Page images


163 Many, despising labor, would not work if they could. Others, reared amid the influences of wealth, which had now been stripped from them, could not work if they would. Towards the United States Government they entertained no such feeling of gratitude as animated the freedmen. On the contrary, they seemed to think that they were entitled to support from it during the remainder of their lives.

* You ought to do something for us, for you 've took away our niggers," whined a well-dressed woman one day in my hearing. To the force of the objection, that the South owed the loss of its slaves to its own folly, she appeared singularly insensible ; and she showed marked resentment because nothing was done for her, although obliged to confess that she owned the house she lived in, and another for which two colored families were paying rent.

I was sitting in one of the tents of the Relief Commission one morning, when a woman came to complain that a ticket issued to her there had drawn but fifteen rations, instead of twenty-one, as she had expected.

"I did n't think it was you all's fault,” she said, with an apologetic grimace ; " but I knowed I 'd been powerfully cheated."

This was the spirit manifested by very many, both of the rich and the poor. They felt that they had a sacred right to prey upon the government, and any curtailment of that privilege they regarded as a wrong and a fraud. So notorious was their rapacity, that they were satirically represented as saying to the government,

"We have done our best to break you up, and now we are doing our best to eat you up."

Where such a spirit existed, it was not possible to prevent hundreds from obtaining government aid who were not entitled to it. It was the design of the Relief Commission to feed only indigent women and children. No rations were issued by the Commissary except to those presenting tickets; and tickets were issued for the benefit only of those whose destitute condition was attested by certificates signed by a clergyman or phy

sician. To secure these certificates, however, was not difficult, even for those who stood in no need of government charity. Clergymen and physicians were not all honest. Many of them believed with the people that the government was a fit object for good secessionists to prey upon. Some were faithful in the performance of their duty; but if one physician refused to sign a false statement, it was easy to dismiss him, and call in another less scrupulous.

“I have just exposed two spurious cases of destitution," said an officer of the Relief Commission, one day as I entered his tent. “Mrs. A- on Fourth Street, has been doing a thriving business all summer, by selling the rations she has drawn for a fictitious family. Mrs. B— has been getting support for herself, and two sick daughters, that turn out to be two great lazy sons, who take her hard-tack and saltfish, and exchange them for whiskey, get drunk every night, and lie abed till noon every day.”

“ What do you do with such cases ?.

“ Cut them off: that is all we can do. This whole business of feeding the poor of Richmond,” he added, “is a humbug. Richmond is a wealthy city still; it is very well able to take care of its own pcor, and should be taxed for the purpose.” I found this to be the opinion of many intelligent unbiased observers.

Besides the Relief Commission, and the Freedmen's Commission, both maintained by the government, I found an agency of the American Union Commission established in Richmond. This Commission, supported by private benevoJence, was organized for the purpose of aiding the people of

1 Form of certificate:

RICHMOND, VA................., 1865. I CERTIFY, on honor, that I am well acquainted with Mrs. Jane Smith, and that she is the owner of no real estate or personal property, or effects of any kind; and that she has no male member of her family who is the owner of real estate or personal property or effects of any kind, upon which there can be realized sufficient money for the maintenance of her family, and that she has no means of support, and is a proper objoct of charity; and that her family consists of four females and five children. Given under my hand, this 17th day of Septen ber, i365.




the South, " in the restoration of their civil and social condition, upon the basis of industry, education, freedom, and Christian morality.” In Richmond, it was doing a useful work. To the small farmers about the city it issued ploughs, spades, shovels, and other much needed implements, — for the war had beaten pitchforks into bayonets, and cast ploughshares into cannon. Earlier in the season it had distributed many thousand papers of garden-seeds to applicants from all parts of the State, — a still greater benefit to the impoverished people, with whom it was a common saying, that “good seed ran out under the Confederacy.” It had established a free school for poor whites. I also found Mr. C. the Commission's Richmond agent, indefatigable in assisting other associations in the establishment of schools for the Freedmen.

The Union Commission performed likewise an indispensable part in feeding the poor. Those clergymen and physicians who were so prompt to grant certificates to secessionists not entitled to them, were equally prompt to refuse them to persons known as entertaining Union sentiments. To the few genuine Union people of Richmond, therefore, the Commission came, and was welcomed as an angel of mercy. But it did not confine its favors to them; having divided the city into twelve districts, and appointed inspectors for each, it extended its aid to such of the needy as the Relief Commission had been unable to reach.



At the tent of the Union Commission, pitched near a fountain on Capitol Square, I met a quiet little man in laborer's clothes, whom the agent introduced to me as “Mr. H— ," adding, “ There were two votes cast against the ordinance of secession in this city: one of those votes was cast by Mr. H— He is one of the twenty-one Union men of Richmond.”

He looked to be near fifty years of age ; but he told me he was only thirty-two. “I've been through such things as make a man look old !” He showed me his gray hair, which he said was raven black, without a silver streak, before the war.

“I was four times taken to the conscript camp, but never sent off to fight. I worked in a foundery, and my employer got out exemption papers for me. The Confederates, when they wanted more men, would declare any time that all the exemption papers then out were void, and go to picking us up in the street and sending us off to camp before we knew it. Some would buy themselves off, and a few would get off as I did, because they could do work nobody else could do."

He was a man of intuitive ideas and originality of character. Although bred up under the influence of the peculiar institution, poor, and uneducated, he had early formed clear and strong convictions on the subject of slavery. “I was an Abolitionist before I ever heard the word abolitionist." He believed in true religion, but not in the religion of traitors.

"I never hesitated to tell 'em what I thought. "God has no more to do with you all,' says I, than he has with last year's rain. I'd as lieves go to a gambling-house, as to go and



hear a minister pray that God would drive back the armies of the North. You are on your knees mocking at God, and He laughs at you!' Events proved that what I said was true. After every Fast, the Rebels lost some important point. There was a Fast-day just before Fort Donelson ; another before New Orleans was taken ; another before Gettysburg and Vicksburg; another before Atlanta fell; and another before the evacuation of Richmond. That was the way God answered their prayers."

He corroborated the worst accounts I had heard concerning the state of society in Richmond during the war.

" It seemed as though there was nothing but thieving and robbery going on. The worst robbers were Hood's men, set to guard the city. They 'd halt a man, and shoot him right down if he would n't stop. They'd ask a man the time, and snatch his watch. They went to steal some chickens of a man I knew, and as he tried to prevent them, they killed him. At last the women got to stealing. We had an insurrection of women here, you know. I never saw such a sight. They looked like flocks of old buzzards, picked geese, and cranes; dressed in all sorts of odd rigs; armed with hatchets, knives, axes, — anything they could lay their hands on. They collected together on the Square, and Governor Letcher made 'em a speech from the Monument. They hooted at him. Then Jeff Davis made a speech ; they hooted at him too; they did n't want speeches, they said ; they wanted bread. Then they begun to plunder the stores. They'd just go in and carry off what they pleased. I saw three women put a bag of potatoes, and a barrel of flour, and a firkin of butter in a dray; then they ordered the darkey to drive off, with two women for a guard.”

Another of the faithful twenty-one was Mr. L- whom I found at a restaurant kept by him near the old market. It was he who carried off Col. Dahlgren's body, after it had been buried by the Rebels at Oak Wood.

"I found a negro who knew the spot, and hired him to go with me one dark night, and dig up the body. We carried

« PreviousContinue »