Page images
PDF
EPUB

understand. Here Grant's works had been pushed up against Lee's, swallowing them as one wave swallows another. Nowhere else have I seen evidences of such close and desperate fighting. For eight days Grant had been thundering at the gates of the Confederacy; slowly, with fearful loss, he had been pressing back the enemy and breaking through the obstructions ; until here at last he concentrated all his strength. Each army fought as if the gods had decreed that the issue of the war depended upon that struggle. And so indeed they had : the way to Richmond by this route, so long attempted in vain, was here opened. The grand result proclaimed that the eight days' battles were victories ; that the enemy, for the first time on his own chosen ground, had met with ominous defeat. Inconceivable was the slaughter. Here two red rivers met and spilled themselves into the ground. Swift currents from the great West, tributaries from the Atlantic States and from the Lake States, priceless rills, precious drops, from almost every community and family in the Union, swelled the northern stream which burst its living banks and perished here. Every state, every community, every family mourned.

But behind this curtain of woe was the chiselled awful form, the terrible front and sublime eyes, of the statue of Fate, the nation's unalterable Will. Contemplating that, we were silenced, if not consoled. Every breast — that of the father going to search for the body of his dead son, that of the mother reading the brief despatch that pierced her as the bullet pierced her dear boy, that of the pale wife hastening to the cot-side of her dying husband, nay, the bleeding breasts of the wounded and dying, while yet they felt a throb of life — thrilled responsive to Grant's simple, significant announcement

"I propose to fight it out on this line, if it takes all summer.”

It took all suminer, indeed, and all winter too; but the result had been decided at Spottsylvania.

The Rebel armies had invaded the North and been driven ingloriously back. Many times we had started for Richmond and been repulsed. But at length we were not repulsed: the overwhelming wave poured over the embankments.

[blocks in formation]

Such thoughts — or rather deep emotions, of which such thoughts are but the feetle expression — possess the serious tourist, who stands upon that field furrowed and ridged with earthworks and with graves, — beside that grove of shattered and shrivelled trees. A conscious solemnity seems brooding in the air. If the intrenchments could speak, what a history could they disclose! But those sphinx-like lips of the earth are rigid and still. Even the winds seem to hush their whispers about that scene of desolation. All is silence; and the heart of the visitor is constrained to silence also.

Upon a hacked and barkless trunk at the angle of the woods, in the midst of the graves, was nailed aloft a board bearing these lines:

“ On Fame's eternal camping-ground

Their silent tents are spread,
And glory guards with solemn round

The bivouac of the dead.” A thick undergrowth had sprung up in the woods. I noticed, stooping among the bushes along by the breastworks, an old woman and two young girls.

" Dey 're chincapinnin',” said Richard.

But I observed that they gathered the nuts, not from the bushes, but from the ground. Curiosity impelled me to follow them. The woman had a haversack slung at her side ; one of the girls carried an open pail. They passed along the intrenchinents, searching intently, and occasionally picking something out of the dirt. Pressing into the bushes, I accosted them. They scarcely deigned to look at me, but continued their strange occupation. I questioned them about the battle ; but their answers were as vague and stupid as if they then heard of it for the first time. Meanwhile I obtained a glance at the open mouth of the heavily freighted haversack and the halffilled pail, and saw not chincapins, but several quarts of old bullets.

Wandering along by the intrenchments, I observed the halfrotted fragments of a book on the ground. They were leaves from a German pocket Testament, which doubtless some soldier had carried into the fight. I picked them up, and glanced my eye over the mildewed pages. By whom were they last perused? What poor immigrant's heart, fighting here the battles of his adopted country, had drawn consolation from those words of life, which lose not their vitality in any language? What was the fate of that soldier ? Was he now telling the story of his campaigns to his bearded comrades, wife and children; or was that tongue forever silent in the dust of the graves that surrounded me? While I pondered, these words caught my eye:

“Die du mir gegeben hast, die habe ich bewahret, und ist keiner von ihnen verloren.” — “ Those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost.”

I looked round upon the graves ; I thought of the patriot hosts that had fallen on these fearful battle-fields, — of the households bereft, of the husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons, who went down to the Wilderness and were never heard of more ; and peace and solace, sweet as the winds of Paradise, came to me in these words, as I repeated them,

“None of them is lost, none of them is lost ! ”

DESOLATE SCENERY.

143

CHAPTER XVIII.

"ON TO RICHMOND.”

Ar mid-day, on the fifteenth of September, I took the train at Fredericksburg for Richmond, expecting to make in three hours the journey which our armies were more than as many years in accomplishing.

“On to Richmond ! On to Richmond !" clattered the cars ; while my mind recalled the horrors and anxieties of those years, so strangely in contrast with the swiftness and safety of our present speed. Where now were the opposing Rebel hosts? Where the long lines of bristling musketry, the swarms of cavalry, and the terrible artillery? Where the great Slave Empire, the defiant Confederacy itself ?

“ The earth hath bubbles as the water has,

And these were of them.”

We passed amid the same desolate scenes which I had everywhere observed since I set foot upon the soil of Virginia, — old fields and undergrowths, with signs of human life so feeble and so few, that one began to wonder where the country population of the Old Dominion was to be found. All the region between Fredericksburg and Richmond seems not only almost uninhabited now, but always to have been so, - at least to the eye familiar with New-England farms and villages. But one must forget the thriving and energetic North when he enters a country stamped with the dark seal of slavery. Large and fertile Virginia, with eight times the area of Massachusetts, scarcely equals in population that barren little State. The result is, that, where Southern State pride sees prosperous settlements, the travelling Yankee discovers little more than uncultivated wastes.

Ashton, sixteen miles from Richmond, was the first really civilized-looking place we passed. Farther on I looked for the suburbs of the capital. But Richmond has no suburbs. The pleasant villages and market-gardens that spread smilingly for miles around our large Northern towns, are altogether wanting here. Suddenly the melancholy waste of the country disappears, and you enter the outskirts of the city.

And is this indeed Richmond into which the train glides so smoothly along its polished rails ? Is this the fort-encircled capital whose gates refused so long to open to our loudly knocking armies ? — and have we entered with so little ado? Is the “ Rome of the Confederacy" sitting proudly on her seven hills, aware that here are detestable Yankees within her walls ? Will she cast us into Libby? or starve us on Belle Island ? or forward us to Wirtz at Anderson ville ? — for such we know was the fate of Northern men who did get into Richmond during the past four years! You think of what they suffered, as you walk unmolested the pavements of the conquered capital; and something swells within you, which is not exultation, nor rage, nor grief, but a strange mingling of all these.

“ Time the Avenger! unto thee I lift

My hands and eyes and heart !” for what a change has been wrought since those days of horror and crime! Now no Rebel guard is at hand to march you quickly and silently through the streets ; but friendly faces throng to welcome you, to offer you seats in carriages, and to invite you to the hospitalities of hotels. And these people, meeting or passing you, or seated before their doors in the warm September afternoon, are no longer enemies, but tamed complacent citizens of the United States like

yourself.

I was surprised to find that the storm of war had left Richmond so beautiful a city; although she appeared to be mourning for her sins at the time in dust and ashes, — dust which every wind whirled up from the unwatered streets, and the ashes of the Burnt District.

« PreviousContinue »