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

by John Beauchamp Jones

            MARCH 2D.—A slight snow on the ground this morning—but bright and cool. Last night, after I had retired to bed, we heard a brisk cannonading, and volleys of musketry, a few miles distant.

            This morning an excitement, but no alarm, pervaded the city. It was certainly a formidable attempt to take the city by surprise. From the number of disgraceful failures heretofore, the last very recently, the enemy must have come to the desperate resolution to storm the city this time at all hazards. And indeed the coming upon it was sudden, and if there had been a column of 15,000 bold men in the assault, they might have penetrated it. But now, twenty-four hours subsequently, 30,000 would fail in the attempt.

            The Department Clerks were in action in the evening in five minutes after they were formed in line. Capt. Ellery, Chief Clerk of 2d Auditor, was killed, and several were wounded. It rained fast all the time, and it was very dark. The enemy’s cavalry charged upon them, firing as they came; they were ordered to lie flat on the ground. This they did, until the enemy came within fifteen yards of them, when they rose and fired, sending the assailants to the right and left, helter-skelter. How many fell is not yet known.

            To-day Gen. Hampton sent in 77 prisoners, taken six miles above town—one lieutenant-colonel among them; and Yankee horses, etc. are coming in every hour.

            Gov. Vance writes that inasmuch as Judge Pearson still grants the writ of habeas corpus, and discharges all who have put substitutes in the army, on the ground of the unconstitutionality of the act of Congress, he is bound by his oath to sustain the judge, even to the summoning the military force of the State to resist the Confederate States authorities. But to avoid such a fatal collision, he is willing to abide the decision of the Supreme Court, to assemble in June; the substitute men, meantime, to be left unmolested. We shall soon see the President’s decision, which will probably be martial law.

            Last night, when it was supposed probable that the prisoners of war at the Libby might attempt to break out, Gen. Winder ordered that a large amount of powder be placed under the building, with instructions to blow them up, if the attempt were made. He was persuaded, however, to consult the Secretary of War first, and get his approbation. The Secretary would give no such order, but said the prisoners must not be permitted to escape under any circumstances, which was considered sanction enough. Capt. ______ obtained an order for, and procured several hundred pounds of gunpowder, which were placed in readiness. Whether the prisoners were advised of this I know not; but I told Capt. ______ it could not be justifiable to spring such a mine in the absence of their knowledge of the fate awaiting them, in the event of their attempt to break out, —because such prisoners are not to be condemned for striving to regain their liberty. Indeed, it is the duty of a prisoner of war to escape if he can.

            Gen. Winder addressed me in a friendly manner to-day, the first time in two years.

            The President was in a bad humor yesterday, when the enemy’s guns were heard even in his office.

            The last dispatch from Gen. Lee informs us that Meade, who had advanced, had fallen back again. But communications are cut between us and Lee; and we have no intelligence since Monday.

            Gen. Wilcox is organizing an impromptu brigade here, formed of the furloughed officers and men found everywhere in the streets and at the hotels. This looks as if the danger were not yet regarded as over.

            The Secretary of War was locked up with the Quartermaster and Commissary-Generals and other bureau officers, supposed to be discussing the damage done by the enemy to the railroads, etc. etc. I hope it was not a consultation upon any presumed necessity of the abandonment of the city!

            We were paid to-day in $5 bills. I gave $20 for half a cord of wood, and $60 for a bushel of common white cornfield beans. Bacon is yet $8 per pound; but more is coming to the city than usual, and a decline may be looked for, I hope. The farmers above the city, who have been hoarding grain, meat, etc., will lose much by the raiders.

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