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Chapter 20:

  • The spy at Richmond.
  • -- earthworks around the rebel capital. -- an unexpected meeting. -- Pistols for two. -- a Reconciliation. -- safe return to Washington.

On Monday morning Webster left Grove Wharf, on the regular steam packet, for Richmond, where he arrived on the evening of the same day. Here he separated from his companions and made his way alone to the Spotswood Hotel, where he registered, and proceeded to make himself at home. He was now in the rebel capital, surrounded on all sides by the enemies of his country, with no friends to whom he could apply in case of danger, and burdened with a mission, upon the successful performance of which his life depended. It was a mission, too, requiring such delicate and skillful labor, that a man less iron-nerved would have trembled at the very contemplation of it; but Webster, whose courage and self-command never deserted him in the most trying moments of his life, coolly reviewed the situation and laid his plans in a systematic manner for future operations.

The next day, he busied himself about the city, delivering his letters, forming acquaintances, and [315] paving the way for an interview with the Secretary of War, his object being to obtain from that high official, if possible, a pass to Manassas and Winchester. He was informed by General Jones, PostAdjutant to General Winder, the Provost-Marshal at Richmond, and commander of the forces there, that no interview could be obtained with the Secretary of War, except upon business especially connected with the military department, as they were daily expecting an attack from the Federal Army of the Potomac, and the Secretary was wholly engaged with officers of the army.

Among the acquaintances which Webster formed, was a young man by the name of William Campbell, originally a Baltimorean, to whom he brought a letter of introduction from the father of the young man. Campbell treated my operative with the utmost friendliness and courtesy, and invited him to a drive during the afternoon. The invitation was accepted, and as the weather was all that could be desired, they enjoyed a very pleasant afternoon. They visited the environs for the purpose of viewing the defenses, and Webster noted the fact that there were seventeen very superior earth-work batteries around the town, forming a rude semicircle with either end resting on the James river. The entrenchments around each of these batteries were from twelve to fourteen feet wide at the top, and about ten feet deep. Some of the batteries were designed for six guns and [316] some for sixteen. They were nearly all completed at this time, and the work upon them had been done exclusively by negro slaves. In most cases they were mounted with their full complement of guns, varying in caliber, from thirty-two to sixty-four pounds. The land around Richmond consists of hills and valleys, and the batteries were planted on the most elevated and commanding points. The heaviest of these commanded the turnpikes and railroads which formed the approaches from Manassas and Fredericksburg.

After visiting the batteries, Webster went with Campbell to the ordnance department, where he was introduced to several persons who had charge of the ordnance stores, and from whom he elicited much valuable information. Among other things, he was informed by the Colonel in charge, that the “Bermuda,” an English vessel which had recently run the blockade, had brought over for the Confederate government twelve thousand Enfield rifles, a large supply of cavalry swords and a number of rifled cannon; and that, upon trial, the rifled cannon were found to be more accurate than any of their brass pieces.

On the following day Webster concluded to make another inspection of the earth-works around the city. He went alone and on foot this time, as he desired to make some notes and calculations, which he was unable to do in the presence of others without running an unnecessary risk. It was a fine, brisk morning, [317] the air was slightly tinged with the coolness of approaching winter, and the spy occupied the entire forenoon in strolling leisurely from point to point, apparently with the single object of idling away a few leisure hours. Now he passed some men engaged in planting a cannon on one of the redoubts, and again he saw a group of slaves busily at work with pickaxes and shovels, but no one seemed to pay any attention to him.

About noon he came upon a scene, which, though characteristic of the time and place, was rather a novel sight to a Northern man, and he stopped to view it with considerable interest. In a sunny spot near the river bank about a dozen negro laborers were gathered, their surroundings showing that they had just left off work for the enjoyment of their allotted hour of rest, at noon. Having finished their mid-day repast, they were now filling their time by indulging in a species of amusement peculiar to their race. On a pine log sat a jolly-looking old negro, whose hair was white as snow and whose face was black as ebony, grinning, and rolling his head from side to side, while he patted “Juba” with great energy and skill, on his knees, chest and head. The other darkies were dancing to the “music,” and apparently enjoying the sport to an unlimited degree.

The detective was amused at the spectacle, but this feeling gave way to one of surprise and curiosity, as he looked more intently at the white-haired old [318] man who was acting as musician. There was something strikingly familiar in those black, smiling features. Surely this was not the first time he had seen that face, or witnessed that tremendous grin. Where-had he met this darky before?

Suddenly his recollection was quickened. The person in question was none other than Uncle Gallus, the servant of ex-Governor Morton, whom he had seen in my office at Washington, on the day that I had questioned him about his mistress. This fact was clear enough to Webster, but somewhat surprising, withal. He remembered that Uncle Gallus had, on that occasion, represented the Mortons as very indulgent slave-owners, who never permitted him to perform any hard labor; yet here he was, in the role of a common workman, employed upon the fortifications around Richmond.

Whatever had caused this change, however, it did not appear to weigh heavily upon the old darky, for at this moment he was in the very ecstasy of delight, as he patted inspiration into the nimble feet of his companions. The other darkies danced until their faces shone with perspiration, and the manner in which their loose-jointed limbs swung and wriggled, suggested the idea that those members were hung on pivots. They leaped and vaulted, and flung their heels in the airs, as if they were so many jumping-jacks and Uncle Gallus was pulling the string.

The latter hummed snatches of plantation melodies [319] as he warmed up to his work, and finally he sung a series of characteristic verses, of which the following are a sample:

Did you ebber see a woodchuck lookina at a coon-fight?
Linkum am a-comina by'm-bye;
Did you ebber see a niggah gal dancina in de moonlight?
Glory, glory, glory hallelujerum!

Possum up a gum-stump, chawina slippery-ellum,
Linkum am a-comina by'm-bye;
Nigga's in de market ana massa tryina to sell 'em-
Glory, glory, glory hallelujerum!

Secesh in Richmona — de Yankee boys has treed 'em-
Linkum am a-comina by'm-bye;
All de little pickaninnies gwine to git dar freedom-
Glory, glory, glory hallelujerum!

Suddenly the merriment of the blacks was interrupted in a most unexpected manner.

Some tall bushes that covered the top of a slight elevation near by were suddenly parted, and a man, wearing the uniform of a Lieutenant in the Confederate army, leaped down among the astonished revelers. In a towering rage, he turned upon Uncle Gallus and shouted:

Shut your head, you d — d old villain, or I'll fill your black hide with lead!

and he flourished a cocked revolver in the face of the terrified negro.

“ Afoa God, Massa, we didn't mean no harm, we's jes passina away de time,” said Uncle Gallus, in a frightened voice. [320]

“Well, then,” said the officer, with an oath, “be a little more careful in the future about the kind of songs you sing, or I'll have every d — d one of you bucked and gagged, and whipped within an inch of your lives.”

Replacing his weapon, and turning on his heel, he was striding angrily away when he came face to face with Webster.

The recognition was mutual and instantaneous between the two men. As quick as a flash Webster had his revolver cocked and pointed at the head of the blustering Confederate.

“Bill Zigler, what are you doing here? You move at your peril.”

“ I'd kill you, curse you, but you've got the drop on me now, as you had once before. But my time will come, you d — d Yankee spy!”

“ Look here, Bill!” said Webster, anxious, if possible, to disarm at once and forever the suspicions of his enemy, “what is the use of our being continually at daggers' points? You were foolish enough to insult me in Baltimore by impeaching my loyalty to the South, and I resented it, as any man would. If you repeat the vile slander, I'll do the same thing. If, however, you have anything personal against me, and must fight, I'll put up my weapon and meet you hand to hand.”

Zigler looked at the speaker a moment, and then advancing and extending his hand, said: [321]

Webster, put up your pistol; I guess I've made a d — d fool of myself. I did think you were a spy, but I knock under; I don't want to be an enemy to such a friend to the cause as I now believe you to be.”

Lowering his revolver, Webster good-naturedly received the friendly overtures of his former foe.

“I thought you would come to your senses at last; but when did you come down here?”

“ Oh, I've been here several weeks. I enlisted in Baltimore and came down as a lieutenant,” answered Zigler. “But where are you from?” he continued, and “what is the news from the Monumental City?”

“ I am just from that city,” replied Webster, “and have brought a number of letters for parties here and at Manassas. I expect to go to the Junction tomorrow, if I succeed in getting a pass.”

“ Who do you want to see there?”

“Well, I want to see John Bowen,” replied Webster, naming a particular friend of Zigler's, whom he knew was at Manassas. “I understand he is down with typhoid fever, and will no doubt be glad to hear from home.”

This straightforward story completely disarmed the suspicions of the bully as to Webster's true character, and finding that he had time to spare he invited the scout to his quarters.

Thus the quarrel was settled between these two [322] men, and the superior tact and coolness of Webster had succeeded in making a friend of a man who might have seriously interfered with his operations, and probably have jeopardized his life.

As they were leaving the place, Webster cast a look at the group of negroes, whose mirth had been so suddenly interrupted, and he noticed that they were regarding the Lieutenant with looks of sullen anger. He was, however, considerably relieved to find that Uncle Gallus had not recognized him, and that as far as the aged negro was concerned, he had nothing to fear. He accompanied Zigler to his quarters, where they chatted pleasantly for an hour, after which Webster returned to his hotel, a much wiser man than when he first started out upon his walk.

As he sauntered quietly back to the city, he felt quite elated at the success of his management of Zigler, whom he had made a fast friend. After supper, in company with Mr. Campbell, he strolled about the city for a short time, when his companion excused himself, and Webster pursued his way alone. He was walking along Utah street, apparently deeply absorbed in his own meditations) when he heard a voice behind him.

“ Hole on dar, Massa!”

Turning around, he was surprised to see Uncle Gallus, approaching him as rapidly as his stiffened limbs would permit. [323]

“Well, uncle,” said Webster, as the old man caught up to him-“did you speak to me?”

“You'se de man dat I 'dressed, sah-done you know me?” said the old fellow, peering anxiously in the face of the detective.

“No, I don't remember you,” said Webster, determined to ascertain whether the old darky did know him; “where have you ever seen me?”

In Washington, sah,” replied Uncle Gallus; “don't you remember you saw me at Majah Allen's, when I was dah libin wid Missus Morton?”

Webster looked at the negro a moment, and then, feeling assured of the friendliness of his interlocutor, he said:

Your face does seem familiar to me; what is your name?

“ Dey calls me Uncle Gallus, sah,” answered the old fellow.

“Oh, yes,” said Webster, “now I remember you.”

“Golly, massa,” grinned Uncle Gallus, “wen I seed you gib it to Bill Zigler dis mo'nina, I dun knowed you right away, but I wouldn't say nuffina for de world, foa I knowed you was a pullina de wool ober his eyes.”

Knowing full well that he had nothing to fear from Uncle Gallus, he talked with him goodnaturedly on various topics, and in the course of the conversation he learned that he was no longer with Mrs. [324] Morton, having been disposed of by her, some time before, and that he was now being used by the Confederate government to work upon the fortifications. Not deeming it advisable to remain long in conversation with the old darky on the streets, he told him that he would see him in a day or two, and placing a coin in the old man's hand, he bade him good-night.

The next morning Mr. Campbell and Webster visited General Jones, and obtained the sought-for passes to Manassas, for which place he left early in the forenoon. On his arrival there, he learned that John Bowen, for whom he had a letter, had been taken to Richmond, but having several other messages to deliver to parties of prominence there, he busied himself during the day in forming acquaintances, and in acquiring knowledge. From Manassas he went to Centreville, where he remained a few days, and from thence to Warrington, and finally back again to Richmond, where he delivered his remaining letters. Here he formed the acquaintance of a man by the name of Price, who was engaged in running the blockade, and who was making arrangements to return to Baltimore, to purchase a fresh supply of goods. Together they went to the office of the Provost-Marshal, where they obtained the necessary passes to insure their safe journey through the rebel lines.

Leaving Richmond, they went to Fredericksburg, where he stayed long enough to visit all the places of [325] interest around that city, and in company with Mr. Price they went on to Brooks Station, the headquarters of General Holmes, with whom Price was intimately acquainted. After remaining several days, he left his companion, making his way to Yorktown and Gloucester Point, and from thence to Washington, where he reported to me.

This first visit of Timothy Webster to Richmond was highly successful. Not only had he made many friends in that city, who would be of service to him on subsequent trips, but the information he derived was exceedingly valuable. He was able to report very correctly the number and strength of the fortifications around the rebel capital, to estimate the number of troops and their sources of supplies, and also the forts between that city and Manassas Junction. His notes of the topography of the country were of the greatest value, and he received the warmest thanks of the commanding general, for what he had thus far been able to accomplish.

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