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XIV. may, 1862

  • Disloyalists entrapped.
  • -- Norfolk abandoned. -- Merrimac blown up. -- army falling back. -- Mrs. Davis leaves Richmond -- preparing to burn the tobacco. -- Secretary of War trembles for Richmond. -- Richmond to be defended. -- the tobacco. -- Winking and blinking. -- Johnston's great battle. -- wounded himself. -- the wounded. -- the hospitals.

May 1

The ladies shower loaves of bread and slices of ham on the passing troops.

May 2

An iniquitous-looking prisoner was brought in to-day from Orange C. H., by the name of Robert Stewart. The evidence against him is as follows: He is a Pennsylvanian, though a resident of Virginia for a number of years, and owns a farm in Orange County. Since the series of disasters, and the seeming downward progress of our affairs, Stewart has cooled his ardor for independence. He has slunk from enrollment in the militia, and under the Conscription Act. And since the occupation of Fredericksburg by the enemy he has made use of such equivocal language as to convince his neighbors that his sympathies are wholly with the Northern invader.

A day or two since, near nightfall, three troopers, weary and worn, halted at Stewart's house and craved food and rest for themselves and horses. Stewart, supposing them to be Confederate soldiers, declared he had nothing they wanted, and that he was destitute of every description of refreshments. They said they were sorry for it, as it was a long ride to Fredericksburg.

“Are you Union soldiers?” asked Stewart, quickly.

“ Yes,” said they, “and we are on scouting duty.”

“Come in! Come in! I have everything you want!” cried Stewart, and when they entered he embraced them.

A sumptuous repast was soon on the table, but the soldiers refused to eat! Surprised at this, Stewart demanded the reason; the troopers rose, and said they were Confederate soldiers, and it was their duty to arrest a traitor. They brought him hither. Will he, too, escape merited punishment?


May 3

I fear there is something in the rumor that Norfolk and Portsmouth and Yorktown and the Peninsula will be given up. The Secretaries of War and Navy are going down to Norfolk.

May 4

The Yankees on the Peninsula mean to fight. Well, that is what our brave army pants for..

May 5

The prospect of battle produces a joyous smile on every soldier's face to-day.

May 6-7

We have not yet reached the lowest round of the ladder. The Secretary is at Norfolk, and the place is to be evacuated. I would resign first.

May 8

Norfolk and Portsmouth are evacuated! Our army falling back! The Merrimac is to be, or has been, blown up!

May 9

My family, excepting my son Custis, started to-day for Raleigh, N. C., where our youngest daughter is at school. But it is in reality another flight from the enemy. No one, scarcely, supposes that Richmond will be defended. But it must be!

May 10

The President's family have departed for Raleigh, and the families of most of the cabinet to their respective homes, or other places of refuge. The President has been baptized (at home) and privately confirmed in St. Paul's Church.

May 11

The Baltimore detectives are the lords of the ascendant. They crook a finger, and the best carriages in the street pause, turn round, and are subject to their will. They loll and roll in glory. And they ride on horseback, too — government horses, or horses pressed from gentlemen's stables. One word of remonstrance, and the poor victim is sent to Castle Godwin.

May 12

I suggested to the Provost Marshal several days ago that there was an act of Congress requiring the destruction of tobacco, whenever it might be in danger of falling into the hands of the enemy. He ran to Gen. Winder, and he to some one else, and then a hundred or more negroes, and as many wagons, were “pressed” by the detectives. They are now gathering the weed from all quarters, and piling it in “pressed” warehouses, mixed with “combustibles,” ready for the conflagration.

And now the consuls from the different nations are claiming that all bought on foreign account ought to be spared the torch. Mr. Myers, the little old lawyer, has been employed to aid them. He told me to-day that none ought to be burnt, that the Yankees having already the tobacco of Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland, [124] if we burn ours it will redound to their benefit, as it will enhance the price of that in their hands. That is a Benjamite argument. He hastened away to see the Secretary of State, and returned, saying, in high glee (supposing I concurred with him, of course), Mr. B. agreed with him. I told him, very gravely, that it mattered not who agreed with him; so soon as the enemy came to Richmond all the tobacco would be burned, as the retiring army would attend to it; several high officers were so resolved. He looked astounded, and departed.

May 13

This morning I learned that the consuls had carried the day, and were permitted to collect the tobacco alleged to be bought on foreign account in separate warehouses, and to place the flags of their respective nations over them. This was saving the property claimed by foreigners whose governments refused to recognize us (these consuls are accredited to the United States), and destroying that belonging to our own citizens. I told the Provost Marshal that the act of Congress included all tobacco and cotton, and he was required by law to see it all destroyed. He, however, acknowledged only martial law, and was, he said, acting under the instructions of the Secretary of State. What has the Secretary of State to do with martial law? Is there really no Secretary of War?

Near the door of the Provost Marshal's office, guarded by bayoneted sentinels, there is a desk presided over by Sergeant Crow, who orders transportation on the cars to such soldiers as are permitted to rejoin their regiments. This Crow, a Marylander, keeps a little black-board hung up and notes with chalk all the regiments that go down the Peninsula. To-day, I saw a man whom I suspected to be a Yankee spy, copy with his pencil the list of regiments; and when I demanded his purpose, he seemed confused. This is the kind of information Gen. McClellan can afford to pay for very liberally. I drew the Provost Marshal's attention to this matter, and he ordered a discontinuance of the practice.

May 14

Our army has fallen back to within four miles of Richmond. Much anxiety is felt for the fate of the city. Is there no turning point in this long lane of downward progress? Truly it may be said, our affairs at this moment are in a critical condition. I trust in God, and the chivalry and patriotism of the South in the field. [125]

The enemy's fleet of gun-boats are ascending James River, and the obstructions are not completed. We have but one or two casemated guns in battery, but we have brave men there.

May 15

The enemy's gun-boats, Monitor, Galena, etc. are at Drewry's Bluff, eight miles below the city, shelling our batteries, and our batteries are bravely shelling them. The President rode down to the vicinity this morning, and observed the firing.

The guns are heard distinctly in the city, and yet there is no consternation manifested by the people. If the enemy pass the obstructions, the city will be, it is true, very much at their mercy. They may shell us out of it, and this may occur any hour. South of the city the enemy have no forces, and we can find refuge there. I suppose the government would go to Lynchburg. I shall remain with the army, and see that the tobacco be burnt, at all hazards, according to law. I have seen some of our generals, and am convinced that the Baltimore rabble, and those that direct them, will be suppressed, or exterminated, if they attempt to throw impediments in the way of our soldiers in the work of destroying the tobacco, as enjoined by Congress.

Our marksmen will keep up an incessant fire into the port-holes of the gun-boats; and if it be at all practicable, we will board them. So hope is by no means extinct. But it is apprehended, if the enemy get within shelling distance of the city, there will be an attack along our lines by McClellan. We must beat him there, as we could never save our guns, stores, etc. retreating across the river. And we will beat him, for we have 80,000 men, and more are coming.

Joyful tidings I the gun-boats have been repulsed! A heavy shot from one of our batteries ranged through the Galena from stem to stern, making frightful slaughter, and disabling the ship; and the whole fleet turned about and steamed down the river! We have not lost a dozen men. We breathe freely; and the government will lose no time in completing the obstructions and strengthening the batteries.

May 16

McClellan is intrenching — that is, at least, significant of a respite, and of apprehension of attack.

May 17

Gen. Lee has admonished Major Griswold on the too free granting of passports. Will it do any good?


May 18

All quiet to-day except the huzzas as fresh troops arrive.

May 19

We await the issue before Richmond. It is still believed by many that it is the intention of the government and the generals to evacuate the city. If the enemy were to appear in force on the south side, and another force were to march on us from Fredericksburg, we should be inevitably taken, in the event of the loss of a battle — an event I don't anticipate. Army, government, and all, might, it is true, be involved in a common ruin. Wrote as strong a letter as I could to the President, stating what I have every reason to believe would be the consequences of the abandonment of Richmond. There would be demoralization and even insubordination in the army. Better die here! With the exception of the business portion of the city, the enemy could not destroy a great many houses by bombardment. But if defeated and driven back, our troops would make a heroic defense in the streets, in the walled grave-yards, and from the windows. Better electrify the world by such scenes of heroism, than surrender the capital and endanger the cause. I besought him by every consideration, not to abandon Richmond to the enemy short of the last extremity.

The legislature has also passed resolutions calling upon the C. S. Government to defend Richmond at all hazards, relieving the Confederate authorities, in advance, of all responsibility for any damage sustained.

This will have its effect. It would be pusillanimous to retire now.

But every preparation had been made to abandon it. The archives had been sent to Columbia, S. C., and to Lynchburg. The tracks over the bridges had been covered with plank, to facilitate the passage of artillery. Mr. Randolph had told his page, and cousin, “you must go with my wife into the country, for tomorrow the enemy will be here.” Trunks were packed in readiness — for what? Not one would have been taken on the cars! The Secretary of the Treasury had a special locomotive and cars, constantly with steam up, in readiness to fly with the treasure.

Nevertheless, many of the old secessionists have resolved not to leave their homes, for there were no other homes for them to fly to. They say they will never take the oath of allegiance to the [127] despised government of the North, but suffer whatever penalties may be imposed on them. There is a sullen, but generally a calm expression of inflexible determination on the countenances of the people, men, women, and children. But there is no consternation; we have learned to contemplate death with composure. It would be at least an effectual escape from dishonor; and Northern domination is dishonor.

May 20

The President, in response to the Legislative Committee, announced that Richmond would be defended. A thrill of joy electrifies every heart, a smile of triumph is on every lip. The inhabitants seem to know that their brave defenders in the field will prove invincible; and it is understood that Gen. Lee considers the city susceptible of successful defense. The ladies are in ecstasies.

May 21

There are skirmishes every day, and we can hear both the artillery and musketry from the hills on the outskirts of the city, whither some of us repair every afternoon.

But the Provost Marshal's administration is abominable. Mr. Garnett, M. C., told me that in an interview with the President, the latter informed him that he had just received a letter from Gen. Johnston, stating that the enemy not only knew everything going on within our lines, but seemed absolutely to know what we intended doing in the future, as if the most secret counsels of the cabinet were divulged.

Count Mercier, the French Minister residing at Washington, has been here on a mysterious errand. They said it referred to our recognition. He had prolonged interviews with Mr. Benjamin. I think it was concerning tobacco. There are $60,000,000 worth in Richmond, at French prices. For $1,000,000, Mr. Seward might afford to wink very hard; and, after distributing several other millions, there would be a grand total profit both to the owners and the French Emperor. I smile at their golden expectations, for I know they will not be realized. If one man can prevent it, the South shall never be betrayed for a crop of tobacco. This is a holy cause we are embarked in, worthy to die for.

The British Minister, Lord Lyons, has embarked for England, to report to his government that “the rebellion is on its last legs,” and must speedily succumb. He is no prophet, or the son of a prophet.


May 22

There is lightning in the Northwest, and the deep thunder of avenging guns is heard at Washington! Gen. Jackson, sent thither by Gen. Lee, is sweeping everything before him, defeating Shields, Banks, Fremont, and one or two other Yankee major. generals, with his little corps d'armee! And his coadjutor, Ewell, is worthy of his companionship. He has swept them out of the valley, scattering their hosts like quails before the fowler! They fly in every direction; and the powers at Washington are trembling for the safety of their own capital. Glorious Jackson! and he gives, as is justly due, the glory to God.

May 23

Oh, the extortioners! Meats of all kinds are selling at 50 cts. per pound; butter, 75 cts.; coffee, $1.50; tea, $10; boots, $30 per pair; shoes, $18; ladies' shoes, $15; shirts, $6 each. Houses that rented for $500 last year, are $1000 now. Boarding, from $30 to $40 per month. Gen. Winder has issued an order fixing the maximum prices of certain articles of marketing, which has only the effect of keeping a great many things out of market. The farmers have to pay the merchants and Jews their extortionate prices, and complain very justly of the partiality of the general. It does more harm than good.

May 24

Every day the two armies are shelling each other, more or less; and every gun can be heard from the Hospital Hill, north of the city, whither many repair to listen.

May 25

The enemy send up several balloons every day. Sometimes three can be seen at once. They are stationary, being fastened by ropes to trees; and give us an idea of the extent of his lines. But with glasses they can not only see our camps around the city, but they can view every part of the city itself.

May 26

Gen. Lee is still strengthening the army. Every day additional regiments are coming. We are now so strong that no one fears the result when the great battle takes place. McClellan has delayed too long, and he is doomed to defeat. The tobacco, savers know it well, and their faces exhibit chagrin and disappointment. Their fortunes will not be made this year, and so their reputations may be saved.

May 27

More troops came in last night, and were marched to the camp at once, so that the Yankees will know nothing of it.

May 28

Prisoners and deserters from the enemy say the Yankees get the Richmond papers, every day, almost as soon as [129] we do. This is a great advantage they possess; and it demonstrates the fact that the Provost Marshal has interposed no effectual barriers between us and the enemy.

May 29

More troops are marching into the city, and Gen. Lee has them sent out in such manner and at such times as to elude the observations of even the spies.

May 30

It is said some of the enemy's mounted pickets rode through the city last night! Northern papers manifest much confidence in the near approach of the downfall of Richmond, and the end of the “rebellion.” The 15th of June is the utmost limit allowed us for existence. A terrific storm arose yesterday; and as our scouts report the left wing of the enemy on this side of the Chickahominy, Gen. Johnston has determined to attack it tomor-row. Thank God, we are strong enough to make the attack!

May 31

Everybody is upon the tip-toe of expectation. It has been announced (in the streets ) that a battle would take place this day, and hundreds of men, women, and children repaired to the hills to listen, and possibly to see, the firing. The great storm day before yesterday, it is supposed, has so swollen the Chickahominy as to prevent McClellan's left wing from retreating, and reinforcements from being sent to its relief. The time is well chosen by Gen. Johnston for the attack, but it was bad policy to let it be known where and when it would be made; for, no doubt, McClellan was advised of our plans an hour or so after they were promulged in the streets. Whose fault is this? Johnston could hardly be responsible for it, because he is very reticent, and appreciates the importance of keeping his purposes concealed from the enemy. Surely none of his subordinates divulged the secret, for none but generals of division knew it. It must have been found out and proclaimed by some one in the tobacco interest. It is true, Mr. Randolph told Mr. Jacques a great battle would begin at 8 A. M., to-day; but he would not propagate such news as that!

But the battle did not occur at the time specified. Gen. Huger's division was not at the allotted place of attack at the time fixed upon. His excuse is that there was a stream to cross, and understanding Gen. Longstreet was his senior in command (which is not the fact, however), he permitted his division to have precedence. All the divisions were on the ground in time but Huger's, but still no battle. Thousands of impatient spectators are venting [130] their criticisms and anathemas, like an audience at a theater when some accident or disarrangement behind the scenes prevents the curtain from rising.

At last, toward noon, a few guns are heard; but it was not till 4 P. M. that Huger's division came upon the field. Nevertheless, the battle began in earnest before that hour; and we could hear distinctly not only the cannon but the musketry.

The hearts of our soldiers have been inspired with heroic resolution, and their arms nerved with invincible power to overcome the difficulties known to be in the way. Every one is aware that the camp of the enemy, on this side of the Chickahominy, is almost impregnably intrenched; and in front of the works trees have been cut down and the limbs sharpened, so as to interpose every obstacle to our advance.

Ever and anon after rapid firing of cannon, and a tremendous rattle of musketry, a pause would ensue; and we knew what this meant! A battery had been taken at the point of the bayonet, and we cheered accordingly. One after another, we could in this manner perceive the strongholds of the enemy fall into our hands.

Toward sundown it was apparent that the intrenched camp had been taken; and as the deep booming of cannon became more distant, and the rattle of musketry less distinct, we felt certain that the foe was flying, and that our men were pursuing them. But we knew that our men would take everything they were ordered to take. They care not for wounds and death. This is their only country. But the enemy have a country to run to, and they hope to live, even if defeated here. If they kill all our young men, the old men and women, and even our children, will seize their arms and continue the conflict.

At night. The ambulances are coming in with our wounded. They report that all the enemy's strong defenses were stormed, just as we could perceive from the sounds. They say that our brave men suffered much in advancing against the intrenchments, exposed to the fire of cannon and small arms, without being able to see the foe under their shelter; but when they leaped over the breastworks and turned the enemy's guns on them, our loss was more than compensated. Our men were shot in front; the enemy in the back-and terrible was the slaughter. We got their tents, all standing, and a sumptuous repast that had just been served [131] up when the battle began. Gen. Casey's headquarters were taken, and his plate and smoking viands were found on his table. His papers fell into our hands. We got a large amount of stores and refreshments, so much needed by our poor braves! There were boxes of lemons, oranges, brandies and wines, and all the luxuries of distant lands which enter the unrestricted ports of the United States. These things were narrated by the pale and bleeding soldiers, who smiled in triumph at their achievement. Not one in the long procession of ambulances uttered a complaint. Did they really suffer pain from their wounds? This question was asked by thousands, and the reply was, “not much.” Women and children and slaves are wending to the hospitals, with baskets of refreshments, lint, and bandages. Every house is offered for a hospital, and every matron and gentle daughter, a tender nurse.

But how fares it with the invader? Unable to recross the swollen Chickahominy, the Yankees were driven into an almost impenetrable swamp, where they must pass the night in water up to their knees. The wounded borne off by them will have no ministrations from their sisters and mothers, and their dead are abandoned on the field. If Huger had come up at the time appointed, the enemy would have been ruined.

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