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WILLIAMSBURG TO ANTIETAM.
The nation's necessity was, though in no mean sense, Hancock's opportunity. He was now to show what he went to West Point for; why he called himself a soldier; what his long years of service had qualified him to do for his country in the supreme crisis of its existence. Looking back upon the period which had elapsed since the close of the war with Mexico, any one who knew Hancock personally, and who is familiar with his career during the rebellion, must think that the service in which he had been engaged was precisely that best suited to develop the man to his highest capabilities of usefulness in the struggle which was before the nation. Absolutely destitute of asceticism, full of hearty fellowship, fond of ease and given to good cheer, his stirring ambition, his intense interest in his profession and his high standard of duty rendered those fourteen years one long term of military education. I doubt if there was an officer in the United States army who during that period—while political, social, and industrial forces were preparing the war
of secession—learned so much that was to become of use when that great occasion came. Hancock was not a man of lofty intellectuality. He had courage —fiery, enthusiastic courage; positive, active, unfaltering loyalty to country and comrade; he had industry beyond measure; the ambition that stirs to do great deeds, and be worthy of high promotion; above all, an unrest while anything remained to be done; a dissatisfaction with what was incomplete; a repugnance at all that was slovenly, clumsy, coarse, or half made up. I am disposed to believe that this period of Hancock's life was passed to even better advantage than if it had comprised active operations on the large scale against a powerful enemy. The time was to come—all too soon—when lives were to be thrown away by thousands and money by millions; when orders of infinite consequence were to be given as the result of one glance over a field as restless as the ocean after a storm; when the conjectures of an officer on the picket line were to determine the movements of twenty thousand men on the morrow. Meanwhile the future commander of the Second Army Corps, of the left wing at Gettysburg and in the Wilderness, was being trained for his high duties by conducting the orders and correspondence of a military department, fitting out expeditions of a company or a squadron, supplying outlying posts, or conducting the business of a quartermaster's depot on the plains or on the Pacific coast. To a man who is willing to do things just so well that they will pass without censure from his superiors, caring himself only for pay-day and poker, such a scale of operations is cramping and dwarfing. To a man who is trying to do everything in the best possible way, who is studying his profession and accumulating experience against the day of larger things, nothing is more instructive, enlarging, and strengthening, if not pursued too long.
It followed that the outbreak of the war found Hancock singularly well equipped for the responsibilities and duties that were to devolve upon him. What he knew of infantry and could do with infantry let Williamsburg and Fredericksburg and Gettysburg and the Salient at Spottsylvania testify. While he was not a master of the science of logistics, like Meade and Humphreys, he could conduct a long march over bad roads, with artillery and trains, better, in my humble judgment, than any other officer of the war, Federal or Confederate. In the supply of troops, Hancock, as the result of thorough training and downright hard work, achieved almost the highest possible success. Of the uses of cavalry and artillery he knew enough—first, not to think that he knew everything, or to lead him to interfere in the conduct of those charged with these highly specialized services; and, secondly, to recognize good work whenever and by whomsoever done. General David M. Gregg, the capable commander of the Second Cavalry Division, on one occasion remarked to me that there was no other officer of high rank in the Army of the Potomac under whom it was so agreeable to serve as under General Hancock. Finally, Hancock's experience before the war had made him a perfect master of the Regulations, of the procedure proper to every department of the army and to every occasion of the service, and of the forms of military correspondence and record. A master, I say, not a slave; for, while no man understood better the beneficial uses of red tape, no one knew better how to cut red tape when the occasion required. An essayist—Lord Macaulay, I think—in satirizing the employment in the English language of certain Latin terms, asks us to imagine a Roman Consul seated in a back office in Bordeaux, a goose-quill over his ear, making out invoices for the skippers of merchant vessels. But the union of martial and civic functions need not be ludicrous. It would be hard to believe that Scipio at Zama looked one inch more the commander than Hancock at Fredericksburg or Gettysburg, or bore himself more knightly and heroically in danger and hardship, in weariness and wounds; yet Hancock was perhaps the greatest hand at "papers" the army ever knew. It is usual to make flings at this sort of thing, and to express contempt for regulations and red tape. But it is more likely that a mill or factory or railroad will be well managed whose accounts and correspondence are always in arrears, in confusion, in error, than that a brigade or division or corps will be well administered under the same conditions. The need of order and system is even greater in the latter case. This Hancock perfectly understood. He deemed it no less important a part of his duty to study the state of his command through the morning reports and the monthly returns than on parade or review; and he knew that he could administer a tonic to a sickly regiment through the order-book and the letter-book not less effectually than at Sunday morning inspection.
In addition to all his other qualifications for command, Hancock enjoyed the advantages of a person at once singularly agreeable and singularly imposing. Now at the prime of life, in his thirtyeighth year, a perfect blond, standing six feet high, powerfully formed yet easy and graceful in his movements, with handsome features, strong yet without a trace of ferocity or even of habitual severity, authority was stamped upon him as upon few of the sons of men. He had, too, the consciousness of a fine presence, never sinking into dandyism but keeping him always up to the mark in dress and bearing. It was impossible for him to degenerate into slouchiness or slovenliness under the most trying conditions. Just as a dash of puppyism is an excellent quality in a junior officer, so a shade of physical self-consciousness in an officer of