The present rebellion was commenced in the interest of a very different and from that which will be attained. It was planed and started in the interest of slavery, and it will wind up against that interest. The State of Virginia went into it believing that the power of slavery would be strengthened within her borders. The peculiar trade of breeding negroes for the Southern markets, profitable as it had been, would be, it was supposed greatly enhanced in value. We had more negroes than any other State in the Union, and the interest was fast becoming an absorbing one. Already it had controlled and shaped legislation East and West for many years. As cotton and rice and the Southern staples advanced in price, so did Virginia negroes, and as negroes advanced so did the slavery sentiment of the State wax bold and exacting. Religion and politics were deeper tinged every year with pro-slaveryism and at the breaking out of the rebellion there was a despotism of opinion almost Austrian in its character.
There has come a great change, and there will come a far greater one. Look around in Western Virginia to-day, and see it. Go to Washington, in the District of Columbia, and see it. Cross over to Potomac, into Fairfax county and see it. Go into the upper end of the valley and see it. Go down to Fortress Monroe and out through the counties of Elizabeth City, Warwick and York, and see it. Cross over into Accomac and Northampton, and see it. The change is incredible. Where are all the busy scenes of life that were visible in these localities but a few months ago? Where are all the thousands of slaves? Gone!
And they are going every day. The front tier of counties on both shores of Easter Virginia, and of the Valley are being rapidly rid of their negro population. Some are taken South always to remain there, while thousands are scattering and skedaddling North. They have flocked into our camps and through our lines and into the employ of the war in one way and another, in vast numbers. And still they are flocking to the edges of the state every day, and are going and disappearing no one knows where. And this too notwithstanding the fact that our army has scarcely advanced into the interior of the State. If therefore this condition of things is found in “the green tree, what will be in the dry.” What will it be when our army reaches Richmond and sweeps on down with its extended line into the South? – What will become of the thousands of slaves that are destined to be left by their retreating or captured masters, and the thousands more that will flock to our camps? This is a question far easier asked than answered. Our army is not devoting itself to slaves. It neither makes nor unmakes a slave. It takes no cognizance of the institution in any way. It knows only the stern purposes and necessities of war. It governs itself as all armies are forced to govern themselves in an enemy’s country. It uses all its advantages without reference to other considerations than those of humanity.
This much by way of preface. War brings its compensations. And no part of the country will be more compensated than Virginia, not rebel Virginia, but Virginia as a tract of country with a new population and new ideas. – Within the next year, Virginia, as she was in the East at the outbreak of this rebellion, will be entirely changed. The process has even now commenced. Just as Washington City has been revolutionized. Socially within the last twelve months, so has the adjacent country, as far as the army has progressed, on the Virginia side. And our army will be more or less an army of occupation in Eastern Virginia for a year to come. It cannot remain there without effecting a remarkable change. Many of the old owners of the soil, tired of the war, longing for escape to more congenial atmosphere, shrinking from the change of style that will set in filled, many of them, with grief and disappointment will only be too anxious to sell out and leave. Confiscation will be a still more sweeping agency. It will complete the social revolution.
The old order of things did not pass away from Spain half so fast as it is passing from the State of Virginia. That which was radical only a few months ago has become conservative now and that which is conservative in this present April, will be effete before the next. In spite of prejudice – in spite of the natural timidity of men to advance an opinion beyond that which is orthodox – in spite of all time serving – the change will be rapid.
– Published in The Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, Burlington, Iowa, Saturday, May 17, 1862, p. 1