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Chiefly About War Matters


by A Peaceable Man.


From the July 1862 edition of
Atlantic Monthly.

* * * * *

There is no remoteness of life and thought, no hermetically sealed
seclusion, except, possibly, that of the grave, into which the
disturbing influences of this war do not penetrate. Of course, the
general heart-quake of the country long ago knocked at my cottage-door,
and compelled me, reluctantly, to suspend the contemplation of certain
fantasies, to which, according to my harmless custom, I was endeavoring
to give a sufficiently life-like aspect to admit of their figuring in a
romance. As I make no pretensions to state-craft or soldiership, and
could promote the common weal neither by valor nor counsel, it seemed,
at first, a pity that I should be debarred from such unsubstantial
business as I had contrived for myself, since nothing more genuine was
to be substituted for it. But I magnanimously considered that there is
a kind of treason in insulating one's self from the universal fear and
sorrow, and thinking one's idle thoughts in the dread time of civil
war; and could a man be so cold and hard-hearted, he would better
deserve to be sent to Fort Warren than many who have found their way
thither on the score of violent, but misdirected sympathies. I
remembered the touching rebuke administered by King Charles to that
rural squire the echo of whose hunting-horn came to the poor monarch's
ear on the morning before a battle, where the sovereignty and
constitution of England were to be set at stake. So I gave myself up to
reading newspapers and listening to the click of the telegraph, like
other people; until, after a great many months of such pastime, it grew
so abominably irksome that I determined to look a little more closely
at matters with my own eyes.

Accordingly we set out--a friend and myself--towards Washington, while
it was still the long, dreary January of our Northern year, though
March in name; nor were we unwilling to clip a little margin off the
five months' winter, during which there is nothing genial in New
England save the fireside. It was a clear, frosty morning, when we
started. The sun shone brightly on snow-covered hills in the
neighborhood of Boston, and burnished the surface of frozen ponds; and
the wintry weather kept along with us while we trundled through
Worcester and Springfield, and all those old, familiar towns, and
through the village-cities of Connecticut. In New York the streets were
afloat with liquid mud and slosh. Over New Jersey there was still a
thin covering of snow, with the face of Nature visible through the
rents in her white shroud, though with little or no symptom of reviving
life. But when we reached Philadelphia, the air was mild and balmy;
there was but a patch or two of dingy winter here and there, and the
bare, brown fields about the city were ready to be green. We had met
the Spring half-way, in her slow progress from the South; and if we
kept onward at the same pace, and could get through the Rebel lines, we
should soon come to fresh grass, fruit-blossoms, green peas,
strawberries, and all such delights of early summer.

On our way, we heard many rumors of the war, but saw few signs of it.
The people were staid and decorous, according to their ordinary
fashion; and business seemed about as brisk as usual,--though, I
suppose, it was considerably diverted from its customary channels into
warlike ones. In the cities, especially in New York, there was a rather
prominent display of military goods at the shopwindows,--such as
swords with gilded scabbards and trappings, epaulets, carabines,
revolvers, and sometimes a great iron cannon at the edge of the
pavement, as if Mars had dropped one of his pocket-pistols there,
while hurrying to the field. As railway-companions, we had now and then
a volunteer in his French-gray great-coat, returning from furlough, or
a new-made officer travelling to join his regiment, in his new-made
uniform, which was perhaps all of the military character that he had
about him,--but proud of his eagle-buttons, and likely enough to do
them honor before the gilt should be wholly dimmed. The country, in
short, so far as bustle and movement went, was more quiet than in
ordinary times, because so large a proportion of its restless elements
had been drawn towards the seat of conflict. But the air was full of a
vague disturbance. To me, at least, it seemed so, emerging from such a
solitude as has been hinted at, and the more impressible by rumors and
indefinable presentiments, since I had not lived, like other men, in
an atmosphere of continual talk about the war. A battle was momentarily
expected on the Potomac; for, though our army was still on the hither
side of the river, all of us were looking towards the mysterious and
terrible Manassas, with the idea that somewhere in its neighborhood
lay a ghastly battlefield, yet to be fought, but foredoomed of old to
be bloodier than the one where we had reaped such shame. Of all haunted
places, methinks such a destined field should be thickest thronged with
ugly phantoms, ominous of mischief through ages beforehand.

Beyond Philadelphia there was a much greater abundance of military
people. Between Baltimore and Washington a guard seemed to hold every
station along the railroad; and frequently, on the hill-sides, we saw a
collection of weather-beaten tents, the peaks of which, blackened with
smoke, indicated that they had been made comfortable by stove-heat
throughout the winter. At several commanding positions we saw
fortifications, with the muzzles of cannon protruding from the
ramparts, the slopes of which were made of the yellow earth of that
region, and still unsodded; whereas, till these troublous times, there
have been no forts but what were grass-grown with the lapse of at least
a lifetime of peace. Our stopping-places were thronged with soldiers,
some of whom came through the cars, asking for newspapers that
contained accounts of the battle between the Merrimack and Monitor,
which had been fought the day before. A railway-train met us, conveying
a regiment out of Washington to some unknown point; and reaching the
capital, we filed out of the station between lines of soldiers, with
shouldered muskets, putting us in mind of similar spectacles at the
gates of European cities. It was not without sorrow that we saw the
free circulation of the nation's life-blood (at the very heart,
moreover) clogged with such strictures as these, which have caused
chronic diseases in almost all countries save our own. Will the time
ever come again, in America, when we may live half a score of years
without once seeing the likeness of a soldier, except it be in the
festal march of a company on its summer tour? Not in this generation,
I fear, nor in the next, nor till the Millennium; and even that blessed
epoch, as the prophecies seem to intimate, will advance to the sound
of the trumpet.

One terrible idea occurs, in reference to this matter. Even supposing
the war should end to-morrow, and the army melt into the mass of the
population within the year, what an incalculable preponderance will
there be of military titles and pretensions for at least half a century
to come! Every country-neighborhood will have its general or two, its
three or four colonels, half a dozen majors, and captains without
end,--besides non-commissioned officers and privates, more than the
recruiting-offices ever knew of,--all with their campaign-stories,
which will become the staple of fireside-talk forevermore. Military
merit, or rather, since that is not so readily estimated, military
notoriety, will be the measure of all claims to civil distinction. One
bullet-headed general will succeed another in the Presidential chair;
and veterans will hold the offices at home and abroad, and sit in
Congress and the State legislatures, and fill all the avenues of public
life. And yet I do not speak of this deprecatingly, since, very likely,
it may substitute something more real and genuine, instead of the many
shams on which men have heretofore founded their claims to public
regard; but it behooves civilians to consider their wretched prospects
in the future, and assume the military button before it is too late.

We were not in time to see Washington as a camp. On the very day of
our arrival sixty thousand men had crossed the Potomac on their march
towards Manassas; and almost with their first step into the Virginia
mud, the phantasmagory of a countless host and impregnable ramparts,
before which they had so long remained quiescent, dissolved quite
away. It was as if General McClellan had thrust his sword into a
gigantic enemy, and, beholding him suddenly collapse, had discovered
to himself and the world that he had merely punctured an enormously
swollen bladder. There are instances of a similar character in old
romances, where great armies are long kept at bay by the arts of
necromancers, who build airy towers and battlements, and muster
warriors of terrible aspect, and thus feign a defence of seeming
impregnability, until some bolder champion of the besiegers dashes
forward to try an encounter with the foremost foeman, and finds him
melt away in the death-grapple. With such heroic adventures let the
march upon Manassas be hereafter reckoned. The whole business, though
connected with the destinies of a nation, takes inevitably a tinge of
the ludicrous. The vast preparation of men and warlike material,--the
majestic patience and docility with which the people waited through
those weary and dreary months,--the martial skill, courage, and
caution, with which our movement was ultimately made,--and, at last,
the tremendous shock with which we were brought suddenly up against
nothing at all! The Southerners show little sense of humor nowadays,
but I think they must have meant to provoke a laugh at our expense,
when they planted those Quaker guns. At all events, no other Rebel
artillery has played upon us with such overwhelming effect.

The troops being gone, we had the better leisure and opportunity to
look into other matters. It is natural enough to suppose that the
centre and heart of Washington is the Capitol; and certainly, in its
outward aspect, the world has not many statelier or more beautiful
edifices, nor any, I should suppose, more skilfully adapted to
legislative purposes, and to all accompanying needs. But, etc., etc.
[Footnote: We omit several paragraphs here, in which the author speaks
of some prominent Members of Congress with a freedom that seems to have
been not unkindly meant, but might be liable to misconstruction. As he
admits that he never listened to an important debate, we can hardly
recognize his qualification to estimate these gentlemen, in their
legislative and oratorical capacities.]

* * * * *


We found one man, however, at the Capitol, who was satisfactorily
adequate to the business which brought him thither. In quest of him, we
went through halls, galleries, and corridors, and ascended a noble
staircase, balustraded with a dark and beautifully variegated marble
from Tennessee, the richness of which is quite a sufficient cause for
objecting to the secession of that State. At last we came to a barrier
of pine boards, built right across the stairs. Knocking at a rough,
temporary door, we thrust a card beneath; and in a minute or two it was
opened by a person in his shirt-sleeves, a middle-aged figure, neither
tall nor short, of Teutonic build and aspect, with an ample beard of a
ruddy tinge and chestnut hair. He looked at us, in the first place,
with keen and somewhat guarded eyes, as if it were not his practice to
vouchsafe any great warmth of greeting, except upon sure ground of
observation. Soon, however, his look grew kindly and genial, (not that
it had ever been in the least degree repulsive, but only reserved,) and
Leutze allowed us to gaze at the cartoon of his great fresco, and
talked about it unaffectedly, as only a man of true genius can speak
of his own works. Meanwhile the noble design spoke for itself upon the
wall. A sketch in color, which we saw afterwards, helped us to form
some distant and flickering notion of what the picture will be, a few
months hence, when these bare outlines, already so rich in thought and
suggestiveness, shall glow with a fire of their own,--a fire which, I
truly believe, will consume every other pictorial decoration of the
Capitol, or, at least, will compel us to banish those stiff and
respectable productions to some less conspicuous gallery. The work
will be emphatically original and American, embracing characteristics
that neither art nor literature have yet dealt with, and producing new
forms of artistic beauty from the natural features of the
Rocky-Mountain region, which Leutze seems to have studied broadly and
minutely. The garb of the hunters and wanderers of those deserts, too,
under his free and natural management, is shown as the most
picturesque of costumes. But it would be doing this admirable painter
no kind office to overlay his picture with any more of my colorless
and uncertain words; so I shall merely add that it looked full of
energy, hope, progress, irrepressible movement onward, all represented
in a momentary pause of triumph; and it was most cheering to feel its
good augury at this dismal time, when our country might seem to have
arrived at such a deadly stand-still.

It was an absolute comfort, indeed, to find Leutze so quietly busy at
this great national work, which is destined to glow for centuries on
the walls of the Capitol, if that edifice shall stand, or must share
its fate, if treason shall succeed in subverting it with the Union
which it represents. It was delightful to see him so calmly
elaborating his design, while other men doubted and feared, or hoped
treacherously, and whispered to one another that the nation would
exist only a little longer, or that, if a remnant still held together,
its centre and seat of government would be far northward and westward
of Washington. But the artist keeps right on, firm of heart and hand,
drawing his outlines with an unwavering pencil, beautifying and
idealizing our rude, material life, and thus manifesting that we have
an indefeasible claim to a more enduring national existence. In honest
truth, what with the hope-inspiring influence of the design, and what
with Leutze's undisturbed evolvement of it, I was exceedingly
encouraged, and allowed these cheerful auguries to weigh against a
sinister omen that was pointed out to me in another part of the
Capitol. The freestone walls of the central edifice are pervaded with
great cracks, and threaten to come thundering down, under the immense
weight of the iron dome,--an appropriate catastrophe enough, if it
should occur on the day when we drop the Southern stars out of our
flag.

Everybody seems to be at Washington, and yet there is a singular dearth
of imperatively noticeable people there. I question whether there are
half a dozen individuals, in all kinds of eminence, at whom a stranger,
wearied with the contact of a hundred moderate celebrities, would turn
round to snatch a second glance. Secretary Seward, to be sure,--a
pale, large-nosed, elderly man, of moderate stature, with a decided
originality of gait and aspect, and a cigar in his mouth,--etc., etc.

[Footnote: We are again compelled to interfere with our friend's
license of personal description and criticism. Even Cabinet Ministers
(to whom the next few pages of the article were devoted) have their
private immunities, which ought to be conscientiously observed,--unless,
indeed, the writer chanced to have some very piquant motives for
violating them.]

* * * * *


Of course, there was one other personage, in the class of statesmen,
whom I should have been truly mortified to leave Washington without
seeing; since (temporarily, at least, and by force of circumstances)
he was the man of men. But a private grief had built up a barrier about
him, impeding the customary free intercourse of Americans with their
chief magistrate; so that I might have come away without a glimpse of
his very remarkable physiognomy, save for a semi-official opportunity
of which I was glad to take advantage. The fact is, we were invited to
annex ourselves, as supernumeraries, to a deputation that was about to
wait upon the President, from a Massachusetts whip-factory, with a
present of a splendid whip.

Our immediate party consisted only of four or five, (including Major
Ben Perley Poore, with his note-book and pencil.) but we were joined
by several other persons, who seemed to have been lounging about the
precincts of the White House, under the spacious porch, or within the
hall, and who swarmed in with us to take the chances of a presentation.
Nine o'clock had been appointed as the time for receiving the
deputation, and we were punctual to the moment; but not so the
President, who sent us word that he was eating his breakfast, and would
come as soon as he could. His appetite, we were glad to think, must
have been a pretty fair one; for we waited about half an hour in one of
the antechambers, and then were ushered into a reception-room, in one
corner of which sat the Secretaries of War and of the Treasury,
expecting, like ourselves, the termination of the Presidential
breakfast. During this interval there were several new additions to
our group, one or two of whom were in a working-garb, so that we formed
a very miscellaneous collection of people, mostly unknown to each
other, and without any common sponsor, but all with an equal right to
look our head-servant in the face. By-and-by there was a little stir on
the staircase and in the passageway, etc., etc.

[Footnote: We are compelled to omit two or three pages, in which the
author describes the interview, and gives his idea of the personal
appearance and deportment of the President. The sketch appears to have
been written in a benign spirit, and perhaps conveys a not inaccurate
impression of its august subject; but it lacks _reverence_, and it
pains us to see a gentleman of ripe age, and who has spent years under
the corrective influence of foreign institutions, falling into the
characteristic and most ominous fault of Young America.]


* * * * *

Good Heavens! what liberties have I been taking with one of the
potentates of the earth, and the man on whose conduct more important
consequences depend than on that of any other historical personage of
the century! But with whom is an American citizen entitled to take a
liberty, if not with his own chief magistrate? However, lest the above
allusions to President Lincoln's little peculiarities (already well
known to the country and to the world) should be misinterpreted, I deem
it proper to say a word or two, in regard to him, of unfeigned respect
and measurable confidence. He is evidently a man of keen faculties,
and, what is still more to the purpose, of powerful character. As to
his integrity, the people have that intuition of it which is never
deceived. Before he actually entered upon his great office, and for a
considerable time afterwards, there is no reason to suppose that he
adequately estimated the gigantic task about to be imposed on him, or,
at least, had any distinct idea how it was to be managed; and I presume
there may have been more than one veteran politician who proposed to
himself to take the power out of President Lincoln's hands into his
own, leaving our honest friend only the public responsibility for the
good or ill success of the career. The extremely imperfect development
of his statesmanly qualities, at that period, may have justified such
designs. But the President is teachable by events, and has now spent a
year in a very arduous course of education; he has a flexible mind,
capable of much expansion, and convertible towards far loftier studies
and activities than those of his early life; and if he came to
Washington a backwoods humorist, he has already transformed himself
into as good a statesman (to speak moderately) as his prime-minister.

Among other excursions to camps and places of interest in the
neighborhood of Washington, we went, one day, to Alexandria. It is a
little port on the Potomac, with one or two shabby wharves and docks,
resembling those of a fishing-village in New England, and the
respectable old brick town rising gently behind. In peaceful times it
no doubt bore an aspect of decorous quietude and dulness; but it was
now thronged with the Northern soldiery, whose stir and bustle
contrasted strikingly with the many closed warehouses, the absence of
citizens from their customary haunts, and the lack of any symptom of
healthy activity, while army-wagons trundled heavily over the
pavements, and sentinels paced the sidewalks, and mounted dragoons
dashed to and fro on military errands. I tried to imagine how very
disagreeable the presence of a Southern army would be in a sober town
of Massachusetts; and the thought considerably lessened my wonder at
the cold and shy regards that are cast upon our troops, the gloom, the
sullen demeanor, the declared or scarcely hidden sympathy with
rebellion, which are so frequent here. It is a strange thing in human
life, that the greatest errors both of men and women often spring from
their sweetest and most generous qualities; and so, undoubtedly,
thousands of warm-hearted, sympathetic, and impulsive persons have
joined the Rebels, not from any real zeal for the cause, but because,
between two conflicting loyalties, they chose that which necessarily
lay nearest the heart. There never existed any other Government against
which treason was so easy, and could defend itself by such plausible
arguments as against that of the United States. The anomaly of two
allegiances (of which that of the State comes nearest home to a man's
feelings, and includes the altar and the hearth, while the General
Government claims his devotion only to an airy mode of law, and has no
symbol but a flag) is exceedingly mischievous in this point of view;
for it has converted crowds of honest people into traitors, who seem to
themselves not merely innocent, but patriotic, and who die for a bad
cause with as quiet a conscience as if it were the best. In the vast
extent of our country,--too vast by far to be taken into one small
human heart,--we inevitably limit to our own State, or, at farthest,
to our own section, that sentiment of physical love for the soil which
renders an Englishman, for example, so intensely sensitive to the
dignity and well-being of his little island, that one hostile foot,
treading anywhere upon it, would make a bruise on each individual
breast. If a man loves his own State, therefore, and is content to be
ruined with her, let us shoot him, if we can, but allow him an
honorable burial in the soil he fights for. [Footnote: We do not
thoroughly comprehend the author's drift in the foregoing paragraph,
but are inclined to think its tone reprehensible, and its tendency
impolitic in the present stage of our national difficulties.]

In Alexandria, we visited the tavern in which Colonel Ellsworth was
killed, and saw the spot where he fell, and the stairs below, whence
Jackson fired the fatal shot, and where he himself was slain a moment
afterwards; so that the assassin and his victim must have met on the
threshold of the spirit-world, and perhaps came to a better
understanding before they had taken many steps on the other side.
Ellsworth was too generous to bear an immortal grudge for a deed like
that, done in hot blood, and by no skulking enemy. The memorial-hunters
have completely cut away the original wood-work around the spot, with
their pocket-knives; and the staircase, balustrade, and floor, as well
as the adjacent doors and doorframes, have recently been renewed; the
walls, moreover, are covered with new paper-hangings, the former having
been torn off in tatters; and thus it becomes something like a
metaphysical question whether the place of the murder actually exists.

Driving out of Alexandria, we stopped on the edge of the city to
inspect an old slave-pen, which is one of the lions of the place, but a
very poor one; and a little farther on, we came to a brick church where
Washington used sometimes to attend service,--a pre-Revolutionary
edifice, with ivy growing over its walls, though not very luxuriantly.
Reaching the open country, we saw forts and camps on all sides; some of
the tents being placed immediately on the ground, while others were
raised over a basement of logs, laid lengthwise, like those of a
log-hut, or driven vertically into the soil in a circle,--thus forming
a solid wall, the chinks closed up with Virginia mud, and above it the
pyramidal shelter of the tent. Here were in progress all the
occupations, and all the idleness, of the soldier in the tented field:
some were cooking the company-rations in pots hung over fires in the
open air; some played at ball, or developed their muscular power by
gymnastic exercise; some read newspapers; some smoked cigars or pipes;
and many were cleaning their arms and accoutrements,--the more
carefully, perhaps, because their division was to be reviewed by the
Commander-in-Chief that afternoon; others sat on the ground, while
their comrades cut their hair,--it being a soldierly fashion (and for
excellent reasons) to crop it within an inch of the skull; others,
finally, lay asleep in breast-high tents, with their legs protruding
into the open air.

We paid a visit to Fort Ellsworth, and from its ramparts (which have
been heaped up out of the muddy soil within the last few months, and
will require still a year or two to make them verdant) we had a
beautiful view of the Potomac, a truly majestic river, and the
surrounding country. The fortifications, so numerous in all this
region, and now so unsightly with their bare, precipitous sides, will
remain as historic monuments, grass-grown and picturesque memorials of
an epoch of terror and suffering: they will serve to make our country
dearer and more interesting to us, and afford fit soil for poetry to
root itself in: for this is a plant which thrives best in spots where
blood has been spilt long ago, and grows in abundant clusters in old
ditches, such as the moat around Fort Ellsworth will be a century
hence. It may seem to be paying dear for what many will reckon but a
worthless weed; but the more historical associations we can link with
our localities, the richer will be the daily life that feeds upon the
past, and the more valuable the things that have been long established:
so that our children will be less prodigal than their fathers in
sacrificing good institutions to passionate impulses and impracticable
theories. This herb of grace, let us hope, may be found in the old
footprints of the war.

Even in an aesthetic point of view, however, the war has done a great
deal of enduring mischief, by causing the devastation of great tracts
of woodland scenery, in which this part of Virginia would appear to
have been very rich. Around all the encampments, and everywhere along
the road, we saw the bare sites of what had evidently been tracts of
hard-wood forest, indicated by the unsightly stumps of well-grown
trees, not smoothly felled by regular axe-men, but hacked, haggled, and
unevenly amputated, as by a sword, or other miserable tool, in an
unskilful hand. Fifty years will not repair this desolation. An army
destroys everything before and around it, even to the very grass; for
the sites of the encampments are converted into barren esplanades, like
those of the squares in French cities, where not a blade of grass is
allowed to grow. As to other symptoms of devastation and obstruction,
such as deserted houses, unfenced fields, and a general aspect of
nakedness and ruin, I know not how much may be due to a normal lack of
neatness in the rural life of Virginia, which puts a squalid face even
upon a prosperous state of things; but undoubtedly the war must have
spoilt what was good, and made the bad a great deal worse. The
carcasses of horses were scattered along the way-side.

One very pregnant token of a social system thoroughly disturbed was
presented by a party of contrabands, escaping out of the mysterious
depths of Secessia; and its strangeness consisted in the leisurely
delay with which they trudged forward, as dreading no pursuer, and
encountering nobody to turn them back. They were unlike the specimens
of their race whom we are accustomed to see at the North, and, in my
judgment, were far more agreeable. So rudely were they attired,--as if
their garb had grown upon them spontaneously,--so picturesquely natural
in manners, and wearing such a crust of primeval simplicity, (which is
quite polished away from the Northern black man,) that they seemed a
kind of creature by themselves, not altogether human, but perhaps quite
as good, and akin to the fauns and rustic deities of olden times. I
wonder whether I shall excite anybody's wrath by saying this. It is no
great matter. At all events, I felt most kindly towards these poor
fugitives, but knew not precisely what to wish in their behalf, nor in
the least how to help them. For the sake of the manhood which is latent
in them, I would not have turned them back; but I should have felt
almost as reluctant, on their own account, to hasten them forward to
the stranger's land; and I think my prevalent idea was, that, whoever
may be benefited by the results of this war, it will not be the present
generation of negroes, the childhood of whose race is now gone forever,
and who must henceforth fight a hard battle with the world, on very
unequal terms. On behalf of my own race, I am glad, and can only hope
that an inscrutable Providence means good to both parties.

There is an historical circumstance, known to few, that connects the
children of the Puritans with these Africans of Virginia, in a very
singular way. They are our brethren, as being lineal descendants from
the Mayflower, the fated womb of which, in her first voyage, sent forth
a brood of Pilgrims upon Plymouth Rock, and, in a subsequent one,
spawned slaves upon the Southern soil,--a monstrous birth, but with
which we have an instinctive sense of kindred, and so are stirred by an
irresistible impulse to attempt their rescue, even at the cost of blood
and ruin. The character of our sacred ship, I fear, may suffer a little
by this revelation; but we must let her white progeny offset her dark
one,--and two such portents never sprang from an identical source
before.

While we drove onward, a young officer on horseback looked earnestly
into the carriage, and recognized some faces that he had seen before;
so he rode along by our side, and we pestered him with queries and
observations, to which he responded more civilly than they deserved. He
was on General McClellan's staff, and a gallant cavalier, high-booted,
with a revolver in his belt, and mounted on a noble horse, which
trotted hard and high without disturbing the rider in his accustomed
seat. His face had a healthy hue of exposure and an expression of
careless hardihood; and, as I looked at him, it seemed to me that the
war had brought good fortune to the youth of this epoch, if to none
beside; since they now make it their daily business to ride a horse and
handle a sword, instead of lounging listlessly through the duties,
occupations, pleasures--all tedious alike--to which the artificial
state of society limits a peaceful generation. The atmosphere of the
camp and the smoke of the battle-field are morally invigorating; the
hardy virtues flourish in them, the nonsense dies like a wilted weed.
The enervating effects of centuries of civilization vanish at once,
and leave these young men to enjoy a life of hardship, and the
exhilarating sense of danger,--to kill men blamelessly, or to be
killed gloriously,--and to be happy in following out their native
instincts of destruction, precisely in the spirit of Homer's heroes,
only with some considerable change of mode. One touch of Nature makes
not only the whole world, but all time, akin. Set men face to face,
with weapons in their hands, and they are as ready to slaughter one
another now, after playing at peace and good-will for so many years, as
in the rudest ages, that never heard of peace-societies, and thought no
wine so delicious as what they quaffed from an enemy's skull. Indeed,
if the report of a Congressional committee may be trusted, that
old-fashioned kind of goblet has again come into use, at the expense of
our Northern head-pieces,--a costly drinking-cup to him that furnishes
it! Heaven forgive me for seeming to jest upon such a subject!--only,
it is so odd, when we measure our advances from barbarism, and find
ourselves just here! [Footnote: We hardly expected this outbreak in
favor of war from the Peaceable Man; but the justice of our cause
makes us all soldiers at heart, however quiet in our outward life. We
have heard of twenty Quakers in a single company of a Pennsylvania
regiment.]

We now approached General McClellan's head-quarters, which, at that
time, were established at Fairfield Seminary. The edifice was situated
on a gentle elevation, amid very agreeable scenery, and, at a
distance, looked like a gentleman's seat. Preparations were going
forward for reviewing a division of ten or twelve thousand men, the
various regiments composing which had begun to array themselves on an
extensive plain, where, methought, there was a more convenient place
for a battle than is usually found in this broken and difficult
country. Two thousand cavalry made a portion of the troops to be
reviewed. By-and-by we saw a pretty numerous troop of mounted officers,
who were congregated on a distant part of the plain, and whom we
finally ascertained to be the Commander-in-Chief's staff, with
McClellan himself at their head. Our party managed to establish itself
in a position conveniently close to the General, to whom, moreover, we
had the honor of an introduction; and he bowed, on his horseback,
with a good deal of dignity and martial courtesy, but no airs nor fuss
nor pretension beyond what his character and rank inevitably gave him.

Now, at that juncture, and, in fact, up to the present moment, there
was, and is, a most fierce and bitter outcry, and detraction loud and
low, against General McClellan, accusing him of sloth, imbecility,
cowardice, treasonable purposes, and, in short, utterly denying his
ability as a soldier, and questioning his integrity as a man. Nor was
this to be wondered at; for when before, in all history, do we find a
general in command of half a million of men, and in presence of an
enemy inferior in numbers and no better disciplined than his own
troops, leaving it still debatable, after the better part of a year,
whether he is a soldier or no? The question would seem to answer
itself in the very asking. Nevertheless, being most profoundly
ignorant of the art of war, like the majority of the General's critics,
and, on the other hand, having some considerable impressibility by
men's characters, I was glad of the opportunity to look him in the
face, and to feel whatever influence might reach me from his sphere. So
I stared at him, as the phrase goes, with all the eyes I had; and the
reader shall have the benefit of what I saw,--to which he is the more
welcome, because, in writing this article, I feel disposed to be
singularly frank, and can scarcely restrain myself from telling truths
the utterance of which I should get slender thanks for.

The General was dressed in a simple, dark-blue uniform, without
epaulets, booted to the knee, and with a cloth cap upon his head; and,
at first sight, you might have taken him for a corporal of dragoons, of
particularly neat and soldier-like aspect, and in the prime of his age
and strength. He is only of middling stature, but his build is very
compact and sturdy, with broad shoulders and a look of great physical
vigor, which, in fact, he is said to possess,--he and Beauregard having
been rivals in that particular, and both distinguished above other men.
His complexion is dark and sanguine, with dark hair. He has a strong,
bold, soldierly face, full of decision; a Roman nose, by no means a
thin prominence, but very thick and firm; and if he follows it, (which
I should think likely,) it may be pretty confidently trusted to guide
him aright. His profile would make a more effective likeness than the
full face, which, however, is much better in the real man than in any
photograph that I have seen. His forehead is not remarkably large, but
comes forward at the eyebrows; it is not the brow nor countenance of a
prominently intellectual man, (not a natural student, I mean, or
abstract thinker,) but of one whose office it is to handle things
practically and to bring about tangible results. His face looked
capable of being very stern, but wore, in its repose, when I saw it, an
aspect pleasant and dignified; it is not, in its character, an American
face, nor an English one. The man on whom he fixes his eye is conscious
of him. In his natural disposition, he seems calm and self-possessed,
sustaining his great responsibilities cheerfully, without shrinking,
or weariness, or spasmodic effort, or damage to his health, but all
with quiet, deep-drawn breaths; just as his broad shoulders would bear
up a heavy burden without aching beneath it.

After we had had sufficient time to peruse the man, (so far as it could
be done with one pair of very attentive eyes,) the General rode off,
followed by his cavalcade, and was lost to sight among the troops. They
received him with loud shouts, by the eager uproar of which--now near,
now in the centre, now on the outskirts of the division, and now
sweeping back towards us in a great volume of sound--we could trace his
progress through the ranks. If he is a coward, or a traitor, or a
humbug, or anything less than a brave, true, and able man, that mass of
intelligent soldiers, whose lives and honor he had in charge, were
utterly deceived, and so was this present writer; for they believed in
him, and so did I; and had I stood in the ranks, I should have shouted
with the lustiest of them. Of course I may be mistaken; my opinion on
such a point is worth nothing, although my impression may be worth a
little more; neither do I consider the General's antecedents as
bearing very decided testimony to his practical soldiership. A
thorough knowledge of the science of war seems to be conceded to him;
he is allowed to be a good military critic; but all this is possible
without his possessing any positive qualities of a great general, just
as a literary critic may show the profoundest acquaintance with the
principles of epic poetry without being able to produce a single
stanza of an epic poem. Nevertheless, I shall not give up my faith in
General McClellan's soldiership until he is defeated, nor in his
courage and integrity even then.

Another of our excursions was to Harper's Ferry,--the Directors of the
Baltimore and Ohio Railroad having kindly invited us to accompany
them on the first trip over the newly laid track, after its breaking up
by the Rebels. It began to rain, in the early morning, pretty soon
after we left Washington, and continued to pour a cataract throughout
the day; so that the aspect of the country was dreary, where it would
otherwise have been delightful, as we entered among the hill-scenery
that is formed by the subsiding swells of the Alleghanies. The latter
part of our journey lay along the shore of the Potomac, in its upper
course, where the margin of that noble river is bordered by gray,
overhanging crags, beneath which--and sometimes right through them--the
railroad takes its way. In one place the Rebels had attempted to arrest
a train by precipitating an immense mass of rock down upon the track,
by the side of which it still lay, deeply imbedded in the ground, and
looking as if it might have lain there since the Deluge. The scenery
grew even more picturesque as we proceeded, the bluffs becoming very
bold in their descent upon the river, which, at Harper's Ferry,
presents as striking a vista among the hills as a painter could desire
to see. But a beautiful landscape is a luxury, and luxuries are thrown
away amid discomfort; and when we alighted into the tenacious mud and
almost fathomless puddle, on the hither side of the Ferry, (the
ultimate point to which the cars proceeded, since the railroad bridge
had been destroyed by the Rebels,) I cannot remember that any very
rapturous emotions were awakened by the scenery.

We paddled and floundered over the ruins of the track, and, scrambling
down an embankment, crossed the Potomac by a pontoon-bridge, a thousand
feet in length, over the narrow line of which--level with the river,
and rising and subsiding with it--General Banks had recently led his
whole army, with its ponderous artillery and heavily laden wagons. Yet
our own tread made it vibrate. The broken bridge of the railroad was a
little below us, and at the base of one of its massive piers, in the
rocky bed of the river, lay a locomotive, which the Rebels had
precipitated there.

As we passed over, we looked towards the Virginia shore, and beheld the
little town of Harper's Ferry, gathered about the base of a round hill
and climbing up its steep acclivity; so that it somewhat resembled the
Etruscan cities which I have seen among the Apennines, rushing, as it
were, down an apparently break-neck height. About midway of the ascent
stood a shabby brick church, towards which a difficult path went
scrambling up the precipice, indicating, one would say, a very fervent
aspiration on the part of the worshippers, unless there was some easier
mode of access in another direction. Immediately on the shore of the
Potomac, and extending back towards the town, lay the dismal ruins of
the United States arsenal and armory, consisting of piles of broken
bricks and a waste of shapeless demolition, amid which we saw
gun-barrels in heaps of hundreds together. They were the relics of the
conflagration, bent with the heat of the fire, and rusted with the
wintry rain to which they had since been exposed. The brightest
sunshine could not have made the scene cheerful, nor have taken away
the gloom from the dilapidated town; for, besides the natural
shabbiness, and decayed, unthrifty look of a Virginian village, it has
an inexpressible forlornness resulting from the devastations of war and
its occupation by both armies alternately. Yet there would be a less
striking contrast between Southern and New-England villages, if the
former were as much in the habit of using white paint as we are. It is
prodigiously efficacious in putting a bright face upon a bad matter.

There was one small shop, which appeared to have nothing for sale. A
single man and one or two boys were all the inhabitants in view, except
the Yankee sentinels and soldiers, belonging to Massachusetts
regiments, who were scattered about pretty numerously. A guard-house
stood on the slope of the hill; and in the level street at its base
were the offices of the Provost-Marshal and other military authorities,
to whom we forthwith reported ourselves. The Provost-Marshal kindly
sent a corporal to guide us to the little building which John Brown
seized upon as his fortress, and which, after it was stormed by the
United States marines, became his temporary prison. It is an old
engine-house, rusty and shabby, like every other work of man's hands in
this God-forsaken town, and stands fronting upon the river, only a
short distance from the bank, nearly at the point where the
pontoon-bridge touches the Virginia shore. In its front wall, on each
side of the door, are two or three ragged loop-holes which John Brown
perforated for his defence, knocking out merely a brick or two, so as
to give himself and his garrison a sight over their rifles. Through
these orifices the sturdy old man dealt a good deal of deadly mischief
among his assailants, until they broke down the door by thrusting
against it with a ladder, and tumbled headlong in upon him. I shall not
pretend to be an admirer of old John Brown, any farther than sympathy
with Whittier's excellent ballad about him may go; nor did I expect
ever to shrink so unutterably from any apophthegm of a sage, whose
happy lips have uttered a hundred golden sentences, as from that
saying, (perhaps falsely attributed to so honored a source,) that the
death of this blood-stained fanatic has "made the Gallows as venerable
as the Cross!" Nobody was ever more justly hanged. He won his
martyrdom fairly, and took it firmly. He himself, I am persuaded, (such
was his natural integrity,) would have acknowledged that Virginia had a
right to take the life which he had staked and lost; although it would
have been better for her, in the hour that is fast coming, if she could
generously have forgotten the criminality of his attempt in its
enormous folly. On the other hand, any common-sensible man, looking at
the matter unsentimentally, must have felt a certain intellectual
satisfaction in seeing him hanged, if it were only in requital of his
preposterous miscalculation of possibilities. [Footnote: Can it be a
son of old Massachusetts who utters this abominable sentiment? For
shame!]

But, coolly as I seem to say these things, my Yankee heart stirred
triumphantly when I saw the use to which John Brown's fortress and
prison-house has now been put. What right have I to complain of any
other man's foolish impulses, when I cannot possibly control my own?
The engine-house is now a place of confinement for Rebel prisoners.

A Massachusetts soldier stood on guard, but readily permitted our whole
party to enter. It was a wretched place. A room of perhaps twenty-five
feet square occupied the whole interior of the building, having an
iron stove in its centre, whence a rusty funnel ascended towards a hole
in the roof, which served the purposes of ventilation, as well as for
the exit of smoke. We found ourselves right in the midst of the Rebels,
some of whom lay on heaps of straw, asleep, or, at all events, giving
no sign of consciousness; others sat in the corners of the room,
huddled close together, and staring with a lazy kind of interest at the
visitors; two were astride of some planks, playing with the dirtiest
pack of cards that I ever happened to see. There was only one figure in
the least military among all these twenty prisoners of war,--a man with
a dark, intelligent, moustached face, wearing a shabby cotton uniform,
which he had contrived to arrange with a degree of soldierly smartness,
though it had evidently borne the brunt of a very filthy campaign. He
stood erect, and talked freely with those who addressed him, telling
them his place of residence, the number of his regiment, the
circumstances of his capture, and such other particulars as their
Northern inquisitiveness prompted them to ask. I liked the manliness of
his deportment; he was neither ashamed, nor afraid, nor in the
slightest degree sullen, peppery, or contumacious, but bore himself as
if whatever animosity he had felt towards his enemies was left upon the
battle-field, and would not be resumed till he had again a weapon in
his hand.

Neither could I detect a trace of hostile feeling in the countenance,
words, or manner of any prisoner there. Almost to a man, they were
simple, bumpkin-like fellows, dressed in homespun clothes, with faces
singularly vacant of meaning, but sufficiently good-humored: a breed of
men, in short, such as I did not suppose to exist in this country,
although I have seen their like in some other parts of the world. They
were peasants, and of a very low order: a class of people with whom our
Northern rural population has not a single trait in common. They were
exceedingly respectful,--more so than a rustic New-Englander ever
dreams of being towards anybody, except perhaps his minister; and had
they worn any hats, they would probably have been self-constrained to
take them off, under the unusual circumstance of being permitted to
hold conversation with well-dressed persons. It is my belief that not a
single bumpkin of them all (the moustached soldier always excepted) had
the remotest comprehension of what they had been fighting for, or how
they had deserved to be shut up in that dreary hole; nor, possibly, did
they care to inquire into this latter mystery, but took it as a godsend
to be suffered to lie here in a heap of unwashed human bodies, well
warmed and well foddered to-day, and without the necessity of bothering
themselves about the possible hunger and cold of to-morrow. Their dark
prison-life may have seemed to them the sunshine of all their lifetime.

There was one poor wretch, a wild-beast of a man, at whom I gazed with
greater interest than at his fellows; although I know not that each one
of them, in their semi-barbarous moral state, might not have been
capable of the same savage impulse that had made this particular
individual a horror to all beholders. At the close of some battle or
skirmish, a wounded Union soldier had crept on hands and knees to his
feet, and besought his assistance,--not dreaming that any creature in
human shape, in the Christian land where they had so recently been
brethren, could refuse it. But this man (this fiend, if you prefer to
call him so, though I would not advise it) flung a bitter curse at the
poor Northerner, and absolutely trampled the soul out of his body, as
he lay writhing beneath his feet. The fellow's face was horribly ugly;
but I am not quite sure that I should have noticed it, if I had not
known his story. He spoke not a word, and met nobody's eye, but kept
staring upward into the smoky vacancy towards the ceiling, where, it
might be, he beheld a continual portraiture of his victim's
horror-stricken agonies. I rather fancy, however, that his moral sense
was yet too torpid to trouble him with such remorseful visions, and
that, for his own part, he might have had very agreeable reminiscences
of the soldier's death, if other eyes had not been bent reproachfully
upon him and warned him that something was amiss. It was this reproach
in other men's eyes that made him look aside. He was a wild-beast, as I
began with saying,--an unsophisticated wild-beast,--while the rest of
us are partially tamed, though still the scent of blood excites some of
the savage instincts of our nature. What this wretch needed, in order
to make him capable of the degree of mercy and benevolence that exists
in us, was simply such a measure of moral and intellectual development
as we have received; and, in my mind, the present war is so well
justified by no other consideration as by the probability that it will
free this class of Southern whites from a thraldom in which they
scarcely begin to be responsible beings. So far as the education of the
heart is concerned, the negroes have apparently the advantage of them;
and as to other schooling, it is practically unattainable by black or
white.

Looking round at these poor prisoners, therefore, it struck me as an
immense absurdity that they should fancy us their enemies; since,
whether we intend it so or no, they have a far greater stake on our
success than we can possibly have. For ourselves, the balance of
advantages between defeat and triumph may admit of question. For them,
all truly valuable things are dependent on our complete success; for
thence would come the regeneration of a people,--the removal of a foul
scurf that has overgrown their life, and keeps them in a state of
disease and decrepitude, one of the chief symptoms of which is, that,
the more they suffer and are debased, the more they imagine
themselves strong and beautiful. No human effort, on a grand scale, has
ever yet resulted according to the purpose of its projectors. The
advantages are always incidental. Man's accidents are God's purposes.
We miss the good we sought, and do the good we little cared for.
[Footnote: The author seems to imagine that he has compressed a great
deal of meaning into these little, hard, dry pellets of aphoristic
wisdom. We disagree with him. The counsels of wise and good men are
often coincident with the purposes of Providence; and the present war
promises to illustrate our remark.]

Our Government evidently knows when and where to lay its finger upon
its most available citizens; for, quite unexpectedly, we were joined
with some other gentlemen, scarcely less competent than ourselves, in
a commission to proceed to Fortress Monroe and examine into things in
general. Of course, official propriety compels us to be extremely
guarded in our description of the interesting objects which this
expedition opened to our view. There can be no harm, however, in
stating that we were received by the commander of the fortress with a
kind of acid good-nature, or mild cynicism, that indicated him to be a
humorist, characterized by certain rather pungent peculiarities, yet
of no unamiable cast. He is a small, thin old gentleman, set off by a
large pair of brilliant epaulets,--the only pair, so far as my
observation went, that adorn the shoulders of any officer in the Union
army. Either for our inspection, or because the matter had already
been arranged, he drew out a regiment of Zouaves that formed the
principal part of his garrison, and appeared at their head, sitting on
horseback with rigid perpendicularity, and affording us a vivid idea
of the disciplinarian of Baron Steuben's school.

There can be no question of the General's military qualities; he must
have been especially useful in converting raw recruits into trained and
efficient soldiers. But valor and martial skill are of so evanescent a
character, (hardly less fleeting than a woman's beauty,) that
Government has perhaps taken the safer course in assigning to this
gallant officer, though distinguished in former wars, no more active
duty than the guardianship of an apparently impregnable fortress. The
ideas of military men solidify and fossilize so fast, while military
science makes such rapid advances, that even here there might be a
difficulty. An active, diversified, and therefore a youthful,
ingenuity is required by the quick exigencies of this singular war.
Fortress Monroe, for example, in spite of the massive solidity of its
ramparts, its broad and deep moat, and all the contrivances of defence
that were known at the not very remote epoch of its construction, is
now pronounced absolutely incapable of resisting the novel modes of
assault which may be brought to bear upon it. It can only be the
flexible talent of a young man that will evolve a new efficiency out of
its obsolete strength.

It is a pity that old men grow unfit for war, not only by their
incapacity for new ideas, but by the peaceful and unadventurous
tendencies that gradually possess themselves of the once turbulent
disposition, which used to snuff the battle-smoke as its congenial
atmosphere. It is a pity; because it would be such an economy of human
existence, if time-stricken people (whose value I have the better right
to estimate, as reckoning myself one of them) could snatch from their
juniors the exclusive privilege of carrying on the war. In case of
death upon the battle-field, how unequal would be the comparative
sacrifice! On one part, a few unenjoyable years, the little remnant of
a life grown torpid; on the other, the many fervent summers of manhood
in its spring and prime, with all that they include of possible benefit
to mankind. Then, too, a bullet offers such a brief and easy way, such
a pretty little orifice, through which the weary spirit might seize the
opportunity to be exhaled! If I had the ordering of these matters,
fifty should be the tenderest age at which a recruit might be accepted
for training; at fifty-five or sixty, I would consider him eligible for
most kinds of military duty and exposure, excluding that of a forlorn
hope, which no soldier should be permitted to volunteer upon, short of
the ripe age of seventy. As a general rule, these venerable combatants
should have the preference for all dangerous and honorable service in
the order of their seniority, with a distinction in favor of those
whose infirmities might render their lives less worth the keeping.
Methinks there would be no more Bull Runs; a warrior with gout in his
toe, or rheumatism in his joints, or with one foot in the grave, would
make a sorry fugitive!

On this admirable system, the productive part of the population would
be undisturbed even by the bloodiest war; and, best of all, those
thousands upon thousands of our Northern girls, whose proper mates will
perish in camp-hospitals or on Southern battle-fields, would avoid
their doom of forlorn old-maidenhood. But, no doubt, the plan will be
pooh-poohed down by the War Department; though it could scarcely be
more disastrous than the one on which we began the war, when a young
army was struck with paralysis through the age of its commander.

The waters around Fortress Monroe were thronged with a gallant array of
ships of war and transports, wearing the Union flag,--"Old Glory," as I
hear it called in these days. A little withdrawn from our national
fleet lay two French frigates, and, in another direction, an English
sloop, under that banner which always makes itself visible, like a red
portent in the air, wherever there is strife. In pursuance of our
official duty, (which had no ascertainable limits,) we went on board
the flag-ship, and were shown over every part of her, and down into her
depths, inspecting her gallant crew, her powerful armament, her mighty
engines, and her furnaces, where the fires are always kept burning, as
well at midnight as at noon, so that it would require only five minutes
to put the vessel under full steam. This vigilance has been felt
necessary ever since the Merrimack made that terrible dash from
Norfolk. Splendid as she is, however, and provided with all but the
very latest improvements in naval armament, the Minnesota belongs to a
class of vessels that will be built no more, nor ever fight another
battle,--being as much a thing of the past as any of the ships of Queen
Elizabeth's time, which grappled with the galleons of the Spanish
Armada.

On her quarter-deck, an elderly flag-officer was pacing to and fro,
with a self-conscious dignity to which a touch of the gout or
rheumatism perhaps contributed a little additional stiffness. He seemed
to be a gallant gentleman, but of the old, slow, and pompous school of
naval worthies, who have grown up amid rules, forms, and etiquette
which were adopted full-blown from the British navy into ours, and are
somewhat too cumbrous for the quick spirit of to-day. This order of
nautical heroes will probably go down, along with the ships in which
they fought valorously and strutted most intolerably. How can an
admiral condescend to go to sea in an iron pot? What space and
elbow-room can be found for quarter-deck dignity in the cramped lookout
of the Monitor, or even in the twenty-feet diameter of her cheese-box?
All the pomp and splendor of naval warfare are gone by. Henceforth
there must come up a race of enginemen and smoke-blackened cannoneers,
who will hammer away at their enemies under the direction of a single
pair of eyes; and even heroism--so deadly a gripe is Science laying on
our noble possibilities--will become a quality of very minor
importance, when its possessor cannot break through the iron crust of
his own armament and give the world a glimpse of it.

At no great distance from the Minnesota lay the strangest-looking
craft I ever saw. It was a platform of iron, so nearly on a level with
the water that the swash of the waves broke over it, under the impulse
of a very moderate breeze; and on this platform was raised a circular
structure, likewise of iron, and rather broad and capacious, but of no
great height. It could not be called a vessel at all; it was a
machine,--and I have seen one of somewhat similar appearance employed
in cleaning out the docks; or, for lack of a better similitude, it
looked like a gigantic rat-trap. It was ugly, questionable, suspicious,
evidently mischievous,--nay, I will allow myself to call it devilish;
for this was the new war-fiend, destined, along with others of the
same breed, to annihilate whole navies and batter down old supremacies.
The wooden walls of Old England cease to exist, and a whole history of
naval renown reaches its period, now that the Monitor comes smoking
into view; while the billows dash over what seems her deck, and storms
bury even her turret in green water, as she burrows and snorts along,
oftener under the surface than above. The singularity of the object has
betrayed me into a more ambitious vein of description than I often
indulge; and, after all, I might as well have contented myself with
simply saying that she looked very queer.

Going on board, we were surprised at the extent and convenience of her
interior accommodations. There is a spacious ward-room, nine or ten
feet in height, besides a private cabin for the commander, and
sleeping accommodations on an ample scale; the whole well lighted and
ventilated, though beneath the surface of the water. Forward, or aft,
(for it is impossible to tell stem from stern,) the crew are relatively
quite as well provided for as the officers. It was like finding a
palace, with all its conveniences, under the sea. The inaccessibility,
the apparent impregnability, of this submerged iron fortress are most
satisfactory; the officers and crew get down through a little hole in
the deck, hermetically seal themselves, and go below; and until they
see fit to reappear, there would seem to be no power given to man
whereby they can be brought to light. A storm of cannon-shot damages
them no more than a handful of dried peas. We saw the shot-marks made
by the great artillery of the Merrimack on the outer casing of the iron
tower; they were about the breadth and depth of shallow saucers, almost
imperceptible dents, with no corresponding bulge on the interior
surface. In fact, the thing looked altogether too safe; though it may
not prove quite an agreeable predicament to be thus boxed up in
impenetrable iron, with the possibility, one would imagine, of being
sent to the bottom of the sea, and, even there, not drowned, but
stifled. Nothing, however, can exceed the confidence of the officers in
this new craft. It was pleasant to see their benign exultation in her
powers of mischief, and the delight with which they exhibited the
circumvolutory movement of the tower, the quick thrusting forth of the
immense guns to deliver their ponderous missiles, and then the
immediate recoil, and the security behind the closed port-holes. Yet
even this will not long be the last and most terrible improvement in
the science of war. Already we hear of vessels the armament of which is
to act entirely beneath the surface of the water; so that, with no
other external symptoms than a great bubbling and foaming, and gush of
smoke, and belch of smothered thunder out of the yeasty waves, there
shall be a deadly fight going on below,--and, by-and-by, a sucking
whirlpool, as one of the ships goes down.

The Monitor was certainly an object of great interest; but on our way
to Newport News, whither we next went, we saw a spectacle that
affected us with far profounder emotion. It was the sight of the few
sticks that are left of the frigate Congress, stranded near the
shore,--and still more, the masts of the Cumberland rising midway out
of the water, with a tattered rag of a pennant fluttering from one of
them. The invisible hull of the latter ship seems to be careened over,
so that the three masts stand slantwise; the rigging looks quite
unimpaired, except that a few ropes dangle loosely from the yards. The
flag (which never was struck, thank Heaven!) is entirely hidden under
the waters of the bay, but is still doubtless waving in its old place,
although it floats to and fro with the swell and reflux of the tide,
instead of rustling on the breeze. A remnant of the dead crew still man
the sunken ship, and sometimes a drowned body floats up to the surface.

That was a noble fight. When was ever a better word spoken than that of
Commodore Smith, the father of the commander of the Congress, when he
heard that his son's ship was surrendered? "Then Joe's dead!" said he;
and so it proved. Nor can any warrior be more certain of enduring
renown than the gallant Morris, who fought so well the final battle of
the old system of naval warfare, and won glory for his country and
himself out of inevitable disaster and defeat. That last gun from the
Cumberland, when her deck was half submerged, sounded the requiem of
many sinking ships. Then went down all the navies of Europe, and our
own, Old Ironsides and all, and Trafalgar and a thousand other fights
became only a memory, never to be acted over again; and thus our brave
countrymen come last in the long procession of heroic sailors that
includes Blake and Nelson, and so many mariners of England, and other
mariners as brave as they, whose renown is our native inheritance.
There will be other battles, but no more such tests of seamanship and
manhood as the battles of the past; and, moreover, the Millennium is
certainly approaching, because human strife is to be transferred from
the heart and personality of man into cunning contrivances of
machinery, which by-and-by will fight out our wars with only the clank
and smash of iron, strewing the field with broken engines, but damaging
nobody's little finger except by accident. Such is obviously the
tendency of modern improvement. But, in the mean while, so long as
manhood retains any part of its pristine value, no country can afford
to let gallantry like that of Morris and his crew, any more than that
of the brave Worden, pass unhonored and unrewarded. If the Government
do nothing, let the people take the matter into their own hands, and
cities give him swords, gold boxes, festivals of triumph, and, if he
needs it, heaps of gold. Let poets brood upon the theme, and make
themselves sensible how much of the past and future is contained within
its compass, till its spirit shall flash forth in the lightning of a
song!

From these various excursions, and a good many others, (including one
to Manassas,) we gained a pretty lively idea of what was going on;
but, after all, if compelled to pass a rainy day in the hall and
parlors of Willard's Hotel, it proved about as profitably spent as if
we had floundered through miles of Virginia mud, in quest of
interesting matter. This hotel, in fact, may be much more justly
called the centre of Washington and the Union than either the Capitol,
the White House, or the State Department. Everybody may be seen there.
It is the meeting-place of the true representatives of the
country,--not such as are chosen blindly and amiss by electors who take
a folded ballot from the hand of a local politician, and thrust it into
the ballot-box unread, but men who gravitate or are attracted hither
by real business, or a native impulse to breathe the intensest
atmosphere of the nation's life, or a genuine anxiety to see how this
life-and-death struggle is going to deal with us. Nor these only, but
all manner of loafers. Never, in any other spot, was there such a
miscellany of people. You exchange nods with governors of sovereign
States; you elbow illustrious men, and tread on the toes of generals;
you hear statesmen and orators speaking in their familiar tones. You
are mixed up with office-seekers, wire-pullers, inventors, artists,
poets, prosers, (including editors, army-correspondents,
_attachés_ of foreign journals, and long-winded talkers,) clerks,
diplomatists, mail-contractors, railway-directors, until your own
identity is lost among them. Occasionally you talk with a man whom you
have never before heard of, and are struck by the brightness of a
thought, and fancy that there is more wisdom hidden among the obscure
than is anywhere revealed among the famous. You adopt the universal
habit of the place, and call for a mint-julep, a whiskey-skin, a
gin-cocktail, a brandy-smash, or a glass of pure Old Rye; for the
conviviality of Washington sets in at an early hour, and, so far as I
had an opportunity of observing, never terminates at any hour, and all
these drinks are continually in request by almost all these people. A
constant atmosphere of cigar-smoke, too, envelopes the motley crowd,
and forms a sympathetic medium, in which men meet more closely and talk
more frankly than in any other kind of air. If legislators would smoke
in session, they might speak truer words, and fewer of them, and bring
about more valuable results.

It is curious to observe what antiquated figures and costumes
sometimes make their appearance at Willard's. You meet elderly men with
frilled shirt-fronts, for example, the fashion of which adornment
passed away from among the people of this world half a century ago. It
is as if one of Stuart's portraits were walking abroad. I see no way of
accounting for this, except that the trouble of the times, the impiety
of traitors, and the peril of our sacred Union and Constitution have
disturbed, in their honored graves, some of the venerable fathers of
the country, and summoned them forth to protest against the meditated
and half-accomplished sacrilege. If it be so, their wonted fires are
not altogether extinguished in their ashes,--in their throats, I might
rather say;--for I beheld one of these excellent old men quaffing such
a horn of Bourbon whiskey as a toper of the present century would be
loath to venture upon. But, really, one would be glad to know where
these strange figures come from. It shows, at any rate, how many
remote, decaying villages and country-neighborhoods of the North, and
forest-nooks of the West, and old mansion-houses in cities, are shaken
by the tremor of our native soil, so that men long hidden in retirement
put on the garments of their youth and hurry out to inquire what is the
matter. The old men whom we see here have generally more marked faces
than the young ones, and naturally enough; since it must be an
extraordinary vigor and renewability of life that can overcome the
rusty sloth of age, and keep the senior flexible enough to take an
interest in new things; whereas hundreds of commonplace young men come
hither to stare with eyes of vacant wonder, and with vague hopes of
finding out what they are fit for. And this war (we may say so much in
its favor) has been the means of discovering that important secret to
not a few.

We saw at Willard's many who had thus found out for themselves, that,
when Nature gives a young man no other utilizable faculty, she must be
understood as intending him for a soldier. The bulk of the army had
moved out of Washington before we reached the city; yet it seemed to
me that at least two-thirds of the guests and idlers at the hotel wore
one or another token of the military profession. Many of them, no
doubt, were self-commissioned officers, and had put on the buttons and
the shoulder-straps, and booted themselves to the knees, merely
because captain, in these days, is so good a travelling-name. The
majority, however, had been duly appointed by the President, but might
be none the better warriors for that. It was pleasant, occasionally,
to distinguish a grizzly veteran among this crowd of carpet-knights,
--the trained soldier of a lifetime, long ago from West Point,
who had spent his prime upon the frontier, and very likely could
show an Indian bullet-mark on his breast,--if such decorations, won in
an obscure warfare, were worth the showing now.

The question often occurred to me,--and, to say the truth, it added an
indefinable piquancy to the scene,--what proportion of all these
people, whether soldiers or civilians, were true at heart to the Union,
and what part were tainted, more or less, with treasonable sympathies
and wishes, even if such had never blossomed into purpose. Traitors
there were among them,--no doubt of that,--civil servants of the
public, very reputable persons, who yet deserved to dangle from a cord;
or men who buttoned military coats over their breasts, hiding perilous
secrets there, which might bring the gallant officer to stand
pale-faced before a file of musketeers, with his open grave behind him.
But, without insisting upon such picturesque criminality and punishment
as this, an observer, who kept both his eyes and heart open, would find
it by no means difficult to discern that many residents and visitors of
Washington so far sided with the South as to desire nothing more nor
better than to see everything reestablished on a little worse than its
former basis. If the cabinet of Richmond were transferred to the
Federal city, and the North awfully snubbed, at least, and driven back
within its old political limits, they would deem it a happy day. It is
no wonder, and, if we look at the matter generously, no unpardonable
crime. Very excellent people hereabouts remember the many dynasties in
which the Southern character has been predominant, and contrast the
genial courtesy, the warm and graceful freedom of that region, with
what they call (though I utterly disagree with them) the frigidity of
our Northern manners, and the Western plainness of the President. They
have a conscientious, though mistaken belief, that the South was
driven out of the Union by intolerable wrong on our part, and that we
are responsible for having compelled true patriots to love only half
their country instead of the whole, and brave soldiers to draw their
swords against the Constitution which they would once have died
for,--to draw them, too, with a bitterness of animosity which is the
only symptom of brotherhood (since brothers hate each other best) that
any longer exists. They whisper these things with tears in their eyes,
and shake their heads, and stoop their poor old shoulders, at the
tidings of another and another Northern victory, which, in their
opinion, puts farther off the remote, the already impossible chance of
a reunion.

I am sorry for them, though it is by no means a sorrow without hope.
Since the matter has gone so far, there seems to be no way but to go on
winning victories, and establishing peace and a truer union in another
generation, at the expense, probably, of greater trouble, in the
present one, than any other people ever voluntarily suffered. We woo
the South "as the Lion wooes his bride"; it is a rough courtship, but
perhaps love and a quiet household may come of it at last. Or, if we
stop short of that blessed consummation, heaven was heaven still, as
Milton sings, after Lucifer and a third part of the angels had seceded
from its golden palaces,--and perhaps all the more heavenly, because
so many gloomy brows, and soured, vindictive hearts, had gone to plot
ineffectual schemes of mischief elsewhere. [Footnote: We regret the
innuendo in the concluding sentence. The war can never be allowed to
terminate, except in the complete triumph of Northern principles. We
hold the event in our own hands, and may choose whether to terminate it
by the methods already so successfully used, or by other means equally
within our control, and calculated to be still more speedily
efficacious. In truth, the work is already done.

We should be sorry to cast a doubt on the Peaceable Man's loyalty, but
he will allow us to say that we consider him premature in his kindly
feelings towards traitors and sympathizers with treason. As the author
himself says of John Brown, (and, so applied, we thought it an
atrociously cold-blooded _dictum_,) "any common-sensible man
would feel an intellectual satisfaction in seeing them hanged, were it
only for their preposterous miscalculation of possibilities." There
are some degrees of absurdity that put Reason herself into a rage, and
affect us like an intolerable crime,--which this Rebellion is, into
the bargain.]

Nathaniel Hawthorne


Non-Fiction
Short Stories
Poetry