To give us a moonlight view of the Richmond fortifications, the Judge proposed to start alter sundown; and as it
1864.] Our Visit to Richmond. 375
wanted some hours of that time, we seated ourselves on the ground, and entered into conversation. The treatment of
our prisoners, the status of black troops, and non-combatants, and all the questions which have led to the suspension
of exchanges, had been good-naturedly discussed, when the Captain, looking up from one of the Northern papers we had
brought him, said, —
“Do you know, it mortifies me that you don’t hate us as we hate you? You kill us as Agassiz kills a fly,-because you love us.”
“ Of course we do. The North is being crucified for love of the South.”
“ If you love us so, why don’t you let us go? ” asked the Judge, rather curtly.
“ For that very reason, —— because we love you. If we let you go, with slavery, and your notions of ‘ empire,’ you ’d run straight to barbarism and the Devil.”
“We ’d take the risk of that. But let me tell you, if you are going to Mr. Davis with any such ideas, you might as well turn back at once. He can make peace on no other basis than Independence. Recognition must be the beginning, middle, and ending of all negotiations. Our people will accept peace on no other terms.”
“I think you are wrong there,” said the Colonel. “When I was here a year ago, I met many of your leading men, and they all assured me they wanted peace and reunion, even at the ‘sacrifice of slavery. Within a week, a man you venerate and love has met me at Baltimore, and besought me to come here, and offer Mr. Davis peace on such conditions.”
“ That may be. Some of our old men, who are weak in the knees, may want peace on any terms; but the Southern people will not have it without Independence. Mr. Davis knows them, and you will find he will insist upon that. Concede that, and we ‘ll not quarrel about
“We‘ll not quarrel at all. But it’s sundown, and time we were ‘ on to Richmond.’ ”
“That ‘s the ‘Tribune ‘ cry,” said the Captain, rising; “ and I hurrah for the ‘Tribune,’ for it ’s honest, and—-I want my supper.”
We all laughed, and the Judge ordered the horses. As we were about to start, I said to him, —
“You ‘ve forgotten our parole.”
“Oh, never mind that. We’ll attend to that at Richmond.”
Stepping into his carriage, and unfurling the flag of truce, he then led the way, by a “ short cut,” across the cornfield which divided the mansion from the high-road. We followed in an ambulance
drawn by a pair of mules, our shadow -Mr. Javins -— sitting between us and the twilight, and Jack, a “likely darky,”
almost the sole survivor of his master’s twelve hundred slaves, (“De ress all stole, Massa, ——stole by you Yaukces,”)
occupying the front-seat, and with a stout whip “ working our passage” to Richmond.
Much that was amusing and interesting occurred during our three-hours’ journey, but regard for our word for bids my relating it. Suffice it to say, we saw the “frowning fortifications,” we “thanked” the “invincible army,” and, at ten o’clock that night, planted our flag (against a lamp-post) in the very heart of the hostile city. As we alighted at the doorway of the Spotswood Hotel, the Judge said to the Colonel, —
“ Button your outside-coat up closely. Your uniform must not be seen here.”
The Colonel did as he was bidden; and, without stopping to register our names at the office, we followed the Judge and the Captain up to No. 60. It was a large, square room in the fourth story, with an unswept, ragged carpet, and bare, white walls, smeared with soot and tobacco-juice. Several chairs, a marbletop table, and a pine wash-stand and clothes-press straggled about the floor, and in the corners were three beds, garnished with tattered pillow-cases, and covered with white counterpanes, grown gray with longing for soapsuds and a
376 Our Visit to Richmond. [September
wash-tub. The plainer and humbler of these beds was designed for the burly Mr. Javins; the others had been made, ready for the extraordinary envoys (not envoys extraordinary) who, in defiance
of all precedent and the “law of nations,” had just then “ taken Richmond.”
A single gas-jet was burning over the mantel-piece, and above it I saw a “ writing on the wall” which implied that Jane
Jackson had run up a washing-score of fifty dollars!
I was congratulating myself on not having to pay that woman’s laundry-bills, when the J ridge said, —
“You want supper. What shall we order? ”
“A slice of hot corn-bread would make me the happiest man in Richmond.”
The Captain thereupon left the room, and shortly returning, remarked,
“ The landlord swears you ‘re from Georgia. He says none but a Georgian would call for corn-bread at this time of night.”
On that hint we acted, and when our sooty attendant came in with the supper-things, we discussed Georgia mines, Georgia banks, and Georgia mosquitoes, in a way that showed we had been bitten by all of them. In half an hour it was noised all about the hotel that the two gentlemen the Confederacy was taking such excellent care of were from Georgia.
The meal ended, and a quiet smoke over, our entertainers rose to go. As the Judge bade us good-night, he said to us, —
“ In the morning you had better address a note to Mr. Benjamin, asking the interview with the President. I will call at ten o’clock, and take it to him.”
“Very well. But will Mr. Davis see us on Sunday ‘P ”
“Oh, that will make no difference.”
WHAT WE DID THERE.
THE next morning, after breakfast, which we took in our room with Mr. Javins, we indited a note— of which the following is a. copy —to the Confederate Secretary of State.
“Spotswood House, Richmond, Va.
“July 17th, 1864.
“Hon. J. P. Benjamin,
“Secretary of State, etc.
“DEAR Sm,-—The undersigned respectfully solicit an interview with President Davis. .
“They visit Richmond only as private citizens, and have no official character or authority; but they are acquainted with the views of the United States Government, and with the sentiments of the
Northern people relative to an adjustment of the differences existing between the North and the South, and earnestly hope that a free interchange of views between President Davis and themselves may open the way to such official negotiations as will result in restoring PEACE to the two sections of our distracted
“They, therefore, ask an interview with the President, and awaiting your reply, are
“Truly and respectfully yours.”
This was signed by both of us; and when the Judge called, as he had appointed, we sent it—together with a commendatory letter I had received, on setting out, from a near relative of Mr. Davis—to the Rebel Secretary. In half an hour Judge Ould returned, saying,-—
“Mr. Benjamin sends you his compliments, and will be happy to see you at the State Department.”
We found the Secretary—-a short, plump, oily little man in black, with a keen black eye, a Jew face, a yellow skin, curly black hair, closely trimmed black whiskers, and a ponderous gold watch-chain—in the northwest room of the “United States” Custom-House.
Over the door of this room were the words, “State Department,” and round its walls were hung a few maps and battle-plans. In one corner was a tier of shelves filled with books, — among which
I noticed Headley’s “ History,” Loss-
1864.] Our Visit to Richmond. 377
ing’s “ Pictorial,” Parton’s “ Butler,” Greeley’s “ American Conflict,” a complete set of the “ Rebellion Record,” and a dozen numbers and several bound volumes of the “Atlantic Monthly,” —
and in the center of the apartment was a black-walnut table, covered with green cloth, and filled with a multitude of “state-papers.” At this table sat the Secretary. He rose as we entered, and, as Judge Ould introduced us, took our hands, and said,-—
“I am glad, very glad, to meet you, Gentlemen. I have read your note, and “— bowing to me — “ the open letter you bring from Your errand commands my respect and sympathy. Pray
As we took the proffered seats, the Colonel, drawing off his “duster/’ and displaying his uniform, said, —
“ We thank you for this cordial reception, Mr. Benjamin. We trust you will be as glad to hear us as you are to see
“No doubt I shall be, for you come to talk of peace. Peace is what we all want.”
“ It is, indeed; and for that reason we are here to see Mr. Davis. Can we see him, Sir? ”
“ Do you bring any overtures to him from your Government? ”
“ No, Sir. We bring no overtures and have no authority from our Government. We state that in our note. We would be glad, however, to know what terms will be acceptable to Mr. Davis. If
they at all harmonize with Mr. Lincoln’s views, we will report them to him, and so open the door for official negotiations.”
“Are you acquainted with Mr. Lincoln’s views? ”
“One of us is, fully.”
“Did Mr. Lincoln, in any way, authorize you to come here? ”
“No, Sir. We came with his pass, but not by his request. We say, distinctly, we have no oflicial, or unofficial, authority. We come as men and Christians, not as diplomatists, hoping, in a frank talk with Mr. Davis, to discover some way by which this war may be stopped.”
“Well, Gentlemen, I will repeat what you say to the President, and if he follows my advice,— and I think he will, he will meet you. He will be at church this afternoon; so, suppose you call here at nine this evening. If anything should occur in the mean time to prevent his seeing you, I will let you know through Judge Ould.”
Throughout this interview the manner of the Secretary was cordial; but with this cordiality was a strange constraint and diffidence, almost amounting to timidity, which struck both my companion and myself. Contrasting his manner with the quiet dignity of the Colonel, I almost fancied our positions reversed, — that, instead of our being in his power, the Secretary was in ours, and momently expecting to hear some unwelcome sentence
from our lips. There is something, after all, in moral power. Mr. Benjamin does not possess it, nor is he a great man. He has a keen, shrewd, ready intellect, but not the stamina to originate, or even to execute, any great good or great wicked
After a day spent in our room, conversing with the Judge, or watching the passers-by in the street,—I should like to tell who they were and how they looked, but such information is just now
contraband, —- we called again, at nine o’clock, at the State Department.
Mr. Benjamin occupied his previous seat at the table, and at his right sat a spare, thin-featured man, with iron-gray hair and beard, and a clear, gray eye full of life and vigor. He bad a broad, massive forehead, and a mouth and chin denoting great energy and strength of will. His face was emaciated, and much wrinkled, but his features were good, especially his eyes,—though one of them bore a scar, apparently made by some sharp instrument. He wore a suit of grayish-brown, evidently of foreign manufacture, and, as he rose, I saw that he
vo1.. XIV. 25
was about five feet ten inches high, with a slight stoop in the shoulders. His man»
378 Our Visit to Richmond. [September,
ners were simple, easy, and quite fascinating; and he threw an indescribable charm into his voice, as he extended his hand, and said to us, —
“I am glad to see you, Gentlemen. You are very welcome to Richmond.”