Sunday, May 31, 2015

June 1, 1861 - W.H. Russell worries about secrets in his lost notebook

William Howard Russell, the first great war correspondent, was an important contact for British Consul Robert Bunch, Our Man in Charleston: Britain's Secret Agent in the Civil War South.

June 1 — I was not by any means all right & well today & could not go out from sheer nervousness. Lost my pocket book containing notes & dates, very annoying as I fear it will fall into people's hands. 

There was good reason for concern. Russell's conversations with Bunch and with the British Consul in New Orleans, William Mure, if known to the public, might have put all of them at risk, given the feverish mood in the South those first months after Secession was announced, and before any real fighting had begun.

The passage above is from his private diary, most of which was published in William Howard Russell's Civil War: Private Diary and Letters, 1861-1862, admirably edited by Martin Crawford.

In the edited and through-written text of Russell's My Diary North and South, he writes as he is winding up his visit to New Orleans that the local economy is suffering mightily, but spirits are high and the mood defiant: 

Through the present gloom come the rays of a glorious future which shall see a grand slave confederacy enclosing the Gulf in its arms, and swelling to the shores of the Potomac and Chesapeake with the entire control of the Mississippi and a monopoly of the great staples on which so much of the manufactures and commerce of England and France depend. 

They believe themselves, in fact, to be masters of the destiny of the world. Cotton is king — not alone king but czar ; and coupled with the gratification and profit to be derived from this mighty agency, they look forward with intense satisfaction to the complete humiliation of their hated enemies in the New England States, to the destruction of their usurious rival New York, and to the impoverishment and ruin of the states which have excited their enmity by personal liberty bills, and have outraged and insulted them by harbouring abolitionists and an anti-slavery press. 

The abolitionists have said, "We will never rest till every slave is free in the United States." Men of larger views than those have declared, "They will never rest from agitation until a man may as freely express his opinions, be they what they may, on slavery, or anything else, in the streets of Charleston or of New Orleans as in those of Boston or New York."

"Our rights are guaranteed by the Constitution," exclaim the South.

"The Constitution," retorts Wendel Phillips," is a league with the devil — a covenant with hell." 

The doctrine of State Rights has been consistently advocated not only by Southern statesmen, but by the great party who have ever maintained there was danger to liberty in the establishment of a strong central Government; but the contending interests and opinions on both sides had hitherto been kept from open collision by artful compromises and by ingenious contrivances, which ceased with the election of Mr. Lincoln.

May 31, 1861 - W.H. Russell on Need for Gun Control (note the date, 154 years ago today)

William Howard Russell, the first great war correspondent, was an important contact for British Consul Robert Bunch, Our Man in Charleston: Britain's Secret Agent in the Civil War South.

May 3lst - Speaking of the numerous crimes committed in New Orleans, [the sheriff] declared it was a perfect hell upon earth, and that nothing would ever put an end to murders, manslaughters, and deadly assaults, till it was made penal to carry arms; but by law every American citizen may walk with an armory round his waist, if he likes. Bar-rooms, cock-tails, mint-juleps, gambling-houses, political discussions, and imperfect civilization do the rest. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

May 28, 1861 - W.H. Russell in New Orleans

William Howard Russell, the first great war correspondent, became an important contact for British Consul Robert Bunch and figures prominently in Our Man in Charleston: Britain's Secret Agent in the Civil War South.

Bunch writing privately to Lord Lyons, the British minister to Washington:

May 28, Charleston - … I heard from Russell this morning through his fidus Achates “Sam” Ward.  They reached New Orleans on the 23rd, having visited Pensacola, Pickens and the Fleet. R. says that [unclear] Pickens, “it is the toss up of a copper which wins.”*

Russell in his diary:

May 28, New Orleans — I observed in New York that every man had his own solution of the cause of the present difficulty, and contradicted plumply his neighbor the moment he attempted to propound his own theory. Here I found every one agreed as to the righteousness of the quarrel, but all differed as to the best mode of action for the South to pursue. Nor was there any approach to unanimity as the evening waxed older. Incidentally we had wild tales of Southern life, some good songs curiously intermingled with political discussions, and what the Northerners call hyphileutin talk.


* In the early days of the conflict, two important Federal forts were in need of resupply. Fort Sumter was fired on to prevent that from happening, and eventually surrendered on April 13, 1861. But Fort Pickens, near Pensacola, Florida, managed to hold out for the duration of the war.

Fidus Achates was a common 19th century term for a faithful friend, referring in Latin to the companion of Aeneas.

Sam Ward was a very well connected financier and lobbyist who made and lost several fortunes. His sister, the poet Julia Ward Howe, is most famous for writing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

May 27, 1861 - W.H. Russell and the Countdown to Bull Run

William Howard Russell, the first great war correspondent, became an important contact for British Consul Robert Bunch, "Our Man in Charleston." 

The reporter for the Times of London landed in the United States in March of 1861, met Lincoln, Seward and other dignitaries in Washington, then proceeded to South Carolina, just missing the bombardment of Sumter, before touring much of the rest of the new Confederacy. 

On this site we will be excerpting passages from Bunch's letters and from Russell's private journals and his book My Diary North & South up through his famous report on the Battle of Bull Run, or First Manassas, on July 21, 1861, and on through the summer. 

Our Man in Charleston: Britain's Secret Agent in the Civil War South will be published July 21, 2015.

* * *

In late May, after meeting Jefferson Davis in the makeshift Confederate capital of Montgomery, Alabama, and taking a riverboat to Mobile where he encountered the last man known to have imported African slaves to the United States, Russell arrived in New Orleans.

May 27th. I visited several of the local companies, their drill-grounds and parades; but few of the men were present, as nearly all are under orders to proceed to the camp at Tangipao or to march to Richmond. Privates and officers are busy in the sweltering streets purchasing necessaries for their journey. As one looks at the resolute, quick, angry faces around him, and hears but the single theme, he must feel the South will never yield to the North, unless as a nation which is beaten beneath the feet of a victorious enemy.

In every State there is only one voice audible. Hereafter, indeed, state jealousies may work their own way; but if words mean anything, all the Southern people are determined to resist Mr. Lincoln s invasion as long as they have a man or a dollar. Still, there are certain hard facts which militate against the truth of their own assertions, "that they are united to a man, and prepared to fight to a man." Only 15,000 are under arms out of the 50,000 men in the State of Louisiana liable to military service. " 

Charges of "abolitionism" appear in the reports of police cases in the papers every morning; and persons found guilty, not of expressing opinions against slavery, but of stating their belief that the Northerners will be successful, are sent to prison for six months. The accused are generally foreigners, or belong to the lower orders, who have got no interest in the support of slavery. 

The moral suasion of the lasso, of tarring and feathering, head-shaving, ducking, and horseponds, deportation on rails, and similar ethical processes are highly in favor. As yet the North have not arrived at such an elevated view of the necessities of their position.

The New Orleans papers are facetious over their new mode of securing unanimity, and highly laud what they call "the course of instruction in the humane institution for the amelioration of the condition of Northern barbarians and abolition fanatics, presided over by Professor Henry Mitchell," who, in other words, is the jailer of the work-house reformatory.

 * * *

Every night since I have been in New Orleans there have been one or two fires; to-night there were three, one a tremendous conflagration. When I inquired to what they were attributable, a gentleman who sat near me bent over and, looking me straight in the face, said in a low voice, "The slaves."