National Tribune, 8/10/1899

Home
Written Accounts
Photographs
Maps
Hospitals
Prisons
Other Sites
Events
Search
Links

 


From the National Tribune, 8/10/1899, p. 1

A Union Man in Richmond
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.

HON. JOHN MINOR BOTTS.

But a short time elapsed after the secession of Virginia when Hon. John M. Botts was arrested in Richmond, and to add, if possible, to his humiliation, he was confined in a negro jail in Lombard Alley. This jail was used by negro traders of Richmond for the purpose of confining the purchased negroes for safety until they were offered at public sale on the “block.”

About this period some 40 or more Union men were arrested by the Confederates and imprisoned in the same negro jail. Of course, Mr. Botts and the others were arrested for being outspoken in their devotion to the Union and the States and Stripes. Mr. Botts was a gentleman of great culture, boldness, and noted for his love and uncompromising devotion to the Union cause, and his undisguised contempt for the Secession cause and the promoters and leaders of it.

Mr. Botts had many friends in both parties, and when he was brought up for examination such were the influences brought to bear in his favor that he was discharged, but was required to leave Richmond, which he did, returning to his farm near Brandy Station, between Gordonsville and Washington.

Once again he was arrested by the Confederates because he entertained some Federal officers who were encamped near his house, and for visiting Washington City about the same period. He was brought to Richmond, but again released, and returned to his farm, where he remained until the close of the war. Afterwards he was nominated by the Republican party for Congress, but died before the election. His body lay in state in the State Capitol at Richmond, and a large concourse of citizens looked upon the dead hero. One old gentleman remarked at that time: “O! if they had but taken his advice; so much sorrow and loss might have been avoided. “Too true; but, alas! too late.

I was present at the interment, and saw the people crowd up to the very edge of the grave, and I can say conscientiously that I do not believe the grave ever closed over a more honorable gentleman or grander patriot than John Minor Botts, of Virginia. “Verily, I believe and trust, he hath his reward.”

Among those thrown into the negro jail was a friend of mine named George Washington Sizer, of New York, whose father was connected with Fowler & Wells Phrenological Journal, and manager of the establishment. George gave me some interesting items of what took place in the negro jail. Mr. Botts walked about and talked pleasantly and confidently with his friends, and would approach them morning and evening, and, raising his hat, graciously greet them. Those who had not known him intimately before all fell in love with him.

Soon after Mr. Botts arrived a man was brought in who forcibly resisted the soldiers in view of the inmates, and, after being put in the room with the others, shook his fist at the departing guard, and announced his adherence to the Union in vigorous terms. He naturally excited the sympathies of the Union men, but Mr. Botts calmly noted his man with his eagle eye, and was convinced that the fellow was a fraud, put in there to gather important news; which was afterwards shown; and he was guyed so much that his brother Confederates took him out. It was understood that Mr. Botts was offered to be commissioned a Brigadier-General while there, but the offer was treated with scorn and contempt it deserved. It was also learned that a demijohn of brandy, cigars, etc., which were sent to Mr. Botts never reached him, being stolen by the guards.

THE SUMMER OF 1861.

As the Summer of 1861 approached the Confederate forces seemed to center on Gordonsville and vicinity. Strange fluctuations took place now in the general markets of the city of Richmond. Just after secession business of all kinds was dull. People, not knowing what was to come, bought only the necessities of life. Gentlemen who looked upon the wine when it was red were charmed at the drop in whisky. It actually went down to 25 cents per gallon, and old topers congratulated each other in the byways and alleys on this fact. Think of buying a whole quart of good whisky for 6 1/4 cents. Bacchus was delectably happy.

Soon, however, everything advanced in price except tobacco. It was foreseen that the Southern coast being blockaded, and all communication with the North suspended, the supplies on hand would rapidly diminish; and it was so. Coffee went up rapidly, and sugar, too, particularly after the capture of New Orleans by Gen. Butler. Ice went up gradually, as all our best ice had been gotten from the Kennebec River  in Maine. The supply of oranges and lemons came from Florida, and that was exceedingly limited, for all the Southern States wanted them, and they would not go round. The sudden drop in whisky was attributed to the fact, rumor had it, that Gov. Letcher had joined the temperance society; but that was a libel on the Governor’s fair name. The real cause was that the stock on hand in Virginia was very large, but there was no means of exporting it as formerly. Mr. Franklin Stearns had in stock enough to supply Richmond a year or two. As suddenly as it went down it went up. Again Gov. Letcher (“Old Letch”) wa charged with being the cause of the rise in the beverage, as it was now rumored that the Governor had withdrawn from the temperance society, and the merchants and distillers hearing of it immediately put the price up. This was also a rumor, and a second attempt to libel the Governor, as the real reason was that the Confederate authorities had forbidden the distilling of grain into whisky, wanting all the grain, so they said, for the citizens and soldiers.

There was a tremendous panic in the whisky market at once. People with means purchased all they could lay their hands on, and stowed it away for speculative purposes. Whisky went up and up, but it was hinted that it still had a downward tendency; a paradox, indeed. A man finally put up an immense coffee-grinder near the Old Market, and did a rousing business in “pure ground coffee” made out of wheat and corn parched and ground at his mill. He indignantly denied this accusation, and declared “pon honor” that there was at least three per cent of real coffee in his mixture. Let it go at that. It was said that he hired half a dozen negroes, and when one tired of turning the crank another took “holt,” somewhat on the principle of grinding out Confederate notes by the chaste Confederate Treasury Department. More about that Treasury Department later on.

Everything - cutlery, needles and thread, pins, hardware, dry-goods, and in fact all articles of necessity or luxury rapidly rose in price, except tobacco and flour, the latter going up gradually; but the distressing thing was the rapid rise in whisky. Various people issued little “shin-plasters” for 10, 15, and 25 cents. Ramos, the barber near the Old Market, issued a large amount, he and others promising to redeem them on presentation “when presented in sums of $5 or more.” Gold, silver, and bank notes were soon withdrawn from circulation, and were all at a premium; ad gold and silver went up until it took a thousand Confederate dollars to buy a gold dollar.

The State bank notes were bought and sold by brokers and others for about 33 1/3 cents on the dollar in gold. I sold Virginia bank notes in Baltimore and Cumberland, Md., for 33 1/3 cents on the dollar in greenbacks; and, as greenback dollars were less than one-half, I got about 14 cents on the dollar for the bank notes. The Virginia State Bank seems to have had agents North and South to buy up its notes for a mere song, as the brokers and agents all gave exactly the same price for the notes - 33 1/3 cents on the dollar.

Half a year or a year after the war ended the Virginia banks published a notice in the papers, which I read, announcing that the Bank of Virginia would redeem their notes in Richmond for currency. Generous souls! There was little or none to redeem, and they knew it full well, of course.

THE BATTLE OF BULL RUN.

This battle took place, as all readers know, on July 21, 1861. There is no necessity to present the particulars of this battle in these “Recollections”; it has been given by many writers and historians. It is now fairly understood that the battle was lost to the Federal arms through the incompetency or lack of energy on the part of Gen. Patterson; then in the Valley of Virginia. High authorities have said that McDowell’s movement was based upon the understanding and promise that Patterson should hold Johnston in the Shenandoah Valley, and Gen. Scott made every exertion to redeem this promise. Gen. Scott also write to Gen. Patterson, saying: “Do not let the enemy amuse and delay you with a small force in front whilst he reinforces the (Manassas) Junction wit his main body.”

Patterson was clearly outwitted, and Johnston slipped away and joined the Confederate forces at Bull Run in time to turn the tide of battle in favor of the Confederates. We all know the rest.

During the progress of the battle, Jeff. Davis left Richmond for Bull Run, and many thousands of all sorts of people assembled at the various newspaper offices for news from the battlefield. At last it came. A man connected with the Dispatch office hastily ran out of the front door holding the dispatch in his hand instead of putting it on the bulletin board with chalk, as usual, and read it. It was from Davis, and briefly announced that a great battle had taken place at Manassas; that the losses were heavy on both sides, and that the Federal troops were retreating towards Washington. I was standing directly in front of the reader of the dispatch. Finishing, he retired, and for many moments not a comment was uttered or a word spoken. No demonstration whatever was made, and so the great throngs dispersed. It was a curious scene.

[next three paragraphs give the author’s account of  conversation with “Ned” a free negro (in negro dialect), on the battle of First Manassas. This was not transcribed.]

FALL AND WINTER IN RICHMOND.

During the Fall and Winter it was dull in Richmond, and there was much talk of want and distress among the poor; especially among those families where the husband had volunteered or had been conscripted into the Confederate army. Good women, and they always abound when charity is needed, did what they could and gave much relief to those who needed it.

Now there was conscription and gathering of armies in the South, and the conscript guard was composed of soldiers from other States than Virginia, to prevent any exhibition of leniency shown to the citizens which might otherwise be shown by Richmond troops. Many Union citizens left by various routes to the north; and most of the young men had to be arrested and taken to Camp Lee, the old State fair ground, and those from Secession families were just as averse to fighting as those from Union families. About this time they began the fortifications to the east of Richmond.

A Mr. Gretter, a grocer, doing business next to the St. Charles Hotel, claimed the honor of throwing the first shovelful of earth for the beginning of the fortifications. He left the vicinity of the St. Charles Hotel in great shape, with a wheelbarrow partly filled with earth, which he rolled out to the fortifications (over three miles) followed by an admiring crowd of men, boys, negroes and soldiers, with officials in carriages and on horseback.

The papers next day told in glowing language how “our patriotic citizen, Mr. Gretter, rolled the barrow out, threw the first shovel of dirt,” and so forth; but those who knew Gretter best shrewdly conceived that the “patriotic” Gretter was aiming to increase he sale of his codfish cheese and potatoes. He did a rousing business, but when the conscript acts were enforced, he, it was said, sent his son to Canada, while his adopted son was concealed in the garret, until presently he was noted on Main Street by the writer as officer in command of a street guard who were examining passes.

I had my exemption. The Confederates had passed an exemption list, embracing preachers, owners of 20 slaves or more, doctors who had practiced seven years, druggists, teachers, and some others. I was exempt for the reason of being a teacher, exemption papers being given to me on application by Lieut. Cook, son of an auctioneer of Richmond. A few days thereafter perhaps longer, I took a “nap” at my room, and, on awakening, hurried out to read the news on the dispatch board. On my way I felt for the pocketbook; it was gone, and my exemption was in it, with some $60. I at once took a near cut to Provost-Marshal Cook’s office and stated my case. He, with a charming courtesy, supplied me with another, remarking that he did so with pleasure, and expressed his regret at the loss of my purse and money. Proceeding to my room soon after, there lay my purse and, of course, money and exemption.

The Spring of 1862 came, and there was talk of a possible advance of the Federal troops up the Peninsula from Fort Monroe. McClellan did come, and, after rooting out the Confederates from Yorktown, advanced to the Chickahominy River, where the battles around Richmond took lace, beginning about the latter part of May and concluding at Malvern Hill late in the Summer, where McClellan certainly made a grand defense and carried his army and wagon-trains off safely. During the first of these battles, Jackson, with some 18,000 or 20,000 troops, made a rapid movement to Richmond and joined Lee. This was the turning point to the combat, much the same as at Manassas.

Strange to say that I, the writer, “reviewed” Jackson’s men in the silent night. The moon was shining, and, being awakened about midnight by the mighty “tramp, tramp” of marching troops. I carefully raised the window just as the head of the column turned the corner on which my house was situated, corner of Main and 18th streets. They were muddy, and marched to the left, marching towards “Rockets” and the battlefield. I “reviewed” them to the last man.

We all know how the battle ended. If McClellan had known at the time he drove the Confederates from Yorktown, that there were no more than some 12,000 or 15,000 troops between him and Richmond, he could have easily entered the rebel capital, and possibly ended the war then and there.

There were many distressing scenes in Richmond during the seven days’ battles. As the battles began, large numbers of citizens from the vicinity of Chickahominy packed up hastily some of their household effects, with the children piled on the beds, the larger ones walking, appeared moving up Main street from the direction of “Rockets.” The first of these appeared much like the emigrants we used to read about “moving out West.” Those having means went to boarding houses, or rented apartments. But one family attracted the attention of charitable people. This consisted of a woman who had nine children, the eldest some 17 years of age, while the youngest was yet a baby. They were poor people living on a rented farm, the husband supposed to be in the Confederate army, conscripted, and they were terror-stricken indeed. They had a little old cart drawn by one ox, with a bed or so and a few pans and pots, maybe. They had but a dollar or so, and charitable people tried to rent a small house for them, but not one could be found vacant in the neighborhood. She had stopped near the Old Market, and finally an old Irishman, who kept an eating house near the market, offered a large woodshed in his back yard, which was thankfully accepted, while good people near assisted them in various ways. They all returned in a few weeks.

“LOMBARD ALLEY.”

This alley extended from Main to Franklin streets, just above the St. Charles Hotel. Many were the outrages and crimes committed in and about this vile place during the war. It slightly curved as you entered from Main street. An “all-night bar-room” graced the entrance, some 40 or 50 feet from Main street, and which was kept by two brothers, from where, no one knew. It was in this alley that the “Star Spangled Banner” was carried by a howling Secession mob, after it had been torn from the flag-staff on the State House on the evening of the day the Secession Ordinance was passed. It was torn to pieces by the mob and distributed as mementoes of the occasion. A fitting place, eminently so, for so dark a crime.

Later a murder most foul, which I accidentally witnessed, was committed at the Main street entrance of this very alley. It happened this wise: A cigar-maker, I believe, resided nearby, on Franklin street, and was an uncompromising Union man. He positively refused to report for military duty, and the conscript guard searched his house, but with no success. It was then given out that he had escaped to the North, but, as his wife did not apply for a pass to leave the Confederacy, the authorities did not believe the rumor, and watched the house closely. He was really at home, and one day, late in the afternoon, he crept cautiously through the alley towards Main street for an observation.

It seemed that I was destined to be an eyewitness to the murder. On my way to note the bulletin board at the Dispatch office, just as I was about to pass the north of the alley - Main street entrance - the single word “halt” was cried out in front of me, and the next second a pistol shot rang out. Looking up, a soldier some 20 feet from me and a man was reeling, and then fell, catching his arm over the iron railing protecting the plate glass windows of Weisegar’s hat store. Several other persons, as well as myself, ran to his assistance, and laid him down gently. He was dead, shot through the heart.

In the meantime the indignant bystanders seized the murderer and would probably have treated him roughly but for a squad of soldiers approaching, when he was turned over to them. A doctor came, but the spirit had fled. Seemingly but a few moments had elapsed, when a woman, the murdered man’s wife, rapidly approached, looked at the dead husband a second, knelt and tenderly kissed the pale face. Then, rising, face paler than the whitest marble, asked in calm tones: “Who did this.” When answered by several voices, “A Confederate Soldier” she raised her hands to Heaven - she was still pale and tearless - and invoked the curses and divine wrath of the God above upon the heads of Jeff Davis and his abettors, and upon the Confederates, in language so fearful in its intensity and earnestness that those standing near shuddered; and I think I can assume with safety that the scene was ever forgotten by those present. The poor woman was soothed as best we might, and friends carried her and her dead husband to her home.

I read in the papers a few days after that the murderer had been sent to his regiment; nothing more about it.

Many who heard the invocation of the woman, the writer for one, cannot doubt but that she struck a sharper blow at the Confederate Government than did Grant at Petersburg and Appomattox, or the Federal army at Gettysburg. “So mote it be, Amen.” To quote Byron, that invocation was whispered in Heaven and muttered in Hell!” As sure as I write these lines, an attempted assault was made upon the writer of this article, within 10 feet of the scene described, and just previous thereto.

I was standing in front of Louis J. Bossieu’s confectionery store, when a Confederate regiment passed, marching on the sidewalk. I made some derisive remark, when a Swede, keeper of a bar near, as he walked off, said: “Oh, you are a Union man; that is all there is about it.” This in a loud voice, which was heard by the soldiers, two or three of whom broke ranks, halted in front of me, and crying out, “Where is the Union man?” when I replied, “Here, right here.” The next second an officer called out sharply, “Get in ranks men,” and that incident was closed in a second. Proceeding homewards, and, when just opposite Weisegar’s hat store, a man in the street, walking towards me, cried out in the most impudent manner: “I can whip any Union man in Richmond.” I halted, looking straight at him, and replied: “You are in error, sir; here is one you cannot whip.” It was an imprudent remark, but it “went.” The fellow threw himself in an awkward attitude for attack. When I “put up my props” in a scientific attitude, he halted, and just then his friends seized him. My blood was up, and I asked his friends to turn him loose. Just at this moment a hand was laid lightly on my shoulder, which indicated a friendly one. Turning, I was face to face with two strangers, tall, graceful, and well attired; one of whom put his hand to his face and whispered: “Come with us immediately; you have no show here.”

I had no feeling of fear whatever, but it seemed that I was actually moved as by an invisible hand, and moved with the strangers, with one on each side of me, to the St. Charles Hotel, turning the corner towards Franklin street. Not a word was spoken until we reached Franklin street, when each of them pressed my hand and said “Good-by; be more prudent; we may meet again.” Nothing more. Who they were, I have never known, though I frequently scanned the faces of persons on the street and about the hotels. Not 100 yards from this alley, Pollard, editor of the Examiner, was shot dead near the entrance to Exchange Alley, which turns into Lombard Alley from the west.

Young James Grant was arrested and tried in Richmond, charged with the murder. Henry A. Wise and others defended him. Grant was “not guilty,” so found, and discharged from custody. Young Grant’s sister had been traduced by Pollard in his paper; and Grant was found in his room, opposite the Examiner office, with an empty double-barreled gun still in his hand, just after Pollard was shot. Nevertheless, probably on account of the general unpopularity of Pollard and the high standing of the Grant family, young Grant was acquitted, as stated above.

“Jimmy” Grant, so known to his friends, was a superior vocalist, basso, and afterwards traveled for a time with an opera company. He was a fine, spirited young man - I knew him well - and his friends applied to me to procure some brother musicians and serenade him at the jail, where he was confined, while awaiting for trial; but I advised against it, assuming that it would prejudice his case to some extent, at least, and the project, therefore, was abandoned.

THE STATE HOUSE TRAGEDY.

Just above Lombard Alley I hear the shot fired that killed Pollard, and, hastening around the corner of Pearl street, I found Pollard lying on the sidewalk, near his office door, dead, with many buckshot in his body. All of this affair of Grant and Pollard occurred some three years after the war closed; and a few months after these events I was standing on Eighth street, on the west side of the Rev. Hoge’s church, which fronts on Franklin street; and while conversing with Professor Gebhardt, we were suddenly startled by a fearful shock and fall, seemingly as of some great edifice tumbling to pieces.

Hastily stepping to the east side of the church, I saw there a great white cloud of dust on the spot where the State Capitol ought to be. The State Capitol, or a large portion thereof, had fallen in. As I approached the building I met an acquaintance named Anderson, who had miraculously emerged from the fallen building uninjured. Going with him to Davis’s music store, I returned to the Capitol and assisted many, among whom was Gov. Wells, and remained with him until his friends came with a carriage and carried him home. He was badly hurt, and bleeding from his chest and throat, yet he finally entirely recovered, I am glad to say.

Nearly a hundred persons were killed, some burned to death, in this catastrophe, and 200 or 300 injured in many ways. There was a large crowd in the building, where Judge Meredith was hearing a contested election case. There had been an election for Mayor, and the defeated candidate had refused to vacate, and at the time of the accident there were two Mayors and two sets of policemen governing the city; and Gen. Canby, having declined to interfere, Judge Meredith was hearing the case.

(To be continued.)

 

 

Page last updated on 07/01/2008