Sunday, September 19, 2010

April 19, 1861 - Blue Jackets, the Committee of Public Safety and forced enlistment of a New York Yankee in the army of the Provisional Government of Tennessee in Memphis

As the St. Francis touched the wharf o­n the morning of the 19th of April, I stepped upon the landing; meaning to look over the state of things in the city, and see if I could get out of it in the direction of the Nashville, where I had friends, who, I thought, would aid me homeward.
But I had not left the wharf, when a "blue jacket," the sobriquet of the military policeman that then guarded the city, stepped up and said, "I see you are a stranger." "Yes, sir." "I have some business with you. You will please walk with me, sir." To my expression of astonishment, which was real, he replied, "You answer the description very well, sir. The Committee of Public Safety wish to see you, come along." As it was useless to parley, I walked with him, and was soon ushered into the presence of that body, a much more intelligent and no less intensely Southern organization, than I had found in the grocery of Jeffersonville [Arkansas].
They questioned me as to my home, political opinions, and destination, and received such answers as I thought it wise to give. Whereupon they confronted me, to my amazement, with a member of the Vigilance Committee which had tried me at Jeffersonville, o­ne hundred and twenty miles distant, thirty hours before. I was amazed, because I did not imagine that any o­ne of their number would have reached Memphis before me. He had ridden after me the night of my escape [from Jeffersonville], and when I stopped for breakfast, he had passed o­n to Helena, and taking an earlier up-river boat, had reached Memphis some hours in advance of the St. Francis; long enough before me to post the Committee of Public Safety as to my person and story when before the committee. Even with this swift witness against me, they were unable to establish any crime, and after consultation they told me I could retire. I was immediately followed by the policeman, who handed me a letter written by the chairman, suggesting that I would do well to go directly to a certain recruiting office, where young me were enlisting under the Provisional Government of Tennessee, and where I would find it to my interest to volunteer, adding, substantially, as follows: "Several members of the committee think if you do not see fit to follow this advice, you will probably stretch hemp instead of leaving Memphis; as they can not be responsible for the acts of an infuriate mob, who may hear that you came from the North." I was allowed no time for reflection, as the policeman stood waiting, he said, "to show me the way." I now saw at a glance, that the military power in the city had resoled to compel me to volunteer, and in my friendlessness I could think of no way to escape the cruel and dread necessity.
Still the hope remained that perhaps I might make a partial promise, and ask time, and yet elude the vigilance of the authorities. As the M. P. grew impatient, and at length imperious, showing me that he well knew that he had me in his power. I walked o­n to avoid the crowd, which was beginning to gather, and soon reached the recruiting station. I saw, the moment I was inside, that the o­nly door was guarded by bayonets, crossed in the hands of determined men. The Blue Jacket, in a private conversation with the recruiting officer, soon gave him my status; when turning to me, the officer said, with the air of a man who expects to carry his point, "Well young man, I learn you have come to volunteer; glad to see you-good company," &c.
To which I replied, "I was advised to call and look at the matter, and will take some time to consider, if you please."
"No need of time, sir-no time to be lost; here is the roll-enter your name, put o­n the uniform, and then you can passout," with a glance of his eye at the policeman and the crossed bayonets, which meant plainly enough," You do not go out before."
To my suggestion that I had a horse o­n the boat [the St. Francis] which I must see about, he replied very promptly, "That could all be done when this business was through."
The meshes of their cursed net were around me, and there was no release; and with as good a grace as I could assume, I wrote my name and thus I volunteered!
* * * *
Stevenson, Thirteen Months in the Rebel Army, pp. 31-33.


Anonymous said...


Can I link to this post please?

Boyd Jones said...