FOUR YEARS IN REBEL CAPITALS:
AN INSIDE VIEW OF LIFE IN THE SOUTHERN CONFEDERACY, FROM BIRTH TO DEATH
FROM ORIGINAL NOTES, COLLATED IN THE YEARS 1861 TO 1865,
BY T. C. DELEON,
AUTHOR OF "CREOLE AND PURITAN," "CROSS PURPOSES," "JUNY," ETC.
"In the land where we were dreaming!" —D. B. Lucas.
"I leave it to men's charitable speeches, to foreign, nations and to the next ages." —Francis Bacon.
MOBILE, ALA. THE GOSSIP PRINTING COMPANY.
Entered according to act of Congress, in the year 1890, By THE GOSSIP PRINTING COMPANY, In the office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
TO MY VALUED FRIEND,
MRS. AUGUSTA EVANS WILSON,
AS ONE LITTLE TOKEN OF APPRECIATION OF A LIFE-WORK DEDICATE TO HER SEX, TO HER SECTION AND TO TRUTH,
OF LIFE BEHIND OUR CHINESE WALL ARE INSCRIBED.
Transcriber's Note: The advertisement with press comments for the author's book Juny: or Only One Girl's Story has been moved to the end of this text.
IN PLACE OF PREFACE.
Fortunate, indeed, is the reader who takes up a volume without preface; of which the persons are left to enact their own drama and the author does not come before the curtain, like the chorus of Greek tragedy, to speak for them.
But, in printing the pages that follow, it may seem needful to ask that they be taken for what they are; simple sketches of the inner life of "Rebeldom"—behind its Chinese wall of wood and steel—during those unexampled four years of its existence.
Written almost immediately after the war, from notes and recollections gathered during its most trying scenes, these papers are now revised, condensed and formulated for the first time. In years past, some of their crude predecessors have appeared—as random articles—in the columns of the Mobile Sunday Times, Appleton's Journal, the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Philadelphia Times and other publications.
Even in their present condensation and revision, they claim only to be simple memoranda of the result of great events; and of their reaction upon the mental and moral tone of the southern people, rather than a record of those events themselves.
This volume aspires neither to the height of history, nor to the depths of political analysis; for it may still be too early for either, or for both, of these. Equally has it resisted temptation to touch on many topics—not strictly belonging inside the Southern Capitals—still vexed by political agitation, or personal interest. These, if unsettled by dire arbitrament of the sword, must be left to Time and his best coadjutor, "sober second-thought."
Campaigns and battles have already surfeited most readers; and their details—usually so incorrectly stated by the inexpert—have little to do with a relation of things within the Confederacy, as they then appeared to the masses of her people. Such, therefore, are simply touched upon in outline, where necessary to show their reaction upon the popular pulse, or to correct some flagrant error regarding that.
To the vast majority of those without her boundaries—to very many, indeed, within them—realities of the South, during the war, were a sealed book. False impressions, on many important points, were disseminated; and these, because unnoted, have grown to proportions of accepted truth. A few of them, it may not yet be too late to correct.
While the pages that follow fail not to record some weaknesses in our people, or some flagrant errors of their leaders, they yet endeavor to chronicle faithfully heroic constancy of men, and selfless devotion of women, whose peers the student of History may challenge that vaunting Muse to show.
To prejudiced provincialism, on the one side, they may appear too lukewarm; by stupid fanaticism on the other, they may be called treasonable. But—written without prejudice, and equally without fear, or favor—they have aimed only at impartial truth, and at nearest possible correctness of narration.
Indubitably the war proved that there were great men, on both the sides to it; and, to-day, the little men on either—"May profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it!"
The sole object kept in view was to paint honestly the inner life of the South; the general tone of her people, under strain and privation unparalleled; the gradual changes of society and character in the struggling nation—in a clear, unshaded outline of things as they were.
Should this volume at all succeed in giving this; should it uproot one false impression, to plant a single true one in its place, then has it fully equaled the aspiration of
MOBILE, ALA., June 25, 1890.
TABLE OF CONTENTS.
CHAPTER I.—The Forehead of the Storm 11-20
Washington City in 1861. Her two Social Circles. Was she a new Sodom? Lobbyists and Diplomats. Eve of the Storm. Echo from Charleston Harbor. A Dinner and a Ball. Popular Views of the Situation. Buchanan's Policy and the "Peace Congress". Separation a Certainty. Preparations for the Hejira. Precautions for Lincoln's Inauguration. Off for Dixie.
CHAPTER II.—The Cradle of the Confederacy 21-29
Through Richmond, the Carolinas and Georgia. Wayside Notes. The Masses Willing but Unprepared. Where were the Leaders? The First Capital. A New Flag. Hotels and their Patrons. Jefferson Davis. The Man and the Government. Social Matters. The Curbstone Congress. Early Views of the Struggle. A Notable "Mess."
CHAPTER III.—Congress and Cabinet 30-35
Bloodless Revolution. Glances at the Congress. Its Personnel and its Work. Party Hacks in Place. Wind vs. Work. What People said of the Solons. The New Cabinet. Heads of Departments Sketched. The President's Advisers. Popular Opinion. The First Gun at Sumter.
CHAPTER IV.—"The Awakening of the Lion ." 36-41
Sumter's Effect on Public Feeling. Would There be a Long War—or any? Organizing an Army. The Will of the People. How Women Worked. The Camps a Novel Show. Mr. Davis handles Congress. His Energy and Industry. Society and the Strangers. Joy over Virginia's Secession.
CHAPTER V.—A Southern River Boat Race 42-48
An Alabama Steamer. General Van Dorn. What River Travel is. A Calliope and its Master. Banter for a Race. Excitement of all on Board. A Close Shave. Neck and Neck. How a Race is Won. A Unique Toast.
CHAPTER VI.—Boat Life Afloat and Aground 49-53
Time-killers on the River. Negro Boat-hands. Cotton Loading from Slides. Overboard! "Fighting the Tiger". Hard Aground! Delay and Depression. Admiral Raphael Semmes. News of the Baltimore Riot. Speculation as to its Results.
CHAPTER VII.—Mobile, the Gulf City 54-58
Echo from Maryland. Alabama's Preparation. Mobile's Crack Corps. John Forsyth on the Peace Commissioners. Mobile Society. Pleasure-lovers and Their Pleasures. A Victim of the Tiger. Two Moral Axioms.
CHAPTER VIII—New Orleans, the Crescent City 59-68
Location and Commercial Importance. Old Methods of Business. Relations of Planter and Factor. A typical Brokerage House. Secure Reliance on European Recognition and the Kingship of Cotton. Yellow Jack and his Treatment. French Town and America. Hotels of the day. Home Society and "The Heathen". Social Customs. Creole Women's Taste. Cuffee and Cant. Early Regiments and Crack Companies. Judges of Wine. A Champion Diner.
CHAPTER IX.—A Change of Base 69-74
The Pensacola Army. Review by President Davis. Orders for Virginia. Breaking Camp on the Gulf. The Start of the Zouaves. They Capture a Train and a City. Pursuit and Recapture. The Riot and its Lesson. Early Ideas of Discipline.
CHAPTER X.—En Route for the Border 75-83
Decision to Move the Capital. Lax Precautions. The New York "Tribune" Dispatch. Montgomery Murmurs. Troops en route, and their Feelings. The Government on Wheels. Kingsville Misnomer. Profanity and Diplomacy. Grimes' Brother-in-law. With the C.S. Mail-bags.
CHAPTER XI.—On to Richmond 84-92
A Typical Southron. Sentiment in the Ranks. Glimpse of the new Capital. The Inflowing Caravans. Hotels and Boarding-houses. City and Surroundings. A Southern Poet. A Warning in Statuary. Hollywood Cemetery. The Tredegar Works. Their Importance in the War. 'T'other Consarn!
CHAPTER XII.—Settling to the Real Work 93-101
Regulars of the States. Virginia Sentiment. Unanimity of Purpose. Lee and Johnston. Esprit de Corps. Centering on Virginia. Varied Types of Different States. The Marylanders at the South. Mixed Equipments and "Properties". Doubtful Points. Norfolk to Manassas. Where the Battle Ground would be. Missouri's First Move.
CHAPTER XIII.—The Leaders and the Led 102-110
General Lee comes to the Front. Mr. Davis' Labors and Responsibilities. His Personal Popularity. Social Feeling at the new Capital. "Pawnee Sunday" Panic. Richmond Society. An After-dinner Object Lesson. How Good Blood did not Lie. Western Virginia. Society's Pets go to the Front. "The Brave at Home."
CHAPTER XIV.—The Baptism of Blood 111-121
The First War Bulletin. How Richmond received It. Practical Result of Bethel. Earnest Work in Government Bureaux. Thunder from a Clear Sky. Shadows follow Rich Mountain. Carthago delenda! Popular Comparison of Fighting Qualities. The "On-to-Richmond!" Clangor. The Southern Pulse. "Beware of Johnston's Retreats!" Bull Run. The Day before Manassas. Waiting!
CHAPTER XV.—After Manassas 122-128
How Rumors came. Jubilation and Revulsion. Anxiety for News. The Decisive Charge. An Austrian View. The President's Return. His Speech to the People. The First Train of Wounded. Sorrow and Consolation. How Women Worked. Material and Moral Results of Manassas. Spoils and Overconfidence. Singular Errors in Public Mind. General Belief in Advance. The Siesta and its Dreams.
CHAPTER XVI.—The Spawn of Lethargy 129-138
Reaction of Sentiment. Conflicting Ideas about Inaction. Popular Wish for Aggressive War. Sentiment settles to Fact. Mr. Davis' Attitude to Johnston and Beauregard. After-battle Confusion. Strategic Reasons. Inaction breeds grave Discontent. Effect on the Army. Sober Second Thought. Government Use of the Lull. Bombast and Sense. A Glance North. The Western Outlook. John B. Floyd.
CHAPTER XVII.—From Court to Camp 139-146
A Winter's Inaction and Effects. Comforts and Homesickness. Unseen Foes and Their Victory. Care and Cleanliness. Nostalgia. Camp Morality. Record of the "Cracks". In a Maryland Mess. Mud and Memories. Has History a Parallel? Old Cavaliers and New.
CHAPTER XVIII.—Society at the Capital 147-157
Richmond Overflowing. Variety of Visitors. Gradual Growth of Gayety. "Danceable Teas". Amateur Benefits. "Youth at the Helm". A Society Woman's View. Social Theories and Practice. Virginian Hospitality. Quieter Sociability. The Presidential Household. Mr. and Mrs. Davis. Formal Levees. Social Ethics. Dissipation. Disappointing Solons.
CHAPTER XIX.—Days of Depression 158-165
Reverses on All Lines. Zollicoffer's Death. Mr. Benjamin, Secretary of War. Transportation Dangers. The Tennessee River Forts. Forrest, and Morgan. Gloom follows Nashville's Fall. Government Blamed by People. The Permanent Government. Mr. Davis' Typical Inaugural. Its Effect and Its Sequence. Cabinet Changes.
CHAPTER XX.—From Shiloh to New Orleans 166-173
Sunshine and Shadow. Clouds gather in the West. Island No. 10. Shiloh. Illustrative Valor. Deep Depression. Was Johnston hounded to His Death? Fall of New Orleans. Odd Situation of Her Captors. Butler in Command. His Place in Southern Opinion. Strategic Results. Popular Discontent. Effect on the Fighters. Butler and the Women. Louisiana Soldiers.
CHAPTER XXI.—The Conscription and Its Consequences 174-188
The "More Men!" cry. Passage of the Act. State Troops Turned Over. Appointment of Generals. Longings for Home. Exemptions and "Details". The Substitute Law. Mr. Davis' Wisdom Vindicated. Governor Joe Brown kicks. State Traits of the Conscripts. Kentucky's Attitude. Tennessee's "Buffaloes". The "Union Feeling" Fallacy. Conscript Camps. Morals of the "New Ish". Food and Money Scarcer. Constancy of the Soldiers. The Extension Law. Repeal of the Substitute Act. Home-Guards. "The Cradle and the Grave."
CHAPTER XXII.—Waiting the Ordeal by Combat 189-197
The North Prepares a New "On to Richmond.". Joe Johnston's Strategy. From Manassas to Richmond. Magruder's Lively Tactics. The Defenders Come. Scenes of the March Through. A Young Veteran. Public Feeling. Williamsburg's Echo. The Army of Specters. Ready! Drewry's Bluff. The Geese Fly South. Stern Resolve!
CHAPTER XXIII.—Around Richmond 198-206
Seven Pines. War at the Very Gates. Harrowing Scenes. Woman's Heroism. Crowded Hospitals. A Lull. Jackson's Meteor Campaign. Ashby Dead! The Week of Blood. Southern Estimate of McClellan. What "Might Have Been". Richmond Under Ordeal. "The Battle Rainbow". Sad Sequelae. Real Sisters of Mercy. Beautiful Self-sacrifice.
CHAPTER XXIV.—Echoes of Seven Days, North and South 207-214
Confederates Hopeful, but Not Overconfident. The Cost to the North. McClellan Sacrificed. General Pope and His Methods. He "Finds" Jackson at Cedar Mountain. A Glance Trans-Allegheny. Well-Conceived Federal Programme. General Bragg's Unpopularity. To the Ohio and Back. Would-be Critics. Flashes illumine the Clouds. Kentucky Misrepresented.
CHAPTER XXV.—The War in the West 215-222
A Gloomy Outlook. Lone Jack. "The Butcher, McNeil". Corinth and Murfreesboro. Their Bloody Cost. The Cry Wrung from the People. Mr. Davis stands Firm. Johnston relieves Bragg. The Emancipation Proclamation. Magruder's Galveston Amphiboid. The Atlantic Seaboard. Popular Estimate of the Status. Hope for the New Year.
CHAPTER XXVI.—The Failure of Finance 223-229
Was Cotton really King? How it Might have been Made So. Government's Policy. Comparison with Northern Finance. Why the South believed in her Advantage. How the North buoyed up her Credit. Contractors and Bondholders. Feeling at the South on the Money Question. Supply and Demand for Paper. Distrust creeps In. Rapid Depreciation.
CHAPTER XXVII.—Dollars, Cents and Less 230-240
Results of Inflation. Comparative Cost of Living North and South. How Army and Officials were Paid. Suffering enhances Distrust. Barter Currency. Speculation's Vultures. The Auction Craze. Hoarding Supplies. Gambling. Richmond Faro-banks. Men met There. Death of Confederate Credit. The President and Secretary held to Account. Nothing but Mismanagement.
CHAPTER XXVIII—Across the Potomac and Back 241-250
Precedents of the First Maryland Campaign. Jackson strikes Pope. Second Manassas. Why was Victory not Pushed? The People demand Aggressive Warfare. Over the River. Harper's Ferry falls. Elation at the South. Rosy Prophecies. Sharpsburg. The River Recrossed. Gloom in Richmond. Fredericksburg and its Effect on the People. Why on Pursuit? Hooker replaces Burnside. Death of Stonewall Jackson.
CHAPTER XXIX.—Over Again to Gettysburg 251-258
Popular Grief for Jackson. Again to the River. Winchester and her Women. The People Rejoice at the Advance. Public Belief in its Result. Washington to Fall; the War to End. The Prelude to Disaster. Second Day at Gettysburg. Pickett's Wonderful Charge. Some one has Blundered? How the Story came South. Revulsion and Discontent. Lee not Blamed. Strictures on Non-retaliation. The Marylanders.
CHAPTER XXX.—The Confederacy Afloat 259-271
Who the Southern Sailors were. Regular and Provisional Navy-bills. Popular Estimate of Mr. Mallory. Iron-clads vs. Cruisers. The Parole of "Pirate Semmes". What Iron-clads might have done. Treasury and Navy. The "Merrimac". Virginia Fight in Hampton Roads. The White-flag Violation. Those wonderful Wooden Shells. Other flashing Achievements. Comparison of the two Navies. Doubtful Torpedo Results. Summing up the Hue-and-Cry. Nashville and New Orleans. The Tatnall-"Virginia" Court-martial. Who did More than They?
CHAPTER XXXI.—The Chinese Wall Blockade, Abroad and at Home 272-287
Foundation Errors. Lost Opportunity. The Treaty of Paris View. First Southern Commissioners. Doubts. The Mason-Slidell Incident. Mr. Benjamin's Foreign Policy. DeLeon's Captured Despatches. Murmurs Loud and Deep. England's Attitude. Other Great Powers. Mr. Davis' View. "If". Interest of the Powers. The Optimist View. Production and Speculation. Blockade Companies. Sumptuary Laws. Growth of Evil Power. Charleston and Savannah. Running the Fleet at Wilmington. Demoralization and Disgust. The Mississippi Closed. Vicksburg. "Running the Bloc." on the Border. The Spy System. Female Agents.
CHAPTER XXXII.—Press, Literature and Art 288-301
Newspapers North and South. Ability Differently Used. Reasons Therefor. Criticism of Affairs; its Effect. Magazines and their Clientele. Prose Writers ante bellum. Rebel War Rhymes. Origin and Characteristics. The Northern "National Hymn". Famous Poets and Their Work. Dirge Poetry and Prison Songs. Father Ryan and the Catholic Church. "Furled Forever!" Musical Taste. How Songs were Utilized. Military Bands. Painters and Paintings. No Southern Art. A Few Noted Pictures.
CHAPTER XXXIII.—Wit and Humor of the War 302-315
Strange Laughter. The Confederate "Mother Goose". Travesty and Satire. The "Charles Lamb" of Richmond. Camp Wit. Novel Marriage. A "Skirmisher". Prison Humor. Even in Vicksburg! Sad Bill-of-Fare. Northern Misconception. Richmond Society Wit. The "Mosaic Club" and its Components. Innes Randolph's Forfeit. The Colonel's Breakfast Horror. Post-surrender Humor. Even the Emancipated.
CHAPTER XXXIV.—The Beginning of the End 316-326
Gradual Weakening of the South. The Wearing-out Process. Sequelae of Vicksburg and Gettysburg. Congress vs. President. Mr. Foote and his Following. Drain of Men and Material. Home Guards. The "Speculator Squad". Dire Straits in Camp and Home. Carpet Blankets. Raids and their Results. Breaking down of Cavalry Mounts. Echoes of Morgan's Ohio Dash. His Bold Escape. Cumberland Gap. A Glance at Chickamauga. "The Might Have Been" Once More. Popular Discontent. General Grant Judged by his Compeers. Longstreet at Knoxville. Missionary Ridge. President's Views and People's. Again the Virginia Lines. Skirmish Depletion. Desertions. "Kir-by-Smithdom."
CHAPTER XXXV.—The Upper and Nether Millstones 327-335
"Crushing the Spine of Rebellion". Grant's Quadruple Plan. The Western Giant. Why its Back Broke. Delenda est Atlanta! Grant becomes the Upper Millstone. Men and Means Unstinted. Dahlgren's Raid. The South's Feeling. The Three Union Corps. War in the Wilderness. Rumors North and South. Spottsylvania. Still to the Left! Cold Harbor Again. The "Open Door" Closed. Glance at Grant's Campaign. Cost of Reaching McClellan's Base. Sledge-Hammer Strategy. Solemn Joy in Richmond.
CHAPTER XXXVI.—"The Land of Darkness and the Shadow of Death" 336-346
Comparison of Numbers. The Ratio of Loss. The Process of Attrition. Stuart's Last Fight. The River Approaches. Beauregard "bottles" Butler. Grant sits down Before Petersburg. "Swapping with Boot". Feeling of the Southern People. The Lines in Georgia. Military Chess. Different Methods of Sherman and Grant. Southern View. Public Confidence in Johnston. Hood relieves Him. How Received by the People. The Army Divided. "The Back Door" Opened at Last! Mr. Davis visits Hood's Army. The Truce and the Chances. On the Rack.
CHAPTER XXXVII.—Dies Irae—Dies Illa! 347-359
The Lull at Petersburg. Strain on Army and People. North and South Waiting. Fears for Richmond. After Atlanta. Peace Propositions. Mr. Davis' Attitude. Mr. Stephens' Failure at Fortress Monroe. Hood's Fatal Move. Results of Franklin. Strange Gayeties in Richmond. From the Dance to the Grave. "Starvations" and Theatricals. Evacuation Rumors. Only Richmond Left. Joe Johnston Reinstated. Near Desperation. Grant Strikes. The News in Church. Evacuation Scenes. The Mob and the Stores. Firing Warehouses. The Last Reb Leaves. Fearful Farewells. Dead!
CHAPTER XXXVIII.—After the Death-Blow was Dealt 360-372
The Form of Surrender. Federals march In. Richmond in Flames. Blue-Coats fight the Fire. Sad Scenes. Automatic Shelling. Discipline Wins. At the Provost-Marshal's. A City of the Dead. Starvation plus Suspense. The Tin-Can Brigade. Drawing Rations. Rumors and Reality. The First Gray Jacket returns. General Lee re-enters Richmond. Woman, the Comforter. Lincoln's Assassination. Resulting Rigors. Baits for Sociability. How Ladies acted. Lectures by Old Friends. The Emigration Mania. Fortunate Collapse of Agreement. The Negro's Status. To Work, or Starve. Woman's Aid. Dropping the Curtain.
FOUR YEARS IN REBEL CAPITALS.
THE FOREHEAD OF THE STORM.
The cloud no bigger than a man's hand had risen.
It became visible to all in Washington over the southern horizon. All around to East and West was but the dull, dingy line of the storm that was soon to burst in wild fury over that section, leaving only seared desolation in its wake. Already the timid and wary began to take in sail and think of a port; while the most reckless looked from the horizon to each other's faces, with restless and uneasy glances.
In the days of 1860, as everybody knows, the society of Washington city was composed of two distinct circles, tangent at no one point. The larger, outer circle whirled around with crash and fury several months in each year; then, spinning out its centrifugal force, flew into minute fragments and scattered to extreme ends of the land. The smaller one—the inner circle—revolved sedately in its accustomed grooves, moving no whit faster for the buzz of the monster that surrounded and half hid it for so long; and when that spun itself to pieces moved on as undisturbed as Werther's Charlotte.
The outer circle drew with it all the outside population, all the "dwellers in tents," from the busiest lobbyman to the laziest looker-on. All the "hotel people"—those caravans that yearly poured unceasing into the not too comfortable caravanserai down town—stretched eager hands toward this circle; for, to them, it meant Washington. Having clutched an insecure grasp upon its rim, away they went with a fizz and a spin, dizzy and delighted—devil take the hindmost! Therein did the thousand lobbyists, who yearly came to roll logs, pull wires and juggle through bills, find their congenial prey.
Who shall rise up and write the secret history of that wonderful committee and of the ways and means it used to prey impartially upon government and client? Who shall record the "deeds without a name," hatched out of eggs from the midnight terrapin; the strange secrets drawn out by the post-prandial corkscrew? Who shall justly calculate the influence the lobby and its workings had in hastening that inevitable, the war between the states?
Into this outer circle whirled that smaller element which came to the Capital to spend money—not to make it. Diamonds flash, point lace flounces flaunt! Who will stop that mighty whirligig to inspect whether the champagne is real, or the turtle is prime?
Allons! le jeu est fait!
Camp-followers and hangers-on of Congress, many of its members from the West, claim agents from Kansas, husbandless married women from California and subterranean politicians from everywhere herein found elements as congenial as profitable. All stirred into the great olla podrida and helped to "Make the hell broth boil and bubble."
The inner circle was the real society of Washington. Half submerged for half of each year by accumulating streams of strangers, it ever rose the same—fresh and unstained by deposit from the baser flood. Therein, beyond doubt, one found the most cultured coteries, the courtliest polish and the simplest elegance that the drawing-rooms of this continent could boast. The bench and the bar of the highest court lent their loftiest intellects and keenest wits. Careful selections were there from Congress of those who held senates on their lips and kept together the machinery of an expanding nation; and those "rising men," soon to replace, or to struggle with them, across the narrow Potomac near by. To this society, too, the foreign legations furnished a strong element. Bred in courts, familiar with the theories of all the world, these men must prove valuable and agreeable addition to any society into which they are thrown.
It is rather the fashion just now to inveigh against foreigners in society, to lay at their door many of the peccadilloes that have crept into our city life; but the diplomats are, with rare exceptions, men of birth, education and of proved ability in their own homes. Their ethics may be less strict than those which obtain about Plymouth Rock, but experience with them will prove that, however loose their own code, they carefully conform to the custom of others; that if they have any scars across their morals, they have also the tact and good taste to keep them decorously draped from sight.
In the inner circle of Washington were those officers of the army and navy, selected for ability or service—or possibly "by grace of cousinship"—to hold posts near the government; and, with full allowance for favoritism, some of these were men of culture, travel and attainment—most of them were gentlemen. And the nucleus, as well as the amalgam of all these elements, was the resident families of old Washingtonians. These had lived there so long as to be able to winnow the chaff and throw the refuse off.
There has ever been much talk about the corruption of Washington, easy hints about Sodom, with a general sweep at the depravity of its social system. But it is plain these facile fault-finders knew no more of its inner circle—and for its resident society only is any city responsible—than they did of the court of the Grand Turk. Such critics had come to Washington, had made their "dicker," danced at the hotel hops, and been jostled on the Avenue. If they essayed an entrance into the charmed circle, they failed.
Year after year, even the Titans of the lobby assailed the gates of that heaven refused them; and year after year they fell back, baffled and grommelling, into the pit of that outer circle whence they came. Yet every year, especially in the autumn and spring, behind that Chinese wall was a round of entertainments less costly than the crushes of the critic circle, but stamped with quiet elegance aped in vain by the non-elect. And when the whirl whirled out at last, with the departing Congress; when the howling crowd had danced its mad carmagnole and its vulgar echoes had died into distance, then Washington society was itself again. Then the sociality of intercourse—that peculiar charm which made it so unique—became once more free and unrestrained.
Passing from the reek of a hotel ball, or the stewing soiree of a Cabinet secretary into the quiet salon of a West End home, the very atmosphere was different, and comparison came of itself with that old Quartier Saint Germain, which kept undefiled from the pitch that smirched its Paris, through all the hideous dramas of the bonnet rouge.
The influence of political place in this country has long spawned a social degradation. Where the gift is in the hands of a fixed power, its seeking is lowering enough; but when it is besought from the enlightened voter himself, "the scurvy politician" becomes a reality painfully frequent. Soliciting the ballot over a glass of green corn juice in the back room of a country grocery, or flattering the cara sposa of the farmhouse, with squalling brat upon his knee, is scarcely calculated to make the best of men more of "an ornament to society." Constant contact with sharpers and constant effort to be sharper than they is equally as apt to blunt his sense of delicacy as it is to unfit one for higher responsibilities of official station. So it was not unnatural that that society of Washington, based wholly on politics, was not found wholly clean. But under the seething surface—first visible to the casual glance—was a substratum as pure as it was solid and unyielding.
Habitues of twenty years remarked that, with all the giddy whirl of previous winters in the outer circle, none had approached in mad rapidity that of 1860-61. The rush of aimless visiting, matinees and dinners, balls and suppers, followed each other without cessation; dress and diamonds, equipage and cards, all cost more than ever before. This might be the last of it, said an uneasy sense of the coming storm; and in the precedent sultriness, the thousands who had come to make money vied with the tens who came to spend it in mad distribution of the proceeds. Madame, who had made an immense investment of somebody's capital in diamonds and lace, must let the world see them. Mademoiselle must make a certain exhibit of shapely shoulders and of telling stride in the German; and time was shortening fast. And Knower, of the Third House, had put all the proceeds of engineering that last bill through, into gorgeous plate. It would never do to waste it, for Knower meant business; and this might be the end of the thing.
So the stream rushed on, catching the weak and timid ones upon its brink and plunging them into the whirling vortex. And still the rusty old wheels revolved, as creakily as ever, at the Capital. Blobb, of Oregon, made machine speeches to the sleepy House, but neither he, nor they, noted the darkening atmosphere without. Senator Jenks took his half-hourly "nip" with laudable punctuality, thereafter rising eloquent to call Mr. President's attention to that little bill; and all the while that huge engine, the lobby, steadily pumped away in the political basement, sending streams of hot corruption into every artery of the government.
Suddenly a sullen reverberation echoes over the Potomac from the South. The long-threatened deed is done at last. South Carolina has seceded, and the first link is rudely stricken from the chain.
There is a little start; that is all. The Third House stays for a second its gold spoon; and, perhaps, a trifle of the turtle spills before reaching its mouth. Madame rearranges her parure and smoothes her ruffled lace; while Mademoiselle pouts a little, then studies her card for the next waltzer. Senator Jenks takes his "nip" just a trifle more regularly; and Blobb, of Oregon, draws a longer breath before his next period. As for the lobby-pump, its piston grows red-hot and its valves fly wide open, with the work it does; while thicker and more foul are the streams it sends abroad.
For awhile there is some little talk around Willard's about the "secesh;" and the old soldiers wear grave faces as they pass to and fro between the War Department and General Scott's headquarters. But to the outer circle, it is only a nine-day wonder; while the dancing and dining army men soon make light of the matter.
But the stone the surface closes smoothly over at the center makes large ripples at the edges. Faces that were long before now begin to lengthen; and thoughtful men wag solemn heads as they pass, or pause to take each other by the buttonhole. More frequent knots discuss the status in hotel lobbies and even in the passages of the departments; careful non-partisans keep their lips tightly closed, and hot talk, pro or con, begins to grow more popular.
One day I find, per card, that the Patagonian Ambassador dines me at seven. As it is not a state dinner I go, to find it even more stupid. At dessert the reserve wears off and all soon get deep in the "Star of the West" episode.
"Looks mighty bad now, sir. Something must be done, sir, and soon, too," says Diggs, a hard-working M.C. from the North-west. "But, as yet, I don't see—what, exactly!"
"Will your government use force to supply Fort Sumter?" asks Count B., of the Sardinian legation.
"If so, it might surely drive out those states so doubtful now, that they may not go to extremes," suggested the Prussian charge ad interim.
"Why, they'll be whipped back by the army and navy within ninety days from date," remarks a gentleman connected with pension brokerage.
"If part of the army and navy does not go to get whipped with them," growls an old major of the famed Aztec Club. And the scar across the nose, that he brought away from the Belen Gate, grows very uncomfortably purple.
"By Jove! I weally believes he means it! Weally!" whispers very young Savile Rowe, of H.B.M. legation. "Let's get wid of these politics. Dwop in at Knower's; soiwee, you know;" and Savile tucks his arm under mine.
Two blocks away we try to lose uncomfortable ideas in an atmosphere of spermaceti, hot broadcloth, jockey club and terrapin.
"Next quadwille, Miss Wose?"
"Oh, yes, Mr. Rowe; and—the third galop—let me see—the fifth waltz. And oh! isn't it nasty of those people in South Carolina! Why don't they behave themselves? Oh, dear! what a lovely color Karmeen Sorser has to-night! Au revoir!" and Miss Rose Ruche glides off, a deux temps, on the arm of the Turkish charge.
As I stroll through the rooms, there is much glaring light and there are many nude necks. I am jostled by polking damsels and button-holed by most approved bores. But, through the blare of the brass horns and over the steaming terrapin, the one subject rises again and again, refusing burial as persistently as Eugene Aram's old man.
"Try a glass of this punch," Knower chirps cheerily. "Devilish good punch! Good glass, too. See the crest and the monogram blowed in. Put Kansas Coal Contriver's Company proceeds into that glass. But things are looking blue, sir, devilish blue; and I don't see the way out at all. Fact is, I'm getting pretty down in the mouth!" And the lobbyist put a bumper of punch in the same position. "People may talk, sir, but my head's as long as the next, and I don't see the way out. Washington's dead, sir; dead as a hammer, if this secession goes on. Why, what'll become of our business if they move the Capital? Kill us, sir; kill us! Lots of southern members leaving already"—and Knower's voice sunk to a whisper—"and would you believe it? I heard of nine resignations from the army to-day. Gad, sir! had it from the best authority. That means business, I'm afraid." And little by little the conviction dawned on all classes that it did mean business—ugly, real business. What had been only mutterings a few weeks back grew into loud, defiant speech. Southern men, in and out of Congress, banded under their leading spirits, boldly and emphatically declared what they meant to do. Never had excitement around the Capitol run half so high. Even the Kansas-Nebraska furore had failed to pack the Senate galleries so full of men and women, struggling for seats and sitting sometimes through the night. One after another the southern leaders made their valedictories—some calm and dignified, some hot and vindictive—and left the seats they had filled for years. One after another, known and honored names were stricken from the army and navy lists, by resignation. One after another, states met in convention and, by "ordinance of secession," declared themselves independent of the Federal Government. It was as though the train had been prepared and the action of South Carolina was but the lighting of the fuse. Within six weeks from Mr. Buchanan's New Year reception, six states had deliberately gone out of the Union.
When it was too late, the sleepy administration opened its eyes. Not liking the looks of things, it shut them again. When it was too late, there were windy declarations and some feeble temporizing; but all thinking men felt that the crisis had come and nothing could avert it. The earthquake that had rumbled so long in premonitory throes suddenly yawned in an ugly chasm, that swallowed up the petty differences of each side. One throb and the little lines of party were roughly obliterated; while across the gulf that gaped between them, men glared at each other with but one meaning in their eyes.
That solemn mummery, the "Peace Congress," might temporarily have turned the tide it was wholly powerless to dam; but the arch seceder, Massachusetts, manipulated even that slight chance of compromise. The weaker elements in convention were no match for the peaceful Puritan whom war might profit, but could not injure. Peace was pelted from under her olive with splinters of Plymouth Rock, and Massachusetts members poured upon the troubled waters oil—of vitriol!
When the "Peace Commissioners" from the southern Congress at Montgomery came to Washington, all felt their presence only a mockery. It was too late! they came only to demand what the government could not then concede, and every line they wrote was waste of ink, every word they spoke waste of breath. Southern congressmen were leaving by every train. Families of years residence were pulling down their household gods and starting on a pilgrimage to set them up—where they knew not, save it must be in the South. Old friends looked doubtfully at each other, and wild rumors were rife of incursions over the Potomac by wild-haired riders from Virginia. Even the fungi of the departmental desks, seeming suddenly imbued with life, rose and threw away their quills—and with them the very bread for their families—to go South. It was the modern hegira!
A dull, vague unrest brooded over Washington, as though the city had been shadowed with a vast pall, or threatened with a plague. Then when it was again too late, General Scott—"the general," as the hero of Lundy's Lane and Mexico was universally known—virtually went into the Cabinet, practically filling the chair that Jefferson Davis had vacated. Men felt that they must range themselves on one side, or the other, for the South had spoken and meant what she said. There might be war; there must be separation!
I was lounging slowly past the rampant bronze Jackson in Lafayette Square when Styles Staple joined me.
"When do you start?" was his salutation.
"When do I start?" Staple's question was a sudden one.
"Yes, for the South? You're going of course; and the governor writes me to be off at once. Better go together. Eh? Night boat, 4th of March."
Now the governor mentioned was not the presiding executive of a southern state, but was Staple pere, of the heavy cotton firm of Staple, Long & Middling, New Orleans. Staple fils had been for years a great social card in Washington. The clubs, the legations, the avenues and the german knew him equally well; and though he talked about "the house," his only visible transaction with it was to make the name familiar to bill-brokers by frequent drafts. So I answered the question by another:
"What are you going to do when you get there?"
"Stop at Montgomery, see the Congress, draw on 'the house,' and then t' Orleans," he answered cheerfully. "Come with me. Lots to see; and, no doubt, about plenty to do. If this sky holds, all men will be wanted. As you're going the sooner the better. What do you say? Evening boat, March 4th? Is it a go?"
It gave only two days for preparation to leave what had come nearer being home that any other place in a nomadic life. But he was right. I was going, and we settled the matter, and separated to wind up our affairs and take conge.
The night before President Lincoln's inauguration was a restless and trying one to every man in Washington. Nervous men heard signal for bloody outbreak in every unfamiliar sound. Thoughtful ones peered beyond the mist and saw the boiling of the mad breakers, where eight millions of incensed and uncontrolled population hurled themselves against the granite foundation of the established government. Selfish heads tossed upon sleepless pillows, haunted by the thought that the dawn would break upon a great change, boding ruin to their prospects, monetary or political. Even the butterflies felt that there was a something impending; incomprehensible, but uncomfortably suggestive of work instead of pleasure. So Washington rose red-eyed and unrefreshed on the 4th of March, 1861.
Elaborate preparations had been made to have the day's ceremonial brilliant and imposing beyond precedent. Visiting militia and civil organizations from every quarter—North, East and West—had been collecting for days, and meeting reception more labored than spontaneous. The best bands of the country had flocked to the Capital, to drown bad blood in the blare of brass; and all available cavalry and artillery of the regular army had been hastily rendezvoused, for the double purpose of spectacle and security. Still the public mind was feverish and unquiet; and the post commandant was like the public mind.
Rumors were again rife of raids over the Potomac, with Henry A. Wise or Ben McCullough at their head; nightmares of plots to rob the Treasury and raze the White House sat heavy on the timid; while extremists manufactured long-haired men, with air guns, secreted here and there and sworn to shoot Mr. Lincoln, while reading his inaugural.
All night long, orderlies were dashing to and fro at breakneck speed; and guard details were marching to all points of possible danger. Day dawn saw a light battery drawn up on G street facing the Treasury, guns unlimbered and ready for action; while infantry held both approaches to the Long Bridge across the Potomac. Other bodies of regulars were scattered at points most available for rapid concentration; squadrons of cavalry were stationed at the crossings of several avenues; and all possible precautions were had to quell summarily any symptoms of riot.
These preparations resembling more the capital of Mexico than that of the United States, were augury of the peace of the administration thus ushered in! Happily, they were needless. All who remember that inauguration will recall the dull, dead quiet with which the day passed off. The very studiousness of precaution took away from the enjoyment of the spectacle even; and a cloud was thrown over the whole event by the certainty of trouble ahead. The streets were anxious and all gayety showed effort, while many lowering faces peeped at the procession from windows and housetops.
It was over at last. The new man had begun with the new era; and Staple and I had finished our chasse at Wormley's dinner table, when that worthy's pleasant, yellow face peered in at the door.
As we jumped into the carriage awaiting us and Wormley banged the door, a knot of loungers ran up to say good-bye. They were all men-about-town; and if not very dear to each other, it was still a wrench to break up associations with those whose faces had been familiar to every dinner and drive and reception for years. We had never met but in amity and amid the gayest scenes; now we were plunging into a pathless future. Who could tell but a turn might bring us face to face, where hands would cross with a deadly purpose; while the hiss of the Minie-ball sang accompaniment in place of the last galop that Louis Weber had composed.
"Better stay where you are, boys!"—"You're making a bad thing of it!"—"Don't leave us Styles, old fellow!"—"You'll starve down South, sure!"—were a few of the hopeful adieux showered at us.
"Thank you all, just the same, but I think we won't stay," Staple responded. "What would 'the house' do? God bless you, boys! Good-bye, Jim!"
"THE CRADLE OF THE CONFEDERACY."
Evening had fallen as evening can fall only in early Washington spring. As we plunged into the low, close cabin of the Acquia Creek steamer of that day, there was a weak light, but a strong smell of kerosene and whisky. Wet, steamy men huddled around the hot stove, talking blatant politics in terms as strong as their liquor. So, leaving the reek below, we faced the storm on deck, vainly striving to fix the familiar city lights as they faded through the mist and rain; more vainly still peering into the misty future, through driving fancies chasing each other in the brain.
The journey south in those days was not a delight. Its components were discomfort, dust and doubt. As we rattled through at gray of dawn, Richmond was fast asleep, blissfully ignorant of that May morning when she would wake to find herself famous, with the eyes of all the civilized world painfully strained toward her. But from Petersburg to Wilmington the country side was wide awake and eager for news. Anxious knots were at every station and water tank, and not overclean hands were thrust into the windows, with the cry: "Airy paper?" Sometimes yellow faces, framed with long, lank hair, peered in at the doors; while occasional voices indescribably twanged: "You'uns got any news from thar 'nauggeration?"
Staple's ready, while not very accurate, replies were hungrily swallowed; proffered papers of any date were clutched and borne as prizes to the learned man of each group, to be spelled out to the delectation of open-mouthed listeners. For the whole country had turned out, with its hands in its breeches pockets, and so far it seemed content to gape and lounge about the stations. The men, to all appearance, were ready and eager; but at that time no idea of such a thing as preparation had entered their minds.
It is difficult, at best, to overcome the vis inertiae of the lower-class dweller along the South Atlantic seaboard; but when he is first knocked in the head with so knotty a club as secession, and then is told to be up and doing, he probably does—nothing. Their leaders had not been among them yet, and the "Goobers" were entirely at sea. They knew that something had gone wrong, that something was expected of them; but how, where or what, their conception was of the vaguest. The average intelligence of the masses thereabout is not high; the change noticeable before crossing the Virginia line becoming more and more marked as one travels straight south. Whether the monotonous stretches of pine barren depress mentally, or frequent recurring "ager" prostrates physically, who shall say? But to the casual glance along that railroad line, was not presented an unvarying picture of bright, or intellectual, faces.
In Wilmington—not then the busy mart and "port of the Confederacy," she later grew to be—almost equal apathy prevailed. There was more general sense of a crisis upon them; but the escape valve for extra steam, generated therefrom, seemed to be in talk only. There were loud-mouthed groups about the hotel, sundry irate and some drunken politicians at the ferry. But signs of real action were nowhere seen; and modes of organization seemed to have interested no man one met. The "Old North State" had stood ready to dissolve her connection with the Union for some five weeks; but to the looker-on, she seemed no more ready for the struggle to follow her "ordinance of secession," than if that step had not been considered.
But it must be remembered that this was the very beginning, when a whole people were staggered by reaction of their own blow; and all seemed to stand irresolute on the threshold of a vast change. And when the tug really came, the state responded so bravely and so readily that none of her sisters might doubt the mettle she was made of. Her record is written from Bethel to Appomattox, in letters so bright that time can not dim, or conquest tarnish, them.
Through South Carolina and Georgia, men seemed more awake to the greatness of the change and to the imminence of its results. Inland Georgia, especially, showed keener and shrewder. Questions were more to the point; and many a quick retort was popped through the car windows at Staple's wonderful inventions. A strongly asseverated wish to do something, and that at the earliest moment, was generally clinched by a bouncing oath; but where, or how, that something was to be done was never even hinted. Briefly, Georgia seemed more anxious for preparation than her neighbors; withal she was equally far from preparation. It were manifestly unfair to judge the status of a whole people by glimpses from a railway carriage. But from that point of view, the earliest hours of revolution—those hours which, properly utilized, are most fruitful of result—were woefully and weakly wasted by "the leaders."
The people had risen en masse. The flame had spread among them like lava to their lowest depths. Told that their section needed them, they had responded like the Douglas, "Ready, aye, ready!" Beyond this they were told nothing; and during those most precious weeks they waited, while demagoguery flourished and action slept. The entire cotton growing region was in active fermentation; but, until the surface bubbles ceased, no practical deposit could be looked for.
"Devilish strong hands and pretty broad backs these, but I've yet to see the first head among them! I suppose we'll find them at Montgomery!"
After emitting which Orphic utterance at West Point, Styles Staple emptied the partnership's pocket-flask, and then slept peacefully until we reached the "Cradle of the Confederacy."
Montgomery, like Rome, sits on seven hills. The city is picturesque in perch upon bold, high bluffs, which, on the city side, cut sheer down to the Alabama river; here, seemingly scarce more than a biscuit-toss across. From the opposite bank spread great flat stretches of marsh and meadow land, while on the other side, behind the town, the formation swells and undulates with gentle rise. As in most southern inland towns, its one great artery, Main street, runs from the river bluffs to the Capitol, perched on a high hill a full mile away. This street, wide and sandy, was in the cradle days badly paved, but rather closely built up. Nor was the Capitol a peculiarly stately pile, either in size or architectural effect. Still it dominated the lesser structures, as it stared down the street with quite a Roman rigor. The staff upon its dome bore the flag of the new nation, run up there shortly after the Congress met by the hands of a noted daughter of Virginia. Miss Letitia Tyler was not only a representative of proud Old Dominion blood, but was also granddaughter of the ex-President of the United States, whose eldest son, Robert, lived in the new Capital. All Montgomery had flocked to Capitol Hill in holiday attire; bells rang and cannon boomed, and the throng—including all members of the government—stood bareheaded as the fair Virginian threw that flag to the breeze. Then a poet-priest—who later added the sword to the quill—spoke a solemn benediction on the people, their flag and their cause; and a shout went up from every throat that told they meant to honor and strive for it; if need be, to die for it. What was the meaning of the pact, then and there made, had been told by a hundred battle-fields, from Texas to Gettysburg, from Santa Rosa to Belmont, ere the star of the South set forever, and her remnant of warriors sadly draped that "conquered banner."
On the whole, the effect of Montgomery upon the newly arrived was rather pleasing, with a something rather provincial, quite in keeping with its location inland. Streets, various in length, uncertain in direction and impractical as to pavement, ran into Main street at many points; and most of them were closely built with pretty houses, all of them surrounded by gardens and many by handsome grounds. Equidistant from the end of Main street and from each other, stood, in these cradle days, the two hotels of which the Capital could boast. Montgomery Hall, of bitter memory—like the much-sung "Raven of Zurich," for uncleanliness of nest and length of bill—had been the resort of country merchants, horse and cattle-men; but now the Solon of the hour dwelt therein, with the possible hero of many a field. The Exchange—of rather more pretensions and vastly more comfort—was at that time in the hands of a northern firm, who "could keep a hotel." The latter was political headquarters—the President, the Cabinet and a swarm of the possible great residing there.
Montgomery was Washington over again; only on a smaller scale, and with the avidity and agility in pursuit of the spoils somewhat enhanced by the freshness of scent.
"The President is at this house?" I queried of the ex-member of Congress next me at dinner. "But he does not appear, I suppose?"
"Oh, yes; he's waiting here till his house is made ready. But he doesn't have a private table; takes his meals like an everyday mortal, at the ladies' ordinary."
He had scarcely spoken when Mr. Davis entered by a side door and took his seat, with only an occasional stare of earnest, but not disrespectful, curiosity from the more recent arrivals.
Even in the few weeks since I had seen him, there was a great change. He looked worn and thinner; and the set expression of the somewhat stern features gave a grim hardness not natural to their lines. With scarcely a glance around, he returned the general salutations, sat down absently and was soon absorbed in conversation with General Cooper, who had recently resigned the adjutant-generalship of the United States army and accepted a similar post and a brigadier's commission from Mr. Davis.
An after-dinner interview with the President of the Confederacy, to present the "very important" documents from one of the martyrs pining for hanging at Washington, proved them only a prolix report of the inauguration. Mr. Davis soon threw them aside to hear the verbal account from us.
At this time the southern chief was fifty-two years old—tall, erect and spare by natural habit, but worn thin to almost emaciation by mental and physical toil. Almost constant sickness and unremitting excitement of the last few months had left their imprint on face as well as figure. The features had sharpened and the lines had deepened and hardened; the thin lips had a firmer compression and the lower jaw—always firm and prominent—was closer pressed to its fellow. Mr. Davis had lost the sight of one eye many months previous, though that member scarcely showed its imperfection; but in the other burned a deep, steady glow, showing the presence with him of thought that never slept. And in conversation he had the habit of listening with eyes shaded by the lids, then suddenly shooting forth at the speaker a gleam from the stone-gray pupil which seemed to penetrate his innermost mind.
Little ceremony, or form, hedged the incubating government; and perfect simplicity marked every detail about Mr. Davis. His office, for the moment, was one of the parlors of the hotel. Members of the Cabinet and high officials came in and out without ceremony, to ask questions and receive very brief replies; or for whispered consultation with the President's private secretary, whose desk was in the same room. Casual visitors were simply announced by an usher, and were received whenever business did not prevent. Mr. Davis' manner was unvarying in its quiet and courtesy, drawing out all that one had to tell, and indicating by brief answer, or criticism, that he had extracted the pith from it. At that moment he was the very idol of the people; the grand embodiment to them of their grand cause; and they gave him their hands unquestioning, to applaud any move soever he might make. And equally unthinking as this popular manifestation of early hero-worship, was the clamor that later floated into Richmond on every wind, blaming the government—and especially its head—for every untoward detail of the facile descent to destruction.
A better acquaintance with the Confederate Capital impressed one still more with its likeness to Washington toward the end of the session; but many features of that likeness were salient ones, which had marred and debased the older city. The government just organizing, endless places of profit, of trust, or of honor, were to be filled; and for each and every one of them was a rush of jostling and almost rabid claimants. The skeleton of the regular army had just been articulated by Congress, but the bare bones would soon have swelled to more than Falstaffian proportions, had one in every twenty of the ardent aspirants been applied as matter and muscle. The first "gazette" was watched for with straining eyes, and naturally would follow aching hearts; for disappointment here first sowed the dragon's teeth that were to spring into armed opponents of the unappreciative power.
The whole country was new. Everything was to be done—to be made; and who was so capable for both, in their own conceit, as that swarm of worn-out lobbymen and contractors who, having thoroughly exploited "the old concern," now gathered to gorge upon the new. And by the hundred flocked hither those unclean birds, blinking bleared eyes at any chance bit, whetting foul bills to peck at carrion from the departmental sewer. Busy and active at all hours, the lobby of the Exchange, when the crowd and the noise rose to the flood at night, smacked no little of pandemonium. Every knot of men had its grievance; every flag in the pavement was a rostrum. Slowness of organization, the weakness of Congress, secession of the border states, personnel of the Cabinet and especially the latest army appointments—these and kindred subjects were canvassed with heat equaled only by ignorance. Men from every section of the South defended their own people in highest of keys and no little temper; startling measures for public safety were offered and state secrets openly discussed in this curbstone congress; while a rank growth of newspaper correspondents, with "the very latest," swelled the hum into a veritable Babel. And the most incomprehensible of all was the diametric opposition of men from the same neighborhood, in their views of the same subject. Often it would be a vital one, of doctrine, or of policy; and yet these neighbors would antagonize more bitterly than would men from opposite parts of the confederation.
Two ideas, however, seemed to pervade the entire South at this time which, though arrived at by most differing courses of reasoning, were discussed with complacent unanimity. One was that keystone dogma of secession, "Cotton is king;" the second, the belief that the war, should there be any, could not last over three months. The causes that led to the first belief were too numerous, if not too generally understood also, to be discussed here afresh; and upon them, men of all sections and of all creeds based firmest faith that, so soon as Europe understood that the separation was permanent and a regular government had been organized, the power of cotton alone would dictate immediate recognition. The man who ventured dissent from this idea, back it by what reason he might, was voted no better than an idiot; if, indeed, his rank disloyalty was not broadly hinted at.
But the second proposition was harder still to comprehend. There had already been a tacit declaration of war, and overt acts were of frequent commission. As the states seceded, they seized the arsenals, with arms and munitions; the shipping, mints and all United States property, only permitting the officers to go on their parole.
The North was already straining preparation to resent these insults offered to the power and to the flag of the Union. The people were of one race, embittered by long-existent rivalries and jealousies as strangers can never be embittered; and the balance of numbers, of capital and of machinery were on the other side. These causes, as they were without fresh incentives that needs must follow war, seemed sufficient to convince reasoning men that if the storm burst, it would be as enduring as it was terrific. I could realize that to men saturated with pride of section, who knew little of facts and feelings beyond their boundaries, the idea of peaceful separation, or of a short war, could be possible. But that the citizens of the world now congregated at Montgomery, who had sucked in her wisdom as mother's milk, should talk thus, puzzled those who paused to query if they really meant what they said.
Up to this time Montgomery had been scarcely more than a great inland village; dividing her local importance between being the capital of Alabama, the terminus of her principal railroad, and the practical head of navigation for her greatest river. The society had been composed of some planters, cotton men, a few capitalists, some noted professionals and a large class connected with railroad and steamboat interests. There had always been considerable culture, more hospitality and still more ambition, social and civic; but there was still much lacking of what the world expects of a city. Now, however, a future loomed up before the town, which had never before crossed the dreams of its oldest inhabitant. Her choice as the "cradle of the Confederacy," the sudden access of population therefrom, the probable erection of furnaces, factories and storehouses, with consequent disbursement of millions—all these gave the humdrum town a new value and importance, even to its humblest citizen. Already small merchants saw their ledgers grow in size, to the tune of added cash to fall jingling into enlarged tills. In fact, the choice of the Capital had turned a society, provincially content to run in accustomed grooves, quite topsy-turvy; and, perhaps for want of some other escape-valve under the new pressure, the townspeople grumbled consumedly.
Tiring of experimental camping-out in a hotel, a few gentlemen hired a house and established a "mess." They were all notables—General Cooper, General Meyers, Dr. DeLeon, Colonel Deas and others, the three first being adjutant-general, quartermaster-general and surgeon-general of the new army. A chief of department, or two and this writer, completed the occupants of "the Ranche," as it was early christened by "the colonel;" and its piazza soon became the favorite lounging-place in the evening of the better and brighter elements of the floating population. There was sure to be found the newest arrival, if he were worth knowing; the latest papers and news "from across;" and, as the blue smoke of the Havanas floated lazily out on the soft summer night, many a jovial laugh followed it and a not infrequent prediction of scenes to come almost prophetic. And of the lips that made these most are now silent forever—stilled in the reddest glow of battle, with the war-cry hot upon them.
So far the news that came in from all quarters continued cheering. A vague sense of doubt and suspense would creep in when one stopped to think, but nothing terrible, or shocking, had yet happened anywhere. Though the nation was going down to battle, its banners were flaunting gaily and its bands were playing anything but dirges.
CONGRESS AND CABINET.
The proposition that, shown who writes the ballads of a country, one may tell who makes its laws, is far from reversible in many instances; and assuredly the lawmakers of the Confederacy looked little like poets.
When the councils of a country are assembled for work, it is but natural to look for a body of grave and reverend—if not most potent—seigniors. And especially, when a new government is forming from selected fragments of the old, might one expect a pure and simple structure, free from those faults and weaknesses which sowed the seeds of disintegration in the elder fabric.
It was too much the fashion to believe that the Confederacy—having sprung full-grown from foam of the angry sea of politics—was full-armed as well. A revolution, unprecedented in the world's history, had already been achieved. A strongly cemented and firmly seated government had been disrupted; and a new one, built from the dissevered fragments, had been erected almost under the shadow of its Capitol. And no drop of blood had been spilled! Six millions of people had uprisen and, by a simple declaration of will, had in a few short weeks undone the work of near a century. Without arms in their hands; without a keel in their waters; without a dollar in their treasury, they arrayed themselves against the mother government with the serious purpose of not only asserting, but maintaining, their independence of it.
So far, all had been accomplished without violence. But, whatever the simpler masses might expect, the initiated politician could scarce have believed that the older government would meekly submit to "Let the erring sisters go in peace." Hence, one might justly have looked to see the executive council of the new nation—to whom had been intrusted its safety and its hopes—with every thought bent, every nerve strained to the one vital point—preparation! One could only have expected measures simple as energetic; laws clear, concise and comprehensive; care only for the arming, organizing and maintenance of the people.
Blessed are they who expect nothing! One glance at the "Congress of the Confederate States of America," as it sat in the Capitol at Montgomery, told the whole story of its organization and of its future usefulness.
The states went out of the union, separately and at different periods, by the action of conventions. These were naturally composed of men who had long been prominently before the people, urging the measures of secession. As a matter of course, the old political workers of each section, by fair means and foul, were enabled to secure election to these conventions; and, once there, they so fevered and worked upon the public mind, amid rapidly succeeding events, that its after-thought could neither be reasonable nor deliberate. The act of secession once consummated, the state connected itself with the Confederacy and representatives had to be sent to Montgomery. Small wonder that the men most prominent in the secession conventions should secure their own election, as little regard to fitness as ability being had by the excited electors.
The House of Representatives at Montgomery looked like the Washington Congress, viewed through a reversed opera-glass. The same want of dignity and serious work; the same position of ease, with feet on desk and hat on head; the same buzzing talk on indifferent subjects; often the very same men in the lobbies—taking dry smokes from unlit cigars; all these elements were there in duplicate, if somewhat smaller and more concentrated. No point in Montgomery was remote enough—no assemblage dignified enough—to escape the swoop of the lobby vulture. His beak was as sharp and his unclean talons as strong as those of the traditional bird, which had blinked and battened so long on the eaves of the Washington edifice. When "the old concern" had been dismembered, limbs had been dragged whole to aid in the construction of the new giant; and scenting these from afar, he hastened hither fierce for his fresh banquet.
Glancing down from the gallery of the House, many were the familiar faces peering over the desks; and, even where one did not know the individual, it was easy to recognize the politician by trade among the rosy and uncomfortable novices. It was constant food for wonderment to thoughtful men, that the South had, in most cases, chosen party hacks to legislate for and to lead her in this great crisis, rather than transfused younger blood and steadier nerves into her councils; rather than grafted new minds upon the as yet healthy body. The revolution was popularly accepted as the result of corruptions and aggressions which these very men had been utterly helpless to correct, or to prevent; even had they not been able actors in them. Yet, worn-out politicians—who had years before been "promoted from servants to sovereigns and had taken back seats"—floated high upon the present surge. Men hot from Washington, reeking with the wiles of the old House and with their unblushing buncombe fresh upon them, took the lead in every movement; and the rank old Washington leaven threatened to permeate every pore of the new government.
It is small wonder that the measures of such a congress, when not vacillating, were weak. If the time demanded anything, that demand was the promptest organization of an army, with an immediate basis of foreign credit, to arm, equip and clothe it. Next to this was the urgent need for a simple and readily managed machinery in the different departments of the government.
Neither of these desiderata could be secured by their few earnest and capable advocates, who thrust them forward over and over again, only to be pushed aside by the sensation element with which the popular will of the new nation—or the want of it—had diluted her councils. There were windy dissertations on the color of the flag, or on the establishment of a patent office; and members made long speeches, bearing on no special point, but that most special one of their own re-election. There were bitter denunciations of "the old wreck;" violent diatribes on the "gridiron" flag; with many an eloquent and manly declaration of the feelings and the attitude of the South. But these were not the bitter need. Declarations sufficient had already been made; and the masses—having made them, and being ready and willing to maintain them—stood with their hands in their pockets, open-mouthed, eager, but inactive. They were waiting for some organization, for some systematized preparation for the struggle even they felt to be surely coming. Not one in three of the congressmen dared look the real issue directly in the face; and these were powerless to accomplish anything practical. But their constant pressure finally forced from the reluctant legislature a few first steps toward reduction of the chaos.
The Government was to consist, after the President, of a vice-President and a secretary for each of the departments of State, War, Navy, Treasury, Post-Office and Justice; the latter being a combination of the responsibilities of the Interior Department and the Attorney-General's office.
Alexander H. Stephens, of Georgia, had been elevated to the vice-Presidency, as reconciling the oppositions of "original secession" and "anti secession." He had long been a prominent politician; was thoroughly acquainted with all the points of public life; and was, at this time, quite popular with people of all sections, being generally regarded as a man of exceptional capacity and great independence.
The portfolio of State was in the hands of another Georgian, Robert Toombs. In the present posture of affairs, little could be expected from it, as until the nations of Europe should recognize the South, she could have no foreign policy. The honorable secretary himself seemed fully to realize how little onerous was his position. One of the ten thousand applicants for any and every position approached him for a place in his department and exhibited his letters of recommendation.
"Perfectly useless, sir!" responded Mr. Toombs with a thunderous oath. Let us whisper that the honorable secretary was a profound swearer.
"But, sir," persisted the place hunter, "if you will only look at this letter from Mr. ——, I think you can find something for me."
"Can you get in here, sir?" roared the secretary fiercely, taking off his hat and pointing into it—with a volley of sonorous oaths—"That's the Department of State, sir!"
The Post-Office and Department of Justice were, as yet, about as useful as the State Department; but to the War Office, every eye was turned, and the popular verdict seemed to be that the choice there was not the right man in the right place. Mr. Leroy Pope Walker, to whom its administration was intrusted, was scarcely known beyond the borders of his own state; but those who did know him prophesied that he would early stagger under the heavy responsibility that would necessarily fall upon him in event of war. Many averred that he was only a man of straw to whom Mr. Davis had offered the portfolio, simply that he might exercise his own well-known love for military affairs and be himself the de facto Secretary of War.
The selection of Mr. Mallory, of Florida, for the Navy Department, was more popular and was, as yet, generally considered a good one. His long experience as chairman of the committee on naval affairs, in the United States Senate, and his reputation for clearness of reasoning and firmness of purpose, made him acceptable to the majority of politicians and people. Of Mr. Reagan the people knew little; but their fate was not in his hands, and just now they were content to wait for their letters.
The Treasury Department was justly supposed to be the key to national success. It was at least the twin, in importance, with the War Office. Mr. Memminger, of South Carolina, was a self-made man, who had managed the finances of his state and had made reputation for some financiering ability and much common sense. He had, moreover, the advantage of being a new man; and the critics were willing to give him the benefit of common law, until he should prove himself guilty. Still the finance of the country was so vital, and came home so nearly to every man in it, that perhaps a deeper anxiety was felt about its management than that of any other branch.
The Attorney-General, or chief of the Department of Justice, had a reputation as wide as the continent—and as far as mental ability and legal knowledge went, there could be no question among the growlers as to his perfect qualifications for the position. Mr. Judah P. Benjamin was not only the successful politician, who had risen from obscurity to become the leader of his party in the Senate, and its exponent of the constitutional questions involved in its action; but he was, also, the first lawyer at the bar of the Supreme Court and was known as a ripe and cultivated scholar. So the people who shook their heads at him—and they were neither few nor far between—did it on other grounds than that of incapacity.
This was the popular view of that day at the new Capital. The country at large had but little means of knowing the real stuff of which the Cabinet was made. It is true, four of the six were old and thoroughly broken party horses, who had for years cantered around the Washington arena, till the scent of its sawdust was dear to their nostrils. But the people knew little of them individually and took their tone from the politicians of the past. So—as it is a known fact that politicians are never satisfied—the Cabinet and Congress, as tried in the hotel alembic, were not found pure gold.
So the country grumbled. The newspapers snarled, criticised and asserted, with some show of truth, that things were at a dead standstill, and that nothing practical had been accomplished.
Such was the aspect of affairs at Montgomery, when on the 10th of April, Governor Pickens, of South Carolina, telegraphed that the Government at Washington had notified him of its intention to supply Fort Sumter—"Peaceably if we can; forcibly if we must."
Bulletins were posted before the Exchange, the newspaper office and the "Government House;" and for two days there was intense suspense as to what course the South would pursue. Then the news flashed over the wires that, on the morning of the 12th of April, Beauregard had opened the ball in earnest, by commencing the bombardment of Fort Sumter. This caused the excitement to go up to fever heat; and the echo of that first gun made every heart in the breadth of the land bound with quickened throb. Business was suspended, all the stores in the town were closed, while crowds at the hotels and in the streets became larger and more anxious as the day wore on. Various and strange were the speculations as to the issue of the fight and its consequences; but the conviction came, like a thunder clap upon the most skeptical, that there was to be war after all!
"THE AWAKENING OF THE LION."
When tidings came of the fall of Fort Sumter, there was wild rejoicing throughout the South and it culminated at her Capital. All the great, and many of the little men of the Government were serenaded by bands of the most patriotic musical persuasion. Bonfires blazed in every street and, by their red glare, crowds met and exchanged congratulations, amid the wildest enthusiasm; while the beverage dear to the cis-Atlantic heart was poured out in libations wonderful to see!
One-half of the country thought that this victory of a few untrained gunners would prevent further progress of the war; that the Federal Government, seeing how determined was the stand the South had taken—how ready she was to defend her principles—would recede and grant the concessions demanded. The other half felt that, however fair an augury for the future the great and bloodless victory might be—and it will be recollected that the only loss was the death of a few United States soldiers, in the salute Beauregard permitted them to give their flag—the real tug of the struggle was not yet commenced; that the whole power of a government, never yet overstrained, or even fully tested, would be hurled on the new confederation, to crush ere it could concentrate its strength.
The Confederate Government was on the side of this opinion; and now, for the first time, preparations for war began in earnest. Though the people of Montgomery still murmured, as they had done from the beginning, at the influx of corrupting social influences from Sodom on the Potomac, and still held the hordes of unintroduced strangers aloof from their firesides, they continued most strenuous exertions and made most selfless sacrifices to serve the beloved cause. Storehouses were freely offered for the public use; and merchants moved from their places of business, on shortest notice, to turn them over to the Government.
A great, red brick pile, originally built for warehouses and counting-rooms, had early been converted into public offices and popularly named the "Government House." Here the departments were all crowded together; and now, under the pressure of close necessity, the War office was organized into bureaux, at the heads of which were placed the most competent officers of the old service at the disposal of the Executive. Bureaux of Adjutant-General, Ordnance, Engineers and Medicine were soon put in as perfect a state as the condition of the South allowed; and their respective chiefs were tireless in endeavor to collect the very best assistants and material, in their various branches, from every quarter.
Commissioners were sent to all the states that had not already joined the Confederacy, to urge them to speedy action; and the dispatches they sent back were so full of cheer, that day after day a salute of cannon from the street in front of the Government House announced to the roused Montgomerans that another ally had enlisted under the flag; or, that a fresh levy of troops, from some unexpected quarter, had been voted to the cause.
Officers, carefully selected from those who left the United States Army, or who had received military education elsewhere, were promptly sent to all points in the South, to urge and hasten the organization of troops; to forward those already raised to points where they might be most needed; and to establish recruiting stations and camps of instruction. The captured arsenals were put in working order, new ones were started, depots for clothes, ordnance and medicines were prepared; and from one boundary of the Confederacy to the other, the hum of preparation told that the leaders of the nation had at last awakened to its real demands.
The mass of the people—who, from the first, had been willing and anxious, but doubtful what to do—now sprang to their places; moneyed men made large and generous donations of cash; the banks offered loans of any amount, on most liberal terms; planters from every section made proffers of provisions and stock, in any quantities needed; and the managers of all the railroads in the South held a convention at Montgomery and proffered the use of their roads to the Government; volunteering to charge only half-rates, and to receive payment in the bonds of the Confederate States.
Especially did the women go heart and soul into the work; urging the laggards, encouraging the zealous, and laboring with sacrificial zeal upon rough uniforms for the most unprepared of the new troops.
The best blood of the South went cheerfully into the ranks, as the post of honor; and the new regiments endeavored to be perfectly impartial in selecting the best men for their officers, irrespective of any other claim. That they failed signally in their object was the fault, not of their intention, but of human nature in many cases—of circumstance in all.
At this time the plan of filling up the regular army was abandoned. Officers coming from the United States service were, by law, entitled to at least as high rank in it as they had there held; but volunteers were asked for and accepted by companies, or regiments, with the privilege of choosing their own leaders; and these regulars were only given commands where vacancies, or the exigencies of the service, seemed to demand it imperatively.
Every hour of the day could be heard the tap of the drum, as the new troops from depot, or steamer, marched through the town to their camps in the suburbs; or as the better drilled volunteer companies passed through to Pensacola, where Brigadier-General Braxton Bragg already had a considerable force. And toward that point every eye was strained as the next great theater of action.
All day long the churches were open, and crowds of ladies, from town and country, assembled in them and sewed on the tough, ungainly pants and jackets; while their negro maids, collected on the porches, or under the trees, worked as steadily as their mistresses, many a ringing guffaw and not unmusical song rising above them.
Great numbers of the interested and the curious visited the camps, carrying substantial tokens of sympathy for the cause and its defenders in the shape of hams, loaves and sometimes bottles. Nor was such testimony often irrelevant; for as yet the quartermaster and commissary—those much-erring and more-cursed adjuncts to all armies—were not fully aware of what they were to do, or how to do it, even with the means therefor provided. But the South was at last awake! And again the popular voice averred that it was not Congress, or Cabinet; that the President alone was the motive power; that his strong hand had grasped the chaos and reduced it to something like order. Rapidly one needful and pointed law after another emanated from Congress; and what had been a confused mass of weak resolves assumed shape as clear and legible statutes. It was generally said that Mr. Davis had reduced Congress to a pliable texture that his iron fingers could twist at will into any form they pleased. Newspaper correspondents wrote strange stories of the length to which that dignified body allowed him to carry his prerogative. They declared that frequently, the framing of a bill not suiting him, it was simply returned by his private secretary, with verbal instructions as to emendations and corrections, which were obediently carried out.
Some even went to the length of asserting that, before any bill of importance was framed, a rough draft was sent down from the President's office and simply put into form and voted a law by the ductile legislators.
However much of this one may allow for exaggeration of "our correspondent," it is certain that Mr. Davis was the heart and brains of the government; and his popularity with the people was, at this time, unbounded. They were perfectly content to think that the government was in the hollow of his hand; and pronounced any of his measures good before they were tried. His energy, too, was untiring; and it was wonderful to look on the frail body and believe that it endured the terrible physical and mental strain he imposed upon it.
At this time the President and his family, having left their temporary quarters at the hotel, were living at a plain mansion provided for them, but a few steps from the Government House. In the latter building were the executive office and the Cabinet room, connected by an always open door; and in one or the other of these Mr. Davis spent some fifteen hours out of every twenty-four. Here he received the thousands of visitors whom curiosity, or business, brought; consulted with his secretaries, revised bills, or framed new projects for strengthening the defenses of the open and wide frontier. It was said that he managed the War Department, in all its various details, in addition to other manifold labors; finding time not only to give it a general supervision, but to go into all the minutiae of the working of its bureaux, the choice of all its officers, or agents, and the very disbursement of its appropriations.
His habits were as simple as laborious. He rose early, worked at home until breakfast, then to a long and wearing day at the Government House. Often, long after midnight, the red glow from his office lamp, shining over the mock-orange hedge in front of his dwelling, told of unremitting strain. Thus early in the drama, Mr. Benjamin had become one of its leading actors; having more real weight and influence with Mr. Davis than any, or all, of his other advisers. The President did not believe there was "safety in a multitude of counsellors;" and he certainly chose the subtlest, if not the safest, head of the half-dozen to aid him. With Mr. Mallory, too, he seemed on very friendly and confidential terms. These two he met as friends and advisers; but beside them, the Cabinet—as such—had scarcely a practical existence. Mr. Davis very naturally considered that the War Department had become the government, and he managed it accordingly. The secretaries were, of course, useful to arrange matters formally in their respective branches; but they had scarcely higher duties left them than those of their clerks; while Congress remained a formal body to pass bills and ratify acts, the inspiration for which it derived from the clearest and coolest brain in the South.
The crisis had called in plain terms that it was time for the leading spirit of the revolution to take its management; and he had risen to the occasion and faced the responsibilities, before which the chosen of the new nation had hitherto cowered.
And naturally, under the iron hand, things began to work more smoothly than they had under the King-Log reign of a few weeks previous; and the country felt the change from the Potomac to the Gulf. True, politicians still grumbled, but less loudly; for even they found something to do, where everybody began to be busy. The great crowd that at first collected had thinned greatly, from assignments to duty in divers quarters; and that portion of it left in Montgomery began to settle into a regular routine.
The ladies of the executive mansion held occasional receptions, after the Washington custom, at which were collected the most brilliant, the most gallant and most honored of the South. But the citizens still held aloof from general connection with the alien crowd. They could not get rid of their idea that Sodom had come to be imposed on them; and to their prejudiced nostrils there was an odor of sulphur in everything that savored of Washington society. And yet, while they grumbled—these older people of Montgomery—they wrought, heart and soul for the cause; yielded their warerooms for government use, contributed freely in money and stores, let their wives and daughters work on the soldiers' clothing like seamstresses, and put their first-born into the ranks, musket on shoulder.
Early on the morning of the 18th of April, a salute of seven guns rang out from the street before the public building. The telegraph had brought the most welcome news that, on the evening before, Virginia had passed the ordinance of secession.
Wild was the rejoicing at the southern Capital that day!
The Old Dominion had long and sedately debated the question; had carefully considered the principles involved and canvassed the pros and cons, heedless alike of jeers from without and hot-headed counsels within her borders.
She had trembled long in the balance so tenderly adjusted, that the straining eyes of the South could form no notion how it would lean; but now she turned deliberately and poured the vast wealth of her influence, of her mineral stores and her stalwart and chivalric sons into the lap of the Confederacy.
The victory of the week before paled before this; and men looked at each other with a hope in their eyes that spoke more than the braying of a thousand bands.
And the triumph was a double one; for great as was the accession to the South in boundary, in men and means, greater far was the blow to the Union, when its eldest and most honored daughter divorced herself from the parent hearth and told the world, that looked on with deep suspense, that the cause of her sisters must in future be her own!
A SOUTHERN RIVER BOAT RACE.
"Hurry, my boy! Pack up your traps and get ready for the boat," cried Styles Staple, bursting into my room in his usual sudden fashion the day we got the news from Virginia. "All's fixed. The colonel, you and I are to have a trip of a week, stop at Mobile and then run down t' Orleans!"
So by sundown we were quietly smoking our cigars on the topmost deck of the "Southern Republic."
Nowhere in the world can be found just such boats as those that navigate our south-western rivers. Great three or four-storied constructions, built upon mere flats of the lightest possible draught, with length and breadth of beam sufficient to allow storage room for an immense number of cotton bales and barrels upon the lowest deck; with their furnaces, boilers and machinery all above the water line, they look like up-country hotels that, having got out of their element, contemplate a down-trip for the benefit of their health—or cuisine.
The "Southern Republic" was a new boat, built after the most approved plan, on a scale of size and magnificence unequaled on the river. Sitting flat and square upon the water, her four decks rising one above the other—with the thousand doors and windows of her state-rooms seeming to peer like eyes over the balconies around them—she seemed more like some fabled marine monster than a vessel meant for speed and comfort. Her length was immense, and her draught necessarily very light—not four feet when full loaded; for the Alabama is subject to many vagaries and what was a clear channel yesterday may be only a two-foot shoal to-day. Of course, with solidity and strength sacrificed to this extreme lightness, when the powerful engines are put to any strain, the high, thin fabric thrills from stem to stern with their every puff, like a huge card-house.
The speed of a first-class high-pressure boat is very great in the longer "reaches;" but, the Alabama is a most tortuous stream. Often you stand by the pilot-house and see, right under the quarter, a gleaming streak of water across a neck of land over which you might toss a stone; and yet you may steam on miles around the point that juts ahead, before you get into it.
The "Southern Republic," from her immense size and unusually handsome equipment, was a novelty even to the river people; and each afternoon of her starting, crowds came aboard to bid farewell to friends and roam over the vessel, or collected on the bluffs above to see her swing out to the shrill notes of her "calliope," the best and least discordant on the river. A few evenings before we left, a large party had collected in honor of General Earl Van Dorn. He had recently resigned; and the commission as colonel of the only regiment of regular cavalry in the Confederacy was tendered him. Now, on the eve of departure for his well-known expedition to Texas—then considered a momentous and desperate one—numbers of fair women thronged the bluffs to catch a glimpse of the hero of the hour, while friends gathered round to grasp the hand, than which no firmer ever drew blade!
Few men had started in the war with brighter auspices and more ardent well-wishings—none could have had a sadder ending! I remember well the last sight I ever had of his neat but powerfully-knit figure, as he stood with one hand resting on the rail of the upper deck and the other raising his broad sombrero over the clear, sharp features, with the peaked moustache and beard of the cuirassier. A brilliant and handsome staff surrounded him; from the bluffs, the ladies waved their handkerchiefs and the men their hats; the wild notes of the calliope echoed back the "Marseillaise;" but in memory's photograph of the scene, his figure alone—the proud swell of the thin nostril and the deep, smothered flame in the cold gray eye—stands out clear and sharp.
We are aboard the "Southern Republic;" the last bell has sounded, the last belated trunk has been trundled over the plank; and we are off, the calliope screaming "Dixie" like ten thousand devils, the crowds on the bank waving us bon voyage!
The main saloon of the boat was a spacious apartment, a hundred feet long by thirty in breadth, gorgeously decorated with modern paint and brilliantly lighted; the galleries leading to the state-rooms rising tier upon tier entirely around it, while above, a skylight of tinted glass shed a soft, warm light.
There were offices, card-rooms, bar-rooms aboard all these boats; and as the down-trip occupies from forty-eight to one hundred hours—according to the stage of the river and the luck in running aground, a performance to be expected once in each trip—we become quite a mutual amusement community by the time it is over.