Lehigh University
The Vault at PfaffsAn Archive of Art and Literature by the Bohemians of Antebellum New York
Previous Issue Next Issue
Previous Page Next Page
0 matches

Text for Page 245 [05-18-1862]

	          Letter to the Tribune.

[newspaper clipping: first column]
Condition of the Country�Poor White
	Folks�Gunboat Reconnoissance.
From a Special Correspodent.
	  CAMP AT THE WHTIE HOUSE, VA., May 19, 1862.
  When I came to this locality for the first time, six
days ago, what a very different spectacle did it pre-
sent to the one now visible, this sultry Sunday after-
noon, which might belong to the fiercest portion of
July.  Then the road hither had been comparatively
untrodden, except by our extreme advance�say the
signal corps�a company or two of cavalry and infan-
fantry, under the always-progressive Gen. Stoneman,
who bids fair to be in the Rebel capital two days
ahead of any of us.  Despite the direction �to
Richmond,� apparently carved with a knife upon a
finger-post that might be a hundred years old, near
Cumberland Landing, this road was a mere bridle-path
through the pines and dog-wood, the monotonous repe-
tition of which, all the way from Fortress Monroe, has
become as exasperatingly oppressive as an African
jungle.  The miserable, dreary people in the occa-
sional farm-houses had then something to eat; some-
thing edible to retail, which they were only too glad
to dispose of for our bright silver specie or Treasury
notes, both of which they regarded with equal curi-
osity and acquisitiveness.  There were then fences, 
and a promise of goodly Spring crops; I gave my
horse what I suppose was his last feed of clover in a
field now as destitute of blade or leaf as Broadway in
front of Barnum�s Museum.  The Lee property looked
as prosperous, as insolent, almost as feudal, as it
must have done for many a long day and
year, beore the irruption of the very much-needed
Yankee into this Sleepy Hollow of Slavery.  The
negroes stared at a blue uniform as at a novelty;
the villanous faced overseer (loafing about on his
parole, after he had attempted to sneak off and
convey information to the enemy) hardly attempted
to disguise his hatred of our soldiers, and privately
bullied the kindly negroes for their good-will to-
ward them.  The Pamunky (familiarly designated
by its Simian abbreviation) had only a gunboat or
two on its tranquil waters; its wild, woody, green
shores looked almost as solitary as in the days of 
John Smith and Pocahontas.  Then, when the even-
ing shades descended, and I lay down on the wet
grass, the Rebel pickets were plainly discernable on
the adjacent hills, and I was cautioned not to unsad-
dle my horse, lest there might be sudden need of
him during the night.  Poor animal! he had suf-
fered so much as to be almost, if not quite foundered;
I have since been obliged to replace him with a
mule (price $2 50), and the Lord knows what has
become of the nobler quadruped by this time!
  Now, everything is changed.  The road turned
into a river of mud by two days� rain, (the mire 
came, literally, to the horses� bellies) hardened by
the subsequent heat into horrible ruts, has been
trodden out of all shape by the advancing army,
scored with the wheels of wagons and artillery, ren-
dered scarcely distinguishable.  The fences are gone,
used up as fuel for the innumerable camp-fires,
which at night lighten the whole horizon, east, west,
south, and north, even as those which Dante saw
in one of the gulfs of Tartaros, comparing them to
thickly clustering fire-flies on a Summer�s evening.

[newspaper clipping: second column]
The people of the country, appalled at the dimen-
sions of our army, ignorant, local in all their
thoughts and habits to a degree that is scarcely con-
ceivable, have ceased to inquire when we shall all
have gone by? surrendering themselves in helpless
despair to the dread of coming famine.  The crops
are trampled level with the earth; the spring wheat
blades and clover bitten close by the teeth of hungry
horses.  Lastly, the White House�or rather its
locality, for I believe the building itself has not
been occupied�is the present Headquarters of the
Army of the Peninsula, and the basis of future op-
erations against Richmond�may they be swift and
  Gen. McClellan�s headquarters are in a field, with-
in a stone�s throw of the residence of the Rebel ex-
General.  Around him, on every side, one sees
camps�innumerable tents, with all the parapher-
nalia of an enormous army.  There are batteries in
fields heretofore familiar only with kine, horses and
wagons crowding once lonely sylvan lanes and hol
lows, men everywhere.  They bathe by thousands
along the steep, slooping banks of the Pamunky,
which stream is alive with steamers, with boats,
with vessels of almost every description.  We have
extemporized wharves, a Post-Office, an Express
office, stores�all on the sacred property of the Rebel
ex-General.  I doubt, really, if the day of judg-
ment could have excited more astonishment in the
breasts of the simple negroes than this tremendous
breaking in upon their monotonous antecedents, be-
tween which and now there flows as enormous a
barrier as the Deluge must have created in the old 
  They are glad to see us, but harassed and won-
der-stricken.  Those who had anything to sell have
accumulated little fortunes in silver; but the pros-
pect of being left without food for themselves has
checked, if not entirely stopped, this traffic.  They
talk with glee of the discomfiture of the Rebels, and
seem to have got over the dread of the fugitive Se-
cesh coming �back again,� of which we heard a 
good deal a week ago.  The younger and smarter
of them run away, and commonly become paid serv-
ants to our officers, waiting on them with a zeal and
intelligence never exhibited in their past chattelage.
Compared to some of the white people here, they
are superior creatures; gentlemen.
  If the Southern Confederacy had established it-
self I believe it would have produced a state of so-
ciety so oppressive, so utterly barbarous, that Rus-
sia, with its omnipotent rule of the stick would have
been the perfection of civilization contrasted with it.
Let me jot down, hastily enough, a few facts con-
cerning things in this portion of the Old Dominion,
in support of my opinion.
  I have not seen a school-house since I left Fortress
Monroe, seven weeks ago.  So far as I can discover,
the only means of education consisted of some
halting kind of Sunday-school in Winter, for which
parents paid individually.  The dialect of the entire
population is essentially, unmistakeably niggery.
  The poor whites�everybody, in fact, but the very
wealthy�were systematically and habitually sub-
ject to the ill-usage and contempt of their richer
neighbors.  These latter aimed to monopolize the
soil, and resented the existence of any class but two,
owners and slaves.  They would not rent land, even
if a high prie were offered for it; commonly, if
their plantation or estate bordered a poor man�s,               
Loading content ...