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Ix. December, 1861

December 1

The people here begin to murmur at the idea that they are questioned about their loyalty, and often arrested, by Baltimore petty larceny detectives, who, if they were patriotic themselves (as they are all able-bodied men), would be in the army, fighting for the redemption of Maryland.

December 2

Gen. Lee has now been ordered South for the defense of Charleston and Savannah, and those cities are safe! Give a great man a field worthy of his powers, and he can demonstrate the extent of his abilities; but dwarf him in an insignificant position, and the veriest fool will look upon him with contempt. Gen. Lee in the streets here bore the aspect of a discontented man, for he saw that everything was going wrong; but now his eye flashes with zeal and hope. Give him time and opportunity, and he will hurl back the invader from his native land; yes, and he will commend the chalice of invasion to the lips of the North; but not this year — it is too late for that.

December 3

Several members of Congress came into my office and denounced the policy which the government seemed to have adopted of permitting Yankees, and those who sympathize with them, to be continually running over to the enemy with information of our condition, and thus inviting attacks and raids at points where we are utterly defenseless. They seemed surprised when I told them that I not only agreed with them entirely, but [97] that I had really written most of the articles they had read in the press denunciatory of the policy they condemned. I informed them, moreover, that I had long since refused to sign any such passports as they alluded to, at the risk of being removed. They said they believed the President, in his multiplicity of employments, was not aware of the extent of the practice, and the evil effects it was certain to entail on the country; and it was their purpose to wait upon him and remonstrate against the pernicious practice of Mr. Benjamin.

December 4

We are now tasting the bitter fruits of a too indulgent treatment of our enemies. Yesterday Gen. Stuart's cavalry and the 6th Regiment S. C. volunteers met with a bloody disaster at Drainsville. It appears that several of the traitors arrested and sent hither by Gen. Johnston were subsequently discharged by Gen. Winder, under the instructions of Mr. Benjamin, and sent to their homes, in the vicinity of Drainsville, at the expense of the government. These men, with revenge rankling in their breasts, reported to Gen. Stuart that a large amount of forage might be obtained in the vicinity of Drainsville, and that but a few companies of the enemy were in the neighborhood. The general believing these men to be loyal, since they seemed to have the confidence of the War Department, resolved to get the forage; and for that purpose started some 80 wagons early the next morning, escorted by several regiments of infantry and 1000 cavalry, hoping to capture any forces of the enemy in the vicinity. Meantime the Drainsville traitors had returned to their homes the preceding evening, and sent off intelligence to the headquarters of the enemy of the purpose of Gen. Stuart to send out in that direction, early the next day, a foraging party consisting of so many wagons, and small forces of infantry, artillery, and cavalry.

The enemy hastened away to Drainsville an overwhelming force, and ambuscaded the road, where it entered the woods, with artillery and men of all arms. Their line was the shape of a horseshoe, and completely concealed from view.

Gen. Stuart had not entered far into the jaws of this trap, before some of his trusty scouts reported the presence of the enemy. Believing it to be only the pickets of the few companies previously reported, the general advanced still farther; but at the same time ordering the wagons to retire. He was soon undeceived by a [98] simultaneous and concentric fire of artillery and musketry, which brought down many of his men. Nevertheless, he charged through the lines in one or two places, and brought his guns to bear with effect on such portions of the enemy's line as were not wholly protected by the inequalities of the ground and the dense growth of woods. He quickly ascertained, however, that he was contending against vastly superior numbers, and drew off his forces in good order, protecting his wagons. The enemy did not pursue, for Stuart had rather more men than the informers reported to the enemy. But we lost 200 men, while the enemy sustained but little injury; their killed and wounded not exceeding 30.

This is the first serious wound inflicted on the country by Mr. Benjamin's policy.

December 5

The account of the Drainsville massacre was furnished me by an officer of the 6th S. C. Regiment, which suffered severely. The newspaper accounts of the occurrence, upon which, perhaps, the history of this war will be founded, give a different version of the matter. And hence, although not so designed at first, this Diary will furnish more authentic data of many of the events of the war than the grave histories that will be written. Still, I do not aspire to be the Froissart of these interesting times: but intend merely to furnish my children, and such others as may read them, with reliable chronicles of the events passing under my own observation.

December 6

It is rumored to-day, I know not on what authority, that the President mentioned the matter of the Drainsville disaster to the Secretary of War, and intimated that it was attributed to the machinations of the Union men discharged from prison here. It is said Mr. Benjamin denied it-denied that any such men. had been discharged by Gen. Winder, or had been concerned in the affair at all. Of course the President had no alternative but to credit the solemn assertions of his confidential adviser. But my books, and the register of the prisons, would show that the Drainsville prisoners sent hither by Gen. Joseph E. Johnston were discharged by Gen. Winder, and that their expenses home were paid by the government; and officers of unimpeachable veracity are ready to testify that Gen. Stuart was misled by these very men.

December 7

Quite a commotion has been experienced in [99] official circles by the departure of Mr. W. H. B. Custis, late Union member of the Virginia Convention, without obtaining a passport to leave the city. Some of his secession constituents being in the city, reported that they knew it was his purpose to return to the Eastern Shore of Virginia, and avow his adherence to the United States authorities, alleging that he had signed the ordinance of secession under some species of duress, or instruction. Under these representations, it seems Gen. Winder telegraphed to Norfolk, whither it was understood Custis had gone, to have him arrested. This was done; and it is said he had passports from Gen. Huger to cross the Chesapeake Bay. I must doubt this. What right has a military commander to grant such passports?

December 8

I saw Mr. Benjamin to-day, and asked him what disposition he intended to make of Mr. Custis. He was excited, and said with emphasis that he was investigating the case. He seemed offended at the action of Gen. Winder, and thought it was a dangerous exercise of military power to arrest persons of such high standing, without the clearest evidence of guilt. Mr. Custis had signed the ordinance of secession, and that ought to be sufficient evidence of his loyalty.

December 9

Gen. Winder informed me to-day that he had been ordered to release Mr. Custis; and I learned that the Secretary of War had transmitted orders to Gen. Huger to permit him to pass over the bay.

December 10

Nothing new.

December 11

Several of Gen. Winder's detectives came to me with a man named Webster, who, it appears, has been going between Richmond and Baltimore, conveying letters, money, etc. I refused him a passport. He said he could get it from the Secretary himself, but that it was sometimes difficult in gaining access to him. I told him to get it, then; I would give him none.

December 12

More of Gen. Winder's men came with a Mr. Stone, whom they knew and vouched for, and who wanted a passport merely to Norfolk. I asked if it was not his design to go farther. They said yes, but that Gen. Winder would write to Gen. Huger to let him pass by way of Fortress Monroe. I refused, and great indignation was manifested.

December 13

One of the papers has a short account of the application of Stone in its columns this morning. One of the reporters [100] was present at the interview. The article bore pretty severely upon the assumption of power by the military commander of the department. Gen. Winder came in during the day, and denied having promised to procure a passport for Stone from Gen. Huger.

December 14


December 15

The President's private secretary, Capt. Josselyn, was in to-day. He had no news.

December 16

We hear to-day that the loyal men of Kentucky have met in convention and adopted an ordinance of secession and union with our Confederacy.

December 17

Bravo, Col. Edward Johnson! He was attacked by 5000 Yankees on the Alleghany Mountains, and he has beaten them with 1200 men. They say Johnson is an energetic man, and swears like a trooper; and instead of a sword, he goes into battle with a stout cane in his hand, with which he belabors any skulking miscreant found dodging in the hour of danger.

December 18

Men escaped from the Eastern Shore of Virginia report that Mr. Custis had landed there, and remains quiet.

December 19

Judge Perkins came in to-day and denounced in bitter terms the insane policy of granting passports to spies and others to leave the country, when every Northern paper bore testimony that we were betrayed by these people. He asked me how many had been permitted to go North by Mr. Benjamin since the expiration of the time named in the President's proclamation. This I could not answer: but suggested that a resolution of inquiry might elicit the information. He desired me to write such a resolution. I did so, and he departed with it. An hour afterward, I learned it had been passed unanimously.

December 20

A man by the name of Dibble, the identical one I passed on my way to Montgomery last spring, and whom I then thought acted and spoke like a Yankee, is here seeking permission to go North; he says to Halifax. He confesses that he is a Yankee born; but has lived in North Carolina for many years, and has amassed a fortune. He declares the South does not contain a truer Southern man than himself; and he says he is going to the British Provinces to purchase supplies for the Confederacy. He [101] brought me an order from Mr. Benjamin, indorsed on the back of a letter, for a passport. I declined to give it; and he departed in anger, saying the Secretary would grant it. He knew this, for he said the Secretary had promised him one.

December 21

Col. Bledsoe was in to-day. I had not seen him for a long time. He had not been sitting in the office two minutes before he uttered one of his familiar groans. Instantly we were on the old footing again. He said Secretary Benjamin had never treated him as Chief of the Bureau, any more than Walker.

December 22

Dibble has succeeded in obtaining a passport from the Secretary himself.

December 23

Gen. T. J. Jackson has destroyed a principal dam on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. That will give the enemy abundance of trouble. This Gen. Jackson is always doing something to vex the enemy; and I think he is destined to annoy them more.

It is with much apprehension that I see something like a general relaxation of preparation to hurl back the invader. It seems as if the government were waiting for England to do it; and after all, the capture of Slidell and Mason may be the very worst thing that could have happened. Mr. Benjamin, I learn, feels very confident that a rupture between the United States and Great Britain is inevitable. War with England is not to be thought of by Mr. Seward at this juncture, and he will not have it. And we should not rely upon the happening of any such contingency. Some of our officials go so far as to hint that in the event of a war between the United States and Great Britain, and our recognition by the former, it might be good policy for us to stand neutral. The war would certainly be waged on our account, and it would not be consistent with Southern honor and chivalry to retire from the field and leave the friend who interfered in our behalf to fight it out alone. The principal members of our government should possess the highest stamp of character, for never did there exist a purer people.

December 24

I am at work on the resolution passed by Congress. The Secretary sent it to me, with an order to prepare the list of names, and saying that he would explain the grounds upon which they were permitted to depart. I can only give the number registered in this office.


December 25

Mr. Ely, the Yankee member of Congress, who has been in confinement here since the battle of Manassas, has been exchanged for Mr. Faulkner, late Minister to France, who was captured on his return from Europe. Mr. Ely smiled at the brown paper on which I had written his passport. I told him it was Southern manufacture, and although at present in a crude condition, it was in the process of improvement, and that “necessity was the mother of invention.” The necessity imposed on us by the blockade would ultimately redound to our advantage, and might injure the country inflicting it by diminishing its own products. He smiled again, and said he had no doubt we should rise to the dignity of white paper.

December 26

I have been requested by several members of Congress to prepare a bill, establishing a passport office by law. I will attempt it; but it cannot pass, unless it be done in spite of the opposition of the Secretary, who knows how to use his patronage so as to bind members to his interest. He learned that at Washington.

December 27

Notwithstanding the severe strictures, and the resolution of Congress, there is an increase rather than a diminution of the number of persons going North. Some of our officials seem to think the war is over, or that England will do the balance of our fighting!

December 28

The fathers and mothers and sisters of our brave soldiers continue to send their clothing and provisions. They do not relax in the work of independence.

December 29

Persons are coming here from that portion of Western Virginia held by the enemy, with passports from Gen. Cox, the Yankee commander. They applied to me to-day for passports to return to Kanawha, which I refused. They obtained them from the Assistant Secretary of War, Mr. Ould.

December 30

Some of our officers on furlough complain of the dullness of the war. The second year will be different.

December 31

Northern papers, received in this city, show very conclusively that the enemy are pretty accurately informed of the condition of our defenses and the paucity of the numbers in our regiments.

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