On the 26th April New Orleans surrendered to Admiral Farragut!
The Federal fleet had long been hovering about the twin forts at the mouth of the river; and daily telegrams of the progress of the bombardment and of their impregnability had schooled the country into the belief that the city was perfectly secure. Day after day the wires repeated the same story of thousands of shell and nobody hurt, until inquiry ceased to be even anxious; and the people were ready to despise this impotent attempt upon the most important point of the far South.
So secure had the Government been in her defenses, that regiment after regiment had been withdrawn from New Orleans and sent to Corinth, until General Lovell found his command reduced to less than three thousand effective men—and more than half of these local militia and volunteer organizations.
Suddenly came the despatch that the fleet had passed the forts at dawn on the 24th! All was consternation in the city. The confidence had been so great that daily avocations went on as usual; and the news found every one as unprepared for it, as though no enemy had been near.
Confusion ruled the hour. General Lovell reached the city from below; and, feeling that his handful of men could effect nothing and might only offer an excuse for bombardment, he yielded to the desire of the city authorities and withdrew to Camp Moore. He carried with him all the munitions and supplies that were capable of transportation; and held himself ready to return at a moment's notice from the Council.
Meanwhile, the Federal fleet had engaged the Confederate flotilla—consisting of an incomplete iron-clad, a plated tow-boat ram, and eight or ten useless wooden shells—and after a desperate fight had driven them off only to be blown up, one by one, by their own commanders.
The water-batteries then offered no effective resistance. The obstructions had been opened to remove accumulated raft, and could not be closed; and the fleet moved slowly up to seize the rich prize that lay entirely within its grasp.
On the 26th April, the "Hartford" leading the van, it anchored off the city to find it hushed as death and wrapped in the eddying smoke-clouds from fifteen thousand burning bales of cotton. After the first burst of consternation, the people took heart; and even at the sight of the enemy's shipping did not lose all hope. There were no soldiers aboard; Butler's army could not dare the passage of the forts in the shells of transports that contained it; the fleet, cut off as it was from all re-enforcement and supply, could, at worst, only shell the city and retire—again running the gauntlets of the two forts; and then the only loss to the city—for the flotilla in its incomplete state could not have been made effective as a defense—would have been the cotton and the trifling damage done by the shells.
So the people hoped on. A long correspondence, coupled with reiterated threats of bombardment, ensued between Mayor Monroe and Admiral Farragut, relative to the State flag that still floated over the Custom House. Still the city was not in Federal power and there might yet be a chance.
But on the 28th, the news of the fall of the forts in consequence of the surrender of their garrisons—took the last support from the most hopeful. The city yielded utterly; the marines of the "Hartford" landed, took formal possession, raised the stars and stripes over the City Hall; and the emblem of Louisiana's sovereignty went down forever!
Three days after, General Butler landed and took command of the city, for which he had not struck a blow. He stationed his garrison in the public buildings, the hotels, and even in private houses; and then commenced a system of oppression and extortion, that—while it made the blood boil in the veins of every southron—has sent his name to the honest thinkers of the future linked with a notoriety which all history proves to be unique.
The annals of the war are not free from small pilferers and vicious imbeciles; but high above the tableau they form, this warrior has perched himself upon a pinnacle—let us hope—unattainable again!
It is hard to overrate the consequences of the fall of New Orleans. The commercial city and port of the whole South-west—its depot and granary—the key to communication with the trans-Mississippi, and the sentinel over vast tracts of rich and productive territory—her loss was the most stunning blow that had yet been dealt the cause of the South.
It opened the whole length of the Mississippi as a new base for operations against the interior; and gave opportunities for establishing a series of depots, from which the Federal armies—if ever beaten and shattered—could be rapidly and effectively recruited.
Not the least disastrous effect of this blow was its reception by the people. After the first bitter wail went up over the land, inquiry came from every quarter how long this state of things could last. Position after position—fortress after fortress—city after city—declared impregnable by the Government up to the very last moment, fell suddenly and mysteriously; only to expose, when too late, the chain of grievous errors that inseparably linked the catastrophe with the Government.
The public demanded at least an explanation of these things—a candid expose of the condition to which they were reduced. If told they were battling hopelessly for their frontiers; that the enemy was too strong and the extent of territory too large for sure defense; if told, even, there were grave reason to doubt the ultimate issue—they were yet willing to battle for the hope, and to go uncomplainingly to the front and face the gloomy truth.
But to be buoyed day by day with high-sounding protestations of invincibility, only to see their strongest points dropping, one by one, into the lap of the enemy; to be lulled into security to find, too late, that the Government had deceived them, while it deceived itself; and thus to imbibe a deep distrust of the hands in which their hopes and the future were placed—this was more than they could bear; and "a thick darkness that could be felt" brooded over the land.
But as yet this feeling had not begun in any way to react upon the army. The hardy soldiers had enough to do to keep them busy; and besides had laid up a stock of glorious reminiscences, upon which to fall back when bad news reached them. Only the bare facts of these rapid and terrible blows reached the camps; and stubborn, hard-fisted "Johnny Reb," looked upon them smilingly as reverses to be made up to-morrow, or the next time he caught "Mr. Yank."
To the Louisiana soldiers, the news of the fall of their beautiful city had a far deeper and more bitter import. Some of the business men of New Orleans, who remained in the city, yielded to the promptings of interest and fell to worshipping the brazen calf, the Washington high priest had set up for them. Some refused to degrade themselves and remained to be taught that might is right; and that handcuffs are for the conquered. Others collected what little they could and fled to Europe; while nobler spirits eluded the vigilance of their captors and came by scores into the Confederate camps.
But the women of New Orleans were left behind. They could not come; and against them the Pontiff of Brutality fulminated that bull, which extorted even from the calm and imperturbable British Premier the exclamation—"Infamous!"
The intended insult fell dead before the purity of southern womanhood; but the malignancy that prompted it seared deep into their hearts. Though their defenders were away, the women of New Orleans rose in their majesty of sex; and, "clothed on with chastity," defied the oppressor and called on manhood everywhere to judge between him and them. As
"When the face of Sextus was seen amid the foes"—
in those earlier days when Roman womanhood was roused to defy that elder traducer—
"No women on the housetops But spat toward him and hiss'd; No child but scream'd out curses And shook its little fist!"
And the cry echoed in the hearts of the Louisianians in the battle's front. It mattered not so much to them if the defenses had been neglected; if the proper precautions had not been taken, and their firesides and families sacrificed, while they were battling so nobly far away. They only felt that those dear homes—their wives, and sisters, and sweethearts—were now in the relentless grasp of a hero who burned to war against women.
And deep in their souls they swore a bitter oath to fight in the future, not only for the cause they loved, but for themselves; to strike each blow, nerved by the thought that it was for the redemption of their homes and their loved ones; or, if not for this—for vengeance!
Gradually this spirit inoculated their fellow-soldiers. The bitter feelings of the struggle, strong enough before, became intensified; and in every Confederate camp was brewing a sullen and somber war-cloud, the sudden flashes from which were to strike terror to the heart of the North before that summer was done.
THE CONSCRIPTION AND ITS CONSEQUENCES.
In the midst of the gloom, weighing upon the country about the days of Shiloh, the Confederate Congress moved on a point of vital import to its cause. Weak and vacillating as that body had proved; lacking as it was in decision, to force its views on the executive, or to resist popular clamor, backed by brutum fulmen of the press—a moment had come when even the blindest of legislators could not fail to see.
More men, was the cry from every general in the field. With more men, the army of Manassas could have carried the war over the Potomac frontier; perhaps have ended it there. With more men, Nashville would have been saved and Shiloh won. With more men, the enemy, pouring over the daily contracting frontiers, if not checked in their advance, might be restrained from, or chastised for, the brutal and uncivilized warfare that now began to wage, away from all great army centers.
Great as was the need for new blood and new brains, in the council of the nation—still more dire was the need for fresh muscle in its armies. Levies must be raised, or all was lost; and the glories that had wreathed the southern flag, even when it drooped lowest—priceless blood that had been poured as a sacrament to consecrate it—would all be set at naught by the imbecility of the chosen lawgivers of the people. Thus, after a pressure of months from cooler heads in government, the more thoughtful of the people, and the most farsighted of the press, the few live men in Congress wrung from it the "Conscription Act" on the 16th day of April.
The reader may have gained some faint idea of the alacrity with which men of all classes rushed into the ranks; of the steady endeavor and unmurmuring patience with which they bore the toils and dangers of their chosen position; of their unwavering determination to fight the good fight to the end. That the same spirit as genuinely pervaded the masses of the army now, there is little doubt; but the South—instead of husbanding her resources, had slept during these precious months the North utilized to bring a half million of men against her.
Now, when she woke to the plain fact that her existence depended—not only on keeping in the ranks every man already there, but of adding largely to their numbers—it was but natural that the Government's torpor had, in a slight degree, reacted upon its soldiers.
When the Government had assumed more form and regularity with increased proportions and the conviction, forced upon the most obtuse mind, that a struggle was at hand demanding most perfect organization, the looseness of a divided system had become apparent. The laws against any State maintaining a standing army were put into effect; and the combined military power was formally turned over, as a whole, to the Confederate authorities. This change simply meant that complete organizations were accepted as they stood, as soldiers of the Confederacy instead of soldiers of the states; the men were mustered into the Confederate service and the officers had their state commissions replaced by those from the Confederate War Department. From that date, the troops were to look to the central Government for their pay, subsistence, and supplies.
In mustering in, all troops—with only exceptions where their contracts with state governments demanded—were received "for three years of the war." At Montgomery, many admirable organizations had been tendered to the Government for one year; and much discussion had ensued on the subject of their reception. It was then generally believed, even by the longest heads in the Cabinet, that the war would be only a campaign. I have elsewhere alluded to the tenacity with which its supporters clung to this idea; and Mr. Davis was almost alone in his persistent refusal to accept the troops for less than three years, or the war. To the one campaign people he said, very justly, that if the troops were taken for twelve months, and the war were really over in six, here was the Government saddled with the incubus at a standing army, infinitely greater than its needs; and here large bodies of men who might be of incalculable service elsewhere, tied to the vitiating and worse than useless influences of a peace camp. On the other hand, should the war last longer, in its very climax a large body of educated soldiers, just trained to a point of usefulness, would have the right to demand their discharge, when their places would be difficult to fill even with raw levies. There was much dissatisfaction among the one campaign people; but their own argument—that, if received for the war, the troops would get home before their proposed twelve months expired—was unanswerable. Now, when the same arguments were used to enforce the passage of the Conscription Act, the enemies that Mr. Davis had by this time gathered around him, little recked that in their wisdom, they were quoting him.
This transfer to the Confederate Government covered all the troops of the several states, except the militia. This, of course, remained under the authority of their respective governors.
Naturally, with the addition to the force originally contemplated by "the assembled wisdom of the land," the five brigadier-generals allowed by Congress proved totally inadequate. A law had subsequently been forced from them, granting the appointment of five generals—a rank paramount to that of field-marshal in European armies—of the regular army, who were to command volunteers; and allowing the President to appoint such number of brigadiers of volunteers as the necessities of the service demanded.
There had been little hesitancy in the selection of the generals—all of them men who had served with distinction in the army of the United States; and who had promptly left it to cast their lot with the new Government. So little difference could be found in their claims for precedence, that the dates of their old commissions decided it. They were Samuel Cooper, Albert Sidney Johnston, Robert E. Lee, Joseph E. Johnston and Pierre G. T. Beauregard.
These nominations had been received with unanimity by the Senate, and with profound satisfaction by the people. Had fitness and right been consulted equally in other appointments, much priceless blood might have been saved to the South.
Still, at the time, it was believed that the commissions of brigadier of volunteers were conferred upon the most meritorious of the resigned officers; or, where there was reason to hope good results to the service—upon the best of those men the troops had chosen as commanders. Strong pressure was, of course, brought to bear upon the President, regarding these appointments; but the verdict of army and people was that these first selections were made with as much judgment and impartiality as the untried state of the army permitted.
But fifteen months' quiet endurance of hardship, danger and doubt; the universal wail from homes that had never before known, a dark hour, but where unaccustomed toil now fought vainly against misery and disease; a pervading sense of insecurity for any point, and that those homes—broken and saddened as they were—might meet a yet worse fate—all these causes had done their work. Undaunted and unconquered as the men were, the bravest and most steadfast still longed for a sight of the dear faces far away.
The term of service of more than a hundred regiments would expire soon, enlistments had become slow and were not to be stimulated by any inducements legislation could offer. The very danger that had been pointed out in refusing more "twelve months' men" became too imminent to evade.
The soldiers of the South were more anxious than ever to meet the foe. Added to their love for the cause, many now felt bitter personal incentive to fight; and every blow was now struck alike for country and for self. But while panting for the opportunity, they had a vague feeling that they must fight nearer home and—forgetting that the sole protection to their loved ones lay in a union, closer and more organized than ever—each yearned for the hour when he would be free to go and strike for the defense of his own hearthstone.
The intent of the conscription was to put every man in the country, between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five, into the army; restricting "details" from the field within the narrowest limits of absolute necessity. It retained, of course, every man already in the field; and, had its spirit been vigorously carried out, would have more than doubled the army by midsummer.
It provided for the separate enrollment of each state under a "Commandant of Conscripts;" and for collecting new levies at proper points in "Camps of Instruction," under competent officers, that recruits might go to the army prepared in drill and knowledge of camp life for immediate service.
But, the Conscription Act, like all other congressional measures, was saddled with a companion, "Bill of Exemptions." This—while so loosely constructed as almost to nullify all good effect of the law—opened the door to constant clashing of personal and public interests, and to great abuses of the privilege.
It would, of course, have been folly to draw every able-bodied male from districts already so drained of effective population as to have become almost non-producing. Such a course would have put thousands of additional mouths into the ranks, and still further have reduced the straitened means for feeding them. And it would have been equally suicidal to draw from forge and from lathe, those skilled artisans who were day and night laboring to put weapons in the hands of those sent to wield them.
But the "Bill of Exemptions" left possible both of these things, at the same time that it failed to restrain abuses of privileges in certain high quarters. The matter of "details" was, of course, essential; and it was only to be supposed that generals in the field could best judge the value of a man in another position than the front.
But the most objectionable feature to the army was the "Substitute Law," which allowed any one able to buy a man, not subject to the action of conscription, to send him to be shot at in his place. Soldiers who had endured all perils and trials of the war, naturally felt that if they were retained in positions they objected to, those who had been comfortably at home—and in many instances coining that very necessity into fortunes—should be forced at the eleventh hour to come and defend themselves and their possessions. Besides, the class of men who were willing to sell themselves as substitutes were of the very lowest order. All citizens of the South were liable to conscription; and the "exempts" open to purchase, were either strange adventurers, or men over and under age, who—argued the soldiers—if fit for service should come of their own free will.
Veteran troops had a low enough opinion of the "conscript" as a genus; but they failed not to evince, by means more prompt than courteous, their thorough contempt for the "substitute."
These causes produced much discontent, where men would cheerfully have acquiesced in a law essential to the preservation of the fabric they had reared and cemented with their blood. To quell this feeling, a reorganization of the army was effected. A certain time was allowed for any liable man to volunteer and choose his branch of the service and, if practicable, his regiment; and so great was the dread of incurring the odium of conscription, that the skeleton veteran regiments rapidly filled up to a point of efficiency. They were then allowed to choose their own officers by election; and, though this lost to the service many valuable men who had become unpopular, still the army was better satisfied within itself.
The refilled regiments were re-brigaded by states when practicable, a general from a different state being sometimes placed in command; and the whole army was divided into corps, of three divisions each, commanded by a lieutenant-general.
Whatever the weakness of its construction—and the abuses of the exemption and detail power in carrying it out—there can be little doubt that the conscription at this time saved the country from speedy and certain conquest; and credit should be given to the few active workers in the congressional hive who shamed the drones into its passage.
Had the men whose term expired been once permitted to go home, they could never again have been collected; the army would have dwindled into a corporal's guard here and there; the masses the North was pouring down on all sides would have swept the futile resistance before it; and the contest, if kept up at all, would have degenerated into a guerrilla warfare of personal hatred and vengeance, without a semblance of confederation, or nationality.
Once passed, the people of the whole country acquiesced in and approved the conscription, and gave all the aid of their influence to its progress. Here and there a loud-mouthed demagogue would attempt to prejudice the masses against the measure; but scarcely a community failed to frown down such an effort, in the great extremity of the country, as vicious and traitorous. The opposition that the project had met in the administration—from doubt as to its availability—was removed by its very first working. What had been in its inception an unpopular measure, received now the approbation of all classes; and the governors of every state—save one—went to work with hearty good will to aid its carrying out.
This exception was Governor Joseph E. Brown, of Georgia, who entered into a long wrangle with the administration on the constitutional points involved. He denied the right of Congress to pass such an act, and of the Executive to carry it out within the limits of a sovereign state; averred—with much circumlocution and turgid bombast—that such attempt would be an infringement of the State Rights of Georgia, which he could not permit.
Mr. Davis replied in a tone so reasonable, decorous and temperate as to wring unwilling admiration even from his opponents. He pointed out briefly the weak points that rendered the governor's position utterly untenable, ignored the implied warning of resistance to the law; and succinctly stated that he relied upon the patriotism of Georgians to grasp the full meaning of the crisis their executive failed to comprehend; and he closed by stating that the conscription must go on.
Governor Brown found no supporters for his extreme views, even in the anti-administration party. The people felt the imminence of the danger; and here, as in all matters of deep import, they placed the conservation of the cause high above partisan prejudices, or jealousies of cliques. Utterly silenced by the calm dignity and incisive logic of Mr. Davis, and abandoned by the few supporters his defiance of the administration had at first collected around him, Governor Brown was forced to yield; achieving only the conviction that he had the general condemnation of the popular voice.
Once set in motion, the machinery of conscription worked rapidly and somewhat smoothly. The Camps of Instruction in all states not possessed by the enemy filled rapidly, and the class of conscripts on the whole was fairly good. By early summer they began to arrive in Richmond and "Camp Lee"—the station where they were collected—became a point equally of curiosity to the exempt and of dread to the liable.
It was curious to note the prevalence of the various state-traits, showing in the squads of conscripts from time to time passing through the city. The sturdy farmers from the interior, especially those from Virginia, Georgia and Alabama, though lacking the ease and careless carriage of the veteran soldier, had a determined port that spoke for their future usefulness. They were not merry naturally. Called from accustomed avocations and leaving behind them families defenseless and without means of support, they could scarcely have marched gaily, even when willingly, into the Carnival of Death. But they were resolute men, earnest in their love for the South and honest in their wish to serve her—with the musket, if that were better than the plough.
Tall and lank, but long-limbed and muscular, the Georgians had a swinging stride of their own; and, even when the peculiar dialect did not ring out over their ranks, something in their general style gave the idea that these were the men who would one day be fellow-soldiers of the famous "fighting Third."
Ever and anon came a dejected, weary squad with slouching gait and clayey complexions. Speaking little and then with a flat, unintoned drawl that told of the vicinage of "salt marsh;" bearing the seeds of rice-field fevers still in them, and weakly wondering at the novel sights so far from home, the South Carolina conscripts were not a hopeful set of soldiers. As soon as the tread of hostile battalions had echoed on her soil, the sons of the Palmetto State flew to their posts. State regulars went to the coast, picked volunteer corps came to Virginia. None stayed behind but those really needed there by the Government, or that refuse class which had determined to dodge duty, but now failed to dodge "the conscript man." The former were, of course, as much needed now as ever; the latter did not ride into the battle with defiance on their brows, but, on the contrary, seemed looking over their shoulders to find a hole in the mesh that implacable conscription had drawn about them.
Their next neighbors of the Old North State were hardly better in the main, but some men among them seemed not unlike the militia that had fought so well at Roanoke Island. Green and awkward; shrinking away from the chaff of passing regulars; looking a little sheepish for being conscripts, "Zeb Vance's boys" yet proved not unworthy the companionship of the men of Bethel, of Manassas and of Richmond.
At first the border states, or those overrun by the enemy, gave few additions to the conscript camps.
Kentucky, on whose adherence and solid aid to the cause such reliance had been placed in the beginning, had sadly failed to meet it. With the reminiscences of her early chivalry, her romantic warfare of the "Dark and Bloody Ground," and the warlike habits of her men, mingled considerations of the usefulness of her vast resources and her natural points for defense, lying so near the Federal territory. But as the war wore on and the state still wavered, the bent of her people seemed strangely to incline to the northern side. Seeking a neutrality that was clearly impossible, the division in her councils admitted the Federals within her borders. Then, when it was hopeless to do more, the noblest and most honored of her sons left Kentucky and ranged themselves under that banner they had in vain sought to unfurl over her.
Like Maryland, Kentucky had early formed a corps d' elite, called the "State Guard," which numbered many of the best-born and most cultured young men of the state, with headquarters at Louisville. This was commanded by General S. B. Buckner and under the general control of Governor Magoffin. This corps was supposed to represent the feelings of all better citizens in its opposition to the Union cause.
But when the action of political schemers—aided by the designs of a money-loving and interested populace—laid Kentucky, like Maryland, bound hand and foot at the feet of the Federal government; when the Union council of the state strove to disarm or put them in the Union ranks, the soldiers of the "State Guard" left unhesitatingly and joined the army of the South in large numbers.
Late in November, 1861, a convention had met; and, declaring all bonds with the Union dissolved, passed a formal Ordinance of Secession and sent delegates to ask admission from the Richmond Congress. A month later Kentucky was formally declared a member of the Confederacy; but before that time Buckner and Breckinridge had received the commissions, with which they were to win names as proud as any in the bright array of the South; a Kentucky brigade—whose endurance and valiant deeds were to shed a luster on her name that even the acts of her recreant sons could not dim—were in General Johnston's van; some of her ablest and most venerable statesmen had given up honors and home for the privilege of being freemen! All the South knew that the admission of the state was but an empty form—powerless alike to aid their cause, or to wrest her from the firm grasp the Federal government had set upon her.
At the time of the first conscription the few men left in Kentucky, who had the will, could not make their way into Confederate camps; far less could the unwilling be forced to come.
Tennessee, also, had been a source of uneasiness to the Richmond Government from the spread of Union tendencies among a portion of her inhabitants. Though she had been a member of the Confederacy near a year, still the half civilized and mountainous portions of her territory, known as East Tennessee, had done little but annoy the army near it, by petty hostilities and even by a concerted plan for burning all the railroad bridges in that section and thus crippling communications.
Fortunately this scheme had been frustrated, and the half-savage population—for the better class of Tennesseeans were almost unanimous in expression of loyalty to the South—kept in subjection.
But now with her soil overrun by Federal soldiers, and with a Federal fleet in every river, the state could not respond to the call of the South; and, of course, the soldiers she yielded the conscription were from the narrow tracts in Confederate possession only.
One hears much of the "Union feeling" in the South during the war. Immediately on its close, a rank crop of "southern loyalists" had sprung up in many quarters; basking in the rays of the Freedmen's Bureau and plentifully manured with promises and brotherly love by the open-mouthed and close-fisted philanthropy of New England. But like all dunghill products, the life of these was ephemeral. Its root struck no deeper than the refuse the war had left; and during its continuance the genus was so little known that a Carlyle, or a Brownlow, was looked upon with the same curiosity and disgust as a very rare, but a very filthy, exotic.
With the exceptions of portions of Kentucky and Tennessee, no parts of the South were untrue to the government they had accepted.
Florida was called "loyal" and General Finnegan proved with what truth. "Loyal" Missouri has written her record in the blood of Price's ragged heroes. Louisiana, crushed by the iron heel of military power, spoiled of her household gods and insulted in her women's name, still bowed not her proud head to the flag that had thus become hostile.
And the Valley of Virginia! Ploughed by the tramp of invading squadrons—her fair fields laid waste and the sanctity of her every household invaded—alternately the battle-ground of friend and foe—where was her "loyalty?"
Pinched for her daily food, subsidized to-day by the enemy and freely giving to-morrow to their own people—with farming utensils destroyed and barns bursting with grain burned in wanton deviltry—the people of the Valley still held to the allegiance to the flag they loved; and the last note of the southern bugle found as ready echo in their hearts as in the first days of the invasion—
"Their foes had found enchanted ground— But not a knight asleep!"
In possibly one or two instances, the official reports of invading generals may have been in some slight degree erroneous; newspaper correspondents are not in every instance absolutely infallible; and perhaps it was more grateful to the tender sensibilities of the war party at the North to feel that there were hearts of brothers beating for them in the glare of burning rooftrees, or swelling with still more loyal fervor to the cry of the insulted wife!
But at this day—when the clap-trap of war has died away with the roll of its drums; when reason may in some sort take the place of partisan rage—not one honest and informed thinker in the North believes that "loyal" feeling ever had deep root anywhere among the southern masses; or that "loyal citizens" were as one in ten thousand!
Whole communities may have murmured; there may have been "schism in the council and robbery in the mart;" demagogues may have used wild comparisons and terrible threats about the Government; staunch and fearless newspapers may have boldly exposed its errors and mercilessly lashed its weak or unworthy members; some men may have skulked and dodged from their rightful places in the battle's front!
But, however misplaced the world's verdict may declare their zeal—however great the error for which they fought and suffered and died—no man to-day dare refuse to the southern people the need of their unparalleled constancy!
Even conquered—manacled and gagged by the blind and blood-thirsty faction in power—the southern people held on to the small fragments of rights left them, with brave tenacity. Willing to accept that arbitration to which they had submitted their cause, and ready to suffer with the bright memories of their past, rather than efface them by signing their own degradation.
They were conquered and bound in the flesh, but there was enough of manhood left in the spirit to say—
"Though you conquer us, men of the North, know ye not What fierce, sullen hatred lurks under the scar? How loyal to Hapsburg is Venice, I wot! How dearly the Pole loves 'his father'—the Czar!"
No more singular sight was presented by all the war than the conscript depot at Richmond. The men from the "camps of instruction" in the several states—after a short sojourn to learn the simplest routine of the camp, and often thoroughly untaught in the manual even—were sent here to be in greater readiness when wanted. Such officers as could be spared were put in charge of them, and the cadets of the Virginia Military Institute were employed as drill officers.
Citizens of various states—young, old, honest and vicious alike—the conscripts were crowded together in camp, left to their own devices enough to make them learn to live as soldiers; and put through constant drill and parade to accustom them to the use of arms.
Almost every variety of costume obtained among them. The butternut jacket with blue pants of the Federal soldier, the homespun shirt with the cast-off pants of some lucky officer; and the black broadcloth frock and jauntily-cut pants that some friendly lady had ransacked her absent one's stores to give, all appeared on dress parade; surmounted by every variety of head gear, from the straw hat of many seasons to the woolen night-cap the good "marm" had knitted.
Notwithstanding much work, there was still too much leisure time; and "apple jack" filtered its way through provost guards, and cards, the greasiest and most bethumbed, wiled many an hour for the unwary and verdant.
The lower class of conscripts were almost invariably from the cities—the refuse population of the wharf, bar-room and hotel. Unwilling to volunteer, these gentry skulked behind every excuse to avoid conscription; but when forced off at last, they and the substitutes banded in an unholy brotherhood to make the best of their position.
Ringleaders in every insubordination and every vice they assumed a degage, or air of superiority, and fleeced their verdant companions of the very clothes they wore; while they made the impure air of the camps more foul with ribald jest and profane song.
A single glance segregated this element from the quiet country conscripts. The latter were generally gloomy, thinking of the field untilled and the wife and little ones, perhaps, unfed. When they drank "new dip" it was to drown thought, for the fumes of every stew-pan brought back shadowy memories of home and comfort; and when they slept on the damp ground—wrapped in the chance rug, or worn scrap of carpet charity had bestowed—a sad procession marched through their dreams, and sorrowful and starving figures beckoned them from mountain side and hamlet.
Great misery and destitution followed the conscription. Large numbers of men, called from their fields just as they were most needed, cut down greatly the supplies of grain. Almost all who remained at home bought their exemption by giving so large a portion of their product to Government as to reduce civil supplies still more; and these two facts so enhanced the price of food—and so reduced the value of money—that the poorer classes rapidly became destitute of all but the barest means of life. Whether this was the result of inevitable circumstance, or the offspring of mismanagement, in no way affects the fact. Food became very hard to procure even at high prices; and the money to get it was daily more and more monopolized by a grasping few.
The Confederate soldier now had a double share of toil and torture. When the smoke of the fight rolled away, and with it the sustaining glow of battle, thought bore him but grim companionship at the camp fireside; for he saw famine stalk gaunt and pale through what had been his home.
When tidings of want and misery came, he strove to bear them. When he heard of burning and outrage—where naught was left to plunder—who may wonder that he sometimes fled from duty to his country, to that duty more sacred to him of saving his wife and children!
Who does not wonder, rather, in reading the history of those frightful days, that desertions were so few—that untutored human nature could hide in its depths such constancy and devotion to principle!
But, great as were the privation and the suffering caused by the first conscription, they were still to be increased. Through those twin abortions of legislation, the substitute and exemption bills, the results of the first law proved inadequate to fill the gaps of the fatal fights of the summer.
Detail and substitute had done their work, as thoroughly as had the shells of Malvern Hill, the bullets of Sharpsburg, or the raw corn of the retreat to the river.
More men were wanted! At whatever cost in territory, or in suffering, more men must be had. And on the 27th September, Congress passed an act extending the age of conscription from 18 to 45 years. But the exemption and substitute laws remained as effective as ever. True, some feeble moves were made toward narrowing the limits of the former; but while it stood a law in any form, enough could be found to read it in any way. The extension law, while it still further drained the almost exhausted country—and left in its track deeper suffering and destitution, that brought famine from a comparative term into an actual verity—still left in the cities an able-bodied and numerous class; who, if not actually useless, were far more so than the food-producing countrymen sent to the front to take their places.
Yet so blind was the Congress—so impervious to the sharpest teachings of necessity and so deaf to the voice of common sense and reason, that unceasingly upbraided it—that this state of things continued more than a year from the passage of the extension act.
Then, when it was almost too late for human aid to save the cause—when the enemy had not only surrounded the contracted territory on every side, but had penetrated into its very heart—the substitute bill was repealed, and every man in the land between the ages of 18 and 45, declared a Confederate soldier subject to service. Then, too, the abuses of exemption and detail, so often and so clearly pointed out, were looked into and measurably corrected.
Further than this, all boys from 16 to 18, and older men, from 45 to 60, though not conscribed, were formed into reserve "home guards;" and then General Grant wrote to Washington that the cause was won when the Rebels "robbed the cradle and the grave."
But the infantile and the moribund murmured not; and more than once a raid was turned and a sharp skirmish won, when the withered cheek of the octogenarian was next the rosy face of the beardless stripling!
Only one complaint came, and that was heard with grim amusement alike by veteran, by conscript, and by substitute.
The substitute buyers now loudly raised a wail of anguish. Plethoric ledger and overflowing till, alas! must be left; the auctioneer's hammer and the peaceful shears must alike be thrown aside, and the rusty musket grasped instead; soft beds and sweet dreams of to-morrow's profit must be replaced by red mud and the midnight long roll!
It was very bitter; and rising in their wrath, a few of these railed at the perfidy of the Government in breaking a contract; and even employed counsel to prove that in effect they were already in the field.
One ardent speculator even sought the War Department and logically proved that, having sent a substitute, who was virtually himself, and that substitute having been killed, he himself was a dead man, from whom the law could claim no service!
But the Department was now as deaf as the adder of Scripture; and the counsel, let us hope, pleaded not very earnestly. So the substitute buyers—except in the few cases where the long finger of influential patronage could even now intervene—went, as their ill-gotten dollars had gone before.
It is plainly impossible, in limits of a desultory sketch, to give even a faint outline of the conscription. Its ramifications were so great—the stress that caused it so dire, and the weaknesses and abuses that grew out of it so numerous, that a history of them were but a history of the war.
Faithfully and stringently carried out, it might have saved the South. Loosely constructed and open to abuse, it was still the most potent engine the Government had used; and while it failed of its intent, it still for the first time caused the invader to be met by anything approaching the whole strength of the country.
Under its later workings, every man in the South was a soldier; but that consummation, which earlier might have been salvation—came only when the throes of death had already begun to seize her vitals.
WAITING FOR THE ORDEAL BY COMBAT.
If any good fruits were to grow from the conscription, the seed had not been planted a moment too soon.
The whole power of the Union was now to be exerted against the South; and the Washington idea plainly was to lay the ax at the very root of the rebellion.
Desultory movement had already begun in the Valley and along the river; but it masked in nowise plain indication of the massing of troops for another, and a greater, "On to Richmond!"
The separate corps of Banks, Fremont and Shields were hovering about the flanks of the devoted Army of Manassas; and the decisive blow was evidently to be aimed at that point. But the clear-sighted and cool-headed tactician at the head of the bulwark of Virginia saw far beyond the blundering war-chess of his antagonist. He prepared to checkmate McClellan's whole combination; and suddenly—after weeks of quiet preparation, of which the country knew no more than the enemy—Manassas was evacuated!
To effect this movement, it was necessary to abandon all the heavy river batteries, guarding the Potomac, at immense loss in guns and material; and to destroy large quantities of commissary stores, for which there was no transportation. But, "Joe Johnston" held the movement to be necessary; and, by this time the South had learned to accept that what he thought must be correct. The great disparity in numbers, and the evident purpose of the Federals to make Richmond the focal point of attack, spoke plainly to that perfect soldier the necessity—coute que coute—of bringing his army within easy striking distance of the Capital.
Stonewall Jackson—with Ewell's and Early's divisions of less than ten thousand men of all arms—was detached to watch the enemy; and the retrograde movement was completed so successfully that McClellan never suspected the evacuation. Two days later, his grand array—"an army with banners," bands braying and new arms glinting in the sun—moved down to the attack; and then, doubtless to his infinite disgust, he found only the smoking and deserted debris of the Confederate camp. The army he had hoped to annihilate was on its steady and orderly march for Richmond.
Immediately, the baffled Federal embarked his entire force and landed it on the Peninsula—formed by the junction of the York and James rivers—in front of Magruder's fortifications. Failing at the front door, McClellan again read Caesar, and essayed the back entrance.
Magruder's line of defense—a long one, reaching entirely across the Federal advance—was held by a nominal force, not exceeding 7,500 effective men. Had this fact been known to its commander, the "grand army" might easily have swept this handful before it and marched, unopposed, into the Southern Capital. But "Prince John" was a wily and bold soldier; and, while he sent to the rear most urgent statements of his dire need and pressed the government for re-enforcement, he kept his front covered by ceaseless vigilance, constant shifting of his thinned battalions and continued active advance skirmishing. So effective was this as entirely to deceive the enemy. McClellan sat down before him and began to fortify!
Amid the anxiety of that moment and the rapid rush of grave events that followed immediately upon it, the great importance of Magruder's tactics on the Peninsula has largely been lost sight of. That they were simply not to be overestimated, it is tardy justice to state. For, there were scores of occasions in those grim four years, when the cant went out—"We might have ended the war right here!" It was ever coupled with—and nullified by—a large and sonorous "if;" but there is no question but that—had Magruder permitted the tactician in his front to estimate his weakness—the "Seven days' fights" would never have been won, for Richmond would have been lost!
It were impossible to describe accurately the state of public feeling, which now prevailed in the Southern Capital. Absolutely in the dark as to the actual movement and its consequences; knowing only that their cherished stronghold, Manassas, was deserted and its splendid system of river batteries left a spoil; hearing only the gloomiest echoes from the Peninsular advance and ignorant of Johnston's plans—or even of his whereabouts—it was but natural that a gloomy sense of insecurity should have settled down upon the masses, as a pall. A dread oppressed them that the recent dramas of Nashville and New Orleans were to be re-enacted on their own central theater; and, ever barometric, the people let the mercury drop to zero, as they read the indications in one another's faces. Social pleasures lately so frequent—social intercourse almost—were now known no more. The music one heard was the quick tap of the timing drum; the only step thought of, the double quick to the front.
But gradually, the army that had been manoeuvering about the Rappahannock began to arrive; and day and night the endless stream of muddy men poured down Main street, in steady tramp for the Peninsula. Grim and bronzed they were, those veterans of Manassas; smeared with the clay of their camp, unwashed, unkempt, unfed; many ragged and some shoeless. But they tramped through Richmond—after their forced march—with cheery aspect that put to flight the doubts and fears of her people. Their bearing electrified the citizens; and for the moment, the rosy clouds of hope again floated above the horizon.
Even the scanty ration the soldiers had become inured to had been reduced by necessities of their rapid march; and that knowledge caused every corps that passed through to receive substantial tokens of the sympathy and good will of the townspeople. Ladies and children thronged the sidewalks, pressing on their defenders everything which the scanty Confederate larder could supply; while, from many of the houses, gloves, socks and comforters rained down upon the worst clad of the companies.
"Johnny Reb" was ever a cheerful animal, with a general spice of sardonic humor. Thus refreshed, inwardly and outwardly, the men would march down the street; answering the waving handkerchiefs at every window with wild cheers, swelling sometimes into the indescribable "rebel yell!" Nor did they spare any amount of good-natured chaff to those luckless stay-at-homes encountered on the streets.
"Come out'r that black coat! I see yer in it!"—"I know ye're a conscrip'. Don't yer want 'er go for a sojer?"—"Yere's yer chance ter git yer substertoot!"—and like shouts, leveled at the head of some unlucky wight, constantly brought roars of laughter from the soldiers and from his not sympathetic friends. Passing one house, a pale, boyish-looking youth was noted at a window with a lady. Both waved handkerchiefs energetically; and the men answered with a yell. But the opportunity was too good to lose.
"Come right along, sonny! The lady'll spare yer! Here's a little muskit fur ye'!"
"All right, boys!" cheerily responded the youth, rising from his seat—"Have you got a leg for me, too?" And Colonel F. stuck the shortest of stumps on the window-sill.
With one impulse the battalion halted; faced to the window, and spontaneously came to "Present!" as the ringing rebel yell rattled the windows of that block. The chord had been touched that the roughest soldier ever felt!
Then came the calm; when the last straggler had marched through to the front and Johnston's junction with Magruder was accomplished. The rosy clouds faded into gray again; and, though the fluttering pulse of Richmond beat a little more steadily, it was not entirely normal. Rumors came from Yorktown of suffering and discontent. Coupled with exaggerations of the really overwhelming force the enemy had massed before it, they proved anything but encouraging. Still, there was no hopelessness; and the preparations, that had by this time become a matter of certainty—stretchers—bandages—lint and coarse, narrow sheets—went steadily on.
The brave women of the city were a constant reproach, in their quiet, unmurmuring industry, to the not infrequently faint-hearted and despondent men. Constantly they worked on, and tried to look cheerfully on the future by the light of the past. No one among them but knew that real and serious danger threatened; no one among them but believed that it would be met as it had been met before—boldly without doubt; triumphantly if God willed!
No need for Virginia's sons to read of the Gracchi, with a thousand Cornelias working cheerily and faithfully on the hard, tough fabrics for them. One day an order came for thirty thousand sand-bags. Never before did needles fly so fast, for who could tell but what that very bag might stand between death and a heart dearer far than aught else on earth. Thirty hours after the order came, the women of Richmond had sent the bags to Yorktown!
At length, after three weeks of trying suspense, filled with every fantastic shape of doubt and dread, came news of the evacuation of Norfolk, the destruction of the iron-clad "Virginia," and of the retreat from the Peninsula. Not appreciating the strategical reasons for these movements, Richmond lost her temporary quiet and again fell to lamenting the dark prospects for the city.
On the 4th of May, the last of the Confederate forces evacuated Yorktown; reluctantly turning their backs on the enemy, to take up the line of march for Richmond.
Next day McClellan's advance pressed on; and overtaking their rear, under Longstreet, began heavy skirmishing to harass it, near Williamsburg. Seeing the necessity of checking too vigorous pursuit, and of teaching the Federals a lesson, Longstreet made a stand; and, after a severe conflict—in which he inflicted much heavier loss than he sustained, besides capturing several field pieces and colors—again took up his march unmolested.
The battle of Williamsburg was the one brilliant episode of that gloomy retreat. Although the main army could not be checked to give him re-enforcement, and his wounded had to be left in the hands of the enemy, Longstreet had gained a decided and effective success. But this one misfortune for the moment dimmed the luster of his achievement in the eyes of the Richmond people; and, perhaps, prevented much of the good effect its decisive character might otherwise have had.
The appearance of the army, after the retreat from Williamsburg, did not tend to cheer the inexpert. First came squads of convalescent sick, barely able to march, who had been sent ahead to save the ambulances for those worse than they. It was a black Sunday afternoon, when those wan and hollow-eyed men limped painfully through the streets on their weary way to Camp Winder Hospital. Weak—mud-encrusted and utterly emaciated—many of them fell by the roadside; while others thankfully accepted the rough transportation of any chance wagon, or cart, that could carry them to the rest they yearned for.
But willing and energetic workers were at hand. Orders were obtained; and carriages returning from church, hotel omnibuses—every wheeled thing upon the streets were impressed for the service of mercy. By late afternoon the wards of Winder Hospital were over-flowing; but negligent, or overworked, commissaries had neglected to provide food, and many of the men—in their exhausted condition—were reported dying of starvation! Few women in Richmond dined that Sabbath. Whole neighborhoods brought their untasted dinners to the chief worker among them; and carriages and carts—loaded with baskets and hampers and bearing a precious freight of loving womanhood—wended their way to the hospital. By night hundreds of poor fellows had eaten such food as they had not dreamed of for months; gentle hands had smoothed their pillows and proffered needed stimulants; and sympathizing voices had bid them be of good cheer, for to-morrow would dawn bright for all.
But were these worn and wretched men a fair sample of the army that was to battle for their dear city against the fresh thousands of McClellan? Oh, God! Had toil and privation done its work so thoroughly; and were these the proud array that had marched to Manassas—the hardened, but gallant host that had gone gaily to Yorktown? Were these the only dependence of their hopes and their cause?
Sad and troubled were the hearts that beat that day, around the wretched cots of the sufferers. But never a hand trembled—never a voice faltered, as those grand women wrought on at their mission of mercy.
After these came a few stragglers and camp followers in hardly better plight; then the wagon trains; and, finally, the army.
The roads were in wretched condition. Spring rains and constant use had churned them into liquid red mud. Hungry and worn, the men struggled through it day after day—bearing their all on their backs, unable to halt for cooking; and frequently stopped to labor on a broken-down battery, or a mired wagon. Discipline naturally relaxed. It was impossible to keep the weary and half-starved men to regular routine. They straggled into Richmond muddy—dispirited—exhausted; and, throwing themselves on cellar doors and sidewalks, slept heavily, regardless of curious starers that collected around every group.
Never had the Southern army appeared half so demoralized; half so unfit to cope with the triumphant and well-appointed brigades pressing close upon it. Had McClellan been at hand, there is little doubt as to what the result would have been; but a few days sufficed to change the appearance of the whole army fabric.
Renewed discipline—that magnetic "touch of the elbow"—attention to the commissariat and the healthy location of their new camping grounds brought the men back to good condition in a time wonderfully short to the lookers-on in the city.
But they were to have little rest. McClellan advanced to the Chickahominy and strongly fortified his position. Johnston fronted him; and though too weak to attack at this moment, it became apparent that the first move in the game for the great stake must be made in a few days. And it was equally plain that it was to be made under the loving eyes of those all fought best for; within hearing of the Cabinet itself!
The details of the campaign of this eventful summer are too well known—and have been too minutely and eloquently described, even were there space—for me to attempt their repetition here.
For a week the armies faced each other, plainly in sight; the shrill notes of "Dixie" mingling with the brazen strains from the Federal bands; and yet no movement was made. Once more Richmond assumed her old activity and became a vast camp. Busy looking officers hastened from point to point; regiments shifting position passed through town every hour; mounted orderlies dashed in all directions and batteries, wagon trains and ambulances rumbled in and out of town by every road. The reflection of the activity around them, and the improved condition of the army—in physique and morale—inspired the people; and they once more began to feel hopeful, if not overconfident.
Still the river was undefended. There was no fort. Only a few water batteries—out of which the men could easily be shelled—and a few useless wooden gunboats protected the water approach to the Capital. Up this the heavy fleet of Federal iron-clads was even now carefully sounding its way. Every means had been taken to wake the Government to the necessity of obstructing the river; but either carelessness, or the confusion consequent on the retreat, had rendered them unavailing. Now at the last moment, every nerve was strained to block the river and to mount a few guns on Drewry's bluff—a promontory eighty feet high, overhanging a narrow channel some nine miles below the city.
On the 15th of May, the iron-clads approached the still unfinished obstructions. There was just time to sink the "Jamestown"—one of the wooden shells that had done such good work under the gallant Barney—in the gap; to send her crew and those of the "Virginia" and "Patrick Henry" to man the three guns mounted on the hill above—when the iron-clads opened fire.
Their cannonade was terrific. It cut through the trees and landed the missiles a mile inland. The roar of the heavy guns, pent and echoed between the high banks, was like continuous thunder, lit by lurid flashes as they belched out 13-inch Shrapnel and scattered ounce balls like hail among the steadfast gunners on the bluff.
But the terrible plunging fire of Captain Farrand's sea-dogs damaged the plating of the armored vessels and kept the wooden ones out of range; while the galling sharp-shooting of Taylor Wood's men, on the banks below, cleared their decks and silenced their guns. Once more the wager of battle was decided for the South; and the ironclads retired badly damaged.
This result was most cheering; but, unlike the early success of the war, it was received with a solemn, wordless thankfulness. Then, when the imminent danger was passed, the Government went rapidly to work to improve the obstruction and strengthen the battery at Drewry's Bluff. This became a permanent fort, admirably planned and armed with navy guns, worked by the seamen of the disused vessels. The Federals stuck to the name they first gave it—Fort Darling—for no reason, perhaps, but because of the tender reminiscences clinging around it.
Then came another season of stillness on the Chickahominy lines, which General McClellan improved to protect his rear communications; and to throw up strong embrasured fortifications along his whole front—indicating his intention to sit down before the city in regular siege; or to fight behind his works.
Meantime, the course of the Government would have inspired anything but confidence, had not the people placed the deepest and most abiding faith in the mettle and truth of their soldiers.
Congress, after weak and more than useless debates on the propriety of the step, precipitately adjourned and ran away from the threatened danger. These wise legislators had read history. They felt that the cackling which saved Rome was but one of the miracles of that philosophic Muse who teaches by experience: and that—as they could not save their city—they had better save themselves.
The Departments were packed in case of necessity for flight; and some of the archives were even put on board canal boats and towed beyond the city. This may have been only a just precaution; but the citizens of Richmond—looking upon its defense as the key to all further resistance—saw in it only acceptance of the worst results; and, when the families of the principal officials and officers fled from the Capital and sought safer homes in North Carolina and Georgia, her people would not accept as the real reason the averred necessity for saving the very small amount of provision they consumed.
But the Legislature of Virginia and the City Council of Richmond met and resolved that they were willing to stand any loss of property and life—even the destruction of the city—before giving it up to the enemy. They waited upon the President and so explained to him. Mr. Davis solemnly announced his resolution to defend the position while a man remained; and to cast his fate with that of a people who could act so bravely.
Still, so doubtful was the issue of the contest held by the lukewarm, or cowardly, few that they hesitated not to express their belief that the war was done; and they stored in secret places quantities of tobacco to be used as currency when the invaders came in!
When the dies irae really came; and burning Richmond sent similarly hidden store,
"With the smoke of its ashes to poison the gale"—
little was the sympathy borne on the breeze for them, who—living early enough—had shamed the money-changers scourged from the Temple!
In the dead stillness of the afternoon of May 30th, the dull thunder of artillery and the crackling roll of musketry were distinctly heard in every house in Richmond.
Deep and painful suspense filled all hearts; until at night it was known that the enemy had been driven back and badly punished.
The history of "Seven Pines" is familiar to all. Some days previous, General Keyes' division had been thrown across the Chickahominy, for the purpose of feeling the Confederate lines and throwing up works that would secure the Federals that stream. The river, swelled by recent rains, rose so suddenly as to endanger Keyes' communications with his rear; and Johnston determined to attack, while he could thus strike in detail. The miscarriage of part of his plan—by which Huger's troops did not join the attack—and his own wound, by a piece of shell, late in the afternoon, alone prevented Johnston's utter destruction of this Federal corps. As it was, the enemy was driven two miles back of his camp. Heavily re-enforced next day, he resisted and drove back a desperate attack about Fair Oaks.
Now, for the first time, the people of Richmond began to see the realities of war. When the firing began, many ladies were at work for the soldiers in the churches. These flocked to the doors, pale and anxious, but with a steady determination in their faces, vainly looked for in many of the men. Gradually wagons and ambulances began to come in; slowly at first, toward nightfall more rapidly—each one bearing some faint and suffering form. Then, and not till then, those women left their other work and tended the wounded men; giving "the little cup of water" so precious to them, speaking brave words of cheer while their very souls grew sick at the unwonted sight of blood and suffering.
One poor old man, dirty and ragged, lay in a rough, springless cart; his hard, shoeless feet dropping out at its back, and his long, gray beard drenched in the blood that welled from his chest at every jolt. By his side, in the gathering twilight, walked one of Richmond's fairest daughters; her gentle voice smoothing the rough way to the hospital, and her soft hand wiping the damps from his forehead.
And there was no romance in it. He could not be conjured into a fair young knight—old, dirty, vulgar as he was. But he had fought for her—for the fair city she loved better than life—and the gayest rider in all that band were not more a hero to her!
Next morning the usual stillness of Sunday was broken by the renewed rattle of musketry—though farther off and less continuous than the day before; and by the more constant and nearer rumble of ambulance and dead cart. At dawn many of the townspeople had gone in buggies, wagons, and even the huge vans of the express companies, taking with them food and stimulants, to aid the very limited ambulance corps of the army.
All day long the sad procession came in. Here a van with four or five desperately wounded stretched on its floor; now a buggy with a faint and bandaged form resting on the driver; again the jolting coal cart with the still, stiff figure, covered by the blanket and not needing the rigid upturned feet to tell the story. The hospitals were soon overcrowded; huge tobacco warehouses had been hastily fitted up and as hastily filled; while dozens of surgeons, bare-armed and bloody, flitted through them, doing what man might to relieve the fearful havoc man had made.
Women of all ranks and of all ages crowded to them, too; some wan and haggard, seeking with tearless suspense the dear one they knew to have been stricken down; some bearing baskets of stimulants and nourishing food; but one and all eager and willing
"To do for those dear ones what woman Alone in her pity can do."
The struggle had been brief but bitter. Most of the wounds were above the waist, for the fighting had been among undergrowth and partly against abatis; but the short-range volleys had mowed the men down by ranks. More warerooms and even stores on the Main street were opened, fitted with bunks, and filled with the maimed and suffering.
At all hours, day and night, the passer down Main street would see through the open doors long, even rows of white bunks, each one bearing some form distorted with agony, or calmly passing away; while the tireless surgeon moved from cot to cot. And at the head of each a still, patient form, almost motionless, waved the ceaseless fan or breathed the low promise of the Living Word, to one who trembled on the verge of the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
The war was at the very gates now. These palpable witnesses were too numerous to doubt. But the lips of every gaping wound spoke an eloquent pledge that, while such as these kept watch and ward, the city was safe.
Little by little the hospitals thinned; the slightly wounded went back to duty and the badly hurt began to hobble about. But on every hand were the gaunt, sad forms stretched on the narrow cots over which Life and Death wrestled for the mastery. And still the tireless love of woman watched by them—and still unworded prayers went up that the Destroyer might not prevail.
The stillness that followed "Seven Pines" was not unbroken. The armies were so near together that the least movement of either brought on a collision, and constant skirmishing went on. Not a day but had its miniature battle; and scarce an hour but added to the occupants of the hospitals. As these conflicts most frequently resulted in a Confederate success, they only served to encourage the people, and to bring them to the high pitch necessary for the prolonged note of war that was soon to sound so near them.
Just a month after the repulse of the iron-clads from Drewry's Bluff, the bold and daring "Pamunkey Raid" still further aided in this effect. General J. E. B. Stuart had by his successful conduct of the cavalry, no less than by his personal gallantry, worked his way from the colonelcy he held at Manassas to a major-generalcy of all that arm of the Virginia army. He had gained the confidence of General Lee and the greatest popularity in and out of the army; and, ably seconded by his brigadiers, "Jeb Stuart" was expected to do great deeds in the coming campaign.
Information being desired of the enemy on certain points, he volunteered to obtain it. With the advice and direction of the commanding-general, Stuart started from Richmond; made his reconnaissance; penetrated to the White House on the Pamunkey and burned the depot there; whipped the enemy's cavalry wherever he met them; and, making a complete circuit of the Federal rear, with all his captured men and horses, rode back into the city in triumph.
Whatever may be said of raids in the abstract, this was certainly a most dashing one; and was received with loud acclamation by army and people. The latter were by this time in better spirit to receive encouragement; and, dazzled by its brilliance, rather than weighing its solid advantages, placed this achievement perhaps above the more useful success at Williamsburg.
Then came the news from the Valley.
That wonderful campaign—which far exceeds in strategic power, brilliant dash and great results any other combination of the war—had been fought and won! It has been justly compared, by a competent and eloquent critic, to Napoleon's campaign in Italy; and—paling all his other deeds—it clearly spoke Stonewall Jackson the Napoleon of the South.
Coolly looking back at its details, the thinker even now is struck with respectful wonder.
Hurling his little force against Front Royal; flashing to Winchester and routing Banks; slipping between the close converging lines of Fremont and Shields—just in time to avoid being crushed between them—and bearing with him miles of wagon train and spoils; turning on the pursuing columns of Fremont, driving him back, and then sweeping Shields from his path like chaff—Jackson clears his way and marches on for Richmond!
Still onward, scarcely halting for food or rest—ever on to strike new terror when thought far away; weary, footsore—with scarcely one-half its former number, but flushed with victory and panting for further fame—the little band toils on, passes around Richmond and, just as the opposing cannon begin their last grim argument for her possession, hurl themselves like an Alpine torrent on the flank of the enemy!
The loss in this wonderful campaign was comparatively small, when we consider the rapidity of the movements; the terrible marches and the stubborn fighting against overwhelming numbers.
But there was one place vacant that none could fill. There was one name that brought the cloud to the brow of the giddiest youth, or the tear to the eye of the toughest veteran in those sturdy ranks; one name that stilled the song on the march and hushed the rough gossip of the bivouac to a saddened whisper. Turner Ashby was dead!
True knight—doughty leader—high-hearted gentleman—he had fallen when the fighting was well-nigh over—his devoir nobly done and his name as stainless as the bright blade he ever flashed foremost in the fight!
"Well they learned, whose hands have slain him, Braver, knightlier foe Never fought 'gainst Moor or Paynim— Rode at Templestowe!"
All the country missed Ashby. But Virginia mourned him most; and among her stricken sons, those hard-handed, ragged heroes of Jackson's Old Guard—who had marched the furthest and fought the hardest following him—were the chiefest mourners. Jackson had reared a noble monument, to be viewed from all the dimmest vistas of the future. But the fair column was shattered near its top; and the laurel leaves that twined it were mingled with evergreen cypress.
Then the strained suspense was broken. On the 26th of June began that memorable series of fights that northern and southern history—voluminous reports of generals and detailed accounts of newspapers, have made familiar to all who care to read of battles.
A. P. Hill's steady attack at Mechanicsville, though at great cost, drove the enemy's right wing back; to be struck next morning on the flank by Jackson and sent, after a sullen and bloody resistance, to the works near Gaines' Mill. Still on the barefooted boys press with resistless rush, leaving dead or mangled brothers and writhing foemen in their gory track! Never pausing to look back, but each successive day driving the enemy at the bayonet's point from works frowning with cannon.
Cold Harbor has told its brilliant story. Frasier's Farm is fought and won!
With ranks fearfully thinned, scant of food and pausing not to rest, the struggling men press on—ever on! Weary and faltering on the march, the first sharp crack of the rifle lights a new fire in every eye; and drinking the hot breath of the battle,
"Stalwart, they court like Anak's sons The rapture of the fight!"
The tide of the battle swung round and the retreating army of McClellan—fighting steadily by day and retreating noiselessly in the night—fronted from the city which now lay on its left flank.
The Federals were neither demoralized, nor panic struck, as has been sometimes believed; and such an error, while it has bloody refutation in the nameless graves that make the track of these fights precious to the southron—does less than justice to the constancy and enduring valor of the little army that wrung the victory from them at such fearful cost.
Their retreat was orderly and steady. Driven each day from works on which they relied—marking their path with untold destruction of munitions, supplies and even of food on which they depended—the soldiers of the North were well held together; never refusing to turn and face the resistless foe that hurled itself against them, careless alike of cannon and steel, weariness and death!
There can be little doubt now of the consummate tact of McClellan's retreat. It is the bright page in the northern annals of strategy. Beaten each day and driven from his well-chosen strongholds—clearly chosen with a view to such necessities—he still held his army thoroughly in his grasp and carried it off in such order as no Federal force had yet preserved in the face of retreat. Only the resistless impetuosity of the southern troops drove all before them; and though careful analysis may prove in theory that, but for the blunder of a subordinate, Lee could one day have utterly destroyed him, this fact should not detract, in the impartial mind, from the great ability of McClellan which really prevented it.
Still, up to the last bloody day at Malvern Hill, the city lay open to the Federal general had he known the truth. Between him and the coveted prize was a mere handful of men, who could have offered but slight resistance to his overwhelming numbers; the main army of defense was in his front, further away than many points of his retreat; and, had he fully understood the position, a bold and dashing stroke of generalship might have turned the scale, spite of all the red successes of southern arms. More than once in the "Seven Days" a rapid march by the flank would have put McClellan in possession of the Capital and secured him in its strong defenses; from which the wearied troops of Lee could scarcely have ejected him.
But it was not to be. When the shattered and torn Confederates drew off, like lions at bay, from the horrid slopes of Malvern Hill—leaving them drenched with priceless blood and piled thick with near one-third their number—McClellan declined further battle and withdrew his beaten army to the fleet.
He had made a great retreat. But he had lost his great stake.
When the armies lay at Mechanicsville, both were plainly visible from many points in the city. From the Capitol, miles of encampment could be seen, spreading out like a map; and in the dusk the red flash of each gun and the fiery trail of its fatal messenger were painfully distinct. The evening before Hill's advance, the poet-librarian of the Capitol was pointing out the localities to a company of officers and ladies. Among them was a lady who had suffered much in the flesh and been driven from her home for brave exertions in that cause, which was in the end to leave her widowed spirit with no hope on this side of the narrow house. A terrific thunderstorm had just passed over the hostile hosts; but the dense masses of cloud had rolled away to the river, leaving it in deep shadow, while a bright reflection from the sunset wrapped both camps in a veil of mellow light. Not a shot disturbed the still peacefulness of the scene, to give token of the wild work already shaped out for the next week. Suddenly a glorious rainbow shaped itself in the transparent mist over the Confederate camp, spanning it from end to end. The lady pointed it to the poet.
"I hail the omen!" she said. "It is a token of God's promise that yonder flood will not overwhelm us! That His hand will be raised as of old, to hurl it back from His chosen people!"
And when the omen was accomplished and Richmond was safe, the poet sent the lady those classic lines so well-known in the South—"The Battle Rainbow."
Next afternoon the great fight began. The sharp, quick rattle of small arms, and the dull incessant boom of artillery told of hot work even nearer than "Seven Pines." So sharp and clear were the reports that it seemed the fight must be on the very edge of town; and the windows rattled at every discharge.
Almost every man, worthy of the name, was at the front; but the brave and steadfast women of Richmond collected in groups and—while they listened with blanched faces and throbbing hearts—still tried to cheer and comfort each other.
They spoke of the past; of their faith in the flower of the South at that moment battling for them; and they heard the sound of the cannon growing farther and fainter, only to feel more loving trust in those who, under God, had saved them from that chiefest of ills!
Day by day, as the tide of battle surged farther off, it sent into Richmond cheering news that nerved afresh these brave hearts for the horror to come. Gaines' Mill, Cold Harbor and Frasier's Farm rolled back their echoes of triumph; news came of the strait into which McClellan was driven and that one day more must see him a prisoner in the city he had dared—his splendid host swept away and destroyed. Finally the news of Malvern Hill—the wild shout of battle scarce drowning the death-cry—sent a thrill of mingled agony and pride to their very heart's core.
But day by day, as the red tide rolled back, it swept into Richmond terrible fragments of the wreck it had made. Every conveyance that could follow the army, or could be pressed from the almost stripped country around it, bore in from the River Road its load of misery. Manassas had hinted the slaughter of a great fight; Seven Pines had sketched all the hard outlines of the picture; but the Seven Days put in the dismal shadows, with every variation of grotesque horror.
In the dearth of transportation and the hurry of onward movement, many had been left for days with stiffening wounds on the field, or roadside. Others had undergone the loss of limbs at field hospitals; some were bent and distorted in their agony; and again the stiff, set jaw and wide, glassy eye, told that the journey was over before the end was reached.
The chain of regular hospitals and even the temporary one—nearly emptied since Seven Pines—now rapidly filled and overflowed. Private houses swung wide their doors and took in wounded men—brothers alike if gentle-blooded Louisianian, or hard-handed mountainmen—and the women, one and all, wrought as if their energies had never before been taxed or even tested.
But a black shadow had come and brooded deep over Richmond. Half the gentle forms gliding noiselessly among the suffering were draped in black; and many a pale face was saddened with an anguish deeper than furrowed those resting on the coarse pillows around.
The fight was won. The enemy that had for months flaunted his victorious flag in full sight of the Capitol was baffled and beaten. New glories had clustered round the flag of the South; new quarrels and doubts had been sent to the North. Lee, Jackson, Longstreet, the Hills and Hood had added fresh laurels to brows believed to have room for no leaf more. Almost every officer had proved himself worthy of the prayers of such women as the South owned—of that even higher glory of leading such troops as fought to defend them.
But at what awful cost had all this been bought! The slaughter of their nearest and dearest had been terrific: women, the highest and lowliest, met by the cot of the sufferer; and, in the free masonry of love, tended the living and comforted each other for their dead.
But through the brave endeavor of their sacred office, these noble sisters of mercy showed no yielding to the claims of self. Over their own sorrows they rose triumphant—tended the faint—cheered the despondent—filling the place of wife and mother to those who should nevermore see home—even while
"The air is filled with farewells to the dying And wailings for the dead; The voice of Rachel for her children crying Can not be comforted."
ECHO OF SEVEN DAYS, NORTH AND SOUTH.
The result of the "Seven Days" was to produce a profound joyousness in the South, which lightened even those deep shadows from the sorrows that had fallen upon individuals; to raise the spirits of the whole people and to send into every heart that loved the cause a glow of confident pride in the southern soldier—chastened somewhat by present sorrow and tempered, perhaps, by the lessons of the past—that nothing in their after misfortunes could quench.
But while it taught the people this, the victory taught the Government that no energy could be too great—no watchfulness misplaced, in preparing for the heavy blows of the northern government at all times, and at any point, to carry out its pet scheme of reducing the southern Capital.
The blatant triumph that had followed other victories and the secure apathy of the southern government, had alike been swept away by that terrific surge of battle, rolled back harmlessly, only when on the point of overwhelming us; and in their stead came the deep-seated resolve to act in the present, even while they dreamed in the future.
In the North, a hoarse roar of rage went up. The good behavior of their troops and the great ability of their general—unquestioned even by the men who had steadily fought and doggedly driven him before them—were both lost sight of in the wild wail that went up over—the cost!
Millions upon millions had been spent in equipping the grand army—all wasted now in that futile effort to conquer the Rebel Capital—offered as a burnt offering to the avenging War God; and only the blood of its thousands to manure the fields in front of the coveted city!
There was a howl of malediction against the only general so far tried—who had proved himself a tactician in anything but name; and as part of its policy the northern government shamelessly sacrificed McClellan, while it could not but unhesitatingly acknowledge his merit.
Unlike the South, the North throughout the whole war bent its every energy toward concentrating the most useful elements among its many parties. Seeming to bend to the will of each; propitiating all popular elements and utilizing all able ones; listening patiently to the mouthing of demagogues and the vituperation of the press; distributing its contracts so as to make every dollar of patronage tell; and handling the great engine, Wall street, in masterly style—the Washington government simply collected and sifted the varied mass of opinion and material—to form from it a composite amalgam-policy that proved its only salvation. Through every change in that policy—through every gradation of animus that affected the complexion of the war—the masses of the North really believed they were fighting for the Constitution—for the flag, and for the Union!
Whether they were so tightly blindfolded as not yet to see their error, is no question to be discussed here.
No sooner had the howl gone up through the North, against the General who—spite of refused re-enforcements, jealousy and intrigue behind his back, and the terrible enemy before him—had saved his army, than the Government responded to it. Large numbers of men were sent from Harrison's Landing to Acquia Creek; the Federal forces at Warrentown, Alexandria and Fredericksburg were mobilized and strengthened; and the baton of command was wrenched from the hand of McClellan to be placed in that of Major-General John Pope!
The history of this new popular hero, to this time, may be summed up by saying that he had been captain of Topographical Engineers; and that the books of that bureau showed he had prosecuted his labors with perhaps less economy than efficiency.
Rapidly promoted for unknown reasons in the western armies, the public hit upon him as the right man at last; and the complaisant Government said: "Lo! the man is here!" and made him general-in-chief of the Army of Virginia.