After the War: a Southern Tour: May 1, 1865 to May 1, 1866
Chapter III-IV, Page 22-36
Chapter III-IV, Page 22-36
James Whitelaw Reid (1837-1912), born in Xenia, Ohio, was an American journalist who later served as editor, president and chairman of the family-owned New York Herald Tribune. Reid also served as US Ambassador to France, the Court of St. James and to Britain. He was the Republican vice presidential nominee on the losing ticket headed by incumbent President Benjamin Harrison.
After the inauguration of President Andrew Johnson, Chief Justice Salmon Portland Chase (1808-1873), appointed by President Lincoln, was determined to visit the southern cities, to learn as much as possible, from actual observation, the true condition of the country. Aboard revenue cutter Wayanda, Chief Justice Chase, with orders issued by President Johnson, twenty-eight-year-old Whitelaw Reid, after an invitation and pass from the president, accompanied the party. Beaufort was the first stop on this southern journey. According to Reid, “the trip would have been begun some weeks earlier, but for the deed of horror in Ford's Theater.”
|Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, April 9, 1864 (Image added to illustrate Beaufort, NC about that time)|
The journey began with rough seas and sea sickness…
…Toward evening the sea calmed down, and one after another emerged on deck. The air was delightfully bracing; the moon sent its broad streams of light, shaking across the waters; the revolving light of Hatteras shone out—guide and safeguard to a hundred eyes besides our own—and so with calmest weather, and a delicious beauty of scene that no words need be vainly employed in efforts to describe, we spent half the night in watching the passage of the ship by the most dangerous part of the Atlantic coast. Next morning, at breakfast, we were steaming under the guns of Fort Macon into the harbor where Butler and Porter rendezvoused for Fort Fisher.
As a boat's crew slowly pulled some of our party through the tortuous channel by which even the lightest gigs have to approach the single landing of Beaufort, the guns of the naval force began to thunder out a salute for the Chief Justice. "How many guns does a Chief Justice receive?" inquired one, as he counted the successive discharges. “You’d a great deal better ask," reprovingly hinted the Doctor, "how many guns a Baptist minister receives!"
“Well, how many, Doctor!" “Oh, just count these up, and then you'll know!" With which church-militant suggestion, we rounded to at a crazy old wharf, climbed up a pair of rickety steps that gave the Doctor premonitions of more immersion than even he had bargained for, and stood in the town of Beaufort, North Carolina. In front of us was the Custom House [113 Front Street - now the south end of Sunset Lane]—a square, one-story frame building, perched upon six or eight posts—occupied now by a Deputy Treasury Agent. A narrow strip of sand, plowed up by a few cart wheels, and flanked by shabby-looking old frame houses, extended along the water front, and constituted the main business street of a place that, however dilapidated and insignificant, must live in the history of the struggle just ended. Near the water's edge [Piver's Island] was a small turpentine distillery, the only manufacturing establishment of the place.
The landing of a boat's crew, with an officer in charge and a flag fluttering at the stern, seemed to be an event in Beaufort, and we were soon surrounded by the notabilities. A large, heavily and coarsely-built man, of unmistakable North Carolina origin, with the inevitable bilious look, ragged clothes and dirty shirt, was introduced, with no little eclat, as "the Senator from this District."
"Of what Senate?" some one inquired. "The North Caroliner Senate, Sir,"
"Umph, Rebel Senate of North Carolina," growled the Captain, sotto voce; "you make a devil of a fuss about your dignity! North Carolina Rebel Senate be hanged! A New York constable outranks you." But the Senator didn't hear; and his manner showed plainly enough that no doubts of his importance ever disturbed the serene workings of his own mind. The Clerk of the Court, the Postmaster, the doctor, the preacher and other functionaries were speedily added to the group that gathered in the sand bank called a pavement.
"How are your people feeling?" some one asked. "Oh, well, sir; we all went out unwillingly, you know," responded the legislator, fresh from the meetings of the Rebel Senate at Raleigh," and most of us are very glad to get back."
"Have you no violent Rebels yet?" "Yes, quite a good many, among the young bloods; but even they all feel as if they had been badly whipped, and want to give in." "Then they really feel themselves whipped?" "Yes, you've subjugated us at last," with a smile which showed that the politician thought it not the worst kind of a joke after all.
"And, of course, then you have only to submit to any terms the conquerors may impose?" "No, sir—oh, ah— yes, any terms that could be honorably offered to a proud, high-minded people!" The rest of the dignitaries nodded their heads approvingly at this becoming intimation of the terms the "subjugated" State could be induced to accept. It was easy to see that the old political tricks were not forgotten, and that the first inch of wrong concession would be expected to lead the way to many an ell.
"What terms do you think would be right?" The County Clerk, a functionary of near thirty years' service, took up the conversation, and promptly replied, "Let Governor Vance call together the North Caroliner Legislater. We only lacked a few votes of a Union majority in it before, and we'd be sure to have enough now." "What then?" "Why, the Legislater would, of course, repeal the ordinance of secession, and order a convention to amend the Constitution. I think that convention would accept your constitutional amendment. "
"But can you trust your Governor Vance? Did not he betray the Union party after his last election?"
"Yes, he sold us out clean and clear."
"He did nothing of the sort. North Caroliner has not got a purer patriot than Governor Vance." And so they fell to disputing among themselves.
I asked one of the party what this Legislature, if thus called together, would do with the negroes?
“Take 'em under the control of the Legislater, as free niggers always have been in this State. Let it have authority to fix their wages, and prevent vagrancy. It always got along with 'em well enough before."
“Are you not mistaken about its always having had this power?"
"What!" exclaimed the astonished functionary. “Why, I was born and raised hyar, and lived hyar all my life! Do you suppose I don't know?"
“Apparently not, sir; for you seem to be ignorant of the fact that free negroes in North Carolina were voters from the formation of the State Government down to 1835."
“It isn't so, stranger."
"Excuse me; but your own State records will show it;* and, if I must say so, he is a very ignorant citizen to be talking about ways and means of re-organization, who doesn't know so simple and recent a fact in the history of his State."
* North Carolina, by her Constitution of 1776, prescribed three bases of suffrage:
1. All Freemen twenty-one years old, who have lived in the county twelve months, and have had a freehold of fifty acres for six months, may vote for a member of the Senate. 2. All Freemen, of like age and residence, who have paid public taxes, may vote for members of the House of Commons for the county.
3. The above two classes may, if residing or owning a freehold in a town, vote for members of the House of Commons for such town: provided, they shall not already have voted for a member for the county, and vice versa.
By the Constitution, as amended in 1835, all freemen, twenty-one years of age, living twelve months in the State, and owning a freehold of fifty acres for six months, should vote, except that
"No free negro, free mulatto, or free person of mixed blood, descended from negro ancestors to the fourth generation inclusive (though one ancestor of each generation may have been a white person), shall vote for members of the Senate or House of Commons."
The last clause would seem to have looked to amalgamation as a pretty steady practice, for such zealous abolition and negro-haters. Under the Constitution of 1776, free negroes, having the requisite qualifications, voted as freely as any other portion of the voting population.
The Cracker scratched his head in great bewilderment. “Well, stranger, you don't mean to say that the Government at Washington is going to make us let niggers vote?"
“I mean to say that it is at least possible."
"Well, why not have the decency to let us have a vote on it ourselves, and say whether we'll let niggers vote?"
“In other words, you mean this: Less than a generation ago you held a convention, which robbed certain classes of your citizens of rights they had enjoyed, undisputed, from the organization of your State down to that hour. Now, you propose to let the robbers hold an election to decide whether they will return the stolen property or not."
"Stranger," exclaimed another of the group, with great emphasis, "is the Government at Washington, because it has whipped us, going to make us let niggers vote?"
“Possibly it will. At any rate a strong party favors it."
"Then I wouldn't live under the Government. I'd emigrate, sir. Yes, sir, I'd leave this Government and go north!"
And the man, true to his States'-Rights training, seemed to imagine that going north was going under another Government, and spoke of it as one might speak of emigrating to China.
Meantime, the younger citizens of Beaufort (of Caucasian descent) had found better amusement than talking to the strangers in the sand bank of a street.
One of them wagered a quarter (fractional currency) that he could whip another. The party thus challenged evinced his faith in his own muscle by risking a corresponding quarter on it. The set-to was at once arranged, in the back-yard of the house in front of which we were standing, and several side bets, ranging from five to as high as fifteen cents, were speedily put up by spectators.
One of our party, who joined the crowd at the amusement, reported that half-a-dozen rounds were fought—a few "niggers" gravely looking on from the outskirts of the throng—that several eyes were blacked, and both noses bruised; that there was a fall, and a little choking and eye-gouging, and a cry of "give it up;" that then the belligerents rose and shook hands, and stakes were delivered, and the victor was being challenged to another trial, with a fresh hand, as we left the scene of combat; and so closed our first visit to a North Carolina town.
Shortly after our arrival in the harbor, the military authorities had provided a special train for us—that is to say, a train composed of a wheezy little locomotive and an old mail agent's car, with all the windows smashed out and half the seats gone. By this means we were enabled, an hour after our visit to Beaufort, to be whirling over the military railroad from the little collection of Government warehouses on the opposite side of the harbor, called Morehead City, to Newbern.
The whole way led through the exhausted turpentine forests of North-eastern North Carolina, which the turpentine growers have for many years been abandoning for the more productive forests of upper South Carolina. Here and there were swamps which Yankee drainage would soon convert into splendid corn land; and it is possible that Yankee skill might make the exhausted pineries very profitable; but, for the present, this country is not likely to present such inducements as to attract a large Northern emigration.
The poorer people seem to be quietly living in their old places. "Where the paroled rebel soldiers have returned, they have sought their former homes, and evince a very decided disposition to stay there. Throughout this region there is, as we learned, comparatively little destitution. The ocean is a near and never-failing resource; and from Newbern and Beaufort (both of which have been in our possession during the greater part of the war) supplies have gone through the lines by a sort of insensible and invisible perspiration, which it would be unkind, to the disinterested traders who follow in the wake of an army, to call smuggling.
Passing the traces of the works thrown up at the point where Burnside had his fight, we entered the remarkable city of log cabins, outside the city limits, which now really forms the most interesting part of the ancient town of Newbern…
Page 31…A dispatch from General Sherman (on his way north from Savannah, and forced by bad weather to put in at Beaufort) had reached Newbern…
Page 33-36…A heavy gale blew on the coast all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and neither General Sherman’s Captain nor our own thought it wise to venture out. Meanwhile, delegations of the Beaufort people came off in little sail-boats to visit the “Wyanda,” bring us flowers and strawberries, and talk politics. Since their last demonstrations, a few days ago, they had toned down their ideas a good deal; and the amount of their talk, stripped of its circumlocution and hesitation, was simply this: that they were very anxious to re-organize, and would submit to anything the Government might require to that end. They said less against negro suffrage than before—frankly said it would be very obnoxious to the prejudices of nearly the whole population, but added, that if Government insisted on it, they would co-operate with the negroes in re-organization “But the poor, shiftless creatures will never be able to support themselves in freedom. We’ll have half of them in poor-houses before a year!” * Nothing could overcome this rooted idea, that the negro was worthless, except under the lash. These people really believe that, in submitting to the emancipation of the slaves, they have virtually saddled themselves with an equal number of idle paupers. Naturally, they believe that to add a requirement that these paupers must share the management of public affairs with them is piling a very Pelion upon the Ossa of their misfortunes.
*And yet an official report, since published in the newspapers, shows that out of three thousand whites in Beaufort last winter, between twelve and fourteen hundred were applicants for the charity of Government rations. Out of about an equal number of negroes, less than four hundred were dependant on the Government! The secret of the disparity was, that the negroes took work when they could get it; the whites were “ladies and gentlemen,” and wouldn’t work……
My room-mate, the Doctor, appointed me a “deacon for special service”—even he had absorbed military ways of doing things from our neighbors—and I arranged for his preaching in Beaufort, Sunday morning. The people were more than glad to welcome him, and he had a big congregation, with a sprinkling of black fringe around its edges, to appreciate his really eloquent discourse; while the trees that nodded at the pulpit windows shook out strains of music, which the best-trained choristers could never execute, from the swelling throats of a whole army of mocking-birds. An old Ironsides-looking man, who had occupied an elder’s seat beside the pulpit, rose at the close, and said he little expected to have ever seen a day like this. Everybody started forward, anticipating a remonstrance against the strong Unionism and anti-slavery of the Doctor’s sermon, but instead there came a sweeping and enthusiastic indorsement of everything that had been said. He saw a better day at hand, the old man said, and rejoiced in the brightness of its coming. How many an old man, like him, may have been waiting through all these weary years for the same glad day!
At other times there were fishing parties which caught no fish, though General Sherman sent t hem over enough fine ocean trout to enable them to make a splendid show on their return; and riding parties that got no rides, but trudged through the sand on foot, to the great delectation of the artist who sketched, con amore, the figures of gentlemen struggling up a sandy hill, eyes and ears and mouth full, hands clapped on hat to secure its tenure, and coat tails manifesting strong tendencies to secede bodily, while in the distance, small and indistinct, could be perceived the ambulance that couldn’t be made to go, and underneath was written the touching inscription, “How Captain Merryman and Mr. R. accepted Mrs. W.’s invitation, and took a ride on the beach at Fort Macon.”
At last the gale subsided a little, and we got off. Another salute was fired as we steamed out; the “Wayanda” returned a single shot in acknowledgment, and all soon we were among the breakers, pitching and writhing, for and aft, starboard and larboard, diagonally crosswise and backward, up to the sky and down, till the waves poured over the deck, and the masts seemed inclined to give the flags and streamers at their tops a bath. But for some of us, at least, the seasickness was gone. Io Triumpe!
After the War: a Southern Tour: May 1, 1865 to May 1, 1866
by Whitelaw Reid ▪ Published 1866 ▪ Chapter III-IV, Pages 22-36.
by Whitelaw Reid ▪ Published 1866 ▪ Chapter III-IV, Pages 22-36.