The railroad bridge—then a frail, giddy structure, wide enough for a track and footway—spans near a mile across the boiling current. From the car-platform, the treetops far below and the rugged, foam-crowned rocks look inhospitably distant. I have whirled round the high trestles on the Baltimore & Ohio when the work swayed and rattled under the heavy train, threatening each moment to hurl us down the precipitous mountain into the black, rocky bed of the Cheat, hundreds of feet below; have dashed at speed round steep grades hewn in the solid rock, where the sharp, jagged peaks rose a thousand feet beneath us; and I have raced in pitchy nights on the western rivers in tinder-box boats, that seemed shaking to pieces away from their red-hot furnaces; but I do not recall any piece of travel that gave the same sense of the instability of railroad affairs as that James river bridge.
The city was thoroughly jammed—its ordinary population of forty thousand swelled to three times that number by the sudden pressure. Of course, all the Government, with its thousand employes, had come on; and in addition, all the loose population along the railroad over which it had passed seemed to have clung to and been rolled into Richmond with it. Not only did this mania seize the wealthier and well-to-do classes, but the queerest costumes of the inland corners of Georgia and Tennessee disported themselves with perfect composure at hotels and on the streets. Besides, from ten to fifteen thousand troops were always collected, as a general rendezvous, before assignment to one of the important points—Norfolk, the Peninsula, or the Potomac lines. Although these were in camp out of town, their officers and men thronged the streets from daylight to dark, on business or pleasure bent; and the variety of uniforms—from the butternut of the Georgia private to the three stars of the flash colonel—broke the monotony of the streets pleasingly to the eye.
Hotel accommodations in Richmond were always small and plain, and now they were all overflowing. The Spotswood, Exchange and American held beds at a high premium in the parlors, halls and even on the billiard-tables. All the lesser houses were equally packed, and crowds of guests stood hungrily round the dining-room doors at meal-times, watching and scrambling for vacated seats. It was a clear case of "devil take the hindmost," for their cuisine decreased in quantity and quality in exact ratio to augmentation of their custom. The Richmond hotels, always mediocre, were now wretched. Such a thing as a clean room, a hot steak, or an answered bell were not to be bought by flagrant bribery. I would fain believe that all concerned did their best; but rapid influx absolutely overwhelmed them; and resources of the neighboring country—ample to support one-third the numbers now collected—were quickly exhausted under suddenly tripled demand. No transportation for private supplies was available in the overtaxed condition of the railroads; so the strangers, perforce, had to "grin and bear it," dry soever as the grin might be. Private boarding-houses sprang up like mushrooms on every block; bereaved relicts and ambitious spinsterhood equally clutching the chance to turn an honest penny. And naturally, ordinary trials of boarding-house life were aggravated by circumstance. Discomfort of the hotels was great enough; but, desiccated into the boarding-house can, it became simply unendurable. In this strait many private families were induced to open their doors to the better class of strangers; and gradually the whole dense population settled down, wedged into comparative quiet. Happily, my lines fell in these pleasanter places; and, whatever the unavoidable trials, it were base ingratitude in an experimental pilgrim among the mail-bags to indite a new Jeremiad thereon.
Suites of rooms had been reserved at the Spotswood hotel for the President and some of his Cabinet; so that house naturally became headquarters. Mr. Davis' office, the "Cabinet-room" with the State and Treasury Departments were located in the custom-house; and the other bureaux of the Government were relegated to the "Mechanics' Institute," an ungainly pile of bricks, formerly used as library and lecture-rooms.
The State of Virginia, though not at all on pleasure bent in inviting the Government to her capital, had yet been of frugal enough mind not to commence preparations in advance of acceptance; and the hejira followed so swiftly upon it that we plumped down into their very midst. Miss Bremer—who declared Alexandria entirely finished because she never heard the sound of a hammer—would have been more than amused at Richmond. The great halls of the Institute were cutting up into offices, with deafening clatter, day and night; and one of the Cabinet secretaries—who did not exhibit, if indeed he possessed, that aspiration ascribed to the devil when ill—swore himself almost to a shadow.
Both these public offices faced upon Capitol Square; a large, iron-fenced space, beautifully undulating and with walks winding under grand old trees. On the central hill stood the old State Capitol, picturesque from the river, but grimly dirty on close inspection. It is a plain, quadrangular construction, with Grecian pediment and columns on its south front and broad flights of steps leading to its side porticoes. Below were the halls of the legislature, now turned over to the Confederate States Congress; and in the small rotunda connecting them stood Houdon's celebrated statue of Washington—a simple but majestic figure in marble, ordered by Dr. Franklin from the French sculptor in 1785—of which Virginians are justly proud. In the cool, vaulted basement were the State officials; and above the halls the offices of the governor and the State library. That collection, while lacking many modern works, held some rare and valuable editions. It was presided over by the gentlest and most courteous litterateur of the South. Many a bedeviled and ambitious public man may still recall his quiet, modest aid, in strong contrast to the brusquerie and "insolence of office," too much the general rule; and his touching, heart-born poems were familiar at every southern hearth and camp-fireside. Soon after, the familiar voice of friendship was dulled to him—exul patriae—by the boom of the broad Atlantic; and now his bones rest far away from those alcoves and their classic dust.
John R. Thompson, the editor of the famous "Southern Literary Messenger," went to London to edit "The Index," established in the never-relinquished hope of influencing European opinion. On reaching New York, when the cause he loved was lost, the staunch friendship of Richard Henry Stoddard and the appreciation of William Cullen Bryant found him congenial work on "The Post." But the sensitive spirit was broken; a few brief years saw the end, and only a green memory is left to those who loved, even without knowing, the purest southern poet.
From the roof of the Capitol is had the finest view of Richmond, the surrounding country lying like a map for a radius of twenty miles. Only from this bird's-eye view can a perfect idea be gained of the elevation of the city, perched above a rolling country—its stretches of meadowland below cut by the valley of the James; the river stealing in sluggish, molten silver through it, or heaving up inland into bold, tree-bearded hills, high enough to take the light from the clouds on their tops, as a halo. Far northward alternate swells of light and depressions of shadow among the hills; the far-off horizon making a girdle of purple light, blended into the blue of undefined woods. On clear days, a splendid ozone fills the air at that high perch, the picture having, as far as the eye can travel, stereoscopic clearness.
Immediately beneath lies the Square; its winding walks, rare old trees and rich sweep of sod filled with children, so full of enjoyment that one is half-minded to drop down and roll over the grass with them. On the central walk, midway between the Capitol and St. Paul's church, stands Crawford's equestrian Washington in bronze, resting upon a circular base and pedestal of plain granite, in which are bases for statues of the mighty Virginians of the past. Only the three southern ones were now occupied; but those figures—Jefferson, Mason and Henry—were accepted as surpassing in merit the central work. The Washington is imposing in size and position, but its art is open to criticism. The horse is exaggeration of pose and muscle; being equally strained, though not rampant, as that inopportune charger on which Clark Mills perched General Jackson, at the national Capital. Nor is this "first in peace" by any means "the first" on horseback; the figure being theatric rather than dignified, and the extended arm more gymnastic than statuesque.
An irate senator once told the august body he addressed that it was a warning to them—"pointing straight to the penitentiary!" So, as a whole, the group, if not thoroughly classic, may be admirably useful.
From Capitol Square, open, wide streets—neatly built up and meeting each other at right angles—stretch away on all sides; an occasional spire or dome, and frequent houses larger than the rest, breaking the monotony. Below, toward the river, lie the basins, docks and rows of warehouses; and further still is the landing, "Rockett's," the head of river navigation, above which no vessels of any size can come. Just under the Capitol—to the East—stands the governor's house, a plain, substantial mansion of the olden time, embosomed in trees and flower-beds. Further off, in the same line, rise the red and ragged slopes of Church Hill. It takes its name from the old church in which Patrick Henry made his celebrated speech—a structure still in pretty good preservation. And still further away—opposite the vanishing point of the water view—are seen the green tops of Chimborazo Heights and Howard's Grove—hospital sites, whose names have been graven upon the hearts of all southern people by the mordant of sorrow!
Just across the river, to the South, the white and scattered village of Manchester is prettily relieved against the green slopes on which it sits. There the bridge cuts the shining chafe of the river like a black wire; and just under it, the wind sighs softly in the treetops of Belle Isle, afterward to become so famous in the newspaper annals of the North, as a prison for the Union soldiers captured in the long struggle for the city.
Far to the west, higher shafts of Hollywood Cemetery gleam among the trees; and the rapids, dancing down in the sunlight, break away into a broader sheet of foam around its point. Except, perhaps, "Bonnie Venture" (Buona Ventura), at Savannah, there is no site for a cemetery in the South, naturally so picturesque and at the same time solemn, as this. Rising from comparatively level ground in the rear, it swells and undulates in a series of gentle hills to the river, that embraces it on three sides. Rows of magnificent old trees in many places arch quite across the walk—giving, even at midday, a half-twilight—and the sigh of the river breeze in their tops, mingling with the constant roar of the rapids, seems to sing a Te Deum for the dead. The graves are simple and unpretending—only an occasional column of any prominence rearing itself above the humbler surroundings.
On a hill—just behind the point where the river curves round the extreme point—rest the ashes of Monroe, enclosed in a large and ornate mausoleum, where they were laid when escorted south by the New York Seventh Regiment. That escort was treated with all the generous hospitality Virginia can so well use; and numerous and deep were the oaths of amity between the citizen-soldiers. Though the Seventh were not notoriously deadly, in the war that followed, only the shortest of memories—or, indeed, the most glowing of patriotism—could have erased the brother-love, then and there bumpered down!
Under the hills of the cemetery—the dirty, dull canal creeping between them—stand the buildings, dam and powerful pumps of the water service; ordinarily more than adequate for all uses. Usually, the water was pure and clear; but when heavy rains washed the river lands, the "noble Jeems" rushed by with an unsavory and dingy current, that might have shamed the yellow Tiber and rivaled the Nile itself. Sometimes the weary and worn patriot took his whisky and mud, thick enough to demand a fork; and for days
"The water is muddy and dank As ever a company pumped."
The outskirts of Richmond are belted by bold crests, near enough, together to form a chain of natural forts. These were now fortifying; the son of wealth, the son of Erin and the son of Ham laboring in perspiration and in peace side by side. Later these forts did good turn, during cavalry raids, when the city was uncovered and the garrison but nominal.
Gamble's hill, a pretty but steep slope, cuts the river west of the bridge. Rising above its curves, from the Capitol view-point, are the slate-roofed Tredegar Works; their tall chimneys puffing endless black smoke against the sunshine, which reflects it, a livid green, upon the white foam of the rapids. So potent a factor in the aggressive power of the Confederacy was this foundry that it overtopped the regular government agencies. When the war began, this was the only rolling-mill of great capacity, of which the South could boast; the only one, indeed, capable of casting heavy guns. Almost the first decisive act of Virginia was to prevent, by seizure, the delivery to United States officers of some guns cast for them by the Tredegar Works; and, from that day, there were no more earnest and energetic workers for the cause of southern independence than the firm of Jos. R. Anderson & Co. It was said, at this time, that the firm was in financial straits. But it thrived so well on government patronage—spite of sundry boards to consider if army and navy work was not paid for at ruinously low rates—that it greatly increased in size; added to its utility by importations of costly machinery, through the blockade; stood loss of one-third of its buildings, by fire; used a ship of its own for importation; and, at the close of the struggle, was in better condition than at the commencement. The senior partner was, for a time, in the field at head of his brigade; but affairs were so well managed, in the interval, by the Messrs. Tanner—father and son, who were partners with General Anderson—that his absence was not appreciable in the work.
It was at the Tredegar Works that the famous "Brooke gun"—a rifled 7-inch—was cast, tested and perfected. Here the plates for the iron-clads, in almost all southern waters, were rolled or made ready for use. Here heavy ordnance for the forts was cast, together with shells and shot; and here the torpedoes—sometimes so effective, and usually so useless—were contrived and made. Indeed, the Tredegar Works so greatly aided the Confederacy, that the lengthening of the war may be, in large measure, attributed to their capacity, and to the able zeal with which they were managed.
So great and effective an agent could not fail to receive, from the Richmond government, every aid in obtainance of supplies, labor and transportation. "The Works" had mines, mills and pork-packeries in various sections of the South; thus obtaining coal and metals, as well as food—at reduced rates, within reach of their wages—for an army of employes. So great was the necessary number of these—whites, skilled, in labor—that even closest conscription left the junior of the firm a full battalion of infantry. This, drilled and equipped from his own shops, Major Tanner led in person, when raids or other straits made their soldiering paramount to other occupation. And—even when greatest scarcity of provisions came—the agents of "the Works" proceeded with those of the commissary of the Confederacy, pari passu.
An odd incident, coming to mind just here, will point the general estimate of the importance of the Tredegar Works. A special train was crossing the bridge, en route for Petersburg, at a time when transportation was rare. A huge negro, blacker than the soot upon his face, sat placidly on the platform of the rear car.
"What are you doing here?" was asked by the officer in charge.
"Rid'n' t' Petesbug," was the placid reply.
"Have you paid your fare?"
"Don' got nun t' pay, boss. Rides onner pass, I does!"
"Work for the government?"—this rather impatiently.
Ebo rolled his eyes, with expression of deep disgust, as he responded, grandly:
"No—sah! Fur t'uther consarn!"
SETTLING TO THE REAL WORK.
Notwithstanding the haste of removal from Montgomery, the vast amount of work to be reduced to regular order, and the apparent confusion of the executive departments, affairs rapidly shaped themselves into working form soon after the arrival in Richmond.
That city, as the terminus of railway travel from the South and West, was naturally the rendezvous for all troops coming from the various quarters of the Confederacy; and, at the date of the change of government, some fifteen thousand were already collected in the camps about the town. These comprised levies from every section of the ten states that had adhered to the southern government—regulars, volunteers and militia and of all arms.
South Carolina and Louisiana had immediately on their secession organized regular armies, on a more perfect and permanent basis than their sister states, and had garrisoned their forts—and points then supposed most vulnerable—with them. The call of the Confederate Government for more troops had not interfered with these organizations, but had brought into the field new material in the shape of volunteer regiments and battalions of cavalry, artillery and infantry.
While, as a general thing, the rank and file of the state regulars were composed of the laboring classes, foreigners and the usual useless and floating portion of their populations, officered by gentlemen of better position and education, appointed by the governors, the volunteers had in their ranks men of all conditions, from the humblest laborer to the scholar, the banker and the priest.
They were commanded by men they themselves elected, as being the most competent and acceptable, either by reason of greater ability, or military education.
Upon the action of her convention, Virginia was found to have been in nowise behind the other states in her preparations. In fact, she had anticipated its somewhat tardy movement and had marshaled into order an array of her stout yeomanry that was in itself no contemptible army. When she joined the Confederacy, she offered to its acceptance over twenty full regiments, and parts of others sufficient to make eight or ten more.
Almost all the officers of the United States Army and Navy, from her borders, had promptly resigned and tendered their swords and services to her governor. Robert E. Lee—with his great family influence and connection—Joseph E. Johnston, Magruder, Stuart, and a host of others whose names shine bright in the annals of war, had even anticipated the formal act of secession; and its passage found them busily working, with any rank and in any way that could best conduce to the good of the state. With their aid, Virginia, too, had organized a regular army; and, feeling the necessity for prompt action to be imminent, had armed, drilled and equipped it to the limit of her straightened means; and had already begun to put her frontiers into a state of defense.
General Lee was made commander-in-chief, and the flower of Virginia, from the old army, were made generals and subordinate officers under him.
The gentlemen of the Old Dominion were not slow to show a good example to the lower classes. Crack companies that had been unused to any more dreadful war than the blank cartridge of a holiday pageant, went in to a man; whole battalions were formed from which no drop of blood might be spilled, that did not flow straight from one of the known and honored of her history.
Who has not heard of the First Virginia? a name that brings back the grand old days of chivalric devotion and doughty deed! Who in the South does not honor it? though scarce a dozen of the noble hearts that first flocked to its proud banner can now gather round the grim and shattered old lion, who bought with many a wound in front the right to lead it to the fray. And "Co. F," in whose ranks were the brilliant advocate, the skillful surgeon, the man of letters and the smooth-faced pet of the Mayday gathering—all that made the pride, the boast and the love of, Richmond!
The beacon had been lighted on the mountain top, and had gleamed by her river sides! The sturdy hunter from the West, and the dashing horseman from the East; the merchant at his till, and the farmer, with hard hand on the plough-handle—all heard the voice of the bugle and answered with a shout!
Men of all classes—from the highest-born and richest to the humblest and poorest—from the grandsire with his flint-lock to the sunny-haired stripling scarcely in his teens—with one accord
"——Came forth at the call With the rush of their rivers when tempests appall, And the torrents their sources unseal!"
Thus, when the Government first felt that Virginia was to be the battle-ground and decided to lash its fortunes to hers amid the black billows that were surging around it, an army was already in the field; partially armed, already somewhat proficient in drill and learning, by the discipline of camp and bivouac, to prepare for the stern realities of war.
In many instances, the posting of their regulars by the respective state governments had been considered so judicious, that the War Department made no change; as, for instance, in garrisoning the forts in Charleston harbor by the South Carolina Regular Artillery, and those at New Orleans by the 1st and 2d Louisiana Regulars. But after the necessary garrison had been left in the most exposed points, every available man was ordered to Virginia. Here the work of organization went on with a smoothness and regularity scarcely to have been looked for. Occasionally a hitch occurred that threatened to get the threads of preparation into an ugly knot; but it was ever unraveled without the Gordian treatment.
Fresh troops from every quarter were collecting rapidly. First came Gregg's regiment of South Carolinians; and they were met with open arms by the Virginians, soldiery and citizens. They received the first gush of the new brotherhood of defiance and of danger; and their camp—constantly visited by the ladies and even children of Richmond—had more the air of a picnic than of a bivouac. Many of the men and most of the officers in the First Carolina bore
"Names, Familiar in their mouths as household words."
They were descendants from that other revolution, the political celebrities, or the watering-place beaux; and the houses of Richmond were opened to them at once. Dinners, parties and rides were improvised, and the first comers were voted, especially by the ladies, a "joy forever." Gradually, as regiment after regiment marched in and the city filled to overflowing with the still welcome strangers, the novelty wore off; and, though the feeling of fellowship and kindliness was just as strong, the citizens found that their hearts were larger than their houses, and that even Virginia hospitality must have a limit. Varied, indeed, were the forms one met on every street and road about Richmond. Here the long-haired Texan, sitting his horse like a centaur, with high-peaked saddle and jingling spurs, dashed by—a pictured guacho. There the western mountaineer, with bearskin shirt, fringed leggings, and the long, deadly rifle, carried one back to the days of Boone and the "dark and bloody ground." The dirty gray and tarnished silver of the muddy-complexioned Carolinian; the dingy butternut of the lank, muscular Georgian, with its green trimming and full skirts; and the Alabamians from the coast, nearly all in blue of a cleaner hue and neater cut; while the Louisiana troops were, as a general thing, better equipped and more regularly uniformed than any others in the motley throng.
But the most remarked dress that flashed among these varied uniforms was the blue-and-orange of the Maryland Zouaves. At the time of the riot of the 19th of April, there had just been perfected a splendid organization of the younger gentlemen of the Monumental City—a veritable corps d'elite—known as the "Maryland Guard." It was as remarkable for excellence of discipline and perfection of equipment, as for containing the very best blood of the city; and, though taking no part—as an organization—in the riot, it was immediately afterward put by its officers at the disposal of the Baltimore authorities.
When it became apparent that Maryland could take no active part in the struggle, many members of this corps promptly left the luxuries of their homes, their early associations, and even the very means of livelihood, to go south and battle for the principles they held. They unhesitatingly expatriated themselves, and gave up all they held dear—except honor—to range themselves under that flag for which they had declared. Many of them had been born and reared southerners—many had only the chivalric intention to fight for the cause they felt right. Their sympathies all went with the South, and their blood leaped to help her in this her hour of sore trial.
Was it strange that the generous Virginian should have opened his arms to give these men the embrace of fellowship and brotherhood; that they should have been honored guests at every hospitable board; that bright eyes should have glanced brighter at a glimpse of the orange and blue?
Much has been said and much written of the Marylanders in the South; of their demoralized condition, their speculative tendencies, and their wild dissipations. Not a few of them came for plunder—some left their country for their country's good:—but in the veins of such only a muddy current ran! Where the Maryland gentleman was found on the stranger soil, it was musket in hand, battling for it; and so well was his devoir done, that he rapidly changed the bayonet for the sword; and more than one general, whose name will live in the South, came from their number.
Almost all the soldiery wore the broad, soft slouch, in place of the more military, but less comfortable, kepi. There was something about it characteristic of the race—it seemed to suit exactly the free, careless port of the men—and it was equally useful as a protection from the fierce June sun, or beating rain, and as a night-cap.
Arms, too, were as varied as the uniforms. Many whole regiments were armed with the Belgian or Springfield musket—light, and carrying a large ball an immense distance; others had only the Mississippi rifle; while some again sported a mixture of rifles, muskets and shot-guns. The greatest variety was in the cavalry—if such it could be called. Men accustomed from infancy to the saddle and the rifle had seized whatever weapon they were possessed of; and more at home on horseback than on foot, they were, no doubt, ugly enemies in a bush fight, or an ambuscade. Many whole companies had no sabers but those their officers carried, and the very individuality and self-reliance of the men acted as an invincible opponent to drill and discipline. Mounted on horses of all sizes and colors; equipped with all varieties of trappings; and carrying slung at their backs every known game-killer—from rifle to duck gun—they would have been a strange picture to the European officer to which their splendid horsemanship and lithe, agile figures could have added no varnish to make him believe them cavalry.
But every man you met, mounted or footman, carried in his belt the broad, straight, double-edged bowie-knife, useful alike for war-like, or culinary purposes; and few, indeed, did not balance it with the revolver. In some of the crack corps this was strictly prohibited; for the difficulty has ever been in armies to teach the men to use efficiently the one weapon belonging to them; and that there is no safety in a multitude.
Long before the first scene of the bloody drama was done—and stern realities had taken the gilt from the pomp and circumstance of war—the actors had cast aside all the "properties" they did not absolutely need. The exhaustion of their first few battles, or a couple of Jackson's marches, taught them that in this race for life and limb, there was no need to carry extra weight. I constantly had brought to mind the anecdote of the Crimean Zouaves, about to charge a redan, who answered their officer's query as to the number of cartridges they had by tapping their saber bayonets.
The arriving regiments were inspected, mustered into the Confederate service and drilled by competent officers; vacancies were filled; and such wanting equipments, as could be supplied, bestowed upon them. They were then brigaded, and after time enough to become accustomed to their commanders and to each other, were forwarded to points where, at the moment, troops appeared most needed.
The three points in Virginia, considered as vital, were the Peninsula, formed by the James and York rivers, Norfolk, and the open country around and about Orange Courthouse to the Potomac. Fortress Monroe impregnable to assault, by the land side, and so easily provisioned and garrisoned by sea, was looked upon as the most dangerous neighbor. From its walls, the legions of the North might, at any moment, swoop down upon the unprotected country around it and establish a foothold, from which it would be hard to dislodge them, as at Newport's News. Its propinquity to Norfolk, together with the vast preponderance of the United States in naval power, made an attack upon that place the most reasonable supposition. The State of Virginia had already put it in as good defense as the time permitted. General Huger, a distinguished officer of Ordnance from the U.S. service, had at once been sent there; and his preparations had been such that an unfinished earth work, at Sewell's Point, stood for four hours, on the 19th of May, the bombardment of the U.S. ships "Minnesota" and "Monticello."
The Confederate War Department felt such confidence in the engineering and administrative ability of General Huger, that it endorsed the action of Virginia by giving him a brigadier's commission and instructions to put Norfolk and the avenues of its approach in complete state of defense. A sufficient garrison of picked troops—among them the Third Alabama and some of the best Richmond companies—was given him; and Norfolk was soon declared securely fortified.
The Peninsula was even more exposed to land attack from Fortress Monroe; and General John B. Magruder had been sent there with a part of the Virginia army, with headquarters at Yorktown. General Magruder had long been a well-known officer of the U.S. Army, where his personal popularity and a certain magnificence of manner had gained him the sobriquet of "Prince John." He possessed energy and dash in no mean degree; and on arriving at his sphere of duty, strained every nerve to put the Peninsula in a state of defense. His work, too, was approved by the Confederate War Department; the commission of brigadier conferred upon him, and re-enforcements—sufficient in its judgment, though not in his—were sent at once to his command.
While Fortress Monroe threatened the safety of Norfolk, and, by the Peninsula of the lower approaches to Richmond, Alexandria could hold a formidable army, ready at any moment to swoop down by the upper and more accessible approaches around Orange Courthouse. The occupation of Alexandria by the Union forces on the 24th of May was looked upon by Confederate leaders as the most decided act of war yet ventured upon by their wary adversary. Whatever may have been done within the non-seceded states, the South deluded herself that it was simply an exposition of the power of the government—a sort of Chinese warfare of gongs and tom-toms. The passage of the Potomac and seizure of a city under the aegis of the Confederate Government was actually crossing the Rubicon and carrying the war directly into the southern territory. Fortress Monroe and other fortified points still held by the United States, in the South, were conceded to be in a measure hers, at least by the right of possession; but Alexandria was considered part and parcel of the Confederacy, and as such sacred from invasion. Hence no means were taken to prevent its occupation. On Virginia soil—many of its' citizens already in the rebel ranks, and its houses a rendezvous for the cavalry of the Virginia army, its seizure was construed to mean real invasion.
The possession of this key to the land approaches of Richmond; its great facilities of re-enforcement and supply by propinquity to the depots at Washington and elsewhere; and the determined intention of the Federals to hold and use it, could not be misunderstood.
And while the Southern Government felt the advantages its possession gave the Union troops for concentrating and advancing, the people were aroused to a pitch of high indignation by the choice of the troops sent to first invade their soil.
The war, too, was yet young enough to leave all the romance about it; scenes of violence were as yet rare; and the death of Jackson, with the circumstances attending it, caused a deep and general feeling of bitterness. While the southern public opened its arms and took to its sympathy and protection the widow and orphans of the first Virginian whose blood was shed in her cause, many and bitter were the vows made around the bivouac to avenge his untimely end. The men who made the grim vow were of the stuff to keep it; the name of "Jackson, the Martyr," became a war-cry, and the bloody tracks of Manassas
"How that oath was kept can tell!"
On the 23d of May, Joseph E. Johnston received his commission as General in the Regular Army, and went to Harper's Ferry in command of all troops in that region—known as the Army of the Shenandoah. Beauregard, with the same grade, was recalled on his way to the West, and sent to command at Manassas.
From the great ease of putting troops across the fords of the Potomac into Virginia, it was considered necessary to concentrate, at points from which they could be easily shifted, a sufficient reliable force to meet any such movement; and the two officers in whom the government had greatest confidence as tacticians, were sent to watch for and checkmate it.
Meanwhile, Missouri had risen, the governor had declared the rights of the State infringed; and the movements of Generals Lyon and Blair—culminating in the St. Louis riots between the citizens and the Dutch soldiery—had put an end to all semblance of neutrality. Governor Jackson moved the state archives, and transferred the capital from Jefferson City to Boonesville. On the 13th of June he issued a proclamation calling for fifty thousand volunteers to defend the State of Missouri from Federal invasion; and appointed Sterling Price a major-general, with nine brigadiers, among whom were Jeff Thompson, Clark and Parsons. Perhaps no state went into open resistance of the United States authority as unprepared in every way as Missouri. Her population was scattered; one-half Union, and utterly ignorant of drill, discipline, or any of the arts of war. They were, besides, perfectly unarmed, except with their hunting pieces, and the state Capital, the arsenals and all the larger towns were in possession of the Union troops. These laughed at the attempt of Missouri to shake off the grasp of the government, and their generals boldly proclaimed that "she was under the paws of the lion, and her first movement would cause them to close and crush her life out."
Still, Price, seconded by his brigadiers, went to work with great activity to collect their scattered adherents and put them into form. In a country held by superior forces, with communications cut up and no means of information, the task was Herculean, indeed. Yet they endeavored by zeal and energy to make amends for these deficiencies and for the want of supplies. Price's name was a tower of strength in itself; his hardy compatriots flocked around him, and nearly every day there were collisions between them and the United States troops. These skirmishes, though unimportant in themselves, gave the new soldiers lessons in war; and not infrequently added to their scanty stock of arms and equipments. They were but the first dashes in the grand tableaux of war that Price was yet to hew, with the bold hand of a master, from the crude mass of material alone in his power to use.
THE LEADERS AND THE LED.
Thus much of detail arranged, General Lee was, for the present, detained in Richmond by the President, as consulting and organizing officer; and to aid the Adjutant-General—Samuel Cooper, senior general of the five—in the location of armies, distribution of troops, and assignment of officers. General Lee's perfect knowledge of the materiel of the Virginia army and of the topographical features of the state, peculiarly fitted him for this work; but every step was taken subject to the decision of Mr. Davis himself. The appointments of officers, the distribution of troops—in fact, the minutiae of the War Department—were managed by him in person.
He seemed fully alive to the vital importance of making the groundwork of the military system solid and smooth. Real preparations had begun so late that only the strong hand could now avail; and though Mr. Walker still held the empty portfolio of the secretaryship, he, and the army, and the country knew who, in fact, did the work. But to do Mr. Davis justice, he did not make his fantoccini suffer if he pulled the wires the wrong way. He was not only President and secretary of five departments—which naturally caused some errors; but that spice of the dictator in him made him quite willing to shoulder the responsibilities of all the positions.
Now, as in Montgomery, I wondered that the frail body—that could not bend—did not break beneath the load of anxiety and bodily labor he imposed upon it. His energy and industry were untiring; and every afternoon the declining sun found him in the saddle, inspecting and reviewing the troops, at one of the many camps near town. Sometimes the hard, stolid face of the Postmaster-General appeared at his side; again Senator Wigfall galloped along, with his pants stuck in his boots and seeming to enjoy the saddle much more than the curule chair; and often "Little Jeff"—the Benjamin of Mr. Davis' household—trotted at his side. But there was never a suite, seldom a courier; and wherever he went, plain, stirring syllables of cheer—and strong, grave words of incentive—dropped from his lips among the soldiery. They were treasured as the truth, too, by that rough auditory; for as yet, Mr. Davis was in the zenith of his popularity—a perfect idol with army and people. The first sight of the tall, erect figure, swaying so easily to the action of the powerful gray, was a signal for the wildest cheers from the camps; and the people in the streets raised their hats and stood uncovered while the representative man passed.
Cavil, jealousy and partisan intrigue, in which he and the cause finally went down together, had not yet done their work. There were many murmurers at real, many growlers at supposed, errors; but no opposition party—truer to itself and its interests than to the cause—had yet been organized on a basis strong enough to defy and thwart "the man."
Every one connected with the government remarked the vast difference of its reception by the Richmond and Montgomery people. The Alabamians came forward with decision and alacrity to offer their lives and fortunes to the cause. They made any sacrifices to the government, as such; but, privately, they regarded the individuals connected with it as social brigands come to rob their society of all that was good and pure in it.
Richmond, on the contrary, having given the invitation, made the best of it when accepted. The people united in sincere effort to show a whole-souled hospitality to all strangers deserving of it. Gentlemen in the government were received with frank and free-handed kindness; and even a wretch, who had wintered in the shade of the Washington upas, was allowed to flutter about and not be gunned for by the double-barreled spectacles of every respectable dowager!
Richmond was always a great place for excitements; but with the great addition of inflammable material recently, it required but a very small spark to raise a roaring, if not dangerous, flame.
On a bright Sunday in April, when
"The beams of God's own hallowed day Had painted every spire with gold, And, calling sinful men to pray, Long, loud and deep the bell had tolled"—
the citizens were worshipping quietly and a peaceful stillness reigned everywhere. Suddenly, as if a rocket had gone up, the rumor flew from mouth to mouth that the "Pawnee" was steaming up the river to shell the city. The congregations, not waiting to be dismissed, rushed from the churches with a single impulse; the alarm bell in the Square pealed out with a frightened chime. For once, even the women of Richmond were alarmed. The whole population flocked toward "Rocketts"—every eye strained to catch a first glimpse of the terrible monster approaching so rapidly. Old and young men, in Sunday attire, hastened along with rusty muskets and neat "Mantons" on their shoulders; groups of bareheaded ladies were at the corners, asking the news and repeating every fear-invented tale; and more than one of the "solid men" was seen with hand-baskets, loaded with rock, to dam the river! Late in the evening, the veterans of six hours were dismissed, it turning out that there was no cause whatever for the alarm; and when after events showed them that vessel—so battered and badgered by the river batteries—"Pawnee Sunday" became a by-word among the citizens.
Richmond was not cosmopolitan in her habits or ideas, and there was, in some quarters, a vague, lingering suspicion as to the result of the experiment; but the society felt that the government was its guest, and as such was to be honored. The city itself was a small one, the society was general and provincial; and there was in it a sort of brotherly-love tone that struck a stranger, at first, as very curious. This was, in a great measure, attributable to the fact that the social circle had been for years a constant quantity, and everybody in it had known everybody else since childhood.
The men, as a general thing, were very cordial to the strangers, and some very delightful and some very odd acquaintances were made among them. Chief among the latter was one, whom we may call—as he would say "for euphony"—Will Wyatt; the most perfect specimen of the genus man-about-town in the city. He was very young, with wealth, a pleasing exterior, and an absolute greed for society. His naturally good mind had been very prettily cultivated—by himself rather than his masters—and he had traveled just enough to understand, without despising, the weaknesses of his compatriots. He and the omniscient Styles were fast friends, and a card to Wyatt, signed "Fondly thine own, S. S.," had done the business for me. His house, horses and friends were all at my service; and in the few intervals that anxiety and duty left for ennui, he effectually drove the monster off.
"I'm devilish sorry, old man," he said, one day, after we got well acquainted, "that there's nothing going on in the social line. Drop in on me at six, to dinner; and I'll show you a clever fellow or two, and maybe have some music. You understand, my dear boy, we don't entertain now. After all, it's so late in the season there'd be little doing in peace times; but this infernal war has smashed us up completely. Getting your nose red taking leave of your tender family is the only style they vote at all nobby now—A diner!"
The dinner and music at Wyatt's were not warlike—and particularly was the wine not of that description; but the men were. Over cigars, the conversation turned upon the organization of the army; and, accustomed as I was to seeing "the best men in the ranks," the way these young bloods talked rather astounded me.
"Private in 'Co. F,'" answered John C. to my query—he represented one of the finest estates on the river—"You've heard of 'F,' of course. We hang by the old company. Wyatt has just refused a captaincy of engineers to stick as third corporal."
"Neat that, in John," put in Wyatt, "when he was offered the majority of a regiment of cavalry and refused it to stay in."
"And why not?" said George H. shortly. "Pass the Madeira, Will. I wouldn't give my place in 'F' for the best majority going. As far as that goes it's a mere matter of taste, I know. But the fact is, if we of the old organizations dodge our duty now by hunting commissions, how can we hope that the people will come to time promptly?" George H. had a quarter of a million to his credit, and was an only son—"Now, I think Bev did a foolish thing not to take his regiment when Uncle Jeff offered him the commission."
"I don't see it," responded Beverly I. in an aggrieved tone. "You fellows in 'F' were down on your captain when he took his colonelcy; and I'm as proud of my junior lieutenancy in the old First, as if I commanded 'F' company itself!"
"But is it usual," I queried, "for you gentlemen to refuse promotion when offered—I don't mean to not seek it—to remain with your old companies? Would you stay in the ranks as a private when as a captain or major you might do better service?"
"Peutetre for the present," responded Wyatt—"Don't misunderstand us; we're not riding at windmills, and I sincerely hope you'll see us all with wreaths on our collars yet. But there's a tacit agreement that just now we can do more good in the ranks than anywhere else. For myself, I don't delight in drill and dirt, and don't endorse that sentimental bosh about the 'post of honor.' But our duty is where we can do most good, and our example will decide many doubtful ones and shame the laggard."
"And we'll all go out after a few fights, if we don't get popped off," put in George H., "and then we'll feel we've won our spurs!"
"Well, I'm not too modest to say that I think we are pretty expensive food for powder," said John C., "but then we're not worth more than the 'Crescents,' the 'Cadets,' or 'Hampton's Legion.' The colonel's sons are both in the ranks of the Legion, and refused commissions. Why should the best blood of Carolina do more than the best blood of Virginia?"
"And see those Baltimore boys," said Adjutant Y., of a Georgia legion. "They've given up home, friends and wealth to come and fight for us and the cause. They don't go round begging for commissions! If my colonel didn't insist I was more useful where I am, I'd drop the bar and take a musket among them. That sort of stock I like!" But if Lieutenant Y. had taken the musket, a stray bullet might have spoiled a most dashing major-general of cavalry.
"I fear very much," I answered, "that the war will be long enough for all the really good material to come to the surface. The preparations at the North are on a scale we never before dreamed of, and her government seems determined to enforce obedience."
"God forbid!" and Wyatt spoke more solemnly than I ever heard him before. "But I begin to believe as you do. I'd sooner risk my wreath than that 'the good material' you speak of should have the 'chance to come to the surface.' Think how many a good fellow would be under the surface by that time!"
"It sometimes sickens me on parade," said George H., "when I look down the line and think what a gap in our old set a volley will make! I think we are pretty expensive food for powder, John. Minies are no respecters of persons, old fellow; and there'll be many a black dress in Richmond after the first bulletin."
"God send we may all meet here after the war, and drink to the New Nation in Wyatt's sherry!" said Lieutenant Y. "It's better than the water at Howard's Grove. But the mare'll have hot work to get the adjutant into camp before taps. So, here's how!" and he filled his glass and tossed it off, as we broke up.
I have recorded the spirit of a private, everyday conversation, just as I heard it over a dinner-table, from a party of giddy young men. But I thought over it long that night; and many times afterward when the sickening bulletins were posted after the battles.
Here were as gay and reckless a set of youths as wealth, position and everything to make life dear to them could produce, going into a desperate war—with a perfect sense of its perils, its probable duration and its rewards—yet refusing promotion offered, that their example might be more beneficial in calling out volunteers.
And there was no Quixotism. It was the result of reason and a conviction that they were only doing their duty; for, I believe every man of those I had just left perfectly appreciated the trials and discomforts he was preparing for himself, and felt the advantages that a commission, this early in the war, would give him!
It may be that this "romance of war" was not of long duration; and that after the first campaign the better class of men anxiously sought promotion. This was natural enough. They had won the right to it; and the sacrifice of their good example had not been without effect. But I do think it was much less natural that they should have so acted in the first place.
Industry and bustle were still the order of the day in camp; and, in town, the activity increased rather than abated. There were few idlers about Richmond, even chronic "do-nothings" becoming impressed with the idea that in the universal work they must do something.
The name of Henry A. Wise was relied upon by the Government as a great power to draw volunteers from the people he had so frequently represented in various capacities. The commission of brigadier-general was given him, with authority to raise a brigade to be called the "Wise Legion," to operate in Western Virginia. Though there was no reason to think Wise would make a great soldier, his personal popularity was supposed to be sufficient to counterbalance that objection; for it was of the first importance to the Government that the western half of the State should be saved to the Confederate cause. In the first place, the active and hardy population was splendid material for soldiers, and it was believed at Richmond that, with proper pressure applied, they would take up arms for the South in great numbers; otherwise, when the Federal troops advanced into their country, they might go to the other side. Again, the products of the rich western region were almost essential to the support of the troops in Virginia, in view of contracted facilities for transportation; and the product of the Kanawha Salines alone—the only regular and very extensive salt works in the country—were worth a strenuous effort. This portion of Virginia, too, was a great military highway for United States troops, en route to the West; and once securely lodged in its almost impregnable fastnesses, their ejection would be practically impossible.
General Garnett—an old army officer of reputation and promise—was already in that field, with a handful of troops from the Virginia army; among them a regiment from about Richmond, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Pegram. The Federals, grasping at once the full importance of this position, had sent to meet this demonstration an army under General McClellan, with Rosecrans commanding the advance. There had been no collision, but its approach could not be long delayed; and the South wanted men.
In this posture of affairs, General Wise received his commission and orders. The old politician donned his uniform with great alacrity; called about him a few of the best companies of Richmond, as a nucleus; and went to work with all the vim and activity expected by those who knew him best. The "Richmond Light Infantry Blues"—the oldest company in Richmond, commanded by his son—was foremost among them. "Co. F" was to go West, too; and though its members, one and all, would have preferred a more promising sphere of duty, at Yorktown, or on the Potomac, every man acquiesced with cheerful spirit.
"Sair was the weeping" of the matrons and maidens of Richmond, when told their darlings were to go; but their sorrow did not prevent the most active demonstrations toward the comfort of the outer and inner man.
"Not a pleasant summer jaunt we're to have, old man," Wyatt said when he bade me good-bye. "I've been to that country hunting and found it devilish fine; but 'tisn't so fine by half when you're hunting a Yank, who has a long-range rifle and is likewise hunting for you. Then I've an idea of perpetual snow—glaciers—and all that sort of thing. I feel like the new John Franklin. But I'll write a book—'Trapping the Yank in the Ice-fields of the South.' Taking title, eh? But seriously, I know we can't all go to Beauregard; and there'll be fighting enough all round before it 'holds up.' God bless you! We'll meet somewhere; if not before, when I come down in the fall to show you the new stars on my collar!"
Thus "Co. F" went into the campaign. Its record there is history. So is that of many another like it.
As I have tried to show, this spirit pervaded the whole South to an almost universal extent. Companies like these, scattered among the grosser material of the army, must have been the alloy that gave to the whole mass that true ring which will sound down all history! The coarse natures around could but be shamed into imitation, when they saw the delicately nurtured darlings of society toiling through mud knee deep, or sleeping in stiffening blankets, without a murmur! And many a charge has been saved because a regiment like the First Virginia or the Alabama Third walked straight into the iron hail, as though it had been a carnival pelting!
The man who tells us that blood has little effect must have read history to very little purpose; or have looked very carelessly into the glass that Nature hourly holds up to his view.
Wyatt was right when he said "there was nothing doing" socially. But there was much doing otherwise. The war was young yet, and each household had its engrossing excitement in getting its loved ones ready for the field. The pets of the ball-room were to lay aside broadcloth and kids; and the pump-soled boots of the "german" were to be changed for the brogan of the camp.
The women of the city were too busy now to care for society and its frippery; the new objects of life filled every hour. The anxieties of the war were not yet a twice-told tale, and no artificial excitements were needed to drive them away. The women of Virginia, like her men, were animated with a spirit of devotion and self-sacrifice. Mothers sent their youngest born to the front, and bade them bear their shields, or be found under them; and the damsel who did not bid her lover "God speed and go!" would have been a finger point and a scoff. And the flags for their pet regiments—though many a bitter tear was broidered into their folds—were always given with the brave injunction to bear them worthily, even to the death!
The spirit upon the people—one and all—was "The cause—not us!" and under the rough gray, hearts beat with as high a chivalry as—
"In the brave, good days of old, When men for virtue and honor fought In serried ranks, 'neath their banners bright, By the fairy hands of beauty wrought, And broidered with 'God and Right!'"
THE BAPTISM OF BLOOD.
On the afternoon of June 10, 1861, Richmond was thrown into a commotion—though of a different nature—hardly exceeded by that exciting Sabbath, "Pawnee Sunday." Jubilant, but agitated crowds collected at the telegraph offices, the hotels and the doors of the War Department, to get the news of the first fight on Virginia soil.
That morning the enemy had pressed boldly forward, in three heavy columns, against Magruder's lines at Big Bethel Church. He had been sharply repulsed in several distinct charges, with heavy loss, by D. H. Hill's regiment—the first North Carolina, and two guns of the Richmond Howitzers, commanded by Major John W. Randolph—afterward Secretary of War.
Naturally there was great and deep rejoicing over this news in all quarters and from all classes. None had expected a different general result; for the confidence in Magruder's ability at that time, and in the pluck of his troops, was perfect; but the ease and dash with which the victory had been achieved was looked upon as the sure presage of great success elsewhere.
Although the conduct of the fight had been in the hands of Colonel D. H. Hill—afterward so well known as a staunch and hard fighting officer—and his North Carolinians had illustrated it by more than one act of personal daring; still the cannon had done the main work and it was taken as a Richmond victory.
The small loss, too, where the home people had been so deeply interested, added a cheering glow to the news that nothing else could have given. Bowed and venerable men, little girls and tremulous old women spoke of the fight "we won." And why not? Were not their sons, and husbands, and brothers, really a part of them?
It was curious to see how prone the women were to attribute the result to a special interposition of Divine aid, and to share the laurels, gathered that bright June day, with a higher Power than rested in a Springfield rifle, or a 12-pr. howitzer.
"Don't you tell me one word, cap'n!" I heard an old lady exclaim in great ire, at the door of the War Department, "Provi-dence is a-fightin' our battles for us! The Lord is with us, and thar's his handwritin'—jest as plain!"
"Don't say nothin' agin' that, marm," answered the western captain, with Cromwellian sagacity; "but ef we don't help Providence powerful hard we ain't agoin' ter win!"
There was a perfect atmosphere of triumph all over the state. Troops lying in camp began to get restless and eager to go at once—even half-prepared as many of them were—to the front. Perfect confidence in the ability of the South to beat back any advance had been before the too prevalent idea of army and people; and the ease of the victory added to this conviction a glow of exultation over the invincibility of the southern soldier.
But the confidence begotten by the result had, as yet, a beneficial rather than a bad effect. Enlistments were stimulated and camps of instruction vied with each other in energy of preparation and close attention to drill. Every soldier felt that the struggle might be fierce, but would certainly be short; and the meanest private panted to have his share in the triumphant work while there was yet a chance. The women worked harder than ever; and at every sewing-circle the story of the fight was retold with many a glowing touch added by skillful narration. And while soft eyes flashed and delicate cheeks glowed at the music of the recital, needles glanced quicker still through the tough fabric for those "dear boys!"
Along the other army lines, the news from Magruder's inspired the men with a wild desire to dash forward and have their turn, before the whole crop of early laurels was gathered. An aide on General Beauregard's staff came down from Manassas a few days after Bethel, in charge of prisoners; and he told me that the men had been in a state of nervous excitement for an advance before, but now were so wild over the news, it was hard to restrain them from advancing of their own accord.
The clear-headed generals in command, however, looked over the flash and glitter of the first success, to the sterner realities beyond; and they drew the bands of discipline only tighter—and administered the wholesome tonic of regular drill—the nearer they saw the approach of real work.
The Government, too, hailed the success at Bethel as an omen of the future; but rather that it tested the spirit of the troops and their ability to stand fire, than from any solid fruits of the fight. They understood that it was scarcely a check to the great advance to be made; and though perhaps not "only a reconnaissance that accomplished its intention," as the Federal officers declared, it was yet only the result of such a movement. True, eighteen hundred raw troops, never under fire, had met more than double their number and fought steadily and well from nine o'clock till two; and had, besides, accomplished this with the insignificant loss of one killed and seven wounded!
But this was not yet the test that was to try how fit they were to fight for the principles for which they had so promptly flown to arms. The great shock was to come in far different form; and every nerve was strained to meet the issue when made.
The Ordnance Department had been organized, and already brought to a point of efficiency, by Major Gorgas—a resigned officer of the United States Artillery; and it was ably seconded by the Tredegar Works. All night long the dwellers on Gamble's Hill saw their furnaces shine with a steady glow, and the tall chimneys belch out clouds of dense, luminous smoke into the night. At almost any hour of the day, Mr. Tanner's well-known black horses could be seen at the door of the War Department, or dashing thence to the foundry, or one of the depots. As consequence of this energy and industry, huge trains of heavy guns, and improved ordnance of every kind, were shipped off to the threatened points, almost daily, to the full capacity of limited rolling stock on the roads. The new regiments were rapidly armed; their old-style muskets exchanged for better ones, to be in their turn put through the improving Tredegar process. Battery equipments, harness works, forges—in fact, all requirements for the service—were at once put in operation under the working order and system introduced into the bureaux. The efficiency of the southern artillery—until paralyzed by the breaking down of its horses—is sufficient proof how this branch was conducted.
The Medical Department—to play so important and needful a part in the coming days of blood—was now thoroughly reorganized and placed on really efficient footing. Surgeons of all ages—some of first force and of highest reputation in the South—left home and practice, to seek and receive positions under it. These, on passing examination and receiving commission, were sent to points where most needed, with full instructions to prepare to the utmost for the comfort of the sick and wounded. Medicines, instruments, stretchers and supplies of all sorts were freely sent to the purveyors in the field—where possible, appointed from experienced surgeons of the old service; while the principal hospitals and depots in Richmond were put in perfect order to receive their expected tenants, under the personal supervision of the Surgeon-General.
The Quartermaster's Department, both for railroad transportation and field service, underwent a radical change, as experience of the early campaign pointed out its imperfections. This department is the life of the army—the supplies of every description must be received through its hands. Efficiently directed, it can contribute to the most brilliant results, and badly handled, can thwart the most perfectly matured plans of genius, or generalship.
Colonel A. C. Myers, who was early made Acting Quartermaster-General, had the benefit of the assistance and advice of an able corps of subordinates—both from the old service and from the active business men of the South; and, whatever may have been its later abuses, at this time the bureau was managed with an efficiency and vigor that could scarcely have been looked for in so new an organization.
The Commissariat alone was badly managed from its very inception. Murmurs loud and deep arose from every quarter against its numerous errors and abuses; and the sagacity of Mr. Davis—so entirely approved elsewhere—was in this case more than doubted. Colonel Northrop had been an officer of cavalry, but for many years had been on a quasi sick-leave, away from all connection with any branch of the army—save, perhaps, the paymaster's office. The reason for his appointment to, perhaps, the most responsible bureau of the War Department was a mystery to people everywhere.
Suddenly the news from Rich Mountain came. It fell like a thunderbolt from the summer sky, that the people deluded themselves was to sail over them with never a cloud! The flood-tide of success, upon which they had been floating so gaily, was suddenly dammed and flowed back upon them in surges of sullen gloom.
The southern masses are essentially mercurial and are more given to sudden extremes of hope and despondency than any people in the world—except, perhaps, the French. Any event in which they are interested can, by a partial success, carry them up to a glowing enthusiasm, or depress them to zero by its approach to failure. The buzz and stir of preparation, the constant exertion attending it and their absorbing interest in the cause, had all prepared the people, more than ordinarily even, for one of these barometric shiftings. The news from Bethel had made them almost wild with joy and caused an excessive elation that could ill bear a shock. The misfortune at Rich Mountain threw a corresponding gloom over the whole face of affairs; and, as the success at Bethel had been overrated from the Potomac to the Gulf, so this defeat was deemed of more serious importance than it really was.
This feeling in Richmond was much aggravated by her own peculiar loss. Some of her best men had been in the fight, and all that could be learned of them was that they were scattered, or shot. Garnett was dead; the gallant DeLagnel was shot down fighting to the last; and Pegram was a prisoner—the gallant regiment he led cut up and dispersed!
Only a few days before, a crowd of the fairest and most honored that Richmond could boast had assembled at the depot to bid them God speed! Crowds of fellow soldiers had clustered round them, hard hands had clasped theirs—while bright smiles of cheer broke through the tears on softest cheeks; and, as the train whirled off and the banner that tender hands had worked—with a feeling "passing the love of woman"—waved over them, wreathed with flowers, not a heart was in the throng but beat high with anticipation of brave deed and brilliant victory following its folds.
Scarcely had these flowers withered when the regiment—shattered and beaten—was borne down by numbers, and the flag itself sullied and torn by the tramp of its conquerors. And the shame of defeat was much heightened to these good people, by the agonies of suspense as to the fate of their loved ones. It was three days after the news of the disaster reached the War Department before the death of Garnett was a certainty; and longer time still elapsed ere the minor casualties were known. When they did come, weeping sounded through many a Virginia home for its stay, or its darling, stark on the distant battle-field, or carried into captivity.
The details of the fight were generally and warmly discussed, but with much more of feeling than of knowledge of their real bearings. Public opinion fixed the result decidedly as the consequence of want of skill and judgment, in dividing the brigade at a critical moment. There was a balm in the reflection, however, that though broken and beaten, the men had fought well in the face of heavy odds; and that their officers had striven by every effort of manhood to hold them to their duty. General Garnett had exposed himself constantly, and was killed by a sharp-shooter at Carrock's Ford—over which he had brought the remnant of his army by a masterly retreat—while holding the stream at the head of a small squad. Pegram fought with gallantry and determination. He felt the position untenable and had remonstrated against holding it; yet the admirable disposition of his few troops, and the skill and courage with which he had managed them, had cost the enemy many a man before the mountain was won. Captured and bruised by the fall of his horse, he refused to surrender his sword until an officer, his equal in rank, should demand it. DeLagnel cheered his men till they fell between the guns they could no longer work; then seized the rammer himself and loaded the piece till he, too, was shot down. Wounded, he still fought with his pistol, till a bayonet thrust stretched him senseless.
These brilliant episodes illustrated the gloomy story of the defeat; but it still caused very deep and general depression. This was only partly relieved by the news that followed so closely upon it, of the brilliant success of General Price's army at Carthage. Missouri was so far away that the loudest shouts of victory there could echo but dimly in the ears at Richmond, already dulled by Rich Mountain. Still, it checked the blue mood of the public to some extent; and the Government saw in it much more encouragement than the people.
There had been much doubt among the southern leaders as to the materiel of the western armies, on both sides. Old and tried officers felt secure, ceteris paribus, of success against the northern troops of the coast, or Middle States; but the hardy hunters from the West and North-west were men of a very different stamp. The resources of the whole country had been strained to send into Virginia such an army in numbers and equipment as the preparation for invasion of her borders seemed to warrant. This had left the South and South-west rather more thinly garrisoned than all deemed prudent. The grounds for security in Virginia were that the mass of the southern troops were thoroughly accustomed to the use of arms and perfectly at home on horseback; and no doubts were felt that the men of the North-eastern States, there opposed to them, were far below them in both requirements. The superior excellence of the latter in arms, equipment, and perhaps discipline, was more than compensated to the former by their greater familiarity with the arms they carried and their superiority of physique and endurance. Any advantage of numbers, it was argued, was made up by the fact of the invading army being forced to fight on the ground chosen by the invaded; and in the excellence of her tacticians, rather more than in any expected equality of numbers, the main reliance of the southern government was placed. Hence it was full of confidence as to the result in the East.
In the West, it was far different. There the armies of the United States were recruited from the hardy trappers and frontiersmen of the border; from the sturdy yeomen of the inland farms; and, in many instances, whole districts had separated, and men from adjoining farms had gone to join in a deadly fight, in opposing ranks. Though the partisan spirit with these was stronger than with other southern troops—for they added the bitterness of personal hate to the sectional feeling—yet thinking people felt that the men themselves were more equally matched in courage, endurance and the knowledge of arms.
It is an old axiom in war, that when the personnel of armies is equal, victory is apt to rest with numbers. In the West, the United States not only had the numbers in their favor, but they were better equipped in every way; and the only hope of the South was in the superiority of its generals in strategic ability.
Thus, the fight at Carthage was viewed by the Government as a test question of deep meaning; and Sterling Price began at once to rank as a rising man. The general gloom through the country began to wear off, but that feeling of overweening confidence, in which the people had so universally indulged, was much shaken; and it was with some misgivings as to the perfect certainty of success that they began to look upon the tremendous preparations for the Virginia campaign, to which the North was bending its every effort, under the personal supervision of General Scott. The bitterness that the mass of the people of the South—especially in Virginia—felt against that officer did not affect their exalted opinion of his vast grasp of mind and great military science. The people, as a body, seldom reason deeply upon such points; and it would probably have been hard to find out why it was so; but the majority of his fellow-statesmen certainly feared and hated "the general" in about an equal degree. It was a good thing for the South that this was the case; and that the mighty "On to Richmond!"—the clang of which was resounding to the farthest limits of the North and sending its threatening echoes over the Potomac—was recognized by them as a serious and determined attempt upon the new Capital.
Every fresh mail, through "the blockade," brought more and more astounding intelligence of these vast preparations. Every fresh cap that was exploded, every new flag that was broidered, was duly chronicled by the rabid press. The editors of the North seemed to have gone military mad; and when they did not dictate plans of battles, lecture their government and bully its generals, they told wondrous stories of an army that Xerxes might have gaped to see.
All the newspaper bombast could easily be sifted, however; and private letters from reliable sources of intelligence over the Potomac all agreed as to the vast scale and perfection of arrangement of the onward movement. The public pulse in the South had settled again to a steady and regular beat; but it visibly quickened as the time of trial approached.
And that time could not be long delayed!
The army of Virginia was in great spirits. Each change of position—every fresh disposition of troops—told them that their leaders expected a fight at any moment; and they panted for it and chafed under the necessary restraints of discipline, like hounds in the leash.
When General Johnston took command of the "Army of the Shenandoah" at Harper's Ferry, he at once saw that with the small force at his command the position was untenable. To hold it, the heights on both sides of the river commanding it would have to be fortified, and a clear line of communication maintained with his base.
General McClellan, with a force equal to his, was hovering about Romney and the upper Valley, ready at any moment to swoop down upon his flank and make a junction with Patterson, who was in his front, thus crushing him between them. Patterson was threatening Winchester, at which point he would be able to cut Johnston's supplies and at the same time effect his desired junction with McClellan.
To prevent this, about the middle of June, General Johnston evacuated Harper's Ferry, destroying the magazines and a vast amount of property, and fell back to Winchester. Then, for one month, Patterson and he played at military chess, on a field ranging from Winchester to Martinsburg, without advantage on either side. At the end of that time—on the 15th of July—the former made his grand feint of an advance, which Colonel Jeb Stuart—who was scouting in his front—declared to be a real movement; warning General Johnston that the blow was at last to fall in earnest. This warning the clear-headed and subtle tactician took in such part, that he at once prepared to dispatch his whole force to Manassas to join Beauregard. Well did General Scott say, "Beware of Johnston's retreats;" for—whatever the country may have thought of it at the time—the retreat from Harper's Ferry culminated in the battle of Manassas!
Meanwhile, in Richmond the excitement steadily rose, but the work of strengthening the defenses went steadily on. Fresh troops arrived daily—from the South by cars—from the West by railroad and canal; and from the country around Richmond they marched in. Rumors of the wildest and most varied sort could be heard at any hour. Now Magruder had gained a terrible victory at Big Bethel, and had strewn the ground for miles with the slain and spoils! Then Johnston had met the enemy at Winchester and, after oceans of blood, had driven him from the field in utter rout! Again Beauregard had cut McDowell to pieces and planted the stars-and-bars over Alexandria and Arlington Heights! Such was the morbid state of the public mind that any rumor, however fanciful, received some credit.
Each night some regiments broke camp noiselessly and filed through the streets like the army of specters that
"Beleaguered the walls of Prague,"
to fill a train on the Central, or Fredericksburg road, en route for Manassas. Constantly, at gray dawn the dull, rumbling sound, cut sharply by the clear note of the bugle, told of moving batteries; and the tramp of cavalry became so accustomed a sound, that people scarcely left their work even to cheer the wild and rugged-looking horsemen passing by.
Then it began to be understood, all over the country, that the great advance would be over the Potomac; that the first decisive battle would be joined by the Army of the Shenandoah, or that of Manassas.
A hushed, feverish suspense—like the sultry stillness before the burst of the storm-brooded over the land, shared alike by the people and government.
My old friend—the colonel of the "Ranche" and "Zouave" memory—was stationed at Richmond headquarters. Many were the tribulations that sorely beset the soul of that old soldier and clubman. He had served so long with regulars that he could not get accustomed to the irregularities of the "mustangs," as he called the volunteers; many were the culinary grievances of which he relieved his rotund breast to me; and numerous were the early bits of news he confidentially dropped into my ear, before they were known elsewhere.
The evening of the 18th of July—hot, sultry and threatening rain—had been more quiet than usual. Not a rumor had been set afloat; and the monotony was only broken by a group of officers about the "Spotswood" discussing Bethel, Rich Mountain and the chances of the next fight. One of them, with three stars on his collar, had just declared his conviction:
"It's only a feint, major! McDowell is too old a soldier to risk a fight on the Potomac line—too far from his base, sir! He'll amuse Beauregard and Johnston while they sweep down on Magruder. I want my orders for Yorktown. Mark my words! What is it, adjutant?" The colonel talked on as he opened and read a paper the lieutenant handed him—"Hello! Adjutant, read that! Boys, I'm off for Manassas to-night. Turning my back on a fight, by ——!"
Just then I felt a hand on my shoulder; and turning, saw my colonel with his round face—graver than usual—near mine. The thought of some devilish invention in the pudding line flashed across me, but his first word put cooks and dinners out of my mind.
"The ball's open, egad!" he said seriously. "We whipped McDowell's advance at Bull Run to-day, sir! Drove 'em back, sir! Did you hear that mustang colonel? Turning his back on a fight! Egad, he'll turn his stomach on it before the week's out!"
It was true. How McDowell's right had essayed to cross at Blackburn's Ford; how Longstreet's Virginians and the Washington Artillery met them; and how, after a sharp fight, they retired and gave up the ford is too well known history to be repeated here.
In an hour the news was public in Richmond and—though received with a deep, grave joy—braced every nerve and steadied every pulse in it. There was no distaste to face the real danger when it showed itself; it was only the sickening suspense that was unbearable. No one in the city had really doubted the result, from the first; and the news from the prelude to the terrible and decisive fight, yet to come, but braced the people, as a stimulant may the fevered patient.
The heavy pattering of the first drops had come, and the strained hush was broken.
Beauregard telegraphed that the success of Bull Run was complete; that his men had borne their baptism of fire, with the steadiness of veterans; and that a few days—hours, perhaps—must bring the general assault upon his lines.
He urged that every available man should be sent him; and within twenty-four hours from the receipt of his despatch, there was not a company left in Richmond that had arms to carry him.
Surgeons were sent up; volunteer doctors applied by dozens for permission to go; ambulance trains were put upon the road, in readiness at a moment's warning. Baskets of delicacies and rare old wines and pure liquors; great bundles of bandages and lint, prepared by the daintiest fingers in the "Old Dominion;" cots, mattresses and pillows—all crowded in at the medical purveyor's. Then Richmond, having done all she could for the present, drew a deep breath and waited.
But she waited not unhopefully!
Every eye was strained to Manassas plains; every heart throbbed stronger at the mention of that name. All knew that there the giants were soon to clinch in deadly wrestle for the mastery; that the struggle was now at hand, when the flag of the South would be carried high in triumph or trampled in the dust!
But no one doubted the true hearts and firm hands that had gathered there to uphold that banner!
No one doubted that, though the best blood of the South might redden its folds, it would still float proudly over the field—consecrated, but unstained!
By noon on the 21st of July the quidnuncs found out that the President had left that morning, on a special train and with a volunteer staff, for Manassas. This set the whole tribe agog, and wonderful were the speculations and rumors that flew about. By night, certain news came that the battle had raged fiercely all day, and the sun had gone down on a complete, but bloody, victory. One universal thrill of joy went through the city, quickly stilled and followed by the gasp of agonized suspense. The dense crowds, collected about all probable points of information, were silent after the great roar of triumph went up at the first announcement. The mixed pressure of grave, voiceless thankfulness and strained anxiety, was too deep for words; and they stood still—expectant.
By midnight the main result of the day's fight was known beyond a doubt; how the enemy, in heavy masses, had attacked the Confederate left, and hurled it back and around, entirely flanking it; how the raw troops had contested every inch of ground with stubborn valor, but still gave way until the change of front had made itself; how the supports brought up from the right and center—where a force had to be maintained to face the masses threatening them—came only to meet fresh masses that they could only check, not break; how the battle was at one time really lost!
When science had done all it could to retrieve the day, but the most obstinate even of the southern troops—after doing more than desperate courage and determined pluck could warrant—were breaking and giving way, then the wild yell of Elzey's brigade broke through the pines like a clarion! On came that devoted band, breathless and worn with their run from the railroad; eight hundred Marylanders—and only two companies of these with bayonets—leading the charge! On they came, their yells piercing the woods before they are yet visible; and, as if by magic, the tide of battle turned! The tired, worn ranks, all day battered by the ceaseless hail of death, catch that shout, and answering it, breast the storm again; regiment after regiment hears the yell, and echoes it with a wild swelling chorus! And ever on rush the fresh troops—past their weary brothers, into the hottest of the deadly rain of fire—wherever the blue coats are thickest! Their front lines waver—General Smith falls, but Elzey gains the crest of the plateau—like a fire in the prairie spreads the contagion of fear—line after line melts before the hot blast of that charge—a moment more and the "Grand Army" is mixed in a straining, struggling, chaotic mass in the race for life—the battle is won!
I have heard the fight discussed by actors in it on both sides; have read accounts from northern penny a-liners, and English correspondents whose pay depended upon their neutrality; and all agree that the battle was saved by the advent of Kirby Smith, just at that critical moment when the numbers of the North were sweeping resistlessly over the broken and worn troops of the South. Elzey's brigade no doubt saved the day, for they created the panic.
"But I look upon it as a most causeless one," once said an Austrian officer to me, "for had the Federals stood but half an hour longer—which, with their position and supports, there was no earthly reason for their not doing—there could have been but one result. Smith's forces could not have held their own that much longer against overwhelming numbers; and the weary troops who had been fighting all day could not even have supported them in a heavy fight. Had Smith reached the scene of action at morning instead of noon, he, too, might have shared the general fate, and a far different page of history been written. Coming as he did, I doubt not the battle turned upon his advent. The main difference I see," he added, "is that the Confederates were whipped for several hours and didn't know it; but just as the Federals found it out and were about to close their hands upon the victory already in their grasp, they were struck with a panic and ran away from it!"
By midnight the anxious crowds in Richmond streets knew that the fight was over,
"And the red field was won!"
But the first arrivals were ominous ones—splashed and muddy hospital stewards and quartermaster's men, who wanted more stretchers and instruments, more tourniquets and stimulants; and their stories threw a deeper gloom over the crowds that—collected at departments, hotels and depots—spoke in hushed whispers their words of solemn triumph, of hope, or of suspense. They told that almost every regiment had been badly cut up—that the slaughter of the best and bravest had been terrible—that the "Hampton Legion" was annihilated—Hampton himself killed—Beauregard was wounded—Kirby Smith killed—the first Virginia was cut to pieces and the Alabama troops swept from the face of the earth. These were some of the wild rumors they spread; eagerly caught up and echoed from mouth to mouth with a reliance on their truth to be expected from the morbid anxiety. No one reflected that these men must have left Manassas before the fighting was even hotly joined; and could only have gained their diluted intelligence from the rumors at way-stations. As yet the cant of camp followers was new to the people, who listened as though these terrible things must be true to be related.
There was no sleep in Richmond that night. Men and women gathered in knots and huddled into groups on the corners and doorsteps, and the black shadow of some dreadful calamity seemed brooding over every rooftree. Each splashed and weary-looking man was stopped and surrounded by crowds, who poured varied and anxious questioning upon him. The weak treble of gray-haired old men besought news of son, or grandson; and on the edge of every group, pale, beseeching faces mutely pleaded with sad, tearless eyes, for tidings of brother, husband, or lover.
But there was no despairing weakness, and every one went sadly but steadily to work to give what aid they might. Rare stores of old wines were freely given; baskets of cordials and rolls of lint were brought; and often that night, as the women leaned over the baskets they so carefully packed, bitter tears rolled from their pale cheeks and fell noiselessly on bandage and lint. For who could tell but that very piece of linen might bind the sore wound of one far dearer than life.
Slowly the night wore on, trains coming in occasionally only to disappoint the crowds that rushed to surround them. No one came who had seen the battle—all had heard what they related. And though no man was base enough to play upon feelings such as theirs, the love of common natures for being oracles carried them away; and they repeated far more even than that. Next day the news was more full, and the details of the fight came in with some lists of the wounded. The victory was dearly bought. Bee, Bartow, Johnson, and others equally valuable, were dead. Some of the best and bravest from every state had sealed their devotion to the flag with their blood. Still, so immense were the consequences of the victory now judged to be, that even the wildest rumors of the day before had not told one half.
At night the President returned; and on the train with him were the bodies of the dead generals, with their garde d'honneur. These proceeded to the Capitol, while Mr. Davis went to the Spotswood and addressed a vast crowd that had collected before it. He told them in simple, but glowing, language that the first blow for liberty had been struck and struck home; that the hosts of the North had been scattered like chaff before southern might and southern right; that the cause was just and must prevail. Then he spoke words of consolation to the stricken city. Many of her noblest were spared; the wounded had reaped a glory far beyond the scars they bore; the dead were honored far beyond the living, and future generations should twine the laurel for their crown.
The great crowd listened with breathless interest to his lightest word. Old men, resting on their staves, erected themselves; reckless boys were quiet and still; and the pale faces of the women, furrowed with tears, looked up at him till the color came back to their cheeks and their eyes dried. Of a truth, he was still their idol. As yet they hung upon his lightest word, and believed that what he did was best.
Then the crowd dispersed, many mournfully wending their way to the Capitol where the dead officers lay in state, wrapped in the flag of the new victory. An hour after, the rain descending in torrents, the first ambulance train arrived.
First came forth the slightly wounded, with bandaged heads, arms in slings, or with painful limp.
Then came ugly, narrow boxes of rough plank. These were tenderly handled, and the soldiers who bore them upon their shoulders carried sad faces, too; for happily as yet the death of friends in the South was not made, by familiarity, a thing of course. And lastly—lifted so gently, and suffering so patiently—came the ghastly burdens of the stretchers. Strong men, maimed and torn, their muscular hands straining the handles of the litter with the bitter effort to repress complaint, the horrid crimson ooze marking the rough cloths thrown over them; delicate, fair-browed boys, who had gone forth a few days back so full of life and hope, now gory and livid, with clenched teeth and matted hair, and eyeballs straining for the loved faces that must be there to wait them.
It was a strange crowd that stood there in the driving storm, lit up by the fitful flashes of the moving lanterns.
The whole city was there—the rich merchant—the rough laborer—the heavy features of the sturdy serving-woman—the dusky, but loving face of the negro—the delicate profile of the petted belle—all strained forward in the same intent gaze, as car after car was emptied of its ghastly freight. There, under the pitiless storm, they stood silent and still, careless of its fury—not a sound breaking the perfect hush, in which the measured tramp of the carriers, or the half-repressed groan of the wounded, sounded painfully distinct.
Now and then, as a limping soldier was recognized, would come a rush and a cry of joy—strong arms were given to support him—tender hands were laid upon his hair—and warm lips were pressed to his blanched cheek, drenched with the storm.
Here some wife, or sister, dropped bitter tears on the unconscious face of the household darling, as she walked by the stretcher where he writhed in fevered agony. There
"The shrill-edged shriek of the mother divided the shuddering night,"
as she threw herself prone on the rough pine box; or the wild, wordless wail of sudden widowhood was torn from the inmost heart of some stricken creature who had hoped in vain!
There was a vague, unconscious feeling of joy in those who had found their darlings—even shattered and maimed; an unbearable and leaden weight of agonizing suspense and dread hung over those who could hear nothing. Many wandered restlessly about the Capitol, ever and anon questioning the guard around the dead generals; but the sturdy men of the Legion could only give kindly and vague answers that but heightened the feverish anxiety.
Day after day the ambulance trains came in bearing their sad burdens, and the same scene was ever enacted. Strangers, miles from home, met the same care as the brothers and husbands of Richmond; and the meanest private was as much a hero as the tinseled officer.
It is strange how soon even the gentlest natures gain a familiarity with suffering and death. The awfulness and solemnity of the unaccustomed sight loses rapidly by daily contact with it; even though the sentiments of sympathy and pity may not grow callous as well. But, as yet, Richmond was new to such scenes; and a shudder went through the whole social fabric at the shattering and tearing of the fair forms so well known and so dear.
Gradually—very gradually—the echoes of the fight rolled into distance; the wildest wailing settled to the steady sob of suffering, and Richmond went her way, with only here and there a wreck of manhood, or pale-faced woman in deepest mourning, to recall the fever of that fearful night.
Though the after effect of Manassas proved undoubtedly bad, the immediate fruits of the victory were of incalculable value. Panic-struck, the Federals had thrown away everything that could impede their flight. Besides fifty-four pieces of artillery of all kinds, horses and mules in large numbers, ammunition, medical stores and miles of wagon and ambulance trains, near six thousand stand of small arms, of the newest pattern and in best condition, fell into the hands of the half-armed rebels.
These last were the real prize of the victors, putting a dozen new regiments waiting only for arms, at once on an effective war-footing. Blankets, tents and clothing were captured in bulk; nor were they to be despised by soldiers who had left home with knapsacks as empty as those of Falstaff's heroes.
But the moral effect of the victory was to elate the tone of the army far above any previous act of the war. Already prepared not to undervalue their own prowess, its ease and completeness left a universal sense of their invincibility, till the feeling became common in the ranks—and spread thence to the people—that one southern man was worth a dozen Yankees; and that if they did not come in numbers greater than five to one, the result of any conflict was assured.