Saturday, July 30, 2016

Diary of William Howard Russell: May 24, 1861

A great budget of news to-day, which, with the events of the week, may be briefly enumerated. The fighting has actually commenced between the United States steamers off Fortress Monroe, and the Confederate battery erected at Sewall's Point — both sides claim a certain success. The Confederates declare they riddled the steamer, and that they killed and wounded a number of the sailors. The captain of the vessel says he desisted from want of ammunition, but believes he killed a number of the rebels, and knows he had no loss himself. Beriah Magoffin, Governor of the sovereign State of Kentucky, has warned off both Federal and Confederate soldiers from his territory. The Confederate congress has passed an act authorizing persons indebted to the United States, except Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, and the District of Columbia, to pay the amount of their debts to the Confederate treasury. The State convention of North Carolina has passed an ordinance of secession. Arkansas has sent its delegates to the Southern congress. Several Southern vessels have been made prizes by the blockading squadron; but the event which causes the greatest excitement and indignation here, was the seizure, on Monday, by the United States marshals, in every large city throughout the Union, of the telegraphic despatches of the last twelve months.

In the course of the day, I went to the St. Charles Hotel, which is an enormous establishment, of the American type, with a Southern character about it. A number of gentlemen were seated in the hall, and front of the office, with their legs up against the wall, and on the backs of chairs, smoking, spitting, and reading the papers. Officers crowded the bar. The bustle and noise of the place would make it anything but an agreeable residence for one fond of quiet; but this hotel is famous for its difficulties. Not the least disgraceful among them, was the assault committed by some of Walker's filibusters, upon Captain Aldham of the Royal Navy.

The young artist, who has been living in great seclusion, was fastened up in his room; and when I informed him that Mr. Mure had despatches which he might take, if he liked, that night, he was overjoyed to excess. He started off north in the evening, and I saw him no more.

At half-past four, I went down by train to the terminus on the lake, where I had landed, which is the New Orleans, Richmond, or rather, Greenwich, and dined with Mr. Eustis, Mr. Johnson, an English merchant, Mr. Josephs, a New Orleans lawyer, and Mr. Hunt. The dinner was worthy of the reputation of the French cook. The terrapin soup excellent, though not comparable, as Americans assert, to the best turtle. The creature from which it derives its name, is a small tortoise; the flesh is boiled somewhat in the manner of turtle, but the soup abounds in small bones, and the black paws with the white nail-like stumps projecting from them, found amongst the disjecta membra, are not agreeable to look upon. The bouillabaisse was, unexceptionable, the soft crab worthy of every commendation; but the best dish was, unquestionably, the pompinoe, an odd fish, something like an unusually ugly John Dory, but possessing admirable qualities in all that makes fish good. The pleasures of the evening were enhanced by a most glorious sunset, which cast its last rays through a wilderness of laurel roses in full bloom, which thronged the garden. At dusk, the air was perfectly alive with fire-flies and strange beetles. Flies and coleopters buzzed in through the open windows, and flopped among the glasses. At half-past nine we returned home, in cars drawn by horses along the rail.

SOURCE: William Howard Russell, My Diary North and South, p. 234-5

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