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

Post image for Three Months in the Southern States–Lieut. Col. Fremantle, Coldstream Guards.

Three Months in the Southern States–Lieut. Col. Fremantle, Coldstream Guards.

April 2, 2013

Three Months in the Southern States–Lieut. Col. Fremantle, Coldstream Guards

2d April. — The Texan and I left the Immortalité in her cutter, at 10 A.M., and crossed the bar in fine style. The cutter was steered by Mr Johnston, the master, and having a fair wind, we passed in like a flash of lightning, and landed at the miserable village of Bagdad, on the Mexican bank of the Rio Grande.

The bar was luckily in capital order—3½ feet of water, and smooth. It is often impassable for ten or twelve days together: the depth of water varying from 2 to 5 feet. It is very dangerous, from the heavy surf and under-current; sharks also abound. Boats are frequently capsized in crossing it, and the Orlando lost a man on it about a month ago.

Seventy vessels are constantly at anchor outside the bar; their cotton cargoes being brought to them, with very great delays, by two small steamers from Bagdad. These steamers draw only 3 feet of water, and realise an enormous profit.

Bagdad consists of a few miserable wooden shanties, which have sprung into existence since the war began. For an immense distance endless bales of cotton are to be seen.

Immediately we landed, McCarthy was greeted by his brother merchants. He introduced me to Mr Ituria, a Mexican, who promised to take me in his buggy to Brownsville, on the Texan bank of the river opposite Matamoros. McCarthy was to follow in the evening to Matamoros.

The Rio Grande is very tortuous and shallow; the distance by river to Matamoros is sixty-five miles, and it is navigated by steamers, which sometimes perform the trip in twelve hours, but more often take twenty-four, so constantly do they get aground.

The distance from Bagdad to Matamoros by land is thirty-five miles; on the Texan side to Brownsville, twenty-six miles.

I crossed the river from Bagdad with Mr Ituria, at 11 o’clock; and as I had no pass, I was taken before half-a-dozen Confederate officers, who were seated round a fire contemplating a tin of potatoes. These officers belonged to Duff’s cavalry (Duff being my Texan’s partner). Their dress consisted simply of flannel shirts, very ancient trousers, jack-boots with enormous spurs, and black felt hats, ornamented with the “lone star of Texas.” They looked rough and dirty, but were extremely civil to me.

The captain was rather a boaster, and kept on remarking, “We’ve given ’em h—ll on the Mississippi, h—ll on the Sabine” (pronounced Sabeen), “and h—ll in various other places.”

He explained to me that he couldn’t cross the river to see McCarthy, as he with some of his men had made a raid over there three weeks ago, and carried away some “renegadoes,” one of whom, named Mongomery, they had left on the road to Brownsville; by the smiles of the other officers I could easily guess that something very disagreeable must have happened to Mongomery. He introduced me to a skipper who had just run his schooner, laden with cotton, from Galveston, and who was much elated in consequence. The cotton had cost 6 cents a pound in Galveston, and is worth 36 here.

Mr Ituria and I left for Brownsville at noon. A buggy is a light gig on four high wheels.

The road is a natural one—the country quite flat, and much covered with mosquite trees, very like pepper trees. Every person we met carried a six-shooter, although it is very seldom necessary to use them.

After we had proceeded about nine miles we met General Bee, who commands the troops at Brownsville. He was travelling to Boca del Rio in an ambulance,[1] with his Quartermaster-General, Major Russell. I gave him my letter of introduction to General Magruder, and told him who I was.

He thereupon descended from his ambulance and regaled me with beef and beer in the open. He is brother to the General Bee who was killed at Manassas. We talked politics and fraternised very amicably for more than an hour. He said the Mongomery affair was against his sanction, and he was sorry for it. He said that Davis, another renegado, would also have been put to death, had it not been for the intercession of his wife. General Bee had restored Davis to the Mexicans.

Half an hour after parting company with General Bee, we came to the spot where Mongomery had been left; and sure enough, about two hundred yards to the left of the road, we found him.

He had been slightly buried, but his head and arms were above the ground, his arms tied together, the rope still round his neck, but part of it still dangling from quite a small mosquite tree. Dogs or wolves had probably scraped the earth from the body, and there was no flesh on the bones. I obtained this my first experience of Lynch law within three hours of landing in America.

I understand that this Mongomery was a man of very bad character, and that, confiding in the neutrality of the Mexican soil, he was in the habit of calling the Confederates all sorts of insulting epithets from the Bagdad bank of the river; and a party of his “renegadoes” had also crossed over and killed some unarmed cotton teamsters, which had roused the fury of the Confederates.

About three miles beyond this we came to Colonel Duff’s encampment. He is a fine-looking, handsome Scotchman, and received me with much hospitality. His regiment consisted of newly-raised volunteers— a very fine body of young men, who were drilling in squads. They were dressed in every variety of costume, many of them without coats, but all wore the high black felt hat. Notwithstanding the peculiarity of their attire, there was nothing ridiculous or contemptible in the appearance of these men, who all looked thoroughly like “business.” Colonel Duff told me that many of the privates owned vast tracts of country, with above a hundred slaves, and were extremely well off. They were all most civil to me.

Their horses were rather rawboned animals, but hardy and fast. The saddles they used were nearly like the Mexican.

Colonel Duff confessed that the Mongomery affair was wrong, but he added that his boys “meant well.”

We reached Brownsville at 5.30 P.M., and Mr Ituria kindly insisted on my sleeping at his house, instead of going to the crowded hotel.

[1] * An ambulance is a light waggon, and generally has two springs behind, and one transverse one in front. The seats can be so arranged that two or even three persons may lie at full length.

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