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Chapter 11: on to Richmond!

  • A typical Southron
  • -- sentiment in the ranks -- glimpse of the new Capital -- the Inflowing caravans -- hotels and boarding-houses -- city and surroundings -- a southern poet -- a warning in Statuary -- Hollywood Cemetery -- the Tredegar works -- their importance in the war -- ‘T‘ other Consarn!
    Of course, Petersburg was reached two hours after the train for Richmond had left, but in full time to get half a cold breakfast, at double price. For, about the first development one noted in the South was the growth of an inordinate greed in the class who had anything to sell, or to do, that was supposed to be indispensable. The small hotels and taverns along the railways peculiarly evidenced this; for, demands of passengers must be supplied, and this was the moment for harvest full and fat. Disgust, wetting, gin and detention had made me feel wolfish; but I wanted none of that breakfast. Still, I gave the baldheaded man, with nose like a vulturecollect-ing nimbly the dollars of the soldiers — a very decided expression of my opinion. He seemed deeply pained thereat; but no one ever mentioned that he had put down the price.

    At the depot was Frank C., an old chum of Washington “ger-. mans,” in the new dress of first sergeant of a Georgia battery. He was rushing a carload of company property to Richmond, and was as eager as I and the Crescents to get to that goal. So, between us, the railroad superintendent was badgered into an extra engine; and, mounting Frank's triumphal car, we bumped away from fellow travelers, wandering dolefully through the mud in vain attempt at timekilling until the evening train. That freight-car-piled as it was with ammunition, wheels and harness — was a Godsend, after the past three days. Cicero, Frank's ancient and black Man Friday, dispensed hot coffee and huge hunks of bread and ham; and a violin and two good voices among the Crescents made the time skim along far faster than since starting.

    “How is it you haven't your commission?” one of the Creoles asked the Georgian. “When we parted at Montgomery it was promised you.”

    “Pledges are not commissions, though,” was the careless reply. “I got tired of waiting the Secretary's caprices, when there was real [85] work to be done; so one day I went to the War Department and demanded either my sheepskin, or a positive refusal. I got only more promises; so I told the Sec. I needed no charity from the government, but would present it with a company! Then, to be as good as my word, I sold some cotton and some stock, equipped this company and--voila tout!”

    “But you are not commanding your company?”

    “Couldn't do it, you see. Wouldn't let the boys elect me an officer and have the Sec. think I had bought my commission! But, old fellow, I'll win it before the month is out; and, if God spares me, mother shall call her boy Colonel Frank, before Christmas!”

    Poor Frank! Before the hoped — for day his bones were bleaching in front of Fort Magruder. One morning the retreat from Yorktown — a pitiful roadside skirmish — a bullet in his brain-and the tramp of McClellan's advancing hosts packed the fresh sods over his grave, heroes monumentum! He was one of many, but no truer heart or readier hand were stilled in all the war.

    Passing out of the cut through the high bluff, just across the “Jeems” river bridge, Richmond burst beautifully into view; spreading panorama-like over her swelling hills, with the evening sun gilding simple houses and towering spires alike into a glory. The city follows the curve of the river, seated on amphitheatric hills, retreating from its banks; fringes of dense woods shading their slopes, or making blue background against the sky. No city of the South has grander or more picturesque approach; and now — as the slant rays of the sun kissed her a loving good-night-nothing in the view hinted of war to come, but all of holy peace.

    Just here the James narrows its bed between high banks, and for some three miles--from Hollywood cemetery down to “Rockett's” landing — the shallow current dashes over its rocky bed with the force and chafe of a mountain torrent; now swirling, churned into foamy rapids, again gliding swiftly smooth around larger patches of islands that dot its surface. On the right hand hills, behind us, rises the suburb village of Manchester, already of considerable importance as a milling town; and the whole coup d'xeil-from the shining heights of Chimborazo to the green slopes of the city of the silent, the grim, gray old capitol as a centerpiece-makes a Claud landscape that admits no thought of the bloody future! [86]

    The railroad bridge-then a frail, giddy structure, wide enough for a track and footway-spans near a mile across the boiling current. From the car-platform, the treetops far below and the rugged, foam-crowned rocks look inhospitably distant. I have whirled round the high trestles on the Baltimore & Ohio when the work swayed and rattled under the heavy train, threatening each moment to hurl us down the precipitous mountain into the black, rocky bed of the Cheat, hundreds of feet below; have dashed at speed round steep grades hewn in the solid rock, where the sharp, jagged peaks rose a thousand feet beneath us; and I have raced in pitchy nights on the western rivers in tinder-box boats, that seemed shaking to pieces away from their red-hot furnaces; but I do not recall any piece of travel that gave the same sense of the instability of railroad affairs as that James river bridge.

    The city was thoroughly jammed-its ordinary population of forty thousand swelled to three times that number by the sudden pressure. Of course, all the Government, with its thousand employs, had come on; and in addition, all the loose population along the railroad over which it had passed seemed to have clung to and been rolled into Richmond with it. Not only did this mania seize the wealthier and well-to-do classes, but the queerest costumes of the inland corners of Georgia and Tennessee disported themselves with perfect composure at hotels and on the streets. Besides, from ten to fifteen thousand troops were always collected, as a general rendezvous, before assignment to one of the important points-Norfolk, the Peninsula, or the Potomac lines. Although these were in camp out of town, their officers and men thronged the streets from daylight to dark, on business or pleasure bent; and the variety of uniforms — from the butternut of the Georgia private to the three stars of the flash colonel-broke the monotony of the streets pleasingly to the eye.

    Hotel accommodations in Richmond were always small and plain, and now they were all overflowing. The Spotswood, Exchange and American held beds at a high premium in the parlors, halls and even on the billiard-tables. All the lesser houses were equally packed, and crowds of guests stood hungrily round the dining-room doors at meal-times, watching and scrambling for vacated seats. It was a clear case of “devil take the hindmost,” for their cuisine decreased in quantity and quality in exact ratio to augmentation of their custom. [87] The Richmond hotels, always mediocre, were now wretched. Such a thing as a clean room, a hot steak, or an answered bell were not to be bought by flagrant bribery. I would fain believe that all concerned did their best; but rapid influx absolutely overwhelmed them; and resources of the neighboring country-ample to support one-third the numbers now collected — were quickly exhausted under suddenly tripled demand. No transportation for private supplies was available in the overtaxed condition of the railroads; so the strangers, perforce, had to “grin and bear it,” dry soever as the grin might be. Private boarding-houses sprang up like mushrooms on every block; bereaved relicts and ambitious spinsterhood equally clutching the chance to turn an honest penny. And naturally, ordinary trials of boarding-house life were aggravated by circumstance. Discomfort of the hotels was great enough; but, dessicated into the boarding-house can, it became simply unendurable. In this strait many private families were induced to open their doors to the better class of strangers; and gradually the whole dense population settled down, wedged into comparative quiet. Happily, my lines fell in these pleasanter places; and, whatever the unavoidable trials, it were base ingratitude in an experimental pilgrim among the mail-bags to indite a new Jeremiad thereon.

    Suites of rooms had been reserved at the Spotswood hotel for the President and some of his Cabinet; so that house naturally became headquarters. Mr. Davis' office, the “Cabinet-room” with the State and Treasury Departments were located in the custom-house; and the other bureaux of the Government were relegated to the “Mechanics' Institute,” an ungainly pile of bricks, formerly used as library and lecture-rooms.

    The State of Virginia, though not at all on pleasure bent in inviting the Government to her capital, had yet been of frugal enough mind not to commence preparations in advance of acceptance; and, the hejira followed so swiftly upon it that we plumped down into their very midst. Miss Bremer — who declared Alexandria entirely finished because she never heard the sound of a hammer-would have been more than amused at Richmond. The great halls of the Institute were cutting up into offices, with deafening clatter, day and night; and one of the Cabinet secretaries — who did not exhibit, if indeed he possessed, that aspiration ascribed to the devil when ill-swore himself almost to a shadow. [88]

    Both these public offices faced upon Capitol Square; a large, ironfenced space, beautifully undulating and with walks winding under grand old trees. On the central hill stood the old State Capitol, picturesque from the river, but grimly dirty on close inspection. It is a plain, quadrangular construction, with Grecian pediment and columns on its south front and broad flights of steps leading to its side porticoes. Below were the halls of the legislature, now turned over to the Confederate States Congress; and in the small rotunda connecting them stood Houdon's celebrated statue of Washington-a simple but majestic figure in marble, ordered by Dr. Franklin from the French sculptor in 1785 of which Virginians are justly proud. In the cool, vaulted basement were the State officials; and above the halls the offices of the governor and the State library. That collection, while lacking many modern works, held some rare and valuable editions. It was presided over by the gentlest and most courteous litterateur of the South. Many a bedeviled and ambitious public man may still recall his quiet, modest aid, in strong contrast to the brusquerie and “insolence of office,” too much the general rule; and his touching, heart-born poems were familiar at every southern hearth and camp-fireside. Soon after, the familiar voice of friendship was dulled to him-exulpatrice-by the boom of the broad Atlantic; and now his bones rest far away from those alcoves and their classic dust.

    John R. Thompson, the editor of the famous “Southern literary Messenger,” went to London to edit “The Index,” established in the never-relinquished hope of influencing European opinion. On reaching New York, when the cause he loved was lost, the staunch friendship of Richard Henry Stoddard and the appreciation of William Cullen Bryant found him congenial work on “The Post.” But the sensitive spirit was broken; a few brief years saw the end, and only a green memory is left to those who loved, even without knowing, the purest southern poet.

    From the roof of the Capitol is had the finest view of Richmond, the surrounding country lying like a map for a radius of twenty miles. Only from this bird's-eye view can a perfect idea be gained of the elevation of the city, perched above a rolling country-its stretches of meadowland below cut by the valley of the James; the river stealing in sluggish, molten silver through it, or heaving up inland into [89] bold, tree-bearded hills, high enough to take the light from the clouds on their tops, as a halo. Far northward alternate swells of light and depressions of shadow among the hills; the far-off horizon making a girdle of purple light, blended into the blue of undefined woods. On clear days, a splendid ozone fills the air at that high perch, the picture having, as far as the eye can travel, stereoscopic clearness.

    Immediately beneath lies the Square; its winding walks, rare old trees and rich sweep of sod filled with children, so full of enjoyment that one is half-minded to drop down and roll over the grass with them. On the central walk, midway between the Capitol and St. Paul's church, stands Crawford's equestrian Washington in bronze, resting upon a circular base and pedestal of plain granite, in which are bases for statues of the mighty Virginians of the past. Only the three southern ones were now occupied; but those figures-Jefferson, Mason and Henry — were accepted as surpassing in merit the central work. The Washington is imposing in size and position, but its art is open to criticism. The horse is exaggeration of pose. and muscle; being equally strained, though not rampant, as that inopportune charger on which Clark Mills perched General Jackson, at the national Capital. Nor is this “first in peace” by any means “the first” on horseback; the figure being theatric rather than dignified, and the extended arm more gymnastic than statuesque.

    An irate senator once told the august body he addressed that it was a warning to them--“pointing straight to the penitentiary!” So, as a whole, the group, if not thoroughly classic, may be admirably useful.

    From Capitol Square, open, wide streets-neatly built up and meeting each other at right angles — stretch away on all sides; an occasional spire or dome, and frequent houses larger than the rest, breaking the monotony. Below, toward the river, lie the basins, docks and rows of warehouses: and further still is the landing, “Rockett's,” the head of river navigation, above which no vessels of any size can come. Just under the Capitol--to the East-stands the governor's house, a plain, substantial mansion of the olden time, embosomed in trees and flower-beds. Further off, in the same line, rise the red and ragged slopes of Church Hill. It takes its name from the old church in which Patrick Henry made his celebrated speech — a structure still in pretty good preservation. And still further away-opposite the [90] vanishing point of the water view — are seen the green tops of Chimborazo Heights and Howard's Grove-hospital sites, whose names have been graven upon the hearts of all southern people by the mordant of sorrow!

    Just across the river, to the South, the white and scattered village of Manchester is prettily relieved against the green slopes on which it sits. There the bridge cuts the shining chafe of the river like a black wire; and just under it, the wind sighs softly in the treetops of Belle Isle, afterward to become so famous in the newspaper annals of the North, as a prison for the Union soldiers captured in the long struggle for the city.

    Far to the west, higher shafts of Hollywood Cemetery gleam among the trees; and the rapids, dancing down in the sunlight, break away into a broader sheet of foam around its point. Except, perhaps, “Bonnie venture” (Buona Ventura), at Savannah, there is no site for a cemetery in the South, naturally so picturesque and at the same time solemn, as this. Rising from comparatively level ground in the rear, it swells and undulates in a series of gentle hills to the river, that embraces it on three sides. Rows of magnificent old trees in many places arch quite across the walk-giving, even at midday, a half-twilight-and the sigh of the river breeze in their tops, mingling with the constant roar of the rapids, seems to sing a Te Deum for the dead. The graves are simple and unpretending-only an occasional column of any prominence rearing itself above the humbler surroundings.

    On a hill-just behind the point where the river curves round the extreme point-rest the ashes of Monroe, enclosed in a large and ornate mausoleum, where they were laid when escorted south by the New York Seventh Regiment. That escort was treated with all the generous hospitality Virginia can so well use; and numerous and deep were the oaths of amity between the citizen-soldiers. Though the Seventh were not notoriously deadly, in the war that followed, only the shortest of memories-or, indeed, the most glowing of patriotism-could have erased the brother-love, then and there bumpered down!

    Under the hills of the cemetery — the dirty, dull canal creeping between them-stand the buildings, dam and powerful pumps of the water service; ordinarily more than adequate for all uses. Usually, [91] the water was pure and clear; but when heavy rains washed the river lands, the “noble Jeems” rushed by with an unsavory and dingy current, that might have shamed the yellow Tiber and rivaled the Nile itself. Sometimes the weary and worn patriot took his whisky and mud, thick enough to demand a fork; and for days

    The water is muddy and dank
    As ever a company pumped.

    The outskirts of Richmond are belted by bold crests, near enough together to form a chain of natural forts. These were now fortifying; the son of wealth, the son of Erin and the son of Ham laboring in perspiration and in peace side by side. Later these forts did good turn, during cavalry raids, when the city was uncovered and the garrison but nominal.

    Gamble's hill, a pretty but steep slope, cuts the river west of the bridge. Rising above its curves, from the Capitol view-point, are the slate-roofed Tredegar Works; their tall chimneys puffing endless black smoke against the sunshine, which reflects it, a livid green, upon the white foam of the rapids. So potent a factor in the aggressive power of the Confederacy was this foundry that it overtopped the regular government agencies. When the war began, this was the only rolling-mill of great capacity, of which the South could boast; the only one, indeed, capable of casting heavy guns. Almost the first decisive act of Virginia was to prevent, by seizure, the delivery to United States officers of some guns cast for them by the Tredegar Works; and, from that day, there were no more earnest and energetic workers for the cause of southern independence than the firm of Jos. R. Anderson & Co. It was said, at this time, that the firm was in financial straits. But it thrived so well on government patronage-spite of sundry boards to consider if army and navy work was not paid for at ruinously low rates — that it greatly increased in size; added to its utility by importations of costly machinery, through the blockade; stood loss of one-third of its buildings, by fire; used a ship of its own for importation; and, at the close of the struggle, was in better condition than at the commencement. The senior partner was, for a time, in the field at head of his brigade; but affairs were so well managed, in the interval, by the Messrs. Tanner-father and son, who were partners with General Anderson--that his absence was not appreciable in the work. [92]

    It was at the Tredegar Works that the famous “Brooke gun” --a rifled 7-inch--was cast, tested and perfected. Here the plates for the iron-clads, in almost all southern waters, were rolled or made ready for use. Here heavy ordnance for the forts was cast, together with shells and shot; and here the torpedoes-sometimes so effective, and usually so useless — were contrived and made. Indeed, the Tredegar Works so greatly aided the Confederacy, that the lengthening of the war may be, in large measure, attributed to their capacity, and to the able zeal with which they were managed.

    So great and effective an agent could not fail to receive, from the Richmond government, every aid in obtainance of supplies, labor and transportation. “The works” had mines, mills and porkpack-eries in various sections of the South; thus obtaining coal and metals, as well as food-at reduced rates, within reach of their wages-for an army of employs. So great was the necessary number of thesewhites, skilled, in labor — that even closest conscription left the junior of the firm a full battalion of infantry. This, drilled and equipped from his own shops, Major Tanner led in person, when raids or other straits made their soldiering paramount to other occupation. Andeven when greatest scarcity of provisions came — the agents of “the Works” proceeded with those of the commissary of the Confederacy, pari passu.

    An odd incident, coming to mind just here, will point the general estimate of the importance of the Tredegar Works. A special train was crossing the bridge, en route for Petersburg, at a time when transportation was rare. A huge negro, blacker than the soot upon his face, sat placidly on the platform of the rear car.

    “What are you doing here?” was asked by the officer in charge.

    “Rid'n‘ t‘ Petesbug,” was the placid reply.

    “Have you paid your fare?”

    “Don‘ got nun t‘ pay, boss. Rides onner pass, I does!”

    “Work for the government?” --this rather impatiently.

    Ebo rolled his eyes, with expression of deep disgust, as he reponded, grandly:

    No-sah! Fur t'uther consarn!

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