Saturday, January 21, 2012

Letter From Orpheus C. Kerr

The Border State Conservatives – Capt. Villiam Brown’s Administration in Paris – His Treatment of the Contraband Question.

Correspondence N. Y. Sunday Mercury

The conservatives from the border States, my boy, look upon the Southern States as a brother, whom it is our duty to protect against the accursed designs of the fiendish abolitionists, who would make this war one of bloodshed. – They ignore all party feeling, support the Constitution as it was, in contradistinction to what it is, and object to any confiscation measure calculated to irritate our misguided brothers and sisters in that beautiful land where

The Suitor he goes to the planter so grand,
And “Give me your daughter,” says he
“For each unto other we’ve plighted our loves,
I love her and so she loves me,”
Says he,
“And married we’re wishing to be.”

The planter was deeply affected indeed,
Such touching affection to see,
“The giving I couldn’t afford, but I’ll sell
Her for six hundred dollars to thee,”
Says he,
“Her mother was worth that to me.”

Which I quote from a sweet ballad I recently found among some Rebel leavings at Yorktown.

These conservative patriots, my boy, remind me of a chap I once knew in the Sixth Ward.  A high moral chap, my boy, and full of venerable dignity.  One night the virtuous cuss doing business the next door to him, having just got a big insurance on his stock, and thinking himself safe for a flaming speculation, set fire to his own premises and then called “Murder” on the next corner.  Out came the whole Fire Department, only stopping to have two fights and a scrimmage on the way, and pretty soon the water was pouring all over every house in the street except the one on fire.  The high moral chap stuck his head out of the window, and says he “This fire ain’t in my house, and I don’t want no noise around this here residence.”  Upon this, some of our gallant firemen, who had just been in a fashionable drinking shop, not more than two blocks off, to see if any of the sparks had got in there, called to the chap to let him into his house, so that they might get at the conflagration more easily. – “Never!” says the chap, shaking his nightcap convulsively, “I didn’t set fire to Joneses, and I can’t have no Fire Department running around my entries.”

“See here, old blue pills,” says one of the firemen, pleasantly, “if you don’t let us in, you own crib will go down to blazes in ten minutes.”

But the dignified chap only shut down the window, and went to bed again, saying his prayer backwards.  I would not accuse a noble Department of violence, my boy, but in about three minutes there was a double back action machine standing in that chap’s front entry, with three inch streams out of all the back windows.  The fire was put out with only half a hose company killed and wounded, and next day there was a meeting to see what should be done with the incendiary when he was caught.  The high moral chap was at the meeting very early, and says he

“Let me advise moderation in this here unhappy matter.  I feel deeply interested,” says the chap with tears “for I assisted to put out the conflagration by permitting the use of my house by the firemen.  I almost feel,” says the genial chap, “like a fellow fireman myself.”

At this crisis a chap who was assistant engineer and also Secretary to the Board of Education arose and says he

“What are yer coughin about, old peg top?  Didn’t me and the fellers have to cave in your door with a night key wrench – sa-a-ay?  What are yer gassin’ about, then?  You did a muchness – you did!  Yes – slightually – in  a horn. – Now,” says the gallant fireman, with an agreeable smile, “if you don’t jest coil in your hose, and take the sidewalk very sudden, it’ll be my duty as a member of the department, to bust yer eye.”

I commend this chaste and rhetorical remark, my boy, to the attention of Border State Conservatives.

Since the occupation of Paris by the Mackerel Brigade, affairs there have been administered with great intellectual ability by Captain Villiam Brown, who has been appointed Provisional Governor, to govern the sale of provisions.

The city of Paris, my boy, as I told you lately, is laid out in one house at present, and since the discovery, that what were at first supposed to be Dahlgren guns by our forces were really a number of old hats with their rims cut off, laid in a row, on top of the earthworks, the democracy have stopped talking about the general of the Mackerel Brigade for next president.

The one house, however, was a boarding house, and though all the boards left at the approach of our troops it was subsequently discovered that all of them, save one, were good Union men, and were brutally forced to fly by that one Confederate miscreant.

When Villiam heard of the fate of these noble and oppressed patriots, my boy, he suffered a tear to drop into the tumbler he had just poured, and says he

“Just Hevings! Can this be so?  Ah?”  Says Villiam, lifting a bottle near by, to see that no rebel was concealed under it, “I will issue a proclamation calculated to conciliate the noble Union men of the Sunny South, and bring them back to those protecting folds which our inedycated forefathers folded themselves.”

Nobody believed it could be done, my boy – nobody believed it could be done, but Villiam understood his species and issued to following


The Union men of the South are hereby informed that the United States of America has reasserted hisself, and will shortly open a bar room in Paris.  Also, cigars and other necessaries of life.  By order of


‘There!’ says Villiam, ‘the human intellect may do what violence may fail to accomplish.  Ah!’ says Villiam, “mortal suasion is more majestick than any army with banners.”

In just half an hour after the above proclamation was issued, my boy, the hum of countless approaching voices called us to the ramparts.  A vast multitude was approaching.  It was the Union men of the South, my boy, who had read the manifesto of a beneficent Government, and were coming back to take the oath – with a trifle of sugar in it.

How necessary it is my boy, that men intrusted with important commands – Generals and Governors responsible for the pacification and welfare of misguided provinces – should understand just how and when to touch that sensitive chord to our common nature which vibrates responsively when man is invited to take something by his fellow man.

Scarcely had Villiam assumed his office and suppressed two reporters, when there were bro’t before him a fugitive contraband of the color of old meerschaum, and a planter from the adjacent county who claimed the slave.

“It’s me – that’s Misther Murphy – would be after axing your reverence to return the black crayture at once,” says the planter, “for its meself that owns him, and he runn’d away right under me nose and eyes as soon as me back was turned.”

“Ah!” says Villiam, blanancing a tumbler in his right hand.  “Are you a Southerner, Mr. Murphy?”

“yay sir,” says Mr. Murphy, “it’s that I am intirely.  Be the same token, I was raised and been in the shwate South – the South of Ireland.”

“Are you Chivalry?” says Villiam, thoughtfully.

“Is it Chivalry! – ah, but it’s that I am, and me father befoor me, and me childers that’s afther me.  If Chivalry was praties I could furnish a dinner to all the wur ruld, and have enough left to fade the pips.”

“Murphy is a French name,” says Villiam, drawing a copy of Vattel on International Law from his pocket and glancing at it, “but I will not dispute what you say.  You must do without your contraband, however, for slavery and martial law don’t agree together in the United States of America.”

‘Mr. Black,’ says Villiam, gravely, turning to the emancipated African, “you have come to the right shop for freedom.  You are from hence forth a free man and a brother in law.  You are now your own master,” says Villiam encouragingly, “and no man has a right to order you about.  You are in the full enjoyment of Heving’s best gift – Freedom!  Go and black my boots.”

The moral grandeur of this speech, my boy, so affected the Southern planter that he at once became a Union man, took the oath with the least bit of water in it, and asked permission to have his own boots blackened.

“O Liberty! Thou sacred name,
The bondsman’s hope, the poet’s dream,
From Pole to Pole extend the sway,
And travel through by steam.”

– Published in The Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, Burlington, Iowa, Saturday, May 31, 1862, p. 1

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