Wednesday, April 18, 2012

April 18, 1862

April 18, 1862: The shelling of Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip, on the lower Mississippi River, continues. Garrison quarters inside and outside of the fort catch fire, and the fort’s wooden citadel also burns out of control. Two Confederate shells have managed to hit two of Porter’s 21 mortar boats, but all are still in operation.

Map showing the location of the Union fleet and the two forts

—A careful game of chess has commenced across Virginia, as Stonewall Jackson and his 6,000 men marckh farther south to Harrisonburg in the Shenandoah Valley, in order to escape the encroaching Union forces which edge closer each day. Gen. Robert E. Lee, Pres. Davis’s military advisor (a de facto Chief of Staff) orders Jackson, Edward Johnson (with 3,000), and Richard Ewell (with 8,000) to keep in touch with one another, in order to respond to the Federals’ moves, as three separate Federal forces maneuver to trap the Rebels.

—Confederate War Department clerk John Beauchamp Jones writes in his diary of Pres. Davis’s imminent conversion to being a "Christian", and the continued influence of Judah P. Benjamin over Davis, feared by many factions in the government:

APRIL 18TH.—The President is thin and haggard ; and it has been whispered on the street that he will immediately be baptized and confirmed. I hope so, because it may place a great gulf between him and the descendant of those who crucified the Saviour. Nevertheless, some of his enemies allege that professions of Christianity have sometimes been the premeditated accompaniments of usurpations. It was so with Cromwell and with Richard III. Who does not remember the scene in Shakspeare, where Richard appears on the balcony, with prayer book in hand and a priest on either side?

—Martial law is declared throughout East Tennessee by the Confederate government, due to the recalcitrance of the Unionist majority there.

—Laura M. Towne, a Northern woman as a volunteer at Union-held Beaufort, South Carolina, offers a slice of life amongst the freed slaves of the Sea Islands:

At Mrs. John Forbes’, formerly Mr. Tripp’s house,— a modern built new building with expensive sea wall and other improvements. The wind blows freshly nearly all day and the tide rises over sandy, grassy flats on three sides of the house. These sands are full of fiddler-crab holes, and are at low tide the resort of negro children with tubs on their heads, crabbing. Soldiers, fishermen, and stragglers also come there, and we see not a little life. Boats frequently pass by, the negro rowers singing their refrains. One very pretty one this morning Moses told me was: —

"De bells done rang
An’ we goin’ home —
The bells in heaven are ringing."

Every now and then they shout and change the monotony by several very quick notes, or three or four long-drawn-out ones. One man sings a few words and the chorus breaks in, sometimes with a shout or interjecttional notes. Another song was, "We’re bound to go" — to heaven, I suppose. Another had a chorus of "Oh yes, ma’am," at every five or six bars.

Yesterday Caroline took us to her mother’s house. They were expecting us and were neatly dressed, and elegantly furnished indeed was their room. It had straw matting and a mahogany bureau, besides other things that said plainly "massa’s" house had contributed to the splendor, probably after the hasty retreat of "massa’s" family. The two women there were both of the colored aristocracy, had lived in the best families, never did any work to speak of, longed for the young ladies and young "mas’rs" back again, because April was the month they used to come to Beaufort and have such gay times. But if their masters were to come back they wanted to go North with us. . . . The walk through the town was so painful, not only from the desertion and desolation, but more than that from the crowd of soldiery lounging, idling, growing desperate for amusement and occupation, till they resort to brutality for excitement. I saw a soldier beating a horse so that I think it possible he killed him. Others galloped past us in a most reckless, unconscionable manner; others stared and looked unfriendly; others gave us a civil military salute and a look as if they saw something from home gladly. . . .

I have felt all along that nothing could excuse me for leaving home, and work undone there, but doing more and better work here. Nothing can make amends to my friends for all the anxiety I shall cause them, for the publicity of a not pleasant kind I shall bring upon them, but really doing here what no one else could do as well. So I have set myself a hard task. . . . I think a rather too cautious spirit prevails — antislavery is to be kept in the background for fear of exciting the animosity of the army, and we are only here by military sufferance. But we have the odium of out-and-out abolitionists, why not take the credit? Why not be so confident and freely daring as to secure respect! It will never be done by an apologetic, insinuating way of going to work.

I wish they would all say out loud quietly, respectfully, firmly, "We have come to do anti-slavery work, and we think it noble work and we mean to do it earnestly."

Instead of this, they do not even tell the slaves that they are free, and they lead them to suppose that if they do not do so and so, they may be returned to their masters. They keep in the background with the army the benevolence of their plans or the justice of them, and merely insist upon the immediate expediency, which I must say is not very apparent. If they do not take the higher ground, their cause and reputation are lost. But the work will go on. May I help it!

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