May 5: Correspondence from Fort Defiance

From the New York Times:

CAMP DEFIANCE, CAIRO, Ill., Sunday, May 5, 1861.

While no actual event has come to our knowledge tending to elucidate the plans of the rebels in reference to this point, there is still a growing feeling bore that a crisis is approaching. How soon it may be precipitated, or how long delayed, it is impossible to say. It may arrive within two days — it may linger for a month. From the things we see around us we have no means of judging. We are in the midst of a town, organized with the formalities of business. In this hotel, in these stores and shops, in these steamers, which every hour gives to our sight, passing heavily laden up or down one or the other river, we discern only the evidences of a friendly civilization — nothing of the hatred that seeks to quench its fires in blood.

Everything but the sight of the troops indicates peace; and even the operations of the camp are conducted with a quietude that almost belies their energetic and deadly purpose. But on two sides of us flow these great rivers, beyond which we know not what preparations await some fatal moment for our destruction. The woods upon the hostile shores of Kentucky and Missouri, reaching down to the very water’s edge — you almost think you can touch them with your hand, they look so near — seem like an impenetrable veil, interposing between our eyes and any possible mischiefs which their green tops may conceal. All beyond is mystery; and we know not what day may show them bristling with guns, or what night may involve us in a bloody conflict with an enemy now unknown.

Yesterday information reached the Commandant which indicated the possibility of speedy attack. Instantly the military sinews were braced to meet the shock of any possible danger. A special order was issued for all the men to remain in camp, prepared for instant service. Twenty rounds of cartridges were supplied to each, and every precaution taken for a desperate defence in case of attack.

Steamers pass hourly, mainly down the river, and freighted to the limit of safety with supplies for the traitors. I presume a dozen have gone down to-day, loaded with cattle, corn, flour, bacon, &c., drawn from the storehouses of the Northwest, in anticipation of the coming embargo. Should the crops in the Upper Mississippi Valley be as poor this year as they were two years ago, we may find the tables turned upon us in a few months, with the difference that we shall not then be allowed to buy in Southern markets. Egypt has already sold too much. It is true that she is richer in money, but it is money which has been stolen in advance from the Federal vaults. Was there ever such a conspiracy!

Illinois, at this point, may be said to have reached down as far as possible into the South. We are surrounded by a community essentially Southern in interests and feeling. The great bulk of the Egyptians are of Southern origin, from Virginia, and Tennessee and Kentucky, and a large number are actually Pro-Slavery in sentiment, and sympathize strongly with their rebellious kindred. In Cairo, Republicanism scarcely ever got a foothold. Yet Egypt has given no signs of disloyalty, and is contributing liberally to the army of defence. When it comes to marching into other States, if it ever does, I presume that there will be many a vigorous protest; for the Egyptian mind will be conscious of sensations not in harmony with the doctrine of “coercion.”

In such, a community there must of necessity be generated some traitors; and the greatest vigilance will be needed to guard against their, operations. The Illinois Central Railroad, running so far through this region, will present many vulnerable points for attack; and every mile of its length, and every detail of its management, should be subject to the greatest watchfulness. How easy, when the enemy is ready to strike a blow, for all supplies of men, arms, ammunition or provisions, to be out off by the destruction of a single bridge.
If resolutely attacked, this point can only be saved by the aid of cannon. It lies low; much lower than the Missouri shore opposite. A battery planted there will render our position entirely untenable. Hence, we must at all hazards prevent the erection of any such batteries; and to do this, we need heavy guns. These, at present, we have not got; and should the enemy appear there to-morrow morning, erecting their works, we have not the power to prevent them. Our six-pounders are good enough in their place; but we must command the rivers and both shores of each. The rebels are rapidly casting cannon in Memphis and Nashville, and, some time, will be ready to commence the attack; shall we be prepared?

The flight of fugitives continues. At this point, we see none but the white ones; the blacks would be sent back. One negro jumped off a boat night before last, but his master was immediately on his track, and found plenty ready to aid him. He offered a policeman a hundred dollars to capture him, and the officer soon bad the money. The negro said he was advised to go by a man, who gave him $3 to pay expenses till he got amongst friends. I heard several citizens envying the lucky policeman, who got such a snug fee for doing what all considered a duty.

The beats bring in great numbers of white fugitives, who are expelled from their homes because of their loyalty to the best Government on earth. A large crowd left here on the train to-day — same up from the Gulf States — some down from Tennessee via Nashville. It is pitiable to see women and children, and old men thus flying. Some of the “poor whites” look especially miserable. I learned to-day the mode adopted in some places. A musket is carried to your house, and you are invited to enlist in the Southern Army. You demur; you are a Northern man, or you have not made up your mind is rebel; you wish to remain neutral. Very well; you are them advised to leave the place at once. It is not best for you to wait to close up your business; or to attempt to take away any property; but you must go or do worse.

And all this in a land of liberty and enlightenment; under a Government founded upon the principles of Republicanism and the precepts of Christ. The invectives of GARRISON and PHILLIPS are pointless against Slavery, in the presence of such a history as is now being acted in the South.


Another account of life at Fort Defiance on this date is at Daily Observations of the Civil War.

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