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SELECTED LETTERS OF SALMON P. CHASE
NEW ORLEANS, January 8th, 1863.
DEAR SIR: A disaster has occurred at Galveston, similar to that near Fortress Monroe when the Cumberland and Congress were destroyed.
under Magruder, came down from Houston with four boats (steam) protected by cotton bales. At the same time, a land force, estimated from 3,000 to 7,000 crossed the bridge to the Island and occupied Galveston. This occurred about one or two o'clock on the morning of Jan. Ist. About 3 o'clock an attack was made by land and water on the Gunboats which were in the narrow channel within musket shot of the shore. The "Harriet Lane" run into a rebel boat and sunk her, but became entangled in the wreck and could not get off. She was carried by boarding and captured. Less than twenty of her men are supposed to survive (out of 130). The Westfield (Flag Ship) was aground. Commodore Renshaw sent off to the other vessels' all the men and officers except eight or ten, and then blew up the vessel and himself with her. He did not intend to destroy himself, but the magazine took fire unexpectedly, just
as he was escaping. Two hundred and fifty men of a Massachusetts regiment (infantry only) were posted in the town, and were all captured or killed. The Gunboats had previous notice of the attack, and there must have been negligence on the part of the officers. Our loss is - " Harriet Lane" captured, but believed to be too much injured to be fit for sea for some time.
The "Westfield" blown up.
Two sailing vessels loaded with coal for the navy.
About 400 men killed or taken prisoners.
All the other vessels (two were Gunboats) escaped. The fight lasted from three o'clock until 10 A. M.
Admiral Farragut, on receipt of the news, immediately dispatched several vessels to Galveston, which will set things right again, I hope. The 1st. Texas Reg't., Col. Davis, arrived, after the capture, on the S. Ship " Cumbria," and narrowly escaped capture. The reg't. numbers about 200 men, who have all returned here.
The condition of things here does not seem to me to be very satisfactory—but Gen. Banks has not been here long enough to determine the prospect of improvement.
I think Gen. Banks lacks decision. With one or two exceptions, his staff are not men of ability. He seems to favor the policy of conciliation—which policy is weak and will always be unsuccessful. I can hardly get him to express an opinion or if he does, it does not seem to be an earnest conviction. Secessionists grow more defiant and Union men despondent. This, I hope, and think, will be changed. I believe he is thoroughly honest, and he already has effected much good by putting down swindlers and arm
Gen. Butler's military commission (Gen. Orders No. 91) did an immense amount of mischief and injustice. Gen. Butler is an extraordinary man, but did very wrong in all things connected with internal trade. I have frequently heard Union men say they wished he was President, for though he would make millions for himself during the first three months, he would finish the war in three months more.
Gen. Banks has a very difficult position, for he comes here a stranger and four weeks at least are necessary for him to become informed of the situation.
can finish this war in twelve months - in one way and in only one. Arm the negroes. I am perfectly satisfied it must be done. Why delay it? It can be done here without throwing the border states into a fever. Here and in S. Carolina and not well elsewhere. I called upon Gen. Banks this morning and urged the matter on his attention, as I have often done before. He agreed with me that the war could be finished in that way, but seems afraid of taking the responsibility. I wish I could assume the responsibility for him. I would suggest that you write me a letter to be shown to Gen. Banks, giving your opinion of the expediency of raising negro troops, and stating how such a step will be regarded by the Administration. If he is assured in this manner that the Government will approve, perhaps he will enlist the negroes. There are at least 20,000 black men within our lines who will make good and willing soldiers, 50,000 more can be raised west of the Mississippi as our army advances.
The three colored regiments already organized, have petitioned Gen. Banks to be put in the front rank at Port Hudson, that they may have a chance of removing the stigma of alleged cowardice from their race, and vindicate their rights and abilities as soldiers. I urge him to grant their request, but do not know what he will do about it. The negroes all say they can finish the war if the Gov't. will give them a chance. By no other means is success certain. Why delay it?
If it had not been for speculations in the sugar crops, Gen. Butler would have raised more regiments, but the men were wanted on the plantations to take off the crops.
Our last dates from the North are of the 20th. December. It is rumored that Gen. Butler may go into the Cabinet. I almost wish he would. He is a man of wonderful energy, will, and ability, and will always be admired by the Union men of New Orleans, even though he is believed by some to have acquired great wealth here.
Military affairs remain in the same condition as when I last wrote, Port [Judson has not been attacked and I don't know when it will be. The rebels are said to be receiving re-inforeements there.
P. S. Gen. Hamilton is still here.
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