Page images
PDF
EPUB

out into the river; Jamestown, the first settlement in Virginia, - now an island with a few huts only, and two or three chimney-stacks of burnt houses, — looking as desolate as when first destroyed, at the time of Bacon's rebellion, near two hundred years ago ; Newport News below, a place with a few shanties, and a row of grinning batteries; Hampton Roads, Lristling and animated with shipping, — the scene of the fight between the “Merrimac” and the “Monitor," initiating a new era in naval warfare ; Hampton away on the north, with its conspicuous square white hospital; Norfolk on the south, up the Elizabeth River; the Rip-Raps, and Sewall's Point; and, most astonishing object of all, that huge finger of the military power, placed here to hold these shores, — Fortress Monroe.

It was a wild, windy day; the anchored ships were tossing on the white-capped waves; but the Fortress presented a beautiful calm picture, as we approached it, with its proud flag careering in the breeze, its white light-house on the beach, and the afternoon sunshine on its broad walls and grassy ram

parts.

Before the war, there was a large hotel between the Fortress and the wharves, capable of accommodating a thousand per. sons. This was torn down, because it obstructed the range of the guns; and a miserable one-and-a-half story diningsaloon had been erected in its place. Here, after much persuasion, I managed to secure a lodging under the low, unfinished roof. The proprietor told me that the government, which owns the land on which his house stands, exacted no payment for it, under General Dix's administration ; but that General Butler, on coming into power, immediately clapped on a smart rent of five hundred dollars a month, which the landlord could pay, or take his house elsewhere. I thought the circumstance characteristic.

The next morning, having a letter to General Miles, in command at the Fortress, I obtained admission within the massy walls. I crossed the moat on the drawbridge, and entered the gate opening under the heavy bastions. I found

[blocks in formation]

myself in the midst of a village, on a level plain, shaded by trees. A guard was given me, with orders to show me whatever I wished to see, with one exception, — the interior of Mr. Jefferson Davis's private residence. This retired Rebel chief had been removed from the casemate in which he was originally confined, and was occupying Carrol Hall, a plain, threestory, yellow-painted building, built for officers' quarters. I walked past the doors, and looked up at the modest windowcurtains, wondering what his thoughts were, sitting there, meditating his fallen fortunes, with the flag of the nation he had attempted to overthrow floating above his head, and its cannon frowning on the ramparts around him. Did he enjoy his cigar, and read the morning newspaper with interest ?

The strength and vastness of Fortress Monroe astonishes one. It is the most expensive fortress in the United States, baving cost nearly two and a half million dollars. It is a mile around the ramparts. The walls are fifty feet thick. The stone masonry which forms their outward face rises twenty feet above high-water mark in the moat; and the grassy parapets are built ten feet higher. There were only seven hundred men in the fort, — a small garrison.

I was shown the great magazine which Arnold, one of the Booth conspirators, proposed to blow up. His plan was to get a clerkship in the ordnance office, which would afford him facilities for carrying out his scheme. Had this succeeded, the terrible explosion that would have ensued would not only have destroyed the Fortress, but not a building on the Point would have been left standing.

I made the circuit of the ramparts, overlooking Hampton Roads on one side, and the broad bay on the other. The sun was shining; the waves were breaking on the shore ; the band was playing proud martial airs; the nation's flag rolled voluptuously in the wind; steamers and white-sailed ships were going and coming; the sky above was of deep blue, full 3f peace. It was hard to realize that the immense structure on which I walked, amid such a scene, was merely an engine of war.

While I was at General Miles's head-quarters an interesting case of pardoned rebellion was developed. Mr. Y— , a noted secessionist of Warwick County, was one of those who had early pledged his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor to the Confederate cause. He had commenced his patriotic service by seizing at his wharf on the Warwick River a private vessel which happened to be loading with lumber at the time when the State seceded, and sending her as a prize up to Richmond ; and he had crowned his career by assisting Wirz in his official work at Andersonville. During the war the government against which he was fighting had taken the liberty of cutting a little lumber on this gentleman's abandoned lands. He had since become professedly loyal, paid a visit to the good President at Washington, and returned to his estates with his pardon in his pocket. The first thing he did was to drive off the government contractor's employees with threats of violence. He would not even allow them to take away the government property he found on his place, but threatened to shoot every man who approached for that purpose. An officer came to head-quarters, when I was there, requesting a guard of soldiers to protect the lives of the laborers during the removal of this property.

VILLAGE OF HAMPTON.

219

CHAPTER XXIX.

ABOUT HAMPTON.

As it was my intention to visit some of the freedmen's settlements in the vicinity, the General kindly placed a horse at my disposal, and I took leave of him. A short gallop brought me to the village of Hampton, distant from the Fortress something over two miles.

“ The village of Hampton," says a copy of the “ Richmond Examiner” for 1861, “ is beautifully situated on an arm of the sea setting in from the adjacent roadstead which bears its name.

The late census showed that the aggregate white and black population was nearly two thousand.” Some of the residences were of brick, erected at a heavy cost, and having large gardens, out-houses, and other valuable improvements. . The oldest building, and the second oldest church in the State, was the Episcopal Church, made of imported brick, and surrounded by a cemetery of ancient graves. “Here repose the remains of many a cavalier and gentleman, whose namres are borne by numerous families all over the Southern States."

On the night of August 7th, 1861, the Rebels, under General Magruder, initiated what has been termed the “ warfare against women and children and private property," which has marked the war of the Rebellion, by laying this old aristocratic town in ashes. It had been mostly abandoned by the secessionist inhabitants on its occupation by our troops, and only a few white families, with between one and two hundred negroes, remained. Many of the former residents came back with the Rebel troops and set fire to their own and their neighbors' houses. Less than a dozen buildings remained standing; the place being reduced to a wilderness of naked chimneys, burnt-out shells, and heaps of ashes.

I found it a thrifty village, occupied chiefly by freedmen. The former aristocratic residences had been replaced by negro huts. These were very generally built of split boards, called pales, overlapping each other like clapboards or shingles. There was an air of neatness and comfort about them which surprised ine, no less than the rapidity with which they were constructed. One man had just completed his house. He told me that it took him a week to make the pales for it and bring them from the woods, and four days more to build it.

A sash-factory and blacksmith's shop, shoemakers' shops and stores, enlivened the streets. The business of the place was carried on chiefly by freedmen, many of whom were becoming wealthy, and paying heavy taxes to the government.

Every house had its wood-pile, poultry and pigs, and little garden devoted to corn and vegetables. Many a one had its stable and cow, and horse and cart. The village was sur rounded by freedmen's farms, occupying the abandoned plantations of recent Rebels. The crops looked well, though the soil was said to be poor. Indeed, this was by far the thriftiest portion of Virginia I had seen.

In company with a gentleman who was in search of laborers, I made an extensive tour of these farms, anxious to see with my own eyes what the emancipated blacks were doing for themselves. I found no idleness anywhere. Happiness and industry were the universal rule. I conversed with many of the people, and heard their simple stories. They had but one trouble: the owners of the lands they occupied were coming back with their pardons and demanding the restoration of their estates. Here they had settled on abandoned Rebel lands, under the direction of the government, and with the government's pledge, given through its officers, and secured by act of Congress, that they should be protected in the use and enjoyment of those lands for a term of three years, each freedman occupying no more than forty acres, and paying an annual rent to government not exceeding six per cent. of their value. Here, under the shelter of that promise, they had built their

« PreviousContinue »