Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Spoils of Manassas -- A Thousand Fugitive Slaves a Week – The Sham Fortifications

(Correspondence Cincinnati Commercial, 19)

I presume a thousand slaves have escaped from bondage since Manassas was evacuated.  Most of them fled from the regions of Rappahannock and entered our lines by various routes, some by the highways, some from the jungle.  Of more than fifty whom I saw, not one was unconscious of the issue which sets so many bondmen free.  Some had deserted wives and children, trusting to future opportunities to liberate them. . .  Most of them were under forty years of age, stout, muscular, intelligent fellows, not field hands, but household servants – the class so boastfully assumed to be faithful to their masters..  “Ah, master,” quoth one, “dey tell you white folks we don’t want freedom.  We don’t want nuffin else.  We knows all about it.  Dere’s more coming’ all de time.  More would come if dey could get heart to leave dere wives and children.”  In one drove of twenty-two, I observed several in confederate uniforms.  They said they had been servants to officers in the rebel army.  They had escaped at the ferry on Rappahannock river, where they left the rear guard, terrified with apprehension that we were rapidly pursuing them.  An intelligent fellow said if we had followed on Monday, we could have cut off the rear guard entirely.  Their horses were worn out and the ferry was insufficient to carry them across the river.  They were so panic-stricken, indeed; that many deserted from the column and sought the refuge in the forests.

My first report of the appearance of Manassas after the evacuation, was derived from persons whose imaginations were excited. – The quantity of property deserted was exaggerated.  After deliberate examination I concluded that the whole value at an extravagate estimate, did not exceed $10,000.  To be sure there was a large mass for trophies, but a squalid exhibit for spoils.  Some eight wagons which were left on the premises were ruined by use and by cutting the wheel spokes; four or five worthless caisons were also deserted.  A dilapidated construction train locomotive was left standing on the railroad track; the debris of another, which had been blown to atoms, and fragments of three or four platform cars, were scattered about the ruined depots.  Besides these, a mass of flour reduce to paste – perhaps fifty barrels of it – a dozen boxes of good uniforms, some cotton mattresses for hospitals, and a promiscuous distribution of clothing, kitchen utensils, some useless medical stores, a considerable quantity of half destroyed tents, a miscellaneous collection of file bowie knives, and sundry forts full of Quaker guns, constituted the entire invoice of rebel stores which the army found.  The mass was considered so valueless that it was not guarded, and the soldiers, country people and negroes, have helped themselves freely until the site is pretty thoroughly cleaned up.

– Published in The Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, Burlington, Iowa, Saturday, March 29, 1862, p. 4

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