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.

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