Sunday, June 21, 2015

June 20, 1861 - Southern elite dreams of return to British monarchy

A version of this Sully portrait of Victoria gazed
down on the men drafting the ordinance of secession
in Charleston's St. Andrew's Hall in 1860 
The South's Anglophile aristocrats loved to talk about returning to "The Mother Country," a theme picked up on by W. H. Russell in one of his dispatches from South Carolina and supported in this letter to Lord Lyons from Our Man in Charleston Robert Bunch.  Clearly they didn't think this through, since slavery had been abolished throughout the Empire almost 30 years earlier.

June 20 - The Letters of Mr. W. H. Russell, the special correspondent of the "Times" newspaper have been looked for in this Community with an anxiety which to a stranger might almost appear ludicrous—But to one who, like myself, has resided for several years in South Carolina, the desire on the part of the people to learn the judgment which would be pronounced upon them by an intelligent observer and writer, especially by one who commands the attention of the world to so great a degree as does Mr. Russell, appears both natural and proper. It has always been a subject of complaint at the South that the only knowledge of its social system possessed by the European public is derived from Northern sources by which it has been misrepresented and consistently vilified. … I can, therefore, fully appreciate the solicitude with which the criticisms of Mr. Russell were expected. He was to see and judge for himself, not to take at second-hand the interested or prejudiced opinions (as they are considered) of the North, or even of Great Britain on the subject of Slavery.

     Four of Mr. Russell’s letters from the Southern States have now appeared, and have, on the whole, given satisfaction. Altho’ it is asserted that on several points of detail he has not proved himself entirely correct (an opinion from which I altogether differ) there exists an universal disposition to admire his fairness and be flattered by his accounts of the people and the government. But I have found within the last few days some inclination to deny, and even to resent, the statements of his second letter from Charleston, dated April 30, to the effect that the people of South Carolina, or rather its upper classes, which in this State, at least, have the entire control of the “people,” and are the only portion of the population whose wishes are consulted, would not object to see the connection with the Mother Country revived, and themselves either the subjects of Her Majesty or of a Constitutional Monarchy under an English Prince. I have, therefore, thought it not inexpedient to assure Your Lordship that, in my humble judgment, Mr. Russell is entirely correct in the views he expresses. Language such as he describes has been told to me on numberless occasions by the very best and most influential persons in South Carolina, not only during the exciting scenes of the last few months, but from the day of my arrival here in 1853. My Predecessor, Mr. Matthew, informed me before I came of the existence of the same sentiment to a very great extent, and it is now infinitely stronger than ever. I affirm most deliberately that the governing classes of South Carolina would most gladly become the subjects of a Constitutional Monarchy based upon the principles of British Law. ...

Thursday, June 18, 2015

June 18, 1861 - Real fighting in the Civil War has not begun, "neither side as been put to the test"

Lord Lyons was the British minister in Washington just before and during the Civil War. Robert Bunch, Our Man in Charleston, provided his key intelligence about events in the South.

June 18, 1861 - Lyons to Lord John Russell, the British foreign secretary: … No doubt the prospects of the North are brighter than they were a month ago. But nothing has yet happened to give any clear notion of the probable [extent] and duration of the struggle.
The Long Bridge between D.C. and Virginia
The perseverance of neither side has yet been put to the test. No military engagement has taken place — and consequently the effect of defeat or victory on the spirit of the two divisions of the country can only be conjectured. Hitherto the North has advanced gradually into Virginia without opposition, but if the advance is to go on at the same rate it will take about half a century to get on to Florida. On the other hand, we have been again threatened with an attack upon Washington, and no doubt if President Davis could move his troops with rapidity, such an attack would have a fair chance of success. But the same causes which oblige General Scott to be so nearly immoveable no doubt operate as forcibly with his antagonists. Lack of means of transport, lack of Commissariat, lack of trained soldiers. Unless one side make up their minds to a dash at Richmond, or the other at Washington, we may go on in the present state of uncertainty all the summer, and even much longer.

            If this be, so we shall probably also remain in the same uncertainty about the conduct of the Cabinet of Washington toward Gt Britain, and prudence must, I am afraid, lead us to consider ourselves at any moment open to a Declaration of War. Any symptom of disunion between England and France, any necessity on the part of the Cabinet of some or some of its members to around popular passion, or pander to it, might bring on a war. …

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

June 17, 1861 - Lord Lyons worries about Union declaring war on UK; a secret mission starts to take shape

Lord Lyons portrait in Seward's home
Lord Lyons was the British minister in Washington just before and during the Civil War. Robert Bunch, Our Man in Charleston, provided his key intelligence about events in the South.

June 10, Lyons to Admiral Milne, commander of the British fleet off the American coast, marked Private and Confidential:

    "... I do not regard a sudden Declaration of War against us by the U.S. as an event altogether impossible at any moment. I just mention this confidentially. If I think the danger imminent, and am precluded from telegraphing in cypher I will send you the following Telegram:  'Could your forward a letter for me to Antigua?'"

June 14, Lyons to Lord John Russell, Foreign Secretary. Her Majesty's government, having recognized the rights of both North and South as "belligerents" some weeks earlier, is now anxious for both North and South to recognize the rights of neutrals and the rules concerning blockades as described in the declaration on maritime law issued in conjunction with the 1856 Treaty of Paris, to which neither the Union nor the Confederacy is a signatory. Lyons fears that the Union will recognize the declaration in principle, but still seize ships for ostensible failure to pay duties to the Federal officials no longer in place in the Southern ports:

      "... This is likely to be the practical difficulty with regard to the question of the Belligerent rights of the South. But after all the sentimental difficulty is the great one. The present apparent success of the South in founding an independent Govt is so galling to the North, that anything which implies the admission of this self-evident fact irritates them beyond measure. As you will have seen from the tone of Mr. Seward's Despatches, the recourse is to deny the existence of the fact, not to explain it, to threaten anyone who shall dare to assert it, or even to perceive it....
      "I dread the arrival of the English Newspapers with comment on the articles in the American press. I am still more afraid of the meeting of Congress next month. Unless there are very manifest signs of a change of public feeling, the extreme violent party will have it all their own way, and the members of it will vie with one another in intemperate language. The best sedative will be a manifest readiness on our part to repel an attack, however sudden, and at whatever point it may be made, and to exact immediate retribution for any offense."

June 17 to Consul Archibald in New York: "... Be very cautious [underlined three times] about send any thing South, and still moreso about receiving and forwarding letters thence."

Bust of Seward in the library of his home in Auburn, New York

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

June 16, 1861 - American gun violence... 154 years ago

In 1861 the great British war correspondent William Howard Russell, who figures prominently in Our Man in Charleston, was stunned by the level of gun violence in everyday American life (and death).

June 16 — When my work was over I walked out and sat in the shade with a gentleman whose talk turned upon the practices of the Mississippi duello. Without the smallest animus, and in the most natural way in the world, he told us
tale after tale of blood, and recounted terrible tragedies enacted outside bars of hotels and in the public streets close beside us. The very air seemed to become purple as he spoke, the land around a veritable "Aceldama." There may, indeed, be security for property, but there is none for the life of its owner in difficulties,who may be shot by a stray bullet from a pistol as he walks up the street.

I learned many valuable facts. I was warned, for example, against the impolicy of trusting to small-bored pistols or to pocket six-shooters in case of a close fight, because suppose you hit your man mortally he may still run in upon you and rip you up with a bowie-knife before he falls dead; whereas if you drive a good heavy bullet into him, or make a hole in him with a "Derringer" ball, he gets faintish and drops at once.

Many illustrations, too, were given of the value of practical lessons of this sort. One particularly struck me. If a gentleman with whom you are engaged in altercation moves his hand towards his breeches pocket, or behind his back, you must smash him or shoot him at once, for he is either going to draw his six-shooter, to pull out a bowie-knife, or to shoot you through the lining of his pocket. The latter practice is considered rather ungentlemanly, but it has somewhat been more honored lately in the observance than in the breach. In fact, the savage practice of walking about with pistols, knives, and poniards, in bar-rooms and gambling-saloons, with passions ungoverned, because there is no law to punish the deeds to which they lead, affords facilities for crime which an uncivilized condition of society leaves too often without punishment, but which must be put down or the country in which it is tolerated will become as barbarous as a jungle inhabited by wild beasts.

June 14, 1861 - W.H. Russell on Southern moral degradation and delusions

The great British war correspondent William Howard Russell travels from Natchez up through Vicksburg to Jackson, echoing what he has learned from Our Man in Charleston as he meets with the governor of Mississippi

June 14 ... There were a number of volunteer soldiers in the trainand their presence no doubt attracted the girls and women who waved flags and cheered for Jeff Davis and States Rights. Well, as I travel on through such scenes, with a fine critical nose in the air, I ask myself, "Is any Englishman better than these publicans and sinners in regard to this question of slavery?"; It was not on moral or religious grounds that our ancestors abolished serfdom. And if to-morrow our good farmers, deprived of mowers, reapers, ploughmen, hedgers and ditchers, were to find substitutes in certain people of dark skin assigned to their use by Act of Parliament, I fear they would be almost as ingenious as the Rev. Dr. Seabury in discovering arguments physiological, ethnological, and biblical, for the retention of their property. And an evil day would it be for them if they were so tempted ; for assuredly, without any derogation to the intellect of the Southern men, it may be said that a large proportion of the population is in a state of very great moral degradation compared with civilized Anglo-Saxon communities.

 * * *

The Governor conversed on the aspect of affairs, and evinced that wonderful confidence in his own people which, whether it arises from ignorance of the power of the North, or a conviction of greater resources, is to me so remarkable.
"Well, sir," said he, dropping a portentous plug of tobacco just outside the spittoon, with the air of a man who wished to show he could have hit the centre if he liked, "England is no doubt a great country, and has got fleets and the like of that, and may have a good deal to do in Eu-rope; but the sovereign State of Mississippi can do a great deal better without England than England can do without her." Having some slight recollection of Mississippi repudiation, in which Mr. Jefferson Davis was so actively engaged, I thought it possible that the Governor might be right ; and after a time his Excellency shook me by the hand, and I left, much wondering within myself what manner of men they must be in the State of Mississippi when Mr. Pettus is their chosen Governor ; and yet, after all, he is honest and fierce ; and perhaps he is so far qualified as well as any other man to be Governor of the State. There are newspapers, electric telegraphs, and railways ; there are many educated families, even much good society, I am told, in the State but the larger masses of the people struck me as being in a
condition not much elevated from that of the original back

Friday, June 12, 2015

June 12, 1861 - Roads "bristling with armed men moving towards Virginia"

Countdown to the Battle of Bull Run, still more than five weeks away.

Her Majesty's Consul Robert Bunch, Our Man in Charleston, to Lord John Russell, Foreign Secretary:

                                   British Consulate
                                   Charleston, June 12, 1861

My Lord,

            ... The feeling of the people of this Consular District towards the government and people of the United States has in no way diminished in violence or intensity of hatred during the period which has elapsed since the fall of Fort Sumter. On the contrary, there exists at this moment  a bitterness of sentiment and a fierce determination that the issue between the two sections of the country shall be left to the arbitrament of the sword such as I could scarcely have believed possible, and have certainly never witnessed in the milder forms of revolutionary excitement to which I have been accustomed during my public service in South America.
            From all the information which reaches me from other portions of the Confederate States,  I am convinced that the same feelings prevail to a degree quite as intense throughout the Southern Country. A friend who has just arrived here from New Orleans tells me that the entire road, fifteen hundred miles in length, is bristling with armed men moving towards Virginia, and the sternest resolution is avowed by all to die rather than to be subjugated.
            Your Lordship can imagine the horrors through which this unhappy country is infallibly destined to pass unless some change shall speedily come over the spirit of both Rulers & People on either side of the question. ...

Illustration is from

Thursday, June 11, 2015

June 11, 1861 - "Of one thing there can be no doubt, a slave state cannot long exist without a slave trade."

The great British war correspondent William Howard Russell on a visit to Natchez, Mississippi, echoes the sentiments of Our Man in Charleston. Whatever its leaders may say, the Confederacy will have no choice but to import slaves from Africa.

June 11 ... Natchez, a place of much trade and cotton export in the season, is now as dull let us say, as Harwich without a regatta. But it is ultra-secessionist, nil obstante.

My hunger was assuaged by Mr. Marshall, who drove me to his comfortable mansion through a country like the wooded parts of Sussex, abounding in fine trees, and in the only lawns and park-like fields I have yet seen in America. After dinner, my host took me out to visit a wealthy planter, who has raised and armed a cavalry corps at his own expense. We were obliged to get out of the carriage at a narrow lane and walk toward the encampment on foot in the dark; a sentry stopped us, and we observed that there was a semblance of military method in the camp. The captain was walking up and down in the veranda of the poor hut, for which he had abandoned his home. A book of tactics, Hardee's lay on the table of his little room. Our friend was full of fight, and said he would give all he had in the world to the cause. But the day before, and a party of horse, composed of sixty gentlemen in the district, worth from 20,000 to 50,000 each, had started for the war in Virginia. Everything to be seen or heard testifies to the great zeal and resolution with which the South have entered upon the quarrel. But they hold the power of the United States, and the loyalty of the North to the Union at far too cheap a rate.

At the end of this entry, Russell offers a brief aside on the South's addiction to slavery and its craving for the African slave trade: 

Slavery was an institution ready to their hands. In its development there lay every material means for securing the prosperity which Manchester opened to them, and in supplying their own countrymen with sugar. The small, struggling, deeply-mortgaged proprietors of swamp and forest set their negroes to work to raise levees, to cut down trees, to plant and sow. Cotton at ten cents a pound gave a nugget in every boll. Land could be had for a few dollars an acre. Negroes were cheap in proportion. Men who made a few thousand dollars invested them in more negroes, and more land, and borrowed as much again for the same purpose. They waxed fat and rich, there seemed no bounds to their fortune.

But threatening voices came from the North, the echoes of the sentiments of the civilized world repenting of its evil pierced their ears, and they found their feet were of clay, and that they were nodding to their fall in the midst of their power. Ruin inevitable awaited them if they did not shut out
these sounds and stop the fatal utterances. The issue is to them one of life and death. Whoever raises
it hereafter, if it be not decided now, must expect to meet the deadly animosity which is now displayed towards the North. 

The success of the South if they can succeed must lead to complications and results in other parts of the world, for which neither they nor Europe are prepared. Of one thing there can be no doubt a slave state cannot long exist without a slave trade. The poor whites who have won the fight will demand their share of the spoils. The land for tilth is abundant, and all that is wanted to give them fortunes is a supply of slaves. They will have that in spite of their masters, unless a stronger power than the Slave States prevents the accomplishment of their wishes.

Excerpted from William Howard Russell's My Diary North and South, available online at

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

June 10, 1861 - Lord Lyons worries Seward will provoke a war with Britain.

Lord Lyons arrived as the British minister in Washington (the United States did not rank an ambassador) in 1859, and he stayed through most of the war. At first suspicious of Consul Bunch, Our Man in Charleston, he eventually came to depend on him for his reporting on the South, and defended him when he got into trouble with London.

Lyons was in frequent contact with Lincoln's Secretary of State William Seward, and by June he was increasingly concerned that Seward would try to re-unite the United States by going to war with Great Britain, possibly by picking a fight over some relatively minor issue, possibly by invading Canada. The foreign secretary, Lord John Russell, was well aware of this possibility, and wrote that Seward could be "very provoking." This is an excerpt from a letter marked "Private" that Lyons sent to Russell, the foreign secretary.

Washington, June 10 ... I have written so much officially on the risk of a sudden Declaration of War against England by the U.S. that I have nothing to add on that subject. That such an act of madness is far from impossible, that we ought to be prepared for it at any moment, I am thoroughly convinced. I am doing all I can to avoid awkward questions, for to give way upon any such question would be still more dangerous to peace than to make a firm stand. The safe course therefore is to prevent questions arising, if possible. But the first thing to be done toward obtaining anything like permanent security is to remove the temptation to attack Canada. ...

Meanwhile the journalist William Howard Russell (no relation to the foreign secretary) was taking his leave of the Louisiana plantation where he had spent several days, and headed up the Mississippi. He wrote with his usual sardonic, ironic tone about what he saw:

June 10th. ... The Acadia was now along-side, and in the early morning Donaldsonville receded rapidly into trees and clouds. To bed, and make amends for mosquito visits, and after a long sleep
look out again on the scene. It is difficult to believe that we have been going eleven miles an hour against the turbid river, which is of the same appearance as it was below the same banks, bends, driftwood, and trees. Large timber rafts, navigated by a couple of men, who stood in the shade of a few upright boards, were encountered at long intervals. White egrets and blue herons rose from the marshes. 

At every landing the whites who came down were in some sort of uniform. There were two blacks placed on board at one of the landings in irons captured runaways and very miserable they looked at the thought of being restored to the bosom of the patriarchal family from which they had, no doubt, so prodigally eloped. I fear the fatted calf-skin would be applied to their backs.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

June 9, 1861 - W.H. Russell visits a racehorse owner in Louisiana

June 9th. A thunder-storm, which lasted all the morning and afternoon till three o clock. When it cleared I drove, in company with Mr. Burnside and his friends, to dinner with Mr. Duncan Kenner, who lives some ten or twelve miles above Houmas. He is one of the sporting men of the South, well known on the Charleston race-course, and keeps a large stable of racehorses and brood mares, under the management of an Englishman. The jocks were Negro lads ...

The Carolinians are true sportsmen, and in the South the Charleston races create almost as much sensation as our Derby at home. One of the guests at Mr. Kenner's knew all about the winners of Epsom Oaks, and Ascot, and took delight in showing his knowledge of the "Racing Calendar." It is observable, however, that the Creoles do not exhibit any great enthusiasm for horse-racing, but that they apply themselves rather to cultivate their plantations and to domestic duties ; and it is even remarkable that they do not stand prominently forward in the State Legislature, or aspire to high political influence and position, although their numbers and wealth would fairly entitle them to both. The population of small settlers, scarcely removed from pauperism, along the river banks, is courted by men who obtain larger political influence than the great land-owners, as the latter consider it beneath them to have recourse to the arts of the demagogue.

Monday, June 8, 2015

June 8, 1861 - Bunch fears yellow fever, expects battle in Virginia.

Her Majesty's Consul Robert Bunch, Our Man in Charleston, notifies Lord Lyons that he has given up his life insurance policy because he plans to stay through the summer and the risk of yellow fever makes the premiums unaffordable. And, then, in a post-script there's the question of war:

June 8 - We are anxiously expecting to hear of a battle in Virginia.

William Howard Russell writing from Houmas Plantation in Louisiana, continues to observe this very Southern place and people in rich detail:

June 8 - The more one sees of a planter's life the greater is the conviction that its charms come from a particular turn of mind, which is separated by a wide interval from modern ideas in Europe. The planter is a denomadized Arab; he has fixed himself with horses and slaves in a fertile spot, where he guards his women with Oriental care, exercises patriarchal sway, and is at once fierce, tender, and hospitable. The inner life of his household is exceedingly charming, because one is astonished to find the graces and accomplishments of womanhood displayed in a scene which has a certain sort of savage rudeness about it after all, and where all kinds of incongruous accidents are visible in the service of the table, in the furniture of the house, in its decorations, menials, and surrounding scenery.

It was late in the evening when the party returned to Donaldsonville; and when we arrived at the other side of the bayou there were no carriages, so that we had to walk on foot to the wharf where Mr. Burnside's boats were supposed to be waiting the Negro ferry-man having long since retired to rest. Under any circumstances a march on foot through an unknown track covered with blocks of timber and other impedimenta which represented the road to the ferry, could not be agreeable; but the recent rains had converted the ground into a sea of mud filled with holes, with islands of planks and beams of timber, lighted only by the stars and then this in dress trousers and light boots!

We plunged, struggled, and splashed till we reached the levee, where boats there were none ; and so Mr. Burnside shouted up and down the river, so did Mr. Lee, and so did Mr. Ward* and all the others, whilst I sat on a log affecting philosophy and indifference, in spite of tortures from mosquitoes innumerable,** and severe bites from insects unknown. The city and river were buried in darkness ; the rush of the stream which is sixty feet deep near the banks, was all that struck upon the ear in the intervals of the cries, "Boat ahoy!" "Ho ! Batelier!"; and sundry ejaculations of a less regular and decent form. 

At length a boat did glide out of the darkness, and the man who rowed it stated he had been waiting all the time up the bayou, till by mere accident he came down to the jetty, having given us up for the night. In about half an hour we were across the river, and had perforce another interview with Dr. Cotmann, who regaled us with his best in story and in wine till the carriages were ready, and we drove back to Mr. Burnside s, only meeting on the way two mounted horsemen with jingling arms, who were, we were told, the night patrol; of their duties I could, however, obtain no very definite account.

* Sam Ward, a good friend of Russell's and the brother of the poet Julia Ward Howe, who later wrote "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

** The link between mosquitoes and yellow fever was unknown at the time. They were seen as nuisances, not vectors of disease.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

June 7, 1861 - Consul Bunch deals with the blockade; W.H. Russell starts countdown to Manassas

William Howard Russell, the first great war correspondent, was an important contact for British Consul Robert Bunch, Our Man in Charleston. Here, Russell is traveling through  the newly declared Confederate States of America.

From William Howard Russell's My Diary North and South:

June 7th - ... Whilst the Richmond papers demand an immediate movement on Washington, the journals of New York are clamoring for an advance upon Richmond. ... Extraordinary delusions prevail on both sides. The North believe that battalions of scalping Indian savages are actually stationed at Harper s Ferry. One of the most important movements has been made by Major-General McClellan, who has marched a force into Western Virginia from Cincinnati, has occupied a portion of the line of the Baltimore and Ohio railway, which was threatened with destruction by the Secessionists ; and has already advanced as far as Grafton. Gen. McDowell has been appointed to the command of the Federal forces in Virginia. Every day regiments are pouring down from the North to Washington. General Butler, who is in command at Fortress Monroe, has determined to employ Negro fugitives, whom he has called "Contrabands" in the works about the fort, feeding them, and charging the cost of their keep against the worth of their services ; and Mr. Cameron, the Secretary of War, has ordered him to refrain from surrendering such slaves to their masters, whilst he is to permit no interference by his soldiers with the relations of persons held to service under the laws of the States in which they are in.

Mr. Jefferson Davis has arrived at Richmond. At sea the Federal steamers have captured a number of Southern vessels ; and some small retaliations have been made by the Confederate privateers. The largest mass of the Confederate troops have assembled at a place called Manassas Junction, on the railway from Western Virginia to Alexandria.

The Northern papers are filled with an account of a battle at Philippi, and a great victory, in which no less than two of their men were wounded and two were reported missing as the whole casualties ; but Napoleon scarcely expended so much ink over Austerlitz as is absorbed on this glory in the sensation headings of the New York papers. 

* * *

President Lincoln had declared a blockade of Southern ports in April after the confederates seized For Sumter in Charleston Harbor. But Britain would not honor a "paper blockade" that was not enforced or enforceable. The Crown and all the major powers of Europe had signed an appendix to the Treaty of Paris in 1856 at the end of the Crimean war making that clear, even though the United States was not a signatory and, of course, the Confederate States had not existed.

So Her Majesty's Consul Robert Bunch spent much of the month of May and early June sailing out of Charleston Harbor to observe the presence of the Union fleet, or the lack of it, and to make sure that British merchant ships bottled up in Charleston harbor could sail fully loaded with cargo and without undo interference. At the same time, Bunch encountered ever greater difficulties communicating with his superiors in Washington and London, since the U.S. postal service had been terminated. He frequently resorted to private messengers, preferably Britons, to carry official correspondence north.

Passages from one of Bunch's letters to Lord Lyons, the British envoy to Washington, courtesy of the the Duke of Norfolk's Archives, Arundel Castle, West Sussex, U.K.:

June 6 - ... In these hard times, especially, scraps of important news are most welcome. We are beginning to feel the effects of the Blockade and interruption of mails as we get no new books and no papers, whilst the telegrams are exclusively Southern. ... This [letter] is to go by a young Englishman in 'the mercantile line,' Mr. John Baird. He has given me good references and is preferable to an American messenger. 

Bunch had remonstrated with American officers who had stopped a British schooner from sailing, and persuaded them that it met the criteria for passage. He then sent one of them "a loin of veal and some fresh vegetables by way of showing him that he was forgiven." Meanwhile, his observations made it clear that the blockade, in general, was poorly enforced at that point, and he suggested Lord Lyons use that information in his talks with Union Secretary of State William Seward.

I hope that Your Lordship may see fit to let Mr. Seward have a copy of my [report] of arrivals and departures. I should particularly wish him to know that the two privateers [Confederate merchantmen armed as warships for commerce raiding] were goign to sail - this will be so pleasant - One has gone since yesterday. The line of the [Federal] government and its officers seems to be to say that everybody tells whoppers who does not agree with them. The Blockade was entirely at an end here for fourteen days. Mr. Seward, the Secretary of the Navy, Commodore Stringham and the capt. of the "Harriet Lane" to the contrary notwithstanding. 

It is getting dreadfully hot and the summer bids fair to be pleasant. The ice will soon price out and lots of things are missing already. What it will be four months hence Your Lordship may judge."

Friday, June 5, 2015

June 6, 1861 - W.H. Russell: mint juleps in the morning, an old African in the afternoon.

William Howard Russell, the first great war correspondent, was an important contact for British Consul Robert Bunch, Our Man in Charleston. Here, Russell is traveling through  the newly declared Confederate States of America.

June 6th — My chattel Joe, adscriptus mihi domino,  awoke me to a bath of Mississippi water with huge lumps of ice in it, to which he recommended a mint-julep as an adjunct. It was not here that I was first exposed to an ordeal of mint-julep, for in the early morning a stranger in a Southern planter's 
house may expect the offer of a glassful of brandy, sugar, and peppermint beneath an island of ice as an obligatory panacea for all the evils of climate. After it has been disposed of, Pompey may come up again with glass number two : "Massa say fever very bad this morning much dew." It is possible that the degenerate Anglo-Saxon stomach has not the fine tone and temper of that of an Hibernian friend of mine, who considered the finest thing to counteract the effects of a little excess was a tumbler of hot whiskey and water the moment the sufferer opened his eyes in the morning. Therefore, the kindly offering may be rejected. But on one occasion before breakfast the negro brought up mint-julep number three, the acceptance of which he enforced by the emphatic declaration, "Massa says, sir, you had better take this, because it'll be the last he make before breakfast."

Breakfast is served : there is on the table a profusion of dishes grilled fowl, prawns, eggs and ham, fish from New Orleans, potted salmon from England, preserved meats from France, claret, iced water, coffee and tea, varieties of hominy, mush, and African vegetable preparations. Then come the newspapers, which are perused eagerly with ejaculations, "Do you hear what they are doing now infernal villains! that Lincoln must be mad !" and the like.

At one o clock, in spite of the sun, I rode out with Mr. Lee, along the road by the Mississippi, to Mr. Burnside's plantation, called Orange Grove, from a few trees which still remain in front of the overseer's house. We visited an old Negro, called "Boatswain," who lives with his old wife in a wooden hut close by the margin of the Mississippi. His business is to go to Donaldsonville for letters, or meat, or ice for the house a tough row for the withered old man. He is an African born, and he just remembers being carried on board ship and taken to some big city before he came upon the plantation. 

"Do you remember nothing of the country you came from, Boatswain?"

"Yes, sir. Jist remember trees and sweet things my mother gave me, and much hot sand I put my feet in, and big leaves that we play with all us little children and plenty to eat, and big birds and shells."

"Would you like to go back, Boatswain ?"

"What for, sir? No one know old Boatswain there. My old missus Sally inside."

"Are you quite happy, Boatswain?" 

"I'm getting very old, massa. Massa Burnside very good to Boatswain, but who care for such damn old nigger? Golla Mighty gave me fourteen children, but he took them all away again from Sally and me. Nobody care much for damn old nigger like me."

June 5, 1861 - W.H. Russell's rage at the Americans' methodical approach to slavery

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 SouthHere, Russell is visiting what's supposed to be a well-run plantation in Louisiana.

June 5 - ... Now, in this one quarter there were no less than eighty children, some twelve and some even fourteen years of age. No education, no God, their whole life food and play, to strengthen their muscles and fit them for the work of a slave. And when they die? "Well," said Mr. Seal [the overseer], "they are buried in that field there by their own people, and some of them have a sort of prayers over them, I believe." The overseer, it is certain, had no fastidious notions about slavery; it was to him the right thing in the right place, and his summum bonum was a high price for sugar, a good crop, and a healthy plantation....

There is an hospital on the estate, and even shrewd Mr. Seal did not perceive the conclusion that was to be drawn from his testimony to its excellent arrangements. "Once nigger gets in there, he d like to live there for the rest of his life." But are they not the happiest, most contented people in the world at any rate, when they are in hospital ? declare that to me the more orderly, methodical, and perfect the arrangements for economizing slave labor — regulating slaves — are, the more hateful and odious does slavery become.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

June 4, 1861 - W. H. Russell visits a sugar plantation on the Louisiana coast

June 4 - If an English agriculturist could see six thousand acres of the finest land in one field, unbroken by hedge or boundary, and covered with the most magnificent crops of tasseling Indian
corn and sprouting sugar-cane, as level as a billiard-table, he would surely doubt his senses. But here is literally such a sight six thousand acres, better tilled than the finest patch in all the Lothians, green as Meath pastures, which can be turned up for hundred years to come without requiring manure, of depth practically unlimited, and yielding an average profit on what is sold off it of at least 20 an acre, at the old prices and usual yield of sugar. Rising up in the midst of the verdure are the white lines of the negro cottages and the plantation offices and sugarhouses, which look like large public edifices in the distance. ...

Six thousand acres on this one estate all covered with sugar-cane, and 16,000 acres more of
Indian corn, to feed the slaves ; these were great possessions, but not less than 18,000 acres still remained, covered with brake and forest and swampy, to be reclaimed and turned into gold. As easy to persuade the owner of such wealth that slavery is indefensible as to have convinced the Norman
baron that the Saxon churl who tilled his lands ought to be his equal. ...

The silence which struck me at Governor Roman's is not broken at Mr. Burnside's ; and when the last thrill of the mocking-bird's song has died out through the grove, a stillness of Avernian profundity settles on hut, field, and river.

[Note: These passages are based on notes Russell took June 4, but appear under the date June 3 in his book.]