It seems, therefore, that there were no circumstances which rendered the attack a foolish or desperate one, or which forbade in any way the hope of its success.
As for the statement that the generals remonstrated against it, this, as I have said, is to be received with caution, as a statement made after the disastrous failure. General Benham did not understand their inquiries as designed to express a remonstrance, and the letter already referred to of Commodore Drayton to General Benham expressly declares, "I cannot recollect any opposition being offered to your proposed advance on Secessionville, except as regards the time you had fixed on, General Stevens being in favor of deferring it until the afternoon."
This most unexceptionable testimony shows that there was no decided remonstrance whatever against the proposed movements. When subsequently it became important to evade the responsibility of having ordered or concurred in the attack, a very slight question as to its propriety was magnified into a remonstrance, by the generals, who then became able to see it as injudicious.
On the whole, then, it appears that: First, there was no remonstrance against Benham's action, as a violation of General Hunter's orders; and this is the important charge. Second. There was no idea that the attack was a violation of orders, either in the mind of General Benham or of any one of his associate generals. Third. The attack was, on his part, a simple adherence to what he supposed to be the true meaning and effect of General Hunter's order. Fourth. The attack was not extravagant or rash, and failed only from an unhappy arrangement of the troops, and not from any inherent impracticability in the works attempted.
These points General Benham considers fully proved by the testimony submitted; but if not absolutely established, thus much, at least, is clear, that the force of the charges is greatly wakened by these authentic statements. The ground of censure is brought very much into doubt; nothing whatever can be regarded as established against him. No ground is made out as clearly justifying the public severity with which he has been treated, now that General Stevens has retracted the accusation which alone seemed to call for the censure of the Department.
If there are other charges against General Benham, of which, however, the President mentioned none to me, he has no knowledge of them, and is, of course, unable to attempt a vindication of himself against them. It would seem that justice requires that he should be informed of them if such other accusation exist, and he called upon for explanation.
After having given, myself, a most careful and protracted examination to these charges, I feel entirely at liberty to say that I am fully convinced that they are wholly groundless, and that in any court in which General Benham could have the liberty of examining the parties who have made them, their futility would be made abundantly conspicuous. No one will ever give to the case the same minute examination, with the explamination, with the explanations of both friend and foe, that I have myself done, with clear assurance of injustice in General Benham's dismissal.
One topic remains. The inquiry suggests itself, Why should General Hunter deem his orders violated, and press the case for censure against his subordinate? The answer to this inquiry is obvious upon an examination of the case, but it is painful to state it. Among the papers which I left which you in the package bearing my address, is a copy of General Benham's original plan of the expedition. It bears date May 17, and was presented to General Hunter on that date, form-