Saturday, July 23, 2016

Diary of William Howard Russell: May 23, 1861

As the mail communication has been suspended between North and South, and the Express Companies are ordered not to carry letters, I sent off my packet of despatches to-day, by Mr. Ewell, of the house of Dennistoun & Co.; and resumed my excursions through New Orleans.

The young artist, who is stopping at the St. Charles Hotel, came to me in great agitation to say his life was in danger, in consequence of his former connection with an abolition paper of New York, and that he had been threatened with death by a man with whom he had had a quarrel in Washington. Mr. Mure, to calm his apprehensions, offered to take him to the authorities of the town, who would, no doubt, protect him, as he was merely engaged in making sketches for an English periodical, but the young man declared he was in danger of assassination. He entreated Mr. Mure to give him despatches which would serve to protect him, on his way northward; and the Consul, moved by his mental distress, promised that if he had any letters of an official character for Washington he would send them by him, in default of other opportunities.

I dined with Major Ranney, the president of one of the railways, with whom Mr. Ward was stopping. Among the company were Mr. Eustis, son-in-law of Mr. Slidell; Mr. Morse, the Attorney-General of the State; Mr. Moise, a Jew, supposed to have considerable influence with the Governor, and a vehement politician; Messrs. Hunt, and others. The table was excellent, and the wines were worthy of the reputation which our host enjoys, in a city where Sallusts and Luculli are said to abound. One of the slave servants who waited at table, an intelligent yellow “boy,” was pointed out to me as a son of General Andrew Jackson.

We had a full account of the attack of the British troops on the city, and their repulse. Mr. Morse denied emphatically that there was any cotton bag fortification in front of the lines, where our troops were defeated; he asserted that there were only a few bales, I think seventy-five, used in the construction of one battery, and that they and some sugar hogsheads, constituted the sole defences of the American trench. Only one citizen applied to the State for compensation, on account of the cotton used by Jackson's troops, and he owned the whole of the bales so appropriated.

None of the Southern gentlemen have the smallest apprehension of a servile insurrection. They use the univeral formula “our negroes are the happiest, most contented, and most comfortable people on the face of the earth.” I admit I have been struck by well-clad and good-humored negroes in the streets, but they are in the minority; many look morose, ill-clad, and discontented. The patrols I know have been strengthened, and I heard a young lady the other night, say, “I shall not be a bit afraid to go back to the plantation, though mamma says the negroes are after mischief.”

SOURCE: William Howard Russell, My Diary North and South, p. 232-3

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