From the command of Pope dates a new era in the war. No longer a temperate struggle for authority, it became one for conquest and annihilation. He boldly threw off the mask that had hitherto concealed its uglier features, and commenced a systematic course of pillage and petty plundering—backed by a series of curiously bombastic and windy orders.
Calmly to read these wonderful effusions—dated from "Headquarters in the saddle"—by the light of his real deeds, one could only conceive that General Pope coveted that niche in history filled by Thackeray's O'Grady Gahagan; and that much of his reading had been confined to the pleasant rambles of Gulliver and the doughty deeds of Trenck and Munchausen.
To sober second thought, the sole reason for his advancement might seem his wonderful power as a braggart. He blustered and bragged until the North was bullied into admiration; and his sounding boasts that he had "only seen the backs of his enemies," and that he had "gone to look for the rebel, Jackson"—were really taken to mean what they said. When Pope did at last "find the rebel, Jackson," the hopeful public over the Potomac began to believe that their truculent pet might have simply paraphrased Falstaff, and cried—
"Lying and thieving have blown me up like a bladder!"
For Jackson gave the bladder a single prick, and lo! it collapsed.
Resting his wearied and shattered troops only long enough to get them again into fighting trim, General Lee prepared to check the third great advance upon Manassas. Working on the inner line and being thus better able to concentrate his strength, he left only enough troops around Richmond to delay any advance of McClellan from the Peninsula; and, before the end of July, sent Stonewall Jackson—with Ewell's, A. P. Hill's, and his own old division under General Charles S. Winder, in all about 10,000 men—to frustrate the flatulent designs of the gong-sounding commander, whose Chinese warfare was echoing so loudly from the frontier.
Cautious, rapid and tireless as ever, Jackson advanced into Culpeper county; and on the 9th of August gave the gong-sounder his first lesson on the field of Cedar Mountain. Throwing a portion of his force under Early on the enemy's flank and bringing Ewell and, later, Winder against his front, Jackson forced him from his position after a bloody fight, which the advance of A. P. Hill turned into a complete victory.
Cedar Mountain was a sharp and well-contested fight; but the Confederates inflicted a loss five times their own, held the field, and captured a number of prisoners and guns. General Winder led his troops gallantly to the charge, but just at the moment of collision he was struck and mortally wounded by a shell. And the unstained spirit of the gallant son of Maryland winged its flight, ere the shouts of victory could cheer it on its way!
The Washington government at once ordered the remains of McClellan's army to General Pope; and massing with them Burnside's army at Fredericksburg and the vicinity, strained every nerve to aid his successful advance.
But here we may digress for the moment, to take a bird's-eye view of matters of grave moment passing in distant quarters of the Confederacy.
While victory had perched upon Confederate banners in Virginia, a heavy cloud was gathering over the West; threatening to burst and sweep ruin and destruction over the whole trans-Alleghany region. Not dispirited by the reverses in Virginia, the northern government remitted nothing of its designs upon the West, but rather pushed them toward more rapid completion. These designs were to hold the State of Kentucky by the army under Buell, wrest from the South the possession of Tennessee and Alabama—as a base for attack upon Georgia and cutting through to the seaboard; and to push the army under Grant down through Mississippi to the Gulf. These movements would not only weaken the Confederacy, by diverting so many men, ill to be spared, to watch the various columns; but would, moreover, wrest from it the great grain-producing and cattle-grazing sections from which the armies were mainly fed. Simultaneously with these a heavy force was to be massed under McClernand in Ohio, to sweep down the Mississippi; while the weak show of Confederate force in the states west of the river was to be crushed before it could make head.
Such was the Federal programme; well conceived and backed by every appliance of means, men and material. To meet it we had but a small numerical force to defend an extensive and varied tract; and at the Capital grave fears began to prevail that the overpowering numbers and points of attack would crush the little armies we could muster there.
Nor was the feeling of the people rendered more easy by their confidence in the general to whom the defense of this invaluable section was entrusted. General Braxton Bragg—however causeless and unjust their dictum may have been—had never been popular with the southern masses. They regarded him as a bloodthirsty martinet, and listened too credulously to all silly stories of his weakness and severity that were current, in the army and out. Influenced rather by prejudice than by any real knowledge of the man, they believed him vain, arrogant and weak; denying him credit for whatever real administrative ability that he possessed. The painful result of his command was later emphasized by the pessimists, to justify their incredulity as to his executive powers.
Besides, many people believed that General Bragg was a pet—if not a creature of Mr. Davis; and that he was thrust into a position that others deserved far more, when he succeeded Beauregard in command of the army of the West.
The latter officer had, after the evacuation of Corinth, been compelled to retire by ill health; and Bragg was soon sent to take his place, with the understanding in the minds of the people that Kentucky was to be the theater of active operations, and that a programme of aggression—rather than of defense—was to be carried out, as suggested by Beauregard.
General Bragg entered upon his command with a show of great vigor—falling into General Beauregard's views that a diversion toward Ohio, threatening Cincinnati, would leave the main army free to march upon Louisville before re-enforcements could reach Buell. With this view General Kirby Smith, with all the troops that could be spared—ill clad, badly equipped, and with no commissariat—was pushed forward toward the Ohio. On the 29th of August—while our victorious cannon were still echoing over the field of the second Manassas—he met and defeated the enemy at Richmond; pressed on to Lexington, and thence to a point in easy reach of Cincinnati—at that moment not only the great granary and storehouse of the Federal armies of the West, but their depot and arsenal as well; her wharves crowded with transports, quartermasters' steamers and unfinished gunboats, and her warehouses bursting with commissary and ordnance stores.
When the news of Smith's triumphant march to the very gates of Cincinnati reached Richmond, it was universally believed that the city would be captured, or laid in ashes; and thinking men saw great results in the delay such destruction would cause to the advance of the enemy into the heart of their territory.
Meantime, General Bragg had entered Kentucky from Chattanooga, with an army re-enforced and better equipped than had been seen in that section since the war began. Once more cheering reports came to Richmond that the Confederates were in full march for the enemy; that any moment might bring news of the crushing of Buell before re-enforcements, or fresh supplies, could reach him. Great was the disappointment, therefore, when news really came of the withdrawal of southern troops from before Cincinnati; and that all action of Bragg's forces would be postponed until Smith's junction with him.
Intense anxiety reigned at the Capital, enlivened only by the fitful report of the fight at Munfordville—inflicting heavy loss upon both sides, but not productive of any result; for, after the victory, Bragg allowed Buell to escape from his front and retire at his will toward the Ohio. That a Confederate army, at least equal in all respects, save perhaps numbers, to that of the enemy, should thus allow him to escape was then inexplicable to the people; and, as far as I have learned, it is so still.
There is no critic so censorious as the self-appointed one; no god so inexorable as the people's voice. General Bragg's last hold upon the southern masses—military and civil—was lost now.
The fight at Munfordville occurred on the 17th of September, but it was not until the 4th of the next month that the junction with Smith was effected at Frankfort. Then followed a Federal advance upon that town, which proved a mere diversion; but it produced the effect of deceiving General Bragg and of causing him to divide his forces. Hardee's and Buckner's divisions were sent to Perryville; and they with Cheatham's—who joined them by a forced march—bore the brunt of the battle of Perryville on the 8th of October. Notwithstanding the great disparity of numbers, the vim of the "barefooted boys" prevailed against the veterans of Buell's army, under General G. W. Thomas. They gained a decided advantage over three times their number, but once again what was a mere success might have been a crushing defeat, had Bragg's whole army been massed at Perryville.
It is neither within the scope nor the purpose of this chapter to give more than a bare skeleton of events, or to discuss the delicate points of strategy; but it was a great dash to the hopes of the entire people that what might have been a crushing blow to Buell—freeing three states from Federal occupation—resulted only in the retreat of the Confederates from Kentucky.
For, whatever may have been the cause, or the necessity for the movement, the army was hastily withdrawn. Supplies were burned; disabled carriages and abandoned arms marked the retreat; and the terror-stricken people who had, a few weeks before, dismissed the southern banners with vivas and blessings to certain victory, now saw that same army, to their dismay and sorrow, filing sadly and wearily toward the border.
Almost equally as astonished as their retreating enemy, the Federals pressed on in pursuit, hot and close; and it was only the ability and dash with which General Wheeler covered the retreat of the army—laden as it was with captured arms and munitions, and encumbered with crowds of women and children, who dared not stay behind—that saved it from destruction on that disastrous road from Perryville to Cumberland Gap.
Loud, deep and bitter were the comments of the people when the full news of the Kentucky campaign reached them. Unpopular as the name of Bragg had been before, it was now mentioned often with execration; and the reverses of his universally-condemned favorite reacted upon the popularity of Mr. Davis as well. Without understanding the details of the campaign, and with no patience to listen to the excuses of his few defenders, the public voice was unanimous in denunciation of the plan and conduct of the whole movement; and it arraigned the President for the fault of his inferior, calling him to trial before a jury that daily was becoming more biased and more bitter against him.
Like all the gloomy pages of Confederate history, the Kentucky campaign was illumined by flashes of brilliance, dash and enduring courage, surpassed by no theater of the war. Disastrous as it was in result, it fixed more firmly than ever the high reputation of Kirby Smith; it wreathed the names of Buckner, Hardee, Cheatham and Adams with fresh bays; and it gave to Joseph Wheeler a record that the people of that country will long remember.
In the events first preceding the disaster, too, as well as in his independent raid during July, John H. Morgan had added additional luster to his rising star, that was only to culminate in his exploits of the next year. These were the brighter gleams; but the whole picture was, indeed, a somber one; and there can be no wonder at the people's anger and distrust when they looked upon it. For it showed a vast and rich territory, teeming with those supplies needed most, yielded up to the full uses of the enemy; a people one with the South at heart given over to oppression of an alien soldiery and unable to co-operate with their own long days to come; and across the face of the somber picture was drawn the track of the blood of hundreds of brave men; sacrificed needlessly, the people said—and in a manner stupid, if not barbarous.
A grave injustice had been done the people of Kentucky, because of their conduct during the retreat. Baseless charges of their cowardice and treachery had been bandied about in the mouths of the unreflecting; the many had been made to suffer for the baseness of the few; and the shield of the state had been tarnished because of an inaction her people could not avoid.
Crushed, bound and deserted, as they were—with their only reliance fading away from their eyes, and a bitter and triumphant enemy in hot pursuit at their very doors—it would have been worse than folly—it would have been suicide! had the people on the line of that retreat offered a blatant sympathy. Utterly useless to others it must have been—and even more ruinous to themselves!
And this is the verdict of that Justice who, though slow of foot, fails not to overtake Truth, in her own good time.
THE WAR IN THE WEST.
And misfortunes did not come singly, but in battalions.
The trans-Mississippi was so far distant that only broken echoes of its troubles could penetrate the web of hostile armies between it and the Capital. But those echoes were all of gloom. Desultory warfare—with but little real result to either side, and only a steady drain on Confederate resources and men—had waged constantly. A trifling success had been gained at Lone Jack, but it was more than done away with by aggregate losses in bloody guerrilla fighting. Spies, too, had been shot on both sides; but the act that came home to every southern heart was the wanton murder of ten Confederates at Palmyra, by the order of General McNeil, on the flimsy pretext of retaliation. The act, and its attendant cruelties, gained for him in the South the name of "The Butcher;" and its recital found grim response in every southern camp—as each hard hand clasped tighter round the hard musket stock—and there was an answering throb to the cry of Thompson's prompt war song:
"Let this be the watchword of one and of all— Remember the Butcher, McNeil!"
Meantime, Mississippi had been the scene of new disasters. Vicksburg, the "Queen of the West," still sat unhurt upon her bluffs, smiling defiance to the storm of hostile shot and shell; teaching a lesson of spirit and endurance to which the whole country looked with admiration and emulation. On the 15th of August the iron-clad ram, "Arkansas," had escaped out of the Yazoo river; run the gauntlet of the Federal fleet at Vicksburg and made safe harbor under the town, to aid in its heroic defense.
Twenty days thereafter, General Breckinridge made a most chivalrous and dashing, but equally useless and disastrous, attack upon Baton Rouge. His small force was greatly outnumbered by the garrison, behind heavy works and aided by a heavy fleet of gunboats: and after a splendidly gallant fight, that had but one serious result—he was forced to withdraw. That result was the loss of the ram Arkansas—which went down to co-operate with this movement. Her machinery became deranged, and there was only the choice of surrendering her to the enemy, or of sending her the road that every Confederate iron-clad went sooner, or later—and she was blown up.
But the gloom was only to grow deeper and deeper, with thickening clouds and fewer gleams of light.
After the fight at Iuka, in which that popular darling had been defeated and forced to fall back before superior numbers, Price had combined his army with that of Van Dorn; and on the 3d of October, the latter led them to another wild and Quixotic slaughtering—standing out among the deeds even of that stirring time, in bold relief for brilliant, terrible daring, and fearful slaughter—but hideous in its waste of life for reckless and ill-considered objects. The forces of the enemy at Corinth were in almost impregnable works; and Van Dorn—after worsting them in a hot fight on the 3d, and driving them into these lines, next day attacked the defenses themselves and was driven back. Officers and men behaved with a cool and brilliant daring that savored more of romance than of real war; deeds of personal prowess beyond precedent were done; and the army of Mississippi added another noble page to its record—but written deep and crimson in its best blood.
And another piteous cry was wrung from the hearts of the people to know how long, O, Lord! were these terrible scenes—killings, not battles; and with no result but blood and disaster!—to be re-enacted.
After its retreat from Kentucky, Bragg's army rested for over a month at Murfreesboro, the men recruiting from the fatigues of that exhausting campaign; and enjoying themselves with every species of amusement the town and its kindhearted inhabitants offered—in that careless reaction from disaster that ever characterized "Johnny Reb." There was no fresh defeat to discourage the anxious watchers at a distance; while the lightning dashes of John Morgan, wherever there was an enemy's railroad or wagon train; and the flail-like blows of Forrest, gave both the army and the people breathing space.
But fresh masses of Federals were hovering upon the track of the ill-starred Bragg, threatening to pounce down upon and destroy him—even while he believed so much in their inaction as to think of forcing them into an advance. The Federals now held West and Middle Tennessee, and they only needed control of East Tennessee to have a solid base of operations against Northern Georgia. Once firmly established there, they could either force their way across the state and connect with their Atlantic seaboard fleets; or could cut the sole and long line of railroad winding through the Confederate territory; thus crippling the whole body by tapping its main vital artery, and causing death by depletion. Rosecrans, with an army of between forty and fifty thousand men, was lying in Nashville, watching and waiting the moment for his telling blow.
This was the posture on Christmas, 1862. Three days after the enemy struck—heavily and unexpectedly.
The first intimation General Bragg had of the movement was cavalry skirmishes with his advance. These continued daily, increasing in frequency and severity until the 30th of December, when the contending armies were near enough for General Polk to have a heavy fight with the Federal right.
Next day, the weather being bitter and the driving sleet filling the atmosphere, the general battle was joined. McCowan and Cleburne, under Hardee, charged the Federal's right through a deadly hail of artillery and small arms, that darkened the air as thickly as the sleet—driving him back at the bayonet's point and swinging his front round from his center. The fierce valor of the southern troops and the brilliant dash of their leaders was resistless; and evening fell upon a field, wet with the blood of the South, but clearly a field of victory. Though the Federals fought with desperation, they were so badly hurt that Bragg believed they would fall back that night, in such confusion as to leave them his easy prey.
Morning of the New Year dawned cold, dark and stormy; but the enemy was still in sight, having only taken up a stronger position on a hill and posted his artillery most advantageously. It began to look as if General Bragg's telegram to Richmond of the victory he had gained, might require a postscript; but all that long New Year's day he allowed the enemy time to recuperate and strengthen his position.
It seemed as though another Shiloh was to be re-enacted; a victory wrenched from heavy odds by valor and skill was to be nullified by delay in crushing the enemy, while yet demoralized.
Next day came; and then Breckinridge was sent through a terrific storm of balls and shell, that cut down his gallant boys like grass before the scythe. On, into the Valley of the Shadow they strode; thinned, reeling, broken under that terrible hail—but never blenching. And the crest was won! but the best blood of Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama and North Carolina was flooding that horrid field! Over two thousand noble fellows lay stiff, or writhing with fearful wounds—thick upon the path behind the victorious column.
And then—with that fatality that seemed ever to follow the fortunes of the unfortunate general in command—the army fell back!
Broken was the goblet of victory; wasted the wine of life! And it was accepted as but small consolation, by the people who hoped and expected so much—small surcease to the sob of the widow and the moan of the orphan! that "the retreat to Tullahoma was conducted in good order."
And again the public voice rose loud and hoarse and threatening against the general and the President, whose favorite he was declared to be.
But amid the darkening clouds that frowned close and threatening upon him—fearless of the future and heedless of the ominous roar of dissatisfaction far and near—sat the ruling spirit of the storm he had raised. Grim, steady and purposeful, Jefferson Davis worked his busy brain and frail body almost past belief, to redeem the errors of his chosen instruments—seeking no counsel, asking no aid—and day by day losing the confidence of the sand-shifting populace, who had once made him their God! And one act of his now did more than all besides to reassure the public mind.
Joseph E. Johnston was sent to command the armies of the West! Since his wound at "Seven Pines," the Government—from causes unknown to the people—had allowed this brilliant soldier to rust in inactivity; and now, when all of evil that ill-fortune and want of combination could accomplish had been done in the West, he was singled out, and sent forth to reap the harvest so bitterly sown. He was told, in effect, to take the frayed and scattered ends of armies and campaigns and bind them into a firm and resisting chain of strategy; or—to bear the sins of others upon his shoulders and have the finger of History point to him as the man who lost the West! But patriot soldier and true knight as he was—little resentful of the coldness of Government as he was doubtful of his own ability—"Joe Johnston" accepted the test cheerily and went forth to do, or die.
"For the Johnstons have ever borne wings on their spurs, And their motto a noble distinction confers— 'Ever ready!' for friend, or for foe!"
And this worthy son of noble sires went to clear the Augean Stables of the West; and the God-speed of his own state—swelled into a hearty chorus by the voice of the country—followed him on his knightly errand!
Meantime, Lincoln's famous Proclamation of Emancipation had been promulgated. It made little difference to the people of the South; for it was at that time looked upon as a vaunt as idle as if he had declared the throne of England vacant. Secure in their belief in their right doing, and in the trusty arms and deadly rifles that defended it, the southern masses never dreamed the day would come when that proclamation would be more than the paper upon which it was engrossed. Still, in the general gloom upon them, it was taken as but another augury of the bitter spirit animating their enemies; and of the extent to which it would drive them in this war for the Union and flag.
And so the close of '62 fell dark and dismal upon the distracted country; enlivened only by the sole gleam in Virginia—the repulse of Burnside from Fredericksburg. But even the joy for this triumph was dashed by the precious blood spilled to purchase it; another vent for that steady drain of men, material and endurance—already almost past bearing.
But there was no weak yielding in Government, or in people. Men looked at each other through the gloom, and even as they asked—"Brother, what of the night?"—struck hands in a clasp that meant renewed faith in the cause and renewed determination to prove its right.
Early in the New Year, news reached Richmond of Magruder's amphibious victory, the recapture of Galveston; which town had fallen a prey to the enemy's naval power early in October. On the last night of '62—while the wearied troops of Bragg were sleeping on the bloody field of Murfreesboro—General Magruder, with a mixed command of three regiments of raw infantry, some nineteen pieces of field artillery, and a boarding fleet of four unarmed boats, came down silently to Galveston. The Federal fleet—consisting of the Harriet Lane, the Clifton, the Westfield and the Ossawa—were lying just off the town; covering it with their broadsides and supported by a force of infantry.
Coming suddenly upon them, like shadows through the darkness, Magruder's land force opened a hot fire with field artillery—and aided by the daring boarding of the Lane by Colonel Leon Smith's co-operating water party—captured the former steamer, burned one other, and drove the remaining ones, with their tenders, to sea; where it was impossible to follow them.
This gallant and comparatively bloodless raising of the Galveston blockade was a gleam of hopeful light; especially as it was almost coincident with the first approach to a naval success, by the force of Commodore Ingraham in Charleston Harbor on the 30th of January. The vessels under his command were ill-built, awkward tubs—as will hereafter be seen; but the terrible Brooke gun did its work at long range, and drove the wooden blockading fleet from the harbor for the moment.
This victory, unimportant as it was—for the blockade it claimed to raise was renewed and strengthened within a few days—was cheering; for, said the people, if the Confederates can succeed on the water, surely the star of the South is not really on the wane.
But there was, after the New Year, a sudden stoppage of active movements on both sides. The terrific crash of hostile cannon—the continuous roar of opposing small arms—and the groan of the Federal mixed with the death-cry of the Confederate, were all suddenly stilled. The fearful tornado of war that had swept for many months the once-smiling Southland—leaving its wake only the blackened track of ruin piled thick with stiffened corpses!—was suddenly hushed; as though the evil powers that had raised it must pause to gather fresh strength, before once more driving it in a fiercer and deadlier blast.
In the West, we had lost in the early year the strong position of Arkansas Post with its large accumulation of stores and its garrison of over 3,000 men; but the Queen City still sat defiant and unharmed, the hostile fleet and army having left its fruitless task; and the twin stronghold of Port Hudson showed another row of ugly teeth, into range of which no Federal force seemed yet ready to venture.
On the Atlantic seaboard, too, the prospects, at this time, appeared more cheering. Girt as it was, with one unbroken line of watchful cruisers, with every port apparently sealed by blockade—southern ingenuity and pluck still defied them and ran in precious stores of arms, clothing and medicines. General Beauregard had taken active command of South Carolina and Georgia; and had put the defenses of both coasts—especially of Charleston and Savannah—into such a state of fitness as quite satisfied the Government and made the people of those states calm and confident in his ability to protect them and theirs. General Gustavus W. Smith—the friend and comrade of General Joe Johnston—had, like him, been rewarded for his sacrifices in coming South, and his able exertions afterward, by the coldness and neglect of the Government. But like him, too, he forgot personal wrongs; and, when ordered to North Carolina, threw his whole energy and skill into the works of defense for the coast and for that vital artery of railroad, on which the life of the South depended.
Butler still waged his peculiar warfare upon unarmed men and weak women in the soft nest he had made himself, at New Orleans; but Mobile reared her defiant crest and took into her bosom peaceful vessels laden with stores of priceless utility, only to send them out again—bristling with rifled cannon, fleet-winged and agile, ready to pounce upon the Federal shipping.
In the Middle West, Johnston's presence had acted like oil upon the darkening waters of trouble and despair. There had been no record of fresh disaster, or fresh mismanagement; the troops were recruiting, resting and increasing in numbers and efficiency; the cavalry, mobilized under Van Dorn—at last placed in his proper sphere—had done efficient and harassing, if desultory warfare, upon the enemy's small posts and communications. Pegram—by his effective raid through Kentucky—had shown that her people there were not forgotten by their brothers beyond; and his skillful retreat—laden with heavy droves of cattle and in the face of a superior force—gained him high praise from his superior officers.
And so the people watched and waited—hopeless no longer, but quite recovered from the prostration of the rapid, heavy and continuous blows of the previous autumn. Steadfast and buoyant, as they were ever, the masses of the South once more turned their backs upon past disaster, looking eagerly through the dark cloud for the silver lining they felt must be beyond.
And again, as ever, they turned their eyes toward Virginia—stately and calm amid the shock of battle. And they hoped not in vain; for over her blackened fields—furrowed by shot and shell, drenched with blood of best and bravest, but only more sacred for the precious libation—was again to ring the clarion shout of victory that ever swelled from the lines of Stonewall Jackson!
THE FAILURE IN FINANCE.
When the competent historian shall at last undertake a thoughtful work upon our great struggle, there can be little doubt that he will rank among the primary causes of the Confederacy's dissolution the grave errors of its financial system.
These errors he will find not only in the theory and framework of that system—founded upon a fallacy, but also in the detailed workings of its daily management; and in persistent adherence to a line of policy, each day proved more fatal.
In a previous chapter, allusion has been made to the feeling of conscious superiority, pervading all classes of government and people at the inception of the struggle, at Montgomery. This extended to all classes of the people; and the universal belief in the great dogma of secession—"Cotton is king!"—was doubtless the foundation of that cardboard structure of Confederate finance, which the first rude shock toppled to pieces, and the inexorable breath of demand shriveled into nothingness.
At Montgomery, the promises of ease in money matters were all that could have been asked. The people, everywhere, had come forward with frank, unanimous selflessness. They had faith in the cause—faith in the Government—faith in themselves; and they proved it by their works, giving with lavish hand from their substance. It was felt that the great prosperity of the North had, in a great measure, come from the South; that the looms of New England were fed with southern cotton; that the New York custom house was mainly busied over southern exports; that the soil of the South was, by the alchemy of trade, transmuted annually into three-fifths of the gold in the Federal treasury.
"Egad, sir!—money is our last trouble, sir!" my old friend, the colonel, had cried with enthusiasm. "The country teems with riches—actually teems, sir! with gold. We have only to stretch out our hands to gather it in—more than we want, egad! Men we need, sir!—but money, never!"
And the colonel was right in theory. But that very overweening confidence in her strength proved the South's greatest weakness; and where was needed the strong, nervous grasp of a practical and practiced hand, to seize at once the threads of gold, and weave them into a solid cord of system—weak and shifting fingers were allowed to tangle and confuse them, till each in turn was snapped and rendered worse than worthless. Mr. C. G. Memminger, whom the President elevated to the Treasury Department, was untried and unknown out of his own State; but so great was the confidence of the people in their financial power—so simple did the problem of its development seem to them—that they were trustful and satisfied, until the stern grasp of necessity roughly shook them from their golden dream. And they awoke, like the sleeper of German legend, to find their hands filled with worthless yellow leaves and grains of chaff, where they had dreamed of treasure beyond compare.
Immediately upon his appointment, thoughtful men—who could look a little beyond the rose-colored clouds of the present—had pressed upon Secretary Memminger the necessity for establishing heavy foreign credits, to draw against in case of future need. The currency of the southern banks was comparatively nothing, in view of increased expenditures. The cotton which was gold—food—clothing—everything to the South, with the open ports of the North, would be more worthless than the wampum of the Indians, so soon as the threatened blockade might seal up her ports and exclude the European purchaser. But, on the contrary, if that cotton were bought on the faith of the Government—and planters would willingly have sold their last pound for Confederate bonds; if it were shipped to Europe at once and sold in her market, as circumstances might warrant, the Confederacy would, in effect, have a Treasury Department abroad, with a constantly accruing gold balance. Then it could have paid—without agencies and middlemen beyond number, who were a constant moth in the Treasury—in cash and at reduced prices, for all foreign supplies; those supplies could have been purchased promptly and honestly, and sent in before the blockade demanded a toll of one-half; but above all, the interest and principal of such bonds to the planters could have been paid in coin, and a specie circulation thus been made, instead of the fatal and endless paper issues that rendered Confederate credit a scoff, and weakened the confidence of the southern people in the ability and integrity of that department.
In this sense—and this sense alone—Cotton was king! But the hands that could have lifted him safely upon a throne and made every fiber a golden sinew of war, weakly wrested the scepter from his grasp, and hid him away from the sight and from the very memory of nations.
It was as though the youngest of the nations aped the legendary traditions of the oldest. After the potent and vigorous King Cotton was killed by starvation, Confederate finance treated him as Jewish myth declares dead King Solomon was treated. In his million-acred temple, he stood—cold, white and useless—leaning upon his broken staff; while timorous leadership gaped at his still majesty—
"Awed by the face, and the fear, and the fame Of the dead king standing there; For his beard was so white and his eyes so cold, They left him alone with his crown of gold!"
Had the Government bought—as was urged upon it in the fall of '61—all the cotton in the country, at the then prices, and paid for it in Confederate bonds at six per cent., that cotton—according to calculations of the best cotton men of the South—would have produced in Liverpool, during the next three years, at rapidly-increasing prices, over one thousand millions of dollars in gold! Granting this erroneous, even by one-half, it follows that the immense specie balance thus held, would—after paying all accruing interest—have left such a surplus as to have kept the currency issue of Confederate States' notes merely nominal, and even then have held them at a par valuation.
The soldier, who freely bared his breast to the shock of a hundred battles for his country, his fireside and his little ones, could then have sent his pittance of eleven dollars a month to that fireside, with the consciousness it might buy those dear ones bread at least. But long before the darkest days fell upon the South, his whole month's pay would not buy them one pound of bacon!
Secretary Memminger would seem to have had some theory, or reasons of his own, for refusing to listen to the plain common sense in these suggestions from practical sources. With a strictly agricultural population to supply, he insisted on the issue of Confederate notes in such volume that the supply far exceeded the demand. For, had there been a large manufacturing population actively employed in the South, as there was in the North, the inflation of currency might have been temporarily concealed by its rapid passage from hand to hand. But with no such demand—with only the daily necessities of the household and of the person to relieve—the plethora of these promises to pay naturally resulted, first in sluggishness, then in a complete break-down of the whole system.
Still, from the joyous days of Montgomery, and the triumphant ones after Manassas—through the doubtful pauses of the next winter and the dark days of New Orleans—on to the very Dies irae—there pervaded government and people a secure belief that the finances of the North would break down, and the war collapse for want of money!
And so tenacious were people and rulers of this ingrained belief, that they cherished it, even while they saw the greenbacks of the Federal Government stand at 25 to 30 per cent. depreciation, while their own Treasury notes dropped rapidly from one hundred to one thousand!
Let us pause for one moment to examine upon what basis this dream was founded, before going into the sad picture of want—demoralization—ruin! into which the errors of its Treasury plunged the southern people.
Accepting the delusive estimate that all the property of the United States, in 1861, represented but one-fifth more than that of the Confederate States; and that over three-fifths of the gold duties were from cotton and cotton fabrics, and products of the South alone, it was easy for the southern eye to see a future of trial, if not of ruin, for the North. Then, too, at the beginning of the war it was reasoned that the northern army of invasion, working on exterior lines, must necessarily be greater far in numbers and in cost, than the army of defense, working on interior lines. Moreover, the vast-proposed blockade, by increasing to a point of anything like efficiency the vessels, armament, and personnel of the United States navy, would cost many millions. Thus, in short, the southern thinker could very readily persuade himself that the annual expenditures of the Federal Government must—even with the strictest economy and best management—run to unprecedented and undreamed-of sums.
The demand for increased appropriations with the very first call of Mr. Lincoln for troops, justified this belief; the budget of '62 to the United States Congress went far beyond all expectation; and the wild waste, extravagance, and robbery that swelled each succeeding estimate, were but more and more proof to the southern thinker, that he must be right. But he had made one grave miscalculation.
Into the woof of delusion which he continued to weave, for enwrapping his own judgment, such reasoner omitted wholly to cross the warp of combined result. He neglected that vastly-important filament—proper and value-enhancing handling of his valuable production; the reality that southern cotton, sugar and rice had become so great a factor in national wealth, mainly through manipulation by northern hands. He did not stop to calculate that—those hands removed and, in addition, the ports of the South herself hermetically sealed—all product, not consumable, must become as valueless as the leaves and dross of the German's dreamer!
The expenses of the North have ever been paid by the South, he reasoned. This sum now withdrawn, it follows that not only will the increased expenses of the North not be paid; but the heavy balance will be efficient in the southern Treasury, to meet our far smaller expenses.
With equal ability in management, this result might have happened; for there is no sort of doubt that depreciation in southern money was, in some regards, reason for appreciation in northern. But while the policy of the southern Treasury was weak, vacillating and destructive, that of the northern was strong, bold and cautious. While Mr. Memminger—instead of utilizing those products which had heretofore been the life-blood of northern finance—allowed the precious moments to pass; and flooded the country with paper, with only future, instead of present and actual, basis of redemption, the northern Secretary struck boldly at the very root of the matter and made each successive disaster to northern arms another link in the strengthening chain of northern credit.
The Union finances did indeed appear desperate. The stoppage of a sure and heavy means of revenue, at the same moment that the spindles of New England stood still for want of food; the increased demand for fabrics and supplies, that had now to be imported; and the vast increase of expenditure, coincident with decrease in revenue, left but had one door open to escape. The North was flooded with greenback promises to pay, issued with one sole basis of redemption—the chance of absolute conquest of a people roused, warlike, and determined to yield nothing save their lives.
To meet this issue and the interest of the vast debt incurred, taxation in the North rapidly increased, until the oppressive burden represented, in one or another shape, near 20 per cent. of the real property of the people!
Besides, the North, unlike ourselves—argued the hopeful southern financier—does not go into the war as a unit. New York, the great money center, is entirely opposed to the war; New England is discontented at the stoppage of her factories and the loss imposed upon her people; and the great West, ever more bound to the South than to the East, by community of interest and of pursuit, must soon see that her only road to salvation is down the great river that has heretofore been the one lung that gave her the breath of life! Will the cute Yankee of New England submit to be ruined, and starved, and taxed in addition? Will the great commercial metropolis let the grass grow in her streets and the vessels rot at her wharves, that once laughed with southern cotton? Will the granary and meat-house of the Union yield all her produce for baseless paper promises and, in addition pay heavy tax to carry on a war, suicidal as she must see it?
Such were the delusions of the South—based, it may be, upon reason, and only delusions because underestimating and despising the great ingenuity of the enemy, and the vast cohesive power of interest!
If the Washington government could not make the war popular, it could at least make it a great money job. If it could not bring it at once to the hearts of its people, it could at least force it directly upon their pockets.
The vast increase in army and navy gave sudden and excitingly novel employment to thousands of men then out of situations; the unprecedented demand for materials of war—arms—munitions—clothing—supplies—turned the North and East into one vast armory and quartermaster's store; while the West was a huge commissary department. Then the Government paid well and promptly, if it did pay in greenbacks. These daily changed hands and nobody stopped to inquire on what the promise to pay was based.
Great contracts were let out to shrewd and skillful moneyed men; these again subdivided became the means of employing thousands of idle hands—while each sub-contractor became a missionary to the mob to preach the gospel of the greenback!
But above all was the shrewdness and finesse with which the bonds were manipulated. The suction once applied, the great engine, Wall street, was pumped dry; and self-preservation made every bondholder a de facto emissary of the Treasury Department.
Banker and baker, soldier and seamstress, were equally interested in the currency. It became greenback or nothing, and the United States used the theory of self-preservation on which to build a substantial edifice of public credit.
These were the hard, real reasons that dissipated at last the dream of the South; that kept the greenback promise of the manufacturing North at little below gold, while the grayback of the producing South went down—down—from two—to ten—twenty—at last, to one thousand dollars for one.
DOLLARS, CENTS, AND LESS.
And now, looking back to the struggling and suffering South, one asks with wonder how these results could have transpired.
Unlike the North, the South went into the struggle with her whole soul and her whole strength. Every man came forward with one accord, willing to work in the way he best might for the cause he held sacred; ready to give his arm, his life, and all he had beside, for the general good. Whole regiments were put into service, armed, uniformed and equipped, without costing the central government one dollar; and in some instances—as of that spotless knight, true gentleman and pure patriot, Wade Hampton—raised by the energy, paid for by the generosity, and led to death itself by the valor of one man!
Corporations came into this general feeling. Railroads put their rolling-stock and their power in the hands of the Government; agreeing, as early as the origin of the Montgomery government, to take their pay at half rates and in government bonds. Banks put their facilities and their circulation, manufacturers their machinery and foundries their material, at public disposition, for the bare cost of existence. Farmers and graziers cheerfully yielded all demanded of them! And how the women wrought—how soft hands that had never worked before plied the ceaseless needle through the tough fabric—how taper fingers packed the boxes for camp, full from self-denial at home—shall shine down all history as the brightest page in story of noble selflessness.
In the deadly hail of hostile batteries; in the sweltering harvest-field of August, and at the saddened and desolate fireside of December, the southern people wrought on—hoped on!
And the result of all this willing sacrifice was greatly to reduce the burdens on the treasury. For reasons before stated the southern army was smaller, and its transportation cost far less, than that of the enemy. Its equipment was far cheaper, and its subsistence for every reason infinitely smaller.
Still, with an outlay per diem scarcely more than one-tenth that of the North—which amounted to near $4,000,000! daily; with the teeming fields and bursting warehouses filled with cotton—a year back, auriferous in every fiber—worthless now; and with a people thus united to act and to aid it, the Southern Treasury continued to flood the country with paper issues, based only on the silver lining of the cloud that hung darker and ever darker over the South.
With one-tenth the population in the field and the rest working for them, there was no real demand for this inordinate issue. One-tenth the volume of currency properly distributed, with a coincident issue of bonds, would have relieved the actual necessities of buyer and seller. But still the wheels worked on—still Treasury notes fluttered out, until every bank and store and till was glutted with them.
Then the results of the inflation came with relentless and rapid pace. With the people still convinced of the inevitable outcome of their united efforts; with the thinkers of the South still evolving their theories of the philosopher's stone to change all this mass of paper into gold; and with the press of the country blatant about the speedy and certain collapse of northern credit; above all, with millions of pounds of cotton rotting in our warehouses—Confederate money, little by little, bought less and less of the necessaries of life.
At first the change was very gradual. In the summer of 1861, persons coming to Richmond from Europe and the North spent their gold as freely as the Treasury notes. Then gold rose to five, ten, fifteen, and finally to forty per cent. premium. There it stuck for a time. But the issues increased in volume, the blockade grew more effective, and misgivings about the Treasury management crept into the minds of the people. Gold went up again, ten per cent. at a jump, until it touched a hundred—then rapidly to a hundred and fifty.
"The whole system looks devilish blue," said Styles Staple, who was curing an ugly wound in his thigh. "I've been writing 'the house' about it, and the Gov. thinks the hour has passed for utilizing the cotton. If that can't be impressed by the Government, the whole bottom will fall out of this thing before many months."
"If it ever passes the two hundred," solemnly quoth the colonel in answer, "egad, sir! 'twill go up like a rocket! Up, sir! egad! clean out of sight!"
I candidly answered that I could not see the end of the inflation.
"I do," Styles growled—"Repudiation!"
"Well, that's no end of a nobby thing!" cried Will Wyatt, who was always bored about anything more serious than the last book, or charging a battery. "Cheerful that, for a fellow's little pile to go up like a rocket, and he not even to get the stick."
"He can have the smoke, however," answered Styles more cheerily, as he hobbled over and gave a $5 note for a dozen cigars.
And this began rapidly to be the tone, everywhere out of trade. A vague feeling of insecurity about the power of the Government to check the onward flood of issue prevailed in all classes. This produced a reckless expenditure for anything tangible and portable. And at last the colonel's prediction was verified; for money touched the two hundred per cent., and went up—up—by the one hundred; until in a time incredibly short—and with such a suddenness that people had no time to be surprised—the Confederate treasury note stood still for a moment, worth twenty to one for gold!
This may be accounted for, in small part, by the scarcity of supplies and the increasing efficiency of the blockade. But it must be remembered that the value of gold remained a constant quantity and the gold dollar in Richmond, note-flooded and blockade-bound, bought more of almost any article than it ever had before.
With a string of active vessels watching every port and cove, to snap up the daring ventures between the island ports and the coast; with a powerful enemy thundering at every point of entrance to southern territory, still the fortunate man who had gold, or who could draw upon Europe, or the North, actually lived much cheaper than in any place beyond the lines! Singular as this statement may appear, it is actual fact. At this moment—before the depreciation of currency became such as to give it no value whatever—board at the best hotels in Richmond was $20 per day—equivalent to $1 in gold, while it was $3 in New York, or Washington; a suit of clothes could be had for $600 or $30 in gold, while in New York it cost from $60 to $80; the best whisky was $25 per gallon—$1.25 in gold, while in the North it was more than double.
Rapidly gold rose in the market, and in the absence of stocks became the only vehicle for financial gambling. From time to time, as a brilliant success would grace Confederate arms, the fall of Treasury credit would be checked. But it was only for the moment—and it went down steadily, rapidly, fatally. And as steadily, as rapidly and as fatally did the Treasury shuttles fly; spinning out the notes, like a whirlwind in autumn. And tighter grew the blockade, and fewer the means of supply. Stocks on hand were long since gone; little came to replace them, and the rich were driven to great straits to live, while the poor almost starved.
Away from the army lines and great centers of cities, the suffering was dreadful; impressments stripped the impoverished people; conscription turned smiling fields into desert wastes; fire and sword ravaged many districts; and the few who could raise the great bundle of paper necessary to buy a meal, scarce knew where to turn in the general desolation, to procure it even then. In the cities, it was a little better; but when beef, pork and butter in Richmond reached $35 per pound; when common cloth was $60 per yard, shoes $200 to $800 per pair, and a barrel of flour worth $1,400, it became a difficult problem to fill one's stomach at any outlay.
And all this time the soldiers and Government employes were being paid on a gold basis. The private received eleven (afterward twenty-one) dollars per month—amounting at the end of 1863 to just fifty-five cents in coin! At the last payments, before the final actions at Petersburg, the pay of a private for one month was thirty-three cents!
Nor were officers of the army and navy better paid. With their rank in the old service guaranteed them, they also received about the same pay, when gold and paper money were of equal value. Later Congress believed it would be a derogation from its dignity to "practically reduce the value of its issues," as one member said, "by raising officers' pay." Thus a lieutenant in the navy, probably of twenty years' experience, and with a family dependent upon him, though debarred from all other labor, received $1,500 per year—equal in gold to the sum of $4.25 per month; while a brigadier, or other higher general, received nearly $8 per month.
These things would provoke a smile, did they not bring with them the memory of the anguished struggle to fight off want that the wives and children of the soldier martyrs made. I have gone into detail further than space, or the reader's patience may warrant; and still, "Behold, the half is not told!"
I would not, if I could, record the bitter miseries of the last dreadful winter—paint the gaunt and ugly outlines of womanhood, squalid, famished, dying—but triumphant still. One case only will tell the tale for all the rest. A poor, fragile creature, still girlish and refined under the pinched and pallid features of starvation, tottered to me one day to beg work.
"It is life or death for me and four young children," she said. "We have eaten nothing to-day; and all last week we lived on three pints of rice!"
Will Wyatt, who was near, made a generous offer of relief. Tears sprang into the woman's eyes as she answered, "You mean kindness, major; but I have never asked charity yet. My husband is at the front; and I only ask a right—to be allowed to work for my children!"
Such were the sufferings, such the spirit of southern women!
When it was too late—when the headlong road to ruin had been more than half-way run—some feeble attempts were made to stay the downward rush. Of course, they were useless—worse than useless, in that they made widespread a feeling of distrust, already deep-seated with reflecting men. The volume of currency had reached such expansion that its value was merely nominal for purposes of subsistence, when the devices of Mr. Memminger to lessen it began to be pressed in earnest.
The people had now begun to see that the whole theory of the Treasury was false; that the moment for utilizing the cotton supply had indeed been lost; and they murmured loud and deep against the Secretary and the President; whom they believed not only retained him in office, but endorsed his destructive policy. Mr. Davis, the people said, was autocratic with his Cabinet, and would have displaced Mr. Memminger summarily, had he not favored that peculiar financial system. Mr. Davis, too, was known to have been hostile to the absorption and exportation by the Government of all the cotton. He had, moreover, recommended against any legislation by Congress to contract the currency and stop the issues. Now, therefore, the inflation and utter inadequacy of the paper money was laid at his door, as well as Mr. Memminger's; and the people, feeling there was no safety for them, began to distrust the good faith of such reckless issue. A system of barter was inaugurated among the country people; and they traded off things only needful for others absolutely essential. They began to feel a dread of taking the notes of the Government, and in many instances refused them utterly. And yet these very people yielded cheerfully to the constantly insolent, and not infrequently illegal, demands of the impressment officers.
In the cities, too, a point had been reached where the promise of the Government to pay was looked upon as a bitter joke. Bonds were constantly refused in business transactions, and only Treasury notes—as a medium of temporary exchange—were accepted.
Then, as a necessary measure, came the imperative order for funding the currency. All the millions of old issues were to be turned into the treasury, by a certain date, and exchanged for bonds. If the unlucky holder could not, or would not, deposit or exchange, he lost thirty-three per cent. of the value of the Government pledge he held. The old issues went rapidly out of sight; but the measure did not appreciably lessen the current medium, while it did very appreciably lessen the confidence in the integrity of the Department.
It is but the first step in repudiation, thought the people. If Government will on any pretext ignore one-third of its obligation, what guarantee have we for the other two? And so, justly or unjustly, the country lost all faith in the money. Men became reckless and paid any price for any article that would keep. Tobacco—as being the most compact and portable—was the favorite investment; but cotton, real estate, merchandise—anything but the paper money, was grasped at with avidity.
It has often been charged that speculators ruined the currency. But, to give the children of the devil their due—we can scarcely think but that the currency made the speculators.
Had the plain system been adopted, by which the currency dollar could have ever approximated to coin, it would have been simply impossible for the holders of supplies to have run prices up to extortionate figures. Not that I would for one instant excuse, or ask any mercy for, those unclean vultures who preyed upon the dead credit of their Government; who grew fat and loathsome while they battened on the miseries of the brave, true men who battled for them in the front ranks of the fight. But while the fault and the shame is theirs, it may not be disguised that the door was not only left open for their base plundering, but in many cases they were urged toward it by the very hands that should have slammed it in their faces.
When we come to consider the question of the blockade, we may, perhaps, see this more clearly. Meantime, in glancing down the past by the light of experience, one can not but marvel at the rapid, yet almost imperceptible, epidemic that fastened incurably upon the people, spreading to all classes and sapping the very foundations of their strength.
In the beginning, as vast crowds poured into Richmond—each man with a little money and anxious to use it to some advantage—trade put on a new and holiday dress. Old shops were spruced up; old stocks, by aid of brushing and additions, were made to appear quite salable and rapidly ran off. The demand made the meat it fed upon, until stores, shops and booths sprang up in all parts of the city and on all the roads leading into it from the camps. Gradually—from causes already noted—supplies became more scarce as money became more plenty. The pinch began to be felt by many who had never known it before; and almost every one, who had any surplus portables, was willing to turn them into money. In this way, those who had anything to sell, for the time, managed to live. But the unfortunates who had only what they needed absolutely, or who were forced to live upon a fixed stipend, that did not increase in any ratio to the decrease of money, suffered terribly.
These were only too ready to take the fever of speculation; and to buy any small lots of anything whatever that might sell again at a profit. This was the class from which the main body of amateur speculators was recruited. One successful venture led to another and gave added means for it. The clerk, or the soldier, who yesterday cleared his hundred on a little turn in whisky, to-morrow might hope to double it—then reinvest his principal and his profits. It was marvelous how values rose over night. One might buy anything, a lot of flour—a line of fruits—a hogshead of molasses, or a case of boots to-day, with almost a certainty of nearly doubling his outlay to-day week.
The ordinary channels of trade became clogged and blocked by its constant increase. Auction houses became the means of brokerage; and their number increased to such an extent that half a dozen red flags at last dotted every block on Main street. And incongruous, indeed, were the mixtures exposed at these sales, as well as in the windows of the smallest shops in Richmond. In the latter, bonnets rested on the sturdy legs of cavalry boots; rolls of ribbon were festooned along the crossed barrel of a rifle and the dingy cotton umbrella; while cartridges, loaves of bread, packages of groceries, gloves, letter paper, packs of cards, prayer-books and canteens, jostled each other in admirable confusion.
At these auctions there was utter want of system. Hogsheads of prime rum would be put up after kegs of spikes; a case of organdies would follow a good cavalry horse; and then might come four second-hand feather-beds and a hundred boarding cutlasses.
But everything soever found a purchaser; some because they were absolutely needed and the buyer dreaded waiting the next week's rise; the majority to sell again in this insane game of money-making.
But varied as were the motives for speculation, the principal ones were breadstuffs and absolute necessities of life; and while the minor speculators—the amateurs—purchased for quick profits—the professional vultures bought for great ones and could afford to wait.
The first class reached into every rank of society; the second were principally Yankee residents—caught in Richmond by the war, or remaining for the sole purpose of making it pay—and a smaller class of the lowest Polish Jews. Ishmaels both, owning no kinship and no country, their sole hope was gain—gain at the cost of reputation and credit themselves—gain even at the cost of torture and starvation to the whole South beside. These it was who could afford to buy in bulk; then aid the rise they knew must come inexorably, by hoarding up great quantities of flour, bacon, beef and salt.
It mattered not for themselves who suffered—who starved. It mattered not if the noble fellows at the front lived on a scant handful of cornmeal per day—if starving men died before the works they were too weak to mount—if ghastly objects in hospital and trench literally perished, while their storehouses burst with food—waiting for a rise!
It is too ugly a picture to dwell upon. Suffice it that the human hyenas of speculation did prey upon the dying South; that they locked up her salt while the men in the trenches perished for it; that thrice they stored the flour the people felt was theirs, in such quantities and for so long, that before their maw for gain was glutted, serious riots of the starving called for the strong hand to interfere. And to the credit of Government and southern soldier, be it said—even in that dark hour, with craving stomach and sickening soul—"Johnny Reb" obeyed his orders and guarded the den of the hyena—from his own hungering children, perhaps!
No weak words of mine may paint the baseness and infamy of the vultures of the market. Only a Dore, with a picture like his Frozen Hell, or Ugolino—might give it faint ideal.
And with the feeling how valueless was the money, came another epidemic—not so widespread, perhaps, as the speculation fever; but equally fatal to those who caught it—the rage for gambling!
Impulsive by nature, living in an atmosphere of constant and increasing artificial excitement, feeling that the money worth little to-day, perhaps, would be worth nothing to-morrow—the men of the South gambled heavily, recklessly and openly. There was no shame—little concealment about it. The money was theirs, they argued, and mighty hardly earned, too. They were cut off from home ties and home amusements; led the life of dumb beasts in camp; and, when they came to town—ho! for "the tiger."
Whether these reasons be valid or not, such they were. And really to the camp-wearied and battle-worn officer, the saloon of the fashionable Richmond "hell" was a thing of beauty. Its luxurious furniture, soft lights, obsequious servants and lavish store of such wines and liquors and cigars as could be had nowhere else in Dixie—these were only part of the inducement. Excitement did the rest, leaving out utterly the vulgar one of possible gain, so rarely did that obtain. But in these faro-banks collected the leading men, resident and alien, of the Capital. Senators, soldiers and the learned professions sat elbow to elbow, round the generous table that offered choicest viands money could procure. In the handsome rooms above they puffed fragrant and real Havanas, while the latest developments of news, strategy and policy were discussed; sometimes ably, sometimes flippantly, but always freshly. Here men who had been riding raids in the mountains of the West; had lain shut up in the water batteries of the Mississippi; or had faced the advance of the many "On-to-Richmonds"—met after long separation. Here the wondering young cadet would look first upon some noted raider, or some gallant brigadier—cool and invincible amid the rattle of Minie-balls, as reckless but conquerable amid the rattle of ivory chips.
So the faro-banks flourished and the gamblers waxed fat like Jeshurun, the ass, and kicked never so boldly at the conscript man. Nor were they all of ignoble memory. There is more than one "sport" in the South to-day, who made warm and real friends of high position from his acts of real generosity then.
Whatever may be the vices of gamblers as a class, many a soldier-boy will bear witness to the exception that proves the rule. One of the "hells" at least was a home for the refugee; and whether the Maryland soldier came dirty, and hungry and ragged from camp, with never a "stamp" in his pocket; whether he came wearied and worn, but "full of greenbacks," from a trip across the lines—the post of honor at the table, the most cordial welcome and most generous glass of wine were ever his.
However the holy may be horrified—however the princely speculator may turn up his keen-scented nose, I here record that, during the four years of dark and bloody war—of pinching want and bitter trial, there was no more generous, free-hearted and delicate aid given to the suffering soldier-boy, than came from the hand of the Baltimore faro-banker.
So in Richmond high and low gambled—some lightly for excitement's sake—some dashingly and brilliantly—a few sullenly and doggedly going in to gain. Few got badly hurt, getting more in equivalent of wines, cigars and jolly dinners than they gave. They looked upon the "hell" as a club—and as such used it freely, spending what they had and whistling over their losses. When they had money to spare they played; when they had no money to spare—or otherwise—they smoked their cigars, drank their toddies and met their friends in chaff and gossip, with no more idea that there was a moral or social wrong than if they had been at the "Manhattan" or the "Pickwick" of to-day.
I do not pretend to defend the habit; but such it was, and such all the men who remember the Capital will recognize it.
Of that other class, who "went in for blood"—some got badly hurt in reputation and in pocket. But the dead cause has buried its dead; and their errors—the result of an overstrained state of society and indubitably of a false money-system—hurt no one but themselves.
And so, with the enemy thundering at the gates; with the echoed whoo! of the great shells almost sounding in the streets; and with the ill-provided army staggering under the burthen of defense—almost too heavy for it to bear—the finances of the Confederacy went from bad to worse—to nothing!
The cotton that the alchemy of genius, or even of business tact—might have transmuted into gold, rotted useless; or worse, as a bait for the raider. The notes, that might have been a worthy pledge of governmental faith, bore no meaning now upon their face; and the soldier in the trench and the family at the desolate fireside—who might have been comfortably fed and clad—were gnawed with very hunger! And when the people murmured too loudly, a change was made in men, if not in policy.
Even if Mr. Trenholm had the ability, he had no opportunity to prove it. The evil seed had been sown and the bitter fruit had grown apace. Confederate credit was dead!
Even its own people had no more faith in the issues of their government; and they hesitated not—even while they groped on, ever on to the darkness coming faster and faster down upon them—to declare that the cause of their trouble was Mr. Memminger; with the President behind him.
But, though the people saw the mismanagement and felt its cause—though they suffered from it as never nation suffered before—though they spoke always bitterly and often hotly of it; still, in their greatest straits and in their darkest hours, no southern man ever deemed it but mismanagement.
The wildest and most reckless slanderer could never hint that one shred of all the flood of paper was ever diverted from its proper channel by the Secretary; or that he had not worked brain and body to the utmost, in the unequal struggle to subdue the monster he had created.
ACROSS THE POTOMAC AND BACK.
Of such vast import to the southern cause was Lee's first aggressive campaign in Maryland; so vital was its need believed to be, by the people of the South; so varied and warm was their discussion of it that it may seem proper to give that advance more detailed consideration.
Imperfect and inadequate as such a sketch must be, to the soldier, it may still convey in some sort, the ideas of the southern people upon a momentous question.
Coincident with the evacuation of the Peninsula by the Federals was General Lee's movement, to throw beyond the Rapidan a force sufficient to prevent Pope's passage of that river. After Cedar Mountain, Jackson had disappeared as if the earth had swallowed him up. It was believed in the North that the advance of Pope's masses had cut him off from the main army and locked him up in the Shenandoah Valley; while the South—equally ignorant of his designs and confident of their success—rested on the rumor that he had said:
"Send me more men and no orders!"
Suddenly a beacon flashed into the sky, telling in the flames from the depots at Manassas and Bristow Stations that the famous passage of Thoroughfare Gap had been made—millions of property, stores and rolling-stock given to feed the flames. Jackson was in Pope's rear!
This Confederate corps now fronted toward the main army of Lee, and the bragging Federal found himself between the upper and nether millstones. Still he had little doubt that he could turn upon the small force of Jackson and crush it before Lee could advance to his rescue. Following this plan, and depending also upon the heavy masses Burnside was bringing down to him from Fredericksburg, Pope attacked Jackson in detail at Bristow and at Manassas, with no other effect than to be repulsed heavily in both instances.
The attack, however, warned Jackson of the enemy's purpose and of his own critical position; and, on the night of August 28th, he made a masterly flank movement that put him in possession of the old battle-field of Manassas plains; at the same time opening his communications with Lee's advance.
In all this, General Stuart gave most efficient aid both in beating back heavy attacks of the enemy's cavalry, and in keeping Jackson advised of the course of Pope's retreat—or advance, as it might be called—from Warrenton to Manassas.
By the 29th of August, Longstreet's corps had effected the passage of Thoroughfare Gap and united with Jackson; and on that day these corps engaged with Pope's advance in a terrific fight, lasting from midday till dark—the prelude to the great drama that was next day to deluge the field of Manassas a second time with the blood of friend and foe.
Before daylight next morning, the cannon again woke the wearied and battle-worn ranks, sleeping on their arms on the field they had won; and sent a fresh impulse to the hearts of their brothers, toiling steadily on to join them in the great fight to come. Heavy firing and sharp skirmishing for position filled the forenoon; but then the masses of hostile infantry joined in the shock of battle, more terrible than the one of the year before. The men were more disciplined and hardened on both sides; and the Federal leaders, feeling that their only hope lay in victory now, hurled brigade after brigade against the now vindictive and battle-thirsty Confederates.
Line after line emerges from enveloping clouds of smoke, charging the fronts that Longstreet and Jackson steadily oppose to them. Line after line melts before that inevitable hail, rolling back scattered and impotent as the spume the angry ocean throws against a granite headland!
Broken again and again, the Federals, with desperate gallantry, hurl against the unflinching crescent that pours its ceaseless rain of fire through them; while the great guns behind its center thunder and roll
"In the very glee of war,"
sending death-winged bolts tearing and crushing through them.
Through the carnival of death Hood has sent his Texans and Georgians at a run—their wild yells rending the dull roar of the fight; their bayonets flashing in a jagged line of light like hungry teeth! Jackson has swung gradually round the enemy's right; and Stephen Lee's artillery has advanced from the center—ever tearing and crashing through the Federal ranks, scattering terror and death in its unswerving path!
The slaughter has been terrific. Federal and Southron have fought well and long. Piles of mangled and gory dead lie so mingled that gray and blue are undistinguished. But the wild impetuosity of the "ragged rebels"—nerved by the memories of this field's old glories—toned up by the Seven Days, and delirious with the glow of present victory—sweeps the Federal back and doubles his line. It breaks—fresh regiments pour in with deadly shot and fearful yell; the Federal line melts into confusion—rout! and the Second Manassas is won.
The victory was as complete as that of the year before; an absolute rout was only saved the Federals by falling back to the reserve under Franklin, when the retreat became more orderly, as there was no pursuit.
The solid fruits of the victory were the annihilation of all the plans of the gong-sounder, and the complete destruction of the new "On-to-Richmond;" the capture of over 7,000 prisoners—paroled on the field—and his admitted total loss of 28,000 men.
New glories, too, shone around the names of Lee, Jackson, Longstreet, Hood, Kemper and Jenkins; and the efficient aid and splendid fighting of the cavalry of Stuart, Hampton and Bev Robinson, here proved that arm to have reached its point of highest efficiency.
The heart of the South, still throbbing with triumph after the Seven Days and their bright corollary of Cedar Mountain, went up in one wild throb of joyous thanksgiving. So satisfied were the people of the sagacity of their leaders and the invincible valor of their troops; so carried away were they by the splendid reflection from the glory over Manassas plain—that this time they never even stopped to question why there had been no pursuit; why the broken enemy had not been completely crushed. All they felt was that Virginia was free from the invader. For General Loring, in the Kanawha, had driven the enemy before him and entirely cleared that portion of the state; while on this line he was hastening rapidly back to Washington to meet the expected advance of Lee toward the Capital.
Without resting his army, the latter divided it into three corps, under command of Jackson, Longstreet and A. P. Hill; and moved rapidly toward the accomplishment of that cherished hope of the southern people—an offensive campaign on the enemy's soil.
Jackson passed with his accustomed swiftness to the occupation of the heights commanding Harper's Ferry and to the investment of that position; while the other corps moved to the river at different points, to cut off the re-enforcements the alarmed Federals might send to its rescue. Great was the alarm and intense the excitement at Washington. The sudden turn of the tables—the cold dash to hopes that the bragging of their new hero had raised to fever heat, and the transformation of the crushed rebel into an avenging invader, created equal surprise as panic. Pope summarily dropped from the pinnacle of public favor into disgrace; and McClellan was the only mainstay the Federal Government could fall back on, to check the victorious Lee.
Meanwhile, equal excitement reigned in the Rebel Capital, but it was joyous and triumphant. The people had long panted to see the theater of blood and strife transferred to the prosperous and peaceful fields of their enemy. They had a secure feeling that when these were torn with shell and drenched with carnage; when barns were rifled and crops trampled by hostile feet, the northern people would begin to appreciate the realities of a war they had so far only seen by the roseate light of a partial press. Secure and confident in the army that was to work their oracle, the hope of the South already drew triumphant pictures of defeated armies, harassed states, and a peace dictated from the Federal Capital.
On the 14th of September, D. H. Hill, of Longstreet's corps—stationed at Boonesboro to protect Jackson's flank—was attacked by a heavy force. Heavily outnumbered, Hill fought a dogged and obstinate battle—giving and taking terrific blows, only ceasing when night stopped the fight. It was hard to tell which side had the best of the actual fighting; but the great object was gained and the next day Harper's Ferry, with its heavy garrison and immense supply of arms, stores and munitions, was surrendered to Jackson.
Great was the joy in Richmond when the news of the brilliant fight at Boonesboro—the first passage of arms on Maryland soil—and of the capture of the great arsenal of the North reached her anxious people. It was, they felt, but the presage of the great and substantial triumphs that Lee and his veterans must win. Higher rose their confidence and more secure became their calculations; and the vivid contrast between the ragged, shoeless and incongruous army of the South with the sleek, spruce garrison surrendered to them, only heightened the zest of the victory and the anticipation of those to follow.
But a sudden check was to come to this mid-career of anticipation, and a pall of doubt and dismay was to drape the fair form of Hope, even in her infancy.
Two days after the fall of Harper's Ferry—on the 17th of September—Lee had massed some 35,000 men on the banks of the Antietam, near Sharpsburg—a village ten miles north-east of Harper's Ferry. McClellan, pressing him hard with an army four times his own numbers—composed in part of raw levies and hastily-massed militia, and in part of the veterans of the armies of the Potomac—seemed determined on battle. Trusting in the valor and reliability of his troops, and feeling the weakness of being pressed by an enemy he might chastise, the southern chief calmly awaited the attack—sending couriers to hasten the advance of A. P. Hill, Walker and McLaws, whose divisions had not yet come up.
Ushered in by a heavy attack the evening before—which was heavily repulsed—the morning of the 17th saw one of the bloodiest and most desperate fights in all the horrid records of that war. Hurling his immense masses against the rapidly dwindling Confederate line; only to see them reel back shattered and broken—McClellan strove to crush his adversary by sheer strength. No sooner would one attacking column waver, break, retreat—leaving a writhing and ghastly wake behind it—than a fresh host would hurl against the adamantine line that sunk and shriveled under the resistless fire, but never wavered. In all the fearful carnage of the war—whether resulting in gloom, like that of Corinth, or purchasing brilliant victory with precious blood—men never fought better than did that battle-torn, service-worn handful that had just saved Richmond—broken the glittering, brazen vessel of destruction; and now sent its defiant yell through hostile mountains.
All that valor and endurance could do had been done; and at mid-afternoon the battle seemed well-nigh lost. Just then the missing divisions—some 12,000 men—reached the field. Wearied, unfed and footsore, they were; but the scent of battle rested and refreshed them as they went into the thickest of the fight. But even they could not save the day. Outnumbered and shattered, but unconquered still, the Confederates could not advance from the field they had held at such bitter cost. And when night stopped the aimless carnage, each army, too crippled to renew the fight, withdrew toward its base. McClellan could not pursue; and the Confederates fell back doggedly, sullenly, and recrossed into Virginia.