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After the War: A Southern Tour May 1, 1865 to May 1, 1866 written by Whitelaw Reid. This book was published in 1866. And now republish in ebook format. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form. While we strive to adequately clean and digitally enhance the original work, there are occasionally instances where imperfections such as missing pages, poor pictures or errant marks may have been introduced due to either the quality of the original work. Despite these occasional imperfections, we have brought it back into print as part of our ongoing global book preservation commitment, providing customers with access to the best possible historical reprints. We appreciate your understanding of these occasional imperfections, and sincerely hope you enjoy reading this book.
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After the War
A Southern Tour
May 1, 1865 to May 1, 1866
CHAPTER I. Why, and How the Trip was Made.
CHAPTER II. A School of Unadulterated Negroes—An Ancient Virginia Town under the Dispensation of Sutlers.
CHAPTER III. “Beauties of the Sea”—First Views of Cracker Unionism.
CHAPTER IV. Newbern and Beaufort—Black and White.
CHAPTER V. Fort Fisher.
CHAPTER VI. Wilmington—Unionism—Blockade Running—Destitution—Negro Talk—Land Sales.
CHAPTER VII. Charleston Harbor—Could Sumter have been Stormed—Negroes and Poor Whites.
CHAPTER VIII. Charleston, Now and Four Years Ago.
CHAPTER IX. “Unionism”—Black and White, in Charleston and Through South Carolina.
CHAPTER X. Port Royal and Beaufort.
CHAPTER XI. Among the Sea Islanders.
CHAPTER XII. Business, Speculation and Progress Among the Sea Island Negroes.
CHAPTER XIII. Pulaski—Savannah—Bonaventure.
CHAPTER XIV. White and Black Georgians—The Savannah Standard of Unionism.
CHAPTER XV. Florida Towns and Country—A Florida Senator.
CHAPTER XVI. Orange Groves and an Ancient Village—The Oldest Town and Fort in the United States—Northern Speculations.
CHAPTER XVII. Dungeness, and the “Greatest of the Lees”—Cultivation of the Olive—Criminations of the Officers.
CHAPTER XVIII. The Southern “Ultima Thule” of the United States.
CHAPTER XIX. A Remarkable Negro Story—One of the Strange Possibilities of Slavery.
CHAPTER XX. Among the Cubans—The Impending Downfall of Cuban Slavery.
CHAPTER XXI. Scenes in Mobile—The Cotton Swindles.
CHAPTER XXII. Mobile Loyalists and Reconstructionists—Black and White.
CHAPTER XXIII. New Orleans and New Orleans Notabilities.
CHAPTER XXIV. The Beginning Reaction—Northern Emigrants and New Orleans Natives.
CHAPTER XXV. Among the Negro Schools.
CHAPTER XXVI. Talks with the Citizens, White and Black.
CHAPTER XXVII. A Free-labor Sugar Plantation.
CHAPTER XXVIII. The “Jeff. Davis Cotton Plantation.”
CHAPTER XXIX. Vicksburg to Louisville.
CHAPTER XXX. General Aspects of the South at the Close of the War.
CHAPTER XXXI. Mid-summer at the Capitol.
CHAPTER XXXII. Richmond, after Six Months of Yankee Rule.
CHAPTER XXXIII. Lynchburg—The Interior of Virginia.
CHAPTER XXXIV. Knoxville and the Mountaineers—Glimpses of Southern Ideas.
CHAPTER XXXV. Atlanta—Georgia Phases of Rebel and Union Talk.
CHAPTER XXXVI. Montgomery—The Lowest Phase of Negro Character—Politics and Business.
CHAPTER XXXVII. Selma—Government Armories—Talks among the Negroes.
CHAPTER XXXVIII. Mississippi Tavern Talks on National Politics—Scenes in the Interior.
CHAPTER XXXIX. Mobile Temper and Trade—Inducements of Alabama to Emigrants.
CHAPTER XL. Phases of Public Sentiment in New Orleans before Congress met.
CHAPTER XLI. Cotton Speculations—Temper of the Mississippians.
CHAPTER XLII. Memphis—Out from the Reconstructed.
CHAPTER XLIII Congress Takes Charge of Reconstruction.
CHAPTER XLIV. Southern Feeling after the Meeting of Congress.
CHAPTER XLV. Political and Business Complications in the South-west.
CHAPTER XLVI. The Sugar and Rice Culture in Louisiana—Profits and Obstacles.
CHAPTER XLVII. A Cotton Plantation—Work, Workmen, Wages, Expenses and Returns.
CHAPTER XLVIII. Among the Cotton Plantations—Rations and Ways of Work.
CHAPTER XLIX. Plantation Negroes—Incidents and Characteristics.
CHAPTER L. Further Illustrations of Plantation Negro Character.
CHAPTER LI. Payments, Strikes, and other Illustrations of Plantation Negro Character.
CHAPTER LII. Labor Experiments and Prospects.
CHAPTER LIII. Concluding Suggestions.
With the exception of the unhealthy summer months, I spent the greater part of the year following the close of the Rebellion, in traveling through the late Rebel States, passing first around their entire coast line; and, on subsequent trips, crossing by various routes through the interior.
I have sought, in the following pages, to show something of the condition in which the war left the South, the feelings of the late insurgents, the situation and capacities of the liberated slaves, and the openings offered, under the changed condition of affairs, to capital and industry from without.
A couple of months, this spring, spent on the great cotton plantations of the Mississippi Valley, enabled me to make a closer study of the character of the average plantation negro than tourists have ordinarily found practicable; and the concluding chapters are mainly devoted to these observations.
A further word of explanation may be needed as to the part of the volume describing the journey of Mr. Chief-Justice Chase. After the inauguration of President Johnson, Mr. Chase determined to visit the Southern cities, to learn as much as possible, from actual observation, of the true condition of the country. The Secretary of the Treasury was then about to send a revenue cutter to the New Orleans station, and on board of her a special agent, charged with the duty of examining the agencies, and carrying into effect the directions of the Department in the several South Atlantic and Gulf ports. He tendered the use of this vessel to the Chief-Justice, and orders were issued by the President and the Secretaries of War and of the Navy, to the officers in the naval, military, and civil services to afford him all facilities that their respective duties would allow.
It was under these circumstances that the Chief-Justice made his Southern journey. He had the best opportunities of information, and communicated his views, from time to time, to the President. As a member of the party on board the cutter, I thus enjoyed considerable, though, in some respects, more limited opportunities of observation.
A small portion of the material in the following pages has previously appeared in the journal with which I was connected, but it has all been rewritten.
Library of the House, }
Washington, May, 1866. }
The most interesting records of the great revolution just ending have seemed to me to be those portraying the spirit and bearing of the people throughout the South, just before and at the outbreak of the war. Stories of battles, and sieges, and retreats, are kaleidoscopic repetitions of deeds with which all history is crowded; but with what temper great communities plunged into this war, which has overwhelmed them, for what fancied causes, to what end, in what boundless self-confidence and overwhelming contempt of their antagonists, with what exuberance of frenzied joy at the prospect of bloodshed, with what wild dreams of conquest, and assurance of ill-defined but very grand honors, and orders, and social dignities—all this, as faithfully set down by the few who had opportunities to observe it, constitutes the strangest and most absorbing contribution to the literature of the Rebellion.
So I have thought that what men now most want to know, is something of the temper and condition in which these same communities come out from the struggle. By the side of the daguerreotypes of the South entering upon the war, even the hastiest pencil sketch of the South emerging from the war may possess an interest and attraction of its own.
Therefore, when early in the month of April I was invited to accompany a small party, bound on a voyage of official inspection and observation, from Fortress Monroe around the whole Atlantic and Gulf Coast to New Orleans, and thence up the Mississippi, I congratulated myself upon the opportunity thus afforded of seeing, under the most favorable circumstances, the Southern centers which had nursed and fed the rebellion. Means of communication through the interior of the South are so thoroughly destroyed, and Southern society is so completely disorganized, that it is only in the cities one can hope for any satisfactory view of the people. Even there the overshadowing military authority, and the absence of all accustomed or recognized modes of expressing public sentiment, as through the press, the bar, public meetings, the pulpit, or unrestrained social intercourse, combine to render the task of observation infinitely more difficult than at any previous period.
But all the more, on these accounts, the Southern cities are the places to which we must first look for any satisfactory idea of the Southern condition; and a trip which embraces visits to Norfolk, Newbern, Beaufort, Wilmington, Charleston, Port Royal, Savannah, Fernandina, St. Augustine, Jacksonville, Key West, Mobile, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Natchez, Vicksburg, and Memphis, with visits to plantations all along the route, and occasional trips into the interior, ought not to fail in furnishing a good view of the gradual beginnings to crystallize again out of the chaos to which the war had reduced one-third of the nation.
The trip would have been begun some weeks earlier, but for the deed of horror in Ford’s Theater. But, as Secretary McCulloch well said, the wheels of Government moved on without a perceptible jar; and the arrangements of President Lincoln were only temporarily delayed by the accession of President Johnson. An ocean-going revenue cutter was ordered around from New York to Fortress Monroe for the party, and early on the morning of the first of May, the cutter “Northerner” was announced as in readiness to convey us to the Fortress.
In the afternoon an officer was good enough to bring me the following:
Executive Mansion, Washington, May 1, 1865.
Permission is granted Whitelaw Reid, Esq., to proceed by sea to New Orleans, Louisiana, and return by sea or inland to Washington, District of Columbia, and to visit any port or place en route in the lines of national military occupation.
[Signed,] ANDREW JOHNSON,
President of the United States.
I had not supposed a pass necessary; but as the rest of the party went on official business, it had been thought best to cover my case with a document, about the scope and authority of which no question could be raised. At that time passes to visit many of the Southern points were still eagerly sought and procured with difficulty. The War Department was the place to which, in general, application was to be made, and the speculative gentry who mostly wanted such favors, stood in wholesome awe of the downright Secretary. A pass so nearly unlimited as mine was an unheard of rarity, and before the afternoon was over, two or three who had in some way found out that I had it, were anxious to know if “five hundred or even a thousand dollars would be any inducement” to me to part with it!
By nine in the evening the last of the little party had entered the cozy cabin of the “Northerner.” There were the usual good-byes to the friends who had driven down to the Navy Yard wharf to see us off; playful injunctions from young officers about laying in supplies of cigars at Havana, and from fair ladies about bringing back for them parrots and monkeys, pine apples and bananas; some consultations among the officials of the party; some final messages and instructions sent down at the last moment by the Government: then fresh good-byes; the plank was pulled in, and we steamed out into the darkness.
Everybody compared supplies with everybody else; it was found that there were books enough in the party to set up a circulating library, and paper enough for writing a three-volume novel; the latest dates of newspapers had been laid in; the last issues of the magazines, and even a fresh number of the old North American were forthcoming; while Napoleon’s Cæsar, in all the glory of tinted paper and superb letter-press, formed the pièce de résistance that bade fair to master us all—as Horace Greeley used maliciously to say the old National Intelligencer mastered him, when he couldn’t get asleep in any other way!
Our steamer for the voyage was to be the revenue cutter “Wayanda,” a trim, beautifully-modeled, ocean-going propeller, carrying six guns, and manned with a capital crew. While Captain Merryman was making his final preparation for a cruise, much longer than he had expected when the telegraph hurried his vessel around from New York, we retained the little “Northerner” for a trip up to Norfolk—only delaying long enough at the Fortress to drive out and see a great negro school, established by General Butler.
The wharves were crowded by the usual curious throng of idle spectators, laborers taking care of supplies, soldiers on duty, and a very sparse sprinkling of ladies. Rebel soldiers by scores were mixed in the groups, or could be seen trudging along the sidewalks toward the Commissary’s.
Everywhere were negroes—on the sidewalks—driving the wagons—in the huts that lined the road. All the slaves of the adjoining counties seem to have established themselves at the Fortress. As we crossed the long, narrow isthmus, contracting at last to an attenuated causeway, which separates the Fortress from the main land, and came out into the ancient village of Hampton, the negro huts thickened into swarms, and fairly covered the sites of the old aristocratic residences which the Rebels fired early in the war when compelled to evacuate the place. Bricks, two centuries old, imported by the early colonists from Great Britain, for the mansions of the first families, were built up into little outside chimneys for these cabins of the Freedmen; and here and there one noticed an antique Elizabethan chair, of like age and origin, converted to the uses of a portly negress.
To our right, down on the water’s edge, rose a high, narrow residence—the former home of John Tyler; near it was another, somewhat less pretentious, as well as less uncouth, which had formerly been occupied by S. R. Mallory. Both find loyal and benevolent uses now at the hands of the Government. Near them was a long colonnade, with spacious piazzas, fronting a many-windowed brick hospital, which one of our party was observed closely scrutinizing. “Upon my word,” he exclaimed, after a moment’s reflection, “that is the old Chesapeake Female College, of which I have been, from the foundation, one of the Trustees.” Pale-faced men in blue occupied the chambers of the boarding-school misses; and sentries, pacing to and fro, kept a stricter guard than strictest duenna of boarding-school ever achieved.
To our left extended a stretch of marshy meadows and half-cultivated fields. In their midst was one little field cultivated above all the rest. White boards, with a trifle of modest lettering on each, dotted its surface, and the grass grew greenest over long, carefully-smoothed hillocks. A file of slow-paced soldiers, with arms reversed, was entering the inclosure; behind them followed an army wagon, with five rude pine boxes piled upon it; beyond, quietly, and, as one loved to think, even sadly, regarding the scene, was a group of paroled Rebel soldiers; while, as we turned, in passing, to catch a last glimpse of the mourners in blue by the open graves, there was seen away behind us, rippling in the breeze above the fort, the old flag for which these dead had died, and against which these Rebels had fought.
We found the school-house (a barn-like frame structure), a little removed from the cluster of negro huts, and took the school fairly by surprise. Passing up a long hall, wide enough for double rows of desks, in the center, with seats for about ten or twelve boys in each, and an aisle on either side, with benches for the class recitations against the walls, we came to an elevated platform, from which led off, in opposite directions, two other precisely similar halls. The fourth, completing the cross, was designed for girls, and was yet unfinished. Down these three long halls were ranged row after row of cleanly-clad negro boys, from the ages of six and seven up to sixteen or seventeen.
All seemed attentive; and though the teachers complained that the sudden entrance of visitors always led to more confusion than usual, there was certainly no more than one would expect from any school of equal extent anywhere, or under any management. The rolls contained the names of three hundred and seventy-four pupils, of whom about two hundred were present. The Superintendent, who seemed an earnest, simple-minded man, enthusiastically convinced that he had a “mission” here, spoke of this as about the average attendance. The parents, he said, were themselves so uncertain, and so little accustomed, as yet, to habits of regularity, that they could not well bring up this average to a better point. It seemed to me surely not so far behind our ordinary public schools at the North as to suggest any unfavorable contrasts.
These children had all been slaves, and nearly all had accompanied their parents on their escape from the plantations of the Peninsula, and of the upper counties of North Carolina, to the Fortress. The parents had generally been field hands, and one noticed among the children very few faces not of pure African descent. Such masses of little woolly heads, such rows of shining ivories, and flat noses and blubber lips, I had never seen collected before, unless in a state of filth utterly unbearable. The teachers were all convalescent soldiers from the hospitals, moving noiselessly about among the benches in their hospital slippers and cheap calico wrappers—as they themselves had often seen moving about among their hospital cots the angels of mercy from the North. Who shall say they were not doing as beneficent a work, or that the little negroes might not well follow them with as longing and affectionate a gaze?
Several classes were called up to exhibit their proficiency. Doubtless the teachers selected their best scholars for the test—I think even Northern schools sometimes do that—but there can be little opportunity for deception in the reading of an unlearned lesson in a book, or in answers to questions in mental arithmetic, propounded by the visitors themselves. It was strange to see boys of fourteen or fifteen reading in the First Reader; but stranger to observe how intelligently scholars in the First Reader went about their work, and with what comparative rapidity they learned. I passed among the forms and conversed with a good many of the soldier-teachers. They all united in saying that on an average the raw negro boys admitted to the school would learn their letters and be able to read well in the First Reader in three months; while some of them, who were originally bright, and who were kept in regular attendance, made considerably more rapid progress.
An advanced class, composed of the little negro “monitors” who had been longest in the school, was summoned to the platform to read a lesson in the Fourth Reader. One or two of them read very badly; one or two quite well, and with an evident understanding of what was said. The best reader in the class was the smallest boy, an ebony-faced urchin, whose head looked as a six-pound round shot, coated with curled hair from a mattress, might. The Superintendent exhibited his manner of calling out the classes through the whole school to recite, the military style in which the boys were required to march to their places at the word of command, and the general adherence to military forms, even in such minutiæ as distributing slates, removing the stools for the monitors, returning books to their places, and the like.
Then came a little address from the Dominie of our party, a former South Carolina lawyer and heavy slaveholder; and we finally took our leave, the little urchins eagerly handing up their slates, as we passed, to have us see their penmanship; and laboriously tracing out, in school-boy characters, their oddly-sounding names, to show us how readily they could write.
This school is kept up at little or no expense to the Government, save the original cost of erecting the rough board structure in which it is held. The parents of the children have been, to a considerable extent, employed by the Government as laborers in the Quartermaster’s Department; and, meantime, the convalescents from the hospitals have prepared the sons, in some measure, for the new order of things. Still there is more dependence on charity than could be desired, especially among the parents. Negroes need to be taught—just as slaves of any race or color would need to be taught—that liberty means, not idleness, but merely work for themselves instead of work for others; and that, in any event, it means always work. To teach them this, do not gather them in colonies at military posts, and feed them on Government rations; but throw them in the water and have them learn to swim by finding the necessity of swimming. For the present, these collections of negroes are an inevitable result of the war; and that would be a barbarous Government indeed which would not help in time of distress the men whose friendship to it has brought them into distress; but it must be the first care of the authorities to diminish the charity, and leave the negroes, just as it would leave the white men—to take care of themselves.
On arriving at Norfolk, we were met, at the shabby-looking old wharf, by General Gordon, commanding the post. Carriages were in waiting, and we were rapidly whirled past the tumble-down warehouses, through streets of stores from which every former proprietor had gone, by the old English brick church, whence the former pastor had departed, past elegant residences of prominent rebels, in whose parlors sat the wives of Yankee officers, and through whose superb gardens we were invited to wander, and pluck at will great bending bunches of flowers that, at Washington, were still scarce in the hot-houses.
From the gardens we turned toward the country to see the old line of fortifications (planned, curiously enough, by a nephew of one of our party), by which the Virginians, in the first months of the war, had been confident they could hold Norfolk forever against the Yankee scum. Negro soldiers manned the lines the rebel engineer had traced; but wild flowers covered the embankments, and we plucked azalias of exquisite fragrance from the crumbling embrasures. It was not less strange that another member of our party, then foremost in the Cabinet, had undertaken the search hereabouts for a landing for our troops, after the officers had given it up; and had actually chosen the point where they were safely debarked, and whence they had turned these long lines, and reduced Norfolk—“Merrimac” and all—without a blow.
The wild flowers filled the moist evening air with their perfume as we drove back through the negro quarter. Every hut exhibited the tender tokens of mourning for the good, dead President, which were missing on many aristocratic residences. There were no evidences of suffering or destitution among these people; and it was not from their windows that the lowering glances were turned upon the General, and the well-known features of the anti-slavery leader by his side.
Norfolk ought to do, and will do a fine business—whenever it has any country to do business for. It must always be the great shipping point for the Virginia and North Carolina coast; the heaviest vessels can lie by its wharves, and between it and Hampton Roads is room for the navies of the world. But, thus far, there is scarcely any business, save what the army has brought, and what the impoverished inhabitants who remain are themselves able to support. Sutlers have sat in the high places until they have amassed fortunes; but the merchants whose deserted store rooms they are occupying are paroled and ruined Rebel officers. No trade comes or can come from the interior. The people have no produce to spare, and no money with which to buy. And the very number of able-bodied men in the country has been sadly reduced.
Everything is controlled by the military authority; and while there may be a genuine Union sentiment that warranted the attempted elections of Congressmen, one may still be permitted a quiet suspicion of the independent and disinterested patriotism of the voters. Just as we were pushing off, Mr. Chandler, a nervous, restless, black-haired Virginian, came hobbling out from his carriage. He was a claimant for a seat in the last House, which was refused; and was the leader of the Virginia delegation to the Baltimore Convention, whose admission to that body his fluent and impassioned rhetoric secured. Naturally he is a warm supporter of the Pierpoint State Government, believes that “the loyal men of the State constitute the State,” and doesn’t see why the fact that they are few in numbers should prevent their exercising all the powers of the State. Just now he and the few really loyal men, like him, are very bitter against the Rebels, whom they wish to have excluded from any participation in the ready-made State Government, which they hope soon to have transferred from Alexandria to Richmond, and extended over the State. But they frankly admit themselves to be in a very small minority; and it remains to be seen how long a minority, however loyal, can govern, in a republican country.
1. Calculations, seemingly accurate, have placed the number of dead and disabled Virginia soldiers at 105,000, or nearly one-tenth of the entire free population of the State.
On our return to the Fortress, the “Wayanda” was ready; there was a hurried transhipment in the dark; not a little dismay at the straitened proportions of the cabin; an assignment of state-rooms, which gave me the D. D. of the party as chum; and so—amid the Doctor’s loud groans and lamentations over confining a rational human being in a straight jacket of a bed like that—to sleep.
There was a very hasty toilette next morning, and a very undignified rush for the fresh air on deck. We had started in the night, were well out on the ocean, a pretty heavy sea was running, and the mettlesome little “Wayanda” was giving us a taste of her qualities. Nothing could exceed the beauty of her plunges fore and aft, and lurches from port to starboard; but the party were sadly lacking in enthusiasm. Presently breakfast was announced, and we all went below very bravely and ranged ourselves about the table. Before the meal was half over, the Captain and the Doctor’s were left in solitary state to finish it alone. For myself—although seasoned, as I had vainly imagined, by some experiences in tolerably heavy storms—I freely confess to the double enjoyment of the single cup of tea I managed to swallow. “For,” said the Dominie, argumentatively, “you have the pleasure of enjoying it first as it goes down, and then a second time as it comes up.”
To keep one another in countenance as we held our uncertain positions on the rolling and plunging deck, we combined to rehearse all the old jokes about sea sickness. One gave a definition of it, which, like many another indifferent thing, has been unwarrantably fathered on the late President. “Sea sickness is a disorder which for the first hour makes you afraid you’ll die, but by the second hour makes you afraid you won’t!” Another recited Artemus Ward’s groaning lamentation over Point Judith, to the effect that he “never before saw a place where it was so hard to keep inside one’s clothes and outside one’s breakfast!” “Sure, it isn’t say sick yez are,” pleasantly suggested an Irish engineer, among the officers, who looked provokingly happy amid all the pitching—“it isn’t say sick yez are; but yez mighty sick of the say!” “O si sic omnes!” punned the Chief Justice. How the rest stood it I don’t know; but that was the last straw, and drove one unfortunate of the party to his state-room, and a basin and towel.
Toward evening the sea calmed down, and one after another emerged on deck. The air was delightfully bracing; the moon sent its broad streams of light, shaking across the waters; the revolving light of Hatteras shone out—guide and safeguard to a hundred eyes besides our own—and so with calmest weather, and a delicious beauty of scene that no words need be vainly employed in efforts to describe, we spent half the night in watching the passage of the ship by the most dangerous part of the Atlantic coast. Next morning, at breakfast, we were steaming under the guns of Port Macon into the harbor where Butler and Porter rendezvoused for Fort Fisher.
As a boat’s crew slowly pulled some of our party through the tortuous channel by which even the lightest gigs have to approach the single landing of Beaufort, the guns of the naval force began to thunder out a salute for the Chief Justice. “How many guns does a Chief Justice receive?” inquired one, as he counted the successive discharges. “You’d a great deal better ask,” reprovingly hinted the Doctor, “how many guns a Baptist minister receives!” “Well, how many, Doctor!” “Oh, just count these up, and then you’ll know!” With which church-militant suggestion, we rounded to at a crazy old wharf, climbed up a pair of rickety steps that gave the Doctor premonitions of more immersion than even he had bargained for, and stood in the town of Beaufort, North Carolina. In front of us was the Custom House—a square, one-story frame building, perched upon six or eight posts—occupied now by a Deputy Treasury Agent. A narrow strip of sand, plowed up by a few cart wheels, and flanked by shabby-looking old frame houses, extended along the water front, and constituted the main business street of a place that, however dilapidated and insignificant, must live in the history of the struggle just ended. Near the water’s edge was a small turpentine distillery, the only manufacturing establishment of the place.
The landing of a boat’s crew, with an officer in charge and a flag fluttering at the stern, seemed to be an event in Beaufort, and we were soon surrounded by the notabilities. A large, heavily and coarsely-built man, of unmistakable North Carolina origin, with the inevitable bilious look, ragged clothes and dirty shirt, was introduced, with no little eclat, as “the Senator from this District.” “Of what Senate?” some one inquired. “The North Caroliner Senate, Sir,” “Umph, Rebel Senate of North Carolina,” growled the Captain, sotto voce; “you make a devil of a fuss about your dignity! North Carolina Rebel Senate be hanged! A New York constable outranks you.” But the Senator didn’t hear; and his manner showed plainly enough that no doubts of his importance ever disturbed the serene workings of his own mind. The Clerk of the Court, the Postmaster, the doctor, the preacher and other functionaries were speedily added to the group that gathered in the sand bank called a pavement.
“How are your people feeling?” some one asked. “Oh, well, sir; we all went out unwillingly, you know,” responded the legislator, fresh from the meetings of the Rebel Senate at Raleigh, “and most of us are very glad to get back.” “Have you no violent Rebels yet?” “Yes, quite a good many, among the young bloods; but even they all feel as if they had been badly whipped, and want to give in.” “Then they really feel themselves whipped?” “Yes, you’ve subjugated us at last,” with a smile which showed that the politician thought it not the worst kind of a joke after all.
“And, of course, then you have only to submit to any terms the conquerors may impose?” “No, sir—oh, ah—yes, any terms that could be honorably offered to a proud, high-minded people!” The rest of the dignitaries nodded their heads approvingly at this becoming intimation of the terms the “subjugated” State could be induced to accept. It was easy to see that the old political tricks were not forgotten, and that the first inch of wrong concession would be expected to lead the way to many an ell.
“What terms do you think would be right?” The County Clerk, a functionary of near thirty years’ service, took up the conversation, and promptly replied, “Let Governor Vance call together the North Caroliner Legislator. We only lacked a few votes of a Union majority in it before, and we’d be sure to have enough now.” “What then?” “Why, the Legislater would, of course, repeal the ordinance of secession, and order a convention to amend the Constitution. I think that convention would accept your constitutional amendment.”
“But can you trust your Governor Vance? Did not he betray the Union party after his last election?”
“Yes, he sold us out clean and clear.”
“He did nothing of the sort. North Caroliner has not got a purer patriot than Governor Vance.” And so they fell to disputing among themselves.
I asked one of the party what this Legislature, if thus called together, would do with the negroes?
“Take ’em under the control of the Legislater, as free niggers always have been in this State. Let it have authority to fix their wages, and prevent vagrancy. It always got along with ’em well enough before.”
“Are you not mistaken about its always having had this power?”
“What!” exclaimed the astonished functionary. “Why, I was born and raised hyar, and lived hyar all my life; Do you suppose I don’t know?”
“Apparently not, sir; for you seem to be ignorant of the fact that free negroes in North Carolina were voters from the formation of the State Government down to 1835.”
“It isn’t so, stranger.”
“Excuse me; but your own State records will show it; and, if I must say so, he is a very ignorant citizen to be talking about ways and means of reorganization, who doesn’t know so simple and recent a fact in the history of his State.”
The Cracker scratched his head in great bewilderment. “Well, stranger, you don’t mean to say that the Government at Washington is going to make us let niggers vote?”
“I mean to say that it is at least possible.”
“Well, why not have the decency to let us have a vote on it ourselves, and say whether we’ll let niggers vote?”
“In other words, you mean this: Less than a generation ago you held a convention, which robbed certain classes of your citizens of rights they had enjoyed, undisputed, from the organization of your State down to that hour. Now, you propose to let the robbers hold an election to decide whether they will return the stolen property or not.”
“Stranger,” exclaimed another of the group, with great emphasis, “is the Government at Washington, because it has whipped us, going to make us let niggers vote?”
“Possibly it will. At any rate a strong party favors it.”
“Then I wouldn’t live under the Government. I’d emigrate, sir. Yes, sir, I’d leave this Government and go north!”
And the man, true to his States’-Rights training, seemed to imagine that going north was going under another Government, and spoke of it as one might speak of emigrating to China.
Meantime, the younger citizens of Beaufort (of Caucasian descent) had found better amusement than talking to the strangers in the sand bank of a street. One of them wagered a quarter (fractional currency) that he could whip another. The party thus challenged evinced his faith in his own muscle by risking a corresponding quarter on it. The set-to was at once arranged, in the back-yard of the house in front of which we were standing, and several side bets, ranging from five to as high as fifteen cents, were speedily put up by spectators.
One of our party, who joined the crowd at the amusement, reported that half-a-dozen rounds were fought—a few “niggers” gravely looking on from the outskirts of the throng—that several eyes were blacked, and both noses bruised; that there was a fall, and a little choking and eye-gouging, and a cry of “give it up;” that then the belligerents rose and shook hands, and stakes were delivered, and the victor was being challenged to another trial, with a fresh hand, as we left the scene of combat; and so closed our first visit to a North Carolina town.
2. North Carolina, by her Constitution of 1776, prescribed three bases of suffrage:
1. All FREEMEN twenty-one years old, who have lived in the county twelve months, and have had a freehold of fifty acres for six months, may vote for a member of the Senate.
2. All FREEMEN, of like age and residence, who have paid public taxes, may vote for members of the House of Commons for the county.
3. The above two classes may, if residing or owning a freehold in a town, vote for members of the House of Commons for such town: provided, they shall not already have voted for a member for the county, and vice versa.
By the Constitution, as amended in 1835, all freemen, twenty-one years of age, living twelve months in the State, and owning a freehold of fifty acres for six months, should vote, except that
“No free negro, free mulatto, or free person of mixed blood, descended from negro ancestors to the fourth generation inclusive (though one ancestor of each generation may have been a white person), shall vote for members of the Senate or House of Commons.”
The last clause would seem to have looked to amalgamation as a pretty steady practice, for such zealous abolition and negro-haters. Under the Constitution of 1776, free negroes, having the requisite qualifications, voted as freely as any other portion of the voting population.
Shortly after our arrival in the harbor, the military authorities had provided a special train for us—that is to say, a train composed of a wheezy little locomotive and an old mail agent’s car, with all the windows smashed out and half the seats gone. By this means we were enabled, an hour after our visit to Beaufort, to be whirling over the military railroad from the little collection of Government warehouses on the opposite side of the harbor, called Morehead City, to Newbern.
The whole way led through the exhausted turpentine forests of North-eastern North Carolina, which the turpentine growers have for many years been abandoning for the more productive forests of upper South Carolina. Here and there were swamps which Yankee drainage would soon convert into splendid corn land; and it is possible that Yankee skill might make the exhausted pineries very profitable; but, for the present, this country is not likely to present such inducements as to attract a large Northern emigration.
The poorer people seem to be quietly living in their old places. Where the paroled rebel soldiers have returned, they have sought their former homes, and evince a very decided disposition to stay there. Throughout this region there is, as we learned, comparatively little destitution. The ocean is a near and never-failing resource; and from Newbern and Beaufort (both of which have been in our possession during the greater part of the war) supplies have gone through the lines by a sort of insensible and invisible perspiration, which it would be unkind, to the disinterested traders who follow in the wake of an army, to call smuggling.
Passing the traces of the works thrown up at the point where Burnside had his fight, we entered the remarkable city of log cabins, outside the city limits, which now really forms the most interesting part of the ancient town of Newbern. Before the war, it had between five and six thousand inhabitants; now, these newly-built cabins on the outskirts, alone, contain over ten thousand souls. Yet, withal, there are few old residents here. The city proper is, to a considerable extent, deserted by its former inhabitants, and filled by Union refugees from all parts of the State; while these squares of crowded cabins contain solely Union refugees—of another color, but not less loyal.
Within a few days back, however, men, whose faces have not been seen in Newbern for nearly four years, are beginning to appear again, with many an anxious inquiry about property, which they think ought to have been carefully preserved for them during their hostile absence. Sometimes they have kept an aged mother, or an aunt, or a widowed sister, in the property, to retain a claim upon it; and in these cases they seem to find little difficulty in quietly resuming possession. But, in more instances, they are forced to see others in an occupancy they can not conveniently dispute, and to learn of fortunes made from the property they abandoned.
The hotel keeper, for example, has returned. He finds here a Yankee, who, seeing the house deserted when we occupied the city, and being told by the officers that they wanted a hotel, determined to keep it. The Yankee has paid no rent; he has been at no expense, and he has made a sum reckoned at over a hundred thousand dollars, by his hotel keeping and a little cotton planting which he was able to combine with it. Naturally, he is in no haste to give up his rent-free establishment, and the Rebel owner has the satisfaction of contemplating the Yankee in possession, and calculating the profits which might have gone into his own pockets but for the frantic determination, four years ago, never to submit to the tyrannical rule of the Illinois gorilla. Returning merchants find sutlers behind their counters, reckoning up gains such as the old business men of Newbern never dreamed of; all branches of trade are in the hands of Northern speculators, who followed the army; half the residences are filled with army officers, or occupied by Government civil officials, or used for negro schools, or rented out as “abandoned property.”
Yankee enterprise even made money out of what had been thrown away long before the war. In the distillation of turpentine a large residuum of the resin used to be carted away as rubbish, not worth the cost of its transportation to market. The mass thus thrown out from some of the Newbern distilleries, had gradually been buried under a covering of sand and dirt. A couple of Yankee adventurers, digging for something on the bank of the river, happened to strike down upon this resin, quietly had it mined and shipped to a Northern market. I am afraid to tell how many thousands of dollars they are said to have made by the lucky discovery.
The negro quarter has been swelled to a size greater than that of almost any city on the coast, by accessions from all parts of the State. They came in entirely destitute. The Government furnished them rations, and gave the men axes, with which they cut down the pine trees and erected their own cabins, arranging them regularly in streets, and “policing” them as carefully as a regiment of veteran soldiers would do. Every effort was then made to give them work in the Quartermaster’s Department, to keep them from being simply an expense to the Government; but the close of the war necessarily cuts off this source of employment, and the General commanding is now looking with no little uneasiness to the disposition to be made of this great collection of negroes, for scarcely a tithe of whom can the natural wants of the town itself supply employment.
Some have rented a large rice plantation in the vicinity—contrary to the currently-received theory that no human being, white or black, will work on rice grounds except when driven to it—and they are doing exceedingly well. Others could go further into the interior and do the same, if they were sure of protection; but till some understanding with the planters is reached, and the status of the Rebel planters themselves is defined, this is almost impracticable. Something, however, must be done to disperse this unwholesome gathering at Newbern, or the tumor, thus neglected, may do serious injury.
A dispatch from General Sherman (on his way north from Savannah, and forced by bad weather to put in at Beaufort) had reached Newbern, while we were there, expressing a very earnest desire to see Chief Justice Chase; and on the return of the party, General Sherman’s vessel was lying at the wharf, opposite the railroad terminus, awaiting us. Nervous and restless as ever, the General looked changed (and improved) since the old campaigns in the South-west. He was boiling over with pride at the performances of his army through the winter, and all the more indignant, by consequence, at the insults and injustice he imagined himself to have received, in consequence of his arrangement with Johnston. “I fancied the country wanted peace,” he exclaimed. “If they don’t, let them raise more soldiers.”
The General complained, and, doubtless, with some truth, if not justice, that the Government had never distinctly explained to him what policy it desired to have pursued. “I asked Mr. Lincoln explicitly, when I went up to City Point, whether he wanted me to capture Jeff. Davis, or let him escape, and in reply he told me a story.”
That “story” may now have a historical value, and I give it, therefore, as General Sherman said Mr. Lincoln told it—only premising that it was a favorite story with Mr. Lincoln, which he told many times, and in illustration of many points of public policy.
“I’ll tell you, General,” Mr. Lincoln was said to have begun, “I’ll tell you what I think about taking Jeff. Davis. Out in Sangamon county there was an old temperance lecturer, who was very strict in the doctrine and practice of total abstinence. One day, after a long ride in the hot sun, he stopped at the house of a friend, who proposed making him a lemonade. As the mild beverage was being mixed, the friend insinuatingly asked if he wouldn’t like just the least drop of something stronger, to brace up his nerves after the exhausting heat and exercise. ‘No,’ replied the lecturer, ‘I couldn’t think of it; I am opposed to it on principle. But,’ he added, with a longing glance at the black bottle that stood conveniently at hand, ‘if you could manage to put in a drop unbeknownst to me, I guess it wouldn’t hurt me much!’ Now, General,” Mr. Lincoln concluded, “I’m bound to oppose the escape of Jeff. Davis; but if you could manage to let him slip out unbeknownst-like, I guess it wouldn’t hurt me much!”
“And that,” exclaimed General Sherman, “is all I could get out of the Government as to what its policy was, concerning the Rebel leaders, till Stanton assailed me for Davis’ escape!”
A heavy gale blew on the coast all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and neither General Sherman’s Captain nor our own thought it wise to venture out. Meanwhile, delegations of the Beaufort people came off in little sail-boats to visit the “Wyanda,” bring us flowers and strawberries, and talk politics. Since their last demonstrations, a few days ago, they had toned down their ideas a good deal; and the amount of their talk, stripped of its circumlocution and hesitation, was simply this: that they were very anxious to re-organize, and would submit to anything the Government might require to that end. They said less against negro suffrage than before—frankly said it would be very obnoxious to the prejudices of nearly the whole population, but added, that if the Government insisted on it, they would co-operate with the negroes in reorganization. “But the poor, shiftless creatures will never be able to support themselves in freedom. We’ll have half of them in poor-houses before a year!” Nothing could overcome this rooted idea, that the negro was worthless, except under the lash. These people really believe that, in submitting to the emancipation of the slaves, they have virtually saddled themselves with an equal number of idle paupers. Naturally, they believe that to add a requirement that these paupers must share the management of public affairs with them is piling a very Pelion upon the Ossa of their misfortunes.
My room-mate, the Doctor, appointed me a “deacon for special service”—even he had absorbed military ways of doing things from our neighbors—and I arranged for his preaching in Beaufort, Sunday morning. The people were more than glad to welcome him, and he had a big congregation, with a sprinkling of black fringe around its edges, to appreciate his really eloquent discourse; while the trees that nodded at the pulpit windows shook out strains of music, which the best-trained choristers could never execute, from the swelling throats of a whole army of mocking-birds. An old Ironsides-looking man, who had occupied an elder’s seat beside the pulpit, rose at the close, and said he little expected to have ever seen a day like this. Everybody started forward, anticipating a remonstrance against the strong Unionism and anti-slavery of the Doctor’s sermon, but instead there came a sweeping and enthusiastic indorsement of everything that had been said. He saw a better day at hand, the old man said, and rejoiced in the brightness of its coming. How many an old man, like him, may have been waiting through all these weary years for the same glad day!
At other times there were fishing parties which caught no fish, though General Sherman sent them over enough fine ocean trout to enable them to make a splendid show on their return; and riding parties that got no rides, but trudged through the sand on foot, to the great delectation of the artist who sketched, con amore, the figures of gentlemen struggling up a sandy hill, eyes and ears and mouth full, hands clapped on hat to secure its tenure, and coat tails manifesting strong tendencies to secede bodily, while in the distance, small and indistinct, could be perceived the ambulance that couldn’t be made to go, and underneath was written the touching inscription, “How Captain Merryman and Mr. R. accepted Mrs. W.’s invitation, and took a ride on the beach at Fort Macon.”
At last the gale subsided a little, and we got off. Another salute was fired as we steamed out; the “Wayanda” returned a single shot in acknowledgment, and all too soon we were among the breakers, pitching and writhing, fore and aft, starboard and larboard, diagonally crosswise and backward, up to the sky and down, till the waves poured over the deck, and the masts seemed inclined to give the flags and streamers at their tops a bath. But for some of us, at least, the seasickness was gone. Io Triumphe!
3. The census of 1860 gave the population of Newbern at, whites, 2,360; blacks, 3,072; aggregate, 5,432. The Newbern people are now setting forth, as a reason for inducing emigration, that the city is the largest in the State, and has a population of between twenty and thirty thousand. The increase is mainly made up of negroes.
4. And yet an official report, since published in the newspapers, shows that out of three thousand whites in Beaufort last winter, between twelve and fourteen hundred were applicants for the charity of Government rations. Out of about an equal number of negroes, less than four hundred were dependent on the Government! The secret of the disparity was, that the negroes took work when they could get it; the whites were “ladies and gentlemen,” and wouldn’t work.
A Richmond letter, of June 30th, in the Boston Commonwealth, testifies to the same feeling among the Virginians. Describing the charities of the Sanitary Commission, it says:
“The most fastidious, though not too dainty to beg, were yet ludicrously exacting and impatient. They assumed, in many ways, the air of condescending patrons. ‘Do you expect me to go into that dirty crowd?’ ‘Haven’t you some private way by which I could enter?’ ‘I can never carry that can of soup in the world!’ they whined. The sick must suffer, unless a servant was at command to ‘tote’ a little box of gelatine; and the family must wait till some alien hand could take home the flour. The aristocratic sometimes begged for work. Mr. Williams, of the Sanitary Commission, when asked by a mother to furnish work for her daughters, said: ‘If they will serve as nurses to the suffering men in your own army hospitals, I will secure pay for them.’ ‘My daughters go into a hospital!’ exclaimed the insulted mother. ‘They are ladies, sir!’ ‘Our Northern ladies would rather work than beg,’ quietly remarked Mr. Williams. Another mother begged Mr. Chase, of the Union Commission, to give her daughters ‘something to do.’ ‘Anything by which they can earn something, for we have not a penny in the world.’ ‘They shall help me measure flour,’ said Mr. Chase. ‘My daughters are ladies, sir,’ replied the mother.”
On the morning of the 8th of May we came in sight of a long, low line of sand banks, dotted with curious hillocks, between which the black muzzles of heavy guns could be made out, and fringed with a perfect naval chevaux-de-frise of wrecked blockade runners, whose broken hulls and protruding machinery gave an ill-omened look to the whole coast. As we were closely studying the bleak aspect of this entrance to the great smuggling entrepôt of the Southern Confederacy, the glasses began to reveal an unexpected activity along the line of the guns, which our signal shot for a pilot by no means diminished. Our ship drew too much water to cross the bar, excepting at high tide, and we were, consequently, compelled to go over in the Captain’s gig to the pilot boat—a proceeding that the rough sea made very difficult and even dangerous. Leaving those who could not venture the transhipment, to roll wearily among the breakers till evening, we headed straight through the narrow and difficult channel for Fort Fisher, and learned that we had been mistaken for the Rebel pirate “Stonewall,” and that the guns had been shotted ready to open fire the moment we should show signs of a disposition to run in.
Ah! That weary day at Fort Fisher! To see a fort is naturally supposed to be not the most formidable of undertakings; but to see Fort Fisher means a ride of miles over the bleakest of sand bars; means the climbing of great heaps of sand, under the hottest of suns; means a scrambling over irregular chasms and precipices of sand, where the explosions have destroyed at once every semblance of fortification and every foot of solid earth—means all this, prolonged for hours, under the penalty of the consciousness that otherwise you would be pretending to see Fort Fisher, when you were doing nothing of the sort.
We began by climbing Battery Buchanan, near the landing, and inside the main line of works. Trenches, embrasures, casemate and barbette guns, bomb-proofs, gabions, riflemen’s pits, all in sand that no rifle projectiles could breach, and bombardment could only render stronger, seemed to assure absolute impregnability to this work alone, except against regular siege operations. Yet it was but protection for one flank of the long line before which Weitzel turned back, and which no soldiers but ours would ever have stormed. To this battery (so called, although a perfect and very strong fort in itself) the Rebels made their last retreat, after that long, hand-to-hand fight through the sea front of the fort, which stretched far into the night, and seemed doubtful to the last. But Battery Buchanan, though impregnable, as a flank to the sea line, is itself commanded by the last work of that sea line; and so when the Mound Battery fell into our hands, its guns had only to be turned, and Buchanan fell almost without a struggle.
The Mound Battery is a vast heap of sand, uplifting its guns and embrazures from a flat and desert beach against the sky, and commanding perfectly the whole northern entrance to the river. It contained one of the finest specimens of heavy ordnance ever seen in this country, the famous Armstrong rifle, presented by British sympathizers to the Confederacy.
Imagine a long line of batteries, connected by traverses in the sand, separated by huge hillocks of sand, and fronted by deep trenches in the sand, stretching away almost interminably along the coast toward the North, and ending in another strong work, which was supposed to protect that flank as perfectly as Buchanan did the other; put in magazines and bomb-proofs, at convenient points, and a very heavy armament; then conceive muzzles of the guns knocked off, guns dismounted, carriages shattered, the parapets plowed with shells, a great crater in the sand where a magazine had exploded, all shape and symmetry battered out of the works, and only their rude strength remaining; and you have Fort Fisher.
The ground was covered with showers of musket balls. Behind every traverse could be found little heaps of English-made cartridges, which the Rebel sharpshooters had laid out for the convenience of rapid firing, as they defended line after line of the successive batteries, along which they were driven. Fragments of shells lay everywhere over the works. Behind them were great heaps of shells, bayonets, broken muskets, and other fragments of iron, which were being dug out and collected to be sold for old iron. Hundreds on hundreds of acres were under negro cultivation, producing this valuable crop.
No man, I think, will ride along the coast line, which, by an inconceivable amount of labor, has been converted into one immense fort, without sympathizing with the officers who refused to assault it, and marveling at the seeming recklessness which success converted into the splendid audacity of the final attack.
The pilot boat was again placed at the disposal of our party, after some hours spent at Fort Fisher, and we ran over to Fort Caswell, one of the main defenses of the other entrance. It was originally a regularly-built brick fortification, with casemate and barbette guns, salients, ditch and interior castle, pierced with loopholes, for a last defense with musketry. Like Fort Macon, at Beaufort (and like Sumter), this has been converted into an infinitely stronger work, by having earthen fortifications thrown up outside and against it. The Rebels blew it up after the surrender of Fort Fisher, and we shall probably be making appropriations, every Congress, for the next dozen years to rebuild it.
The labor here, as well as the vast amount involved in the construction of Fort Fisher, was all performed by slaves, impressed from time to time by the Rebel authorities. Both works were completed—Wilmington had grown rich on the profits of blockade-running; Nassau had risen to first-class commercial importance, and the beach under these guns was strewn with the wrecks, which spoke more loudly than could any balance sheet, of the profits of a business that could afford such losses—before our Congress had done disputing whether the Constitution, and a due regard for the rights of our Southern brethren, would permit us to use negroes as teamsters!
5. The Stonewall seems indeed to have produced about this time an excitement along the whole coast, amounting, in some places, to panic. The naval officer at Key West, for example, issued orders to extinguish the lights in the light-houses along the coast, lest the Stonewall should run into some of the harbors and destroy the shipping.
6. The joint Committee of Congress on the Conduct of the War, after examining Generals Grant, Butler, Weitzel and Terry, and Admiral Porter, as well as the Rebel commander of the Fort, and after a careful inspection of the fortifications themselves, have, in a report published since the above was written, reached substantially the same conclusions. They attach no blame to any one for the failure to attack, in the first movement upon the Fort.
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