Reveille in Washington: 1860-1865
THE NEW ATLANTIC SERIAL
BY MARGARET LEECH
REVEILLE IN WASHINGTON
BY MARGARET LEECH
The story of our National Capital in its greatest ordeal
FIVE years ago Margaret Leech began writing a book which is more pertinent today than she could possibly have guessed. It was her ambition to tell the authentic story — a story as vivid as human nature made it — of what happened in Washington during the years of the Civil War. Her book begins on that day in December 1860 when huge old General Scott limped into town to put down the sedition openly threatening that Lincoln would never live to be President. The General saw before him ‘a Southern town without the picturesqueness but with the indolence, the disorder, and the want of sanitation.’ Southerners exerted a far-reaching influence in the Buchanan Administration; they held key posts in the Army and Navy; with their thoroughbreds, their wealth, and their slaves, they gave Washington a spirit and an appearance which no one could miss. By Christmas Day the talk of secession had reached such a pitch that guards were placed in the Capitol building and its cellar was searched for explosives. Commissioners from South Carolina called upon President Buchanan and were treated like envoys of a foreign power. The Commissioners rented a fine house for their embassy, but their visit was cut short by the President’s decision to reënforce Fort Sumter.
The next problem was to maintain order in the capital itself. At that time the Washington barracks were watched over by one old Irish caretaker, and General Scott said they might easily have been taken by a bottle of whiskey. Early in January 1861, Scott called up the four companies of local militia and telegraphed for eight companies of regulars from New York. With them came spies and troublemakers from Baltimore and points South. Into this town with its strain and anxiety came a tall, lanky figure, with dark-skinned, melancholy face and stiff chin whiskers — Abraham Lincoln, the President-elect, recognized by only one man as he stepped from the train. . . .
REVEILLE IN WASHINGTON: 1860-1865
BY MARGARET LEECH
THE Fourth of March has come and gone, and we have a live, Republican President,’ wrote a female clerk in the Patent Office, Miss Clara Barton, ’and, what is perhaps singular, during the whole day we saw no one who appeared to manifest the least dislike to his living.’
A few days after the inauguration, the President and Mrs. Lincoln held their first evening levee in the Executive Mansion. Measured by the numbers in attendance, it was a monstrous success. At seven o’clock, an hour before the doors opened, the great driveway was blocked with carriages. Senator Charles Sumner arrived in the sartorial perfection of English evening dress, there were military and naval officers, and a number of the foreign ministers presented themselves as a diplomatic, if disagreeable, duty. From eight until ten-thirty, the President shook hands without pause, often using his left hand, too, to pass the visitors along. He wore his inauguration suit, and fresh white kid gloves. Ward Hill Lamon stood beside him. Mr. Lincoln intended to nominate his friend as District Marshal, one of the Washington appointments which were a Presidential prerogative. It was an office which superadded to the duties of sheriff the occasional rôle of court chamberlain, for the marshal, who had charge of the county jail and was partially responsible for the preservation of order in Washington, also traditionally presented the guests to the President at White House receptions.
The arrangement of the mansion might have been designed to preclude all decent privacy for the President. Executive business was transacted in three rooms on the east end of the second floor, at the head of the main stairway. The family’s sleeping quarters were situated at the other end of the same hall — Mr. Lincoln occupying the small southwest bedroom and his wife the larger adjoining chamber, while the two little boys were across the way. In passing between his office and his bedroom or the dining room, the President was obliged to struggle through lines of office seekers, some of whom grabbed him, holding out their papers. Only a doorkeeper was on duty at the Executive chamber. The conditions in his new home contrasted strangely with the precautions taken in bringing Lincoln to Washington and in guarding the inauguration.
To loyal men, in Congress and out of it, there was a bitter incongruity in the administration’s preoccupation with patronage at a time of national emergency. The Confederate States were aggressively preparing for war. Late in February, General David Twiggs, U. S. A., had delivered nineteen Army posts to the rebel authorities of Texas, wearing the uniform of his country while he made the surrender. The newly appointed superintendent of West Point, Captain Pierre G. T. Beauregard of Louisiana, had resigned to become a Confederate brigadier, commanding at Charleston. Many experienced officers of the higher grades in both Army and Navy had offered their services to the rebellion. The resignations were accepted without question, and the officers were given honorable discharges. Some who remained at their posts were known to be unfaithful.
At the short extra session of the Senate which followed the inauguration, all the slave States save six were represented, in many cases by disunion leaders. The Senators from Texas continued to sit in the Capitol, although the State had sent delegates to the Confederate congress. Washington heard the echo of Wigfall’s threats of war on the Senate floor, and his boast that he owed no allegiance to the government. A motion was made to expel him, but no action was taken.
An irresolute Republican Cabinet convened in the White House, instead of an indecisive council of Democrats—that was nearly the only visible difference between government in March and in February. Public opinion in the North was lethargic and divided, and the decadence of patriotic feeling was increased by the inaction of the new administration. In journeying up from the deep South, the traveler passed from an atmosphere of unanimity and martial excitement into a region of apathy and indifference. Early in March, the contrast was noted by a former Army colonel, a red-headed, quick-tempered, nervous man named William T. Sherman. He was one of the Northern officers who, despairing of a future in the service, had gone into civil life. For the past year and a half he had been acting as superintendent of a military academy in Louisiana. Colonel Sherman liked the place and the people, but he could no longer with honor remain there, and he was returning to his home in Ohio to look for another position.
Sherman knew that war was coming, but he did not suppose that it would give him any employment that would provide for his wife and children. In Washington, however, he had a young brother, John, a Republican Congressman from Ohio, who had just been appointed to the Senate in place of Mr. Chase. John Sherman believed in his brother’s military ability, and he persuaded him to visit Washington. The colonel went, but he was disgusted with everything he saw. There was no appointment waiting for him, and he was by nature impatient. One day John took him to the White House and introduced him to the President, explaining that his brother was just up from Louisiana and might have some useful information. The colonel began to tell his grim story, that the South was preparing for war. ‘Oh, well!’ said Mr. Lincoln. ‘I guess we’ll manage to keep house.’ Colonel Sherman closed his lips. Outside the President’s office, he broke out and damned the politicians. ‘You have got things in a hell of a fix,’ he told his brother, ‘and you may get them out as you best can.’ The country was sleeping on a volcano that was ready to burst, and William T. Sherman wanted no part in it, and went off to accept a job in St. Louis.
The President, while he listened to the prayers of aspiring postmasters, was haggard with the problem of Fort Sumter. On assuming office he had received a report that Major Anderson’s provisions were running low. The fort was menaced by Beauregard’s batteries, and the decision to relieve or not to relieve was at once set squarely before the new administration. General Scott gave the opinion that evacuation was almost inevitable. Day after day, the dismayed gentlemen of the Cabinet assembled in the President’s office with its worn carpet and plain, heavy furniture. They sat around a long oak table, covered with a green baize cloth, and listened to the advice of the experts: Army officers, who discouraged the relief of Fort Sumter; Navy men who believed that it could be successfully carried out. Even granted that an expedition was feasible, it was not an easy matter to resolve to undertake it. The Sumter question had become a powder magazine, and only one of the President’s advisers, Mr. Montgomery Blair, was eager to drop a match in it. High above the fireplace, an old engraving of Andrew Jackson stared down on Lincoln and his Cabinet.
On the evening of March 28, the Lincolns were giving their first state dinner for the Cabinet ministers and Vice-President Hamlin and their ladies. Among the guests of less official importance was Mr. William Howard Russell of the London Times, a portly, graying, and quietly dandified Briton, given to fiddling with his eyeglasses, which hung on a chain about his neck. All unknown to himself, he was the forerunner of a line of lean, fluent, and adventurous gentlemen. He was the first of the war correspondents. His dispatches from the Crimea and from India had already made a name for him in England, and he had now been sent by his newspaper to report on the troubled situation in the democracy overseas.
The President, entertaining the company with his funny stories, gave no impression of a man in distress of mind, save to the members of his Cabinet, whom he drew apart for a brief conference; but he did not sleep that night. He felt that national destruction was the alternative to an assertion of the Federal authority. He had not firmly decided on relieving Fort Sumter, but after the Cabinet meeting next day he signed an order to make ready an expedition, to be used if necessary.
In the plans for a similar expedition to Fort Pickens in Pensacola harbor Mr. Seward was the moving spirit, and all knowledge of this project was withheld from the other Cabinet officers, including the Secretaries of War and the Navy. The resultant inefficiency and confusion of orders impaired the preparations for Fort Sumter, and damaged the morale of the Cabinet. Mr. Lincoln soon saw the mistake he had made in permitting his Secretary of State to override the authority of his colleagues. Clever Mr. Seward, with his air of ‘a refined New York criminal lawyer enacting Richelieu,’ assumed that his abilities entitled him to perform all the executive duties of the government, and he soon wrote Mr. Lincoln a letter which contained a plain intimation of his alacrity to discharge the functions of President. Mr. Lincoln composed a courteous reply which put Mr. Seward in his place. The Secretary of State played the rôle of Richelieu on a smaller scale thereafter; but he did not, as a pettier man would have done, bear Mr. Lincoln a grudge for the deflation of his ambition. His mind was supple and his nature generous, and two months later he would write his wife, ‘The President is the best of us.’
After a month of relaxation, Washington was again uneasy. It was said that a band of five hundred men, led by the Texas ranger, Ben McCulloch, planned to raid the capital from Richmond. According to some, their object was to carry off the President and the Cabinet. There was a strong national sentiment in Virginia, and Mr. Lincoln’s initial policy of forbearance and delay had been influenced by the hope that the State would adhere to the Union. The governor, however, was hostile to the North, and the enthusiasts for secession were active. As an emissary to Charleston they sent a United States Congressman, Roger A. Pryor, a young fire-eater with an impassioned and truculent face and long straight hair, brushed back behind the ears. The message that Pryor carried was ‘ Strike a blow! ‘ If blood were shed, he told the excited crowd in Charleston, in less than an hour by Shrewsbury clock Virginia would join the Confederacy.
Early in April the relief expeditions were secretly ordered to sail for Fort Sumter and Fort Pickens. The administration, in great anxiety, awaited news from Charleston. On Friday, April 12, Washington heard that General Beauregard had demanded the surrender of the fort, and that Major Anderson had refused. Next day the headlines proclaimed that the bombardment of Fort Sumter had started on the preceding day. Newspaper offices were raided, and the presses could not supply the demand. Late in the evening the Star posted on its bulletin board the dispatch which told that the fort had surrendered. All day Sunday, in the big hotels and on the street corners, people gathered to discuss the news. There was some skepticism about its reliability. Many held the opinion that the report had been put out to affect the decision of Virginia. On Monday the President’s proclamation was published, calling out seventy-five thousand militia for three months.
Suddenly it was impossible to depreciate or parry the crisis any longer. Civil war was upon the nation. The bonfire kindled by the politicians had lighted a great blaze of rebellion. Washington looked anxiously toward the heights beyond the Long Bridge.
Roger Pryor had been a true prophet. The guns that battered Sumter swept Virginia into the Confederacy; but neither he nor any man could have foretold that, in less than an hour by Shrewsbury clock, they would arouse the North. The flag that fluttered earthward in defeat sent the men of the loyal States thronging to the recruiting offices. There was a hearty clamor of bells and bands and cheers. People ran into the streets with a strange new look on their faces— a kind of desperate joy, as if they were relieved to feel passionately again.
From sixteen States, telegrams and letters flooded into Washington, offering men, money, arms. The volunteers far exceeded the number called by the President. Six border slave States sent angry refusals, and one of these was Virginia. A hesitant reply came from Governor Hicks of Maryland. He was a Union man of the stamp of Mr. Buchanan, patriotic but timid; and his State, split into warring factions, was a microcosm of the national problem.
In the eyes of the North, Washington was a cherished symbol of the nation’s power, to be held and defended at all costs. To the South, the capital was a great prize whose capture would enhance the prestige of the rebellious government, and surely bring it recognition by foreign powers. The Confederate Secretary of War publicly boasted that before the first of May the Stars and Bars would float over the dome of the Federal Capitol. Richmond secessionists were panting for the attack, and the Enquirer called on Virginia volunteers to be ready to join the march of a Southern army on Washington. The confidence of the disloyal residents of the capital increased the impression that the danger was imminent and acute.
The defense of Washington, in spite of the British invasion of 1814, was not a subject which had been studied by Army engineers, who were versed in the topography of the environs of Paris and other European capitals. The city, sprawling in its marshy valley, covered too wide an area to be easily defended, and no natural features in its vicinity were well adapted to fortifications. One neglected fort, twelve miles down the river, was the only protection that had been devised for Washington. The reliance of the city was on man power.
Massachusetts, the only Northern State that was fully prepared for the crisis, was promptly sending four regiments, under the command of Benjamin F. Butler, brigadier-general of militia, and three had been ordered direct to Washington. Two companies of weary regulars had come in from Texas before the fall of Sumter, and at least one more was soon expected. Pending the arrival of reënforcements, citizen soldiers were called out in the District. Every day the muster-in proceeded in the yard of the War Department. The chiefs of the Treasury bureaus met to organize a regiment of clerks and messengers. Office seekers were routed out of their hotel rooms to listen to fiery speeches from two veterans of the Mexican War: Cassius M. Clay, a picturesque Kentuckian who had had Vice-Presidential aspirations, and General James H. Lane, Kansas border fighter and Senator-elect. In a pinch, these strangers in Washington would at least prove dependably loyal — they were Republicans, to a man.
The government had been assured that in a few days numerous militia regiments would arrive, and to all save professional soldiers militia meant an army. Even civilians, however, recognized the difficulty of finding competent officers of the higher grades. Among those who remained faithful, none save Scott and Wool had had command of a brigade. ‘What are we to do for generals?’ Mr. Seward inquired of Scott.
Half an hour’s ride away, in his pillared mansion on Arlington Heights, was a handsome officer for whose abilities Scott had an almost idolatrous admiration. Colonel Robert E. Lee, a man who believed secession to be revolution and anarchy, was on leave of absence from the Army, for his military service had been abruptly terminated in Texas in February. On his return home, he had paid his respects to General Scott, and the two Virginians had been closeted together for nearly three hours. Scott’s secretary, Keyes, felt certain that the General had offered to resign in favor of the younger officer.
On the morning of Thursday, April 18, Lee again rode across the Long Bridge to Washington. He had appointments with old Mr. Blair and General Scott, and he went first to Montgomery Blair’s yellow house on Pennsylvania Avenue. At the instance of the President, the elder Blair that morning made Colonel Lee an unofficial offer of the command of the Federal army. Whether Lee hesitated to reply or at once gave a firm refusal, in the afternoon he rode for the last time from Washington to his home on Arlington Heights. Behind him he left a city uneasy with rumors of the secession of Virginia.
From group to group in the public rooms of Willard’s, the rumors spread that Virginians were marching on Washington. The mail train was late, and treason was feared in Baltimore. Half of the faces in the crowd at Willard’s were Southern; and, while loyal men loudly declared their sympathies and impatiently asked, ‘Why don’t the troops come on?’ there were many who stood apart, whispering or listening. The dependable boarders were assembled in the large hall adjoining Willard’s, and messengers were sent to bring in guests from the other hotels. They were divided into the Clay Battalion and the Frontier Guards, headed respectively by Cash Clay and Jim Lane, and were placed under the command of an Army officer — Mr. Lincoln’s friend, Major David Hunter. The two companies were motley groups of vigilantes rather than military organizations. When the men had signed a pledge to defend the capital they were supplied with muskets, and Major Hunter stationed Clay’s company at Willard’s, with orders to patrol the streets all night, while he took the Frontier Guards to the Executive Mansion.
General Jim Lane, a bold Kansas ruffian, with ‘the sad, dim-eyed, badtoothed face of a harlot,’ strode into the East Room of the White House, brandishing his shiny new sword. Behind him marched his earnest, and awkward following of jayhawkers and a few Easterners, in citizens’ dress, with muskets on their shoulders. In the blaze of the crystal chandeliers, ammunition boxes were opened and cartridges distributed. Colonel Stone, when he came to inspect the District sentries who were posted every night around the mansion, was startled by the loud voices and the ringing of rammers in musket barrels which proceeded from the East Room; but he was assured by Mrs. Lincoln’s cousin, Captain Lockwood Todd, that it was all right. The Frontier Guards practised drilling for a while, and then composed themselves to sleep on the velvet carpet, with Major Hunter beside them.
During the evening, the government received verification of the report that the Virginia convention, which had been deliberating in Richmond since midFebruary, had adopted an ordinance of secession. On Friday morning it was learned that the little Federal garrison at Harper’s Ferry, attacked by Virginia militia, had demolished the arsenal and burned the armory building. At the same time, Secretary Welles received disturbing news from Norfolk.
On Friday, the Cabinet had grim news from Maryland, as well as from Virginia. An official dispatch brought word of fearful excitement in Baltimore, of a collision between citizens and Northern troops. Rumors that the capital’s reenforcements had been attacked were flying through the city. By five o’clock, the depot was surrounded with anxious people. The regular afternoon train was followed by a special, which stopped just outside the station. Uniforms descended from the cars, and the crowd hailed with a cheer the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment, the first armed volunteers to come to the defense of Washington. They were soldierly figures in their dark gray overcoats, with neat knapsacks and new rifles; but their young faces were dirty and haggard. They had fought their way through a mob, hurling stones and firing guns, in the streets of Baltimore. Their casualties were four dead and thirty-one wounded. As the stretchers were carried out, some ladies sprang forward to dress the wounds with handkerchiefs. Their leader was the Patent Office clerk, Miss Clara Barton of Massachusetts — a shy little spinster, who forgot her timidity in her earnestness to assist the boys from her home State. The injured men were placed in hacks and removed to the E Street Infirmary, and the crowd escorted the regiment as it marched to the Capitol. The soldiers were fasting and exhausted, and it was late before they were handed one ration each of bacon, bread, and coffee, and stumbled down to cook it on the furnace fires in the basement. Their camp was the Senate Chamber, and wrapped in their blankets, with knapsacks for pillows, they flopped heavily on the carpeted floor, the gallery seats, and the cold tiles of the corridor.
Now the Capitol was ringed by rebellion. The north-bound trains were packed. All night the pickets were vigilant at the roads and bridges and a sharp watch was kept by the militia at the public buildings. The sentries of the Frontier Guards patrolled the White House porticoes. Major Hunter was still faithfully stretched on the East Room floor. At midnight, the Baltimore authorities decided on a plan for keeping the Yankee soldiers out of their town. The bridges were burned on the railroads to Philadelphia and Harrisburg. Washington awoke on Saturday to find itself without railway communication with the loyal States, without mail or newspapers from the North. Until Sunday night the telegraph faltered on. Then rioters seized the Baltimore office, and the capital was left in silence, isolation, and fear.
Over the week-end, women and children were sent away. Hotel guests fled the city. Office seekers scurried home. Across the Potomac secession sympathizers went in droves, carrying the story of Washington’s helplessness and alarm. Travelers to Aquia Creek were chagrined at the government’s seizure of several large river steamers, an act which not only interfered with transportation to the South but deprived Virginia of the ships. Army and Navy officers were leaving for the Confederacy by scores, and civil servants by hundreds.
Some of the citizens clung to the hope that secession would be repudiated by the people of Virginia. General Scott cherished no such illusion. Now he spoke of the soil of his native State as enemy’s country, repeating the strange phrase over and over again. Scott had been persuaded to move from Cruchet’s to Mrs. Duvall’s boarding house on the Avenue above Seventeenth Street. People nervously observed that the General was keeping close to the War Department, with a guard of soldiers posted in the yard around his lodgings. No man dared trust his neighbor, and Scott was a Virginian. There were whispers that he was unfaithful. The day after the Baltimore attack, a committee from Richmond had called on Scott to offer him the command of the forces of Virginia, and it was announced in a Charleston newspaper and joyfully credited in the South that the General had offered his sword to his State. But Scott had served under one flag for more than fifty years, and he would die a Union man. The command of Virginia’s army was given to Robert E. Lee.
The old General’s gout was so bad that, when he drove to the White House for a conference, Mr. Lincoln came down and stood beside his coupé in the driveway, to spare him the pain of climbing the stairs. Troops must somehow be rushed to the capital. They might be ordered to fight their way through Baltimore — and men like Major Hunter and Kansas Jim Lane were ready to see the rebellious city laid in ruins. Mr. Lincoln, however, wanted to avoid bloodshed, and to conciliate the timid Union sentiment in Maryland. The spreading turbulence in the State soon led him to abandon the hope of marching the troops around Baltimore. Scott had promptly endorsed a route, suggested on Friday by the railroad authorities — by steamer from Perryville on the north shore of the Susquehanna to Annapolis, which had a rail connection with the Washington branch line. In spite of rumors of rebel batteries on the Potomac, it was also expected that troops might come by the river route. On Sunday, the government received the cheering news that General Benjamin F. Butler was off Annapolis with the Eighth Massachusetts Regiment, and the Seventh New York and a Rhode Island Regiment were believed to be close behind.
Every day people collected at the depot, longing for the sight of soldiers. They walked aimlessly away, with apathetic and discouraged faces. Looking up at the iron skeleton of the Capitol dome, one Washington resident despondently remarked, ‘I wonder if it will ever be finished!’ ‘Yes, ma’am!’ a Yankee voice emphatically replied. It came from a sentry of the Sixth Massachusetts, the spokesman of the spirit of the awakened North. Somehow, on Tuesday, a belated New York mail found its way to Washington. The newspapers were avidly seized. The hero of Fort Sumter, Major Anderson, had been greeted with wild enthusiasm in New York. The Seventh New York Regiment had departed in a storm of cheers. Governor Sprague of Rhode Island had sailed with a regiment from his State. The columns blazed with enlistments, orders, proclamations, flag raisings. But the newspapers were three days old, and the patriotism of the North seemed a senseless mockery. From the President to the last despairing property holder, the cry went up from Washington, ‘ Why don’t they come?’
General Scott invited Colonel Stone to dine with him. When the meal was ended, the old General and the young Colonel sat staring at each other over their glasses of sherry. Scott recapitulated the disasters of the past few days — Harper’s Ferry, the Norfolk Navy Yard, the burned bridges.
‘They are closing their coils around us, sir! ‘
Stone produced his plan for the defense of Washington. His centres were three: the Capitol; the City Hall hill, with the Patent Office and Post Office; and the Executive Square, including the mansion and its neighboring departments. Three centres were too many, the General said. They must concentrate their little force on holding the Executive Square. Its citadel was the Treasury, with every opening barricaded and breastworks made of sandbags on the portico. It had a supply of good water, and two thousand barrels of flour in the basement. In the last extremity, the President and the Cabinet members would have to take up their quarters there. ‘They shall not be permitted to desert the capital!’ the General said.
The President’s placid manner concealed the strain he suffered. His nerves played tricks on him, as the suspense was prolonged almost beyond endurance. One day he heard a sound like the boom of cannon. None of the White House attendants had noticed anything, and Mr. Lincoln walked out to see for himself. He walked on and on to the south, until at last he stood before the Arsenal. The gunfire had been a phantom sound, but the open doors of the Arsenal were real. Mr. Lincoln saw that there were no guards on duty. Anyone could have helped himself to the arms.
The same trancelike mood which had sent the President wandering the whole desolate length of the Island was expressed in the words he spoke to some of the wounded of the Sixth Massachusetts who came with their officers to visit him on Wednesday. ‘I don’t believe there is any North. The Seventh Regiment is a myth. Rhode Island is not known in our geography any longer. You are the only Northern realities.’ There was an unusual irony, too, in Mr. Lincoln’s tone. Since midnight on Saturday, reënforcements had been only forty miles from Washington.
Next day the spell was broken. The sight of a train filled and covered with soldiers set the militia at the depot cheering. At the Capitol, the Sixth Massachusetts raised a shout. Crowds came running, and housetops, windows, and balconies swarmed with people. Reviving at the sight of its deliverers, the Federal City warmed its chill faith at the fires of the North. For six days at the very outset of hostilities it had shivered at its fate — a border town, divided within itself, and nakedly exposed to danger in a time of great rebellion.
The deliverance of Washington was effected in style. It was relieved by the Seventh New York, the kid-glove militia corps of the North. In spick-and-span gray uniforms with pipe-clayed crossbelts on their breasts, the young gentlemen had had several days’ experience of the inconvenience of war — dirty, crowded ships and coarse rations, long marches and hard labor. The sandwiches prepared for them under the supervision of Delmonico had long ago been eaten; and they had had to leave at Annapolis a thousand velvet-covered campstools. All night long they had trudged the miles from Annapolis to the Junction, helping the Eighth Massachusetts to repair the track, sharing their rations with hungry, resolute sailors and mechanics. The New Yorkers had suffered all their hardships without complaint. They had come to save the capital, and were proudly aware of their own pluck and perseverance. As they marched in perfect step to the White House, with flags flying and bands playing, and rifles and little brass howitzers shining in the sun, they accepted the welcome of the Washington population as their rightful due.
‘We are here,’ wrote Private FitzJames O’Brien, an Irish author, who was at home in the best circles of New York City; ‘we all feel somewhat as Mr. Cæsar Augustus must have felt when he had crossed the Rubicon.’
After saluting the President, the Seventh paraded back along the Avenue to the Capitol. Through the dust, they looked at their quarters as they went up the hill and joked about their Big Tent ready pitched. The top of the dome, of course, had been left off for ventilation.
Desks and gallery benches were allotted to the men. The leftovers occupied corners and lobbies. The staff used the committee rooms. The colonel took the Speaker’s parlor. Commenting favorably on the Congressmen’s lavatories, the Seventh washed; and then, formed in companies, they marched down the hill to dine at the big hotels. This regiment was never obliged to put up with a ration of bacon and biscuit in the furnace room, but ate three times a day on the Avenue during the week it spent in the Capitol.
Early the next morning, soldiers from Massachusetts and Rhode Island came tramping into Washington. Troopships were gathering in a cloud outside t he port of Annapolis, whose tenuous little railroad now formed the connecting link between the capital and the North. Brigadier-General Ben Butler was assigned to the command of the newly formed Department of Annapolis. He vigorously expedited the forwarding of regiments to Washington, but his jealous quarrels with the colonel of the Seventh New York had been a factor in delaying the arrival of the first troops. Butler was a military amateur, puffed up with self-importance. His stout body was encased in a gorgeous, gold-embroidered militia uniform, his crossed eyes flashed authority, and he gave his orders as curtly as a general on the stage. Although he claimed for the Eighth Massachusetts full credit for repairing the tracks, there were also skilled workmen on the job. At the request of Secretary Cameron, Mr. Thomas A. Scott, vice president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, had hastened to Annapolis with a corps of assistants. His former private secretary and personal telegrapher, a dapper little flaxen-haired Scotchman named Andrew Carnegie, had pitched in with the laborers and militia and was the engineer of the first train which carried soldiers to Washington over the reconstructed line from Annapolis. On the way he stopped the train to repair the telegraph line, which had been torn down and pinned to the ground. As he pulled up the stake the released wires lashed his face, and he was bleeding profusely when he arrived at the capital.
The Eighth Massachusetts was quartered in the well-ventilated rotunda of the Capitol, between its comrades of the Sixth and its new-found friends of the Seventh New York. Drums beat, feet tramped, and guns clanked in the marble halls. In both wings, mock sessions of Congress were the favorite diversion. The uproar started every morning with the rattle of reveille. A self-appointed presiding officer rapped for order. The galleries shouted to the floor, and the floor bawled back. There were pompous speeches and burlesque debates, greeted by howls of applause and hoots of derision. In ancient committee rooms in the basement a huge bakery was being established, and, as the May days passed, smoke belched from queer little chimneys that dotted the west terrace. Soldiers lost themselves in the caves and crypts, with barrels of flour in every one of them. Even after taps had sounded, the basement of the Capitol was lively. Men in paper caps moved around the enormous troughs and ovens. Sentries stood at their posts, their guns gleaming in the gaslight, and the relief awaited its turn in the guardroom. Toward morning, the smell of fresh bread drifted warmly through the cellar damp. The wagons began to back up to receive their loads of brown loaves for the regiments.
The men of the First Rhode Island had spread their bunks beside the cabinets of curiosities in the Patent Office. They were likely troops in simple coarse uniforms — gray pants, dark blue flannel shirts, and Army hats, turned up at the side — and across their shoulders they slung the scarlet rolls of their blankets. The absence of smart trappings made the Rhode Island militia look fit and ready for business, though the regiment was noted for the social standing of some of its private soldiers. John Hay, who had attended Brown University and knew Providence well, was impressed by the spectacle of men of wealth and breeding quietly doing their duty amid the litter of Company C’s quarters in the Patent Office.
A high board fence was built at the depot to protect the troops from the welcoming crowds. Every day the population turned out to see the parade on the Avenue. ‘It seemed,’ wrote Theodore Winthrop of the Seventh New York, ‘as if all the able-bodied men in the country were moving, on the first of May, with all their property on their backs, to agreeable but dusty lodgings on the Potomac.’ Soldiers in gray and soldiers in blue, garish companies of Zouaves, chasseurs, and firemen, carried their presentation flags past the White House. The legions of the New Yorkers mingled with regiments from Pennsylvania, from Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, and Michigan. The full brigade from New Jersey, thirty-two hundred strong, was the largest body of men that Washington had ever seen in line; but the record soon was broken by a single afternoon’s parade of four thousand men, their bayonets glittering all the way from Sixth to Fifteenth Streets. They comprised six regiments from three different States, arriving so close together that they formed a continuous procession.
Some of the regiments had made circuitous voyages, and others had been detained on guard duty along the railroad. In varying degrees, all had endured hunger and exposure. Their privations had been partially mitigated by the prompt action of Mr. James S. Wadsworth of western New York, who had dispatched a steamer loaded with provisions to Annapolis. The War Office was not even organized to take efficient care of the troops when they reached the capital. Its bureaus were accustomed to the leisurely, red-tape formalities of a small peacetime establishment , and the post, of Quartermaster-General was still vacant.
The Northern arsenals contained a small number of improved weapons. In the main, however, they were stocked with old flintlock muskets of Revolutionary days, altered by the addition of the percussion cap and rifling. These rusty and clumsy guns, frequently defective, were handed out to the militia.
As the well-equipped regiments received their baggage, they were sent to make their camps on the hills around the city. The Irishmen of the Sixtyninth New York marched out with emerald colors flying to the grounds of Georgetown College. They were loyal to a man to their narrow-faced commander, Colonel Michael Corcoran, who had refused to order them to parade in honor of the Prince of Wales during his visit to New York. Corcoran had been court-martialed for his disobedience, but the charges were dismissed to permit him to lead his command to the seat of war.
The New Jersey Brigade camped on Meridian Hill, in the neighborhood of the Seventh New York. The regular dragoons were sent out the Seventh Street road. The First and Second Connecticut went to Glenwood, Mr. Corcoran’s fine estate two miles north of Washington. The Rhode Islanders occupied huts, roofed in felt, in the vicinity of Glenwood Cemetery. The entrances had curtains of red, white, and blue, and several soldiers, with Yankee ingenuity, dug cellars underneath the floor, to keep their provisions cool. Some regret was expressed that they did not reach camp in time to get in a patch of vegetables.
The apprehensions of the Washington population had been immediately dissipated by the arrival of troops. Confectioners, oystermen, and barbers were delighted with their trade, and all but die-hard secessionists rejoiced to find that war, which had been heralded by such great alarms, had turned out to be a holiday. Two days after the Seventh New York reached the city, its band played on the lawn south of the White House, A gayly dressed and carefree crowd strolled through the grounds, to the strains of ‘Yankee Doodle,’‘Upidee,’‘The Girl I Left Behind Me,’and ‘Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean.'
‘Strangers began to come in to see the show,’wrote Joseph Bradley Varnum, ‘children were everywhere seen playing at soldiers in the streets — the ladies were delighted with the officer-beaux, and the strains of music from the numerous military bands. There seemed to be one continual drumbeat. People were awakened by the reveille, walked with measured tread during the day, and were lulled by the tattoo at night. All seemed more like a grand gala season than a serious work of war.'
The Y. M. C. A. held services, and handed out Bibles and tracts. Ladies carried delicacies to the sick and gathered to make havelocks, the headdresses which had been designed for troops in India by the British general, Sir Henry Havelock. They were made of heavy white drilling, and hung in long flaps over the soldiers’ necks. As havelocks were declared to be a perfect protection from sunstroke, they were made in enormous quantities by ladies who longed to be of service. All over the Union, bales of white drilling piled up in church sewing circles, and soon the volunteers, wearing a faintly Bedouin air, were enduring the heat of the havelocks, as well as the rays of the sun.
Another regiment of New Yorkers attracted quite as much attention as the Seventh, though for totally different reasons. Elmer Ellsworth, discouraged in his aspirations to a War Department post by the jealous antagonism of Army officers, had hurried up to New York to recruit a regiment from the volunteer fire departments. He returned early in May with a gang of roughs, dressed in gray, scarlet, and blue Zouave costumes, armed with rifles and huge bowie knives, and encumbered with handsome presentation flags.
Heavy-shouldered, hard-faced, spoiling for a fight, the Fire Zouaves were a new type of hero. They tumbled off the cars, asking for Jeff Davis and growling over the fact that they had been brought by way of Annapolis. ‘We would have gone through Baltimore like a dose of salts,’one of them told the Star reporter. As they marched up the Avenue, the Franklin Hose Company reel dashed past them on the way to a fire, and the Zouaves hailed the apparatus with a yell of recognition. Ellsworth was indignant that no preparations had been made for the regiment. Sitting in Hammack’s restaurant with John Hay, he could not enjoy his tea because his Zouaves had not been fed. Like them, he wore his hair shorn to the scalp under a little red cap, and carried a knife a foot long. His face was thin, his voice was hoarse, but he was in command of men, and he was happy.
The regiment was soon installed in the old and new Halls of Representatives. In their gaudy fancy dress, the brawny firemen sat about the floor, smoking, reading, sleeping, or playing cards. They swung themselves down on ropes from the cornice of the rotunda, walked around the outside parapets, and hung like monkeys from the edge of the dome. The Fire Zouaves had great respect for their little colonel, but they were as wild as wharf rats. Some seized a wandering pig, cut its throat, and ate it. One Zouave pushed another through thirty-five dollars’ worth of plate-glass window. They bought new shoes at a fashionable bootmaker’s and asked that the bill be sent to old Abe. Dinners and suppers, cigars and transportation, were charged to Jeff Davis.
After the Fire Zouaves had spent a week at the Capitol, they had an opportunity to distinguish themselves. Early one morning a fire broke out in a tailor shop next door to Willard’s. As the Washington fire companies were notorious for letting buildings burn to their foundations, Colonel Joseph Mansfield, commanding the Department of Washington, gave orders to call out a detachment of the New Yorkers. Colonel Ellsworth detailed ten men from each company, and led them on a run down the Avenue. They broke down the door of the Franklin enginehouse, and dashed across the street, followed by most of the remaining members of the regiment, who had knocked down the sentries at the doors and leapt from the windows of the Capitol at the cry of fire. A large crowd on the Avenue, including the guests of the hotel in varied wardrobes, watched the Zouaves expertly mounting lightning rods and climbing into windows. They formed themselves into human ladders for passing up water buckets, and one man was suspended headfirst from the burning roof to reach the hose line. Suddenly a Union flag on the roof quivered and fell. Secessionists in the crowd made mocking comments, but some Zouaves caught the flag and waved it, and Willard’s hastily ran up two flags in a roar of cheers. With an exhibition fire drill and a patriotic demonstration, a calamity was averted. The tailor shop was in ruins, but Willard’s was saved.
By breakfast time, in spite of a smell of smoke and some water damage, the hotel was doing business as usual. Servants cleaned the floors and washed the windows, while in the dining room the Zouave heroes breakfasted with the guests, on Mr. Joseph Willard’s invitation. A purse of five hundred dollars was made up for them, and even Mayor Berret chipped in ten dollars.
For the most part, the soldiers were entirely unprepared for shifting for themselves. The best of the militia regiments had had no real experience of camp life. They were merely social clubs which made a hobby of drilling, and enjoyed parading in their fine uniforms on national holidays. Ben Butler admitted that even the handy boys of the Eighth Massachusetts did not know how to cook, because they had always taken caterers with them on the glorified picnics of their encampments. They looked with a laughable uncertainty at the salt beef and hard bread and cords of wood which were distributed to them.
Certain regiments did show remarkable initiative in creating comfortable camps, with well-organized kitchens and bakeries and tidy rows of tents, decked with green boughs. They were, however, entirely uninstructed in matters of hygiene, placed the tents too close together, did not provide drainage, and usually thought it unnecessary to dig latrines. In the city, the sanitary conditions were appalling. Washington, with its river flats, its defective sewage system, and its many privies, had always been odorous in warm weather. In May of 1861, it was as sour as a medæval plague spot. The ill-ventilated buildings were stale. Squares festered. Alleys stank. The barracks of the Fourth and Fifth Pennsylvania Regiments, at the rear of the City Hall and at the Assembly Rooms, were public nuisances. ‘Are we to have pestilence among us?’ asked the Evening Star, and the query was echoed by the worried citizens. The comatose Board of Health aroused itself to a protest, the Surgeon-General made inquiries, and the War Department conducted an investigation.
The town was growing murmurous with complaints, directed not so much against the men as against the officers. Militia colonels owed their positions to their personal popularity, and the colonels of the newly formed regiments — usually appointed by the governors of their respective States — were chosen, not on the basis of military aptitude, but because of their influence, political services, or ability to raise recruits. All other officers were elected by the soldiers themselves. The system of electing officers was acceptable, not only to the volunteers, but to the American people. It was supposed that the technical side of war could be easily mastered, and that resourceful Yankees would soon develop into competent military leaders.
Mr. Seward and a few others were saying that the war would be very short, and the President thought they might be right; but he was not entirely sanguine. Virginia was in arms. North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas were going with the Confederacy. Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri were torn by internal dissension. The War Department had refused to accept any more men for a short term of service, and the President had widely exceeded his powers by calling out volunteers for three years and by adding ten regiments to the regular Army and eighteen thousand seamen to the Navy. In the absence of Congress, Mr. Lincoln had assumed the war powers of the government. Appalled at their own audacity, t he gentlemen of the Cabinet had sanctioned acts which, in Mr. Seward’s opinion, might bring them all to the scaffold. Mr. Lincoln had authorized Scott to suspend the writ of habeas corpus along any military line between Washington and Philadelphia.
Army officers did not share the popular opinion that the defense of Washington had been accomplished by overrunning the town with men. Colonel Mansfield, the white-bearded InspectorGeneral, had advised the occupation of the Virginia shore of the Potomac immediately after taking command of the Department of Washington. Mansfield was an engineer, and he saw the importance of holding the Arlington Heights, which were only two miles distant from the low-lying executive offices and the government buildings. The range of artillery fire had recently been increased to three or even four miles. For the security of Washington, redoubts were needed at the south end of the Long Bridge and the Chain Bridge above Georgetown, and also of the Aqueduct, which carried the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal over the river from Georgetown. Finally, to protect the navigation of the Potomac, the decayed old port of Alexandria must be occupied by Federal troops. Mansfield’s recommendations were accepted, but they could not immediately be carried out. It was not until May 24, the morning after the people of Virginia voted for secession, that the soldiers of the Union advanced.
Squads of cavalry posted across to hold the Virginia ends of the bridges. Under command of Colonel Stone, companies of District militia, including the National Rifles, advanced on scouting and patrol duty. South through the sleeping Island went boys from New York, New Jersey, and Michigan. Other New Yorkers converged on the Aqueduct from the Georgetown Heights. There was no sound of drum or fife. Officers gave low-voiced commands. Artillery rumbled above the heavy irregular tread of men marching in broken step. The moon made a white path on the Potomac, and tipped the rows of bayonets with sparkling points of light.
On the Virginia shore, the regiments established their outposts and engineers traced lines of fortifications. The Seventh New York sprawled out for a rest. As the sun rose high, guns were stacked, with blankets draped over them for shade. ‘Nothing men can do,’ thought Private Winthrop, ‘except picnics, with ladies in straw flats with feathers, is so picturesque as soldiering.’ He lay watching his comrades, as they lounged or slept or nibbled at their rations. It was hot, and he nodded. A rattle of horse’s hoofs aroused him. Before he had grasped the shouted words that Colonel Ellsworth was dead the rider was gone, galloping on to the bridge, to carry the news to Washington.
The city was horror-struck, and at first incredulous. At ten o’clock, the tolling of the bell of the Franklin enginehouse confirmed the news. The flag of the fire company was lowered to half-mast, and then all the Union flags in Washington, great and small, drooped slowly in honor of young Ellsworth.
Carried on a litter of muskets, his body was taken by boat to the Navy Yard and laid on a bench in its neat little enginehouse. Thousands came that day to look at the remains. At the mess of the Seventy-first New York, on duty at the yard, sat Private Francis E. Brownell of the Fire Zouaves, with blood on his gaudy uniform. Over and over again he had to tell the story: how Ellsworth had gone to the roof of the Marshall House in Alexandria and torn down the Confederate flag; how the innkeeper had shot him as he came down the stairs; how he, Private Brownell, had shot the innkeeper. His lip was bitten nearly through in his effort to keep from crying aloud. Ellsworth had understood the command of men. He had disciplined his New York roughs, played ball with them, fathered them, won their love and respect. As rage succeeded the first shock of grief, the Fire Zouaves threatened to burn the town of Alexandria, and it was thought prudent to confine them for the night on a steamer anchored in the middle of the Potomac.
The President had suffered a personal bereavement, and Ellsworth’s funeral services were held in the Executive Mansion. More thousands filed through the East Room, where he lay in state, dressed in his uniform, with white lilies on his breast. On the casket Mrs. Lincoln had placed his picture, framed in a waxen laurel wreath. Single-minded, courageous, and austere, he was the ideal figure of a fallen hero. It was told that a medal he wore, a golden circle inscribed 'Non nobis, sed pro patria,' was driven into his heart by the shot that killed him.
When the services were over, the flag-draped coffin was placed in a hearse drawn by four white horses. The military escort marched with arms reversed and colors shrouded. Directly behind the hearse came an unarmed company of Fire Zouaves, and among them Private Brownell drew all eyes, for he carried the darkly splashed Confederate flag for which Ellsworth had given his life. The President, with bowed head, drove in the cortege to the depot.
Having disgorged its volunteers, the city turned lazily in the warm sun and began to prepare for the special session of Congress, which the President had convened. At the Capitol, soap and sand removed the grease, tobacco, and filth of the soldiers’ occupancy. It was remarked that the furniture and draperies, the mirrors, chandeliers, and frescoes, remained as bright as new. In spite of the well-known whittling propensities of Yankees, no cuts were found on the gallery seats. When the scrubbing was finished and the carpets had been taken up and cleaned, there was little to remind the visitor that the Capitol had been a crowded bivouac.
The application of the modern invention, the telegraph, to military uses was strikingly apparent in Washington. Immense reels of insulated wire were among the supplies which the government had ordered, and the War Department had been connected with the Navy Yard, the Arsenal, the Capitol, the depot, the Chain Bridge, and the outlying encampments. The wires were now carried into Virginia, and a corps of operators, mainly drawn from employees of the Pennsylvania Railroad, took up their duties in and around the capital. Thomas A. Scott, in charge of government railways and telegraphs, placed his righthand man, Andy Carnegie, at Alexandria to organize military transport.
Washington was startled to learn that another scientific invention, the balloon, might be used for military observations. Professor Thaddeus S. C. Lowe made several captive ascensions from the grounds of the armory on the Mall. To illustrate the speed with which observations could be reported, Lowe carried aloft a telegraphic apparatus attached by a long wire to the Executive Mansion. Mr. Lincoln received the message, ‘The city, with its girdle of encampments, presents a superb scene.’ Professor Lowe claimed an ascent of five hundred feet, though the correspondent of the Star thought it not more than two hundred.
As soon as the Washington train pulled out of Baltimore, the traveler began to see the pickets guarding the railroad tracks, and the pale blotches of the camps, growing ever larger and denser as the cars moved south. The waste land around the capital seemed to have flowered in a profuse and gigantic crop of tents, guns, caissons, and white-covered wagons. Passing through the Washington depot in late June, a man felt the war like a blast of furnace heat. The gentlemen of the Thirty-seventh Congress were assembling for the special session convened by the President’s proclamation. The withdrawal of the delegations of the seceded States had diminished their numbers, placing the ambitious Republican leaders in control of both Houses. Not disaffection, but death had vacated one Democratic Senator’s seat. The sudden passing of Stephen A. Douglas early in June had deprived the administration of the support of the powerful little demagogue from Illinois.
New Englanders would head the four Senate committees that shaped wartime legislation. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts was chairman of Foreign Relations, and his colleague, Henry Wilson, would preside over Military Affairs. Hale of New Hampshire would rule Naval Affairs, and Fessenden of Maine, Finance. These men and others like them — Wade of Ohio and Chandler of Michigan — were the radicals of their party, to whom war offered an opportunity to punish the hated South and put an end to slavery. Equally vindictive was the crippled old leader of the House, Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, a brilliant and bitter antagonist of the region below the Mason and Dixon line. Stevens would hold the purse strings of the nation as chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means, which included jurisdiction over appropriations.
The urgency of the country had induced the government to anticipate the convening of Congress by giving the order for an advance into Virginia, Viewing the war as a soldier, not as a politician, Scott was still looking toward a grand campaign of encircling the Confederacy in the autumn. An immediate invasion of Virginia would be ‘a little war by piecemeal,’ which would settle nothing conclusively. In vexation at the turbulent clamor of the public and the press and the interference of President Lincoln and Secretary Cameron in military affairs, he had nevertheless been forced to yield, and he had requested General Irvin McDowell to prepare a plan for a movement toward Manassas, where the Confederate forces were concentrated under command of General Beauregard. Late in June, at a military council composed of the President and the Cabinet and a number of Army officers, McDowell had spread his map on the table and demonstrated his project with clearness and precision. The plan had been adopted, and McDowell was placed in command of the army which would take the field.
The Confederate position had been well chosen strategically. It guarded the junction of the Alexandria and Orange Railroad with the branch line running to the Shenandoah Valley, and the forces at Manassas and Winchester could thus be speedily concentrated at either point. An essential condition of McDowell’s plan was that this combination should be prevented, and General Scott gave assurances that Patterson, an old general of Pennsylvania militia, would detain the Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston in the Valley.
One day in June a thin, redheaded soldier had turned up in Washington to get his colonel’s commission. William T. Sherman had not been easy in his job with a St. Louis street railway company. He had been appointed colonel of one of the new regiments of regulars, and while it was being recruited he was ordered on inspection duty with General Scott. At the end of the month, when McDowell received permission to put his regiments into brigades, Sherman was placed in command of one of them.
General Scott, overburdened by his duties and suffering severely from his gout, had failed in the last few months. At his headquarters he lay on a lounge drawn into the centre of the room, and pointed with a long reed to the military maps on the wall. After dinner, under the tropical blaze of a six-burner gas chandelier, he dozed in his chair in his shirt sleeves, with a servant at his back, brushing off the flies. Two aides supported him as he hobbled to and from his carriage. Scott’s manifest infirmity did not disturb the popular faith in his leadership. Many believed that he would command the army in person. It was said that a light carriage was kept always ready for a swift journey to Virginia. Scott had grown reconciled to the idea of the piecemeal war in Virginia, and was confident that the movement would succeed.
At his headquarters at Arlington, Lee’s abandoned mansion, McDowell was troubled by deep misgivings. Since assuming the command in Virginia, he had met with a hundred obstacles. He was expected to weld a mass of raw regiments, belatedly straggling across the Long Bridge, into an army. Many of them were not sufficiently organized to obtain their own rations. The Federals showed no respect for the rights of Virginia civilians, arrested them and broke into their houses; and in some regiments there was a wanton tendency to loot and plunder. Near the Aqueduct there were farmhouses that had been completely sacked. McDowell had begged Mr. Cameron and Mr. Chase not to force him to organize and discipline and march and fight all at the same time. In the Mexican War he had been acting adjutantgeneral of Wool’s column; now he was going to command an aggressive movement of thirty thousand men.
Mr. Russell, correspondent of the London Times, obtained a pass from General Scott and set out on a hired horse to see the Virginia camps for himself. He noted the weakness of the rudimentary fortifications at the end of the Long Bridge, and marked the filth of the camps, the officers’ ignorance of company drill, and the different calibres of the artillery. Russell flatly concluded that the Federal army was a rabble.
McDowell had worked hard on his fine paper plan. He was serious and painstaking, and he had welcomed the opportunity of distinguishing himself. Yet, in the hot days of early July his soldierly figure moved against the garish Washington scene — walking alone through streets filled with troops too careless or ignorant to salute him, in spite of the gold star on his shoulder straps — like a man under the compulsion of a tragic destiny. His friend, John Bigelow, visiting him at Arlington, saw that he was greatly depressed. ‘This is not an army,’ McDowell said. ‘It will take a long time to make an army.’ Bigelow pitied him as he had never before pitied any man.
Over the telegraph, the news winged to the Union that at last there was going to be an advance. Files of Northern newspapers were regularly sent from Washington to the headquarters of McDowell’s West Point classmate, Beauregard. The Confederate forces were not, however, obliged to depend for their information on newspaper stories, distorted by patriotic boasting, crazy rumors, and bare-faced inventions. It was not hard to travel quietly between Washington and the enemy lines. The secessionist ladies of the capital were not all innocent sentimentalists of the old régime. There were resolute spirits among them who would stop at nothing to aid the Southern cause. The most important of these was the elegant widow, Mrs. Rose O’Neil Greenhow. During the Buchanan administration, she had known everyone of official consequence. Statesmen, soldiers, and diplomats had dined at her table, escorted her on promenades, paid her evening — sometimes late evening — calls.
After the outbreak of hostilities, Mrs. Greenhow’s Southern sympathies had not prevented her enjoying the society of Union officers. She was not estranged from her friends among the Republican leaders. She still received Secretary Seward, and commented that she found him convivially loquacious after supper. Senator Wilson of Massachusetts was frequently a guest in her little house, across from St. John’s Church. That plebeian abolitionist had none of Mr. Seward’s social grace, but he was a powerful figure in the Senate. He was chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs.
Mrs. Greenhow later avowed that her relations with the Republicans had been prompted by a desire to learn their plans, in order to make herself useful to the South. ‘To this end I employed every capacity with which God had endowed me,’ she wrote, ‘and the result was far more successful than my hopes could have flattered me to expect.’ In May she had been approached by a friend, Captain Thomas Jordan of the United States Army, on the subject of sending information to the Confederate forces. Jordan had lingered in the capital long after his allegiance was given to the rebellion. Before he changed his blue coat for a gray one and went off to become colonel and adjutant-general in Beauregard’s army, he provided Mrs. Greenhow with a cipher code. Behind his earthworks at Manassas, the little Creole general had reason to appreciate the happy foresight which Jordan had shown before departing from Washington.
According to General Beauregard, it was about July 10 when he received his first message from Mrs. Greenhow concerning the Federal advance. It was delivered by a Washington girl, Miss Bettie Duvall, to the South Carolinian, General M. L. Bonham, at Fairfax Court-House. Bonham saw in Miss Duvall the beautiful spy of romance, with glossy black hair and dark, sparkling eyes. On the preceding day she had crossed the Chain Bridge in a market cart. At the house of Virginia friends she had changed her ‘peasant dress’ for a neat riding costume, and posted off to Fairfax on a borrowed horse. Admitted to Bonham’s headquarters, Miss Duvall took out her tucking comb, and from beneath the tumbling masses of her hair drew a package the size of a silver halfdollar, sewn up in black silk. It contained the information that the Federals would advance by way of Fairfax CourtHouse and Centreville, and that an attack might be expected by the middle of July. This news was confirmed by other reports. Beauregard immediately began to prepare for the attack, and dispatched an aide to Richmond to advise the Confederate authorities.
July 9 had been the date set for McDowell’s movement, but it was only by great exertion that he was able to get his army under way a week later. On the morning of Tuesday, July 16, there was intense excitement in Washington. For the last two days, troops and wagon trains and ambulances had been going across the Potomac. The extension of the Federal pickets had interfered with the underground communication between the Confederates and their friends in Washington. During the night of July 15, a man named Donellan was secretly ferried across the Potomac at a point below Alexandria, and in the morning he entered the capital, rumorous with the army’s advance. Donellan knew the city well, for until recently he had been a government clerk, and he had no trouble in finding ‘a certain house . . . within easy rifle-range of the White House,’ in General Beauregard’s phrase. The credentials which he handed to Mrs. Greenhow consisted of a small scrap of paper on which the words ‘Trust bearer’ were written in Colonel Jordan’s cipher. Mrs. Greenhow, in the same cipher, wrote nine words: ‘Order issued for McDowell to march upon Manassas tonight.’ By her own account, she had been able to obtain a copy of the order.
Donellan was sped in a buggy, with relays of horses, down the eastern shore of t Re Potomac to a Confederate ferry in Charles County, Maryland, a district of slaveholding planters strongly secessionist in sentiment. On the Virginia side, the message was handed to a cavalry courier, and galloping relays carried it to Manassas. At nightfall, Beauregard had the nine words which Mrs. Greenhow had written — momentous words to him. Within half an hour he had ordered his outpost commanders to fall back before the enemy to already designated positions. Next morning he sent an urgent telegram to Richmond asking that General Joe Johnston’s forces in the Valley be permitted to join him, and was promptly assured that not one army but two would confront the Federals at Manassas.
On Wednesday the army straggled into Fairfax Court-House, and twentyfour hours later into Centreville. In its wake followed visitors who had been attracted to the country capital by the interesting prospect of a battle. Parties on horseback and in carriages succeeded in making their way to the head of the advancing column. As the rebel outposts fell back, Northern newspapers exulted over a Confederate retreat. On to Fairfax! On to Centreville! The soldiers were as joyous, said the Boston Transcript, as if bound on a clambake.
At Centreville, McDowell’s force faced the main army of Beauregard, which was entrenched beyond Bull Run, a winding, sluggish stream bordered by steep wooded banks. On the hot morning of Thursday, as the London correspondent went into the department headquarters on the Avenue, Mansfield dashed out of his room. ‘Mr. Russell, I fear there is bad news from the front.’ ‘Are they fighting, General?’ ‘Yes, sir. That fellow Tyler has been engaged, and we are whipped.’ Messengers and orderlies, aides and civilians, were running in and out of the departments, the Executive Mansion, and the Capitol. On the Avenue, an Army officer shouted as he rode, ‘These confounded volunteers have run away.’ From the Capitol, smoke could be seen rising in Virginia, and people thought it came from cannon, though it was evidently from burning houses and campfires.
At Army headquarters, word had been received that the divisional commander, old Colonel Tyler, ordered to make a reconnaissance of the lower fords of Bull Run, had brashly exposed a large part of his force to heavy fire, under which the men had retreated in confusion. The major engagement had been postponed. McDowell remained at Centreville, seeking to obtain information about the difficult terrain and to concentrate his half-organized command. There had been much burning and pillaging of Fairfax Court-House. The men were wearied by their march in the terrible heat, and shaken in spirit by Tyler’s blunder.
Stories of desperate fighting and immense losses continued to circulate in Washington on Friday; yet the confidence of the unionist population remained unshaken. With such an army as McDowell’s, the dislodgement of the Confederates from their works, said the Star, could only be a question of hours. The July sun glared from a brazen sky. Early in the day a troop of regular cavalry rode exhausted through the city, horses and men flagging in the heat. Laggard Federal soldiers wandered idly through the streets, without fear of arrest, and skulking officers were numerous in the barrooms and restaurants. In the evening, General McDowell and two or three staff officers were ushered into General Scott’s quarters. McDowell had completed his reconnaissance, and the great battle would be fought on Sunday.
Washington received the news with rejoicing. ‘Before the battle,’ wrote ‘Sunset’ Cox, a Democratic Congressman from Ohio, ‘the hopes of the people and of their representatives are very elate and almost jocosely festive.’ Already, at Centreville, the carriages of the visitors gave the bivouacs ‘the appearance of a monster military picnic.’ On Saturday there was a great rush to obtain passes to Virginia for the lighting next morning. The demand for picnic lunches was tremendous. ‘The French cooks and hotel-keepers,’ Russell wrote, ‘have arrived at the conclusion that they must treble the prices of their wines and of the hampers of provisions which the Washington people arc ordering to comfort themselves at their bloody Derby.’ All the carriages, gigs, wagons, and hacks in Washington had been hired at advanced rates.
In the tranquil loveliness of the summer morning, the army of sightseers crossed the silver Potomac and drove through the wooded hills, the deserted farms, and the ripening cornfields of the Virginia countryside. The gentlemen were dressed in thin summer clothing. They carried spyglasses, rifles, and revolvers. In their comfortable carriages they had stowed rich lunches, bottles of wine, and flasks of Monongahela and Bourbon. There were a few adventurous ladies among them. Negroes looked from the doors of their cabins, as they jolted over the road ploughed up by artillery and army wagons. The muffled pounding of artillery began to be heard in the distance, growing heavier and louder as the carriages rolled toward Fairfax. Out of a cloud of dust came a shambling body of troops, with carts laden with baggage and chairs and tables. They were the men of the Fourth Pennsylvania. Their time was up, and, with the Eighth New York Battery, they had been discharged at Centreville the day before. Talking and laughing, they hurried on to Alexandria, with the battle roaring at their backs.
Among the Senators on the road to Centreville were some of the Republican leaders who had been loudest in their demand for an advance—Henry Wilson and Ben Wade and Zach Chandler. The holiday mood of the partisans was enriched by the anticipation of seeing the rebels run for Richmond. Congressman Albert G. Riddle of Ohio had a sentimental duty to his constituents. He had promised ‘our Grays’ that, if a battle were fought near Washington, he would join them and share their fortunes on the field. It was as simple and informal as that. Matthew Brady, the fashionable photographer, drove to Centreville, lugging his huge camera and plate holder. He was a bushy-haired little Irishman, with a pointed beard and a big nose, and he wore a long light duster and a straw hat. His wagon was shrouded with black cloth and fitted with chemicals, for Brady was obsessed with the idea that he could do something which no man had ever done before — make a photographic record of a battlefield.
Meantime, in Washington, the Sunday streets were quiet. There was a feeling of strong suspense, but no alarm. A quiet throng stood all day in front of the Treasury, listening to the dull rumbling of the distant guns. After church, Mr. Lincoln studied the unofficial telegrams that were coming in from the vicinity of the battlefield. He went to call on General Scott, and aroused the veteran from an afternoon nap. Scott still expressed confidence of success, and composed himself to sleep again.
Later in the afternoon, a reassuring report was received at Scott’s headquarters. The dispatches all declared that the Federals were pressing forward; and with a feeling of relief the President ordered his carriage. He had not returned from his drive when, at six o’clock, Mr. Seward came to the White House, haggard and hoarse-voiced. He asked the private secretaries where the President was, and whether they had any late news. They had the reports of a Federal success. ‘Tell no one,’ Mr. Seward said. ‘That is not true. The battle is lost. The telegraph says that McDowell is in full retreat, and calls on General Scott to save the capital.’
At first Scott received the adverse news with incredulity, but it was confirmed by a dispatch from McDowell himself. The President and the Cabinet gathered in Scott’s quarters. They sat gravely in their black coats among the old pedantic War Department generals and the fledgling staff officers with brass spurs and rakish kepis. Orderlies ran across from the War Department with the telegrams. The acting AdjutantGeneral, Colonel E. D. Townsend, sat near the door to receive them, and read them aloud. Once he faltered — after the words, ‘Colonel Cameron.’ Townsend looked for a moment at; the Secretary of War, whose brother was at the front with his Highland regiment; then he whispered the rest of the sentence — ‘was killed.’
Still, in anxiety for definite news of the outcome, the Washington crowds, many women among them, lingered abroad. Before Willard’s blazing windows the pavement was packed, and every arrival was closely scanned and questioned. The traffic on the Long Bridge was growing heavy. The night air was cool after the burning day, as the sightseers clattered home in the moonlight to the capital.
All those who returned toward midnight had been in the tumult and dust and terror of the retreat, the smashing, tumbling torrent of carriages, army wagons, sutlers’ teams, and running soldiers. Some people who had driven out in the morning did not come back that night because their carriages had been wrecked, or commandeered to carry the wounded. Mr. Russell’s gig had departed without him while he was off having a look at the battle, and he had been obliged to ride all the way to Washington. ‘Stranger, have you been to the fight?’ called the soldiers at the city end of the Long Bridge.
Ben Wade and Zach Chandler drove into Washington with set and angry faces. Near Fairfax, their carriage and Congressman Riddle’s had blocked the road and stopped the rush of panicstricken soldiers. Ben Wade had threatened the runaways with his rifle. He and Chandler made straight for the White House.
Back came the other Republicans: Senator Trumbull, feeling dreadfully mortified; Senator Wilson, who had been obliged to mount a stray army mule; Senator Grimes, who had escaped capture by less than a minute, and resolved that this was the last battlefield he would ever visit voluntarily. Congressman Riddle returned shaken by a knowledge of the depths of his own nature. Examining the body of a dead Union soldier, he had discovered in himself ’a brutish desire to kill.’ He would gladly have plunged into the fight with his Remingtons, but the battle had moved on, and no rebel was in sight. He was a teetotaler, but he admitted that he took a long drink of whiskey.
On a lounge in his office, the President received the spectators of the battle. Some thought that the soldiers had been infected with panic by the frightened sightseers, some thought the civilian teamsters were to blame. Others cursed the want of morale among the three months’ men, who were thinking only of getting home. All decried the volunteer officers who had deserted their commands and run to save their necks. Lincoln listened in silence. He did not go to bed all night. Clouds swirled across the face of the moon, the sky darkened, and a sullen morning dawned in a drizzle of rain; and with daylight came the soldiers— not the victorious rebel army, but the defenders of the Union. Across the Long Bridge and the Chain Bridge and the Aqueduct, they scrambled back to Washington; to safe, familiar streets, to shops and houses, to a place where they had had rest and rations and letters from home.
By six o’clock the tramp and splash of their feet and the murmur of their voices rose loudly above the drumming of the rain. Occasionally a regiment marched in order. The men still bore their arms and had the look of soldiers. Most of the groups were conglomerations of squads, broken companies, and stragglers, mingled in disorder. They did not appear to be soldiers, said an excellent observer, Frederick Law Olmsted, so much as ’a most woebegone rabble, which had perhaps clothed itself with the garments of dead soldiers left on a hard-fought battlefield.’ Their bright militia uniforms were smoke-stained, muddy, and sopping. Guns, coats, caps, shoes, and haversacks had been lost or thrown away. They staggered through the staring city like sleepwalkers, dropped on the steps of houses, crumpled on the curbstones with their heads against the lampposts, stretched full-length in the flooded gutters. Artillerymen and officers slept on their horses as they rode.
There were many slightly wounded men in the streets, and more were lying strewn along the road from Fairfax Court-House. A hospital had been set up in Alexandria, and Andy Carnegie had got. a sunstroke superintending the transport of the wounded on the cars, but ambulance-loads were coming into Washington as well. A little wagon drove along the Avenue with Judge Daniel McCook in the driver’s seat. In the back he had the body of his son, Charles, a boy of seventeen, who had enlisted in the Second Ohio. Before Mrs. Parris’s boardinghouse, across from Brown’s Hotel, a sympathetic crowd gathered, while they carried the body in. Two years later the old judge himself would fall in a skirmish in the West. Mr. Matthew Brady came forlornly back to his photographic studio on the Avenue. He had lost everything — wagon, camera, equipment. His duster was badly wrinkled, and under it he wore a sword which he had been given by some Fire Zouaves who had found him lost in the woods near Bull Run.
All day McDowell’s army streamed into Washington. They stood in the wet streets around smouldering fires built of boards pulled from the fences, and told fearful stories of masked batteries, black horse cavalry, and regiments cut to pieces. A gaudy handful of men, grouped in front of the Treasury, claimed to be the only survivors of the Fire Zouaves. Soldiers were begging for food at the doors of the houses. Ladies stood in the rain, handing out sandwiches and coffee. Citizens sent their carriages across the river to carry wounded and exhausted men into town.
Helplessly stretched in the mud, Washington awaited capture in the morning; but no invasion came. The rebel army, too, was made up of volunteers. They had been as disorganized as the Federals by their unexpected victory. Across the Long Bridge came only the wagon trains which had slowly disputed the narrow road from Centreville — white-covered supply wagons, boxlike ambulances, country carts, and sutlers’ vans. By noon on Tuesday, the Long Bridge was solidly blocked from end to end. The cries of the wounded could be heard above the shouts of the drivers.
The sight of Confederate prisoners awakened fierce resentment, for stories of atrocities to the Federal wounded had spread through the city and were believed. Some were spattered with mud and cursed as they marched from Martsfield’s headquarters to the Old Capitol on First Street, where it had been decided to confine them. Soldiers and citizens, gathered in front of the Treasury, assailed one party of prisoners with cries of ‘Kill them!’ and the escort of marines had hard work to keep the crowd back with their bayonets. However, the Southerners presently discovered that they had friends in Washington. Mrs. Greenhow, who had been in New York over the week-end, returned to visit them, and to raise a fund to supply them with food and clothing. In this work she was assisted by Mrs. Philip Phillips, wife of a Washington attorney who had formerly been a member of Congress from Alabama; and, according to the Star, Senator Breckinridge of Kentucky also went to the Old Capitol to see the Confederate prisoners. A few days later, however, visitors were excluded. Mrs. Greenhow was especially named in the order.
To the sanguine expectations of the North, the reverse had been a cruel disappointment. In spite of bitterness and angry criticism, the Union did not flag in its determination to carry on the war. Even as the militia hurried north, new regiments of three years’ volunteers tramped through the depot, to form and march in Washington. The hurrah of their arrival resounded amid the confusion and the defeat. Up the Avenue went their serious young faces, their dapper officers, rich flags, and bleating bands. For a second time the nation was rising in force to defend its capital and its cause.
On the banks of Bull Run, more had been lost than the battle, more than pride and honor. The tradition of Lexington had suffered an eclipse. The notion was spreading which for weeks had been voiced in Washington, that gallant hearts were not enough, that training, too, was needed to make an army. American volunteers had been whipped, and shamefully whipped, and the country’s blame fell heavily on their officers. Many of them had been among the first to run. Soldiers had been left leaderless on the field. Two hundred officers sent in their resignations after the battle. Others filled the Washington barrooms, drinking, defeated, sick of the war, indifferent to their orders and their men.
In the chorus of recrimination, the higher officers suffered as well. West Pointers were derided. A scapegoat was needed for the humiliating blunder of the battle, and General McDowell was proclaimed incompetent. Quiet and self-possessed, McDowell sat at his headquarters at Arlington Heights, trying to reorganize the broken army. He wrote John Bigelow that it was his chief consolation that his friends seemed warmer to him than ever. He had welcomed the opportunity of distinguishing himself. No one knew better than he how disastrously — and how fortuitously— he had failed.
General Patterson had weakly permitted Johnston’s army to join Beauregard. The old three months’ general from Pennsylvania had had too great a responsibility in the Valley. He was mustered out in a storm of obloquy. Even General Scott was suspected of being in part responsible for the mismanagement of the battle. He lost his temper and blamed the politicians, and called himself the greatest coward in America; and across his magnificent figure a shadow fell. It was cast by the stocky young major-general who was summoned from western Virginia to supersede McDowell and Mansfield in command of all the troops at Washington. The nation which hailed George B. McClellan had learned that no summer excursion of militia would end that war.
(To be continued)
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