“Never did a people enter on a war so utterly destitute of any reason for waging it, or of the means of bringing it to a successful termination against internal enemies.”
June 20th.—When I awoke this morning and, gazing out of my little window on the regiments parading on the level below me, after an arduous struggle to obtain cold water for a bath, sat down to consider what I had seen within the last two months, and to arrive at some general results from the retrospect, I own that after much thought, my mind was reduced to a hazy analysis of the abstract principles of right and wrong, in which it failed to come to any very definite conclusion: the space of a very few miles has completely altered the phases of thought and the forms of language.
I am living among “abolitionists, cut-throats, Lincolnite mercenaries, foreign invaders, assassins, and plundering Dutchmen.” Such, at least, the men of Columbus tell me the garrison at Cairo consists of. Down below me are “rebels, conspirators, robbers, slave breeders, wretches bent upon destroying the most perfect government on the face of the earth, in order to perpetuate an accursed system, by which, however, beings are held in bondage and immortal souls consigned to perdition.”
On the whole, the impression left upon my mind by what I had seen in slave states is unfavourable to the institution of slavery, both as regards its effects on the slave and its influence on the master. But my examination was necessarily superficial and hasty. I have reason to believe that the more deeply the institution is probed, the more clearly will its unsoundness and its radical evils be discerned. The constant appeals made to the physical comforts of the slaves, and their supposed contentment, have little or no effect on any person who acts up to a higher standard of human happiness than that which is applied to swine or the beasts of the fields “See how fat my pigs are.”
The arguments founded on a comparison of the condition of the slave population with the pauperised inhabitants of European states are utterly fallacious, inasmuch as in one point, which is the most important by far, there can be no comparison at all. In effect slavery can only be justified in the abstract on the grounds which slavery advocates decline to take boldly, though they insinuate it now and then, that is, the inferiority of the negro in respect to white men, which removes them from the upper class of human beings and places them in a condition which is as much below the Caucasian standard as the quadrumanous creatures are beneath the negro. Slavery is a curse, with its time of accomplishment not quite at hand—it is a cancer, the ravages of which are covered by fair outward show, and by the apparent health of the sufferer.
The slave states, of course, would not support the Northern for a year if cotton, sugar, and tobacco became suddenly worthless. But, nevertheless, the slave owners would have strong grounds to stand upon if they were content to point to the difficulties in the way of emancipation, and the circumstances under which they received their damnosa hereditas from England, which fostered, nay forced, slavery in legislative hotbeds throughout the colonies. The Englishman may say “We abolished slavery when we saw its evils.” The slave owner replies, “Yes, with you it was possible to decree the extinction—not with us.”
Never did a people enter on a war so utterly destitute of any reason for waging it, or of the means of bringing it to a successful termination against internal enemies. The thirteen colonies had a large population of sea-faring and soldiering men, constantly engaged in military expeditions. There was a large infusion, compared with the numbers of men capable of commanding in the field, and their great enemy was separated by a space far greater than the whole circumference of the globe would be in the present time from the scene of operations. Most American officers who took part in the war of 1812-14 are now too old for service, or retired into private life soon after the campaign. The same remark applies to the senior officers who served in Mexico, and the experiences of that campaign could not be of much use to those now in the service, of whom the majority were subalterns, or at most, officers in command of volunteers.
A love of military display is very different indeed from a true soldierly spirit, and at the base of the volunteer system there lies a radical difficulty, which must be overcome before real military efficiency can be expected. In the South the foreign element has contributed largely to swell the ranks with many docile and a few experienced soldiers, the number of the latter predominating in the German levies, and the same remark is, I hear, true of the Northern armies.
The most active member of the staff here is a young Englishman named Binmore, who was a stenographic writer in London, but has now sharpened his pencil into a sword, and when I went into the guard-room this morning I found that three-fourths of the officers, including all who had seen actual service, were foreigners. One, Milotzky, was an Hungarian; another, Waagner, was of the same nationality; a third, Schuttner, was a German; another, Mac something, was a Scotchman; another, was an Englishman. One only (Colonel Morgan), who had served in Mexico, was an American. The foreigners, of course, serve in this war as mercenaries; that is, they enter into the conflict to gain something by it, either in pay, in position, or in securing a status for themselves.
The utter absence of any fixed principle determining the side which the foreign nationalities adopt is proved by their going North or South with the state in which they live. On the other hand, the effects of discipline and of the principles of military life on rank and file are shown by the fact that the soldiers of the regular regiments of the United States and the sailors in the navy have to a man adhered to their colours, notwithstanding the examples and inducements of their officers.
After breakfast I went down about the works, which fortify the bank of mud, in the shape of a V, formed by the two rivers—a flêche with a ditch, scarp, and counter-scarp. Some heavy pieces cover the end of the spit at the other side of the Mississippi, at Bird’s Point. On the side of Missouri there is a field entrenchment, held by a regiment of Germans, Poles, and Hungarians, about 1000 strong, with two field batteries. The sacred soil of Kentucky, on the other side of the Ohio, is tabooed by Beriah Magoffin, but it is not possible for the belligerents to stand so close face to face without occupying either Columbus or Hickman. The thermometer was at 100° soon after breakfast, and it was not wonderful to find that the men in Camp Defiance, which is the name of the cantonment on the mud between the levees of the Ohio and Mississippi, were suffering from diarrhœa and fever.
In the evening there was a review of three regiments, forming a brigade of some 2800 men, who went through their drill, advancing in columns of company, moving en echelon, changing front, deploying into line on the centre company, very creditably. It was curious to see what a start ran through the men during the parade when a gun was fired from the battery close at hand, and how their heads turned towards the river; but the steamer which had appeared round the bend hoisted the private signs, by which she was known as a friend, and tranquillity was restored.
I am not sure that most of these troops desire anything but a long residence at a tolerably comfortable station, with plenty of pay and no marching. Cairo, indeed, is not comfortable; the worst barrack that ever asphixiated the British soldier would be better than the best shed here, and the flies and the mosquitoes are beyond all conception virulent and pestiferous. I would give much to see Cairo in its normal state, but it is my fate to witness the most interesting scenes in the world through a glaze of gunpowder. It would be unfair to say that any marked superiority in dwelling, clothing, or comfort was visible between the mean white of Cairo or the black chattel a few miles down the river. Brawling, rioting, and a good deal of drunkenness prevailed in the miserable sheds which line the stream, although there was nothing to justify the libels on the garrison of the Columbus Crescent, edited by one Colonel L. G. Faxon, of the Tennessee Tigers, with whose writings I was made acquainted by General Prentiss, to whom they appeared to give more annoyance than he was quite wise in showing.
This is a style of journalism which may have its merits, and which certainly is peculiar; I give a few small pieces. “The Irish are for us, and they will knock Bologna sausages out of the Dutch, and we will knock wooden nutmegs out of the Yankees.” “The mosquitoes of Cairo have been sucking the lager-bier out of the dirty soldiers there so long, they are bloated and swelled up as large as spring ‘possums. An assortment of Columbus mosquitoes went up there the other day to suck some, but as they have not returned, the probability is they went off with delirium tremens; in fact, the blood of these Hessians would poison the most degraded tumble bug in creation.”
Our editor is particularly angry about the recent seizure of a Confederate flag at Columbus by Colonel Oglesby and a party of Federals from Cairo. Speaking of a flag intended for himself he says, “Would that its folds had contained 1000 asps to sting 1000 Dutchmen to eternity unshriven.” Our friend is certainly a genius. His paper of June the 19th opens with an apology for the non-appearance of the journal for several weeks. “Before leaving,” he says, “we engaged the services of a competent editor, and left a printer here to issue the paper regularly. We were detained several weeks beyond our time, the aforesaid printer promised faithfully to perform his duties, but he left the same day we did, and consequently there was no one to get out the paper. We have the charity to suppose that fear and bad whisky had nothing to do with his evacuation of Columbus.” Another elegant extract about the flag commences, “When the bowlegged, wooden shoed, sour craut stinking, Bologna sausage eating, hen roost robbing Dutch sons of _____ had accomplished the brilliant feat of taking down the Secession flag on the river bank, they were pointed to another flag of the same sort which their guns did not cover, flying gloriously and defiantly, and dared yea! double big black dog—dared, as we used to say at school, to take that flag down—the cowardly pups, the thieving sheep dogs, the sneaking skunks, dare not do so, because their twelve pieces of artillery were not bearing on it.” As to the Federal commander at Cairo, Colonel Faxon’s sentiments are unambiguous. “The qualifications of this man, Prentiss,” he says, “for the command of such a squad of villains and cut-throats are, that he is a miserable hound, a dirty dog, a sociable fellow, a treacherous villain, a notorious thief, a lying blackguard, who has served his regular five years in the Penitentiary and keeps his hide continually full of Cincinnati whisky, which he buys by the barrel in order to save his money—in him are embodied the leprous rascalities of the world, and in this living score, the gallows is cheated of its own. Prentiss wants our scalp; we propose a plan by which he may get that valuable article. Let him select 150 of his best fighting men, or 250 of his lager-bier Dutchmen, we will select 100, then let both parties meet where there will be no interruption at the scalping business, and the longest pole will knock the persimmon. If he does not accept this proposal, he is a coward. We think this a gentlemanly proposition and quite fair and equal to both parties.”