From the New York Herald, 9/19/1864

The Rebel Army Growing Beautifully Less.

One of the refugees, who very recently left the rebel capital, has furnished us with a graphic insight into the military, political and social state of affairs at the great focus, where has at length centred nearly all that can be called the Confederate States of America. He also entertained us with a thrilling narrative of the cause of his departure from Richmond; how he effected his escape; how he was obliged to traverse swamps and forests, avoiding the highways, in order to escape guerillas and rebel pickets; how he was befriended on the way, and at length found an opportunity to safely reach our lines. All this might be stated, and afford an interesting picture of the trials many are willing to undergo for the sake of escaping the vigors of authority in the South. It is prudent, both for the benefit of others to follow after and those who lend their aid to the refugees in their flight, that nothing be laid upon this subject. From the conversation of the person in question we have elicited numerous facts which we will briefly mention.


By all means the foremost subject of importance and the first question addressed to a fresh arrival from Richmond is in relation to the rebel army. Upon this subject we learn that the depletion of the fighting men in the severe campaign and rigorous investment which has characterized the operations of General Grant since his commandership of the armies has been very great, and brought about even a more severe enforcement of the conscription than has yet been experienced. In the choice language of General himself, the rebel authorities are indeed the cradle and the grave” to swell their ranks and test the efficiency of numbers, embarrassed by the weakness of youth and infirmities of age. None are now to be found at home but the crippled and the bedridden, and perhaps a few who, through some inexplicable manoeuvring, have succeeded in deceiving the efforts of the conscription. The entire fighting material of the South may then safely be considered in the army. The entire country is in arms, and without that recuperative strength which resides in a surplus population yet untouched. Let us now look at the estimates.

Richmond, according to the best sources of information at the command of our informant, is garrisoned by about ten thousand troops, commanded by General Ewell. These troops are posted in and around the city, occupy the principal fortifications, and we considered a sort of nucleus, around which, in case of disaster, the remnant of their army in the field can gather for a resolute defence. The quartering of the garrison is partly in barracks, and the remainder in hovels erected of brush. There are but few tents.

The city is also protected by several detachments guarding the several approaches not at present threatened by a menacing army. The York river Railroad, extending towards the east, is guarded by a considerable force. A number of batteries have been thrown up and command many of the main avenues of attack. On the north side of the city, as there is no expectation of an advance from that quarter, the force is small, and is encamped in open fields. On the west the city defences are the only protection. The great army of the rebellion lies south of Richmond and Petersburg. Strong bodies are also stationed at Drury’s and Chapin’s Bluffs. This force is commanded by General Lee in person.

The estimated strength of this army is about eighty thousand, and it is made up of the best material of all the rebel armies. The conscription will raise this numerical standard, but no doubt greatly destroy the usefulness of the veterans by confusing their movements, and will doubtless change the entire Southern army into an unwieldy mass of cumbersome and dragging matter. Thus far, however, portions of Lee’s army have displayed the most restless activity, and columns pass to and fro from one point of attack to another with remarkable agility. This fact and the superior advantage of moving upon interior lines alone has thus far saved lee from utter annihilation.

The Southern army is now better clothed and armed than ever before. The clothing is principally derived from the expert and indefatigable blockade runners at Wilmington, and is of English manufacture. In color the cloth somewhat resembles our own. Arms are now had in abundance, and consist principally of Enfield rifles. There is also an adequate supply of field artillery. The great source of well founded fear is in the exhaustion of ammunition. The recent explosion of a portion of the powder mills at August, Ga., has occasioned a reduction in the supply to such a degree that no little embarrassment is felt in its economical use. In Richmond a large number of the poorer class of women are engaged at the government laboratories in making cartridges. The Tredegar Iron Works are also kept in active employment in producing material of war, such as shot, shell and artillery. There are a double set of hands and the works are kept running night and day. It is computed that five thousand blacks and whites receive employment here. We may add that a number of Union deserters are among the number.


The unparalleled vigor of General Grant’s operations has awakened in the rebel mind an eye to the worst features of the darkening future. They do not talk so much of the impregnability of their capital, and, conscious of the indefatigable character of the present leader of our armies, have set to work digging with great industry, in hopes of rendering a possible vulnerability indubitably invulnerable. Old parts are being strengthened by a few feet of earth on the parapet and a few feet on the slope embrasures are being doubly secured by gabions and fascines, ditches are being deepened; in fact, a little more dirt, a little more thickness of a little more depth is the order of the day. Not only are old works being improved, but new ones are in course of erection, and forts are being connected by series of breastworks, where hitherto none existed. New magazines are also rapidly being completed, and a number of wells have been or are to be sunk in different localities, for both convenience and the certain securement of a supply of water. It is evident from the immense amount of labor which has been bestowed within the past two months upon the defences of the rebel city, especially upon the inner line, that they do not entirely discredit the belief that a few weeks may witness a still greater limitation of their field of operations. The map which will be found in to-day’s HERALD gives the reader an idea of the extent of these defences around the city. The laborers upon these improvements are negroes, both free and slave, who have been conscripted for the purpose. There are but few whites at work except those in charge of working gangs or the engineers.


There is no concealing the fact that Mr. Davis within the past year has lost nearly all of his favor with the people, and is now limited in his popularity to the immediate circle of his friends. The people are already, but in subdued tones, clamoring for a change. They say Mr. Davis is too partial, too forbearing towards his friends, and too vindictive towards his enemies. They accuse him of useless severity in the administration of his power. He acts without recognizing the forms of the government, and too much in accordance with his single will. If the people were permitted or dared to give their impartial voice Mr. Davis could not retain his seat a week. By all means the admiration of affection of the whole South reposes in General Lee. They admire his success as an officer, and truly think that he has done more than any other person to maintain their cause this long. The result of this favor has stirred up a feeling of opposition on the part of Mr. Davis towards Lee. They do not agree on numerous matters of policy and of the army. Twice, it is said, these differences have reached such a length that General Lee has tendered his resignation. Mr. Davis does not underrate the extent of General Lee’s service, though he may throw obstacles in his way. Lee is a great favorite with the army, and were Mr. Davis to undertake any serious opposition he would soon have the whole rebel army battering at his doors. Lee is know familiarly to his soldiers as “Bob”.

The private life of Mr. Davis, from what I learn, is exemplary and a model to the people. His residence is situated upon French Garden Hill, in the suburbs of Richmond, and commands a fine prospect. The mansion was purchased by the city for the sum of fifty thousand dollars and presented to Mr. Davis. Here the leader of this great conspiracy lives quietly and without ostentation. His domestic affairs are administered with a view to the pressure of the times, and there is said to be very little gayety about the place. Does the spectacle of blood and war which he has brought upon the land thus subdue him? The other high officials imitate the example of their leader, and live without attracting much notice.

As yet no very manifest hostility has been exhibited towards Mr. Davis. He is frequently seen upon the streets unattended and alone. Every Sabbath morning he can be seen, with his prayer book in his hand, walking from his residence to St. Paul’s church, where he is a regular attendant. It is thought, however, that this passive admission of his mismanaged government cannot long last, and that something will soon be done to remove him. The voice of the people is for a Dictatorship, and Lee is the man of their choice for the high position.


War has never been known to increase the piety of a country, much less of a city. Richmond, above all cities, is experiencing its full share of internal corruption. The fact is, during the past year Richmond has been a sort of refuge for a large number of those shunning the encroachments of the despicable Yankees, and, as a natural consequence, the city is literally packed with all sorts of characters. The population, in addition to the transient military and officers of the garrison, consists of a large portion of its old residents, a numerous set of government officials, refugees from all parts of the South and numbers of Baltimoreans and smuggling Jews. The gentlemen from Baltimore form the greater class of saloon keepers. The recent invasions of the conscript officers have occasioned the extinction of a number of their establishments, the proprietors being obliged to take the oath, thereby making them liable to conscription. As one of the inevitable necessities of the centralizations of so much military power at Richmond, the municipal government is inadequate to the maintenance of quiet therefore there exists, in addition, a strong martial administration. Allied these two powers stay the tide but do not repel it. Crime is punished by the alternative of close confinement in prison or enlistment in the army. The latter is generally the choice of the victim. A great evil and source of trouble to the authorities seems to be the existence of parties of men allied in the perpetration of midnight assassinations or attacks. The men of these gangs station themselves upon the principal streets, and upon perceiving a solitary individual, approach him upon crutches and inquire the direction to the hospital. During this interrogation and the very natural reply a survey of the appearance of the person is made. If his looks promise a reward he is interrupted by a whack upon the head, prostrated and rifled. These gangs have no fear of the police, but are clubbed together and armed for desperate work. They consist of deserters from the army and rowdies from New Orleans and Baltimore.


The most shocking spectacle presented by the rebel capital seems to be its social depravity. In all centres of power, and particularly of military, moral corruption is always found to exist largely in excess of the natural proportion elsewhere. The effects of the war in the border cities of the North has shown this. Richmond seems, however, to be unusually afflicted. The army of the South has swept off all the fighting material of the country. This has carried off fathers, husbands and brothers, the natural guardians of the purity of their wives and daughters. We may add it is estimated that there are ten thousand publicly and privately kept women in Richmond.


These establishments are numerous and are plying a brisk business. They are patronized by government officials who are said to squander away the public funds. A recent law against the keeping of these places subjects the proprietors to severe punishment. They have accordingly adopted the plan of dealing in iron marks so that they may not be recognized.

The theatres of the city are also in the height of prosperity, and entertain the populace with not the most choice standard of stage performance.


Whence comes the food necessary to the support of the large mass of human life in and around Richmond is a question not unfrequently asked. The stoppage of the Weldon Railroad has shut off another avenue of supply, and it was supposed by many would soon bring the inmates of the beleaguered city to terms. Our informant says the main dependence for food is now and has been in the large supplies from the extensive Piedmont region, a section of country which has been but little subjected to the ravages of war. From this quarter long rains of wagons are continually arriving, bringing in supplies. The James river and Kanawha Canal is also used in its utmost capacity in the transportation of food. It is not thought that the want of food will ever effect much in obliging the surrender of the rebel capital unless this other source of supply be wrested from their grasp. Our informant says you have plenty of money you can get plenty to eat.” He does not think there is any scarcity as far as the rich are concerned. The worst feature of this plenty lies in the fact that it is beyond the reach of the poor. Hunger will subdue the most vehement patriotism, and we may soon hear cries of “Blood or bread” in the streets of Richmond. The time when this shall come cannot be far distant. Even now the government slaughter houses are besieged by crowds of women, who await the killing of animals and beg for meat. This cannot last long.


What shall be the next move in event of the evacuation of Richmond has already become a theme of frequent discussion. The most popular course is to fall back to Columbia, South Carolina. This plan engaged the attention of the authorities once before, and many of the most valuable State documents were then removed to that point. It is still further said that the leaders of the rebellion have given up all idea of overcoming the North, and it is now the intention of Mr. Davis and Company, when they see they are on the verge of final defeat, to hand the so-called confedracy [sic] over to the French government. We hope the time will soon come when they will be in a condition to take this last step. It is hardly probable the French government will put its hand into the fire by accepting the kind proffer of a conquered territory.


The new railroad from Danville to Greensboro, which the rebels have been building for some time, is not yet finished. Working parties are still engaged upon it; but the inconvenience of transportation and scarcity of material, particularly iron, have in a great degree delayed the completion of the road. All the railroads around Richmond are considerably out of repair for want of iron. The motive power, too, is greatly suffering from want of proper mechanical skill.


Some time ago the rebel authorities imported a number of Englishmen for the purpose of manufacturing rebel notes. The Englishmen worked faithfully for a while, but, soon growing tired of the slow manner of their own enrichment, set up an establishment of their own, to a house of ill-fame, and for a time prosecuted a brisk business. When discovered they had manufactured about three hundred thousand dollars. The plates were of course genuine, but the signatures counterfeits. The gentlemen in question were lodged in jail and the matter hushed up.


The Blue Ridge Mountains are said to be infested with large numbers of deserters. They have formed into organizations and are determined to resist all effort to force them back into the army. They live by making forays into the cultivated districts and carrying off a supply of provisions. It is said to be exceedingly unsafe to enter these mountains alone.


This unfortunate martial hero, after the capitulation of Vicksburg somewhat abruptly faded from public notice. We understand that, after experiencing a very general denouncement at the hands of the press of the South, he resigned his general’s commission and was made lieutenant colonel of artillery. This position he held for a short time, and was at length obliged to resign this also. He has now retired to the peaceful walks of privacy. He will probably be no more heard of in the public walks of life. Such is the case also with Roger A. Pryor. All at the North have heard of this blatant chap. He is now a private soldier in the rebel ranks. He tried his hand with shoulder straps as a general and failed utterly, and he now shoulders a musket and will be heard of no more.


The law prohibiting the distillation of grain has necessitated the use of apple brandy. Drinkers are now regalling themselves upon this favorite beverage at the rate of two hundred and fifty dollars a gallon.


Several Richmond houses are doing a remarkable business. Kent, Paine & Co., proprietors of a wholesale establishment, have daily sales to the amount of from one to two million dollars. Smaller establishments are doing a proportionate business.


It is natural to inquire what becomes of these large sums. The ruling mania is the possession of gold or real estate. The people hold rebel notes as short a time as possible, and convert all, except what is necessary for present expenditure, into something of fixed value.


We have taken a hasty glance at the present aspect of affairs at the rebel capital. It is here the last struggle is going on for the nationality which for three years the rebel leaders have been endeavoring to secure. We witness in them subdued spirits and the strength which they manifested at first vanishing before the more powerful arm of the established government. We already witness corruption in its most hideous forms stalking publicly in the streets of their capital. Society has diminished from a high standard of aristocracy and respectability into a pitiful scene of misery, woe and degradation. Their whole country has felt the horrors of war, in ruined homes, devastated fields and deserted cities. Yet this destruction must go on until the great principle of the integral unity of the whole nation is vindicated and confirmed. The South can only be restored to its allegiance by conquering the obduracy of its leaders, and by accepting and punishing treason and hostility the same as a crime instead of a virtue.

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