This trip the boat was very crowded, and at supper the effect of the line of small tables, filled with officers in uniform, ladies tastefully dressed and a sprinkling of homespun coats—all reflected in the long mirror—was very bright and gay. After meals, there is generally a promenade on the upper deck, where people talk, smoke, inspect each other and flirt. They then adjourn to state-room, saloon or card-room, to lounge or read to kill time; for the Alabama is anything but a picturesque stream, with its low, marshy banks only varied by occasional "cotton slides" and "negro quarters."
This night was splendidly clear, the moon bright as day, and Staple and I with our cigars staid on deck to scrape acquaintance with the pilot and the small, seedy Frenchman who officiated at the calliope. He was an original in his way—"the Professor"—his head like a bullet, garnished with hair of the most wiry blackness, cut close as the scissors could hold it, looking like the most uncompromising porcupine. Of course, he was a political refugee.
"Dixie! Aire nationale! pas bonne chose!" he exclaimed, seating himself at his instrument and twirling a huge moustache. "Voila le Marseillaise! Zat make hymn national for you!" And he made the whistle roar and shriek in a way to have sent the red caps into the air a hundred miles away.
"Grand! Splendid!" roared Styles above the steam. "Why, Professor, you're a genius. Come and take some brandy."
The professor banged the lid of his instrument, led the way instanter down to our state-room; and, once there, did take something; then something else and, finally, something more, till he got very thick-tongued and enthusiastic.
"Grand aire of ze Liberte!" he cried at last, mounting again to his perch by the smoke-stack. "Song compose by me for one grand man—ze Van Dorn. I make zees—me, myself—and dedicate to heem!" And he banged at the keys till he tortured the steam into the Liberty duet, from "Puritani."
"How you fine zat, eh? Zat makes ze hymn for ze Souse. Me, I am republicain! Voila! I wear ze moustache of ze revolutionaire—my hairs cut themselves en mecontent! Were zere colere more red as red, I should be zat!"
The professor was so struck by the brilliancy of this idea, that he played the air again, until it rang like a phantom chorus over the still plantations. At last, overcome by emotion and brandy, he slid from the stool and sat at the foot of the smoke-stack, muttering:
"Zat is ze hymn—hic—dedicate to ze general and to ze—hic—countree!" Then he slept the sleep of the just conscience.
"Thar's the 'Senator,' and she's gainin' on us," said the pilot, as we walked forward, pointing to a thin column of smoke rising over the trees just abreast of us.
"How far astern?"
"A matter of two mile round that pint."
"Splendid night for a race," muttered Styles. "Will she overtake us, Cap'n?"
"Wail, maibee!" replied the old river dog, while the most professional grin shot over his hard-wooden features. "Specially ef I ease up this 'ar ole gal."
"Ha! Now we'll have it. We won't turn in just now," chuckled Styles, banging me in the back.
Almost imperceptibly our speed slackens, the thin dark column creeps nearer round the trees on the point in our wake; at last the steamer bursts into sight, not a pistol shot astern.
There is a sharp click of our pilot's bell, a gasping throb, as if our boat took a deep, long breath; and just as the "Senator" makes our wheel we dash ahead again, with every stroke of the piston threatening to rack our frail fabric into shreds.
The river here is pretty wide and the channel deep and clear. The "Senator" follows in gallant style, now gaining our quarter, now a boat's length astern—both engines roaring and snorting like angry hippopotami; both vessels rocking and straining till they seem to paw their way through the churned water.
Talk of horse-racing and rouge-et-noir! But there is no excitement that can approach boat-racing on a southern river! One by one people pop up the ladders and throng the rails. First come the unemployed deck-hands, then a stray gentleman or two, and finally ladies and children, till the rail is full and every eye is anxiously strained to the opposite boat.
She holds her own wondrous well, considering the reputation of ours. At each burst, when she seems to gain on us, the crowd hold their breath; as she drops off again there is a deep-drawn, gasping sign of relief, like wind in the pines. Even the colonel has roused himself from dreams of turtle at the St. Charles, and red fish at Pensacola; coming on deck in a shooting jacket and glengary cap, that make him look like a jaunty Fosco. He leans over the stern rail, smoking his cabana in long, easy whiffs as we gain a length; sending out short, angry puffs at the "Senator" as she creeps up on us.
Foot by foot, we gain steadily until the gap is widened to three or four boat-lengths, though the "Senator" piles her fires till the shores behind her glow from their reflection; and her decks—now black with anxious lookers-on—send up cheer after cheer, as she snorts defiantly after us.
Suddenly the bank seems to spring up right under our port bow! We have cut it too close! Two sharp, vicious clicks of the bell; our helm goes hard down and the engines stop with a sullen jar, as I catch a hissing curse through the set teeth of the pilot.
A yell of wild triumph rises from the rival's deck. On she comes in gallant style, shutting the gap and passing us like a race-horse, before we can swing into the channel and recover headway. It is a splendid sight as the noble boat passes us; her black bulk standing out in the clear moonlight against the dim, gray banks like a living monster; her great chimneys snorting out volumes of massive black smoke that trail out level behind her, from the great speed. Her side toward us is crowded with men, women and children; hats, handkerchiefs and hands are swung madly about to aid the effort of the hundred voices.
Close down to the water's edge—scarce above the line of foam she cuts—her lower deck lies black and undefined in the shadow of the great mass above it. Suddenly it lights up with a lurid flash, as the furnace-doors swing wide open; and in the hot glare the negro stokers—their stalwart forms jetty black, naked to the waist and streaming with exertion that makes the muscles strain out in great cords—show like the distorted imps of some pictured inferno. They, too, have imbibed the excitement. With every gesture of anxious haste and eyeballs starting from their dusky heads, some plunge the long rakes into the red mouths of the furnace, twisting and turning the crackling mass with terrific strength; others hurl in huge logs of resinous pine, already heated by contact till they burn like pitch. Then the great doors bang to; the Yo Ho! of the negroes dies away and the whole hull is blacker from the contrast; while the "Senator," puffing denser clouds than ever, swings round the point a hundred yards ahead!
There is dead silence on our boat—silence so deep that the rough whisper of the pilot to the knot around him is heard the whole length of her deck: "Damnation! but I'll overstep her yit, or—bust!"
"Good, old man!" responds Styles—"Let her out and I'll stand the wine!"
Then the old colonel walks to the wheel; his face purple, his glengary pushed back on his head, his cigar glowing like the "red eye of battle," as he puffs angry wheezes of smoke through his nostrils.
"Damned hard! sir—hard! Egad! I'd burn the last ham in the locker to overtake her!"—and he hurls the glowing stump after the "Senator," as the Spartan youth hurled their shields into the thick of the battle ere rushing to reclaim them.
On we speed, till the trees on the bank seem to fly back past us; and round the point to see the "Senator," just turning another curve!
On still, faster than ever, with every glass on board jingling in its frame; every joint and timber trembling, as though with a congestive chill!
Still the black demons below ply their fires with the fattest logs, and even a few barrels of rosin are slyly slipped in; the smoke behind us stretched straight and flat from the smoke-stack.
Now we enter a straight, narrow reach with the chase just before us. Faster—faster we go till the boat fairly rocks and swings from side to side, half lifted with every throb of the engine. Closer and closer we creep—harder and harder thump the cylinders—until at last we close; our bow just lapping her stern! So we run a few yards.
Little by little—so little that we test it by counting her windows—we reach her wheel—pass it—lock her bow, and run nose and nose for a hundred feet!
The stillness of death is upon both boats; not a sound but the creak and shudder as they struggle on. Suddenly the hard voice of our old pilot crashes through it like a broadaxe:
"Good-bye, Sen'tor! I'll send yer a tug!"—and he gives his bell a merry click.
Our huge boat gives one shuddering throb that racks her from end to end—one plunge—and then she settles into a steady rush and forges rapidly and evenly ahead. Wider and wider grows the gap; and we wind out of sight with the beaten boat five hundred yards behind us.
The cigar I take from my mouth, to make way for the deep, long sigh, is chewed to perfect pulp. A wild, pent-up yell of half-savage triumph goes up from the crowded deck; such as is heard nowhere besides, save where the captured work rewards the bloody and oft-repeated charge. Cheer after cheer follows; and, as we approach the thin column of smoke curling over the trees between us, Styles bestrides the prostrate form of the still sleeping professor and makes the calliope yell and shriek that classic ditty, "Old Gray Horse, come out of the Wilderness!" at the invisible rival.
I doubt if heartier toast was ever drunk than that the colonel gave the group around the wheel-house, when Styles "stood" the wine plighted the pilot. The veteran was beaming, the glengary sat jauntily on one side; and his voice actually gurgled as he said:
"Egad! I'd miss my dinner for a week for this! Gentlemen, a toast! Here's to the old boat! God bless her —— soul!"
BOAT LIFE AFLOAT AND AGROUND.
The day after the race our trio exhausted all usual resources of boat life. We lounged in the saloon and saw the young ladies manage their beaux and the old ones their children; dropped into the card-rooms and watched the innocent games—some heavy ones of "draw poker" with a "bale better;" some light ones of "all fours," with only an occasional old sinner deep in chess, or solitaire. For cards, conversation, tobacco, yarns and the bar make up boat life; it being rare, indeed, that the ennui is attacked from the barricade of a book. Then we roamed below and saw the negroes—our demons of the night before, much modified by sunlight—tend the fires and load cotton. A splendidly developed race are those Africans of the river boats, with shiny, black skins, through which the corded and tense muscles seem to be bursting, even in repose. Their only dress, as a general thing, is a pair of loose pantaloons, to which the more elegant add a fancy colored bandanna knotted about the head, with its wing-like ends flying in the wind; but shirts are a rarity in working hours and their absence shows a breadth of shoulder and depth of chest remarkable, when contrasted with the length and lank power in the nether limbs. They are a perfectly careless and jovial race, with wants confined to the only luxuries they know—plenty to eat, a short pipe and a plug of "nigger-head," with occasional drinks, of any kind and quantity that fall to their lot. Given these, they are as contented as princes; and their great eyes roll like white saucers and their splendid teeth flash in constant merriment.
As we got further down the river, the flats became less frequent and high, steep bluffs took their place; and at every landing along these we laid-by for cotton and took in considerable quantities of "the king."
Some of the bluffs were from sixty to eighty feet in height; and down these, the cotton came on slides. These, in most cases, were at an angle of forty-five degrees, or less; strongly constructed of heavy beams, cross-tied together and firmly pegged into the hard bluff-clay. A small, solid platform at the bottom completed the slide.
Scarcely would the plank be run out when the heavy bales came bounding down the slide, gaining momentum at every yard of descent, till at the bottom they had the velocity of a cannon-ball. The dexterity and strength of the negroes were here wonderfully displayed.
Standing at the edge of the boat—or at the foot of the slide, as the conformation of the landing indicated—heavy cotton-hook in hand, they watch the descending bale, as it bounds fiercely toward them; and just at the right moment two men, with infinite dexterity of hand and certainty of eye, strike their hooks firmly into the bagging—holding on to the plunging mass and going with it halfway across the boat. Full in front of it a third stands, like a matador ready for the blow; and striking his hook deep in the end, by a sudden and simultaneous twist the three stand the bale upon end. Once stopped, two or three more jerks of the hooks and it is neatly stowed away alongside, or on top of, its fellows.
One constantly sees huge bales of from five to six hundred pounds bound down a slide eighty feet high—scarcely touching the rail more than three times in their steep descent—looking almost round from the rapidity of their motion. Yet two negroes drive their hooks into, and spin along with them; visibly checking their speed, till the third one "heads up" and stops them still, in half a boat's width.
Sometimes a hook slips, the bagging gives, or the footing yields, when the mixed mass of man and bale rolls across the boat and goes under together. But frightful as it looks to unaccustomed eyes, a more serious accident than a ducking seldom occurs; and at that, the banks resound with the yells of laughter Sambo sends after his brother-in-water.
"We've pretty thoroughly done the boat," said Styles, about midday. "Let's go up to the professor's den and see if his head aches from 'ze Van Dorn.'"
So up we mounted, passing on the way the faro bank, that advertises its neighborhood by most musical jingling of chips and half dollars.
"Hello, Spring Chicken," cried Styles, to a youth in a blue sack with shoulder straps, who sat at the door of a state-room near by. "Look out for the tiger! I hear him about."
"No danger, me boy," responded the youth. "I'm too old a stager for that."
"Aye, aye! we seen that before," put in his companion, a buttoned middie of eighteen, innocent of beard. "A confounded pigeon came by here just now, jingling his halves and pretending he'd won 'em. Wasting time! Wasn't he, Styles? We're too old birds to be caught with chaff."
"Look alive, my hearty," answered Staple, "You're pretty near the beast, and mamma doesn't know you're out." With which paternal admonition we ascended.
The professor was still in a deep sleep; having been transferred by the aid of a deck hand, or two, to his bower. This was a box of a state-room six feet by nine, in which was a most dilapidated double-bass, a violin case and a French horn. Over the berth, a cracked guitar hung by a greasy blue ribbon. Staple waked him without ceremony—ordered Congress water, pulled out the instruments; and soon we were in "a concord of sweet sounds," the like of which the mermaids of the Alabama had not heard before.
Suddenly, in the midst of a roaring chorus, there was a short, heavy jar that sent us pellmell across the state-room; then a series of grinding jolts; and, amid the yelling of orders, jangling of bells and backing of the wheels, the boat swung slowly round by the bows. We were hard and fast aground!
Of all the unpleasant episodes of river travel, the worst by far is to be grounded in the daytime. The dreary monotony of bank and stream as you glide by increases ten-fold when lying, hour after hour, with nothing to do but gaze at it. Under this trial the jolliest faces grow long and dismal; quiet men become dreadfully blue and the saturnine look actually suicidal. Even the negro hands talk under their breath, and the broad Yah! Yah! comes less frequently from below decks.
Here we lay, two miles above Selma—hard and fast, with engines and anchors equally useless to move us a foot—until midnight. About sundown an up-boat passed just across our bows. Little is the sympathy a grounded boat gets unless actually in danger. Every soul aboard of her, from captain to cook's boy, seemed to think us fair game, and chaff of all kinds was hailed from her decks. But she threw us a Selma paper of that evening, and a hundred eager hands were stretched over the side to catch it.
It fell at the feet of a slight, wiry man of about fifty, with twinkling gray eyes, prominent features and fierce gray moustache. There was something in his manner that kept the more ardent ones from plucking it out of his fingers, as he stooped quietly to pick it up; but few on board ever knew that their quiet fellow-passenger was the most widely known "rebel of them all."
Many a man has read, with quickening breath, of the bold deeds of Admiral Raphael Semmes; and some have traced his blazing track to the, perhaps, Quixotic joust that ended his wild sea-kingship, never recalling that impassive fellow-passenger. Yet it was he who, seated on the rail of the "Southern Republic," read to the crowd that evening.
"What's the Washington news?"—"Anything more from Virginia!"—"What about Tennessee convention?"—"Has Bragg commenced business?"—and a thousand equally eager questions popped from the impatient crowd.
"There is news, indeed!" answered Captain Semmes. "Listen, my friends, for the war has commenced in earnest."
And here, on the quiet southern river, we first heard how Baltimore had risen to drive out the troops; how there had been wild work made in spite of the police, and how hot blood of her citizens had stained the streets of the town. The account ended with the city still in frightful commotion, the people arming and companies assembling at their armories; and without even hinting the number of those hurt in the fight.
No more ennui on board now. All was as much excitement as if we were racing along again; and, through the buzz and angry exclamations of the knots collected on all hands, we could catch the most varied predictions of the result, and speculations as to President Lincoln's real policy.
"Maryland must act at once. Egad, sir, at once, if she wants to come to us, sir," said the colonel, haranguing his group. "If she doesn't, egad! she'll be tied hand and foot in a week! Facilis descensus, you know!"
"Pshaw, Baltimore's noted for mobs," said an Alabamian. "This is only a little more than usual. In a week she'll forget all about it."
"This is more than a mob," answered a Virginian quietly. "Blood must come out of it; for the people will all go one way now, or make two strong and bitter parties. For my part, I believe Maryland will be with us before the boat gets off."
Late at night we swung loose and rushed past Selma, with the calliope screaming "Dixie" and "ze Van Dorn;" for the professor was himself again and waxed irate and red-patriotic over the news. We could get no more papers, however; so suspense and speculation continued until we reached Mobile.
There we heard of the quelling of the riot; of the course of the citizens; of Mr. Lincoln's pledges to the Baltimore committee, that no more troops should pass through the town; of his statement that those already passed were only intended for the defense of the Capital.
"Pretty fair pledges, Colonel," said Styles, when we got this last news.
"Fair pledges!" responded the colonel, with serious emphasis, "Egad, sir!—we've lost a State!"
MOBILE, THE GULF CITY.
Mobile was in a state of perfect ferment when we arrived. The news from Maryland had made profound sensation and had dissipated the delusive hopes—indulged there as well as in Montgomery—like mists before the sun.
All now agreed that war must come. Many thought it already upon them. Groups, anxious and steadfast, filled the hotels, the clubs and the post-office; and the sense of all was that Maryland had spoken not one hour too soon; having spoken, the simple duty of the South was to prevent harm to a hair of her head for words said in its defense.
Those who had been the hottest in branding the action of Virginia as laggard, looked to her for the steadiest and most efficient aid, now that the crisis faced them; while all felt she would meet the calls of the hour with never a pause for the result. The sanguine counted on Maryland, bound by every community of interest, every tie of sympathy—as already one of the Confederate States. She was no longer neutral, they said. She had put her lance in rest and rallied to the charge, in the avowed quarrel that the troops attacked were on their way to oppress her next sister. And nothing could follow but Virginia's bright falchion must flash out, and the states must lock shields and press between her and the giant she had roused.
The Gulf City had not been idle. The echo of the first gun at Charleston had roused her people; and with a wonderful accord they had sprung to arms. Law books were thrown aside, merchants locked up their ledgers, even students of theology forgot that they were men of peace—and all enrolled themselves in the "crack" companies. No wonder, when the very best blood of the state ran in the veins of the humblest private; when men of letters and culture and wealth refused any but "the post of honor," with musket on shoulder; when the most delicate fingers of their fairest worked the flags that floated over them, and the softest voices urged them to their devoir; no wonder, then, that high on the roll of fame are now written the names of the Mobile Cadets—of the Gulf City Guards—of the Rifles—and enough others to make the list as long as Leporello's. Not one in ten of the best born youth of Mobile remained at home; the mechanics, the stevedores and men of every class flocked to follow their example, so that the city alone gave two full regiments and helped to fill up others. The news from Virginia and Maryland had given but a fresh impetus to these preparations; and, before my return to Montgomery, these regiments had passed through, on their way to the new battle ground on the Potomac frontier.
On the night of our arrival in the Gulf City, that escape valve for all excitement, a dense crowd, collected in front of the Battle House and Colonel John Forsyth addressed them from the balcony. He had just returned from Washington with the southern commissioners and gave, he said, a true narrative of the manner and results of their mission. At this lapse of time it is needless to detail even the substance of his speech; but it made a marked impression on the crowd, as the surging sea of upturned faces plainly told. John Forsyth, already acknowledged one of the ablest of southern leaders, was a veritable Harry Hotspur. His views brooked no delay or temporizing; and, as he spoke, in vein of fiery elegance, shouts and yells of defiant approval rose in full swell of a thousand voices. Once he named a noted Alabamian, whom he seemingly believed to have played a double part in these negotiations; and the excited auditory greeted his name with hisses and execrations. That they did their fellow-citizen injustice the most trying councils of the war proved; for he soon after came South and wrought, with all the grand power in him, during the whole enduring struggle.
Staple was tired of politics, and hated a crowd; so he soon lounged off to the club, an institution gotten up with a delightful regard to the most comfortable arrangement and the most accomplished chef in the South. There one met the most cordial hospitality, the neatest entertainment and the very best wines in the Gulf section. The cook was an artist, as our first supper declared; and play could be found, too, as needed; for young Mobile was not slow, and money, in those days, was plenty.
Altogether, the tone of Mobile society was more cosmopolitan than that of any city of the South, save, perhaps, New Orleans. It may be that its commercial connections, reaching largely abroad, produced the effect; or that propinquity to and constant intercourse with its sister city induced freer mode of thought and action. Located at the head of her beautiful bay, with a wide sweep of blue water before her, the cleanly-built, unpaved streets gave Mobile a fresh, cool aspect. The houses were fine and their appointments in good, and sometimes luxurious, taste. The society was a very pleasure-loving organization, enjoying the gifts of situation, of climate and of fortune to their full. On dit, it sometimes forgot the Spartan code; but the stranger was never made aware of that, for it ever sedulously remembered good taste.
Between the drives, dinners and other time-killers, one week slipped around with great rapidity; and we could hardly realize it when the colonel looked over his newspaper at breakfast and said:
"Last day, boys! Egad! the cooking here is a little different from Montgomery—but we must take the 'Cuba' this evening."
So adieux were spoken, and at dusk we went aboard the snug, neat little Gulf steamer of the New Orleans line. She was a trimmer craft than our floating card-house of river travel, built for a little outside work in case of necessity, or the chances of a norther.
We scudded merrily down the bay towards Fort Morgan, the grim sentinel sitting dark and lonely at the harbor's mouth and showing a row of teeth that might be a warning. The fort was now put in thorough repair and readiness by Colonel Hardee, of the regular army of the Confederate States.
I was following Styles down from the upper deck, when we heard high voices from the end of the boat, and recognized one exclaiming:
"Curse you! I'll cut your ear off!"
Round the open bar we found an excited crowd, in the center of which was our worldly-minded middie of river-boat memory and "Spring Chicken," his colleague; both talking very loud, and the latter exhibiting a bowie-knife half as long as himself. By considerable talk and more elbowing, we made our way to the boys; and, with the aid of a friendly stoker, got them both safely in my state-room.
Once there, the man of the world—who, unlike the needy knife-grinder, had a story—told it. After getting on the boat, Spring Chicken had been taking mint with sugar and something; and he took it once too often. Seeing this, the worldling tried to get him forward to his state-room; but, as we passed the fort, a jolly passenger, who had also taken mint, waved his hat at the fortification and cried out:
"Hurrah for Muggins!"
Spring Chicken stopped, balanced himself on his heels and announced with much dignity—
"Sir, I am Muggins!"
"Didn't know you, Muggins," responded the shouter, who fortunately had not taken fighting whisky. "Beg pardon, Muggins! Hurrah for Peacock! Yah—a-h!"
"See here, my good fellow, I'm Peacock!" repeated Spring Chicken.
"The thunder you are! You can't be two people!"
"Sir!" responded Spring Chicken, with even greater dignity, "I do not—hic—desire to argue with you. I am Peacock!"
The man laughed. "The Peacock I mean is a northern man——"
"I'm a northern man," yelled the now irate Spring Chicken. "Curse you, sir! what are my principles to you? I'll cut your ear off!" And it was this peaceful proposition that attracted our attention, in time to prevent any trouble with the ugly knife he drew from his back.
Spring Chicken had remained passive during the recital of the more sober worldling. Sundry muttered oaths had sufficed him until it was over, when he made the lucid explanation:
"Reas'l didl't—hic—dam decoy—bet ol red—ev'ry cent—hic!"
This the worldling translated and the murder was out. When we lost sight of the boys on the Southern Republic, they had ordered wine. At dinner they had more; and—glowing therewith, as they sat over their cigars on the gallery—did not "stop their ears," but, on the contrary, "listed to the voice of the charmer." When the stool pigeon once more stood in the doorway, rattling his half dollars, they followed him into the den of the tiger.
"Faro" went against them; "odd-and-even" was worse; rouge-et-noir worst of all; and at night they were sober and dead broke, an unpleasant but not infrequent phase of boat life.
"Didl't have aly wash to spout," remarked Spring Chicken, with his head under his arm.
"Yes—we owed our wine bill," continued the middie, whose worldliness decreased as he got sober, "and our trunk was in pawn to the nigger we owed a quarter for taking care of it. So as soon as the boat touched, I ran for'ard and jumped off, while he waited to keep the things in sight till I came back."
"So he was in pawn, too, egad!" said the colonel.
"Thasso, ol' cock!" hiccoughed Spring Chicken.
"And when I got the money and we went up town, we met the cussed decoy again, and we were fools enough to go again——"
"Williz molley—damniz—hic—eyes!" interpolated the other.
"——And we got broke again—and this fellow that hollowed Muggins looked like the decoy, but he wasn't. That's the whole truth, Mr. Styles."
"Mussput—hic—fi dollus on-jack?" remarked Spring Chicken. "See yer, Styse—o'boy, damfattolman—Con'l is!" and he curled from the lounge to the floor and slept peacefully.
"My young friend," remarked Styles gravely to the middie, as we tucked the insensible Spring Chicken into his berth—"If you want to gamble, you'll do it—so I don't advise you. But these amphibious beasts are dangerous; so in future play with gentlemen and let them alone."
"And, my boy," said the colonel, enunciating his moral lesson—"gambling is bad enough, egad! but any man is lost—yes, sir, lost!—who will drink mint—after dinner!"
With which great moral axioms we retired and slept until our steamer reached the "Queen City of the South."
NEW ORLEANS, THE CRESCENT CITY.
At a first glimpse, New Orleans of those days was anything but a picturesque city. Built upon marshy flats, below the level of the river and protected from inundation by the Levee, her antique and weathered houses seemed to cower and cluster together as though in fear.
But for a long time, "The Crescent City" had been at the head of commercial importance—and the desideratum of direct trade had been more nearly filled by her enterprising merchants than all others in the South. The very great majority of the wealthy population was either Creole, or French; and their connection with European houses may account in some measure for that fact. The coasting trade at the war was heavy all along the Gulf shore; the trade with the islands a source of large revenue, and there were lines and frequent private enterprises across the ocean.
For many reasons, it was then believed New Orleans could never become a great port. Foremost, the conformation of the Delta, at the mouth of the river, prevented vessels drawing over fifteen feet—at most favorable tides—from crossing either of the three bars; and the most practical and scientific engineers, both of civil life and the army, had long tried in vain to remedy the defect for longer than a few weeks. Numerous causes have been assigned for the rapid reformation of these bars; the chemical action of the salt upon the vegetable matter in the river water; the rapid deposit of alluvium as the current slackens; and a churning effect produced by the meeting of the channel with the waves of the Gulf. They could not be successfully removed, however, and were a great drawback to the trade of the city; which its location at the mouth of the great water avenue of the whole West, makes more advantageous than any other point in the South.
The river business in cotton, sugar and syrup was, at this time, immense; and the agents of the planters—factor is the generic term—made large fortunes in buying and selling at a merely nominal rate of percentage. The southern planter of ante-bellum days was a man of ease and luxury, careless of business and free to excess with money; and relations between him and his agent were entirely unique.
He had the same factor for years, drawing when he pleased for any amount, keeping open books. When his crop came in, it was shipped to the factor, the money retained—subject to draft—or invested. But it was by no means rare, when reckoning day came, for the advance drafts to have left the planter in debt his whole crop to the factor. In that case it used to cost him a trip to Europe, or a summer at Saratoga only; and he stayed on his plantation and did not cry over the spilt milk, however loudly his ladies may have wailed for the missing creme-de-la-creme of Virginia springs.
The morning after arrival we at last saw "the house;" which, far from being an imposing edifice, was a dingy, small office, just off the Levee, with the dingier sign of "Long, Staple & Middling" over the door. There were a few stalwart negroes basking in the sun about the entrance, sleeping comfortably in the white glare, or showing glancing ivories, in broad grins—each one keeping his shining cotton hook in full view, like a badge of office. Within was a perfect steam of business, and Staple pere was studying a huge ledger through a pair of heavy gold spectacles—popping orders like fire-crackers, at half a dozen attentive clerks. Long, the senior partner, was in Virginia—and Middling, the junior, was hardly more than an expert foreman of the establishment.
"Happy, indeed, to meet you, sir!—93 of Red River lot, Mr. Edds—Heard of you frequently—Terribly busy time these, sir, partner away—13,094 middlins, for diamond B at 16-1/3, Adams—. We dine at seven, you remember Styles—Don't be in a hurry, sir!—1,642 A.B., page 684, Carter—Good day—See you at seven."
And it was only over the perfect claret, at the emphasized hour, that we discovered Mr. Staple to be a man of fine mind and extensive culture, a hearty sympathizer in the rebellion—into which he would have thrown his last dollar—and one of the most successful men on the Levee. Long, his senior partner, was a western man of hard, keen business sense, who had come to New Orleans fifty years before, a barefooted deck-hand on an Ohio schooner. By shrewdness, dogged industry and some little luck, he made "Long's" the best known and richest house in the South-west, until in the crash of '37 it threatened to topple down forever. Then Mr. Staple came forward with his great credit and large amount of spare capital, saved the house and went into it himself; while Middling, the former clerk of all work, was promoted, for fidelity in the trying times, to a small partnership.
Like all the heavy cotton men of the South, Mr. Staple believed firmly that cotton was king, and that the first steamer into a southern port would bring a French and British minister.
"It's against our interest for the present to do so," he said, confidently; "but my partner and I have advised all our planters to hold their cotton instead of shipping it, that the market may not be glutted when the foreign ships come in. And, yet, sir, it's coming down now faster than ever. Everybody prefers, in the disorganized state of things, to have ready money for cotton, that in three months' time must be worth from twenty to thirty cents!"
"Hard to believe, sir, isn't it? Yet our planters, looking at things from their own contracted standpoint, think the English and French cabinets will defer recognition of our Government. As for 'the house,' sir, it will put all it possesses into the belief that they can not prove so blind!"
Like most of the wealthy men in New Orleans, Mr. Staple had a charmingly located villa a mile from the lake and drove out every evening, after business hours, to pass the night.
"Not that I fear the fever," he explained. "What strangers regard as such certain death is to us scarce more than the agues of a North Carolina flat. 'Yellow Jack' is a terrible scourge, indeed, to the lower classes, and to those not acclimatized. The heavy deposits of vegetable drift from the inundations leave the whole country for miles coated four or five inches deep in creamy loam. This decomposes most rapidly upon the approach of hot weather, and the action of the dews, when they begin to fall upon it, causes the miasmata to rise in dense and poisonous mists. Now these, of course, are as bad in country—except in very elevated localities—as in town; but they are only dangerous in crowded sections, or to the enervated constitutions that could as ill resist any other disease."
"You astonish me, indeed," I answered. "For I have always classed yellow fever and cholera as twin destroyers. They must be, from such seasons as you have every few years."
"So all strangers think. But to the resident, who from choice, or business engagements, has passed one summer in the city, 'Jack' loses his terrors. The symptoms are unmistakable. Slight nausea and pain in the back, headache and a soupcon of chill. The workingman feels these. He can not spare the time or the doctor's bill, perhaps. He poohs the matter—it will pass off—and goes to work. The delay and the sun set the disease; and he is brought home at night—or staggers to the nearest hospital—to die of the black vomit in thirty-six hours. Hence, the great mortality.
"Now, I feel these pains, I at once recognize the fever, go right home, bathe feet and back in hot water, take a strong aperient, put mustard on my stomach and pile on the blankets. In an hour I am bathed in sweat till maybe it drips through the mattress. I put on another blanket, take a hot draught with an opiate, and go to sleep. It is not a pleasant thing, with the thermometer at ninety degrees in the shade; but when I wake in the morning, I have saved an attack of fever."
This regimen was constantly repeated to me. In the district crowded with the poorer classes, who are dependent on their daily labor for their daily bread, the fever stalks gaunt and noisome, marking his victims and seldom in vain. All day long, and far into the night in bad seasons, the low, dull rumble of the dead-cart echoed through the narrow streets; and at the door of every squalid house was the plain pine box that held what was left of some one of its loved inmates. Yet through this carnival of death, steadily and fearlessly, the better class of workers walk; not dreading the contagion and secure in their harness of precaution.
To sleep in the infected atmosphere in sickly quarters was thought more dangerous; but any business man considered himself safe, if he only breathed the poisonous air in the daytime. The resident physicians, in their recent treatment, feel the disease quite in their hands, when no other foe than the fever is to be combated. Any preceding excess of diet, drink or excitement is apt to aggravate it; but in ordinary cases, where proper remedies are taken in season, nine out of ten patients recover.
Otherwise, this ratio is just reversed; and in the working classes—especially strangers—to take the fever, in bad years, is to die. The utmost efforts of science, the most potent drugs—even the beautiful and selfless devotion of the "Howard Association" and its like—availed nothing in the wrestle with the grim destroyer, when he had once fairly clutched his hold. And in the crowded quarters, where the air was poison without the malaria, his footing was too sure for mortal to prevail against him.
New Orleans was, at this time, divided into two distinct towns in one corporation—the French and American. In the one, the French language was spoken altogether for social and business purposes, and even in the courts. The theaters were French, the cafes innocent of English, and, as Hood says, the "very children speak it." Many persons grow up in this quarter—or did in years back—who never, to their old age, crossed to the American town or spoke one word of English. In the society of the old town, one found a miniature—exact to the photograph—of Paris. It was jealously exclusive, and even the most petted beaux of the American quarter deemed it privilege to enter it. A stranger must come with letters of the most urgent kind before he could cross its threshold. All the etiquette and form of the ancien regime obtained here—the furniture, the dress, the cookery, the dances were all French.
In the American town the likeness to Mobile was very marked, in the manners and style of the people. The young men of the French quarter had sought this society more of late years, finding in it a freedom from restraint, for which their associations with other Americans in business gave them a taste. The character of the society was gay and easy—and it was not hedged in so carefully as that of the old town. Strangers were cordially—if not very carefully—welcomed into it; and the barriers of reserve, that once protected it, were rapidly breaking down before the inroads of progress and petroleum.
The great hotels—the "St. Charles," "St. Louis" and others—were constantly filled with the families of planters from all points of the river and its branches, and with travelers from the Atlantic border as well. Many of these were people of cultivation and refinement; but many, alas! the roughest of diamonds with a western freedom of expression and solidity of outline, that is national but not agreeable. In the season these people overflowed the hotels, where they had constant hops with, occasionally, splendid balls and even masques. Many of them were "objects of interest" to the young men about town, by reason of papa's business, or Mademoiselle's proper bank account. So the hotels—though not frequented by the ladies of the city at all—became, each year, more and more thronged by the young men; and consequently, each year, the outsiders gained a very gradual, but more secure, footing near the home society and even began to force their way into it.
It must be confessed that some damsels from Red River wore diamonds at breakfast; and that young ladies from Ohio would drive tandem to the lake! And then their laughs and jokes at a soiree would give a dowager from Frenchtown an apoplexy!
Que voulez vous? Pork is mighty! and cotton was king!
There was much difference of opinion as to the morals of the Crescent City. For my own part, I do not think the men were more dissipated than elsewhere, though infinitely more wedded to enjoyment and fun in every form. There was the French idea prevalent that gambling was no harm; and it was indulged to a degree certainly hurtful to many and ruinous to some. From the climate and the great prevalence of light wines, there was less drunkenness than in most southern towns; and if other vices prevailed to any great extent—they were either gracefully hidden, or so sanctioned by custom as to cause no remark, except by straight-laced strangers.
Oh! the delicious memories of the city of old! The charming cordiality to be found in no colder latitude, the cosy breakfasts that prefaced days of real enjoyment—the midnight revels of the bal masque! And then the carnival!—those wild weeks when the Lord of Misrule wields his motley scepter—leading from one reckless frolic to another till Mardi Gras culminates in a giddy whirl of delirious fun on which, at midnight, Lent drops a somber veil!
Sad changes the war has wrought since then!
The merry "Krewe of Comus" has been for a time replaced by the conquering troops of the Union; the salons where only the best and brightest had collected have been sullied by a conquering soldiery; and their leader has waged a vulgar warfare on the noble womanhood his currish spirit could not gaze upon without a fruitless effort to degrade.
Of the resident ladies, I can only say that to hear of a fast one—in ordinary acceptation of that term—was, indeed, rare.
The young married woman monopolized more of the society and its beaux than would be very agreeable to New York belles; but, if they borrowed this custom from their French neighbors, I have not heard that they also took the license of the Italian.
Public and open improprieties were at once frowned down, and people of all grades and classes seemed to make their chief study good taste. This is another French graft, on a stem naturally susceptible, of which the consequences can be seen from the hair ribbon of the bonne to the decoration of the Cathedral.
The women of New Orleans, as a rule, dress with more taste—more perfect adaptation of form and color to figure and complexion—than any in America. On a dress night at the opera, at church, or at a ball, the toillettes are a perfect study in their exquisite fitness—their admirable blending of simplicity and elegance. Nor is this confined to the higher and more wealthy classes. The women of lower conditions are admirably imitative; and on Sunday afternoons, where they crowd to hear the public bands with husbands and children, all in their best, it is the rarest thing to see a badly-trimmed bonnet or an ill-chosen costume. The men, in those days, dressed altogether in the French fashion; and were, consequently, the worst dressed in the world.
The most independent and obtrusively happy people one noticed in New Orleans were the negroes. They have a sleek, shiny blackness here, unknown to higher latitudes; and from its midst the great white eyeballs and large, regular teeth flash with a singular brilliance. Sunday is their day peculiarly—and on the warm afternoons, they bask up and down the thoroughfares in the gaudiest of orange and scarlet bandannas. But their day is fast passing away; and in place of the simple, happy creatures of a few years gone, we find the discontented and besotted idler—squalid and dirty.
The cant of to-day—that the race problem, if left alone, will settle itself—may have some possible proof in the distant future; but the few who are ignorant enough to-day to believe the "negro question" already settled may find that they are yet but on the threshold of the "irrepressible conflict" between nature and necessity.
To the natural impressibility of the southron, the Louisianian adds the enthusiasm of the Frenchman. At the first call of the governor for troops, there had been readiest response; and here, as in Alabama, the very first young men of the state left office and counting-room and college to take up the musket. Two regiments of regulars, in the state service, were raised to man the forts—"Jackson" and "St. Philip"—that guarded the passes below the city. These were composed of the stevedores and workingmen generally, and were officered by such young men as the governor and council deemed best fitted. The Levee had been scoured and a battalion of "Tigers" formed from the very lowest of the thugs and plugs that infested it, for Major Bob Wheat, the well-known filibuster.
Poor Wheat! His roving spirit still and his jocund voice now mute, he sleeps soundly under the sighing trees of Hollywood—that populous "city of the silent" at Richmond. It was his corps of which such wild and ridiculous stories of bowie-knife prowess were told at the Bull Run fight. They, together with the "Crescent Rifles," "Chasseurs-a-pied" and "Zouaves," were now at Pensacola.
The "Rifles" was a crack corps, composed of some of the best young men in New Orleans; and the whole corps of "Chasseurs" was of the same material. They did yeomen's service in the four years, and the last one saw very few left of what had long since ceased to be a separate organization. But of all the gallant blood that was shed at the call of the state, none was so widely known as the "Washington Artillery." The best men of Louisiana had long upheld and officered this battalion as a holiday pageant; and, when their merry meetings were so suddenly changed to stern alarums, to their honor be it said, not one was laggard.
In the reddest flashings of the fight, on the dreariest march through heaviest snows, or in the cozy camp under the summer pines, the guidon of the "W.A." was a welcome sight to the soldier of the South—always indicative of cheer and of duty willingly and thoroughly done.
It was very unwillingly that I left New Orleans on a transport, with a battalion of Chasseurs for Pensacola. Styles was to stay behind for the present, and then go on some general's staff; so half the amusement of my travel was gone. "The colonel" was desole.
"Such a hotel as the St. Charles!" he exclaimed, with tears in his voice—"such soups. Ah! my boy, after the war I'll come here to live—yes, sir, to live! It's the only place to get a dinner. Egad, sir, out of New Orleans nobody cooks!"
I suggested comfort in the idea of red snapper at Pensacola.
"Red fish is good in itself. Egad, I think it is good," replied the colonel. "But eaten in camp, with a knife, sir—egad, with a knife—off a tin plate! Pah! You've never lived in camp." And in a hollow, oracular whisper, he added: "Wait!"
And they were real models, the New Orleans hotels of those days, and the colonel's commendations were but deserved. In cuisine, service and wines, they far surpassed any on this continent; and for variety of patrons they were unequaled anywhere.
Two distinct sets inhabited the larger ones, as antagonistic as oil and water. The habitues, easy, critical to a degree, and particular to a year about their wines, lived on comfortably and evenly, enjoying the very best of the luxurious city, and never having a cause for complaint. The up-river people flocked in at certain seasons by the hundred. They crowded the lobbies, filled the spare bed-rooms, and eat what was put before them, with but little knowledge save that it was French. These were the business men, who came down for a new engagement with a factor, or to rest after the summer on the plantation. One-half of them were terribly busy; the other half having nothing to do after the first day—they always stay a week—and assuming an air of high criticism that was as funny to the knowing ones as expensive to them.
At our hotel, one evening, as favored guests, we found ourselves on an exploring tour with mine host. It ended in the wine-room.
The mysteries of that vaulted chamber were seldom opened to the outer world; and passing the profanum vulgus in its first bins, we listened with eager ears and watering mouths to recital of the pedigree and history of the dwellers within.
Long rows of graceful necks, golden crowned and tall, peered over dust and cobwebs of near a generation; bottles aldermanic and plethoric seemed bursting with the hoarded fatness of the vine; clear, white glass burned a glowing ruby with the Burgundy; and lean, jaundiced bottles—carefully bedded like rows of invalids—told of rare and priceless Hocks.
From arch to arch our garrulous cicerone leads us, with a heightened relish as we get deeper among his treasures and further away from the daylight.
"There!" he exclaims at last with a great gulp of triumph. "There! that's Sherry, the king of wines! Ninety years ago, the Conde Pesara sent that wine in his own ships. Ninety years ago—and for twenty it has lain in my cellar, never touched but by my own hand"—and he holds up the candle to the shelf, inch deep in dust, while the light seems to dart into the very heart of the amber fluid, and sparkle and laugh back again from the fantastic drapery the spiders had festooned around the bottles. "Yes, all the Pesaras are dead years gone; and only this blood of the vine is left of them."
"But you don't sell that wine!" gasps the colonel. "Egad! you don't sell it to those—people—up stairs!"
"I did once"—and mine host sighs. "A great cotton man came down. He was a king on the river—he wanted the best! Money was nothing to him, so I whispered of this, and said twenty dollars the bottle! And, Colonel, he didn't—like it!"
"Merciful heaven!" the colonel waxes wroth.
"So Francois there sent him a bottle of that Xeres in the outer bin yonder—we sell it to you for two dollars the bottle—and he said that was wine!"
But of the other family—who live in an American hurry and eat by steam—was the goblin diner of whom a friend told me in accents of awe. One day, at the St. Charles, a resident stopped him on the way to their accustomed table:
"Have you seen these people eat?" he asked. "No? Then we'll stop and look. This table is reserved for the up-river men who have little time in the city and make the most of it. While they swallow soup, a nimble waiter piles the nearest dishes around them, without regard to order or quality. They eat fish, roast and fried, on the same plate, swallowing six inches of knife blade at every bolt. Then they draw the nearest pie to them, cut a great segment in it, make three huge arcs therein with as many snaps of their teeth; seize a handful of nuts and raisins and rush away, with jaws still working like a flouring-mill. Ten minutes is their limit for dinner." My friend only smiled. The other adding:
"You doubt it? Here comes a fine specimen; hot, healthy and evidently busy. See, he looks at his watch! I'll bet you a bottle of St. Peray he 'does' his dinner within the ten."
"Done"—and they sat opposite him, watch in hand.
And that wonderful Hoosier dined in seven minutes!
A CHANGE OF BASE.
Whatever activity and energetic preparation there may have been elsewhere, Pensacola was the first organized camp in the South. General Bragg and his adjutant-general were both old officers, and in the face of the enemy the utmost rigor of discipline prevailed. There had been no active operations on this line, yet; but the Alabama and the Louisiana troops collected—to the number of about nine thousand—had already become soldiers, in all the details of camp life; and went through it in as cheerful a spirit as if they had been born there.
In popular view, both Bragg and Beauregard were on probation as yet; and it was thought that upon the management of their respective operations depended their status in the regular army. All was activity, drill and practice in this camp; and if the army of Pensacola was not a perfectly-disciplined one, the fault certainly was not with its general.
The day we reached camp the President and Secretary of the Navy came down from Montgomery on a special train for an inspection. They were accompanied only by one or two officers, and had a long and earnest conference with General Bragg at his headquarters. After that there was a review of the army; and the then novel sight was made peculiarly effective by surroundings.
On the level, white beach, glistening in the afternoon sun, were drawn up the best volunteer organizations of the South—line upon line, as far as the eye could reach—their bright uniforms, glancing muskets and waving banners giving color to the view. Far in the rear the fringed woods made dim background; while between, regular rows of white tents—laid out in regiments and company streets—dotted the plain.
Out in the foreground stretched the blue waters of Pensacola harbor—the sun lighting up the occasional foam-crests into evanescent diamonds—the grim fortress frowning darkly on the rebellious display, while a full band on the parapet played the "Star Spangled Banner." Over to the left, half hidden under the rolling sand hills, stood Pensacola, with the navy yard and hospitals; and yellow little Fort McRea, saucy and rebellious, balanced it on the extreme right.
As the President, with the general and his staff, galloped down the line, the band of each regiment struck up; and the wildest huzzas—not even restrained by the presence of their "incarnate discipline"—told how firm a hold Mr. Davis had taken upon the hearts of the army.
By the time the review was over twilight had fallen; and a thousand camp-fires sprang up among the tents, with flickering, uncertain light. In it sat groups preparing their suppers and discussing what the visit and review might mean. Some said it was for the secretary to inspect the navy yard; some to examine into the defenses of the fort; and some said that it meant scaling ladders and a midnight assault.
That night we had a jolly time of it in an Alabama captain's tent—with songs, cards and whisky punch, such as only "Mac" could brew. Even "the colonel" confessed himself beaten at his great trick; and in compliment drank tumbler after tumbler. As we walked over to our tent in the early mist before dawn, he said:
"Egad! there's mischief brewing—mischief, sir! The seat of war's to be removed to Virginia and the capital to Richmond!"
I stopped and looked at the colonel. Was it the punch?
"That's what the council this evening meant?"
"Just so. Bragg remains, but part of his garrison goes to Beauregard, in Virginia. Trains to Montgomery will be jammed now, so we'd better be off. And, egad, sir! I'm to get ready for the field. Yes, sir, for the field!"
Next morning the information that had filtered to me through the colonel's punch was announced in orders, and enthusiastic cheers greeted the news that some of the troops were to go to a field promising active service and speedily at that.
The routine of camp life had already begun to pall upon the better class of men, and all were equally anxious to go where they could prove more clearly how ready they were to do their devoir.
Some Alabamians, two Georgia regiments, the Chasseurs-a-pied, the "Tigers" and the Zouaves were to go to Virginia; and through the courtesy of the officers of the latter corps, we got seats to Montgomery in their car; two days later.
Meantime, all was hum and bustle through the whole camp, and as the limited rolling stock on the still unfinished railroad could only accommodate a regiment at a time, they left at all hours of the day, or night, that the trains arrived. Constantly at midnight the dull tramp of marching men and the slow tap of the drum, passing our quarters, roused us from sleep; and whatever the hour, the departing troops were escorted to the station by crowds of half-envious comrades, who "were left out in the cold." And as the trains started—box cars, flats and tenders all crowded, inside and out—yell after yell went up in stentorian chorus, echoing through the still woods, in place of
"That sweet old word, good-bye!"
One gray dawn, six hundred Zouaves filed out of the pines and got aboard our train. They were a splendid set of animals; medium sized, sunburnt, muscular and wiry as Arabs; and a long, swingy gait told of drill and endurance. But the faces were dull and brutish, generally; and some of them would vie, for cunning villainy, with the features of the prettiest Turcos that Algeria could produce.
The uniform was very picturesque and very—dirty. Full, baggy, scarlet trowsers, confined round the waist by the broad, blue band or sash, bearing the bowie-knife and meeting, at mid-leg, the white gaiter; blue shirt cut very low and exhibiting the brawny, sunburnt throat; jacket heavily braided and embroidered, flying loosely off the shoulders, and the jaunty fez, surmounting the whole, made a bright ensemble that contrasted prettily with the gray and silver of the South Carolinians, or the rusty brown of the Georgians, who came in crowds to see them off.
But the use of these uniforms about the grease and dust of Pensacola camp-fires had left marks that these soldiers considered badges of honor, not to be removed.
Nor were they purer morally. Graduates of the slums of New Orleans, their education in villainy was naturally perfect. They had the vaguest ideas of meum and tuum; and small personal difficulties were usually settled by the convincing argument of a bowie-knife, or brass knuckle.
Yet they had been brought to a very perfect state of drill and efficiency. All commands were given in French—the native tongue of nearly all the officers and most of the men; and, in cases of insubordination, the former had no hesitancy in a free use of the revolver. A wonderful peacemaker is your six-shooter.
They might be splendid fellows for a charge on the "Pet Lambs," or on a—pocket; but, on the whole, were hardly the men one would choose for partners in any business but a garroting firm, or would desire to have sleep in the company bedroom.
Their officers we found of a class entirely above them; active, bright, enthusiastic Frenchmen, with a frank courtesy and soldierly bearing that were very taking. They occupied the rear car of the train, while the men filled the forward ones, making the woods ring with their wild yells, and the roaring chorus of the song of the Zou-Zou.
We had crossed the gap at Garland, where the road was yet unfinished, and were soon at the breakfast house, where we mounted the hill in a body; leaving our car perfectly empty, save a couple of buglers who stood on the platform. As I looked back, the elder musician was a most perfect picture of the Turco. He had served in Algiers, and after the war in Italy brought a bullet in his leg to New Orleans. He was long past fifty—spare, broad-shouldered and hard as a log of oak. His sharp features were bronzed to the richest mahogany color, and garnished with a moustache and peak of grizzled hair "a cubit and a span"—or nearly—in length. And the short, grizzled hair had been shaved far back from his prominent temples, giving a sinister and grotesque effect to his naturally hard face. Turc was a favorite with the officers, and his dress was rather cleaner than that of the others; a difference that was hardly an improvement.
We were just seated at breakfast—and having a special train we took our time—when a wild scream of the whistle, succeeded immediately by the heavy rumble of cars, came up the hill. We rushed to the windows, just in time to see a column of smoke disappearing round the curve and the officers' car standing solitary and empty on the road.
The Zouaves had run away with the train!
The language the officers used, as we surrounded the "sole survivors"—the two buglers—was, at least, strong; and short, hard words not in the church service dropped frequently from their lips.
It was no use; the train had gone and the men with it, and the best we could do was to speculate on the intention of the runaways, while we waited the result of the telegrams sent to both ends of the line for another engine. At last it came puffing up, and we whirled at its full speed into Montgomery.
Meanwhile the Zou-Zous had several hours' start. Led by one ardent spirit—whose motto had been similia similibus, until he lost his balance of mind—they had uncoupled the officers' car and forced the engineers to take them on. On arriving at Montgomery, they wandered over the town, "going through" drinking houses until they became wild with liquor; then bursting open the groceries to get whisky, threatening the citizens and even entering private houses. The alarm became so great, as the Zouaves became more maddened, that the first Georgia regiment was ordered out and stationed by platoons, with loaded muskets and fixed bayonets, across the streets where the rioters were. Serious trouble was beginning, when the car with their officers dashed into the depot.
The charge of the Light Brigade was surpassed by those irate Creoles. With the cars still in rapid motion, they leaped off, revolver in hand; and charged into the quarter where their drunken men were still engaged in every sort of excess. The old bugler still trotted at their head, his black eyes gleaming at the prospect of a row, and his bugle occasionally raised to sound the "rally." Into the midst of the drunken and yelling crowd dashed the officers; crackling French oaths rolling over their tongues with a snapping intonation, and their pistols whirling right and left like slung-shot, and dropping a mutineer at every blow. Habit and the rough usage overcame even the drunken frenzy of the men, and they dropped the plunder from their arms, snatched muskets from the corners they had been whirled into, and rapidly dressed into line in the street.
I saw one beardless boy, slight and small, rush to a huge sergeant and order him into ranks. The soldier, a perfect giant, hesitated to drop the handful of shoes he had seized, only for a second. But that was enough. The youth had to jump from the ground to seize his throat; but, at the same moment, the stock of the heavy revolver crashed over his temple, and he fell like a stricken ox.
"Roll that carrion into the street!" said the lieutenant to another soldier near; and before his order was obeyed the store was empty.
In a half hour from the officers' arrival the battalion was mustered on Main street, and only nine absentees were reported at roll-call; but many a fez was drawn far down over a bleeding forehead, and many a villainous countenance was lighted by one eye, while the other was closed and swollen.
The colonel and I had jumped from the car and run on with our French friends; but the colonel was not the son of Atalanta, and by reason of a soupcon of gout his feet were not beautiful upon Zion or any other place. Neither could he make them "swift to shed blood."
As we entered the street where the rioters were, I turned and saw him, perfectly breathless, bear his two hundred and fifty pounds avoirdupois against a door. It was not closed, but had only been slammed by the score of Zou-Zous enjoying the whisky within; and as I looked I saw a dignified colonel in the C.S. army turn a complete somersault into a group of red-legged devils, who immediately closed around him.
Gabriel Ravel, though a lighter man, never made a cleaner leap through the third story in the side-scene; but there was no time to waste and I went back at speed. I had scarcely turned when I saw the colonel's huge form tower among the red-legs. By the time I reached the door my apparition, revolver in hand, completed what he had begun; and they slipped by and vanished.
Luckily the bar of the door had fallen with him, and the old gymnastics of other days coming back like a flash, he had seized it, made two rapid blows and laid as many of his assailants at his feet; roaring, meanwhile, oaths as thunderous as they were unintelligible.
"Sacre-e nom!" he shouted as he saw me; "shoot 'em, me boy! Poltrons, egad! Laugh at me! D——n their eyes! Can-n-naille!"
There was a wicked light in my fat friend's eye, and he had recovered his second wind; so we sallied out, the colonel still clinging to his weapon of chance.
"Good enough for these dogs!" he roared, wrathfully shaking the bar. "Saves the pistol."
That night at "the Ranche," as later about many a camp-fire, our French visitors declared that the colonel's bar had done more effective service than their revolvers; and, as it stood dented and blood-smeared in the corner of that vine-clad porch, it did not belie their praise.
EN ROUTE FOR THE BORDER.
Very soon after their state went out of the Union, and it became settled that the policy of the central Government was to take possession of the border states by force, the people of Virginia decided that the battle was to be fought on her soil. Her nearness to Washington, the facility of land communication, and the availability of her waterways for transportation purposes, all pointed to this; and the southern Government also became aware that the Potomac boundary of the Confederacy was the one to be most jealously guarded. Under these circumstances, when the tender of the use of the state capital at Richmond was made to the Montgomery Government, the advantages of the move were at once apparent, and the proffer was promptly accepted.
When we returned to Montgomery, preparations for removal were in such state of progress that the change would be made in a few days. Archives and public property not in daily use had already been sent on, and some of the force of the executive departments were already in the new capital, preparing for the reception of the remainder. Troops in large bodies had already been forwarded to Virginia from all parts of the South, and all indications were that, before the summer was over, an active campaign on the soil of the Old Dominion would be in progress.
About this time, a telegram from Montgomery appeared in the New York Tribune, which created as much comment at the South as at the North. It stated, in so many words, that the whole South was in motion; that a few days would see Mr. Davis in Virginia at the head of thirty thousand men, Beauregard second in command. With the two sections in a state of open hostility, and with armies already in the field and manoeuvering for position, it was somewhat singular that the avowed correspondent of a northern journal should be allowed in the southern Capital; but, when his dispatches bore on their face some signs of authoritative sanction, it became stranger still.
The correspondent of the Tribune was a well-known lobby member of years standing, but avowedly a southern man. His intercourse with the leaders of the government was, at least, friendly, and his predictions and assertions in the columns of that newspaper were generally borne out in fact. The state of the country was an anomalous one, but this method of waging war was still more so.
The history of the dispatch in question was simply this: There had been much jubilation in Montgomery over the news from Virginia. Serenades had been made, speeches delivered, and the invariable whisky had not been neglected.
Late at night, I was shown a copy of this dispatch, as one about to be sent. On my doubting it, I was credibly informed that it had been shown to at least one cabinet officer, and received his approval. And it went!
When it was finally settled that the Capital was to be moved to Virginia, the city of Montgomery began to wail. It had all along been utterly and most emphatically opposed to the location of the government there. It would ruin the trade, the morals and the reputation of the town. Dowagers had avowed their belief that the continuance of the Congress there for one year would render the city as perfect a Sodom as Washington—would demoralize the society beyond purification.
Men of business had grumbled at being disturbed from their fixed routine of many years. But now that the incubus was to be removed, there was a strong pressure to prevent—and bitter denunciations of—the outrage!
Leaders came out in the papers, advising against the practicability; scathing articles about perfidy sometimes appeared; and it was, on all hands, prophesied that the government would lose caste and dignity, and become a traveling caravan if the change were made. Where will the nations of Europe find it when they send their ministers to recognize the Confederate Government?—was the peroration of these eloquent advocates.
Now, as there was no contract made or implied, in locating the provisional government at Montgomery, that it was to be the permanent Capital; or that the exigencies of the war might not necessitate a change to some point more available, this was at least unnecessary. True, the people had made sacrifices, and had inconvenienced themselves. But what they had done was for the country, and not for the Government; and had, besides, been done equally elsewhere. And the location, even temporarily, of the Government there had aided the town greatly. It had become the converging point of railroad and contract business for the Confederacy; and the depots and storehouses located there would be of course continued, throwing a vast amount of business activity and money into it. So, though the people might be somewhat morbid on the subject, their arguments against the change were, on the whole, if natural, not founded on fact.
But, perfectly regardless of the thunders of the press and the growlings of the people, the preparations for removal and the change of base to Virginia went steadily on. By the 20th of May, everything had been completed—the President and Cabinet left Montgomery—the fact, that had for some time been a real one, was formally consummated; and Montgomery became again the Capital of Alabama.
I had nothing to keep me in town longer, so I started for a leisurely trip to Richmond. But man proposes; and in this instance, the Quartermaster's Department disposed that travel was to be anything but practicable.
Trains, crowded with troops from all directions, met at the junctions, and there had to lay over for hours, or days. Burden trains, with supplies for the army, munitions of war, or government property from Montgomery, blocked the road in all directions; and trains running "not on time" had to proceed much more carefully than ordinarily. In fact, there was not the amount of transportation at the disposal of the roads that the greatly enhanced demands required; and at every station nearer Richmond, the pressure of passengers and freight became greater.
Through Georgia I bore the troubles of the transit like a philosopher; but under three detentions between Augusta and Columbia, of from nine to thirteen hours, patience and endurance both gave way.
South Carolina had gone into the war with her eyes wider open than those of her sisters; and while she had yet time, was straining every nerve to utilize all her available resources and to make new ones. Her factories, tanneries and foundries were all in constant and active operation; she was making bountiful preparation for the future.
Everywhere in the South was earnest endeavor and heartfelt enthusiasm for the cause; but I saw it nowhere directed into such practical and productive channels, thus early, as in South Carolina. Charleston, Pensacola and Virginia had drained her of younger and more active men; but the older ones and her vast resources of slave labor made up for the loss, and neither time nor energy seemed to be misapplied.
After a rest, I found a freight train with a philanthropic conductor, and started for Kingsville. Vae Victis!
I reached that station—what a misnomer!—in a driving mist and a very bad humor. Neither was a fine preparation for the news that a train had smashed seventeen miles above, tearing up the track and effectually blocking the road. The down train, with which we were to connect, could not come through; not a car was visible; no one knew when we could get off, and the engine we had left was just disappearing around a curve—Charlestonward.
One hopeful individual ventured a mild suggestion that we should have to stay all night. He weighed a hundred and eighty pounds, at least—not a fraction less—so I remained passive; but ten pounds subtracted from his avoirdupois would have brought him a black eye. Stay all night! The idea was an ague!
Kingsville was a splendid aggregation of one house and a long platform. The town—i.e., the house—had, even in palmy days, been remarkable on the road for great dirt, wretched breakfasts and worse whisky. You entered at one door, grabbed a biscuit and a piece of bacon and rushed out at the other; or you got an awful decoction of brown sugar and turpentine in a green tumbler. Constant travel and crowds of passing soldiers had not improved it in any particular. The very looks of the place were repugnant enough in the daytime, but
"Bold was he who hither came At midnight—man or boy!"
I felt that a night in the rain under the pines, with my bag for a pillow, would be endurable; but no mortal with a white skin could dare those bloated and odorous feather-beds, where other things—in the shape of mordants, vivacious, active and gigantic—besides
"Wicked dreams abuse the curtained sleeper."
To mend matters, Gartrell's regiment of Georgians, eight hundred and fifty strong, and three other companies of Georgians from Pensacola, had been left here to meet a way-train, which failing, they bivouacked by the roadside. In all there were over eleven hundred tobacco-and-gin redolences, remarkably quiet for them; shooting at a mark, going through squad drill, drinking bad liquor by the canteen and swearing in a way that would have made the "Army in Flanders" sick with envy.
In the latter amusement I joined internally; and it did me so much good that I bought the anti-administration newspaper of Charleston and, getting out of bullet range, put my back against a tree and tried to read. Mercury was ever a blithe and sportive god, and his gambols on Mount Olympus were noted in days of yore; but the modern namesake—or else my present position—had soporific tendencies; and fear of the target shooters growing dimmer and dimmer, I lost myself in sleep.
It was near sundown when I was awakened by the snort of a locomotive, and a freight train hove in sight. The drums rolled, the troops formed in line, each packing his household on his back as he trotted along; and, as the cars backed up, the men broke ranks and jumped aboard, filling every crack and corner, and seeming to pile on top of each other.
A berth there was utterly impracticable to any man with any of his senses in active operation. That squirming, dense mass of humanity was more than the oldest traveler could stand, and I gave up my place in the rush. Luckily, there was an express car along, and I found the agent. He was very busy; and eloquence worthy of Gough, or Cicero, or Charles Sumner got no satisfaction. Desperation suggested a masonic signal, with the neck of a black bottle protruding from my bag. The man of parcels melted and invoked terrible torments on the immortal part of him if he didn't let me "g'long wi' the 'spress," as he styled that means of locomotion.
The accommodation was not princely—six feet by ten, cumbered with packages of all shapes and sizes and strongly flavored with bacon and pipe. Yet, "not for gold or precious stones" would I have exchanged that redolent corner. The agent waxed more and more polite as the bottle emptied, regretted the want of room, regaled himself with frequent "nips," and me with anecdotes of a professional nature.
From him was learned that he was with the train that had carried my old friends, the Zouaves, to their fresh fields of glory in Virginia. They retained a lively recollection of their lesson at Montgomery, and had kept rather quiet till reaching Columbia. There the devil again got unchained among them, and they broke out in a style to make up for their enforced good behavior.
"Sich a shooting of cattle and poultry, sich a yelling and singing of ther darned frenchy stuff—sich a rolling of drums and a damning of officers, I ain't hear yit"—said the agent. "And they does ride more on the outside of the cars than the inside, anyhow."
Beyond Weldon a knot were balancing themselves on the connecting beams of the box-cars. Warned by their officers, they laughed; begged by the conductors, they swore. Suddenly there was a jolt, the headway of the cars jammed them together, and three red-legged gentlemen were mashed between them—flat as Ravel in the pantomime.
"And I'm jest a-thinkin'," was his peroration, "ef this yere reegement don't stop a-fightin' together, being shot by the Georgians and beat by their officers—not to mention a jammin' up on railroads—they're gwine to do darned leetle sarvice a-fightin' of Yanks!"
After this period the agent talked, first to himself and then to the black bottle; while I, seated on a box of cartridges, lit my pipe and went into a reverie as to the treatment the surgeons would use in the pneumonia sure to result from the leaks in the car.
In the midst of an active course of turpentine and stimulants, I was brought to myself by a jolt and dead halt in mid-road. The engine had blown off a nut, and here we were, dead lame, six miles from a station and no chance of getting on.
My Express friend advised very quietly to "quit this and walk onter Florence."
"'Taint but a small tramp after all," he said. "And ye'll jest catch the A.M. up train and miss the sojers. Jest hand this yere to the A. & Co.'s agent, and he'll help yer ef she's crowded. Here's luck!" and he took a long pull at the bottle and handed it back—rather regretfully—with a dingy note on the back of an Express receipt.
For the benefit of literature in ages yet unborn, I give a careful transcription of this document:
"Deer bil this gentilman Is a verry peerticular frend of mine—also My brother-en-law. And you must give him sum Help ef he needs any cos Our engen she's run of the track And I won't be long afore to morrer.
Thus armed, I shouldered my bag and started on my tramp over the wet and slippery track, reaching Florence at gray dawn. As I came in sight, there stood the train, the engines cold and fires unlit. I had full time, but my good luck—the first since I started—put me in a glow, and I stepped out in a juvenile pace that would have done credit to "the Boy" in training days. As I came nearer, my mercury went rapidly down to zero. Every car was jammed, aisles packed and box-cars crowded even on top. The doorways and platforms were filled with long rows of gray blankets that smelt suggestively human! Crowds of detained passengers and three companies of the "Crescent Guard" had taken their places at midnight, and slept with a peacefulness perfectly aggravating. As I walked ruefully by the windows, there was no hope! Every seat was filled, and every passenger slept the sleep of the just; and their mixed and volleyed snoring came through,
"Keeping time, time, time, In a sort of Runic rhyme."
There was no sort of use. I'd have to try the Express, and deep was my chuckle as I reread my friend Grimes' remarkable production. It would be an oasis in this desert—that Express car; but lo! when I went to look for it there was none on the train!
Dead beat I sat on the platform and awaited day. When a fireman began operations on the engine, I meekly queried where the Express was.
"Be n't none," was the surly rejoinder.
I was wet and tired and generally bewildered. Was it a wonder that I then and there swore at that fireman, as only meek and long-suffering men, when aroused, can swear? The volley was effective, however, and he very politely told me the agent would "be roun'" before the train started. Presently he pointed out the desired individual, to whom I hastened to hand my note. Now the terrible denunciations my former friend had made on his own soul were as nothing to what the present representative of Adams & Co. called down upon his own and everybody else's immortal function.
"Well, I hope to be eternally —— —— by ——! But it ain't no use! —— —— my —— soul, ef yer shan't ride somehow!" remarked this profane expressman. "Yer be Hector Grimes' brother, and by ——! go yer shell! Yer married his sister Cynthy—the one as squints? Why —— —— me! I knowed her when she wasn't knee high—and yer done —— —— well, by ——! Here, Potty!" and he addressed a greasy man just mounting the mail car—"Here be Grimes' brother, as must git to Weldon, by —— ——! So hist him along, will yer?"
"O.K. Jump in, Mr. Grimes," agreed the mail agent; and by this time I was so wet and disgusted I didn't care who I was. So in I went, playing Grimes "for this night only."
"Here's luck, Potty! may —— —— me, but I'm glad I met yer, Grimes," remarked my profane friend, taking a long pull at the bottle I handed him in my gratitude. "Here's to your wife, Grimes!" and the cars starting just then, "deer bil" took another pull and, with great absence of mind, put the bottle in his pocket and waved us adieu.
The Mail car, like the Express, was a box ten feet by six—one-half the space filled with counter and pigeon-holes, and the other half with mail-bags. Into the remainder were crammed the agent—specific gravity equal to that of two hundred and ninety pounds of feathers—a friend of his and myself. The friend I soon found was what is known as "a good traveling companion;" i.e., a man who keeps himself primed with broad stories and bad whisky, and who doesn't object to a song in which the air always runs away with the harmony. After we started I tried to sleep. It was no use. Lying on one mail-bag with another for a pillow, that is liable to be jerked out at any station to the near dislocation of your neck, with a funny man sitting nearly on you, are not sedatives. My bottle was gone, so I drank gin out of the funny man's. I hate gin—but that night I hated everything and tried the similia similibus rule.
We missed connection at Weldon. Did anybody ever make connection there? We were four hours late, and with much reason had, therefore, to wait five hours more. If Kingsville is cheap and nasty, Weldon is dear and nastier. Such a supper! It was inedible even to a man who had tasted nothing but whisky, gin and peanuts for forty-eight hours. Then the landlord—whose hospitality was only equaled by his patriotism—refused to open his house at train time. We must either stay all night, or not at all—for the house would shut at ten o'clock—just after supper. So a deputation of the Crescents and I waited on him, and after a plain talk concluded to "cuss and quit." So we clambered into some platform cars that were to go with the train, and, after a sumptuous supper of dried-apple pies and peanuts, slept the sleep of the weary.
"ON TO RICHMOND!"
Of course, Petersburg was reached two hours after the train for Richmond had left, but in full time to get half a cold breakfast, at double price. For, about the first development one noted in the South was the growth of an inordinate greed in the class who had anything to sell, or to do, that was supposed to be indispensable. The small hotels and taverns along the railways peculiarly evidenced this; for, demands of passengers must be supplied, and this was the moment for harvest full and fat. Disgust, wetting, gin and detention had made me feel wolfish; but I wanted none of that breakfast. Still, I gave the baldheaded man, with nose like a vulture—collecting nimbly the dollars of the soldiers—a very decided expression of my opinion. He seemed deeply pained thereat; but no one ever mentioned that he had put down the price.
At the depot was Frank C., an old chum of Washington "germans," in the new dress of first sergeant of a Georgia battery. He was rushing a carload of company property to Richmond, and was as eager as I and the Crescents to get to that goal. So, between us, the railroad superintendent was badgered into an extra engine; and, mounting Frank's triumphal car, we bumped away from fellow travelers, wandering dolefully through the mud in vain attempt at time-killing until the evening train. That freight-car—piled as it was with ammunition, wheels and harness—was a Godsend, after the past three days. Cicero, Frank's ancient and black Man Friday, dispensed hot coffee and huge hunks of bread and ham; and a violin and two good voices among the Crescents made the time skim along far faster than since starting.
"How is it you haven't your commission?" one of the Creoles asked the Georgian. "When we parted at Montgomery it was promised you."
"Pledges are not commissions, though," was the careless reply. "I got tired of waiting the Secretary's caprices, when there was real work to be done; so one day I went to the War Department and demanded either my sheepskin, or a positive refusal. I got only more promises; so I told the Sec. I needed no charity from the government, but would present it with a company! Then, to be as good as my word, I sold some cotton and some stock, equipped this company and—voila tout!"
"But you are not commanding your company?"
"Couldn't do it, you see. Wouldn't let the boys elect me an officer and have the Sec. think I had bought my commission! But, old fellow, I'll win it before the month is out; and, if God spares me, mother shall call her boy Colonel Frank, before Christmas!"
Poor Frank! Before the hoped-for day his bones were bleaching in front of Fort Magruder. One morning the retreat from Yorktown—a pitiful roadside skirmish—a bullet in his brain—and the tramp of McClellan's advancing hosts packed the fresh sods over his grave, herois monumentum! He was one of many, but no truer heart or readier hand were stilled in all the war.
Passing out of the cut through the high bluff, just across the "Jeems" river bridge, Richmond burst beautifully into view; spreading panorama-like over her swelling hills, with the evening sun gilding simple houses and towering spires alike into a glory. The city follows the curve of the river, seated on amphitheatric hills, retreating from its banks; fringes of dense woods shading their slopes, or making blue background against the sky. No city of the South has grander or more picturesque approach; and now—as the slant rays of the sun kissed her a loving good-night—nothing in the view hinted of war to come, but all of holy peace.
Just here the James narrows its bed between high banks, and for some three miles—from Hollywood cemetery down to "Rockett's" landing—the shallow current dashes over its rocky bed with the force and chafe of a mountain torrent; now swirling, churned into foamy rapids, again gliding swiftly smooth around larger patches of islands that dot its surface. On the right hand hills, behind us, rises the suburb village of Manchester, already of considerable importance as a milling town; and the whole coup d'oeil—from the shining heights of Chimborazo to the green slopes of the city of the silent, the grim, gray old capitol as a centerpiece—makes a Claud landscape that admits no thought of the bloody future!