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My Imprisonment and The First Year Of Abolition Rule At Washington by Rose O'Neal Greenhow

My Imprisonment and The First Year Of Abolition Rule At Washington 
Rose O'Neal Greenhow

Chapter II
On To Richmond


On Friday, August 23rd, in Washington City—the metropolis of this once free and. happy land, the proud boast of which was that life, liberty, and property were protected by the law—I was made a prisoner in my own house, and subjected to an ordeal which must have been copied from the days of the Directory in France.

My blood boils when I think of it. But, for the benefit of all who may feel an interest in the subject, I will give a circumstantial account of an act which should shed renown upon the distinguished authors of it.

It is necessary for my purpose to make a brief resume of the incidents of the few months preceding. I might even go back to the advent of the Scotch cap and cloak, but will content myself with an event quite as remarkable in the reign of the Abolition 'Irrepressible conflict chief,' whose shadow now darkens the chair of Washington. 

As the allusion to the 'Scotch cap and cloak' may not be generally understood, I deem it advisable to furnish information on that head, as a means of explaining the modus operandi by which the Abolition leader entered the national Capitol. 

He had been elected President by a strictly sectional majority, not having received one vote in the States south of Mason and Dixon's line—the great geographical line dividing North and South—arriving thereby at the very point in our political destiny which Washington, in his ' farewell address,' had foreshadowed as a cause for the dissolution of the Union.

During the heated sectional contest which resulted in the election of Mr. Lincoln by the Abolition party, they openly proclaimed 'the higher law doctrine,' and announced their determination, regardless of constitutional guarantees, to deprive the South of her sovereign equal rights, and to reduce her to a state of vassalage; for a feeling of bitter jealousy had been festering and strengthening in the Northern mind against her, on account of the superior statesmanship and intellect, which had always given her preeminence in the councils of the nation, and in the legislative assemblies.

In order to carry into effect this hostile determination to destroy the political importance of the South, they had seized upon what they conceived to be the vulnerable point in our domestic institution —well knowing that they could enlist the fanatical aid and sympathy of those who were ignorant, save theoretically, of that institution, and of the benign and paternal manner in which it was conducted in the South; having in view no object themselves of ameliorating; the condition of the servile class, but to exterminate or drive them out, in order that their own pauper population might secure to themselves the superior advantages which were everywhere in the South monopolised by the slave population.

Denunciations were levelled against us by the poorer classes of the North as 'a pampered aristocracy,' for the reason they gave 'that a poor white man at the South ivas not as good as a negro.' And the negroes, I must confess, always arrogated to themselves this social superiority, for the bitterest insult they could offer each other was, 'You are no better than a poor white Yankee!'

The Abolition party were not, however, prepared for the firm and dignified bearing of the South, at the result of an election strictly sectional and avowedly subversive of the Constitution; and they believed, according to their own established precedent, that mob law would take the matter in hand, and summarily dispose of the candidate elect, or prevent his inauguration.

Excited and absurd discussions and plans were made at Washington and other places as to the means by which he should reach the capital. Lincoln had, however, formed a plan of his own, and, having far more reticence than had been ascribed to him by his partisans, executed it whilst these discussions were going on, and suddenly appeared at Washington, at six o'clock in the morning, under the disguise of a 'Scotch cap and cloak,' announcing himself with characteristic phraseology in the apartments of his sleeping Committee of Safety at Willard's Hotel with—'Hillo! Just look at me! By jingo, my own clad would'nt know me!'

On the morning of the 16th of July, the Government papers at Washington announced that the 'grand army' was in motion, and I learned from a reliable source (having received a copy of the order to M'Dowell) that the order for a forward movement had gone forth. If earth did not tremble, surely there was great commotion amongst that class of the genus homo yclept military men. Officers and orderlies on horse were seen flying from place to place; the tramp of armed men was heard on every side—martial music filled the air; in short, a mighty host was marshalling, with all the 'pomp and circumstance of glorious war.' 'On to Richmond!' was the war-cry. The heroes girded on their armour with the enthusiasm of the Crusaders of old, and vowed to flesh their maiden swords in the blood of Beauregard or Lee. And many a knight, inspired by beauty's smiles, swore to lay at the feet of her he loved best the head of Jeff. Davis at least.

Nothing, nothing was wanting to render the gorgeous pageant imposing. So, with drums beating and flying colours, and amidst the shower of flowers thrown by the hands of Yankee maidens, the grand army moved on to the land of Washington, of Jefferson, of Madison, and Monroe; whilst the heartstricken Southerners who remained, did not tear her hair and rend their garments, but prayed on ;heir knees that the God of Battles would award the victory to the just cause.

In fear and trembling they awaited the result hoping, yet fearing to hope. Time seemed to move on leaden wings. Imagination sounded in their ears the booming cannon, and many a time their hearts died within them at the sickening delay. Few had the hope which filled my own soul, or shared in its exultant certainty of the result. At twelve o clock on the morning of the 16th of July, I despatched a messenger to Manassas, who arrived there at eight o clock that night. The answer received by me at mid-day on the 17th will tell the purport of my communication Yours was received at eight o clock at night. Let them come: we are ready for them. We rely upon you for precise information. Be particular as to description and destination of forces, quantity of artillery, &c. (Signed) THOS. JORDON, Adjt.-Gen. On the 17th I despatched another missive to Manassas, for I had learned of the intention of the enemy to cut the Winchester railroad, so as to intercept Johnson, and prevent his reinforcing Beauregard, who had comparatively but a small force under his command at Manassas.

On the night of the 18th, news of a great victory by the Federal troops at Bull Eun reached Washington. Throughout the length and breadth of the city it was cried. I heard it in New York on Saturday, 20th, where I had gone for the purpose of embarking a member of my family for California, on the steamer of the 22nd. The accounts were received with frantic rejoicings, and bets were freely taken in support of Mr. Seward s wise saws that the rebellion would be crushed out in thirty days. My heart told me that the triumph was premature. Yet, my God! how miserable I was for the fate of my beloved country, which hung trembling in the balance!

My presentiments were more than justified by the result. On Sunday (21st) the great battle of Manassas was fought, memorable in history as that of Culloden or Waterloo, which ended in the total defeat and rout of the entire Grand Army.

In the world s history such a sight was never witnessed: statesmen, senators, Congress-men, generals, and officers of every grade, soldiers, teamsters all rushing in frantic flight, as if pursued by countless demons. For miles the country was thick with ambulances, accoutrements of war, &c. The actual scene beggars all description; so I must in despair relinquish the effort to portray it.

The news of the disastrous rout of the Yankee army was cried through the streets of New York on the 22nd. The whole city seemed paralysed by fear, and I verily believe that a thousand men could have marched from the Central Park to the Battery with out resistance, for their depression now was commensurate with the wild exultation of a few days before.

On the afternoon of that day I left New York for Washington, where I arrived at six o clock in the morning of the 23rd, in a most impatient mood. Even at that early hour friends were awaiting my arrival, anxious to recount the particulars of the glorious victory. A dispatch was also received from Manassas by me Our President and OUT General direct me to thank you. We rely upon you for further information. The Confederacy owes you a debt. (Signed) JORDON, Adjutant-General. My first impulse was to throw myself upon my knees and offer up my tearful thanks to the Father of Mercy for his signal protection in our hour of peril.

During my journey from New York the craven fear of the Yankees was manifested everywhere. At Philadelphia most of the women got off. I was advised to do so by Lieutenant Wise, of U. S. A. (son-in-law of Edward Everitt), as he said, It was believed that the rebels of Baltimore would rise, in consequence of the rout of the Federal army. I laughingly replied, I have no fears; these rebels are of my faith. Besides, I fear, even now, I shall not be in time to welcome our President, Mr. Davis, and the glorious Beauregard. He sneeringly replied, that I should probably see those gentlemen there in irons. I received a scowl also from Mr. Winter Davis, who was a passenger from New York, and had been loud mouthed and denunciatory against the South during the journey. I observed, however, that he and Lieutenant Wise got off at Philadelphia, deeming ‘discretion the better part of valour.’

A large force was distributed throughout Baltimore, and it was even difficult to thread one s way to the train on account of the military, who crowded the streets and the depot. Thence to Washington seemed as one vast camp, and on reaching the Capitol, the very carriage-way was blocked up by its panic-stricken defenders, who started at the clank of their own muskets. After a hurried toilette and breakfast I went up to the U. S. Senate, where I saw the crest-fallen leaders who, but a few days before, had vowed death and damnation to our race. Several crowded round me, and I could not help saying that, if they had not ‘good blood,’ they had certainly ‘good bottom,’ for they ran remarkably well.

For days after the wildest disorder reigned in the Capitol. The streets were filled with straggling soldiers, each telling the doleful tale, and each indulging in imaginary feats of valour, which would throw into the shade the achievements of Coeur de Lion, Amadis de Gaul, or Jack the Giantkiller.

Even senators entered into this scramble for stray laurels, for several assured me (Wilson and Chandler) that it was their individual exertions alone which had prevented the entire Grand Army from precipitating itself pell-mell into the Potomac; and they were really indebted to the discretion of a subordinate officer, that the alternative had not been forced upon them. A telegraphic order had been sent to Washington by General M Dowell, to cut the draw of the Long Bridge, as Beauregard and Johnson were hotly pursuing him with fresh troops. This bridge spanned the Potomac just opposite Washington, and was the only means of crossing the river at that point.

Crimination, and recrimination, now became the order of the day, and everybody shrank from the responsibility of the forward movement. The commanding General, Scott, said, I did’nt do it, for I was not ready. The Political Directory said, We didn’t do it it was that old dotard Scott, whom we will remove. President Lincoln said, I did’nt do it by jingo, I did’nt! And so, in the end, the world was about as well informed as to who ordered the advance of the Grand Army as who killed Cock Kobin.

About this time I met Mr. Seward, who assured me that there was nothing serious the matter; that I might assure my friends, upon his authority, that all would be over in sixty days. I answered him, Well, sir, you have enjoyed the first-fruits of the ‘irrepressible conflict.’

Seward had, a short time prior to his visit to England, in a speech delivered by him at Rochester, New York, as a bid for the nomination as President by the Republican party, made use of that remarkable expression of the irrepressible conflict between the white and black races, indicating, even at that early day, the policy to which he would commit himself in order to attain the object of his ambition the Executive chair. At a later period, he endeavoured to explain this away, and in conversation with me said, If heaven would forgive him for stringing together two high-sounding words, he would never do it again.

By-and-by things began to quiet down. The hirelings of the Government press exercised their ingenuity in mystifying the people. The countless hosts of the enemy were described (these, be it known, at no time exceeded twelve thousand actually engaged against the more than quadruple force of the invading army); their masked batteries and military defences threw into the shade the plains of Abraham, or even the fortifications of Sebastopol.

It would be idle to recount the gasconade of those who fled from imaginary foes, or to describe the forlorn condition of the returning heroes, who had gone forth to battle flushed with anticipated triumph and crowned in advance with the laurel of victory. Alas! their plight was pitiable enough. Some were described as being minus hat or shoes. Amongst this latter class was Colonel Burnside, who on the morning that he sallied forth for the sacred soil, is said to have required two orderlies to carry the flowers showered upon him by the women of Northern proclivities.

Meanwhile the muttered sound of the people’s voice was heard from far and near asking meaning questions of the why and wherefore of the disasters. It was like the rumbling of the distant thunder presaging the coming storm; and well the Abolition Government knew that, if this discontent was allowed to gather strength, it would hurl them from their present lawless eminence to the ignominy they merited.

The invaders had been taught to believe that a bloodless victory awaited them that the All hail! of the witches of Macbeth would greet them: and so possessed were they with the idea of their philanthropic mission as liberators of an oppressed people, bowed under the yoke of a haughty aristocracy, that many of their officers, particularly the famous New York 7th regiment, took far more pains to prepare white gloves and embroidered vests for the balls to be given in their honour at Richmond than in securing cartridges for their muskets. When consulted on the subject I said, No doubt they would receive a great many balls, but I did not think that a very recherche toilet would be expected.

The fanatical feeling was now at its height. Maddened by defeat, they sought a safe means of venting their pent-up wrath. The streets were filled with armed and unarmed ruffians; women were afraid to go singly into the streets for fear of insult; curses and blasphemy rent the air, and no one would have been surprised at any hour at a general massacre of the peaceful inhabitants. This apprehension was shared even by the better class of U. S. officers. I was urged to leave the city by more than one, and an escort offered to be furnished me if I desired; but, at whatever peril, I resolved to remain, conscious of the great service I could render my country, my position giving me remark able facilities for obtaining information. 

In anticipation of more fearful scenes, the inhabitants were leaving the city as rapidly as the means of transportation or conveyance could be obtained, and many even of the Federal officers sent their families to the North or other places of fancied security.

Rose O'Neal Greenhow, My Imprisonment and The First Year Of Abolition Rule At Washington (London: Richard Bentley, Publisher in Ordinary to Her Majesty, 1863), 11-24.


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