Friday, June 17, 2011

June 17 - Tennessee Civil War Notes

 June 17, 1861, A British war correspondent's remarks on Memphis, Gideon J. Pillow and the Southern army

It was 1:40 P. M. when the train arrived at Memphis. I was speedily on my watt to the Gayoso House, so called after an old Spanish ruler of the district, which is situated in the street on the bluff, which runs parallel with the course of the Mississippi. This resuscitated Egyptian city is a place of importance, and extends for several miles along the high bank of the river, though it does not run very far back.

The streets are the same at right angles to the principal thoroughfares, which are parallel to the stream; and I by no means expected to see the lofty stores, warehouses, rows of shops, and handsome buildings on the broad esplanade along the river, and the extent and size of the edifices public and private in this city, which is one of the developments of trade and commerce created by the Mississippi. Memphis contains nearly 30,000 inhabitants, but many of them are foreigners, and there is a nomad draft into and out of the place, which abounds in haunts for Bohemians, drinking and dancing saloons, and gaming-rooms. And this strange kaleidoscope [sic] of Negroes and whites of the extremes of civilization in its American development, and of the semi-savage degraded by his contact with the white; of enormous steamers on the river, which bears equally the dug-out or canoe of the black fisherman; the rail, penetrating the inmost recesses of swamps, which on either side of it remain no doubt in the same state as they were centuries ago; the roll of heavily-laden wagons through the streets; the rattle of omnibuses and all the phenomena of active commercial life before our eyes, included in the same scope of vision which takes in at the other side of the Mississippi lands scarcely yet settled, though the march of empire has gone thousands of miles beyond them, amuses but perplexes the traveler in this new land.

The evening was so exceedingly warm that I was glad to remain within the walls of my darkened bedroom. All the six hundred and odd guests whom the Gayoso House is said to accommodate were apparently in the passage at one time. At present it is the headquarters of General Gideon J. Pillow, who is charged with the defenses [sic] of the Tennessee side of the river, and commands a considerable body of troops around the city and in the works above. The house is consequently filled with men in uniform, belonging to the General's staff or the various regiments of Tennessee troops.

* * * *

On hearing of my arrival, General Pillow sent his aid-de-camp to inform me that he was about starting in a steamer up the river, to make an inspection of the works and garrison at Fort Randolph and at other points where batteries had been erected to command the stream, supported by large levies of Tennesseans. The aide-de-camp conducted me to the General, whom I found in his bedroom, fitted up as an office, littered with plans and papers. Before the Mexican War General Pillow as a flourishing solicitor, connected n business with President Polk, and commanding so much influence that when the expedition was formed he received the nomination of brigadier-general of volunteers. He served with distinction and was severely wounded at the battle of Chapultepec and at the conclusion of the campaign he retired into civil life, and was engaged directing the work of his plantation till this great rebellion summoned him once more to the field.

Of course there is, and must be, always an inclination to deride these volunteer officers on the part of regular soldiers; and I was informed by one of the officers in attendance on the General that he made himself ludicrously celebrated in Mexico for having undertaken to throw up a battery which, when completed, was found to face the wrong way, so that the guns were exposed to the enemy. General Pillow is a small, compact, clear-complexioned man, with short gray whiskers, cut in the English fashion, a quick eye and a pompous manner of speech; and I had not been long in his company before I heard of Chapultepec and his wound, which causes him to limp a little in his walk, and gives him inconvenience in the saddle. He wore a round black hat, plain blue frock-coat, dark trousers, and brass spurs on his boots, but no sign of military rank. The General ordered carriages to the door, and we went to see the batteries on the bluff or front of the esplanade, which are intended to check any ship attempting to pass down the river from Cairo, where the Federal under General Parentis have entrenched themselves, and are understood to mediate an expedition against the city. A parapet of cotton bales, covered with tarpaulin, has been erected close to the edge of the bank of earth, which rises to heights varying from 60 to 150 feet almost perpendicularly from the waters of the Mississippi, with zigzag roads running down through it to the landing-places. This parapet could offer no cover against vertical fire, and is so placed that well-directed shell into the bank below it would tumble it all into the water. The zigzag roads are barricaded with weak planks, which would be shivered to pieced by boat-guns; and the assaulting parties would easily mount through these covered ways to the rear of the parapet, and up to the very center of the esplanade.

The blockade of the river at this point is complete; not a boat is permitted to pas either up or down. At the extremity of the esplanade, on an angle of the bank, an earthen battery, mounted with six heavy guns has been thrown up, which has a fine command of the river; and the General informed me he intends to mount sixteen guns in addition, on a prolongation of the face of the same work.

The inspection over, we drove down a steep road to the water beneath, where the Ingomar, a large river steamer, now chartered for the service of the State of Tennessee, was lying to receive us. The vessel was crowded with troops – all volunteers, of course – about to join those in camp. Great as were their numbers, the proportion of the officers was inordinately large, and the rank of the grater number preposterously high. It seemed to me as if I was introduced to a battalion of colonels, and that I was not permitted to pierce to any lower strata of military rank. I counted seventeen colonels, and believe the number was not then exhausted.
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Our voyage….was slow; nor did I regret the captain's caution, as we there must have been fully nine hundred persons on board; and although there is but little danger of being snagged in the present condition of the river, we encountered now and then a trunk of a tree, which struck against the bows with force enough to make the vessel quiver from stem to stern. I was furnished with a small berth, to which I retired at midnight, just as the Ingomar was brought to at the Chickasaw Bluffs, above which lies Camp Randolph.

William Howard Russell, My Diary, North and South[1]


[1] William Howard Russell, My Diary, North and South, (Boston: T.O.H.P. Burnham, 1863). Hereinafter cited as Russell, My Diary.




17, 1863, In defense of a Confederate Philanderer - blaming the cuckold: Confederate spin o­n the murder of General Van Dorn at Spring Hill, Tennessee
Editors Register and Advertiser:
We, the undersigned, members of the late Gen. Van Dorn's staff, having seen with pain and regret, the various rumors afloat in the public press in relation to the circumstances attending that officer's death, deem it our duty to make a plain statement of the facts in the case.
Gen. Van Dorn was shot in his own room, at Spring Hill, Tennessee, by Dr. Peters, a citizen of the neighborhood. He was shot in the back of the head, while engaged in writing at his table and entirely unconscious of any meditated hostility o­n the part of Dr. Peters, who had been left in the room within him, apparently n friendly conversations scarcely fifteen minutes previously, by Major Kimmel. Neither Gen. Van Dorn nor ourselves were suspicious in the slightest degree of enmity in the mind of Dr. Peters, or we would certainly not have left them o­ne together, nor would Gen. Van Dorn have been shot, as we found him five minutes later, sitting in his chair, with his back towards his enemy.
There had been friendly visits between them up the date of the unfortunate occurrence.
Gen. Van Dorn had never seen the daughter of his murder but o­nce, while his acquaintance with Mrs. Peters was such as to convince us, his staff officers, who had every opportunity of knowing that there was no improper intimacy between them; and for our own part, we are led to the belief that there wee other and darker motives from the fact that Dr. Peters had taken the oath of allegiance to the United States Government, while in Nashville, about two weeks previously-as we are informed by refugees from that city-that he had remarked in Columbia, a short time before, "that he had lost his land and negroes in Arkansas, but he thought he would shortly do something which would get tem back," and finally, having beforehand torn down fences and prepared relays of horse, he made his escape across the country direct to the enemy lines.
Such is the simple factor of the affair, and we trust that in bare justice to the memory of a gallant soldier the papers that have given publicity to the false rumors above alluded to-rumors alike injurious to the living and to the dead-will give place in their columns to this vindication of his name.
W. M. KIMMEL, Maj., & A.A.G.
R. SHOEMAKER, Aid-de-camp.
Dallas Herald, June 17, 1863.

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