Tuesday, August 19, 2014

the last book I ever read (Shelby Foote's The Civil War, Volume One, excerpt eight)

from The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume One: Fort Sumter to Perryville by Shelby Foote:

Ethan Allen Hitchcock, a sixty-four-year-old Vermonter, West Point graduate and veteran of the Seminole and Mexican Wars, was surprised to receive from the War Department in mid-March a telegram summoning him to Washington. He had been retired from the army since 1855, and never would have entered it in the first place if his parents had not insisted that the grandson and namesake of the Hero of Ticonderoga was obliged to take up arms as a profession. Hitchcock’s principal interests were philosophy and mysticism; he considered himself “a scholar rather than a warrior,” and had written books on Swedenborg and alchemy and Jesus. His first reaction to the summons that plucked him from retirement was a violent nosebleed. He got aboard a train, however, suffering a second hemorrhage on the way and a third on arrival, each more violent than the one before. Checking into a Washington hotel, he took to the bed in a dazed, unhappy condition.

Presently the Secretary of War was at his bedside. While the old soldier lay too weak to rise and greet him, Stanton told him why he had been sent for. He and Lincoln needed him as a military adviser. The air was thick was treason! … Before Hitchcock could recover from his alarm at this, the Secretary put a question to him: Would he consider taking McClellan’s place as commander of the Army of the Potomac? Hitchcock scarcely knew what to make of this. Next thing he knew, Stanton had him out of bed and on the way to the White House, where Lincoln repeated the Secretary’s request. Badly confused, Hitchcock wrote in his diary when he got back to his room that night: “I want no command. I want no department. … I am uncomfortable.” Finally he agreed to accept an appointment as head of the Army Board, made up of War Department bureau chiefs. In effect, this amounted to being the right-hand man of Stanton, who terrified him daily by alternately bullying and cajoling him. He was perhaps the unhappiest man in Washington.

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