Chapter 1: Alpha.
Richmond in 1861-62.
Who that witnessed and shared the wild excitement which, upon the days immediately following the victory at Manassas
, throbbed and pulsated throughout the crowded capital of the Southern Confederacy can ever forget?
Men were beside themselves with joy and pride,— drunk with glory.
By night the city blazed with illuminations, even the most humble home setting up its beacon-light,—a sure guide to where loyal, devoted hearts were throbbing with patriotism.
In the general rejoicing the heavy price of victory was for a time unheeded.
had sent forth to battle her best beloved, and, alas!
many were the ‘unreturning braves.’
The dazzling light fell upon many dwellings only to reveal the utter darkness that reigned without and within.
No need to ask why. All knew that in each darkened home stricken hearts filled with an agony of
desolation struggled in vain to remember that they were mothers and wives of heroes, but could not yet lift their eyes from the ghastly wounds—the bloody graves of their dead.
Ah! the lovely, joyous, hopeful, patriotic days of that summer of 1861.
The Confederate gray was then a thing of beauty,—the outer garb of true and loyal souls.
Every man who wore it became ennobled in the eyes of every woman.
These boys in gray were strangers to none.
Their uniform was a passport to every heart and every home.
Broad Street was thronged with them all day long.
of all grades rode hither and thither, or congregated on the steps of the hotels.
Squads of soldiers promenaded, gayly chatting with acquaintances whom they chanced to meet.
Occasionally the sound of drum and fife or the fuller music of a brass band would herald the appearance of a company or regiment, perhaps just arrived from some distant State, eager to reach the front.
On more retired streets, at their homes, humble or luxurious, sweet young girls welcomed with kindly words and sunny smiles officers and private soldiers, extending equal courtesy to both.
The elegant mansions on Clay Street and elsewhere were never without soldier guests.
Impromptu meals were served whenever needed.
In elegant dining-rooms stately servants supplied the wants of soldiers.
No one asked who they were, whence they came.
They were Confederate soldiers—that was quite enough.
In the cool drawing-rooms pleasant chat beguiled the summer hours, sweet songs floated out upon the air, or the more stirring notes of ‘Dixie’ or ‘The Bonnie Blue Flag,’ played with a spirit and vim which electrified every listener.
If these warriors who lingered here could have chosen
for themselves, they would never have thus quietly rested upon the laurels won at Manassas
Contrary to their wishes, they had been recalled from the pursuit of the flying foe and consigned to temporary inactivity.
As the new companies or regiments came in they were marched into camp in the suburds or temporarily provided for in the immense tobacco warehouses which were numerous all over the city.
Passing one of these, at every window appeared laughing or discontented faces of soldiers newly arrived, full of ardor, ready and expecting to perform prodigies of valor, yet ignominiously shut up within four brick walls, with a sentinel guarding every door.
The evening drills at the camp-grounds were attended by hundreds of ladies.
So enthusiastic were these, so full of pride and admiration for the braves who had come to defend their homes and themselves, so entirely in accord with the patriotic spirit which burned in every manly heart, that not a soldier, no matter how humble, came near or passed before a group of these animated beauties who was not literally bathed in the radiance of kindly smiles,—transformed into a demigod by the light of gloriously flashing eyes.
No pen can do justice to the scenes I would fain describe.
Language is quite inadequate to express the feeling which then lived and had its being in the hearts of all Southern women towards the heroes who had risen up to defend the liberties of the South
Exalted far above mere sentiment, holding no element of vanity or selfishness,—idolatrous, if you will, yet an idolatry which inspired the heart, nerved the hand, and made any sacrifice possible.
No purer patriotism ever found lodgment in human breast.
No more sacred fire was ever kindled by human hands on any altar than the impulse which imperatively called men from the peaceful
avocations of life to repel the threatened invasion of their homes and firesides.
They were actuated by no spirit of hatred or revenge (then
). They sought not to despoil, to lay waste.
But, when justice was dethroned, her place usurped by the demon of hate and prejudice, when the policy of coercion and invasion was fully developed, with one heart and voice the South
cried aloud, ‘Stand
The ground's your own, my braves.’
as a meteor, yet clear and unwavering, flashed and burned the beacon-light first kindled in South Carolina
A million torches lighted at this flame were borne aloft throughout the Southland.
And now the invader had been met and foiled in his first attempt to conquer and desolate the homes of Virginia
Who can wonder that their brave defenders were the idols of a grateful people?
Their valor, having been fully tested, had far surpassed the expectations of the most sanguine.
‘Hope told a flattering tale.’
flattering, for the confidence begotten by this first success inspired a contempt for the foe quite undeserved.
Meanwhile, the summer sun still brightened the unharmed capitol.
The summer wind still bore aloft on the dome in Capitol Square the flag of the new Confederacy, the ‘stars and bars.’
Here, after sunset and in the moonlight, came young men and maidens, matrons and children.
Old men, too, who, baring their silvery heads to the cool breeze, gazed upward at the bonnie flag, with a look half triumphant, half sad; for the love of the ‘star-spangled banner’ had grown with their growth and strengthened with their strength, and it had been hard to tear it from their hearts.
To young eyes the new flag seemed an emblem of glory.
Young hearts glowed with pride as often as they looked upon it. The story of the eventful hour when it
first replaced the ‘stars and stripes’ and floated over the capitol
building in full view of the whole city, hailed by acclamations from many thousand voices, is still told with pride by the citizens of Richmond
The moment it was known that Virginia
had passed the ordinance of secession, the cheering, enthusiastic crowd which had for hours surrounded Mechanics' Institute, made a rush for the State-House
to ‘haul down’ the old flag, and run up the ‘stars and bars.’
Upon making the attempt, it was found impossible to move the United States
flag, some one having either nailed or driven it with staples to the staff.
Two boys, burning with zeal, started for the cupola to cut loose the flag.
One of these, although a lad of eighteen, was a member of the Richmond Howitzers
Hoping to outstrip the other, he climbed hand over hand up the lightning-rod.
Just as he reached the goal of his ambition, however, the staples securing the rod pulled out and the boy was left swaying back and forth in mid-air, while the crowd upon the top of the capitol
and on the ground below looked on in horror.
The lightning-rod was one of the old-fashioned sort, and more than an inch in diameter.
One after another the staples gave way under the weight.
The rod swayed gently back and forth as if uncertain which way to fall, but finally lurching towards the up-town side.
Every one expected that the lad would be so disconcerted and appalled when he struck the edge of the roof, that he would be unable to look out for his own safety.
One of the party resolved to attempt a rescue, although by so doing his own life would be endangered.
Throwing himself flat on the roof like a bat, he slid down headforemost to the gutter, which, fortunately, was very wide.
Placing himself on his back in this gutter so as to be able to arrest the other poor boy in his fall, he waited until the lightning-rod
struck the roof, then called out loudly, ‘Let go; I'll catch you.’
The boy obeyed, and as he slipped down the roof in an almost unconscious condition, his rescuer in the gutter grasped and held him until he recovered his self-possession, when both pulled off their shoes and climbed the steep roof to the skylight.
Both boys were gallant soldiers, but perhaps neither was ever again in greater danger than when excess of patriotism cost the one that hazardous ride on the lightning-rod, the other to assume the equally dangerous but noble position of rescuer.
Both are still living,—veterans now. One, occupying a position of honor and of public trust, is a personal friend of the writer.
To me the Confederate
flag was an object of profound love and passionate devotion.
It represented hopes that I thought could never fail, possibilities so glorious that imagination was dazzled.
I used to go to the square before sunrise, leading my little boy, trying vainly to make him understand and share in some degree my own enthusiasm, but instead he only busied himself in trying to steal near enough to pounce upon one of the many little birds flitting from spray to spray with happy songs.
Approaching the beautiful monument where the statues are so lifelike as to appear real companions, sentient and cognizant of one's presence, I chose always a seat where I could gaze upon the face of Patrick Henry
, recalling his stirring words, trying to imagine what he would have thought and said now
, and almost daring to wish that soul of fire might come, if only for a moment, to animate the cold form; that the silent lips might speak, the eyes look upward to where the breeze of morning stirred the sacred flag which my own heart saluted.
Lingering thus until the first rays of the sun came to glorify its waving folds, I drank in deep
draughts of patriotism and love for the holy cause, sweet, inspiring, elevating; a tonic powerful and lasting in its effects, bracing mind and soul to persevere in the course I had marked out for myself, to tread unfalteringly a path beset by difficulties then undreamed of. Not long afterward the capitol
square became forever sacred to Southern hearts; for here, standing upon the steps of the beautiful monument, beneath the bronze statue of George Washington
, the first President
of the Southern Confederacy took upon himself the solemn vows of office, and at the same time the stirring airs of ‘Dixie’ and ‘The Bonnie Blue Flag’ received the stamp of nationality.
Ah! then how overwhelming the applause.
But no one dreamed of a time in the far future when the Southern Confederacy should have become a thing of the past; of a time when the first faint notes of ‘Dixie’ would have power to sway the hearts of thousands, to turn quiet crowds into excited, surging masses of men who would rend the air with cheers and the dear old ‘rebel yell,’ of women who, unable to control their feelings, would testify by applauding hands, waving handkerchiefs, and streaming eyes how precious were the memories awakened.
One moonlight evening I stood again before the statue of that grand patriot and statesman, Patrick Henry
My companions were Mrs. Frances Gawthmney
, of Richmond
, and Commodore Matthew F. Maury
, a man whom the scientific world delighted to honor, and of whom it may be well said, ‘We ne'er shall look upon his like again.’
cast her fortunes with the Southern Confederacy, he held a distinguished position under the United States Government.
Had he sought selfaggran-dizement, renown, the fullest recognition of valuable services to the Government
, the way was open, the prospect dazzling.
But he was not even tempted.
voices called him,—the voices of love and duty.
He listened, obeyed, laying at the feet of the new Confederacy as loyal a heart as ever beat,—a resplendent genius, the knowledge which is power.
In the days of my childhood I had known Captain Maury
, and had been taught to revere him. When we met in Richmond
, Commodore Maury
was still my friend and mentor.
His kindly offices were mine whenever needed, and his care followed me through all vicissitudes, until, after many months, the varying fortunes of war separated us, never, alas!
to meet again in this world.
On the evening referred to above, Mrs. Gawthmey
and myself, escorted by Commodore Maury
, passed through the square on our way to the hotel, where we expected to meet a brilliant circle of distinguished Southerners.
Arrived in front of the monument, we paused involuntarily.
The same thoughts which had before come to me seemed to possess all our minds.
remarked, ‘If Patrick Henry
had been living, I reckon Virginia
would have stepped out of the Union
side by side with South Carolina
‘Well,’ replied Commodore Maury
, ‘he would have acted as he thought.
There would have been no “pros and cons,” and his irresistible eloquence would have carried all before it.’
Then baring his head, while the moonlight seemed to glorify his grand intellectual countenance, he repeated a portion of that grand oration of Mr. Henry
ending, ‘Give me liberty or give me death.’
As these immortal words fell from his lips all remained silent, though wrought up to the highest pitch of patriotic excitement.
After a moment we walked on very quietly, until, passing out of the mellow moonlight, we entered the brilliantly-lighted parlors of the Spottswood Hotel
The hum of conversation, the sound of careless, happy
laughter, the music of a band playing outside, soon brought us down from the heights of enthusiasm to the delightful realities of the present.
For, spite of battle and death and perplexities, even certain trouble ahead, Richmond
was gay, hopeful, and ‘all went merry as a marriage bell.’
The gaunt spectres of privation, want, disease, death, of ruined homes, starving families, and universal desolation, were shadows which fled before the legions of hope pressing so gladly and gayly to the front.
Here in one corner laughing girls bewitched and held in thrall young soldier boys,—willing captives,—yet meeting the glances of bright eyes with far less courage than they had shown while facing the guns upon the battlefield.
Thrilling tales of the late battle were poured into credulous ears: ‘We
company accomplished wonderful deeds of valor;’ and if Beauty's smile be indeed a fit reward, truly these young heroes received it.
Our party exchanged greetings with several groups, seating ourselves at last within the brilliant circle surrounding Judge
and Mrs. Hopkins
, of Alabama
Here were several ladies, wives of distinguished officers in the Confederate
service, members of the Cabinet
, and others, and splendid-looking officers in handsome uniforms were constantly coming and going, exchanging courteous greetings, lingering for a few moments in conversation, grave or gay. Here, perhaps, a stately form strode up and down the large rooms so engrossed in thought as to be regardless of all that was passing.
There, in deep converse, stood a group equally regardless of their surroundings, whose grave faces and earnest questions showed the importance of the subject under discussion.
Among those who upon that evening and afterward, ‘many a time and oft,’ were met together in those brilliant rooms there was not one heart untouched by
the fire of patriotism,—a flame fed by every thought, word, and action, burning ever with steadily-increasing brightness.
I fail to recall many of the illustrious names which on that night sounded like stirring music in my ears; but as often as memory reverts to that scene, the forerunner of repeated pleasures, I seem to feel anew the pressure of friendly hands, unforgotten faces
appear through the mists of the past, still aglow with ‘the light of other days.’