Thomas W. Knox.

Camp-Fire and Cotton-Field Southern Adventure in Time of War. Life with the Union Armies, and Residence on a Louisiana Plantation online

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to the contrary. There was an occasional Jeremy Diddler, but his
operations were very limited.

When the Rebellion began, the old customs on the Mississippi were
swept away. The most rigid "pay-on-entering" system was adopted, and
the man who could evade it must be very shrewd. The wealth along
the Great River melted into thin air. The _bonhommie_ of travel
disappeared, and was succeeded by the most thorough selfishness in
collective and individual bodies. Scrambles for the first choice of
state-rooms, the first seat at table, and the first drink at the bar,
became a part of the new _régime_. The ladies were little regarded
in the hurly-burly of steamboat life. Men would take possession of
ladies' chairs at table, and pay no heed to remonstrances.

I have seen an officer in blue uniform place his muddy boots on the
center-table in a cabin full of ladies, and proceed to light a cigar.
The captain of the boat suggested that the officer's conduct was in
violation of the rules of propriety, and received the answer:

"I have fought to help open the Mississippi, and, by - - , I am going
to enjoy it."

The careless display of the butt of a revolver, while he gave this
answer, left the pleasure-seeker master of the situation. I am sorry
to say that occurrences of a similar character were very frequent in
the past three years. With the end of the war it is to be hoped that
the character of Mississippi travel will be improved.

In May, 1861, the Rebels blockaded the Mississippi at Memphis. In the
same month the National forces established a blockade at Cairo. In
July, '63, the capture of Vicksburg and Port Hudson removed the last
Rebel obstruction. The _Imperial_ was the first passenger boat to
descend the river, after the reopening of navigation.

Up to within a few months of the close of the Rebellion, steamers
plying on the river were in constant, danger of destruction by Rebel
batteries. The Rebel Secretary of War ordered these batteries placed
along the Mississippi, in the hope of stopping all travel by that
route. His plan was unsuccessful. Equally so was the barbarous
practice of burning passenger steamboats while in motion between
landing-places. On transports fired upon by guerrillas (or Rebels),
about a hundred persons were killed and as many wounded. A due
proportion of these were women and children. On steamboats burned by
Rebel incendiaries, probably a hundred and fifty lives were lost. This
does not include the dead by the terrible disaster to the _Sultana_.
It is supposed that this boat was blown up by a Rebel torpedo in her

It was my fortune to be a passenger on the steamer _Von Phul_, which
left New Orleans for St. Louis on the evening of December 7th, 1863.
I had been for some time traveling up and down the Mississippi, and
running the gauntlet between Rebel batteries on either shore. There
was some risk attending my travels, but up to that time I escaped

On the afternoon of the 8th, when the boat was about eight miles above
Bayou Sara, I experienced a new sensation.

Seated at a table in the cabin, and busily engaged in writing, I heard
a heavy crash over my head, almost instantly followed by another. My
first thought was that the chimneys or some part of the pilot-house
had fallen, and I half looked to see the roof of the cabin tumbling
in. I saw the passengers running from the cabin, and heard some one

"The guerrillas are firing on us."

I collected my writing materials and sought my state-room, where I had
left Mr. Colburn, my traveling companion, soundly asleep a few minutes

He was sitting on the edge of his berth, and wondering what all the
row was about. The crash that startled me had awakened him. He thought
the occurrence was of little moment, and assented to my suggestion,
that we were just as safe there as anywhere else on the boat.

Gallantry prevented our remaining quiet. There were several ladies on
board, and it behooved us to extend them what protection we could. We
sought them, and "protected" them to the best of our united ability.
Their place of refuge was between the cabin and the wheel-house,
opposite the battery's position. A sheet of wet paper would afford as
much resistance to a paving-stone as the walls of a steamboat cabin
to a six-pound shot. As we stood among the ladies, two shells passed
through the side of the cabin, within a few inches of our heads.

The shots grew fewer in number, and some of them dropped in the river
behind us. Just as we thought all alarm was over, we saw smoke issuing
from the cabin gangway. Then, some one shouted, "_The boat is on

Dropping a lady who evinced a disposition to faint, I entered the
cabin. A half-dozen men were there before me, and seeking the locality
of the fire. I was first to discover it.

A shell, in passing through a state-room, entered a pillow, and
scattered the feathers through the cabin. A considerable quantity of
these feathers fell upon a hot stove, and the smoke and odor of their
burning caused the alarm.

The ladies concluded not to faint. Three minutes after the affair was
over, they were as calm as ever.

The Rebels opened fire when we were abreast of their position, and did
not cease until we were out of range. We were fifteen minutes within
reach of their guns.


Our wheels seemed to turn very slowly. No one can express in words the
anxiety with which we listened, after each shot, for the puffing of
the engines. So long as the machinery was uninjured, there was no
danger of our falling into Rebel hands. But with our engines disabled,
our chances for capture would be very good.

As the last shot fell astern of the boat and sent up a column of
spray, we looked about the cabin and saw that no one had been injured.
A moment later came the announcement from the pilot-house:

"Captain Gorman is killed!"

I ascended to the hurricane deck, and thence to the pilot-house. The
pilot, with his hat thrown aside and his hair streaming in the wind,
stood at his post, carefully guiding the boat on her course. The body
of the captain was lying at his feet. Another man lay dying, close by
the opening in which the wheel revolved. The floor was covered with
blood, splinters, glass, and the fragments of a shattered stove.
One side of the little room was broken in, and the other side was
perforated where the projectiles made their exit.

The first gun from the Rebels threw a shell which entered the side of
the pilot-house, and struck the captain, who was sitting just behind
the pilot. Death must have been instantaneous. A moment later, a
"spherical-case shot" followed the shell. It exploded as it struck
the wood-work, and a portion of the contents entered the side of the
bar-keeper of the boat. In falling to the floor he fell against the
wheel. The pilot, steering the boat with one hand, pulled the dying
man from the wheel with the other, and placed him by the side of the
dead captain.

Though, apparently, the pilot was as cool and undisturbed as ever, his
face was whiter than usual. He said the most trying moment of all was
soon after the first shots were fired. Wishing to "round the bend" as
speedily as possible, he rang the bell as a signal to the engineer to
check the speed of one of the wheels. The signal was not obeyed, the
engineers having fled to places of safety. He rang the bell once more.
He shouted down the speaking-tube, to enforce compliance with his

There was no answer. The engines were caring for themselves. The boat
must be controlled by the rudder alone. With a dead man and a
dying man at his feet, with the Rebel shot and shell every moment
perforating the boat or falling near it, and with no help from those
who should control the machinery, he felt that his position was a
painful one.

We were out of danger. An hour later we found the gun-boat _Neosho_,
at anchor, eight miles further up the stream. Thinking we might again
be attacked, the commander of the _Neosho_ offered to convoy us to
Red River. We accepted his offer. As soon as the _Neosho_ raised
sufficient steam to enable her to move, we proceeded on our course.

Order was restored on the _Von Phul_. Most of the passengers gathered
in little groups, and talked about the recent occurrence. I returned
to my writing, and Colburn gave his attention to a book. With the
gun-boat at our side, no one supposed there was danger of another

A half-hour after starting under convoy of the gun-boat, the Rebels
once more opened fire. They paid no attention to the _Neosho_, but
threw all their projectiles at the _Von Phul_. The first shell passed
through the cabin, wounding a person near me, and grazing a post
against which Colburn and myself were resting our chairs. This shell
was followed by others in quick succession, most of them passing
through the cabin. One exploded under the portion of the cabin
directly beneath my position. The explosion uplifted the boards with
such force as to overturn my table and disturb the steadiness of my

I dreaded splinters far more than I feared the pitiless iron. I left
the cabin, through which the shells were pouring, and descended to the
lower deck. It was no better there than above. We were increasing
the distance between ourselves and the Rebels, and the shot began to
strike lower down. Nearly every shot raked the lower deck.

A loose plank on which I stood was split for more than half its
length, by a shot which struck my foot when its force was nearly
spent. Though the skin was not abraded, and no bones were broken, I
felt the effect of the blow for several weeks.

I lay down upon the deck. A moment after I had taken my horizontal
position, two men who lay against me were mortally wounded by a shell.
The right leg of one was completely severed below the knee. This shell
was the last projectile that struck the forward portion of the boat.

With a handkerchief loosely tied and twisted with a stick, I
endeavored to stop the flow of blood from the leg of the wounded man.
I was partially successful, but the stoppage of blood could not save
the man's life. He died within the hour.

Forty-two shot and shell struck the boat. The escape-pipe was severed
where it passed between two state-rooms, and filled the cabin with
steam. The safe in the captain's office was perforated as if it had
been made of wood. A trunk was broken by a shell, and its contents
were scattered upon the floor. Splinters had fallen in the cabin,
and were spread thickly upon the carpet. Every person who escaped
uninjured had his own list of incidents to narrate.

Out of about fifty persons on board the _Von Phul_ at the time of this
occurrence, twelve were killed or wounded. One of the last projectiles
that struck the boat, injured a boiler sufficiently to allow the
escape of steam. In ten minutes our engines moved very feebly. We were
forced to "tie up" to the eastern bank of the river. We were by this
time out of range of the Rebel battery. The _Neosho_ had opened fire,
and by the time we made fast to the bank, the Rebels were in retreat.

The _Neosho_ ceased firing and moved to our relief. Before she reached
us, the steamer _Atlantic_ came in sight, descending the river.
We hailed her, and she came alongside. Immediately on learning our
condition, her captain offered to tow the _Von Phul_ to Red River,
twenty miles distant. There we could lie, under protection of the
gun-boats, and repair the damages to our machinery. We accepted his
offer at once.

I can hardly imagine a situation of greater helplessness, than a
place on board a Western passenger-steamer under the guns of a hostile
battery. A battle-field is no comparison. On solid earth the
principal danger is from projectiles. You can fight, or, under some
circumstances, can run away. On a Mississippi transport, you are
equally in danger of being shot. Added to this, you may be struck by
splinters, scalded by steam, burned by fire, or drowned in the water.
You cannot fight, you cannot run away, and you cannot find shelter.
With no power for resistance or escape, the sense of danger and
helplessness cannot be set aside.

A few weeks after the occurrence just narrated, the steamer _Brazil_,
on her way from Vicksburg to Natchez, was fired upon by a Rebel
battery near Rodney, Mississippi. The boat was struck a half-dozen
times by shot and shell. More than a hundred rifle-bullets were thrown
on board. Three persons were killed and as many wounded.

Among those killed on the _Brazil_, was a young woman who had engaged
to take charge of a school for negro children at Natchez. The Rebel
sympathizers at Natchez displayed much gratification at her death. On
several occasions I heard some of the more pious among them declare
that the hand of God directed the fatal missile. They prophesied
violent or sudden deaths to all who came to the South on a similar

The steamer _Black Hawk_ was fired upon by a Rebel battery at the
mouth of Red River. The boat ran aground in range of the enemy's guns.
A shell set her pilot-house on fire, and several persons were killed
in the cabin.

Strange to say, though aground and on fire under a Rebel battery, the
_Black Hawk_ was saved. By great exertions on the part of officers and
crew, the fire was extinguished after the pilot-house was burned away.
A temporary steering apparatus was rigged, and the boat moved from the
shoal where she had grounded. She was a full half hour within range of
the Rebel guns.



The Beginning and the End. - The Lake Erie Piracy. - A Rochester
Story. - The First War Correspondent, - Napoleon's Policy. - Waterloo
and the Rothschilds. - Journalistic Enterprise in the Mexican War. - The
Crimea and the East Indian Rebellion. - Experiences at the Beginning
of Hostilities. - The Tender Mercies of the Insurgents. - In the
Field. - Adventures in Missouri and Kentucky. - Correspondents
in Captivity. - How Battle-Accounts were Written. - Professional

Having lain aside my pen while engaged in planting cotton and
entertaining guerrillas, I resumed it on coming North, after that
experiment was finished. Setting aside my capture in New Hampshire,
narrated in the first chapter, my adventures in the field commenced in
Missouri in the earliest campaign. Singularly enough, they terminated
on our Northern border. In the earlier days of the Rebellion, it
was the jest of the correspondents, that they would, some time, find
occasion to write war-letters from the Northern cities. The jest
became a reality in the siege of Cincinnati. During that siege we
wondered whether it would be possible to extend our labors to Detroit
or Mackinaw.

In September, 1864, the famous "Lake Erie Piracy" occurred. I was
in Cleveland when the news of the seizure of the _Philo Parsons_ was
announced by telegraph, and at once proceeded to Detroit. The capture
of the _Parsons_ was a very absurd movement on the part of the Rebels,
who had taken refuge in Canada. The original design was, doubtless,
the capture of the gun-boat _Michigan_, and the release of the
prisoners on Johnson's Island. The captors of the _Parsons_ had
confederates in Sandusky, who endeavored to have the _Michigan_ in
a half-disabled condition when the _Parsons_ arrived. This was not
accomplished, and the scheme fell completely through. The two small
steamers, the _Parsons_ and _Island Queen_, were abandoned after being
in Rebel hands only a few hours.

The officers of the _Parsons_ told an interesting story of their
seizure. Mr. Ashley, the clerk, said the boat left Detroit for
Sandusky at her usual hour. She had a few passengers from Detroit, and
received others at various landings. The last party that came on board
brought an old trunk bound with ropes. The different parties did not
recognize each other, not even when drinking at the bar. When near
Kelly's Island in Lake Erie, the various officers of the steamer were
suddenly seized. The ropes on the trunk were cut, the lid flew open,
and a quantity of revolvers and hatchets was brought to light.

The pirates declared they were acting in the interest of the
"Confederacy." They relieved Mr. Ashley of his pocket-book and
contents, and appropriated the money they found in the safe. Those
of the passengers who were not "in the ring," were compelled to
contribute to the representatives of the Rebel Government. This little
affair was claimed to be "belligerent" throughout. At Kelly's Island
the passengers and crew were liberated on parole not to take up arms
against the Confederacy until properly exchanged.

After cruising in front of Sandusky, and failing to receive signals
which they expected, the pirates returned to Canada with their prize.
One of their "belligerent" acts was to throw overboard the cargo of
the _Parsons_, together with most of her furniture. At Sandwich, near
Detroit, they left the boat, after taking ashore a piano and other
articles. Her Majesty's officer of customs took possession of this
stolen property, on the ground that it was brought into Canada
without the proper permits from the custom-house. It was subsequently
recovered by its owners.

The St. Albans raid, which occurred a few months later, was a similar
act of belligerency. It created more excitement than the Lake Erie
piracy, but the questions involved were practically the same. That the
Rebels had a right of asylum in Canada no one could deny, but there
was a difference of opinion respecting the proper limits to those
rights. The Rebels hoped to involve us in a controversy with England,
that should result in the recognition of the Confederacy. This was
frequently avowed by some of the indiscreet refugees.

After the capture of the _Parsons_ and the raid upon St. Albans,
the Canadian authorities sent a strong force of militia to watch the
frontier. A battalion of British regulars was stationed at Windsor,
opposite Detroit, early in 1864, but was removed to the interior
before the raids occurred. The authorities assigned as a reason for
this removal, the desire to concentrate their forces at some central
point. The real reason was the rapid desertion of their men, allured
by the high pay and opportunity of active service in our army. In
two months the battalion at Windsor was reduced fifteen per cent, by
desertions alone.

Shortly after the St. Albans raid, a paper in Rochester announced a
visit to that city by a cricket-club from Toronto. The paragraph was
written somewhat obscurely, and jestingly spoke of the Toronto men as
"raiders." The paper reached New York, and so alarmed the authorities
that troops were at once ordered to Rochester and other points on the
frontier. The misapprehension was discovered in season to prevent the
actual moving of the troops.

* * * * *

With the suppression of the Rebellion the mission of the war
correspondent was ended. Let us all hope that his services will not
again be required, in this country, at least, during the present
century. The publication of the reports of battles, written on the
field, and frequently during the heat of an engagement, was a marked
feature of the late war. "Our Special Correspondent" is not, however,
an invention belonging to this important era of our history.

His existence dates from the days of the Greeks and Romans. If Homer
had witnessed the battles which he described, he would, doubtless, be
recognized as the earliest war correspondent. Xenophon was the first
regular correspondent of which we have any record. He achieved an
enduring fame, which is a just tribute to the man and his profession.

During the Middle Ages, the Crusades afforded fine opportunities for
the war correspondents to display their abilities. The prevailing
ignorance of those times is shown in the absence of any reliable
accounts of the Holy Wars, written by journalists on the field. There
was no daily press, and the mail communications were very unreliable.
Down to the nineteenth century, Xenophon had no formidable competitors
for the honors which attached to his name.

The elder Napoleon always acted as his own "Special." His bulletins,
by rapid post to Paris, were generally the first tidings of his
brilliant marches and victories. His example was thought worthy of
imitation by several military officials during the late Rebellion.
Rear-Admiral Porter essayed to excel Napoleon in sending early
reports of battles for public perusal. "I have the honor to inform the
Department," is a formula with which most editors and printers became
intimately acquainted. The admiral's veracity was not as conspicuous
as his eagerness to push his reports in print.

At Waterloo there was no regular correspondent of the London press.
Several volunteer writers furnished accounts of the battle for
publication, whose accuracy has been called in question. Wellington's
official dispatches were outstripped by the enterprise of a London
banking-house. The Rothschilds knew the result of the battle eight
hours before Wellington's courier arrived.

Carrier pigeons were used to convey the intelligence. During the
Rebellion, Wall Street speculators endeavored to imitate the policy of
the Rothschilds, but were only partially successful.

In the war between Mexico and the United States, "Our Special" was
actively, though not extensively, employed. On one occasion, _The
Herald_ obtained its news in advance of the official dispatches to the
Government. The magnetic telegraph was then unknown. Horse-flesh and
steam were the only means of transmitting intelligence. If we except
the New Orleans _Picayune, The Herald_ was the only paper represented
in Mexico during the campaigns of Scott and Taylor.

During the conflict between France and England on the one hand, and
Russia on the other, the journals of London and Paris sent their
representatives to the Crimea. The London _Times,_ the foremost
paper of Europe, gave Russell a reputation he will long retain. The
"Thunderer's" letters from the camp before Sebastopol became known
throughout the civilized world. A few years later, the East Indian
rebellion once more called the London specials to the field. In
giving the history of the campaigns in India, _The Times_ and its
representative overshadowed all the rest.

Just before the commencement of hostilities in the late Rebellion, the
leading journals of New York were well represented in the South. Each
day these papers gave their readers full details of all important
events that transpired in the South. The correspondents that witnessed
the firing of the Southern heart had many adventures. Some of them
narrowly escaped with their lives.

At Richmond, a crowd visited the Spottswood House, with the avowed
intention of hanging a _Herald_ correspondent, who managed to escape
through a back door of the building. A representative of _The Tribune_
was summoned before the authorities at Charleston, on the charge of
being a Federal spy. He was cleared of the charge, but advised to
proceed North as early as possible. When he departed, Governor Pickens
requested him, as a particular favor, to ascertain the name of _The
Tribune_ correspondent, on arrival in New York, and inform him by
letter. He promised to do so. On reaching the North, he kindly told
Governor Pickens who _The Tribune_ correspondent was.

A _Times_ correspondent, passing through Harper's Ferry, found himself
in the hands of "the Chivalry," who proposed to hang him on the
general charge of being an Abolitionist. He was finally released
without injury, but at one time the chances of his escape were small.

The New Orleans correspondent of _The Tribune_ came North on the last
passenger-train from Richmond to Aquia Creek. One of _The Herald's_
representatives was thrown into prison by Jeff. Davis, but released
through the influence of Pope Walker, the Rebel Secretary of War.
Another remained in the South until all regular communication was cut
off. He reached the North in safety by the line of the "underground

When the Rebellion was fairly inaugurated, the various points of
interest were at once visited by the correspondents of the press.
Wherever our armies operated, the principal dailies of New York and
other cities were represented. Washington was the center of gravity
around which the Eastern correspondents revolved. As the army
advanced into Virginia, every movement was carefully chronicled. The
competition between the different journals was very great.

In the West the field was broader, and the competition, though active,

Online LibraryThomas W. KnoxCamp-Fire and Cotton-Field Southern Adventure in Time of War. Life with the Union Armies, and Residence on a Louisiana Plantation → online text (page 29 of 32)