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Chapter 5: Baltimore and Fortress Monroe.

  • Condition of affairs in Washington at the beginning of the war
  • -- Scott's farcical parade of strength -- Davis might easily have captured the city -- taking a position at the Relay House -- finds it desirable to enter Baltimore -- capture of Ross Winans -- marching up Federal Hill in a storm -- a scare and its explanation -- indignant communication from General Scott -- why he was mad -- promoted to be Major-General and ordered to Fortress Monroe -- gives “Fuss and Feathers” a piece of his mind -- interview with President Lincoln -- condition of Fortress Monroe -- plenty of oysters, but no water -- building a Railway in the sand -- fortifying Newport News

I had nothing further to do with Annapolis or its concerns subsequent to the 5th of May. It was on that day I marched for the purpose of cutting off railroad passage between Harper's Ferry and Washington, for at Harper's Ferry a very considerable body of rebel troops was gathering for an attack on Washington.

It may be well to take a little time just here in doing what has not been done, namely, giving some account of the condition of things in Washington, as to the state of mind and action of the executive and military officers there.

In the winter of 1861, President Buchanan had thought it necessary to reorganize his cabinet, in whole or in part, in view of the threatened secession of the Southern States, as fears were entertained that there might be an early resort to arms in support of that secession. Consequently Lieutenant-General Scott, commanding the armies of the United States, was called to Washington to consult with the President, and to take charge of any military preparation that might be needed.

Rumors also were rife that the advent of Mr. Lincoln in Washington might be opposed and hindered in every way possible, and that there would be an open outbreak against his inauguration on the 4th of March. That probability was so serious that Scott advised that all the available troops of the United States army which could be spared from other posts of duty should be assembled at Washington. A considerable number were brought there, and by way of exhibiting to the country. a state of preparation, Scott ordered a review and parade of all the troops assembled there, on the 22d of February. [218]

Ex-President John Tyler, who had been elected Vice-President under Harrison, prevailed on President Buchanan to issue an order, late in the evening of the 21st of February, revoking the parade. This order was issued over the heads of General Scott and the new Secretary of War Holt. On the next day General Sickles persuaded the President to withdraw his order and permit the parade to take place. This was done so late in the afternoon that Scott's exhibit of his forces showed only two companies of the United States troops taking part in the procession on the 22d in honor of the birthday of the “Father of the country.”

Scott's attempt, therefore, to show the strength of his army, and so avert threatened danger to Lincoln, only resulted in showing its weakness.

The whole number of troops was insignificant enough, but thus by a trick the whole Southern people were made to believe that the United States army then in defence of Washington was scarcely more than a trifle. The reader will remember that this same Tyler was the delegate from Virginia in the Peace Convention who made a speech protesting against the mounting of cannon in Fortress Monroe, pointing over the “sacred soil of Virginia.” The “Peace Congress,” as we have seen, came to nought or worse.

With all Scott's loyalty and zeal he could get but a mere handful of troops into Washington. That he was both loyal and zealous is shown by his declaration to Douglas that he “had fought fifty years under the flag, and would fight for it, and under it, till death,” which was to his high honor and glory.

The population of Washington was substantially secession, and much of it virulently so. Hundreds of clerks in the departments during this winter resigned their positions. Several thousand troops were assembling at Harper's Ferry, and two thousand more were below Washington near Fort Washington, one of the outer defences of the city. The rebels relied on the accession of large numbers from Baltimore, only thirty odd miles away by railroad.

The Sixth Regiment of my brigade arrived in Washington on the 19th of April, having been obstructed, and some of them murdered, in their passage through Baltimore.

From that hour Washington could get no reliable communication from any source; the wires had been cut, and the bridges of [219] the only road connecting with the North had been burned. This state of affairs continued until the 27th of April, when I opened the route through Annapolis.

The condition of mind of the President is described very graphically in the fourth volume, chapter V., of the “History” of Nicolay and Hay; but I beg leave to say wrongly described in this: a careful reading of that description would lead one to infer that Lincoln was in a state of abject fear. From a long and most intimate knowledge of him in times of danger and trouble, I desire to record my protest against any such inference. After the 22d of April, Washington was never in any danger of being captured for the next

Montgomery, Ala., showing State Capitol in 1861. from sketch made in 1861.

two years, until Lee crossed the Potomac. Why it was not captured within ten days after Fort Sumter was fired upon has always since been a subject of careful consideration on my part, and a thing which I have been entirely unable to understand.

Davis must have known, and did know, that the firing on Sumter was as pronounced an act of war as was the battle of Gettysburg. Indeed, the Confederate Congress at Montgomery passed an act declaring war against the United States, and giving the power to its president to issue letters of marque, within two days after the 14th of April. On the 17th of April, Davis issued such proclamation. True, this act of the Confederate Congress was kept secret until the 6th day of May, for it was passed in secret session and the [220] seal of secrecy was not removed till then. That secrecy, however, has nothing to do with the question under consideration. The rebels knew it was war.

Davis had, around Charleston, four or five thousand troops, fully armed and equipped, who had been organizing and drilling, with Beauregard in command. Here was a disciplined army, and one larger than could be got together elsewhere in the United States in ten days. Anderson had but seventy-five artillery men in all.

Leaving five hundred men to watch Anderson's seventy-five and work their batteries against the fort, why did not Davis cut the telegraph wires connecting with Washington, put say four thousand of his troops in the cars, and in thirty-six hours at farthest,--passing through the State of North Carolina, whose governor had refused to furnish any troops at the call of Lincoln, and through Virginia, which then had a convention called to pass an ordinance of secession, which they did on the 17th of April,--march his rebel column across Long Bridge, where there were no forces to oppose him, and capture Washington?

The temptation to do it must have been enormous and should have been controlling. The road was open, and he would have met no opposition. A large part of the officers of the regular troops then in Washington, as elsewhere, threw up their commissions then or soon afterwards. Lee, then relied upon by General Scott to command the Union forces, threw up his commission and took command of the rebel army of Virginia, on the 22d of April.

The prize to be won was gloriously magnificent. The capital of the nation, with its archives, its records and its treasure, and all of its executive organization, was there. He might not have captured the President and his secretaries, but their only safety would have been in flight to Philadelphia by sea, for they could not have got through the hostile city of Baltimore, except in disguise, as Lincoln came through that city to get to Washington before the 4th of March. There was no vessel by which to flee. The capture and occupation of Washington would almost have insured the Confederacy at once a place by recognition as a power among the nations of the earth.

The great hope and dependence of the Confederacy to bring the Rebellion to a favorable close lay in the recognition of its independence [221] by one or more foreign states; and if one of the more considerable had so recognized the Confederacy as a power, and not an insurrectionary body simply, all the rest would have followed. As it was, it was with difficulty for months that such a thing was prevented. This lack of recognition was largely due to the diplomacy of Seward, sustained by the energetic exhibition of the enormous capacity and power in raising armies shown by the North, and to the fact that no signal success was achieved by the rebels.

I understand the diplomatic rule upon this subject held by the powers of Europe, is that when the capital of a country is taken and held by armed force, by an insurgent power, which has duly organized a government, the possession of that capital so taken is a ground upon which every nation may properly proceed to open diplomatic relations with the insurgent government so holding the capital; and further, if this insurgent government demonstrates ability to maintain itself, other nations ought to proceed to open diplomatic relations with it.

At any rate, if the Confederacy had made the capture by such a bold and brilliant dash, it would have been a disaster to our government of almost incalculable weight and potency. Maryland undoubtedly would have hastened to join the Confederacy in such a contingency. That would have transferred the line of battle from the Potomac to the Susquehanna. Very probably Delaware would have in that event joined the Confederacy, or at least have remained neutral, as her leading statesman, Senator Bayard, said that if the war could not be averted, and if his State preferred war to the peaceful separation of the States, he would cheerfully and gladly resign his seat in the Senate. As it was, however, gallant little Delaware remained always loyal and sent sixty odd per cent. of her military population — that is, white men between eighteen and forty-five years of age — to do good service in the Union army.

Jefferson Davis could have, and if I had been at his elbow, as he once desired that I should be, would have attended divine service in his own pew in the church at Washington as President of the Confederacy. I know not what prevented him save his education at West Point, where the necessity of a rapid movement in warlike operations is taught in the negative. That sort of instruction, as we shall see as we go on, caused several direful results in the movements [222] of both armies, more especially in the delay in the discharge of the mine at Petersburg, which caused the loss of some thousands of brave soldiers, and in the delays of Early, which lost him Washington in the summer of 1864.

Within a few days preceding Sunday, the 5th day of May, I was called to Washington upon two occasions, each of which fortuitously resulted in a consultation with General Scott.

On the first of these occasions I reached Washington quite early in the morning, and as I could not see General Scott until eleven o'clock, I called upon the Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Chase, at his office in the department. I found him busily engaged in studying a map of Virginia in company with Major McDowell. Chase said to me :--

“Look here, General, I want your attention to this matter,” pointing to the map. “Here is Manassas Junction, where there is the junction of the system of railroads which must bring the rebels together to make an attack upon Washington. I think that junction should be taken and held by us.”

After studying the matter carefully for some little time, I said:--

“Yes, I think there is the spot which should be fortified and held in order to protect Washington. The Confederates are now assembled at Harper's Ferry. Their plan was to come down from Harper's Ferry to the Relay House and take Washington from that side; but as Maryland will not declare for secession I feel very sure the other point of which they will take possession will be Manassas Junction. They will not do that immediately, but will wait until the vote by the people is taken by Virginia to secede, which is fixed to be on the 23d. General Scott, being a Virginian, I know is very anxious not to move on her sacred soil until after that vote. But the rebel government is now coming to Richmond as the capital of the Confederacy, so certain are they of the result of the vote of the people. If they can invade Virginia on their part, I do not see why we may not enter the State on the other. I think we should march to Manassas Junction. Six regiments will be enough to hold it. They could easily be spared from Washington, for they are there now only to defend Washington, and at Manassas Junction they would be defending her all the more surely. For no [223] rebel division will attempt to attack Washington with us behind them at Manassas Junction, cutting off their supplies and communications. Let us go there and form an intrenchment as a nucleus of a very much larger force.”

Chase appeared impressed by my advice and suggestions and said they were his own, and asked me if I would walk over with him and see General Scott. I did so, and was called upon to explain the proposition to General Scott. But he bade it wait, as I supposed he would, and the movement was never made, although it was very earnestly pressed upon the President and Cabinet by Mr. Chase. Scott did not consent to have our armies cross the Potomac until the movement in which Ellsworth was killed, on the 24th of May, the day after the vote on the ordinance of secession. On that occasion we marched into Alexandria to take a position at Arlington Heights, within short cannon shot of Washington.

It may not be improper to state that I was sustained in my view of the importance of the occupation of Manassas Junction by the Committee on the Conduct of the War. That committee made a very full and stringent report upon the subject, in which it characterized the omission to seize Manassas Junction at this time as the great error of the campaign.

There would have been this advantage at any rate if we had intrenched ourselves at Manassas Junction: the disastrous battle of Bull Run would never have been fought.

My second interview with General Scott was, as I had occasion to remember, on the 3d of May, and at his request. He said he was desirous of holding the junction of the Washington branch of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad with the main branch which led west up the Patapsco River to Harper's Ferry. This junction was at the Relay House, about eight miles from Baltimore and within my department. He stated that the rebels were gathering in considerable force at Harper's Ferry, and it might portend an attack upon the capital, and in that event they would use the railroad in transportation, having seized enough of the engines and cars to make that practicable. He desired to know if I knew anything of the topography of the country about that junction. I told him, I had a general acquaintance with it, having passed over it frequently. He asked me how many troops I thought would be [224] required to hold the place, taking into account the possibility of an attack from Baltimore. I told him that my belief was that it could be held with two good regiments and a battery of my light artillery.

Fortified position at the “Relay House,” on B. & O. R.R.

He thought that I required a very small force, and I replied:--

“The railroad comes down for miles beside high cliffs, the water of the river running below. The viaduct crosses the Patapsco River opposite the junction, and can be commanded by artillery for a mile or more, the guns being posted on a small lunette at the head of the viaduct. In case of a threatened attack troops can be [225] brought from Washington in three hours, and we can, by picketing out on the road towards Harper's Ferry, ascertain any danger or an approach from that direction.”

“When can you occupy it?” said he.

“ If necessary, within twenty-four hours after I get the order at Annapolis. Indeed, I will agree, if you desire and will send me the Sixth Regiment, to be ready there for Sunday services at ten o'clock to-morrow.”

“Very well, I will order Mansfield, the general commanding at Washington, to have the Massachusetts regiment sent from here in time to meet you.”

“I will meet it at the junction, and send my battery across the country,” I answered.

“Without an escort?” asked he.

“They won't need any more than a yellow dog anywhere in Maryland, as far as I have seen.”

I bowed and left the presence.

We were at the Relay House at eleven o'clock the next morning.

Before three o'clock we had our camping-ground selected, tents pitched, the work commenced on our lunette, and two pieces of artillery covering the viaduct planted in position. I remained at that point just eight days, but it was always held so long as troops were necessary to guard that railroad.

We occupied ourselves in drilling and instructing our men, especially in guard and picket duty, in which they were most deficient. I spent my own time, when free from the routine of duty, in getting information from Baltimore of the state of things in that city. I soon found that it was utterly useless to take the reports of anybody who had no skill in estimating troops as to the number of men seen in a body. The most exaggerated statements were at first brought to me of the number of secessionists under arms in Baltimore. A company was always a regiment, and a light battery was always two hundred men. Reports were brought to me every day of large deposits of arms, ammunition, clothing, and equipments by the secessionists in Baltimore.

After three or four days, I became very anxious to learn what was the true state of affairs in Baltimore. I was quite sure there were no troops there, for I heard from many sources that troops [226] were marching from Baltimore to Harper's Ferry, which could not have been the case if Baltimore expected any attack upon her, provided there was any intention of making a stand against her capture.

I determined to have satisfactory and reliable information, Therefore, by ruse, the details of which are not necessary here, I sent a staff officer, Captain Haggerty, into Baltimore. There he remained for three days, examining into everything, seeing everybody, and learning exactly the military condition there, with an accuracy and intelligence entirely trustworthy.

I had reported to General Scott what military stores were in Baltimore from time to time. These reports were answered by my friend General Hamilton, his private secretary, with directions that when I thought it best I might capture these stores, and stop them from being sent to Harper's Ferry. Among the rest there was a large quantity of provisions reported as being prepared at a bakery in Baltimore for the support of the rebel troops at Harper's Ferry. I also informed General Scott I had ascertained that the limits of my department included Baltimore. In answer I received the following from Colonel Hamilton:--

General Scott desires me to invite your attention to certain guilty parties in Baltimore, namely, those connected with the guns and military cloths seized by your troops [at the Relay House], as well as to the baker who furnished supplies of bread for Harper's Ferry. It is probable that you will find them, on inquiry, proper subjects for seizure and examination. He acknowledges your telegram of this morning, and is happy to find that Baltimore is within your department.

Now, I was very anxious to go into Baltimore. I had no doubt, from all I had learned, that a properly equipped and managed expedition could seize Federal Hill and hold the place. I wanted to go for another reason : I had promised my old comrades of the Sixth Regiment, with whom I had served for many years, that I would march them through Baltimore and revenge the cowardly attack made upon them on the 19th of April. I desired to keep that promise. I had these orders from General Scott to seize property, arms, ammunition, and provisions in Baltimore, and the places where the guilty parties were to be found were given me, [227] Now, how could I seize anybody or anything in Baltimore, unless I went where they were?

Baltimore was in my military department, and in the absence of special orders to the contrary, I had as much right to go there as anywhere else if I chose, and surely there were no orders for me not to go into that city.

It is but fair for me to say that I had the strongest possible suspicion that if I asked General Scott for orders to occupy Baltimore he would refuse them, saying that men enough could not be spared from the defence of Washington to make the movement, and that he was waiting for more men. Now I believed and knew, and it so turned out, that it was comparatively as easy to capture Baltimore as it was to capture my supper. I knew it, but Scott did not. Was I not justified in acting upon my knowledge? I agree that the expedition was called hazardous by the know-nothings and timid ones, and it has been said it was undertaken in a spirit of “bravado,” as say Messrs. Nicolay and Hay in their Life of Lincoln, and that it was so looked upon by all those who did not know what they were talking and writing about; but I did know.

After it was done I was very much praised and applauded in some quarters for my bravery, daring, and courage in making the expedition, all of which were well enough for newspaper paragraphs, but I did not deserve plaudits. The greatest amount of my daring was that I ventured to do it without asking Scott's leave, as it afterwards turned out. But I do claim some credit that by vigilance and industry in getting knowledge which I used to find out what I wanted to know, I was certain of the exact state of things. I had the courage to rely on my convictions, which insured success.

A Baltimorean by the name of Ross Winans, a gray-haired old man of more than three score and ten, a bitter rebel, and reputed to be worth $15,000,000, had made five thousand pikes of the John Brown pattern, to be used by the rebels at Baltimore to oppose the march of the United States troops. Some of these very pikes were used by the mob which attacked the Sixth Regiment on its march to Washington. He was also the builder of the Winans steam gun, a very much relied upon instrument of warfare or assassination, costing a very large sum which my troops had captured coming down from Frederick on the 10th cay of May. I knew that he [228] was up at Frederick, some forty miles away, where the legislature was then in session, and was going to make a secession speech on Monday night, and I believed if we captured him and carried him to Annapolis, organizing a military commission and proving upon him his treasonable acts, especially if he were taken while encouraging armed rebellion in his speech, he would be a very proper specimen traitor to be hanged.

I had no doubt a military commission composed of the officers of the Sixth Regiment, whose comrades were shot down in Baltimore by a mob, some of whom carried the Winans pikes, would be very likely to find such facts as would enable it to advise the commanding general of the department, according to the rules of war, to hang Mr. Winans. I also thought that if such a man, worth $15,000,000, were hanged for treason, it would convince the people of Maryland, at least, that the expedition we were upon was no picnic excursion, and would show those disposed to join the rebel army, and especially the officers of the regular army who were throwing up their commissions, that we were engaged in suppressing a treasonable rebellion. And as my act in giving such an example could not be repudiated by the government unless it hanged me, I considered that the object in view was such as to justify the hazard of the experiment on my part.

Thereupon on Monday, I organized a train of cars, got my artillery ready to be loaded on platform cars, and put three covered cars at the head of the train. I headed it towards Harper's Ferry, so as to make it appear that an attack was to be made on that place. As the grade towards Harper's Ferry was very heavy I took care to have a second heavy engine at the rear of the train.

My attention had been called to two rather bright-looking young men, with fast trotting horses hitched to light wagons, who had come from the direction of the city of Baltimore to spend the day with us. I kept my own counsel carefully, and put a confidential staff officer at the telegraph office. At six o'clock I started my train of cars in the direction of Harper's Ferry with both engines working. As we started, one of my staff, whom I had sent to watch, observed these two young men start with their horses at a very fast gait for Baltimore.

This was called to my attention, and the officer said: “Why not arrest them?” [229]

“Let them go,” said I; “their business is to report at Baltimore. They will report that we have gone to Harper's Ferry, and that may cause their troops, if there are any, to go there too.”

I chose the hour of six o'clock for departure, as, at the rate I intended to move, it would bring me at the station in Baltimore just at sunset, which was the hour I thought best fitted for me to arrive there, as darkness gathers very suddenly in that latitude after sunset.

When we had marched about two miles up the railroad we halted. In the two forward cars was a company of picked men of the Sixth Regiment, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Watson, with my military secretary, the late Richard S. Fay, acting as his aid. This company was detached to go to Frederick to arrest Ross Winans, and bring him down to the Relay House, and then by the shortest road to take him to Annapolis. All of this was done with promptness and despatch, and in the morning Mr. Winans found himself at my headquarters in Annapolis with sentinels before his door.

The remainder of the train with the troops then backed down past the Relay House toward Baltimore, and just at sunset we were at the Baltimore station. There was substantially nobody there, because the passenger and baggage trains had long ago ceased to run.

The orders which contained the first information that the troops had of their destination, and what was to be done, were distributed on the cars. These orders informed them of the manner of their line of march from the place of debarkation to Federal Hill, under a competent guide, and instructed them that they should take possession of it, and make necessary preparation to hold it ; that the battery would be distributed in three sections, one in the centre, one in the rear of the first two companies, and one in the front of the last two companies; that no halt in the march should be made or any shot fired except to repel an attack; that no soldier should fire his musket without command; that if any shot were fired from any house by which any man was hurt, the column should halt, a detail should be put in that house, and the building fired, the column remaining, at least until it was fully burned, so as to protect its rear. [230]

The column was formed and the march began. We had gone forward but a few rods when a most violent thunder-storm set in, with furious wind and gusts. The flashes were incessant, and the thunder rolled almost a continuous volley. At one moment the flashes of lightning would light up everything with an intense brilliancy, and in the tithe of a second the darkness was equally intense. In that storm nobody could hear us. In the darkness nobody could discern the column, and nobody knew that we were there.

Federal Hill, Baltimore, Md. From a sketch made on day of occupation.

As I looked back from my horse, while the column slowly wound up the hill, the effect of the rolling thunder and playing lightning that made for an instant the point of every bayonet a glittering torch, was gloriously magnificent. The whole scene affords an excellent opportunity for verifying the descriptions of the newspaper reports published at the time of my entrance into the city. I quote the following from the Baltimore Clipper of the next morning, May 14, 1861:-- [231]

On the road to the hill the streets were crowded with people who greeted the military with cheers at every step, the ladies at the windows and doors joining in the applause by waving their handkerchiefs.

Statements so diametrically opposed, perhaps, should be verified on the one side or the other.

The next morning after our arrival, I received, on Federal Hill, the following note from the mayor of the city:--

I have just been informed that you have arrived at the Camden Station with a large body of troops under your command. As the sudden arrival of a force will create much surprise in the community, I beg to be informed whether you propose that it shall remain at the Camden Station, so that the police may be notified and proper precautions may be taken to prevent any disturbance of the peace.

I had marched through the settled part of Baltimore, and the police hadn't found it out. It was intended as a surprise.

Scouts were at once sent out with lanterns to examine the surroundings. To show how wet we were, let me say that the large cavalry boots which I had on were filled with water, and when my foot came upon the ground in dismounting, that water was dashed directly in my face.

As we came to the foot of the hill, a flash showed me a very large wood-yard beside the street. I immediately made a large detail and sent down to the yard. The men found carts, and soon built up very large fires of wood on different parts of the hill, and near the bivouacs of the troops. These fires were kept burning, and by them we had our quarters properly illuminated, and the men were enabled to dry and warm themselves, and make their coffee.

There was a little German tavern at the top of the hill, with a beer garden attached to it. I took possession of a room in it, and had a huge fire made there. Placing my despatch book so that the water would not run off me on to it, I at once wrote a despatch to Major Morris, of the United States army, in command of Fort McHenry, to which, before I had left Annapolis, I had sent as a reinforcement Major Devens with his battalion. I have no copy of that despatch, but it was in substance this:-- [232]

I have taken possession of Baltimore. My troops are on Federal Hill, which I can hold with the aid of my artillery. If I am attacked to-night, please open upon Monument Square with your mortars. I will keep the hill fully lighted with fires during the night so that you may know where we are and not hit us. Major Devens will know my handwriting.

I found an intelligent German lad who said he knew very well the road to Fort McHenry, and one of my staff officers loaned him his horse to take the despatch. In a short time the messenger

Headquarters at Federal Hill, Baltimore, Md. From a sketch made on day of occupation.

returned with a note from the brave old major commanding the fort, stating that the order would be obeyed.

I had scarcely got my despatch away when Captain Farmer, of Lowell, who had been scouting on his own hook, reported to me with his lantern, saying:--

“ General, I have been informed that this hill is mined and we shall all be blown up.”

“Well, Captain,” said I, “there will be one comfort in that; we shall at least get dry. But I will go with you and reconnoitre.”

We went down under the hill and examined the place, and we found that the hill had been mined, and that a deep cave, which we explored, had been dug under it. When we got to the farther [233] end of it we found the utensils and other tools of the miners which showed that it had been mined — for the very peaceable and proper purpose of getting sand.

I returned to our quarters and got a supper of fried bacon and eggs, hard tack, a little soaked by the rain, and some very powerful Limburger cheese. One of the soldiers brought me his dish of coffee, which I preferred to the landlord's beer, because I desired to keep wide awake.

Perhaps it may not be uninteresting to know the strict accountability to which the officers of the army were held at that day.

I gave my quartermaster an order to get the wood. He gave his receipt for it to the owner and returned the wood so taken in his account. It was immediately charged to the commanding general, because it was more wood than the army regulations allowed to that number of men, and I was obliged to get a special approval of the Secretary of War before that account could be settled.

Desiring it to be understood by the inhabitants of Baltimore that I had come there to stay, I sat down, although somewhat tired, and wrote a proclamation setting forth the fact of my presence; that I held the city in capture; that I proposed to give every good citizen protection, and to deal properly with every enemy of the United States. In it I laid down rules and regulations for the military government of the city, and had it published in an extra issue of the Clipper the next forenoon.

The early morning train brought our camp equipments, and we soon had a settled encampment.

Immediately after breakfast the next morning, I received a call from the mayor and Marshal Kane, the chief of police and a leader of the secessionists. They inquired as to my intentions, and I pointed to the proclamation. I inquired of them whether there were any arms or ammunition or munitions of war concealed. Marshal Kane said that he knew of some, and would deliver them up. A large number, I think three thousand muskets, I knew he denied knowledge of. Many others I knew of. I sent a company under charge of Doctor Hare, of Philadelphia, the chemist, and had them all taken to Fort McHenry. I think Ross Winans' pikes were caused to be delivered by Marshal Kane at the same place. [234]

I received the report of my secretary that Ross Winans had been captured, and was held in arrest. I also received notice that Reverdy Johnson, the rank and bitter secessionist, and worse than others because he concealed it, who was afterwards sent by Seward down to New Orleans, where I was in command, to interfere with my administration, was going to Washington to get Winans' release. How much of Winans' $15,000,000 it cost him, I do not know, but it should have been a very large sum, because he evidently relied upon its potency. He was released on Johnson's representations; and some months after, when it was found necessary by another commanding general to arrest him, he was again released and allowed to go abroad.

I endeavored to do my duty by him, however. Hearing that this application was to be made, I telegraphed the Secretary of War, Cameron, not to allow him to be released, at least not until I could be present and explain the depth of his guilt. But the release was by the order of the Secretary of State, and I was afterwards recalled from my command because the order would have had to pass through me as commanding-general, and it never would have got by me until it was signed by the President or the Secretary of War, because Seward had no authority or power in any such matter. I should not have obeyed that order any more than an order from him to arrest anybody, a thing he boasted he could have done by the “tinkling of his little bell.”

On Sunday, not caring for another dinner of my Dutch friend's preparing, although he did as well as he could, and desiring to show the secessionists of Baltimore that I had them fully in hand, I mounted my horse, and, accompanied by three of my staff, and an orderly following, rode deliberately half through the city to Monument Square, and took dinner at the Gilmore House. After dinner one company of the Sixth Regiment from Lowell, feeling a little uneasy about their general, asked the commander on Federal Hill if they might march down into the city and escort him home as a matter of personal compliment, and he permitted that to be done.

Having been forty hours in the saddle and on the march, and not having removed my clothes, I felt that I had a right to take some sleep. I failed to get much, however, because necessarily [235] interrupted whenever any news came which might be of consequence, and camp rumors were very rife.

At half-past 8 o'clock on the morning of the 15th, I had brought to me in bed a communication from General Scott, dated the 14th, which, if not appalling, was certainly amusing. It was in the following words:--

Sir:--Your hazardous occupation of Baltimore was made without my knowledge, and, of course, without my approbation. It is a godsend that it is without conflict of arms. It is also reported that you have sent a detachment to Frederick; but this is impossible. Not a word have I received from you as to either movement. Let me hear from you.

To a communication couched in that language I made no reply. He had known from the public press that the movement had been successful. Not only that, but what he claimed to be impossible, my sending a “detachment” of troops to Frederick, he knew had not only been devised but had actually been done successfully, as I had captured Ross Winans, the arch-traitor whom I had sent for, and had brought him and the troops back safely,--another “godsend” in my favor.

Knowing that I could hold Baltimore as easily as. I could my hat, and knowing also that Scott knew all I could tell him, I thought I was not the “sir” to answer the communication of the commanding-general so addressed; and during the day I busied myself in taking charge of everything of warlike material in Baltimore.

On the evening of that day, I received another communication informing me that the President and Cabinet had concluded to promote me to the rank of major-general, the senior in service in the war.

I had reason to believe, and (lid believe, that although I was perfectly justified in doing what I had done by every rule of military law and right, and above all by my full success in so doing and holding the city, it would not be agreeable to Scott, and that he was, as I afterwards found him, in a furious rage about it. The reason of his anger was this: He had conceived a project of capturing all points around Washington, such as Baltimore and Harper's Ferry, by moving great bodies of troops as soon as he [236] thought he had enough to make a sufficient display for a lieutenant-general.

On the 29th of April, when he sent for me, he had sketched to me the following plan of attack on Baltimore:--

I suppose that a column from Washington of three thousand men, another from York of three thousand men, and a third from Perryville or Elkton, by land or water, or both, of three thousand men, and a fourth from Annapolis of three thousand men might suffice. But it may be, and many persons think it probable, that Baltimore, before we can get ready, will voluntarily re-open the communication through that city, and beyond, each way, for troops, army supplies, and travellers. When can we be ready for the movement on Baltimore on this side? Colonel Mansfield has satisfied me that we want at least ten thousand additional troops here to give security to the capital; and, as yet, we have less than ten thousand, including some very indifferent militia from the District. With that addition, we will be able, I think, to make the detachment for Baltimore. When can we be ready? Mansfield has satisfied me that we want at least ten thousand additional troops to give security to the capital.

Now, I had learned, and so I supposed had Scott, that Lee, having taken command of the Army of Northern Virginia on the 23d, had, by general order of that date, ordered his forces at Alexandria and along the Potomac to act on the defensive, and to go into camps of instruction and collect men and provisions; and what Mansfield wanted with ten thousand more troops to assure the safety of the capital for the immediate future, I could not conceive. I felt thoroughly satisfied that the only thing that could have prompted the waiting for this movement was to give time for Davis, who had ordered troops to gather at Harper's Ferry to defend Baltimore, so that then there might be a grand flourish. And with my usual folly in bowing down to “Fuss and Feathers,” I made some suggestions in that direction, shaped so as not to offend my chief, with whom I desired to remain on good terms.

The plan of this meeting of twelve thousand troops in Baltimore went the round of military circles. To get some more troops to secure Washington, a movement was made on the 9th from Elkton to bring in from Perryville and elsewhere quite a large number of men. The plan was to land them at Locust Point, below Baltimore, under the cover of the guns of the navy, and march them [237] around Baltimore until they could step on to the Washington road. And this was done while I was at the Relay House, and went on immediately under my eyes. Now to have all this preparation upset and put in ridicule by a militia brigadier with a thousand men, naturally galled the lieutenant-general.

He had been a good soldier, was a pompous old man, magnified his office, and was a little irritable.

In my first dispatch to General Scott, after I reached the Relay House from Washington, I referred to my suggestion and concluded in the following words:--

I find the people here exceedingly friendly, and I have no doubt that with my present force I could march through Baltimore. I am the more convinced of this because I learn that, for several days, many of the armed secessionists have left for Harper's Ferry, or have gone forth plundering the country. I trust my acts will meet your approbation, whatever you may think of my suggestions.

I did really think if I took Baltimore I should please Scott.

On the 15th of May General Cadwallader came to Baltimore with his three thousand troops, a part of Scott's twelve thousand that were to be used in order to get there, with the following order:--

Washington, D. C., May 15, 1861.
to Brevet Major-General Cadwallader, Or Commanding General of Baltimore:
If Brevet Major-General Cadwallader be in Baltimore with regiments of Pennsylvanians, let him halt there with them and relieve Brigadier-General Butler in command of the Department of Annapolis, whereupon the brigadier will repair to Fortress Monroe and assume command of that important point.

This was before I had seen Scott. On the same day Cadwallader assumed command. As soon as relieved, I left Baltimore for Washington.

On the 16th of May, my commission as major-general was signed, and I was permitted to come to Washington to receive it and qualify under it. But before I got it I felt it my duty to call upon General Scott. [238]

He received me curtly enough; and, as I stood at “attention” after I made my salute, without asking me to be seated, he broke upon me with words of angry vituperation and accusation of all sorts of wrong-doing about going into Baltimore, and of the great. risk I had run. He said that I had thwarted his intention of taking it without shedding a drop of blood, and that I could be entrusted with nothing in the army again.

I waited, standing before him,--I hope not like a whipped cur,--until my patience, of which I have not too large a stock, was exhausted. I felt perfectly independent, because I had at that time come to the conclusion myself, and what was more, with the advice of my wife, to quit the army and quietly go home and attend to my profession and my family. I turned upon the old general and “gave him as good as he sent,” in language not violent but distinct.

I took his despatch which he had sent me at Baltimore from my pocket, and said:--

I have not answered this, because you did not know what you were writing about. You say my movement was a hazardous one. There was not the slightest hazard in it, and I knew it, for I had taken care to have actual information about what was going on in Baltimore, which, according to what you proposed, you did not have. Four days before, you let thirteen hundred men, including Sherman's regular battery and fifty regulars, sneak around Baltimore by Locust Point, instead of having them march through the city; and that was a concession, a yielding to the purposes of the secession mayor.

You say you did not know anything about the movement, and therefore could not have approved it. You told me that it was not necessary that you should know beforehand about what I did in my Department of Annapolis,--and I was acting within the limits of my department.

I had orders from you to go and get arms which had been sent from rebel Virginia to arm the rebels of Baltimore. How did you think I was to get them unless I went where they were? Your order itself told me the street and number in Baltimore where I should find munitions of war. I went and took them according to your order. [239]

You say it is a “godsend” that it was without conflict of arms. That was what I came here for, as I understood it, and I was very anxious to have a conflict of arms in Baltimore in order to punish any mob that might turn out against me, for the murder of my fellow-townsmen and fellow-soldiers; and the only thing that disturbed me about the expedition was that I was not likely to have a chance for a fight with the murderous “plug uglies” of that city. The whole thing was distressingly quiet.

You say you heard I “sent a detachment to Frederick, but that is impossible.” I learned that there was no force in Frederick to oppose a platoon, and I sent a company and captured the chief traitor, Ross Winans, who made pikes of the John Brown pattern for the mob to kill my soldiers with, and who made them after that pattern so that the rebels might say when they had the head of one of my townsmen on a pike, “We have made you take your own medicine,” for John Brown's pikes were made in Massachusetts.

I agree that I had not reported to you, and my apology is that there I had not a moment to spare, and I retired after forty hours sleeplessness to get a little rest, only to be wakened to get this insulting despatch. What was the use of my reporting to you? I had been before you several times before, and I doubt whether you would keep awake long enough to listen to it. As you have no further command over me,--good morning, General,

and I left him.

I did not call upon him again until he sent for me. I am not ashamed to confess I was so wrought up that upon my return to my quarters I threw myself on my lounge, and burst into a flood of tears. But while I was before Scott, I did not even wink.

Directly after this, I saw Mr. Cameron, the Secretary of War, and informed him that if I was no longer needed I intended to report home. He very kindly begged me not to do so. He said I would regret it if I did; that I had come into the service a leading Democrat, and others who were prominent Democrats had followed my example, and my action might tend to make the war a partisan one. I gave some little account of the scene that had taken place between Scott and myself. He said that being young I was capable of forgiving the outbursts of temper of a disappointed old man; and, further, that General Scott could not, because of his infirmities, long remain in command of the army. [240]

I saw Mr. Chase, the Secretary of the Treasury, and I told him the same thing. With many expressions of personal friendship, he insisted that I should accept my promotion, and he said further that it was intended to put me in command of one of the most important departments of the United States, including Fortress Monroe and Norfolk,--the Department of Virginia and North Carolina.

On the 18th I got the following order from General Scott:--

Sir:--You will proceed to Fortress Monroe and assume the command of that post, when Colonel Dimmick will limit his command to the regular troops, composing a part of the garrison, but will, by himself and his officers, give such aid in the instruction of the volunteers as you may direct.

It is expected that you put yourself into free communication with the commander of the United States naval forces in Hampton Roads, and invite his cordial co-operation with you in all operations in whole or in part by water, and, no doubt, he will have received corresponding instruction from the Navy Department.

Boldness in execution is nearly always necessary, but in planning and fitting out expeditions or detachments, great circumspection is a virtue. In important cases, where time clearly permits, be sure to submit your plans and ask instructions from higher authority. Communicate with me often and fully on all matters important to the service.

I remain, with great respect,


Upon receipt of that I wrote the Secretary of War the following letter:--

Baltimore, May 18, 1861.
Hon. Simon Cameron, Secretary of War:
Sir:--I have just received an order from General Scott transferring the command of the Department of Annapolis to General Cadwallader, and ordering me to Fortress Monroe. What does this mean? Is it a censure upon my action? Is it because I have caused Winans to be arrested? Is it because of my proving successful in bringing Baltimore to subjection and quiet?

Cadwallader may release Winans,--probably will. You must guard against that.

If my services are no longer desired by the Department, I am quit, content to be relieved altogether, but I will not be disgraced. In all [241] have done, I have acted solely according to what I believed to be the wishes of the President, General Scott, and yourself.

I am not disposed to be troublesome to you, but I wish this matter might be laid before the President. To be relieved of the command of a department and sent to command a fort, without a word of comment, is something unusual at least, and I am so poor a soldier as not to understand it otherwise than in the light of a reproof.

At least, I desire a personal interview with you and with the President before I accept further service. This will be handed to you by my friend and aide-de-camp, R. S. Fay, Jr., who knows its contents, and is able to represent me fully to you.

Very truly yours,

Benj. F. Butler, Brigadier-General Commanding.

After I got to Fortress Monroe I waited from the 22d of May till the 4th day of June, when, the order not arriving making North Carolina a part of my department, I wrote General Scott as follows:--

headquarters Department of Virginia, Fortress Monroe, Va., June 4, 1861.
Lieutenant-General Scott, Washington, D. C.:
General:--I beg leave further to call the attention of the lieutenant-general to the fact that from some oversight, probably in the adjutant-general's office, the orders creating the Department of Virginia, North and South Carolina, which I understood were issued when I was in Washington, have not been published; at least, I have not seen them. May I ask the attention of Lieutenant-General Scott to this omission, which might prove embarrassing?

I have the honor to be most respectfully your obedient servant,

Benj. F. Butler, Major-General Commanding.

Later on in the 18th I called upon the President. I did not call upon Seward, because he had given an order for the release of Ross Winans. The President did me the honor to offer me the commission with his own hand. I said to him :--

Mr. President, I doubt whether I ought to accept this commission; the withdrawal of myself and troops from Baltimore is a [242] reproach upon me for what I have done. I have a wife and children largely dependent upon me for their future happiness and station in life. I came here in the hope of doing some good for the country; I have tried my best and have been successful, and yet I am brought to see that the army is no place for me.”

The President said very kindly and courteously :--

“Certainly, General, the administration has done everything to remove every thought of reproach upon you; and I wish very much that you would accept the commission.”

“Well, Mr. President,” said I, “will you allow me to go to my room and consult with the mother of my children before I finally decide?”

“Certainly,” replied he; “you cannot do a better thing.”

I took the commission and returned to my hotel. My wife, seeing that if I went home I should probably be unhappy and discontented, advised me to accept it. I returned to the President, and said to him:--

“I will accept the commission, with many thanks to you for your personal kindness. But there is one thing I must say to you, as we don't know each other: That as a Democrat I opposed your election, and did all I could for your opponent; but I shall do no political act, and loyally support your administration as long as I hold your commission; and when I find any act that I cannot support I shall bring the commission back at once, and return it to you.”

“That is frank, that is fair,” he broke out in his way. “But I want to add one thing: When you see me doing anything that for the good of the country ought not to be done, come and tell me so, and why you think so, and then perhaps you won't have any chance to resign your commission.”

I said I certainly would avail myself of that privilege. Renewing my thanks I shook him by the hand, and from that day to the day of his death we were the warmest personal friends, and never differed but upon one matter of public policy, of which I shall speak hereafter.

To state that the capture of Baltimore was very loudly applauded by the loyal men of the country is saying no more than what is true. The only adverse comment upon it by any loyal [243] men which I have found is in the “History” which says: “It was loudly applauded by the impatient public opinion of the North which could ill comprehend the serious military risk involved.” I beg pardon; there was no more “military risk” in what was done than was incurred by the rebels in Florida when Brevet-Colonel Hay, armed with “several blank books,” was given by Lincoln a major's commission as assistant adjutant-general to go down to Florida to make it a loyal State. After his mission at that time failed for “lack of material,” Colonel Hay was twice promoted, as brevet lieutenant-colonel and colonel of the United States army, and for a service that was without “military risk” to himself or to the rebels.

On the 20th of May, I received a message to call on General Scott for my orders as commander of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina. They had been carefully written out by the assistant adjutant-general, and I will transcribe some paragraphs because the instructions may be of use hereafter as models:--

Besides the present garrison of Fortress Monroe, consisting of such companies of regular artillery, portions of two Massachusetts regiments of volunteers, and a regiment of Vermont volunteers, nine additional regiments of volunteers from New York may soon be expected there. Only a small portion, if any, of these can be conveniently quartered or encamped in the fort, the greater part, if not the whole area, of which will be necessary for exercises on the ground. The nine additional regiments must, therefore, be encamped in the best positions outside of and as near the fort as may be. For this purpose it is hoped that a pine forest north of the fort, near the bay, may be found to furnish the necessary ground and shade for some three thousand men, though somewhat distant from drinking and cooking water. This, as well as feed, it may be necessary to bring to the camp on wheels.

When I got there on the 22d the only four-footed animal I found there besides the cats, was a small mule which dragged the sling cart, into which were regularly emptied certain necessary vessels in order that their contents might be carried to the seashore.

My instructions were carefully curtailed so that I might make no more Baltimore expeditions:-- [244]

The quartermaster's department has been instructed to furnish the necessary vehicles, casks, and draft animals. The war garrison of Fortress Monroe, against a formidable army provided with an adequate siege train, is about twenty-five hundred men. You will soon have there, inside and out, near three times that many. Assuming fifteen hundred as a garrison adequate to resist any probable attack in the next six months, or, at least, for many days or weeks, you will consider the remainder of the force under your command as disposable for aggressive purposes and employ it accordingly.

In respect to more distant operations, you may expect specific instruction at a later date. In the meantime I will direct your attention to the following objects: 1st, Not to let the enemy erect batteries to annoy Fortress Monroe; 2d, To capture any batteries the enemy may have within a half day's march of you, and which may be reached by land; 3d, The same in respect to the enemy's batteries at or about Craney Island, though requiring water craft; and 4th, To menace and recapture the navy-yard at Gosport, in order to complete its destruction, with its contents, except what it may be practical to bring away in safety.

These instructions effectually precluded anything like reaching the enemy, as Norfolk, thirteen miles away, could be approached only by water. The entrance to the port of Norfolk through Elizabeth River was well covered by forts and batteries.

Meanwhile, before the New York regiments arrived, myself and staff proceeded to inspect the “pine forest.” It was about two miles from the fort, on a narrow strip of land next to the beach, and between the sea and Miller's River, and could not possibly have been made a camp-ground for two thousand men. It was a part of the land ceded by Virginia to the United States. Upon inspection, I saw an objection to it as a camp-ground, which I chose to respect. The pine grove had been used as the burying-ground of the garrison. All of the soldiers and others who had died there for more than half a century were buried there, and it was thickly dotted with their graves.

In order to try the temper of my soldiers, I had the rumor circulated among them that the commanding-general thought of encamping the volunteers in the graveyard of the fort. Respectful protests to any such action came at once as thick as the leaves of [245] Vallombrosa. Colonel De Russey, chief engineer, also reported the spot to me as malarious and unhealthy.

When General Scott gave me the envelope containing my orders, he seemed to have entirely forgotten our late interview, and became quite companionable. He told me all about the fort, congratulated me upon my assignment to that position with my quarters in the fort, and gave me special congratulations, which while they were very kind in him were eminently characteristic.

“General,” he said, “you are very fortunate to be assigned to duty at Fortress Monroe; it is just the season for soft-shelled crabs, and hog fish have just come in, and they are the most delicious pan fish you ever ate,” --as indeed I found them to be.

From that time I never had the least objectionable communication from General Scott.

We always met in the most friendly manner, and when he was retired from the army,--after McClellan had quarrelled with him, and abused him until he got the old general removed from his path to the chief command, and then wrote a very florid general order in his praise,--I felt it my duty to ask leave, as senior major-general, to attend, with other officers, as escort to his home.

I met him but once afterwards, and that was when I was in command in New York, in 1864. I took possession of the Hoffman House, where he had rooms, for my headquarters. I waited upon him and assured him that he should not be disturbed. At that time he gave me the history of his life in two volumes, subscribed with his own hand, “From the Oldest to the Youngest General in the United States Army.”

I certainly had no cause to complain of the territorial extent of my jurisdiction. It was the geographical department of Virginia and North Carolina, and was subject to my military rule as far as I could possess myself of it, with headquarters at Fortress Monroe.

The fort was one of the strongest and best in the United States, and certainly the largest. It was a bastion fort about sixty-five acres in extent, with a water battery casemated on its sea front, and some guns mounted en barbette. Its ramps and ramparts were in good condition. Its only weak point as far as construction was [246] concerned was in its magazines, which had been made safe only on the sea front. In the rear they had been left in a very unsatisfactory condition, the constructing engineer never supposing that the fort could be assaulted or bombarded from the land side. As it was, if it were attacked by the rebels from that side, with mortars throwing a curved fire into the fort and against the walls of the inner ramparts, the magazines were wholly without protection. As the enemy had manifested some intention of erecting batteries on the land side, this condition of our ammunition was a serious anxiety; so our first work was to cover the magazines with bags filled with sand. That work was begun when I got there, but was never completed, because we very soon got beyond all fear of attack from the land side.

There was another prime necessity which was still more pressing. The fort required for a full war garrison twenty-five hundred men and for an ordinary garrison fifteen hundred. There was neither a well nor a spring in the fort, nor any on the point of land on which the fort was situated. The only water supply which the garrison had was the rain-water caught on the ramparts which drained into cisterns. With four hundred men in a garrison the year before, the water had failed entirely.

The fort had been in this condition ever since the days of President Monroe, when work was first begun upon it. True, an artesian well had been sunk about four hundred feet, many years before I got there; but not a drop of water was obtained. The appropriation for the work became exhausted, and no appropriation on water was afterwards obtained.

The fort was surrounded by a moat one hundred feet wide, which had been dug and walled, and was constructed to hold six feet of water at the tide level, the water being detained therein by proper gates. This provision rendered the fort practically unassailable by any troops by an escalade, and assailable only by bombardment, which could easily be done by the heavy guns of our day, but not of that day. The walls could be battered down and allow the flowing of sand into the moat.

This moat I found had been partially filled in a curious manner. All the waters in the neighborhood of the fort, in Hampton Creek and Back River, were filled with the finest possible oysters, and [247]

Views of Fortress Monroe. From Photographs. 1. A Water Battery.

2. Second Front for Rampart.

3. Commanding Officers' Headquarters.

[248] [249] they were very cheap. The garrison of the fort, especially the officers, occupied quarters largely in the casemates, which were built into the walls of the fort under the ramparts, and had embrasures pierced in the outside walls for guns. These openings overlooked the moat, and also served the occupants of the casemates as windows when the guns were withdrawn. Through these narrow windows the shells of the oysters were easily thrown into the moat and as the larger shells had small oysters attached to them, there was quite an oyster bank in the bottom of the moat and one which filled it up very considerably.

As soon as possible the moat was cleared and the water was afterwards kept in it at its full height.

But the question of drinking water was one of the most pressing, as warm weather was coming on. There was quite a spring on the opposite side of Mill Creek, the bridge of which was picketed, and I proposed to Colonel De Russey, who was the engineer officer in charge, a very old and therefore a very formal officer, that we should bring water from there into the fort. He informed me that pipe could only be put there by contract after advertisement and after authority had been obtained from the chief of engineers at Washington. I told him to take it in charge. Against his protest, however, I insisted upon having an artesian well sunk in the fort. The old well, even if it had reached water, was only a four-inch pipe, and unless it should happen, of which there was but one chance in a hundred, to be a very heavy flowing well, it would by no means furnish the post with a sufficient supply of water.

Upon examining the topography of the country and its geological formation, I came to the conclusion that at one time the sea flowed up to the hills near Richmond in a straight line between fifty and sixty miles and that the substantial plateau between those cliffs and the fort was formed by concretion from the ocean, and that it was probable we should have to bore our well until we got down some six hundred feet because the trend of the whole coast was to rise about a fathom in a mile. The well was begun, and I had got down some four hundred feet at the time when I was relieved from command of the fort for some months or so. Then the work was stopped and never has proceeded any further, and I have never [250] heard of any provision for water in the fort that would supply a garrison of more than four hundred men.

The only provisions other than meat which the men had to live on were the hard buns or hard tack. All these provisions were conveyed into the fort by being rolled along in barrels, over a sandy road for about three quarters of a mile. And along this sandy road was the only way that our heavy cannon could be conveyed over the beach and up on the ramparts or anywhere else. I was informed that a twelve-inch bore cannon, the largest then ever made, was about to be sent to the fort to be tested experimentally. It weighed about twenty-six tons, and I assumed there must be some other method of locomotion.

Knowing that some railroad ties, rails, and cars belonging to the enemy had been captured at Alexandria, I sent a requisition to the Secretary of War for a sufficient number of them to lay railroad tracks from the wharves through the gateway into the fort and around the inner part of its circumference, with branches running into these several magazines, and one upon the ramparts so as to take the heavy guns up there.

I got a favorable answer to my requisition, and then I consulted Colonel De Russey upon the question of putting a branch up the sand beach where the loose sand above tide was some four or five inches deep, while the rolling of the surf left, as on other beaches, the sand below for a hard shore. When I explained the matter to the colonel, he said:--

“What? Do you propose to put a railroad track over this soft sand?”


“And run cars over the track?”

“Yes; and not only that, Colonel De Russey, but I want to carry a twenty-six ton cannon up to a certain point. Now which way do you think we had best bring it?”

“Why,” said he, “General, you cannot carry anything on a track laid over this dry sand, and above all that very heavy gun. Why, it would sink your whole railroad track and ties in the sand.”

“I am not an engineer, Colonel,” I replied, “but I do know something about building a railroad. We build them on the sand [251] where we want to, and I think it is rather the most solid of any foundation if you can but keep it out of the reach of water.”

“Well,” said he, “I tell you, General, this is a matter I ought to know something about; it is impossible for you to build a road on this sand without its sinking in it.”

Colonel,” I said, “I will show you a little experiment which I think will convince you.” I looked around and saw a sentinel pacing his beat down from the sallyport, and wearing his little tin cup at his belt. I called him to me and said: “Lend me your tin cup.” He did so. I stooped down and filled it with perfectly dry sand, smoothed it over the top, and turned to the colonel and said:--

“If you can put anything else in that cup of dry sand by any pressure you please without getting some of the sand out of it. I will agree that I am wrong. If you cannot you must agree that the sand won't allow the ties of the rails to sink into it only to a very small depth.”

“I see the force of your experiment,” said he, “but I cannot believe that you can build a railroad upon this sand in the way you propose, so that it will be a useful one.”

“Well, Colonel,” I said, “I must have a railroad here, and if you don't think that you can build it do you have any objection to my making a requisition for a railroad engineer to come here and do the thing, and relieve you from the responsibility?”

“Certainly not,” said he.

I then telegraphed and got Mr. Alexander Worrall, an engineer from the Pennsylvania railroad, and he came down. In a few days we had our railroad all down and in good running order. Then I put the gun on two trucks and hitched a number of men on the drag ropes and dragged it along lively. I rode up with a led horse to Colonel De Russey's office, and asked him to mount and ride down with me and see my railroad go into the sand, if it would. The order given, the men trotted off with my gun half a nile up the beach.

I never afterwards had any opposition from Colonel De Russey to anything I proposed.

Meanwhile regiments kept reporting to me from the North. I established a camp of instruction on the other side of Mill Creek [252] on the “sacred soil of Virginia,” because Virginia was now in open rebellion, and encamped my troops there, soon having seven or eight thousand men. The camp was on the borders of that stream, and just above it a number of wells were dug to supply the troops there with water. These wells drained the stream and cut off my water supply, which was quite seven hundred gallons a day. Then, to supply the fort, we were obliged to bring water from Baltimore which cost us as high as two cents per gallon. But that supply was a meagre one, so we erected a plant to distil seawater taken from the moat, by converting it into steam and allowing the steam to condense. Thus we supplied the fort at the expense of a pound of coal for a pint of water.

Among the regiments that came to me was the First Vermont, under the command of Colonel Phelps, formerly of the regular army. He was one of the best soldiers I ever saw, and the finest man in every relation of life that I ever met, except one. He was an abolitionist of the most profound, energetic, and forth-putting type.

As soon as he was fairly settled in camp I ordered him to make a reconnoissance with his regiment across Hampton Creek into the village of Hampton. In it had been collected a few Virginia militia. As soon as Phelps got near the bridge crossing Hampton Creek, the rebel militia attempted to burn it. He made a charge upon them at double-quick, drove them off the bridge, and saved it. Crossing over, he occupied the town for a while, and then returned to camp about half way between Hampton and Newport News. This was organized as a camp of instruction and was named Camp Hamilton.

At the same time that General Phelps entered Hampton, myself and staff made a reconnoissance about seven miles into the country, turning off at the road running up to Back River, and then skirting around until we struck the shore and then coming back to the fort. By this means I got full knowledge of the country within actual striking distance of the fort, except of that portion beyond Hampton Creek, and then onward to the mouth of the James, a distance of about eleven miles.

I had some knowledge of the point of junction of the north side of the James with Hampton Roads. I had given very studious [253] attention to the early history of Virginia, after I knew I was to be sent there. I had also examined the maps in the Congressional Library and a map of the shore which I procured from the coast survey. I learned that at the junction of the James with Hampton Roads there was a high promontory some sixty feet above the water, jutting boldly out into the bay in a range of several miles of very deep soundings up the James and on the sides of the Roads, gradually shoaling for miles, until it reached some eight to fifteen fathoms. Those soundings came within pistol shot of the shore.

On this bluff, and extending back four or five miles upon it, until they reached a large and apparently primeval forest, were cultivated lands.

This point was called Newport News from this incident: When the colonists at Jamestown, some twenty miles up the river, were in a state of starvation,--that is to say, in want of wheat, barley, beer, and roast beef, having almost everything else to eat that a man could desire of the game of the forest, and the fish of the sea,--they sent word to England of their starving condition, like our Pilgrim Fathers at Plymouth, who did the same thing under the same circumstances. These people at Jamestown then waited with anxiety for the outfit of a vessel by Lord Newport containing the coveted material for beer, and at the farthest point of all down the river they established an outpost on this bluff to watch for the coming of Newport's ship from home. After days of watchfulness and anxiety the vessel came in sight. The watchers at the outpost were the first to know of its arrival, and this news they conveyed to Jamestown with the utmost speed, to the great delight of its people. And in honor of that occasion that point was named Newport's News.

I saw that this point, if held by us and fortified, would forever keep safe the deep channel and anchorage whereon to concentrate a fleet and make an attack upon Norfolk, which lay at the left from the bluff facing the fort and some seven miles up the Elizabeth. I also saw that this post, as long as it was held, would control the ascent of James River certainly as far as Jamestown Island, or some twenty-five miles toward Richmond. Three days after my arrival at the fort I determined to occupy Newport News. I did not wish to waste time, and as it was distant more than the half day's march to [254] which I was restricted by my orders, I wrote to General Scott that I proposed to make the reconnoissance in person that very day, with the intention, if I found it practical, of seizing Newport News, and intrenching a force there by which this important point could always be held unless our government lost control of Hampton Roads. Therefore I embarked at midday with twenty-five men and three gentlemen of my staff. We steamed up past Sewall's Point, being saluted from the enemy's battery there by a cannon shot, the ball of which fell far short of its mark. I then answered the salute in derision with a rival shot from a rifle, which carried its bullet as far as the enemy's cannon. We landed at a little jetty at Newport News, and climbed the banks. Here there burst upon my sight one of the finest scenes that I ever beheld. At the point nearest the river was a farmer's house shaded by some very fine elms, and a field of some sixty or seventy acres, a perfect plain, covered with a beautiful growth of spring wheat waving in the light wind.

Even this cursory examination proved to me that the point was all I could hope for. Sailing a mile or two up the James River, we turned about and reached home in time for an early supper.

That evening I organized an expedition of two thousand men, some artillery, and some heavy guns to command the river, with the necessary intrenching tools, and with three days rations in the haversacks of the troops.

We got off the next morning at seven o'clock, and at half-past 8 we were ruthlessly trampling down that field of wheat in pitching our camp and marking out the line of intrenchments stretching across the point from water to water.

One of the regiments was that of Colonel Phelps, and I detailed him in command. From that time Newport News was always the place where the fleet of the navy found fine air, fine anchorage, and plenty of water, and was never disturbed by a hostile shot until the arrival of the Merrimac, and the sinking of the frigates Congress and Constellation, in the spring following.

That we were not a day too early was shown by the immediate occupation by the rebels of Pig Point, which lies precisely on the opposite side of the James River at its junction with the Nansemond. [255] Later on I mounted at Newport News the most efficient piece of artillery of that time,--and I have seen few more efficient since. It was a twenty-four pounder, carrying a fifty-three-pound six-inch shell, grooved mechanically so as to fit exactly the grooves of the bore; and later on a shot was thrown six miles across the James River.

This being done I felt myself completely established at Fortress Monroe.

But there are many other matters which claim the fullest and closest attention; and as the next important event led to the most serious results affecting the condition of the country, we may as well proceed to another chapter.

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