May 18th. About noon we struck tents and marched four miles, towards the Chickahominy, this time bivouacking in the open field; the woods were too hot and close, and the pine ticks have ceased to be interesting; plenty of good springs about here with just a taste of civilization.
Dear A., — My date will excite you. Yesterday, after getting off the “Knickerbocker” with three hundred sick on board, we transferred our quarters to this vessel, and started to run up the Pamunky. It was audacious of us to run this big ocean-steamer up this little river, without a chart and without a pilot. In some places we brushed the trees as we passed, for the water is said to be fifteen feet deep a yard from the shore. “What a garden land it is! Such verdure of every brilliant shade lining the shore, and broken into, here and there, by little creeks running up through meadow-lands into the misty blue distance. We anchored for the night off Cumberland,—the limit of my aspirations ; and I went to sleep in the still lingering twilight, listening to the whippoorwill. In the morning when I came on deck Mr. Olmsted called me forward into the bows: and what a sight was there to greet us! The glow of the morning mist, the black gunboats, the shining river, with the gleam of the white sails and the tents along the shore, made a picture to be painted only by Turner. We ran up to the head of the fleet, in sight of the headquarters of the army, to the burned railroad bridge, beyond which no one could go.
After breakfast we went ashore, where General Franklin met us and took us through part of his command, — through trains of army-wagons drawn by four mules; through a ploughed field across which mounted officers and their staffs were galloping at full speed; through sutlers’ tents and commissary stores, and batteries and caissons. It was like a vast fairground. We met one man eating six pies at once, and not a man without one pie! I wished intensely to stop at General Headquarters as we passed it. But to-day General McClellan is overborne by business: the army arrived here on the 16th; twelve scouting-parties are now out, some coming in every hour; McClellan himself is not able to speak an unnecessary word; a council is to be held this evening, to arrange the last details for the move to-morrow, — so we felt we ought not even to wish to see him.
General Franklin took us to the White House, — a house and estate just quitted by the family of a son of General Lee, whose wife was a Custis. I copied the following notice, written in a lady’s hand on a half sheet of note-paper, and nailed to the wall of the entrance: —
Northern soldiers! who profess to reverence the memory of Washington, forbear to desecrate the home of his first married life, the property of his wife, and now owned by her descendants.
A Granddaughter Of Mrs. Washington.
Underneath was written (in the handwriting, as I was told, of General Williams, Adjutant-General of the army): —
Lady, — A Northern soldier has protected this property within sight of the enemy, and at the request of your overseer.
And so it was. On reaching the spot, General McClellan would not even make his headquarters within the grounds. Guards were stationed at the gates and fences, on the lawns and the piazzas. Within, all was beautiful, untrodden, and fresh, while without was the tumult and trampling of war. Already the surrounding country was a barren and dusty plain. We walked through the grounds, across the peaceful lawns looking down upon the river crowded with transports and ammunition barges. We went through the house, which is a small cottage, painted brown, and by no means a white house. The carpets and a great part of the furniture had been removed, but enough remained to show that modern elegance had adorned the quaint old place. Washington never lived in the present house, which has been built on the site of the one in which he spent his early married life.
General Franklin allowed me to gather some ivy and some holly. We stayed nearly an hour, sitting on the piazza and talking to him. He struck me as an officer of power, — large, with square face and head, deep-sunk, determined blue eyes, close-cropped reddish-brown hair and beard. He told us that the battle of Williamsburg was full of anxiety from first to last, and that it took much to decide the final fortunes of the day; but at West Point, after the men were landed, he was not for a moment uneasy, the game was in our hands from the beginning. He feels, confident that the enemy will make a great resistance before Richmond; if not, it will be a virtual surrender of their cause, which he thinks they are far from making. Everything, he said, depended on the strength of our army, and he told us that McDowell was at last coming down on our right wing, which is to be extended to meet him. He spoke with the deepest confidence in McClellan, who, he said, was in good spirits, though fearfully overworked.
As we were leaving White House, General Fitz-John Porter came to meet us, and walked with us to our wharf, where we met General Morell; and they all came on board and stayed half an hour. I felt great interest in General Porter, who commands one corps d’armee, General Franklin commanding another. General Morell is also an interesting man; looks like dear father, but wears a long white beard. He received the command of a division yesterday. General Porter spoke of McClellan just as we all feel, — as a patriot as well as a general, as a man who wisely seeks to heal, as well as to conquer. There is a fine spirit in General Porter. He probably has less power than General Franklin, is more excitable and sympathetic; but there is an expression of devotion about him which inspires great confidence. They were all very guarded, of course, in what they said of the future; but two hours’ talk with such men in such places teaches much.
This afternoon General Seth Williams, Adjutant-General, came on board to pay his respects to Mrs. Griffin. His visit gave us all great pleasure. I am told that if any man possesses in an equal degree the respect and attachment of others, he does; and yet his quiet, modest manner and plain appearance would hardly instruct a stranger as to his position in the army. These gentlemen were accompanied by many young officers, all spurs and swords and clanking. They were thankful for some of our private stores, —needles, buttons, and linen thread were as much prized as beads by an Indian; and even hairpins were acceptable to General Porter, one button of whose cap was already screwed on by that female implement.
I am happy to say that there is no immediate chance of my being anywhere but here. “We came up for medicines and general information; the result is that Mr. Olmsted finds such a state of disorganization and sixes-and-sevenness in the medical arrangements that he has determined to make his headquarters here for the present. Mr. Knapp has therefore just started in the tug for Yorktown to bring up the supply-boats, and leave orders for our hospital fleet to follow us up the river as they arrive from the North.
The state of affairs is somewhat this: when the march from Yorktown began, and the men dropped by thousands, exhausted, sick, and wounded, the Medical Department, unprepared and terribly harassed, flung itself upon the Sanitary Commission. When it became known that our transports were lying in the river, the brigade-surgeons made a business of sending their sick on board of them; and the Medical Director sanctioned the practice. The hospitals at Yorktown, Fortress Monroe, and Newport News are full; the Commission has therefore been forced to take these men to the North. Nothing, of course, is more desirable for those who are seriously ill or badly wounded; but every man who falls exhausted from the ranks is sent to us. This will prove in the end actually demoralizing to the army if not checked. The men will come to think that illness, real or shammed, is the way to get home. Already suspicious rheumatic cases have appeared. Mr. Olmsted remonstrates against the system, but of course he has to act under the medical authority. What is wanted is a large receiving hospital in the rear of the army, which would keep the cases of exhaustion and slight illness, take good care of them for a week or two, and send them back to the front. Mr. Olmsted telegraphed to-day, advising the Surgeon-General to send sufficient hospital accommodation, bedding, and medicines for six thousand men. This ought to be done. Meantime we lie here, and may fill this ship, which is now all in order, to-morrow.
Could you but see the lovely scene around me! We have had a little service of prayer and hymns in the cabin, and now we are all — the “staff,” as we call ourselves — sitting at sunset on the deck, under an awning. We are anchored in the middle of the river, which is about three hundred yards wide at this point, and are slowly swinging at our anchor. We have dropped down the stream since morning. Scores of vessels — transports, mortar-boats, ammunition-barges—are close around us, and several gunboats. The regiments of Franklin’s corps are camped along the banks; the bands playing on one side, “Hail Columbia!” and, farther down, “Glory, Hallelujah!” The trees which fringe the shore lean towards us,— locust, oak, and the lovely weeping-elm. One of the latter throws its shadow across my paper as we have slowly swung into it. I have told Mr. Olmsted that, now that I feel at home in the work, I am not tied to Mrs. Griffin, but consider the protection of the Commission sufficient, and that if he wants me, I will stay by the work as long as there is any. I like him exceedingly, autocrat and aristocrat that he is; I feel that he would protect and guard in the wisest manner those under his care. The other gentlemen on board are Mr. Frederick N. Knapp, second to Mr. Olmsted, in charge of the supplies; Dr. Robert Ware, chief-surgeon; Messrs. Charles Woolsey, George Wheelock, and David Haight, his assistants.
Direct to me in future to the care of Colonel Ingalls, Quartermaster’s Department, Army of the Potomac — think of that!
Sunday, May 18.—A very hot day. Our patients are nearly all gone. Captain Dearing left to-day. He is in a fair way to recover. He was one of the worst of the wounded. Three of the ladies are very sick. Miss Marks is not expected to live. She has made up her mind to that effect, and is perfectly resigned. She is a member of the Episcopal Church.
May 17, Spaulding.
Steaming up York River.
We have just been transferred to this big The boat, while the Wilson Small goes for repairs. This boat will accommodate four or five hundred men in bunks, now being put up by the carpenter and filled with mattresses stuffed by the “Lost Children” who are garrisoning Yorktown. . . .
May 18. My entry was broken short by the arrival of 160 men for the Knickerbocker, and we were once more very busy. They were all fed, — numbered, and recorded by name, (Charley’s work), and put to bed. Next morning arrived 115 more, for whom the Elizabeth with Miss Wormeley, Miss Gilson, and two men of the staff had been sent up Queen’s Creek — tired, miserable fellows, who had been lying in the wet and jolted over horrible roads. There was another tugboat full, too, and Mrs. Griffin and I took charge of both till the men were moved into the Knickerbocker.
We are now steaming up towards White House, all on deck enjoying the sail except Mr. Knapp and Charley, who are unpacking quilts for the bunks now ready.
May 18th.—Norfolk has been burned and the Merrimac sunk without striking a blow since her coup d’état in Hampton Roads. Read Milton. See the speech of Adam to Eve in a new light. Women will not stay at home; will go out to see and be seen, even if it be by the devil himself.
Very encouraging letters from Hon. Mr. Memminger and from L. Q. Washington. They tell the same story in very different words. It amounts to this: “Not one foot of Virginia soil is to be given up without a bitter fight for it. We have one hundred and five thousand men in all, McClellan one hundred and ninety thousand. We can stand that disparity.”
What things I have been said to have said! Mr. _____ heard me make scoffing remarks about the Governor and the Council—or he thinks he heard me. James Chesnut wrote him a note that my name was to be kept out of it—indeed, that he was never to mention my name again under any possible circumstances. It was all preposterous nonsense, but it annoyed my husband amazingly. He said it was a scheme to use my chatter to his injury. He was very kind about it. He knows my real style so well that he can always tell my real impudence from what is fabricated for me.
There is said to be an order from Butler¹ turning over the women of New Orleans to his soldiers. Thus is the measure of his iniquities filled. We thought that generals always restrained, by shot or sword if need be, the brutality of soldiers. This hideous, cross-eyed beast orders his men to treat the ladies of New Orleans as women of the town—to punish them, he says, for their insolence.
Footprints on the boundaries of another world once more. Willie Taylor, before he left home for the army, fancied one day—day, remember—that he saw Albert Rhett standing by his side. He recoiled from the ghostly presence. “You need not do that, Willie. You will soon be as I am.” Willie rushed into the next room to tell them what had happened, and fainted. It had a very depressing effect upon him. And now the other day he died in Virginia.
¹ General Benjamin F. Butler took command of New Orleans on May 2, 1862. The author’s reference is to his famous “Order No. 28,” which reads: ” As the officers and soldiers of the United States have been subject to repeated insults from the women (calling themselves ladies) of New Orleans, in return for the most scrupulous non-interference and courtesy on our part, it is ordered that hereafter when any female shall by word, gesture, or movement, insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her vocation.” This and other acts of Butler in New Orleans led Jefferson Davis to issue a proclamation, declaring Butler to be a felon and an outlaw, and if captured that he should be instantly hanged. In December Butler was superseded at New Orleans by General Banks.
May 18.—A skirmish took place near Searcy, on the Little Red River, Arkansas, between one hundred and fifty men of Gen. Osterhaus’s division, and some six hundred rebels, under Colonels Coleman and Hicks, in which the latter were routed, with a loss of one hundred and fifty left on the field and quite a number wounded.
—A fight took place at Princeton, Va., between the Nationals under the command of General Cox and a body of rebels under Humphrey Marshall, in which the Nationals lost thirty killed and seventy wounded.
—S. Phillips Lee, United States Navy, commanding the advance naval division on the Mississippi River, demanded the surrender of Vicksburgh to the authority of the United States.— (Doc. 111.)
Saturday, May 17. — A very hard day, — muddy, wet, and sultry. Ordered at 3 A. M. to abandon camp and hasten with whole force to General Cox at Princeton. He has had a fight with a greatly superior force under General Marshall. We lost tents, — we slit and tore them, — mess furniture, blankets, etc., etc., by this hasty movement. I was ordered with the Twenty-third, Gilmore’s Cavalry, and two pieces McMullen’s Battery, to cover the retreat to Princeton. We did it successfully, but oh, what a hard day on the men! I had been up during the night, had the men out, etc., etc. We were all day making it. Found all in confusion; severe fighting against odds and a further retreat deemed necessary. Bivouacked on the ground at Princeton.
Mem.: — I saved all my personal baggage, tent included; but no chance to use it at Princeton.
May 17 — Renewed our march down the Valley. At New Market we left the Valley pike, turned east and moved down the Luray pike two miles to Smith’s Creek, and camped. The Yanks destroyed nearly all the fences along the Valley pike and around New Market.
Saturday, 17th—We were ordered to strike tent and march out to the picket line and form in line of battle. Here we remained in line until after dark. There was heavy cannonading and musketry firing all along the line and it continued all day. We pitched our tents in a heavy piece of timber and established camp number 8, in our siege of Corinth.
May 17th. Got under way at five o’clock, A. M., and steamed along very slowly, owing to our burning bituminous coal, of which we had taken a little. At about noon we were obliged to anchor to get up steam, and as usual a boat put off to the nearest house for officers’ stores. Happening to anchor in an eddy, we were in imminent danger of being dashed on the levee. At another time, when we anchored in seventy fathoms of water, the ship continued to whirl round and round until we again weighed. We were soon under way again, and having substituted anthracite coal for the other, had no further difficulty. The banks were lined with cotton, and the river was so high that the levee was seldom visible; private dwellings were partly submerged, and in many instances all that could be seen of buildings was their roofs peering out of the water, and reminding one of the late style of rams; in fact, the river was said to be higher than before known for thirty years.
We frequently came upon portions of the river which seemed to terminate the great stream, and surrounded it on all sides with earth and trees; at such a place we arrived near sunset, and anchored for the night, though not until we had discovered that the stream continued. A boat went ashore for fresh meat, and returned about one o’clock, A. M., with a slaughtered bull and some mutton, for which, as usual, we paid gold.
One of these days, when peace is restored and we are quietly settled in our allotted corners of this wide world without any particularly exciting event to alarm us; and with the knowledge of what is now the future, and will then be the dead past; seeing that all has been for the best for us in the end; that all has come right in spite of us, we will wonder how we could ever have been foolish enough to await each hour in such breathless anxiety. We will ask ourselves if it was really true that nightly, as we lay down to sleep, we did not dare plan for the morning, feeling that we might be homeless and beggars before the dawn. How unreal it will then seem! We will say it was our wild imagination, perhaps. But how bitterly, horribly true it is now!
Four days ago the Yankees left us, to attack Vicksburg, leaving their flag flying in the Garrison without a man to guard it, and with the understanding that the town would be held responsible for it. It was intended for a trap; and it succeeded. For night before last, it was pulled down and torn to pieces.
Now, unless Will will have the kindness to sink a dozen of their ships up there, — I hear he has command of the lower batteries, — they will be back in a few days, and will execute their threat of shelling the town. If they do, what will become of us? All we expect in the way of earthly property is as yet mere paper, which will be so much trash if the South is ruined, as it consists of debts due father by many planters for professional services rendered, who, of course, will be ruined, too, so all money is gone. That is nothing, we will not be ashamed to earn our bread, so let it go.
But this house is at least a shelter from the weather, all sentiment apart. And our servants, too; how could they manage without us? The Yankees, on the river, and a band of guerrillas in the woods, are equally anxious to precipitate a fight. Between the two fires, what chance for us? It would take only a little while to burn the city over our heads. They say the women and children must be removed, these guerrillas. Where, please? Charlie says we must go to Greenwell. And have this house pillaged? For Butler has decreed that no unoccupied house shall be respected. If we stay through the battle, if the Federals are victorious, we will suffer. For the officers here were reported to have said, “If the people here did not treat them decently, they would know what it was when Billy Wilson’s crew arrived. They would give them a lesson!” That select crowd is now in New Orleans. Heaven help us when they reach here! It is in these small cities that the greatest outrages are perpetrated. What are we to do?
A new proclamation from Butler has just come. It seems that the ladies have an ugly way of gathering their skirts when the Federals pass, to avoid any possible contact. Some even turn up their noses. Unladylike, to say the least. But it is, maybe, owing to the odor they have, which is said to be unbearable even at this early season of the year. Butler says, whereas the so-called ladies of New Orleans insult his men and officers, he gives one and all permission to insult any or all who so treat them, then and there, with the assurance that the women will not receive the slightest protection from the Government, and that the men will all be justified. I did not have time to read it, but repeat it as it was told to me by mother, who is in utter despair at the brutality of the thing. These men our brothers? Not mine! Let us hope for the honor of their nation that Butler is not counted among the gentlemen of the land. And so, if any man should fancy he cared to kiss me, he could do so under the pretext that I had pulled my dress from under his feet! That will justify them! And if we decline their visits, they can insult us under the plea of a prior affront. Oh! Gibbes! George! Jimmy! never did we need your protection as sorely as now. And not to know even whether you are alive! When Charlie joins the army, we will be defenseless, indeed. Come to my bosom, O my discarded carving-knife, laid aside under the impression that these men were gentlemen. We will be close friends once more. And if you must have a sheath, perhaps I may find one for you in the heart of the first man who attempts to Butlerize me. I never dreamed of kissing any man save my father and brothers. And why any one should care to kiss any one else, I fail to understand. And I do not propose to learn to make exceptions.
Still no word from the boys. We hear that Norfolk has been evacuated; but no details. George was there. Gibbes is wherever Johnston is, presumably on the Rappahannock; but it is more than six weeks since we have heard from either of them, and all communication is cut off.
17th. Saturday. Went up town and saw George Ashman. Went to the hotel and got breakfast. Cooked our own meals. Letter from Fannie Andrews.
17th.—But little worthy of note to-day, except the increasing impatience of the army. They begin to complain of the Commander in Chief, and, I fear, with some ground of justice. This morning the whole plain of 80,000 men, with its five hundred wagons, ambulances and carts, its five thousand horses, and all the paraphenalia of the army, was ordered to be ready to move at 12 M., precisely. At 11 we ate our dinners; then came the details of men for loading the heavy boxes and chests, striking, rolling and loading tents, which, by hard work, was accomplished by the hour fixed, and noon found us all in column; the word “march” was given, and off we started; moved about fifteen rods, wheeled (teams and all) out of the road into a beautiful field of wheat; wheeled again, and in a few minutes found ourselves right where we started from, with orders to unload and pitch tents. A few regimental groans went up as complimentary of the movement, and in two hours we were again settled. The object of this movement is now known to me, and so small and contemptible was it, so mixed up with the gratification of a petty vindictiveness, that, for the honor of the army, and some of its sub-commanders, I leave it unrecorded, hoping to forget it.
Dear Mother, — This has been a delightful day. The “Knickerbocker” got safely off at five o’clock this morning, after a rather anxious night. One of the men from the “Elizabeth” died, and another jumped overboard. He rushed past me and sprang from the bulwark. I heard the splash, but all that I, or any one, saw of him were the rings in the water widening in the moonlight. Boats were put off immediately, but he never rose.
Last night, being off duty, I went round to a number of Rhode Island men who were on board, and wrote letters or took messages for them. A coincidence—a real coincidence — occurred. I had heard Mr. Knapp telling Mr Olmsted of the death of a Newport man, David A. Newman, Fourth Rhode Island Volunteers. I asked for his effects, that I might some day take them home with me. In searching for them, a knapsack marked “Simeon A. Newman, Fourth Rhode Island Volunteers,” turned up without its owner, who had died in Washington in December, 1861. This knapsack had wandered on with the regiment; by chance it got on board our boat; by chance it came under my notice; by chance I spoke of it to one of the Rhode Island men, who said: “I know a man who knew Simeon A. Newman, and he is sick on board here now.” I hunted him up; he proved to be the nearest friend of S. A. Newman, who was color-sergeant of the regiment, and was with him when he died. He told me that after his death the widow wrote to beg that his sash might be sent to her; but though every effort was made, the widow writing again and again for it, it could never be found. I went at once to the knapsack, and there was the sash. I have sent them by express to Bristol, R. I., where the widow lives.
After the “Knickerbocker” was off we “took it easy;” came out to breakfast at ten o’clock, and transferred ourselves leisurely to this ship, which is a palace to us. We were rather subdued by our grandeur at dinner. Hotel-fare and men to wait upon us is rather elevating after eating salt-beef with our fingers. After dinner we ran up to West Point, where the York River forks, the northern branch being the Mattapony (pronounced Mattaponi); the other the Pamunky, along the line of which the army has advanced, — through the thirteen thousand acres granted by Charles II. to Ralph Wormeley 2d; strange, is n’t it, that I should be here now? They have had the pluck to run this huge vessel up this little river, without a chart, and not a soul on board who has been here before. The passage has been enchanting; we ran so close to the shore that I could almost have thrown my glove upon it. The verdure is in its freshest spring beauty; the lovely shores are belted with trees and shrubs of every brilliant and tender shade of green, broken now and then by creeks, running up little valleys till they are lost in the blue distance. I saw the beginning of the battle-field of Williamsburg (“long fields of barley and of rye” but a week ago), and the whole of the battle-field of West Point, still dotted with the hospital-tents, from which we have cleared out all the wounded.
The sun set as we rounded the last bend in the Pamunky; the sky and the water gleamed golden alike, and the trees suddenly grew black as the glow dazzled our eyes. We dropped anchor off Cumberland at dusk, and have just left the deck (on sanitary principles), where we were sitting to enjoy the lovely lights and listen to the whippoorwill. This is yachting on a magnificent scale; we feel rather ashamed of our grandeur, and eager to get back to a tugboat again. This vessel, which used to be a fine passenger steamship, has been employed by the Government as a transport for major-generals and their train. This accounts for the style in which she is equipped and manned. She is now filled with workmen, putting up three tiers of hospital-bunks in the hold and on the forward main-deck; after that is finished we shall begin to fit up the wards. To-day we have organized the pantry and store-rooms.
White House Landing, Va. “White House on the Pamunkey,” residence of Gen. W.H.F. Lee, and headquarters of Gen. George B. McClellan
Photographed by James F. Gibson
Part of Civil War glass negative collection. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Record page for this image: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/cwp2003000059/PP/
Our Steamers passing sunken trees in the Pomonkey[sic] River, going up May 17th
Artist: Arthur Lumley
- Title inscribed above image.
- Inscribed below image: Currituck Capt. W.F. Shunkerd[?]; Sethlow[?] tugboat.
- Inscribed in blue ink upper left: O.K., [with initials?]; and in pencil: 12.
- Published in: NYIN, 14 June 1862, p. 93, as: Reconnaissance of the Pamunkey River; Gun-boats Currituck and Seth Low passing sunken trees, May 17.
Morgan collection of Civil War drawings. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Record page for this image: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2004661351/
May 17.—At Galveston, Texas, Captain Henry Eagle, commanding the United States naval forces, sent the following message to the commander of the rebel forces at that place:
“In a few days the naval and land forces of the United States will appear off the town of Galveston to enforce its surrender. To prevent the effusion of blood and destruction of property which would result from the bombardment of your town, I hereby demand the surrender of the place, with all its fortifications and batteries in its vicinity, with all arms and munitions of war. I trust you will comply with this demand.” General Herbert replied that when the land and naval forces made their appearance, the demand would be answered. At the same time he advised the people of the city to “keep cool— there is no danger. When the enemy lands and endeavors to penetrate into the interior, he will be fought on every inch of ground. In the mean time, every man should stand by his arms, and be ready to take the field at a moment’s warning.”—Houston Telegraph, May 23.
—There was a general advance of the Union lines towards Corinth, with much skirmishing and several severe engagements. General Sherman’s division lost forty-four killed and a number wounded, in attacking Russell’s House, but succeeded in dislodging the rebels from that position.— (Doc. 41.)
—Tue gunboat Currituck, accompanied by the transport steamer Seth Low, made a reconnoissancc up the Pamunkey River, Va., for the purpose of capturing or destroying two rebel steamers and several smaller vessels supposed to be at or near Casey’s Point, about ten miles below Newcastle. On reaching that point the vessels were not found, and the gunboat continued the search until within a mile of Newcastle, where two companies of infantry landed and marched to an elevated position, from which they discovered all the vessels in flames, they having been set on fire to prevent their capture by the Currituck. The object of the reconnoissance having been accomplished, the companies reembarked and returned to the White House.—N.Y.. Times, May 20.
— The gunboat Penobscot, Captain Clitch, opened fire on the shore batteries at Newlet Inlet, near Wilmington, N. C. The attack brought out the position and power of the guns and batteries, and this being all that was wanted, the gunboat soon ceased to fire.—National Intelligencer.
—The advance-guard of the Army of the Potomac reached the Chickahominy River at Bottom’s Bridge, about fifteen miles from Richmond. The rebels destroyed the bridge, and the march of the Union troops was obstructed.—McClellan’s Despatch.
Friday, May 16, 1862.
I don’t know where to date my letter. We left Highland yesterday, and are now on the road to Harrisonburg, seven or eight miles from the Augusta line. We have had three days’ rain, and still a cloudy sky threatening more rain. The road is now very bad, and as every wagon which passes makes it deeper, it will soon be impassable. The weather is worse upon us than last winter. Then the ground was frozen and we had the satisfaction at least of being dry—having dry clothes and dry blankets. But now everything is wet and we have no tents. It has had no happy effect upon my health. Yesterday I left the brigade to stay in a house a few days, but think I shall join it again to-morrow.
We had constant expectation of a fight while we were in Pendleton. We supposed Jackson would certainly make the attack on the morning after we reached Franklin, and every one was surprised when we turned to march in this direction. No one ever knows where he is going or what his plans are. I suppose his destination now is the Valley, where he will consolidate with Ewell and move towards Winchester. But at present, I think, he will be disposed to give his troops a week’s rest. They need it badly, as they have been marching for nearly three weeks since they left their last encampment.
We have not yet had an election in our regiment for field officers, and I feel more unsettled than ever before. I am not sure that I will be elected, and not sure that I will not. If I were elected by a mere majority, and knew that I did not have the good-will of a large portion of my regiment, I am not sure that I would want the place. I have been absent from the regiment on detached service of one kind and another, and when with them I have always been disposed to be rather rigid. The two causes combined have not given me a strong hold upon their affections. So you see I am rather perplexed with doubts —don’t know which end of the road to take, if either. Whatever be the result, I trust I shall do nothing to forfeit the good opinion of my friends; and if I return home, it will be for reasons which now and hereafter shall meet the approval of my judgment. I wish heartily the election was over and I knew my destiny.
(The election was soon after this held under what was known as the “Disorganization Act” of the Confederate Congress, and Major Paxton, with many other officers whose strict and wholesome discipline was not relished by their men, failed to be reelected. He was thus relieved from any further obligation to continue in the service, but his heart was too much in the cause to permit him to abandon the army at such a time. He accepted a place on the staff of his old commander, General Jackson, as a volunteer aide without pay, and in this capacity took part in the seven days’ fight before Richmond. After a brief visit to his home, on July 22,1862, he returned to the army to resume his position as volunteer aide on Jackson’s staff.)
London, May 16, 1862
Before this reaches you I suppose you will be in motion, and I hope that the war will be at an end. It would be a mere piece of unjustifiable wantonness for the Southern generals to defend Charleston, if they are defeated in Virginia. So, although I would like to see you covered with glory, I would be extremely well satisfied to hear that you had ended the campaign and ridden into Charleston without firing a shot or drawing a sabre.
Last Sunday afternoon, the day after my letter to you had gone, telling how hard it was to sustain one’s own convictions against the scepticism of a nation, I returned from taking a walk on Rotten Row with my very estimable friend Baron Brinken, and on reaching home, I was considerably astounded at perceiving the Chief in an excited manner dance across the entry and ejaculate, “We’ve got New Orleans.” Philosopher as I am and constant in a just and tenacious virtue, I confess that even I was considerably interested for the moment. So leaving Sir Charles Lyell regarding my abrupt departure through one eye-glass with some apparent astonishment, I took a cab and drove down to Mr. Weed. Meeting him in the street near his hotel, I leaped out of the cab, and each of us simultaneously drew out a telegram which we exchanged. His was Mr. Peabody’s private business telegram; mine was an official one from Seward. We then proceeded together to the telegraph office and sent a despatch to Mr. Dayton at Paris, and finally I went round to the Diplomatic Club and had the pleasure of enunciating my sentiments. Here my own agency ended, but Mr. Weed drank his cup of victory to the dregs. He spread the news in every direction, and finally sat down to dinner at the Reform Club with two sceptical old English friends of our side and had the pleasure of hearing the news-boys outside shout “Rumored capture of New Orleans” in an evening extra, while the news was posted at Brookes’s, and the whole town was in immense excitement as though it were an English defeat.
Indeed the effect of the news here has been greater than anything yet. It has acted like a violent blow in the face on a drunken man. The next morning the Times came out and gave fairly in that it had been mistaken; it had believed Southern accounts and was deceived by them. This morning it has an article still more remarkable and intimates for the first time that it sees little more chance for the South. There is, we think, a preparation for withdrawing their belligerent declaration and acknowledging again the authority of the Federal Government over all the national territory, to be absolute and undisputed. One more victory will bring us up to this, I am confident. That done, I shall consider, not only that the nation has come through a struggle such as no other nation ever heard of, but in a smaller and personal point of view I shall feel much relieved and pleased at the successful career of the Chief.
You can judge of the probable effect of this last victory at New Orleans from the fact that friend Russell of the Times (who has not yet called) gravely warned the English nation yesterday of the magnificent army that had better be carefully watched by the English people, since it hated them like the devil and would want to have something to do. And last night I met Mr. John Bright at an evening reception, who seemed to feel somewhat in the same way. “Now,” said he, “if you Americans succeed in getting over this affair, you must n’t go and get stuffy to England. Because if you do, I don’t know what’s to become of us who stood up for you here.” I did n’t say we would n’t, but I did tell him that he need n’t be alarmed, for all he would have to do would be to come over to America and we would send him to Congress at once. He laughed and said he thought he had had about enough of that sort of thing in England. By the way, there is a story that he thinks of leaving Parliament.
This last week has been socially a quiet one and I have seen very little of the world, as I have no time to frequent the Club. I don’t get ahead very fast in English society, because as yet I can’t succeed in finding any one to introduce me among people of my own age. It’s the same way with all the foreigners here, and a young Englishman, with whom I talked on the subject, comforted me by acknowledging the fact and saying that as a general thing young Englishmen were seldom intimate with any one unless they had known him three or four years. He gave a practical illustration of the principle by never recognizing me since, although we sat next each other three hours at a dinner and talked all the time, besides drinking various bottles of claret. With the foreigners I do much better, but they are generally worse off than I am in society. Except for a sort of conscientious feeling, I should care little for not knowing people at balls, especially as all accounts, especially English, declare young society to be a frantic bore….
Now as to your letter and its contents on the negro question. I’ve not published it for two reasons. The first is that the tendency here now is pro-slavery and the sympathy with the South is so great as to seek justification in everything. Your view of the case, however anti-slavery, is not encouraging nor does it tend to strengthen our case. If published, especially if by any accident known to be by you, it might be used to annoy us with effect.
My second reason, though this alone would not have decided me, is that it seems to me you are a little needlessly dark in your anticipations. One thing is certain; labor in America is dear and will remain so; American cotton will always command a premium over any other yet known; and can be most easily produced. Emancipation cannot be instantaneous. We must rather found free colonies in the south such as you are now engaged in building up at Port Royal; the nucleus of which must be military and naval stations garrisoned by corps d ‘armee, and grouped around them must be the emeriti, the old soldiers with their grants of lands, their families, their schools, churches and Northern energy, forming common cause with the negroes in gradually sapping the strength of the slave-holders, and thus year after year carrying new industry and free institutions until their borders meet from the Atlantic, the Gulf, the Mississippi and the Tennessee in a common center, and the old crime shall be expiated and the whole social system of the South reconstructed. Such was the system of the old Romans with their conquered countries and it was always successful. It is the only means by which we can insure our hold on the South and plant colonies that are certain of success. It must be a military system of colonies, governed by the Executive and without any dependence upon or relation to the States in which they happen to be placed. With such a system I would allow fifty years for the South to become ten times as great and powerful and loyal as she ever was, besides being free.
Such are my ideas and as the negroes would be extremely valuable and even necessary to the development of these colonies, or the Southern resources at I trust they will manage to have a career yet.
Friday, 16th—Nothing of importance has taken place today, but I think we will have a fight soon. We have plenty of rations, but the drinking water is very poor. The health of the men is better, however, since we have become more active, and the men are getting back their old-time vigor. Some of the boys who have been sick are now returning to the regiment. Major Abercrombie is in command of the regiment while Colonel Hare and Lieutenant-Colonel Hall are at home recovering from wounds received at Shiloh.
May 16th. After discharging through the night a line was attached to a kedge off our quarter, and a gunboat hauling at the same time, started her from the sand, and at ten o’clock the Hartford was again a thing of life. The day was spent in reloading.
To Mrs. Lyon.
May 16, 1862.—We are ordered to march at daylight with two days’ cooked rations. It may be for another reconnaisance, and it may be—and probably is— an advance of the whole army upon Corinth. In that case the rebels must fight or run, and it is about an even chance which they will do. We do not for an instant lose our faith in our ability to whip them. You had better not lay plans to come to me in case of accident, for I would come home if unable to do duty.
16th. Rain obliged us to arise at five. Stayed under the wagon a while. Then went to the creek to wash. Reveille blew just before I got back. Lt. Hubbard arrested Brooks and me because somebody had wanted us and could not find us. Released us as soon as we came into camp. Rode partly on the wagons and walked some. Seemed good to get back to Fort Scott again. Found two letters from home.
16th.—Quiet at White House. Nothing worthy of note.
“Wilson Small,” May 16.
Dear Friend, — I have asked every one within reach what day of the week it is: in vain. Reference to Mr. Olmsted, who knows everything, establishes that it is Friday. Is it one week, or five, since I left New York?
As I wrote the last words of my last letter, the “Elizabeth,” our supply-boat, came alongside with Mr. Olmsted and Mr. Knapp, and just behind them a steamer with one hundred and eighty sick on board. All hands were at once alert. The sick men were to be put on board the “Knickerbocker,” whither we all went at once, armed with our precious spirit-lamps. Meantime Mr. Olmsted read a telegram we had received in his absence, saying that a hundred sick were lying at Bigelow’s Landing and “dying in the rain.” Mr. Knapp took charge of the “Elizabeth,” saying, “Who volunteers to go up for them?” Three young men, Miss Helen Gilson, and I followed him. Not a moment was lost, — Mr. Knapp would not even let me go back for a shawl, — and the tug was off.
The “Elizabeth” is our store-tender or supply-boat. Her main-deck is piled from deck to deck with boxes. The first thing done is to pick out six cases of pillows, six of quilts, one of brandy, and a cask of bread. Then all the rest are lowered into the hold. Meantime I make for the kitchen, where I find a remarkable old black aunty and a fire. I dive into her pots and pans, I wheedle her out of her green tea (the black having given out), and soon I have eight bucketsful of tea and pyramids of bread and butter. Miss Gilson and the young men have spread the cleared main-deck with two layers of quilts and rows of pillows a man’s length apart, and we are ready for the men some time before we reach them; for the night is dark and rainy, and the boat has got aground, and it is fully ten o’clock before the men are brought alongside. The poor fellows are led or carried on board, and stowed side by side as close as can be. We feed them with spoonfuls of brandy and water; they are utterly broken down, soaked through, some of them raving with fever. After all are laid down, Miss Gilson and I give them their suppers, and they sink down again. Any one who looks over such a deck as that, and sees the suffering, despondent attitudes of the men, and their worn frames and faces, knows what war is, better than the sight of wounds can teach it. We could only take ninety; twenty-five others had to go on the small tug which accompanied us. Mr. Knapp, the doctor, and one of the young men went on board of her. Meantime the “Elizabeth” started on the homeward trip, so that Miss Gilson and I and a quartermaster were left to manage our men alone. Fortunately only about a dozen were very ill, and none died. Still, I felt anxious: six were out of their minds; one had tried to destroy himself three times that day, and was drenched through and through, having been dragged out of the creek into which he had thrown himself just before we reached him.
We were alongside the “Knickerbocker” by 1 A.M., when Dr. Ware came on board and gave me some general directions, after which I got along very well. It was thought best to leave the poor wearied fellows to rest where they were until morning, and the night passed off quietly enough; my only disaster being that I gave morphia to a man who actually screamed with rheumatism and cramp. I supposed morphia could n’t hurt him, and it was a mercy to others to stop the noise. Instead of this, I made him perfectly crazy. He rose to his feet in the midst of the prostrate mass of men, and demanded of them and of me his “clean linen” and his “Sunday clothes.” I picked my way to him, but could do nothing at first but make him worse. At last I was inspired to say that I had all his clothes “there” (pointing to a dark corner behind a bulkhead): “would he lie down and wait till I brought them?” To my surprise he subsided. I hid in trepidation for a few minutes, and at last, to my great joy, I saw the morphine take effect. One little fellow of fifteen, crushed by a tree falling on his breast, had run away from his mother, and was very pathetic. I persuaded him to let me write to her.
The next morning, after getting them all washed, I went off guard, and Mrs. Griffin and Miss Butler came on board with their breakfast from the “Knickerbocker,” where the hundred and eighty whom we had left arriving the night before, were stowed and cared for. Getting them all washed, as I say, is a droll piece of work. Some are indifferent to the absurd luxury of soap and water, and some are so fussy. Some poor faces we must wash ourselves, and that softly and slowly. I started along each row with two tin basins and two bits of soap, my arm being the towel-horse. Now, you are not to suppose that each man had a basinful of clean water all to himself. However, I thought three to a basin was enough, or four, if they did n’t wash too hard. But an old corporal taught me better. “Stop, marm!” said he, as I was turning back with the dirty water to get fresh; “that water will do for several of us yet. Bless you! I make my coffee of worse than that.”
Soon after breakfast my men were transferred to the “Knickerbocker.” She still lies alongside, and we take care of her. She is beautifully in order. The ward-masters are all excellent, and the orderlies know their duty. The men look comfortable, and even cheerful. It is a pleasure to give them their meals. I gave the men in the long ward (where they lie on mattresses in two rows, head to bead, two hundred of them) their dinner to-day, and their supper yesterday. Ah, me! how they liked it, — some of them, of course, too worn to do more than swallow a few spoonfuls and look grateful; others loud in their satisfaction. The poor, crazy man who tried to destroy himself at Bigelow’s Landing has some vague idea about me now; and sometimes, when he utterly refuses his milk-punch, and thrashes and splutters at every one who comes near him, I am sent for, when he subsides into obedience with a smile which is meant to be bland, and is so comical that people around retire in convulsions.
To-day I am “loafing.” Everything is in perfect order on the “Knickerbocker;” and as I scent a transfer this afternoon of the whole corps to the “Spaulding,” to fit her up, I am determined to husband my efforts. This boat, the “Wilson Small,” is finally smashed up; we call her the “Collida.” The hospital-boats usually lie alongside of each other, with their gangways connected; and sometimes we run through four or five boats at a time.
Captain Curtis is still on board, doing well. He goes North on the “Knickerbocker” to-day. Now that our wounded men are gone, we have a dinner-table set, and the Captain lies in his cot on one side of the cabin, laughing at the fun and nonsense which go on at meals. Mrs. Howland. has her French man-servant, Maurice, on board. He is capital. He struggles to keep us proper in manners and appearance, and still dreams of les convenances. At dinner-time he rushes through the various ships and wards: “My ladies, j’ai un petit plat; je ne vous dirai pas ce que c’est. I beg of you to be ponctuelle; I gif you half-hour’s notis.” The half-hour having expired, he sets out again on a voyage of entreaty and remonstrance. He won’t let us help ourselves, and if we take a seat not close to the person above, he says: “No, no, move up; we must have order.” His petit plat proved to be baked potatoes, which were received with acclamation, while he stood bowing and smiling with a towel (or it may have been a rag) for a napkin. But I must tell you that Maurice is the tenderest of nurses, and gives every moment he can spare to the sick. He serves his mistress, but he is attentive to all, and, like a true Frenchman, he so identifies himself with the moment and its interests that he is, to all hospital intents and purposes, “one of us.”
You are not to be alarmed by the word “typhoid,” which I foresee will occur on every page of my letters, nearly all our sick cases being that or running into that. The idea of infection is simply absurd. The ventilation of these ships is excellent; besides, people employed in such a variety of work and in high health and spirits are not liable to infection. Nobody ever thinks of such a thing, and I only mention it to check your imagination. In a boat organized like the “Knickerbocker,” we women stand no regular watch, but we are on hand at all hours of the day, relieving each other at our own convenience. As for the ladies among whom my luck has thrown me, they are just what they should be, — efficient, wise, active as cats, merry, light-hearted, thoroughbred, and without the fearful tone of self-devotion which sad experience makes one expect in benevolent women. We all know in our hearts that it is thorough enjoyment to be here, — it is life, in short; and we wouldn’t be anywhere else for anything in the world. I hope people will continue to sustain the Sanitary Commission. Hundreds of lives are being saved by it. I have seen with my own eyes in one week fifty men who must have died without it, and many more who probably would have done so. I speak of lives saved only; the amount of suffering saved is incalculable. The Commission keeps up the work at great expense. It has six large steamers running from here. Government furnishes these and the bare rations of the men; but the real expenses of supply fall on the Commission, — in fact, everything that makes the power and excellence of the work is supplied by the Commission. If people ask what they shall send, say: Money, money, stimulants, and articles of sick-food.