To Mrs. Lyon
Mound City, March 25, 1862.—We are ordered to leave here at six this evening to join the regiment, to report at Cairo. No fighting where they are.
To Mrs. Lyon
Mound City, March 25, 1862.—We are ordered to leave here at six this evening to join the regiment, to report at Cairo. No fighting where they are.
25th. Commenced reading Scott’s “Ivanhoe.” Delighted with its principal characters, Rowena and Ivanhoe.
March 25. There are swarms of negroes here. They are of all sexes, ages, sizes and conditions. They sit along the streets and fences, staring and grinning at every thing they see, laughing and chattering together like so many black-birds. They have very exaggerated notions of freedom, thinking it means freedom from work and a license to do about as they please. There is no use trying to get them to work, for if they can get their hoe-cake and bacon, it is all they want, and they are contented and happy. When a party of them is wanted to unload a vessel or do any job of work, the commissary or quartermaster requests the colonel to send along the men. The colonel orders one of the companies to go out and pick them up and report with them where they are wanted. A patrol is detailed and put in charge of a non-commissioned officer who starts out to pick up his party. On seeing a good, stout looking fellow, the officer halts his squad, and calling the darky’s attention, says, “Come here, boy!” The unsuspecting darky comes grinning along up and asks, “Wat ‘er want ‘er me?” “Fall in here, I want you,” “Wat I don’ ‘er want me?” “Well, I want you to do something; fall in here,” “O, lor’ a gorra, boss,i’se so busy today i’se couldn’t go nohow, i’se go tomorrer suah.” “Never mind that, fall in here,” and the darky falls in, his eyes rolling around and his thick lips sticking out, feeling about as mad as he well can, doubtless thinking that freedom is no great thing after all.
In that way the whole party is picked up in a few minutes and marched off to where they are wanted. They are set to work, and at night will all promise to be on hand the next morning, “suah.” The next morning perhaps a few of them will put in an appearance, but the most of them will keep away, and another patrol will be sent out to pick up another lot. But I think, after a little while, they will learn that freedom means something besides idleness and they will feel a willingness to work. They have a curious custom of carrying everything on their heads, toting they call it, and will tote large or small bundles along the street or through a crowd as unconcernedly and safely as though it were a basket slung on their arm. They will tote a brimming pitcher or tumbler of water without spilling scarcely a drop. These darkies are a curious institution.
25th.—This A. M., at 6, weighed anchor, and dropped down to Hampton Roads, and disembarked at what was the little town of Hampton. If there be pleasure in the indulgence of sad reflections, how delightful it would be to have all my friends here, to enjoy them with me to-day. For a few hours, whilst the troops have been disembarking, and transferring the baggage and munitions of war from steamer to transportation wagons, I have been walking the streets of this once beautiful, but now desolate little city. Never before had I a conception of the full import of that word—desolate. Shortly after the battle of Bull Run, the rebels, fearing that we should occupy the town as our winter quarters, abandoned and burned it. This little city, amongst the oldest in America, and now giving evidences of a former beauty, possessed by no other I have seen in the South, they burned!
Oh, the demoralization, the misery resulting from this wicked rebellion. I would like to describe here the scenes I have witnessed this morning; but the sad picture, so strongly impressed on the mind, would be blurred and rendered indistinct by any attempt to transfer it to language. I have already an affection for this little city, and a deep-rooted sympathy for its former citizens, now scattered and hunted, exiled and homeless. Its population, I should judge, was about 2,500. ‘Twas compactly built, mostly of brick. The yards and gardens even yet, give evidence of great taste.
The walls of the old Episcopal Church, said to be the oldest orthodox church on the continent, stand almost uninjured, but not a particle of combustible matter is left about it. In its yard are the tombs and the tomb-stones of a century and a half ago. And what a place to study human nature, amongst the 50,000 soldiers strolling around. ‘Tis low tide. All the tiny bays left uncovered by water, are crowded by soldiers “on all fours,” sunk to knees and elbows in the slimy mud feeling for oysters. The gardens are full of soldiers, the church yards are full, each giving an index of his character by the object of his search and admiration. Whilst I have been looking disgusted and indignant at a squad prying the tomb-stones from the vaults to get a look within; at another squad breaking off pieces of the oldest tomb-stones as ” trophies,” my attention is suddenly drawn away from these revolting scenes by the extacies of a poor, ragged, dirty fellow, over a little yellow violet which he had found. He almost screams with delight. Just beyond him is a better and more intelligent looking soldier scratching among the ashes in hope of finding a shilling, or something else, which he can turn to some use; a few seems impressed by the solemnity of the scene. Such are the varieties of human characters and of human natures. For myself, I cannot but think how worse, even, than Sodom and Gomorrah is the fate of this place. To think, whilst looking over the sad ruins, of the young persons who had grown up here, and whose every hour of happiness was in some way associated with their beautiful homes; of old men who had been born and raised here, and who had known no other home; of widowed mothers, with dependent families, whose homes here constituted their sole wealth on earth. To think of all these clustered together on some elevation in that dark and dreary night, turning to take the last sad look at their dear old homes; oh, what aching hearts there must have been there that night! What envyings of the fate of Lot’s wife, as they were leaving the quiet, happy homes for—God knows where, and God knows what! My heart aches for them, and every feeling of enmity is smothered in one of pity. Before disembarking this morning, we got a look at the famous little Monitor. A raft—an iron raft, about two hundred feet long, lying from eighteen to thirty inches above the water, with its great cheese box on one end, with holes in it to shoot from. Were I to attempt a description I should say, it looked for all the world just like the sole of an immense stoga boot lying flat on the water with the heel sticking up. In the afternoon, left Hampton, marched about four miles in the direction of Newport News, and encamped.
March 25.—Washington, North-Carolina, was visited by the United States steamer Louisiana, under the command of Lieut. A. Murray, who reported “that underlying an apparent acquiescence of the people of the town and neighborhood in permitting the building of gunboats and the construction of batteries to repel the approach of the Federal forces, was a deep-rooted affection for the old Union.”—(Doc. 107.)
—Two hundred and thirty rebel prisoners, captured at the battle of Winchester, Va., arrived at Baltimore, Md., this afternoon, and were provided with quarters in the north wing of the new city jail. They are all Virginians, with the exception of five or six Baltimoreans, who left before the war broke out. One of the prisoners, on reaching the quarters, threw up his hat and exclaimed: “Thank God, I am in the United States once more!” Others congratulated themselves at the prospect of getting something good to eat, which they admitted they had not had for some time—N. T. Times, March 26.
—This day the National gunboats Seminole, Wyandotte, and Norwich, under the command of Capt Gillis, senior officer, proceeded up Wilmington River, Ga., and upon arriving within a mile of the Skidaway batteries, dispersed the rebel cavalry stationed there by shell, and then destroyed the batteries. The rebel force fled, leaving everything behind them, even their dinners. Captain Gillis landed and hoisted the American flag on the ramparts. Another flag was hoisted over the rebel headquarters by Acting-Master Steele. The rebel batteries were entirely destroyed, but the dwellings were spared. The dwellings were afterwards burned by the rebels. The batteries mounted ten guns, and were well built. — (Doc. 108).
—Gov. Johnson directed a letter to the officials of Nashville, Tenn., requiring them to take the oath of allegiance, but the Common Council, by a vote of sixteen to one, refused to do so. The sixteen declined on the score that it was never contemplated that that they should take such oath. The one who voted ay, said he would subscribe to the oath, but immediately resign.— Nashville Patriot.
24th.—Our people continue to make every effort to repel the foe, who, like the locusts of Egypt, overrun our land, carrying the bitterest enmity and desolation wherever they go. Troops are passing through Richmond on their way to Goldsborough, N. C, where it is said that Burnside is expected to meet them. Everybody is busy in supplying their wants as they pass through. On Sunday, just as the girls of one of the large seminaries were about to seat themselves at table, the principal of the school came in: “Young ladies,” said he, “several extra trains have arrived, unexpectedly, filled with troops. The committee appointed to attend them are totally unprepared. What can we do to help our hungry soldiers?” “Give them our dinner,” cried every young voice at once. In five minutes baskets were filled and the table cleared. When the girls reached the cars, the street was thronged with ladies, gentlemen, children, servants, bearing waiters, dishes, trays, baskets filled with meats, bread, vegetables, etc. Every table in Richmond seemed to have sent its dinner to Broad Street, and our dear, dusty, hungry gray coats dined to their hearts’ content, filled their haversacks, shouted “Richmond forever!” and went on their way rejoicing.
Monday March 24th
A Review today at Meridian Hill, Genl Caseys Division about 20,000 men (none of his Division have yet left). Troops are leaving on board Steamers every day at the rate of ten or fifteen thousand pr day. News today of a Victory near Winchester V.A. by our troops under Genl Shields. The bombardment at Island No 10 still continued at last news, the Gun Boats throwing Shells some 11/2 & 2 miles and out of range of the Rebel guns. Our fine old neighbor Com Smith now goes again to his office at the Navy Yard. When he heard by Telegraph that the “Congress” had raised a white flag, “Joe is dead,” says he. He knew that “Joe” would not surrender, and he was in command. “Joes” watch was taken from the dead body (running) after the battle, and a part of the plunder obtained by the Rober the other morning. The Comd offers $150 Reward for the watch which will be paid if it is returned and no questions asked. I was at Mr Reynolds with Julia this evening. They are from Iowa City. Got home about 10.
The three diary manuscript volumes, Washington during the Civil War: The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, 1861-1865, are available online at The Library of Congress.
March 24th.—We have had a very fine run for about thirty hours, having left Alexandria at 6 P.M., on the 23d, laid too over night near Fort Washington, and at 10 P. M., after having passed Mount Vernon, Ocoquan, Aquia, and many other points noted in this war, have come to anchor off this point.
MARCH 24TH.—Gen. Walker, of Georgia—the same who had the scene with Col. Bledsoe—has resigned. I am sorry that the Confederate States must lose his services, for he is a brave man, covered with honorable scars. He has displeased the Secretary of War.
Monday, 24th—We disembarked and marched out about a mile and a half from the landing, where we pitched our tents. Our camp is located in what is called Jones’ Field.
Point Pleasant, Mo., March 24, 1862.
It’s only 9 a. m, and didn’t get to bed until 2 this morning, so if I do not talk rational you will excuse me. That isn’t the excuse either. I rode 50 miles between 9 a. m. yesterday and midnight over roughest road. Two hundred of us were sent out after that d — d Jeff Thompson. We exchanged shots with his pickets 20 miles from here, and chased them four miles farther. The last eight miles was a pike only eight feet wide, thrown up through an immense swamp, and planked. The water came so close to the planks that there was not a place in the whole eight miles where a horse dare step off the plank. The total of all the unusual sights I ever saw wouldn’t begin to count one in effect where that road and swamp will ten. There are two good sized rivers running through the swamp but they have to be pointed out to you before you can see them, or rather distinguish them from the rest of the swamp. When we first saw these pickets they were tearing up a culvert. We hurried up and after each side fired four or five rounds they ran. No one hurt here, although the distance was not more than 60 yards. Andy Hulit, my sergeant major and myself were the advance guard, but I have no carbine, and did not get to shoot, but this didn’t seem to make any difference to them for they threw buckshot round me quite promiscuously. Well, we fixed up that bridge and pressed on, but they tore down so many bridges that we could go but slowly. Just before the fight I had dropped back a dozen files to get out of building any more bridges, and when our boys saw the secesh, they had just finished destroying another. The horses couldn’t cross it, but the boys dismounted and hurrying across on foot, made them take to the swamp in water waist deep, where they hid themselves behind logs, vines and a kind of high grass that grows in bunches as large as a currant bush. When they had concealed themselves to their notion, they commenced firing at us, and of the first four of our boys over the bridge (Andy Hulit led them), three were down, wounded in a minute. We then charged (on foot) right into the brush and water, some of the boys up to their armpits, and made them scoot. They did not number over 20 but their advantage was enormous. We dropped two of them certain, and— I don’t think any more. Of four of our men they wounded, three were Company L boys. The two Cockerel brothers, Mathew and Royal, and Eugene Greenslit. The other was from Company A. The Company A boy and Mat Cockerel died before we got them to camp. Royal has a flesh wound in the arm, and Greenslit is shot in the foot, both slight wounds. We drove the Rebels clear off, and captured two horses, and all their blankets, overcoats etc. About 15 miles out we came to Little River. While the major was examining the bridge, we saw a half dozen men running through a swamp on the other side. Over the bridge we went, and into the mud and water after them. We got them all. I captured a couple in a thicket. Andy Hulit came up a few minutes after and we had work to keep a lot of boys from shooting them, while we were taking them back to the river. Well, that was a pretty rough trip and I don’t hanker after another like it, although the excitement is rather pleasant too. But being set up for a mark on a road where there is not a sign of a chance to dodge, and having the marksman completely concealed from you, and this other fix of letting them throw shells at you when your carbine won’t carry to them, sitting on horseback too, I wish it understood I’m opposed to and protest against, although I never think so until I get back to camp. I don’t think that I ever get a bit excited over firing, but I know that I don’t look at danger the same when under fire that I do when in quarters. We are all well and I’m getting fat every day. It bores considerably here to think that that one horse Island No. 10 won’t come down and surrender like a “gem’men.” Some of the officers here think that we’d better be getting out “o’ this,” but I propose to let Pope work out the salvation of this division. We started from Commerce in General Hamilton’s division, were put in General Granger’s at Madrid, and are now in General Plummer’s. Well, I’m going to do a little sleeping.
24th. New recruits came, so I moved over to the Major’s quarters. Played chess with Nettleton.
Headquarters 2d Brigade, S. C.
Beaufort, S. C. March 24th, 1862.
My dear Mother:
The steamer arrived last night, bringing a long letter from you, one from Horace and one from Walter, affording of course much pleasure, but the tone of all occasioning much surprise. Indeed, in the midst of all our victories and astonishing successes, it is to me inexplicable why McClellan should be attacked with such a savage spirit! I had no idea that the spirit of malevolence could carry men so far, but I am confident that McClellan will stand justified on the pages of history for preferring to ensure victory where reverses would have been well nigh fatal. The plan of the present grand campaign may not entirely have originated with McClellan, but undoubtedly he had the total arrangement of it. It seems to me to be as wise and perfect a one as was possible, considering the magnificence of its proportions. Of course, people will cry: “Why was not all that has been done, done long ago?” But I honor him the more that he had the moral courage to wait. It is well enough to talk about the immense army at his disposal, but if the army is a mere mob without cohesive power, a Napoleon might lead them, and see them fly from earthworks that would excite a soldier’s derision. I believe now we have an army of soldiers, and believe we will win victories at every turn. I do not forget though the lesson of Bull Run, and more than that, it is not many months ago I can remember that our army, despite every effort of its commanders, was a poor, cowed, spiritless thing — a good army to get killed in, but a poor one to look for the crown of laurel. I say McClellan has done a glorious thing, and shame on his detractors! A few short weeks ago when Elliott was off recruiting, he met with few recruits, but many a coward tongue eloquently detailing our reverses. And now I suppose they would rob those who have borne the burden and heat of day, of the poor praise which they had hoped for when the fruit of their labors had ripened, and the reapers were ready to gather a harvest of glory. I have heard many say that they do not pretend to have any military knowledge, but they do pretend to be governed by a little common sense, and common sense teaches them so-and-so. Now, dear mother, be sure, when you hear men talk thus, that common sense means simply pure ignorance. It was this common sense, alias ignorance, that forced the battle of Bull Run. It was a little military knowledge that has made the opening of the year 1862 a glorious one for our Union Army. Enough! I have had my say — have expressed my disgust — and may now change the subject.
My dearest Mother, it will be a sweet thing for us all to see peace once more restored, and I do not doubt that no one prays more earnestly for it than yourself. I cannot but feel that a Higher Power has guided us of late to victory and do not fear for the result, yet bloody battles must be fought in which we must all partake, before the olive-branch is possible. I hardly think that the impatient ones at home, who are clamorous as to the inactivity and want of efficiency of our army, will have in the end any reason to complain that blood enough has not been shed to compensate them for the millions they have expended on it.
Many think that before July the war will be ended. How pleasant a time it will be when I can honorably return home. There is no sweeter anticipation than the joy I know my return would bring to your heart. I have been called away to attend to some business. Very much love to my dear sisters and the little ones.
I wrote the above shortly after reading my letters. Since then I have been diligently reading the papers, and perhaps must modify my opinions somewhat, but as the mail leaves in a few moments, you must take the first outburst, or none. You offer me a flag; send it, dear mother, by all means. It shall be carried when we advance.
Raleigh, Virginia, March 24, 1862.
Dear Uncle: Your letter of the 14th came to hand the day before yesterday. We all feel pleased to be in Fremont’s division. The only drawback is that it seems to keep us in the mountains, and we have had about enough of the snows, winds, and rains of the mountains. We have had a five-days snowstorm. It seems to be now clearing off bright. We occupy ourselves in these storms very much as you do, reading newspapers and discussing the war news. The recent victories convince a great many in the region south of us that the game is up. On the other hand, the Government at Richmond is making desperate efforts to get out under arms nearly the whole male population of military age. Many are running away from the drafting. Being the extreme outpost we see daily all sorts of queer characters. They sometimes come in boldly, sometimes with fear and trembling. I am often puzzled what to do with them, but manage to dispose of them as fast as they come.
An odd laughable incident occurred to Joe the other day. You know his fondness for children. He always talks to them and generally manages to get them on his knee. Stopping at a farm-house he began to make advances towards a little three-year old boy who could scarcely talk plain enough to be understood. The doctor said, “Come, my fine little fellow. I want to talk to you.” The urchin with a jerk turned away saying something the doctor did not comprehend. On a second approach the doctor made it out “Go to Hell, you dam Yankee!” This from the little codger was funny enough. . . .
I send you a dime shinplaster. — Good-bye.
R. B. Hayes.
Monday, A. M., Raleigh, March 24, 1862. — It is snowing still. What a climate! This storm began Wednesday last. . . .
Captain Drake returned. He was very lucky — caught fifteen bushwhackers, captured twelve horses, eighteen rifles and muskets, fifteen hundred pounds bacon, ten sacks flour, six canoes; destroyed the Rebel headquarters and returned safely. Abram Bragg and Wm. C. Richmond with fifteen or twenty Union men joined them and acted as guides, etc., etc.
March 24 — This morning at daylight we hear the deep boom of a cannon in the direction of Kernstown, which plainly indicated that the Yanks were out early Rebel hunting, shelling the road as they cautiously advanced, searching for ambuscades or masked batteries, of both of which they seem to be most awfully afraid, consequently their advance guard is never without a battery in close proximity to shell every suspicious thicket along the road that might hide a Rebel.
At about nine o’clock they came in sight. We moved about a mile south of Newtown, went in battery and fired on their vanguard. As usual, they had the indispensable battery in front and returned our fire forthwith. At this position we had a lively and stubborn artillery duel. We held our own until we saw that the Yankee army as a whole was advancing. Then we withdrew to the next hill and opened on them again, and so we skirmished with their artillery and devilled their advance from every hilltop until we arrived on the Shenandoah side of Cedar Creek. There we found Jackson’s infantry and wagon train in camp, but were preparing to move up the Valley. The Yanks charged one of our guns to-day, but found that the fire was a little too warmish and dangerous to accomplish the capture of a live Rebel gun. The Yanks have no relish for canister.
We took the same position at Cedar Creek that we had on the 18th, and the Yanks put their battery in the very same place that they had it in then, and judging from the accuracy of their fire and the precision with which their shell exploded just at the intended point and time, I am almost certain that it was the same battery that fought us before from that position. It was a very short time after we went in battery until the Yanks were ready to open fire on us. However, the opening fire of both batteries was simultaneous. The fire was severe. Their shell exploded all around us, and some of them too near to feel good or to be agreeable and consistent with a healthy body, sound limbs, and whole bones.
While we were firing, Jackson’s wagons and infantry, which were just in rear of our position, however not in sight of the enemy’s battery, moved out on the pike and started up the Valley. Then the Twenty-Seventh Virginia Infantry moved out and halted a few moments on the pike in our rear, and right in range of the Yankee battery that was firing on us. A shell that was directed at our guns oversped its intended mark and exploded in the regiment. It killed and wounded some five or six men. One man, a member of the Rockbridge Rifles, still lay in the road when we retired from our position. He had his leg cut nearly off above the knee, and his trousers, which had been ignited by the explosion of the shell, were slowly burning. I suppose his comrades were a little excited, or else perhaps had no way to take him along, and had left him in the critical condition that I found him. I extinguished the fire and lifted him out of the road and put him in a seemingly easy position against the fence. When I was about leaving him he handed me his rifle, with the remark, “Here, take my gun and don’t let the Yankees have it.”
True and sincere patriotism of such quality as that, manifested under such trying and painful circumstances, ought to merit the lasting commendation of a grateful country. He thought then, and so did I, that he would fall into the hands of the enemy, as we were rear guard, and there was nothing between his fence corner and the Yanks to prevent his capture. But I learned this evening that after I left him some one went back with an ambulance and brought him away. After Jackson’s men had all moved away and were out of sight we retired and fell back to Woodstock. Quartered in the Court House.
March 24th.—I was asked to the Tognos’ tea, so refused a drive with Mary Preston. As I sat at my solitary casemate, waiting for the time to come for the Tognos, saw Mrs. Preston’s landau pass, and Mr. Venable making Mary laugh at some of his army stories, as only Mr. Venable can. Already I felt that I had paid too much for my whistle— that is, the Togno tea. The Gibbeses, Trenholms, Edmund Rhett, there. Edmund Rhett has very fine eyes and makes fearful play with them. He sits silent and motionless, with his hands on his knees, his head bent forward, and his eyes fixed upon you. I could think of nothing like it but a setter and a covey of partridges.
As to President Davis, he sank to profounder deeps of abuse of him than even Gonzales. I quoted Yancey: “A crew may not like their captain, but if they are mad enough to mutiny while a storm is raging, all hands are bound to go to the bottom.” After that I contented myself with a mild shake of the head when I disagreed with him, and at last I began to shake so persistently it amounted to incipient palsy. “Jeff Davis,” he said, “is conceited, wrong-headed, wranglesome, obstinate—a traitor.” “Now I have borne much in silence,” said I at last, “but that is pernicious nonsense. Do not let us waste any more time listening to your quotations from the Mercury.”
He very good-naturedly changed the subject, which was easy just then, for a delicious supper was on the table ready for us. But Doctor Gibbes began anew the fighting. He helped me to some pate— “Not foie gras,” said Madame Togno, “pate perdreaux.” Doctor Gibbes, however, gave it a flavor of his own. “Eat it,” said he, “it is good for you; rich and wholesome; healthy as cod-liver oil.”
A queer thing happened. At the post-office a man saw a small boy open with a key the box of the Governor and the Council, take the contents of the box and run for his life. Of course, this man called to the urchin to stop. The urchin did not heed, but seeing himself pursued, began tearing up the letters and papers. He was caught and the fragments were picked up. Finding himself a prisoner, he pointed out the negro who gave him the key. The negro was arrested.
Governor Pickens called to see me to-day. We began with Fort Sumter. For an hour did we hammer at that fortress. We took it, gun by gun. He was very pleasant and friendly in his manner.
James Chesnut has been so nice this winter; so reasonable and considerate—that is, for a man. The night I came from Madame Togno’s, instead of making a row about the lateness of the hour, he said he was “so wide awake and so hungry.” I put on my dressing-gown and scrambled some eggs, etc., there on our own fire. And with our feet on the fender and the small supper-table between us, we enjoyed the supper and glorious gossip. Rather a pleasant state of things when one’s own husband is in good humor and cleverer than all the men outside.
This afternoon, the entente cordiale still subsisting, Maum Mary beckoned me out mysteriously, but Mr. Chesnut said: “Speak out, old woman; nobody here but myself.” “Mars Nathum Davis wants to speak to her,” said she. So I hurried off to the drawing-room, Maum Mary flapping her down-at-the-heels shoes in my wake. “He’s gwine bekase somebody done stole his boots. How could he stay bedout boots?” So Nathan said good-by. Then we met General Gist, Maum Mary still hovering near, and I congratulated him on being promoted. He is now a brigadier. This he received with modest complaisance. “I knowed he was a general,” said Maum Mary as he passed on, “he told me as soon as he got in his room befo’ his boy put down his trunks.”
As Nathan, the unlucky, said good-by, he informed me that a Mr. Reed from Montgomery was in the drawingroom and wanted to see me. Mr. Reed had traveled with our foreign envoy, Yancey. I was keen for news from abroad. Mr. Reed settled that summarily. “Mr. Yancey says we need not have one jot of hope. He could bowstring Mallory for not buying arms in time. The very best citizens wanted to depose the State government and take things into their own hands, the powers that be being inefficient. Western men are hurrying to the front, bestirring themselves. In two more months we shall be ready.” What could I do but laugh? I do hope the enemy will be considerate and charitable enough to wait for us.
Mr. Reed’s calm faith in the power of Mr. Yancey’s eloquence was beautiful to see. He asked for Mr. Chesnut. I went back to our rooms, swelling with news like a pouter pigeon. Mr. Chesnut said: “Well! four hours—a call from Nathan Davis of four hours!” Men are too absurd! So I bear the honors of my forty years gallantly. I can but laugh. “Mr. Nathan Davis went by the five-o’clock train,” I said; “it is now about six or seven, maybe eight. I have had so many visitors. Mr. Reed, of Alabama, is asking for you out there.” He went without a word, but I doubt if he went to see Mr. Reed, my laughing had made him so angry.
At last Lincoln threatens us with a proclamation abolishing slavery¹—here in the free Southern Confederacy; and they say McClellan is deposed. They want more fighting —I mean the government, whose skins are safe, they want more fighting, and trust to luck for the skill of the new generals.
¹ The Emancipation Proclamation was not actually issued until September 22, 1862, when it was a notice to the Confederates to return to the Union, emancipation being proclaimed as a result of their failure to do so. The real proclamation, freeing the slaves, was delayed until January 1,1863, when it was put forth as a war measure. Mrs. Chesnut’s reference is doubtless to President Lincoln’s Message to Congress, March 6, 1862, in which he made recommendations regarding the abolition of slavery.
March 24.—At Jacksonville, Fla., a meeting of the citizens was held, at which resolutions were passed declaring their repugnance to secession, and inviting the citizens of the State to return to their allegiance to the United States.— (Doc. 106.)
—Postmaster-general Blair issued the following notice to the Postmasters of the United States: The Secretary of War now regulates the transmission of information by telegraph, affecting the conduct of the war, in order to prevent the communication of such information to the rebels. It is also thought necessary by the Secretary to put restrictions on the publication of facts of this character, however derived, and the aid of this department is requested for this purpose. You will, therefore, notify publishers not to publish any fact which has been excluded from the telegraph, and that a disregard of this order will subject the paper to be excluded from the mails.
— At Cincinnati, Ohio, to-night, Wendell Phillips attempted to lecture. He commenced avowing himself an abolitionist and disunionist. Persons in the galleries then hissed, yelled, and threw eggs and stones at him, some hitting him. The hissing was kept up some time. Finally he made himself heard, and proceeded until something again objectionable was said, and again eggs were thrown, hitting him. He persevered, and a third time was heard and a third time stoned and egged. The crowd now moved downstairs, crying “Put him out,” “Tar and feather him,” and giving groans for the “nigger, Wendell Phillips.” They proceeded down the middle aisle toward the stage, and were met by Phillips’s friends. Here a fight ensued amidst the greatest confusion, ladies screaming and crying, jumping on chairs, and falling in all directions. During the fight Phillips was taken off the stage by his friends.—Cincinnati Commercial.
—In the United States Senate the joint resolution in favor of affording pecuniary aid for the emancipation of slaves was taken up, and opposed by Mr. Saulsbury, of Delaware. Mr. Davis, of Kentucky, offered a substitute, declaring slavery to be exclusively within the jurisdiction of the people of the several States, yet that when any State determines to emancipate its slaves the Federal Government should pay a reasonable price for the slaves and the cost of colonizing them. The subject was then laid aside, and the bill to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia was taken up. The question was taken on Mr. Davis’s amendment, to colonize the slaves, and resulted in a tie vote. The Vice-President voted in the negative, and the amendment was rejected. A debate on the merits of the bill then ensued, which was continued until the adjournment.
—An engagement occurred between the gunboats Tyler and Lexington and a masked battery in the vicinity of Eastport, Tenn. The gunboats fired fifty shots. The Tyler’s smoke-stack was struck once. The effect on the enemy’s works was not ascertained. —N. Y. Commercial, March 29.
—This morning two boats’ crews from the United States steamer Yankee landed at Shipping Point, Va., to remove the guns left by the rebels, but while so engaged a body of rebel cavalry, said to be the Dumfries cavalry, numbering one thousand five hundred men, made their appearance on the hill, and the men pulled off, after securing two guns, one a nine-inch Dahlgren and the other a long thirty-two-pounder, both smooth bore, which were found to be double-shotted. The Yankee fell out into the stream, on the appearance of the enemy, and turned her guns upon them, but they retired and kept out of range.— Washington Star, March 28.
Sunday March 23rd 1862
No War news public today. It has been rather pleasant and no rain. Our next door neighbor Comodore Smith had his house robed last night. The Thief went all over the house gathering up watches, money, spoons, &c, without alarming the inmates. He unlocked the back door with Burglers nippers. The Comodore seems to be in bad luck. He recently lost his son, Lieut Jos. B Smith, on the Congress in her fight with the rebel Iron Clad Steamer “Merrimac.” I have not been to church today, wife & the rest of the family went. Took a walk with the boys before dark, saw the Battalion of Cavalry which brot the Body of Col Slocum of the RI 2nd who was killed at Bull Run in July. The Regt is now near the City and the body was just recovered and brought over to the Reg’t. The Cavalry came over as an Escort and were on their return when we saw them.
The three diary manuscript volumes, Washington during the Civil War: The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, 1861-1865, are available online at The Library of Congress.
March 23rd.—At one o’clock this morning, met Major M. in Washington, who informed me that the absent officers of our Brigade had been telegraphed to rejoin their regiments immediately, to embark at 8 this A. M. Left on first boat for Alexandria, and found the most of my Brigade embarked. I had just time, before going on board, to write and copy the following note:
Alexandria, March 23, 1863.
My Dear: ‘Tis Sunday, and here I am surrounded by all “the pomp and circumstance of war;” troops embarking, flags flying, martial music from a dozen bands all around me. My own Regiment is this moment marching on board the steamer Canonicus; and amidst the confusion and turmoil of troops marching, almost over me, transportation wagons wheeling within a few inches of my feet, and amidst every conceivable noise, I sit down in the street, with an old box in front of me, to write these few words, thinking that they may interest even you. * * * In a few hours the distance between us will begin rapidly to increase. How long will the increase continue? God only knows. I hope soon to be turned homeward.
This is such a time as Alexandria never saw—it is to be hoped may never see again. There seems to be but little interest or excitement in the city. Scarcely anybody out to witness this solemn—this imposing pageant. I know not .what else to call it. Are the people here rebels at heart? I fear as much so as South Carolinians. We are not informed of our destination, but I still believe it to be Norfolk, and if successful there, then to Richmond. We are now Called on board. Farewell.
MARCH 23D.—Gen. Winder was in this morning listening to something MacCubbin was telling him about the Richmond Whig. It appears that, in the course of a leading article, enthusiastic for the cause, the editor remarked, “we have arms and ammunition now.” The policemen, one and all, interpreted this as a violation of the order to the press to abstain from speaking of the arrivals of arms, etc. from abroad. Gen. Winder, without looking at the paper, said in a loud voice, “Go and arrest the editor—and close his office !” Two or three of the policemen started off on this errand. But I interposed, and asked them to wait a moment, until I could examine the paper. I found no infraction of the order in the truly patriotic article, and said so to Gen. Winder. “Well,” said he, “if he has not violated the order, he must not be arrested.” He took the paper, and read for himself ; and then, without saying anything more, departed.
When he was gone, I asked MacCubbin what was the phraseology of the order that “had been served on the editors.” He drew it from his pocket, saying it had been shown to them, and not left with them. It was in the handwriting of Mr. Benjamin, and signed by Gen. Winder. And I learned that all the orders, sumptuary and others, had been similarly written and signed. Mr. Benjamin used the pencil and not the pen in writing these orders, supposing, of course, they would be copied by Gen. W.’s clerks. But they were not copied. The policemen threaten to stop the Examiner soon, for that paper has been somewhat offensive to the aliens who now have rule here.
23rd. Read the papers received in the morning and wrote home. No preaching.
March 23 — This morning we ate breakfast at four o’clock, and daylight found us on the march for Kernstown. We arrived at Bartonsville by sunrise and remained there about two hours; then went within half a mile of Kernstown and halted. From there one gun went still a little farther on toward the town. Just a little south of town, and where the pike makes a little turn, stands a small brick house on the west side of the road. In front of that house our first gun went in position, and fired the first and opening shot of the battle of Kernstown.
The Federal artillery was in position on a range of hills northwest of the town and replied to our opening shot with a vim which at once bespoke that they meant business. In the meantime a body of sharpshooters and two pieces of artillery advanced on our position from the east side of town and a little to right of our front. When the sharpshooters opened on us with their long-range rifles, and the two pieces of artillery commenced firing on us, we abandoned our position and retired under fire. We fell back about half a mile.
The first shell they fired at us from the battery on our right was a twelve-pounder, and I saw it flying in its graceful curve through the air, coming directly toward the spot where I was standing. I watched it until it struck the ground about fifteen feet in front of me. I was so interested in the sky ball, in its harmless appearance, and surprised that a shell could be so plainly seen during its flight, that I for a moment forgot that danger lurked in the black speck that was descending to the earth before me like a schoolboy’s innocent plaything. It proved to have been a percussion shell, and when it struck the ground it exploded and scattered itself in every direction around me, and threw up dirt and gravel like a young volcano. Some of the gravel struck me on the arm. Then I left that place instantly, as I did not have any inclination whatever to watch any more shell just then, and my gun had already retired.
Soon after we fell back from our first position the cannonading became general. The Yankee batteries on the hills west of town opened fire on our cavalry, and one four-gun battery came up the pike and planted its guns east of the road and not far from where we fired the first shot this morning.
We opened fire on it when it entered the field, and it wheeled in battery under our fire. The Yanks were expeditious and lively in getting ready, and in a very few moments they briskly returned our fire with all four of their guns at close range. We had only three pieces — two near the pike and one about two hundred yards farther to the right, all on the east of the road.
The artillery fire now became terrific. Hundreds of shell went just over our heads, howling and shrieking in the air like demons on their way to deal death and destruction to Rebels. Some of their shell exploded over our heads and sowed their fragments and leaden hail in the sod around us. Others exploded close in our rear and thundered like batteries in the air where the furies of battle were fiendishly hissing the weird dirge of death and destruction. Just then I was ready to run without further notice.
Our twelve-pound howitzer shell exploded right among their guns, and eventually, unable to endure our fire any longer, the Yankee battery left the field. I was just about as glad as a raw recruit can possibly expect to be on a day like this, and under like circumstances, when I saw the Yankee battery limber up and leave the field. About midday Jackson’s troops began to arrive on the field. His infantry and artillery went to the left of our position and on the range of hills west of the pike. His men were not in first-class condition to take their places in line of battle, which they were required to do almost immediately after their arrival on the field, from the fact that they were weary and tired, and almost broken down with over-fatigue from hard marching. Since yesterday morning they marched from three miles south of Mount Jackson, which is about forty miles from Kernstown.
The hills west of Kernstown were blue with Yankee infantry. When Jackson began to form his line a regiment of the Yankee infantry double-quicked from Kernstown across the fields toward our left. They had a large and conspicuous flag. When Colonel Ashby saw it he came riding rapidly up to the battery and cried, “Fire on that flag.” In a moment we sent a shell through the center of the regiment. We fired at it some four or five times. About half of the regiment bowed humbly to the ground every time we fired, and to say that they double-quicked after we fired the first shell does not begin to express the movement of that regiment until it disappeared behind a low ridge.
It was a little after four o’clock when the principal battle between the infantry commenced in earnest. The musketry was fearful. One continued roll raged fiercely for two hours, with now and then a slight lull which for variety was broken with the deep thunder of artillery. When the musketry opened so suddenly along the line one of our boys, almost in despair, exclaimed: “My God, just listen to the musketry! There will be no fighting between these armies after to-day, for they will all be killed on both sides this evening.”
But it is utterly astonishing and wholly incomprehensible, especially to a tyro, how men standing in line, firing at each other incessantly for hours like they did to-day, can escape with so few killed and wounded, for when Jackson’s infantry emerged from the sulphurous bank of battle smoke that hung along the line the regiments appeared as complete as they were before the fight.
It was nearly dusk when the firing ceased, and Jackson gave up the field, repulsed but not vanquished, defeated but not routed nor demoralized, for his troops are camped for the night around Newtown, not more than three or four miles from the battle-field.
To-day was the first time that I experienced the realities of an actual battle-field, and am willing to admit that to see two armies in battle array is an imposing sight. The glittering flash of burnished arms, the numerous battle flags floating over the forming lines, the infantry marching with measured step in close order taking their places in the growing battle line, with here and there a group of artillery in position, is so inspiring as to almost fascinate even a timid freshman as he stands ready to take his place for the first time in the human shambles. The enchantment act transpired before the battle opened, but when the firing commenced and they began in earnest to pass the bullets, shot, and shell around promiscuously, the fascination and all its kindred suddenly took flight from me faster than forty suns can rout the most delicate morning mist. Mother, Home, Heaven are all sweet words, but the grandest sentence I ever heard from mortal lips was uttered this evening by Captain Chew when he said, “Boys, the battle is over.” We are camped this evening on the first hill south of Newtown.
Fort Albany, Va., Mch. 23, 1862.
Dear Mother, Sister and Brothers:
We received a letter from home last night, and were glad you had sent your pictures. But I do not think that Mother’s does her justice. She looks too thin and careworn; if so, I shall think it was on account of our leaving home, and the care falling on her has made her sick or unwell.
Frank has changed, it being 8 months since I have seen him, but he looks as if he would like to see us through his little eyes. He looks fat and healthy.
And you had better believe we do, being so regular at our meals, and but few varieties which are best for our health.
The weather has been rather better for the week past. Are having fine times after supper in games. Foot Ball, Base Ball, Cards, Checquers, Dancing and Singing.
Miss E. P. called up to see us the other night and took tea with us. She said that she was determined to eat a meal with the men at the Barracks, as that was what she came out for.
The two companies to join the Regt. arrived here yesterday.
Caleb Saunders is a Lieu’t in one.
After religious services this forenoon the Col. was telling us about the reputation this Regiment has here, among the Big officers.
About fifty thousand of the Army of the Potomac have left, they think to reinforce Burnside, and he is going to march on Richmond.
A Regiment of Cavalry passed by here to-day; they looked finely. Send out my book-keeping by that boy.
I have got a little cold and do not feel well enough to pick on the Old Banjo.
The Capt. has gone up to see Capt. Wardwell at Fort Craig, about a mile from here.
I will close, perhaps to write a little to-morrow morn.
Leverett Bradley, Jr.
Sunday, 23d—The Eleventh Iowa received marching orders, and we struck our tents and got on board the “Westmoreland.” The quartermaster had all of the commissariat on the boat by noon and we left for Pittsburg Landing. We reached the landing at dark and remained on the boat for the night.