Monday, July 1, 2013

7/1/2013 Tennessee Civil War Notes

1, Memphis Vigilance Committee

Interesting from Cairo.

Our Cairo Correspondence.

Cairo, June 20, 1861.

Statement of a Unionist Who Was Arrested and Imprisoned in Memphis-The Hatred of the North at Memphis-Outrages Committed on Unionists-Arrest, Examination and Imprisonment of a Virginian-His treatment in Prison-The Remarks of a Chivalry Judge- as It is at Home-Escape from Jail and Journey to Cairo-Consternation of the Rebel General, &c.

There is no other section of the South in which a majority of the people entertain feelings of such bitter hostility to the North as in Memphis, Tenn. This has been manifested in innumerable instances, and has breathed forth in the countless outrages and indignities that have been heaped upon those known or supposed to be from the North. Many of these have found their way into the journals of the land, and served to stir still deeper the indignation and arouse the vengeance of the true men of the nation. To record each instance of outrage and abuse received at the hands of the Memphians by Northern men would fill the largest of our dailies, and hence only the most flagrant have met the eye of the general public. One such is the one I am about to record.

On the 26th day of March last, a young man, a native of Virginia and for many years a resident of Washington and Baltimore, the son of one of the most eminent clergymen in the country, arrived in Memphis The day is memorable as having been the one upon which the military of the city received a body of Mississippi troops en route for Pensacola, to reinforce the rebels at that point. Being but a few days subsequent to the vote for a Convention, when Memphis gave a majority of seven hundred against that proposition , it occasioned some surprise that in a  city and State still in the Union by their own election, a body of men with a vowed intention of fighting against the Stars and Stripes should be received with military honors, the flag of the Union furled, and emblem of treason alone floating in the breeze. Being the first time the flag of the so-called "Confederate States" had been seen by the young man, and all his feelings being enlisted on behalf of the government, he naturally became indignant at the honorable reception accorded to traitors in a city enjoying the protection and blessings of the Union-an indignation which was not lessened by the vaporings of the imported traitors. Under such feeling he returned to the hotel , and addressed a letter, giving an account of the whole thing, to the New York Tribune, and signed it "A Virginian."

In a few weeks the letter was copied into the Memphis Avalanche, under the heading "A Traitor Among Us-Who is He?" denouncing the author in unmeasured terms, and threatening him with the most condign punishment if discovered.[1] Upon the appearance of the letter in the Avalanche, the young man, whose sentiments were known to in favor of the Union, was charged by some South Carolinians at the house with being its author. Unable, however, to get an admission from this fact from him, and being firmly of the opinion that he was the author of it, they indulged in all manner of abuses of Virginia and Virginians, General Scott particularly, with a view of involving him an a personal difficulty, which succeeded only so far s to compel him to knock one of the chivalry down. It was soon evident they did not intend to let he matter rest here, and, lacking the manhood to resent it personally, they had resort to a most convenient intuition for gratification of their enmity as the "Vigilance Committee." Their aid was invoked, and the intimation that an abolitionist was the offender was suffient to arouise all their vigilance, and impress upon them the enormity of the offence committed. The safety of the community demanded his immediate arrest. The behests of justice required his speedy execution as a warning to all others who dared express an honest opinion in opposition to the sentiment of the good people of Memphis. There was no security as long as such a dangerous and suspicious character was at large. Incalculable evils would follow in the train of his movements. Hence he must be deprived of his liberty, and the limits prescribed beyond which he could not go.

This was a matter about which there was but little difficulty, as all law had long since been trampled under foot and the city had give n up to this miscalled "Safety Committee."

Accordingly, at eleven o'clock P. M., April 25, a body of men, composed in part of police and members of the "Vigilance," waited upon him and requested to examine his effects. No objection was offered, and a minute examination was entered into. Everything was overhauled-beds, chimneys, trunks, carpets, his person-all were subjected to the strictest investigation, but noting was brought to light-nothing "contraband was found. Then came the questioning:-"Where are you from?" "When did you reach Memphis?" "What route did you come?"  "Who do you know here?" "Where did your propose going from this point?" "Who are your correspondents?" and a thousand others. But the one most pertinaciously asked was, "Are you not a correspondent of the Tribune?" To all these questions straightforward replies were given, but to no purpose. "We  believe you to be a damned abolitionist," was the very complimentary opinion which he was informed these gentlemen entertained of him. "You ought to be hung to the first lamppost," was the unanimous conclusion to which they had arrived; "and damn you!" said one, "we will hang you in the morning," was the consoling remark as they left, after locking him up in the station house.

In the morning an examination, as they call it, was held before the committee, in solemn conclave, one feature of which was, that the witnesses of accusers went before the committee, while he was kept in an adjourning room, and only admitted to hear the conclusions to which they had come, "in view of all the facts." Notwithstanding, however, this conclusion had been already reached they indulged in promises and threats to extort from him an acknowledgment that he was a correspondent of the Tribune-inn one breath informing him that his doing so would save his neck and a refusal be followed by hanging, and in another threatening, if convinced of his being  guilty of this great crime, to hang him at once. Not having the least excuse for proceeding to such extremities (and they require the very slightest), they concluded to retain him until satisfied as to his object in visiting the South, although they pretended to be perfectly satisfied that it was to play the spy upon the Southern army.

He was accordingly thrown into prison. And such a prison. In all civilized countries the criminals confined for the highest crimes known to the law are treated with some degree of humanity. But in Memphis the mere suspicion of being a Northern man, of entertaining a feeling of regard for the Union, is sufficient to deprive him of all claim to the sympathy of that people and doom him to a fate as horrible as the mind of man can conceive of. He is thrown into a dark, damp, loathsome dungeon, abounding in filth, filled with vermin, destitute of every necessary convenience, and almost deprived of light. The poisonous atmosphere they inhale comes thought an aperture, eighteen by twenty inches, in an outside door, and the stench arising from the accumulated filth of years is itself sufficient to shorten the life of the most robust. Here they must remain, with a small allowance of corn bread and the smallest quantity of water for their daily sustenance. When to this is added the heat, with the thermometer at 90 degrees, the horrors of and imprisonment for the   crime of being a lover of the Union, in Memphis, may be imagined, but not described.

The miseries of his imprisonment were not lessened by the daily accessions made to the numbers already there-all committed upon equally frivolous  pretences.

About one week after his confinement the Recorder of the city, I. M. Dickenson, sent for him, for the purpose, as he stated, "of expressing his profound regret that it was not in his power to hang him." And from his seat in open court he denounced him as "a damned abolitionist, who should not be allowed to live an hour. Had I the power, "said the learned jurist, "I would cut your ears off and nail you to the doors of my court room, and probably I shall have this pleasure yet." This is a man who has just bee3n elected Justice of the Fifth civil district of Memphis, one of the most important offices in the city.

He describes some of the outrages inflicted on Unionists in the following words:-

These indignities  were of daily occurrence and to some they went further, and indulged every species of cruelty-shaving the heads and whipping being regarded as slight punishment by any one who desired to remove North. Nor is this all. In more than fifty instances during my confinement men were taken before the Vigilance Committee, and no one knows what became of them. They never came from that building alive and there are  now more than that number confined there of whom their friends will ever know hear again. Their acts are all secret, and there is no concern felt for men charged with being tinctured with abolitionism; so that no one cares' and thus go on in their wholesale murdering with impunity. Will a day of reckoning ever come?

To show how completely the publics sentiment countenances and justifies these outrages, I need only cite an instance in which a woman called at the jail to see the show, and remarked that I "ought to be hung." "For what?" said I. "For coming here to raise our niggers to murder us all," was the reply. "Should a man be hung upon the mere suspicion that such is the object here?" said I. "Oh," said she, "if you were not guilty you would not be here." "But," said I, "no charge of this kind has been made against." "Well," she remarked, "you are an abolitionist, and that's just as bad." And another said she "would like to see the rope around my neck," a most amiable young lady, whom I recommend to some of the young rebels. Her name is Miss Lucy J. Graves.

In such pleasant pastimes as these I passed nearly two month, each day expecting to be hung, whenever an occasion arrived on which the hanging of an abolitionist would lend additional attraction to the festivities.[2]

It would be impossible to recount the enormities witnessed by me in the God-forsaken city, perpetrated by men in the decline of life, of milled age, in early manhood and youth, in many instances receiving the countenance of women.[3] They have all schooled themselves to believe that no crime, no cruelty, is too enormous to be perpetrated upon a man having Northern proclivities. The bloodhound avidity  with which they are sought after, and the certainty with which they are convicted and punished, attest the feeling of bitter and relentless hatred with which  they regard people of the North. Men in high social position will eagerly seize the "knout"[4]-for it is nothing less-and lay open the backs of unoffending citizens, against whom suspicion has been directed. And those professing to be Christian will give their voice against  unfortunates who are before them, for the crime of loving their and seeking to reach it.

On the 5th of June I made my escape from jail in a manner which it would be impolite to state, and, after remaining concealed until the morning of the 11th, left the city by way of the Charleston Railroad. But I was not yet safe. A long line of Southern "sacred soil" had to be traveled, and large bodies of rebel troops passed, many of whom knew me by sight. On the train with me were four or five generals of the rebel army, and two or three hundred soldiers. I seated myself in the midst of the generals, considering this the safest place, and in such proximity reached Grand Junction. Little did one of the imagine that the "damned abolitionists," whom he was so bitterly denouncing was seated beside him, and information he was communicating respecting the forces under his command was to one who would soon be in the presence of Generals McClelland and Prentiss. But so it was. I passed through Germantown, the largest encampment in Tennessee, Jackson, a small one, and Union City, which latter I inspected closely.

Between the latter point and Columbus, Kentucky, and about ten miles from the latter town, our train was suddenly stopped by the intelligence that a large body of Union troops were at Columbus, with ten pieces of artillery. A general consternation followed among the rebels, some forty of whose officers were on board, among them a quartermaster, with considerable money. It was amusing to see the effect produced by this intelligence upon these fire eaters. A moment since they evidently desired to see the "Northern Vandals," and were satisfied that "we  could whip a thousand, and two put ten thousand to fight." "their backs should never be turned upon the invading foe," and many threats were made of the bold and daring deeds they were going to perform to the presence of the Yankees. But, lo! When the sight upon which  they so much desired to feast their eyes could be indulged in by a few miles of further travel, they were induced in a few miles of further travel, they were suddenly reminded of their conspicuous uniforms, and the greater probability that pressing invitation would be extended them individually and collectively to spend  the fall and winter North. The remembrance of past outrages towards those who dared avow a love of country came up to  admonish them of a terrible retribution that would be visited upon them, as it was evident that for once they realized the enormity of their offence and the certainty of their punishment. The conductor was ordred back with his train, and all who desired to prosecute their journey were put out, bag and baggage, and compelled to walk to Columbus, leaving their effects upon the roadside. Not being troubled with a superabundance of "plunder" myself, I started off with my friend, who was, like myself, fleeing from injustice and wrong, in the hope of soon seeing the Stars and Stripes, and beneath its folds stout hearts and strong arms, ready and willing to protect us from the Southern barbarism.

With what alacrity I walked that ten miles may be imagined; and, though I dared not give expression to the exultant feelings which swelled within me, I could feel oblivious to fatigue, and my eye scanned most eagerly and anxiously the country before me, in the hope of catching a glimpse of the proud ensign of the republic. But I was doomed to disappointment. An old lady, God bless her! At whose house I stopped for a glass of water, informed me that the troops had retuned to Cairo, after carrying with them a secession rag. She was strong for the Union, and declared her opinion to be, that United States troops had a right to march upon any soil, when United States citizens needed protection, though that should be the "sacred soil of Kentucky."

She warned me to say nothing in Columbus that could attach suspicion to me as a Northern man, as "they have no regard there for men or women, but would hang me in a moment if they discovered that I was an abolitionist." Of course, her idea was followed, and "mum was the word" On the next morning, Friday, the 14th, we procured a skiff, rowed to the Missouri side, an walked the twenty miles from Columbus to Bird's Point, the first station of our troops, still afraid to speak, lest the prize we had been striving to attain should be snatched from our grasp even as we were about to clutch it. But if danger surrounded us we avoided it, and at six o'clock P. M. came in sight of our glorious flag.

To describe the feelings which took possession of us, as we felt assured that our "wanderings were o'er" and we were of a truth beneath the protection of the stars and Stripes is beyond the power of mortal man. Though worn out by long walking, hunger, loss of sleep and constant fear, we felt relieved of all, and ran until we were safe within the lines of our troops.

Here we were at last safe, in a land where we could not only feel, but express our deep devotion to the country, rejoice in her successes, and exult in the certainly that treason would be suppressed. Strong hands were outstretched in cordial welcome, and kind hearts once supplied our every want, and from all the terrors of the past we could turn to the stalwart soldiers around us, and feel how perfect was the security of the present. All were kind, but in our hearts there will ever live the embrace of the kindness and attention of Lieut. Warren, of Company I, Fourth regiment Missouri Volunteers. May Gold bless him, and the powers that be at Washington be brought to a proper appreciation of this gallant and accomplished officer. From the officer of the day, at Bird's Point, we procured a pass to Cairo, and we were soon within the lines of Camp Defiance.

Here was the same cordial reception was extended us, each one of whom we came into contact is a most vieing with the other as to who should show s most attention.

A statement of what I had learned in regard to Southern military affairs was communicated to Generals McClleand and Prentis, and under the guidance of Mr. Ferrer, Chaplain of the Ninth Illinois Volunteers, we were seen at home in the St. Charles, and amid the enjoyments of the present almost forgot the dangers and privations of the past. We resigned ourselves to sleep, breathing a prayer of grateful thanks to God for having protected us amid so many perils and dangers, bring us safely from the land of Southern intolerance and liberty.

Looking back upon all I have suffered, and the cause of it, I cannot but ask, how long will our government allow such scenes to be enacted in Memphis, such enormities to be perpetrated, such outrages to be committed with impunity? Will it never extend the aegis of the protection over those yet in that benighted city who are compelled by the force of circumstances to remain, and in whose hearts there still rests love for the Union?

New York Herald, July 1, 1861. [5]

[1] Neither the letter to the Tribune or the Avalanche editorial referred are known to be extant.

[2] Reminiscent of the "festivities" of the guillotine in the French Revolution, or feeding the Christians to the lions.

[3] Madame La Farge.

[4] A whip with a lash of leather thongs twisted with wire; used for flogging prisoners


James B. Jones, Jr.

Public Historian

Tennessee Historical Commission

2941 Lebanon Road

Nashville, TN  37214

(615)-532-1550  x115

(615)-532-1549  FAX


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