Part 4 out of 5
it, and then they all grasped at it, exclaiming, "Thus we pull Buckra
to pieces!" He gave them parched corn and ground-nuts to be eaten as
internal safeguards on the day before the outbreak, and a consecrated
_cullah_, or crab's claw, to be carried in the mouth by each, as an
amulet. These rather questionable means secured him a power which was
very unquestionable; the witnesses examined in his presence all showed
dread of his conjurations, and referred to him indirectly, with a kind
of awe, as "the little man who can't be shot."
When Gullah Jack was otherwise engaged, there seems to have been a sort
of deputy seer employed in the enterprise, a blind man named Philip. He
was a preacher, was said to have been born with a caul on his head, and
so claimed the gift of second-sight. Timid adherents were brought to his
house for ghostly counsel. "Why do you look so timorous?" he said to
William Garner, and then quoted Scripture, "Let not your hearts be
troubled." That a blind man should know how he _looked_ was beyond the
philosophy of the visitor, and this piece of rather cheap ingenuity
carried the day.
Other leaders were appointed also. Monday Gell was the scribe of the
enterprise; he was a native African, who had learned to read and write.
He was by trade a harness-maker, working chiefly on his own account. He
confessed that he had written a letter to President Boyer of the new
black republic; "the letter was about the sufferings of the blacks, and
to know if the people of St. Domingo would help them, if they made an
effort to free themselves." This epistle was sent by the black cook of a
Northern schooner, and the envelope was addressed to a relative of the
Tom Russell was the armorer, and made pikes "on a very improved model,"
the official report admits. Polydore Faber fitted the weapons with
handles. Bacchus Hammett had charge of the firearms and ammunition, not
as yet a laborious duty. William Garner and Mingo Harth were to lead the
horse-company. Lot Forrester was the courier, and had done, no one ever
knew how much, in the way of enlisting country negroes, of whom Ned
Bennett was to take command when enlisted. Being the Governor's servant,
Ned was probably credited with some official experience. These were the
officers: now for the plan of attack.
It was the custom then, as now, for the country negroes to flock largely
into Charleston on Sunday. More than a thousand came, on ordinary
occasions, and a far larger number might at any time make their
appearance without exciting any suspicion. They gathered in, especially
by water, from the opposite sides of Ashley and Cooper Rivers, and from
the neighboring islands; and they came in a great number of canoes of
various sizes,--many of which could carry a hundred men,--which were
ordinarily employed in bringing agricultural products to the Charleston
market. To get an approximate knowledge of the number, the city
government once ordered the persons thus arriving to be counted,--and
that during the progress of the trials, at a time when the negroes were
rather fearful of coming into town,--and it was found, that, even then,
there were more than five hundred visitors on a single Sunday. This
fact, then, was the essential point in the plan of insurrection. Whole
plantations were found to have been enlisted among the "candidates,"
as they were termed; and it was proved that the city negroes who lived
nearest the place of meeting had agreed to conceal these confederates in
their houses to a large extent, on the night of the proposed outbreak.
The details of the plan, however, were not rashly committed to the mass
of the confederates; they were known only to a few, and were finally to
have been announced after the evening prayer-meetings on the appointed
Sunday. But each leader had his own company enlisted, and his own work
marked out. When the clock struck twelve, all were to move. Peter Poyas
was to lead a party ordered to assemble at South Bay, and to be joined
by a force from James' Island; he was then to march up and seize the
arsenal and guard-house opposite St. Michael's Church, and detach a
sufficient number to cut off all white citizens who should appear at the
alarm-posts. A second body of negroes, from the country and the Neck,
headed by Ned Bennett, was to assemble on the Neck and seize the arsenal
there. A third was to meet at Governor Bennett's Mills, under command of
Rolla, and, after putting the Governor and Intendant to death, to march
through the city, or be posted at Cannon's Bridge, thus preventing the
inhabitants of Cannonsborough from entering the city. A fourth, partly
from the country and partly from the neighboring localities in the city,
was to rendezvous on Gadsden's Wharf and attack the upper guard-house.
A fifth, composed of country and Neck negroes, was to assemble at
Bulkley's Farm, two miles and a half from the city, seize the upper
powder-magazine and then march down; and a sixth was to assemble at
Denmark Vesey's and obey his orders. A seventh detachment, under Gullah
Jack, was to assemble in Boundary Street, at the head of King Street,
to capture the arms of the Neck company of militia, and to take an
additional supply from Mr. Duquercron's shop. The naval stores on Mey's
Wharf were also to be attacked. Meanwhile a horse-company, consisting
of many draymen, hostlers, and butcher-boys, was to meet at Lightwood's
Alley and then scour the streets to prevent the whites from assembling.
Every white man coming out of his own door was to be killed, and, if
necessary, the city was to be fired in several places,--slow-match for
this purpose having been purloined from the public arsenal and placed in
an accessible position.
Beyond this, the plan of action was either unformed or undiscovered;
some slight reliance seems to have been placed on English aid,--more on
assistance from St. Domingo; at any rate, all the ships in the harbor
were to be seized, and in these, if the worst came to the worst, those
most deeply inculpated could set sail, bearing with them, perhaps, the
spoils of shops and of banks. It seems to be admitted by the official
narrative, that, they might have been able, at that season of the year,
and with the aid of the fortifications on the Neck and around the
harbor, to retain possession of the city for some time.
So unsuspicious were the authorities, so unprepared the citizens, so
open to attack lay the city, that nothing seemed necessary to the
success of the insurgents except organization and arms. Indeed, the
plan of organization easily covered a supply of arms. By their own
contributions they had secured enough to strike the first blow,--a
few hundred pikes and daggers, together with swords and guns for the
leaders. But they had carefully marked every place in the city where
weapons were to be obtained. On King-Street Road, beyond the municipal
limits, in a common wooden shop, were left unguarded the arms of the
Neck company of militia, to the number of several hundred stand; and
these were to be secured by Bacchus Hammett, whose master kept the
establishment. In Mr. Duquercron's shop there were deposited for sale
as many more weapons; and they had noted Mr. Schirer's shop in Queen
Street, and other gunsmiths' establishments. Finally, the State arsenal
in Meeting Street, a building with no defences except ordinary wooden
doors, was to be seized early in the outbreak. Provided, therefore, that
the first moves proved successful, all the rest appeared sure.
Very little seems to have been said among the conspirators in regard to
any plans of riot or debauchery, subsequent to the capture of the city.
Either their imaginations did not dwell on them, or the witnesses did
not dare to give testimony, or the authorities to print it. Death was to
be dealt out, comprehensive and terrible; but nothing more is mentioned.
One prisoner, Rolla, is reported in the evidence to have dropped hints
in regard to the destiny of the women; and there was a rumor in the
newspapers of the time, that he, or some other of Governor Bennett's
slaves, was to have taken the Governor's daughter, a young girl of
sixteen, for his wife, in the event of success; but this is all. On the
other hand, Denmark Vesey was known to be for a war of immediate and
total extermination; and when some of the company opposed killing "the
ministers and the women and children," Vesey read from the Scriptures
that all should be cut off, and said that "it was for their safety not
to leave one white skin alive, for this was the plan they pursued at St.
Domingo." And all this was not a mere dream of one lonely enthusiast,
but a measure which had been maturing for four full years among several
confederates, and had been under discussion for five months among
multitudes of initiated "candidates."
As usual with slave-insurrections, the best men and those most trusted
were deepest in the plot. Rolla was the only prominent conspirator who
was not an active Church-member. "Most of the ringleaders," says a
Charleston letter-writer of that day, "were the rulers or class-leaders
in what is called the African Society, and were considered faithful,
honest fellows. Indeed, many of the owners could not be convinced, till
the fellows confessed themselves, that they were concerned, and that the
first object of all was to kill their masters." And the first official
report declares that it would not be difficult to assign a motive for
the insurrectionists, "if it had not been distinctly proved, that, with
scarcely an exception, they had no individual hardship to complain
of, and were among the most humanely treated negroes in the city. The
facilities for combining and confederating in such a scheme were amply
afforded by the extreme indulgence and kindness which characterizes
the domestic treatment of our slaves. Many slave-owners among us, not
satisfied with ministering to the wants of their domestics by all the
comforts of abundant food and excellent clothing, with a misguided
benevolence have not only permitted their instruction, but lent to such
efforts their approbation and applause."
"I sympathize most sincerely," says the anonymous author of a pamphlet
of the period, "with the very respectable and pious clergyman whose
heart must still bleed at the recollection that his confidential
class-leader, but a week or two before his just conviction, had received
the communion of the Lord's Supper from his hand. This wretch had
been brought up in his pastor's family, and was treated with the same
Christian attention as was shown to their own children." "To us who are
accustomed to the base and proverbial ingratitude of these people this
ill return of kindness and confidence is not surprising; but they who
are ignorant of their real character will read and wonder."
One demonstration of this "Christian attention" had lately been the
closing of the African Church,--of which, as has been stated, most of
the leading revolutionists were members,--on the ground that it tended
to spread the dangerous infection of the alphabet. On January 15th,
1821, the City Marshal, John J. Lafar, had notified "ministers of the
gospel and others who keep night- and Sunday-schools for slaves, that
the education of such persons is forbidden by law, and that the city
government feel imperiously bound to enforce the penalty." So that there
were some special, as well as general grounds for disaffection among
these ungrateful favorites of Fortune, the slaves. Then there were
fancied dangers. An absurd report had somehow arisen--since you cannot
keep men ignorant without making them unreasonable also--that on the
ensuing Fourth of July the whites were to create a false alarm, and that
every black man coming out was to be killed, "in order to thin them";
this being done to prevent their joining an imaginary army supposed to
be on its way from Hayti. Others were led to suppose that Congress had
ended the Missouri Compromise discussion by making them all free, and
that the law would protect their liberty, if they could only secure it.
Others again were threatened with the vengeance of the conspirators,
unless they also joined; on the night of attack, it was said, the
initiated would have a countersign, and all who did not know it would
share the fate of the whites. Add to this the reading of Congressional
speeches, and of the copious magazine of revolution to be found in the
Bible,--and it was no wonder, if they for the first time were roused,
under the energetic leadership of Vesey, to a full consciousness of
their own condition.
"Not only were the leaders of good character and very much indulged by
their owners, but this was very generally the case with all who were
convicted,--many of them possessing the highest confidence of their
owners, and not one of bad character." In one case it was proved that
Vesey had forbidden his followers to trust a certain man, because he had
once been seen intoxicated. In another case it was shown that a slave
named George had made every effort to obtain their confidence, but was
constantly excluded from their meetings as a talkative fellow who could
not be trusted,--a policy which his levity of manner, when examined in
court, fully justified. They took no women into counsel,--not from any
distrust apparently, but in order that their children might not be left
uncared-for, in case of defeat and destruction. House-servants were
rarely trusted, or only when they had been carefully sounded by the
chief leaders. Peter Poyas, in commissioning an agent to enlist men,
gave him excellent cautions: "Don't mention it to those waiting-men who
receive presents of old coats, etc., from their masters, or they'll
betray us; _I will speak to them_." When he did speak, if he did not
convince them, he at least frightened them; but the chief reliance was
on the slaves hired out and therefore more uncontrolled,--and also upon
the country negroes.
The same far-sighted policy directed the conspirators to disarm
suspicion by peculiarly obedient and orderly conduct. And it shows the
precaution with which the thing was carried on, that, although Peter
Poyas was proved to have had a list of some six hundred persons, yet not
one of his particular company was ever brought to trial. As each leader
kept to himself the names of his proselytes, and as Monday Gell was the
only one of these who turned traitor, any opinion as to the numbers
actually engaged must appear altogether conjectural. One witness said
nine thousand; another, six thousand six hundred. These statements
were probably extravagant, though not more so than Governor Bennett's
assertion, on the other side, that "all who were actually concerned had
been brought to justice,"--unless by this phrase he designates only the
ringleaders. The avowed aim of the Governor's letter, indeed, is to
smooth the thing over, for the credit and safety of the city; and
its evasive tone contrasts strongly with the more frank and thorough
statements of the Judges, made after the thing could no longer be hushed
up. These best authorities explicitly acknowledge that they had failed
to detect more than a small minority of those concerned in the project,
and seem to admit, that, if it had once been brought to a head, the
slaves generally would have joined in.
"We cannot venture to say," says the Intendant's pamphlet, "to how many
the knowledge of the intended effort was communicated, who, without
signifying their assent, or attending any of the meetings, were yet
prepared to profit by events. That there are many who would not have
permitted the enterprise to have failed at a critical moment, for the
want of their cooeperation, we have the best reason for believing." So
believed the community at large; and the panic was in proportion, when
the whole danger was finally made public. "The scenes I witnessed," says
one who has since narrated the circumstances, "and the declaration of
the impending danger that met us at all times and on all occasions,
forced the conviction that never were an entire people more thoroughly
alarmed than were the people of Charleston at that time.... During the
excitement and the trial of the supposed conspirators, rumor proclaimed
all, and doubtless more than all, the horrors of the plot. The city was
to be fired in every quarter, the arsenal in the immediate vicinity was
to be broken open and the arms distributed to the insurgents, and an
universal massacre of the white inhabitants to take place. Nor did there
seem to be any doubt in the mind of the people that such would actually
have been the result, had not the plot fortunately been detected before
the time appointed for the outbreak. It was believed, as a matter of
course, that every black in the city would join in the insurrection, and
that, if the original design had been attempted, and the city taken by
surprise, the negroes would have achieved a complete and easy victory.
Nor does it seem at all impossible that such might have been or yet
may be the case, if any well-arranged and resolute rising should take
Indeed, this universal admission, that all the slaves were ready to take
part in any desperate enterprise, was one of the most startling aspects
of the affair. The authorities say that the two principal State's
evidence declared that "they never spoke to any person of color on the
subject, or knew of any one who had been spoken to by the other leaders,
who had withheld his assent." And the conspirators seem to have been
perfectly satisfied that all the remaining slaves would enter their
ranks upon the slightest success. "Let us assemble a sufficient number
to commence the work with spirit, and we'll not want men; they'll fall
in behind us fast enough." And as an illustration of this readiness,
the official report mentions a slave who had belonged to one master for
sixteen years, sustaining a high character for fidelity and affection,
who had twice travelled with him through the Northern States, resisting
every solicitation to escape, and who yet was very deeply concerned in
the insurrection, though knowing it to involve the probable destruction
of the whole family with whom he lived.
One singular circumstance followed the first rumors of the plot. Several
white men, said to be of low and unprincipled character, at once began
to make interest with the supposed leaders among the slaves, either from
genuine sympathy, or with the intention of betraying them for money, or
of profiting by the insurrection, should it succeed. Four of these were
brought to trial; but the official report expresses the opinion that
many more might have been discovered but for the inadmissibility of
slave-testimony against whites. Indeed, the evidence against even
these four was insufficient for a capital conviction, although one was
overheard, through stratagem, by the Intendant himself, and arrested
on the spot. This man was a Scotchman, another a Spaniard, a third a
German, and the fourth a Carolinian. The last had for thirty years kept
a shop in the neighborhood of Charleston; he was proved to have asserted
that "the negroes had as much right to fight for their liberty as the
white people," had offered to head them in the enterprise, and had said
that in three weeks he would have two thousand men. But in no case, it
appears, did these men obtain the confidence of the slaves, and the
whole plot was conceived and organized, so far as appears, without the
slightest cooeperation from any white man.
The trial of the conspirators began on Wednesday, June 19th. At the
request of the Intendant, Justices Kennedy and Parker summoned five
freeholders (Messrs. Drayton, Heyward, Pringle, Legare, and Turnbull)
to constitute a court, under the provisions of the act "for the better
ordering and governing negroes and other slaves." The Intendant laid the
case before them, with a list of prisoners and witnesses. By a vote of
the Court, all spectators were excluded, except the owners and counsel
of the slaves concerned. No other colored person was allowed to enter
the jail, and a strong guard of soldiers was kept always on duty around
the building. Under these general arrangements the trials proceeded
with elaborate formality, though with some variations from ordinary
usage,--as was, indeed, required by the statute.
For instance, the law provided that the testimony of any Indian or slave
could be received, _without oath_, against a slave or free colored
person, although it was not valid, even under oath, against a white.
But it is best to quote the official language in respect to the rules
adopted. "As the Court had been organized under a statute of a peculiar
and local character, and intended for the government of a distinct
class of persons in the community, they were bound to conform their
proceedings to its provisions, which depart in many essential features
from the principles of the Common Law and some of the settled rules of
evidence. The Court, however, determined to adopt those rules, whenever
they were not repugnant to nor expressly excepted by that statute, nor
inconsistent with the local situation and policy of the State; and laid
down for their own government the following regulations: First, that
no slave should be tried except in the presence of his owner or his
counsel, and that notice should be given in every case at least one day
before the trial; second, that the testimony of one witness, unsupported
by additional evidence or by circumstances, should lead to no conviction
of a _capital_ nature; third, that the witnesses should be confronted
with the accused and with each other in every case, except where
testimony was given under a solemn pledge that the names of the
witnesses should not be divulged,--as they declared, in some instances,
that they apprehended being murdered by the blacks, if it was known that
they had volunteered their evidence; fourth, that the prisoners might be
represented by counsel, whenever this was requested by the owners of
the slaves, or by the prisoners themselves, if free; fifth, that the
statements or defences of the accused should be heard in every case,
and they be permitted themselves to examine any witness they thought
It is singular to observe how entirely these rules seem to concede that
a slave's life has no sort of value to himself, but only to his master.
His master, not he himself, must choose whether it be worth while to
employ counsel. His master, not his mother or his wife, must be present
at the trial. So far is this carried, that the provision to exclude
"persons who had no particular interest in the slaves accused" seems to
have excluded every acknowledged relative they had in the world, and
admitted only those who had invested in them so many dollars. And yet
the very first section of that part of the statute under which they were
tried lays down an explicit recognition of their humanity. "And whereas
natural justice forbids that any _person_, of what condition soever,
should be condemned unheard." So thoroughly, in the whole report, are
the ideas of person and chattel intermingled, that, when Governor
Bennett petitions for mitigation of sentence in the case of his slave
Batteau, and closes, "I ask this, gentlemen, as an individual incurring
a severe and distressing loss," it is really impossible to decide
whether the predominant emotion be affectional or financial.
It is a matter of painful necessity to acknowledge that the proceedings
of all slave-tribunals justify the honest admission of Governor Adams of
South Carolina, in his legislative message of 1855:--"The administration
of our laws, in relation to our colored population, by our courts of
magistrates and freeholders, as these courts are at present constituted,
calls loudly for reform. Their decisions are rarely in conformity
with justice or humanity." This trial, as reported by the justices
themselves, seems to have been no worse than the average,--perhaps
better. In all, thirty-five were sentenced to death, thirty-four to
transportation, twenty-seven acquitted by the Court, and twenty-five
discharged without trial, by the Committee of Vigilance, making in all
one hundred and twenty-one.
The sentences pronounced by Judge Kennedy upon the leading rebels, while
paying a high tribute to their previous character, of course bring all
law and all Scripture to prove the magnitude of their crime. "It is a
melancholy fact," he says, "that those servants in whom we reposed the
most unlimited confidence have been the principal actors in this wicked
scheme." Then he rises into earnest appeals. "Are you incapable of the
heavenly influence of that gospel all whose paths are peace? It was to
reconcile us to our destiny on earth, and to enable us to discharge
with fidelity all our duties, whether as master or servant, that those
inspired precepts were imparted by Heaven to fallen man." And so on.
To these reasonings the prisoners had, of course, nothing to say; but
the official reports bear the strongest testimony to their fortitude.
"Rolla, when arraigned, affected not to understand the charge against
him, and when it was at his request further explained to him, assumed,
with wonderful adroitness, astonishment and surprise. He was remarkable,
throughout his trial, for great presence and composure of mind. When he
was informed he was convicted, and was advised to prepare for death,
though he had previously (but after his trial) confessed his guilt, he
appeared perfectly confounded, but exhibited no signs of fear. In Ned's
behavior there was nothing remarkable; but his countenance was stern and
immovable, even whilst he was receiving the sentence of death: from
his looks it was impossible to discover or conjecture what were his
feelings. Not so with Peter; for in his countenance were strongly marked
disappointed ambition, revenge, indignation, and an anxiety to know how
far the discoveries had extended; and the same emotions were exhibited
in his conduct. He did not appear to fear personal consequences, for his
whole behavior indicated the reverse; but exhibited an evident anxiety
for the success of their plan, in which his whole soul was embarked. His
countenance and behavior were the same when he received his sentence,
and his only words were, on retiring, 'I suppose you'll let me see my
wife and family before I die?' and that not in a supplicating tone.
When he was asked, a day or two after, if it was possible he could wish
to see his master and family murdered, who had treated him so kindly,
he only replied to the question by a smile. Monday's behavior was not
peculiar. When he was before the Court, his arms were folded; he heard
the testimony given against him, and received his sentence with the
utmost firmness and composure. But no description can accurately convey
to others the impression which the trial, defence, and appearance of
Gullah Jack made on those who witnessed the workings of his cunning and
rude address. When arrested and brought before the Court, in company
with another African named Jack, the property of the estate of
Pritchard, he assumed so much ignorance, and looked and acted the fool
so well, that some of the Court could not believe that this was the
necromancer who was sought after. This conduct he continued when on
his trial, until he saw the witnesses and heard the testimony as it
progressed against him, when, in an instant, his countenance was lighted
up as if by lightning, and his wildness and vehemence of gesture, and
the malignant glance with which he eyed the witnesses who appeared
against him, all indicated the savage, who, indeed, had been caught,
but not tamed. His courage, however, soon forsook him. When he received
sentence of death, he earnestly implored that a fortnight longer might
be allowed him, and then a week longer, which he continued earnestly to
solicit until he was taken from the court-room to his cell; and when
he was carried to execution, he gave up his spirit without firmness or
Not so with Denmark Vesey. The plans of years were frustrated; his own
life and liberty were thrown away; many others were sacrificed through
his leader ship; and one more added to the list of unsuccessful
insurrections. All these disastrous certainties he faced calmly, and
gave his whole mind composedly to the conducting of his defence. With
his arms tightly folded and his eyes fixed on the floor, he attentively
followed every item of the testimony. He heard the witnesses examined by
the Court, and cross-examined by his own counsel, and it is evident from
the narrative of the presiding judge that he showed no small skill and
policy in the searching cross-examination which he then applied. The
fears, the feelings, the consciences of those who had betrayed him, all
were in turn appealed to; but the facts were too overpowering, and it
was too late to aid his comrades or himself. Then turning to the Court,
he skilfully availed himself of the point which had so much impressed
the community, the intrinsic improbability that a man in his position of
freedom and prosperity should sacrifice everything to free other people.
If they thought it so incredible, why not give him the benefit of the
incredibility? The act being, as they stated, one of infatuation, why
convict him of it on the bare word of men who, by their own showing, had
not only shared the infatuation, but proved traitors to it? An ingenious
defence,--indeed, the only one which could by any possibility be
suggested, anterior to the days of Choate and somnambulism; but in vain.
He was sentenced, and it was not, apparently, till the judge reproached
him for the destruction he had brought on his followers that he showed
any sign of emotion. Then the tears came into his eyes. But he said not
The executions took place on five different days, and, bad as they were,
they might have been worse. After the imaginary Negro Plot of New York,
in 1741, thirteen negroes had been judicially burned alive; two had
suffered the same sentence at Charleston in 1808; and it was undoubtedly
some mark of progress that in this case the gallows took the place
of the flames. Six were hanged on July 2d, upon Blake's lands, near
Charleston,--Denmark Vesey, Peter Poyas, Jess, Ned, Rolla, and
Batteau,--the last three being slaves of the Governor himself. Gullah
Jack and John were executed "on the Lines," near Charleston, on July
12th, and twenty-two more on July 26th. Four others suffered their fate
on July 30th; and one more, William Garner, effected a temporary escape,
was captured and tried by a different court, and was finally executed on
The self-control of these men did not desert them at their execution.
When the six leaders suffered death, the report says, Peter Poyas
repeated his charge of secrecy. "Do not open your lips; die silent, as
you shall see me do"; and all obeyed. And though afterwards, as the
particulars of the plot became better known, there was less inducement
to conceal, yet every one of the thirty-five seems to have met his fate
bravely, except the conjurer. Governor Bennett, in his letter, expresses
much dissatisfaction at the small amount learned from the participators.
"to the last hour of the existence of several who appeared to be
conspicuous actors in the drama, they were pressingly importuned to make
farther confessions,"--this "importuning" being more clearly defined in
a letter of Mr. Ferguson, owner of two of the slaves, as "having them
severely corrected." Yet so little was obtained, that the Governor was
compelled to admit at last that the really essential features of the
plot were not known to any of the informers.
It is to be remembered that the plot failed because a man unauthorized
and incompetent, William Paul, undertook to make enlistments on his own
account. He blundered on one of precisely that class of men--favored
house-servants--whom his leaders had expressly reserved for more skilful
manipulations. He being thus detected, one would have supposed that the
discovery of many accomplices would at once have followed.
The number enlisted was counted by thousands; yet for twenty-nine
days after the first treachery, and during twenty days of official
examination, only fifteen of the conspirators were ferreted out.
Meanwhile the informers' names had to be concealed with the utmost
secrecy,--they were in peril of their lives from the slaves,--William
Paul scarcely dared to go beyond the door-step,--and the names of
important witnesses examined in June were still suppressed in the
official report published in October. That a conspiracy on so large a
scale should have existed in embryo during four years, and in an active
form for several months, and yet have been so well managed, that, after
actual betrayal, the authorities were again thrown off their guard
and the plot nearly brought to a head again,--this certainly shows
extraordinary ability in the leaders, and a talent for concerted action
on the part of slaves generally with which they have hardly been
And it is also to be noted, that the range of the conspiracy extended
far beyond Charleston. It was proved that Frank, slave of Mr. Ferguson,
living nearly forty miles from the city, had boasted of having enlisted
four plantations in his immediate neighborhood. It was in evidence that
the insurgents "were trying all round the country, from Georgetown and
Santee round about to Combahee, to get people"; and after the trials, it
was satisfactorily established that Vesey "had been in the country as
far north as South Santee, and southwardly as far as the Euhaws, which
is between seventy and eighty miles from the city." Mr. Ferguson himself
testified that the good order of any gang was no evidence of their
ignorance of the plot, since the behavior of his own initiated slaves
had been unexceptionable, in accordance with Vesey's directions.
With such an organization and such materials, there was nothing in the
plan which could be pronounced incredible or impracticable. There is no
reason why they should not have taken the city. After all the Governor's
entreaties as to moderate language, the authorities were obliged to
admit that South Carolina had been saved from a "horrible catastrophe."
"For although success could not possibly have attended the conspirators,
yet, before their suppression, Charleston would probably have been
wrapped in flames, many valuable lives would have been sacrificed, and
an immense loss of property sustained by the citizens, even though
no other distressing occurrences were experienced by them, while the
plantations in the lower country would have been disorganized, and the
agricultural interests have sustained an enormous loss." The Northern
journals had already expressed still greater anxieties. "It appears,"
said the "New York Commercial Advertiser," "that, but for the timely
disclosure, the whole of that State would in a few days have witnessed
the horrid spectacle once witnessed in St. Domingo."
My friend David Lee Child has kindly communicated to me a few memoranda
of a conversation held long since with a free colored man who had worked
in Vesey's shop during the time of the insurrection, and these generally
confirm the official narratives. "I was a young man then," he said,
"and, owing to the policy of preventing communication between free
colored people and slaves, I had little opportunity of ascertaining how
the slaves felt about it. I know that several of them were abused in the
street, and some put in prison, for appearing in sack-cloth. There was
an ordinance of the city, that any slave who wore a badge of mourning
should be imprisoned and flogged. They generally got the law, which is
thirty-nine lashes, but sometimes it was according to the decision of
the Court." "I heard, at the time, of arms being buried in coffins at
Sullivan's Island." "In the time of the insurrection, the slaves were
tried in a small room, in the jail where they were confined. No colored
person was allowed to go within two squares of the prison. Those two
squares were filled with troops, five thousand of whom were on duty, day
and night. I was told, Vesey said to those that tried him, that the
work of insurrection would go on; but as none but white persons were
permitted to be present, I cannot tell whether he said it."
During all this time there was a guarded silence in the Charleston
journals, which strongly contrasts with the extreme publicity at
last given to the testimony. Even the "National Intelligencer,"
at Washington, passed lightly over the affair, and deprecated the
publication of particulars. The Northern editors, on the other hand,
eager for items, were constantly complaining of this reserve, and
calling for further intelligence. "The Charleston papers," said the
"Hartford Courant" of July 16th, "have been silent on the subject of the
insurrection, but letters from this city state that it has created much
alarm, and that two brigades of troops were under arms for some time to
suppress any risings that might have taken place." "You will doubtless
hear," wrote a Charleston correspondent of the same paper, just before,
"many reports, and some exaggerated ones." "There was certainly a
disposition to revolt, and some preparations made, principally by the
plantation negroes, to take the city." "We hoped they would progress so
far as to enable us to ascertain and punish the ringleaders." "Assure my
friends that we feel in perfect security, although the number of nightly
guards and other demonstrations may induce a belief among strangers to
The strangers would have been very blind strangers, if they had not
been more influenced by the actions of the Charlestonians than by their
words. The original information was given on May 25th. The time passed,
and the plot failed on June 16th. A plan for its revival on July 2d
proved abortive. Yet a letter from Charleston in the "Hartford Courant"
of August 6th, represented the panic as unabated: "Great preparations
are making, and all the military are put in preparation to guard against
any attempt of the same kind again; but we have no apprehension of its
being repeated." On August 10th, Governor Bennett wrote the letter
already mentioned, which was printed and distributed as a circular, its
object being to deprecate undue alarm. "Every individual in the State is
interested, whether in regard to his own property or the reputation
of the State, in giving no more importance to the transaction than it
justly merits." Yet five days after this,--two months after the first
danger had passed,--a reinforcement of United States troops arrived at
Port Moultrie. And during the same month, several different attempts
were made by small parties of armed negroes to capture the mails between
Charleston and Savannah, and a reward of two hundred dollars was offered
for their detection.
The first official report of the trials was prepared by the Intendant,
by request of the city council. It passed through four editions in a few
months,--the first and fourth being published in Charleston, and the
second and third in Boston. Being, however, but a brief pamphlet, it
did not satisfy the public curiosity, and in October of the same
year, (1822,) a larger volume appeared at Charleston, edited by the
magistrates who presided at the trials, Lionel H. Kennedy and Thomas
Parker. It contains the evidence in full, and a separate narrative of
the whole affair, more candid and lucid than any other which I have
found in the newspapers or pamphlets of the day. It exhibits that rarest
of all qualities in a slave-community, a willingness to look facts in
the face. This narrative has been faithfully followed, with the aid
of such cross-lights as could be secured from many other quarters, in
preparing the present history.
The editor of the first official report racked his brains to discover
the special causes of the revolt, and never trusted himself to allude
to the general one. The negroes rebelled because they were deluded
by Congressional eloquence, or because they were excited by a Church
squabble, or because they had been spoilt by mistaken indulgences, such
as being allowed to learn to read, "a misguided benevolence," as he
pronounces it. So the Baptist Convention seems to have thought it was
because they were not Baptists, and an Episcopal pamphleteer because
they were not Episcopalians. It never seems to occur to any of these
spectators that these people rebelled simply because they were slaves
and wished to be free.
No doubt, there were enough special torches with which a man so skilful
as Denmark Vesey could kindle up these dusky powder-magazines; but,
after all, the permanent peril lay in the powder. So long as that
existed, everything was incendiary. Any torn scrap in the street might
contain a Missouri-Compromise speech, or a report of the last battle in
St. Domingo, or one of those able letters of Boyer's which were winning
the praise of all, or one of John Randolph's stirring speeches in
England against the slave-trade. The very newspapers which reported
the happy extinction of the insurrection by the hanging of the
last conspirator, William Garner, reported also, with enthusiastic
indignation, the massacre of the Greeks at Constantinople and at Scio;
and then the Northern editors, breaking from their usual reticence,
pointed out the inconsistency of Southern journals in printing, side
by side, denunciations of Mohammedan slave-sales and advertisements of
Of course, the insurrection threw the whole slavery question open to
the public. "We are sorry to see," said the "National Intelligencer"
of August 31st, "that a discussion of the hateful Missouri question is
likely to be revived, in consequence of the allusions to its supposed
effect in producing the late servile insurrection in South Carolina." A
member of the Board of Public Works of South Carolina published in the
Baltimore "American Farmer" an essay urging the encouragement of white
laborers, and hinting at the ultimate abolition of slavery, "if it
should ever be thought desirable." More boldly still, a pamphlet
appeared in Charleston under the signature of "Achates," arguing with
remarkable sagacity and force against the whole system of slave-labor
_in towns_, and proposing that all slaves in Charleston should be sold
or transferred to the plantations, and their places supplied by white
labor. It is interesting to find many of the facts and arguments of
Helper's "Impending Crisis" anticipated in this courageous tract,
written under the pressure of a crisis which had just been so narrowly
evaded. The author is described in the preface as "a soldier and patriot
of the Revolution, whose name, did we feel ourselves at liberty to use
it, would stamp a peculiar weight and value on his opinions." It was
commonly attributed to General Thomas Pinckney.
Another pamphlet of the period, also published in Charleston,
recommended as a practical cure for insurrection the copious
administration of Episcopal Church services, and the prohibition of
negroes from attending Fourth-of-July celebrations. On this last point
it is more consistent than most pro-slavery arguments. "The celebration
of the Fourth of July belongs _exclusively_ to the white population of
the United States. The American Revolution was a _family-quarrel among
equals_. In this the negroes had no concern; their condition remained,
and must remain, unchanged. They have no more to do with the celebration
of that day than with the landing of the Pilgrims on the rock at
Plymouth. It therefore seems to me improper to allow these people to
be present on these occasions. In our speeches and orations, much, and
sometimes more than is politically necessary, is said about personal
liberty, which negro auditors know not how to apply, except by running
the parallel with their own condition. They therefore imbibe false
notions of their own personal rights, and give reality in their minds to
what has no real existence. The peculiar state of our community must
be steadily kept in view. This, I am gratified to learn, will in
some measure be promoted by the institution of the South Carolina
On the other hand, more stringent laws became obviously necessary to
keep down the advancing intelligence of the Charleston slaves. Dangerous
knowledge must be excluded from without and from within. For the first
end, the South Carolina legislature passed, in December, 1822, the
act for the imprisonment of Northern colored seamen, which has since
produced so much excitement. For the second object, the Grand Jury,
about the same time, presented as a grievance "the number of schools
which are kept within the city by persons of color," and proposed their
prohibition. This was the encouragement given to the intellectual
progress of the slaves; while, as a reward for betraying them, Pensil,
the free colored man who advised with Devany, received a present of one
thousand dollars, and Devany himself had what was rightly judged to
be the higher gift of freedom, and was established in business, with
liberal means, as a drayman. He is still living in Charleston, has
thriven greatly in his vocation, and, according to the newspapers,
enjoys the privilege of being the only man of property in the State whom
a special statute exempts from taxation. It is something of a privilege,
especially with secession impending. But those whom he betrayed to death
have been exempt from taxation longer than be has.
More than a third of a century has passed since the incidents of this
true story closed. It has not vanished from the memories of South
Carolinians, though the printed pages which once told it have been
gradually withdrawn from sight. The intense avidity which at first
grasped at every incident of the great insurrectionary plot was
succeeded by a distaste for the memory of the tale; and the official
reports which told what slaves had once planned and dared have now come
to be among the rarest of American historical documents. In 1841, a
friend of the writer, then visiting South Carolina, heard from her
hostess for the first time the events which are recounted here. On
asking to see the reports of the trials, she was cautiously told that
the only copy in the house, after being carefully kept for years under
lock and key, had been burnt at last, lest it should reach the dangerous
eyes of the slaves. The same thing had happened, it was added, in many
other families. This partially accounts for the great difficulty now to
be found in obtaining a single copy of either publication; and this is
why, to the readers of American history, Denmark Vesey and Peter Poyas
have been heretofore but the shadows of names.
* * * * *
NEW YORK SEVENTH REGIMENT.
OUR MARCH TO WASHINGTON.
THROUGH THE CITY.
At three o'clock in the afternoon of Friday, April 19th, we took our
peacemaker, a neat twelve-pound brass howitzer, down from the Seventh
Regiment Armory, and stationed it in the rear of the building. The twin
peacemaker is somewhere near us, but entirely hidden by this enormous
An enormous crowd! of both sexes, of every age and condition. The men
offer all kinds of truculent and patriotic hopes; the women shed tears,
and say, "God bless you, boys!"
This is a part of the town where baddish cigars prevail. But good or
bad, I am ordered to keep all away from the gun. So the throng stands
back, peers curiously over the heads of its junior members, and seems to
be taking the measure of my coffin.
After a patient hour of this, the word is given, we fall in, our two
guns find their places at the right of the line of march, we move on
through the thickening crowd.
At a great house on the left, as we pass the Astor Library, I see a
handkerchief waving for me. Yes! it is she who made the sandwiches in my
knapsack. They were a trifle too thick, as I afterwards discovered,
but otherwise perfection. Be these my thanks and the thanks of hungry
comrades who had bites of them!
At the corner of Great Jones Street we halted for half an hour,--then,
everything ready, we marched down Broadway.
It was worth a life, that march. Only one who passed, as we did, through
that tempest of cheers, two miles long, can know the terrible
enthusiasm of the occasion. I could hardly hear the rattle of our own
gun-carriages, and only once or twice the music of our band came to me
muffled and quelled by the uproar. We knew now, if we had not before
divined it, that our great city was with us as one man, utterly united
in the great cause we were marching to sustain.
This grand fact I learned by two senses. If hundreds of thousands roared
it into my ears, thousands slapped it into my back. My fellow-citizens
smote me on the knapsack, as I went by at the gun-rope, and encouraged
me each in his own dialect. "Bully for you!" alternated with
benedictions, in the proportion of two "bullies" to one blessing.
I was not so fortunate as to receive more substantial tokens of
sympathy. But there were parting gifts showered on the regiment, enough
to establish a variety-shop. Handkerchiefs, of course, came floating
down upon us from the windows, like a snow. Pretty little gloves pelted
us with love-taps. The sterner sex forced upon us pocket-knives new and
jagged, combs, soap, slippers, boxes of matches, cigars by the dozen
and the hundred, pipes to smoke shag and pipes to smoke Latakia, fruit,
eggs, and sandwiches. One fellow got a new purse with ten bright
At the corner of Grand Street, or thereabouts, a "bhoy" in red flannel
shirt and black dress pantaloons, leaning back against the crowd with
Herculean shoulders, called me,--"Saaey, bully! take my dorg! he's one of
the kind that holds till he draps." This gentleman, with his animal, was
instantly shoved back by the police, and the Seventh lost the "dorg."
These were the comic incidents of the march, but underlying all was the
tragic sentiment that we might have tragic work presently to do. The
news of the rascal attack in Baltimore on the Massachusetts Sixth had
just come in. Ours might be the same chance. If there were any of us
not in earnest before, the story of the day would steady us. So we said
goodbye to Broadway, moved down Cortlandt Street under a bower of flags,
and at half-past six shoved off in the ferry-boat.
Everybody has heard how Jersey City turned out and filled up the
Railroad Station, like an opera-house, to give Godspeed to us as a
representative body, a guaranty of the unquestioning loyalty of the
"conservative" class in New York. Everybody has heard how the State of
New Jersey, along the railroad line, stood through the evening and
the night to shout their quota of good wishes. At every station the
Jerseymen were there, uproarious as Jerseymen, to shake our hands and
wish us a happy despatch. I think I did not see a rod of ground without
its man, from dusk till dawn, from the Hudson to the Delaware.
Upon the train we made a jolly night of it. All knew that the more a man
sings, the better he is likely to fight. So we sang more than we slept,
and, in fact, that has been our history ever since.
At sunrise we were at the station in Philadelphia, and dismissed for an
hour. Some hundreds of us made up Broad Street for the Lapierre House
to breakfast. When I arrived, I found every place at table filled
and every waiter ten deep with orders. So, being an old campaigner, I
followed up the stream of provender to the fountain-head, the kitchen.
Half a dozen other old campaigners were already there, most hospitably
entertained by the cooks. They served us, hot and hot, with the best of
their best, straight from the gridiron and the pan. I hope, if I live
to breakfast again in the Lapierre House, that I may be allowed to help
myself and choose for myself below-stairs.
When we rendezvoused at the train, we found that the orders were for
every man to provide himself three days' rations in the neighborhood,
and be ready for a start at a moment's notice.
A mountain of bread was already piled up in the station. I stuck my
bayonet through a stout loaf, and, with a dozen comrades armed in the
same way, went foraging about for other _vivers_.
It is a poor part of Philadelphia; but whatever they had in the shops or
the houses seemed to be at our disposition.
I stopped at a corner shop to ask for pork, and was amicably assailed by
an earnest dame,--Irish, I am pleased to say. She thrust her last loaf
upon me, and sighed that it was not baked that morning for my "honor's
A little farther on, two kindly Quaker ladies compelled me to step in.
"What could they do?" they asked eagerly. "They had no meat in the
house; but could we eat eggs? They had in the house a dozen and a half,
new-laid." So the pot to the fire, and the eggs boiled, and bagged by
myself and that tall Saxon, my friend E., of the Sixth Company. While
the eggs simmered, the two ladies thee-ed us prayerfully and tearfully,
hoping that God would save our country from blood, unless blood must be
shed to preserve Law and Liberty.
Nothing definite from Baltimore when we returned to the station. We
stood by, waiting orders. About noon the Eighth Massachusetts Regiment
took the train southward. Our regiment was ready to a man to try its
strength with the Plug Uglies. If there had been any voting on the
subject, the plan to follow the straight road to Washington would have
been accepted by acclamation. But the higher powers deemed that "the
longest way round was the shortest way home," and no doubt their
decision was wise. The event proved it.
At two o'clock came the word to "fall in." We handled our howitzers
again, and marched down Jefferson Avenue to the steamer "Boston" to
To embark for what port? For Washington, of course, finally; but by what
route? That was to remain in doubt to us privates for a day or two.
The Boston is a steamer of the outside line from Philadelphia to New
York. She just held our legion. We tramped on board, and were allotted
about the craft from the top to the bottom story. We took tents, traps,
and grub on board, and steamed away down the Delaware in the sweet
afternoon of April. If ever the heavens smiled fair weather on any
campaign, they have done so on ours.
Soldiers on shipboard are proverbially fish out of water. We could not
be called by the good old nickname of "lobsters" by the crew. Our gray
jackets saved the _sobriquet_. But we floundered about the crowded
vessel like boiling victims in a pot. At last we found our places,
and laid ourselves about the decks to tan or bronze or burn scarlet,
according to complexion. There were plenty of cheeks of lobster-hue
before next evening on the Boston.
A thousand young fellows turned loose on shipboard were sure to make
themselves merry. Let the reader imagine that! We were like any other
excursionists, except that the stacks of bright guns were always present
to remind us of our errand, and regular guard-mounting and drill went
on all the time. The young citizens growled or laughed at the minor
hardships of the hasty outfit, and toughened rapidly to business.
Sunday, the 21st, was a long and somewhat anxious day. While we were
bowling along in the sweet sunshine and sweeter moonlight of the halcyon
time, Uncle Sam might be dethroned by somebody in buckram, or Baltimore
burnt by the boys from Lynn and Marblehead, revenging the massacre of
their fellows. Every one begins to comprehend the fiery eagerness of men
who live in historic times. "I wish I had control of chain-lightning for
a few minutes," says O., the droll fellow of our company. "I'd make it
come thick and heavy and knock spots out of Secession."
At early dawn of Monday the 22d, after feeling along slowly all night,
we see the harbor of Annapolis. A frigate with sails unbent lies at
anchor. She flies the stars and stripes. Hurrah!
A large steamboat is aground farther in. As soon as we can see anything,
we catch the glitter of bayonets on board.
By-and-by boats come off, and we get news that the steamer is the
"Maryland," a ferry-boat of the Philadelphia and Baltimore Railroad. The
Massachusetts Eighth Regiment had been just in time to seize her on the
north side of the Chesapeake. They learned that she was to be carried
off by the crew and leave them blockaded. So they shot their Zouaves
ahead as skirmishers. The fine fellows rattled on board, and before
the steamboat had time to take a turn or open a valve, she was held by
Massachusetts in trust for Uncle Sam. Hurrah for the most important
prize thus far in the war! It probably saved the "Constitution," "Old
Ironsides," from capture by the traitors. It probably saved Annapolis,
and kept Maryland open without bloodshed.
As soon as the Massachusetts Regiment had made prize of the ferry-boat,
a call was made for engineers to run her. Some twenty men at once
stepped to the front. We of the New York Seventh afterwards concluded
that whatever was needed in the way of skill or handicraft could be
found among those brother Yankees. They were the men to make armies
of. They could tailor for themselves, shoe themselves, do their own
blacksmithing, gunsmithing, and all other work that calls for sturdy
arms and nimble fingers. In fact, I have such profound confidence in the
universal accomplishment of the Massachusetts Eighth, that I have no
doubt, if the order were, "Poets to the front!" "Painters present arms!"
"Sculptors charge bagonets!" a baker's dozen out of every company would
Well, to go on with their story,--when they had taken their prize,
they drove her straight down-stream to Annapolis, the nearest point to
Washington. There they found the Naval Academy in danger of attack,
and Old Ironsides--serving as a practice-ship for the future
midshipmen--also exposed. The call was now for seamen to man the old
craft and save her from a worse enemy than her prototype met in the
"Guerriere." Seamen? Of course! They were Marblehead men, Gloucester
men, Beverly men, seamen all, _par excellence_! They clapped on the
frigate to aid the middies, and by-and-by started her out into the
stream. In doing this their own pilot took the chance to run them
purposely on a shoal in the intricate channel. A great error of judgment
on his part! as he perceived, when he found himself in irons and in
confinement. "The days of trifling with traitors are over!" think the
Eighth Regiment of Massachusetts.
But there they were, hard and fast on the shoal, when we came up.
Nothing to nibble on but knobs of anthracite. Nothing to sleep on softer
or cleaner than coal-dust. Nothing to drink but the brackish water under
their keel. "Rather rough!" as they afterward patiently told us.
Meantime the Constitution had got hold of a tug, and was making her way
to an anchorage where her guns commanded everything and everybody. Good
and true men chuckled greatly over this. The stars and stripes also were
still up at the fort at the Naval Academy.
Our dread, that, while we were off at sea, some great and perhaps fatal
harm had been suffered, was greatly lightened by these good omens. If
Annapolis was safe, why not Washington safe also? If treachery had got
head at the capital, would not treachery have reached out its hand
and snatched this doorway? These were our speculations as we began to
discern objects, before we heard news.
But news came presently. Boats pulled off to us. Our officers were put
into communication with the shore. The scanty facts of our position
became known from man to man. We privates have greatly the advantage in
battling with the doubt of such a time. We know that we have nothing to
do with rumors. Orders are what we go by. And orders are Facts.
We lay a long, lingering day, off Annapolis. The air was full of doubt,
and we were eager to be let loose. All this while the Maryland stuck
fast on the bar. We could see them, half a mile off, making every effort
to lighten her. The soldiers tramped forward and aft, danced on her
decks, shot overboard a heavy baggage-truck. We saw them start the truck
for the stern with a cheer. It crashed down. One end stuck in the mud.
The other fell back and rested on the boat. They went at it with axes,
and presently it was clear.
As the tide rose, we gave our grounded friends a lift with a hawser. No
go! The Boston tugged in vain. We got near enough to see the whites of
the Massachusetts eyes, and their unlucky faces and uniforms all grimy
with their lodgings in the coal-dust. They could not have been blacker,
if they had been breathing battle-smoke and dust all day. That
experience was clear gain to them.
By-and-by, greatly to the delight of the impatient Seventh, the Boston
was headed for shore. Never speak ill of the beast you bestraddle!
Therefore _requiescat_ Boston! may her ribs lie light on soft sand when
she goes to pieces! may her engines be cut up into bracelets for the
arms of the patriotic fair! good-bye to her, dear old, close, dirty,
slow coach! She served her country well in a moment of trial. Who
knows but she saved it? It was a race to see who should first get to
Washington,--and we and the Virginia mob, in alliance with the District
mob, were perhaps nip and tuck for the goal.
So the Seventh Regiment landed and took Annapolis. We were the first
The middies of the Naval Academy no doubt believe that they had their
quarters secure. The Massachusetts boys are satisfied that they first
took the town in charge. And so they did.
But the Seventh took it a little more. Not, of course, from its loyal
men, but _for_ its loyal men,--for loyal Maryland, and for the Union.
Has anybody seen Annapolis? It is a picturesque old place, sleepy
enough, and astonished to find itself wide-awaked by a war and obliged
to take responsibility and share for good and ill in the movement of its
time. The buildings of the Naval Academy stand parallel with the river
Severn, with a green plateau toward the water and a lovely green lawn
toward the town. All the scene was fresh and fair with April, and I
fancied, as the Boston touched the wharf, that I discerned the sweet
fragrance of apple-blossoms coming with the spring-time airs.
I hope that the companies of the Seventh, should the day arrive, will
charge upon horrid batteries or serried ranks with as much alacrity
as they marched ashore on the greensward of the Naval Academy. We
disembarked, and were halted in line between the buildings and the
Presently, while we stood at ease, people began to arrive,--some with
smallish fruit to sell, some with smaller news to give. Nobody knew
whether Washington was taken. Nobody knew whether Jeff. Davis was now
spitting in the Presidential spittoon, and scribbling his distiches with
the nib of the Presidential goose-quill. We were absolutely in doubt
whether a seemingly inoffensive knot of rustics, on a mound without
the inclosure, might not, at tap of drum, unmask a battery of giant
columbiads, and belch blazes at us, raking our line.
Nothing so entertaining happened. It was a parade, not a battle. At
sunset our band played strains sweet enough to pacify all Secession, if
Secession had music in its soul. Coffee, hot from the coppers of the
Naval School, and biscuit were served out to us; and while we supped, we
talked with our visitors, such as were allowed to approach.
First the boys of the School--fine little blue-jackets--had their story
"Do you see that white farm-house, across the river?" says a brave pigmy
of a chap in navy uniform. "That is head-quarters for Secession. They
were going to take the School from us, Sir, and the frigate; but
we've got ahead of 'em, now you and the Massachusetts boys have come
down,"--and he twinkled all over with delight. "We can't study any more.
We are on guard all the time. We've got howitzers, too, and we'd like
you to see, to-morrow, on drill, how we can handle 'em. One of their
boats came by our sentry last night," (a sentry probably five feet
high,) "and he blazed away, Sir. So they thought they wouldn't try us
It was plain that these young souls had been well tried by the treachery
about them. They, too, had felt the pang of the disloyalty of comrades.
Nearly a hundred of the boys had been spoilt by the base example of
their elders in the repudiating States, and had resigned.
After the middies, came anxious citizens from the town. Scared, all of
them. Now that we were come and assured them that persons and property
were to be protected, they ventured to speak of the disgusting tyranny
to which they, American citizens, had been subjected. We came into
contact here with utter social anarchy. No man, unless he was ready
to risk assault, loss of property, exile, dared to act or talk like a
freeman. "This great wrong must be righted," think the Seventh Regiment,
as one man. So we tried to reassure the Annapolitans that we meant to do
our duty as the nation's armed police, and mob-law was to be put down,
so far as we could do it.
Here, too, voices of war met us. The country was stirred up. If the
rural population did not give us a bastard imitation of Lexington and
Concord, as we tried to gain Washington, all Pluguglydom would treat
us _a la_ Plugugly somewhere near the junction of the Annapolis and
Baltimore and Washington Railroad. The Seventh must be ready to shoot.
At dusk we were marched up to the Academy and quartered about in the
buildings,--some in the fort, some in the recitation-halls. We lay down
on our blankets and knapsacks. Up to this time our sleep and diet had
been severely scanty.
We stayed all next day at Annapolis. The Boston brought the
Massachusetts Eighth ashore that night. Poor fellows! what a figure they
cut, when we found them bivouacked on the Academy grounds next morning!
To begin: They had come off in hot patriotic haste, half-uniformed and
half-outfitted. Finding that Baltimore had been taken by its own loafers
and traitors, and that the Chesapeake ferry was impracticable, had
obliged them to change line of march. They were out of grub. They were
parched dry for want of water on the ferry-boat. Nobody could decipher
Caucasian, much less Bunker-Hill Yankee, in their grimy visages.
But, hungry, thirsty, grimy, these fellows were GRIT.
Massachusetts ought to be proud of such hardy, cheerful, faithful sons.
We of the Seventh are proud, for our part, that it was our privilege to
share our rations with them, and to begin a fraternization which grows
closer every day and will be _historical_.
But I must make a shorter story. We drilled and were reviewed that
morning on the Academy parade. In the afternoon the Naval School paraded
their last before they gave up their barracks to the coming soldiery. So
ended the 23d of April.
Midnight, 24th. We were rattled up by an alarm,--perhaps a sham one, to
keep us awake and lively. In a moment, the whole regiment was in order
of battle in the moonlight on the parade. It was a most brilliant
spectacle, as company after company rushed forward, with rifles
glittering, to take their places in the array.
After this pretty spirt, we were rationed with pork, beef, and bread for
three days, and ordered to be ready to march on the instant.
WHAT THE MASSACHUSETTS EIGHTH HAD BEEN DOING.
Meantime General Butler's command, the Massachusetts Eighth, had been
busy knocking disorder in the head.
Presently after their landing, and before they were refreshed, they
pushed companies out to occupy the railroad-track beyond the town.
They found it torn up. No doubt the scamps who did the shabby
job fancied that there would be no more travel that way until
strawberry-time. They fancied the Yankees would sit down on the fences
and begin to whittle white-oak toothpicks, darning the rebels, through
their noses, meanwhile.
I know these men of the Eighth can whittle, and I presume they can say
"Darn it," if occasion requires; but just now track-laying was the
business on hand.
"Wanted, experienced track-layers!" was the word along the files.
All at once the line of the road became densely populated with
experienced track-layers, fresh from Massachusetts.
Presto change! the rails were relaid, spiked, and the roadway levelled
and better ballasted than any road I ever saw south of Mason and Dixon's
line. "We must leave a good job for these folks to model after," say the
A track without a train is as useless as a gun without a man. Train and
engine must be had. "Uncle Sam's mails and troops cannot be stopped
another minute," our energetic friends conclude. So--the railroad
company's people being either frightened or false--in marches
Massachusetts to the station. "We, the People of the United States, want
rolling-stock for the use of the Union," they said, or words to that
The engine--a frowzy machine at the best--had been purposely disabled.
Here appeared the _deus ex machina_, Charles Homans, Beverly Light
Guard, Company E, Eighth Massachusetts Regiment.
That is the man, name and titles in full, and he deserves well of his
He took a quiet squint at the engine,--it was as helpless as a boned
turkey,--and he found "Charles Homans, his mark," written all over it.
The old rattletrap was an old friend. Charles Homans had had a share
in building it. The machine and the man said, "How d'y' do?" at once.
Homans called for a gang of engine-builders. Of course they swarmed out
of the ranks. They passed their hands over the locomotive a few times,
and presently it was ready to whistle and wheeze and rumble and gallop,
as if no traitor had ever tried to steal the go and the music out of it.
This had all been done during the afternoon of the 23d. During the
night, the renovated engine was kept cruising up and down the track to
see all clear. Guards of the Eighth were also posted to protect passage.
Our commander had, I presume, been cooperating with General Butler in
this business. The Naval Academy authorities had given us every despatch
and assistance, and the middies, frank, personal hospitality. The day
was halcyon, the grass was green and soft, the apple-trees were just in
blossom: it was a day to be remembered.
Many of us will remember it, and show the marks of it for months, as the
day we had our heads cropped. By evening there was hardly one poll in
the Seventh tenable by anybody's grip. Most sat in the shade and were
shorn by a barber. A few were honored with a clip by the artist hand of
the _petit caporal_ of our Engineer Company.
While I rattle off these trifling details, let me not fail to call
attention to the grave service done by our regiment, by its arrival, at
the nick of time, at Annapolis. No clearer special Providence could have
happened. The country-people of the traitor sort were aroused. Baltimore
and its mob were but two hours away. The Constitution had been hauled
out of reach of a rush by the Massachusetts men,--first on the
ground,--but was half-manned and not fully secure. And there lay the
Maryland, helpless on the shoal, with six or seven hundred souls on
board, so near the shore that the late Captain Rynders's gun could have
sunk her from some ambush.
Yes! the Seventh Regiment at Annapolis was the Right Man in the Right
OUR MORNING MARCH.
Reveille. As nobody pronounces this word _a la francaise_, as everybody
calls it "Revelee," why not drop it, as an affectation, and translate
it the "Stir your Stumps," the "Peel your Eyes," the "Tumble Up," or
literally the "Wake"?
Our snorers had kept up this call so lustily since midnight, that, when
the drums sounded it, we were all ready.
The Sixth and Second Companies, under Captain Nevers, are detached to
lead the van. I see my brother Billy march off with the Sixth, into
the dusk, half-moonlight, half-dawn, and hope that no beggar of a
Secessionist will get a pat shot at him, by the roadside, without
his getting a chance to let fly in return. Such little possibilities
intensify the earnest detestation we feel for the treasons we come to
resist and to punish. There will be some bitter work done, if we ever
get to blows in this war,--this needless, reckless, brutal assault upon
the mildest of all governments.
Before the main body of the regiment marches, we learn that the "Baltic"
and other transports came in last night with troops from New York and
New England, enough to hold Annapolis against a square league of Plug
Uglies. We do not go on without having our rear protected and our
communications open. It is strange to be compelled to think of these
things in peaceful America. But we really knew little more of the
country before us than Cortes knew of Mexico. I have since learned from
a high official, that thirteen different messengers were despatched
from Washington in the interval of anxiety while the Seventh was not
forthcoming, and only one got through.
At half-past seven we take up our line of march, pass out of the
charming grounds of the Academy, and move through the quiet, rusty,
picturesque old town. It has a romantic dulness--Annapolis--which
deserves a parting compliment.
Although we deem ourselves a fine-looking set, although our belts are
blanched with pipe-clay and our rifles shine sharp in the sun, yet the
townspeople stare at us in a dismal silence. They have already the air
of men quelled by a despotism. None can trust his neighbor. If he dares
to be loyal, he must take his life into his hands. Most would be loyal,
if they dared. But the system of society which has ended in this present
chaos has gradually eliminated the bravest and best men. They have gone
in search of Freedom and Prosperity; and now the bullies cow the weaker
brothers. "There must be an end of this mean tyranny," think the
Seventh, as they march through old Annapolis and see how sick the town
is with doubt and alarm.
Outside the town, we strike the railroad and move along, the howitzers
in front, bouncing over the sleepers. When our line is fully disengaged
from the town, we halt.
Here the scene is beautiful. The van rests upon a high embankment, with
a pool surrounded by pine-trees on the right, green fields on the
left. Cattle are feeding quietly about. The air sings with birds. The
chestnut-leaves sparkle. Frogs whistle in the warm spring morning.
The regiment groups itself along the bank and the cutting. Several
Marylanders of the half-price age--under twelve--come gaping up to see
us harmless invaders. Each of these young gentry is armed with a dead
spring frog, perhaps by way of tribute. And here--hollo! here comes
Horace Greeley _in propria persona_! He marches through our groups with
the Greeley walk, the Greeley hat on the back of his head, the Greeley
white coat on his shoulders, his trousers much too short, and an
absorbed, abstracted demeanor. Can it be Horace, reporting for himself?
No; this is a Maryland production, and a little disposed to be sulky.
After a few minutes' halt, we hear the whistle of the engine. This
machine is also an historic character in the war.
Remember it! "J.H. Nicholson" is its name. Charles Homans drives, and
on either side stands a sentry with fixed bayonet. New spectacles for
America! But it is grand to know that the bayonets are to protect, not
to assail, Liberty and Law.
The train leads off. We follow, by the track. Presently the train
returns. We pass it and trudge on in light marching order, carrying
arms, blankets, haversacks, and canteens. Our knapsacks are upon the
Fortunate for our backs that they do not have to bear any more burden!
For the day grows sultry. It is one of those breezeless baking days
which brew thunder-gusts. We march on for some four miles, when, coming
upon the guards of the Massachusetts Eighth, our howitzer is ordered to
fall out and wait for the train. With a comrade of the Artillery, I am
placed on guard over it.
ON GUARD WITH HOWITZER NO. TWO.
Henry Bonnell is my fellow-sentry. He, like myself, is an old campaigner
in such campaigns as our generation has known. So we talk California,
Oregon, Indian life, the Plains, keeping our eyes peeled meanwhile, and
ranging the country. Men that will tear up track are quite capable of
picking off a sentry. A giant chestnut gives us little dots of shade
from its pigmy leaves. The country about us is open and newly ploughed.
Some of the worm-fences are new, and ten rails high; but the farming is
careless, and the soil thin.
Two of the Massachusetts men come back to the gun while we are standing
there. One is my friend Stephen Morris, of Marblehead, Sutton Light
Infantry. I had shared my breakfast yesterday with Stephe. So we
His business is,--"I make shoes in winter and fishin' in summer." He
gives me a few facts,--suspicious persons seen about the track, men on
horseback in the distance. One of the Massachusetts guard last night
challenged his captain. Captain replied, "Officer of the night"
Whereupon, says Stephe, "The recruit let squizzle and jest missed his
ear." He then related to me the incident of the railroad station. "The
first thing they know'd," says he, "we bit right into the depot and took
charge." "I don't mind," Stephe remarked,--"I don't mind life, nor yit
death; but whenever I see a Massachusetts boy, I stick by him, and if
them Secessionists attackt us to-night, or any other time, they'll git
Whistle, again! and the train appears. We are ordered to ship our
howitzer on a platform car. The engine pushes us on. This train brings
our light baggage and the rear guard.
A hundred yards farther on is a delicious fresh spring below the bank.
While the train halts, Stephe Morris rushes down to fill my canteen.
"This a'n't like Marblehead," says Stephe, panting up; "but a man that
can shin up _them_ rocks can git right over _this_ sand."
The train goes slowly on, as a rickety train should. At intervals we see
the fresh spots of track just laid by our Yankee friends. Near the sixth
mile, we began to overtake hot and uncomfortable squads of our fellows.
The unseasonable heat of this most breathless day was too much for many
of the younger men, unaccustomed to rough work, and weakened by want of
sleep and irregular food in our hurried movements thus far.
Charles Homans's private carriage was, however, ready to pick up tired
men, hot men, thirsty men, men with corns, or men with blisters. They
tumbled into the train in considerable numbers.
An enemy that dared could have made a moderate bag of stragglers at this
time. But they would not have been allowed to straggle, if any enemy
had been about. By this time we were convinced that no attack was to be
expected in this part of the way.
The main body of the regiment, under Major Shaler, a tall, soldierly
fellow, with a moustache of the fighting-color, tramped on their own
pins to the watering-place, eight miles or so from Annapolis. There
troops and train came to a halt, with the news that a bridge over a
country road was broken a mile farther on.
It had been distinctly insisted upon, in the usual Southern style, that
we were not to be allowed to pass through Maryland, and that we were to
be "welcomed to hospitable graves." The broken bridge was a capital spot
for a skirmish. Why not look for it here?
We looked; but got nothing. The rascals could skulk about by night, tear
up rails, and hide them where they might be found by a man with half an
eye, or half-destroy a bridge; but there was no shoot in them. They have
not faith enough in their cause to risk their lives for it, even behind
a tree or from one of these thickets, choice spots for ambush.
So we had no battle there, but a battle of the elements. The volcanic
heat of the morning was followed by a furious storm of wind and a smart
shower. The regiment wrapped themselves in their blankets and took their
wetting with more or less satisfaction. They were receiving samples of
all the different little miseries of a campaign.
And here let me say a word to my fellow-volunteers, actual and
prospective, in all the armies of all the States:--
A soldier needs, besides his soldierly
I. Good FEET.
II. A good Stomach.
III. And after these, come the good
Head and the good Heart.
But Good Feet are distinctly the first thing. Without them you cannot
get to your duty. If a comrade, or a horse, or a locomotive, takes you
on its back to the field, you are useless there. And when the field is
lost, you cannot retire, run away, and save your bacon.
Good shoes and plenty of walking make good feet. A man who pretends to
belong to an infantry company ought always to keep himself in training,
so that any moment he can march twenty or thirty miles without feeling a
pang or raising a blister. Was this the case with even a decimation
of the army who rushed to defend Washington? Were you so trained, my
comrades of the Seventh?
A captain of a company, who will let his men march with such shoes as
I have seen on the feet of some poor fellows in this war, ought to be
garroted with shoestrings, or at least compelled to play Pope and wash
the feet of the whole army of the Apostles of Liberty.
If you find a foot-soldier lying beat out by the roadside, desperate as
a sea-sick man, five to one his heels are too high, or his soles too
narrow or too thin, or his shoe is not made straight on the inside, so
that the great toe can spread into its place as he treads.
I am an old walker over Alps across the water, and over Cordilleras,
Sierras, Deserts, and Prairies at home; I have done my near sixty miles
a day without discomfort,--and speaking from large experience, and with
painful recollections of the suffering and death I have known for want
of good feet on the march, I say to every volunteer:--
Trust in God; BUT KEEP YOUR SHOES EASY!
When the frenzy of the brief tempest was over, it began to be a
question, "What to do about the broken bridge?" The gap--was narrow; but
even Charles Homans could not promise to leap the "J.H. Nicholson" over
it. Who was to be our Julius Caesar in bridge-building? Who but Sergeant
Scott, Armorer of the Regiment, with my fellow-sentry of the morning,
Bonnell, as First Assistant?
Scott called for a working party. There were plenty of handy fellows
among our Engineers and in the Line. Tools were plenty in the Engineers'
chest. We pushed the platform car upon which howitzer No. 1 was mounted
down to the gap, and began operations.
"I wish," says the _petit caporal_ of the Engineer Company, patting his
howitzer gently on the back, "that I could get this Putty Blower pointed
at the enemy, while you fellows are bridge-building."
The inefficient destructives of Maryland had only half spoilt the
bridge. Some of the old timbers could be used,--and for new ones, there
was the forest.
Scott and his party made a good and a quick job of it. Our friends of
the Massachusetts Eighth had now come up. They lent a ready hand, as
usual. The sun set brilliantly. By twilight there was a practicable
bridge. The engine was despatched back to keep the road open. The two
platform cars, freighted with our howitzers, were rigged with the
gun-ropes for dragging along the rail. We passed through the files of
the Massachusetts men, resting by the way, and eating by the fires of
the evening the suppers we had in great part provided them; and so
begins our night-march.
O Gottschalk! what a poetic _Marche de Nuit_ we then began to play, with
our heels and toes, on the railroad track!
It was full-moonlight and the night inexpressibly sweet and serene. The
air was cool and vivified by the gust and shower of the afternoon. Fresh
spring was in every breath. Our fellows had forgotten that this morning
they were hot and disgusted. Every one hugged his rifle as if it
were the arm of the Girl of his Heart, and stepped out gayly for the
promenade. Tired or foot-sore men, or even lazy ones, could mount upon
the two freight-cars we were using for artillery-wagons. There were
stout arms enough to tow the whole.
The scouts went ahead under First Lieutenant Farnham of the Second
Company. We were at school together,--I am afraid to say how many years
ago. He is just the same cool, dry, shrewd fellow he was as a boy, and a
most efficient officer.
It was an original kind of march--I suppose a battery of howitzers never
before found itself mounted upon cars, ready to open fire at once
and bang away into the offing with shrapnel or into the bushes with
canister. Our line extended a half-mile along the track. It was
beautiful to stand on the bank above a cutting and watch the files
strike from the shadow of a wood into a broad flame of moonlight, every
rifle sparkling up alert as it came forward. A beautiful sight to see
the barrels writing themselves upon the dimness, each a silver flash.
By-and-by, "Halt!" came, repeated along from the front, company after
company. "Halt! a rail gone."
It was found without difficulty. The imbeciles who took it up probably
supposed we would not wish to wet our feet by searching for it in the
dewy grass of the next field. With incredible dollishness they had also
left the chairs and spikes beside the track. Bonnell took hold, and in
a few minutes had the rail in place and firm enough to pass the engine.
Remember, we were not only hurrying on to succor Washington, but opening
the only convenient and practicable route between it and the loyal
A little farther on, we came to a village,--a rare sight in this
scantily peopled region. Here Sergeant Keeler, of our company, the
tallest man in the regiment, and one of the handiest, suggested that we
should tear up the rails at a turnout by the station, and so be prepared
for chances. So "Out crowbars!" was the word. We tore up and bagged half
a dozen rails, with chairs and spikes complete. Here, too, some of the
engineers found a keg of spikes. This was also bagged and loaded on our
cars. We fought the chaps with their own weapons, since they would not
meet us with ours.
These things made delay, and by-and-by there was a long halt, while the
Colonel communicated, by orders sounded along the line, with the engine.
Homans's drag was hard after us, bringing our knapsacks and traps.
After I had admired for some time the beauty of our moonlit line, and
listened to the orders as they grew or died along the distance, I began
to want excitement. Bonnell suggested that he and I should scout up the
road and see if any rails were wanting. We travelled along into the
A mile ahead of the line we suddenly caught the gleam of a rifle-barrel.
"Who goes there?" one of our own scouts challenged smartly.
We had arrived at the nick of time. Three rails were up. Two of them
were easily found. The third was discovered by beating the bush
thoroughly. Bonnell and I ran back for tools, and returned at full trot
with crowbar and sledge on our shoulders. There were plenty of
willing hands to help,--too many, indeed,--and with the aid of a huge
Massachusetts man we soon had the rail in place.
From this time on we were constantly interrupted. Not a half-mile passed
without a rail up. Bonnell was always at the front laying track, and
I am proud to say that he accepted me as aide-de-camp. Other fellows,
unknown to me in the dark, gave hearty help. The Seventh showed that it
could do something else than drill.
At one spot, on a high embankment over standing water, the rail was
gone, sunk probably. Here we tried our rails brought from the turn-out.
They were too short. We supplemented with a length of plank from our
stores. We rolled our cars carefully over. They passed safe. But Homans
shook his head. He could not venture a locomotive on that frail
stuff. So we lost the society of the "J.H. Nicholson." Next day the
Massachusetts commander called for some one to dive in the pool for the
lost rail. Plump into the water went a little wiry chap and grappled the
rail. "When I come up," says the brave fellow afterwards to me, "our
officer out with a twenty-dollar gold piece and wanted me to take it.
'That a'n't what I come for,' says I. 'Take it,' says he, 'and share
with the others.' 'That a'n't what they come for,' says I. But I took a
big cold," the diver continued, "and I'm condemned hoarse yit,"--which
was the fact.
Farther on we found a whole length of track torn up, on both sides,
sleepers and all, and the same thing repeated with alternations of
breaks of single rails. Our howitzer-ropes came into play to hoist and
haul. We were not going to be stopped.
But it was becoming a _Noche Triste_ to some of our comrades. We had now
marched some sixteen miles. The distance was trifling. But the men had
been on their legs pretty much all day and night. Hardly any one had had
any full or substantial sleep or meal since we started from New York.
They napped off, standing, leaning on their guns, dropping down in their
tracks on the wet ground, at every halt. They were sleepy, but plucky.
As we passed through deep cuttings, places, as it were, built for
defence, there was a general desire that the tedium of the night should
be relieved by a shindy.
During the whole night I saw our officers moving about the line, doing
their duty vigorously, despite exhaustion, hunger, and sleeplessness.
About midnight our friends of the Eighth had joined us, and our whole
little army struggled on together. I find that I have been rather
understating the troubles of the march. It seems impossible that such
difficulty could be encountered within twenty miles of the capital of
our nation. But we were making a rush to put ourselves in that capital,
and we could not proceed in the slow, systematic way of an advancing
army. We must take the risk and stand the suffering, whatever it was. So
the Seventh Regiment went through its bloodless _Noche Triste_.
At last we issued from the damp woods, two miles below the railroad
junction. Here was an extensive farm. Our vanguard had halted and
borrowed a few rails to make fires. These were, of course, carefully
paid for at their proprietor's own price. The fires were bright in the
gray dawn. About them the whole regiment was now halted. The men tumbled
down to catch forty winks. Some, who were hungrier for food than sleep,
went off foraging among the farm-houses. They returned with appetizing
legends of hot breakfasts in hospitable abodes, or scanty fare given
grudgingly in hostile ones. All meals, however, were paid for.
Here, as at other halts below, the country-people came up to talk to us.
The traitors could easily be distinguished by their insolence disguised
as obsequiousness. The loyal men were still timid, but more hopeful at
last. All were very lavish with the monosyllable, Sir. It was an odd
coincidence, that the vanguard, halting off at a farm in the morning,
found it deserted for the moment by its tenants, and protected only by
an engraved portrait of our (former) Colonel Duryea, serenely smiling
over the mantel-piece.
From this point, the railroad was pretty much all gone. But we were
warmed and refreshed by a nap and a bite, and besides had daylight and
We put our guns on their own wheels, all dropped into ranks as if on
parade, and marched the last two miles to the station. We still had no
certain information. Until we actually saw the train awaiting us, and
the Washington companies, who had come down to escort us, drawn up, we
did not know whether our Uncle Sam was still a resident of the capital.
We packed into the train, and rolled away to Washington.
We marched up to the White House, showed ourselves to the President,
made our bow to him as our host, and then marched up to the Capitol, our
There we are now, quartered in the Representatives Chamber.
And here I must hastily end this first sketch of the Great Defence. May
it continue to be as firm and faithful as it is this day!
I have scribbled my story with a thousand men stirring about me. If any
of my sentences miss their aim, accuse my comrades and the bewilderment
of this martial crowd. For here are four or five thousand others on the
same business as ourselves, and drums are beating, guns are clanking,
companies are tramping, all the while. Our friends of the Eighth,
Massachusetts are quartered under the dome, and cheer us whenever we
Desks marked John Covode, John Cochran, and Anson Burlingame, have
allowed me to use them as I wrote.
O Lord of Hosts! Almighty King!
Behold the sacrifice we bring!
To every arm Thy strength impart,
Thy spirit shed through every heart!
Wake in our breasts the living fires,
The holy faith that warmed our sires;
Thy hand hath made our Nation free;
To die for her is serving Thee.
Be Thou a pillared flame to show
The midnight snare, the silent foe;
And when the battle thunders loud,
Still guide us in its moving cloud.
God of all Nations! Sovereign Lord!
In Thy dread name we draw the sword,
We lift the starry flag on high
That fills with light our stormy sky.
From treason's rent, from murder's stain
Guard Thou its folds till Peace shall reign,--
Till fort and field, till shore and sea
Join our loud anthem, PRAISE TO THEE!
* * * * *
THE PICKENS-AND-STEALIN'S REBELLION.
Had any one ventured to prophesy on the Fourth of March that the
immediate prospect of Civil War would be hailed by the people of the
Free States with a unanimous shout of enthusiasm, he would have been
thought a madman. Yet the prophecy would have been verified by what we
now see and hear in every city, town, and hamlet from Maine to Kansas.
With the advantage of three months' active connivance in the cabinet of
Mr. Buchanan, with an empty treasury at Washington, and that reluctance
to assume responsibility and to inaugurate a decided policy, the common
vice of our politicians, who endeavor to divine and to follow popular
sentiment rather than to lead it, it seemed as if Disunion were
inevitable, and the only open question were the line of separation. So
assured seemed the event, that English journalists moralized gravely on
the inherent weakness of Democracy. While the leaders of the Southern
Rebellion did not dare to expose their treason to the risk of a popular
vote in any one of the seceding States, the "Saturday Review," one of
the ablest of British journals, solemnly warned its countrymen to learn
by our example the dangers of an extended suffrage.
Meanwhile the conduct of the people of the Free States, during all these
trying and perilous months, had proved, if it proved anything, the
essential conservatism of a population in which every grown man has
a direct interest in the stability of the national government. So
abstinent are they by habit and principle from any abnormal intervention
with the machine of administration, so almost superstitious in adherence
to constitutional forms, as to be for a moment staggered by the claim to
a _right_ of secession set up by all the Cotton States, admitted by the
Border Slave-States, which had the effrontery to deliberate between
their plain allegiance and their supposed interest, and but feebly
denied by the Administration then in power. The usual panacea of palaver
was tried; Congress did its best to add to the general confusion of
thought; and, as if that were not enough, a Convention of Notables
called simultaneously to thresh the straw of debate anew, and to
convince thoughtful persons that men do not grow wiser as they grow
older. So in the two Congresses the notables talked,--in the one,
those who ought to be shelved, in the other, those who were shelved
already,--while those who were too thoroughly shelved for a seat in
either addressed Great Union Meetings at home. Not a man of them but had
a compromise in his pocket, adhesive as Spalding's glue, warranted to
stick the shattered Confederacy together so firmly, that, if it over
broke again, it must be in a new place, which was a great consolation.
If these gentlemen gave nothing very valuable to the people of the Free
States, they were giving the Secessionists what was of inestimable
value to them,--Time. The latter went on seizing forts, navy-yards, and
deposits of Federal money, erecting batteries, and raising and arming
men at their leisure; above all, they acquired a prestige, and
accustomed men's minds to the thought of disunion, not only as possible,
but actual. They began to grow insolent, and, while compelling absolute
submission to their rebellious usurpation at home, decried any exercise
of legitimate authority on the part of the General Government as
_Coercion_,--a new term, by which it was sought to be established as a
principle of constitutional law, that it is always the Northern bull
that has gored the Southern ox.
During all this time, the Border Slave-States, and especially Virginia,
were playing a part at once cowardly and selfish. They assumed the right
to stand neutral between the Government and rebellion, to contract a
kind of morganatic marriage with Treason, by which they could enjoy the
pleasant sin without the tedious responsibility, and to be traitors in
everything but the vulgar contingency of hemp. Doubtless the aim of the
political managers in these States was to keep the North amused with
schemes of arbitration, reconstruction, and whatever other fine
words would serve the purpose of hiding the real issue, till the new
government of Secessia should have so far consolidated itself as to
be able to demand with some show of reason a recognition from foreign
powers, and to render it politic for the United States to consent to
peaceable secession. They counted on the self-interest of England and
the supineness of the North. As to the former, they were not wholly
without justification,--for nearly all the English discussions of
the "American Crisis" which we have seen have shown far more of the
shop-keeping spirit than of interest in the maintenance of free
institutions; but in regard to the latter they made the fatal mistake of
believing our Buchanans, Cushings, and Touceys to be representative men.
They were not aware how utterly the Democratic Party had divorced itself
from the moral sense of the Free States, nor had they any conception
of the tremendous recoil of which the long-repressed convictions,
traditions, and instincts of a people are capable.
Never was a nation so in want of a leader; never was it more plain,
that, without a head, the people "bluster abroad as beasts," with plenty
of the iron of purpose, but purpose without coherence, and with no
cunning smith of circumstance to edge it with plan and helve it with
direction. What the country was waiting for showed itself in the
universal thrill of satisfaction when Major Anderson took the
extraordinary responsibility of doing his duty. But such was the general
uncertainty, so doubtful seemed the loyalty of the Democratic Party as
represented by its spokesmen at the North, so irresolute was the tone
of many Republican leaders and journals, that a powerful and wealthy
community of twenty millions of people gave a sigh of relief when they
had been permitted to install the Chief Magistrate of their choice in
their own National Capital. Even after the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln,
it was confidently announced that Jefferson Davis, the Burr of the
Southern conspiracy, would be in Washington before the month was out;
and so great was the Northern despondency, that the chances of such an
event were seriously discussed. While the nation was falling to pieces,
there were newspapers and "distinguished statesmen" of the party so
lately and so long in power base enough to be willing to make political
capital out of the common danger, and to lose their country, if
they could only find their profit. There was even one man found in
Massachusetts, who, measuring the moral standard of his party by his
own, had the unhappy audacity to declare publicly that there were
friends enough of the South in his native State to prevent the march of
any troops thence to sustain that Constitution to which he had sworn
fealty in Heaven knows how many offices, the rewards of almost as many
turnings of his political coat. There was one journal in New York which
had the insolence to speak of _President_ Davis and _Mister_ Lincoln in
the same paragraph. No wonder the "dirt-eaters" of the Carolinas could
be taught to despise a race among whom creatures might be found to do
that by choice which they themselves were driven to do by misery.
Thus far the Secessionists had the game all their own way, for
their dice were loaded with Northern lead. They framed their sham
constitution, appointed themselves to their sham offices, issued their
sham commissions, endeavored to bribe England with a sham offer of
low duties and Virginia with a sham prohibition of the slave-trade,
advertised their proposals for a sham loan which was to be taken up
under intimidation, and levied real taxes on the people in the name
of the people whom they had never allowed to vote directly on their
enormous swindle. With money stolen from the Government, they raised
troops whom they equipped with stolen arms, and beleaguered national
fortresses with cannon stolen from national arsenals. They sent out
secret agents to Europe, they had their secret allies in the Free
States, their conventions transacted all important business in secret
session;--there was but one exception to the shrinking delicacy becoming
a maiden government, and that was the openness of the stealing. We had
always thought a high sense of personal honor an essential element of
chivalry; but among the _Romanic_ races, by which, as the wonderful
ethnologist of "De Bow's Review" tells us, the Southern States were
settled, and from which they derive a close entail of chivalric
characteristics, to the exclusion of the vulgar Saxons of the North,
such is by no means the case. For the first time in history the
deliberate treachery of a general is deemed worthy of a civic ovation,
and Virginia has the honor of being the first State claiming to be
civilized that has decreed the honors of a triumph to a cabinet officer
who had contrived to gild a treason that did not endanger his life with
a peculation that could not further damage his reputation. Rebellion,
even in a bad cause, may have its romantic side; treason, which had not
been such but for being on the losing side, may challenge admiration;
but nothing can sweeten larceny or disinfect perjury. A rebellion
inaugurated with theft, and which has effected its entry into national
fortresses, not over broken walls, but by breaches of trust, should
take Jonathan Wild for its patron saint, with the run of Mr. Buchanan's
cabinet for a choice of sponsors,--godfathers we should not dare to call
Mr. Lincoln's Inaugural Speech was of the kind usually called "firm, but
conciliatory,"--a policy doubtful in troublous times, since it commonly
argues weakness, and more than doubtful in a crisis like ours, since it
left the course which the Administration meant to take ambiguous, and,
while it weakened the Government by exciting the distrust of all
who wished for vigorous measures, really strengthened the enemy by
encouraging the conspirators in the Border States. There might be a
question as to whether this or that attitude were expedient for the
Republican Party; there could be none as to the only safe and dignified
one for the Government of the Nation. Treason was as much treason in the
beginning of March as in the middle of April; and it seems certain now,
as it seemed probable to many then, that the country would have sooner
rallied to the support of the Government, if the Government had shown an
earlier confidence in the loyalty of the people. Though the President
talked of "repossessing" the stolen forts, arsenals, and custom-houses,
yet close upon this declaration followed the disheartening intelligence
that the Cabinet were discussing the propriety of evacuating not only
Fort Sumter, which was of no strategic importance, but Fort Pickens,
which was the key to the Gulf of Mexico, and to abandon which was almost
to acknowledge the independence of the Rebel States. Thus far the Free
States had waited with commendable patience for some symptom of vitality
in the new Administration, something that should distinguish it from the
piteous helplessness of its predecessor. But now their pride was too
deeply outraged for endurance, indignant remonstrances were heard from
all quarters, and the Government seemed for the first time fairly to
comprehend that it had twenty millions of freemen at its back, and that
forts might be taken and held by honest men as well as by knaves and
traitors. The nettle had been stroked long enough; it was time to try
a firm grip. Still the Administration seemed inclined to temporize, so
thoroughly was it possessed by the notion of conciliating the Border
States. In point of fact, the side which those States might take in the
struggle between Law and Anarchy was of vastly more import to them than
to us. They could bring no considerable reinforcement of money, credit,
or arms to the rebels; they could at best but add so many mouths to an
army whose commissariat was already dangerously embarrassed. They could
not even, except temporarily, keep the war away from the territory of
the seceding States, every one of which had a sea-door open to the
invasion of an enemy who controlled the entire navy and shipping of the
The position assumed by Eastern Virginia and Maryland was of consequence
only so far as it might facilitate a sudden raid on Washington, and the
policy of both these States was to amuse the Government by imaginary
negotiations till the plans of the conspirators were ripe. In both
States men were actively recruited and enrolled to assist in attacking
the capital. With them, as with the more openly rebellious States, the
new theory of "Coercion" was ingeniously arranged like a valve, yielding
at the slightest impulse to the passage of forces for the subversion
of legitimate authority, closing imperviously so that no drop of power
could ooze through in the opposite direction. Lord de Roos, long
suspected of cheating at cards, would never have been convicted but for
the resolution of an adversary, who, pinning his hand to the table with
a fork, said to him blandly, "My Lord, if the ace of spades is not under
your Lordship's hand, why, then, I beg your pardon!" It seems to us that
a timely treatment of Governor Letcher in the same energetic way would
have saved the disasters of Harper's Ferry and Norfolk,--for disasters
they were, though six months of temporizing had so lowered the public
sense of what was due to the national dignity, that people were glad to
see the Government active at length, even if only in setting fire to its
We are by no means inclined to criticize the Administration, even if
this were the proper time for it; but we cannot help thinking that there
was great wisdom in Napoleon's recipe for saving life in dealing with a
mob,--"First fire grape-shot _into_ them; after that, over their
heads as much as you like." The position of Mr. Lincoln was already
embarrassed when he entered upon office, by what we believe to have been
a political blunder in the leaders of the Republican Party. Instead of
keeping closely to the real point, and the only point, at issue, namely,
the claim of a minority to a right of rebellion when displeased with the
result of an election, the bare question of Secession, pure and simple,
they allowed their party to become divided, and to waste themselves
in discussing terms of compromise and guaranties of slavery which had
nothing to do with the business in hand. Unless they were ready to
admit that popular government was at an end, those were matters already
settled by the Constitution and the last election. Compromise was out
of the question with men who had gone through the motions, at least, of
establishing a government and electing an anti-president. The way to
insure the loyalty of the Border States, as the event has shown, was to
convince them that disloyalty was dangerous. That revolutions never go
backward is one of those compact generalizations which the world is so
ready to accept because they save the trouble of thinking; but, however
it may be with revolutions, it is certain that rebellions most commonly
go backward with disastrous rapidity, and it was of the gravest moment,
as respected its moral influence, that Secession should not have time
allowed it to assume the proportions and the dignity of revolution,
in other words, of a rebellion too powerful to be crushed. The secret
friends of the Secession treason in the Free States have done their
best to bewilder the public mind and to give factitious prestige to a
conspiracy against free government and civilization by talking about the
_right_ of revolution, as if it were some acknowledged principle of the
Law of Nations. There is a right, and sometimes a duty, of rebellion, as
there is also a right and sometimes a duty of hanging men for it; but
rebellion continues to be rebellion until it has accomplished its
object and secured the acknowledgment of it from the other party to
the quarrel, and from the world at large. The Republican Party in the
November elections had really effected a peaceful revolution, had
emancipated the country from the tyranny of an oligarchy which had
abused the functions of the Government almost from the time of its
establishment, to the advancement of their own selfish aims and
interests; and it was this legitimate change of rulers and of national
policy by constitutional means which the Secessionists intended to
prevent. To put the matter in plain English, they resolved to treat the
people of the United States, in the exercise of their undoubted and
lawful authority, as rebels, and resorted to their usual policy of
intimidation in order to subdue them. Either this magnificent empire
should be their plantation, or it should perish. This was the view even
of what were called the moderate slave-holders of the Border States;
and all the so-called compromises and plans of reconstruction that were
thrown into the caldron where the hell-broth of anarchy was brewing had
this extent,--no more,--What terms of _submission_ would the people make
to their natural masters? Whatever other result may have come of the
long debates in Congress and elsewhere, they have at least convinced the
people of the Free States that there can be no such thing as a moderate
slave-holder,--that moderation and slavery can no more coexist than
Floyd and honesty, or Anderson and treason.
We believe, then, that conciliation was from the first impossible,--that
to attempt it was unwise, because it put the party of law and loyalty in
the wrong,--and that, if it was done as a mere matter of policy in order
to gain time, it was a still greater mistake, because it was the rebels
only who could profit by it in consolidating their organization, while
the seeming gain of a few days or weeks was a loss to the Government,
whose great advantage was in an administrative system thoroughly
established, and, above all, in the vast power of the national idea, a
power weakened by every day's delay. This is so true, that already men
began to talk of the rival governments at Montgomery and Washington, and
Canadian journals recommend a strict neutrality, as if the independence
and legitimacy of the mushroom despotism of New Ashantee were an
acknowledged fact, and the name of the United States of America had no
more authority than that of Jefferson Davis and Company, dealers in
all kinds of repudiation and anarchy. For more than a month after
the inauguration of President Lincoln there seemed to be a kind of
interregnum, during which the confusion of ideas in the Border States as
to their rights and duties as members of the "old" Union, as it began
to be called, became positively chaotic. Virginia, still professing
neutrality, prepared to seize the arsenal at Harper's Ferry and the
navy-yard at Norfolk; she would prevent the passage of the United
States' forces "with a serried phalanx of her gallant sons," two
regiments of whom stood, looking on while a file of marines took seven
wounded men in an engine-house for them; she would do everything but her
duty,--the gallant Ancient Pistol of a commonwealth. She "resumed her
sovereignty," whatever that meant; her Convention passed an ordinance
of secession, concluded a league offensive and defensive with the
rebel Confederacy, appointed Jefferson Davis commander-in-chief of
her land-forces and somebody else of the fleet she meant to steal at
Norfolk, and then coolly referred the whole matter back to the people
to vote three weeks afterwards whether they _would_ secede three weeks
before. Wherever the doctrine of Secession has penetrated, it seems to
have obliterated every notion of law and precedent.
The country had come to the conclusion that Mr. Lincoln and his cabinet
were mainly employed in packing their trunks to leave Washington, when
the "venerable Edward Ruffin of Virginia" fired that first gun at Fort
Sumter which brought all the Free States to their feet as one man.
That shot is destined to be the most memorable one ever fired on this
continent since the Concord fowling-pieces said, "That bridge is ours,
and we mean to go across it," eighty-seven Aprils ago. As these began a
conflict which gave us independence, so that began another which is to
give us nationality. It was certainly a great piece of good-luck for the
Government that they had a fort which it was so profitable to lose.
The people were weary of a masterly inactivity which seemed to consist
mainly in submitting to be kicked. We know very well the difficulties
that surrounded the new Administration; we appreciate their reluctance
to begin a war the responsibility of which was as great as its
consequences seemed doubtful; but we cannot understand how it was hoped
to evade war, except by concessions vastly more disastrous than war
itself. War has no evil comparable in its effect on national character
to that of a craven submission to manifest wrong, the postponement of
moral to material interests. There is no prosperity so great as courage.
We do not believe that any amount of forbearance would have conciliated
the South so long as they thought us pusillanimous. The only way to
retain the Border States was by showing that we had the will and the
power to do without them. The little Bopeep policy of
"Let them alone, and they'll all come home
Wagging their tails behind them"
was certainly tried long enough with conspirators who had shown
unmistakably that they desired nothing so much as the continuance of
peace, especially when it was all on one side, and who would never have
given the Government the great advantage of being attacked in Fort
Sumter, had they not supposed they were dealing with men who could not
be cuffed into resistance. The lesson we have to teach, them now is,
that we are thoroughly and terribly in earnest. Mr. Stephens's theories
are to be put to a speedier and sterner test than he expected, and we
are to prove which is stronger,--an oligarchy built _on_ men, or a
commonwealth built _of_ them. Our structure is alive in every part with