Personal Recollections of the Great Rebellion, by a Man on the Inside.
BY A NATIVE VIRGINIAN.
Copyright, 1899, by the Publishers of THE NATIONAL TRIBUNE
"AND THERE WAS
WAR IN HEAVEN."
The ancient writers tell us that, once upon a time,
Lucifer, aided and abetted by his angels, revolted against the authority and
power of God in the Heavens; whether from disappointed ambition or whether from
an uncontrollable desire to become "free and independent," we are not informed
so plainly as we might desire. Yet we may reasonably conclude that these
"ambitious views" of Lucifer were strong factors in connection with his revolt
in the Heavens. We are further told that the Archangel Michael proceeded against
Lucifer, with his angels, when a fearful battle ensued, which, no doubt, caused
the angels to so shudder with horror that the Heavens from the First to the
"Seventh," trembled and were moved with a holy agitation, Lucifer and his angels
were finally overwhelmed, defeated, and "hurled from the Battlements of Heaven."
Is that brief description of the events connected with the revolt of Lucifer
literally correct? Who shall answer?
Now, in this fair country of the United States in North
America, in 1861, began a mighty revolt against the authority and power of the
United States, incited, at first, by a dozen or so discontented people of the
Southern States, for their own purposes, good or bad. These gentlemen, who were
at the head of the disunion movement, claimed the right of secession for the
Southern States, to be a "free and independent" nation, to be called the
Confederate States of America. After secession had been accomplished, and the
Confederate States formed, military law prevailed in the South; that is,
"martial law" was declared, and the Union crushed out. In many cases, Union men
were given offices. This induced many of that class to give their allegiance to
the Confederate Government, apparently, at all events, particularly those who
possessed property, which would have certainly been confiscated by the
Confederate Government, especially if the owner had been born in a Northern
State. The mechanics generally remained loyal to the United States, many of them
going through the lines to the North, while some few remained, principally, I
think, on account of the high prices paid to skilled labor.
With the military in supreme control in the South,
everything was lovely, in the estimation of the Confederates. And then, there
was "War in Heaven," and in the fairest earthly heaven beneath the stars.
It is not my purpose to write a history of the war which
followed. It has been ably written by many hands, and I only propose to refer to
the battles, incidentally, which, from fate or the governing power of
circumstances, brought me near or in immediate conflict, and which might
perceptibly add to the general interest of this article.
We all know how, in the grand finale, the angels of the
earthly Lucifer were almost literally "hurled from the battlements of Heaven" at
Petersburg by the modern St. Michael and his hosts, Grant. Lucifer himself,
however, "stood not upon the order of his going," but "hurled" himself, and
rapidly too, from the "battlements" of Richmond, and - you know the rest, oh,
Now, my reader, I could say that the secession movement was
planned by certain persons who knew that such a course was illegal, unwise, in
violation of the Constitution, and, altogether, a deception and a snare; but, of
course, I do not say so. That is all on that subject
In the Century Magazine of February, 1888, is
published an article entitle, "The grand Strategy of the War of the Rebellion,"
by Gen. W. T. Sherman. A paragraph in that article so forcibly indicates the
leading causes of the secession of the States, and the consequent armed
resistance to the power and authority of the Federal Government, that it may not
seem out of place to reproduce it in these "Recollections." The paragraph in
question is as follows:
"Now, in the United States of America, in the year of our
Lord, 1861, some ambitious men of the Southern States, for their own reasons,
good or bad, resolved to break up the Union of States, which had prospered
beyond precedent, which, by political means, they had governed, but on which
they were about to lose their hold. By using the pretext of slavery, which
existed in the South, they aroused their people to a very frenzy, seceded (or
their States seceded) from the Union, and established a Southern Confederacy,
the Capital of which was first at Montgomery, Ala., afterwards at Richmond, Va.,
with Jefferson Davis as their President. By a conspiracy, as clearly established
as any fact in history, they seized all the property of the United States,
within the seceded States, except a few feebly garrisoned points along the
seaboard, and proclaimed themselves a new nation, 'with slavery the
This tells the whole story, and I apprehend that there are
a few persons, even in the South, who will decline to endorse this plain and
brief "statement of the case."
I think I shall not be contradicted in asserting that Gen.
Sherman was a great soldiers, a noble gentleman, truthful, intelligent and
The Winter of 1860 brought troublous times indeed. The
loyal element predominated in Richmond, by all accounts, and much bad feeling
was engendered between the contending parties - the Union party and the
Secession party. Intimate friends became enemies, and much general disorder
prevailed, much of it being brought about by the combined influences of
quarrels, disputes, secession, and, let us add, whisky, that flowed "as do the
waters of a river." About this period, previous to the assembling of the
Secession Convention, a most remarkable attack, or series of attacks, was made
on a private residence which was situated in the northwest portion of the city,
near the suburbs. This occurrence any mysterious connections, I think, are
worthy of a recital in these "Recollections." The mystery of it all was never
solved, though thoroughly investigated by police, detectives and many citizens.
About the period referred to, the morning papers stated
that, on the day before, a house occupied by a gentleman and his wife, situated
in the northwestern portion of the city, had been mysteriously assailed with
stones, bricks, and other missiles, in the broad daylight; that the police had
been entirely unable to prevent it, though on hand most of the day; nor could
the police, neighbors, or occupants of the house see from what quarter the
missiles came even. The missiles could not be seen in the air, and were only
observed when they actually struck the house. Notice was given that a large
force of police would be on hand that morning to surround the house in question,
and capture the perpetrators, if in the power of the police force. This notice
attracted hundred, perhaps a thousand. On my arrival there, about 8 o'clock in
the morning, I found a large number of citizens assembled, from curiosity, and a
large force of police, who were then throwing a cordon of men around the
As I arrived the family occupying the house were moving
out; the lady, with a child, I believe, was being assisted into a vehicle at the
door by her husband, who also got into the vehicle an rapidly roe away. They
seemed to be stricken with terror, and the lady quite in a fainting condition.
Just then everything was quiet. The house in question stood between two vacant
lots. The vacant space on either side was about 40 or 50 feet broad. On the
right hand from the front the small house was closed. On the left, the door of
the house was shut, two upper windows being open, and two or three persons
(mulattoes I thought) were intently looking at the "haunted house" as it was
then called. Policemen formed a line nearly around the house, and hundreds of
private citizens were assisting in the possible detection of the mysterious
brick and stone throwers. Just then a whole brick struck the left side of the
house near where I was standing with a policemen whom I knew personally. The
brick struck the top of the window, and the blinds were shattered, and hung
suspended by one hinge. Another completed the destruction of the window and
blinds; then bricks and stones came thick and fast, and the side of the house
was dented nearly all over, and the planks were broken in many places.
Then the crowd yelled aloud, and the police ran in many
directions. Up to this time no one had seen a brick or stone in the air. I was
looking intently in the direction the missiles must have come from, we saw not a
missile until it struck the house and shattered into small fragments. Now a lull
came which lasted for several minutes, when a heavy object of some sort struck
the house with tremendous force, but did not break. I stepped forward to pick it
up, when the policeman, who had been standing near me, picked it up just in
front of me. It proved to be a large marble book of exquisite shape and polish.
On the back was cut in large letters: "The Holy Bible."
People cried out when they examined it, and expressed
themselves in many ways, and many thought it foretold dire disasters to the
city, and that something dreadful was about to happen in connection with the
then threatening rumbles of the secession movement; and all seemed greatly
impressed with the scenes witnessed, particularly the stone Bible. Not another
stone or other missile struck the house and, after waiting an hour or so, the
people departed. The house was a wreck, but was never stoned again. Every
inquiry was made, and the daily papers were full of the mysterious occurrences
for several days. Finally it was forgotten, but the mystery of the affair
Soon after these strange events, secession grew apace, and
the State Legislature passed a bill calling a convention to consider the
interests and the duty of the State. That was the Secession Convention. An
election for members to this convention took place. Many of the members of the
Legislature that had passed the bill for the convention were elected to the
convention of their making. Two members were to be elected from our city -
Richmond. The daily papers, the Dispatch, Enquirer, and
Examiner, had fully espoused the Secession cause. The Richmond Whig
fought valiantly, and against heavy odds, for the cause of the Union; and anon I
shall speak more fully regarding the Whig particularly.
Our candidates for the convention on the Union ticket were
two very accomplished and prominent gentlemen - the Hon. John Minor Botts and
Marmaduke Johnson. Mr. Botts had represented our district in Congress, while Mr.
Johnson was a very popular young lawyer. Both were understood to be
uncompromising Union men. To be brief, Marmaduke Johnson was elected, but Mr.
Botts, by some hocus-pocus, was declared defeated Much was said about the
matter, but as the Secessionists managed the election almost entirely, nothing
could be done about it, and Mr. Johnson, alone, was elected.
There can be but little doubt that rascally means were
employed by the Secession party to encompass Mr. Bott's defeat. He was a man of
powerful intellect, and a noble orator, also being perfectly fearless; and it
was worth a great deal to the Secession party to have him defeated, and he was
The convention assembled about the first of '61. And just
here I wish to say that these "recollections" are written without the aid of
notes, or a book of reference, except two or three old magazines, hence may not
be accurate regarding dates of minor occurrences at all times, but this fact
will not detract from tits general interest, as all occurrences and incidents
are correct, and I have taxed my memory as accurately as possible.
The Secession convention assembled at first in "Mechanics
Hall," or "Mechanics Institute," as some call it, located on Ninth Street, near
the west end of the "Capitol Square." A Mr. Janney, a Union man, was elected
President of the convention. He gave way, it was said, to the Secession clamor
early, and Johnson, our standard bearer, made a weak plea for the Union, and
utterly subsided, being utterly subjugated and subdued. The game was up then,
and the final result was considered a mere matter of time.
Just here I propose to describe, briefly, a dramatic scene
that was enacted at the African Church, so known because it had belonged to the
slaves sometime before. "Brother" Jasper, of "the Sun do move" fame, was grand
high priest, but was not so generally known then as at a somewhat later period.
Now the dramatic scene was performed by many players - "All the world's a stage,
and in time men play many parts, having their entrances and exits," etc. Mr.
Botts announced that he would address the mechanics and other Union men of
Richmond on the state of the country and the Union at the African Church.
The Secesh populace and pres howled, much as children do
when they are threatened with the "bad man." The church was packed to the doors
with determined men pledged to protect Mr. Botts from insult or arrest. The
speech of Mr. Botts was an awful arraignment of the Secession leaders and their
cause. His glowing tribute to the "Constitution and the Union" was never
surpassed by any orator in America, and I doubt very much if it was ever
equalled, not excepting even the great speech delivered by Daniel Webster in
Congress just previous to the passage of the Nullification act by South
Carolina, long ago.
Immediately after a great outburst of eloquence by Mr.
Botts, accompanied by tremendous applause, an indiscreet Secessionist present
hissed very audibly two or three times, when 20 or 30 stout, loyal hands threw
him out of the house through the door, thus violently exposing him and his
Secessionism to the outer atmosphere. Quickly "as comets run" went the news, and
in a few moments appeared the volunteer military company known as the "Richmond
Blues," commanded by O. Jennings Wise, the oldest son of Henry A. Wise, of
Virginia. The Blues, with Capt. Wise at their head, entered the church without
ceremony, and rapidly took position to the left of the door they had entered,
protecting their rear by forming their line with the backs of the men against
the wall. Mr. Botts, looking sternly upon Wise and his soldiers, halted his
speech, when cries of "Go on; we will protect you," from nearly all the persons
in the house fairly shook the "House of God."
Mr. Botts, presenting an appearance of calm fearlessness,
like a lion at bay, said: "Friends, see what these people want." A committee
immediately approached Capt. Wise and demanded his business abruptly. Wise
replied that he had come by order of the authorities to keep the peace and
prevent disorder. The committee replied that they were entirely competent to
perform that duty. But Wise did not retire, and cries went up for Mr. Botts to
"Go on; we will protect you."
Mr. Botts went on and fairly emptied the vials of his wrath
upon the heads of the Secession leaders and upon Wise, personally, and his
people, even advancing to the end of the platform, shaking his finger at Wise
defiantly. Wise turned pale, then red, and filed his men rapidly to the right,
out of the house, through the portals, and was gone. A mighty cheer from the
audience, then Mr. Botts gradually concluded his last public speech for the
Union. A strong armed committee escorted him safely to his home. Lucifer's
angels had been "hurled" from the church.
Now I must entertain the reader regarding the Secession
Convention and Mr. Wiley's last speech in Mechanics Hall. As Mr. Wiley concluded
his great speech for the Union a great shout of approval went up from the Union
men in the gallery, when President Janney, in a violent manner, ordered the
Sergeant-at-Arms to "clear the gallery." The Sergeant appeared and ordered us
out. No one noticed him, when he seized a man near us. A fight ensued, when a
brawny blacksmith and a little reporter - Hughes by name, I think - promptly
knocked the Sergeant-at-Arms over several benches and people, and he fell with a
dull thud, indeed, to us - a classical expression.
We then retired, and in front of the door was drawn up the
State Guard at "shoulder arms." They had been summoned in a hurry, certainly. We
all passed in front of their very faces, thus calmly reviewing Lucifer's armed
angels. Not a word was uttered by any one as we marched past their front. After
passing the State Guard and reaching Main Street, near by, all of the Union
people expressed surprise that none of us was arrested, or an attempt in that
At that period, however, the Union sentiment was very
strong and outspoken, and, doubtless the real cause of their failure to arrest
us was due to the fact, or apprehension, rather, that a riot might be
precipitated, thereby damaging their reputation for moderation and fair play;
but, for that matter, I shall never know, no, never, how any part of their
reputation ever could be damaged - I never heard of a decayed egg being damaged.
People from many points rapidly assembled in the vicinity
of Mechanics Hall, but, after indulging in some derisive remarks concerning the
convention, the State Guard gradually departed. During the excitement in the
gallery, referred to above, the greatest agitation existed on the floor of the
convention, members rushing hither and thither, violently gesticulating and
shouting for "order." "Gentlemen may cry out for peace, but there is no peace."
Passing out I observed the graceful figure of Wiley, of
West Virginia, standing gazing thoughtfully at the gallery and the Unionists who
were departing. Janney, poor old creature, yelled and used his gavel to no
purpose. Carlisle, of West Virginia, seemed by his actions to be protesting
against the action of President Janney in ordering the galleries to be cleared.
THE NAT TURNER
The "State Guard" referred to above was organized and
established by an act of the legislature of Virginia many years before, just
after the "Nat Turner" negro insurrection in Southampton County, about the year
1831 or 1832, when some 18 or 20 white families were killed; and while on this
raid, as it might be termed, the negroes seized such firearms, axes, etc., as
were serviceable to them; also, ammunition in considerable quantities.
While a boy, my family told me many incidents of that
horrible affair. The farm-house, "Prospect Hill," in Nansemond County, where I
was born, was not more than 12 or 15 miles distant from the scene of the slave
uprising. My father, being Captain of the Militia of Nansemond County, soon
appeared upon the scene and had quite a skirmish with the negroes, who, however,
rapidly retired after firing several volleys at the Militia at long range. The
negroes being driven back, my father returned to his home to quiet the
apprehensions of his young wife and observe the situation in that neighborhood.
My mother, in later years, told me the story of my father's
hasty return as follows. My mother was the daughter of a well known Methodist
minister of that period, the Rev. John Clark; thus it came about that, as soon
as my father left home for the scene of the negro insurrection, the local
preacher and most of our neighbors repaired to our house, when the preacher
immediately knelt in the center of the parlor, and there, surrounded by the
weeping and prayerful assemblage, nearly all the ladies and children, invoked
the Divine Power for guidance and protection. While the prayers and invocations
were ascending to Heaven, the distant sound of horse's hoofs were heard in the
distance; grew louder and louder, then approached the house, turned into the
gateway, and approached rapidly up the long lane.
Women and children screamed and wept; but the preacher,
brave in his abiding faith counseled calmness, and continued his appeals tot eh
Throne of Power and Might. All thought the noise approaching was produced by the
advancing negroes, but in another moment the voice of my father was heard in
loud tones, calling for our servant, Tom, to "Come quick and take the horse." My
father had returned, and great was the rejoicing thereat. In a few days after
this exciting event, Lieut. Spotswood, then a Midshipman at Fort Monroe, crossed
the James River with marines and several light field pieces and rapidly marched
upon the negroes, then near Jerusalem, the County-seat of Southampton County,
when the negroes rapidly dispersed to the woods and swamps, with their
organization totally destroyed, and the insurrection was over.
Many of the leaders were hung, and "Nat Turner," the
principal, was traced just after a fall of snow to a pile of fence-rails. He had
dug a hole, then piled the rails over him. He was hung at the Southampton County
Courthouse, and I was shown, some 40 years ago, a piece of the rope with which
he was hanged, at the village of Jerusalem, Southampton County.
Now, let us get back to the Secession Convention. Soon
after the scene referred to in the foregoing, the whole concern, with their
documents and papers, was removed to the State Capitol Building, some hundred or
so yards away. There, with guards all about them for protection, and the entire
Capitol Square inclosed with a high and stout iron railing, they were safe from
Soon after this change of base they resolved themselves
into a "secret session," and remained so until the Secession Ordinance was
finally passed, on the 17th of April, 1861, I believe. The papers and the
Secession party generally claiming that the act was precipitated by the action
of the Washington Government, the affair of Fort Sumter, and the bombardment of
that fort by the Charleston Secessionists, etc.
The day or evening previous to the passage of the Ordinance
of Secession at the State Capitol, Wiley and Carlisle, representatives from West
Virginia, departed from Richmond, knowing full well the Ordinance of Secession
would pass the next day, and it was so. These gentlemen made a grand fight for
the Union, as I can personally bear testimony. But they preserved their honor
untarnished to the end, and the people of West Virginia, and, in fact, the whole
country, should hold them in loving and kind remembrance.
The less said of Marmaduke Johnson, whom we elected to that
convention as a Union man from the city of Richmond, the better. Let us be
charitable, however, and remember that he had terrible surroundings in that
convention. Let us close the incident. The Secession Government made him
Quartermaster in the army of the Confederates; and I met him in Norfolk, Va.,
just as he arrived from Petersburg, or Appomattox, having been sent there, with
hundreds of others, on their way home. He was in a fairly good uniform, seemed
depressed, and said but little after greeting me, beyond expressing his desire
to get home to Richmond. I did much in aid of his election. He was a gentleman
of charming personality and winning address, and a very successful lawyer. He
has long since gone to that "Higher Court," whence there is no appeal or "arrest