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.

No comments:

Post a Comment