Nothing can be counted trivial which throws any light on that great epoch-making event, our civil war. Especially is this true of whatever serves in any degree to illustrate the conduct and spirit of the South in that conflict. From various obvious causes which need not now be referred to, her part in the mighty struggle is less thoroughly known than that of the North. It may be assumed that trustworthy information on this subject, though conveyed in recitals of incidents in themselves not very important, must have a permanent interest and value.
Enough time has elapsed since the conclusion of the war to warrant the publication of many things of a somewhat private and personal character, which could not prudently have been made public at a much earlier moment. They can now be printed large without risk of being misunderstood, exciting passion, or giving pain. The healing lapse of a quarter of a century has allayed sensitiveness, rectified rash and erroneous judgments, and prepared all parts of the country to listen in a spirit of fairness to simple narratives of the truth.
A word may be allowed in explanation of the writer’s peculiar position during the war, and of the views which will be more than hinted at in these reminiscences. Northern-born, inheriting Northern traditions, and with a Northern education, I was also largely identified with the South. A resident there from the age of nineteen, I had naturally given to her numerous hostages of fidelity. Marriage relations, pecuniary interests, gratitude for generous appreciation, and the ties of personal friendship, stretching through several States, pledged me to a sympathetic interest in whatever touched her welfare. Assuming my character to be fairly well balanced, it was thus nearly inevitable that at the outset of the struggle my mind and heart should be divided. In point of fact this was precisely my condition. I was wholly on neither side, partly on both sides. I admitted that the South had wrongs to complain of, but was utterly out of sympathy with her passionate temper and proposed methods of redress. After a moment of wavering indecision, my dissatisfaction with the whole Southern spirit and policy became positive and deep, and my leaning toward the North steadily grew with the advancing conflict, until I welcomed with all my heart the triumph of the Union arms and the extinction of slavery. I never uttered more cordial words than when I said to my own servants, “Go, — you are free.” It goes without saying that, with these convictions and feelings, my position was anomalous, difficult, and in a qualified sense painfully false. I was far, however, from being alone in this contradictory and trying situation. It is a curious fact that not a few of my best friends, who shared at the beginning of the war my own divided views and sentiments, developed in a direction just opposite to my own. From being almost rebels to the embryo Confederacy, they subsequently became its ardent friends and self-sacrificing supporters. Doubtless they were just as honest in their process of evolution as I claim to have been in mine.
When the war began I was the happy pastor of a church in Charleston, S. C., the very heart and centre of secession. Perhaps, speaking with strict accuracy, Columbia rather than Charleston should be styled the centre of that movement. Indeed, the latter city had often been regarded by the State at large as somewhat Laodicean in her disunion zeal. She was suspected of being too much in selfish touch with the great outside world of commerce to allow her thoroughly to appreciate the secession gospel. Practically, however, the sinister distinction of leading in the disruption of the country fell to Charleston. Right there, in truth, the Union was dissolved in the split of the Democratic Convention of 1860.
One of the features of that memorable convention was the skill and efficiency of Caleb Cushing as its presiding officer. I have never seen his equal in such a position. No tangle of parliamentary questions for a moment confused his clear and incisive intelligence. During his brief absence from the chair, the body, under the hand of an incompetent vice-president, got itself into a snarl, from which extrication seemed impossible. It was beautiful to see how soon and how easily, on Mr. Cushing’s resumption of his place, the knots were untied and orderly progress was restored. Another noteworthy incident of the convention was the courage, rising even to audacity, displayed by Benjamin F. Butler. As a member of the Committee on the Platform, he found himself in a minority of one, and so had the privilege of leading off in the order of speech-making. It was palpable that on rising to his task he fronted an audience not merely unsympathetic, but frowningly hostile. Nevertheless, he bated not a jot of free and jaunty confidence. He literally flung defiance at his auditors. When, at one point in his speech, a drunken member of the Maryland delegation interrupted him with the shout, “Niggers can vote in Boston!” the retort came quick and fatal as lightning: “Yes, they can, and with no bludgeon of a Baltimore Plug Ugly held over their heads!” The response extorted applause even from the orator’s foes. The two really great speeches of the convention, according to my recollection, were delivered by Senator Pugh, of Ohio, on the Douglas side, and William L. Yancey, the champion of secession. In point of logical force and real ability, Pugh’s speech was the higher effort, but grace, brilliancy, and passionate ardor, aided by an exceptionally fine voice and manner, made Yancey’s the more effective. When at last the convention went to pieces, I groaned in spirit, exclaiming, “The country is ruined!” So little do we know. In truth, those were the first throes of the country’s new birth.
During the months of the succeeding campaign, which resulted in the election of Lincoln, and up to the calling of the convention that declared South Carolina an independent State, we lived in an electrical atmosphere, throbbing with excitement. Everybody bad a vague sense that momentous events were impending. To most they were events fraught with triumph and prosperity. To me they threatened immeasurable disaster. For a while all was uncertainty and conjecture in the popular mind as to the precise policy that would be adopted in case of Lincoln’s election. One day, meeting on the street the Hon. A. G. Magrath, United States Circuit judge, a most courtly and charming gentleman, I said to him, “Judge, what is to be the outcome of all this talk about secession in the event of Lincolns election?” “Sir,” was his prompt and positive answer, “South Carolina will secede!” The remark impressed me very deeply, as I knew Judge Magrath, United States official though he was, must be in the secrets of those who were controlling Southern affairs. A few months later, in his court-room, he dramatically cast aside his judicial robe, and stepped down from his high seat. It was Judge Magrath’s painful honor to be governor of South Carolina when Sherman marched through the State and the Confederacy vanished into thin air.
I have said that with the vast majority of the people the excitement, which was kept at white heat, was the excitement of hopeful and confident enthusiasm. No doubts as to the righteousness of their cause or its successful issue repressed their exuberant spirits. The future was rosy with the promise of a new era for the South. Cotton, real but wronged king, was to get his own at last. The world would now pay tribute to him, — a tribute hitherto stolen by the populous, unscrupulous, greedy North. Charleston, long fretted by the conviction that she had been kept by New York from her rightful heritage of preëminence, was to be the great commercial emporium of the western continent. At one moment of the struggle, the accession of Maryland to the Confederacy was by some regarded with disfavor, from the apprehension that Baltimore might prove a dangerous rival to Charleston. Slavery, freed from the exasperating and damaging agitations to which it had long been subject, was to obtain guarantees of everlasting security, and have ample room for indefinite expansion. Indeed, there were not wanting fanatics who expected to conquer the North and reconstruct the Union, with slavery as the organic law of the entire country. One of the most intelligent and influential physicians of the city seriously assured me, on one occasion, that within ten years the South would plant slavery in every State of the old Union.
There were, however, not a few cool heads and sad hearts that saw and felt things more clearly and truly. In their opinion, a wild frenzy had seized the Southern mind, and the future could bring nothing but calamity. In the estimate of such calm reasoners, the first hostile shot would sound the doom of slavery. It was an institution that could not endure the stress and convulsion of war. What else might come, who could tell? Foremost among these sad dissentients was that able, brilliant, magnanimous lawyer, easily and long the head of the South Carolina bar, James L. Petigru. For some years I was a near neighbor of his in Broad Street, and though my personal acquaintance with him was very slight, I had learned to cherish a high admiration for him. He was always on the side of justice, moderation, and kindness. If any poor, suspected, or maltreated stranger needed a friend, Mr. Petigru was ready to throw over him the cloak of his great reputation. Advanced now in years, and for a long time out of relation to the controlling political views of his native State, he could do nothing in this new exigency, and attempted nothing. But though he took no public stand, it was well understood that in private he gave free vent to very vigorous expressions of sorrow, wrath, and despair over what was going on about him. Another gentleman, of high character and varied accomplishments, who kept a cool head and “saw straight and clear” amidst the raging storm, was the Hon. George S. Bryan. A little mot of his, dropped in a chance conversation, has stuck in my memory ever since. We were speaking of a certain convention, and interchanging congratulations that it had adjourned. “Yes,” said Mr. Bryan, with sad significance, “but the press never adjourns.”
Mr. Petigru and Mr. Bryan were members, I believe, of the vestry of old St. Michael’s Church, and one Sunday, when the rector omitted the usual prayer for the President of the United States, they both rose and left the house. The incident made a genuine sensation.
There were of course many who more or less definitely shared the opinions and feelings of these distinguished citizens. Quite a number of merchants of Northern origin, while unfeignedly attached to the South, were as truly loyal in their hearts as was Abraham Lincoln himself.
Among the few and far-between native Union men of Charleston, I knew one in particular—a Hebrew gentleman—whose devotion to the old flag was ardent to the point of fanaticism. I believe he actually enjoyed the pinching seventies of the blockade because of the punishment it inflicted on those who had provoked it. There was scarcely any conceivable sacrifice which he would not have welcomed in serving the Union cause. It is my impression that in the process of reconstruction he strangely failed to receive from the general government any substantial recognition. Through all those days the small minority, of which this gentleman was an extreme member, had to preserve silence, or utter themselves in a cautiously guarded secrecy. Nothing short of a martyr spirit would have warranted these men in speaking out plainly.
The Secession Convention, which assembled in Columbia in the winter of 1860-61, adjourned to Charleston, and held its sessions in St. Andrew’s Hall, on Broad Street. I had no heart to witness its foregone deliberations, and was present at only one of those sessions. It was an uncommonly fine-looking body of men, and they transacted their revolutionary business with perfect decorum and dignity. With the passage of the Ordinance of Secession the bustle of serious preparation for probable war began in earnest. Soldiers poured into Charleston from all parts of the State, and the city was full of martial sounds and sights. In that dismal, hurly-burly winter of 1860-61 events traveled apace. Anderson’s abandonment of Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island, and transfer of his little force to Fort Sumter, produced a great impression. It was felt that this movement had a very grave significance. At last in April all things were ripe and ready for the first act in the great drama, — the bombardment of Sumter. The people at large were not informed precisely when this attack was to occur, but they knew it was coming, and there was a vague, uneasy sense among them that it was near. On the evening preceding that event I was at my regular Thursday prayer-meeting, and after service it was talked over as being imminent. I went to my bed that night in a nervous, troubled frame. About half past four the next morning the report of a cannon startled me from my shallow sleep, and I flew to my attic, whose window commanded a partial view of the harbor. Sure enough, the dance of death had begun. I could see the glare of rockets and hear the bombs bursting over the fortress. On that fateful morning I made the following entry in my diary:
“April 12, 1861. The day of doom has come: the beginning of the end is reached. I was awakened this morning by the booming of guns from the harbor. Our forces opened on Fort Sumter at half past four o’clock, and from that hour to the present moment, eight o’clock, there has been a steady though not very vigorous bombardment. It is thought that Anderson has not fired yet in return, at least not more than once or twice. A fleet is reported outside, though we have no certain information.”
Immediately after a hurried breakfast I went down town, and took my place in the vast throng that lined the wharves, gazing upon the strange and, to me, awful scene. The people were quiet, and seemed to realize somewhat that very serious work was in progress before them. Girdled by batteries that kept up a constant pounding upon him, Anderson replied in what we thought a rather languid way. Outside the harbor, the vessels of the relieving fleet were now in view, and to those at all in sympathy with the beleaguered fortress these apparent dawdlers were not a pretty sight. I suppose it was all right, but I have never felt quite sure that the spirit of Farragut would not have found some way to take a hand in that one-sided contest. The day closed amidst exaggerated rumors of bloody work done in the fort by the Confederate guns. The scenes of Friday were renewed Saturday morning, with variations. About two P. M., — perhaps earlier, — while standing on a wharf by the side of the Hebrew gentleman already mentioned, I observed a sudden volume of smoke rising from the fort. “It’s all over with poor Anderson,” I exclaimed; “the fort is on fire!” “Don’t you be afraid,” he replied, in a burst of confidence; “he’s heating his shot, and he’ll give it to them presently.” But the Hebrew patriot was far too sanguine. I stayed late enough in the afternoon to observe a white flag fluttering from the rampart of Sumter, and then turned sadly homeward. I did not wait for the landing of a boat which could be seen approaching, and which I knew must be coming to settle the terms of surrender. Here ended, or opened, according to our point of view, the first chapter of the great rebellion.
Preparations for the struggle, about the certainty and gravity of which no doubts now remained, were at once redoubled. Every day incidents of startling significance were reported. Accounts of the impression made upon the North by the bombardment of Sumter and the surrender of Anderson were read with mingled curiosity, wonder, and scorn. The Baltimore riot, in connection with the transit of the Massachusetts regiment through that city, increased the popular confidence as to the certainty of dissensions and uprisings at the North. The battle of Bull Run, not unnaturally, carried this confidence to the pitch of intoxication. Though the blockade grew tighter, and prices rose, and the North betrayed no sign of weakening in its purpose, the general ardor and assurance were unabated. What little freedom of expression had been previously allowed disappeared, and doubters and croakers were abashed into prudent silence.
In the autumn of 1861 the war came close to us. The sacred soil of South Carolina had been invaded at its most sacred point. Port Royal harbor was in the hands of the enemy, and the chivalry of Beaufort District, including the famous fighters of Bluffton, had fled, not a few of them, to Charleston. Planters from all the islands hurried their negroes to the crowded city. Things began to look very threatening and dismal. At this moment a new horror burst upon us. Turning to my diary, I find the following entry: —
“December 12, 1861. An awful calamity has fallen on the city. In the midst of war and with foes all around us, a terrible and irresistible foe has sprung up in our own bosom. Last night a fire broke out about eight o’clock, and raged with incredible fury all night, and is now (at two P. M.) probably still burning, though under control. Nearly a fifth part of the city, I should say, is in ruins. The fire has swept from the Cooper to the Ashley, consuming many noble and costly edifices, including Institute Hall, the Circular Church, St. Andrew’s Hall, the magnificent Cathedral, etc.”
During that dreadful night, as I was standing on Meeting Street, watching the noble Circular Church enveloped in flames, a wild-looking man, whom I had never before seen, rode up to the pavement, and leaning toward me said, in low, dramatic tones, “This is the work of Ben Butler!” and then spurred away into the gloom. The sins of Mr. Benjamin F. Butler are, I fear, like those of most of us, especially flagrant in the eyes of a by-stander, but to impute to him responsibility for that night’s conflagration could only have been the suggestion of a brain heated well-nigh to insanity. Very early in the conflict Mr. Butler became emphatically, in Southern esteem, the bête noir of the invaders, — a character which he somehow maintained to its close.
In the spring of 1862 the air was thick with rumors that Charleston was about to be assaulted or invested. Beauregard, the popular military idol at that moment, whose simple presence was supposed to mean safety and triumph, was summoned to set the city in order against the invaders. The fervor of patriotic defense pervaded all classes, extending even to the reverend clergy, a company of whom was organized, and drilled frequently on the Citadel Green. They were styled, with somewhat profane jocularity, “gospel trotters.” For some cause I was not invited to join this company, and I did not volunteer. At last the notification was quietly circulated that it would be well for non-combatants to leave the city, and a great exodus ensued, — not hurried and tumultuous, but steady and general. Families migrated in all directions, carrying with them their household gods and goods, many of them never to return. The young men of my congregation had all been away in service for some time, and now came a complete break-up in the removal of old men, women, and children. Under these conditions, the maintenance of regular church service and pastoral work was out of the question, and it was thought best to close our house of worship for an indefinite period. With my family and household effects I withdrew into Georgia, and never went back to Charleston as pastor.
Poor, dear, beautiful old city! It remained for the rest of the war a target for shot and shell, and at its close was left almost ruined and desolate. As if the conflagration of 1861 had not been destructive enough, the Confederate forces, retiring from it in 1865, laid in ashes another fine section. A blind fatality seemed to impel the people of the South to make the great struggle as ruinous to themselves as possible. I believe that when, in 1847, I took up my abode in Charleston, it was the most fascinating place of residence on this continent. Of course much of its peculiar charm, never to be recovered, disappeared with the results of the war, but I do not see why it should not again be a favorite resort for Northern as well as Southern people.
In passing from South Carolina to Georgia one could hardly fail to be immediately conscious of breathing a somewhat larger and freer atmosphere. The great mass of the people in the latter State were perhaps no less ardent in their zeal for the Confederate cause than those of the former, but still there was among them more latitude of opinion, and criticisms on the political and military status were not so rigorously repressed. Owing to her greater extent of territory, her less aristocratic civil institutions, and her more composite population, Georgia had long been characterized by a broader spirit of tolerance than South Carolina, and she manifested that spirit during the war. Not a few might he found in almost any community who had no heart in the pending conflict, and little faith in its successful issue. Besides, her governor, Joseph E. Brown, early showed a disposition to do his own thinking, and to take ground which was not always pleasing to the autocratic will of Jefferson Davis. This naturally encouraged freedom of thought and utterance among the people at large.
At the beginning of 1863 I received a call to the pastorate of the Baptist church in Madison, a village on the Georgia railroad, and made my home there for the remainder of the war. It was an ideal refuge amidst the storm and stress of the time, especially for a man with my peculiar convictions. The village was one of the pleasantest and most attractive in the State, comprising in its population a considerable number of wealthy, educated, and refined families, a large share of which belonged to my church. In the ante-bellum days it had been distinguished as an educational centre for girls, with two flourishing seminaries, — one Baptist, the other Methodist. When I went there the war had closed both of them. Just on the line which divides the upper from the lower country, Madison was as remote from the alarms of war as any place in the war-girdled South could well be, and fairly promised to be about the last spot which the invaders would strike. To its various attractions Madison added, for me, one other, which at the time was not generally esteemed an attraction at all, but rather a serious reproach. I refer to its reputation for somewhat lax loyalty to the Confederacy. It was known throughout the State as a town much given to croaking and criticism, with a suspicion of decided disaffection on the part of some of its leading citizens. Foremost among these sullen and recalcitrant Madisonians was Colonel Joshua Hill, familiarly known as “Josh Hill,” confessedly the most prominent man in the community, and about as much at odds with the Confederate government as one could well be without provoking the stroke of its iron hand. He had been a member of the United States Congress when the secession fury began, and having stuck to his post as long as possible finally retired from it in a regular and honorable way. I saw a good deal of Colonel Hill during my sojourn in Madison, and formed a very high respect for him as a man of cool, clear head, of wide information, and a modest courage that nothing could daunt. Though, naturally, well hated, he stood too high for assault. Preserving an external and entirely honorable loyalty to the existing government, and giving his sons to the army, he still did not disguise his hostility to what was going on, and employed a freedom of criticism which would hardly have been tolerated in a less formidable man. It is well known that in the reconstruction process he was one of Georgia’s first United States Senators, and it would have been creditable to the justice and sagacity of that State if he had been continued in this high office. Several other important citizens of Madison shared Colonel Hill’s views and feelings, and some of them even went beyond him in their defiant attitude towards the war men and measures. With a few exceptions, the entire society of the place displayed an unusually moderate tone, and was marked by the absence of the intemperately bitter spirit which from the first sadly betrayed the wrongheadedness and weakness of the South.
In a community depleted of a large portion of its most active members, my ministerial duties were, naturally, not at all exacting, and as there was no one to act as village schoolmaster, I willingly consented to add his office to mine. Many of my pupils were very bright and interesting, and I enjoyed the service thoroughly. It varied the dreary monotony of a life which had but one absorbing interest, — the vicissitudes of the war and speculations as to its results.
Preaching as I did only on Sunday mornings, I often availed myself of the opportunity to attend, in the after-part of that day, the religious services of the colored people; sometimes preaching to them myself, but more commonly listening to the preachers of their own race. While, as might be expected, there was a sad lack of any real instruction in their pulpit performances, there was superabundance of fervor and not a little of genuine oratorical effectiveness. One of these preachers in particular was gifted with a rude eloquence which impressed his white auditors, while for the colored mass it had a magic spell. Another of them was addicted to some pet blunders which were very amusing. In his prayers, for example, he often asked that the people might be delivered from “low devers.” On inquiry, I found that this utterly puzzling phrase was a corruption of “Lodebar,” the place from which David brought Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth. In the colored brother’s confused and vague conception “low devers” denoted a condition of spiritual extremity.
It interested me especially, in these meetings of the colored people, to watch their attitude towards the pending war, in whose issues they had so great a stake, and by which they were placed in an extremely delicate relation to their masters. Their shrewdness was simply amazing. Their policy was one of reserve and silence. They rarely referred to the war in their sermons or prayers, and when they did mention it they used broad terms which meant little and compromised nobody. Of course they could not betray sympathy for the invaders, but they certainly exhibited none for the other side. To any keen observer their silence was significant enough, but nobody cared to evoke their real sentiments. The subtlest sagacity could not have dictated a more prudent line of conduct than that which their instincts chose. Indeed, the conduct of the colored people through the whole war, whose import they vaguely but truly divined, was admirable, and such as to merit the eternal gratitude of the Southern whites. Under time most tempting opportunities, outrages upon women and children were never fewer, petty crimes were not increased, and of insurrectionary movements, so far as I knew, there were absolutely none, while the soil was never tilled with more patient and faithful industry. No doubt their conduct was largely determined by a shrewd comprehension of the situation as well as by their essential kindliness of nature. They understood that bodies of soldiery were never far away, and that any uprising would be speedily and remorselessly crushed. They knew, too, that it was wiser to wait for the coming of “Massa Linkum’s” legions, whose slow approach could not be concealed from them. But none the less for these reasons should the South recognize its debt of gratitude for their self-restraint, patience, and fidelity through the long night of that struggle. Among the many illusions with which not a few eminent Southerners entered upon the war was the fancy that their “faithful slaves” would fight for them against the North. Nothing could well be more absurd. Had liberty been proclaimed to the negroes at the outset, even with some conditions, they might possibly have been willing to espouse their masters’ cause, but on any lower terms it was no less than blind folly to count upon their assistance. It is now perfectly clear that those who regarded the negroes as human beings, and reasoned about their probable conduct on the broad principles of human nature, were far better acquainted with them than those who knew and judged them only as slaves.
If the colored people dimly saw that their deliverance was approaching with the advance of the Federal armies, the faith of the whites in the perpetuity of the divine institution lingered long and died hard. It seemed to them impossible that this institution should come to an end. Indeed, there was manifested on the part of some very good and devout people a disposition to hazard their faith in the veracity of God and the Bible on the success of the Southern arms. The Bible, they argued, distinctly sanctioned slavery, and if slavery should be overthrown by the failure of the South the Bible would be fatally discredited. Happily, this extravagance did not strike deep nor extend far. There is no evidence that infidelity at the South really received any fresh impetus from the disappointing issue of the war.
In those trying days some few compensations came to us for the deprivations inflicted by the blockade. For one thing, the tyranny of fashion was greatly abated. Style was little thought of, and fine ladies were made happy by the possession of an English or French calico gown. For another thing, cut off from magazines, reviews, and cheap yellow-covered literature, and with newspapers so curtailed of their ordinary proportions that they were taken in at a coup d’œil, we were driven back upon old standard books. I suspect that among the stay-at-homes a larger amount of really good, solid reading was done during the war than in the previous decade. Now and then a contraband volume slipped through the blockade, and was eagerly sought after. Somehow, a copy of Buckle’s History of Civilization got into my neighborhood, and had a wide circulation. Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables appeared among us in a shocking edition, printed, I think, in New Orleans.
As already intimated, the ever-beginning, never-ending topic of conversation was the war, with its incidents and prospects. We breakfasted, dined, and supped on startling reports of victories or defeats, and vague hints of prodigious things shortly to occur. It is noteworthy that our reports were almost uniformly of victories, frequently qualified by the slow and reluctant admission that, having won a brilliant success, the Confederate forces at last fell back. This trick of disguising defeat came, after a while, to be so well understood that “to conquer and fall back” was tossed about as a grim jest.
As the tide of war surged southward, and at last reached Chattanooga, our village, like nearly all others on railway lines, became a hospital station, and my large academy was appropriated to the sick and wounded. My school was, of necessity, transferred to much humbler quarters.
After the battle of Chickamauga great trains of cars came lumbering through our town, crowded with Union captives. They were a sad sight to look upon. Standing one day by the track as such a train was slowly passing, the irrepressible prisoners shouted to me, “Old Rosey will be along here soon!” “Old Rosey” never came, but “Uncle Billy” in due time put in an unmistakable appearance, which more than fulfilled what at the moment seemed the prediction of mere reckless bravado.
During the summer of 1864, our secluded little village was rudely shaken by its first experience in the way of invasion. After steadily pushing back the Confederate columns, Sherman had at last reached Atlanta, and his hosts were in fact only about seventy miles away from us. In certain conditions of the atmosphere we could hear the dull, heavy thunder of his guns. Yet, strangely enough, this proximity of war in its sternest form created no panic among us. In fact, a kind of paralysis now benumbed the sensibilities of the people. The back of the Confederacy had been definitely broken in the preceding summer by the battle of Gettysburg. Nearly all discerning persons were conscious of this, and but for the foreordained and blind obstinacy of Jefferson Davis and his satellites efforts would have been made to save the South from utter wreck. Alexander H. Stephens was understood to entertain very definite ideas as to the hopeless and disastrous course of events under Davis’s policy. It was in the book of fate, however, that things should go on as they were going to the bitter, beneficent end. Reduced almost to despair, the people at large were now simply awaiting the inevitable issue.
It will be remembered that while Sherman was lying about Atlanta he dispatched a considerable force under Stoneman on a raiding expedition against Macon. In Madison we of course knew nothing about this foray, but we were soon to learn of it to our cost. On a hot July morning, I was sitting, Southern fashion, with a number of gentlemen before a store just outside of the public square. We were canvassing a strange rumor which had just reached us, to the effect that Yankee soldiers had been seen not far from the town. At that moment a man from the country rode up to our group, and, hearing the topic of conversation, generously offered to “eat all the Union soldiers within ten miles of Madison.” Scarcely had he uttered these reassuring words when a man in uniform galloped into the square. Now, we said, we shall get trustworthy information, thinking that this was a Confederate scout. In a moment, however, another cavalry-man dashed around the corner, and fired a pistol at a fugitive clad in Confederate gray. The truth instantly flashed upon us, and with a cry of “Yankees!” we all sprang to our feet. Not much alarmed myself, I called to my friends, “Don’t run!” but the most of them, disregarding my advice, took themselves off in remarkably quick time. The strange intruders, coming upon us as suddenly as if they had dropped out of the summer sky, now poured into the square and overflowed all the streets. Boldly standing my ground, I approached the first officer I could make out, and requested permission to go at once to my home, on the outskirts of the village. He informed me that I must wait until the arrival of the colonel in command. So it was that for a space of five or ten minutes I may be said to have been a prisoner under the flag of my country. The colonel soon rode up, a stalwart, square-built, kindly-faced Kentuckian, — Colonel Adams, as I afterwards learned, — who promptly granted my request, and directed an officer to see me safe through the crowd of soldiers. Buttoning my coat over my gold watch-chain, on which I chanced to see some eager eyes fixed, I reached home without any unpleasant incident. At my gate I found two or three soldiers, quietly behaved, and simply asking for food. Gratefully receiving such as we could give them, they departed, leaving us quite unharmed. I detected what I thought some nervous anxiety in their inquiries about the distance to the Union lines, — a nervousness which the sequel fully explained. This body of raiders remained in the village three or four hours, taking such horses as they could easily lay hands on, burning the railway station with some bales of cotton lying there, and then pushed northward. As to outrages, with the exception of the theft of some gold watches, I do not remember that our citizens had much to complain of.
A most painful incident, rashly provoked, caused this day of excitement and alarm to be followed by a night of genuine terror. Two Union soldiers lingered in the town after the regiment as a body had departed. Having got hold of some liquor, they were, I suppose, rude and noisy, though not violent. Several citizens, gathered about the Court House, were watching their movements; and at last one of them, whose patriotic zeal far outran his prudence, went to the spot where one of the soldiers was standing, and, drawing a pistol, was about to fire. The soldier saw what was up, and, springing from his horse, “got the drop” upon the citizen, and shot him fatally in the abdomen, though death did not immediately ensue. Thereupon the two soldiers rode out of town, declaring with loud curses that, properly reinforced, they would soon return and lay the place in ashes. This dire threat was at once circulated through the village, and the effect can easily be imagined. There was little sleep that night in Madison. Some of the towns-people actually left their houses, and spent the long hours in the neighboring woods. My own purpose at first was not to go to bed nor undress, that I might be ready for the worst. But about midnight, as nothing unusual had occurred, I thought my family might safely retire. We had been in bed only a little while, and I had just fallen into a light sleep, when the sound of heavy boots was heard on the piazza below, accompanied by the jingle of spurs, and followed by a voice calling, “Helloa!” With my heart in my mouth, I flew to the chamber window, and dimly saw beneath me the form of a soldier. My terror was quickly allayed. The speech of the martial intruder was gentle. He only wished information concerning the Union soldiers who had just passed through the town, and gave me to understand that he belonged to a Confederate force in hot pursuit of them. In fact, the Federal raiders were a Kentucky regiment that had done very poor fighting in the engagement near Macon, and were now flying at the top of their speed for Atlanta. The pursuers turned out to be a Kentucky Confederate regiment, eager to overtake and destroy their brethren, — a thing which they pretty thoroughly accomplished. Coming upon the fugitives while in camp and asleep, they cut them up terribly.
It is worth recording that in my hurried nocturnal conversation with the Confederate officer he asked who was my next neighbor, a man living perhaps a quarter of a mile from me. In explaining his question, he went on to say that this man would not or could not give him a single word of information about the Union soldiers. He added, “I didn’t expect to find Union men so far south as this, but this neighbor of yours must be a Union man or a fool.” In point of fact, this neighbor was a Union man to the tips of his fingers and the centre of his spinal column, and he had the courage of his convictions. Like John Knox, of whose stock he was, he did not fear the face of clay, and he never hesitated on occasion to vent his loyal sympathies. Besides being much esteemed for his sturdy virtues, he was in so humble a social station that not even the most intolerant Southern patriots felt disposed to trouble him. I have known few persons who had in them more of the stuff that martyrs are made of. The uncalendared heroes of the civil war outnumber those who have received the honors of canonization.
After the fall of Atlanta, Madison was practically a beleaguered place, and might be struck at any moment. Still events lingered, and the general expectation was that Sherman would have to withdraw from his advanced position in a disastrous retreat. Little did we suspect the great ideas stirring in the brains of Sherman and Grant. In November an important ministerial service called me to southwestern Georgia, and, as all seemed quiet about Atlanta, I hesitatingly ventured, accompanied by my wife, upon the journey. On reaching Eatonton, some twenty miles from home, we were startled by reports that there were strange movements at Atlanta. Most persons construed them as proofs that Sherman was preparing to retreat. Though very doubtful myself on this point, I concluded to take the risk and push on. Accordingly we proceeded, with some delay at Americus, to Albany. Here, on a Sunday morning, I was engaged in preaching, when I noticed in the congregation unmistakable signs that some important and disquieting news had just been received. After service ample explanation was found of the disturbing signs. While we were in church a train of cars arrived from Macon, bringing fugitives frightened from that city by Sherman’s guns. So Sherman, it was very evident, had not retreated; he had advanced, and was now making an almost holiday progress through the heart of the State to Savannah.
Starting homeward after a few days, we reached Forsyth, and paused there on the edge of the desert. For a desert it was that stretched for some sixty miles between us and Madison, a terra incognita, over which no adventurous explorer had passed since Sherman’s legions had blotted out all knowledge of it. Only wild rumors filled the air. Madison was burnt, Greensboro was burnt. Everything in that once fair region had been given up to the abomination of desolation. The problem with us was, how to get back to our home across this strange, barren waste. At last a friend took the serious risk of letting us have his carriage, with a pair of mules and a negro driver, for the perilous journey. Having crossed the Ocmulgee, we at once struck the track of Sherman’s army, his right, under Howard, having kept near the river. In that day’s ride we met on the road but one human being, a negro on horseback. A white woman rushed frantically from her little cabin to inquire if any more Yankees were coming, a question which I ventured to answer with a very confident negative. Rather late in the afternoon, as we were passing a pleasant farmhouse, a gentleman came out to our carriage, and with a very solemn voice and manner warned us against going any further. He had just been informed that ten thousand Yankee soldiers were at somebody’s mills, not far away, and he declared that we were driving straight into their ranks. This staggered me for a moment. But a little reflection convinced me of the violent improbability of the rumor, and a little further reflection determined me to go on. I reasoned that my chances for good treatment would be better in squarely meeting the approaching host and getting the protection of officers than in stopping for the night and being exposed to the possible outrages of bummers. So, having put ourselves in fighting trim by shifting our baggage and arranging our watches and other valuables in a parcel concealed on my wife’s person, I ordered the driver to advance. From that moment to the evening hour when we drew up before a planter’s house to spend the night, we saw not a human being, scarcely a living thing. Indeed, the wide, dead silence was the most marked sign that we were in the path over which a few days before a great army had passed. The road here and there was considerably cut up, showing that heavy wagons had recently gone over it. Fences were frequently down or missing, and two or three heaps of blackened ruins, surmounted by solitary chimneys, denoted that the torch had done some destructive work. The next day, in passing through Monticello, I saw the charred remains of the county jail, but the signs of conflagration were surprisingly few.
The family with whom we spent the night had had the strange experience of being for a while in the midst of an encamped army. The soldiers, they informed us, had swarmed about them like bees, but had behaved as well as soldiers commonly do. The planter’s horses and cattle had been freely appropriated, and as much of his corn and vegetables as were needed, but there was no complaint of violence or rudeness, and an ample supply of the necessaries of life was left for his household. Indeed, from my observations in this trip across the line of Sherman’s march, that march, so far from having been signalized by wanton destruction, was decidedly merciful. No doubt bummers and camp followers committed many atrocities, but the progress of the army proper was attended by no unusual incidents of severity. The year had been one of exceptional bounty, and there was no want in Sherman’s rear. Such was the plenty that I believe he might have retraced his steps and subsisted his army on the country. On our second day’s journey we passed the very spot where, as I was told, the redoubtable hero and his staff paused for a little, on their triumphant way.
On reaching Madison we found the place substantially intact. Not a house had been destroyed, not a citizen harmed or insulted. Colonel Hill, as we learned, had gone out to meet the approaching column under Slocum, and if there had been any danger of violent demonstrations this pacific embassy removed it. The greatest sufferers from the invasion were the turkeys and chickens. The country was thickly strewn with the feathers of these slaughtered innocents. When I expressed to a friend some doubt as to Sherman’s ability to reach the sea, he replied, “If you had been here and seen the sort of men composing his cohorts, you would not question that they could go wherever they had a mind to.”
Sherman’s march through Georgia virtually ended the Confederacy. It made the event of Appomattox a foregone conclusion, with a doubt merely as to the time of its occurrence. If there had been any wisdom at Richmond, efforts would at once have been made for some sort of settlement. But at Richmond proud obstinacy and judicial blindness managed the affairs of the poor tottering Confederacy.
Our life between the time of Sherman’s march and Lee’s surrender, with the scenes and incidents that attended and followed that surrender, was as strange and abnormal as a bad dream. We had, indeed, an abundance of the necessary articles of food and clothing. I have hardly ever lived in more physical comfort than during the last year of the war. The few fowls that had escaped the voracious appetites of the invaders soon provided a fresh supply of chickens and eggs. Coffee at twenty-five dollars a pound (Confederate money), and sugar at not much less cost, were attainable, and I managed to keep a fair supply of them for my little family. But though our physical conditions were tolerable, life was subject to a painful strain of uncertainty and anxiety, relieved only by the conviction that the war, of which all were weary and sick unto death, was nearly over. When the end came, confusion was confounded in a jumble so bewildering as scarcely to be credited with reality. The town streets and country roads were full of negroes, wandering about idle and aimless, going they knew not whither, — a pitiful spectacle of enfranchised slaves dazed by their recent boon of liberty. Presently Union soldiers were everywhere. A German colonel, lately a New York broker, moved among us in the spick-and-span bravery of his uniform, the sovereign arbiter of our destinies. The world had rarely presented such a topsy-turvy condition of things, half tragical, half comical.
As soon as matters had sufficiently quieted down to warrant it, I resolved on a visit to my Northern friends, towards whom my heart yearned. But where should I get the means? I had plenty of Confederate money, but that was now as dishonored and worthless within the bounds of the recent Confederacy as it was in the regions beyond. During the progress of the war I had carefully invested my little savings in some bales of cotton stored in Americus. To these I had looked as the basis of a very modest financial reconstruction when the crash should come. A Confederate soldier’s tobacco pipe suddenly caused this hope to vanish in smoke. A careless spark from that pipe started a conflagration, which left me and a good many others about as naked, pecuniarily speaking, as when we came into the world.
However, a singular concatenation of circumstances, to my view strikingly providential, supplied me with the means of travel. One of them, I think, deserves recording. When I was at the very nadir of my extremity, and at some distance from home, I met a Union friend who was one of the very few men in Georgia who had issued from the war with a competent fortune. Grasping my hand with eager delight, he exclaimed: “You are the very man, of all others, I wish to see. I am about to be married, and I am in trouble as to an officiating minister. I don’t want the knot to be tied by any of these violent secession parsons, and I dislike to call in a Union army chaplain. You are a genuine godsend.” He was equally a godsend to me, for he rewarded my little clerical service with thirty dollars in bright crisp greenbacks and a broad twenty-dollar gold piece, — a sum which at that moment seemed to me almost “beyond the dreams of avarice.” Having been furnished, in this and other kindly ways, for the expedition, I was able in July, 1865, to set out once more for that long-forbidden region, the North.
My point of departure was Atlanta, still a desolation of falling walls, blackened chimneys, and almost undistinguishable streets. How queer it was to be again in the great world! How splendid Nashville, Louisville, and Cincinnati appeared, with their brilliant gas-lights, crowded thoroughfares, showy shop windows, and fashionably dressed people! Evidently war here, whatever it had meant of sorrow and deprivation, had not been war as we had known it in the beleaguered, invaded, blockaded South. This prosperity was all but incredible when contrasted with Southern poverty, distress, and desolation.
Oh, the hideous dream, the long nightmare, of those years of war! God forbid that the like should ever come again to any generation of Americans! Yet that war forms one of the most distinctly providential chapters in that vast book of Providence which we call human history. The results of the struggle are beyond a peradventure worth all they cost, and could never have been attained by any process less expensive or less tragic.