From the New York Herald, 9/19/1864
NARRATIVE OF A REFUGEE.
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.
THE REBEL ARMY –
ITS STRENGTH, ITS SITUATION AND ITS CONDITION.
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
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.
FORTIFICATIONS AROUND RICHMOND.
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.
FACTS IN RELATION
TO MR. DAVIS.
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
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
AFFECTED BY THE WAR.
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
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.
FARO AND GAMBLING
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
HOW RICHMOND IS
SUPPLIED WITH FOOD.
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.
THE PLAN IN CASE
OF THE EVACUATION OF RICHMOND.
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
GENERAL ITEMS -
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.
WHAT HAS BECOME OF
PEMBERTON AND OTHERS.
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
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.
WHERE DOES THE
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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