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Chapter 10: en route for the border.

  • Decision to move the Capital
  • -- Lax precautions -- the New York Tribune dispatch -- Montgomery murmurs -- troops en route, and their feelings -- the Government on wheels -- Kingsville misnomer -- Profanity and diplomacy -- Grimes' brother-in-law -- with the C. S. Mail-bags.
    Very soon after their state went out of the Union, and it became settled that the policy of the central Government was to take possession of the border states by force, the people of Virginia decided that the battle was to be fought on her soil. Her nearness to Washington, the facility of land communication, and the availabilty of her waterways for transportation purposes, all pointed to this; and the southern Government also became aware that the Potomac boundary of the Confederacy was the one to be most jealously guarded. Under these circumstances, when the tender of the use of the state capital at Richmond was made to the Montgomery Government, the advantages of the move were at once apparent, and the proffer was promptly accepted.

    When we returned to Montgomery, preparations for removal were in such state of progress that the change would be made in a few days. Archives and public property not in daily use had already been sent on, and some of the force of the executive departments were already in the new capital, preparing for the reception of the remainder. Troops in large bodies had already been forwarded to Virginia from all parts of the South, and all indications were that, before the summer was over, an active campaign on the soil of the Old Dominion would be in progress.

    About this time, a telegram from Montgomery appeared in the New York Tribune, which created as much comment at the South as at the North. It stated, in so many words, that the whole South was in motion; that a few days would see Mr. Davis in Virginia at the head of thirty thousand men, Beauregard second in command. With the two sections in a state of open hostility, and with armies already in the field and manoeuvering for position, it was somewhat singular that the avowed correspondent of a northern journal should be allowed in the southern Capital; but, when his dispatches bore on their face some signs of authoritative sanction, it became stranger still. [76]

    The correspondent of the Tribune was a well-known lobby member of years standing, but avowedly a southern man. His intercourse with the leaders of the government was, at least, friendly, and his predictions and assertions in the columns of that newspaper were generally borne out in fact. The state of the country was an anomalous one, but this method of waging war was still more so.

    The history of the dispatch in question was simply this: There had been much jubilation in Montgomery over the news from Virginia. Serenades had been made, speeches delivered, and the invariable whisky had not been neglected.

    Late at night, I was shown a copy of this dispatch, as one about to be sent. On my doubting it, I was credibly informed that it had been shown to at least one cabinet officer, and received his approval. And it went!

    When it was finally settled that the Capital was to be moved to Virginia, the city of Montgomery began to wail. It had all along been utterly and most emphatically opposed to the location of the government there. It would ruin the trade, the morals and the reputation of the town. Dowagers had avowed their belief that the continuance of the Congress there for one year would render the city as perfect a Sodom as Washington-would demoralize the society beyond purification.

    Men of business had grumbled at being disturbed from their fixed routine of many years. But now that the incubus was to be removed, there was a strong pressure to prevent — and bitter denunciations of — the outrage!

    Leaders came out in the papers, advising against the practicability; scathing articles about perfidy sometimes appeared; and it was, on all hands, prophesied that the government would lose caste and dignity, and become a traveling caravan if the change were made. Where will the nations of Europe find it when they send their ministers to recognize the Confederate Government?-was the peroration of these eloquent advocates.

    Now, as there was no contract made or implied, in locating the provisional government at Montgomery, that it was to be the permanent Capital; or that the exigencies of the war might not necessitate a change to some point more available, this was at least unnecessary. True, the people had made sacrifices, and had inconvenienced [77] themselves. But what they had done was for the country, and not for the Government; and had, besides, been done equally elsewhere. And the location, even temporarily, of the Government there had aided the town greatly. It had become the converging point of railroad and contract business for the Confederacy; and the depots and storehouses located there would be of course continued, throwing a vast amount of business activity and money into it. So, though the people might be somewhat morbid on the subject, their arguments against the change were, on the whole, if natural, not founded on fact.

    But, perfectly regardless of the thunders of the press and the growlings of the people, the preparations for removal and the change of base to Virginia went steadily on, By the 20th of May, everything had been completed — the President and Cabinet left Montgomery — the fact, that had for some time been a real one, was formally consummated; and Montgomery became again the Capital of Alabama.

    I had nothing to keep me in town longer, so I started for a leisurely trip to Richmond. But man proposes; and in this instance, the Quartermaster's Department disposed that travel was to be anything but practicable.

    Trains, crowded with troops from all directions, met at the junctions, and there had to lay over for hours, or days. Burden trains, with supplies for the army, munitions of war, or government property from Montgomery, blocked the road in all directions; and trains running “not on time” had to proceed much more carefully than ordinarily. In fact, there was not the amount of transportation at the disposal of the roads that the greatly enhanced demands required; and at every station nearer Richmond, the pressure of passengers and freight became greater.

    Through Georgia I bore the troubles of the transit like a philosopher; but under three detentions between Augusta and Columbia, of from nine to thirteen hours, patience and endurance both gave way.

    South Carolina had gone into the war with her eyes wider open than those of her sisters; and while she had yet time, was straining every nerve to utilize all her available resources and to make new ones. Her factories, tanneries and foundries were all in constant and active operation; she was making bountiful preparation for the future. [78]

    Everywhere in the South was earnest endeavor and heartfelt enthusiasm for the cause; but I saw it nowhere directed into such practical and productive channels, thus early, as in South Carolina. Charleston, Pensacola and Virginia had drained her of younger and more active men; but the older ones and her vast resources of slave labor made up for the loss, and neither time nor energy seemed to be misapplied.

    After a rest, I found a freight train with a philanthropic conductor, and started for Kingsville. Vae Victis!

    I reached that station-what a misnomer!-in a driving mist and a very bad humor. Neither was a fine preparation for the news that a train had smashed seventeen miles above, tearing up the track and effectually blocking the road. The down train, with which we were to connect, could not come through; not a car was visible; no one knew when we could get off, and the engine we had left was just disappearing around a curve-Charlestonward.

    One hopeful individual ventured a mild suggestion that we should have to stay all night. He weighed a hundred and eighty pounds, at least — not a fraction less-so I remained passive; but ten pounds subtracted from his avoirdupois would have brought him a black eye. Stay all night! The idea was an aguel!

    Kingsville was a splendid aggregation of one house and a long platform. The town-i. e., the house-had, even in palmy days, been remarkable on the road for great dirt, wretched breakfasts and worse whisky. You entered at one door, grabbed a biscuit and a piece of bacon and rushed out at the other; or you got an awful decoction of brown sugar and turpentine in a green tumbler. Constant travel and crowds of passing soldiers had not improved it in any particular. The very looks of the place were repugnant enough in the daytime, but

    Bold was he who hither came
    At midnight-man or boy!,

    I felt that a night in the rain under the pines, with my bag for a pillow, would be endurable; but no mortal with a white skin could dare those bloated and odorous feather-beds, where other things-in the shape of mordants, vivacious, active and gigantic-besides

    Wicked dreams abuse the curtained sleeper.

    To mend matters, Gartrell's regiment of Georgians, eight hundred [79] and fifty strong, and three other companies of Georgians from Pensacola, had been left here to meet a way-train, which failing, they bivouacked by the roadside. In all there were over eleven hundred tobacco-and-gin redolences, remarkably quiet for them; shooting at a mark, going through squad drill, drinking bad liquor by the canteen and swearing in a way that would have made the “Army in Flanders” sick with envy.

    In the latter amusement I joined internally; and it did me so much good that I bought the anti-administration newspaper of Charleston and, getting out of bullet range, put my back against a tree and tried to read. Mercury was ever a blithe and sportive god, and his gambols on Mount Olympus were noted in days of yore; but the modern namesake-or else my present position-had soporific tendencies; and fear of the target shooters growing dimmer and dimmer, I lost myself in sleep.

    It was near sundown when I was awakened by the snort of a locomotive, and a freight train hove in sight. The drums rolled, the troops formed in line, each one packing his household on his back as he trotted along; and, as the cars backed up, the men broke ranks and jumped aboard, filling every crack and corner, and seeming to pile on top of each other.

    A berth there was utterly impracticable to any man with any of his senses in active operation. That squirming, dense mass of humanity was more than the oldest traveler could stand, and I gave up my place in the rush. Luckily, there was an express car along, and I found the agent. He was very busy; and eloquence worthy of Gough, or Cicero, or Charles Sumner got no satisfaction. Desperation suggested a masonic signal, with the neck of a black bottle protruding from my bag. The man of parcels melted and invoked terrible torments on the immortal part of him if he didn't let me “g'long wi‘ the ‘spress,” as he styled that means of locomotion.

    The accommodation was not princely-six feet by ten, cumbered with packages of all shapes and sizes and strongly flavored with bacon and pipe. Yet, “not for gold or precious stones” would I have exchanged that redolent corner. The agent waxed more and more polite as the bottle emptied, regretted the want of room, regaled himself with frequent “nips,” and me with anecdotes of a professional nature. [80]

    From him was learned that he was with the train that had carried my old friends, the Zouaves, to their fresh fields of glory in Virginia. They retained a lively recollection of their lesson at Montgomery, and had kept rather quiet till reaching Columbia. There the devil again got unchained among them, and they broke out in a style to make up for their enforced good behavior.

    “ Sich a shooting of cattle and poultry, sich a yelling and singing of ther darned frenchy stuff-sich a rolling of drums and a damning of officers, I ain't hear yit” --said the agent. “And they does ride more on the outside of the cars than the inside, anyhow.”

    Beyond Weldon a knot were balancing themselves on the connecting beams of the box-cars. Warned by their officers, they laughed; begged by the conductors, they swore. Suddenly there was a jolt, the headway of the cars jammed them together, and three red-legged gentlemen were mashed between them-flat as Ravel in the pantomime.

    “And I'm jest a-thinkin‘,” was his peroration, “ef this yere reegement don't stop a-fightin‘ together, being shot by the Georgians and beat by their officers — not to mention a jammin‘ up on railroadsthey're gwine to do darned leetle sarvice a-fightin‘ of Yanks!”

    After this period the agent talked, first to himself and then to the black bottle; while I, seated on a box of cartridges, lit my pipe and went into a reverie as to the treatment the surgeons would use in the pneumonia sure to result from the leaks in the car.

    In the midst of an active course of turpentine and stimulants, I was brought to myself by a jolt and dead halt in mid-road. The engine had blown off a nut, and here we were, dead lame, six miles from a station and no chance of getting on.

    My Express friend advised very quietly to “quit this and walk onter Florence.”

    “‘Taint but a small tramp after all,” he said. “And ye'll jest catch the A. M. up train and miss the sojers. Jest hand this yere to the A. & Co.'s agent, and he'll help yer ef she's crowded. Here's luck!” and he took a long pull at the bottle and handed it backrather regretfully — with a dingy note on the back of an Express receipt.

    For the benefit of literature in ages yet unborn, I give a careful transcription of this document: [81]

    Deer bil this gentilman Is a verry peerticular frend of mine — also My brother-en-law. And you must give him sum Help ef he needs any cos Our engen she's run of the track And I won't be long afore to morrer.

    Yours trewly, Grimes.

    Thus armed, I shouldered my bag and started on my tramp over the wet and slippery track, reaching Florence at gray dawn. As I came in sight, there stood the train, the engines cold and fires unlit. I had full time, but my good luck — the first since I started-put me in a glow, and I stepped out in a juvenile pace that would have done credit to “the Boy” in training days. As I came nearer, my mercury went rapidly down to zero. Every car was jammed, aisles packed and box-cars crowded even on top. The doorways and platforms were filled with long rows of gray blankets that smelt suggestively human! Crowds of detained passengers and three companies of the “Crescent guard” had taken their places at midnight, and slept with a peacefulness perfectly aggravating. As I walked ruefully by the windows, there was no hope! Every seat was filled, and every passenger slept the sleep of the just; and their mixed and volleyed snoring came through,

    Keeping time, time, time,
    In a sort of Runic rhyme.

    There was no sort of use. I'd have to try the Express, and deep was my chuckle as I reread my friend Grimes' remarkable production. It would be an oasis in this desert — that Express car; but lo! when I went to look for it there was none on the train!

    Dead beat I sat on the platform and awaited day. When a fireman began operations on the engine, I meekly queried where the Express was.

    “ Be n't none,” was the surly rejoinder.

    I was wet and tired and generally bewildered. Was it a wonder that I then and there swore at that fireman, as only meek and longsuffering men, when aroused, can swear? The volley was effective, however, and he very politely told me the agent would “be roun‘” before the train started. Presently he pointed out the desired individual, to whom I hastened to hand my note. Now the terrible denunciations my former friend had made on his own soul were as nothing to what the present representative of Adams & Co. called down upon his own and everybody else's immortal function. [82]

    “ Well, I hope to be eternally — by--! But it ain't no use!---- my — soul, ef yer shan't ride somehow!” remarked this profane expressman. “Yer be Hector Grimes' brother, and by--! go yer shell! Yer married his sister Cynthy--the one as squints? Why----me! I knowed her when she wasn't knee high-and yer done---- well, by--! Here, Potty!” and he addressed a greasy man just mounting the mail car-“Here be Grimes' brother, as must git to Weldon, by----! So hist him along, will yer?”

    O. K. Jump in, Mr. Grimes,” agreed the mail agent; and by this time I was so wet and disgusted I didn't care who I was. So in I went, playing Grimes “for this night only.”

    “ Here's luck, Potty! may — me, but I'm glad I met yer, Grimes,” remarked my profane friend, taking a long pull at the bottle I handed him in my gratitude. “Here's to your wife, Grimes!” and the cars starting just then, “deer bil” took another pull and, with great absence of mind, put the bottle in his pocket and waved us adieu.

    The Mail car, like the Express, was a box ten feet by sixone-half the space filled with counter and pigeon-holes, and the other half with mail-bags. Into the remainder were crammed the agentspecific gravity equal to that of two hundred and ninety pounds of feathers — a friend of his and myself. The friend I soon found was what is known as “a good traveling companion;” i. e., a man who keeps himself primed with broad stories and bad whisky, and who doesn't object to a song in which the air always runs away with the harmony. After we started I tried to sleep. It was no use. Lying on one mail-bag with another for a pillow, that is liable to be jerked out at any station to the near dislocation of your neck, with a funny man sitting nearly on you, are not sedatives. My bottle was gone, so I drank gin out of the funny man's. I hate gin-but that night I hated everything and tried the similia similibus rule.

    We missed connection at Weldon. Did anybody ever make connection there? We were four hours late, and with much reason had, therefore, to wait five hours more. If Kingsville is cheap and nasty, Weldon is dear and nastier. Such a supper! It was inedible even to a man who had tasted nothing but whisky, gin and peanuts for forty-eight hours. Then the landlord-whose hospitality was only [83] equaled by his patriotism-refused to open his house at train time. We must either stay all night, or not at all — for the house would shut at ten o'clock-just after supper. So a deputation of the Crescents and I waited on him, and after a plain talk concluded to “cuss and quit.” So we clambered into some platform cars that were to go with the train, and, after a sumptuous supper of dried-apple pies and peanuts, slept the sleep of the weary.

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