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Chapter 13:

  • Winter quarters
  • -- Amusements of the men -- cock-fighting, racing, snow-balling, singing clubs, etc. -- I visit Richmond, and see the fortifications of Manassas en route -- affectation of military rank at the capital -- gaiety of the place -- Solons out of place -- much wisdom thrown-away -- scarcity and high Price of provisions -- commodores Lynch and Hollins -- Major -- General Pryor.

For the next two weeks scarcely any sound was heard but that of axe-men engaged in felling trees; and within a very short time we were all well housed in log-huts, covered with layers of straw and mud. The fire-places being large, admitted “sticks” of wood four feet long; and sometimes ten logs of this length constituted a fire. Some bought stoves to cook on, and built additional dwellings for their servants; but within the fortnight all were comfortably provided for. Our commanders occupied some princely residences owned by Union men in Maryland, who had been large lottery-dealers, and possessed of immense wealth. The various regiments were placed on the east side of the forts, ready to occupy them within five minutes notice.

Amusements of all kinds were soon introduced, but chiefly cock-fighting, as in summer. Men were sent out in all directions to buy up game fowl; and shortly there rose up a young generation of “trainers,” versed in every point of the game, and of undisputed authority in the settlement of a quarrel. These, for the most part, were gentlemen from the Emerald Isle, not a few of whom were in every regiment in the service. In the matches, regiment fought against regiment, and company against company, for stakes varying from five dollars to two thousand dollars a side; and such was the mania for “roosters” that the camps sounded like a poultry show, or a mammoth farmyard. “Snow-balling” was also a favorite pastime with the Southerners, and, together with skating and sledging, much delighted them; the majority had never seen Snow or ice, [113] except when the latter was used with “sherry-cobblers,” “whisky-skins,” “cocktails,” etc.

I was 10th to leave the brigade; but service called me to Richmond. So, having partaken of all the enjoyments of “singing clubs,” “negro minstrels,” “debating clubs,” and the like, I departed for Manassas by a quartermaster's wagon, and soon arrived at Centreville. The outposts and guards at the latter place were extremely vigilant — annoyingly so, I thought; and for the slightest irregularity in our “passes” and papers, would have sent us back to Leesburgh. Fortifications of immense strength and extent arose on every hand, and were all well mounted. Though I could not comprehend the half of what fell under my notice, I felt strongly impressed that no army in the world could capture the place by an assault in front or flank. For miles these earthworks could be seen stretching through the country; and I counted not less than five hundred heavy pieces, without numbering them all.

The troops were comfortably quartered in well-built frame-houses, placed in lines of streets, with parade-grounds in front; sinks, gutters, and other sanitary arrangements seemed complete. The care and forethought displayed by our generals for the comfort, health, and convenience of the men surprised and delighted me: large bakeries, wash-houses, infirmaries, blacksmiths' shops, numerous sutlers' establishments, (where no liquors were sold,) chapels, parade and drill-grounds, headquarters, chiefs of departments, immense stables, warehouses and State depots-even a railroad connecting the place with Centreville to facilitate communication and send supplies.

The only drawback here-and this was sufficient. to mar the whole — was the incredible quantity and tenacity of the mud. Locomotion in rainy or damp weather baffles all description; and to say that I have seen whole wagon-trains fast in the road, with mud up to the axles, would afford but a faint idea of the reality. If timber had been plentiful, the roads might have been “corduroyed,” according to the Yankee plan, namely, of piling logs across the road, filling the interstices with small limbs, and covering with mud; but timber was not to be procured for such a purpose; what little there might be was economically served out for fuel. [114] On arriving at Richmond a wonderful contrast to the well-disciplined order of Manassas presented itself. The Government offices were quiet and business-like, but no other part of the capital was so. The hotels were crowded to excess, as they always are; and great numbers of officers in expensive uniforms strutted about on “sick leave,” many of whom had never been in the army at all, and after running up bills with all classes of tradesmen, would suddenly depart for parts unknown. The marvel was, that people could be so deceived, for it is no exaggeration to say that every third man was dignified with shoulder-straps, and collectively they far outnumbered all the officers at Manassas! In theatres, bar-rooms, and shops, on horseback or on foot, all wore the insignia of office. Not one was to be found of less rank than captain, and as for colonels-their name was legion! I was measured by a youth for a pair of boots,, and bought some dry-goods of another, one morning; in the evening I saw both of them playing at billiards at the “Spottswood,” dressed out in bran-new uniforms, with insignia belonging to the rank of major! This was sufficient explanation; and it did not at all surprise me afterwards to hear that nearly all the thousand and one gambling hells were kept by captains, majors, and colonels. General Winder, the provost-marshal, subsequently made it a punishable offence for any to assume uniforms except soldiers. The change was sudden. and ludicrous in effect.

The floating population of Richmond was made up of the strangest elements. Some came to see friends, others with wonderful inventions or suggestions for Government. Not a few were impressed with an idea that the Cabinet needed their advice and counsel ; but the majority of these strangers came with the modest determination to offer their services at large salaries, pretending that if they were not accepted for this or that office, some State or other would feel humbled, perhaps secede from the Confederacy, and I know not what. It was laughable indeed to hear the self-sacrificing Solons holding forth in bar-rooms or in private. Their ideas of all things military were decidedly rich, and would have astonished poor Johnston or Beauregard, who were put down as mere schoolboys beside them. General Washington Dobbs, who had been [115] engaged all his life in the leather business somewhere in Georgia, had come up to proffer his valuable services as brigadier; but being unsuccessful, his patriotism and indignation electrified the whole private family where he boarded. Colonel Madison Warren, some poor relation of the English blacking-maker, had lived in some out-of-the-way swamp in the Carolinas; he came to Richmond to have a private talk with the President, to let him know what he thought about General McClellan and old Scott. Not getting an audience, he offered himself for the vacancy of quartermaster-general, and not being accepted, was sure that Jefferson Davis was a despot, and that the Southern Confederacy was fast going to the devil.

Smith had a self-loading, self-priming field-piece, that would fire a hundred times a minute, and never miss. Each gun would only weigh twenty tons, and cost ten thousand dollars. He had asked a commission to make a thousand of them only, was willing to give Government the patent right gratis; and they would not listen to him! How could the South succeed when neglecting such men as Smith.? Jones was another type of a numerous class of patriots. Tracts were necessary food for the soldiers. He (Jones) “only” wanted the Government to start a large Bible and Tract house, give him the control of it, and he would guarantee to print as many as were needed, and sell them as cheaply as any body else, considering the high price of every thing. Jones, like a thousand others, did not succeed with any of the departments, and after being jammed and pushed about in the various lobbies and staircases for a whole month, arrived at the conclusion that the Confederate Government was not “sound” on the Bible question, and, therefore, ought not to be trusted in this enlightened and gospel-preaching age I When the high price of every necessary is considered, it appears strange that the city should be so crowded. Boarding averaged from two dollars to five dollars per day at the .hotels, and not less than ten dollars per week in any family. Boots were thirty-five dollars per pair; a suit of clothes (civil) one hundred and seventy-five dollars; military, two hundred dollars, or more; whiskey (very inferior) five dollars per quart; other liquors and wines in proportion; smoking tobacco, one dollar and fifty cents per pound; socks, one dollar per pair; shoes, [116] eighteen dollars to twenty-five dollars; hair-cutting and shaving, one dollar; bath, fifty cents; cigars (inferior) four for one dollar, etc. The city, however, knew no interruption to the stream of its floating population, and balls, parties, and theatres, made a merry world of it; and Frenchmen say, it was Paris in miniature. Four in the afternoon was grand promenade hour; and, in fine weather, the small park and principal streets were crowded. Military and naval officers would sun themselves on balconies, or stretch their limbs elegantly at hotel-doors. Here it was that I first saw Commodore Lynch (late U. S. N.) of “Dead sea” notoriety in literature, and Commodore Hollins, the “hero” (?) of Greytown.

The first-named was a small, quiet, Jewish-looking man of about fifty; thin, sallow complexion, and curly black hair, small black eyes, and very meek in appearance; wearing a cloak, like a man of economical habits and limited means. No one would take him for the “Tartar” which he undoubtedly is, when aroused; he is indefatigable in all that pertains to naval affairs. Hollins is about five feet six inches, broad-shouldered and stout, grey hair, whiskers, and moustaches, full face, a fine forehead, a lively blue eye, slow and solemn in deportment and conversation. He always seems to be walking on the quarter-deck, with his eye on the shrouds. No one would take him to be a person of much energy, ashore, but every movement betrayed that his proper station was that of commander of a seventy-four. He wore a plain dark grey suit and cap trimmed with a gold band, on which was prominent the anchor and cables — in such a costume he looked more like an old major of foot than any thing else.

Hollins's son and myself were soon fast friends; and through him I became acquainted with many persons, who have since become distinguished in the war. Roger Pryor, a Virginian and brigadier, was formerly Congressman from Virginia, and distinguished himself in the halls of legislation more by his combativeness than eloquence; more than once he challenged the Northerners who were disrespectful in their language towards the South. He is a young man, rather thin and tall, with a feminine face, delicate moustaches, and long black hair. He is veritably one of the “fire-eaters,” and with a brigade of [117] Mississippians once under his command, and lately of Louisianians, he has made his name famous. Major-General Magruder is about forty years of age, thick-set, voluptuous in appearance, very dressy and dandified, “showy” in his style and bearing, and nearly always mounted. He was an artillery officer in Mexico, under Scott, and gained an enviable name for efficiency in that branch, as also in engineering. He looks like a man too much given to dissipation, and is incapable of planning a battle, although very vigorous in fighting one. If appointed to fortify a place, there is no man on the continent that could do it better. He commanded the small Confederate force that defeated Butler in the engagement at Little Bethel, and was ably assisted by Colonel D. H. Hill, now a General, commanding at Leesburgh. When the war commenced, Magruder was registered on the U. S. army roll, “Captain company I, first artillery.” I saw dozens of other generals, since known to fame, and conversed with many, but defer speaking of them until their names occur as prominent actors on the stage of events.

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