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Xi. February, 1862

February 1

We had a startling rumor yesterday that New Orleans had been taken by the enemy, without firing a gun. I hastened to the Secretary and asked him if it could be true. He had not heard of it, and turned pale. But a moment after, recollecting the day on which it was said the city had fallen, he seized a New Orleans paper of a subsequent date, and said the news could not be true, since the paper made no mention of it.

February 2

The rumor of yesterday originated in the assertion of a Yankee paper that New Orleans would be taken without firing a gun. Some of our people fear it may be so, since Mr. Benjamin's friend, Gen. Lovell, who came from New York since the battle of Manassas, is charged with the defense of the city. He delivered lectures, it is said, last summer on the defenses of New York — in that city. Have we not Southern men of sufficient genius to make generals of, for the defense of the South, without sending to New York for military commanders?

February 3

We have intelligence of the sailing of an expedition from Cairo for the reduction of Fort Henry on the Tennessee River.

February 4

Burnside has entered the Sound at Hatteras with his fleet of gun-boats and transports. The work will soon begin.


February 5

I am sorry to hear that Gen. Wise is quite ill. But, on his back, as on his feet, he will direct operations, and the enemy will be punished whenever he comes in reach of him.

February 6

The President is preparing his Inaugural Message for the 22d, when he is to begin his new administration of six years. He is to read it from the Washington Monument in Capitol Square.

February 7

We have vague rumors of fighting at Roanoke. Nothing reliable.

February 8-20

Such astounding events have occurred since the 8th instant, such an excitement has prevailed, and so incessant have been my duties, that I have not kept a regular journal. I give a running account of them.

Roanoke has fallen before superior numbers, although we had 15,000 idle troops at Norfolk within hearing of the battle. The government would not interfere, and Gen. Huger refused to allow the use of a few thousand of his troops.

But Gen. Wise is safe; Providence willed that he should escape the “man-trap.” When the enemy were about to open fire on his headquarters at Nag's Head, knowing him to be prostrated with illness (for the island had then been surrendered after a heroic defense), Lieutenants Bagly and Wise bore the general away in a blanket to a distance of ten or fifteen miles. The Yankees would have gladly exchanged all their prisoners for Gen. Wise, who is ever a terror to the North.

Capt. O. Jennings Wise fell, while gallantly cheering his men, in the heat of the battle. A thousand of the enemy fell before a few hundred of our brave soldiers. We lost some 2500 men, for there was no alternative but to surrender.

Capt. Wise told the Yankee officers, who persisted in forcing themselves in his presence during his dying moments, that the South could never be subjugated. They might exterminate us, but every man, woman, and child would prefer death to abject subjugation. And he died with a sweet smile on his lip, eliciting the profound respect of his most embittered enemies.

The enemy paroled our men taken on the island; and we recovered the remains of the heroic Capt. Wise. His funeral here was most impressive, and saddened the countenances of thousands who [110] witnessed the pageant. None of the members, of the government were present; but the ladies threw flowers and evergreens upon his bier. He is dead-but history will do him justice; and his example will inspire others with the spirit of true heroism.

And President Tyler is no more on earth. He died after a very brief illness. There was a grand funeral, Mr. Hunter and others delivering orations. They came to me, supposing I had written one of the several biographies of the deceased which have appeared during the last twenty years. But I had written none-and none published were worthy of the subject. I could only refer them to the bound volumes of the Madisonian in the State library for his messages and other State papers. The originals are among my papers in the hands of the enemy. His history is yet to be written-and it will be read centuries hence.

Fort Henry has fallen. Would that were all! The catalogue of disasters I feared and foretold, under the policy adopted by the War Department, may be a long and a terrible one.

The mission of the spies to East Tennessee is now apparent. Three of the enemy's gun-boats have ascended the Tennessee River to the very head of navigation, while the women and children on its banks could do nothing more than gaze in mute despair. No batteries, no men were there. The absence of these is what the traitors, running from here to Washington, have been reporting to the enemy. Their boats would no more have ventured up that river without the previous exploration of spies, than Mr. Lincoln would dare to penetrate a cavern without torch-bearers, in which the rattle of venomous snakes could be heard. They have ascended to Florence, and may get footing in Alabama and Mississippi!

And Fort Donelson has been attacked by an immensely superior force. We have 15,000 men there to resist, perhaps, 75,000! Was ever such management known before? Who is responsible for it? If Donelson falls, what becomes of the ten or twelve thousand men at Bowling Green?

February 21

All our garrison in Fort Henry, with Gen. Tilghman, surrendered. I think we had only 1500 men there. Guns, ammunition, and stores, all gone.

No news from Donelson-and that is bad news. Benjamin says he has no definite information. But prisoners taken say the [111] enemy have been reinforced, and are hurling 80,000 against our 15,000.

February 22

Such a day! The heavens weep incessantly. Capitol Square is black with umbrellas; and a shelter has been erected for the President to stand under.

I walked up to the monument and heard the Inaugural read by the President. He read it well, and seemed self-poised in the midst of disasters, which he acknowledged had befallen us. And he admitted that there had been errors in our war policy. We had attempted operations on too extensive a scale, thus diffusing our powers which should have been concentrated. I like these candid confessions. They augur a different policy hereafter, and we may hope for better results in the future. We must all stand up for our country.

Mr. Hunter has resigned, and taken his place in the Senate.

February 23

At last we have the astounding tidings that Donelson has fallen, and Buckner, and 9000 men, arms, stores, everything are in possession of the enemy! Did the President know it yesterday? Or did the Secretary keep it back till the new government (permanent) was launched into existence? Wherefore? The Southern people cannot be daunted by calamity!

Last night it was still raining-and it rained all night. It was a lugubrious reception at the President's mansion. But the President himself was calm, and Mrs. Davis seemed in spirits. For a long time I feared the bad weather would keep the people away; and the thought struck me when I entered, that if there were a Lincoln spy present, we should have more ridicule in the Yankee presses on the paucity of numbers attending the reception. But the crowd came at last, and filled the ample rooms. The permanent government had its birth in storm, but it may yet flourish in sunshine. For my own part, however, I think a provisional government of few men, should have been adopted “for the war.”

February 24

Gen. Sydney Johnston has evacuated Bowling Green with his ten or twelve thousand men! Where is his mighty army now? It never did exist!

February 25

And Nashville must fall-although no one seems to anticipate such calamity. We must run the career of disasters allotted us, and await the turning of the tide.

February 26

Congress, in secret session, has authorized [112] the declaration of martial law in this city, and at some few other places. This might be well under other circumstances; but it will not be well if the old general in command should be clothed with powers which he has no qualifications to wield advantageously. The facile old man will do anything the Secretary advises.

Our army is to fall back from Manassas! The Rappahannock is not to be our line of defense. Of course the enemy will soon strike at Richmond from some direction. I have given great offense to some of our people by saying the policy of permitting men to go North at will, will bring the enemy to the gates of the city in ninety days. Several have told me that the prediction has been marked in the Secretary's tablets, and that I am marked for destruction if it be not verified. I reply that I would rather be destroyed than that it should be fulfilled.

February 27

Columbus is to be evacuated. Beauregard sees that it is untenable with Forts Henry and Donelson in possession of the enemy. He will not be caught in such a trap as that. But he is erecting a battery at Island No.10 that will give the Yankees trouble. I hope it may stay the catalogue of disasters.

February 28

These calamities may be a wholesome chastening for us. We shall now go to work and raise troops enough to defend the country. Congress will certainly pass the Conscription Act recommended by the President.

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O. Jennings Wise (7)
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