From the National Tribune, 7/27/1899
Personal Recollections of the Great Rebellion, by a Man on the Inside.
BY A NATIVE VIRGINIAN.
Copyright, 1899, by the Publishers of THE NATIONAL TRIBUNE
"AND THERE WAS WAR IN HEAVEN."
The ancient writers tell us that, once upon a time, Lucifer, aided and abetted by his angels, revolted against the authority and power of God in the Heavens; whether from disappointed ambition or whether from an uncontrollable desire to become "free and independent," we are not informed so plainly as we might desire. Yet we may reasonably conclude that these "ambitious views" of Lucifer were strong factors in connection with his revolt in the Heavens. We are further told that the Archangel Michael proceeded against Lucifer, with his angels, when a fearful battle ensued, which, no doubt, caused the angels to so shudder with horror that the Heavens from the First to the "Seventh," trembled and were moved with a holy agitation, Lucifer and his angels were finally overwhelmed, defeated, and "hurled from the Battlements of Heaven." Is that brief description of the events connected with the revolt of Lucifer literally correct? Who shall answer?
Now, in this fair country of the United States in North America, in 1861, began a mighty revolt against the authority and power of the United States, incited, at first, by a dozen or so discontented people of the Southern States, for their own purposes, good or bad. These gentlemen, who were at the head of the disunion movement, claimed the right of secession for the Southern States, to be a "free and independent" nation, to be called the Confederate States of America. After secession had been accomplished, and the Confederate States formed, military law prevailed in the South; that is, "martial law" was declared, and the Union crushed out. In many cases, Union men were given offices. This induced many of that class to give their allegiance to the Confederate Government, apparently, at all events, particularly those who possessed property, which would have certainly been confiscated by the Confederate Government, especially if the owner had been born in a Northern State. The mechanics generally remained loyal to the United States, many of them going through the lines to the North, while some few remained, principally, I think, on account of the high prices paid to skilled labor.
With the military in supreme control in the South, everything was lovely, in the estimation of the Confederates. And then, there was "War in Heaven," and in the fairest earthly heaven beneath the stars.
It is not my purpose to write a history of the war which followed. It has been ably written by many hands, and I only propose to refer to the battles, incidentally, which, from fate or the governing power of circumstances, brought me near or in immediate conflict, and which might perceptibly add to the general interest of this article.
We all know how, in the grand finale, the angels of the earthly Lucifer were almost literally "hurled from the battlements of Heaven" at Petersburg by the modern St. Michael and his hosts, Grant. Lucifer himself, however, "stood not upon the order of his going," but "hurled" himself, and rapidly too, from the "battlements" of Richmond, and - you know the rest, oh, reader.
Now, my reader, I could say that the secession movement was planned by certain persons who knew that such a course was illegal, unwise, in violation of the Constitution, and, altogether, a deception and a snare; but, of course, I do not say so. That is all on that subject
In the Century Magazine of February, 1888, is published an article entitle, "The grand Strategy of the War of the Rebellion," by Gen. W. T. Sherman. A paragraph in that article so forcibly indicates the leading causes of the secession of the States, and the consequent armed resistance to the power and authority of the Federal Government, that it may not seem out of place to reproduce it in these "Recollections." The paragraph in question is as follows:
"Now, in the United States of America, in the year of our Lord, 1861, some ambitious men of the Southern States, for their own reasons, good or bad, resolved to break up the Union of States, which had prospered beyond precedent, which, by political means, they had governed, but on which they were about to lose their hold. By using the pretext of slavery, which existed in the South, they aroused their people to a very frenzy, seceded (or their States seceded) from the Union, and established a Southern Confederacy, the Capital of which was first at Montgomery, Ala., afterwards at Richmond, Va., with Jefferson Davis as their President. By a conspiracy, as clearly established as any fact in history, they seized all the property of the United States, within the seceded States, except a few feebly garrisoned points along the seaboard, and proclaimed themselves a new nation, 'with slavery the cornerstone.'"
This tells the whole story, and I apprehend that there are a few persons, even in the South, who will decline to endorse this plain and brief "statement of the case."
I think I shall not be contradicted in asserting that Gen. Sherman was a great soldiers, a noble gentleman, truthful, intelligent and honorable.
The Winter of 1860 brought troublous times indeed. The loyal element predominated in Richmond, by all accounts, and much bad feeling was engendered between the contending parties - the Union party and the Secession party. Intimate friends became enemies, and much general disorder prevailed, much of it being brought about by the combined influences of quarrels, disputes, secession, and, let us add, whisky, that flowed "as do the waters of a river." About this period, previous to the assembling of the Secession Convention, a most remarkable attack, or series of attacks, was made on a private residence which was situated in the northwest portion of the city, near the suburbs. This occurrence any mysterious connections, I think, are worthy of a recital in these "Recollections." The mystery of it all was never solved, though thoroughly investigated by police, detectives and many citizens.
About the period referred to, the morning papers stated that, on the day before, a house occupied by a gentleman and his wife, situated in the northwestern portion of the city, had been mysteriously assailed with stones, bricks, and other missiles, in the broad daylight; that the police had been entirely unable to prevent it, though on hand most of the day; nor could the police, neighbors, or occupants of the house see from what quarter the missiles came even. The missiles could not be seen in the air, and were only observed when they actually struck the house. Notice was given that a large force of police would be on hand that morning to surround the house in question, and capture the perpetrators, if in the power of the police force. This notice attracted hundred, perhaps a thousand. On my arrival there, about 8 o'clock in the morning, I found a large number of citizens assembled, from curiosity, and a large force of police, who were then throwing a cordon of men around the building.
As I arrived the family occupying the house were moving out; the lady, with a child, I believe, was being assisted into a vehicle at the door by her husband, who also got into the vehicle an rapidly rode away. They seemed to be stricken with terror, and the lady quite in a fainting condition. Just then everything was quiet. The house in question stood between two vacant lots. The vacant space on either side was about 40 or 50 feet broad. On the right hand from the front the small house was closed. On the left, the door of the house was shut, two upper windows being open, and two or three persons (mulattoes I thought) were intently looking at the "haunted house" as it was then called. Policemen formed a line nearly around the house, and hundreds of private citizens were assisting in the possible detection of the mysterious brick and stone throwers. Just then a whole brick struck the left side of the house near where I was standing with a policemen whom I knew personally. The brick struck the top of the window, and the blinds were shattered, and hung suspended by one hinge. Another completed the destruction of the window and blinds; then bricks and stones came thick and fast, and the side of the house was dented nearly all over, and the planks were broken in many places.
Then the crowd yelled aloud, and the police ran in many directions. Up to this time no one had seen a brick or stone in the air. I was looking intently in the direction the missiles must have come from, we saw not a missile until it struck the house and shattered into small fragments. Now a lull came which lasted for several minutes, when a heavy object of some sort struck the house with tremendous force, but did not break. I stepped forward to pick it up, when the policeman, who had been standing near me, picked it up just in front of me. It proved to be a large marble book of exquisite shape and polish. On the back was cut in large letters: "The Holy Bible."
People cried out when they examined it, and expressed themselves in many ways, and many thought it foretold dire disasters to the city, and that something dreadful was about to happen in connection with the then threatening rumbles of the secession movement; and all seemed greatly impressed with the scenes witnessed, particularly the stone Bible. Not another stone or other missile struck the house and, after waiting an hour or so, the people departed. The house was a wreck, but was never stoned again. Every inquiry was made, and the daily papers were full of the mysterious occurrences for several days. Finally it was forgotten, but the mystery of the affair remained unsolved.
Soon after these strange events, secession grew apace, and the State Legislature passed a bill calling a convention to consider the interests and the duty of the State. That was the Secession Convention. An election for members to this convention took place. Many of the members of the Legislature that had passed the bill for the convention were elected to the convention of their making. Two members were to be elected from our city - Richmond. The daily papers, the Dispatch, Enquirer, and Examiner, had fully espoused the Secession cause. The Richmond Whig fought valiantly, and against heavy odds, for the cause of the Union; and anon I shall speak more fully regarding the Whig particularly.
Our candidates for the convention on the Union ticket were two very accomplished and prominent gentlemen - the Hon. John Minor Botts and Marmaduke Johnson. Mr. Botts had represented our district in Congress, while Mr. Johnson was a very popular young lawyer. Both were understood to be uncompromising Union men. To be brief, Marmaduke Johnson was elected, but Mr. Botts, by some hocus-pocus, was declared defeated Much was said about the matter, but as the Secessionists managed the election almost entirely, nothing could be done about it, and Mr. Johnson, alone, was elected.
There can be but little doubt that rascally means were employed by the Secession party to encompass Mr. Bott's defeat. He was a man of powerful intellect, and a noble orator, also being perfectly fearless; and it was worth a great deal to the Secession party to have him defeated, and he was defeated.
The convention assembled about the first of '61. And just here I wish to say that these "recollections" are written without the aid of notes, or a book of reference, except two or three old magazines, hence may not be accurate regarding dates of minor occurrences at all times, but this fact will not detract from tits general interest, as all occurrences and incidents are correct, and I have taxed my memory as accurately as possible.
The Secession convention assembled at first in "Mechanics Hall," or "Mechanics Institute," as some call it, located on Ninth Street, near the west end of the "Capitol Square." A Mr. Janney, a Union man, was elected President of the convention. He gave way, it was said, to the Secession clamor early, and Johnson, our standard bearer, made a weak plea for the Union, and utterly subsided, being utterly subjugated and subdued. The game was up then, and the final result was considered a mere matter of time.
Just here I propose to describe, briefly, a dramatic scene that was enacted at the African Church, so known because it had belonged to the slaves sometime before. "Brother" Jasper, of "the Sun do move" fame, was grand high priest, but was not so generally known then as at a somewhat later period. Now the dramatic scene was performed by many players - "All the world's a stage, and in time men play many parts, having their entrances and exits," etc. Mr. Botts announced that he would address the mechanics and other Union men of Richmond on the state of the country and the Union at the African Church.
JOHN MINOR BOTTS'S SPEECH.
The Secesh populace and press howled, much as children do when they are threatened with the "bad man." The church was packed to the doors with determined men pledged to protect Mr. Botts from insult or arrest. The speech of Mr. Botts was an awful arraignment of the Secession leaders and their cause. His glowing tribute to the "Constitution and the Union" was never surpassed by any orator in America, and I doubt very much if it was ever equalled, not excepting even the great speech delivered by Daniel Webster in Congress just previous to the passage of the Nullification act by South Carolina, long ago.
Immediately after a great outburst of eloquence by Mr. Botts, accompanied by tremendous applause, an indiscreet Secessionist present hissed very audibly two or three times, when 20 or 30 stout, loyal hands threw him out of the house through the door, thus violently exposing him and his Secessionism to the outer atmosphere. Quickly "as comets run" went the news, and in a few moments appeared the volunteer military company known as the "Richmond Blues," commanded by O. Jennings Wise, the oldest son of Henry A. Wise, of Virginia. The Blues, with Capt. Wise at their head, entered the church without ceremony, and rapidly took position to the left of the door they had entered, protecting their rear by forming their line with the backs of the men against the wall. Mr. Botts, looking sternly upon Wise and his soldiers, halted his speech, when cries of "Go on; we will protect you," from nearly all the persons in the house fairly shook the "House of God."
Mr. Botts, presenting an appearance of calm fearlessness, like a lion at bay, said: "Friends, see what these people want." A committee immediately approached Capt. Wise and demanded his business abruptly. Wise replied that he had come by order of the authorities to keep the peace and prevent disorder. The committee replied that they were entirely competent to perform that duty. But Wise did not retire, and cries went up for Mr. Botts to "Go on; we will protect you."
Mr. Botts went on and fairly emptied the vials of his wrath upon the heads of the Secession leaders and upon Wise, personally, and his people, even advancing to the end of the platform, shaking his finger at Wise defiantly. Wise turned pale, then red, and filed his men rapidly to the right, out of the house, through the portals, and was gone. A mighty cheer from the audience, then Mr. Botts gradually concluded his last public speech for the Union. A strong armed committee escorted him safely to his home. Lucifer's angels had been "hurled" from the church.
Now I must entertain the reader regarding the Secession Convention and Mr. Wiley's last speech in Mechanics Hall. As Mr. Wiley concluded his great speech for the Union a great shout of approval went up from the Union men in the gallery, when President Janney, in a violent manner, ordered the Sergeant-at-Arms to "clear the gallery." The Sergeant appeared and ordered us out. No one noticed him, when he seized a man near us. A fight ensued, when a brawny blacksmith and a little reporter - Hughes by name, I think - promptly knocked the Sergeant-at-Arms over several benches and people, and he fell with a dull thud, indeed, to us - a classical expression.
We then retired, and in front of the door was drawn up the State Guard at "shoulder arms." They had been summoned in a hurry, certainly. We all passed in front of their very faces, thus calmly reviewing Lucifer's armed angels. Not a word was uttered by any one as we marched past their front. After passing the State Guard and reaching Main Street, near by, all of the Union people expressed surprise that none of us was arrested, or an attempt in that direction made.
At that period, however, the Union sentiment was very strong and outspoken, and, doubtless the real cause of their failure to arrest us was due to the fact, or apprehension, rather, that a riot might be precipitated, thereby damaging their reputation for moderation and fair play; but, for that matter, I shall never know, no, never, how any part of their reputation ever could be damaged - I never heard of a decayed egg being damaged.
People from many points rapidly assembled in the vicinity of Mechanics Hall, but, after indulging in some derisive remarks concerning the convention, the State Guard gradually departed. During the excitement in the gallery, referred to above, the greatest agitation existed on the floor of the convention, members rushing hither and thither, violently gesticulating and shouting for "order." "Gentlemen may cry out for peace, but there is no peace."
Passing out I observed the graceful figure of Wiley, of West Virginia, standing gazing thoughtfully at the gallery and the Unionists who were departing. Janney, poor old creature, yelled and used his gavel to no purpose. Carlisle, of West Virginia, seemed by his actions to be protesting against the action of President Janney in ordering the galleries to be cleared.
THE NAT TURNER INSURRECTION.
The "State Guard" referred to above was organized and established by an act of the legislature of Virginia many years before, just after the "Nat Turner" negro insurrection in Southampton County, about the year 1831 or 1832, when some 18 or 20 white families were killed; and while on this raid, as it might be termed, the negroes seized such firearms, axes, etc., as were serviceable to them; also, ammunition in considerable quantities.
While a boy, my family told me many incidents of that horrible affair. The farm-house, "Prospect Hill," in Nansemond County, where I was born, was not more than 12 or 15 miles distant from the scene of the slave uprising. My father, being Captain of the Militia of Nansemond County, soon appeared upon the scene and had quite a skirmish with the negroes, who, however, rapidly retired after firing several volleys at the Militia at long range. The negroes being driven back, my father returned to his home to quiet the apprehensions of his young wife and observe the situation in that neighborhood.
My mother, in later years, told me the story of my father's hasty return as follows. My mother was the daughter of a well known Methodist minister of that period, the Rev. John Clark; thus it came about that, as soon as my father left home for the scene of the negro insurrection, the local preacher and most of our neighbors repaired to our house, when the preacher immediately knelt in the center of the parlor, and there, surrounded by the weeping and prayerful assemblage, nearly all the ladies and children, invoked the Divine Power for guidance and protection. While the prayers and invocations were ascending to Heaven, the distant sound of horse's hoofs were heard in the distance; grew louder and louder, then approached the house, turned into the gateway, and approached rapidly up the long lane.
Women and children screamed and wept; but the preacher, brave in his abiding faith counseled calmness, and continued his appeals tot eh Throne of Power and Might. All thought the noise approaching was produced by the advancing negroes, but in another moment the voice of my father was heard in loud tones, calling for our servant, Tom, to "Come quick and take the horse." My father had returned, and great was the rejoicing thereat. In a few days after this exciting event, Lieut. Spotswood, then a Midshipman at Fort Monroe, crossed the James River with marines and several light field pieces and rapidly marched upon the negroes, then near Jerusalem, the County-seat of Southampton County, when the negroes rapidly dispersed to the woods and swamps, with their organization totally destroyed, and the insurrection was over.
Many of the leaders were hung, and "Nat Turner," the principal, was traced just after a fall of snow to a pile of fence-rails. He had dug a hole, then piled the rails over him. He was hung at the Southampton County Courthouse, and I was shown, some 40 years ago, a piece of the rope with which he was hanged, at the village of Jerusalem, Southampton County.
Now, let us get back to the Secession Convention. Soon after the scene referred to in the foregoing, the whole concern, with their documents and papers, was removed to the State Capitol Building, some hundred or so yards away. There, with guards all about them for protection, and the entire Capitol Square inclosed with a high and stout iron railing, they were safe from interruption.
Soon after this change of base they resolved themselves into a "secret session," and remained so until the Secession Ordinance was finally passed, on the 17th of April, 1861, I believe. The papers and the Secession party generally claiming that the act was precipitated by the action of the Washington Government, the affair of Fort Sumter, and the bombardment of that fort by the Charleston Secessionists, etc.
The day or evening previous to the passage of the Ordinance of Secession at the State Capitol, Wiley and Carlisle, representatives from West Virginia, departed from Richmond, knowing full well the Ordinance of Secession would pass the next day, and it was so. These gentlemen made a grand fight for the Union, as I can personally bear testimony. But they preserved their honor untarnished to the end, and the people of West Virginia, and, in fact, the whole country, should hold them in loving and kind remembrance.
The less said of Marmaduke Johnson, whom we elected to that convention as a Union man from the city of Richmond, the better. Let us be charitable, however, and remember that he had terrible surroundings in that convention. Let us close the incident. The Secession Government made him Quartermaster in the army of the Confederates; and I met him in Norfolk, Va., just as he arrived from Petersburg, or Appomattox, having been sent there, with hundreds of others, on their way home. He was in a fairly good uniform, seemed depressed, and said but little after greeting me, beyond expressing his desire to get home to Richmond. I did much in aid of his election. He was a gentleman of charming personality and winning address, and a very successful lawyer. He has long since gone to that "Higher Court," whence there is no appeal or "arrest of judgment."
(To be continued.)