Thursday, January 28, 2016

Diary of William Howard Russell: May 4, 1861

In the morning I took a drive about the city, which is loosely built in detached houses over a very pretty undulating country covered with wood and fruit-trees. Many good houses of dazzling white, with bright green blinds, verandas, and doors, stand in their own grounds or gardens. In the course of the drive I saw two or three signboards and placards announcing that “Smith & Co. advanced money on slaves, and had constant supplies of Virginian negroes on sale or hire.” These establishments were surrounded by high walls enclosing the slave-pens or large rooms, in which the slaves are kept for inspection. The train for Montgomery started at 9:45 A. M., but I had no time to stop and visit them.

It is evident we are approaching the Confederate capital, for the candidates for office begin to show, and I detected a printed testimonial in my room in the hotel. The country, from Macon, in Georgia, to Montgomery, in Alabama, offers no features to interest the traveller which are not common to the districts already described. It is, indeed, more undulating, and somewhat more picturesque, or less unattractive, but, on the whole, there is little to recommend it, except the natural fertility of the soil. The people are rawer, ruder, bigger — there is the same amount of tobacco chewing and its consequences — and as much swearing or use of expletives. The men are tall, lean, uncouth, but they are not peasants. There are, so far as I have seen, no rustics, no peasantry in America; men dress after the same type, differing only in finer or coarser material; every man would wear, if he could, a black satin waistcoat and a large diamond pin stuck in the front of his shirt, as he certainly has a watch and a gilt or gold chain of some sort or other. The Irish laborer, or the German husbandman is the nearest approach to our Giles Jolter or the Jacques Bonhomme to be found in the States. The mean white affects the style of the large proprietor of slaves or capital as closely as he can; he reads his papers — and, by the by, they are becoming smaller and more whitey-brown as we proceed — and takes his drink with the same air — takes up as much room, and speaks a good deal in the same fashion.

The people are all hearty Secessionists here — the Bars and Stars are flying at the road-stations and from the pine-tops, and there are lusty cheers for Jeff Davis and the Southern Confederacy. Troops are flocking towards Virginia from the Southern States in reply to the march of Volunteers from Northern States to Washington; but it is felt that the steps taken by the Federal Government to secure Baltimore have obviated any chance of successfully opposing the “Lincolnites” going through that city. There is a strong disposition on the part of the Southerners to believe they have many friends in the North, and they endeavor to attach a factious character to the actions of the Government by calling the Volunteers and the war party in the North “Lincolnites,” “Lincoln's Mercenaries,” “Black Republicans,” “Abolitionists,” and the like. The report of an armistice, now denied by Mr. Seward officially, was for some time current, but it is plain that the South must make good its words, and justify its acts by the sword. General Scott would, it was fondly believed, retire from the United States army, and either remain neutral or take command under the Confederate flag, but now that it is certain he will not follow any of these courses, he is assailed in the foulest manner by the press and in private conversation. Heaven help the idol of a democracy!

At one of the junctions General Beauregard, attended by Mr. Manning, and others of his staff, got into the car, and tried to elude observation, but the conductors take great pleasure in unearthing distinguished passengers for the public, and the General was called on for a speech by the crowd of idlers. The General hates speech-making, he told me, and he had besides been bored to death at every station by similar demands. But a man must be popular or he is nothing. So, as next best thing, Governor Manning made a speech in the General's name, in which he dwelt on Southern Rights, Sumter, victory, and abolitiondom, and was carried off from the cheers of his auditors by the train in the midst of an unfinished sentence. There were a number of blacks listening to the Governor, who were appreciative.

Towards evening, having thrown out some slight outworks, against accidental sallies of my fellow-passengers’ saliva, I went to sleep, and woke up at eleven P. M., to hear we were in Montgomery. A very rickety omnibus took the party to the hotel, which was crowded to excess. The General and his friends had one room to themselves. Three gentlemen and myself were crammed into a filthy room which already contained two strangers, and as there were only three beds in the apartment it was apparent that we were intended to “double up considerably;” but after strenuous efforts, a little bribery and cajoling, we succeeded in procuring mattresses to put on the floor, which was regarded by our, neighbors as a proof of miserable aristocratic fastidiousness. Had it not been for the flies, the fleas would have been intolerable, but one nuisance neutralized the other. Then, as to food — nothing could be had in the hotel — but one of the waiters led us to a restaurant, where we selected from a choice bill of fare, which contained, I think, as many odd dishes as ever I saw, some unknown fishes, oyster-plants, ‘possums, raccoons, frogs, and other delicacies, and, eschewing toads and the like, really made a good meal off dirty plates on a vile table-cloth, our appetites being sharpened by the best of condiments.

Colonel Pickett has turned up here, having made his escape from Washington just in time to escape arrest — travelling in disguise on foot through out-of-the-way places till he got among friends.

I was glad when bedtime approached, that I was not among the mattress men. One of the gentlemen in the bed next the door was a tremendous projector in the tobacco juice line: his final rumination ere he sank to repose was a masterpiece of art — a perfect liquid pyrotechny, Roman candles and falling stars. A horrid thought occurred as I gazed and wondered. In case he should in a supreme moment turn his attention my way! — I was only seven or eight yards off, and that might be nothing to him! — I hauled down my mosquito curtain at once, and watched him till, completely satiated, he slept.

SOURCE: William Howard Russell, My Diary North and South, p. 162-4

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