Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

11th.—The “Virginia” went out again to-day. The Federal Monitor would not meet her, but ran to Fortress Monroe, either for protection, or to tempt her under the heavy guns of the fortress; but she contented herself by taking three brigs and one schooner, and carrying them to Norfolk, with their cargoes. Soldiers are constantly passing through town. Every thing seems to be in preparation for the great battle which is anticipated on the Peninsula.

Fort Pulaski has surrendered to the enemy’s gun-boats. The garrison fought until several breaches were made. They then surrendered, and are now prisoners. Lord, have them in thy holy keeping!

April 11th.

You appear desirous to move for the sake of our dear boy. I wish you to do just as you please; you know I have perfect confidence in your judgment. All places are alike to me where my wife and child are with me. But, on the eve of so important an event as is about to occur with me, I advise you to hold on until you see the result. God dispenses His will according to His judgment, and not according to our wishes or expectations. The defeat of our army at Corinth, which I saw in the rebel papers, will give us a much harder fight; men are easily elated or depressed by victory. But as to being prepared for defeat, I certainly am not. Any man who is prepared for defeat would be half defeated before he commenced. I hope for success; shall do all in my power to secure it, and trust to God for the rest. I trust in Him as a merciful being; but really in war it seems as if we hardly ought to expect mercy, when men are destroying one another upon questions of which He alone is the judge. Motive seems to constitute right and wrong.

London, April 11, 1862

Modest and unassuming as I am, you know, society is not the place for pleasure to me. Even at the Club I talk distantly with Counts and Barons and numberless untitled but high-placed characters, but have never arrived at intimacy with any of them. I am a little sorry for this because there are several very nice fellows among them, and all are polite and seem sufficiently social. Then, too, my unfortunate notoriety, which, I told you of, in a letter that I trust and pray may not be lost, some three months ago, tells against me, though it certainly has brought me into notice. I have no doubt that if I were to stay here another year, I should become extremely fond of the place and the life. There is, too, a certain grim satisfaction in the idea that this people who have worn and irritated and exasperated us for months, and among whom we have lived nearly a year of what was, till lately, a slow torture, should now be innocently dancing and smiling on the volcano, utterly unconscious of the extent of hatred and the greediness for revenge that they’ve raised. When the storm does finally burst on them, they will have one of their panics and be as astonished as if they ‘d never heard of anything but brotherly love and affection between the two nations. Of course it would be out of the question for me to hint at the state of things to them. I have only to smile and tell gross lies, for which God forgive me, about my feelings towards this country, and the kindness I have received here, which, between ourselves, so far as the pure English go, has been brilliantly conspicuous for its almost total absence. Only a fortnight ago they discovered that their whole wooden navy was useless; rather a weakness than a strength. Yesterday it was formally announced and acknowledged by Government, people and press, that the Warrior and their other new iron ships, are no better than wood, nor can any shot-proof sea-going vessel be made. In order to prove this, they ‘ve proved their Armstrong guns a failure, for he has given up the breech-loading system and been compelled to return to the old smooth-bore, muzzle-loader. So within three weeks, they find their wooden navy, their iron navy, and their costly guns, all utterly antiquated and useless.

To me, they seem to be bewildered by all this. I don’t think as yet they have dared to look their position in the face. People begin to talk vaguely about the end of war and eternal peace, just as though human nature was changed by the fact that Great Britain’s sea-power is knocked in the head. But for my private part, I think I see a thing or two. And one of these things is that the military power of France is nearly doubled by having the seas free; and that our good country the United States is left to a career that is positively unlimited except by the powers of the imagination. And for England there is still greatness and safety, if she will draw her colonies around her, and turn her hegemony into a Confederation of British nations.

You may think all this nonsense, but I tell you these are great times. Man has mounted science, and is now run away with. I firmly believe that before many centuries more, science will be the master of man. The engines he will have invented will be beyond his strength to control. Some day science may have the existence of mankind in its power, and the human race commit suicide by blowing up the world. Not only shall we be able to cruize in space, but I see no reason why some future generation should n’t walk off like a beetle with the world on its back, or give it another rotary motion so that every zone should receive in turn its due portion of heat and light. . . .

We are putting on the diplomatic screws. A few more victories and it will be all straight. We understand that the Nashville has been taken or destroyed, and it is today telegraphed privately to us that the crew of the Sumter are to be paid off, and her captain is coming to London. Bankrupt. The long purse, the big guns, and the men carry the day….

The Chief saw and conversed with a number of French celebrities. They are surprisingly well-disposed towards us now that we are looking up in the world. Here in London we are as comfortable as possible. The newspapers are dumb except for an occasional sneer, or assertion, which is invariably acknowledged to be false the next day. I tell you it’s not a bad thing to have seven hundred thousand fighting men behind one, to back one’s words up. I am more and more convinced every day that we are very much feared. Indeed you can imagine what the change must be when we all here know on the very highest authority that in May last it was supposed that the revolution was complete, and the recognition was a matter of course. Men who have made such a political blunder as that are apt to open their eyes wide when they find it out.

As for home affairs and your position, we are so ignorant that I shall not discourse on the subject. Of course we know all that the newspapers tell us and are waiting with a sort of feeling that is now chronic for the flash and the thunder that is soon to come from the cloud over Richmond and New Orleans. I despise a mail that does not tell of a victory, and indeed for some time past we have been pampered. But every time that the telegram comes and its yellow envelope is torn open, I feel much like taking a little brandy to strengthen me up to it. There is a nervous tremor about it that is hard to master. The 24th did well at Newbern. I wish to God I had been with it, or were with the Richmond army now. I feel ashamed and humiliated at leading this miserable life here, and since having been blown up by my own petard in my first effort to do good, I have n’t even the hope of being of more use here than I should be in the army. But I can’t get away till you come over….

April 11 — Two guns went on picket. This forenoon an oily-tongued regular talking machine in the shape of a sandy-haired Yankee appeared in our camp, handing himself around in a bold, loquacious, and exhibitory manner as a deserter from the Yankee army. He represents himself to be a sugar merchant from New Orleans, and was in Chicago selling sugar when the war broke out. The reason he gave for joining the Yankee army was that they are very strict in the North about Southern men coming through the lines, and he adopted the method of joining the army and then deserting when the first opportunity presented itself, as the surest way with the least inconvenience and danger to get back to Dixie. He wound up his fluent little speech by saying that he had seen all he wanted to see in the Yankee army, and was tired of war, anyhow, and now he wants to see what the Southern army is made of. A nicely put up little job, Mr. Talking Machine, but a wee bit too thin. He came to our camp riding a splendidly equipped cavalry horse, and while he was talking at greased lightning speed he fortuitously, with regular Yankee shrewdness, called attention to his horse and its equipments of splendid bridle and saddle, and said he knew where there were one hundred Yankee horses similarly equipped that could be captured without much risk or danger, and that if he could get a hundred Rebels to go with him to-night he would pilot them through the lines and insure them a hundred Yankee horses safe in the Rebel lines to-morrow morning.

It seems that he came to our company on a special errand, and after delivering a few nice little speeches, he said, “Is Mose Faris a member of this company?” The question was answered in the affirmative, as Moses Faris is a member of our battery, and was present. Then the talking machine said, “Come here, Mose,” then taking off his hat he turned the lining down and showed Mr. Faris a card, and asked, “Do you know this handwriting?” Mr. Faris recognized the handwriting at once as that of his sister, who lives in Illinois. Then the sugar merchant said, “That is right, Mose,” and took Mr. Faris aside and had a conversation with him, the topic of which will perhaps remain a secret.

This afternoon I saw the deserter riding around through the cavalry camp with Colonel Ashby, and I heard him say that he wanted to see Stonewall Jackson, of whom he has heard so much of late, and wanted to see his army and his headquarters.

I heard Captain Chew say that if he had his way he would not allow the Yankee deserter to ride freely all over our camps and openly acquire all the information that the most zealous spy could desire. Chew believed that he was a spy, for I heard him say so.

Friday 11th

Fine pleasant day. The Event here has been the passage of the Bill by the House abolishing Slavery in the District of Columbia. It had passed the Senate. No particular War news today. I was down to the Hotels. They are all full and quite a crowd at Willards. Went to the “Festival” to call for Julia about 10, staid an hour, it is the last night. We got home about 111/2 o’clock. The nights are now bright and beautiful.


The three diary manuscript volumes, Washington during the Civil War: The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, 1861-1865, are available online at The Library of Congress.

APRIL 11TH—The enemy are at Fredericksburg, and the Yankee papers say it will be all over with us by the 15th of June. I doubt that.

Friday, 11th—It rained all day. Troops have been arriving by the thousands every day since Sunday.

Friday, April 11. — Clear and cold. Bet with Avery that five men could not put a great log across Piney. Rode out to see the work. The pine log was water-soaked, long, large, and very heavy. Five men from Company C worked resolutely at it two or three hours, when Avery gave it up. — Threatening again.

Further news shows that on Sunday our men near Pittsburg [Landing] were surprised by the Rebel army in great force from Corinth, Mississippi. They were driven from their camps with heavy loss, took shelter near the river under protection of the gunboats. Early next day Buell came up and attacked the enemy, routing him. Sidney Johnston reported killed and Beauregard wounded— lost an arm. We barely escaped an awful defeat, if these first accounts are true.

Island [Number] 10 was a great capture. Cannon, stores, etc., etc., in prodigious quantities were taken. These victories if followed up give us Memphis and New Orleans. — Nothing said about our moving the last three or four days.

11th. Day chilly with slow rain falling. In the evening Oakie McDowell and I kept a light in the commissary. Commenced a letter to Fannie. Came near being reported for having light. Captain Seward is under arrest!

11th.A mail to-day. One, only one little letter from my home, and that thirteen days old! The bearing of General ― towards me for a few days has been greatly changed? What is it to mean. * * *

Last night Prof. Lowe, the aeronaut, staid with us. He went up in his balloon, and took drawings of the enemy’s fortifications. Says they are the most formidable he has seen during the war. Nothing doing by the army to-day. Gen’l. McC. visits us. He has had a council of war. Result of it of course not known.