July 27th.—Mrs. Davis’s drawing-room last night was brilliant, and she was in great force. Outside a mob called for the President. He did speak—an old war-horse, who scents the battle-fields from afar. His enthusiasm was contagious. They called for Colonel Chesnut, and he gave them a capital speech, too. As public speakers say sometimes, “It was the proudest moment of my life.” I did not hear a great deal of it, for always, when anything happens of any moment, my heart beats up in my ears, but the distinguished Carolinians who crowded round told me how good a speech he made. I was dazed. There goes the Dead March for some poor soul.
To-day, the President told us at dinner that Mr. Chesnut’s eulogy of Bartow in the Congress was highly praised. Men liked it. Two eminently satisfactory speeches in twenty-four hours is doing pretty well. And now I could be happy, but this Cabinet of ours are in such bitter quarrels among themselves—everybody abusing everybody.
Last night, while those splendid descriptions of the battle were being given to the crowd below from our windows, I said: “Then, why do we not go on to Washington?” “You mean why did they not; the opportunity is lost.” Mr. Barnwell said to me: “Silence, we want to listen to the speaker,” and Mr. Hunter smiled compassionately, “Don’t ask awkward questions.”
Kirby Smith came down on the turnpike in the very nick of time. Still, the heroes who fought all day and held the Yankees in check deserve credit heyond words, or it would all have been over before the Joe Johnston contingent came. It is another case of the eleventh-hour scrape; the eleventh-hour men claim all the credit, and they who bore the heat and brunt and burden of the day do not like that.
Everybody said at first, “Pshaw! There will be no war.” Those who foresaw evil were called ravens, ill-foreboders. Now the same sanguine people all cry, “The war is over” —the very same who were packing to leave Richmond a few days ago. Many were ready to move on at a moment’s warning, when the good news came. There are such owls everywhere.
But, to revert to the other kind, the sage and circumspect, those who say very little, but that little shows they think the war barely begun. Mr. Rives and Mr. Seddon have just called. Arnoldus Van der Horst came to see me at the same time. He said there was no great show of victory on our side until two o’clock, but when we began to win, we did it in double-quick time. I mean, of course, the battle last Sunday.
Arnold Harris told Mr. Wigfall the news from Washington last Sunday. For hours the telegrams reported at rapid intervals, “Great victory,” “Defeating them at all points.” The couriers began to come in on horseback, and at last, after two or three o ‘clock, there was a sudden cessation of all news. About nine messengers with bulletins came on foot or on horseback—wounded, weary, draggled, footsore, panic-stricken—spreading in their path on every hand terror and dismay. That was our opportunity. Wigfall can see nothing that could have stopped us, and when they explain why we did not go to Washington I understand it all less than ever. Yet here we will dilly-dally, and Congress orate, and generals parade, until they in the North get up an army three times as large as McDowell’s, which we have just defeated.
Trescott says this victory will be our ruin. It lulls us into a fool’s paradise of conceit at our superior valor, and the shameful farce of their flight will wake every inch of their manhood. It was the very fillip they needed. There are a quieter sort here who know their Yankees well. They say if the thing begins to pay—government contracts, and all that—we will never hear the end of it, at least, until they get their pay in some way out of us. They will not lose money by us. Of that we may be sure. Trust Yankee shrewdness and vim for that.
There seems to be a battle raging at Bethel, but no mortal here can be got to think of anything but Manassas. Mrs. McLean says she does not see that it was such a great victory, and if it be so great, how can one defeat hurt a nation like the North.
John Waties fought the whole battle over for me. Now I understand it. Before this nobody would take the time to tell the thing consecutively, rationally, and in order. Mr. Venable said he did not see a braver thing done than the cool performance of a Columbia negro. He carried his master a bucket of ham and rice, which he had cooked for him, and he cried: “You must be so tired and hungry, marster; make haste and eat.” This was in the thickest of the fight, under the heaviest of the enemy’s guns.
The Federal Congressmen had been making a picnic of it: their luggage was all ticketed to Richmond. Cameron has issued a proclamation. They are making ready to come after us on a magnificent scale. They acknowledge us at last foemen worthy of their steel. The Lord help us, since England and France won’t, or don’t. If we could only get a friend outside and open a port.
One of these men told me he had seen a Yankee prisoner, who asked him “what sort of a diggins Richmond was for trade.” He was tired of the old concern, and would like to take the oath and settle here. They brought us handcuffs found in the débacle of the Yankee army. For whom were they? Jeff Davis, no doubt, and the ringleaders. “Tell that to the marines.” We have outgrown the handcuff business on this side of the water.
Dr. Gibbes says he was at a country house near Manassas, when a Federal soldier, who had lost his way, came in exhausted. He asked for brandy, which the lady of the house gave him. Upon second thought, he declined it. She brought it to him so promptly he said he thought it might be poisoned; his mind was; she was enraged, and said: “Sir, I am a Virginia woman. Do you think I could be as base as that ? Here, Bill, Tom, disarm this man. He is our prisoner.” The negroes came running, and the man surrendered without more ado.
Another Federal was drinking at the well. A negro girl said: “You go in and see Missis.” The man went in and she followed, crying triumphantly: “Look here, Missis, I got a prisoner, too!” This lady sent in her two prisoners, and Beauregard complimented her on her pluck and patriotism, and her presence of mind. These negroes were rewarded by their owners.
Now if slavery is as disagreeable to negroes as we think it, why don’t they all march over the border where they would be received with open arms? It all amazes me. I am always studying these creatures. They are to me inscrutable in their way and past finding out. Our negroes were not ripe for John Brown.
This is how I saw Robert E. Lee for the first time: though his family, then living at Arlington, called to see me while I was in Washington (I thought because of old Colonel Chesnut’s intimacy with Nellie Custis in the old Philadelphia days, Mrs. Lee being Nelly Custis’s niece), I had not known the head of the Lee family. He was somewhere with the army then.
Last summer at the White Sulphur were Roony Lee and his wife, that sweet little Chailotte Wickam, and I spoke of Roony with great praise. Mrs. Izard said: “Don’t waste your admiration on him; wait till you see his father. He is the nearest to a perfect man I ever saw.” “How?” “In every way—handsome, clever, agreeable, high-bred.”
Now, Mrs. Stanard came for Mrs. Preston and me to drive to the camp in an open carriage. A man riding a beautiful horse joined us. He wore a hat with something of a military look to it, sat his horse gracefully, and was so distinguished at all points that I very much regretted not catching his name as Mrs. Stanard gave it to us. He, however, heard ours, and bowed as gracefully as he rode, and the few remarks he made to each of us showed he knew all about us.
But Mrs. Stanard was in ecstasies of pleasurable excitement. I felt that she had bagged a big fish, for just then they abounded in Richmond. Mrs. Stanard accused him of being ambitious, etc. He remonstrated and said his tastes were “of the simplest.” He only wanted “a Virginia farm, no end of cream and fresh butter and fried chicken—not one fried chicken, or two, but unlimited fried chicken.”
To all this light chat did we seriously incline, because the man and horse and everything about him were so fine-looking; perfection, in fact; no fault to be found if you hunted for it. As he left us, I said eagerly, “Who is he?” “You did not know! Why, it was Robert E. Lee, son of Light Horse Harry Lee, the first man in Virginia,” raising her voice as she enumerated his glories. All the same, I like Smith Lee better, and I like his looks, too. I know Smith Lee well. Can anybody say they know his brother? I doubt it. He looks so cold, quiet, and grand.
Kirby Smith is our Blücher; he came on the field in the nick of time, as Blücher at Waterloo, and now we are as the British, who do not remember Blücher. It is all Wellington. So every individual man I see fought and won the battle. From Kershaw up and down, all the eleventh-hour men won the battle; turned the tide. The Marylanders—Elzey & Co.—one never hears of—as little as one hears of Blücher in the English stories of Waterloo.
Mr. Venable was praising Hugh Garden and Kershaw’s regiment generally. This was delightful. They are my friends and neighbors at home. I showed him Mary Stark’s letter, and we agreed with her. At the bottom of our hearts we believe every Confederate soldier to be a hero, sans peur et sans reproche.
Hope for the best to-day. Things must be on a pleasanter footing all over the world. Met the President in the corridor. He took me by both hands. “Have you breakfasted?” said he. “Come in and breakfast with me?” Alas! I had had my breakfast.
At the public dining-room, where I had taken my breakfast with Mr. Chesnut, Mrs. Davis came to him, while we were at table. She said she had been to our rooms. She wanted Wigfall hunted up. Mr. Davis thought Chesnut would be apt to know his whereabouts. I ran to Mrs. Wigfall’s room, who told me she was sure he could be found with his regiment in camp, but Mr. Chesnut had not to go to the camp, for Wigfall came to his wife’s room while I was there. Mr. Davis and Wigfall would be friends, if—if———
The Northern papers say we hung and quartered a Zouave; cut him into four pieces; and that we tie prisoners to a tree and bayonet them. In other words, we are savages. It ought to teach us not to credit what our papers say of them. It is so absurd an imagination of evil. We are absolutely treating their prisoners as well as our own men: we are complained of for it here. I am going to the hospitals for the enemy’s sick and wounded in order to see for myself.
Why did we not follow the flying foe across the Potomac? That is the question of the hour in the drawingroom with those of us who are not contending as to “who took Rickett’s Battery?” Allen Green, for one, took it. Allen told us that, finding a portmanteau with nice clean shirts, he was so hot and dusty he stepped behind a tree and put on a clean Yankee shirt, and was more comfortable.
The New York Tribune soothes the Yankee self-conceit, which has received a shock, by saying we had 100,000 men on the field at Manassas; we had about 15,000 effective men in all. And then, the Tribune tries to inflame and envenom them against us by telling lies as to our treatment of prisoners. They say when they come against us next it will be in overwhelming force. I long to see Russell’s letter to the London Times about Bull Run and Manassas. It will be rich and rare. In Washington, it is crimination and recrimination. Well, let them abuse one another to their hearts’ content.