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Chapter 1:

  • First acts of Secession
  • -- measures of the Southern leaders -- Major Anderson and Fort Sumter -- Southern preparations for war -- drilling of Volunteers -- preparing to march -- patriotic spirit of the South -- journey by rail -- camp at Corinth -- regimental officers -- a tragical episode.

As an English resident in the then United States of America, I watched intently the progress of public affairs after the election of Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency, and the probable disruption of the time-honored Federation filled me with serious concern. The stirring political events that followed thick and fast were deeply impressed upon my mind as they occurred, and the most minute details of circumstances bearing upon the calamities that succeeded them are ineffaceable from my memory.

When the Southern leaders were called home by the States they severally represented in the United States Senate and House of Representatives, and those States had seceded from the Union, acts of confederation were immediately agreed upon; Montgomery (Alabama) being judiciously chosen as the temporary seat of Government. Several States had not as yet (April first) sundered from the North, yet no one doubted that they would all secede either unanimously, or by vast majorities, as they subsequently did.

The Southern leaders had for months past begged the parent Government to allow the seceding States to retire peaceably and without bloodshed; and commissioners had been sent to negotiate for the transfer of Government property hitherto mutually possessed. But the Government, instead of officially [2] communicating with the envoys, put them off with specious promises from day to day, until it became obvious that the North was manoeuvring for time, in order to strengthen the coasts and harbors, and seize the most eligible strategical positions and thus by mere physical force resist, and if possible prevent secession. To have quietly allowed President Lincoln to reinforce the Southern garrisons and forts, would have been equivalent to submission; and aware, despite all asseverations to the contrary, that he then had on the way heavy reinforcements for Charleston harbor, Fort Sumter was instantly reduced, its colors hauled down, and the Confederate flag raised over its ruins.1

This decisive act was bitterly anathematized in the North, [3] both from pulpit and press; but the clamor partook less of manly indignation than of hypocritical expostulation, and ill-concealed annoyance at the failure of the Government scheme.

Now arose the question-What were the prospects of success for the new Confederate Government? Their munitions of war were some hundred thousand stand of arms found in the State arsenals, and ammunition for twice as many. But for what purpose were these arms likely to be required? Not for vengeance, seeing that not one drop of blood had been spilt; and except the battered walls of Fort Sumter, no material damage had been effected. The danger clearly perceived was the intention of the North to force the Confederate States back into the Union, and to meet this a call was made for seventy-five thousand men, and heartily responded to.

The chief difficulty proved to be the proper equipment and command of the volunteers. The arms in the State arsenals were nothing more than common percussion muskets, and the cartridges proved almost useless, being filled with very old, common, large-grained blasting powder. Our ports were blockaded; the North had free communication with Europe; exchequer we had none; our opponents could raise millions at home or abroad; our leaders were few, of inferior rank and little reputation; our foes had one at their head fondly called by themselves “the greatest general of his age.” Save Lee, Johnston, Beauregard, and Cooper, we had riot one single officer of note; and the first-named was only a colonel of dragoons in the old United States service. It is true that several officers (among them Van Dorn, Longstreet, Ewell, and Evans) in the Indian countries, or on the Border, immediately threw up their commands, and joined the fortunes of their respective States; but little was expected of them, since they could only be regarded as men of theory, with but little experience in warfare. Common expectation, however, was most agreeably disappointed in these officers.

While General Scott and a host of officers were drilling and marshalling their men at Washington, the State of Virginia seceded. Her arsenals and naval works were, as a consequence, blown up or fired by the enemy, and evacuated; the only spoil that fell to our lot, at Norfolk and other places, being charred and broken hulls, empty dockyards, spiked cannon, and [4] damaged ammunition. The seizure of Harper's Ferry secured to Virginia several thousand stand of arms; but beyond these, little fell to the Confederates; the Federal officers, before departure, having carefully planned and executed the destruction of all Government property, at the various factories and depots.

When it became evident, from the vast preparations of the enemy, that hostilities would very shortly commence, the Confederate capital was changed from Montgomery, (Ala.,) to Richmond, (Va.) The railroad junctions had to be protected, as within no great distance from our seat of Government were several lines of road leading to and through the heart of the Southern States to the very Gulf. Manassas station (on the Washington and Alexandria Railroad) was selected as commanding all approach from Washington in front, or on the flank, from Harper's Ferry, through the Shenandoah Valley. This accordingly became the grand rendezvous, and the troops that first arrived were camped there: some few were sent twenty-five miles to the front (Fairfax Court-house and station) to watch the enemy, while General Johnston proceeded down the Shenandoah Valley with all he could gather, to watch and oppose General Patterson, who was massing his troops on the Maryland bank of the Potomac, and threatening Harper's Ferry. General Pegram was in Western Virginia, watching the Federals in that direction, who, under General McClellan, were threatening to advance circuitously and take us in the rear. Such, in brief, might be said to be the state of things in the middle of April, 1861. I now proceed to a simple narration of facts, of which, for the most part, I was an eye-witness, throughout most of the engagements of the war.

And in the first place let me observe, that prior to the proclamation of April, 1861, in which President Lincoln warned us to “disperse to our homes in thirty days,” there were many who fondly expected that common-sense would rule in the councils of the North, and that the Government would not force a war upon their “brethren” of the South. We were all mistaken; and when the proclamation was read on the bulletin boards of the telegraph offices in every town, crowds perused the document with roars of laughter, and derisive cheers for the great “rail-splitter” Abraham! Companies were formed upon the [5] spot from among the wealthiest of the youth, and thousands of dollars were spent on their organization, drill, and equipment; indeed, had President Davis so desired, he could have had two hundred thousand volunteers within a month, for any term of service.

At the first whisper of war among these excited crowds, a hundred youths repaired to a lawyer's office, drew up a muster-roll, inscribed their names for twelve months service, and began drilling in a concert-hall. Subscriptions for arms and accoutrements began to pour in, and an emissary was despatched Northward post-haste to get these requisites. Many among us having studied at military or semi-military colleges, the details of infantry drill were perfectly understood, so that squads were quickly placed under our care; and in every vacant building-lot of the village might be seen some half-dozen or more going through the movements, at the command of striplings. Muskets, formerly used for holiday parades, were immediately appropriated; and before a week had elapsed, two full companies were drilling thrice a day, and marched through the streets every evening to the sound of fife and drum. Banners of costly material were made by clubs of patriotic young ladies, and delivered to the companies with appropriate speeches; the men on such occasions swearing that they would perish.rather than desert the flag thus consecrated.

After a few days, one of these companies, originally intended for Pensacola, received marching orders, and in a brilliant uniform of rifle green, with red facings and gold lace, bade adieu to the little town of Yazoo, amid great rejoicing; and taking steamboat to Mobile, started on their twelve months service, with light hearts and great shouting. Although the members of our company were individually rich, and the greater number of them well educated, we had much quarrelling regarding uniform and general outfit. Some desired costly attire, and the most expensive rifles; but, upon consulting the State Executive upon the first point, we learned it was the desire of President Davis that all volunteers should be attired in grey flannels and light blue cotton pantaloons — such articles being inexpensive and more adapted for service. A note from the President to his old friend, our captain, concluded with these words: “The young gentlemen of your company must be thoroughly [6] impressed with the idea that their services will prove to be in hardships and dangers — the commonest material, therefore, will be the most durable; and as for arms, we must be content with what we have: the enemy will come superabundantly provided with all things that money and ingenuity can devise; we must learn to supply ourselves from them.”

Our officers were elected by acclamation from among the more aged and influential, who insisted on taking up arms for the country's defence. Several of these gentlemen already bore the title of colonel, major, or captain; but these were holiday or honorary titles, in which nearly every old planter and merchant rejoiced: even the gentleman who made my boots flourished in the style of “Colonel Smith.” No great harm resulted from this sort of ostentation in the previous circumstances of the country, but had we selected younger and less influential persons for such important positions at the present crisis, it would have been much better for all.

To prevent us from prowling about the town, and to instil discipline, it was decided to encamp in fields proffered for that purpose. With an ample supply of tents and all things needful, we commenced camping, and the novelty was delightful. From sunrise until sunset it was incessant drill. At evening came parade; and when all assembled on the greensward, and scores of fair creatures visited the grounds, and strolled about with brothers, sons, or sweethearts, we all thought it a fine thing to be a soldier, to strut about, or dance quadrilles to the music of a town band, made up of four German cabinet-makers. After two weeks incessant drill, guard-mounting, parades, etc., we yearned for “active” service, and many began to murmur at the monotony of daily routine. All wished to go forth and fight the Yankees — not that the Northerners were deemed worthy of that honor, but there was a strong desire to get to “close quarters” with the enemy, and settle the question without further delay. There was not a youth but fancied himself a match for any half-dozen New-Englanders; and from morning until night the surrounding woods resounded with the reports of fire-arms.

Our men, however, did not really need such practice, for every youth was accustomed to the woods and to hunting; each had killed his dozens of panthers, deer, or rattlesnakes; [7] and with his own rifle could “bring down” any thing within a distance of four hundred yards. In fact, nine tenths of our company seemed born to arms, and were never so happy as when shooting. The country in which we lived had in early times been an unbroken swamp. Even after twenty years settlement, we numbered but fourteen hundred voters in the county, (forty miles wide,) and at this moment the dense woods skirting the town, interspersed with a few cotton plantations, abound with reptiles of every description; and panthers, bears, deer, alligators, wolves, and wild cats frequent the byways. Stills though accustomed to fire-arms in the chase, we had never used muskets, and some practice was deemed necessary. A target five feet high and fifteen inches broad was erected, and opposite this, at a distance of one hundred and fifty yards, we took our stand.

“Now,” said our captain, jocosely, “fancy the board is Old Abe, and, at the command ‘ready,’ let all cover it well.” The allusion was received with a grin; and at the word “fire,” a volley was admirably delivered, and ninety-five holes counted in the target out of a hundred who had shot. “Save your powder, boys,” said the captain, with a smile: “you'll do.” This would be marvellous if it were not accounted for by the fondness of the Southern youth for hunting and wood-ranging. As a proof of this, it is not uncommon for a party of youngsters to leave home without a word of warning, and with blanket and gun take to the woods for weeks at a time, depending solely on their rifle and knife for sport and food.

The Governor of the State having been requested to enrol us immediately in some regiment, made answer that he had but three regiments to fill, and had one hundred and fifty companies to pick from! In fact, he was perfectly bored with offers from every part of the State; and political reasons had, of course, some influence upon his selection. Under these circumstances the welcome telegram arrived, “Strike tents, and march for Corinth — the regiments will form there within two weeks.” Great was our rejoicing to break up camps and start for the wars. Captains of other companies begged us to give up our call, and offered munificent compensation if we would let their companies report instead. Such offers were spurned with contempt. “Give up the chance of going to fight the Yankees?” No, indeed! We were “favored” individuals; and not all the [8] wealth of California could have bought us off in favor of others! Poor fellows: how soon the tune changed! glad would some of these hot heads have been to return home, months subsequently.

For several days before leaving, parties and balls were of frequent occurrence in camp and town, at the residences of members': all vied with each other in passing the time agreeably; and in our daily intercourse there was little or no distinction apparent between officers and privates. In fact, in worldly matters, many of the privates were far superior to their officers. The ambition of all was “to carry a musket in the holy war” of independence; and although our company of one hundred men represented property in the aggregate worth not less than twenty million dollars, I never saw any signs of insubordination, drunkenness, or foul language amongst them. Having negro servants to do the cooking and camp offices, we had passed our term of encampment very agreeably. Now that the moment approached for departure, the busy note of preparation was heard in all directions. With knapsacks well filled with every thing needful by the hands of female friends, we formed rank in marching order, revolvers and bowie-knives by our sides, and, with muskets shouldered, listened to the remarks of our captain, who, encircled by hundreds of our friends and relatives, spoke in a fatherly manner to us of the duties we should have to perform. If any were afraid to meet the enemy, now was the time to say so, and retire; for none were desired of timid temperament, or who feared to fight for their country. “Fight” was the word, he said: let none imagine that child's play or a holiday excursion is before them; for it was not so. In a few weeks many of us would be numbered with the dead; and if any were afraid of death in their country's cause, let them retire; if any were of Northern birth or feelings, let them retire; or if any were physically incapable of enduring a soldier's duty or fatigues, from infirmity, disease, or malformation, let them retire also-and they should incur no blame. Yet no one stirred — not a sound could be heard in the whole assembly save occasional sobs from the fair spectators; and, at the conclusion of the address, one loud yell2 rent the air. [9]

Then the band struck up “Dixie's land,” and our colors waved in the wind, and amid cheers and tears from young and old, male and female, we gaily marched through town, towards the steamboat Hope; and, amid the cheers of the multitude, and waving of handkerchiefs, started for the rendezvous at Corinth. Though many tears were shed, and mothers clasped children to their bosoms for the last time; though fathers grasped the hands of sons, or bashful sweethearts and sisters wept copiously on our departure, not one word was whispered of probable “failure:” no sign of diffidence was betrayed by young or old, but the universal sentiment was: “Go, my son, never be shot in the back: be always in the front rank fight as a Southerner, and, if need be, die like a patriot. Never ask ‘quarter’ from Northern hirelings. Be merciful in the hour of victory, and courageous under defeat: behave as men — as true sons of the South. If ever you act otherwise, never turn your face homewards again.” Such was the language even of the fair ones we left behind; and that this was the idea of all seemed apparent, for at every place that the vessel passed in steaming down the river, crowds collected to greet us; and ladies literally burdened us with presents, trifles, fruit, and provisions: none were more enthusiastic for the cause than these same gentle ones. At every landing we chanced to stop, whether it were night or day, military companies were under arms to salute us, the “favored” ones, who had thus preceded them to the seat of war.

By railroad it was the same. The telegraph signalled our approach, and the newspapers having flatteringly noticed us as “one of the crack companies of the State,” the stations were crowded with all sorts of people; tables with breakfasts, dinners, or suppers, were spread for our accommodation, and that of other companies on their way to Corinth; while young and old, whites and blacks, all seemed to vie in rendering our journey,an unbroken ovation. Male and female schools would line the track and rend the air with shouts, or toss bouquets upon us by hundreds; planters would have wagon-loads of choice provisions for our accommodation. We picked up, at different stations, company after company likewise bound to Corinth, and our train gradually lengthened to fifty cars. Another and another train being filled, we at length formed three [10] long trains with six engines, puffing along at the rate of twenty miles an hour. Such noises as the men made are indescribable. home of us were in passenger cars, but the greater number had to put up with baggage cars having temporary seats; and for want of sufficient ventilation, muskets were freely used in knocking out the panels to admit air. Some passed days and nights, riotously, on the roof, and beguiled the time with playing cards, or, having violins and banjos, with singing and dancing, scarce heeding the many bridges that jeopardized their heads, or the uneasy and dangerous rolling of overloaded and ill-constructed cars.

Tired with this trip of one thousand miles-having travelled this distance without leaving our own State-we were glad to find ourselves at Corinth. This town owes its existence to the intersection of two great lines of railroad, and except its two thousand inhabitants, or thereabouts, and a few wooden stores, contains nothing worthy of observation: its chief edifice is the Tishomingo Hotel. The lines of railway that intersect here are those of the Mississippi Central, and the Mobile and Ohio Railroads: the first was an unbroken line from New-Orleans, and crossing the Mobile road at this place, ran to Grand Junction, whence one branch went to Memphis, Tenn., and the other to Huntsville, Chattanooga, and thence into Virginia; the second ran direct from Mobile, passed the junction at this place, and ran on to Columbus, Kentucky. In a military point of view, the occupation of this point was of vital importance, as will appear at once to any intelligent reader who glances at the map.

North of the town we found the fields and woods picturesquely dotted with tents; we could see various regiments under drill in the distance, and faintly heard the word of command of field officers. On leaving the train, we took up the line of march for our camping grounds; and ere sunset had pitched tents, and our numerous mess-fires were surrounded with busy and talkative groups. On the low grounds in the distance we saw hundreds of camp-fires reddening the scene; and as the moon rose over the woods, bayonets glancing in the moonlight revealed sentinels keeping the regimental “bounds ;” the hoarse challenge of guards fell upon the ear; “patrols” and “relief guards” went their rounds; and as the clear notes of bugles or drums fell upon our unaccustomed ears at “tattoo,” we all [11] began to feel that our liberty was suddenly circumscribed, and that we must make up our minds to be obedient, and observant of military discipline. One day was allowed for rest, and then commenced incessant daily drill in the manual exercise and company field movements.

As we formed but eight companies, several companies unattached, proffered themselves to our officers, to fill up the regimental quota. But the eight captains considered their respective commands very “select,” as being composed of the elite of their localities, and so, much negotiation ensued. At last an ex-Governor of the State (an ex-U. S. Senator also) came forward with his “select” company, and, being well known, was instantly allotted the place of company I. Next day came another ex-U. S. Senator with his company-all representatives of “the first families,” of course-and was unanimously assigned the place of company K. The companies being at last assembled, and all being proficient in company drill, there was great rivalry among us to see who should be considered “the” company of the regiment; but as field officers had not yet been elected, we were drilled as a regiment on successive days by different captains: and a pretty farce some of them made of it! We were put through all kinds of movements, and several of these extemporized colonels put us into figures that defied all extrication, and then, in despair, left the ground for the companies to “unbungle” themselves as best they could. Several, bolder than the rest, rashly promised to “form square” for us on the first convenient opportunity; but after energetic endeavors, they ended by throwing all the companies into inextricable confusion, and left us all in high dudgeon at their bungling pretensions. At last a non-commissioned officer (a school-fellow of mine) got the boys together one evening, after dress-parade, and forming us into sections, formed square immediately: several captains taking note thereof, understood the manoeuvre at once, and plumed themselves thereafter on their skill and experience. Generally speaking, our officers, with all their pretensions, were quite ignorant of tactics; yet, in truth, little should have been expected from them; for they, like ourselves, were fresh from civil life, and knew infinitely more of law and of plantations than of life on the tented field.

After much canvassing, we elected field officers from the [12] regiment, and despite all electioneering and party spirit, selections were made from among the most deserving: our boys wisely preferring “talent and experience” to all other considerations of wealth and social position. There was much heart-burning, of course, among the non-elected, and several immensely wealthy gentlemen, who had travelled hundreds of miles to offer their services as “colonels,” “lieutenant-colonels,” and “majors,” received not a single vote — to gratify their vanity. To such the companies gave a blank refusal. “If you wish to serve with us, as you say, and to fight for the common cause, why not be sworn into the ranks, and prove your disinterestedness? We intend to vote for none who are not enrolled to serve with us; and in our choice of superiors, we desire no other qualifications than ‘ability and sobriety.’ As to the champagne suppers eaten at your expense, gentlemen, they were no more than courtesies offered to each other, and returned. We are used to all that kind of thing at home. We should be happy to receive you into our ranks, and should you join, your ‘talents,’ no doubt, will soon remove every obstacle to quick promotion in the future.” Such were the sentiments of our regiment, and generally of all others.

Although there were not less than six or seven regiments hard at drill when we arrived at Corinth, good order and sobriety seemed to prevail, and thus it continued for several weeks that we remained there. As might be expected, however, among thousands of hot-blooded Southern youths, rencontres would occasionally occur; and as in the South pugilistic science is little resorted to, or understood, knives and pistols were used in emergencies, and several were killed, including two or three commissioned officers. Courts-martial were held, but investigations proving that these homicides were simply the results of legitimate quarrels, and not premeditated “killing,” the offenders received only a reprimand.

One instance I may mention, to show the spirit of those about to fight for the freedom of their country. A commissioned (company) officer having donned his grey uniform and gilded shoulder-straps, began to strut about camp and assume “airs,” eager to show his “little brief authority” on all occasions. This unfortunate fellow disgusted those who had elected him, and although the men were desirous of learning their duty [13] thoroughly and expeditiously, he seized upon every opportunity to “blackguard” his former associates. He was frequently told how obnoxious his assuming manner was; but not heeding the admonition, several threatened to take him out and “whale” him. Laughing at these suppressed remarks, he dared to lift his sword to slap one of the men when on parade: he was told what the immediate consequence would be) but foolishly raised the weapon again, and slapped one across the shoulders; when, in an instant, the rifle was dropped, a bowie-knife flashed, and the officer lay dead on the turf, stabbed five or six times in as many seconds. The company did not stir, but looked on, and applauded; the culprit quietly wiped his knife, resumed his place in the ranks, and dress-parade proceeded as if nothing had happened! Courts-martial could not-or, at all events, did not-attempt to exercise any jurisdiction in this, or similar cases: they were reckoned affairs of self-defence, or “honor.”

1 Major Robert Anderson, First Artillery, was commandant here. He is a native of Kentucky, and nearly sixty years of age. He entered the service as brevet second lieutenant Second Artillery, July first, 1825. On the evening of the day that South-Carolina formally seceded from the Union, (December twentieth, 1860,) a grand banquet was given in Charleston, at which Major Anderson assisted, and, apparently, very much enjoyed himself; so that a party of gentlemen accompanied him to the wharf, where a boat was in readiness to convey him to his Headquarters at Fort Moultrie; Fort Sumter, the strongest of all the forts, placed in the middle of the bay, not being tenanted. But the Major's inebriety was all assumed, for at midnight he spiked the guns, and conveyed all his men and stores to Fort Sumter; so that next morning, when it was thought the Confederate troops might take possession, the Union flag betrayed the fact that Anderson was already there. Our leaders were greatly incensed at the Major, but President Buchanan would not disapprove the act, and we had to bombard the fort.

Before hostilities commenced, however, the citizens of Charleston treated the Major and his little garrison with much considerate politeness, allowing them to procure fresh provisions from the city daily; and it was not until all negotiations had failed, and a large fleet had been sent by President Lincoln to the assistance of the fort, that it was bombarded and reduced by General Beauregard, after an expenditure of two thousand shot, during parts of two days. The Federal fleet outside the bar were witness to the whole transaction, but did not attempt to force a passage, even when a conflagration in the fort, the number of his dismounted guns, and the shattered walls induced the Major to surrender, April thirteenth, 1861. Anderson was allowed to march out with the honors of war, and to salute his flag. During this latter ceremony, one of his guns burst, killing four of his men — the first blood shed during the whole affair. When Major Anderson arrived among his friends in the North, he was greatly lionized, and cried up as a “martyr” by fanatics; and, on the plea of sickness, he used his leave to travel round the country, feasting and speech-making. He was promoted to the rank of Brigadier-General, and appointed to command the forces then gathering in Kentucky for the Western campaign; but he unexpectedly resigned, averring that the fatigues and hardships endured at Fort Sumter had ruined his constitution. In truth, he was not willing to jeopardize his easily acquired reputation, by commanding men in whom he had little confidence, and in a cause he thoroughly despised.

2 The English “hurrah” is not heard in the Southern armies, but a yell not unlike that of the Indians when rushing to the charge.

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