Washington Awash in Rumors and Frustration

February 11, 1862

Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning went to the White late in the day. He reported that General George B. “McClellan came in whilst there.   He said but little.  Does not seem to be big enough for his position.”

In the wake of the Union defeat at Balls Bluff the previous October (during which the President’s close friend Edward D. Baker had been killed), General Charles P. Stone was arrested on February 8 – although no charges were lodged against Stone.  Presidential aide John Hay wrote in an anonymous newspaper article: “One would think that the arrest of a Major General of a Division, on charges amounting to a direct allegation of disloyalty, would be a sufficient stimulus to the gossip of a quiet little town, without the necessity of any further augmentation of the statement.  But people think different in this base village.  No rumor is able to stand alone long.  Popular fancy begins to add a lively series of supports and amplifications to the original story, until the nucleus is lost in the extent of the periphery.”

When it began to be whispered on Sunday night that General Stone was under arrest, the statement fanned into the liveliest action the imaginations of all the Washington gossips.  General Stone was added to the list of the proscribed, probably from that live of alliteration that pervades literature….

The case is most strange and peculiar.  Stone was born in Massachusetts, drank in with his mother’s milk devotion to his country, and learned nothing from earliest youth but lessons of patriotism and honor among the New England hills.  In the dark days that closed the ill-starred reign of Buchanan, there was not in all the District of Columbia a man so earnest, so active and so effective in defense against the anticipated attacks of the traitors, as Charles Stone.  Gen. Scott repeatedly said, that more to Stone than any other we were indebted for the safety of the Capital.  On the organization of the additional regiments to the regular army, he was made Colonel of the Fourteenth Infantry, and three days afterward, on the 17th day of May, he was made a Brigadier General of Volunteers.  At West Point, he bore a fine character for scholarship and good conduct.  When he resigned, he carried into civil life a reputation for energy and ability.”

A few days earlier, Attorney General Edward Bates had written in his diary: “The thing struck me painfully, not that I understand the merits of Gen Stone’s case, or undertake to accuse or acquit him, but I feared the establishment of a precedent for congressional interference with the command of the army, which might lead to the terrible results seen in France, in the days of the revolution.”

Published in: on February 11, 2012 at 12:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

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