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Chapter 36: introduction to 1863.

The year 1863 opened drearily for the President, but the Confederates generally seemed to have, for some unexplained cause, renewed hope of recognition by England and France, and with this they felt sure of a successful termination of the struggle.

Mr. Davis was oppressed by the fall of Donelson, Nashville, Corinth, Roanoke Island, New Orleans, Yorktown, Norfolk, Fort Pillow, Island No.10, Memphis, General Bragg's defeat at Murfreesboro, the burning of the Virginia and the ram Mississippi, the sinking of the Arkansas, and other minor disasters. The victory at Fredericksburg was the one bright spot in all this dark picture.

Complaints from the people of the subjugated States came in daily. Women were set adrift across our borders with their children, penniless and separated from all they held dear. Their property was confiscated, the newspapers were suppressed, and the presses sold under the Confiscation act.

In Tennessee, county officers were nominated, [370] and an election held. Andrew Johnson, Governor of Tennessee, announced, “It is not expected that the enemies of the United States will propose to vote, nor is it intended that they be permitted to vote, or hold office;” and an “iron-clad oath” was devised and forced upon all who desired any position in the municipal or State Government, or even .to engage in industrial pursuits. A convention was held to amend the constitution of Tennessee, and the amendments were ratified by twenty-five thousand majority, when in 1860 the State vote was one hundred and forty thousand.

Peaceful and aged citizens, unresisting captives and non-combatants, were confined at hard labor with ball and chain, others were ironed for selling medicines to ill Confederates.

Prisoners of war were placed in close confinement, on bread and water. In fact, the whole population were given the choice to perjure themselves, or starve.

The slaves, after New Orleans was taken, were driven from their homes, or if left undisturbed were forced to work under bayonet guard on the plantations, the owners of which received a small percentage of the gains if they consented to share their property with the General, his brother, or other officers. [371]

Order 91 sequestrated all property west of the Mississippi for confiscation, and officers were assigned to the duty of gathering up and burning all the personal effects except such as the United States might require for use, or intend to expose for sale at auction in New Orleans.

Members of Congress were elected under the military government of Louisiana. Mr. Lincoln said, “The war power is now our main reliance.” An oath was required from all residents of the conquered State to support the Constitution and the laws passed by Congress “during the existing rebellion,” unless they should be modified or declared void by the Supreme Court. One-tenth of any State so far subjugated could demand and obtain admission as independent States in the Union. Provisional judges were appointed to finally adjudicate all cases of equity, admiralty, and criminal law, with the power to make all rules which might be needful for their jurisdiction. Thus the military power of the Government in relentless grasp held Louisiana at its mercy.

The Constitution said: “The judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.” [372]

Mr. Lincoln swore, in 1861, to sustain the Constitution and the laws under it. The contrast is sharp and significant of the progress of a Northern revolution. “Silent leges inter arma.” Under his rule the old landmarks seemed to be blotted out.

The horrors of military rule and reconstruction were too numerous for particularization here. I leave them to the historian.

“ When the war closed, who were the victors? Perhaps it is too soon to answer that question. Nevertheless, every day, as time rolls on, we look with increasing pride upon the struggle our people made for constitutional liberty. The war was one in which fundamental principles were involved; and, as force decides no truth, hence the issue is still undetermined, as has been already shown. We have laid aside our swords; we have ceased our hostility; we have conceded the physical strength of the Northern States. But the question still lives, and all nations and peoples that adopt a confederated agent of government will become champions of our cause. While contemplating the Northern States--with their Federal Constitution gone, ruthlessly destroyed under the tyrant's plea of ‘necessity,’ their State sovereignty made a byword, and their people absorbed in an aggregated mass, no longer as their fathers left [373] them, protected by reserved rights against usurpation — the question naturally arises: On which side was the victory? Let the verdict of mankind decide.”

The steady depletion of the Confederate forces and the consequent success of the enemy, increased the sufferings of our people; suffering made them querulous, and they looked about to find the person to blame for their misfortune. Some of them found the culprit in the President. The most hopeful man might be expected to lose heart under this heavy load, but Mr. Davis's faith in God's interposition to protect the right never faltered, and he steadily followed the dictates of his conscience, nothing daunted by our misfortunes. Now a formidable manifestation in the form of a bread riot occurred in Richmond.

On April 2, 1863, Mr. Davis said that he received word in his office that a serious disturbance, which the Mayor and Governor Letcher, with the State forces under his command, were entirely unable to repress, was in progress on the streets. He at once proceeded to the scene of trouble in the lower portion of the city, whither the venerable Mayor had preceded him. He found a large crowd on Main Street, although the mass of the rioters were congregated on one of the side streets leading into that thoroughfare. [374] They were headed by a tall, daring, Amazonian-looking woman, who had a white feather standing erect from her hat, and who was evidently directing the movement of the plunderers. The main avenue was blocked by a dray from which the horses had been taken, and which had been hauled across the street, and it was particularly noticeable that, though the mob claimed that they were starving and wanted bread, they had not confined their operations to food-supplies, but had passed by, without any effort to attack, several provision stores and bakeries, while they had completely emptied one jewelry store, and had also “looted” some millinery and clothing shops in the vicinity. The fact was conclusive to the President's mind that it was not bread they wanted, but that they were bent on nothing but plunder and wholesale robbery.

At the Confederate Armory in Richmond were engaged a number of armorers and artisans enrolled by General Gorgas, chief of ordnance, to work especially for the Government. These men had been organized into a military company under the command of a captain whose bearing was that of a trained, sturdy soldier accustomed to obey orders, and ready to do his duty unflinchingly, no matter what it might be. This company had been [375] promptly ordered to the scene of the riot and arrived shortly after the President.

Mr. Davis mounted the dray above mentioned and made a brief address to the formidable crowd of both sexes, urging them to abstain from their lawless acts. He reminded them of how they had taken jewelry and finery instead of supplying themselves with bread, for the lack of which they claimed they were suffering. He concluded by saying: “ You say you are hungry and have no money. Here is all I have; it is not much, but take it.” He then, emptying his pockets, threw all the money they contained among the mob, after which he took out his watch and said: “We do not desire to injure anyone, but this lawlessness must stop. I will give you five minutes to disperse, otherwise you will be fired on.” The order was given the company to prepare for firing, and the grim, resolute old Captain who, Mr. Davis says, was an old resident of Richmond, but whose name he does not recall-gave his men the command: “Load!” The muskets were then loaded with buck and ball cartridges, with strict observance of military usage, and everyone could see that when their stern commander received orders to fire he intended to shoot to kill. The mob evidently fully realized this fact, and at once began [376] to disperse, and before the five minutes had expired the trouble was over, and the famous misnamed bread riot was at an end.

This is a succinct and truthful account of this trouble, which created so much excitement at the time, and of the part which ex-President Davis bore therein. The subject having been recently revived and extensively discussed, and quite a variety of statements having been made in connection therewith, this account of Mr. Davis will be read with great interest, and all who personally remember the scenes and incidents of that memorable occasion will no doubt fully substantiate its correctness.

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