John. T. Trowbridge: The South : a tour of its
battle-fields and ruined cities, a journey through the desolated states, and
talks with the people: being a description of the present state of the country
-- its agriculture -- railroads -- business and finances…; L. Steebins:
Hartford, Connecticut; 1866. pp. 153-205
LIBBY, CASTLE THUNDER, AND BELLE ISLE.
STROLLING along a street near the river, below the burnt
district, I looked up from the dirty pavements, and from the little ink-colored
stream creeping along the gutter, (for Richmond abounds in these villainous
rills,) and saw before me a sign nailed to the corner of a large, gloomy brick
building, and bearing in great black letters the inscription,
Passing the sentinel at the door, I entered. The ground
floor was partitioned off into offices and store-rooms, and presented few
objects of interest. A large cellar-room below, paved with cobble-stones, was
used as a cook-house by our soldiers then occupying the building.Adjoining this, but separated from it by a wall, was the cellar which is
said to have been mined for the purpose of blowing up Libby with its inmates, in
case the city had at one time been taken.
Ascending a flight of stairs from the ground-floor, I found
myself in a single, large, oblong, whitewashed, barren room. Two rows of stout
wooden posts supported the ceiling. The windows were iron-grated, those of the
front looking out upon the street, and those of the rear commanding a view of
the canal close by, the river just beyond it, and the opposite shore.
There was an immense garret above, likewise embracing the
entire area of the floor. These were the prison-rooms of the infamous Libby. I
found them occupied by a regiment of colored troops, some sitting in Turkish
fashion on the floor, (for there was not a stool or bench,) some resting their
backs against the posts or whitewashed walls, and others lying at length on the
hard planks, with their heads pillowed on their knapsacks.
But the comfortable colored
regiment faded from sight as I ascended and descended the stairs, and walked
from end to end of the dreary chambers. A far different picture rose before me,
- the diseased and haggard men crowded together there, dragging out their weary
days, deeming themselves oftentimes forgotten by their country and their
friends, -men who mounted those
dungeon-stairs, not as I mounted them, but to enter a den of misery, starvation,
On the opposite side of the same
street, a little farther up, was Castle Thunder, - a very commonplace brick
block, considering its formidable name.It
was still used as a prison; but it had passed into the hands of the United
States military authorities. At the iron-barred windows of the lower story, and
behind the wooden-barred windows above, could be seen the faces of soldiers and
citizens imprisoned for various offences.
Belle Island I had already seen from the heights of
Richmond, - a pleasant hill rising out of the river above the town, near the
farther shore. The river itself is very beautiful there, with its many green
islets, its tumbling rapids sweeping down among rocks and foaming over ledges,
and its side-dams thrown out like arms to draw the waters into their tranquil
embrace. My eye, ranging over this scene, rested on that fair hill; and I
thought that, surely, no pleasanter or more healthful spot could have been
selected for an encampment of prisoners. But it is unsafe to trust the
enchantment of distance; and after seeing Libby and Castle Thunder, I set out to
visit Belle Island.
I crossed over to Manchester by a bridge which had been
constructed since the fire. As both the Richmond and Danville, and the Richmond
and Petersburg railroad bridges were destroyed, an extraordinary amount of
business and travel was thrown upon this bridge. It was shaken with omnibuses
and freight-wagons, and enveloped in clouds of dust.Loads of cotton and tobacco, the former in bales, the latter
in hogsheads, were coming into the city, and throngs of pedestrians were passing
to and fro. Among these I noticed a number of negroes with little bundles on
their backs.One of them, a very
old man, was leaning against the railing to rest. [author goes on to describe a
redundant conversation with this man]
I kept on to Manchester, passed
the great humming mills by the river-side, and turning to the right, up the
Danville railroad, reached Belle Island bridge after a brisk fifteen minutes'
walk. Crossing over, I
entered the yard of a nail-factory, where some men were breaking up heavy old
iron, cannons, mortars, and car-wheels, by means of a four-hundred pound shot
dropped from a derrick forty feet high. Beyond the factory rose the pleasant
hill I had viewed from the city. I climbed its southern side, and found myself
in the midst of a scene not less fair than I had anticipated. Behind me was a
cornfield, covering the summit; below rushed the river among its green and rocky
islands; while Richmond rose beyond, picturesquely beautiful on its hills, and
rosy in the flush of sunset.
But where had been the prisoners' camp?I saw no trace of it on that slope. Alas, that slope was never trodden by
their feet, and its air they never breathed. At the foot of it is a flat,
spreading out into the stream, and almost level with it at high water. Already
the night-fog was beginning to creep over it. This flat, which was described to
me as a marsh in the rainy season, and covered with snow and slush and ice in
winter, was the "Belle Isle" of our prisoners. Yet they were not
allowed the range even of that. A trench and embankment enclosing an oblong
space of less than six acres formed the dead-line which it was fatal to pass.
Within this as many as twelve thousand men were at times crowded, with no
shelter but a few tattered tents.
As I was examining the spot, a throng of begrimed laborers
crossed the flat, carrying oars, and embarking in boats on the low shore looking
towards the city. They were workmen from the nail-factory returning to their
homes. One of them, passing alone after his companions, stopped to talk with me
at the dead-line, and afterwards offered me a place in his boat. It was a leaky
little skiff: I perched myself upon a seat in the bow; and he, standing in the
stern, propelled it across with a pole.
"Where were the dead buried?" I asked.
"The dead Yankees? They buried a good many thar in the
sand-bar. But they might about as well have flung 'em into the river. A freshet
washed out a hundred and twenty bodies at one time."
"Did you see the prisoners when they were here?"
"I wasn't on the Island. But from Richmond anybody
could see their tents hyer, and see them walking around. I was away most of the
"In the army?"
"Yes, sir; I was in the army. I enlisted fo' three
months, and they kept me in fou' years," he said, as men speak of deep and
unforgiven wrongs. "The wa' was the cruelest thing, and the wust thing fo'
the South that could have been. What do you think they'll do with Jeff
"I don't know," I replied; "what do you
"I know what I'd like to do with him: I'd hang him as
quick as I would a mad dog!Him and
about fo'ty others: old Buchanan along with 'em."
"Why, what has Buchanan done?"
"He was in cohoot with 'em, and as bad as the baddest.
If we had had an honest President in his place, thar never'd have been wa'."
From the day I entered Virginia it was a matter of
continual astonishment to me to hear the common people express views similar to
those, and denounce the Davis despotism.
They were all the more bitter against it because it had
deceived them with lies and false promises so long. Throughout the loyal North,
the feeling against the secession leaders was naturally
strong; but it was mild as candle-light compared with the
The passage of the river was
delightful, in the fading sunset light. On a bluff opposite Belle Island was
Hollywood, the fashionable cemetery of Richmond, green-wooded, and beautiful at
that hour in its cool and tranquil tints. As we glided down the river, and I
took my last view of the Island, I thought how often our sick and weary soldiers
there must have cast longing eyes across at that lovely hill, and wished
themselves quietly laid away in its still shades. Nor could I help thinking of
the good people of Richmond, the Christian citizens of Richmond, taking their
pleasant walks and drives to that verdant height, and looking down on the camp
of prisoners dying from exposure and starvation under their very eyes. How did
these good people, these Christian citizens, feel about it, I wonder?
Avoiding the currents sweeping
towards the Falls, my man pushed into the smooth waters of a dam that fed a
race, and landed me close under the walls of his own house.
"This yer is Brown's
Island," he told me. "You've heerd of the laboratory, whar they made
ammunition fo' the army?" He showed me the deserted buildings, and
described an explosion which took place there, blowing up the works, and
killing, scalding, and maiming many of the operatives.
Passing over a bridge to the main
land, and crossing the canal which winds along the river-bank, I was hastening
towards the city, when I met, emerging from the sombre ruins of the burnt
district, a man who resembled more a wild creature than a human being. His
hands, arms, and face were blackened with cinders, his clothes hung upon him in
tatters, and the expression of his countenance was fierce and haggard. He looked
so much like a brigand that I was not a little startled when, with a sweeping
gesture of his long lean arm and claw-like fingers, he clutched my shoulder.
"Come back with me," said he, "and I'll tell
ye all about it; I'll tell ye all about it, stranger."
"The explosion, -the explosion of the laboratory thar!"
Dragging me towards Brown's Island with one hand, and
gesticulating violently with the other, he proceeded to jabber incoherently
about that dire event.
"Wait, wait," said he, "till I tell you!
" - like the Ancient Mariner with skinny handholdinghis
unwilling auditor. "Mydaughter
was work'n' thar at the time; and she was blowed all to pieces! all to pieces!
My God, my God, it was horrible! Come to my house, and you shall see her; if you
don't believe me, you shall see her! Blowed all to pieces, all to pieces, my
His house was close by, and the daughter, who was "blowed
all to pieces," was to be seen standing miraculously at the door, in a
remarkable state of preservation, considering the circumstances. She seemed to
be looking anxiously at the old man and the stranger he was bringing home with
him.She came to the wicket to meet
us; and then I saw that her hands and face were covered with cruel scars.
"Look!" said he, clutching her with one hand,
while he still held me with the other."All
to pieces, as I told you!
"Don't, don't, pa! " said the girl, coaxingly."You mustn't mind him," she whispered to me."He is a little out of his head.Oh, pa! don't act so!."
"He has been telling me how you were blown up in the
laboratory. Youmust havesuffered fearfully fromthose
"Oh, yes; there was five weeks nobody thought I would
live.But I didn't mind it,"
she added with a smile, "for it was in a good cause."
"A good cause!" almost shrieked the old man; and
he burst forth with a stream of execrations against the Confederate government
which made my blood chill.
But the daughter smilingly repeated, "It was a good
cause, and I don't regret it. You mustn't mind what he says."
I helped her get him inside the wicket, and made my escape,
wondering, as I left them, which was the more insane of the two.
But she was not insane; she was a
woman. A man may be reasoned and beaten out of a false opinion, but a woman
never. She will not yield to logic, not even to the logic of events. Thus it
happens that, while the male secessionists at the South have frankly given up
their cause, the female secessionists still cling to it with provoking tenacity.
To appeal to their intelligence is idle; but they are vulnerable on the side of
the sentiments; and many a one has been authentically converted from the heresy
of state rights by some handsome Federal officer, who judiciously mingled love
with loyalty in his speech, and pleaded for the union of hands as well as the
union of States.
[Next few chapters describe the
work of various commissions distributing rations in Richmond, and the Unionist
sentiments in Richmond]
IF temples are a token of godliness, Richmond should be a
holy city. It has great pride in its churches; two of which are noteworthy.
The first is St. John's Church, on Church Hill,- a large,
square-looking wooden meeting-house, whose ancient walls and rafters once
witnessed a famous scene, and reechoed words that have become historical. Here
was delivered Patrick Henry's celebrated speech, since spouted by every
schoolboy, - " Give me liberty or give me death!"Those shining sentences still hang like a necklace on the breast of
American Liberty. The old meeting house stands where it stood, overlooking the
same earth and the same beautiful stream. But the men of that age lie buried in
the dust of these old crowded church-yards; and of late one might almost have
said that the wisdom of Virginia lay buried with them.
On the corner of Grace Street, opposite my hotel, I looked
out every morning upon the composite columns and pilasters, and spire clean as a
stiletto, of St. Paul's Church, with which are connected very different
associations. This is the church, and (if you enter) yonder is the pew, in which
Jeff Davis sat on Sundays, and heard the gospel of Christ interpreted from the
slave-owners' point of view. Here he sat on that memorable Sabbath when Lee's
dispatch was handed in to him, saying that Richmond was lost. The same preacher
who preached on that day, still propounds his doctrines from the desk. The same
sexton who handed in the dispatch glances at you, and, if you are well dressed,
offers you a seat in a good place.The same white congregation that arose then in confusion and
dismay, on seeing the President go out, sit quietly once more in their seats;
and the same colored congregation looks down from the nigger gallery. The seats
are still bare, - the cushions that were carried to the Rebel hospitals, to
serve as mattresses, having not yet been returned.
Within an arrow's shot from St. Paul's, in the State
Capitol, on Capitol Square, were the halls of the late Confederate Congress. I
visited them only once, and found them a scene of dust and confusion, -
emblematical. The desks and seats had been ripped up, and workmen were engaged
in sweeping out the last vestiges of Confederate rule. The furniture, as I
learned, was already at an auction-room on Main Street, selling under the
hammer. I reported the fact to Mr. C, of the Union Commission, who was looking
for furniture to be used in the freedmen's schools; and he made haste to bid for
the relics. I hope he got them; for I can fancy no finer stroke of poetical
justice than the conversion of the seats on which sat the legislators of the
great slave empire, and the desks on which they wrote, into seats and desks for
little negro children learning to read.
It was interesting, by the light of recent events, and in
company with one who knew Richmond of yore, to make the tour of the old negro
auction-rooms.Davis & Co.'s
Negro Bazaar was fitting up for a concert hall. We entered a grocery store,- a
broad basement room, with a low, dark ceiling, supported by two stout wooden
pillars. "I've seen many a black Samson sold, standing between those posts;
and many a woman too, as white as you or I." Now sugar and rice were sold
there, but no more human flesh and blood. The store was kept by a Northern man,
who did not even know what use the room had served in former years.
A short ride from the city are two cemeteries worth
visiting. On one side, Hollywood, where lie buried President Monroe and his
doctrine. On the other side, Oak Wood, a wild, uncultivated hill, half covered
with timber and brush, shading numerous Confederate soldiers' graves. Here, set
apart from the rest by a rude fence, is the "Yankee Cemetery," crowded
with the graves of patriot soldiers, who fell in battle, or died of slow
starvation and disease in Richmond prisons; a melancholy field, which I remember
as I saw it one gusty September day, when wild winds swept it, and shook down
over it whirling leaves from the reeling and roaring trees.
Lieut. M, of the Freedmen's Commission, having invited me
to visit Camp Lee, about two miles from the city, came for me one afternoon in a
fine large carryall, comfortably covered, cushioned, and carpeted.
"Perhaps you will not feel honored," he remarked,
as we rattled up Broad Street, "but you will be interested to know that
this is General Robert E. Lee's head-quarters' wagon.
You are riding on the seat he rode on through the campaigns
of the last two years. Your feet are on a piece of carpet which one of the
devoted secessionists of Richmond took up from his hall-floor expressly to line
the General's wagon bottom, - little thinking Yankee boot-soles would ever
desecrate it! After Lee's surrender, this wagon was turned over to the
quartermaster's department, and the quartermaster turned it over to us." I
was interested, indeed; I was carried back to those sanguinary campaigns; and I
fancied I could see the face of him sitting there where I sat, and read the
thoughts of his mind, and the emotions of his heart, in those momentous nights
and days. I imagined the plans he revolved in his brain, shut in by those dark
curtains; what he felt after victory, and what after defeat; the weariness of
body and soul; the misgivings, the remorse, when he remembered his treason and
the folly of Virginia, - for he certainly remembered them in the latter gloomy
periods, when he saw the black cloud of doom settling down upon a bad and
Camp Lee, formerly a fair ground, was the conscript camp of
the Confederacy. I had been told many sad stories of young men, and men of
middle age, some of them loyal, seized by the conscript officers and sent
thither, as it were to a reservoir of the people's blood, whose stream was
necessary to keep the machinery of despotism in motion. I paced the grounds where,
with despairing hearts, they took their first lessons in the art by which they
were to slay and be slain.I stood
by the tree under which deserters were shot. Then I turned to a very different
The old barrack buildings were
now the happy homes of a village of freedmen. Groups of barefooted and
woolly-headed negro children were at play before the doors, filling the air with
their laughter, and showing all their ivory with grins of delight as I passed
among them. The old men took off their caps to me, the wise old aunties welcomed
me with dignified smiles, and the younger women looked up brightly from their
ironing or cooking as I went by. The young men were all away at their work. It
was, with few exceptions, a self-supporting community, only about a dozen old or
infirm persons, out of three hundred, receiving aid from the government.
A little removed from the negro
village was a cottage formerly occupied by Confederate officers.
"In that house," said
the Lieutenant, "is living a very remarkable character.You know him by reputation _____, formerly one of the ablest writers on‘De Bow's Review,’ and considered the great champion of slavery in
"What! the author of ____?
" a somewhat celebrated book in its day, and in the latitude for which it
was written; designed to set forth the corrupt and perishable nature of free
societies and progressive ideas, and to show that slavery was the one divine and
"The very man. He is now a
pauper, living on the bounty of the government. The rent of that cottage is
given him, and he draws rations of the Relief Commission. He will be glad to see
you; and he has two accomplished daughters you will be glad to see."
Accordingly, we called upon him; but, declining to enter
the house, we sat under the stoop, where we could look across the desolate
country at the sunset sky.
Mr.___, an emaciated, sallow, feeble old man, received us
affably, and talked with us freely on his favorite topics. He had lived to see
the one divine and enduring institution die; but civilization still survived;
and the race that found its welfare and happiness only in bondage seemed pretty
well off, and tolerably happy, - witness the negro village close by; and the
world of progressive ideas still moved on. Yet this great champion of slavery
did not appear to have learned the first lesson of the times. All his arguments
were the old arguments; he knew nothing but the past, which was gone forever;
and the future to him was chaos.
His two daughters, young and accomplished, came and sat
with us in the twilight, together with a vivacious young lady from Richmond.On our return to the city, Miss ____ accompanied us, with their visitor.
The latter proved to be an audacious and incorrigible little Rebel, and regaled
us with secesh songs. I remember a few lines.
"You can never win us back,
Though we perish in the track
Of your endeavor!"
"You have no such noble blood
For the shedding:
In the veins of Cavaliers
Was its heading!
You have no such noble men
In your abolition den,
To march through fire and fen,
[Following chapter, relating Southern attitudes towards
emancipation, not transcribed]
ATnine o'clock onefine
morning, MajorK-,the young Judge-Advocate of the Department of Virginia, called for me by
appointment, accompanied by an orderly bringing a tall war-horse General Terry
was so kind as to furnish for my use.
I was soon mounted, and riding out of the city by the
Major's side, - down the long, hilly street, past the Rocketts, by the left bank
of the river, taking the New-Market Road. First we came to a circle of detached
forts surrounding the city; a few minutes' ride farther on brought us to a heavy
continuous line of earthworks surrounding the first line. These were the
original fortifications of Richmond. Crossing a desolate undulating country of
weeds and undergrowth, we reached the works below Laurel Hill, of more recent
construction, and of a more formidable character. The embankments were eighteen
feet high from the bottom of the ditch. This was some six feet deep and twelve
broad. There were two lines of bristling abatis. These, together with the wooden
revetments of the works, had been levied upon by the inhabitants in search of
Three quarters of a mile beyond we came to the heavy
intrenchments of the Army of the James. Between the two lines were the
picket-lines of the opposing forces, in places no more than three hundred yards
apart. Here the two armies lay and watched each other through the last weary
Autumn and Winter of the war.The
earth was blotched with "gopher holes," - hasty excavations in which
the veteran videttes proceeded at once to intrench themselves, on being sent out
to a new post."It was
astonishing," said the Major, "to see what a breastwork they would
throw up in a few minutes, with no other tools than a bayonet and a tin-plate. The
moment they were at their station, down they went, scratching and digging."
We had previously stopped at Laurel Hill, to look across
the broken country on the south, at Fort Gilmer, which the troops of General
Foster's division charged with such unfortunate results. The Major, then serving
on Foster's staff, participated in that affair."I never can look upon this field," said he, "without
emotion. I lost some of my dearest friends in that assault."
So it is in every battle: somebody loses his dearest
We rode on past the Federal works into the winter-quarters
of the army, -a city of huts, with streets regularly laid out, now deserted and
in ruins. Here and there I noted an old fashioned New-England well-sweep still
standing. The line of works was semicircular, both ends resting on the river.
Within that ox-bow was the encampment of the Army of the James.
We next visited New-Market Heights, where Butler's colored
regiments formed unflinchingly under fire, and made their gallant charge, wiping
out with their own blood the insults that had been heaped upon them by the white
troops. "The army saw that charge, and it never insulted a colored soldier
after that," said the Major.
We then galloped across the country, intending to strike
Dutch Gap Canal. Not a habitation was in sight. Vast fields spread before us,
and we rode through forests of weeds that overtopped our horses' heads. We
became entangled in earthworks, and had to retrace our course. More than once we
were compelled to dismount and tear our way through abates and chevaux-de-frize.The result was, we lost our bearings, and, after riding several miles
quite blindly, struck the James at Deep Bottom. Then up the river we galloped,
traversing pine woods and weedy plains, avoiding marsh and gully, and leaping
ditches, past Aiken's Landing, to a yellow elevation of earth across a narrow
peninsula, which proved to be Dutch Gap.
The canal was there, - a short,
deep channel connecting the river with the river again. The James here describes
a long loop, seven miles in extent, doubling back upon itself, so that you may
stand on this high bank, and throw a stone either into the southward-flowing or
the northward-returning stream.
The canal, which cuts off these
seven miles, is four hundred and eighty-six feet in length and fifty in depth
from the summit of the bank. It is one hundred and twenty-two feet broad at the
top, forty at the bottom, and sixty-five at the highwater level. On the lower
side the channel is deep enough for ships. Not so at the upper end, - the head
that was blown out having fallen back and filled up the canal. At high water,
however, small vessels sometimes get through. The tide had just turned, and we
found a considerable body of water pouring through the Gap.
Different accounts are given of the origin of the name of
Dutch Gap. It is said that a Dutch company was once formed for digging a
ship-canal at that place.But a
better story is told of a Dutchman who made a bet with a Virginian, that he
could beat him in a skiff-race between Richmond and City Point. The Virginian
was ahead when they reached the Gap; what then was his astonishment, on arriving
at City Point, to find the Dutchman there before him. The latter had saved the
roundabout seven miles by dragging his canoe across the peninsula and launching
it on the other side.
Riding up the Richmond road, we stopped at the first human
habitation we had seen since leaving Laurel Hill. We had been several hours in
the saddle, and stood greatly in need of refreshments. The sight of a calf and a
churn gave us a promise of milk, and we tied our horses at the door. The house
had been a goodly mansion in its day, but now everything about it showed the
ruin and dilapidation of war. The windows were broken, and the garden,
out-houses, and fences destroyed. This proved to be Cox's house, and belonged to
a plantation of twenty-three hundred acres which included Dutch Gap. Looking at
the desolation which surrounded it, I could hardly believe that this had
formerly been one of the finest farms in Virginia, worked by a hundred negroes,
and furnished with reapers, threshers, a grist-mill, and saw-mill, all of which
had been swept away as if they had never been.
We found lying on a bed in a dilapidated room a poor man
sick with the prevailing chills. He had some bread and milk brought for us, and
gave us some useful hints about avoiding the torpedoes when we should reach Fort
Harrison. He described to us the depredations committed on the place by
"Old Butler "; and related how he himself was once taken prisoner by
the Yankee marines on the river. " They gave me my choice, - to be carried
before the admiral, or robbed of my horse and all the money I had about me. I
preferred the robbing; so they cleared me out and set me free."
I said, "If you had been taken before the admiral, you
would have got your liberty and saved your property."
His voice became deep and tremulous as he replied: "
But I didn't consider horse nor money; I considered my wife. I'd sooner anything
than that she should be distressed. She knew I was a prisoner, and all I thought
of was to hurry home to her with the news that I was safe." Thus in every
human breast, even though wrapped in rags, and guilty of crimes against country
and kindred, abides the eternal spark of tenderness which atones in the sight of
God for all.
Taking leave of the sick man, we paid a brief visit to the
casemates of Fort Harrison, then spurred back to Richmond, which we reached at
sunset, having been nine hours in the saddle and ridden upwards of forty miles.
Another morning, with two gentlemen of General Terry's
staff, and an orderly to take care of our horses, I rode out of the city on the
Nine Mile Road, which crosses the Chickahominy at New Bridge; purposing to visit
some of the scenes of McClellan's Richmond campaign.
Passing the fortifications, and traversing a level,
scarcely inhabited country, shorn of its forests by the sickle of war, we
reached, by a cross-road, the line of the Richmond and York River Railroad.But no railroad was there; the iron of the track having been taken up to
be used elsewhere.
Near by was Fair Oaks Station,
surrounded by old fields, woods, and tracts of underbrush. Here was formerly a
yard, in which stood a group of oaks, the lower trunks of which had been
rendered conspicuous, if not beautiful, by whitewash: hence, "fair
It was a wild, windy, dusty day.
A tempest was roaring through the pines over our heads as we rode on to the
scene of General Casey's disaster. I asked an inhabitant why the place was
called "Seven Pines." "I don't know, unless it's because there's
about seven hundred."
He was living in a little wooden house, close by a negro
hut. " The Yankees took me up, and carried me away, and destroyed all I
had. My place don't look like it did before, and never will, I reckon. They come
again last October; Old Butler's devils; all colors; heap of black troops; they
didn't leave me anything."
He spoke with no more respect of
the Confederates. " We had in our own army some of the durn'dest
scapegalluses! The difference 'twixt them and the Yankees was, the Yankees would
steal before our eyes, and laugh at us; but the Rebels would steal behind our
On the south, we found the woods on fire, with a furious
north wind fanning the flames. The only human being we saw was a man digging
sweet potatoes. We rode eastward, along the lines of intrenchments thrown up by
our troops after the battle; passed through a low, level tract of woods, on the
borders of the Chickahominy swamps; and, pressing northward, struck the
Colonel G, of our party, was in the Fair Oaks' fight. He
came up with the victorious columns that turned back the tide of defeat.
"I never saw a handsomer sight than Sickles's brigade
advancing up that road, Sunday morning, the second day of the battle. The enemy
fired upon them from these woods, but never a man flinched. They came up in
column, magnificently, to that house yonder; then formed in line of battle
across these fields, and went in with flags flying and bayonets shining, and
drove the Rebels. After that we might have walked straight into Richmond, but
McClellan had to stop and go to digging."
We dismounted in a sheltered spot, to examine our maps,
then passed through the woods by a cross-road to Savage's Station, coming out
upon a large undulating field. Of Savage's house only the foundations were left,
surrounded by a grove of locust-trees.My companions described to me the scene of McClellan's retreat from this
place, - the hurry, the confusion, the flames of government property abandoned
and destroyed. Sutlers forsook their goods. Even the officers' baggage was
devoted to the torch. A single pile of hard tack, measuring forty cubic feet,
was set on fire, and burned. Then came the battle of Savage's - Station, in
which the corps of Franklin and Sumner, by determined fighting, saved our army
from being overwhelmed by the entire Rebel force. This was Sunday again, the
twenty-ninth of June: so great had been the change wrought by four short weeks!On that other Sunday the Rebels were routed, and the campaign, as some
aver, might have been gloriously ended by the capture of Richmond. Now nothing
was left for us but ignominious retreat and failure, which proved all the more
humiliating, falling so suddenly upon the hopes with which real or fancied
successes had inspired the nation.
[Next chapter, XXVII, describes the author’s visit to
Petersburg, and has not been transcribed.]