Saturday, November 26, 2016

Diary of William Howard Russell: June 17, 1861

If it was any consolation to me that the very noisy and very turbulent warriors of last night were exceedingly sick, dejected, and crestfallen this morning, I had it to the full. Their cries for water were incessant to allay the internal fires caused by “forty-rod” and “sixty-rod,” as whiskey is called, which is supposed to kill people at those distances. Their officers had no control over them — and the only authority they seemed to respect was that of the " gentlemanly" conductor, whom they were accustomed to fear individually, as he is a great man in America and has much authority and power to make himself disagreeable if he likes.

The victory at Big or Little Bethel has greatly elated these men, and they think they can walk all over the Northern States. It was a relief to get out of the train for a few minutes at a station called Holly Springs, where the passengers breakfasted at a dirty table on most execrable coffee, corn bread, rancid butter, and very dubious meats, and the wild soldiers outside made the most of their time, as they had recovered from their temporary depression by this time, and got out on the tops of the carriages, over which they performed tumultuous dances to the music of their band, and the great admiration of the surrounding negrodom. Their demeanor is very unlike that of the unexcitable staid people of the North.

There were in the train some Texans who were going to Richmond to offer their services to Mr. Davis. They denounced Sam Houston as a traitor, but admitted there were some Unionists, or, as they termed them, Lincolnite skunks, in the State. The real object of their journey was, in my mind, to get assistance from the Southern Confederacy, to put down their enemies in Texas.

In order to conceal from the minds of the people that the government at Washington claims to be that of the United States, the press politicians and speakers divert their attention to the names of Lincoln, Seward, and other black republicans, and class the whole of the North together as the Abolitionists. They call the Federal levies “Lincoln's mercenaries” and “abolition hordes,” though their own troops are paid at the same rate as those of the United States, This is a common mode of procedure in revolutions and rebellions, and is not unfrequent in wars.

The enthusiasm for the Southern cause among all the people is most remarkable, — the sight of the flag waving from the carriage windows drew all the population of the hamlets and the workers in the field, black and white, to the side of the carriages to cheer for Jeff Davis and the Southern Confederacy, and to wave whatever they could lay hold of in the air. The country seems very poorly cultivated, the fields full of stumps of trees, and the plantation houses very indifferent. At every station more “soldiers,” as they are called, got in, till the smell and heat were suffocating.

These men were as fanciful in their names and dress as could be. In the train which preceded us there was a band of volunteers armed with rifled pistols and enormous bowie-knifes, who called themselves “The Toothpick Company.” They carried along with them a coffin, with a plate inscribed, “Abe Lincoln, died ——,” and declared they were “bound” to bring his body back in it, and that they did not intend to use muskets or rifles, but just go in with knife and six-shooter, and whip the Yankees straight away. How astonished they will be when the first round shot flies into them, or a cap-full of grape rattles about their bowie-knives.

At the station of Grand Junction, north of Holly Springs, which latter is 210 miles north of Jackson, several hundreds of our warrior friends were turned out in order to take the train north-westward for Richmond, Virginia. The 1st Company, seventy rank and file, consisted of Irishmen, armed with sporting rifles without bayonets. Five sixths of the 2d Company, who were armed with muskets, were of the same nationality. The 3d Company were all Americans. The 4th Company were almost all Irish. Some were in green, others were in gray, — the Americans who were in blue had not yet received their arms. When the word fix bayonets was given by the officer, a smart keen-looking man, there was an astonishishing hurry and tumult in the ranks.

“Now then, Sweeny, whar are yes dhriven me too? Is it out of the redjmint amongst the officers yer shovin' me?”

“Sullivan, don't ye hear we're to fix beenits?”

“Sarjent, jewel, wud yes ayse the shtrap of me baynit?”

“If ye prod me wid that agin, I'll let dayloite into ye.”

The officer, reading, “No. 23. James Phelan.”

No reply.

Officer again, “No. 23. James Phelan.”

Voice from the rank, “Shure, captain, and faix Phelan's gone; he wint at the last depôt.”

“No. 40. Miles Corrigan.”

Voice further on, “He's the worse for dhrink in the cars, yer honor, and says he'll shoot us if we touch him;” and so on.

But these fellows were, nevertheless, the material for fighting and for marching after proper drill and with good officers, even though there was too large a proportion of old men and young lads in the ranks. To judge from their dress these recruits came from the laboring and poorest classes of whites. The officers affected a French cut and bearing with indifferent success, and in the luggage vans there were three foolish young women with slop-dress imitation clothes of the Vivandière type, who, with dishevelled hair, dirty faces, and dusty hats and jackets, looked sad, sorry, and absurd. Their notions of propriety did not justify them in adopting straps, boots, and trousers, and the rest of the tawdry ill-made costume looked very bad indeed.

The train which still bore a large number of soldiers for the camp of Corinth, proceeded through dreary swamps, stunted forests, and clearings of the rudest kind at very long intervals. We had got out of the cotton district and were entering poorer soil, or land which, when cleared, was devoted to wheat and corn, and I was told that the crops ran from forty to sixty bushels to the acre. A more uninteresting country than this portion of the State of Mississippi I have never witnessed. There was some variety of scenery about Holly Springs where undulating ground covered with wood, diversified the aspect of the flat, but since that we have been travelling through mile after mile of insignificantly grown timber and swamps.

On approaching Memphis the line ascends towards the bluff of the Mississippi, and farms of a better appearance come in sight on the side of the rail; but after all I do not envy the fate of the man who, surrounded by slaves and shut out from the world, has to pass his life in this dismal region, be the crops never so good.

At a station where a stone pillar marks the limit between the sovereign State of Mississippi and that of Tennessee, there was a house two stories high, from the windows of which a number of negro girls and young men were staring on the passengers. Some of them smiled, laughed, and chatted, but the majority of them looked gloomy and sad enough. They were packed as close as they could, and I observed that at the door a very ruffianly looking fellow in a straw hat, long straight hair, flannel shirt, and slippers, was standing with his legs across and a heavy whip in his hand. One of the passengers walked over and chatted to him. They looked in and up at the negroes and laughed, and when the man came near the carriage in which I sat, a friend called out, “Whose are they, Sam?” “He's a dealer at Jackson, Mr. Smith. They're a prime lot of fine Virginny niggers as I've seen this long time, and he wants to realize, for the news looks so bad.”   
It was 1:40 P. M. when the train arrived at Memphis. I was speedily on my way to the Gayoso House, so called after an old Spanish ruler of the district, which is situated in the street on the bluff, which runs parallel with the course of the Mississippi. This resuscitated Egyptian city is a place of importance, and extends for several miles along the high bank of the river, though it does not run very far back. The streets are at right angles to the principal thoroughfares, which are parallel to the stream; and I by no means expected to see the lofty stores, warehouses, rows of shops, and handsome buildings on the broad esplanade along the river, and the extent and size of the edifices public and private in this city, which is one of the developments of trade and commerce created by the Mississippi. Memphis contains nearly 30,000 inhabitants, but many of them are foreigners, and there is a nomad draft into and out of the place, which abounds in haunts for Bohemians, drinking and dancing-saloons, and gaming-rooms. And this strange kaleidoscope of negroes and whites of the extremes of civilization in its American development, and of the semi-savage degraded by his contact with the white; of enormous steamers on the river, which bears equally the dug-out or canoe of the black fisherman; the rail, penetrating the inmost recesses of swamps, which on either side of it remain no doubt in the same state as they were centuries ago; the roll of heavily-laden wagons through the streets; the rattle of omnibuses and all the phenomena of active commercial life before our eyes, included in the same scope of vision which takes in at the other side of the Mississippi lands scarcely yet settled, though the march of empire has gone thousands of miles beyond them, amuses but perplexes the traveller in this new land.

The evening was so exceedingly warm that I was glad to remain within the walls of my darkened bedroom. All the six hundred and odd guests whom the Gayoso House is said to accommodate were apparently in the passage at one time. At present it is the head-quarters of General Gideon J. Pillow, who is charged with the defences of the Tennessee side of the river, and commands a considerable body of troops around the city and in the works above. The house is consequently filled with men in uniform, belonging to the General's staff or the various regiments of Tennessee troops.

The Governors and the Legislatures of the States view with dislike every action on the part of Mr. Davis which tends to form the State troops into a national army. At first, indeed, the doctrine prevailed that troops could not be sent beyond the limits of the State in which they were raised — then it was argued that they ought not to be called upon to move outside their borders; and I have heard people in the South inveighing against the sloth and want of spirit of the Virginians, who allowed their State to be invaded without resisting the enemy. Such complaints were met by the remark that all the Northern States had combined to pour their troops into Virginia, and that her sister States ought in honor to protect her. Finally, the martial enthusiasm of the Southern regiments impelled them to press forward to the frontier, and by delicate management, and the perfect knowledge of his countrymen which Mr. Jefferson Davis possesses, he is now enabled to amalgamate in some sort the diverse individualities of his regiments into something like a national army.

On hearing of my arrival, General Pillow sent his aide-decamp to inform me that he was about starting in a steamer up the river, to make an inspection of the works and garrison at Fort Randolph and at other points where batteries had been erected to command the stream, supported by large levies of Tennesseans. The aide-de-camp conducted me to the General, whom I found in his bedroom, fitted up as an office, littered with plans and papers. Before the Mexican War General Pillow was a flourishing solicitor, connected in business with President Polk, and commanding so much influence that when the expedition was formed he received the nomination of brigadier-general of volunteers. He served with distinction and was severely wounded at the battle of Chapultepec and at the conclusion of the campaign he retired into civil life, and was engaged directing the work of his plantation till this great rebellion summoned him once more to the field.

Of course there is, and must be, always an inclination to deride these volunteer officers on the part of regular soldiers; and I was informed by one of the officers in attendance on the General that he had made himself ludicrously celebrated in Mexico for having undertaken to throw up a battery which, when completed, was found to face the wrong way, so that the guns were exposed to the enemy. General Pillow is a small, compact, clear-complexioned man, with short gray whiskers, cut in the English fashion, a quick eye, and a pompous manner of speech; and I had not been long in his company before I heard of Chapultepec and his wound, which causes him to limp a little in his walk, and gives him inconvenience in the saddle. He wore a round black hat, plain blue frock-coat, dark trousers, and brass spurs on his boots; but no sign of military rank. The General ordered carriages to the door, and we went to see the batteries on the bluff or front of the esplanade, which are intended to check any ship attempting to pass down the river from Cairo, where the Federals under General Prentiss have entrenched themselves, and are understood to meditate an expedition against the city. A parapet of cotton bales, covered with tarpaulin, has been erected close to the edge of the bank of earth, which rises to heights varying from 60 to 150 feet almost perpendicularly from the waters of the Mississippi, with zigzag roads running down through it to the landing-places. This parapet could offer no cover against vertical fire, and is so placed that well-directed shell into the bank below it would tumble it all into the water. The zigzag roads are barricaded with weak planks, which would be shivered to pieces by boat-guns; and the assaulting parties could easily mount through these covered ways to the rear of the parapet, and up to the very centre of the esplanade.

The blockade of the river at this point is complete; not a boat is permitted to pass either up or down. At the extremity of the esplanade, on an angle of the bank, an earthen battery, mounted with six heavy guns, has been thrown up, which has a fine command of the river; and the General informed me he intends to mount sixteen guns in addition, on a prolongation of the face of the same work.

The inspection over, we drove down a steep road to the water beneath, where the Ingomar, a large river steamer, now chartered for the service of the State of Tennessee, was lying to receive us. The vessel was crowded with troops — all volunteers, of course — about to join those in camp. Great as were their numbers, the proportion of the officers was inordinately large, and the rank of the greater number preposterously high. It seemed to me as if I was introduced to a battalion of colonels, and that I was not permitted to pierce to any lower strata of military rank. I counted seventeen colonels, and believe the number was not then exhausted.

General Clarke, of Mississippi, who had come over from the camp at Corinth, was on board, and I had the pleasure of making his acquaintance. He spoke with sense and firmness of the present troubles, and dealt with the political difficulties in a tone of moderation which bespoke a gentleman and a man of education and thought. He also had served in the Mexican war, and had the air and manner of a soldier. With all his quietness of tone, there was not the smallest disposition to be traced in his words to retire from the present contest, or to consent to a reunion with the United States under any circumstances whatever. Another general, of a very different type, was among our passengers, — a .dirty-faced, frightened-looking young man, of some twenty-three or twenty-four years of age, redolent of tobacco, his chin and shirt slavered by its foul juices, dressed in a green cutaway coat, white jean trousers, strapped under a pair of prunella slippers, in which he promenaded the deck in an Agag-like manner, which gave rise to a suspicion of bunions or corns. This strange figure was topped by a tremendous black felt sombrero, looped up at one side by a gilt eagle, in which was stuck a plume of ostrich feathers, and from the other side dangled a heavy gold tassel. This decrepit young warrior's name was Ruggles or Struggles, who came from Arkansas, where he passed, I was informed, for “quite a leading citizen.”

Our voyage as we steamed up the river afforded no novelty, nor any physical difference worthy of remark, to contrast it with the lower portions of the stream, except that upon our right-hand side, which is, in effect, the left bank, there are ranges of exceedingly high bluffs, some parallel with and others at right angles to the course of the stream. The river is of the same pea-soup color with the same masses of leaves, decaying vegetation, stumps of trees, forming small floating islands, or giant cotton-tree, pines, and balks of timber whirling down the current. Our progress was slow; nor did I regret the captain's caution, as there must have been fully nine hundred persons on board; and although there is but little danger of being snagged in the present condition of the river, we encountered now and then a trunk of a tree, which struck against the bows with force enough to make the vessel quiver from stem to stern. I was furnished with a small berth, to which I retired at midnight, just as the Ingomar was brought to at the Chickasaw Bluffs, above which lies Camp Randolph.

SOURCE: William Howard Russell, My Diary North and South, p. 302-8

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