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Chapter 2:

  • Despatch of troops
  • -- State of Southern arsenals and stores -- Practices of the Jews -- troops ordered to Virginia -- Rejoicings in the camp -- Hospitalities on the road -- patriotism of the women -- Northern sympathies in east -- Tennessee -- camp at Lynchburgh -- by rail to Manassas station.

April having passed, and the intentions of General Scott not being as yet developed, it was conjectured that operations might commence simultaneously at different points. Troops were therefore sent to Union City, (Kentucky,) near Cairo, on the Mississippi, and to Columbus, (Kentucky,) on the same river; the latter place being the last station of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, and of great importance in many ways. Troops were also hurriedly despatched to Western Virginia, but not in large bodies. Indeed, our infant Government seemed overwhelmed with care and anxiety to meet the storm that was rapidly approaching, and could scarcely attend to the wants of her little army. It is true the various State arsenals contained more arms than were necessary for the seventy-five thousand men called upon-thanks to the statesmanlike foresight of our leaders, and the cooperation of Governor Floyd, ex-Minister of War under Buchanan-yet their quality and effectiveness were very indifferent indeed, while the ammunition found at hand on the outbreak proved to have been made up of the very worst description of powder; so much so, that after the second discharge our muskets were so dirty as to become almost unserviceable.

The quartermaster's and commissary departments, also, were in great confusion, and the service far from efficient. Although the country abounded in corn-meal, bacon, flour, etc., it was evident our stores could not last for ever, as the two last-named articles were chiefly (and perhaps solely) to be found North. We were rich in cotton, sugar, tobacco, rice, hemp, etc., but these were not commissary stores, or absolute necessaries, and as we did not produce any other, and were not in any sense a manufacturing [15] people, we found the whole North ridiculing us and our preparations for conquering our independence. Indeed, their common taunt was, “How can you live without us? Why, we will starve you into submission.” At the outset, however, President Davis and his military advisers had foreseen, and provided for, many of our most needful supplies : with funds immediately furnished by private negotiation, they had bought up many millions of various rations in Northern markets, while merchants by the thousand quietly proceeded up the country and procured immense supplies of merchandise and wares, before the North had arrived at any distinct idea of our determination to be free, and of the certainty of warfare. The Israelites, as usual, far surpassed the Gentiles in shrewdness at this auspicious moment, and laid in stocks (procured on credit) which, in almost every instance, were retailed at rates from five hundred to one thousand per cent above ordinary prices; cash being always exacted. Many of these gentry proved unscrupulous knaves during. the war; for having husbanded their goods for one or two years, and converted them into coin, if they did not decamp from the Confederacy altogether, they found a thousand and one excuses for not bearing arms for the country that had enriched them, and in which perchance they had been born. This is true of Hollanders generally, and of Dutch Jews almost universally.

It becoming apparent that General Scott's main line of advance and attack would be from Washington towards the Confederate capital of Richmond, the majority of our forces were directed to a point mid-way between both places. From our camp ground we daily saw trains passing onwards to Richmond, the locomotives and cars being decked with flags and banners, while on the top of the cars bands of music might be seen, and crowds of soldiers shouting and yelling to us as they passed swiftly onward. The Washington artillery (four companies) from New-Orleans had gone the day before, and we almost envied them their trip to Richmond. We were much afraid the War Department would order us to Union City; but one evening as we sat chatting round our camp fires, the agreeable order was given-“Strike tents! Pack up for Virginia, boys!”

Such rejoicing, such confusion, such hilarity, and obstreperous behavior as characterized our camps on the reception of [16] this news, can scarcely be imagined. Some joined hands and capered round their camp-fires in an Indian war-dance; pots were turned over, and immense bonfires made of straw and wood, while yells and howls rent the air, so that the drums and bugles at tattoo could be scarcely heard in the. unearthly din. Regiments on the hills, in. the woods, in the plain, and from every direction, caught up the shout, and for one full hour the whole scene far and wide was naught but noisy merriment and excitement. The ceremony of “roll-call” that night was certainly a ridiculous farce: the “orderly” was laughed at, and coughed at; a general buzz and suppressed laughter ran along the whole company line, and the usual calls for “Smith John, Jones James,” were received with derisive cheers, as if it were possible any one could be absent on so momentous and joyful an occasion.

Tents were soon struck, “four days rations” were quickly cooked, and all the camp equipage expeditiously packed and carried down to the railroad station and properly guarded. Many journeys were necessary to transfer all our extra baggage to the depot, and from the alacrity of the men in proffering their services to carry things, and the cloudy, mystified appearance of those who had been detailed for that duty all the evening, our officers suspected that some strange barrel had been tapped by them in their frequent journeys to and fro. The incoherent answers of the men, and the long absence of the sergeant and his guard, caused a scout to be sent out, who reported that the sergeant and his, squad were dancing in a bar-room, all of them in a blissful state of intoxication. A corporal's guard was sent to arrest them, but the tipsy sergeant challenged the corporal to play the violin, and in less than half an hour the fourth corporal and his guard were no better than their comrades, and commenced dancing like so many madmen. When discovered, the corporal was found seated upon an empty whisky-barrel, playing the fiddle, while all hands were industriously kicking their heels in a cotillion. They were of course marched back to camp under escort.

To prevent intoxication, the greatest precaution had been taken by our officers: no person was allowed to sell or give liquor to the men; but as Southerners usually drink in excess compared with other people, every artifice was resorted to by the [17] men to obtain it; as much as five dollars (l) being freely given for a pint of liquor. But as all had to go to the well, and as guards were not over exact on an occasion like this, the men easily stole through the “lines,” filled their canteens at some out-of-the-way “doggery,” 1 and before morning broke, nearly every man was amply provided for his journey.

With a full head of steam on, and with the Stars and Bars floating on the front of the engine, we gave one long and unearthly yell as we passed our old camping ground, and at the rate of twenty-five miles an hour, dashed along the road to Virginia in gallant style, the band playing “Dixie,” and other tunes peculiar to the times. Four trains followed ours, keeping in sight all day; and as we progressed farther on our journey, we overtook other trains, similarly freighted, and bound for the same destination.

At every town, the cars were received with much rejoicing; the ladies being foremost in the expression of their patriotism and fervor for the cause in which we were all embarked. Military companies were frequently drawn up at the d6p6t; the men vexed beyond expression, because they had not, like us, received “marching orders.” Collations were prepared for us on every hand, and if the train stopped but for a few minutes to replenish fuel or water, milk, buttermilk, boiled eggs, ham, bread, cooked vegetables, cakes, pastry, and a thousand et ceteras, were lavishly bestowed upon us, while the old ladies would wave handkerchiefs, and shout: “God bless you, boys. Teach them how Southerners can fight; be men, and never give up.” Such patriotism as the women displayed is certainly beyond all description; they seemed to give all heart and soul to the cause: where men would smile or look serious, mothers and daughters put on their best looks with their holiday attire, and while almost smothering us with bouquets, would cheer us onwards with words of hope and praise, and try to hide the eloquent tear-drops glistening in their eyes. The negroes, too, at the plough, in the cotton fields, or beside their cabin doors, rushed out, hat in hand, mounted the fence, and rolling their eyes in wonder or delight, would shout success to us on our journey.

We travelled to-day hundreds of miles through our own [18] State-to-morrow as great a distance through another-and yet there was always the same feeling displayed; there was no repining, but all rejoicing and hilarity: and, save through a district of a few miles in East-Tennessee, where the inhabitants are proverbially cold, hard-fisted, and of Abolition sentiments, through the influence of a few Northern office-holders, we never heard the slightest whisper of Union sentiment, but, on the contrary, the most intense Southern feeling. Although our men, in passing through the disaffected district, (East-Tennessee,) had frequent opportunities to wreak their vengeance on the persons or dwellings of a few Northern sympathizers, yet not a word or gesture was exhibited by the boys contrary to the behavior of gentlemen; and this, notwithstanding the incontestable evidence they possessed that some few miscreants had meditated our total destruction by obstructions on the rails, and attempts to fire bridges across the streams. At length, on arriving at Lynchburgh, (Virginia,)we thought our travels were at an end, for now we were on the sacred soil of the first rebel (!), the immortal Washington: but still our troubles and annoyances were far from ended. Many troops had arrived before us, and nearly every available spot in and around the city was occupied by forces from nearly every State in the Confederacy. After tedious and harassing marches to and fro, in search of camping grounds, we at last pitched tents outside of the amphitheatre of the Fair Grounds, and commenced to drill, as usual, three times a day. The guards were now so numerous and strict that it was next to an impossibility for any one to elude them, or obtain permission to visit the city, basking in the sunlight at the foot of the hill. The thought of “Lynchburgh tobacco” tempted many to make large investments for the campaign; but in this we committed grave mistakes, for we were compelled to carry every pound of freight we accumulated, and found from experience that tobacco of a far superior quality could be obtained thousands of miles away on the Gulf Coast.

After a few days' stay, we continued our march, and for the first time heard mention of “Manassas,” and “Manassas Gap.” Our quartermasters being inexperienced, we suffered many disappointments before we could leave: train after train started before us, and we had to bivouac around the railroad station as [19] best we could for two nights, waiting for accommodation. At last we got started, and rapidly traversed one of the most beautiful regions in the world: hills and valleys, adorned with picturesque little villages, substantial and elegantly laid out towns, and colleges and schools without number. When night came on we travelled through a flat unbroken country. Seeing no houses for many miles, and supposing we were far from our journey's end, nearly all went to sleep, myself among the number. Feeling cold, I awoke, and looking out of the cattle-cars in which we were stowed, was astonished to learn we had arrived at Manassas station, thirty miles from Washington, and about eighty from Richmond.

I could scarcely believe that this was a great military depot, there being nothing within my range of vision to indicate that such was the fact. The station itself was a low, one-storied building, about seventy-five feet in length, with bales and boxes scattered about; a house of refreshment close by was uninviting, and except one or two small cottages scattered here and there, naught was to be seen. Two or three tents were standing close to the depot, with lights in them; a guard here and there walked his post noiselessly, and in the distance, on neighboring hills, a few smouldering camp-fires were discernible. Only a mound of newly turned earth, here and there, indicated that the spade and shovel had been at work in fortifying, while the muzzles of a few guns in the embrasures pointed up the track towards Washington. A trooper or two would occasionally go jingling past in the direction of a cottage a few hundred yards in advance; and from the lights in windows, and groups seated round camp-fires, in the orchard, I learned that the dwelling was General Beauregard's Headquarters.

1 A low bar-room is so called.

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