MEMOIRS OF HENRY VILLARD
IN CIVIL-WAR TIME: BULL RUN
The Lincoln-Douglas Debates.—1858
MAN is the creature of habit, and though the experiences through which I had passed at Jonestown were anything but congenial, I was almost loath to change my peaceful, careless existence for the more active life I really desired. It was evident that I had made many friends who were sorry at my departure, and I did not part from them without sincere regret. The Umberger family all cried when I took leave. I promised them and others to visit Jonestown again soon; but, alas! though I have all along intended to do so, circumstances have always prevented my revisiting the scene of my first and last attempt at teaching up to this writing — that is, during the thirty-eight years that have elapsed since I left. I suppose I should now hardly find any of my acquaintances among the living.
I departed from Jonestown just twenty-three years old, with a moderately replenished wardrobe, about sixty dollars in my pocket, and fifty more due me from the Staats-Zeitung. This was all I had in the world except splendid health, eagerness for work, and fully regained and unbounded confidence in myself. I went directly to New York, determined to try once more for regular journalistic employment. I was more fortunate this time than in the previous fall. On calling at the office of the Staats-Zeitung and sending in my name to the publisher, Oswald Ottendorfer, I was at once invited into his private office. He received me very cordially, complimented me on my work for the paper, and asked me whether I was a professional journalist. Encouraged by his friendly manner, I spoke out frankly about my past and my aspirations. We talked a long time, and he finally told me he would consult with Mrs. Uhl, the proprietress of the paper, as to giving me steady employment, and let me know something definite the next day.
On reporting to him at the appointed hour, he took me to Mrs. Uhl's room and presented me to her. She received me very kindly, saying that she had read my contributions, and hoped that I might become regularly connected with the paper. Mr. Ottendorfer then stated that their weekly edition had a very large circulation throughout the Western States, to keep up which it was necessary to send out special agents from time to time to look after their customers. He proposed that I should travel for the paper through the middle States of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois, collecting old subscriptions and getting new subscribers, and at the same time writing regular descriptive letters to the paper. Mrs. Uhl was willing to have me engaged on trial for three months, and to allow me fifteen dollars a week and actual expenses. I thought I ought not to hesitate for a moment and accepted at once. I received the necessary detailed instructions, the fifty dollars due me, and one hundred dollars in advance on account, and set out the next day for Ohio.
I commenced my canvass at Steubenville, and in the course of the next five weeks, following the subscription-list, visited about twenty-five larger and smaller towns, including Newark, Canton, Massillon, Columbus, Springfield, and Chillicothe. I wrote regularly one letter a week, making from one and a half to two columns, for publication, and this part of my work gave entire satisfaction. But I was not successful in the other respect. I expected to find more or less educated Germans in the places I visited, who would be glad to give me the benefit of their advice and assistance. But I rarely came across any men of culture. Those I had to deal with were mainly grocers, saloon-keepers, and small mechanics. It was hard to collect past dues, and much harder to enlist new subscribers. My attempts in the latter direction exposed me to no little rudeness, and the pecuniary results of my efforts were so meagre that my collections were not equal to my current expenditures.
I felt it my duty to write Mr. Ottendorfer frankly, at the expiration of a month, that I was afraid I should not prove a successful canvasser, and to propose a new plan of operations. The public press was filled at the time with references to the approaching contest on the stump for the succession to the United States Senate between Senator Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln in Illinois. The eyes of the whole country were fixed upon the former as the champion in the Senate of the wing of the Democratic party which had adopted his fallacious doctrine that the people of the Territories should be left free to regulate their domestic institutions — that is, to establish or to keep out slavery, as they saw fit — against the other wing, having the countenance of President Buchanan, which favored the introduction of slavery in Kansas and the other unsettled parts of the Union. Abraham Lincoln was the representative of the young Republican party. A series of joint debates between the two leaders had been arranged, which it was evident would form the principal political event of the season. I suggested to my employers to let me proceed at once to Illinois and observe the approaching political campaign there as the Staats-Zeitung's special correspondent. To my great joy, my proposition was readily accepted, and I proceeded without delay to Chicago.
I reached there just in time to witness the grand ovation given to Senator Douglas on his arrival from Washington. He was received and escorted through the streets like a conquering hero, and it was made strikingly apparent that the Illinois Democracy were all but unanimously for him against the National Administration. I called on him the next day at the Tremont House to make known my mission, and to ask his leave to accompany him. I was promptly shown to his parlor, where I found him talking to a few friends. I knew him well by sight from my visit to Washington in 1856. He bid me a hearty welcome, and introduced me to the other visitors and to his private secretary, Mr. Sheridan. On learning the object of my call, he said at once that he should be very happy to have my company during the campaign, and directed the secretary to inform me fully regarding his programme, and make the proper arrangements with me. While we were talking, his newly-wedded second wife came in through a side door, and I was introduced to her. She was at once a most lovely and a queenly apparition. Indeed, it seemed to me that I had never seen a woman more beautiful in every way. Her tall figure was perfectly proportioned, and her every movement and gesture most graceful. She presented a marked contrast, in her youthful, blooming freshness and vivacity, to her small, dark, sombre husband. She appeared to be devoted to him, and certainly helped him no little in his political aspirations.
The first joint debate (in the famous series of seven) between Douglas and Lincoln, which I attended, took place on the afternoon of August 21, 1858, at Ottawa, Illinois. It was the great event of the day, and attracted an immense concourse of people from all parts of the State. Douglas spoke first for an hour, followed by Lincoln for an hour and a half; upon which the former closed in another half hour. The Democratic spokesman commanded a strong, sonorous voice, a rapid, vigorous utterance, a telling play of countenance, impressive gestures, and all the other arts of the practised speaker. As far as all external conditions were concerned, there was nothing in favor of Lincoln. He had a lean, lank, indescribably gawky figure, an odd-featured, wrinkled, inexpressive, and altogether uncomely face. He used singularly awkward, almost absurd, up-and-down and sidewise movements of his body to give emphasis to his arguments. His voice was naturally good, but he frequently raised it to an unnatural pitch. Yet the unprejudiced mind felt at once that, while there was on the one side a skilful dialectician and debater arguing a wrong and weak cause, there was on the other a thoroughly earnest and truthful man, inspired by sound convictions in consonance with the true spirit of American institutions. There was nothing in all Douglas's powerful effort that appealed to the higher instincts of human nature, while Lincoln always touched sympathetic chords. Lincoln's speech excited and sustained the enthusiasm of his audience to the end. When he had finished, two stalwart young farmers rushed on the platform, and, in spite of his remonstrances, seized and put him on their shoulders and carried him in that uncomfortable posture for a considerable distance. It was really a ludicrous sight to see the grotesque figure holding frantically on to the heads of his supporters, with his legs dangling from their shoulders, and his pantaloons pulled up so as to expose his underwear almost to his knees. Douglas made dexterous use of this incident in his next speech, expressing sincere regret that, against his wish, he had used up his old friend Lincoln so completely that he had to be carried off the stage. Lincoln retaliated by saying at the first opportunity that he had known Judge Douglas long and well, but there was nevertheless one thing he could not say of him, and that was that the Judge always told the truth.
I was introduced to Lincoln at Freeport, and met him frequently afterwards in the course of the campaign. I must say frankly that, although I found him most approachable, good-natured, and full of wit and humor, I could not take a real personal liking to the man, owing to an inborn weakness for which he was even then notorious and so remained during his great public career. He was inordinately fond of jokes, anecdotes, and stories. He loved to hear them, and still more to tell them himself out of the inexhaustible supply provided by his good memory and his fertile fancy. There would have been no harm in this but for the fact that, the coarser the joke, the lower the anecdote, and the more risky the story, the more he enjoyed them, especially when they were of his own invention. He possessed, moreover, a singular ingenuity in bringing about occasions in conversation for indulgences of this kind. I have to confess, too, that, aside from the prejudice against him which I felt on this account, I believed, with many prominent leaders of the Republican party, that, with regard to separating more effectively the antislavery Northern from the proslavery Southern wing of the Democracy, it would have been better if the reëlection of Douglas had not been opposed.
The party warfare was hotly continued in all parts of the State from early summer till election day in November. Besides the seven joint debates, both Douglas and Lincoln spoke scores of times separately, and numerous other speakers from Illinois and other States contributed incessantly to the agitation. The two leaders visited almost every county in the State. I heard four of the joint debates, and six other speeches by Lincoln and eight by his competitor. Of course, the later efforts became substantial repetitions of the preceding ones, and to listen to them grew more and more tiresome to me. As I had seen something of political campaigns before, this one did not exercise the full charm of novelty upon me. Still, even if I had been a far more callous observer, I could not have helped being struck with the efficient party organizations, the skilful tactics of the managers, the remarkable feats of popular oratory, and the earnestness and enthusiasm of the audiences I witnessed. It was a most instructive object-lesson in practical party politics, and filled me with admiration for the Anglo-American method of working out popular destiny.
In other respects, my experiences were not altogether agreeable. It was a very hot summer, and I was obliged to travel almost continuously. Illinois had then only about a million and a half of inhabitants, poorly-constructed railroads, and bad country roads, over which latter I had to journey quite as much as over the former. The taverns in town and country, as a rule, were wretched; and, as I moved about with the candidates and their followers and encountered crowds everywhere, I fared miserably in many places. Especially in the southern part of the State, then known as “Egypt” and mostly inhabited by settlers from the Southern States, food and lodging were nearly always simply abominable. I still vividly remember the day of semi-starvation and the night with half a dozen roommates I passed at Jonesboro', where the third joint debate took place.
I saw more of Illinois than I have since seen of any other State in the Union, and I acquired a thorough faith, based on the immeasurable fertility of her prairies, in the great growth that she has since attained. I also formed many valuable acquaintances, a number of whom have continued to this day. It was then that I first saw my lifelong friend Horace White, who accompanied Mr. Lincoln as the representative of the Chicago Tribune, and R. R. Hitt, the official stenographer of the Republican candidate. He was one of the most skilled shorthand writers in the country, and his success as such led in due time to his appointment as reporter of the United States Supreme Court. This position he resigned for a successful career as diplomat and Congressman.
I firmly believe that, if Stephen A. Douglas had lived, he would have had a brilliant national career. Freed by the Southern rebellion from all identification with pro-slavery interests, the road would have been open to the highest fame and position for which his unusual talents qualified him. As I took final leave of him and Lincoln, doubtless neither of them had any idea that within two years they would be rivals again in the Presidential race. I had it from Lincoln's own lips that the United States Senatorship was the greatest political height he at the time expected to climb. He was full of doubt, too, of his ability to secure the majority of the Legislature against Douglas. These confidences he imparted to me on a special occasion which I must not omit to mention in detail before closing this chapter.
He and I met accidentally, about nine o'clock on a hot, sultry evening, at a flag railroad station about twenty miles west of Springfield, on my return from a great meeting at Petersburg in Menard County. He had been driven to the station in a buggy and left there alone. I was already there. The train that we intended to take for Springfield was about due. After vainly waiting for half an hour for its arrival, a thunderstorm compelled us to take refuge in an empty freight-car standing on a side track, there being no buildings of any sort at the station. We squatted down on the floor of the car and fell to talking on all sorts of subjects. It was then and there he told me that, when he was clerking in a country store, his highest political ambition was to be a member of the State Legislature. Since then, of course, he said laughingly, “I have grown some, but my friends got me into this business [meaning the canvass]. I did not consider myself qualified for the United States Senate, and it took me a long time to persuade myself that I was. Now, to be sure,” he continued, with another of his peculiar laughs, “I am convinced that I am good enough for it; but, in spite of it all, I am saying to myself every day: ‘It is too big a thing for you; you will never get it.’ Mary [his wife] insists, however, that I am going to be Senator and President of the United States, too.” These last words he followed with a roar of laughter, with his arms around his knees, and shaking all over with mirth at his wife's ambition. “Just think,” he exclaimed, “of such a sucker as me as President!”
He then fell to asking questions regarding my antecedents, and expressed some surprise at my fluent use of English after so short a residence in the United States. Next he wanted to know whether it was true that most of the educated people in Germany were “infidels.” I answered that they were not openly professed infidels, but such a conclusion might be drawn from the fact that most of them were not church-goers. “I do not wonder at that,” he rejoined; “my own inclination is that way.” I ventured to give expression to my own disbelief in the doctrine of the Christian church relative to the existence of God, the divinity of Christ, and immortality. This led him to put other questions to me to draw me out. He did not commit himself, but I received the impression that he was of my own way of thinking. It was no surprise to me, therefore, to find in the writings of his biographers Ward Hill Lamon and W. H. Herndon that I had correctly understood him. Our talk continued till half-past ten, when the belated train arrived. I cherish this accidental rencontre as one of my most precious recollections, since my companion of that night has become one of the greatest figures in history.
I went from Jonesboro' to Chicago, and remained there till after the election. I considered the outcome so uncertain that I did not venture any predictions in my correspondence. Douglas himself, I knew, was much in doubt; Lincoln and his friends were very confident, and thereforebitterly disappointed by the result.
The Pike's Peak Gold Fever. 1858-9
THE real aim of my journalistic efforts was a regular connection with the Anglo-American press. I regarded my work for the Staats-Zeitung as only a temporary makeshift, and kept my ulterior object steadily in view. I had given up the idea of securing a position on one of the principal New York papers, and my desires bore upon the Western press. During my sojourn in Ohio, I had daily read the Cincinnati Daily Commercial and noticed the ability and enterprise displayed in its columns. At a venture I went to Cincinnati and offered my services to the publisher of the Commercial, M. D. Potter. He referred me to the news-editor, Murat Halstead, afterwards the principal proprietor and editor-in-chief of the paper. After a few talks with him, we agreed that I should report the important proceedings at the impending sessions of the Illinois and Indiana Legislatures for the Commercial. In the former, I was to look after the reëlection of Douglas. In Indiana, I was to watch the legislative complications that were expected to arise in connection with the claim of each of the two political parties to the rightful control of the majority of the Legislature, which resulted eventually in the election of two sets of United States Senators, by the Republicans and the Democrats respectively.
I spent only a few days early in January, 1859, at Springfield, Illinois, and then went to Indianapolis, where I expected to remain till spring. But my stay was cut short in an unexpected way. In my reports to the Commercial I had occasion to criticise rather sharply one of the Democratic State Senators. The next day he rose to a question of privilege, had the report read to the Senate, denounced me in very violent language, and moved that the usual press privileges be withdrawn from me, or, in other words, that I be expelled from the floor. The motion was carried, and it terminated my brief career as a legislative reporter in the Indiana capital, during which I had, however, formed some valuable acquaintances among Indiana politicians. This was my first conflict as a journalist with legislators, but not my last one.
During the fall and winter of 1858, reports of gold discoveries in the easternmost chain of the Rocky Mountains, in the vicinity of Pike's Peak and along the head waters of the Platte River, began to circulate in the press and to attract a great deal of attention throughout the country. The “gold news” had roused my adventurous spirit before my loss of employment, and now suddenly prompted the idea of going to the Rocky Mountains as a correspondent. There was a general hope that the opening of such new sources of national wealth might bring relief to the country from the lingering effects of the crisis of 1857. Its numberless victims — the vast army of the unemployed — began to get excited, and the newspapers to state more and more that great numbers were yielding to the allurements of the new Dorado and preparing to seek it.
On my reaching Cincinnati from Indianapolis, Mr. Halstead, who had vigorously defended me in the editorial columns against the attacks of the Indiana Senator, very readily responded to my suggestion that I should make an investigation of the facts in the Pike's Peak case on the spot for the Commercial. We agreed on the conditions of my new engagement, which were to be twenty dollars a week and reasonable travelling expenses. The length of my stay in the Rocky Mountains should depend on the developments there.
It was natural that, at my age and with my sanguine temperament, I should feel the highest elation at this, to my mind, most promising turn of luck. There was no strong evidence that another California had actually been discovered, but I had heard and read much of the quick fortunes made in the gold-mines on the Pacific Coast, and hence my imagination readily got the better of my judgment, and, while reason protested, I indulged in the contemplation of all sorts of fascinating possibilities for myself. I had visions not only of successful gold-hunting, but of fame and fortune as one of the founders of new towns and States. They were not to be realized in the immediate future, but I think I can truly say that to my apprenticeship as a pioneer in the Rocky Mountains I owed the insight into practical life and the enterprise and energy to which my successes later in my career were largely due. In one respect certainly my anticipations rested on reality, and that was in looking forward to extraordinary personal adventures in the pursuit of my mission.
At the time in question, a string of towns had sprung up on the Missouri River, mainly in consequence of the large Free-Soil immigration into the Territory of Kansas as a result of the political events in 1854-5 within its borders. There was a fringe of settlements, too, for from thirty to fifty miles on each side of the river. But the western parts of Missouri and Iowa were still very thinly populated. Excepting these towns and settlements west of the Missouri, the great rising plains between that river and the Rocky Mountains now forming the States of Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, and Wyoming were, but for a few trading-posts, absolutely uninhabited. There was but one railroad then extending from the Mississippi to the Missouri, from Hannibal to St. Joseph, Missouri. St. Louis was connected with this line by the North Missouri road. Railroad building in Iowa had not yet reached the western part of the State. There was another road extending westward from St. Louis, but it was completed for only about a hundred miles, to Jefferson City, the capital of the State, on the Missouri River. The only channels of communication for the entire region west of the Missouri River to and beyond the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific States were the Missouri River for steamboats, and the military roads established by the United States Government — that along the Arkansas River to New Mexico, known as the Santa Fé road, and those from Leavenworth and Omaha to Fort Kearny, and thence as a common route along the Platte and North Platte Rivers across the Rocky Mountains to Utah and beyond. Ox- and mule-teams, propelling heavy wagons holding from two to five tons, known as “prairie schooners,” were the ordinary means of transportation along these highways.
After reading up in the public Mercantile Library as well as possible regarding the region to be visited, in Government reports upon the explorations of Long, Pike, Frémont, and others, I started from Cincinnati at the end of February. I went to St. Louis and Jefferson City by rail, and at the latter point took a boat up the Missouri to Leavenworth, my immediate destination, as the best starting-point, according to common report, for “Pike's Peak.” As we made many landings, we were nearly thirty hours in making the trip. The boat was crowded with “Pike's-Peakers” (mostly young Western men) and their outfits. The river scenery was rather picturesque, though without any striking features, and much like that along the upper Mississippi. We stopped an hour at Kansas City, which was then nothing but a scattering village of a few dozen buildings, including some brick warehouses along the bank. It was the river landing for Westport, five miles inland, right on the boundary of Missouri and Kansas, a town of several thousand people, and famous throughout the West as the principal outfitting and receiving point for the Santa Fé or New Mexico trade. Every spring, large caravans of “prairie schooners,” consisting of from forty to eighty wagons, each hauled by ten to twelve oxen or as many mules, set out from that point laden with American goods, returning in the fall with full loads of Mexican wool, hides, and silver bullion. The site of Kansas City was formed by high and steep bluffs between which the streets extended. More unfavorable ground for the development of a town, not to speak of a city, could hardly be imagined; and if anybody had then tried to make me believe that within thirty years a city of 130,000 people would rise upon it, I should have considered him a ridiculous phantast. Yet this actually came to pass.
From Kansas City to Leavenworth the right bank of the river became more animated. Every few miles an embryo town appeared, beginning with Wyandotte at the mouth of the Kansas River and followed by Sumner, Doniphan, and several others whose names I do not remember. Most of them had but a brief, mushroom growth. Leavenworth presented a surprisingly imposing sight. A dozen steamboats were at the landing discharging and receiving passengers and goods, and making a scene of bustling activity. Above the levee, on a gradually ascending plateau, rose the town amphitheatrically. Though but five years old, its resident population was already between six and seven thousand, with a floating one of several thousand more. The main business street was solidly built up with brick and frame structures. The private residences spread out widely over the beautiful parklike rolling prairie with scattered natural groves of trees. The town was swarming with new-comers, and I found it hard to get lodgings anywhere. Over a thousand would-be “Pike's-Peakers” had already arrived, and hundreds were added daily to the number. All seemed as busy as they could be, and I had never seen so much activity in a place of the same size. Leavenworth seemed bound to become an important commercial centre, and the pretensions of Kansas City as a rival looked as absurd to me as they did to the denizens of Leavenworth. Yet Leavenworth soon stagnated, and even to-day hardly exceeds 20,000 in population.
I was well provided with letters of introduction, and quickly made numerous acquaintances. I found also an old one in John C. Vaughan, formerly one of the editors of the Chicago Tribune, a most cultivated and polished gentleman, but much addicted to drink. He, with his son Champion, who afterwards had a most erratic career, was in charge of the daily paper. As was natural, there was an extraordinarily large proportion of active, bright young fellows among the inhabitants, and they included an unusual percentage of professional men from the older Western and the Eastern States, with many Harvard and Yale graduates among them. All were eager to make their fortunes and confident of making them quickly. Every one was full of hope that plenty of gold would be found at “Pike's Peak,” which would surely lead to the rapid growth of their town into a large city. The large outfitting business already done with intending gold-seekers by the merchants justified this theory. Many were getting ready to go and see for themselves what promise of the precious metals the Rocky Mountains really held out.
I made it at once my special object to gather whatever information was obtainable as to past and present developments at Pike's Peak, and for that purpose not only canvassed Leavenworth, but also visited other river towns to the north of it, like Atchison and St. Joseph, which could be easily reached by boat. It was difficult to glean a few grains of fact from the piles of chaff of exaggeration and outright fiction that I found everywhere. All the river points, from Kansas City to Omaha, which had suffered more than other parts of the country from the subsidence of the speculative fever of 1855-7, saw a chance for a rapid revival in the Pike's Peak excitement, and all were working with might and main to feed it, through their local papers and by every other means. The recklessness with which these systematic efforts for enticing the public were carried on bore bitter fruit, as I shall presently have to relate.
The following is the substance of what I ascertained and reported to the Commercial. The first evidence of mineral wealth in the South Platte country was obtained in 1848 by a party of civilized Cherokee Indians, who reached it on a hunting expedition from the Indian Territory, and brought home with them some specimens of quartz-bearing gold. In due course of time, the news of their discovery reached some members of the tribe in Georgia, their old home. One Green Russell, who had been a gold-miner in Georgia as well as in California, heard the story on his return from the latter State, and in the spring of 1857 set out from Georgia with a party of experienced miners to investigate it on the ground. Untoward circumstances compelled the expedition to winter in Western Missouri. It resumed its march in February, 1858, up the Arkansas, over the Santa Fé route. It reached the base of the Rocky Mountains in May, and immediately commenced prospecting for gold. Indications of it were found along the South Platte and its tributaries, but nothing to justify regular mining operations, in consequence of which the expedition dissolved, only nine of the original hundred remaining with the leader. This remnant continued their explorations without satisfactory results, and finally camped on Cherry Creek for the winter. In the spring of 1858, Fall-Leaf, a Delaware Indian, appeared in Lawrence, Kansas, with a small quantity of scale gold which he claimed to have found at the head waters of the Arkansas. This led to the formation of a party of young men who set out in June, reached the base of Pike's Peak, explored the country north and south of it without finding more than the “color” of gold, and wintered also on Cherry Creek.
These expeditions led to the passage of an act by the Kansas Legislature organizing the “County of Arapahoe,” comprising the entire western part of the State to the Rocky Mountains; the State limits in that direction never having been defined. Later on, the Governor appointed the officials of this vast county, which included territory enough for a State. Early in the fall of 1858, a public meeting was held at Leavenworth to organize emigration to the gold region. In the first week of October, a large company of residents of Leavenworth commenced the pilgrimage across the Plains. They took the Arkansas route, reaching the base of the mountains by the middle of November. There they came up with the officers for Arapahoe County, and persuaded them to push on with them to the mouth of Cherry Creek.
Here they found the other parties already mentioned, as well as about one hundred and fifty former residents of Eastern Nebraska and Western Iowa, making several hundred people, including two families. To this white population there were added during the winter fluctuating numbers of New Mexicans of Spanish-Indian extraction, and bands of Arapahoe Indians, who fortunately did not molest the new settlers beyond begging victuals of them. With true Western instinct, the first comers lost no time in starting the business of town-making. Their camps were spread over the bottom-land in the two angles formed by Cherry Creek and the South Platte and the low bluffs bordering them. On the left of Cherry Creek, a town site was taken up and called Auraria, and on the right bank another called Denver after the then Territorial Governor of Kansas. On both sides all went to work with a will, and during the winter about one hundred and twenty-five habitations of all sorts and of the rudest description — “dug outs,” “adobes,” log houses, and frame shanties, made with axe and saw alone — were put up, while many continued to occupy tents. The winter proved unexpectedly mild, with but light snowfalls. Enterprising tradesmen were among the settlers, and a few stores with limited supplies, and mechanics' shops, and, of course, some saloons also, were opened.
In spite of the most diligent search, I collected very little direct proof of the existence of gold at Pike's Peak. I felt warranted in saying through the columns of the Commercial that not over a thousand dollars' worth of wash-gold had reached the Missouri River towns from the Rocky Mountains. Green Russell arrived in Leavenworth during the winter, and brought with him about seventy ounces — the fruits of the prospecting of himself and companions during an entire summer. He was beset by eager questioners, but stated candidly that he found no conclusive evidence of really rich diggings, and that the gold he had with him paid him and his followers very poorly for the time and trouble spent in gathering it. He frankly advised against emigration on a large scale, but his warnings had very little effect.
I learned that the enterprising firm of Russell, Majors & Waddell, who did all the freight-carrying for the Government to the military posts on the Plains, had some time before received, from an agent they had sent to the Rocky Mountains to ascertain the facts, a report of so favorable a character that they had decided to start a stage line to Cherry Creek, and had already sent out mules to stock it. I called on the firm, and was told by the manager that I was correctly informed, and that they expected to be able to start the first stage within a fortnight. From all the information I had gathered, it was clear that, in the absence of all settlements for six-sevenths of the distance to the foot of the Rocky Mountains, I had only the choice between the stage and joining a party provided with wagons carrying camping equipage and supplies for a journey of from five to seven weeks. The danger from the numerous tribes of Indians roaming over the Plains had also to be considered. To spend so much time on the way did not suit me, and I decided to engage a seat in the first stage, for which the firm, out of compliment to me as a newspaper man, charged only half price. The travelling time to Cherry Creek was to be only one week.
Having worked up for the Commercial all the material procurable at Leavenworth, I decided to avail myself of an opportunity for a trip to Southern Kansas offered me by the kind invitation of the United States District Attorney, Alonzo G. Davis, a native of New York, to accompany him on an official mission to Fort Scott. As we were to go on horseback and camp by the way, I thought it would be a good preparation for the trip across the Plains. We were gone a week, during which I rode about one hundred and eighty miles in the saddle. Not having been on a horse in years, the first day's trip made me very sore, so that I had no enjoyment, but constant discomfort and pain all the way. Still, I stood it to the end without any suspicion of my sufferings on the part of my companions. We travelled over an unbroken stretch of rolling prairie of obviously extraordinary fertility. Sometimes we did not see a house for twenty miles, and we were guided most of the way by the compass. We passed only two or three small clusters of frame shanties, styled towns. Fort Scott proved to be an old trading post with a score of houses around it. The United States District Judge held court on two days, and I had a chance to see justice administered under the most primitive circumstances. There was no court-house, but the Judge sat in a school-house equipped with the rudest furniture. Both criminal and civil cases were tried. There being no place to confine prisoners, the United States marshal and his deputies had to keep them under constant watch at the only wretched hotel in the place. The effort to secure a jury failed entirely, owing to the scarcity of settlers.
On my return I learned that, for various reasons, the first stage of the “Leavenworth and Pike's Peak Express Co.,” as the new enterprise was called, would start a week later than I had been told. There was, however, no further postponement, and at the appointed time I got off, early in the morning, amid the cheers of a crowd of at least a thousand spectators, in one of the red-painted, canvas-covered vehicles, with three inside seats for three passengers each, known as “Concord coaches,” with four fine Kentucky mules attached that started on a full run. Strange to say, I was the only passenger, owing, no doubt, to the high charges (two hundred dollars), the untried nature of the line, the fear of Indian hostility, and, above all, to the prevailing uncertainty as to the actual state of things at Pike's Peak.
The first day, we followed the military road from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Riley, reaching the valley of the Kansas River after two hours travel, and keeping in it right along to the last-named point at the junction of the Kansas and its main branch, the Republican River. We rolled on, with many ups and downs, all day over a good dirt road at the rate of eight to ten miles an hour, fresh animals being taken on at regular stations from fifteen to twenty miles apart. The warm spring day could not have been finer. The undulating prairies looked beautiful in their fresh verdure. Even twenty-five miles west from Leavenworth, farms became few and far between. We passed a few new towns of very small dimensions, of which Manhattan, at the mouth of the “Blue” Fork, seemed the most promising. We continued on till we reached Junction City between nine and ten o'clock, where we stopped for the night. We had made one hundred and thirty miles in thirteen hours actual driving — a splendid record for the first day. Fort Riley was within half a mile. It was garrisoned by several companies of cavalry and infantry, and all the officers and at least a hundred men had turned out to receive the first stage. The opening of the line was quite an event in their monotonous life, especially as it promised a daily instead of a weekly mail. I was invited to the officers quarters, where I was regaled with eatables and drinkables, and lodged for the night in a very comfortable room. It was my last enjoyment of the luxury of a bed for a long time.
We started again at six in the morning, escorted by half a dozen cavalry officers, who kept us faithful and jolly company to the next stage station, where they took a hearty leave. Several of them I met again a few years later under circumstances that nobody dreamt of then, viz., in the field during the Civil War. We at once left the Kansas River and turned in a northwesterly direction. There was a sort of road for about two hundred miles further up the Kansas, but the stage company had preferred to locate a new route of its own, forming as direct a line as practicable to the settlements at Cherry Creek, and crossing the head waters of the various streams feeding Solomon Fork of the Kansas River, flowing southwardly, and (towards the end of the route) some of the tributaries of the North Platte, flowing northwardly. As the road passed from one divide to another, and as the great Plains rose steadily some five thousand feet from the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains, there were frequent and steep ascents and descents.
The stage stations had been necessarily selected with reference to water and grazing. They were simply small camps of one large and several small tents manned by three persons the station-keeper and an assistant, who took care of the twelve mules with which each station was provided for relays, and a male cook, who provided the meals for the two others and the stage passengers. The large tent served as sleeping- and dining-room for the latter, who were expected, as all travellers on the Plains did, to carry with them their bedding that is, buffalo robes or blankets, rolled up in a waterproof sheet. The mules were grazed under guard in the daytime and picketed at night, when they proved very annoying fellow-campers, as the invariable close approach of prowling prairie-wolves kept them in a panicky state.
The distance from Fort Riley to our destination was about five hundred miles, which it took us six and one-half days to make. There were twenty stations, and we made from three to four a day. We set out at daylight, and it took till dark to complete the prescribed daily run. There was a travelled road for only the first twenty-five miles, and for the rest of the long way we had to trust for guidance over the virgin ground to stakes and piles of stone and buffalo bones and dung erected by the locating party, and the mule tracks left in stocking the stations. The stage had no springs, and hence there was altogether too much jolting. I got out at every ascent, but none the less became sore and stiff, and was glad to stretch out on my blankets at the end of each day's journey. My fatigue ensured the soundest sleep, notwithstanding the hardness of my couch. The bracing prairie air, too, gave me an eager appetite for the two meals a day to which we were limited from want of time. The most magnificent weather favored us all the way.
The first two days from Fort Riley we saw nothing but a monotonous succession of plateaus, frequently broken by ridges, with fringes of cottonwood trees indicating water-courses. We knew that we were in a wilderness inhabited only by Indians and wild beasts. Of the presence of the latter, we had formal notice in the howling of wolves all around us at night. On the third day, we observed that the ordinary prairie grass had given way to the short, early species known as buffalo grass, which had already attained full growth. In the afternoon, the driver, as we came upon a new, long-stretched-out plateau, suddenly shouted, “Here they are,” and pointed with his whip at a long black line ahead of us. We were, indeed, in sight of buffaloes. We approached them apace, and, as we came nearer, one line after another appeared before us, and we perceived that we were going right among a large herd of the wild cattle of the Plains. Soon their clumsy, shaggy bodies could be seen in every direction, aggregating thousands of head, bulls and cows, and hundreds of calves. They were not mixed up in a common and great mass, but formed innumerable files, as it were, each headed by a powerful bull. They grazed very quietly, and our passage right through them did not disturb them in the least, though we came within twenty to thirty steps of several files. Only here and there some of the calves took alarm and broke into their clumsy gallop. We had rifles with us, and could have brought down numbers of them, but we forbore, as it would have been a useless slaughter, the stations being well provided with fresh meat. I had read of the steady pursuit of buffalo herds by wolves, and now saw confirmation of it. We counted scores of a large light-gray species hovering singly, like a chain of cowherd dogs, about the rear of the herd, ready to swoop down upon any unlucky laggard.
It took an hour to get through the herd. In the course of the afternoon, we passed another, and enjoyed the same spectacle repeatedly on the two following days. Some of the drivers, who had passed a long time on the Plains, asserted that we had struck the advance-guards of the millions starting early in the year from Texas and following the well-defined “buffalo range” to the British dominions during the spring and summer, returning in the fall and early winter. It was no exaggeration to say that we travelled for days amid buffaloes. At the end of the fifth day, we had passed beyond the belt of buffalo grass, and had gradually reached an altitude of nearly four thousand feet, the air steadily growing drier. Signs appeared that we had entered a more arid stretch of country. The soil turned gravelly. A species of short cactus began to prevail. The streams became mere streaks of red sand, so that water could be had only by digging for it. Willow bushes took the place of the belts of cottonwood trees along them, and finally even the willows disappeared. Prairie-dog villages, guarded by their comical barking occupants, abounded. Swarms of antelope came in sight, some of which scampered off as soon as they saw the coach, but others fell under the charm, as the drivers said, of its red color, and stood motionless while we came quite close to them. It was a delight to breathe the dry, fresh, and bracing air. The transparency of the atmosphere greatly widened the range of vision, and brought forth one mirage after another. Lakes lined with timber and dotted with islands appeared to right and left, while inverted mountain chains inspired us with awe. The illusive effects were truly wonderful.
Towards noon on the sixth day from Leavenworth, I noticed afar off to the southwest what seemed to be at first a cloud in a clear sky. I soon recognized it as a mountain peak, and judged, from the direction, that it could be no other than that named after Pike, the explorer. So it was, the great landmark thus showing itself in the rare atmosphere at a distance of not less than one hundred and fifty miles. I felt quite exalted by the sight. Within a few hours, another peak became visible to the northwest, which I took to be the twin of the other, named after Pike's associate Long. Before dark, many more summits directly to the west loomed up, indicating the outlines of the main chain of the Rocky Mountains.
An extraordinary incident occurred at the last night-station. The man in charge related to us that five days before, while hunting antelopes, he had suddenly discovered, a few miles from the station, five bodies of white men, four of them with broken skulls and otherwise mutilated. On closer examination, he found that there was still life in the uninjured one. He hurried back to the station for a wagon and fetched him into camp. It was evident that want of food and drink had brought the survivor, who was a very skeleton, to the point of death. Careful nursing revived him so far that he was able to relate how he got into his sad plight. He and twenty others, all from Northern Illinois, had left Kansas City six weeks before for Pike's Peak. They had, like so many others, foolishly concluded, on the recommendations of some reckless newspapers, to follow the example of the Mormon emigrants to Utah in crossing the Plains with small carts moved by hand. Thus equipped, they travelled up the Kansas River, and got along rapidly and without mishap to the point, two hundred miles west of Fort Riley, where the road ended. Thence they undertook to cut across the country for Cherry Creek, pulling and pushing their carts and trusting to a compass for guidance. After a few days they were caught in a snowstorm lasting two days. They suffered intensely from the exposure, became bewildered, and wandered at random. Their provisions gave out, and, exhausted from fatigue, hunger, and thirst, one after another dropped down and was left to die alone in the wilderness. When the survivors were reduced to twelve, brutalized by their sufferings, they entered into a horrible compact that they would live on each other, selected by lot. Some of the victims shot themselves, while others were deliberately killed by the remaining cannibals. The rescued man had three brothers in the party, and admitted that he had sustained himself on their bodies. Subsequent investigation by myself and others proved that his story was true. He was brought into Denver ten days later, physically recovered, but his mind was affected. He insisted that his name was Blue, while an inquiry at his home showed it to be Green.
During our last day's drive, the view of the mountains grew more and more imposing, as we gradually ascended the last and highest plateau of the Plains, forming the dividing ridge between the waters of the Kansas and of the South Platte Rivers. At noon we had reached its very crest, and there to the west and north and south one of the grandest sights to be beheld anywhere in the world was spread out before me. Between my standpoint and the great range lay the basin of the South Platte, which was clearly discernible with its half a dozen tributaries from the west and east. The valley seemed from fifty to seventy miles wide, though broken by many intervening ridges. For three hundred miles, the mighty mountains extended to the right and left, flanked on the south by the great cones of Pike's Peak and the Spanish Peaks, and to the north by the buttress-like form of Long's Peak. They seemed to form an immense wall dividing the continent as if by an impassable barrier. From their summits half-way down, they were all covered with snow, and thence to their base with unbroken forests.
The last fifty miles of our way formed a steady decline, and we spun along at the rate of eight to ten miles an hour. Just as the setting sun was gorgeously illuminating the range, the stage made a final halt in front of the log-house in Denver that represented the headquarters of the stage company. Our coming was not expected, but the glad intelligence that the first overland stage was arriving spread instantly on both banks of Cherry Creek, and the whole population quickly turned out to see it. We brought a mail of several hundred letters and newspapers, the announcement of which fact drew three cheers for the Express Company. It was a great boon, the last news from the Missouri River being nearly five weeks old. Of course, I was the centre of attraction and overwhelmed with questions. Some one proposed that I should tell the news from the “States” to them all, and I was made to mount a log and entertain the audience for half an hour with what had happened during the four weeks before my departure, for which I got a vote of thanks, and which secured me atonce the good will of all the settlers.
At Cherry Creek.—1859
MY credentials from the company to their local representative, Dr. J. M. Fox, solved at once the important question where I should be able to secure satisfactory board and lodging. The doctor offered to provide both for me in the office-building at a low charge, and there I lodged and took my meals during the next three months. My host was a Missourian, about thirty years old, formerly a medical practitioner, but for some years in the employ of Russell, Majors & Waddell. He was a very intelligent and resolute man, though somewhat inclined to lethargy. He never failed in attentive kindness to me. More than twenty years later, it was in my power to show him my gratitude by taking him into my employ in various positions in California, Oregon, and Montana, one of which he fills at this writing.
Let me describe our abode. It had a splendid position on the edge of a high bluff rising abruptly from the bed of Cherry Creek, and commanding a grand view of the mountains. It was the rudest sort of one-story cabin, built of cottonwood logs, thirty feet long and fifteen wide, and divided by a log partition into two equal compartments, the front one being devoted to office purposes, and the rear one used for cooking, eating, and sleeping. Its roof consisted of logs covered with dirt and gravel. Ingress was had through two doors without locks. It had no windows of any sort; indeed, there was no window-glass then or for months afterwards to be had on Cherry Creek. If the outer light was wanted, the doors had to be left open. Mother Earth furnished the floors, as no lumber of any sort was to be had. Nor had we any other resting-place. Every night buffalo robes were spread on the ground in the rear room, on which, with saddles and (later on) hay for head-rests, we made ourselves comfortable. The furniture consisted of a crude table made out of a packing-box, with small casks serving as seats. Our cook was a half-breed from New Mexico, speaking only Spanish. His knowledge of the culinary art was not great, but, even if it had been greater, it would not have done us much good, inasmuch as his material to work with was very limited at first. Buffalo and antelope meat, bacon, canned fruit, “flapjacks,” and bread were for weeks our uniform fare. Later, coffee, tea, canned vegetables, and potatoes from New Mexico were added to it. The express messengers and stage drivers shared our table and sleeping quarters. A “corral” with the stages and mules was immediately behind the building, the “long-ears” regularly disturbing our rest by their plaintive outcries.
The hearsay description of Denver and Auraria proved to be substantially correct; but Auraria, which occupied the left bank of Cherry Creek down to the South Platte River, was far ahead of Denver, which was laid out on the right bank. It contained several dozen scattered habitations of every sort, one- and two-story structures of rough-hewn logs, combinations of dugouts and tents, “adobes,” and log walls with canvas roofs, interspersed with wigwams. In Denver not over a dozen structures were up. It seemed as though Auraria would surely get a permanent start of its rival, but it turned out just the other way. Auraria contained all the business places, including some stores with very limited stocks, a tailor's, a shoemaker's, and even a watchmaker's shop, and last, not least, a printing-office, brought from Omaha, and started but a few days before my arrival. From it a readable weekly, the Rocky Mountain News, was already being issued, that subsequently grew into a very flourishing and influential concern and exists to this day under the same title. Its then editor, William N. Byers, became a prominent political character in the Territory and State of Colorado.
As was natural, the people of the two towns consisted almost exclusively of males from the several Western States; the five women and seven children, all told, among them were looked upon as curiosities. Very few, apparently, were used to toil with their hands for a living, while the others relied on their wits in the struggle for existence as tradesmen, town speculators, and mining promoters, with a sprinkling of followers of the professions of law and medicine.
It took me but a few days to get acquainted with everybody, and to collect and write up all the “gold” news there was. There was not much of it, in fact; no additional evidence of the existence of mineral wealth in the neighboring mountains had turned up for some months. Unmistakable and general discouragement consequently prevailed. Dr. Fox had exerted himself to the utmost to secure some placer and nugget gold for shipment by the first return stage, but succeeded in getting only a score or so of ounces, which was all there was in the two places. There was shaking of heads and confidential admissions on the part of the most intelligent men that the outlook was almost hopeless. Still, the influx of gold-seekers continued. Every day, and at all hours of the day, they came in from the East over the Platte route and from the South over the Arkansas route, in trains of from three to twenty wagons. The arrivals increased to several hundred a day, and the unoccupied parts of the town sites were dotted with the tents of the new-comers. Quite a number of “hand-carters” were brought in by the wagon-trains, having been picked up at various points on the Plains in the direst distress. The month of May came without any signs of improvement. Hopelessness took possession more and more of people's minds, and the general abandonment of the country became the subject of frequent discussion. This dispelling of all my confident and high-flown personal expectations gave me also the “blues.” In this mood of mind, on the second Sunday in May, I was sitting in the Express Office, in company with Dr. Fox and Joseph Heywood, a well-known Californian, formerly of Cincinnati. We were just discussing the unpromising aspect of affairs when a short, slender, heavily-bearded individual, in miner's garb, entered the room and inquired for letters. He was invited to a seat, and soon got to talking about the resources of the country. Contrary to expectation, he seemed to believe firmly in its mineral wealth. Being asked for his experience in the mountains, from which he claimed to have just arrived, he stated, after a few moments of apparent hesitation, that a little more than a week before, while following up the north fork of Clear Creek, a tributary of the South Platte, in company with John H. Gregory and several others, he had discovered gold-bearing dirt in the vicinity of streaks of quartz rock, that ran over the mountains, in a ravine adjoining the valley of the creek. The dirt, he asserted, had yielded him as much as a dollar's worth of gold to the pan. Perceiving a manifestation of incredulity on the part of his listeners, he produced, in corroboration of his statement, a bottle containing about forty dollars worth of flour gold, and also several fragments of a hard substance which he designated as decomposed gold-bearing quartz. Mr. Heywood stepped out-doors with one of the pieces for the purpose of examining it with a magnifying-glass. He soon called out Dr. Fox, whom he told that the specimen he held in his hand was as fine quartz as he had seen in the richest quartz veins in California. Several persons having, in the meantime, entered the office and shown, upon hearing the miner's tale, a disposition to doubt its truthfulness, the latter grew rather excited, repeated what he had said, and asserted most emphatically that he would warrant one dollar to the pan of dirt to any number of men who would follow him to the locality in question; adding that they might bring a rope along and swing him up in case he should be found to be a liar.
This was the first news of the discovery of gold-bearing quartz veins in the mountains to reach the Cherry Creek towns. The gulch where the discovery was made took the name of “Gregory Mine.” The miner returned the next day to the mountains, accompanied by several Auraria men anxious to obtain confirmation of his story. Nothing more was heard for several days, but, on the fifth, one of the party, one Bates, formerly of Dubuque, Iowa, returned, bringing with him a vial full of scale or placer gold, equal to about five ounces, which he claimed to have washed himself from thirty-nine pans of dirt obtained not far from the spot where Gregory had found a “paying” lode. Bates being known as a reliable man, his story found general credence as he was taken from door to door to repeat it. Exuberant hope took at once the place of the prevailing despondency. Persons on the streets shouted to each other: “We are all right now,” “The stuff is here, after all,” “The country is safe,” etc.
On the following day, a general exodus took place in the direction of North Clear Creek. Whoever could secure provisions enough for a stay in the mountains started off without delay. Traders locked their stores, barkeepers set out with their stock of whiskey, the few mechanics that were engaged in building houses dropped their work. The county judge and sheriff, lawyers and doctors, and even the editor of the Rocky Mountain News, joined in the rush. Naturally, I did not stay behind, but started out on a fine mule, borrowed from the Express Company, with my bedding strapped on behind, and with three days supply of hard bread and bacon, and ground roasted corn, which, mixed with water, furnished a very cooling and nourishing beverage, much used in New Mexico.
The Gregory Gulch was, in an air line, not more than thirty miles from Cherry Creek, but the only practicable route at the time was a roundabout one, measuring fully fifty miles. The first sixteen miles were very easy. The ground rose gradually for twelve miles to the so-called foot-hills. I could keep my mule steadily on a trot over the intervening natural meadows in their bright spring garb of fresh grass and the greatest variety of high-colored wild flowers. The foot-hills I found a range of elevations to the height of ten hundred to fifteen hundred feet above the prairie, covered with tuft grass and scattering pine, and separated from the main range by a beautiful valley about a mile wide. Riding up this valley for a couple of miles, I reached Clear Creek, a turbulent mountain stream, about fifty feet wide and four to six feet deep, with a powerful current. My animal proved averse to trying the ice-cold water, and I got him across only with great difficulty and after swimming him down-stream for several hundred feet and getting wet to the hips. A mile from the crossing, the trail turned abruptly up a very steep mountain side, rising to a height of at least two thousand feet above the valley, to climb which my mule found a most arduous task, taking several hours to accomplish. At least a hundred other prospectors were toiling up at the same time, some even trying to bring up wagons drawn by oxen. Once up, the rest of the journey proved comparatively easy over broad mountain tops, rich in grass and pine woods, and I managed to reach my destination the same day just about dark. I had a severe sick-headache during the whole afternoon, and was obliged to stop several times because of nausea. This was the effect of the high altitude — between nine thousand and ten thousand feet above the level of the sea — which I felt several times afterwards on trips through the mountains; but I finally got over it. I asked my way to Gregory's camp, introduced myself, and begged a place to lie down for the night. He complied at once, and assigned me a corner of his tent. My animal required no care, as he had had plenty of grass and water on the way, and, after picketing him, I spread my blankets and was asleep in a moment.
In the morning, I took in the situation in a few hours. The “Gregory Mine” was located at an altitude of about nine thousand feet, on the steep southern slope of a narrow ravine, grass-grown and pine-covered, like all of the Rocky Mountain world except the highest peaks. It was washed by the head waters of the north fork of Clear Creek, forming a brook not over six feet wide and two deep. Although but two weeks had elapsed since Gregory had washed out the first “pay dirt” in his pan, there were already many scores of men busily engaged in ripping open the mountain sides with pick and shovel. Dozens of huts of pine branches had been erected and tents pitched. Sluices, “long toms,” and “rockers” were in full operation, ditches crossed the gulch, and slides were being constructed — in short, the very picture of a busy, promising mining camp was before me. One of the first things I did was to induce Gregory — a slight, wiry, red-haired, and full-whiskered Georgian — to relate to me his own experience as a gold-seeker. As he deserves to be remembered as the Sutter of the Rocky Mountains, I will preserve his statement as an original contribution to the history of the State of Colorado by reproducing it here.
I left my former home in Gordon County, Ga., in August of last year, for the purpose of going overland to the Frazer River mines in British Columbia. Various untoward circumstances detained me en route, and I felt obliged to winter at Fort Laramie [a military post about 250 miles to the northwest of Cherry Creek], While there, the news of the discovery of gold on the South Platte reached me. I thereupon determined not to go further West, but to make for Pike's Peak. I set out from Fort Laramie early in February, and prospected extensively as I travelled along the base of the mountains. Not finding any trace of gold, I pushed on till I reached the mouth of Clear Creek where the town of Arapahoe was springing up. Here I made up a party of fifteen, and we started up Clear Creek. After toiling for several days up the cañon, we left the main stream and followed a branch coming in from the north. Near its sources we found indications of quartz veins streaking the sides of the gulch down which it flowed. We speedily uncovered and opened one of them with our picks and shovels. After removing the surface rock to the depth of several feet, we came upon a pocket containing a dirt-like, decayed rock, which on being taken to the creek and washed, yielded four dollars to the pan. We were sure then that we had found what we were after. All our party at once staked off and opened claims on the same lead, and commenced work in dead earnest. We were first prevented by ice and snow from working regularly, but for a week the weather has been warm enough. A great many, as you see, have tracked us to the gulch and taken up claims on other veins and are working them.
I spent nearly a week in Gregory Gulch, enjoying the hospitality of the miners. I visited every “lead” and “claim” then opened, witnessed the digging, hauling, and washing of “pay-dirt,” washed out many a pan myself, saw the gold in the riffles of the sluices, and was daily present when the workers caught the quicksilver used to gather the fine gold from the sluices and heated it in retorts into gold-charged cakes. Thoroughly convinced by all this ocular evidence that the new Dorado had really been discovered, I returned to Denver, and felt justified in spreading this great news with all the faith and emphasis of conviction.
A perceptible change had already taken place in the Cherry Creek towns. Building was being resumed. Tradesmen and mechanics were busy. Gold from Clear Creek began to circulate. The caravans of new-comers from the East made direct for the mountains. Several large trains loaded with miscellaneous provisions and merchandise had arrived and reduced somewhat the ruling enormous prices for necessaries, as, twenty-five cents a pound for flour, forty to fifty cents for sugar, five dollars a bushel for corn, etc. In short, a general stir and bustle had taken the place of stagnation.
About a week after my return from the mountains, a notable event occurred in the arrival of Horace Greeley, the famous editor of the New York Tribune, accompanied by Albert D. Richardson, a well-known correspondent of the Boston Journal. They came in one of the express stages, and had met with a singular and perilous accident. In driving through a herd of buffaloes, the animals, probably maddened at the sight of the red color of the coach, had attacked and upset it. Greeley had received a severe cut below his right knee, crippling him for several weeks, and both journalists were bruised all over. They found quarters in the Denver House, the only “hotel” in Denver, that had been got ready for the reception of guests just before their arrival.
This establishment was about sixty feet long and thirty wide. Its four sides consisted of rough-hewn logs. It had a slanting, skeleton roof covered with canvas. In the interior were neither floors, nor ceilings, nor walls, nor solid partitions to divide the space; but canvas nailed on frames served to set it off for different purposes to the height of seven feet. The front part was occupied by a bar for the sale of strong drinks only, and a dozen gambling-tables, at which various games were conducted by experts in the profession. Several individuals who had been hanging about the towns, and whom I had taken to be men of means awaiting their chances for a respectable use of their money, appeared in this part. Next to the bar-room came another space, enclosed by canvas partitions, where the meals were served. Immediately behind it, six apartments for sleeping-purposes, divided only by the same light material, were set off on each side of a passage. Outside, at the end of the building, the kitchen, presided over by a white male cook, was carried on under canvas. There was no furniture but the gambling- and other tables and benches and chairs, made out of rough boards. Bedsteads were provided of the same material, without mattress or pillows, and also tin wash-basins, which the guests themselves filled out of barrels of water standing in the passageway, and emptied, after use, on the dirt floor.
Altogether, that hotel was a unique institution, and, of course, without comfort or quiet. In the absence of ceilings and with the thin partitions, a sound in any part of the building was heard all over it. Greeley was carried into this hostelry — he could not use his wounded leg — and put into one of the sleeping-chambers described. The “Tribune philosopher,” as he was known to the entire American public, had naturally a most gentle temper, which he lost only on rare occasions and under the greatest provocation. His benign countenance, indeed, usually wore an expression typical of resignation and forbearance. But, what with the pain of his wound and the endless racket in the place during the entire twenty-four hours, and the special irritation produced upon the apostle of strict temperance and good morals generally by the drinking and gambling going on day and night within a few feet of him, those Christian virtues gradually lost their control over him. I called on him several times a day, and noticed this change of temper distinctly. It gradually expressed itself in swearing at his disturbers so violently that I dared not believe my ears. His wrath culminated on the third night of his tortures. I was fortunate enough to be with him, and thus became an eye- and ear-witness of what happened. About ten o clock he got up, and insisted on limping to the bar-room. His appearance, though his presence in the building was generally known, created surprise and instant silence. He begged for a chair, and, “Friends,” said he, “I have been in pain and without sleep for almost a week, and I am well-nigh worn out. Now I am a guest at this hotel, I pay a high price for my board and lodging, and am entitled to rest during the night. But how can I get it with all this noise going on in this place?” Then he addressed one of the most pathetic appeals I ever heard to those around him to abandon their vicious ways and become sober and industrious. He spoke for nearly an hour, and was listened to with rapt interest and the most perfect respect. He succeeded, too, in his object. The gambling stopped, and the bar was closed every night at eleven o'clock as long as he remained.
Another anecdote connected with Greeley's stay in Denver occurs to me. A German barber, plying his art there, who styled himself Murat, and claimed to be a descendant of the King of Naples, was called in to shave Greeley, and, when he had finished the job and was asked for his charge, coolly named two dollars and a half as the regular price for shaving outside of his shop. Greeley gave him a bland look, pulled out his purse, and handed him the money, saying: “Well, I guess I can afford to pay something for the privilege of getting scraped by royal hands.”
After resting a few days longer, Mr. Greeley felt strong enough to undertake a trip to the Gregory mines, and I volunteered to conduct him and his companion there. He had not ridden an animal in twenty-five years, and dreaded the necessity of doing so, but finally made up his mind to it. We drove in a wagon as far as Clear Creek, and there mounted three mules. I led the file into the creek, my companions following me without hesitation. The water was at least a foot higher than when I last crossed, and my animal began swimming at once, wetting me up to the waist. The other beasts imitated mine. Greeley was a sight to behold. Alarmed by the sudden immersion of his mule, he had first raised his legs in order to avoid getting wet. This movement made him lose his balance, and, to steady himself, he threw his arms around the animal's neck. The mule did not like the embrace, and commenced struggling against it and taking his rider down-stream. I took in the situation on reaching the other side, galloped down the creek, and, reëntering it, managed to seize Greeley's bridle and pull him along the bank. The rider's face bore an indescribable expression of fear mingled with mirth at himself. As he came up on the bank, dripping all over, a number of gold-seekers who had watched us gave him three rousing cheers, which brought back the characteristic smile to his countenance.
On reaching Clear Creek on our return trip, Greeley positively refused to swim across it again on his mule. As he said of himself, “The starch was completely taken out of me by my three days' rough experience, and I had neither strength nor heart for the passage.” It turned out that he was very wise in his refusal, for, as his mule was being led across, the saddle-girth broke, and everything it bore, including sleeping-blankets, dropped into the water and was lost. The following passage from a letter of his to the Tribune refers to an accident that befell me suddenly between Clear Creek and Denver:
An accident, which might have proved serious, happened to a member of our party, Mr. Villard of the Cincinnati Commercial. Riding some distance ahead of us, he was thrown by his mule's saddle slipping forward and turning him so that he fell heavily on his left arm, which was badly bruised, and thence dragged a rod with his heel fast in the stirrup. His mule then stopped, but, when I rode up behind him, I dared not approach him, lest I should start his animal, and waited for the friend who, having heard his call for help, was coming up in front. Mr. Villard was released without further injury, but his arm is temporarily useless.
I had, in fact, to carry the injured arm in a sling for several weeks.
Greeley, Richardson, and I united in a statement to the public regarding the then actual mining developments. It was prepared in perfect good faith, and based strictly on facts observed by the signers themselves. Greeley's political opponents, nevertheless, made it the subject of ridicule and abuse of him for a long time. His inveterate enemy, the senior James Gordon Bennett, especially attacked him for it in the New York Herald. The assertions that we had allowed ourselves to be misled and swindled, became so persistent that the leading miners subsequently published sworn statements testifying to the correctness of our account. The steadily growing proof of the existence of great mineral wealth in the Rocky Mountainstriumphantly sustained us in the end.
From the Rockies to the Middle West.—1859-60
MY personal prospects were now assured, at least to the extent of a continuance of my engagement on the Commercial during the summer and fall. “Pike's Peak” was the all-absorbing topic in the press throughout the United States, and news from there was eagerly sought by editors and publishers. Several other correspondents appeared successively on the field, but I had a great advantage over them through my early advent and my knowledge of the country.
The influx of wanderers across the Plains in search of riches grew steadily greater as the summer advanced. Not less than fifty to sixty thousand fortune-hunters reached the Rocky Mountains before the first of September. Within a few weeks, from four to five thousand had crowded into the Gregory and adjoining gulches. The overflow then found its way along other water-courses to the north and south, and even up to and over the highest range, to the region watered by the Grand and Green Rivers. Thousands followed the South Platte to its sources, and thence reached the western slope through the Ute Pass. In fact, before the next winter set in, the greater part of the territory now included in the boundaries of the State of Colorado had been journeyed and worked over, and in many places permanent mining-camps established. Almost every day, reports of new “strikes” in various parts of the mountains reached the Cherry Creek towns. As soon as they were sufficiently confirmed to warrant it, I set out to verify them on the spot. Thus I was “on the go” the greater part of the time. I usually joined prospectors who had made original discoveries and come to Cherry Creek to obtain supplies and implements for developing them. But several times also I started out with exploring parties without any definite destination. I likewise revisited established mining-camps, like Gregory's, at intervals. In this way the range of my observations extended from Long's Peak to Pike's Peak on the eastern as well as on the western slope of the mountains. I crossed and recrossed the main crest of the mountains repeatedly. I visited those beautiful, all but circular valleys, consisting of mountain meadows dotted with pines singly and in groups, traversed by rushing mountain-streams and surrounded by snow-capped mountains, known as the South, Middle, and North Parks. These trips, while involving sometimes great hardships, never failed to be enjoyable from beginning to end. I think of them even now with rekindled enthusiasm. The contact with primitive nature in its sublimest forms had something inspiring. We travelled every day just as long and as far as we liked. We took ample time for everything for admiring natural wonders, for enjoying the scenery, for fishing and hunting, and for prospecting. The streams were full of trout and the valleys of elk and deer. We frequently met great herds of elk. We always slept on the ground—and such restful sleep we had, from ten to twelve hours every night! I could name half a dozen flourishing Colorado towns on the sites of which I camped before they were even “taken up.” We did our cooking by turns, and rich feasts we had on trout and game. Altogether, I was always sorry when my journalistic duties compelled me to return to Cherry Creek to work up new material into my regular reports.
Yet, in Denver and Auraria, life was also growing from day to day more active, varied, and interesting. They both made astonishing strides. A number of portable saw-mills had arrived, and were furnishing an ample supply of building-material. Hardware for buildings and ready-made windows and doors were also landed by the wagon-load. Skilled mechanics became numerous. The quick means of transit from the Missouri by the stage company—the time had been reduced to six days—also brought a considerable accession of capitalists. In every direction the business of pushing the towns forward was pursued with remarkable energy by midsummer. New buildings were started every day, and their character steadily improved. The original site of Auraria had been taken up by Nebraska men, that of Denver by the party which had come out in consequence of the Leavenworth meeting already mentioned. No Government survey having ever been made, this “taking up” was really squatting at random. The “squatters” had no little trouble in protecting their claims from “jumpers.” As was to be expected, the moment the future of the country seemed assured, “additions” to the town site were staked off for miles from its boundaries to the four points of the compass. The Denver Company originally consisted of twelve members, each holding an equal undivided interest. “General” Larimer, originally from Pittsburg and afterwards a resident of Leavenworth, was the leading spirit. In consideration of my having written up the country so assiduously, I was given a one-forty-eighth interest in the association. (It may as well be mentioned here that I helped to locate and became part owner of other town sites in different parts of the country.)
By the end of August, there were fully five thousand people settled on Cherry Creek, including at least one hundred families. Long before that time, the necessity of protecting the real and personal property of the inhabitants had led to the formation of town governments. Although the population was drawn from every part of the United States—it would not be too much to say from every quarter of the globe—it was remarkably respectable and orderly. I do not hesitate to assert that the percentage of vicious elements, gamblers, thieves, murderers, and bad women, was never so large there as in other mining towns in California, Nevada, and Montana. Interference with property and injuries to persons were not frequent, but it was practically impossible to bring offences against either to punishment, owing to the total lack of courts and jails. It was therefore not surprising that Judge Lynch had to be finally appealed to for order and safety. Banishment and hanging were about the only practicable punishments. Yet, during the summer and fall, only fifteen men and women were given notice to leave the country, and only two men hung for murders committed in gambling- and bawdy-house brawls. I witnessed one of the executions. The subject was a fine-looking young man, not over twenty-three, of respectable parentage, great intelligence, and fine education, but brought to this terrible end by drink and other bad habits. He admitted that he deserved to die, and met his doom very bravely.
By the latter part of the summer, the two towns contained several hotels with more or less “modern” improvements, two scores of stores, numerous mechanics' shops, at least one hundred doctors' and lawyers' offices, and other evidences of advancing civilization, besides great numbers of drinking- and gambling-saloons. Several excellent eating-houses were also opened, in which very good meals without lodging could be had at moderate prices—that is, at seventy-five cents a meal (instead of from one and a half to two and a half dollars). The Express Company had moved into a new building some time before, and I had found board and lodging elsewhere. I must not forget to relate an exciting experience we had before the removal of the Express Office from the original log-building. The company made a business of bringing letters from the East, for carrying which they charged twenty-five cents each, following in this a practice common in California and other mining States. At first the charge was willingly paid, but, as the population grew larger, grumblings began to be heard that gradually swelled into general and loud dissatisfaction and violent attacks in the press on the “extortion” of the Express Company. The agitation culminated in indignation meetings and the passage of resolutions denouncing the Company and threatening the use of force to compel a more reasonable charge. For several days crowds gathered in front of and inside the Express Office on the arrival of stages, demanding their letters without offering to pay anything. I stood by my friend, the Express Agent, behind the counter, and it looked twice as though he would have occasion to defend himself against violence. Fortunately, a compromise was reached, in pursuance of which the charge was reduced to ten cents. It was done away with altogether when, before the end of the summer, the Government entered into a contract with the Company for the transportation of the mails.
Late in the summer, the arrivals from the East almost ceased and a return tide set in—that is, a homeward migration which steadily gained in numbers, so that, in the early fall, it looked as though the country would rapidly lose most of its population. This was not surprising, for four out of every five of the immigrants had come without means, and in the expectation that, by the simple use of their hands and ordinary implements, they could quickly gather fortunes from placer diggings. But the truth was, that the alluvial auriferous deposits were very limited and quickly exhausted, and that the precious metals in the Rocky Mountains were buried in veins of quartz and galena, the successful working of which required capital and costly mechanical appliances that had to be brought from the East. Only a few small quartz-mills had been hauled across the Plains and set up in the mountains. Unavoidably, under the circumstances, the bulk of the gold-seekers were doomed to disappointment, and sought their way back to the States as best they could. It turned out that the entire yield in gold and silver in 1859 from the Pike's Peak region did not exceed three-quarters of a million, while many millions had been sunk in outfits and wasted labor to secure this meagre result.
My faith in the future of the country remained unshaken, but, with the advance of the fall, I was obliged to consider the question whether I should remain during the winter or return to the East. It was evident that, whenever snowfall and the freezing up of the streams should compel the cessation of mining operations in the mountains, general dulness would set in and with it a great dearth of news, so that I could hardly expect the Commercial to continue my allowance for services. On the other hand, I liked the climate and the pioneer life; and then, too, I had some property interests, as explained. After some weeks of doubt, I was helped to a decision in favor of passing the winter east of the Missouri by a scheme that suddenly dawned upon me and that could be carried out only there. It was to embody my observations and experiences in a book that should be also a guide to the Pike's Peak region for the new tide of gold-seekers that I felt sure would set in again with the coming spring. I submitted the idea to my friends among the leading business men, who thought very highly of it and promised me their support by subscribing for numbers of copies and otherwise.
Accordingly, I made up my mind to start back, taking the Platte route in the last week of October. A short time before my departure, I received an offer for my interest in the Denver town company, viz., twelve hundred dollars in money, a gold watch, a wagon with two horses, and a rifle! The proposal was very tempting, for the town lots had cost me nothing, and the amount of cash seemed imposingly large to me, who had never had more than one-tenth of it at my disposal at one time. I had had no experience in such matters, and lacked all speculative instinct, and, being young and very self-confident, did not really care much for money beyond my current requirements. The wagon and team were just then an especially attractive consideration, as their ownership would solve for me the problem how to travel across the Plains. Hence I accepted after brief hesitation. The outfit for the journey was quickly completed. I secured two passengers, who paid thirty dollars each for the ride of six hundred and fifty miles in the ordinary farmer's wagon. It was just enough to pay for the provisions of the party, and for a few bushels of corn which I took along by way of precaution for the horses. We left Denver early on the morning of October 29. My fixed determination at the time was to return early in the spring, but it was only after the lapse of fully seventeen years that I saw the place again, and then only in consequence of a most extraordinary turn in the wheel of my personal fortunes.
We followed what had become the great highway for the Pike's Peak travel, down the South Platte to its junction with the North Platte, and thence along the main river as far as Fort Kearny, where we left it, going in a southeasterly direction over the military road leading to Fort Leavenworth. With the exception of some sandy stretches of several miles each, the road was hard and level nearly the whole distance to Fort Kearny, so that we could make from twenty-five to thirty miles a day without over-fatiguing the horses, which proved excellent roadsters. The vast numbers of animals that had passed over the same route during the summer, had left not a spear of green or dry grass in the Platte valley, but happily a number of “ranches” had sprung up where hay could be had, though at a high price. There was also an absolute scarcity of firewood, and we had to cook our meals by the use of “buffalo chips” (dry dung) that we collected in bags some distance from the river. My companions were very helpful in taking care of the horses and preparing our morning and evening repasts, and altogether we got along capitally. We slept in and under the wagon, wrapped in our buffalo robes and blankets, with the horses picketed next to it. Splendid weather favored us until we were within a day's travel of Fort Kearny, when a snowstorm came upon us in the night that compelled us to lie still for thirty hours. Of course, cooking was out of the question, and we were reduced to bacon and “hardtack.” The horses were kept well blanketed, and fed with corn. When the storm ceased, there was eighteen inches of snow on the ground, but the warm sun made it melt rapidly.
We replenished our supplies, as far as necessary, at Fort Kearny—a trading and military post with three companies of cavalry—and pushed on as fast as possible (forewarned, as we had been by the snowstorm, of the season of blizzards) over the remaining one hundred and eighty miles to St. Joseph on the Missouri, our destination. We reached the first settlements at Marysville, an embryo town eighty miles from Fort Kearny, on the Blue River, after a three days' drive. Here we found decent hotel accommodations and good stabling for the horses, at moderate Eastern prices. From this point on, our hardships were at an end, nice roadside inns being situated at convenient distances all the way. About thirty miles from St. Joseph an extraordinary incident occurred. A buggy with two occupants was coming towards us over the open prairie. As it approached, I thought I recognized one of them, and, sure enough, it turned out to be no less a person than Abraham Lincoln! I stopped the wagon, called him by name, and jumped off to shake hands. He did not recognize me with my full beard and pioneer's costume. When I said, “Don't you know me?” and gave my name, he looked at me, most amazed, and then burst out laughing. “Why, good gracious! you look like a real Pike's-Peaker.” His surprise at this unexpected meeting was as great as mine. He was on a lecturing tour through Kansas. It was a cold morning, and the wind blew cuttingly from the northwest. He was shivering in the open buggy, without even a roof over it, in a short overcoat, and without any covering for his legs. I offered him one of my buffalo robes, which he gratefully accepted. He undertook, of course, to return it to me, but I never saw it again. After ten minutes chat, we separated. The next time I saw him he was the Republican candidate for the Presidency.
We reached St. Joseph the next day, having been only twenty-four days from Denver—a very quick trip under the circumstances. I concluded not to place my team in winter quarters, but to sell it, though I obtained only a very low price for it, and then I took the first train for St. Louis and Cincinnati. In both places I was a sort of attraction, and received a good deal of attention, especially in business and newspaper circles, and spent some weeks very agreeably.
Towards the close of the year, I commenced work upon my proposed book upon the Pike's Peak region. The bulk of the material I needed was already in my possession, but the collection of additional data to give it a reliable character as a “guide” was necessary. Moreover, in order to ensure pecuniary success, I decided to make a regular canvass for subscriptions among the business men of St. Louis and Chicago and the Missouri River towns. Accordingly, I visited all those places, and had reason to be satisfied with the result. I secured not only subscriptions for about ten thousand copies, but a good many advertisements to be printed on fly-leaves at the end of the book. This preliminary work being accomplished, I settled down at a St. Louis hotel for the preparation of the manuscript early in February, and by the middle of March it was ready for the printer.
My venture was indisputably a legitimate one from every point of view, and it really promised very satisfactory results. Indeed, the aid already secured justified the expectation of a profit of at least several thousand dollars, and this prospect filled me with great buoyancy of spirit. But all my fond hopes were to remain unfulfilled. In an evil hour, I was led to contract for printing the book and lithographing the accompanying maps with a firm whose business it was to publish city and town directories all over the West. The firm seemed to have a good standing, and certainly had all the requisite printing facilities. When the book was about half done, however, the firm failed, and all their assets were seized upon by their creditors, including the plates for my book. A complicated contention over the assets ensued. In spite of my unceasing efforts, I succeeded only in the latter part of May in getting control of my manuscript and the finished plates, and it was late in June before the book was ready. My agreement with the subscribers and advertisers had been to deliver it on May 1. The spring emigration to Pike's Peak, for which the book was intended, being over, they refused to accept it. The upshot of it all was, that barely enough copies were sold to cover the cost of the first edition of twenty-five hundred. In other words, instead of the expected financial success, the undertaking proved a failure, leaving me without any compensation for the months of time and trouble I had devoted to it, and, besides, very much reducing my limited means. I did not get over the pang of that disappointment for a long time.
Instead of finding myself an independent capitalist, able to do thereafter only such literary work as suited me—a blissful state to which I had confidently looked forward—I was again obliged to seek regular journalistic employment. Fortunately for me, we were in a “Presidential year,” the exciting forerunner of the dreadful crisis through which the country was to pass during the following years. I had been asked by the Cincinnati Commercial to attend the memorable Republican National Convention that met at Chicago on May 16, on its behalf, and gladly obeyed the summons. What I saw and heard on that great occasion will always form one of my most cherished and stirring reminiscences. I have attended a number of national gatherings of the great political parties since, but none that even remotely compared with the attendance at the Chicago convention in point of intelligence, character, earnestness, and enthusiasm. It contained the very flower of the leaders of the young Republican party: Horace Greeley, William M. Evarts, Thaddeus Stevens, Preston King, David Wilmot, Andrew G. Curtin, Henry J. Raymond, Thurlow Weed, General James Watson Webb, George William Curtis, George S. Boutwell, George Ashmun, Joshua R. Giddings, William Dennison, “Tom” Corwin, Henry S. Lane, N. B. Judd, Lyman Trumbull, and Carl Schurz. It was undeniably what all the opposition parties—the Douglas Democracy, the Buchanan or Breckinridge Democracy, and the Bell and Everett “American” party—charged it with being: a sectional convention, made up exclusively of representatives of the free States, excepting the five border Slave States. The Proceedings were of absorbing interest, and, upon the whole, harmonious. Still, two divergent tendencies upon the slavery question, one radical and the other conservative, were noticeable, which led to the most dramatic incident of the Convention. It was when the motion of Joshua R. Giddings to embody the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, “That all men are created equal,” etc., etc., was voted down, and George William Curtis, then only thirty-six years old, rose to renew it with a matchless burst of eloquence which at once carried away the audience.
In one respect the Convention proved a great disappointment to me. I was enthusiastically for the nomination of William H. Seward, who seemed to me the proper and natural leader of the Republican party ever since his great “irrepressible conflict” speech in 1858. The noisy demonstrations of his followers, and especially of the New York delegation in his favor, had made me sure, too, that his candidacy would be irresistible. I therefore shared fully the intense chagrin of the New York and other State delegations when, on the third ballot, Abraham Lincoln received a larger vote than Seward, and the former's unanimous nomination followed. I had not got over the prejudice against Lincoln with which my personal contact with him in 1858 imbued me. It seemed to me incomprehensible and outrageous that the uncouth, common Illinois politician, whose only experience in public life had been service as a member of the State legislature and in Congress for one term, should carry the day over the eminent and tried statesman, the foremost figure, indeed, in the country.
I devoted my entire time for the remainder of the summer, as well as during the fall till the Presidential election in November, to getting up reports of notable political meetings for the Cincinnati Commercial, the Missouri Democrat, with whose well-known chief editor, B. Gratz Brown, I had become well acquainted during my stay in St. Louis, and for the New York Tribune, connection with which I secured through my acquaintance with Horace Greeley. I was constantly on the wing, and travelled over Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan, with occasional incursions into Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Missouri—in sum, from four to five thousand miles. I do not think I exaggerate in saying that I must have attended at least fifty important meetings in the course of four months. While a high order of popular oratory was rare, there was a great deal of very good speaking. I heard Lincoln, Douglas, S. P. Chase, J. C. Breckinridge, Carl Schurz, Schuyler Colfax, Tom Corwin, and a host of lesser lights. I met hundreds of old political acquaintances, and made literally thousands of new ones. It was a singular opportunity to observe and study human nature in general, and the game of practical politics in particular. Upon the whole, I had a very good time, being the recipient of hearty hospitality everywhere. Still, I was very glad when my labors came to an end.
I was in Chicago on the day of the election. Though no great admirer of the Republican standard-bearer, I desired, of course, his success, and felt greatly gratified by it. It was clear to my mind that the triumph of the Republican party would lead to a national crisis. I believed, indeed, that the country was on the threshold of most serious events, and it looked to me as though a violent solution of the slavery question might be rapidly approaching. But I had as little idea as anybody else that the greatest and bloodiest civil war known to history was to break outin the immediate future.
With Lincoln at Springfield.—1860-1
I WENT from Chicago to New York partly for a few weeks' rest and enjoyment, to which I was certainly entitled after my arduous labors during the summer and fall, and partly to renew my former efforts to secure a permanent connection with the metropolitan press. The thorough practical training as a reporter I had acquired since my last attempts in the same direction, promised to make the attainment of my object much easier. An offer came to me in the last days of November in an entirely unexpected form. The New York Associated Press proposed to me that I should go to Springfield, Illinois, and remain there till the departure of the President-elect for Washington, supplying it with regular despatches about current events in that place, which was to become for a time the centre of political gravitation. As a fair remuneration was offered, and my condition that I should be permitted to correspond by mail with Western papers was agreed to, I accepted this novel and important mission.
I started at once for Springfield. Having frequently visited the place in 1858 and during the Presidential campaign, I had a good many local acquaintances, including Lincoln; his law-partner, Judge Logan; Richard Yates, the Governor-elect; Jesse K. Dubois, the State Auditor; and other politicians, and the writers on the two daily papers. Among the latter was William M. Springer, who afterwards attained considerable prominence as a member of Congress of many years' service. Later on, R. R. Hitt turned up as a shorthand reporter of the proceedings of the Legislature. Springfield was then a small but attractive town of some nine thousand inhabitants. The business part centred in the square in which stood the State-house, with the offices of the Governor and of the heads of departments and the legislative chambers. The residence streets extended at right angles from the square. None of the streets were paved, and in wet weather, of which a good deal prevailed during that winter, they were simply impassable. There was but one decent hotel, where I put up, and this became the principal stopping-place of thousands of visitors, who, from curiosity or for political consultation and place-hunting, made a pilgrimage to this transient Mecca during the succeeding months.
When I made the object of my stay known to Mr. Lincoln, he gave me a very friendly welcome, and authorized me to come to him at any time for any information I needed. He introduced me to his private secretary, John G. Nicolay, who owes a very successful career to him. Mr. Lincoln had engaged him only after his election, previous to which he had been a simple clerk on a small salary in one of the State offices. I also then met John Hay for the first time. I do not remember whether he was already in the employ of Mr. Lincoln as assistant private secretary when I arrived or not. But he became such before Mr. Lincoln left Springfield. He was very young—barely twenty-two—handsome and of engaging manners. He had been acting as a correspondent of the St. Louis Missouri Democrat for some time. He wrote with much fluency and in a florid style. His career as littérateur and diplomat is well known. He has borne the title of Colonel, though he never saw any actual service. Nicolay and he have shown their gratitude to Abraham Lincoln in their voluminous Life of him, which is certainly a most valuable source of original information, but which cannot be said to be a model of historical justice.
Mr. Lincoln soon found, after his election, that his modest two-story frame dwelling was altogether inadequate for the throng of local callers and of visitors from a distance, and, accordingly, he gladly availed himself of the offer of the use of the Governor's room in the Capitol building. On my arrival, he had already commenced spending a good part of each day in it. He appeared daily, except Sundays, between nine and ten o'clock, and held a reception till noon, to which all comers were admitted, without even the formality of first sending in cards. Whoever chose to call, received the same hearty greeting. At noon, he went home to dinner and reappeared at about two. Then his correspondence was given proper attention, and visitors of distinction were seen by special appointment at either the State-house or the hotel. Occasionally, but very rarely, he passed some time in his law office. In the evening, old friends called at his home for the exchange of news and political views. At times, when important news was expected, he would go to the telegraph or newspaper offices after supper, and stay there till late. Altogether, probably no other President-elect was as approachable for everybody, at least during the first weeks of my stay. But he found in the end, as was to be expected, that this popular practice involved a good deal of fatigue, and that he needed more time for himself; and the hours he gave up to the public were gradually restricted.
I was present almost daily for more or less time during his morning receptions. I generally remained a silent listener, as I could get at him at other hours when I was in need of information. It was a most interesting study to watch the manner of his intercourse with callers. As a rule, he showed remarkable tact in dealing with each of them, whether they were rough-looking Sangamon County farmers still addressing him familiarly as “Abe,” sleek and pert commercial travellers, staid merchants, sharp politicians, or preachers, lawyers, or other professional men. He showed a very quick and shrewd perception of and adaptation to individual characteristics and peculiarities. He never evaded a proper question, or failed to give a fit answer. He was ever ready for an argument, which always had an original flavor, and, as a rule, he got the better in the discussion. There was, however, one limitation to the freedom of his talks with his visitors. A great many of them naturally tried to draw him out as to his future policy as President regarding the secession movement in the South, but he would not commit himself. The most remarkable and attractive feature of those daily “levees,” however, was his constant indulgence of his story-telling propensity. Of course, all the visitors had heard of it and were eager for the privilege of listening to a practical illustration of his pre-eminence in that line. He knew this, and took special delight in meeting their wishes. He never was at a loss for a story or an anecdote to explain a meaning or enforce a point, the aptness of which was always perfect. His supply was apparently inexhaustible, and the stories sounded so real that it was hard to determine whether he repeated what he had heard from others, or had invented himself.
None of his hearers enjoyed the wit—and wit was an unfailing ingredient of his stories—half as much as he did himself. It was a joy indeed to see the effect upon him. A high-pitched laughter lighted up his otherwise melancholy countenance with thorough merriment. His body shook all over with gleeful emotion, and when he felt particularly good over his performance, he followed his habit of drawing his knees, with his arms around them, up to his very face, as I had seen him do in 1858. I am sorry to state that he often allowed himself altogether too much license in the concoction of the stories. He seemed to be bent upon making his hit by fair means or foul. In other words, he never hesitated to tell a coarse or even outright nasty story, if it served his purpose. All his personal friends could bear testimony on this point. It was a notorious fact that this fondness for low talk clung to him even in the White House. More than once I heard him “with malice aforethought” get off purposely some repulsive fiction in order to rid himself of an uncomfortable caller. Again and again I felt disgust and humiliation that such a person should have been called upon to direct the destinies of a great nation in the direst period of its history. Yet his achievements during the next few years proved him to be one of the great leaders of mankind in adversity, in whom low leanings only set off more strikingly his better qualities. At the time of which I speak, I could not have persuaded myself that the man might possibly possess true greatness of mind and nobility of heart. I do not wish to convey the idea, however, that he was mainly given to trivialities and vulgarities in his conversation; for, in spite of his frequent outbreaks of low humor, his was really a very sober and serious nature, and even inclined to gloominess to such an extent that all his biographers have attributed a strongly melancholic disposition to him.
I often availed myself of his authorization to come to him at any time for information. There were two questions in which the public, of course, felt the deepest interest, and upon which I was expected to supply light, viz., the composition of his Cabinet, and his views upon the secession movement that was daily growing in extent and strength. As to the former, he gave me to understand early, by indirection, that, as everybody expected, William H. Seward and S. P. Chase, his competitors for the Presidential nomination, would be among his constitutional advisers. It was hardly possible for him not to recognize them, and he steadily turned a deaf ear to the remonstrances that were made against them as “extreme men” by leading politicians from the Border States, particularly from Kentucky and Missouri. As to the remaining members of his Cabinet, they were definitely selected much later, and after a protracted and wearisome tussle with the delegations of various States that came to Springfield to urge the claims of their “favorite sons.” I shall refer again to this subject.
No one who heard him talk upon the other question could fail to discover his “other side,” and to be impressed with his deep earnestness, his anxious contemplation of public affairs, and his thorough sense of the extraordinary responsibilities that were coming upon him. He never refused to talk with me about secession, but generally evaded answers to specific interrogatories, and confined himself to generalizations. I was present at a number of conversations which he had with leading public men upon the same subject, when he showed the same reserve. He did not hesitate to say that the Union ought to, and in his opinion would, be preserved, and to go into long arguments in support of the proposition, based upon the history of the republic, the homogeneity of the population, the natural features of the country, such as the common coast, the rivers and mountains, that compelled political and commercial unity. But he could not be got to say what he would do in the face of Southern secession, except that as President he should be sworn to maintain the Constitution of the United States, and that he was therefore bound to fulfil that duty. He met in the same general way the frequent questions whether he should consider it his duty to resort to coercion by force of arms against the States engaged in attempts to secede. In connection there with I understood him, however, several times to express doubts as to the practicability of holding the Slave States in the Union by main force, if they were all determined to break it up. He was often embarrassed by efforts of radical antislavery men to get something out of him in encouragement of their hopes that the crisis would result in the abolition of slavery. He did not respond as they wished, and made it clear that he did not desire to be considered an “abolitionist,” and that he still held the opinion that property in slaves was entitled to protection under the Constitution, and that its owners could not be deprived of it without due compensation. Consciously or unconsciously, he, like everybody else, must have been influenced in his views by current events. As political passion in the South rose higher and higher, and actual defiance of Federal authority by deeds of violence occurred almost daily after his election, culminating in the formal secession of seven States and the establishment of the Southern Confederacy under Jefferson Davis at Montgomery, Alabama, the belief, which he doubtless had originally, that by a conciliatory course as President he could pacify the rebellious States, must have become shaken. Still, I think I interpret his views up to the time of his departure for Washington correctly in saying that he had not lost faith in the preservation of peace between the North and the South, and he certainly did not dream that his principal duty would be to raise great armies and fleets, and the means to maintain them, for the suppression of the most determined and sanguinary rebellion, in defence of slavery, that our planet ever witnessed.
The Jacksonian “doctrine” that to the “victors belong the spoils,” was still so universally the creed of all politicians that it was taken for granted there would be a change not only in all the principal, but also in all the minor, Federal offices. It was also expected that the other time-honored party practice of a division of executive patronage among the several States would be carried out. Accordingly, there appeared deputations from all the Northern and Border States at Springfield to put in their respective claims for recognition. Some of them came not only once, but several times. From a number of States several delegations turned up, representing rival factions in the Republican ranks, each pretending to be the rightful claimant. Almost every State presented candidates for the Cabinet and for the principal diplomatic and departmental offices. The hotel was the principal haunt of the place-hunters. The tricks, the intrigues, and the manœuvres that were practised by them in pursuit of their aims, came nearly all within the range of my observation, as it was my duty to furnish the earliest possible news of their success or failure. As a rule, the various sets of spoilsmen were very willing to take me into their confidence, but it was not always easy to distinguish what was true in their communications from what they wished me to say to the press purely in furtherance of their interests. Among the political visitors, the most prominent I met were: Simon Cameron, S. P. Chase, Thurlow Weed, Lyman Trumbull, N. B. Judd, Richard J. Oglesby, Francis P. Blair, Sr. and Jr., B. Gratz Brown, William Dennison, D. C. Carter of Ohio, Henry J. Winter, and Oliver P. Morton. Thurlow Weed was by far the most interesting figure and the most astute operator among them all.
From what I have said, it will be understood that the President-elect had a hard time of it with the office-seekers. But as he himself was a thorough believer in the doctrine of rotation in office, he felt it his duty to submit to this tribulation. The Cabinet appointments, other than those already named, were especially troublesome to him. There was an intense struggle between Indiana and Illinois, most embarrassing inasmuch as there were several candidates from his own State, all intimate personal friends. Then came the bitter contest between the Border States of Kentucky, Missouri, and Maryland, and the Pennsylvania cabal pro and contra Simon Cameron. Amid all his perplexities, Lincoln displayed a good deal of patience and shrewdness in dealing with these personal problems. His never-failing stories helped many times to heal wounded feelings and mitigate disappointments. But he gradually showed the wear and tear of these continuous visitations, and finally looked so careworn as to excite one's compassion.
Not a little was added to his trials by the early manifestation of the inordinate greed, coupled with an utter lack of sense of propriety, on the part of Mrs. Lincoln, whose local reputation had repressed in me all desire to know her. I could not, however, avoid making her acquaintance towards the end of my stay in Springfield, and subsequently saw much of her in Washington. How the politicians found out Mrs. Lincoln's weakness, I do not know, but it is a sorry fact that she allowed herself to be persuaded, at an early date, to accept presents for the use of her influence with her husband in support of the aspirations of office-seekers.
I must mention a remarkable occurrence in Springfield, of which I was myself an eye-witness. Early in January, the State Legislature met, and, according to custom, the newly elected Republican Governor was to read the inaugural message to that body in person. The lawmakers assembled in the Lower Chamber at the appointed hour, but the Governor failed to appear. Search was made for him, and, after a delay of half an hour, the doorkeeper formally announced him, and he was escorted through the middle aisle to the Speaker's chair. He seemed hardly able to walk. His attempt to read the first sentences of the message disclosed the nature of the trouble. He was too drunk to stand or to read. He fell back into his chair, and the Clerk of the House read the message in his place. Of course, the scandal was great in the Legislature, in the town, and throughout the State.
During the month of January, 1861, there appeared in Springfield one W. S. Wood, a former hotel manager and organizer of pleasure excursions, I believe, from the interior of New York State, who, on the recommendation of Thurlow Weed, was to take charge of all the arrangements for the journey of the President-elect to Washington. He was a man of comely appearance, greatly impressed with the importance of his mission and inclined to assume airs of consequence and condescension. As he showed a disposition to ignore me, I made a direct appeal to Mr. Lincoln, who instructed him that I was to be one of the Presidential party. In fact, I was the only member of the press forming part of it as far as Cincinnati, although Messrs. Nicolay and Hay, for some unexplained reason, fail to mention me in naming the members of the party.
The start on the memorable journey was made shortly after eight o'clock on the morning of Monday, February 11. It was a clear, crisp winter day. Only about one hundred people, mostly personal friends, were assembled at the station to shake hands for the last time with their distinguished townsman. It was not strange that he yielded to the sad feelings which must have moved him at the thought of what lay behind and what was before him, and gave them utterance in a pathetic formal farewell to the gathering crowd, as follows:
My Friends: No one not in my position can appreciate the sadness I feel at this parting. To this people I owe all that I am. Here I have lived more than a quarter of a century; here my children were born, and here one of them lies buried. I know not how soon I shall see you again. A duty devolves upon me which is, perhaps, greater than that which has devolved upon any other man since the days of Washington. He never would have succeeded except for the aid of Divine Providence, upon which he at all times relied. I feel that I cannot succeed without the same Divine aid which sustained him, and in the same Almighty Being I place my reliance for support; and I hope you, my friends, will all pray that I may receive that Divine assistance, without which I cannot succeed, but with which success is certain. Again I bid you all an affectionate farewell.
I reproduce this here, as but for me it would not have been preserved in the exact form in which it was delivered. It was entirely extemporized, and, knowing this, I prevailed on Mr. Lincoln, immediately after starting, to write it out for me on a “pad.” I sent it over the wires from the first telegraph station. I kept the pencil manuscript for some time, but, unfortunately, lost it in my wanderings in the course of the Civil War.
Our travelling companions at the start were (besides Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln and the three sons) W. S. Wood; J. G. Nicolay and John Hay; two old personal friends of Mr. Lincoln, Judge David Davis, of Bloomington, afterwards Associate Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court, and N. B. Judd, of Chicago, who had the promise of the Secretaryship of the Interior; Dr. W. S. Wallace, a brother-in-law; Lockwood Todd, a relative of Mrs. Lincoln, who was employed on several important political missions during the next few months; and Ward Hill Lamon, a lawyer of Bloomington, who afterwards became United States Marshal for the District of Columbia, and as such a sort of majordomo at the White House, and finally the author of a biography of Abraham Lincoln. For describing him in this as an infidel, Lamon was much and unjustly attacked. He brought a banjo along, and amused us with negro songs. There was also a military escort, consisting of Colonel Edwin Vose Sumner, the white-haired commander of a cavalry regiment of the regular army, and of Major David Hunter, Captain John Pope, and Captain Hazard of the same service. Colonel Sumner, Major Hunter, and Captain Pope became well-known commanding generals during the war. Another "military" character, a sort of pet of Mr. Lincoln, was Colonel E. E. Ellsworth, who, though a mere youth, of small but broad figure, curly black head, and handsome features, had achieved considerable local notoriety as a captain of a crack “Zouave” militia company in Chicago. He was one of the first victims of the Civil War, being shot by a rebel while raising the United States flag at Alexandria, Virginia.
The party had a special train, composed at first only of an ordinary passenger car — there were no parlor or drawing-room or sleeping cars in those days — a baggage-car and engine. The first day's journey took us from the capital of Illinois to that of Indiana. Until we reached the boundary of the latter State, the demonstrations along the route were insignificant, except at Decatur, where a great crowd, headed by Richard J. Oglesby, then a hotel-keeper, but subsequently a general in the war, Governor, and United States Senator, greeted the future Chief Magistrate, who delivered another farewell speech. At the boundary, the train was boarded by a large delegation of leading Indianians, including Schuyler Colfax, Henry S. Lane, Caleb B. Smith, and Thomas H. Nelson. At Lafayette, a great crowd awaited our coming, and the President-elect had to appear and speak to them. At Indianapolis, where the first day's journey ended, he was formally welcomed by Governor Oliver P. Morton, and replied to him at length. His speech was remarkable for the first public intimation that he should consider it his duty as President to retake the properties of the United States, including the forts unlawfully seized by the rebellious States, and otherwise reëstablish the authority of the Federal Government.
The next stage of the journey was from Indianapolis to Cincinnati; the third, from Cincinnati to Columbus; the fourth, from Columbus to Pittsburg; the fifth, from Pittsburg to Cleveland; the sixth, from Cleveland to Buffalo, where a rest was taken over Sunday. The eighth day the journey was continued as far as Albany, and on the following day we reached New York. Everywhere there were formal welcomes by the State or municipal authorities and by great crowds of people, with brass bands, and public and private receptions. In different localities pleasant variations were offered in the way of serenades, torchlight processions, and gala theatrical performances. Altogether, the President had every reason to feel flattered and encouraged by the demonstrations in his honor. But the journey was a very great strain upon his physical and mental strength, and he was well-nigh worn out when he reached Buffalo. He must have spoken at least fifty times during the week. In the kindness of his heart — not from any love of adulation, for he really felt very awkward about it — he never refused to respond to a call for his appearance wherever the train stopped. While he thus satisfied the public curiosity, he disappointed, by his appearance, most of those who saw him for the first time. I could see that impression clearly written on the faces of his rustic audiences. Nor was this surprising, for they certainly saw the most unprepossessing features, the gawkiest figure, and the most awkward manners. Lincoln always had an embarrassed air, too, like a country clodhopper appearing in fashionable society, and was nearly always stiff and unhappy in his off-hand remarks. The least creditable performance en route was his attempt to say something on the question of tariff legislation in his Pittsburg speech. What he said was really nothing but crude, ignorant twaddle, without point or meaning. It proved him to be the veriest novice in economic matters, and strengthened my doubts as to his capacity for the high office he was to fill. So poor was his talk that most of the Republican papers, while they printed it, abstained from comment.
After ten days of the wearisome sameness of the “performances” at the several halting-places, I was very sick of the “travelling show,” and I therefore asked to be relieved from my duties on reaching New York. My request was granted, and I remained behind. It turned out that I lost only the reception in Independence Hall in Philadelphia, as the journey was cut short by the incognito night run of the President from Harrisburg to Washington. This sudden move on his part created at the time considerable disappointment, even among his warmest political followers, being regarded as an evidence of unwarranted fear. But subsequent events and developmentsproved his course to have been a wise one.
At Washington in Sumter Days.—1861
I REMAINED in New York till February 26, and then proceeded also to the national capital. I was conscious of now being so thoroughly qualified as a political writer and observer that I could be perfectly sure of constant and well-paid employment, having the special advantage, too, of being well acquainted with the President and his most intimate friends and advisers. I was also convinced that Washington was the proper and most promising field for me. I conceived the plan of trying a new departure in news-reporting from Washington, viz., to gather and furnish the same political and other news by mail and telegraph to a number of papers in different parts of the country, geographically so situated that they would not interfere with each other by the simultaneous publication of the same matter. I telegraphed a proposal to that effect from New York to the Cincinnati Commercial and the Chicago Tribune, both of which promptly accepted it. The New York Tribune and Times, having already special correspondents in Washington, would not accept it; but the elder Bennett and Frederic Hudson of the Herald offered to engage me as a telegraphic correspondent, and, as they conceded my condition that I should be free to speak through the Herald as a sympathizer with the Republican party, I came to an understanding with them. My enterprise was to be a sort of supplement to the Associated Press, whose then Washington correspondent was very inefficient, but was kept in his place on account of his long services. It was, indeed, the beginning in this country of the news syndicates or agencies of which scores now exist in Washington and New York. I think I am fairly entitled to be considered the pioneer in this business, though the present generation of journalists is not aware of the fact.
I made my advent accordingly in Washington in high spirits. The Herald was to pay me twenty-five dollars a week, the Commercial and Tribune each fifteen dollars, thus bringing my weekly earnings up to fifty-five dollars, or not far from three thousand a year really a large income for those days, when even Cabinet officers had only six thousand dollars. I hired a finely furnished suite of rooms for only twelve dollars a month, and engaged board at Willard's, the leading hotel, for thirty dollars a month — prices that will seem almost incredibly low when compared with those of the present day. Altogether, I felt quite rich and very independent. What with Congress in session, the hordes of place-seekers from every part of the Union, and the many public men from the North and South who visited the capital from purely patriotic motives in those critical days, Washington presented a very animated appearance. It had then about sixty thousand inhabitants, a number which the transient sojourners swelled by ten thousand. Leaving out the public buildings, the place seemed like a large village, with its preponderance of plain, low brick or wooden structures, wide, mostly unpaved streets, small shops, general lack of Business activity, and a distinctly Southern air of indolence and sloth. Of its numerous hotels, some were very spacious, but all were poorly kept. It could not boast a single decent restaurant, but had no end of bar-rooms. There were neither omnibuses nor street-cars, and the shabby public carriages with their ragged black drivers were simply disgusting.
Still, unattractive as Washington was in all these respects, it was the most important place in the Union, and daily growing in importance; to it the eyes of the whole civilized world turned in curious and anxious expectation. Political life centred at the Capitol and at the three principal hotels, Willard's, Brown's, and the National, and especially Willard's, where the President had taken quarters till he moved into the White House. Among Republicans as well as all classes of their opponents, the entire uncertainty of the outlook caused a feeling of vague apprehension. On the one hand, all attempts in Congress to heal the running secession sore in the Federal body through the Crittenden compromise and the measures proposed by Senators Seward, Anthony, and Powell, and Representatives Vallandigham, Clingman, and Corwin, had failed. The so-called Peace Congress had likewise just miscarried. On the other hand, the seven rebellious States showed the boldest defiance, and were striving with the utmost determination to solidify the structure of the Southern Confederacy they had erected during the winter, and to widen and strengthen it by dragging the Border States after them. There was great division of opinion as to the wisest course to be pursued by the incoming Administration, even among its own supporters. Such leading Republicans as Horace Greeley and Thurlow Weed came out openly in favor of peaceful separation rather than the use of force by the Federal Government against the rebels. Other leaders were willing to go to great lengths in conciliating the South through Federal and State legislation concerning the “peculiar institution.” The bulk of the Republican party and the majority of its Representatives in Congress were ready and anxious, however, for the utmost use of Federal power for the reduction of the Southern insurrection and the maintenance of the Union; but not a few of their principal guides, including Seward, still thought that the secession fever would run for a time, but gradually lose force and die out under proper treatment by Mr. Lincoln. The latter himself still held this belief. The prospect of the preservation of peace seemed to grow steadily less, yet only the outright secessionists were inclined to contemplate the spectre of a sanguinary struggle with complacency. The doubtfulness of the situation was increased by the open sympathy and readiness to concede all that would be necessary to placate the South shown by the Democrats of the North. Numerous mass meetings, of which those in Philadelphia under the direction of Mayor Henry, and in Albany under that of Governor Seymour, were the most notable, had been held in the Northern States to protest against “coercion,” denounce the “Black Republicans,” and demand recognition of the “just claims of our Southern brethren.” I for one was fully convinced that a most bloody civil war was inevitable, unless the new Government abdicated its powers as far as the rebellious States were concerned; and I freely expressed that conviction in my correspondence.
Truly, the last man to be envied, under the circumstances, was Abraham Lincoln. The formal calls he received and had to return, the consultations with friends, the finishing touches to his inaugural message (which he had written and set up in type before leaving Springfield, but which received much tinkering before its delivery, at the suggestion of Orville H. Browning, Seward, and others), occupied his time from morning till late at night; and the settlement of the appointments to the principal offices left him, to be sure, little time for thought of the future. The pressure of the place-hunters was tremendous. As the necessary decision of their fate drew nearer, their eagerness to gain access to the chief dispenser of patronage became intensified. The situation is graphically described by Nicolay and Hay in their Life of Lincoln.
I saw Mr. Lincoln twice for a few minutes before the inauguration, when, in response to an expression of sympathy with his tribulations, he groaned out: “Yes, it was bad enough in Springfield, but it was child's play compared with this tussle here. I hardly have a chance to eat or sleep. I am fair game for everybody of that hungry lot.” His wife again added not least to his worries. She meddled not only with the distribution of minor offices, but even with the assignment of places in the Cabinet. Moreover, she allowed herself to be approached and continuously surrounded by a common set of men and women, who, through her susceptibility to even the most barefaced flattery, easily gained a controlling influence over her. Among the persons who thus won access to her graces was the so-called “Chevalier” Wikoff, whose name figured as much as any other in the press in those days, who made pretension to the rôle of a sort of cosmopolitan knight-errant, and had the entrée of society, but was, in fact, only a salaried social spy or informer of the New York Herald. Wikoff was of middle age, an accomplished man of the world, a fine linguist, with graceful presence, elegant manners, and a conscious, condescending way — altogether, just such a man as would be looked upon as a superior being by a woman accustomed only to Western society. Wikoff showed the utmost assurance in his appeals to the vanity of the mistress of the White House. I myself heard him compliment her upon her looks and dress in so fulsome a way that she ought to have blushed and banished the impertinent fellow from her presence. She accepted Wikoff as a majordomo in general and in special, as a guide in matters of social etiquette, domestic arrangements, and personal requirements, including her toilette, and as always welcome company for visitors in her salon and on her drives.
Great efforts were made to render the inauguration an imposing occasion. The city itself indicated, by the scantiness of festive array, that the mass of the inhabitants were hostile to the new rule. But many thousands, including militia and political organizations, had come from the North and helped to give imposing proportions to the traditional procession from the White House to the farther end of Pennsylvania Avenue. The morning was cloudy and raw; nevertheless, at least thirty thousand people listened to the reading of the message from the historical corner of the Capitol. Probably two-thirds of the immense audience caught every word of the clear utterance of the new President, Not the faintest disturbance occurred then or at any time during the day. On the contrary, the chief figure of the occasion was lustily cheered. For some reason or other, offensive demonstrations and even violence to the President had been apprehended, and the small regular force held in readiness for the repression of such attempts. Old General Scott, who rarely left his quarters, owing to his infirmities, made a special effort and was on duty near the Capitol, receiving frequent reports from the army officers in charge of the detachments of regulars distributed over the city; but not the remotest sign of mischief appeared. In the evening, the customary big inauguration ball came off, and, as usual, it was a very crowded, much mixed and, upon the whole, very ordinary affair, though the newspapers the next morning praised it as the most brilliant festivity that had ever taken place in the national capital.
The inaugural message, which its author and those at whose instance it was changed from its original form had expected to act upon the political situation like oil upon a troubled sea, was received with nothing like enthusiasm even by the Republicans, and fell flat as far as the Northern Democrats and Border States were concerned, while the rebellious States spurned it with derisive contempt. This unsatisfactory effect was not surprising. The message was, to characterize it briefly, a heterogeneous compound of assertion, on the one hand, of the duty of the new Federal executive under his oath to obey the Constitution and enforce the laws and preserve the Union; and, on the other, of intimations and assurances that he would avoid action that might lead to a conflict, and that he favored such constitutional amendments as might pacify the South. It deservedly met, therefore, the same fate as the other attempts at conciliation in and out of Congress already referred to. Instead of finding himself relieved, as he had hoped to be, from the necessity of making good his pledges to do his duty against the rebellious States, the President was directly compelled to face that dreaded contingency.
It came in the shape of the question of holding or giving up Fort Sumter. That last of the Federal strongholds in Charleston harbor not in possession of the rebels had been left — unreënforced and unreprovisioned, after a weak effort to succor the garrison by the Star of the West expedition — as the most embarrassing legacy of the Buchanan to the new Administration. On the very morning after his inauguration, the President found on his desk at the White House a communication from the War Department, accompanied by official reports, according to which Fort Sumter could hold out, even if not attacked, only a few weeks longer, and Fort Pickens in Pensacola Bay was also in great danger, unless strengthened by men and supplies. From that hour the fate of the two forts formed his most serious anxiety. He called on General Scott and other officers of the army and navy for information and advice. He caused special messengers to be sent to Major Anderson, in command of Fort Sumter, in order to obtain his own judgment as to his ability to hold out. He submitted the subject for consideration to his Cabinet. The Commanding General of the army, forgetting that he was called on only for his military judgment, advised the abandonment of both forts on political grounds. At the first consultation with the Cabinet on March 15, the majority of the members, in written opinions, advised the evacuation of Sumter and the defence of Pickens. At the next one, a fortnight later, a majority favored the holding of both. The President, after weeks of hesitation and uncertainty, had reached the same conclusion, and would have acted on it even without the concurrence of the Cabinet. Orders to fit out relief expeditions were at once given to the War and Navy Departments.
In the meantime, the press and the public in the North, not having a knowledge of these occurrences, were under the impression that the Government was afraid of decisive steps and was simply drifting with the current of events. Beyond the refusal to receive the Commissioners of the Confederacy who came to Washington a week before the inauguration to negotiate for recognition, hardly any action of the Administration bearing upon the Rebellion was “visible.” This naturally produced great irritation and discouragement in patriotic hearts, and Washington was full of indignant Northern men, in and out of Congress, giving vent to their wrath at the supposed blindness, incompetency, or cowardice, whichever it might be, of Lincoln and his Cabinet. It was believed, and openly said, that Seward's infatuated belief in the possibility of a peaceful solution and his fear of coercion had prevailed with the President. The Administration, according to appearances, seemed to be absorbed solely in the distribution of the “spoils,” in the shape of Federal offices, among the victors. Much demoralization resulted from this among loyal men. Their discouragement was heightened, moreover, by the continuous desertions of army and navy officers, from the highest to the lowest ranks, to the rebel side, by the numerous resignations from Government offices of Southerners or sympathizers with the South, and by the ostentatious daily departures of Southern men of national reputation, members of the Senate and House and others, to join the Montgomery Legislature and Government. In addition to all this, the obvious general lethargy in the loyal States, the widening divisions among Republicans over the Southern question, and the growing clamor of the Northern Democrats for peace on any terms, seemed from day to day to render it more probable that the Rebellion would be successful, and that, even if the Government should decide upon efforts to put it down, it would not have the support of the majority of the Northern people.
In an instant, as it were, all this was changed. Southern folly and frenzy freed President Lincoln from all embarrassment. The expedition for the relief of Sumter, decided upon by him in compliance with his promise in the inaugural message, that “the power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the Government,” gave birth to the storm by which the political atmosphere was cleared at once of all haze, and the true course for the ship of state shown to its helmsman. Ordered on March 29, the expedition was intended to sail on April 6, but was delayed through various obstacles, and failed of its object in consequence. But its very failure worked like another act of Providence for the right cause. For, as its departure was the signal for the rebel attack on Sumter, its miscarriage caused the fort's surrender. But it was the very striking down of the United States flag by rebel guns that led to the bursting of the patriotic hurricane that swept away all dissensions, all partisan enmities, all fear, all apathy, and united the whole North in the determination to preserve the Union at any cost of blood and treasure. It has been claimed that Lincoln deliberately planned the whole move in sure expectation of its marvellous effect, but this may well be doubted.
The President issued the call for 75,000 men on April 15. On the following day I received a despatch from James Gordon Bennett asking me to come at once to New York. I obeyed the summons by the night train. On reaching the Herald office, I found an invitation to accompany him in the afternoon to his residence at Washington Heights and to spend the night there. As was my host's regular custom, we drove from the office up Broadway and Fifth Avenue and through Central Park to the Heights. I had seen Bennett only twice before, and then but for a few minutes each time, and the opportunity to learn more of this notorious character was therefore not unwelcome to me. I must say that his shameful record as a journalist, and particularly the sneaking sympathy of his paper for the Rebellion, and its vile abuse of the Republicans for their antislavery sentiments, made me share the general prejudice against him to such an extent that I had been thinking for some time of severing my connection with the Herald, although the agreement that all I telegraphed should be printed without change or omission had been strictly kept. With his fine tall and slender figure, large intellectual head covered with an abundance of light curly hair, and strong regular features, his exterior would have been impressive but for his strabismus, which gave him a sinister, forbidding look. Intercourse with him, indeed, quickly revealed his hard, cold, utterly selfish nature and incapacity to appreciate high and noble aims.
His residence was a good-sized frame house in parklike grounds, with no great pretensions either outwardly or inwardly. On the drive and during the dinner, at which his one son — a fine-looking, intelligent youth of twenty — was the only other person present, he did nothing but ask questions bearing upon the characteristics and doings of President Lincoln and the circumstances of my acquaintance with him. After dinner he disclosed his true purpose in sending for me. First, he wanted me to carry a message from him to Mr. Lincoln that the Herald would hereafter be unconditionally for the radical suppression of the Rebellion by force of arms, and in the shortest possible time, and would advocate and support any “war measures” by the Government and Congress. I was, of course, very glad to hear this, and promised to repeat these assurances by word of mouth to the President. The truth was, that the Herald was obliged to make this complete change in its attitude, there having been ominous signs for some days in New York of danger of mob violence to the paper. Secondly, he wanted me to offer to Secretary Chase his son's famous sailing yacht, the Rebecca, as a gift to the Government for the revenue service, and to secure in consideration thereof for its owner the appointment of lieutenant in the same service. The last wish I thought rather amusing, but I agreed to lay it before Secretary Chase, to whom I had ready access as the representative of the Cincinnati Commercial, his strongest supporter in Ohio. My host retired early, and was ready before me in the morning for the down drive, on which I accompanied him again. Mr. Hudson — the managing editor, a fine-looking man, and one of the most courteous and obliging I ever met, with extraordinary qualifications for newspaper management — told me in the course of the day that Mr. Bennett was very much pleased with me and had increased my weekly allowance to thirty-five dollars.
I started on my return trip to Washington on the night train of the next day. The run now made in five hours then took from ten to twelve. It was most tiresome, especially at night, as it involved no less than five changes of cars, three crossings by ferryboat over the Hudson, Delaware, and Susquehanna Rivers, an hour's street-car ride through the whole length of Philadelphia, and the slow passage through Baltimore on railroad-cars pulled by horses. We reached Perryville, on the east bank of the Susquehanna, from which place passengers were transferred on a ferryboat to Havre de Grace, opposite, at 3 A.M. We got out of the train and walked to the boat. As it remained stationary, an explanation was sought from the captain, who said that he had been directed to remain where he was until further orders. One weary hour after another passed without any light as to the cause of the delay. There was not even a chance to sit down on the boat, except on the deck. At break of day I made my way to the telegraph-office at the station, but no one was there. The operator did not appear till seven o clock. He said that, during the night, despatches had passed over the line to the managers of the company in Philadelphia, announcing that bridges and trestles had been burned in the night between Havre de Grace and Baltimore, and that accordingly the movement of all trains between those two points had been ordered stopped. The operator did not know who had done the burning, but it was clear to me at once that the rebel sympathizers in Maryland were the perpetrators, in order to stop the transportation of troops from the North to the capital. This had commenced the very day before on a large scale with the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment, which the great War Governor, John A. Andrew, had started from Boston, one thousand strong, within twenty-four hours after the President's call, and with an equal number of Pennsylvania volunteers. My surmise turned out correct, but I was far from suspecting the bloody events of the memorable nineteenth of April in Baltimore.
Here was a predicament for me. On the one hand, the very interruption of communication with Washington made it the more desirable and necessary for me to be there, in order to supply news through extraordinary channels if the ordinary ones failed. On the other, there was the embarrassing question how to get through, the broken railroad being the only line of land communication between the North and the capital. The first thing I did was to beg for a breakfast at one of the few houses in the hamlet of Perryville — there being no hotel — and I got one of bacon, “hoe-cakes,” and indescribable coffee. Next, having seen some small boats tied up at the bank, I went in search of their owners. I found one of them who agreed to row me to Havre de Grace for a dollar, and he landed me there in an hour. This place was a village of a few hundred inhabitants, who were gathered in knots on the streets, discussing the stoppage of trains. They confirmed the burning of the superstructures, and not a few showed their rebellious disposition by expressing themselves as rather glad of it. I set about finding some sort of a vehicle to convey me to Baltimore, about thirty-eight miles distant. There was no livery-stable and but few private owners of carriages, all of whom were afraid to undertake the job, not knowing what had actually happened. After wasting a couple of hours with them, I determined to start on foot just as I was — my valise being checked to Washington — and take my chances of finding means of transportation on the way. After walking some six miles, about noon I reached the home of an apparently well-to-do planter on the roadside. My request for a meal was readily acceded to. The planter proved to be a strong anti-secessionist, though a slaveholder. To my great relief, he consented, in response to my offer to pay twenty-five dollars for the accommodation, to send me in a buggy with one of his slaves as a driver to Baltimore. Although I had heard stories at Havre de Grace and all along the road that the country was “swarming with rebel cavalry,” we met no armed men, nor any sort of adventure, and arrived at our destination a little before dark. In driving through the city, I saw no sign of disturbance; the street life seemed to be going on as usual. I went to the Eutaw House, the proprietor of which I had known as a New York hotel-keeper. First of all, I gleaned from the morning and evening newspapers the details of the fearful occurrences the day before during the passage of the Massachusetts and Pennsylvania troops. They also contained the alarming announcement that railroad communication with both the North and the South was entirely interrupted. This left the problem how to get to the capital only half solved for me, but I was too tired to consider at once the other half of the solution, and so, after supper, I sought my bed without delay.
I rose early to consult the landlord as to the best means of reaching Washington, which I was resolved to do at all hazards and at the earliest possible moment. As the speedy reopening of the railroad seemed very doubtful, he recommended the hiring of a carriage, and sent for the keeper of the livery-stable attached to the hotel, who declined, however, absolutely to furnish me a conveyance at any price. Other stablemen were sent for, but with the same result. Finally, it occurred to me to try to secure a saddle-horse, and in this I was successful. But I had to put up a hundred dollars with the hotel-keeper as security for the return of the animal, and to pay five dollars a day and all expenses till returned. I was mounted by nine o'clock, and rode leisurely like a pleasure-rider to the suburbs, where I took by-roads instead of the main highway to the Relay House, the junction of the main and Washington lines of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, nine miles from the city. Here rider and horse had a repast, and then started on the long ride of over thirty miles to Washington, where I arrived at seven o clock without having met any one but harmless country folk en route. After putting up the horse and getting a bath and change of clothes, I went to Willard's for supper. I was surprised to find the halls and public sitting-rooms almost empty, and still more so when the office clerk, in answer to my question, “What's the news?” said, “Well, as you have been away, it will be news to you that we are going to shut up this hotel to morrow, and this meal will be the last you can be served with here.” And so it was. The great caravansary was to be closed for an indefinite time.
An extraordinary change had, indeed, taken place at the capital since my departure. What with the proclamation of the President, which was really a declaration of the existence of civil war, with the prospect of Washington becoming the main objective-point of hostilities, with the riot in Baltimore, and the consequent stoppage of all railroad, mail, and telegraph service with the North, a veritable panic had ensued. Between the fifteenth and the nineteenth, the floating population, to the extent of tens of thousands, had dispersed to the North and South, and they were still leaving, notwithstanding the railroad blockade, by every sort of conveyance. Instead of the nearly one thousand guests that were stowed away at Willard's at the inauguration, not two score remained, and that was the reason for closing it. The other hotels were also empty. Walking on Pennsylvania Avenue in the morning, I could almost count the people in sight on my fingers. A great many private houses and a number of stores were also shut up. The whole city had a deserted look.
This exodus had a redeeming feature, as it consisted largely of secessionists, whose departure was, under the circumstances, a direct relief to the Government. But there was otherwise cause for the gravest alarm, which, in my visits to the White House, to the departments and public offices, I found shared by all loyalists, from the President and Cabinet officers down. The telegraph did not work, the mails did not arrive or depart. From the night of the twentieth on, there was practically no intercourse in any form between the national capital and any part of the country, and the Government remained without any intelligence from any quarter for several days. It knew only in a general way that the destruction of the railroad between Perryville and Washington had led to the adoption of the plan to transport the troops from the North by water to the capital. Literally, it was as though the government of a great nation had been suddenly removed to an island in mid-ocean in a state of entire isolation, and with all the inconveniences, uncertainties, and risks incidental thereto. This extraordinary situation naturally made me and all patriotic minds most anxious.
From what I saw myself and learned from others, I was oppressed by the thought that the Government was in a most perilous plight, that this must be known to the rebel authorities through the many willing and eager informants who left Washington daily for the South, and that, with the audacity they had so far shown, they would without fail take advantage of this, their great opportunity, and gain possession of the capital by a coup de main. The circumstances were so favorable to an attempt of this kind that I felt sure it would be made, and was prepared to hear at any moment of the appearance of a rebel force in the streets.
I did not understand then, nor could I ever understand, why the rebel hands were not stretched out to seize so easy a prey — a seizure that might have resulted in the immediate triumph of the insurrection. For, notwithstanding the hundreds of resignations from the army, navy, and civil service of the Government and the large migration to the South, Washington was still full of traitors among the residents and remaining officers and officials, who would eagerly have aided an effort to capture the capital for the Confederacy. There were not over two thousand armed and uniformed men available for defence, one-half being a motley of small commands of regulars from different regiments and arms, and the other consisting of the raw recruits of the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment. Efforts were making to organize the loyal residents and Government employees as a volunteer corps, but, although nearly two thousand such volunteers had been enrolled, not much reliance could be placed on them. Moreover, in the highest places, treason had broken out, from which the Government was to be protected. Adjutant-General Cooper of the army, Colonel Robert E. Lee, the principal aide and most trusted adviser of General Scott, and Commodore Buchanan, commandant of the navy-yard, had resigned and joined the enemy. These and many other desertions were rapidly demoralizing and paralyzing the several branches of the public service. The President relied on General Scott as the mainstay of the Government, and yet the fact could not be disguised that the Commander-in-chief was too decrepit in body and mind to be equal to the dire emergency. As the official record shows, he rather added to than allayed the fears of the President and his Cabinet by giving credence to the exaggerated and even fictitious and absurd reports of the gathering of rebel forces in the vicinity of Washington. There were but few officers left that could be trusted, and they were of inferior rank, and none of them had ever commanded more than a full company. I clearly perceived the growing helplessness and fright of the Government, and was haunted by the apprehension that the appearance of a thousand determined rebels would seal the fate of Washington without even a serious struggle.
The city bore the marks of a state of siege. Detachments of regulars guarded all the public buildings. Patrols were seen in the streets. All the approaches to the city were guarded. The White House was under the special protection of the “Clay” and “Frontier” Guards, two bodies of select volunteers formed by Cassius M. Clay, the well-known Kentucky Unionist, and by General James H. Lane, later United States Senator from Kansas, who had achieved considerable notoriety as a determined fighter during the border troubles in that Territory. They literally camped for several days on the lower floor of the Executive Mansion. The Potomac was also patrolled by small armed boats. All stores of provisions and forage were seized by the War Department, and other defensive preparations made as diligently as possible. Material was got ready for barricading the Treasury and Interior Departments on short notice, as their massive character and isolated position rendered a strong defence practicable.
Nothing proved more conclusively the want of capacity of the military authorities than their failure for days to get any accurate information as to the movement of troops from the North for the relief of the capital. When it is considered that it is but forty miles from Washington to Annapolis, which had been selected as the landing-place for the relief forces, and where several regiments had actually disembarked on the 22d and 23d, and that, moreover, the railroad from Washington to Annapolis Junction, forming twenty of the forty miles, had not been disturbed and trains were moving over it, it will seem amazing that no news of the nearness of help was obtained by the Government. All General Scott did was to send out single mounted scouts along the railroad, who regularly brought back nothing but untrustworthy rumors. A company of regular cavalry, under an enterprising officer with absolute orders to secure positive intelligence, would have accomplished the desired object. As it was, our darkness was not broken by a ray of light till the 25th, and, in the meantime, the impatience, gloom, and depression were hourly increasing. No one felt it more than the President. I saw him repeatedly, and he fairly groaned at the inexplicable delay in the advent of help from the loyal States. I heard him say, too, when he reviewed the men of the Sixth Massachusetts, the very words that Nicolay and Hay quote: “I begin to believe there is no North. The Seventh New York Regiment is a myth. The Rhode Island troops [reported to be on the way up the Potomac] are another. You are the only real thing.” But the “myth” proved to be a reality, after all, on Thursday, the 25th. By a very hard march of twenty-four hours from Annapolis, the Seventh New York and Eighth Massachusetts managed to reach Annapolis Junction on the morning of that day. A train was waiting, and in the course of a few hours the whole of the Seventh Regiment reached its destination. I cannot express the revival of hope and confidence, the exultation, that I felt and that filled all loyal hearts as that crack body of New York Volunteers, nearly a thousand strong, marched up Pennsylvania Avenue, preceded by a magnificent band. After being reviewed by the President and Cabinet, it took possession of Willard's Hotel and occupied it till it moved into camp. The Seventh was immediately followed by the Eighth Massachusetts and by two Rhode Island regiments, accompanied by the youthful Governor Sprague. After that, further reënforcements continued to arrive daily from different loyal States, and, within a month, more than the full call of 75,000 men had reached the capital. But it took until the middle of May to restore railroad communication with the North completely.
From that time on, Washington assumed a most animated aspect. Including the regulars and the three months' men, fully eighty thousand soldiers were added to its population. To the north and east an almost unbroken girdle of military camps extended around the city. The pomp and circumstance of actual war were constantly visible in the public thoroughfares in marching columns of infantry, troops of cavalry, and batteries of artillery. Thousands of visitors to the troops arrived daily from the North and crowded the streets, where swarmed soldiers of every arm and every sort of uniform. In the first stage of the Rebellion, the Government allowed entire liberty as to uniforms to those commissioned to raise regiments. This privilege was freely availed of by a number of organizations in New York City drawn from foreign-born elements. I was surprised one day to see infantry dressed in the genuine Bavarian uniform. There were Prussian uniforms, too; the “Garibaldi Guards,” in the legendary red blouses and bersaglieri hats; “Zouaves” and “Turcoes,” clothed as in the French army, with some fanciful American features grafted upon them.
Congress not being in session, my principal duties consisted in gathering news through daily visits to the White House and the different departments. I had no difficulty in soon getting on very good terms with all the heads of departments and their chief subordinates. At certain times of the day, mostly immediately after office hours, I could always be sure of gaining admission to the secretaries, if I desired to see them. I found Secretaries Seward, Chase, and Cameron the most accessible and communicative. A brief experience taught me that even the first two, although their great national reputation was so solidly founded, were anything but impervious to newspaper flattery, and very sensitive under journalistic criticism. Seward was afflicted with an outright weakness in that respect. The Herald made a regular practice of bestowing on him extravagant eulogies bordering sometimes on ridiculous exaggeration, in order to smooth the way to his confidence for its correspondents, and the recipient did not always succeed in concealing from them his grateful appreciation. Chase was far less affable than Seward, and kept men at a distance by his stately and occasionally pompous ways; but it did not require much penetration to perceive that he had the very highest opinion of himself and was prone to criticise others rather indiscreetly. Still, I greatly admired his natural ability and solid acquirements, and especially his high and pure political aims. My acquaintance with him gradually assumed a confidential character, so that he expressed himself very freely regarding public men and matters.
Cameron was the typical American politician, with a well-defined purpose in all he said and did. He also held himself a little too freely at the disposal of newspaper men, to whom he was by far the most cordial and talkative of all the secretaries. He made them feel at once as though they had met an old acquaintance and friend. He was certainly the cleverest political manager in the Cabinet, and, though unquestionably as ambitious as any member of it, he never was guilty of the indiscretions which the political records of Seward and Chase reveal. He had a very shrewd way of tempting journalists by implications and insinuations into publishing things about others that he wished to have said without becoming responsible for them.
The Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles, was speedily discovered to be a rather difficult subject for newspaper enterprise, and the representatives of the press confined their attention to his assistant secretary, Captain G. V. Fox, formerly a naval officer. Fox had suddenly acquired a well-deserved national reputation for patriotic bravery by the offer of his services in connection with an expedition of a “sink or swim” character for the relief of Fort Sumter, planned by himself and authorized by President Lincoln and actually attempted, but resulting in failure from a succession of untoward accidents. He was a very strong man, endowed with remarkable ingenuity, courage, and energy, but full of personal prejudices that made him hardly a safe conductor of public affairs. He was an unsparing critic, regardless of the rules of discipline, policy, and comity, and astonishingly free in his talk to our fraternity.
His brother-in-law, Montgomery Blair, the Postmaster-General, was a similarly positive, intolerant, and determined character. He and Fox were the best haters of the Rebellion in the Administration, and for them the Government was far from moving fast and vigorously enough in its suppression. Blair, however, was very much of a practical politician, and no one believed more strongly in the legitimacy of the distribution of offices among the ruling party. I also became acquainted with his father, Francis P. Blair, Sr., and his brother, Francis P. Blair, Jr., of St. Louis, later a Congressman and Federal general. The father and sons formed a most remarkable trio, possessing a common character. There was no more influential family in the United States at the time. They likewise were not averse to being frequently mentioned and well spoken of in the public journals.
The greatest curiosity was naturally felt throughout the North in the doings of the volunteer troops about Washington, and I was therefore instructed by my employers to make them a special feature in my daily reports. For that purpose I paid regular visits to the regimental camps on the outskirts of the city, to facilitate which I was authorized by the Herald to buy a saddle-horse. My daily rides were most enjoyable in various ways. Delightful weather was the rule throughout May and June. The several hours I spent every afternoon in the saddle afforded an agreeable and healthful exercise. Then, some of the regimental headquarters, of which I made the rounds, formed uncommon centres of attraction. Among the officers of some of the New York, New England, and Western regiments, the very flower of the youth of the land could be found. They were remarkable for intelligence, patriotism, and devotion to duty. Nor did they lack the qualities from which the lighter joys of early manhood flow. In their canvas abodes, mirth and gaiety ruled during the off-duty part of the day, and visitors were made to join in various frolics. It was also true, however, that not a few of the regiments consisted of a very low order of elements. Some of the New York and Philadelphia organizations had, indeed, been recruited from the vicious strata of population, and were officered by the worst types of local politicians. The Irish New York regiments were notorious in this respect. It was my duty to look them up also, but I performed it reluctantly and as rarely as possible.
The regiments in which the foreign elements preponderated had a particular interest for me as a European. Of these there were four exclusively German regiments, the Seventh, Eighth, Twentieth, and Twenty-ninth New York Volunteer Infantry, and the so-called “Garibaldi Guards,” made up of Italians, Frenchmen, Hungarians, Germans, and other nationalities. The Eighth was under command of Louis Blenker, who had had some military experience not only in the rising of 1849 in Rhenish Bavaria, but also in Greece as a volunteer under King Otto. The colonel of the Twentieth was Max Weber, a former army officer in Baden, and landlord of the Hotel Constanz, at which I stopped after landing in 1853. The colonel of the “Garibaldi Guards” was D'Utassy, the romantic assumed name of a Hungarian Jew with a German patronymic. He and Blenker appeared alternately in the regulation and in the fancy foreign uniforms they had adopted for their regiments. Both were fond of parading through the streets in their gorgeous array on horse back, with mounted staffs behind them. Both bore the unmistakable stamp of adventurers. Blenker, who had been a small dairy farmer, had a rather imposing bearing and accomplished manners, and blossomed out into a great swell. D'Utassy was nothing but a swaggering pretender. It seemed amazing that such men should have been entrusted with the organization of whole regiments; but, owing to the then urgent national emergency and the inexperience of the rulers in war matters, any one with a real or well-feigned military record had not much difficulty in securing recognition.
Speaking of these men, another apparition of those days rises before me. Thomas Francis Meagher, the Irish exile, well known for his political martyrdom and his great natural eloquence and literary talent, came to the capital as the captain of a Zouave company attached to the Sixty-ninth Irish New York Regiment. He had devised a most extraordinary uniform for himself, of the Zouave pattern, literally covered with gold lace. It was a sight to see him strut along Pennsylvania Avenue in it, with the airs of a conquering hero.
Among the regular visitors to the camps was Mrs. Lincoln. It would have been, of course, an entirely proper thing for her, as the wife of the Chief Magistrate of the nation, to show her sympathies for the defenders of the Union by going among them. But the truth was, that she had no liking for them at all, being really, as a native of Kentucky, at heart a secessionist. She went to the camps simply to enjoy the adulation and hospitality offered her there. None were more lavish with these than the officers of the Irish New York regiments, and these she favored especially with her calls.
One of the points of attraction was the headquarters of Governor Sprague of Rhode Island, who had recruited three regiments in his State and led them to Washington. He had very limited mental capacity, but had reached political distinction at an early age — he was then but thirty-one — through the influence of real or reputed great wealth. It was at his headquarters that he became acquainted with Kate, the beautiful and gifted daughter of Secretary Chase. The acquaintance quickly ripened into an engagement that was the social sensation of the day. She was far superior to him in every way, and married him for the enjoyment and power of his money. It turned out one of the unhappiest marriages ever known in American society, ending in moral and material wretchednessfor both parties.
Formation of the Federal Army.—1861
THE readiness of the loyal States to place at the disposal of the Government all the men, money, and material needed for the suppression of the Rebellion had been clearly manifest ever since the fall of Fort Sumter. But the great problem for President Lincoln and his chief helpers was the proper use of the national resources so freely offered to them. There were in all the North but a few hundred men to be found regularly trained for the soldier's trade, while thousands were wanted as officers for immediate service. Even with nine-tenths of the loyal officers of the regular army, practical experience did not go beyond the command of companies. With such a scarcity of qualified persons, it was unavoidable that the largest number of officers should be taken from among civilians without the knowledge of even the manual of arms. Still, in acting under this necessity, the General Government and the governments of the several States could certainly have applied the strict test of physical, mental, and moral fitness in the selection of officers. But, unfortunately, the Executive saw a welcome and plentiful opportunity to reward political adherents with commissions in the army, and only too willingly used this extensive new patronage without regard to the fitness of the recipients. As a rule, in all the States, the professional politicians secured the new honors and emoluments. It is safe to say that four-fifths of all the field officers of the three months' regiments appearing in Washington represented this class of men, and the same practice prevailed in the vast levies of volunteers raised subsequently, though to a diminished extent.
The Federal authorities did no better. In officering the new regiments for the regular army authorized by Congress, the most extraordinary appointments were made. Instead of filling the higher places from among the officers who had remained true to the flag, the majority of the field officers were appointed from civil life. Most of the appointees were ordinary politicians having no other than party qualifications. I remember distinctly some of the persons thus favored; one of the notorious cases being the appointment to a full colonelcy, by Secretary Cameron, of a devoted political follower, the chief clerk of the War Department, who, up to the inauguration, had been the sickly, dried-up, pedantic principal of a second-rate school in Pennsylvania. Commissions of line officers were also systematically distributed among favorites. I had a curious personal experience in this respect. I was myself offered a commission as captain in the regular army by Secretary Chase by way of compliment to the Cincinnati Commercial — an offer which, I am free to say, sorely tempted me. About the same time I was induced to interest myself in the application for a commission as lieutenant of a young German doctor from Buffalo, who was anxious to exchange the scalpel for the sword. I spoke to Mr. Chase regarding him, and a few days later he received, to his intense surprise, a commission as a captain of infantry. I am sorry to say that my protégé did not do honor to my recommendation, being dismissed for cowardice on the battle-field before he had served a year. One of my amusements in those days was to witness the private lessons in the rudiments of military lore of the appointees for field officers in the new regular regiments by old drill-sergeants. The difficulties which these colonels, lieutenant-colonels, and majors experienced at first even in keeping step and wheeling about, and later on in the manual of arms, led to very comical scenes. I believe it is a matter of record that very few of these appointees ever rendered any valuable service to the Government.
The preparations for war around me had gradually matured my determination to abandon peaceful work in Washington, and to devote myself to the more exciting occupation of a correspondent in the field. I thought it very important to qualify myself as well as possible for my expected new duties, and, accordingly, I purchased a number of standard books in English, French, and German on strategy and tactics, as well as histories of Frederick the Great's, Napoleon's, and Wellington's campaigns, and devoted all my spare time to the study of them.
Of all the difficulties that confronted the Government, the greatest was, beyond all question, the selection of the proper commanders of the loyal armies then forming about the national capital and at other points. Lieutenant-General Scott was still virtually Commander-in-chief, under the President, of all the land forces; but, as already stated, there was no disguising the fact that he was in every way incapable of a proper discharge of the duties of that position, which grew from day to day more onerous and more fraught with the gravest responsibility. He was nearly seventy-five years old, and his physical infirmities were such that he could scarcely leave his invalid-chair. His mind, too, clearly showed the effect of old age. He formed plans for the coming offensive movements of the troops, but he vacillated much respecting them, and discussed them with indiscreet garrulousness. He was very accessible to newspaper men, having always been fond of newspaper fame and flattery, and I called regularly on him, as did the other correspondents. It took very little to make him talk freely of his purposes. I can still see the stately figure, with the grand head and face, and the snowy hair and whiskers, seated in an arm-chair before a great wall-map of the United States, upon which he explained his strategic ideas with a long pointer. The necessity of superseding him had been apparent to President Lincoln ever since war had become inevitable, but it sorely perplexed him how to do it. The makeshift was finally resorted to of leaving him nominally in supreme command, but giving the command in the field to others practically independent of him.
In the critical, anxious days in April, the President was persuaded to promote two subordinate officers in the regular army at once to high rank. The alleged object was to give them, as being specially zealous in their loyalty, the necessary authority to insure the protection of the Government from the traitorous designs for its overthrow then being prosecuted at the capital. The fortunate men were Major McDowell, and Captain Meigs of the engineer corps, both of whom received the rank of brigadier-general. Their promotions over the heads of nearly all the regular army officers naturally created much jealousy and dissatisfaction, especially among those who had outranked them, but to whose credit be it said that no resignations resulted from this abnormal action. General Meigs assumed charge as quartermaster-general of the entire supply department — a function inferior in importance only to the command of the field forces and General McDowell was placed in command of the troops gathered for the defence of the capital. He owed his brigadier's commission mainly to the influence of Secretary Chase, who had long known him as an Ohio man. The Secretary favored me with a warm introduction to the General, which placed me at once on the best terms with him. He was a man of strong character and much intellectual ability. While his practical military experience was necessarily limited by the narrow opportunities offered in the active service of the small regular army, his theoretical knowledge was very extensive. He was well read in war history. But in my frequent intercourse with him I gained the impression that he lacked the resolute determination which alone could insure success in his trying task of organizing an effective army for aggressive war out of the raw material gathering under his command. With his evident want of confidence in himself, he appeared to be full of misgivings from the start. This self-distrust showed itself in his constant talk of the difficulties surrounding him and of the doubts he felt of the possibility of overcoming them. Of course, my opinion of his qualifications as a commander was at that time that of a novice and had no value whatever, but it was decidedly to the effect that, while he might make a very efficient sub-commander, he had not the stuff of a great captain in him.
All hope of a peaceful settlement with the seceded States had long vanished, but no one as yet foresaw the fearful proportions which the Civil War would assume. The belief was still universal that short work would be made by the Federal Government in suppressing the Rebellion. Its great weakness, arising from its Constitutional inability to call out militia in quotas from the several States for more than three months service, had been cured by the resolute assumption by Congress of the power to authorize the enlistment of volunteers for three years. All cool-headed and competent advisers of the Government, including General Scott, deemed it imprudent and dangerous to attempt any decisive offensive movements with the three months militia, and urged postponement until the three years men had been sufficiently trained for field service. But too much confidence had been produced in the North by the theory, preached in the press and by political leaders, that one vigorous onset would suffice to tumble over and destroy the rebel fabric. This popular feeling was intensified by the removal of the capital of the Southern Confederacy from Montgomery, Alabama, to Richmond, Virginia. The head of the hydra of rebellion having been brought so near the Federal capital, the cry was raised that the honor of the nation required a quick and decisive resentment of this insult, and that it was the duty of the Government forthwith to make one great effort to go for the monster and finish it. The editor of the New York Tribune, Horace Greeley, began daily to blow the loudest trumpet for “On to Richmond.” The personal pressure upon the powers in Washington by members of Congress — in extra session, too — became great, with the result of persuading them that it was necessary on political grounds to begin an offensive campaign from the Potomac without delay. General Scott and other military advisers reluctantly acquiesced after a definite decision to that effect was reached. The Commander-in-chief directed General McDowell to submit a plan of operations, which was considered in detail and agreed upon at a council of war at the White House on June 29, the President, the Cabinet, and the principal military officers participating.
A brief sketch of the plan will be in place. Virginia formally seceded, by popular vote, on May 23, and the State Government immediately took steps to protect its territory from the Northern invasion threatened from two directions — from Washington, mainly, and from Pennsylvania, where a Northern force under General Patterson was gathering in the neighborhood of Harper's Ferry. For this purpose, Manassas Junction (the meeting of the railroads from Richmond, Alexandria, and the Shenandoah Valley, thirty-five miles southwest of Washington) and Harper's Ferry were occupied by rebel troops. General Beauregard had been given command at the former, and General Joseph E. Johnston at the latter point. Gradually the rebel forces were increased, and early in June those at Manassas were estimated at about twenty thousand, and those at Harper's Ferry at about eight thousand. General McDowell's plan was to move against Beauregard with his own army, while General Patterson held Johnston in the Shenandoah Valley, and while General Butler threatened a direct attack on Richmond from Fortress Monroe; and, after crushing the enemy at Manassas and thereby compelling Johnston to abandon the valley, to unite with Patterson's command for a rapid advance on Richmond.
Every effort was made by McDowell to get his army in motion within a week after the adoption of the plan for the campaign, but more than two weeks elapsed before this was possible. He issued his order to march on July 16. His forces were divided into five divisions of unequal strength, ranging from one of nearly 10,000 men down to one of 2,648, commanded respectively by Generals Tyler, Hunter, Heintzelman, Runyon (afterwards ambassador at Berlin) , and Dixon S. Miles. The five divisions represented a total of 34,000 effective men. General Runyon's division constituted the reserve and did not come into action, so that only about 28,500 men with forty-nine guns and a single battalion of cavalry actually took part in the events to be described.
I rode every day to Arlington Heights, where McDowell had established his headquarters in the mansion of the future commander-in-chief of the rebel armies, Robert E. Lee, and talked freely with him about the impending movement. He showed anything but confidence in its success, and plainly displayed distrust of himself and of his soldiery. He repeatedly said that his troops were not yet sufficiently drilled and disciplined for an offensive campaign, and that the politicians were responsible for the premature movement, but that he should be the principal victim if it failed, as he feared. At the same time, there could be no doubt that he would do his whole duty to the best of his ability, and to that end he labored day and night.
I had received early warning of the impending crisis through a newly made acquaintance at headquarters, Captain J. B. Fry, an assistant adjutant-general of the regular army, the Commanding General's chief of staff. The friendly relations then formed with him continued over thirty years. I obtained ready permission to accompany the headquarters. I was already well mounted, and my other preparations for the campaign took very little time. I must confess that I did not share McDowell's apprehensions, but believed in the easy triumph of the Union forces over the rebels, and consequently expected a very interesting and satisfactory experience and a prolongedabsence from Washington.
Blackburn's Ford and Bull Run.—1861
THE advance of the army commenced on July 16. It took so much time to get the several divisions under way from their encampments in the fortifications along Arlington Heights and at Alexandria that only a few miles were accomplished that day. As the headquarters were not to move until the next day, I joined General Tyler and staff, commanding the First Division, which had the lead and had started from near the Georgetown bridge. Coming up with the rear regiment, I had to pass all the troops of the division, as they were following the same road. In passing the brigade commanders and staffs, I rode with them for a time for a chat. Thus I had a short talk with Colonel W. T. Sherman, of the regular army, the future army commander, who had under him the so-called Irish brigade, formed of the Irish New York City regiments. I knew from visits at Fort Corcoran, where the Colonel had had his brigade headquarters, that he was not very proud of his command, which hardly contained a single competent officer, and both the rank and file of which it was especially difficult to discipline properly. But the prospect of active service seemed to have put him into rather good humor. In passing the Sixty-ninth New York regiment, I came up with Captain Thomas Francis Meagher, whose Zouave company formed part of it. He was mounted, but wore a plain undress uniform instead of the gorgeous one already described. As I approached him, I noticed that he was resting his right hand with a cocked revolver on his hip. “Well, Captain,” I sang out to him, “you are all ready for the fray?” “Yes,” he zreplied, “there is nothing like being always ready for the ‘damned rebs.’ ” The leer from his eyes and a certain unsteadiness in the saddle indicated plainly that he had braced himself up internally for the fight.
General Tyler went into camp near Fairfax Court-House, and I accepted shelter for the night in a wall-tent offered me by one of his staff. For the first time since my Colorado experience I slept on the ground, with a waterproof sheet under and a blanket over me, and my saddle for a pillow. The reveille was sounded before sunrise, and we were in motion again shortly after five. We expected to have a first encounter with the enemy at Centreville, a small straggling village on the Warrenton turnpike about six miles from Fairfax, but found it evacuated. The few remaining inhabitants reported that the rebel troops had withdrawn behind Bull Run, a small stream some three miles to the west. A halt was made at Centreville, and the division went into camp about the village for the day. General Tyler's orders were “to observe well the roads,” under which he felt justified in making a reconnoissance in the direction of the enemy, and, accordingly, he set out for that purpose, escorted by a company of cavalry and two companies of infantry. I was permitted to ride with him. We took a road in a southerly direction towards “Blackburn's Ford” of Bull Run. About noon, we had reached an orchard on a plateau commanding a wide view of the surrounding country, from which clear fields sloped down for about one-third of a mile to the thickly wooded banks of the stream, along which, according to our information, rebel troops were concealed. General Tyler concluded to rouse the game in the woods below by artillery, and sent orders to bring up Captain Ricketts's regular battery, supported by Colonel Richardson's brigade. The battery reached the position with its support about three o'clock, and a section unlimbered directly and commenced shelling the woods. These were the first cannon-shots fired against the rebels in front of Washington, and quite excited me. The fire was continued without eliciting any response, when the General ordered it to cease and skirmishers to be thrown out, and advanced down the slope.
Two other newspaper correspondents had appeared on foot with the infantry — E. C. Stedman, the poet and critic, and E. H. House, long connected with the New York Tribune, and well known as essayist and critic till he abandoned the profession to become American consul in Japan for many years. As we three felt very hungry, I dismounted and left my horse in charge of an officer's servant, and we followed the skirmishers down the road to a farm-house within a hundred yards of the woods, in the hope of getting something to eat. We found the house locked and apparently deserted. Espying a well-laden cherry-tree, I climbed it in order to supply myself and friends with the fruit. I had just got on a branch when suddenly a terrific roar burst out from the woods seemingly within a few steps of us, followed by a mighty whizzing and clattering all around us. The rebel infantry in the woods had fired a volley against the skirmishers. In less than a minute another volley followed, accompanied by the same great roar and the small noises all around us. It then flashed upon us that the latter were caused by thousands of bullets whistling by us and striking the farm buildings, fences, and trees round about. We were, indeed, right in the line of fire of a whole rebel brigade. With the second volley there came also the deep detonations of artillery fire. Then there was a deafening crash, and I found myself thrown from the tree to the ground. Stedman and House shouted, “Are you hurt?” from their shelter behind the farm-house, to which they had rushed after the second volley. Fortunately, no harm had befallen me.
The rebel fire continued violently, and was answered by our skirmishers and the regiments and two guns that came hurrying down the slope to their support. As the enemy's musketry and artillery swept the entire slope, it was not safe for us to attempt to get out of their reach, and so we remained in our protected position behind the main farm building till the skirmish was over. Our men had entered the woods, but were driven back in confusion by the irresistible fire from the concealed rebel lines. Another regiment having joined them, other attempts to force the rebel line followed, but all failed. It was nearly six o'clock before our troops were withdrawn and we were released from our uncomfortable position.
The outcome of the affair was about sixty killed and wounded on each side. General Tyler was subsequently much criticised for the unnecessary, fruitless loss of life and limb, as he was not authorized to make a reconnoissance in force. But it is an open question whether the demonstration of the presence of the enemy in strong numbers at Blackburn's Ford did not help General McDowell in forming proper plans for the succeeding movements. As for myself, I had certainly had a strong foretaste of actual war. Though not a combatant, I had undergone the formal baptism of fire, and a fire as hot as I was ever under in my varied adventures as a war correspondent. I can truly say that the music of “bullet, ball, and grapeshot” never had much terror for me thereafter.
I was glad to mount my horse again and make my way back to Centreville in search of food for man and beast, and of lodging for the night. On reaching the village, I was hailed from the porch of a spacious dwelling by an other newspaper man, who, with some others, had taken possession of it in the absence of the white owners and induced the black servants to cook supper and breakfast for them. I gladly accepted an invitation to share their comforts. My horse was also well taken care of.
The cannonading at Blackburn's Ford had caused the march of the other divisions to be accelerated, as a serious engagement between the First Division and the enemy was supposed to be going on. The whole army was well concentrated in and about Centreville, where General McDowell also joined it on the evening of the 18th. It still lay in camp on the two following days, Friday, the 19th, and Saturday, the 20th. General McDowell devoted that time to getting all possible information about the roads to Manassas, the condition of the several crossings of Bull Run by bridges and fords, and the distribution of the enemy's forces, in order to formulate his plans for further operations. What was ascertained regarding the natural and artificial difficulties (abattis, rifle-pits, and batteries in position) of effecting a crossing of Bull Run on the direct line to the Junction, made him abandon his original plan of turning Beauregard's right flank from the south and decide to attempt a flanking movement from the north, concealed by a front attack. He informed his division commanders accordingly on the evening of the 18th; but the engineers, not getting through with the necessary reconnoissances before the afternoon of Saturday, the 20th, the execution of the modified plan was not attempted before the next day.
On Saturday night the division commanders assembled at headquarters to receive their final instructions. The Warrenton turnpike formed the main street of Centreville and ran thence directly southwest to Bull Run, which it crossed on a solid stone bridge of two arches, to which Beauregard's left flank extended. General Tyler was ordered to move with his division over the turnpike to the bridge, a distance of three miles and a half, and there make a feint attack. Hunter and Heintzelman were ordered to make a circuitous night march northward, cross Bull Run at Sudley Springs, between two and three miles above the stone bridge, follow the stream down to the latter, and, taking from the rear the armed fortifications which the enemy were supposed to have at that point, open the way for the crossing of Tyler's division. The three divisions should then jointly attack the rebel left. Miles's division was to remain in reserve at Centreville. Richardson's brigade was to threaten Blackburn's Ford.
The army was aroused at midnight, and, soon after, the three attacking divisions were ready to move. I did not fully know the plan of battle, but supposed that Tyler's division, as it took the lead, would play the principal part and therefore joined its staff. There was unfortunately but the one turnpike for all to march on, so that Hunter and Heintzelman were delayed for hours, and it was nine o'clock when the advance reached Sudley Springs, where it crossed readily without opposition.
Tyler reached the stone bridge shortly after daybreak, but made his feint only after he had learned of the close approach of the other divisions to the ford above. We saw the rebel forces guarding the bridge retreat, but, as the bridge was supposed to be mined, no attempt was made to pass it. General Tyler let the infantry of Sherman's and Keyes's brigades cross the stream half a mile above, the men getting wet to their hips, and march over a mile of level bottom in the direction of the heavy firing that had been heard for some time. A junction was effected with Hunter, and the division made front with Sherman on the right and Keyes on the left, and moved forward in a westerly direction. General Tyler and staff followed in the immediate rear of Keyes's brigade. It soon became evident that, owing either to the nature of the ground or to the fact that Sherman was drawn away by keeping in close touch with the more oblique movement of Hunter's division — I never was able to learn the real cause — Keyes's brigade had become isolated from the rest of the attacking forces. Indeed, it remained after this a separate command, unable to hold communication during the battle either with Sherman or with General McDowell. It thus turned out that my accompanying Tyler was a fatal mistake, as, though we heard the constant rattle of musketry and booming of artillery, we were kept in entire ignorance of the course of events on the field. In fact, all we saw of the battle was the limited part played by Keyes's brigade in it. I realized all this early in the afternoon, and felt very much tempted to strike out alone for the general headquarters, but, being utterly ignorant of their whereabouts, I concluded that a search for them at a venture involved too much risk, and remained. General Tyler and his staff also felt the awkwardness of their position very keenly, and vainly hoped from minute to minute to come again in touch with Sherman or the other divisions. Sherman had, indeed, by his movement come under the direct orders of General McDowell.
Keyes's brigade kept slowly moving to the left of the Warrenton turnpike over broken ground covered with woods and thickets, and gradually reached Young's Branch of Bull Run, crossing which, he came up with the enemy about two o'clock. Two regiments charged up a hill and drove the rebels from about a cluster of farm-buildings, but hostile batteries opened so severely upon them that they could not hold the gained position. During this attack I was again exposed to a heavy fire of small and large guns, but neither as severe nor as sustained as that at Blackburn's Ford. This was the only actual taste I had of the memorable first battle of Bull Run.
After this futile effort, Keyes's brigade rested on its arms along Young's Branch. The firing had steadily continued during the afternoon until after four o'clock, when it gradually died out. Ominous feelings came over us, and our fears that disaster had overtaken our side were soon after confirmed by an aide-de-camp of General Tyler, who had set out nearly two hours before for another effort to reach General McDowell, and returned with the terrible news that the Union forces were in full retreat. The General at once ordered the withdrawal of the brigade in the direction of the stone bridge. Feeling confident that I could find my way back alone, I rode in advance as fast as the ground permitted.
As my object in penning these memoirs is to describe my personal experiences, not to write formal history, I shall not attempt to give a full account of the course of the action in the other parts of the field, or a full analysis of the causes that led to the disastrous defeat of McDowell's army. Even if I undertook to do this, I should no doubt fail in the task, for the official and unofficial accounts of the battle on both sides are extremely confused, fragmentary, and contradictory. It will suffice for me to give, from the most authentic sources, a brief summary of what happened to our right on the ill-starred day, including the personal statements made to me subsequently by General McDowell, the division and brigade commanders, and some of the staff officers.
The skirmishers leading the flanking movement of Hunter and Heintzelman's divisions became engaged with the enemy at about ten o clock, and soon afterwards the advancing columns were fully exposed to showers of rebel bullets, balls, and shells. The advance came to a stop, and the artillery of the two divisions was brought into play for some time. Only a small force was at first opposed to the divisions, which they would doubtless have easily swept out of their way if they had not halted. The stop of the attacking columns enabled the enemy to bring up reënforcements in the shape of four regiments that had arrived the day before with General Johnston from the Shenandoah Valley. Sherman's brigade having in the meantime joined Hunter on the left, the advance was resumed by our side. The rebels, though much weaker, resisted vigorously, and the severest fighting of the day occurred then, lasting over an hour. The enemy were finally forced back along their whole line for nearly a mile, so that between one and two o'clock victory seemed certain for the Unionists. Jefferson Davis, who had come up from Richmond the day before, and Beauregard and Johnston were thrown into consternation by the stream of demoralized officers and men that came pouring back from the front. But the very success achieved by our troops was to be the cause of their failure. The advance, being on exterior lines, as it were, and spreading the front wider and wider like a fan, resulted in loss of cohesion between the divisions, brigades, and regiments. The advantage of continuous unity of command was also wanting. It cannot be said that the army as a whole had the benefit of intelligent general direction at any time during the day. The division and brigade commanders and even partly the regimental commanders were left to their own devices. Much of this lack of guidance and the consequent confusion was due to the early compulsory retirement of Brigade-Commander Hunter from the field upon receiving a severe wound. Moreover, owing to the fatigue of the troops, who had been on their feet since midnight, and their exhaustion from the intense July heat, more and more men lagged behind as the forward movement proceeded, and the temporary success in the noon hour was probably achieved by less than two-thirds of the effective force that had set out from Centreville. Deducting the killed, wounded, and disabled, the stragglers and skulkers, from the effective number of the two and one-half divisions (Hunter's and Heintzelman's, with Sherman's brigade) at the start, doubtless only about ten thousand Unionists remained confronting the enemy at one o'clock, and they were drawn out on a long, irregular, and barely connected line, and were tired and suffering from hunger and thirst. Nor was there any reserve available to make up for the depletion of their ranks.
Only Beauregard's left flank, with the four regiments from the Shenandoah Valley, had so far been engaged. In falling back before the Union troops, it had reached a strong position on a wooded plateau commanding the lower ground over which the Federals would have to pass in pushing their attack. Here both the rebel commanders, Johnston and Beauregard, themselves took charge. They were now convinced that there the main effort of the Federals was being made, and that no other part of their line was actively endangered. So they ordered regiments from their centre and right to the threatened position. Most luckily for them, too, the remainder of Johnston's command from the Shenandoah Valley arrived by rail during the early afternoon in time to participate in the action. Thus gradually a rebel force was gathered superior to their opponents in numbers and freshness and much better held in hand. When the Unionists resumed their advance, the rebels successfully resisted their rather desultory attacks at different points. With every unsuccessful onward attempt there was a rapid melting away of the assailants. Fewer and fewer officers and men could be rallied for another advance. Towards four o'clock, the rebels felt strong enough to take the offensive. A brigade with a battery under Earle managed to strike the Federal right on the flank and rear and throw it into utter confusion, which spread rapidly along the whole front. Now came the disastrous, disgraceful end. Without any formal orders to retreat, what was left of the several organizations yielded to a general impulse to abandon the field. Officers and men became controlled by the one thought of getting as far as possible from the enemy. Three-fourths were quickly reduced to the condition of a motley, panic-stricken mob. Not that resolute efforts were not made by the General-in-chief and some of the commanders under him to insure an orderly retreat. They were all in vain. The morale of the army was entirely gone, and the instinct of self-preservation alone animated the flying mass.
When I rode away from Keyes's brigade towards the stone bridge, this rearward movement had not yet reached its full dimensions, but the Warrenton turnpike was already swarming with fugitives from the battle-field, going towards Centreville. I made inquiries at the bridge from every passing officer as to the whereabouts of General McDowell's headquarters, but no one could direct me to them. I concluded to wait at the bridge for developments. I had not watched the tide of runaways for more than twenty minutes when one of Hunter's staff officers came dashing down the pike on horseback. I stopped him to repeat my question about McDowell, when he exclaimed excitedly, “You won't find him. All is chaos in front. The battle is lost. Our troops are all giving way and falling back without orders. Get back to Centreville,” and galloped on. I waited a while longer till other officers and the increasing flow of retreating soldiery confirmed the news of the general retreat, and then resumed my ride.
A quarter of a mile to the east of the bridge, I found the turnpike blocked by a double line of army wagons, so that my horse could hardly pass them. Half a mile further, I came upon an immovable mass of supply and ammunition wagons, ambulances, and other vehicles, that extended as far as I could see and made further progress on the pike impossible. Fortunately, the persons in charge had already opened a way through the adjacent fields by pulling down the fences. But it occurred to me at once to what further disaster to the Union army this choking up of their main line of retreat might lead. I took it upon myself to call the attention of a passing officer of the quartermaster's department to this danger, and he at once proceeded to try his best to remove the tangle. Time and again, owing to such obstacles, I had to leave the turnpike and proceed through the fields, even having to open a way myself by pulling down fences. I was lucky enough to find no obstruction on the small suspension-bridge over Cob Run. A short distance beyond this I came upon another blockade, in which were involved a number of hackney carriages with members of Congress, some of them known to me, who had driven out from Washington that day and were trying to get to the front to witness the great victory which the favorable course of the action up to the afternoon had led them to expect. They had heard nothing of the defeat, and would not believe me when I told them the bad news.
I passed on, and had not left them more than five minutes when I was startled by the sound of artillery in close proximity behind me. A rebel cavalry detachment with a battery section, sent to cut off our retreat, had suddenly emerged from, the woods to the south of the turnpike, and commenced shelling it. A shell hit the horses of a supply-wagon. Shell after shell exploded over and on the roadway, and some of the rebel cavalry dashed up, yelling with all their might. The turnpike and the adjacent fields became instantly the scene of a wild panic. The teamsters jumped off their wagons and ran away as fast as they could. Even ambulances with wounded were deserted. The retreating soldiers all the way from the stone bridge were seized with fright, and started on a full run through the fields in swarms of hundreds and thousands, throwing away their arms and accoutrements, knapsacks, haversacks, and blankets. Within a few minutes after the first rebel gun had been fired, a wild, senseless rabble came rushing by me on foot, horseback, and muleback. A good many soldiers detached animals from wagons and galloped off on them. The members of Congress and other civilians also abandoned their private vehicles, and joined afoot in the race for safety. Among the fugitives there was a well-known newspaper correspondent, who had caught and mounted bareback a badly bleeding artillery horse, and was urging him to extreme speed by merciless cudgelling. The terrified crowds presented a pitiful and humiliating sight. Starting again, filled with greater fears than before for the fate of the army, I rode all the way amid runaways, soldiers and officers of all ranks — I noticed among them fellows with the straps of majors and lieutenant-colonels — and a mixture of civilians, to Centreville, where I arrived shortly before six o'clock, travel-stained, dust-covered, and about as tired, hungry, thirsty, and disgusted with all the world as a human being could well be.
Our nice quarters had fortunately not been occupied, as I had feared, by other “invaders.” After securing some food for myself and for my worn-out beast, I started on a hunt for the general headquarters in and about the village, in order to learn what decision had been reached in consequence of the loss of the battle, and thereby govern my own movements. But I could not find any trace of the Commander-in-chief and staff. They had evidently not yet returned from the field, if they had escaped capture. Complete confusion prevailed in the village, nobody being able to find anybody or knowing what to do. While wandering about in search of information, I came up with the head of Colonel Blenker's brigade, which had advanced with the other brigade of the reserve division to near Blackburn's Ford, but was now retreating in obedience to orders from the division commander. Colonel Blenker had not yet heard the full extent of the disaster, but, on learning it from me, formed a line with his command across the main road from Centreville to Fairfax and awaited developments. The other brigade did likewise. Meantime the flow of the stream of demoralized mankind, on foot and mounted, and with no end of vehicles of every sort, poured steadily through the village. There was no attempt to stop or rally the troops by the numerous field and other officers who floated by with the current. I returned to my quarters and sat down on the porch, where I found Messrs. House and Stedman, Mr. Glenn of the Cincinnati Gazette, Mr. Painter of the Philadelphia Inquirer, and others.
Between eight and nine, the remnants of organizations of Keyes's, Burnside's, and Sherman's brigades reached the place, from whose officers we learned that McDowell was behind them, and that a stand would be made. We watched the street sights till after nine, when my companions determined to seek a night's rest, in the belief that the army would rally about the village. I thought it more prudent to make sure of this, if possible, at headquarters, and set out again in quest of them. I discovered them at the further end of the village. General McDowell was in a building engaged in receiving reports, so that I could not reach him. Captain Fry, however, told me that orders had been first given for a rally of the retreating army at Centreville, but the clear evidences of the hopeless demoralization of the troops which they had observed on the way from the battle-field had shaken the General's determination. He was then, however, informing himself, by consultation with sub-commanders and staff officers, as to whether a rally was still advisable and practicable. Shortly after ten, if I remember the time correctly, I was informed that a retreat to Washington had been determined upon, and would be immediately ordered. It was no surprise to me, as I had become satisfied during the evening that there was nothing else left.
I hurried back to our quarters, and did my duty to my friends by waking and telling them the news and urging them to lose no time in starting back. Two acted promptly and got away, but the other two — Glenn and Painter — could not rouse themselves sufficiently and fell asleep again. They woke late in the morning, and, when they had leisurely dressed themselves and come down for breakfast, found several officers in rebel uniform sitting on the veranda. Fortunately, they were taken by these to belong to the family owning the house, and politely asked whether breakfast could be had. They had presence of mind enough to answer, “Oh, yes, with pleasure”; and, pretending to go in search of the servants, managed to make their escape from the rear of the house by climbing over a fence into an adjacent corn-field, and so safely reaching the woods to which it extended. They arrived in Washington very much elated, of course, at their adventure.
I lost no time in making for the stable, saddled my horse, and in a few minutes was trotting along the Fairfax road. My newspaper instinct was fully aroused. I saw a chance of outstripping the rival correspondents with a report of the battle by reaching Washington as quickly as possible. For that purpose it was essential that I should get in advance of troops retreating information, and of supply and other trains. My horse had had three hours' rest and a good meal, and would surely be equal to the eighteen miles' ride. But within a few hundred yards of the east end of the village, I found myself stopped on the highway not only by immense trains of loaded army wagons in the road, but by camps of teamsters and soldiers on both sides of it. I was obliged to dismount and find my way in the dark with the greatest difficulty through and around these impediments. It was nearly one in the morning when I at last was able to go ahead again at a fast trot on a clear road. Still, even for the rest of the way, I frequently passed squads of runaways from the front that must have left the field early in the afternoon and made the best use of their legs ever since. Some were wearily worrying on, others resting on the roadside or cooking meals at campfires. Some of those who were halting, being hidden from view by the darkness, amused themselves by sending forth rebel yells so as to frighten the passers-by into the belief that they had fallen upon a rebel ambuscade, and into a dead run for life or rather from imprisonment. The first attempt of the kind deceived me, too, so that I spurred my beast to his greatest possible speed.
About daybreak I passed the camp of a regiment of Pennsylvania three months' men, whose term of service had expired the day before, and who had insisted on marching away from the front to the very sound of the battle. So little martial spirit had been developed in a good portion of the army! A little while later I heard the clatter of hoofs behind me, and, looking back, perceived a mounted officer approaching at full speed. As he came nearer, I saw he wore nothing on his head and was very bald. I soon recognized in him Colonel Ambrose E. Burnside, of the First Regiment of Rhode Island Volunteers, who had commanded a brigade under Heintzelman in the battle. There he was, hatless, swordless, and all alone, making the best of time on his fine black charger. I had made his acquaintance in his camp at Washington, and hence spoke to him as he hastened by. He did not stop to talk, but merely exclaimed, “I am hurrying ahead to get rations for my command.” But this struck me as preposterous, as such duties were not performed by regimental commanders, and as it did not account for his being without hat and sword. From this incident, I conceived a natural prejudice against his trustworthiness as a general officer, which my later observations of him as a corps and army commander confirmed.
I reached the fortifications on the Alexandria road, about a mile south of the western end of Long Bridge, near five o'clock. Here I was detained for a while, owing to my semi-military garb and the military accoutrements of my horse, which compelled the guards to apply their orders not to let any officers or men pass on to Washington. The officer on duty was finally called, and let me go on. It was half-past five when I reached the livery-stable where I boarded my horse, and thence sought my rooms. The streets of the capital were as lifeless as usual at that early hour, and most of the inhabitants were doubtless unconscious of the portentous events of the previous day.
It will be readily understood in what state of physical exhaustion I was, after eighteen hours of great fatigue and excitement with but one meal; but I had no right to rest before I had done my duty to the Herald. During the night ride I had thought out what seemed to be the best course in reporting the battle. My knowledge of the details of the fighting was very limited, but I had picked up enough information for an intelligible and nearly correct summary of what had occurred. I determined, therefore, to prepare first a succinct report of say six hundred words for transmission by wire when the telegraph-office opened at seven A.M. (In those days the unlimited telegraphing now universally practised by the press was not dreamt of, and I was not free to send more over the wires without special permission of the editor-in-chief, to obtain which would have meant fatal delay.) Next I would allow myself six or seven hours' sleep, and in the afternoon endeavor to collect further material for a fuller account by the last evening mail. It took me only half an hour to write out my despatch, so that before leaving it at the main telegraph-office I had time for an early breakfast at Willard's Hotel. The despatch reached its destination before eight, and was printed at once as an extra. It was the first revelation to the New York public of the extent of the national disaster, and as such created a great sensation, but was not immediately credited.
I slept until two P.M., dined, and then went to the War Department in search of more matter for my mail report. I soon found that they knew less of details than I did, and that General McDowell had reëstablished his headquarters at Arlington Heights. I reluctantly rode there, and was fortunate enough to find Captain Fry, whom I persuaded to dictate to me substantially his recollections and impressions of the battle. What he told me of the orders that had been given by General McDowell, and to what extent they had not been executed, was especially valuable for my purpose. Equally so were his free comments upon the causes of the disaster, chief among which he considered the incapacity of commanding officers, the lack of courage and discipline among the troops, and, above all, the non-fulfilment of General Scott's promise that “if Johnston joined Beauregard, he should have Patterson on his heels.”
As I did not get back to Washington before nearly six o'clock, there was no time left to get my full report ready for the last evening mail; hence I wired for leave to transmit it wholly by telegraph, which was granted. I commenced work at half-past six and was through at half-past ten. Two office-boys kept running to the main telegraph-office with the successively finished sheets of the manuscript, so that, within a few minutes after my work was done, the last instalment was being flashed to New York. I felt well satisfied with what I had written and confident that it would prove quite a hit for me. Alas! when it reached me in print, I discovered, to my great disgust, that so much of it had been stricken out or altered that I could no longer feel any pride in the mutilated remnant as my own production. The reason for this treatment was that I had indulged in a good deal of merciless criticism on the lines indicated by Captain Fry, which my employers were afraid to publish. I had been particularly severe on some of the New York regiments and their officers, and the editor did not dare to print my fulminations on my authority alone. The excuse and compliments in the editor's explanatory letter to me were poor compensation for my disappointment.
There was plenty of work for some time in Washington in collecting and verifying more particular information about the battle, correcting first reports in the light of it, and obtaining lists of the casualties. But, by the beginning of August, the Government and Congress had settled down to still more determined endeavors, on a far greater scale than before, for the suppression of the Rebellion. It was evident that a long time would elapse before a new army could be organized and got ready for another offensive movement from Washington, and that nothing would be left for me to do at the capital. It was the general belief, shared by the Government, that Missouri and Kentucky would soon be the scene of active operations. I therefore proposed to the editor of the Herald that I be sent to one or other of these States. I was invited to come to New York for a personal consultation, and the result was that I was given a fortnight's vacation, at the end of which I was to go to Louisville, to watch the course of events in Kentucky.
- Jonestown was revisited by Mr. Villard in company with his son Oswald in the spring of 1897. All, in fact, whom he had known had disappeared.
- Sympathy with the Douglas Democrats in their opposition to the proslavery followers of Buchanan led him to offer to send letters gratuitously, during his Western engagement with the Staats-Zeitung, to John W. Forney's Philadelphia Press, a Douglas organ.
- He brought with him a long article on the development of mining in the Rocky Mountains in 1860, which was finally accepted by the Herald. This renewed his acquaintance with Frederic Hudson, the managing editor.
- Or, rather, the Herald, through Mr. Hudson, on hearing of his experience in the Lincoln-Douglas campaign and his acquaintance with Lincoln. By the rules of the Associated Press, his despatches had to be shared by the Herald with the other members of the Association.