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.
The Ordinance of Secession having been passed, the City,
and State, in fact, was in an uproar, throwing the blame from one to the other.
Quartering on the streets, general disturbances and the flow of whiskey
increased. John Letcher was Governor, and the proclamation he issued to the
people of Virginia was so absurd, contradictory, and indefinite that it is not
worth publishing. That "John" was in his sober senses it was not possible to
believe. It was said in Richmond that about that time there was a sudden "drop"
in whisky, attributed to the fact of the rumor that "Brer Letcher" had joined a
temperance society." Soon thereafter the rumor got about that the Governor had "backslided,"
when thereupon whiskey too a sudden rise. At that period it was said on the
streets that the Governor laid in 50 barrels for the use of himself and friends.
The last time I saw the Governor I met him coming down the
stairway of the Capitol leading from the observatory. I was going up to the
observatory to get a view of the attack on Drewry's Bluff, some five miles down
the river. I saw nothing however, but a little smoke occasionally. The Governor
on this occasion presented the appearance of a modern Bacchus, and "red as a
rose was he."
Not long after the passage of the Secession Ordinance a
vote was taken for the ratification of the same. I have no personal knowledge of
the manner of conducting the affair except in the City of Richmond; but have
learned from many sources that the manner of conducting the affair was monstrous
to a degree. Generally, those who could not be persuaded to vote for
ratification were coerced into that view or driven from the polls.
THE ORDINANCE OF SECESSION.
The vote on the ratification of the Ordinance was taken in
my district in Richmond, at what was known as the "Old Market House," at
Seventeenth and Main streets. The voting was announced to take place in the
large hall above the Market House, and business was commenced. I learned early
in the day that the Union men would not vote, though it was a very strong Union
district; therefore I concluded not to vote. It was understood that it would
probably cost the life of the person who should vote, or attempt to do so.
It may be now forgotten, but at that period all persons
voted "viva voce," the voters' names being given, as well as for whom or what he
voted. One Union man at last tried the experiment, and it did indeed nearly cost
him his life. After he had voted, and his name called as having voted against
the ratification of the Ordinance of Secession, a great stillness fell upon
those present. You know there was once "silence" in Heaven for the space of half
an hour, but this silence did not last but a few moments, when, as the voter was
leaving the voting place, a mob of ruffians, no doubt hired for the occasion,
rushed upon him. He knocked one or two of the front ones down, and then,
concluding that "discretion was the better part of valor," fled down the steps
of the hall, pursued by the howling mob, crossed Seventeenth street on the full
run, and dodged into an alley leading into Eighteenth street, and faded from
view, when the mob returned in great glee, and there was much secesh joviality
over the incident. Not another man attempted to vote against the Ordinance, and
it was said by those who knew that all the names of the tax-payers taken from
the tax-list were put down as having voted for the ratification of the
During some testimony of mine in court in the Valley of
Virginia this matter came up, and I made the statement that I have here made in
writing, and there was no denial. I also stated in my testimony that cavalry
marched and countermarched around about the "Old Market" during the voting, and
that a printed circular was distributed that stated that "all who did not wish
for war should vote for the ratification of the Ordinance," as there would be no
war if all voted for the Ordinance of Secession; all of which was a misleading
fabrication. The voting was done, and Virginia was out of the Union, according
to the views of the Secessionists.
Madness ruled the hour, "Insanus" had waved his magic wand,
and there was no good "Sanus" present to correct the madness. Finis! Harper's
Ferry had been captured when the Ordinance of Secession was passed in the State
House; in fact, the movement was on foot a day or two before the passage of the
GEN. JOHN D.
Gen. John D. Imboden, a Virginian, in his printed article
relating to that period says: "The movement to capture Harper's Ferry and the
firearms manufactured and stored there was organized at the Exchange Hotel in
Richmond on the night of April 16, 1861. Ex-Gov. Henry A. Wise was at the head
of this purely impromptu affair."
Gen. Imboden further says: "Later, on April 15, I received
a telegram from 'Nat' Tyler, the editor of the Richmond Enquirer,
summoning me to Richmond, where I arrived the next day. Before reaching the
Exchange Hotel I met ex-Gov. Wise on the street. He asked me to find as many
officers of the armed and equipped volunteers of the inland towns and Counties
as I could, and request them to be at the hotel by 7 o'clock in the evening to
confer about a 'military movement' which he deemed important. Not many such
officers were in town, but I found Capts. Turner Ashby and Richard Ashby, of
Fauquier County, and Oliver R. Funsten, of Clark County, all commanders of
volunteer companies of cavalry; also Capt. John A. Harmon of Staunton, - my
home, - and Alfred Barbour, the latter ex-Civil Superintendent of the Government
works at Harper's Ferry."
The General then goes on to tell how they marched to
Harper's Ferry; how Gov. Letcher informed Gen. Harper that he was to take
command, etc. It is well known from history that Lieut. Roger Jones, who
commanded at Harper's Ferry, blew up and destroyed all he could, and retired
with his guard of 30 men, while the rebels carried off what was saved.
All was now lovely for the Confederates, as they supposed.
Soldiers by companies and squads rapidly arrived from the surrounding country,
and later from the various Southern States, and Camp Lee, formerly occupied as
the State Fair Grounds, was used as a training camp. There was a large
speculation in swords and pistols, and many were exhibited in the various
show-windows on Main street, and were eagerly purchased by the arriving
officers, and at exorbitant prices, swords being particularly scarce at that
Startling events now happened of a military nature: The
battle of Fairfax Courthouse, June 1, 1861; Great Falls, July 7; Aldie,
Lovetsville, Edward's Ferry, June 17, 1861, and dozens of other small
engagements in various sections of Virginia, particularly on and about the
But let us now turn to Richmond, the Capital of the
Confederacy. The city was rapidly filling up with soldiers, hospitals were
prepare, the contractors were on hand, and thousands of military movements going
in as any directions. Jeff Davis, the President; Alex. Stevens, Vice President;
Trenholm, Treasurer, I believe, and the New Orleans Jew lawyer, Judah P.
Benjamin, Secretary of State, moved to Richmond. "I thank thee, Jew, for that
word." O Jew! Now, the Jew was made a member of the Cabinet for the purpose of
controlling the Jews and influencing them to aid the rebellion; but his success
in that direction was limited, first, because the Jewish element was loyal to
the United States Government in a large degree, and, besides, the Jews observed
the "little game" and were convinced that Benjamin was placed in that position
to further influence their sons to become "food for gunpowder" in the interest
of the Confederacy; hence, Benjamin had not the confidence of his race, and but
little intimacy with any save the higher dignitaries of the Jewish church.
Now, soon martial law was declared, and the city State
banks were called upon by the Confederate Government to "cough up" (to use an
elegant modern phrase) $400,000 for the benefit of the Confederacy, as a sort of
pin money to start the war with. The banks demurred at first, but finally gave
in and "ponied up," and the Virginia Croesus[?] (the banks) had his "leg pulled"
in the most scientific manner, and in return therefor received from the
Confederate Government the same amount in Confederate money, which they were
turning out by the millions, working day or night in the South and in Richmond.
The banks then received Confederate money on deposit, but
gradually withdrew their own notes from circulation. Very soon, also, "Gold,
gold, glittering, hard and cold," fled to the bureau drawer, the bed-tick, old
stockings, and there rested in "yellow oblivion," unless the necessity of the
owner compelled a separation. Bank notes were also hoarded by the people. The
Confederate notes promised to redeem themselves in gold "six months after a
ratification of a treaty of peace between the Confederate States of America and
the United States of America." That was a pretty safe promise for the Government
of the Confederacy - about as safe as a game of "three-card monte" or
Men were now called for to do the fighting, and the first
call was for all "unmarried men up to 35 years of age." - "It is better to be
married than to burn!" (Holy Writ.) Before the act became a law it was said that
the parsons were bust at the "same old stand" and "waxed fat."
It was known that the married men would be exempt before
the call was made. About this time all men born in Northern States were ordered
to leave the Confederate States, or to take an oath of allegiance to the same
within 60 days. Nearly all left, except a few mechanics, but what should the
Virginia Union men do in this emergency? Some accepted office at the hands of
the Confederates, and turned their backs on their old friends, some even going
into the Confederate army.
The majority, believing the Confederacy could sustain
itself for only a limited period, - half a year or so, - remained, and departed
North at different periods until the close of the war. The older people of that
class remained, generally, because they would be exempt on account of age. Many
changed to the Confederates, apparently fearful of losing their property by
confiscation, which had already been hinted at.
The Confederate armies were concentrating, and were
evidently converging towards Gordonsville, while "Stonewall" Jackson had some
considerable success by attacking detached armies of the Union in and adjacent
to the Valley of Virginia..
Before we part company I shall tell you the story of "Mud
Wall" Jackson, and it is rather a singular coincidence that "Mud Wall" Jackson's
name was the same as "Stonewall" Jackson's - "Thomas Jackson." The term "Mud
Wall" was applied to that estimable and really amusing gentleman by the
Confederates. Some items, which I shall presently record regarding "Mud Wall"
were furnished me by a then well-known officer in the Valley of Virginia.
OLD TIME ON THE
On Main street, Richmond, a gentleman by the name of Harris
carried on the hardware business, just above the "Old Market." He was a good
Union man, and one day I had just left his store, when I observed a person
coming down the street towards Harris' store. He was slightly unsteady, as a
compliment I presumed to the general "unsteadiness" of the times.
I stood on the sidewalk and watched him with much interest
as he advanced towards the door of the hardware store. The he halted and noted,
with great interest, the plows, scythes, and mill-stones, and then "smiled."
(This word has no reference to a "whisky sour.") It was a smile of joy and
thankfulness of positive relief, as I translated it. Gazing fondly on the
scythe, as a mother might look upon her first born, he suddenly seized the
scythe firmly by the handle - it was all ready for the hay field - swung it wit
a mighty sweep, beginning at the side of the house and ending at the outer edge
of the curbstone.
People yelled, and those nearest to him gave him the right
of way with about the same celerity as a woman would get away from a mad bull in
an open pasture. The scythe swinger then shouted out that he wished he had Jeff
Davis and his Cabinet in front of him so he could mow them all down with one
swoop, this ridding the Corporation of a horrible and monstrous incubus who
oppressed the multitude generally and him in particular.
He then progressed toward the Old Market, swinging his
scythe from house to curbstone at every stroke. People were coming, meeting him,
mostly market people. As they noted him and his scythe they fled to the middle
of the street, falling over each other, and fled as men flee before a tornado or
fire. He had a free way in three seconds by a watch. Approaching the Old Market
at Seventeenth street and Main, he halted in front of the police station. The
blue coats went for him;.
Now, Time with the scythe became absolutely inspired,
swinging his instrument of destruction in a circle, with his heel for a pivot
and yelling at the police to come on. The police halted, somewhat dismayed at
this circular demonstration with the scythe, and were debating whether to attack
him or stone him to death - street paved with cobble stones; a gentle friend
arrived, took him mildly by the arm and led him off, presumably promising to
"set 'em up again." Police retired, citizens went various ways, scythe returned
to Harris, and all went away happy, or intended to get happy. So ended "Old Time
on a Rampage." It was a curious and unique scene.
I must now turn back a step or two, but I know the reader
till come back with me and remain with me while taking up the thread of my
When the Ordinance of Secession was finally passed by the
Richmond Convention, I was instructor of Music at Hampden Sidney College,
teaching vocal and instrumental music. I did not reside at the College, but in
Richmond, and visited the College once a week, remaining a day and a half,
sometimes two days. There were about 240 students attending the College at that
period, as well as my memory serves me. [remainder of column dealing with the
author's visit to Hampden Sydney College was not transcribed.]
Reaching Richmond, I went to the rooms of the Philharmonic
Society, where all was in a turmoil of agitation and excitement. Our pianist,
Henry Harney, was going to the war as Lieutenant; Penn Gaines, one of our
violincello players, was going as Commissary; and all who were young enough were
going in various capacities. I had resigned as leader just previous to these
events, knowing full well what was coming. A concert was arranged, however, and
given in Mechanics' Hall, Prof. Loebman, leader of the theater orchestra,
leading in my stead. I had not the heart to play, though present at the concert,
however; and the association being popular, was largely attended; and then
"Apollo laid down his lyre."
Soon after this, the papers announced that the Hampden
Sidney Battalion would pass through the city on the following morning on their
route towards West Virginia. I went to the corner of Main and Pearl streets,
where they must pass: and they soon came, all gorgeously arrayed in fine
uniforms bright and new, with drum and fife, and Maj. Atkins proudly at their
head; and they marched exceedingly well, as with easy grace, they swung around
the corner where I was standing. As they discovered me they shouted: "How are
you, Professor; come on with us; don't stay too long," etc.
Another scene, and we must reluctantly part with the
Hampden Sidney Battalion. A week or two later, the papers announced that the
battalion had advanced into West Virginia, beyond Staunton, had been surrounded
and captured by Gen. McClellan's forces, without the firing of a shot, and I was
truly glad that they had been saved from the "wrath to com."
A little later that appeared in Richmond, dilapidated and
worn out,, on their way to their homes, arms all gone and the drum and fife
silent, indeed. One or two of them informed me of the catastrophe, and how Gen.
McClellan had talked pleasantly and kindly to them, and advised them to return
A kindly greeting to the boys, and should any of the
surviving ones read these "Recollections," I trust they will recall the name of
the Professor who writes these lines; and, if any should communicate with him,
they may, with confidence, expect a reply.