Everything was going smoothly. The first rough outlines had been laid in, with bold effectiveness, a rosy cloud floated over the grim distance of the war; and in the foreground—only brilliant and victorious action.
The Confederate loss, too, was much smaller than at first supposed, not exceeding eighteen hundred; and many of the slightly wounded began already to hobble about again, petted by the communities and justly proud of their crutches and scars. The Federal loss was harder to estimate. Many of their wounded had been borne away by the rush of the retreat; the Government, naturally anxious to calm the public mind of the North, made incomplete returns; while large numbers of uncounted dead had been buried on the field and along the line of retreat, both by the victorious army and country people. From the best data obtainable, their loss could not have been much short, if at all short, of five thousand. The army was satisfied, the country was satisfied, and, unfortunately, the Government was satisfied.
Among the people there was a universal belief in an immediate advance. The army that had been the main bulwark of the National Capital was rushing—a panic-stricken herd—into and beyond it; the fortifications were perfectly uncovered and their small garrisons utterly demoralized by the woe-begone and terrified fugitives constantly streaming by them. The triumphant legions of the South were almost near enough for their battle-cry to be heard in the Cabinet; and the southern people could not believe that the bright victory that had perched upon their banners would be allowed to fold her wings before another and bloodier flight, that would leave the North prostrate at her feet. Day after day they waited and—the wish being father to the thought—day after day the sun rose on fresh stories of an advance—a bloody fight—a splendid victory—or the capture of Washington. But the sun always set on an authoritative contradiction of them; and at last the excitement was forced to settle down on the news that General Johnston had extended his pickets as far as Mason's and Munson's hills, and the army had gone into camp on the field it had so bloodily won the week before.
THE SPAWN OF LETHARGY.
Considering the surroundings, it seems inevitable that the lull after the first great victory should have been followed by reaction, all over the South; and that reasons—as ridiculous as they were numerous—should have been assigned for inaction that appeared so unwarranted.
Discontent—at first whispered, and coming as the wind cometh—gradually took tongue; and discussion of the situation grew loud and varied. One side declared that the orders for a general advance had been already given, when the President countermanded them upon the field, and sent orders by General Bonham to withdraw the pursuit. Another version of this reason was that there had been a council of the generals and Mr. Davis, at which it was agreed that the North must now be convinced of the utter futility of persisting in invasion; and that in the reaction her conservative men would make themselves heard; whereas the occupation of Washington would inflame the North and cause the people to rise as one man for the defense of their capital. An even wilder theory found believers; that the war in the South was simply one of defense, and crossing the Potomac would be invasion, the effect of which would retard recognition from abroad. Another again declared that there was a jealousy between Generals Johnston and Beauregard, and between each of them and the President, that prevented concert of action.
The people of the South were eminently democratic and had their own views—which they expressed with energy and vim—on all subjects during the war; so these theories, to account for the paralysis after Manassas, were each in turn discussed, and each found warm defenders. But gradually it came to be generally conceded that none of them could be the true one. The President took no command on his visit to Manassas, for he reached the field only after the battle had been won and the flight commenced. Any suggestions that occurred to him were naturally made to General Johnston. There is good authority for stating that he did not make any criticism on one material point, stating to both generals that the whole plan, conduct and result of the battle met his fullest approval; and on reflection the whole people felt that their chief was too much a soldier to have committed the gross breach of discipline indicated. The story of the council came to be regarded as a silly fabrication. The fear of inflaming the North, coming on the heels of a complete and bloody victory, was about as funny as for a pugilist whose antagonist's head was "in chancery" to cease striking lest he should anger him; and events immediately following Manassas showed there could be little jealousy or pique between the generals, or between them and the President. General Johnston, with the magnanimity of the true knight his whole career has shown him to be, declared that the credit of the plan and choice of the field of battle was due to General Beauregard; and Mr. Davis' proclamation on the success was couched in language that breathed only the most honest commendation of both generals and of their strategy. The fear of invasion prejudicing opinion abroad was as little believed as the other stories, for—outside of a small clique—there grew up at this time all over the South such a perfect confidence in its strength and its perfect ability to work its own oracle, that very little care was felt for the action of Europe. In fact, the people were just now quite willing to wait for recognition of their independence by European powers, until it was already achieved. So, gradually the public mind settled down to the true reasons that mainly prevented the immediate following up of the victory.
A battle under all circumstances is a great confusion. With raw troops, who had never before been under fire, and who had been all day fiercely contending, until broken and disordered, the confusion must necessarily have been universal. As they broke, or fell back, brigade overlapped brigade, company mixed with company, and officers lost their regiments. The face of the country, covered with thick underbrush, added to this result; so that when the enemy broke and the rout commenced, it was hard to tell whether pursuers or pursued were the most disorganized mass. The army of Manassas was almost entirely undisciplined, and had never before felt the intoxication of battle. On that terrible day it had fought with tenacity and pluck that belonged to the race; but it had largely been on the principle prevalent at weddings in the "ould country"—when you see a head, hit it! The few officers who desired a disciplined resistance soon saw the futility of obtaining it, and felt that as the men, individually, were fighting bravely and stubbornly, it were better only to hold them to that. When the pursuit came, the men were utterly worn and exhausted; but, burning with the glow of battle, they followed the flying masses fast and far—each one led by his own instincts and rarely twenty of a company together.
A major-general, who left his leg on a later field, carried his company into this fight. During the pursuit he led it through a by-path to intercept a battery spurring down the road at full speed. They overtook it, mastered the gunners and turned the horses out of the press. In the deepening twilight, he turned to thank the company, and found it composed of three of his own men, two "Tiger Rifles," a Washington artilleryman, three dismounted cavalry of the "Legion," a doctor, a quartermaster's clerk, and the Rev. Chaplain of the First ——!
This was but a specimen of the style of the pursuit. There was but little cavalry—one regiment under Lieutenant-Colonel Stuart and a few single companies. No one brigade could be collected in anything like order; night was deepening and the enemy's flight was approaching what was reasonably supposed to be his reserve. Under these circumstances it was apparent that prudence, if not necessity, dictated calling in the pursuit by the disordered troops. General Bonham—the ranking officer in front—saw this plainly; and on his own authority gave the order that appeared most proper to him. I never heard that, at this time, it was objected to by his superior officers.
Moreover, it was not only the demoralization caused by the pursuit that was sufficient reason for not following up Manassas. The army, ordinarily, was not in a condition to advance into an enemy's country, away from its regular communications. In the first place, there was no transportation, and the arms were bad. It was a work of time to utilize the spoils; to distribute arms where most needed; to put the captured batteries in condition for use; and to replace with the splendid ambulances and army wagons, that had been prepared for the holiday march to Richmond, the hastily and clumsily-constructed ones already in use; and to so give out the captured horses as best to utilize them. This latter was of the utmost moment before an advance could be attempted. The Confederates were shorter of transportation—even of defective character—than of anything else; and for days after the fight the flood-gates of heaven seemed to stand open, to deluge the country around Manassas until it became a perfect lake of mud. Roads already bad were washed into gullies; holes generally knee-deep became impassable. It is perfectly easy, therefore, to understand why, for a week after the battle, delay was necessary; but as week after week passed, and there was still no forward movement, it ceased to be strange that the people should murmur, and ask why it was the army was satisfied with laurels easily won when fresh ones were within its grasp. All felt that veteran officers handling raw troops had to be more careful in their management, and to count more closely before putting them into the new and dangerous position of an invading army, than would meet with the concurrence of a populace naturally ardent and doubly heated by triumph.
But it is equally true that for ten days after the battle, Washington lay perfectly at the mercy of the South; and by that time the army of Manassas was in better condition than could be expected later; and it was anxious to move forward.
But the auspicious moment was not seized; time was given for the broken fragments of the Union army to be patched again into something like organization. Fresh forts and earthworks were hastily thrown up; a perfect chain of defenses formed around Washington, and strongly garrisoned. The pickets of the opposing armies were near enough to exchange constant shots, and even occasional "chaff."
Still there was no movement; the summer wore away in utter inactivity. The camp at Orange Courthouse began to be looked upon as a stationary affair; while the usual difficulties of camp life—aggravated by the newness of the troops and the natural indisposition of the southron to receive discipline—began to show themselves. The army at this time was principally composed of the better educated and better conditioned class, who were the first to volunteer; and as I have already said, many of the privates were men of high position, culture and wealth. Thus composed, it was equal to great deeds of gallantry and dash. Elan was its characteristic—but it was hard to reduce to the stratified regularity of an army. Napier has laid down as an axiom that no man is a good soldier until he has become a perfect machine. He must neither reason nor think—only obey. Critics, perhaps equally competent, in reviewing the Crimean war, differ from this and declare the main advantage of the French troops over the Russian was a certain individuality—a pride in themselves and their army that had been entirely drilled out of their stolid adversaries. Be this as it may, the esprit de corps of the Frenchman was in his corps only as such; and he would no more have discussed the wisdom, or prudence of any order—even in his own mind—than he would have thought of disobeying it.
The steady-going professional men who sprung to arms throughout the South could face a deadly fire, without blenching, for hours; but they could not help reasoning, with nothing to do for twenty hours out of every twenty-four.
The gay young graduates of the promenade and ball-room could march steadily, even gaily, into the fiery belching of a battery, but they could not learn the practice of unreasoning blindness; and the staunch, hard-fisted countryman felt there was no use in it—the thing was over if the fighting was done—and this was a waste of time. Nostalgia—that scourge of camps—began to creep among the latter class; discontent grew apace among the former. Still the camp was the great object of interest for miles around; there were reviews, parades and division dinners; ladies visited and inspected it, and some even lived within its lines; but the tone of the army went down gradually, but steadily. During the summer more than one of Beauregard's companies—though of the best material and with a brilliant record—had to be mustered out as "useless and insubordinate." Excellence in drill and attention to duty both decreased; and it was felt by competent judges that rust was gradually eating away the fabric of the army. This was certainly the fault to a great extent of the officers, though it may, in part, have been due to the men themselves. In the beginning these had tried honestly to choose those among them best fitted for command; but like all volunteers, they fell into the grave error of choosing the most popular. Almost all candidates for office were equally eligible and equally untried; so personal considerations naturally came into play. Once elected, they did their duty faithfully, in the field; but were either too weak, or too inexperienced, to keep the strict rules of discipline applied during the trying inactivity of camp; and they were too conscious of the social and mental equality of their men to enforce the distinction between officer and private, without which the command loses half its weight. In some instances, too, the desire for popularity and for future advancement at the hands of friends and neighbors introduced a spirit of demagogism hurtful in the extreme.
For these combined reasons the army of Manassas, which a few weeks before had gone so gaily "into the jaws of death," began rapidly to mildew through warp and woof; and the whole texture seemed on the point of giving way.
Thoughtful men—who had waited calmly and coolly when the first burst of impatience had gone up—began now to ask why and how long this lethargy was to continue. They saw its bad effects, but believed that at the next blast of the bugle every man would shake off the incubus and rise in his might a patriot soldier; they saw the steady stream of men from North and West pouring into Washington, to be at once bound and held with iron bands of discipline—the vast preparation in men, equipments, supplies and science that the North was using the precious days granted her to get in readiness for the next shock. But they felt confident that the southern army—if not allowed to rust too long—would again vindicate the name it had won at Manassas.
These thinkers saw that some branches of the Government still kept up its preparations. Throughout the length of the land foundries were going up, and every improvement that science or experience could suggest was making in the construction of arms and ammunition; water-power, everywhere off the line of attack, was utilized for powder-mills and rope-walks; every cloth factory in the country was subsidized; and machinery of great variety and power was being imported on Government account. Over Richmond constantly hung a dense cloud of coal smoke; and the incessant buzz of machinery from factories, foundries and lathes, told of increased rather than abated effort in that branch of the Government. Then, too, the most perfect confidence was felt in the great strategic ability of General Johnston—who had already found that high level in the opinion of his countrymen, from which neither the frowns of government, the combination of cliques, nor the tongues of slanderers could afterward remove him.
They believed, too, in the pluck and dash of Beauregard; and, combining this with the outside activity, evident in every direction, felt there must be good and sufficient reason for the—to them—inexplicable quiet about the Potomac.
But perhaps the very worst feature was the effect of the victory upon the tone of the people at large. The very tongues that had wagged most impatiently at the first delay—that had set in motion the wild stories by which to account for it—had been the first to become blatant that the North was conquered. The minutest details of the fight were carried over the land, repeated at country courts and amplified at bar-room assemblages, until the common slang was everywhere heard that one Southron was equal to a dozen Yanks. Instead of using the time, so strangely given by the Government, in making earnest and steady strides toward increasing the army, improving its morale and adding to its supplies, the masses of the country were upon a rampage of boastfulness, and the notes of an inflated triumph rang from the Potomac to the Gulf.
In this regard the effect of the victory was most injurious; and had it not been for the crushing results—from a strategic point of view—that would have followed it, partial defeat might have proved a blessing in its place.
The one, while it threw a gloom over the country, would have nerved the people to renewed exertion and made them look steadily and unwaveringly at the true dangers that threatened them. The other gave them time to fold their hands and indulge in a complacency, ridiculous as it was enervating.
They ceased to realize the vast resources of the Union in men, money and supplies; and more than all, they underrated the dogged perseverance of Yankee character. It was as though a young boxer, in a deadly conflict with a giant, had dealt a staggering blow; and while the Titan braced his every muscle for a deadlier gripe, the weaker antagonist wasted his time lauding his strength and feeling his biceps.
Meantime, the keen, hard sense of the Washington Government wasted no time in utilizing the reaction on its people. The press and the public clamored for a victim, and General Scott was thrown into its maw unhesitatingly. The old hero was replaced by the new, and General McClellan—whose untried and inexperienced talent could hardly have augured his becoming, as he did, the best general of the northern army—was elevated to his place to please the "dear public."
The rabid crowds of men and men-women—whose prurient curiosity had driven them to follow the great on-to-Richmond, with hopes of a first view of the triumphant entry of the Grand Army—soon forgot their uncomfortable and terrified scramble to the rear. They easily changed their whine of terror to a song of triumph; and New England Judiths, burning to grasp the hair of the Holofernes over the Potomac, pricked the flagging zeal of their male companions.
The peculiar error that they were fighting for the Union and the flag—so cruelly dissipated of late—threw thousands into the ranks; heavy bounties and hopes of plunder drew many more; and the still frequent interstices were filled with many an Irish-German amalgam, that was supposed to be peculiarly good food for powder.
And so the summer wore on, the demoralizing influence of the inaction in the camps of the South increasing toward its close. The affair at Leesburg, occurring on the 20th of October, was another brilliant success, but equally barren of results. It showed that the men would still fight as readily and as fiercely, and that their officers would lead them as gallantly, as before; it put a few hundred of the enemy hors de combat and maintained "the right of way" by the river to the South. But it was the occasion for another shout of triumph—perfectly incommensurate with its importance—to go up from the people; and it taught them still more to despise and underrate the power of the government they had so far successfully and brilliantly defied.
Elsewhere than on the Potomac line, the case had been a little different. Magruder, on the Peninsula, had gained no success of note. A few unimportant skirmishes had taken place and the Confederate lines had been contracted—more from choice than necessity. But the combatants were near enough—and respected each other enough—for constant watchfulness to be considered necessary; and, though the personnel of the army was, perhaps, not as good as that of the Potomac, in the main its condition was better.
At Norfolk nothing had been done but to strengthen the defenses. General Huger had striven to keep his men employed; and they, at least, did not despise the enemy that frowned at them from Fort Monroe, and frequently sent messages of compliment into their camps from the lips of the "Sawyer gun." The echo of the paeans from Manassas came back to them, but softened by distance and tempered by their own experience—or want of it.
In Western Virginia there had been a dull, eventless campaign, of strategy rather than action. General Wise had taken command on the first of June, and early in August had been followed by General John B. Floyd—the ex-U.S. Secretary of War.
These two commanders unfortunately disagreed as to means and conduct of the campaign; and General R. E. Lee was sent to take general command on this—his first theater of active service. His management of the campaign was much criticised in many quarters; and the public verdict seemed to be that, though he had an army of twenty thousand men, tolerably equipped and familiar with the country, Rosecrans out-manoeuvered him and accomplished his object in amusing so considerable a Confederate force. Certain it is that, after fronting Lee at Big Sewell for ten or twelve days, he suddenly withdrew in the night, without giving the former even a chance for a fight.
The dissatisfaction was universal and outspoken; nor was it relieved by the several brilliant episodes of Gauley and Cotton Hill, that General Floyd managed to throw into his dark surroundings.
It is hard to tell how much foundation the press and the public had for this opinion. There had been no decisive disaster, if there had been no actual gain; and the main result had been to maim men and show that both sides would fight well enough to leave all collisions matters of doubt.
It may not here be out of place to correct a false impression that has crept into the history of the times regarding General Floyd. The courteous press of the North—and not a few political enemies who felt safety in their distance from him—constantly branded him as "traitor" and "thief." They averred that he had misused his position and betrayed the confidence reposed in him as U.S. Secretary of War, to send government arms into the South in view of the approaching need for them. Even General Scott—whose position must have given him the means of knowing better—reiterates these calumnies, the falsity of which the least investigation exposed at once.
Mr. Buchanan, in his late book, completely exonerates General Floyd from this charge; and the committee to whom it was referred reported that of 10,151 rifles distributed by him in 1860, the Southern and South-Western states received only 2,849!
Followed by the hate of one government to receive the coldness of the other, John B. Floyd still strove with all his strength for the cause he loved.
"After life's fitful fever he sleeps well"
in his dear Virginia soil; and whatever his faults—whatever his errors—no honest man, North or South, but must rejoice that his enemies even acquitted him of this one.
Then the results elsewhere had not been very encouraging when compared with the eastern campaign; though Sterling Price had managed to more than hold his own against all obstacles, and Jeff Thompson had been doing great things with little means in south-western Missouri.
Still, since Rich Mountain, no serious disaster had befallen Confederate arms, and the people were fain to be satisfied.
FROM COURT TO CAMP.
The winter of '61-2 set in early, with heavy and continued rains. By Christmas the whole surface of the country had been more than once wrapped in heavy snow, leaving lakes of mud over which no wheeled thing could work its way.
Active operations—along the whole northern frontier at least—were certainly suspended until spring; and both armies had gone into winter quarters. Military men agree that a winter in camp is the most demoralizing influence to which any troops can be subjected. To the new soldiers of the South it was a terrible ordeal—not so much from the actual privations they were called upon to endure as from other and more subtle difficulties, against the imperceptible approaches of which they could not guard. The Government had used every effort to make the men comfortable, and to supply them with all necessaries at its disposal; but still there were numerous articles it could not command.
The good caterers at home spared no pains, no exercise of ingenuity, and no pinching from fireside supplies, to make the loved ones in camp comfortable. The country had not begun to feel the effects of actual want in any quarter; but increased demand had lessened supplies on hand and somewhat enhanced prices; so the men were comfortably clothed, fed with plain, but plentiful and wholesome food, and supplied with all the absolute necessaries of camp life. In addition to these, boxes of all sizes, shapes and contents came into the camps in a continuous stream; and the thousand nameless trifles—so precious because bearing the impress of home—were received daily in every mess from the Rio Grande to the Potomac. Still, as the winter wore on, news from the armies became gloomier and gloomier, and each successive bulletin bore more dispiriting accounts of discontent and privation, sickness and death. Men who had gone into their first fight freely and gaily; who had heard the whistling of bullets as if it had been accustomed music, gave way utterly before the unseen foes of "winter quarters."
Here and there, a disciplinarian of the better sort—who combined philosophy with strictness—kept his men in rather better condition by constant watching, frequent and regular drills, rapid marches for exercise, and occasional change of camp. But this was the exception, and the general tone was miserable and gloomy. This could in part be accounted for by the inexperience of the men, and of their immediate commanders—the company officers—in whose hands their health and spirits were in no small degree reposed. They could not be brought to the use of those little appliances of comfort that camp life, even in the most unfavorable circumstances, can afford—strict attention to the utmost cleanliness in their persons and huts; care in the preparation of their food, and in its cookery; and careful adherence to the simple hygienic rules laid down in constant circulars from the medical and other departments. Where men live and sleep in semi-frozen mud, and breathe an atmosphere of mist and brush smoke—and every one knows the wonderfully penetrating power of camp-fire smoke—it is not to be expected that their comfort is enviably great; especially where they have left comfortable homes, and changed their well-prepared, if simple, food for the hard and innutritious army ration. But such creatures of habit are we that, after a little, we manage by proper care to make even that endurable.
Soldiers are like children, and require careful watching and constant reminding that these small matters—which certainly make up the sum of camp life—should be carefully attended to for their own good. Rigid discipline in their enforcement is necessary in the beginning to get novices properly started in the grooves. Once set going, they soon become matters of course. But once let soldiers get accustomed to careless and slovenly habits, and no amount of orders, or punishment, can undo the mischief. Unfortunately, the armies of the South began wrong this first winter, and the descent was easy; and they made the new road upon which they had entered far harder than necessary, by neglecting landmarks so plainly written that he who runs may read. Nostalgia—that scourge of camps—appeared in stubborn and alarming form; and no exertion of surgeon, or general, served to check or decrease it. Men, collected from cities, accustomed to stated hours of business and recreation, and whose minds were accustomed to some exercise and excitement, naturally drooped in the monotony of a camp knee in mire, where the only change from the camp-fire—with stew-pan simmering on it and long yarns spinning around it—was heavy sleep in a damp hut, or close tent, wrapped in a musty blanket and lulled by the snoring of half a dozen comrades.
Hale, sturdy countrymen, accustomed to regular exercise and hard work, with nothing to do all day but sun themselves and polish their bayonets, naturally moped and pined for the homes that were missing them so sorely. They, too, found the smoky blaze of the camp-fire but a sorry substitute for the cheerful hearth, where memory pictured the comely wife and the sturdy little ones. The hardy mountaineer, pent and confined to a mud-bound acre, naturally molded and panted for the fresh breezes and rough tramps of his far-away "roost."
The general morality of the camps was good, but praying is a sorry substitute for dry homes and good food; and, though chaplains were earnest and zealous, the men gradually found cards more exciting than exhortations. They turned from the "wine of life" to the canteen of "new dip" with a spiteful thirst. There were attempts by the higher officers—which proved abortive—to discountenance gambling; and the most stringent efforts of provost-marshals to prevent the introduction of liquor to camp reduced the quantity somewhat, but brought down the quality to the grade of a not very slow poison.
Being much in the numerous camps that winter, I was struck with the universal slouch and depression in ranks where the custom had been quick energy and cheerful faces. Through the whole army was that enervating moldiness, lightened only by an occasional gleam from those "crack companies" so much doubted in the beginning of the war.
It had been thought that the gay young men of cities, used to the sedentary life of profession, or counting-room—and perhaps to the irregularities of the midnight dinner and next-morning ball—that these men, steady and unflinching as they might be under fire—and willing as they seemed to undertake "what man dare" in danger or privation, would certainly break down under the fatigues of the first campaign.
They had, on the contrary, in every instance that came under my ken, gone through that campaign most honorably; had borne the marches, the most trying weather and the greatest straits of hunger, with an elasticity of mind and muscle that had long since astounded and silenced their most active scoffers. Now, in the bitter depths of winter, they went through the dull routine of camp, cheerful and buoyant, at all times ready for their duty, and never grumbling at the wearing strain they felt to be necessity. When I say that in every Confederate camp the best soldiers of that winter were "crack companies" of the gay youths of the cities, I only echo the verdict of old and tried officers. Where all did their duty nobly, comparison were invidious; but the names of "Company F," the Mobile Cadets, the Richmond Blues, and Washington Artillery, stand on the record of those dark days as proof of the statement. Many men from the ranks of these companies had already been promoted to high positions, but they had not yet lost their distinctive characteristics as corps d' elite; and admission to their ranks was as eagerly sought as ever. A strange fact of these companies was frequently stated by surgeons of perfect reliability: their sick reports were much smaller than those of the hardiest mountain organizations. This they attributed to two causes: greater attention to personal cleanliness and to all hygienic precautions; and the exercise of better trained minds and wills keeping them free from the deadly "blue devils." Numbers of them, of course, broke down at once. Many a poor fellow who would have achieved a brilliant future perished mid the mud of Manassas, or slept under the snowy slopes of the western mountains. The practice was kill or cure, but it was in a vast majority of cases, the latter; and men who stood the hardship thrived upon it.
The Marylanders, too, were a marvel of patience. Self-made exiles, not only from the accustomed comforts of home, but cut off from communication with their absent ones and harrowed by vague stones of wrong and violence about them—it would have been natural had they yielded to the combined strain on mind and matter. At midwinter I had occasion to visit Evansport and Acquia creek. It had been bitter cold; a sudden thaw had made the air raw and keen, while my horse went to his girths at every plunge. More than once I had to dismount in mire girth-deep to help him on. Suddenly I came upon a Maryland camp—supports to a battery. Some of the soldiers I had known as the gayest and most petted of ball-room and club; and now they were cutting wood and frying bacon, as if they had never done anything else. Hands that never before felt an ax-helve plied it now as if for life; eyes that were accustomed to look softly into
"The sweetest eyes that ever were,"
in the pauses of a waltz, now peered curiously in the reeking stew-pan. Many of their names recalled the history of days long gone, for their father's fathers had moved in stately pageant down its brightest pages; and blood flowed in their veins blue as the proudest of earth's nobility. They had left affluence, luxury, the caresses of home—and, harder than all, the habits of society—for what?
Was it thoughtlessly to rush foremost in the delirious shock of battle; to carelessly stand unflinchingly where the wing of death flapped darkest over the glare of the fight; to stand knee-deep in Virginia mud, with high boots and rough shirts, and fry moldy bacon over fires of wet brush? Or was it that the old current in their veins bounded hotly when they believed a wrong was doing; that all else—home—luxury—love—life!—faded away before the might of principle?
It was an odd meeting with the crowd that collected about me and anxiously asked the news from Richmond, from abroad, but above all, from home. Bronzed and bearded, their huge boots caked with Potomac mud and rough shirts open at their sunburnt throats; chapped hands and faces grimy with smoke and work, there was yet something about these men that spoke them, at a glance, raised above the herd. John Leech, who so reveled in the "Camps at Cobham," would here have found a companion-piece for the opposition of the picture.
"Hello, old boy! any news from home?" yelled a whiskered sergeant, jumping from a log where he was mending a rent in his pants, and giving me a hand the color of his favorite tan gloves in days lang syne—"Pretty tight work up here, you see, but we manage to keep comfortable!"—God save the mark!
"What do you think Bendann would give for a negative of me?" asked a splendid fellow leaning on an ax, the rapid strokes of which he stilled at my approach—"Not a half bad thing for a fancy ball, eh?" Charles street had no nattier man than the speaker in days gone; and the tailors had found him their pearl beyond price. But Hilberg's best was now replaced by a flannel shirt with many a rent, army pants and a jacket that had been gray, before mud and smoke had brought it near the unity of Joseph's best garment.
"I'd show well at the club—portrait of a gentleman?" he added lightly.
"Pshaw! Look at me! There's a boot for a junior assembly! Wouldn't that make a show on a waxed floor?" and little Charley H. grinned all the way across his fresh, fair face, as he extended a foot protruding from what had been a boot.
"D——l take your dress! Peel those onions, Charley!" cried a baldheaded man from the fire—"Don't your heart rise at the scent of this olla, my boy? Don't it bring back our dinners at the Spanish legation? Stay and dine with us—if Charley ever has those onions done—and you'll feast like a lord-mayor! By the way, last letters from home tell me that Miss Belle's engaged to John Smith. You remember her that night at Mrs. R.'s fancy ball?"
"Wouldn't mind having a bottle of Mrs. R.'s sherry now to tone up these onions," Charley said ruefully. "It would go well with that stew, taken out of a tin cup—eh, cookey?"
"We had lots better at the club," the cook said, thoughtfully stirring the mess on the fire—"It was laid in before you were born, Charley. Those were days, boys—but we'll drink many a bottle of it yet under the stars and bars!"
"That we will, old man! and I'll carry these boots to a junior assembly yet. But I would like a bottle of old Mrs. R.'s to drink now, faute de mieux, to the health of the Baltimore girls—God bless 'em!"
"That I would, too," said the sergeant. "But that's the hard part of it!"—and he stuck his needle viciously through the pants—"I always get savage when I think of our dear women left unpro——"
"No particular one, sergeant? You don't mean Miss Mamie on Charles street, do you? Insatiate archer!" cried Charley.
"Do your cooking, you imp! I mean my dear old mother and my sick sister. D——n this smoke! It will get in a fellow's eyes!"
When Miss Todd gave her picnic in the valley of Jehoshaphat and talked London gossip under the olives, it was an odd picture; it is strange to see the irrepressible English riding hurdles in the Campagna, and talking of ratting in the shadow of the Parthenon, as though within the beloved chimes of Bow; but it was stranger still to see those roughened, grimed men, with soleless boots and pants tattered "as if an imp had worn them," rolling out town-talk and well-known names in such perfectly natural manner.
And this was only a slice from any camp in the service. The gentlemen troops stood hardships better, and bore their troubles and difficulties with lighter hearts, than any of the mixed corps. It is true that few of them were left as organizations at the end of the war.
As the army increased, men of ability and education naturally sifted to higher place; but they wore their spurs after they had won them. They got their commissions when they had been through the baptism of blood and fire, and of mud and drudgery as well. They never flinched. The dreariest march—the shortest rations—the deepest snow and the midnight "long roll"—found them ready and willing. History furnishes no parallel. The bloods of the cavalier wars rode hard and fought long. They went to the battle with the jest upon their lips, and walked gaily to the scaffold if need be. But they not only died as gentlemen—they lived as they died. Their perfumed locks were never draggled in the mire of the camp, and their silken hose never smirched but in the fray. Light songs from dainty lips and brimming goblets from choice flacons were theirs; and they could be merry to-night if they died to-morrow.
The long rapiers of the Regency flashed as keen in the smoke of the fight as the jest had lately rung in the mistress' bower; and how the blase club man and the lisping dandy of Rotten Row could change to the avenging war god, the annals of the "Light Brigade" can tell.
But these lived as gentlemen. In the blackest hour, when none believed "the king should have his own again;" in the deadliest fray and in the snow-bound trench, they waved the sword of command, and the only equality they had with their men was who should fight the furthest.
But here were gentlemen born—men of worth and wealth, education and fashion—delving side by side with the veriest drudge; fighting as only gentlemen can fight, and then working as gentlemen never worked before!
Delicately bred youths who had never known rougher work than the deux temps, now trudged through blinding snows on post, or slept in blankets stiff with freezing mud; hands that had felt nothing harder than billiard-cue or cricket-bat now wielded ax and shovel as men never wielded them for wages; the epicure of the club mixed a steaming stew of rank bacon and moldy hard-tack and then—ate it!
And all this they did without a murmur, showing an example of steadfast resolution and unyielding pluck to the hardier and tougher soldiers by them; writing on the darkest page of history the clear axiom: Bon sang ne peut mentir!
SOCIETY AT THE CAPITAL.
But while everything was dull and lifeless in the camps of the South, a far different aspect was presented by its Capital. There was a stir and bustle new to quiet Richmond. Congress had brought crowds of attaches and hangers-on; and every department had its scores of dependents. Officers from all quarters came in crowds to spend a short furlough, or to attend to some points of interest to their commands before the bureaux of the War Department. The full hotels showed activity and life unknown to them. Business houses, attracted by the increased demands of trade and the new channels opened by Government necessities, sprang up on all sides; and the stores—though cramped by the blockade—began to brush off their dust and show their best for the new customers. Every branch of industry seemed to receive fresh impetus; and houses that had for years plodded on in moldy obscurity shot, with the rapidity of Jonah's gourd, up to first-class business.
The streets presented a scene of unwonted activity; and Franklin street—the promenade par excellence, vied with "the avenue" in the character and variety of the crowds that thronged its pavement. The majority of the promenaders were officers, their uniforms contrasting brightly with the more quiet dresses around. While many of them were strangers, and the peculiarities of every State showed in the faces that passed in rapid panorama, yet numbers of "Richmond boys" came back for a short holiday; almost every one bringing his laurels and his commission.
My friend, Wyatt, had kept his laughing promise, and showed me a captain's bars. General Breckinridge had found him hiding in the ranks, and had added A.A.G. to his title.
"Knew it, old man!" was his comment—"Virtue must be rewarded—merit, like water, will find its level. Captain Wyatt, A.A.G.—demnition neat, eh? Now, I'll be here a month, and we must do something in the social line. I find the women still industry mad; but the sewing-circles get up small dullabilities—'danceable teas,' as papa Dodd abroad calls them. They're not splendid to a used-up man, like you—not Paris nor yet Washington, but they'll show you our people."
And Wyatt was right. The people of Richmond had at first held up their hands in holy horror at the mere mention of amusement! What! with a war in the land must people enjoy themselves? Never! it would be heartless!
But human nature in Virginia is pretty much like human nature everywhere else; and bad as the war was, people gradually got used to "the situation." They had lost friends—a relation or two was pretty badly marked perhaps—but what glory the tens and hundreds left had gained! There was no fighting now; and the poor fellows in camp would be only too glad to know that their brothers-in-arms were being paid for their toils by the smiles of the fair. The great majority of the strangers, too, were young men who had been recommended to the mercy of the society by these very sufferers in camp.
Gradually these influences worked—the younger and gayer people indulged in the "danceable teas," Wyatt spoke of, after their sewing-circles. Imperceptibly the sewing was left for other times; and by Christmas there was a more constant—if less formal and general—round of gaiety than had been known for years. This brought the citizens and strangers more together, and naturally the result was a long season of more regular parties and unprecedented gaiety. Many still frowned at this, and, as usual, made unhappy Washington the scapegoat—averring that her pernicious example of heartlessness and frivolity had worked the evil.
These rigid Romans staid at home and worked on zealously in their manufacture of warm clothing, deformed socks and impossible gloves for the soldier boys. All honor to them for their constancy, if they thought they were right, and the harmless gaiety wrong; and they fought the good fight, from behind their abatis of knitting needles, only with the innocent weapons of tongue and precept. But human nature and inclination still held their own; and there were many defections from the ranks of the elect, to those of the more practical—and probably equally well-intentioned—pleasure-seekers.
But parties were by no means the only resource for pleasure-lovers. Anything that combined amusement and put dollars in the treasuries of charitable societies became the rage; and here the rigidly virtuous and the non-elect met on neutral ground. Among the amateurs of the city were some who would have taken high rank in any musical circle, and these gave a series of concerts for the benefit of distressed families of the soldiers. The performers were the most fashionable of the society; and, of course, the judgment of their friends—who crowded to overflowing the churches where the concerts were held—was not to be relied on. But critics from New Orleans and all parts of the South declared the performances creditable to any city. After them the audience broke up into little cliques and had the jolliest little suppers the winter produced, with the inevitable "lancers" until the smallest of small hours.
Then, there were charades and tableaux parties; while a few—more ambitious of histrionic fame—got up private theatricals. Altogether, in the gay set, the first winter of the war was one to be written in red letters, for old Richmond rang with a chime of merry laughter that for the time drowned the echo of the summer's fights and the groans of the wayside hospitals.
One unique point in the society of Richmond struck me with a constantly recurring surprise. I could not get accustomed to the undisputed supremacy of the unmarried element that almost entirely composed it. It constantly seemed to me that the young people had seized the society while their elders' heads were turned, and had run away with it for a brief space; and I always looked to see older people come in, with reproof upon their brows, and take charge of it again. But I looked in vain. One day at a dinner, I remarked this to my next neighbor; suggesting that it was only because of the war. She was one of the most charming women the society could boast—scarcely more than a bride, just out of her teens, beautiful, accomplished and very gay.
"Strangers always remark this," she answered; "but it is not the result of the war, or of the influx of strangers, as you suppose. Since I can remember, only unmarried people have been allowed to go to parties by the tyrants of seventeen who control them. We married folks do the requisite amount of visiting and teaing-out; and sometimes even rise in our wrath and come out to dinner. But as for a party—no! As soon as a girl is married, she must make up her mind to pay her bridal visits, dance a few weeks upon sufferance and then fold up her party dresses. No matter how young, how pretty, or how pleasant she may be, the Nemesis pursues her and she must succumb. The pleasant Indian idea of taking old people to the river bank and leaving them for the tide, is overstrictly carried out by our celibate Brahmins. Marriage is our Ganges. Don't you wonder how we ever dare to declare ourselves old enough?"
I did wonder; for it had always been a hobby of mine that a certain amount of the married leaven was necessary in every society to give it tone and stamina. Though the French principle of excluding young ladies from all social intercourse, and giving the patent of society to Madame, may be productive of more harm than good, the converse seems equally objectionable. I can recollect no society in which some of the most pleasant memories do not center around the intercourse with its married portion. Richmond is no exception to the rule. In the South, women marry younger than in the colder states; and it often happens that the very brightest and most attractive points of character do not mature until an age when they have gotten their establishment. The education of the Virginia girl is so very different in all essential points from that of the northerner of the same station, that she is far behind her in self-reliance and aplomb. There is, doubtless, much in native character, but more in early surroundings and the habit of education. The southerner, more languid and emotional, but less self-dependent—even if equally "up in" showier accomplishments—is not formed to shine most at an early stage of her social career. Firmer foothold and more intimate knowledge of its intricacies are necessary to her, before she takes her place as a woman of the world.
Hence, I was much puzzled to account for the patent fact that the better matured of its flowers should be so entirely suppressed, in the Richmond bouquet, by the half-opened buds. These latter, doubtless, gave a charming promise of bloom and fragrance when they came to their full; but too early they left an effect of immaturity and crudity upon the sense of the unaccustomed. Yet Richmond had written over the portals of its society: Who enters here no spouse must leave behind! and the law was of the Medan. A stranger within their gates had no right to cavil at a time-honored custom; but not one could spend a winter week in the good old town, and fail to have this sense of unfinishedness in her society fabric.
The fair daughters of the Capital are second to none in beauty, grace and the higher charm of pure womanhood. Any assembly showed fresh, bright and gentle faces, with constant pretty ones, and an occasional marked beauty. There is a peculiar, lithe grace, normal to the South, that is hard to describe; and, on the whole, even when not beautiful, there is a je ne sais quoi that renders her women very attractive.
The male element at parties ranged from passe beau to the boy with the down still on his cheek—ancient bachelors and young husbands alike had the open sesame. But if a married lady, however young in years or wifehood, passed the forbidden limits by accident—Vae victis!
She was soon made to feel that the sphere of the mated was pantry or nursery—not the ball-room. To stranger dames—if young and lively—justice a little less stern was meted; but even they, after a few offenses, were made to feel how hard is the way of the transgressor.
In a community like Richmond, where every one in the circle had played together in childhood, or was equally intimate, such a state of things might readily obtain. In a larger city, never. It spoke volumes for the purity and simplicity of the society that for years it had gone on thus, and no necessity for any matronage had been felt. But now the case was different—a large promiscuous element of military guests was thrown into it; and it struck all that society must change its primitive habit.
The village custom still prevailed in this—a gentleman could call for a lady—take her in his charge alone and without any chaperone—to a party and bring her back at the "we sma' hours." This was not only well, as long as the "Jeanette and Jenot" state of society prevailed, but it told convincingly the whole story of the honest truth of men and women. But with the sudden influx—when a wolf might so readily have imitated the guise of the lamb—a slight hedge of form could in no manner have intimated a necessity for it. Yet Richmond, in the proud consciousness of her simple purity, disdained all such precautions; and the informalities of the country town obtained in the salons of the nation's Capital.
But parties were not the only hospitalities the wanderers received at the hands of the Virginians. In no state in the country one becomes domesticated so soon as in the Old Dominion. You may come to any of its towns a perfect stranger, but with a name known to one prominent citizen, or fortified with a few letters from the right source, and in a time astonishingly short you find yourself at home. This has been time out of mind Virginian custom; and as Richmond is but a condensation of all that is Virginian, it prevailed here as well. If the stranger did not give himself up to the whirl and yield himself, "rescue or no rescue," to the lance of the unmarried, he could find, behind the chevaux de frise of clashing knitting-needles, the most genial welcome and most whole-souled hospitality.
"Stupid party last night—too full," criticised Wyatt, as he lounged in my room one morning. "You seemed bored, old man, though I saw you with Nell H. Desperate flirt—pretty, too! But take my advice; let her alone. It don't pay to flirt."—The ten years between the captain and myself were to my credit on Time's ledger—"It's all very well to stick up your pennon and ride gaily into the lists to break a lance with all comers. Society cries laissez aller! and her old dowagers shower largesse. Presto! my boy, and you find your back on the grass and your heels in the air. But I've some steady-going cousins I want to introduce you to. Suit you exactly."
Confound the boy! Where did he get that idea? But I was introduced to the "steady-going cousins" and to me now the Richmond of memory begins and ends in their circle. The jovial, pleasant family dinner around the old-time board; the consciousness of ready welcome to the social fireside, or partake of the muffin at eight, or the punch—brewed very near Father Tom's receipt—at midnight. Then the never-to-be-forgotten coterie of the brightest women of the day under the shaded droplight, in the long winter evenings! And none were excluded by the "steady goers" because they had committed matrimony. They did quantities of work that season; baskets of socks, bales of shirts and boxes of gloves, in numbers marvelous to see, went from that quiet circle to warm the frozen hands and feet, keeping watch and ward for them. And the simple words of cheer and love that went with them must have warmed hearts far colder than beat under the rough shirts they sent.
And never did the genial current of talk—sometimes chatty, sometimes brilliant—flag for a moment. The foremost men of government and army were admitted, and I doubt if ever the most ardent of the unmarried—wilting in the lancers, or deliquescing in the deux temps—found very much more genuine enjoyment than the "easy goers," over their distorted socks and impracticable gloves.
They talked of books, events and people, and no doubt gossiped hugely; but though some of the habitues were on the shady side of thirty and were sedately walking in the quiet parts of spinsterhood, I never heard one bitter—far less one scandalous, word!
Ferat qui meruit palmam! Let the green leaves adorn those wonderful women!
But the novelty most remarked in the society of this winter was the household of President Davis. Soon after the Government was firmly established in Richmond, the State of Virginia placed at his disposal a plain but comfortable house; and here—with only the ladies of his family and his private secretary—he lived with the quiet simplicity of a private citizen.
It will hardly be invading her sacra privata to say that the President's lady did everything to remove false ideas that sprung up regarding the social atmosphere of the "Executive Mansion." She was "at home" every evening; and, collecting round her a staff that numbered some of the most noted men and brilliant women both of the stranger and resident society, assured all her varied guests a warm welcome and a pleasant visit. In this circle Mr. Davis would, after the trying business of the day, give himself an hour's relaxation before entering on labors that went far into the night; and favored friends and chance visitors alike here met the man, where they expected the official.
Austere and thoughtful at all times, rarely unbending to show the vein of humor hidden deep under his stern exterior, and having besides "the divinity that doth hedge" even a republican president, Mr. Davis was never calculated for personal popularity. Even in the early days of his career he forced by his higher qualities—rather than sought by the arts of a trickster—the suffrages of his people; and they continued to cast their shells for him, even while they clamored that he was "the Just."
Whatever grave errors reflecting criticisms may lay at his door; whatever share in the ruin of the South, the future historians may ascribe to his unswerving self-will and unvarying faith in his own power—no one who traces his career from West Point to the New Saint Helena—will call them failings of the demagogue.
In these informal receptions of his lady, Mr. Davis said little; listening to the varied flow of talk that showed her equally cognizant and appreciative of social, literary and sterner topics. For the edification of the gayer visitor, she related odd experiences of her public life, with rare power of description and admirable flashes of humor. She discussed the latest book with some of the small litterateurs with whom she was infested; or talked knowingly of the last picture, or the newest opera, faint echoes from which might elude the grim blockaders on the coast.
Mr. Davis spoke little, seeming to find a refreshing element in her talk, that—as she pithily said of some one else—was like tea, that cheers but not inebriates. Occasionally he clinched an argument, or gave a keener point to an idea by a short, strong sentence.
After all had partaken of the cup of tea handed round informally, Mr. Davis retired to his study and once more donned his armor for battle with the giants without and the dwarfs within his territory.
These informal "evenings" began to grow popular with the better class of Virginians, and tended to a much more cordial tone between the citizens and their chief. They were broken by bi-monthly "levees," at which Mr. and Mrs. Davis received "the world and his wife."
But the formal "levee" was a Washington custom and smacked too much of the "old concern" to become very popular, although curiosity to see the man of the hour and to assist at an undress review of the celebrities of the new nation, thronged the parlors each fortnight. A military band was always in attendance; the chiefs of cabinet and bureaux moved about the crowd; and generals—who had already won names to live forever—passed, with small hands resting lightly on their chevrons, and bright eyes speaking most eloquently that old truism about who best deserve the fair.
More than once that winter General Johnston moved through the rooms—followed by all eyes and calling up memories of subtle strategy and hard-won victory. Sometimes the burly form of Longstreet appeared, ever surrounded by those "little people" in whom he delighted; and the blonde beard of Hood—whose name already began to shine with promise of its future brilliance—towered over the throng of leading editors, "senior wranglers" from both houses of Congress, and dancing men wasting their time in the vain effort to talk.
But not only the chosen ten thousand were called. Sturdy artisans, with their best coats and hands scrubbed to the proper point of cleanliness for shaking the President's, were always there. Moneyed men came, with speculation in their eyes, and lobby members trying to throw dust therein; while country visitors—having screwed their courage up to the desperate point of being presented—always dropped Mr. Davis' hand as if its not over-cordial grasp burned them.
But the "levees" on the whole, if odd exhibitions, were at least useful in letting the "dear public" have a little glimpse of the inner workings of the great machine of government. And they proved, even more than the social evenings, the ease of right with which Varina Howell Davis wore her title of "the first lady in the land."
The men of Richmond have spoken for themselves. They wrote the history of their class when they came forward—one and all, to sacrifice ease—affluence—life for the cause they felt to be just. There were some, as I shall hereafter endeavor to show, who were dwellers with them, but were not of them. These did nothing and gave nothing willingly for a cause in which they saw only a speculation. This is not the place to speak of such. They belong not to the goodly company of those who—whatever their weaknesses, or even their errors—proclaimed themselves honest men and chivalric gentlemen.
The young men of the whole South are off-hand and impulsive; either naturally careless in pecuniary matters, or made so by habit. Sowing wild oats is an almost universal piece of farming; and the crop is as luxuriant in the mountains of Virginia as in the overflowed lands of Louisiana.
Perhaps in Richmond they were not now seen from the most advantageous point of view. They were generally young planters from the country, reckless, jovial and prone to the lighter dissipations; or the young business and professional men, who rebounded from the routine of their former lives into a little extra rapidity. One and all—for the eyes they sought would not have looked upon them else—they had gone into the army; had fought and wrought well; and now with little to do, boon companionship and any amount of petting, they were paying for it. The constant strain of excitement produced much dissipation certainly—but it seldom took the reprehensible form of rowdyism and debauch. Some men drank deeply—at dinners, at balls and at bar-rooms; some gambled, as Virginians always had gambled—gaily, recklessly and for ruinous stakes. But find them where you would, there was about the men a careless pervading bonhomie and a natural high tone resistlessly attractive, yet speaking them worthy descendants of the "Golden Horse Shoe Knights."
As yet the influence of the Government was little felt socially. The presence of a large congregation of army men from the various camps had given an impetus to gaiety it would not otherwise have known; but this was all. There was little change in the habits and tone of social intercourse. The black shadow of Washington had not yet begun to spread itself, and its corrupt breath had not yet polluted the atmosphere of the good old town.
The presence of Congress, with its ten thousand followers, would hardly be considered as elevating anywhere. There is an odor of tobacco—of rum—of discredit—of anything but sanctity about the American politician that makes his vicinage unpleasant and unprofitable.
Congress had met in the quiet halls of the Virginia legislature. At first all Richmond flocked thither, crowding galleries and lobbies to see the might and intellect of the new nation in its most august aspect; to be refreshed and strengthened by the full streams that flowed from that powerful but pure and placid fountain; to hear words that would animate the faint and urge the ready to braver and higher deeds.
Perhaps they did not hear all this; for after a little they stopped going, and the might and majesty of the new giant's intellect was left severely to itself. Of the herd of camp-followers who over-flowed the hotels and filled the streets, little note was taken. An occasional curious stare—a semi-occasional inquiry as to who they were—and they passed even up Franklin street without more remark. To the really worthy in government or army, the cordial hand of honest welcome was extended.
The society unvaryingly showed its appreciation of excellence of intellect or character, and such as were known, or found to possess it, were at once received on the footing of old friends. But on the whole, the sentiment of the city was not in favor of the run of the new comers. The leaders of society kept somewhat aloof, and the general population gave them the sidewalk. It was as though a stately and venerable charger, accustomed for years to graze in a comfortable pasture, were suddenly intruded on by an unsteady and vicious drove of bad manners and low degree. The thoroughbred can only condescend to turn away.
Willing as they were to undergo anything for the cause, the Virginians could not have relished the savor of the new importations; nor can one who knows the least of the very unclean nature of our national politics for a moment wonder.
Montgomery had been a condensed and desiccated preparation of the Washington stew, highly flavored with the raciest vices. Richmond enjoyed the same mess, with perhaps an additional kernel or two of that garlic.
DAYS OF DEPRESSION.
The proverb that misfortunes never come singly soon became a painful verity in the South; and a terrible reaction began to still the high-beating pulses of her triumph.
The merry echoes of the winter had not yet died away, when it became oppressingly apparent that proper methods had not been taken to meet the steady and persevering preparations of the North. Disaster after disaster followed the arms of the South in close succession; and the spirits of all classes fell to a depth the more profound, from their elevation of previous joyance.
As early as the 29th of the previous August, a naval expedition under Commodore Stringham had, after a short bombardment, reduced the forts at Hatteras Inlet. In the stream of gratulation following Manassas, this small event had been carried out of sight; and even the conquest of Port Royal, South Carolina, by Admiral Dupont's fleet, on the 7th of November, had been looked upon as one of those little mischances that only serve to shade all pictures of general victory.
They were not taken for what they really were—proofs of the entirely defenseless condition of an immense sweep of coast, in the face of the heavy and increasing naval armament of the United States. They were considered reverses merely; inquiry went but little deeper and the lesson they should have taught was lost; while the inexplicable tardiness of the War Department left still more important points equally defenseless.
But the news of General Crittenden's utter defeat at Mill Springs, on the 17th of January—of the disastrous results of his miscalculation, or misguided impetuosity, and of the death of Zollicoffer—came with stunning effect; opening wide the eyes of the whole country to the condition in which apathy, or mismanagement, had left it.
As usual, too, in the popular estimate of a success, or a reverse, the public laid much stress on the death of Zollicoffer, who was a favorite both with them and the army. He was declared uselessly sacrificed, and his commanding general and the Government came in for an equal share of popular condemnation.
Mr. Davis soon afterward relieved Secretary Walker from the duties of the War Office; putting Mr. Benjamin in his seat as temporary incumbent. The latter, as before stated, was known as a shrewd lawyer, of great quickness of perception, high cultivation, and some grasp of mind; but there was little belief among the people that he was fit to control a department demanding decision and independence, combined with intimate knowledge of military matters. Besides Mr. Benjamin personally had become exceedingly unpopular with the masses. Whether this arose from the unaccountable influence he—and he alone—had with his chief, or whether the busy tongues of his private enemies received too ready credence, is hard to say. But so the fact was; and his elevation gave rise to scurrilous attacks, as well as grave forebodings. Both served equally to fix Mr. Davis in the reasons he had believed good enough for his selection.
Suddenly, on the 7th of February, Roanoke Island fell!
Constant as had been the warnings of the press, unremittingly as General Wise had besieged the War Department, and blue as was the mood of the public—the blow still fell like a thunder-clap and shook to the winds the few remaining shreds of hope. General Wise was ill in bed; and the defense—conducted by a militia colonel with less than one thousand raw troops—was but child's play to the immense armada with heaviest metal that Burnside brought against the place.
Roanoke Island was the key to General Huger's position at Norfolk. Its fall opened the Sounds to the enemy and, besides paralyzing Huger's rear communications, cut off more than half his supplies. The defeat was illustrated by great, if unavailing, valor on the part of the untrained garrison; by a plucky and determined fight of the little squadron under Commodore Lynch; and by the brilliant courage and death of Captain O. Jennings Wise—a gallant soldier and noble gentleman, whose popularity was deservedly great.
But, the people felt that a period must be put to these mistakes; and so great was their clamor that a congressional committee investigated the matter; and their report declared that the disaster lay at the door of the War Department. The almost universal unpopularity of the Secretary made this a most acceptable view, even while an effort was made to shift part of the blame to General Huger's shoulders. But wherever the fault, the country could not shake off the gloom that such a succession of misfortunes threw over it.
This feeling was, if possible, increased, and the greatest uneasiness caused in all quarters, by Burnside's capture of Newbern, North Carolina, on the 4th of March. Its defenses had just been completed at heavy cost; but General Branch, with a garrison of some 5,000 men, made a defense that resulted only in complete defeat and the capture of even his field artillery. Here was another point, commanding another supply country of great value to the commissariat, lost to the South. But worse still, its occupation gave the Federals an easy base for striking at the Weldon railroad.
Nowhere was the weakness of the South throughout the war shown more fully than in her utterly inefficient transportation. Here were the demands of the army of Virginia and of a greatly-increased population in and around Richmond, supplied by one artery of communication! Seemingly every energy of the Government should have been turned to utilizing some other channel; but, though the Danville branch to Greensboro'—of only forty miles in length—had been projected more than a year, at this time not one rail had been laid.
It is almost incredible, when we look back, that the Government should have allowed its very existence to depend upon this one line—the Weldon road; running so near a coast in possession of the enemy, and thus liable at any moment to be cut by a raiding party. Yet so it was. The country was kept in a state of feverish anxiety for the safety of this road; and a large body of troops diverted for its defense, that elsewhere might have decided many a doubtful battle-field. Their presence was absolutely necessary; for, had they been withdrawn and the road tapped above Weldon, the Virginia army could not have been supplied ten days through other channels, and would have been obliged to abandon its lines and leave Richmond an easy prey.
Meanwhile the North had collected large and splendidly-equipped armies of western men in Kentucky and Tennessee, under command of Generals Grant and Buell. The new Federal patent, "the Cordon," was about to be applied in earnest. Its coils had already been unpleasantly felt on the Atlantic seaboard; General Butler had "flashed his battle blade"—that was to gleam, afterward, so bright at Fort Fisher and Dutch Gap—and had prepared an invincible armada for the capture of New Orleans; and simultaneously the armies under Buell were to penetrate into Tennessee and divide the systems of communication between Richmond and the South and West.
General Albert Sidney Johnston was sent to meet these preparations, with all the men that could be spared from Western Virginia and the points adjacent to his line of operations. Still his force was very inadequate in numbers and appointment; while to every application for more men, the War Department replied that none could be spared him.
The Federal plan was to advance their armies along the watercourses, simultaneously with their gunboats—light draught constructions prepared expressly for such service; and, penetrating to any possible point, there form depots with water communication to their base. The Tennessee and Cumberland rivers were plainly their highways. The only defenses of these streams were Forts Henry and Donelson—weak works inefficiently garrisoned; for the half million appropriated by Congress for their defense at the eleventh hour could not have been used in time, even had the money been forthcoming from the treasury.
With scarcely a check to their progress, the Federals reduced and passed Fort Henry on the 4th of February, pressing on to Donelson, into and supporting which work, General Johnston had thrown General J. B. Floyd with some ten thousand troops under Pillow and Buckner. After three days' hard fighting, Floyd found the position untenable and further resistance impossible. He, therefore, turned over the command to Buckner—who refused to abandon the part of the garrison that could not escape—and, with General Pillow and some five thousand men, withdrew in the night and made good his escape.
During the siege of Donelson, Johnston evacuated Bowling Green and awaited its issue opposite Nashville. The result being known, it naturally followed that this city—undefended by works of any description and with an army inadequate to its protection—had to be abandoned. The retreat was at once commenced; and it was on that gloomy march that Forrest first made the name that now stands with so few rivals among the cavalry leaders of the world. Commanding a regiment of cavalry from his own section, he seemed as ubiquitous as untiring. Keeping a constant front to the enemy—now here, now there, and ever cool, dauntless and unflinching—he gave invaluable aid in covering the rear of that retreat. About this time, also, John H. Morgan began to make his name known as a partisan chief; and no more thrilling and romantic pages show in the history of the times, than those retailing how he harassed and hurt the Federals while in Nashville.
During the progress of these events on the Tennessee and Cumberland, Richmond had been shaken by alternate spasms of suspense and premature exultation.
Her citizens could scarcely yet realize that the hitherto despised Yankees had been able to march, almost unchecked, into the heart of a territory protected by southern forts, southern troops, and the noblest names in all her bright array. Feeling thus, they still placed some credence in any rumors that came.
One morning, news reached Richmond of a brilliant victory at Donelson, and it was received with wild rejoicing. Next night the War Department issued the stunning bulletin of the fall of Nashville! When this was generally believed, a gloom settled over the Capital, such as no event of the war had yet produced. The revulsion was too sudden and complete to be met by reason, or argument; the depression was too hopeless and despairing to be removed by any declaration of the valor of the defense, of the orderly character of the retreat, or of the far stronger position Johnston had gained by a concentration of his force on a ground of his own choice.
The very name of gunboat began to have a shuddering significance to the popular mind. A vague, shadowy power of evil far beyond that of any floating thing, ancient or modern, was ascribed to it; and the wild panic constantly created in the Federal mind the year before by the dreaded name of "Black Horse," or the mere mention of masked battery—was re-enacted by the South in deferential awe of those floating terrors.
Under this morbid state of gloom, the Government fell into greater and greater disfavor. Without much analytical reasoning, the people felt there must have been a misuse of resources, at least great enough to have prevented such wholesale disaster. Especial odium fell upon the War Department and reacted upon the President for retaining incapable—or, what was the same to them, unpopular—ministers in his council at such vital moment. The press—in many instances filled with gloomy forebodings and learned disquisitions on the I-told-you-so principle, fanned the flame of discontent. Mr. Davis soon found himself, from being the idol of the people, with nearly half the country in open opposition to his views.
At this moment, perhaps, no one act could have encouraged this feeling more than his relieving Floyd and Pillow from command, for abandoning their posts and leaving a junior officer to capitulate in their stead. Certainly the action of these generals at Donelson was somewhat irregular in a strictly military view. But the people argued that they had done all that in them lay; that they had fought nobly until convinced that it was futile; that they had brought off five thousand effective men, who, but for that very irregularity, would have been lost to the army of the West; and, finally, that General Johnston had approved, if not that one act, at least their tried courage and devotion.
Still, Mr. Davis remained firm, and—as was his invariable custom in such cases—took not the least note of the popular discontent. And still the people murmured more loudly, and declared him an autocrat, and his cabinet a bench of imbeciles.
Thus, in a season of gloom pierced by no ray of light; with the enemy, elated by victory, pressing upon contracting frontiers; with discontent and division gnawing at the heart of the cause—the "Permanent Government" was ushered in.
The 22d of February looked dark and dismal enough to depress still more the morbid sensibilities of the people. A deluge of rain flooded the city, rushed through the gutters in small rivers, and drenched the crowds assembled in Capitol Square to witness the inauguration.
In the heaviest burst of the storm, Mr. Davis took the oath of office at the base of the Washington statue; and there was something in his mien—something solemn in the surroundings and the associations of his high place and his past endeavor—that, for the moment, raised him in the eyes of the people, high above party spite and personal prejudice.
An involuntary murmur of admiration, not loud but heart-deep, broke from the crowds who thronged the drenched walks; and every foot of space on the roof, windows and steps of the Capitol. As it died, Mr. Davis spoke to the people.
He told them that the fortunes of the South, clouded and dim as they looked to-day, must yet rise from the might of her united people, to shine out as bright and glorious as to-morrow's sun.
It was singularly characteristic of the man, that even then he made no explanation of the course he had seen fit to take—no excuses for seeming harshness—no pledge of future yielding to any will but his own. The simple words he spoke were wholly impersonal; firm declaration that he would bend the future to his purpose; calm and solemn iteration of abiding faith that a united South, led by him, must be unconquerable.
There was a depth in the hearts of his hearers that discontent could not touch:—that even discontent had not yet chilled. They saw in him the representative man of their choice—headstrong certainly, erring possibly. But they saw also the staunch, inflexible champion of the South, with iron will, active intellect, and honest heart bent steadily and unwearyingly to one purpose; and that purpose the meanest one among them clasped to his heart of hearts!
Then, through the swooping blasts of the storm, came a low, wordless shout, wrenched from their inmost natures, that told, if not of renewed faith in his means, at least of dogged resolution to stand by him, heart and hand, to achieve the common end.
It was a solemn sight, that inauguration.
Men and women left the square with solemn brows and serious voices. There was none of the bustle and pride of a holiday pageant; but there was undoubtedly a genuine resolve to toil on in the hard road and reach the end, or fall by the wayside in the effort.
Having laid out a fixed line of policy, Mr. Davis in no way deviated from it. There were no changes of government measures and no changes of government men, except the elevation of General George W. Randolph to the Secretaryship of War. This gentleman—a clear-headed lawyer, a tried patriot and soldier by education and some experience—was personally very popular with all classes. He was known to possess decision of character and a will as firm as the President's own; and the auguries therefrom were, that in future the chief of the War Office would also be its head. His advent, therefore, was hailed as a new era in military matters.
But Mr. Benjamin, who became daily more unpopular, had been removed from the War Department only to be returned to the portfolio of State, which had been kept open during his incumbency of the former. This promotion was accepted by the Secretary's enemies as at once a reproof to them, and a blow aimed at the popular foreign policy. They boldly averred that, though the foreign affairs of the Government might not call for very decided measures, Mr. Benjamin would not scruple—now that he more than ever had the ear of his chief—to go beyond his own into every branch of the Government, and to insert his own peculiar and subtle sophisms into every recess of the Cabinet.
To do the Secretary justice, he bore the universal attack with most admirable good nature and sang froid. To all appearance, equally secure in his own views and indifferent to public odium, he passed from reverse to reverse with perfectly bland manner and unwearying courtesy; and his rosy, smiling visage impressed all who approached him with vague belief that he had just heard good news, which would be immediately promulgated for public delectation.
The other members of the Cabinet, though not equally unpopular, still failed fully to satisfy the great demands of the people. Two of them were daily arraigned before the tribunal of the press—with what reason, I shall endeavor, hereafter, to show.
Mr. Reagan's administration of the Post-office, while very bad, was possibly as good as any one else could have inaugurated, with the short rolling-stock and cut roads of ill-managed, or unmanaged systems; and the Attorney-General was of so little importance for the moment as to create but little comment.
Thus the permanent government of the struggling South was inaugurated amid low-lowering clouds. Every wind from the North and West threatened to burst them into overwhelming flood; while, within the borders of the nascent Nation, no ray of sunshine yet reflected from behind their somber curtain.
And through the gloom—with no groping hand and with unfaltering tread;—straight to the fixed purport of its own unalterable purpose, strode the great, incarnate Will that could as little bend to clamor, as break under adversity!
FROM SHILOH TO NEW ORLEANS.
Within two weeks of his inauguration, the strongly hopeful words of President Davis seemed to approach fulfillment, through the crushing victory of the "Merrimac" in Hampton Roads, on the 8th March. There was no doubt of the great success of her first experiment; and the people augured from it a series of brilliant and successful essays upon the water. The late bugbear—gunboats—began to pale before the terrible strength of this modern war-engine; and hopes were cherished that the supremacy afloat—which had been the foundation of the claim of Federal victory—was at an end.
On the 23d of the same month, Jackson—who was steadily working his way to the foremost place in the mighty group of heroes—struck the enemy a heavy blow at Kernstown. His success, if not of great material benefit, was at least cheering from its brilliance and dash.
But the scale, that trembled and seemed about to turn in favor of the South, again went back on receipt of the news of Van Dorn's defeat, on the 7th March, in the trans-Mississippi. Price and his veterans—the pride of the whole people, and the great dependence in the West—had been defeated at Elk Horn. And again the calamity assumed unwonted proportions in the eyes of the people from the death of Generals Ben McCollough and McIntosh—the former a great favorite with Government, army and public.
This news overshadowed the transient gleam from Hampton Roads and Kernstown; plunging the public mind into a slough of despond, in which it was to be sunk deeper and deeper with each successive despatch.
After Nashville, Island No. 10—a small marsh-surrounded knob in the Mississippi river—had been selected by General Beauregard, and fortified with all the appliances of his great engineering skill, until deemed well-nigh impregnable. It was looked upon as the key to the defenses of the river, and of the line of railroad communication between New Orleans and the West with the Capital. In the middle of March the Federal flotilla commenced a furious bombardment of that station; and though a stubborn defense was conducted by its garrison, some boats succeeded in running its batteries on the 6th April. It was then deemed necessary at once to abandon the post, which was done with such precipitate haste that over seventy valuable guns—many of them perfectly uninjured; large amounts of stores, and all of the sick and wounded, fell into the hands of the captors.
On the same day was joined the hardest and bloodiest battle that had to this time drenched the land with the best blood in it.
General Grant, with an army of not less than 45,000 fresh and well-equipped soldiers, had been facing General A. S. Johnston, seeking to amuse him until a junction with Buell could surely crush his small force—not aggregating 30,000 effective men. To frustrate this intent, Johnston advanced to the attack on the plains of Shiloh, depending upon the material of his army, and his disposition of it, to equalize the difference of numbers.
At early dawn on Sunday, the 6th April, General Hardee, commanding the advance of the little army, opened the attack. Though surprised—in many instances unarmed and preparing their morning meal—the Federals flew to arms and made a brave resistance, that failed to stop the onward rush of the southern troops. They were driven from their camp; and the Confederates—flushed with victory, led by Hardee, Bragg and Polk, and animated by the dash and ubiquity of Johnston and Beauregard—followed with a resistless sweep that hurled them, broken and routed, from three successive lines of entrenchments. The Federals fought with courage and tenacity. Broken, they again rallied; and forming into squads in the woods, made desperate bush-fighting.
But the wild rush of the victorious army could not be stopped! On its front line swept!—On, like the crest of an angry billow, crushing resistance from its path and leaving a ghastly wreck under and behind it!
While leading a charge early in the afternoon, General Johnston received a Minie-ball in his leg. Believing it but a flesh wound, he refused to leave the ground; and his falling from his horse, faint with the loss of blood, was the first intimation the staff had of its serious nature; or that his death, which followed almost immediately, could result from so slight a wound.
The loss of their leader was hidden from the men; and they drove the enemy steadily before them, until sunset found his broken and demoralized masses huddled on the river bank, under cover of the gunboats.
Here Grant waited the onset, with almost the certainty of annihilation. But the onset never came; that night Buell crossed upward of 20,000 fresh troops; the broken army of Grant was reformed; Wallace's division of it joined the main body; and next day, after a terrible and disastrous fight, the southrons slowly and sullenly retired from the field they had so nobly won the day before.
A horrid scene that field presented, as foot by foot the fresh thousands of the Federals wrenched it from the shattered and decimated Confederates; the ground furrowed by cannon, strewn with abandoned arms, broken gun-carriages, horses plunging in agony, and the dead and dying in every frightful attitude of torture!
The battle of Shiloh was the bloodiest of the war. The little army of the South had lost near one-third of its whole number; while the Federals had bought back their camp with the loss of not less than 16,000 men.
And, while the bloodiest field, none had so splendidly illustrated the stubborn valor of the men and the brilliant courage of their leaders. Gladden had fallen in the thickest of the fight—the circumstances of his death sending a freshened glow over the bright record he had written at Contreras and Molino del Rey. The names of Bragg, Hardee and Breckinridge were in the mouths of men, who had been held to their bloody work by these bright exemplars. Wherever the bullets were thickest, there the generals were found—forgetful of safety, and ever crying—"Come!"
Governor Harris had done good service as volunteer aid to General Johnston; and Governor George M. Johnson, of Kentucky, had gone into the battle as a private and had sealed his devotion to the cause with his blood. Cheatham and Bushrod Johnson bore bloody marks of the part they took; while Breckinridge, who had already won undying fame, added to his reputation for coolness, daring, and tenacity, by the excellence with which he covered the rear of the army on its retreat to Corinth.
The results of the battle of Shiloh—while they gave fresh cause for national pride—were dispiriting and saddening. It seemed as though the most strenuous efforts to marshal fine armies—and the evacuation of city after city to concentrate troops—were only to result in an indiscriminate killing, and no more; as if the fairest opportunities for a crushing blow to the enemy were ever to be lost by error, or delay.
The death of General Johnston, too—seemingly so unnecessary from the nature of his wound—caused a still deeper depression; and the public voice, which had not hesitated to murmur against him during the eventful weeks before the battle, now rose with universal acclaim to canonize him when dead. It cried out loudly that, had he lived through the day of Shiloh, the result would have been different.
It must be the duty of impartial history to give unbiased judgment on these mooted points; but the popular verdict, at the time, was that Beauregard had wasted the precious moment for giving the coup-de-grace. The pursuit of the Federals stopped at six o'clock; and if, said people and press, he had pushed on for the hour of daylight still left him, nothing could possibly have followed but the annihilation, or capitulation, of Grant's army.
On the other hand, Beauregard's defenders replied that the army was so reduced by the terrible struggle of twelve hours—and more by straggling after the rich spoils of the captured camp—as to render further advance madness. And in addition to this, it was claimed that he relied on the information of a most trusty scout—none other than Colonel John Morgan—that Buell's advance could not possibly reach the river within twenty-four hours. Of course, in that event, it was far better generalship to rest and collect his shattered brigades, and leave the final blow until daylight.
An erroneous impression prevailed in regard to this fight, that Johnston had been goaded into a precipitate and ill-judged attack by the adverse criticisms of a portion of the press. No one who knew aught of that chivalric and true soldier would for an instant have believed he could lend an ear to such considerations, with so vast a stake in view; and the more reasonable theory came to be accepted—that he desired to strike Grant before the heavy columns that Buell was pouring down could join him.
At an events, the sad waste of position and opportunity, and the heavy loss in brilliant effort and valuable lives, caused equal dissatisfaction and gloom. Beauregard's new strategic point commanded a valuable sweep of producing territory, protected the communications, and covered Memphis. Still people were not satisfied; and tongues and pens were busy with the subject, until an event occurred that wrapped the whole country in wondering and paralyzing grief.