The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 08, No. 46, August, 1861 online

. (page 19 of 21)
Online LibraryVariousThe Atlantic Monthly, Volume 08, No. 46, August, 1861 → online text (page 19 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

really historic names in this country. He never spoke of it; but we
should all have been sorry not to feel that he was glad to have sprung
straight from that second John Winthrop who was the first Governor of
Connecticut, the younger sister colony of Massachusetts Bay, - the John
Winthrop who obtained the charter of privileges for his colony. How
clearly the quality of the man has been transmitted! How brightly the
old name shines out again!

He was born in New Haven on the 22d of September, 1828, and was a grave,
delicate, rather precocious child. He was at school only in New Haven,
and entered Yale College just as he was sixteen. The pure, manly
morality which was the substance of his character, and his brilliant
exploits of scholarship, made him the idol of his college, friends, who
saw in him the promise of the splendid career which the fond faith of
students allots to the favorite classmate. He studied for the Clark
scholarship, and gained it; and his name, in the order of time, is first
upon the roll of that foundation. He won the Townshend prize for the
best composition on History. For the Berkeleian scholarship he and
another were judged equal, and, drawing lots, the other gained the
scholarship; but they divided the honor.

In college his favorite studies were Greek and mental philosophy. He
never lost the scholarly taste and habit. A wide reader, he retained
knowledge with little effort, and often surprised his friends by the
variety of his information. Yet it was not strange, for he was born
a scholar. His mother was the great-granddaughter of old President
Edwards; and among his ancestors upon the maternal side, Winthrop
counted seven Presidents of Yale. Perhaps also in this learned descent
we may find the secret of his early seriousness. Thoughtful and
self-criticizing, he was peculiarly sensible to religious influences,
under which his criticism easily became self-accusation, and his
sensitive seriousness grew sometimes morbid. He would have studied for
the ministry or a professorship, upon leaving college, except for his
failing health.

In the later days, when I knew him, the feverish ardor of the first
religious impulse was past. It had given place to a faith much too deep
and sacred to talk about, yet holding him always with serene, steady
poise in the purest region of life and feeling. There was no franker or
more sympathetic companion for young men of his own age than he; but his
conversation fell from his lips as unsullied as his soul.

He graduated in 1848, when he was twenty years old; and for the sake of
his health, which was seriously shattered, - an ill-health that colored
all his life, he set out upon his travels. He went first to England,
spending much time at Oxford, where he made pleasant acquaintances, and
walking through Scotland. He then crossed over to France and Germany,
exploring Switzerland very thoroughly upon foot, - once or twice escaping
great dangers among the mountains, - and pushed on to Italy and Greece,
still walking much of the way. In Italy he made the acquaintance of Mr.
W.H. Aspinwall, of New York, and upon his return became tutor to Mr.
Aspinwall's son. He presently accompanied his pupil and a nephew of Mr.
Aspinwall, who were going to a school in Switzerland; and after a second
short tour of six months in Europe he returned to New York, and entered
Mr. Aspinwall's counting-house. In the employ of the Pacific Steamship
Company he went to Panama and resided for about two years, travelling,
and often ill of the fevers of the country. Before his return he
travelled through California and Oregon, - went to Vancouver's Island,
Puget Sound, and the Hudson Bay Company's station there. At the Dalles
he was smitten with the small-pox, and lay ill for six weeks. He often
spoke with the warmest gratitude of the kind care that was taken of him
there. But when only partially recovered he plunged off again into the
wilderness. At another time he fell very ill upon the Plains, and lay
down, as he supposed, to die; but after some time struggled up and on

He returned to the counting-room, but, unsated with adventure, joined
the disastrous expedition of Lieutenant Strain, during which his
health was still more weakened, and he came home again in 1854. In the
following year he studied law and was admitted to the bar. In 1856 he
entered heartily into the Fremont campaign, and from the strongest
conviction. He went into some of the dark districts of Pennsylvania and
spoke incessantly. The roving life and its picturesque episodes, with
the earnest conviction which inspired him, made the summer and autumn
exciting and pleasant. The following year he went to St. Louis to
practise law. The climate was unkind to him, and he returned and began
the practice in New York. But he could not be a lawyer. His health was
too uncertain, and his tastes and ambition allured him elsewhere. His
mind was brimming with the results of observation. His fancy was alert
and inventive, and he wrote tales and novels. At the same time he
delighted to haunt the studio of his friend Church, the painter, and
watch day by day the progress of his picture, the Heart of the Andes. It
so fired his imagination that he wrote a description of it, in which, as
if rivalling the tropical and tangled richness of the picture, he threw
together such heaps and masses of gorgeous words that the reader was
dazzled and bewildered.

The wild campaigning life was always a secret passion with him. His
stories of travel were so graphic and warm, that I remember one evening,
after we had been tracing upon the map a route he had taken, and he had
touched the whole region into life with his description, my younger
brother, who had sat by and listened with wide eyes all the evening,
exclaimed with a sigh of regretful satisfaction, as the door closed upon
our story-teller, "It's as good as Robinson Crusoe!" Yet, with all
his fondness and fitness for that kind of life, or indeed any active
administrative function, his literary ambition seemed to be the deepest
and strongest.

He had always been writing. In college and upon his travels he kept
diaries; and he has left behind him several novels, tales, sketches of
travel, and journals. The first published writing of his which is well
known is his description, in the June number of this magazine, of the
March of the Seventh Regiment of New York to Washington. It was charming
by its graceful, sparkling, crisp, off-hand dash and ease. But it is
only the practised hand that can "dash off" effectively. Let any other
clever member of the clever regiment, who has never written, try to dash
off the story of a day or a week in the life of the regiment, and he
will see that the writer did that little thing well because he had done
large things carefully. Yet, amid all the hurry and brilliant bustle of
the articles, the author is, as he was in the most bustling moment of
the life they described, a spectator, an artist. He looks on at
himself and the scene of which he is part. He is willing to merge his
individuality; but he does not merge it, for he could not.

So, wandering, hoping, trying, waiting, thirty-two years of his life
went by, and they left him true, sympathetic, patient. The sharp private
griefs that sting the heart so deeply, and leave a little poison
behind, did not spare him. But he bore everything so bravely, so
silently, - often silent for a whole evening in the midst of pleasant
talkers, but not impertinently sad, nor ever sullen, - that we all loved
him a little more at such times. The ill-health from which he always
suffered, and a flower-like delicacy of temperament, the yearning desire
to be of some service in the world, coupled with the curious, critical
introspection which marks every sensitive and refined nature and
paralyzes action, overcast his life and manner to the common eye with
pensiveness and even sternness. He wrote verses in which his heart
seems to exhale in a sigh of sadness. But he was not in the least a
sentimentalist. The womanly grace of temperament merely enhanced the
unusual manliness of his character and impression. It was like a
delicate carnation upon the cheek of a robust man. For his humor
was exuberant. He seldom laughed loud, but his smile was sweet and
appreciative. Then the range of his sympathies was so large, that he
enjoyed every kind of life and person, and was everywhere at home. In
walking and riding, in skating and running, in games out of doors and
in, no one of us all in the neighborhood was so expert, so agile as he.
For, above all things, he had what we Yankees call faculty, - the knack
of doing everything. If he rode with a neighbor who was a good horseman,
Theodore, who was a Centaur, when he mounted, would put any horse at any
gate or fence; for it did not occur to him that he could not do whatever
was to be done. Often, after writing for a few hours in the morning, he
stepped out of doors, and, from pure love of the fun, leaped and turned
summersaults on the grass, before going up to town. In walking about the
island, he constantly stopped by the roadside fences, and, grasping the
highest rail, swung himself swiftly and neatly over and back again,
resuming the walk and the talk without delay.

I do not wish to make him too much a hero. "Death," says Bacon, "openeth
the gate to good fame." When a neighbor dies, his form and quality
appear clearly, as if he had been dead a thousand years. Then we see
what we only felt before. Heroes in history seem to us poetic because
they are there. But if we should tell the simple truth of some of our
neighbors, it would sound like poetry. Winthrop was one of the men
who represent the manly and poetic qualities that always exist around
us, - not great genius, which is ever salient, but the fine fibre of
manhood that makes the worth of the race.

Closely engaged with his literary employments, and more quiet than ever,
he took less active part in the last election. But when the menace of
treason became an aggressive act, he saw very clearly the inevitable
necessity of arms. We all talked of it constantly, - watching the
news, - chafing at the sad necessity of delay, which was sure to confuse
foreign opinion and alienate sympathy, as has proved to be the case. As
matters advanced and the war-cloud rolled up thicker and blacker, he
looked at it with the secret satisfaction that war for such a cause
opened his career both as thinker and actor. The admirable coolness, the
promptness, the cheerful patience, the heroic ardor, the intelligence,
the tough experience of campaigning, the profound conviction that the
cause was in truth "the good old cause," which was now to come to the
death-grapple with its old enemy, Justice against Injustice, Order
against Anarchy, - all these should now have their turn, and the wanderer
and waiter "settle himself" at last.

We took a long walk together on the Sunday that brought the news of the
capture of Fort Sumter. He was thoroughly alive with a bright, earnest
forecast of his part in the coming work. Returning home with me, he
sat until late in the evening talking with an unwonted spirit, saying
playfully, I remember, that, if his friends would only give him a horse,
he would ride straight to victory.

Especially he wished that some competent person would keep a careful
record of events as they passed; "for we are making our history," he
said, "hand over hand." He sat quietly in the great chair while he
spoke, and at last rose to go. We went together to the door, and stood
for a little while upon the piazza, where we had sat peacefully through
so many golden summer-hours. The last hour for us had come, but we did
not know it. We shook hands, and he left me, passing rapidly along the
brook-side under the trees, and so in the soft spring starlight vanished
from my sight forever.

The next morning came the President's proclamation. Winthrop went
immediately to town and enrolled himself in the artillery corps of the
Seventh Regiment. During the two or three following days he was very
busy and very happy. On Friday afternoon, the 19th of April, I stood at
the corner of Courtland Street and saw the regiment as it marched away.
Two days before, I had seen the Massachusetts troops going down the same
street. During the day the news had come that they were already engaged,
that some were already dead in Baltimore. And the Seventh, as they went,
blessed and wept over by a great city, went, as we all believed, to
terrible battle. The setting sun in a clear April sky shone full up
the street. Mothers' eyes glistened at the windows upon the glistening
bayonets of their boys below. I knew that Winthrop and other dear
friends were there, but I did not see them. I saw only a thousand men
marching like one hero. The music beat and rang and clashed in the air.
Marching to death or victory or defeat, it mattered not. They marched
for Justice, and God was their captain.

From that moment he has told his own story in these pages until he went
to Fortress Monroe, and was made acting military secretary and aid by
General Butler. Before he went, he wrote the most copious and gayest
letters from the camp. He was thoroughly aroused, and all his powers
happily at play. In a letter to me soon after his arrival in Washington,
he says, -

"I see no present end of this business. We must conquer the South.
Afterward we must be prepared to do its police in its own behalf, and
in behalf of its black population, whom this war must, without
precipitation, emancipate. We must hold the South as the metropolitan
police holds New York. All this is inevitable. Now I wish to enroll
myself at once in the _Police of the Nation_, and for life, if the
nation will take me. I do not see that I can put myself - experience
and character - to any more useful use..... My experience in this short
campaign with the Seventh assures me that volunteers are for one purpose
and regular soldiers entirely another. We want regular soldiers for the
cause of order in these anarchical countries, and we want men in command
who, though they may be valuable as temporary satraps or proconsuls to
make liberty possible where it is now impossible, will never under any
circumstances be disloyal to _Liberty_, will always oppose any scheme of
any one to constitute a military government, and will be ready, when the
time comes, to imitate Washington. We must think of these things, and
prepare for them..... Love to all the dear friends..... This trip has
been all a lark to an old tramper like myself."

Later he writes, -

"It is the loveliest day of fullest spring. An aspen under the window
whispers to me in a chorus of all its leaves, and when I look out, every
leaf turns a sunbeam at me. I am writing in Viele's quarters in the
villa of Somebody Stone, upon whose place or farm we are encamped. The
man who built and set down these four great granite pillars in front of
his house, for a carriage-porch, had an eye or two for a fine _site_.
This seems to be the finest possible about Washington. It is a terrace
called Meridian Hill, two miles north of Pennsylvania Avenue. The house
commands the vista of the Potomac, all the plain of the city, and a
charming lawn of delicious green, with oaks of first dignity just coming
into leaf. It is lovely Nature, and the spot has snatched a grace
from Art. The grounds are laid out after a fashion, and planted with
shrubbery. The snowballs are at their snowballiest..... Have you heard
or - how many times have you used the simile of some one, Bad-muss or
Cadmus, or another hero, who sowed the dragon's teeth, and they came up
dragoons a hundred-fold and infantry a thousand-fold? _Nil admirari_
is, of course, my frame of mind; but I own astonishment at the crop of
soldiers. They must ripen awhile, perhaps, before they are to be named
quite soldiers. Ripening takes care of itself; and by the harvest-time
they will be ready to cut down.

"I find that the men best informed about the South do not anticipate
much severe fighting. Scott's Fabian policy will demoralize their
armies. If the people do not bother the great Cunetator to death before
he is ready to move to assured victory, he will make defeat impossible.
Meanwhile there will be enough outwork going on, like those neat jobs
in Missouri, to keep us all interested...... Know, O comrade, that I
am already a corporal, - an acting corporal, selected by our commanding
officer for my general effect of pipe-clay, my rapidity of heel and toe,
my present arms, etc., but liable to be ousted by suffrage any moment.
_Quod faustum sit_, ... I had already been introduced to the Secretary
of War..... I called at - - 's and saw, with two or three others, - -
on the sofa. Him my prophetic soul named my uncle to be..... But in my
uncle's house are many nephews, and whether nepotism or my transcendent
merit will prevail we shall see. I have fun, - I get experience, - I see
much, - it pays. Ah, yes! But in these fair days of May I miss my Staten
Island. War stirs the pulse, but it wounds a little all the time.

"Compliment for me Tib [a little dog] and the Wisterias, - also the mares
and the billiard-table. Ask - - to give you t'other lump of sugar in my
behalf.... Should - - return, say that I regret not being present
with an unpremeditated compliment, as thus, - 'Ah! the first rose of
summer!'.... I will try to get an enemy's button for - - , should the
enemy attack. If the Seventh returns presently, I am afraid I shall
be obliged to return with them for a time. But I mean to see this job
through, somehow."

In such an airy, sportive vein he wrote, with the firm purpose and the
distinct thought visible under the sparkle. Before the regiment left
Washington, as he has recorded, he said good-bye and went down the bay
to Fortress Monroe. Of his unshrinking and sprightly industry, his good
head, his warm heart, and cool hand, as a soldier, General Butler has
given precious testimony to his family. "I loved him as a brother," the
General writes of his young aid.

The last days of his life at Fortress Monroe were doubtless also the
happiest. His energy and enthusiasm, and kind, winning ways, and the
deep satisfaction of feeling that all his gifts could now be used as he
would have them, showed him and his friends that his day had at length
dawned. He was especially interested in the condition and fate of the
slaves who escaped from the neighboring region and sought refuge at
the fort. He had never for an instant forgotten the secret root of the
treason which was desolating the land with war; and in his view there
would be no peace until that root was destroyed. In his letters written
from the fort he suggests plans of relief and comfort for the refugees;
and one of his last requests was to a lady in New York for clothes for
these poor pensioners. They were promptly sent, but reached the fort too

As I look over these last letters, which gush and throb with the fulness
of his activity, and are so tenderly streaked with touches of constant
affection and remembrance, yet are so calm and duly mindful of every
detail, I do not think with an elder friend, in whom the wisdom of
years has only deepened sympathy for all generous youthful impulse, of
Virgil's Marcellus, "_Heu, miserande puer!_" but I recall rather, still
haunted by Philip Sidney, what he wrote, just before his death, to his
father-in-law, Walsingham, - "I think a wise and constant man ought never
to grieve while he doth play, as a man may say, his own part truly."

The sketches of the campaign in Virginia, which Winthrop had commenced
in this magazine, would have been continued, and have formed an
invaluable memoir of the places, the men, and the operations of which
he was a witness and a part. As a piece of vivid pictorial description,
which gives the spirit as well as the spectacle, his "Washington as a
Camp" is masterly. He knew not only what to see and to describe, but
what to think; so that in his papers you are not at the mercy of a
multitudinous mass of facts, but understand their value and relation.
Immediately upon his arrival at Fort Monroe he had commenced a third
article, which was to have occupied the place of this. It is inserted
here just as he left it, with one brief addition only to make his known
meaning more clear. The part called "Voices of the Contraband" was
written previously, and is not paged in the manuscript. It was to have
been introduced into the article; but it is placed first here, that the
sequence of the paper, as far as the author had written it, may remain


_Solvuntur risu tabulae_. An epigram abolished slavery in the United
States. Large wisdom, stated in fine wit, was the decision. "Negroes are
contraband of war." "They are property," claim the owners. Very well! As
General Butler takes contraband horses used in transport of munitions of
war, so he takes contraband black creatures who tote the powder to the
carts and flagellate the steeds. As he takes a spade used in hostile
earthworks, so he goes a little farther off and takes the black muscle
that wields the spade. As he takes the rations of the foe, so he takes
the sable Soyer whose skilful hand makes those rations savory to the
palates and digestible by the stomachs of the foe and so puts blood and
nerve into them. As he took the steam-gun, so he now takes what might
become the stoker of the steam part of that machine and the aimer of its
gun part. As he takes the musket, so he seizes the object who in the
Virginia army carries that musket on its shoulder until its master
is ready to reach out a lazy hand, nonchalantly lift the piece, and
carelessly pop a Yankee.

The third number of Winthrop's Sketches of the Campaign in Virginia
begins here.


The "Adelaide" is a steamer plying between Baltimore and Norfolk. But as
Norfolk has ceased to be a part of the United States, and is nowhere,
the "Adelaide" goes no farther than Fortress Monroe, Old Point Comfort,
the chief somewhere of this region. A lady, no doubt Adelaide herself,
appears in _alto rilievo_ on the paddle-box. She has a short waist, long
skirt _sans_ crinoline, leg-of-mutton sleeves, lofty bearing, and stands
like Ariadne on an island of pedestal size, surrounded by two or more
pre-Raphaelite trees. In the offing comes or goes a steamboat, also
pre-Raphaelite; and if Ariadne Adelaide's Bacchus is on board, he is out
of sight at the bar.

Such an Adelaide brought me in sight of Fortress Monroe at sunrise, May
29, 1861. The fort, though old enough to be full-grown, has not grown
very tall upon the low sands of Old Point Comfort. It is a big house
with a basement story and a garret. The roof is left off, and the
stories between basement and garret have never been inserted.

But why not be technical? For basement read a tier of casemates, each
with a black Cyclops of a big gun peering out; while above in the open
air, with not even a parasol over their backs, lie the barbette guns,
staring without a wink over sea and shore.

In peace, with a hundred or so soldiers here and there, this vast
inclosure might seem a solitude. Now it is a busy city, - a city of one
idea. I seem to recollect that D'Israeli said somewhere that every great
city was founded on one idea and existed to develop it. This city, into
which we have improvised a population, has its idea, - a unit of an idea
with two halves. The east half is the recovery of Norfolk, - the west
half the occupation of Richmond; and the idea complete is the education
of Virginia's unmannerly and disloyal sons.

Why Secession did not take this great place when its defenders numbered
a squad of officers and three hundred men is mysterious. Floyd and his
gang were treacherous enough. What was it? Were they imbecile? Were they
timid? Was there, till too late, a doubt whether the traitors at home in
Virginia would sustain them in an overt act of such big overture as an
attempt here? But they lost the chance, and with it lost the key of
Virginia, which General Butler now holds, this 30th day of May, and will
presently begin to turn in the lock.

Three hundred men to guard a mile and a half of ramparts! Three hundred
to protect some sixty-five broad acres within the walls! But the place
was a Thermopylae, and there was a fine old Leonidas at the head of its
three hundred. He was enough to make Spartans of them. Colonel Dimmick
was the man, - a quiet, modest, shrewd, faithful, Christian gentleman;
and he held all Virginia at bay. The traitors knew, that, so long as the
Colonel was here, these black muzzles with their white tompions, like

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 19 21

Online LibraryVariousThe Atlantic Monthly, Volume 08, No. 46, August, 1861 → online text (page 19 of 21)