Rufus started back to his Regiment this evening. Kate & Lucy came on evening train. The Court house was crowded to hear him last night. His speech was much applauded & pronounced a decided success. It is to be published in the Register.
In Rufus' Service with the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers, he quotes from the published report of this address, cautioning that it is "such extracts as give the contemporary opinions and observations of a soldier in the Army of the Potomac, upon subjects of importance in its history."
'Is the Army of the Potomac demoralized?'
I have belonged to the Army of the Potomac during almost the whole of its existence, and I have no hesitation in saying, that in point of discipline and general efficiency, the standard is higher this winter than ever before. I think the men are in better spirits. There are several reasons for this opinion. They are now old soldiers, inured to the toils, hardships and dangers of the service, and skillful in making the best and most of the comforts with which they are provided. The paymasters have been around this winter and arrearages have been paid up. Nothing is more disheartening and demoralizing to the soldier than to feel that his family is suffering at home for want of his small and richly earned wages. The men are better provided this winter with good and healthful rations, than at any time before in the history of our army. Fresh bread, onions, potatoes, and fresh beef are regularly furnished in addition to the old stipend of hard tack and side meat. An encouraging system of furloughs, as a reward of soldierly conduct, has been instituted. You can hardly realize with what satisfaction the soldiers hailed general order number three, on the subject of furloughs. In short, the soldiers feel that their personal comfort and happiness, so far as attainable in the army, is being looked after and they feel encouraged. Breaches of discipline and soldierly conduct have been more surely punished this winter than usual. Orders have been enforced against political discussions, and disrespectful and treasonable language towards the government or superior officers. Copperhead newspapers no longer monopolize the circulation among the soldiers, and, by the prompt dismissal of disaffected and disloyal officers, the army is being purged of the damnable heresy, that a man can be a friend to the governmet and yet throw every clog in the way of the administration and the prosdecution of the war. No, the Army of the Potomac is not demoralized nor has it ever been.
'How does the army like General Hooker?'
The army likes General Hooker. They like him because he is 'fighting Joe Hooker.' They like him because of the onions and potatoes he has furnished them, and they like him because he is the commander of the Army of the Potomac, and they expect him to lead them to victory. Victory is what we want no matter whether Hooker, Burnside or McClellan leads us. The bones of our comrades and dear friends are bleaching all over the battle grounds of the east. We have marched and we have countermarched, toiled and suffered, without realizing the hopes and expectations of the country. Now we want, and we expect, under 'fighting Joe,' such a triumph as will place us right upon the records of history, and the glory and blessings of which will repay us for the disasters and sufferings of the past. The fighting of an army depends more upon the courage and good faith of subordinate commanders than seems to be understood throughout the country. From such, or many other causes, General Hooker may fail, but, we feel that his heart is in the work, that he is a fighting man and we have great hope.
'How does the army like the Emancipation Proclamation?'
If there remains any one in the army, who does not like the Proclamation, he is careful to keep quiet about it. We are hailed everywhere by the negroes as their deliverers. They all know that 'Massa Linkum' has set them free, and I never saw one not disposed to take advantage of the fact. The negroes will run away if they get a chance, whenever they are assured of their freedom, and that the Proclamation places it beyond the power of any military commander, however disposed, to prevent. Slavery is the chief source of wealth in the South, and the basis of their aristocracy, and my observation is that a blow at slavery hurts more than battalion volleys. It strikes at the vitals. It is foolish to talk about embittering the rebels any more than they are already embittered. We like the Proclamation because it hurts the rebels. We like the Proclamation because it lets the world know what the real issue is. We like the Proclamation because it gives a test of loyalty. As Governor Andrew Johnson, of Tennessee, says, 'If you want to find a traitor North, shake the Emancipation Proclamation or the writ of habeas corpus at him and he will dodge.' We like the Emancipation Proclamation because it is right, and because it is the edict of our Commander in Chief, The President of the United States.
'How does the army like the conscription law?'
They like the conscription law or any other law that promises to fill the shattered ranks of their battalions. As soldiers anxious for military glory, we want our army strengthened, so that we may achieve military success. As patriots, we desire such a force put in the field this summer as may conquer a peace. The old regiments, reduced by battle and disease to mere skeletons, are looking anxiously for recruits. Each has its own record, its own battles inscribed upon its banners, and each wishes to retain its own identity, which it can only do by being filled up.
We hail the act with joy, because it indicates a determination on the part of the Government to meet the crisis. We feel encouraged and feel hopeful. Our soldiers need encouragement as well as reinforcement. They want to feel that they are sustained and sympathized with by their friends at home. Nothing, in my opinion, has been more demoralizing to the Army of the Potomac, than letters from home to soldiers, advising them 'to get out of it, if they can,--that they have done their share,--and that the war is to be hopelessly protracted.' If you wish success, write encouraging letters to your soldiers. Tell them that they are engaged in a good and glorious cause, cheer them on as enthusiastically as you did when they entered the service as volunteers. Tell them that victory will be sure to crown their faithful efforts. Do not fill the ears of your soldiers with tales of troubles and privations at home, caused by their absence. Worse troubles would come to you should rebel arms prevail. Many a poor fellow is brought before the severe tribunal of a court martial, whose greatest crime is listening to and obeying the suggestions of father or mother at home. We like the conscription law becaue it brings matters to a focus. If it can be enforced, we shall bring an army into the field that must sweep all before it. If it can not be enforced, the future is very hopeless. '
What does the army think of the Copperheads?'
They think that any citizen of the North, who by word, deed, or influence, throws a clog in the way of an earnest and vigorous prosecution of the war, so long as there is a rebel in arms, gives aid and comfort to the enemies of his country and deserves their fate. The army is unanimous in this opinion. The chief hope of traitors South, now is in the co-operation of traitors, North. The war is now being prosecuted on correct principles, and for a great purpose, the re-establishment of republican government throughout the land on the basis of free institutions, and the eternal overthrow of a monied aristocracy based on slavery. The consummation of so grand an enterprise will be a step forward in the history of the world. The world is moving forward, and carrying us with it. We can not resist the progress of events. However prejudices of Copperheads may be galled at the policy of the government or the conduct of the war, all of them of sound judgment are realizing that they have but one salvation, to stand by the government in its peril. Our enemy is too strong, too earnest, too much determined to rule or ruin, to admit of any compromise or half way ground.
The traitors at home who clog the government in its righteous struggle, will go down to history with infamy. If the voice from the army helps to open their eyes to this fact, I beg to add my voice again. We want to fight this war until we conquer a peace on terms that will be honorable, and a peace that can be lasting. The traitor who aids and comforts the enemy by standing in the way of this, has our heartiest contempt as a coward, who dares not maintain his true principles by an honorable appeal to arms.
Do not expect overwhelming victories of us. The rebel army in our front is too skillful in maneuvering, too expert in retiring, too strong in bayonets, to be 'gobbled up or bagged.'
Your Army of the Potomac will go out this spring, purged of disloyalty, the men stronger in health, and better in spirts than ever before. Remember that the same men are there who charged again and again the deadly rifle pits at Fredericksburgh, who swept over the crest at South Mountain, and who struggled on the bloody fields of Antietam. The army is more anxious for victory than you can be, and rest assured that when it is again called to battle it will do its duty.