Extract from the Autobiography of Thomas Jefferson Coolidge


General McClellan passed some days in the beginning of February in Boston. He was most enthusiastically received by the people. There was a monster reception at the Tremont House of fifteen thousand people. He received a silver pitcher from the children and a sword from the Citizens’ Committee. Dinners, balls, and serenades succeeded each other in rapid succession. Mr. James Lawrence, William Gray, and myself and others accompanied the party to Worcester to bid good-bye.

He seems a sensible, honest man, and inspires confidence; moral qualities more marked than intellectual; physical strength enormous. Mrs. McClellan was very pleasing with a remarkable power of remembering names and places. I give some of the general’s conversation. He stated that the pamphlet entitled “Defence of Richmond” was written by a Hungarian not a Prussian officer. He had some conversation with him in New York after he had left the Confederate army. The officer stated that when war broke out, being a strong Unionist he wrote to Carl Schurz asking for a commission in the army of the United States even down to a lieutenancy. Schurz answered that there were now more Germans applying for commissions than could be had, and advised him to fight on the other side, which he accordingly did. He told McClellan that before Jackson’s raid down the valley of Virginia, in which he defeated Banks and threatened Washington, that Jackson was ordered not to leave the neighbourhood of Hanover Court House until perfectly certain that McDowell would not attempt a junction with McClellan.

The general said that after the six days’ fight on the Peninsula when he had reached Harrison’s Landing, finding that a large division had been sent by the enemy against Pope, and believing that not more than twenty thousand men had been left in the neighbourhood of Richmond, he requested permission to move on that city, but it was refused and his army recalled to Washington.

After Antietam, he crossed the river when he could. Many regiments had to wait for shoes and clothes; but when they came he had under his control the largest and finest army he had ever commanded,—one hundred and twenty thousand effective men. He intended to have moved to Culpeper and given battle if the enemy would accept it. His troops were confident of victory. Two days before he was recalled.

When he moved to Manassas he was aware the enemy had evacuated, but hoped to strike a blow at his rear guard. His principal reason, however, was to get his army into the field out of the barracks, get rid of an enormous amount of useless baggage and material; in short, put them in a fit condition for a campaign.

He thought that a States’ rights feeling was gaining ground at the North, which he looked upon as a great misfortune. The same feeling had caused the rebellion at the South.

He was confident that this war, in whatever way it terminated, had given a death-blow to slavery. Wherever the Northern army went the slave was free; but he did not approve of confiscating the property of perhaps innocent men a thousand miles from the field of operations.

The cabal against him acquired great strength whilst he lay ill of typhoid fever at Washington before his Peninsular campaign. He thought it possible that the President might have been really afraid to let McDowell’s corps move to join his army at Hanover Court House, but his fears must have been excited by people who knew better. It was never intended that the campaign in the Peninsula should be successful, for it would have been the end of the political influence of the leaders of the ultra-Republican party.

He thought that Burnside had taken upon his shoulders more blame for the battle of Fredericksburg than he deserved. It was rather fortunate that Halleck forgot the pontoons. Had they arrived in time, the army would have been liable to a defeat in a spot from which they could not have been able to retire so easily. Burnside could have moved only slowly, as he would have had to build a railroad behind him, and the enemy would have had ample time to fortify the North Anna as strongly as they did the Rappahannock.

The foreign element in our armies, contrary to Russell’s statement, is of very little importance. He hardly thought it worth taking into consideration.

The year 1863 was one of great importance to the United States.

Vicksburg surrendered to General Grant; the battle of Gettysburg, which took place at the same time, July 1–4, was a death-blow to the Rebellion.

In my own family only two events of interest took place: the birth of my only son, Thomas Jefferson, Jr., on March 16; and the death of my brother Sidney, who was killed at Chickamauga, in the battles which lasted from the nineteenth to the twenty-second of September. We received no news of his death. His body could not be found, although Algernon went to the front to make inquiries. Of the sixteen hundred regulars which formed the corps he commanded under General King, only six hundred escaped. We wrote to my uncle George Randolph, who was the rebel Secretary of War, and he made all the inquiries possible. Many months afterwards General Butler sent me his sword, which was delivered up by Brigadier-General Gowan, after Jonesboro was taken by the forces of Sherman in September, 1864. I had given this sword to Sidney and had engraved on it:

Major Sidney Coolidge | 16. Infantry U. S. A. |

From T. J. C. | Sept. 5. 1862.

Underneath Gowan had inscribed:

Captured at the | battle of | Chickamauga | by Col. D. C. Gowan |2. Arks Reg. | Sept. 19. 1863.

Beneath this is engraved:

Recaptured | from Brig. Gen. Gowan | at the battle of | Jonesboro | Sept. 1864.

The three Septembers of 1862, 1863, and 1864 were ominous.

In the middle of July there was a terrible riot in New York, occasioned by resistance to the draft. Negroes were killed, policemen were shot, and many houses plundered or burned. The military succeeded at last in quelling the disturbance, but not until one to two hundred lives were lost and a million of property destroyed. We had also some difficulty in Boston. An attack was made on the Cooper Street Armory, but fortunately Captain S. Cabot fired upon the mob, killing about twenty people, and nipping the whole thing in the bud. I paid seven hundred and eighty-five dollars for a substitute and as much as one thousand was paid. Many of these men deserted to other States, where they received new bounties. [I see by a new law of Congress that they are entitled to pensions if once enlisted, whether they went to the front or not.]

Published in The Autobiography of T. Jefferson Coolidge, 1831–1920 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1923), 39–43. Brackets in original.

The pamphlet was The Defence of Richmond against the federal army under George McClellan. By a Prussian Officer in the confederate service. Translated from the Koelnische Zeitung (1863).

Thomas Jefferson Coolidge
Date Range
January 1, 1863 to December 31, 1863
Autobiography of T. Jefferson Coolidge