New York Tribune, 4/10/1865, p. 1, c. 3
To Richmond and Back – Why, How, What.
From Our Special Correspondent.
NEW YORK, April 9, 1865.
Time, 11 a. m., Monday, April 3, 1865. Place, the Treasury Department, Washington, where at his desk sat the writer hereof. An abstruse calculation corrugated his brow, while an under current of thought eddied among the pros and cons of the question – would he win that hat he had wagered that Richmond would fall within 48 hours.
Of the two questions, one as to the exchange to be allowed on the drafts of the Hon. Politikalie Exeyell, Minister to the Windward Islands, and the other as to the contingent hat aforesaid, the latter was the first solved.
A wild shout, exultant and prolonged – a shout that grew into a great storm and whirlwind of voiced joy as hundreds of bellows-like lungs were added to its forces; this thousand-throated voice come surging up the broad stairways and went reverberating down the long corridors, and called all of us forth to ask hungry questions – and these were answered with one word: "Richmond!"
- Now, in the Peninsula Campaign I had climbed tall trees to see but the glinting spires of Richmond – always careful to keep the body of the tree between my own body and those spires, the former being better calculated to stop bullets. Again, last Summer, I climbed other trees for the same purpose. What more natural, then, than for me to be seized with the magic of the Old Slogan (much abused, but always right): "Onward to Richmond!" Besides, the instincts of a retired army correspondent asserted themselves and bade me go once more to the front and to once more write to THE TRIBUNE. And so all-athrob with the thought of seeing Richmond, I set about the requisite preparations, in quite as much haste to get there as was Davis himself to get away from there.
The course of the War Department toward newspapers and their correspondents during the whole war has been marked by petty tyranny, by a caprice that would be funny is it had not been so troublesome, and by the most consummate ignorance, short-sightedness, and folly. Perhaps the conglomerate word "pig-headedness" well sums up my indictment. The procurement of passes for correspondents has always developed on the part of some one or other of its officials with whom one came in contact the above mentioned quality. I remember when Grant was about to set out from Culpepper an order was issued that correspondents must be registered as such in the army, and the construction placed upon it by the War Department was that passes could not be granted prior to such registration, and that the registration must be done in person. In other words, one must be in the army in order to be registered, at the same time he could not go to the army until he was registered. And telegraphic correspondence with Provost-Marshals at the front, and a series of interviews with officials at the Department, only befogged the matter. At length the dilemma was submitted to A. Lincoln, the Commander-in-Chief, who granted unconditional passes to half-a-dozen of us – and he told us an apropos story.
Bearing the past in mind, I was not at all surprised, on calling at the Department at noon on Monday, to find that from Secretary down no one had authority to grant passes – "the late successes so changed the circumstances that probably a new policy as to passes would be required," and would I "call to-morrow." I determined I would not call to-morrow, particularly as I thought I could find an old pass, "By order of Lieut.-Gen. Grant," bearing the indorsement, dated last May, "extended until further orders," and I had heard of no "further orders" touching it. As I hoped, that pass admitted me on board the James T. Brady at 3 p.m.
Similar considerations to those which started me to Richmond had the same effect upon two other veteran correspondents – Whitelaw Reid, the "Agate" of The Cincinnati Gazette and L. L. Crounse, the Washington editor of The Times – gentlemen with whom it is a pleasure to travel even on board of one of Gen. Ingalls's line of steamers to City Point. Being anxious to forget the unnecessary annoyance and discomforts of my many trips on these boats, I forbear a description of the one in question. I wish I could as easily dismiss it from my dreams, for it has since formed the substance of the only nightmare by which I was ever ridden.
We reached Varina Landing, fifteen miles from Richmond, as runneth the New-Market Road, at sunset Tuesday, the most interesting event on the way being the meeting of five or six steamboats crowded with Rebel prisoners, who cheered lustily as they passed. Our party, now consisting of Mr. Reid, R. T. Colburn, of The World, and myself, (Mr. Crounse had stopped at City Point,) was anxious for instant transportation to Richmond – our Mecca. A mail ambulance, the only vehicle at the wharf, could not accommodate us, and we were mustering our courage to start on foot in company with a score or two bound for the same destination, when Gen. Weitzel's four-hourse headquarters wagon drove up. It had come down from the city with a party of ladies, escorted by Major Graves, of Weitzel's staff. Luckily the Major was an acquaintance of mine, and our greetings were cut short by my initiating negotiations for seats in the wagon on its return passage. With warm thanks for his ready assent, we three, with all the flourish of an old-time stage-coach, and to the no small envy of a dozen others, rattled off on the corduroy road. But not all the way to Mecca that night. Although plied with the contents of flask and pocket-book, the driver could not be induced to travel after dark, alleging torpedoes, which, should he stray by night from the straight path and the narrow gate which leads through the Rebel fortifications, might be exploded and kill his horses! The sublime self-abnegation of that driver, and his great love for his horses, begat our respect. We pardoned him his want of consideration as to our own safety, and assented to his proposition that we should pass the night at the now abandoned headquarters of Gen. Weitzel, ten miles on the hither side of Mecca. These headquarters consisted of a village of deserted huts. The sole inhabitants were a colored sergeant with a guard of six men left in charge of certain unremoved stores. We at once established ourselves in Weitzel's own hut, and by the potency of greenbacks soon had the entire population of the village working and contriving for our comfort. One proceeded to cook our supper. A second started a cheerful wood fire. A third foraged for furniture, procuring three cushioned and two rocking chairs, a center table, and three sofas – originally the spoils of deserted houses in the neighborhood. Awaiting supper we spied out the window. On our return Sergeant Ebony informed us that he had brought us for our toilet water and towels but I'se "not got no comb, na' no har-brush, na' no toof-brush," and his surprise was open-mouthed when each of us in turn produced from his own diminutive traveling bag these articles. A supper of coffee, bacon and pones, alias corn dodgers, was to us as nectar and ambrosia. My own subsequent cigar (knowing that my companions never smoked, I took care to offer each a prime Havana from my own store) had a perfume sweeter than odors of Oriental gardens, and induced a reveried satisfaction more blissful than dreams of hasheesh eaters. Sergeant Ebony piled still higher the crackling fire, and in the cheer of its glow the conversation turned to reminiscences of nights each had passed in camps and on battle-fields, which had not been comfortable, of marches, sieges, battles and campaigns, of adventures ludicrous or dangerous, ending with one accord in expressions of satisfaction that they were all so soon to become things of the past – that now at last, the war was most over.
Now Reid is a man six feet and one inch in stature, and neither of our sofas would accommodate so great length of limb when horizontally disposed; so Sergeant Ebony was required to arrange one bed on the floor. Colburn is of less stature, but even he appropriated the longest sofa. Not being myself of such commanding proportions, with some grumbling I accepted their decision that I should occupy a shorter sofa. But I had my revenge the next morning when I accused Reid of prolonged and stentorious snoring, and Colburn of three times visiting my flask during the night. My indignation having cooled, I now publicly confess that each accusation was false. Nevertheless, by steady persistence in them, backed up with much circumstantial detail, they at the time became firmly convinced of the truthfulness of the charges.
By arrangement of the night before, we were awakened promptly at 4 in the morning, and out boots, well-polished by Sergt. Ebony, brought to us. We drank coffee at 4 1/2, and at 5 our coach-and-four whirled to the door, and we were off for Mecca. A jolly ride, that. The sun rose with a glory that crimsoned the whole East, and the balm of the air, and the green of the fields, and the buddings of the trees – and we Mecca-bound. It was intoxicating. On the left, now near, now far, as if timidly coming toward us, anon as if coquetting away from us, was the river. And there were our gunboats above Dutch Gap, above Drury's Bluff, ay, within shot of the farthest house in Richmond. All around, everywhere, were the yellow parapets of the concentric lines, so well defended, so well besieged, the great guns still planted upon them, but the host of the enemy gone. A dozen negro soldiers trudging on to Mecca were the only men we saw in all that ten miles. The smoke of the fire still clouded in gloom over the southern half of the city, but the whole remaining half all clothed in morning light, showed spires of churches, the dome of the state house, stately mansions, and sprinkled nearer to us suburban cottages. It was beautiful. Up Main-st., and up a long hill, for Richmond, like Rome, sat upon her more than Seven Hills, and making a wide detour to avoid the burned district, we reached the Spottswood House. A front parlor on the second floor, with adjacent bed-rooms, received the three scribes and pilgrims to the Mecca of the war. "Towels, John – and some water." "My names' Ben," "Very well, is there a barber-shop in the house, Ben?" And quickened by the magic of money in fractional postal-green, Ben made us comfortable.
My letter written at the Spottswood three days ago would come mainly under this head.
The first thing that struck me was the number of the colored population, perhaps because they were all out of doors. In the State-House grounds, where they had never before been allowed to enter, not less than a thousand were congregated, strolling about with curious eyes upon every Yankee, or huddled in groups upon the ground, basking in the sun, there too following with their eyes the Union soldiers, especially those of their own color. It was impossible to mistake the great glee that shone in all their faces. In my hearing one of them said to half a dozen of his friends: "We uns kin go jist any whar – don't keer fur no pass – go any whar yer want 'er. Golly! de Kingdom hab kim dis time fur sure – dat ar what am promised in de Generations te dem dat goes up tru great tribulations."
A citizen told me that a few hours before three of his slaves came and explained to him that they were a committee to inform him that the 27 he owned were free, but would continue to work for him on condition that he would pay them wages in greenbacks. I suggested to the irate ex-master that the appointment of committees was a distinctive feature of enlightened communities, and in any case indicated a very high order of civilization and a capacity for self-care. He replied, "Well, I told the whole crew to go to ___, and they all left; its my opinion they'll all get there soon enough," and turning upon his heel went away with the air of an injured man.
One fact is certain, namely: that there is not a negro in the city who does not know that he is free, and that does not count largely upon it. Nor do the majority look forward to a simple heaven of laziness. A dozen with whom I talked were anxious to get to work for wages. "Not for none of dis yer money which ain't werf nuffin, but de money dat you has. Dis chile 'd like to hab a heap o' dat" said one, exhibiting perhaps a thousand dollars of Confederate issues, and also exhibiting white teeth in a broad grin.
I found Gen. Devens and Staff quartered in the house lately occupied by Gov. Extra Billy Smith. His wife, daughter and nieces were still there, and anxious for permission to go to friends in Baltimore. The furniture, owned like the house by the State, remained. The ladies said nothing belonging to the State was removed, except a valuable table, service and other plate, marked with the State arms, which had been taken to the Exchange Bank for safety, and was there burned on Monday morning. It is more probably the ladies were mistaken, and that those valuables were carried off with the coin of the bank.
The State gardener, a Swiss, gave me a choice bouquet from the conservatory, and then tried to enlist my services in procuring for him a pass North. It is remarkable how many desire to get away. The office of the Provost-Marshal is thronged from morning to night, mainly by people pleading for passes to Baltimore. At present none are granted, principally for want of transportation.
Next I called on Gen. Weitzel at the house for which the city paid $65,000 in gold and presented to Davis when he removed his Government from Montgomery. In the parlor, on the point of setting out for an interview with Mr. Lincoln on one of the gunboats, was Judge Campbell, an elderly bald man, bowed, pale and with a look on his face full of all disappointment and sadness, yet of great dignity. I could but note the contrast afforded by Weitzel, who in full uniform, with sword at his loins, was to go with him to the President. It was the contrast between sorrow and joy, between bitter failure and glorious success, between a thwarted and broken conspirator whose age precludes any honorable retrieval and a soldier who, though not yet thirty, has served his country well, won her greenest laurels and the respect and gratitude of good men – the contrast between Cataline defeated and Cicero in his triumph. The very courtesy of Weitzel's demeanor toward the old man but pointed the difference each must have felt in his consciousness.
Here I met many officers whom I had known in the "Armies operating against Richmond" – by the way, those armies are operating elsewhere now, and it behooves Grant to choose another designation to replace the one he has caused to become a misnomer. Among them were Gen. Shepley and Cols. Ed. Smith and Fred. Manning, late of Butler's Staff. Having had large experience in the governing of captured cities and turbulent communities, I found them very busy as I know they are very useful men. The former said he had received not less than fifty applications from citizens living inn splendid houses to have officer quartered upon them – of course with a view to protection and immunity from confiscation. Apropos to the possession of houses, a good story is told of Gen. Shepley, the Military Governor. A party claimed that he had leased his house to one of the foreign consuls, and that, therefore, it should not be occupied now or at any time confiscated. The General said to him, "Bring me the lease, sir; I will examine it, and if I find upon it the stamp required by the revenue laws, I will consider your request. Of course, if the lease is not stamped I am not bound to respect it." Whether the party appreciated the reasoning did not appear, but he evidently understood the decision, for he went away.
It was mournful to walk about the city. So many houses deserted, so many ladies in mourning – all I met were in mourning – so many old men, broken with premature age, their hats made respectable by the dingy crape that told of sons slain, and then that broad black waste where stood the busiest part of the city – it was pitiful.
And so the forenoon was spent, and I returned to the Spottswood. The chivalry used to rate this house as we do the Fifth Avenue and the Brevoort, though I do not see how, if it were in New York, it could ever have been considered more than a fourth-rate hotel. The dinner was not inviting. Among the guests were Hon. Roscoe Conkling, Assistant-Secretary Dana and wife, and C. C. Coffin, of The Boston Journal, who, since the war began, has always managed to be at the point of interest, whether it were Vicksburg, Chattanooga, the Wilderness, Savannah, Charleston, Wilmington, or Richmond. Near Mr. Dana sat Pollard, late of The Examiner, though I think neither ex-editor was aware of the other's presence.
During the day, from soldiers and negroes and by my own foraging among the heaps of papers flying about, a large number of autograph letters of distinguished Rebels fell into my hands. H. S. Foote excuses himself from breakfasting with Gov. Smith in a long note in his usual verbose style. Gen. McCausland pronounces Gen. Lomax "no cavalry General." Gov. Brown of Georgia won't let Gov. Smith have a train of Georgia cars to bring up supplies. Senator J. L. Orr has a bile on his neck so he cannot breakfast with Smith. Indeed, that breakfast must have been a failure, for half a dozen write to decline and another half dozen to excuse themselves for not going. Perhaps 40 plead their destitution to the Governor as reason why they should be given employment in some office. Secretary of War Seddon and Smith quarrel in half a score of letters, over details and exemptions. "Anonymous," so filed on the back in Smith's own hand, though the body of the letter shows that he was simply afraid to sign his name, writes from New-York of politics and of torpedoes, but despairs of the Rebel cause. "Anonymous," it appears, voted for McClellan. But these letters will bear publication in full, and I refrain from noting more.
By a lucky chance I discovered late at night that I could obtain passage in a headquarters mail wagon back to Varina the next morning. It was an opportunity not to be slighted, especially as a little calculation made it appear that by hitting all the connections I might make New-York Friday night in time for Saturday's paper. In that view, Richmond became Sodom and New-York Mecca, for be it known that the correspondent who is ahead in point of time is most valued by his paper. Powers of observation, the ability to tell a story in passable English and a gentlemanly presence are requisites, but they are all secondary to energy that never flags and gets the news back to the home office on time.
Picking up Messrs. Reid and Colburn at daylight – for I had slept in another part of the city – and they determined to go only when I called for my baggage, by a second judicious use of the potence of flask and pocket book upon the driver, we made the boat at Varina by half a minute. Thence, tediously, by boat to Baltimore, via Fortress Monroe; thence, a train to New-York; all told, 36 hours from Richmond. Then four hours' tough work, resulting in three columns in the next morning's paper, embodying the main facts of the evacuation and occupation of the Rebel capital – and five days of my trip to Richmond and back were over. The trip probably closes my relation of army correspondent, which fact may excuse so much of personal matter in this article.
C. A. P.