Sunday, January 31, 2016

Diary of William Howard Russell: May 5, 1861

Very warm, and no cold water, unless one went to the river. The hotel baths were not promising. This hotel is worse than the Mills House or Willard's. The feeding and the flies are intolerable. One of our party comes in to say that he could scarce get down to the hall on account of the crowd, and that all the people who passed him had very hard, sharp bones. He remarks thereupon to the clerk at the bar, who tells him that the particular projections he alludes to are implements of defence or offence, as the case may be, and adds, “I suppose you and your friends are the only people in the house who haven't a bowie-knife, or a six-shooter, or Derringer about them.” The house is full of Confederate congressmen, politicians, colonels, and place-men with or without places, and a vast number of speculators, contractors, and the like, attracted by the embryo government. Among the visitors are many filibusters, such as Henningsen, Pickett, Tochman, Wheat.1 I hear a good deal about the association called the Knights of the Golden Circle, a Protestant association for securing the Gulf provinces and States, including— which has been largely developed by recent events — them in the Southern Confederacy, and creating them into an independent government.

Montgomery has little claims to be called a capital. The streets are very hot, unpleasant, and uninteresting. I have rarely seen a more dull, lifeless place; it looks like a small Russian town in the interior. The names of the shopkeepers indicate German and French origin. I looked in at one or two of the slave magazines, which are not unlike similar establishments in Cairo and Smyrna. A certain degree of freedom is enjoyed by some of the men, who lounge about the doors, and are careless of escape or liberty, knowing too well the difficulties of either.

It is not in its external aspects generally that slavery is so painful. The observer must go with Sterne, and gaze in on the captives’ dungeons through the bars. The condition of a pig in a sty is not, in an animal sense, anything but good. Well fed, over fed, covered from the winds and storms of heaven, with clothing, food, medicine, provided, children taken care of, aged relatives and old age itself succored and guarded — is not this——? Get thee behind us, slave philosopher! The hour comes when the butcher steals to the sty, and the knife leaps from the sheath.

Now there is this one thing in being an [ăvaέ ăvδpὣv1] that be the race of men bad as it may, a kind of grandiose character is given to their leader. The stag which sweeps his rivals from his course is the largest of the herd; but a man who drives the largest drove of sheep is no better than he who drives the smallest. The flock he compels, must consist of human beings to develop the property of which I speak, and so the very superiority of the slave master in the ways and habits of command proves that the negro is a man. But, at the same time the law which regulates all these relations between man and his fellows, asserts itself here. The dominant race becomes dependent on some other body of men, less martial, arrogant, and wealthy, for its elegances, luxuries, and necessaries. The poor villeins round the Norman castle forge the armor, make the furniture, and exercise the mechanical arts which the baron and his followers are too ignorant and too proud to pursue; if there is no population to serve this purpose, some energetic race comes in their place, and the Yankee does the part of the little hungry Greek to the Roman patrician.

The South has at present little or no manufactures, takes everything from the Yankee outside or the mean white within her gates, and despises both. Both are reconciled by interest. The one gets a good price for his manufacture and the fruit of his ingenuity from a careless, spendthrift proprietor; the other hopes to be as good as his master some day, and sees the beginning of his fortune in the possession of a negro. It is fortunate for our great British Catherine-wheel, which is continually throwing off light and heat to the remotest parts of the world — I hope not burning down to a dull red cinder in the centre at last — that it had not to send its emigrants to the Southern States, as assuredly the emigration would soon have been checked. The United States has been represented to the British and Irish emigrants by the Free States — the Northern States and the great West — and the British and German emigrant who finds himself in the South, has drifted there through the Northern States, and either is a migratory laborer, or hopes to return with a little money to the North and West, if he does not see his way to the possession of land and negroes.

After dinner at the hotel table, which was crowded with officers, and where I met Mr. Howell Cobb and several senators of the new Congress, I spent the evening with Colonel Deas, Quartermaster-General, and a number of his staff, in their quarters. As I was walking over to the house, one of the detached villa-like residences so common in Southern cities, I perceived a crowd of very well-dressed negroes, men and women, in front of a plain brick building which I was informed was their Baptist meeting-house, into which white people rarely or never intrude. These were domestic servants, or persons employed in stores, and their general appearance indicated much comfort and even luxury. I doubted if they all were slaves. One of my companions went up to a young woman in a straw-hat, with bright red-and-green ribbon trimmings and artificial flowers, a gaudy Paisley shawl, and a rainbow-like gown, blown out over her yellow boots by a prodigious crinoline, and asked her “Whom do you belong to? She replied, “I b'long to Massa Smith, sar.” Well, we have men who “belong” to horses in England. I am not sure if Americans, North and South, do not consider their superiority to all Englishmen so thoroughly established, that they can speak of them as if they were talking of inferior animals. To-night, for example, a gallant young South Carolinian, one Ransome Calhoun,3 was good enough to say that “Great Britain was in mortal fear of France, and was abjectly subdued by her great rival.” Hence came controversy, short and acrimonious

1 Since killed in action.

2 This is as close of an approximation to the words printed in the original text as I could get.  Please see original text for the exact typography.

3 Since killed.

SOURCE: William Howard Russell, My Diary North and South, p. 164-7

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