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Experiences of a Northern man in the Confederate army.

Running the blockade.

[We have frequently expressed our desire to publish the experiences of intelligent private soldiers as well as of officers, and we are glad to present the following, which will be found of deep interest, and prove the beginning of others of historic value, as giving a private's views of men and things.]

There is, of course, no danger that the great political and military events connected with the war between the States of the American Union will be forgotten. History will forever keep alive the memory of these, but the little details and incidents, too trivial for the historian to recount, are liable to melt away gradually in the mists of time. Yet these trifles may be not without some importance, as they may tend to throw a faint light upon different phases of the great contest, and may, for this purpose, prove worthy of perusal. It is only on this ground that I venture to record some of my recollections of that momentous period.

I was merely a private in the Army of Northern Virginia, but as I was a Southerner neither by birth, blood, nor residence at the commencement of the war, my experiences may be in some respects exceptional. If you ask, kind reader, how it happened, that under such circircumstances, I became a Confederate soldier, I answer you in this wise: I was born in a Northern State--was young and ardent. I had the good or evil fortune, as you may choose to consider it, of being a gentleman, and had fair prospects in life. My education had been completed — I was intended for the profession of law. Through my studies and my family surroundings I had imbibed the States-Rights view of the great Constitutional questions then agitating the public mind. This was not surprising, although such an opinion was at variance with the centralizing tendencies of the then dominant party at the North. States-Rights doctrines, in a more or less thorough form, were not at [370] that time uncommon in the North. The relations of the States under the United States Constitution were more generally regarded as Federal, than National; the words “Nation” and “National” were then not of general use, for the political ideas implied in the use of these terms were not generally current. In fact, from time to time, nearly every Northern State had shown its teeth, and growled about “reserved rights,” when the shoe of Federal legislation threatened to pinch. Less than fifty years before this time the Hartford Convention had declared the right and intention of the New England States to secede from the Union, if the war of 1812, deemed by them detrimental to their commercial interests, was not terminated. The ink was not then long dry in the declaration penned by Horace Greeley, that the Southern States had the legal right to secede, and that the Northern States had no right to resist forcibly their secession. When, at present, such ridiculously inapplicable misnomers, as “disloyalty” and “treason,” “rebels” and “traitors” are so freely applied by the popular voice to the adherents of the Confederate States, it is very difficult to realize that a few years ago States-Rights views were largely entertained throughout the Northern States. To understand this apparent contradiction it is only necessary to remember, that people are generally influenced in their opinions by what they believe at the time to be their interests, and that they now hold that their material interests are centered in the Union, whereas formerly they attached great importance to local government. Ergo, States-Rights doctrines are now at a discount, but that does not prove that they were not correct, or that one was wrong in entertaining them in 1861-1865, If, however, it be a true saying that “nothing is more successful than success,” it is equally true that nothing is more unsuccessful than failure. The French have a proverb in which there is much pithy truth, which says “les abseus ont tonjours tart;” from the result of the war we might learn to paraphrase this by saying “the unsuccessful are always in the wrong.”

The war had been raging for about two years, a time of suffering and of carnage for the participants on both sides, but also a period replete with wretchedness for the Peace-party at the North. Their political world had entered upon a new and violent geological period; the earthquake of war, and the volcano of revolution were daily effecting sudden, vast, and startling changes. This Peace-party was essentially conservative in its nature, and comprised many of the best and purest men, as well as of the highest, intellectually and socially, in the country. These people believed that the South had a legal right to sustain their secession by force of arms against the aggression of the central Government [371] of the other States. They conscientiously believed that the South was right, and that she was fighting for constitutional liberty against most dangerous revolutionists. Such being their convictions, the members of this party necessarily could not sympathize with the successes of the northern armies, nor deplore the victories of the southern troops. From this state of affairs arose very bitter personal and political animosities between the advocates of the prosecution of the war and the opposers of it. The result was frequent violent quarrels between near relatives, and the angry disruption of many life-long and hereditary friendships. Believing themselves right, only wishing to put a stop to bloodshed, and to preserve liberty and law for both sections, yet these people were constantly denounced by their opponents as traitors of the deepest dye, plotting with armed rebels for their country's ruin. As they had been after the commencement of the war in a minority, they were debarred politically from preferment, and their exertions in private pursuits were much handicapped by the ostracism of the greater number of their neighbors. Meantime battle succeeded to battle, usurpation to usurpation, an endless, hopeless night of misery seemed to envelope the entire land. Altogether the Peace-party had a wretched time of it; their only consolation being their conviction that they were right. Had it been a foreign war, their hearts would have been with their countrymen — right or wrong — for “blood is thicker than water;” but it was a civil war; the southern armies were composed of men of the same blood as themselves, worthy descendants of the grand liberty-loving, hard-fighting, Anglo-Saxon race. How then could they glory in their sufferings? And yet, for not doing so, they were stigmatized by the War-party as traitors.

To this Peace-party I belonged, enthusiastically, devotedly adherred. I clung to the hope that forcible opposition at home might eventually compel the Revolutionists at Washington to stop the wild orgy of war. I longed to draw my maiden sword on the soil of my native State, to do, or die for her dear sake, striking for civil liberty. Months passed by and weariness in waiting was well nigh succeeded by despair. Daily would friends meet, discuss the situation, and groan at their inability to effect any good. One large hotel was the chief rendezvous for meeting. Here at any hour of the day you could find acquaintances who would tell you the latest current news, and also in mysterious whispers impart the gossip from Dixie, the hopes and fears, the joys and sorrows, or stories of mutual acquaintances, who were there.

At length the time came when the Government at Washington found the volunteer system (though supplemented by enormous bounty-giving) [372] no longer adequate to supply fresh food for gunpowder to her depleted legions, and she was compelled to resort to stringent conscription. This was believed by very many to be illegal and unconstitutional, and a disposition to forcibly resist the conscription was evinced in New York. Then, indeed, seemed to have dawned at last the day for action, and gladly was it welcomed. The people turned out in the streets in large numbers, overpowered guards, destroyed and burned conscription bureaus, threw up barricades, and hemmed in the police within their station-houses. Very soon, however, this movement degenerated into a mere riot; the mob took possession of the city; professional thieves thronged from neighboring cities for purposes of plunder; property and life were unprotected; anarchy reigned for several days. Finally order was restored by the military, after some loss of life. I soon saw that no good could come out of this movement and of course had no part in the misdeeds of the rioters; my mortification and disgust were only equaled by my disappointment.

The consequence of the enforcement of the conscription was, that I had to take my chances of being drafted into the Northern army, or of buying a substitute. The latter I was pecuniarily able to do, but there was, in my opinion, no difference morally in fighting in one's own person for an unjust and detested cause, or in sending a hireling to fight for you; no more difference morally than there would be between hiring an assassin to commit a murder for you and doing the deed yourself. At all events, that was the view which I took of it, and I determined neither to fight against my principles in person or by proxy. Hitherto I had been permitted by the government, at Washington, to remain neutral in action, and so long as such was the case, it might be my duty to remain at home, as thus I might, by some possibility, be able to be of use to my own State and my own people. But now the alternative was presented to me of either fighting for or against the principles which I held sacred; I choose the former. In making this decision, I believed I was right, and have never since seen reason to doubt it. I determined to leave at once for the Confederacy, turning my back on ambition as well as upon home, as the family influence, which might have pushed me along, was, of course, confined to the North. I was to go by British steamer from New York to Nassau, running the blockade from there into one of the Southern ports. To get across the military land-lines to the South at that time was an equally uncertain undertaking, and moreover, I wished to carry with me a good out-fit for the field. I had not been long in the Confederacy before I became aware that the bringing of an out-fit was not necessary, as one could procure [373] easily very good ones there, and at not very high prices either, if calculated in gold, though overwhelmingly high, if estimated in paper currency. Naturally, the little circle of my friends knew of my proposed journey, and much was the sympathy which I experienced from them. During my last evening before starting, so many of my friends dropped in to say good-bye and God-speed, that I had quite a little levee. Nearly every one presented me with some little gift supposed to be suitable for the out-fit of a cavalryman, which I intended to be, so that my trunk became quite a respectable sized arsenal. One had given me a sabre. It was so ponderous and formidable in appearance that we christened it in joke “Durandal,” after the far-famed brand of the redoubtable Taladin Roland. The only mode of concealment, when going aboard ship, which I could think of for this unwieldly instrument of destruction, was to tie it up with an umbrella in a roll of army blankets, which was supposed to look to the uninitiated like an ordinary traveling-rug with umbrellas thrust into it innocently; but in point of fact, it did not look a bit so. Why the detectives, of whom there were several unmistakably peering around inquisitively on the wharf, did not bag me, I do not comprehend. I had been a Confederate soldier but a short time before I discovered that this much beloved “Durandal,” the bringing of which with me from New York, had given me a world of trouble, was rather an “elephant” on my hands, the use of cold steel having been almost superseded by “villanious saltpetre,” and that a sword could at any time be had for the asking.

Soon, however, in spite of my suspicious-looking luggage, I found myself aboard the good steamer “Corsica,” safe from molestation, under the flag of Old England.

After leaving I hobnobbed a good deal with an Englishman, an exofficer in the Horse-Guards, who had given up his commission for a time to enter the service of the Confederacy, whither he was now bound. A nice, plucky fellow he was, of gigantic, athletic build. He served the war out like a man, as I afterwards heard, and then returned to England, having gained no distinction for his trouble, but perfectly satisfied with his adventures nevertheless. I was told that he never complained of the hardships and privations of campaigning, but only grumbled at the difficulty of procuring mounts suitable to his unusual weight. My other fellow-travellers were bent on pleasure, or business; among them were no other recruits for the Southern army, so far as I knew.

After a short and pleasant voyage we arrived at Nassau. Before us lay the city of the blockade-runners floating on the surface of the still, [374] transparent sea, her dazzling white streets and houses glittering in the sunlight, as if rejoicing in her newly-acquired commercial importance. We found the place teeming with business and speculative excitement. Previous to and after the war it was an insignificant little town, situated on an unproductive island of very limited extent, but during the times of which I am speaking it was the point of arrival and departure for the blockade runners plying constantly between there and Wilmington, Charleston, and occasionally other southern ports. When within this neutral territory they were, of course, safe from molestation by the Federal cruisers. Here, too, arrived from Europe, and, to a limited extent, from the North also, sub rosa, supplies intended for the Confederacy, and from here was shipped in return to Europe the muchcoveted cotton which had been run successfully through the blockade. It may readily be imagined that the profits of this trade were enormous. The speculators never lost sight of the cardinal principle of their occupation, to buy cheap and to sell dear, so that a few successful ventures often made them a fortune. The consequence was the place had awoke from its siesta of life-long quietude to find itself famous; not being born great it had had “greatness thrust upon it” for a time. Atonce, on arriving in the harbor, you felt that you were among friends; everyone was “secesh,” and glad to welcome you — not the least enthusiastic in this respect being the negroes, who were fully alive to the advantages of the commercial “boom” that had burst in their midst. It was another illustration that what is one's loss is another's gain; the residents of the Island, some refugees from the South, and adventurers of all nationalities (not excepting the inevitable, omnipresent New Englander), were making money fast out of the pressing necessities of the blockaded combatant, who was heroically grappling with his gigantic enemy in a death-struggle. No wonder that they were glad to see one; that they expressed such ardent, devoted affection for the South; that they were ever ready to drink deep at one's expense the good health of the Confederacy; that they were longing to do anything in the world for you — for a valuable consideration; we were their bonanza — their gold-mine.

I had been provided with a letter of introduction, and credit by a New York house on the principal firm in the place. These I presented and requested assistance in procuring a passage by the first blockade-runner for the South. This they arranged for me by a steamer to leave two days afterwards. I was informed that the usual fare charged for the trip was $300 in gold, but the price was fixed for me at $100 in gold, because I was going as a recruit to the Confederate army. As the premium [375] on gold in the Confederacy at that time was fifteen to eighteen for one, this sum amounted to $1,500 to $1,800, and being a quasi export duty on food for gunpowder, struck me as an excessive charge to be made by such kindly disposed, unselfish people. My fellow passenger by the “Corsica,” the English cavalryman, arranged to go by this same blockade runner; they charged him too the same export duty on himself of $100 in gold in the shape of passage money. We afterwards learnt that our captain was greatly disgusted at the small amount of fare received from us, as the larger portion of the passage money, it seems, was his perquisite.

In due course we embarked on our steamer for the short voyage to Wilmington. A trial trip of about an hour's duration was made round the delicately blue transparent waters of the harbor; caution being observed of course to keep well within the marine league from shore — the limit of England's juridiction — in the meantime the passengers and some invited friends of the captain or agents were being regaled with ale and champagne, of very inferior quality, in which was drunk success to the expedition. This was done to test machinery and to make sure that everything was in perfect order. This was a very sensible precaution, for the Federal cruisers might be met at any moment lurking in the offing, and then it was a race to escape — the blockade runners being merchantmen entirely without armament. Our vessel was painted of a bluish-white color to make her less likely to be seen at sea, especially at night, but other than this I could perceive no attempt at concealment. Our trial trip ended, we put to sea in a very matter offact manner — no hostile cruisers being visible — so we were disappointed of the excitement of a chase. Indeed, during the entire voyage only one vessel was sighted at sea; she was quite distant, and we did not have the impoliteness to approach any nearer to ask inquisitively about her nationality.

It was intended to reach Wilmington Bar somewhat after midnight, when the moon would be up. This surprised me, as I thought a dark night would have been preferred for making the attempt to run past the Blockading Fleet. It seems, however, that it was considered the lesser of two evils to run the risk of being seen and chased, rather than to take the certain danger of being wrecked, when running in with insufficient light. After a favorable voyage we reached the desired point off Wilmington at the proper time. A brief stoppage was made, when soon the final preparations were completed for running the gauntlet of the Federal Blockaders, who would become visible shortly, as we approached nearer shore. All the lights in the steamer were extinguished, [376] and all passengers were ordered below, only officers and crew being permitted on deck. The furnaces were replenished with carefully selected coal, which would give the greatest amount of heat, and make the least possible smoke. The last orders were given; every man was at his appointed place. Presently the boilers hissed, and the paddlewheels began to revolve faster and faster, as the fleet little steamer rose higher and higher in the water from the immense force of the rapid strokes; she actually felt like a horse gathering himself up under you for a great leap. After a little while the few faint sounds from the deck, which we could hitherto faintly catch in the cabin, ceased altogether, and there was the stillness of death, except for the sounds necessarily made by the movements of the machinery. Then we realized that we were running for our lives past the line of cruisers, and that at any moment a big shell might come crashing through our cabin, disagreeably lighting up the darkness in which we were sitting.

Our suspense was prolonged for some minutes longer, when speed was slackened, and finally we stopped altogether. Even then we did not know whether we were safely through the lines, or whether we had been brought — to under the guns of a hostile ship, for we could distinguish nothing whatever through the port-holes. However, we were soon released from the cabin, and walked out on deck to find ourselves safely through the blockade. In the offing could be descried several of the now harmless blockaders, and near at hand lay the coast of North Carolina. Soon the gray of dawn was succeeded by a brilliant, lovely sunrise, which lighted up cheerfully the low-lying shores and earthworks bristling with artillery, whilst from a fort near by floated the Southern Cross, the symbol of the glorious cause for which we had come to fight. Then we felt, with a thrill of joy, that we were at length within the Confederacy and would soon be launched amid stirring adventures. I say we, but of the passengers the only one besides myself to whom the term was applicable was the quondam Horse-Guardsman, for the rest were business people, seeking no “adventures” except in a commercial sense. At Wilmington we found the moral atmosphere a very great improvement upon that of Nassau, where we had left behind us most of the sordid canaille of commerce. The military element was here predominant, and the surroundings partook of the dignity of actual war. Still, the first sight of the Confederate arms as witnessed at Wilmington, was tame in sensations as compared with the deep impressions produced in him, who saw for the first time the Army of Northern Virginia. Composed of the flower of every Southern State, crowned with the glory of numberless victories achieved [377] against fearful odds, her honor untarnished by a single disgraceful reverse, this army was indeed worthy of her pre-eminent Chieftain, and no higher praise than this is possible. Cold must have been the heart of that man, and dead must he have been to every exalted sentiment, who could gaze for the first time on the veteran columns, the dear grey-jacketed ranks, of the Army of Northern Virginia, without feeling his soul expand with enthusiasm.

We were anxious to get to the front, so after waiting a few hours for a train at Wilmington, my English acquaintance and I had to part. He went direct to Richmond, where he had letters of introduction. I journeyed into the interior to consult an old family friend as to the best place at which “to pitch into the fight.” Arrived at his house, I met the warmest of welcomes only tempered by kindly anxiety on my account, and grave regrets for the excellent prospect of my being speedily knocked on the head. On my first reaching his residence, my friend was not at home, but came in a few minutes afterwards. He had been drilling in a company formed for State defence, intended for local purposes. As his age was over seventy, I admired him in more senses than one.

Shortly after my arrival dinner was announced. I then experienced something of

The stern joy which warriors feel
For foeman worthy of their steel.

For my appetite, unhappily usually one of the best I have ever met with, was then stimulated to great hunger by long fasting. But with the joyful thought of dinner flashed across my mind, the accounts, which we were constantly reading in the Northern newspapers of the great scarcity of food in the South. According to these, not only were the armies in the field destitute almost always of rations, but throughout the country, even in rural districts, far remote from military posts, the people everywhere were starving. To a great extent, I credited these statements. I therefore thought it would be brutally inconsiderate in me to allow myself to consume more than a very moderate portion from my friend's larder; I felt that that even was almost unfair. I determined to do my plain duty by comparative abstinence, but I could not cease regretting the sacrifice even in the charming society of the ladies of the household. Of all feasts, the Barmecide style was the only kind I did not fancy: however, I comforted myself as far as possible by reflecting that it was well for me to have a good deal of practice in fasting to prepare myself for the field.

We sat down to table to a meal rather moderate in quantity, and I [378] refrained with Spartan fortitude from indulging my desire to eat ravenously. Presently, however, other courses followed, and I found that a. plentiful supply of good plain food was around me. You will readily believe that I then quickly changed my tactics and adopted those of the thrifty soldier, Dugald Dalgetty, who victualed himself on suitable occasions to last for a campaign. After this dinner I was not slow in discovering that the newspapers had, as usual, grossly exaggerated and falsified in their accounts of the food-scarcity at the South. Among forces in the field, among persons living in districts, which had been overrun by the armies, and among refugees from homes occupied by the enemy, there were frequently distressing privations, but elsewhere throughout the country there was not, as a rule, an insufficient supply of plain food, say of the homely but sustaining “hog and hominy.”

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