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Dicey, Edward. Six Months in the Federal States, Vol. II . London: MacMillan and Co., 1863. [format: book], [genre: travelogue]. Permission: Newberry Library
THE road from Louisville to Nashville lay right on the track of the war, through Kentucky and Western Tennessee. The railroad had only been re-opened ten days or so before I passed over it. The Confederate forces had been till quite recently in possession of Nashville, and the first great battle of the Western campaign had been expected to take place along the railroad, at Bowling Green station, and would doubtless have taken place there, had not the Confederates evacuated the position on the advance of the Union troops. Still, the traces of the recent war, and of the march and retreat of great armies, were not so numerous as I expected. Where houses are so few and far between as they are in these new States, and where so much of the country is still uncultivated, it is difficult, even for wanton destruction, to produce much outward appearance of desolation; and, besides, from the nature of this civil war, both armies in these border States have proceeded on the assumption, that they were in a friendly country, and have, therefore, as a
rule, spared private property. Yet there were evidences enough of the war, after all. Along a line of some hundred and eighty odd miles, there was not a bridge that had not been burnt or broken down. Rickety wooden structures, which made a stranger tremble at the idea of passing over them, had been run up in their stead, and small detachments of Union soldiers were posted by these make-shift bridges to preserve them from destruction. The rails had often been torn up, for many hundred yards together, and the cars run over a newly-laid down trackway, side by side with the old line of rails. There were broken engines, too, and burnt cars lying alongside the line; and, wherever there were the traces of a Confederate encampment, there the blackened ruins of the roadside houses told you of the reckless destruction worked by the retreating army in the despair of defeat. The great Confederate fort of Bowling Green struck me, on a rapid view, as of no great military strength. But, long after the war is over, the earth-works of the camp on the Green River, and the shattered buttresses of the grand stone arches, will remain as tokens of the great insurrection.
But, in truth, this Tennessee country is so bright and pleasant a one, that it would take years of war to make it look other than prosperous, especially above all other seasons, in the early and short-lived bloom of a Southern spring. My impression of Tennessee, like most of one's impressions about the localities of the
Southern States, was taken from the old nigger melody of the darkie who fell in love with the "lovely Rosa Lee, courting down in Tennessee." For once the impression was a correct one; and, of all pleasant places to go courting in, it would be "down in Tennessee," in that sweet April time. As far as country goes, I should be hard put to choose, if I had to fix my dwelling-place in Ohio or in Tennessee. In the latter State the climate is softer, and more Southern; but there is less life, less energy, perhaps, about the Slave State less sign of rapid progress. The fields are worked by gangs of negroes. Every now and then, too, you see the wretched wood hovels, telling of actual poverty things which you do not see in Ohio; and, also, I grieve to say, when you look closely into the Tennessee paradise the garden of Eden is somewhat of a dirty one.
Of all American cities, which I have seen, Nashville or "Naseville," as they call it, in the soft Southern lisp, is the most picturesque. Perched upon a high steep ridge hanging over the Cumberland river, the "Rocky City" is perforce divorced from that dismal rectangular system so fatal to the beauty of American towns. The streets run up and down all sorts of slopes, and at all kinds of angles. The rows of houses stand terrace like one above the other; and, highest of all, the State Capitol towers grandly above the city. The main thoroughfares are broad and bright, shaded over pleasantly by the rows of lime and chestnut trees, which grow on
either side. All round the city, on every inequality of the broken ground, there are placed well-built stone villas, and the whole place had a sort of New World Bath air about it, which struck me curiously.
In happier days, Nashville must have been a very pleasant dwelling-place; but when I saw it, the whole aspect of the city was, even for a stranger, a dreary and dismal one. An American a staunch Union man himself described its state as being like that of Italian cities he had seen, shortly after the Austrians re-occupied them in '49. But, I own, to me this description seemed, externally, rather overdrawn. I should say myself that Nashville looked more like a city still stunned by the blow of some great public calamity. Outwardly, it had not suffered much from its various military occupations. The Louisville trains stopped on the northern side of the river, at Edgefield, for the great railway-bridge which spanned the Cumberland was blown up by the Confederates on leaving. With a reckless wantonness, the beautiful suspension bridge was cut to pieces at the same period, so that all communication between Nashville and the North had to be carried on by boats and ferries. Otherwise, the city had received little material injury; but I think this absence of external ruin rather increased the effect of the general depression visible throughout the town. When Mr. Seward went over to Winchester, on its first occupation by General Banks' division, Mr. Sumner, who had often disputed with him as to the existence of a
strong Union sentiment in the South, asked him what he thought of the look of things at the Virginian town? "Well," he answered, "all the men were gone to the war, and all the women were she-devils." The same description would not, I suspect, have applied badly to Nashville. The town had a deserted air. If you took away the Union soldiers, there would have been very few people about the streets at all. There were numbers of negroes, apparently idling about the town, but the white population seemed scanty for the size of the place. Young men you met very seldom about and, indeed, the proportion of women to men was unusually large. What is stranger still, the children seemed to have been sent away. At any rate, contrary to the custom of other American towns, they were not visible in the streets. The Union regiments quartered here were from the neighbouring States, and, one would suppose, would have had many acquaintances in the town, but there was, avowedly, little intercourse between the military and the inhabitants, while the soldiers complained bitterly of the manner in which the Nashville women expressed their dislike on every possible occasion. Half the shops were closed, and in the few of any size still open the owners sat moodily among empty shelves. Trade however, was gradually reviving. In every shop there were notices put up of "no Southern money taken:" and the shopkeepers seemed willing enough to sell what goods they had at exorbitant prices to the Federal
soldiers. On the walls there still hung the tattered half-torn-down official notices of the Confederate government, and on a building right in front of the hotel where I lodged you could still read an inscription over the door, "Head Quarters of the Confederate States' Army," while displayed openly in the windows of the stationers, I saw copies of patriotic Confederate dance music, headed "the Confederate Prize Banner Quadrille," "the Lady Polk Polka," and the "Morgan Schottische." Of any pro-Union exhibition of feeling on the part of private individuals I could see little trace. Over the public buildings the stars and stripes floated gaily; but on no single dwelling-house could I see an Union flag. In the shop windows there were no prints of Federal victories, no display of the patriotic books and pamphlets so universal throughout the North. In the way of business, indeed, nothing seemed stirring, unless it was the undertaking trade, which, from the number of coffins I saw about, ought to have been thriving. Of the women I met, a majority were in deep mourning, not so much, I fear, as an exhibition of political sentiment, as in memory of husbands, and sons, and brothers who had fallen on the slaughter field of Pittsburgh Landing. Martial law was not enforced, but after dark the streets were almost deserted; sentries were posted at frequent intervals, and ever and anon the death-like stillness of the town was broken by the jangle of swords and spurs, as the
mounted patrols rode slowly past. The theatre had been re-opened, more, I should fancy, from political motives than from any prospect of pecuniary profit. The house was almost exclusively filled with Federal soldiers, and on the two occasions when I went there I only saw one lady amongst the audience, and she was a Frenchwoman. The wealthier inhabitants were daily leaving the town, on account of the general depression which prevailed there. Politics seemed to be a tabooed subject in private conversation. In several houses that I went into, I found that the heads of the family were under arrest, and there were constant rumours, though I believe mostly exaggerated ones, of collisions between the inhabitants and the soldiery. All bar-rooms were closed by military orders, a circumstance which must in itself have been a bitter grievance to a liquor-loving, bar-frequenting people, and neither for love nor money could a stranger obtain a drink more intoxicating than lager beer within the bounds of Nashville.
The press of Nashville represented, curiously enough, the disorganized condition of society. The editors of the old local papers, who were all bitter Secessionists, had left the town at the approach of the Federal forces, and their papers were either suspended or suppressed. The existing press of Nashville consisted of two small single sheet papers, the Nashville Union and the Nashville Dispatch. The former, of course, was the official organ of the Government.
Commercially, I should question its having been a paying property, as every day there appeared piteous appeals to the loyal men of Tennessee to support "the uncompromising organ of Union," by sending in subscriptions and advertisements, and thus "to keep the flag of the Union, of law and order, streaming defiantly in the very face of the enemy, as he retires sullenly to the Gulf." One great object of the paper professed to be "to bring to light hundreds of crimes and outrages committed by the rebels during their ascendancy, and which the guilty authors believed would never be brought to light." This part of its programme was amply redeemed, for the greater part of its meagre reading matter consisted of revelations of Confederate misrule, during the last few months. The stories quoted and the comments on them reminded me constantly of the revelations of Austrian and Papal cruelties, which used to be published in the Italian papers after the revolution of 1859, except that, to do the Confederates justice, in none of the documents quoted was there much proof of great personal cruelties. It is, I admit, extremely illegal and tyrannical to exile and imprison men on mere suspicion, to force recruits against their will into the ranks, and to confiscate property devoted to charitable purposes. But necessity knows no law, and if it was justifiable for the State of Tennessee to secede at all, I hardly think the steps by which the insurrectionary government sought
to carry out the revolution, were in themselves crimes of any very deep dye. This, however, naturally enough, was not the opinion of the Union. The Confederate Government of Nashville appropriated two million dollars, belonging to the public school fund, for the purposes of the war, and on this outrage the Union harped perpetually in a series of short paragraphs, of which the following are average specimens:
"Why should a child treat a rebel teacher with respect? That teacher is the servile follower of rebel leaders, who, to the disgrace of humanity, plundered the noble fund of two million dollars, which this State had created as an inviolable legacy for the education of her children. Shame on such villany!"
"The rebel government and rebel legislature of Tennessee plunged their hands into the charity fund of the State's poor children, and took from it two million of dollars to purchase for themselves an eternal infamy."
"Every time a rebel teacher sets foot in a school room, the robbed and plundered children should rise from their seats and cry, ‘Give us back the two million dollars, which the State provided for our education, and which your political idols stole from us. Give it back! Give it back!’"
And so on indefinitely. The regular leaders were alternate attacks on the Secession movement and on
the Abolitionists, though, as the paper is a Government organ, and subsidized by the Government, no attacks were allowed on the President or on his Administration. To the credit, too, of the Union, I should state that even in a period of such excitement, and in a paper conducted with such vehemence, there were no personal assaults on private individuals, no denunciations by name of suspected Secessionists. The advertisements were very few in number, and what there were were chiefly official ones. In fact the majority were notices of runaway slaves detained in the county gaol. It seemed strange to an Englishman to read a long string of advertisements like the following:
"On the 8th day of May, 1862, I will expose to public sale to the highest bidder, for cash, at the Court House, Yard Gate, in Nashville, one negro boy named William, levied on as the property of Sharp and Hamilton, to satisfy sundry executions in my hands."
Again, amongst the committals to the gaol I came across the following:
"April 18, 1862. A negro man, who says his name is Andrew. Says he belongs to R. L. Brown, of Davidson county. Dark copper colour. Scar on the
left side of his cheek. About 28 years old. Weighs about 158 pounds, and is 5 ft. 7 in. high. And at the end of each advertisement the owner is requested to come forward, prove property, and pay charges, as the law directs." Then there were the advertisements of free negroes, confined to gaol on the suspicion of being runaways. Thus:
In fact, if it were not for the "peculiar institution," the advertisement department of the Union would be but shabbily provided.
The principles of the Nashville Dispatch were, according to the statement of its rival, as nearly secessionist as it can be to keep out of Johnson's clutches, and the accusation was probably well founded. It was obviously written to suit a public to whom the successes of the Union were, to say the least, uninteresting. It professed no political principles, but it contained no prognostication of Federal victories, and, in fact, seemed disposed to ignore secession generally. I always believed that the Giornale di Roma had unrivalled talent for conveying the minimum of news in a given number of columns, but I think the Nashville
Dispatch was no unworthy rival in the same laudable endeavour. What little news it gave, was composed of items of southern intelligence, reprinted from the northern papers, and, except in the official telegrams, the name "rebel" was never used, but always supplied by that of "Confederate." The leaders were generally on miscellaneous subjects, utterly disconnected with the war, and often consisted of short moral discourses on the benefits of forbearance and strict integrity. The trade advertisements were rather more numerous than those of the Union, but it had not the official ones of negro sales or committals to gaol. The space lost in this way was filled with a romantic story of love and seduction. Of the two, there was more "grit," to use a Yankee phrase, about the Union.
The whole policy, or rather want of policy, of the Federal government, with regard to the reconquered States, was exhibited at Nashville in its practical working. To suppress the rebellion was the one idea that either government or people had been able to grasp as yet; and, with regard to the future, the only vestige of a policy adopted was a general intention to restore, as much as might be, the status quo before the war. As soon as Nashville was retaken, Mr. Andrew Johnson was sent there as military governor. A Tennessee man himself, and a slaveholder, he was selected for the post, not only on account of his unswerving adherence to the Union, but because it was considered that his
appointment would be a guarantee to the people of Tennessee that no violent interference with their property was designed. For the immediate purpose of pacification, the appointment was a wise one. Every step, consistent with a vigorous suppression of active secession, was taken to win back the allegiance of the people, and, as far as the language of the governor went, nothing could be more satisfactory to a slave-owning State. At the period of my visit, when reviewing a Minnesota regiment, quartered at Nashville (Minnesota, be it remembered, is a free State), Governor Johnson used these words:
"It had been charged by the apostles of treason that the North had come here to set negroes free. He knew the North, had travelled among her people, and he repelled the charge with scorn. There were abolition fanatics there, it was true sectionalists, traitors, brothers of Southern secessionists but these creatures constituted but a fraction of the great body of the North. The voice of the overwhelming mass of the North, as well as of nine men out of ten who stood before him was, ‘We care nothing for your negroes. Manage them as best suits yourselves, but the Union shall be preserved, and you must obey the laws;’" and, according to the official report, this enunciation of principles was loudly cheered by the soldiers. How far this patchwork policy will prove ultimately successful in re-establishing a pro-Union feeling, time
alone can show. It had had little time to act, when I was at Nashville, and it was hard to judge what progress it had made. There was, indeed, no disguising the fact that the Federal Government had not received the sympathy it counted upon in Tennessee. The belief in the North had been that the Union armies would have been hailed as deliverers by a large portion of the population, but, hitherto, they had met, at the best, with a sullen acquiescence. It should be added, that the Union party made no attempt to represent things as more favourable than they were, and confessed the absence of Union sympathy as frankly as they admitted all their other failures and shortcomings. Indeed, the best sign, nationally, I saw about the Americans was the resolute fearlessness with which they looked facts in the face, even when telling against themselves. Thus, in Nashville, the Government party admitted openly, that since the occupation there had been no public expression of any love for the Union exhibited in this part of Tennessee. As evidences of returning loyalty, the Nashville Union quoted, I remember, with great pride, how one old lady had sent a Federal flag to the Governor, with the request that it might be hung up in some public spot; and how the city council had at last, after nearly a month's deliberation, passed a resolution, that "they cordially thanked the officers and soldiers of the United States for the unexampled kindness and courtesy hitherto extended
to their fellow-citizens, and that as men striving in the common work of re-establishing the Government of their fathers, they pledged their most sincere and hearty co-operation."
It was impossible to help feeling, that if the Unionists were gratified by demonstrations of such doubtful loyalty, they were easily contented. Of any practical manifestation of Union feeling there was little indication. With East Tennessee and Memphis still in the possession of the enemy, there could be no question as yet about how the Senators and Representatives of Tennessee were to be elected, and therefore, for the moment, this difficult question was postponed; but extreme difficulty had been already experienced in filling up the civil offices with loyal men. The corporation, by rather an arbitrary stretch of power, was required to take the oath of allegiance to the United States; and the greatest reluctance was exhibited by them in acceding to the requisition. For three weeks after Governor Johnson arrived, it was found impossible to induce any one to undertake the office of postmaster; and a yet longer period elapsed before an editor could be found bold enough to conduct a Government newspaper.
However, this absence of Union feeling was not so strange nor so disheartening as it might appear at first sight. There can be no doubt that the common people of Tennessee, like the inhabitants of all the Southern States, believed sincerely that the "Lincoln hordes" were coming
down to destroy their property, burn their houses, and murder their wives and children. Extraordinary as such an illusion was, it could be accounted for partly by the comparative isolation of the South, partly by the extent to which the lower classes received all their intelligence and all their opinions from their leaders, and, still more, by the morbid nervousness which the existence of a slave population is sure to beget amongst the dominant race. By degrees the people of Tennessee were becoming convinced that the Northerners had no intention of interfering with their property, or of treating them as subjects of a conquered country; and that, in fact, life and property were far safer under a Federal Government than they had been under the Confederate rule. Again, the war was too near at hand, and the danger too imminent for Tennessee to appreciate fully that the battle had been fought and lost. It was easy enough for an indifferent spectator in the North to see that the Confederates were fighting a losing fight in the border States, and that even a return of fortune to their arms would only prolong a hopeless struggle; but, to men living in Tennessee, it was not so easy to take a wide view of the case. If Beauregard had won the battle of Pittsburgh Landing, or had defeated the Federals at Corinth, it was quite possible, though not probable, that Nashville might have been re-occupied for the time by the Confederates; and their return would have been the sure
signal for a reign of terror of which all, who had given in their adhesion to the new Government, might reasonably have feared to be the victims. Moreover and I believe this to have been the chief explanation as long as the war lasts there can be no cordial restoration of Union feeling in any Southern State. Men may grow convinced of the folly of secession, may even wish for the triumph of the Union; but their hearts must be, after all, with the side for which their kinsmen and friends are fighting. I suppose there is hardly a family in Tennessee which has not some member in the ranks of the Confederate army. It is this conflict of affections which makes all civil war so hateful. How hateful it is, in truth, never came home to me till I saw it actually. I have known myself of a wife whose husband was fighting for the South, while her father and brother were in the Federal army. I knew, too, of a mother who had only two sons, one in the North, and the other in the South, both fighting in the armies that were ranged opposite to each other in front of York town. So I, or any one, could name a hundred instances of father fighting against son brother against brother of families divided of homes where there was mourning whenever the news of battle came, no matter which side had won the victory. I have dwelt thus some what at length on the reasons why I think the sullen attitude of Tennessee might be accounted for, because I am anxious not to convey the impression that I believe in
the Southern or rather the Confederate doctrine of an innate and unconquerable aversion between the North and South. If once the insurrection were suppressed, and order restored, I have little doubt the Southern States would acquiesce in what was inevitable. There is no difference in race, or language, or religion, or geographical position to keep the two divisions of the Union apart. Whether the difference in domestic institutions would prove an insuperable cause of disunion, I cannot say. If it should so prove, the North will suppress or remove this cause, before it consents to the disruption of the Union. This is the only fact of which I feel positive.
In old English books about travel in Switzerland, it used to be a stock remark that you could tell whether a canton was Protestant or Catholic by the relative cleanliness or dirtiness of the towns. How far the fact was true, or how far, if true, it established the truth of the Protestant religion, I could never determine; but a similar conclusion may certainly be drawn with regard to the Free and the Slave States. You may lay it down as a rule throughout America, that wherever you find slavery, there you have dirt also. Nashville, as I said before, is one of the cleanest and brightest of towns at a distance; but when you come close the illusion vanishes. There is no excuse there for want of cleanliness. The position of the town makes drainage easy; the stone used so plentifully is clean
of itself; and water is abundant. The only thing wanting seemed to be energy to keep the place clean. The hotel where I was stopping was in itself an institution (in American phrase) of the country. It was the best in the city; and Nashville was always celebrated as one of the most thriving and prosperous cities in the South. Hotel-keeping was not suffering, like other trading concerns, from the depression of the moment. This hotel was crammed with guests, and had been crammed throughout the previous winter. Outside it was handsome enough, but internally, I say without hesitation, it was the dirtiest and worst managed hotel it had been ever my fortune to stop at. The dirt was dirt of old standing, and the mismanagement must have been the growth of years long preceding the days when secession was first heard of. The bar, as I mentioned, was closed by order; but the habitués still hung about the scene of their former pleasures. In the hall there were a number of broken shattered chairs, and here, with their legs stretched in every conceivable position, a number of well-dressed respectable-looking persons used to loaf all day long, smoking and chewing. They did not seem to have anything to do, or much to say to each other; but they sat there to kill time by looking at one another. The floor was as dirty as successive strata of tobacco-juice could make it; and, at the slightest symptom of chill in the air, the stove was kindled to a red-hot heat, and the atmosphere
was made as stifling as the cracks in the doors would permit it to become. The passages were as filthy as want of sweeping could make them; and dirty cloths, sloppails, and brooms were left lying about them, all day and every day; the narrow wooden staircases were such as you would hardly see in England leading to the poorest of attics; and the household arrangements were as primitive as was consistent with the dirtiness peculiar to civilized life. As to the meals, their profusion was only equalled by their greasiness, and by the utter nondescriptness of their component victuals. The chicken-pie tasted uncommonly like the stewed mutton, and both were equally unlike any compound I ever ate before. I could understand why it was thought unnecessary for the negroes to waste soap and water on washing; but the same reason could not apply to their jackets and shirts, which I presume once were white. The servants were all negroes, and all, naturally enough, devoted their minds to doing as little work and taking as long about it as possible. What seemed more odd than all, none of the habitual residents some of them persons of property appeared to be aware that the establishment was dirty and uncomfortable. The heat of the house must have been fearful in summer and the smells pestilential; for, with a southern climate, the style of building maintained was that of small rooms and narrow passages of England. Nor was this a single instance. The other
hotels in the city were worse; and some of my friends who have travelled through the Southern States have assured me that, except in the very large towns, the hotels are invariably of the same description. The truth is, that where the whites think it beneath them to work, and where the negroes will not work unless they are forced, you cannot expect domestic comfort.
Dicey, Edward. Six Months in the Federal States, Vol. II . London: MacMillan and Co., 1863. [format: book], [genre: travelogue]. Permission: Newberry Library
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