated the short visit, but the weeks that followed, with Rutherford in the midst of dangerous campaigns, were difficult to endure. A dispatch assuring her of his safety after a disastrous battle at Winchester, Virginia on July 24, 1864 temporarily relieved her anxiety. In the letter that followed, Rutherford said that the inability of the cavalry to ascertain the strength of the enemy allowed a strong Confederate force under Gen. Jubal Early to take General Crook by surprise. Joe Webb was not that charitable. He declared angrily, "All this misfortune was occasioned by the infernal Cavalry." Soon afterward, with Gen. Philip H. Sheridan assuming command of the Army of the Shenandoah, Dr. Joe began to change his mind about the effectiveness of cavalry units. He confessed, "I had concluded there was no Cavalry worth anything; but Sheridan's is fine."
In August 1864, political supporters of Hayes in Cincinnati nominated him for Congress from the second district. Appreciative of the compliments and congratulations, Lucy wrote to Uncle Sardis, "Of Course dear Uncle it is gratifying to know how he stands with our citizens and friends&I wonder if all women or wives have such an unbounded admiration for their better half." Rutherford measured up to the expectations of his wife and political supporters in this answer to the plea that he take time off to campaign: "An officer fit for duty who at this crisis would abandon his post to electioneer for a seat in Congress ought to be scalped." In time, this letter became a valuable piece of campaign literature, particularly during the presidential contest of 1876. Along with his war record and reputation for integrity, Hayes's concept of duty helped him win the congressional seat in October; he had stepped into national government without ever leaving his troops.
Uncomfortable because of her impending confinement and worried about Rutherford's involvement in the fierce struggle for the Shenandoah valley, the last of August was a nightmarish period for Lucy. "I hope it is true," she agonized, "'the darkest hour is just before day,' may it be so&all is dark and gloomy." Also she complained about threats by "Butternuts" (the nickname for rural secession sympathizers) to burn barns in the Chillicothe and Kingston areas where her relatives lived. "Miserable wretches," she wrote, "both in Uncle Williams [Cook] and Uncle Moses [Boggs] neighborhood they have insinuated that such a thing is likely to happen." Before long, cooler weather, plus her natural optimism helped Lucy regain her composure enough to laugh about a local fight between an elderly Southern sympathizer and a Union man. According to her account, Erskin Carson scolded "old man Gilmore" about his Copperhead sentiments until Gilmore became so angry that he struck Carson over the head with his cane. At that, Carson jumped Gilmore and would have choked him to death if friends had not separated them. Passions flared on the home front, although not so deadly as on the battlefield!
Along with comments about local happenings and the children, Lucy's letters reflected her interest in politics. She hoped the Union party's victory in Vermont and Maine foretold success for Lincoln in his bid for reelection to the presidency. While Lucy felt free to criticize Lincoln's policies, she still favored him over the Democratic party's nominee, Gen. George McClellan. Rutherford also preferred the election of' Lincoln to that of McClellan, but harbored no apprehension that a McClellan victory would cause a reduction of the war effort. "If McClellan is elected," he explained to his wife, "the Democracy will speedily become a war party." A little later, he insisted that Lucy teach his boys to think and talk well of McClellan. Apparently she had mentioned that Webb shouted the same invectives against McClellan as he had the previous year against Vallandigham ("Hurrah for Vallandigham. . .and a rope to hang him.")
September of 1864 witnessed an all-out effort by General Sheridan's forces in the Shenandoah Valley to destroy the last important Confederate granary and to secure the area for the Union. In the battle of Opequon Creek (September 19), Hayes showed exceptional valor in leading his brigade across an almost impassable slough. Three days later at Fisher's Hill, forces of General Crook, with a division commanded by Hayes in the van, flanked the enemy by way of a steep mountain path. This maneuver surprised and routed a large Confederate force. Lucy, reading in the newspapers about the bloody encounters, could only "hope and pray that sorrow and grief has not come to our hearts." Practical little Rud wished that "papa would get a little wounded&then he would come home again and we would keep him."
When there was a lull in the fighting, Rutherford wrote to assure Lucy and his uncle of his safety. He reported that the flag Lucy had given the regiment was the most conspicuous one at Fisher's Hill& "it went double-quick at the head of a yelling host for five miles." Rutherford explained to his uncle that the common soldiers among their prisoners said they were tired of fighting "a rich man's war." Dr. Joe maintained that many noted rebels were "willing and anxious" to end the war. Impetuous as usual, the doctor had followed so close behind the troops at Fisher's Hill that he barely escaped capture when a shell burst frightened his horse, Old Bolly, into enemy lines.
While Rutherford's brigade rested in a camp near Harrisonburg, Virginia, a fifth son was born to Lucy Hayes on September 29, 1864. When she was able to write, she described the baby as "a fine large child." She continued, "No little stranger was ever so warmly welcomed by Uncles and Cousins. We have given Uncle Scott [Cook] the title of Grand father. . . . The baby remained nameless until Lucy, in desperation, hinted she might name him after one of her ancestors, Captain Bilious Cook. This spurred Rutherford to suggest that they call him George Crook after his favorite commander. Lucy had hoped for this, but because Rutherford teased her about her admiration for General Crook, she thought the suggestion should come from him.
A short time after the baby's birth, Cincinnati papers carried the news that Rutherford Hayes had been killed in the battle of Cedar Creek, an engagement immortalized by the poet's description of Sheridan's success in turning defeat into victory. Soon after the delivery of the paper, deliberately withheld from Lucy by Uncle Scott, a telegraph boy arrived with the following message from a captain in Hayes's command: "The report that your husband was killed this morning is untrue. He was wounded, not dangerously, and is safe."
In November Lincoln was reelected by a sizable margin of electoral votes. On election day, nearly 5,000 soldiers and two brass bands assembled in the camp near Cedar Creek to watch Sheridan and Crook, escorted by Hayes, cast their ballots for President Lincoln. It was Sheridan's first and possibly last presidential ballot. The twenty-one-year-old William McKinley, promoted recently to captain, also voted for the first time. Although pleased by the outcome, Lucy resented having Kentucky give a majority to McClellan. Her brother Joe assured her that Kentucky would come out all right and asked her to be charitable toward their Kentucky relatives who criticized emancipation. This included Cousin Will Scott, who had lived for several years with Maria Webb and her children following the death of his mother in the cholera epidemic of 1833. "It touches their pocket," Joe explained, "where more principles are carried than anywhere else."
Throughout the Civil War, Lucy and Joe had felt anxious about the sentiments and safety of their relatives in Kentucky and Virginia. Kentucky remained in the Union, but numerous skirmishes occurred within its boundaries. For a short time, Confederate forces even occupied Frankfort, the state capital. In bitter fighting near Berryville, Virginia, Lucy's cousin, Col. Josiah Ware, apprehensively watched the ebb and flow of Confederate and Union armies across his land. Ware also worried for fear the troops would confiscate his family's meager supply of food. Near the end of the war, relatives in the deep South, desperate for medical supplies, begged Dr. Joe to send them quinine and whiskey. As he noted compassionately in a letter to his sister, the women and children in the South "paid dear" for the war.
The battle of Cedar Creek ended the major campaign of the Union army in the Shenandoah Valley. Following this, General Crook recommended and General Sheridan approved Hayes's promotion to brigadier- general. The official announcement read, "For meritorious service in the battles of Opequon, Fisher's Hill, and Cedar Creek." Proud of Hayes's achievements, Crook presented him with shoulder straps he himself had worn. Rutherford described the stars as "somewhat dimmed by hard service." Lucy replied "How glad I shall be to see you with the old star on your shoulder even though it is dimmed."
Once more, toward the end of the year, Lucy faced a period of great anxiety and fear for Rutherford's safety. A strong possibility existed that infantry commanded by Hayes would be sent to aid Gen. Ulysses Grant in his siege against Richmond. Knowing the high rate of casualties in the forces assaulting the Confederate capital, Lucy cried, "I have never felt so much anxiety about you as I do now . . . The dread that Grant is the one you are to be sent to is very great."
Lucy's fear subsided, at least for the moment, when Rutherford arrived in Chillicothe on January 12, 1865 for a month's leave. He also visited relatives in Columbus and Fremont and his political supporters in Cincinnati. In Chillicothe, he found Lucy suffering from a severe attack of rheumatism and little George from colic. George improved during his father's visit; by the end of his furlough Rutherford could note in his journal, "The little fellow George Crook is a fine promising boy." Lucy's continuous discomfort, however, kept her from joining Rutherford in Washington for the inauguration of Lincoln and Vice-President Andrew Johnson. Rutherford consoled her by writing of the inauguration, "The bad weather and Andy Johnson's disgraceful drunkenness spoiled it."
In common with much of the nation, Lucy's joy in the fall of Richmond and the surrender of Lee's army at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865 turned to sorrow at the assassination of Lincoln five days later. She began her letter, "From such great joy how soon we were filled with sorrow of the endless talk of Forgiveness&taking them back like brothers. . .Justice and Mercy should go togther." Anticipating Rutherford's reaction, she added, "Now don't say to me Ruddy that I ought not to write so."
In the middle of May, Rutherford met Lucy at Marietta, Ohio, and, after stopping at his last post, New Creek, West Virginia, to send in his resignation from the army, they proceeded to Washington for the Grand Review of the army. On May 23 and 24, Rutherford and Lucy watched from the congressional stand as Union legions marched in review along Pennsylvania Avenue. Lucy reported to her mother that she borrowed Rutherford's field glasses to watch Lincoln's successor, Andrew Johnson, and the commander of the Army, Gen. Ulysses Grant, in the reviewing stand opposite them. She could not help but have confidence in President Johnson: "A fine noble looking man&who impresses you with the feeling of honesty and sincerity." General Grant appeared "noble " and "unassuming," and his two little boys leaned on him "with all fondness and love." She hoped the foreign ministers watching the parade would be impressed by the power and might of the United States. It thrilled her to see the cavalry that fought "so splendidly" in the Valley and around Richmond, but she regretted that their brave leader, General Sheridan, could not be with them. The conclusion of her description of the Grand Review expressed briefly and eloquently her sentiment toward the conflict: "While my heart filled with joy at the thought of our mighty country&its victorious noble army&the sad thought of thousand who would never gladden home with their presence made the joyful scene mingled with so much sadness&that I could not shake if off."
From a vantage point similar to the congressional stand, Lucy Hayes had viewed the panorama of the Civil War for four long years. When not living in army camps in West Virginia, she had followed the movements of troops through accounts in the newspapers and exchanges of letters with her husband, brothers, and cousins. These letter constitute a collection remarkable for their spontaneity of expressions and graphic descriptions of life in the army and on the home front. They also reveal how little the civilian population understood the political problems and military strategy involved in the conduct of the war. While Rutherford carried out his part as a soldier with bravery and efficiency, Lucy faced the problems of a civilian with courage and ingenuity. The little-known contributions of such women as Lucy Hayes played an important role in the war effort in both the North and the South.
Explore other chapters of First Lady: The Life of Lucy Webb Hayes by Emily Apt Geer