Saturday, August 6, 2016

Diary of William Howard Russell: May 25, 1861

Virginia has indeed been invaded by the Federals. Alexandria has been seized. It is impossible to describe the excitement and rage of the people; they take, however, some consolation in the fact that Colonel Ellsworth, in command of a regiment of New York Zouaves, was shot by J. T. Jackson, the landlord of an inn in the city, called the Marshall House. Ellsworth, on the arrival of his regiment in Alexandria, proceeded to take down the Secession flag, which had been long seen from the President's windows. He went out upon the roof, cut it from the staff, and was proceeding with it down-stairs, when a man rushed out of a room, levelled a double-barrelled gun, shot Colonel Ellsworth dead, and fired the other barrel at one of his men, who had struck at the piece, when the murderer presented it at the Colonel. Almost instantaneously, the Zouave shot Jackson in the head, and as he was falling dead thrust his sabre bayonet through his body. Strange to say, the people of New Orleans, consider Jackson was completely right, in shooting the Federal Colonel, and maintain that the Zouave, who shot Jackson, was guilty of murder. Their theory is that Ellsworth had come over with a horde of ruffianly abolitionists, or, as the “Richmond Examiner” has it, “the band of thieves, robbers, and assassins in the pay of Abraham Lincoln, commonly known as the United States Army,” to violate the territory of a sovereign State, in order to execute their bloody and brutal purposes, and that he was in the act of committing a robbery, by taking a flag which did not belong to him, when he met his righteous fate.

It is curious to observe how passion blinds man's reason, in this quarrel. More curious still to see, by the light of this event, how differently the same occurrence is viewed by Northerners and Southerners respectively. Jackson is depicted in the Northern papers as a fiend and an assassin; even his face in death is declared to have worn a revolting expression of rage and hate. The Confederate flag which was the cause of the fatal affray, is described by one writer, as having been purified of its baseness, by contact with Ellsworth's blood. The invasion of Virginia is hailed on all sides of the North with the utmost enthusiasm. “Ellsworth is a martyr hero, whose name is to be held sacred forever.”

On the other hand, the Southern papers declare that the invasion of Virginia, is “an act of the Washington tyrants, which indicates their bloody and brutal purpose to exterminate the Southern people. The Virginians will give the world another proof, like that of Moscow, that a free people, fighting on a free soil, are invincible when contending for all that is dear to man.” Again — “A band of execrable cut-Croats and jail-birds, known as the Zouaves of New York, under that chief of all scoundrels, Ellsworth, broke open the door of a citizen, to tear down the flag of the house — the courageous owner met the favorite hero of the Yankees in his own hall, alone, against thousands, and shot him through the heart — he died a death which emperors might envy, and his memory will live through endless generations.” Desperate, indeed, must have been the passion and anger of the man who, in the fullest certainty that immediate death must be its penalty, committed such a deed. As it seems to me, Colonel Ellsworth, however injudicious he may have been, was actually in the performance of his duty when taking down the flag of an enemy.

In the evening I visited Mr. Slidell, whom I found at home, with his family, Mrs. Slidell and her sister Madame Beauregard, wife of the general, two very charming young ladies, daughters of the house, and a parlor full of fair companions, engaged, as hard as they could, in carding lint with their fair hands. Among the company was Mr. Slidell's son, who had just travelled from school at the North, under a feigned name, in order to escape violence at the hands of the Union mobs which are said to be insulting and outraging every Southern man. The conversation, as is the case in most Creole domestic circles, was carried on in French, I rarely met a man whose features have a greater finesse and firmness of purpose than Mr. Slidell's; his keen gray eye is full of life ; his thin, firmly-set lips indicate resolution and passion. Mr. Slidell, though born in a Northern State, is perhaps one of the most determined disunionists in the Southern Confederacy; he is not a speaker of note, nor a ready stump orator, nor an able writer; but he is an excellent judge of mankind, adroit, persevering, and subtle, full of device, and fond of intrigue; one of those men, who, unknown almost to the outer world, organizes and sustains a faction, and exalts it into the position of a party — what is called here a “wire-puller.” Mr. Slidell is to the South something greater than Mr. Thurlow Weed has been to his party in the North. He, like every one else, is convinced that recognition must come soon; but, under any circumstances, he is quite satisfied, the government and independence of the Southern Confederacy are as completely established as those of any power in the world. Mr. Slidell and the members of his family possess naïveté, good sense, and agreeable manners; and the regrets I heard expressed in Washington society, at their absence, had every justification.

I supped at the club, which I visited every day since I was made an honorary member, as all the journals are there, and a great number of planters and merchants, well acquainted with the state of affairs in the South. There were two Englishmen present, Mr. Lingam and another, the most determined secessionists and the most devoted advocates of slavery I have yet met in the course of my travels.

SOURCE: William Howard Russell, My Diary North and South, p. 235-8

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