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Chapter 4: “the Awakening of the Lion.”

  • Sumter's effect on public feeling
  • -- would there be a long war — or any? -- organizing an army -- the will of the people -- how women worked -- the camps a novel show -- Mr. Davis handles Congress -- his energy and industry -- society and the strangers -- joy over Virginia's secession.
    When tidings came of the fall of Fort Sumter, there was wild rejoicing throughout the South and it culminated at her Capital. All the great, and many of the little men of the Government were serenaded by bands of the most patriotic musical persuasion. Bonfires blazed in every street and, by their red glare, crowds met and exchanged congratulations, amid the wildest enthusiasm; while the beverage dear to the cis-Atlantic heart was poured out in libations wonderful to see!

    One-half of the country thought that this victory of a few untrained gunners would prevent further progress of the war; that the Federal Government, seeing how determined was the stand the South had taken-how ready she was to defend her principles-would recede and grant the concessions demanded. The other half felt: that, however fair an augury for the future the great and bloodless victory might be-and it will be recollected that the only loss was the death of a few United States soldiers, in the salute Beauregard permitted them to give their flag — the real tug of the struggle was not yet commenced; that the whole power of a government, never yet overstrained, or even fully tested, would be hurled on the new confederation, to crush ere it could concentrate its strength.

    The Confederate Government was on the side of this opinion; and now, for the first time, preparations for war began in earnest. Though the people of Montgomery still murmured, as they had done from the beginning, at the influx of corrupting social influences from Sodom on the Potomac, and still held the hordes of unintroduced strangers aloof from their firesides, they continued most strenuous exertions and made most selfless sacrifices to serve the beloved cause. Storehouses were freely offered for the public use; and merchants moved from their places of business, on shortest notice, to turn them over to the Government. [37]

    A great, red brick pile, originally built for warehouses and counting-rooms, had early been converted into public offices and popularly named the “Government House.” Here the departments were all crowded together; and now, under the pressure of close necessity, the War office was organized into bureaux, at the heads of which were placed the most competent officers of the old service at the disposal of the Executive. Bureaux of Adjutant-General, Ordnance, Engineers and Medicine were soon put in as perfect a state as the condition of the South allowed; and their respective chiefs were tireless in endeavor to collect the very best assistants and material, in their various branches, from every quarter.

    Commissioners were sent to all the states that had not already joined the Confederacy, to urge them to speedy action; and the dispatches they sent back were so full of cheer, that day after day a salute of cannon from the street in front of the Government House announced to the roused Montgomerans that another ally had enlisted under the flag; or, that a fresh levy of troops, from some unexpected quarter, had been voted to the cause.

    Officers, carefully selected from those who left the United States Army, or who had received military education elsewhere, were promptly sent to all points in the South, to urge and hasten the organization of troops; to forward those already raised to points where they might be most needed; and to establish recruiting stations and camps of instruction. The captured arsenals were put in working order, new ones were started, depots for clothes, ordnance and medicines were prepared; and from one boundary of the Confederacy to the other, the hum of preparation told that the leaders of the nation had at last awakened to its real demands.

    The mass of the people-who, from the first, had been willing and anxious, but doubtful what to do-now sprang to their places; moneyed men made large and generous donations of cash; the banks offered loans of any amount, on most liberal terms; planters from every section made proffers of provisions and stock, in any quantities needed; and the managers of all the railroads in the South held a convention at Montgomery and proffered the use of their roads to the Government; volunteering to charge only half-rates, and to receive payment in the bonds of the Confederate States.

    Especially did the women go heart and soul into the work; urging [38] the laggards, encouraging the zealous, and laboring with sacrificial zeal upon rough uniforms for the most unprepared of the new troops.

    The best blood of the South went cheerfully into the ranks, as the post of honor; and the new regiments endeavored to be perfectly impartial in selecting the best men for their officers, irrespective of any other claim. That they failed signally in their object was the fault, not of their intention, but of human nature in many cases-of circumstance in all.

    At this time the plan of filling up the regular army was abandoned. Officers coming from the United States service were, by law, entitled to at least as high rank in it as they had there held; but volunteers were asked for and accepted by companies, or regiments, with the privilege of choosing their own leaders; and these regulars were only given commands where vacancies, or the exigencies of the service, seemed to demand it imperatively.

    Every hour of the day could be heard the tap of the drum, as the new troops from depot, or steamer, marched through the town to their camps in the suburbs; or as the better drilled volunteer companies passed through to Pensacola, where Brigadier-General Braxton Bragg already had a considerable force. And toward that point every eye was strained as the next great theater of action.

    All day long the churches were open, and crowds of ladies, from town and country, assembled in them and sewed on the tough, ungainly pants and jackets; while their negro maids, collected on the porches, or under the trees, worked as steadily as their mistresses, many a ringing guffaw and not unmusical song rising above them.

    Great numbers of the interested and the curious visited the camps, carrying substantial tokens of sympathy for the cause and its defenders in the shape of hams, loaves and sometimes bottles. Nor was such testimony often irrelevant; for as yet the quartermaster and commissary-those much-erring and more-cursed adjuncts to all armies — were not fully aware of what they were to do, or how to do it, even with the means therefor provided. But the South was at last awake! And again the popular voice averred that it was not Congress, or Cabinet; that the President alone was the motive power; that his strong hand had grasped the chaos and reduced it to something like order. Rapidly one needful and pointed law after another [39] emanated from Congress; and what had been a confused mass of weak resolves assumed shape as clear and legible statutes. It was generally said that Mr. Davis had reduced Congress to a pliable texture that his iron fingers could twist at will into any form they pleased. Newspaper correspondents wrote strange stories of the length to which that dignified body allowed him to carry his prerogative. They declared that frequently, the framing of a bill not suiting him, it was simply returned by his private secretary, with. verbal instructions as to emendations and corrections, which were obediently carried out.

    Some even went to the length of asserting that, before any bill of importance was framed, a rough draft was sent down from the President's office and simply put into form and voted a law by the ductile legislators.

    However much of this one may allow for exaggeration of “our correspondent,” it is certain that Mr. Davis was the heart and brains of the government; and his popularity with the people was, at this time, unbounded. They were perfectly content to think that the government was in the hollow of his hand; and pronounced any of his measures good before they were tried. His energy, too, was untiring; and it was wonderful to look on the frail body and believe that it endured the terrible physical and mental strain he imposed upon it.

    At this time the President and his family, having left their temporary quarters at the hotel, were living at a plain mansion provided for, them, but a few steps from the Government House. In the latter building were the executive office and the Cabinet room, connected by an always open door; and in one or the other of these Mr. Davis spent some fifteen hours out of every twenty-four. Here he received the thousands of visitors whom curiosity, or business, brought; consulted with his secretaries, revised bills, or framed new projects for strengthening the defenses of the open and wide frontier. It was said that he managed the War Department, in all its various details, in addition to other manifold labors; finding time not only to give it a general supervision, but to go into all the minutiae of the working of its bureaux, the choice of all its officers, or agents, and the very disbursement of its appropriations.

    His habits were as simple as laborious. He rose early, worked [40] at home until breakfast, then to a long and wearing day at the Government House. Often, long after midnight, the red glow from his office lamp, shining over the mock-orange hedge in front of his dwelling, told of unremitting strain. Thus early in the drama, Mr. Benjamin had become one of its leading actors; having more real weight and influence with Mr. Davis than any, or all, of his other advisers. The President did not believe there was “safety in a multitude of counsellors;” and he certainly chose the subtlest, if not the safest, head of the half-dozen to aid him. With Mr. Mallory, too, he seemed on very friendly and confidential terms. These two he met as friends and advisers; but beside them, the Cabinet — as such-had scarcely a practical existence. Mr. Davis very naturally considered that the War Department had become the government, and he managed it accordingly. The secretaries were, of course, useful to arrange matters formally in their respective branches; but they had scarcely higher duties left them than those of their clerks; while Congress remained a formal body to pass bills and ratify acts, the inspiration for which it derived from the clearest and coolest brain in the South.

    The crisis had called in plain terms that it was time for the leading spirit of the revolution to take its management; and he had risen to the occasion and faced the responsibilities, before which the chosen of the new nation had hitherto cowered.

    And naturally, under the iron hand, things began to work more smoothly than they had under the King-Log reign of a few weeks previous; and the country felt the change from the Potomac to the Gulf. True, politicians still grumbled, but less loudly; for even they found something to do, where everybody began to be busy. The great crowd that at first collected had thinned greatly, from assignments to duty in divers quarters; and that portion of it left in Montgomery began to settle into a regular routine.

    The ladies of the executive mansion held occasional receptions, after the Washington custom, at which were collected the most brilliant, the most gallant and most honored of the South. But the citizens still held aloof from general connection with the alien crowd. They could not get rid of their idea that Sodom had come to be imposed on them; and to their prejudiced nostrils there was an odor of sulphur in everything that savored of Washington society. And yet, while they grumbled-these older people of Montgomery-they [41] wrought, heart and soul for the cause; yielded their warerooms for government use, contributed freely in money and stores, let their wives and daughters work on the soldiers' clothing like seamstresses, and put their first-born into the ranks, musket on shoulder.

    Early on the morning of the 18th of April, a salute of seven guns rang out from the street before the public building. The telegraph had brought the most welcome news that, on the evening before, Virginia had passed the ordinance of secession.

    Wild was the rejoicing at the southern Capital that day!

    The Old Dominion had long and sedately debated the question; had carefully considered the principles involved and canvassed the pros and cons, heedless alike of jeers from without and hot-headed counsels within her borders.

    She had trembled long in the balance so tenderly adjusted, that the straining eyes of the South could form no notion how it would lean; but now she turned deliberately and poured the vast wealth of her influence, of her mineral stores and her stalwart and chivalric sons into the lap of the Confederacy.

    The victory of the week before paled before this; and men looked at each other with a hope in their eyes that spoke more than the braying of a thousand bands.

    And the triumph was a double one; for great as was the accession to the South in boundary, in men and means, greater far was the blow to the Union, when its eldest and most honored daughter divorced herself from the parent hearth and told the world, that looked on with deep suspense, that the cause of her sisters must in future be her own!

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