until the latter part of October, 1864. Two events at that time suddenly waked the Confederates
to the gravity of their situation.
began his march to the sea, and the elections in Ohio
, and Pennsylvania
showed the rebels that McClellan
was certain to be defeated for the Presidency, and that Lincoln
would give them four years more of war unless they surrendered.
The Confederates hoped much from McClellan
's election; they were sanguine that he would be elected, and their disappointment was proportionately great.
The march of Sherman
in the same way showed them what Grant
had several times insisted upon, that the Confederacy
was like an empty egg-shell-all its powers of resistance had been drained to keep the frontier line strong.
From this time forth, then, even the most sanguine began to lose all hope, and those who still believed in a successful resistance knew that it could only be made by a consecration of every possible resource of the country to that one object.
Hence the idea of employing slaves as soldiers immediately began to take shape and proportion, and the agitation of it became active and unremitting.
The people of Richmond
had become acquainted with the negro in a semi-military capacity since the passage of the act of February 17th, 1864, “to increase the efficiency of the army by the employment of free negroes and slaves in certain capacities.”
Tinder that act there had not only been large enlistments of negroes for camp duties and cooks, teamsters, etc., but there were also heavy requisitions made upon the surrounding country for slaves to work upon the fortifications.
These, when drafted, were organized into large gangs, and quartered in and around the city, under military discipline.
In the early morning these gangs used to be marched through the city on their way to their work on the fortifications, shouldering their picks and shovels, and trotting along at a regulation step.
They are fat and saucy and greasy, full of laugh and song, and they kept step instinctively as they sang their own versions of “Dixie” and “John Brown
's body,” rapping, castanet-wise, upon the pavements with the wooden soles of their huge and shapeless canvas shoes.
Many a Richmond mother, as she heard the bacon-colored gangs clatter by her door, thought of her own ragged, half-starved boy in the trenches at Petersburg
, and said to herself: “If the cause demands him
as food for powder, why not send out these
for the Yankees
to shoot at, also?”
, at this very time, had ten thousand Virginia
negroes at work cutting his Dutch Gap canal
, about which the Richmond
people gave themselves much needless excitement, since they might