Friday, August 26, 2016

Diary of Sir Arthur James Lyon Fremantle: Tuesday, June 16, 1863

Arrived at Wilmington at 5 A.M., and crossed the river there in a steamer. This river was quite full of blockade-runners. I counted eight large steamers, all handsome leaden-coloured vessels, which ply their trade with the greatest regularity. Half these ships were engaged in carrying goods on Government account; and I was told that the quantity of boots, clothing, saltpetre, lead, and tin, which they bring into the country, is very great. I cannot suppose that in ordinary times there would be anything like such a trade as this, at a little place like Wilmington, which shows the absurdity of calling the blockade an efficient one.

This blockade-running is an extraordinary instance of British energy and enterprise. When I was at Charleston, I asked Mr Robertson whether any French vessels had run the blockade. In reply he told me it was a very peculiar fact that “one of the partners of Fraser & Co. being a Frenchman, was extremely anxious to engage a French vessel in the trade. Expense was no object; the ship and the cargo were forthcoming; nothing was wanted but a French captain and a French crew (to make the ship legally French); but although any amount of money was offered as an inducement, they were not to be found, and this obstacle was insurmountable.” Not the slightest difficulty is experienced at Liverpool in officering and manning any number of ships for this purpose.

Major Norris went to call upon Mr Vallandigham, whom he had escorted to Wilmington as a sort of semi-prisoner some days ago. Mr Vallandigham was in bed. He told Major Norris that he intended to run the blockade this evening for Bermuda, from whence he should find his way to the Clifton Hotel, Canada, where he intended to publish a newspaper, and agitate Ohio across the frontier. Major Norris found him much elated by the news of his having been nominated for the governorship of Ohio; and he declared if he was duly elected, his State could dictate peace.

In travelling through the country to Wilmington, these two used to converse much on politics; and Major Norris once said to him, “Now, from what you have seen and heard in your journey through the South, you must know that a reconstruction of the old union, under any circumstances, is utterly impossible.” Vallandigham had replied, “Well, all I can say is, I hope, and at all events I know, that my scheme of a suspension of hostilities is the only one which has any prospect of ultimate success.” *

At Wilmington I took leave with regret of Mr Sennec and his family, who were also to run the blockade this evening. Miss Sennec is much too pretty to risk a collision with a fragment of a shell; but here no one seems to think anything of the risk of passing through the Yankee fleet, as the “runners,” though often fired at, are very seldom hit or captured, and their captains are becoming more and more knowing every day. I was obliged to go to the provost-marshal's office to get Beauregard's pass renewed there, as North Carolina is out of his district: in doing so I very nearly missed the train.

I left Wilmington at 7 A.M. The weather was very hot and oppressive, and the cars dreadfully crowded all day. The luxuries of Charleston had also spoiled me for the “road,” as I could no longer appreciate at their proper value the “hog and hominy” meals which I had been so thankful for in Texas; but I found Major Norris a very agreeable and instructive companion. We changed cars again at Weldon, where I had a terrific fight for a seat, but I succeeded; for experience had made me very quick at this sort of business. I always carry my saddle-bags and knapsack with me into the car.

* I have often heard Southerners speak of this proposal of Vallandigham's as most insidious and dangerous; but the opinion now is that things have gone too far to permit reunion under any circumstances.

SOURCE: Sir Arthur James Lyon Fremantle, Three Months in the Southern States: April-June, 1863, p. 205-8

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