The SS Conestoga
The New York Times correspondent reports on a trip to the captured capital of Tennessee.
NASHVILLE, Tenn., Thursday, Feb. 27, 1862.
Tuesday, the gunboat Conestoga was ordered to proceed from Cairo to this place, for the purpose of conveying orders to such of the gunboat fleet as might be up the Cumberland River. The substance of the order was, I suppose, that all the boats which could be spared, should, together with the mortarboats, report immediately at Cairo, with a view to operations down the Mississippi River.
The Conestoga, by the way, is one of the three wooden boats, and apart from her active participation in several fights, including the gallant struggles at Forts Henry and Donelson, has been engaged in active operations ever since last June. There is not a resident on the banks of any of the rivers within two hundred miles of Cairo, to whom the appearance of the Conestoga is not as familiar as the trim of his own whiskers, or the features of his helpmate. One day she might be seen moored near some house far up the Cumberland, while her suave commander, Capt. PHELPS, explained to some wondering native the object and scope of the present rebellion — the next day she would probably pitch a shell into the works at Fort Henry, or carefully cruise along the shore in search of, or exchanging broadsides with some masked battery; twenty-four hours after she would be cruising around Columbus, or possibly convoying transports laden with troops on some of the thousand and one expeditions that characterized for so long a period the operations at Cairo during the Summer and Fall of 1861.
The swiftest boat on the river, she has always been used for an express as well as gunboat, and thus, in one capacity or the other, has had scarcely an hour’s leisure since she was first set afloat. There is not a house between Cairo and Fort Henry on the Tennessee, and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland, but what claims a friendly interest in the Conestoga. She never passes any of them without hats, sun-bonnets, pocket-handkerchiefs, hurrahs and “How-are-you’s” being brought into requisition to show their recognition and joyfulness. Until this last trip, the Conestoga has been lucky beyond all precedent. During all her fights she has never lost a man, and was never struck but once, and then by a charge of grape, which did no further damage than to literally perforate her smoke-stack and slightly wound a setter belonging to some of the crew.
At Lucas Bend last September, she silenced a battery of twelve pieces that suddenly opened upon her from the shore; at Henry and Donelson the iron shower fell all around her; time and again has she been opened upon by batteries which the rebels had stationed on the river bank for her special benefit; scores of times have rebel riflemen poured a heavy fire upon her as she steamed by some well-timbered bluff, but in no case has she met with a single loss or had a splinter raised by hostile bullets, save with the single exception above referred to. Even that was not serious, as the dog was long since convalescent and can now “set” a bird or wag a tail with any dog in Christendom.
If the Conestoga be not peculiarly entitled to the term lucky, there is no luck extant. The following are the names of the officers: Captain, S.L. Phelps; First Master, John F. Duke; Second Master, Chas. P. Noble; Third Master, Benj. Sebastian: Fourth Master, H. Cutter; Master’s Mate, James Kearney; Surgeon, W.H. Wilson; Purser, Alfred Phelps; Pilots, A.M. Jordan, Wm. M. Attenborough; Gunner, Henry Hamilton; First Engineer, Thos. Cook; Second Engineer, Alex. Magee; Third Engineer Michael Norton; Fourth Engineer, James O’Neil, I may add that the officers, without exception, are gentlemen in the complete; sense of the word, and possess, in addition to this qualification, a thorough knowledge of their duties. The efficacy of Capt. PHILPS is so well known that special reference to it would be superfluous. Suffice it that an abler or more gallant officer never trod a plank.
Fort Donelson as we passed it, seemed more formidable than ever; its peculiar characteristics are such that, like a master-piece in painting, or an extended view of some grand mountain scenery, it cannot be appreciated at one view, but becomes huger and more formidable in proportion as one examines it. Why such a position was ever surrendered to less than 100,000, and before it had been besieged six months, is a mystery of the most impenetrable character. With 10,000 Yankees behind the works, and an ample supply of food and munitions, all the rebels this side of Hades cannot take the Fort within the next decade. There was one pleasing difference between the Fort as we saw it this time, and on the Thursday which preceded its capture. The stars and stripes were floating gaily from the loftiest bastion of the works; companies in blue were manoeuvring about the grounds; brass bands enlivened the air with everything but “Dixie;” clean white tents and fine-looking soldiers covered the surroundings of Dover, and in short everything appeared as though determination, enterprise and go-aheadativeness had got possession of the place.
All the way up to Clarksville we found evidences of loyalty among the scattered residences along the banks of the river. Beyond this, however, there seemed to be a decided change. The people were just as plenty, and expressed just as much curiosity to see us, but instead of waving hats and handkerchiefs, they stared at us in sullen silence. They seemed benumbed, stupefied at the change was though they hardly yet appreciated the fact that it was the stars and Stripes, instead of the stars and bars that hung from our flagstaff.
Even the negroes, usually so demonstrative, stood like ebony statues of astonishment and stupidity, and gave their supposed deliverers never a cheer. One old fellow did indeed get up a little enthusiasm — he was, however, a long distance from any house, and only ventured to shake his battered hat from behind the protection of an oat-stack.
The only other case in which a sign of welcome was vouchsafed, was that of a pretty Miss, of some seventeen or thereabouts, who leaned over the balcony of an aristocratic house below Nashville and shook a delicate white mouchoir and her pretty curls at us as long as we remained in sight. Whether she did it from patriotism, for fun, or because her romantic nature was impressed with the quantities of gold lace that so plentifully bedecked our gallant officers, is more than I can tell. Probably it was simply one of those impulses to which “gushing” girlhood is liable, and hence cannot logically be construed as an evidence of public sentiment in that neighborhood.
It is more than probable that in a week or so there will be a marked difference. They have so long been lied to, and deceived by the political, religious, and editorial scoundrels of the South, that they dread our coming as they would the advent of a pestilence. The following is a specimen of the pabulum upon which the masses of the South are fed. It is taken from the Nashville Banner of Peace, published by the Reverend (Lying) W.E. WARD.
“We have felt too secure, we have been too blind to the consequences of Federal success. If they succeed, we shall see plunder, insult to old and young, male and female, murder of innocents, release of slaves and causing them to drive and insult their masters and mistresses in the most menial services, the land laid waste, houses burned, banks and private coffers robbed, cotton and every valuable taken away before our eyes, and a brutal, drunken soldiery turned loose upon us. Who wants to see this? If you do not believe you will see it, look at Missouri.”
As soon as our troops have occupied the country for a few weeks, and by their action given the lie to such
assertions as the above, the latent Union sentiment, in this portion of the State, will develop itself to an extent that will overwhelm the traitors beyond redemption. Another week will witness a change of the greatest magnitude.
The river banks, and the country adjoining from Donelson up to Nashville, are of a most charming character. The bluffs, on either side, are broken — now towering up three hundred feet, a square, solid wall; of rock — again isolated conical peaks, whose tops are green with cedars, here and there sweeping back from the river in an irregular semicircle, leaving a rich bottom in which nestles a comfortable farmhouse, surrounded with orchards and springing fields of Winter grain. The air was warm and delicious; birds chirped and twittered among the boughs, which already are half concealed by the bursting buds and green young leaves of Spring. Tennessee may, judging from the glimpses caught from the river, be well termed the “Garden State,” for never was there scenes better calculated to give pleasure to the lovers of the beautiful or the utilitarian than those which spread away on either side of the Cumberland.
Six miles below Nashville we reached Fort Zollicoffer. It is located on the west bank of the river, some sixty feet above the water, and is mounted with eight guns — 32s and 64s. Although the guns are mounted the fort is unfinished, being nothing more as yet than a series of breastworks — one for each gun. Two additional guns had been thrown down the bank and lay close to the water’s edge — one or two others are supposed to have been thrown in the river, while the balance are indifferently well spiked. The rebels who constructed the fort evidently knew but little of the existence of the gunboats, or else they would have placed the pieces in quite a different position. The guns stand very nearly on a line parallel with the river, thus exposing them to our enfilading fire from the gunboats. The gallant Commodore FOOTE, with his fleet, would have swept the whole battery out of existence in half an hour; but they were evidently intended to operate against transports carrying troops, in which case they would have answered admirably.
Soon after passing Fort Zollicoffer the magnificent State-house, situated upon the highest hill of Nashville, came into view, with the glorious old flag waving proudly from a staff upon the roof. A little further, and the lofty piers of the ruined bridges become visible — a few minutes later, and the Conestoga was fast at the wharf at the foot of one of the main streets of Nashville.
The telegraph has long ere this made your readers familiar with the main outlines of the occupancy of Nashville, but at the risk of repetition I will give a summary of the events.
Up to Sunday morning, the 16th inst., the day upon which Fort Donelson surrendered, the impression was prevalent in Nashville that the “Yankees” were being “cleaned out” in the usual wholesale slaughter, buncombe style, customary in the cases of the gallant sons of chivalry. Saturday a dispatch was published as follows:
“ENEMY RETREATING! — GLORIOUS RESULT!! — OUR BOYS FOLLOWING AND PEPRARING THEIR REAR!! — A COMPLETE VICTORY.”
Gen. PILLOW also sent up a dispatch:
“ON THE HONOR OF A SOLDIER THE DAY IS OURS!!”
PILLOW, however, failed in his prognostication. His “honor,” apparently, is not worth speaking of. The only “dispatch” that he can pride himself on is the dispatch with which he, in company with the valiant FLOYD, got himself out of Dover, danger, and the range of Yankee bullets.
The dispatch of the other sanguine individual is also liable to objection, both on account of its lack of truthfulness and its inelegant allusions. Instead of pickling the Nationals, the rebels became the recipients of the condiment above named, both in front and “rear,” which, in addition, being thoroughly punched in by the bayonets of the veteran SMITH’s Division, they were glad to get out of their pickle by a surrender.
CAVE JOHNSON was also seized with the prevailing hopefulness, and the dispatch-mania, and from the safe distance of Clarksville, cheered the rejoicing spirits of Nashville as follows:
The fighting on yesterday was mainly between two gunboats and the fort. Boats greatly damaged, and retired. Three out of seven in this river are believed to be disabled. Firing kept up all day on our lines without loss on our side. We hear firing again this morning. They have had large reinforcements. Their whole force supposed to be near one hundred thousand. Our officers feel confident of success, and our troops equally so, and cannot be conquered. A Virginia regiment, MCCAUSTIN, took one of their batteries night before last without any loss on our side. Reports of the capture of Russellville and Elkton not believed. Their whole loss, it is thought, exceeds one thousand. CAVE JOHNSON.
Of coarse the virtuous and Christianly traitors of Nashville were highly delighted Sunday morning, to receive these encouraging assurances of the thrifty progress of rebellion. They were mingling this glad intelligence with their devotions — indulging in cheerful anticipations of the future of Dixie, while they gave vent to Old Hundred, and other Te Deums, when suddenly the delicious union of religion and rebellion was strangled its mercilessly as one throttles a litter of blind puppies, by the advent of the gallant FLOYD, who commanded the vanguard of the retreat from Donelson.
Old Hundred was dropped instanter — devotion was silenced — and if the name of Him they had met to worship was again mentioned in the course of that memorable Sunday, it was generally with the addition of an emphatic “d — n.”
HARRIS instantly convened his Legislature, but, finding no Parliamentary remedy against the approach of Yankees with rifles and armored gunboats, they adjourned without calling for the nays, and took a special train for Memphis.
Before night, JOHNSON, with his retreating hordes from Bowling Green, entered the city and struck straight south for Dixie. This added to the general panic, and when a rumor became current that the dreaded gunboats had taken Clarksville and were advancing up the river, the excitement grew to be tremendous.
To save the trouble of writing, I take the remainder of the account from an extra of the Republican Banner, issued this morning.
“Such hurrying to and fro was never seen. Before nightfall hundreds of citizens with their families were making their way, as best they could, for the South, many of them having no idea why they were thus recklessly abandoning comfortable homes, or where they were going. About night it was announced that the military authorities would throw open the public stores to all who would take them.
The excitement continued through Sunday night, constantly gaining strength, aided by the destruction of two gunboats at the wharf, which were in process of construction, two fine New-Orleans packets, the James Woods and James Johnson, having been taken for that purpose. The retreating army of Gen. JOHNSON continued its march, encamping by regiments at convenient points outside of the city.
Monday morning the drama opened in the city intensely exciting. The public stores were distributed to some extent among the people, while the army and hospitals were making heavy requisitions, and pressing all vehicles and men that they could, to convey their supplies to their camps. At the same time considerable quantities were removed to the depots for transportation South. Evening came and no gunboats and no Federal army from Kentucky. Gen. JOHNSON left for the South, placing Gen. FLOYD in command, assisted by Gens. PILLOW and HARDEE. The apprehensions of the near approach of the enemy having been found groundless, it wan determined by Gen. FLOYD that the destruction of the stores was premature, and an order was sent to close the warehouses, and a force detailed to collect what had been given out. This was done as far as practicable; but on Tuesday the distribution commenced again, and continued with more or less restrictions, under the eye of the most judicious citizens, until Saturday morning. Tuesday night the wire bridge and railroad bridge across the Cumberland were destroyed in spite of the most earnest and persistent remonstrances of our leading citizens. The wire bridge cost about $150,000, and a large portion of the stock was owned by the lamented Gen. ZOLLICOFFER, and was the chief reliance for support of his orphaned daughters. The railroad bridge cost $250,000, and was one of the finest draw-bridges in the country.
The scenes which were enacted during the following days up to Monday morning, 24th, beggar description. The untiring energy of the Mayor and city authorities, who throughout this whole affair acted with a prudence, zeal and devotion to the city which cannot be too highly commended, was inadequate to keep down the selfish and unprincipled spirit of Mammon, which run riot, grasping from the mouths and backs of suffering widows and orphans the poor pittance of meat and clothing which was left them as indemnity for months of toil with their needles, and the sacrifice of husbands, sons and brothers in defence of the Southern Confederacy. Through the efforts of the Mayor, however, a plan was adopted on Saturday by which most, if not all of these poor and unprotected creditors of the Government were fully secured by Quartermaster and Commissary stores.
Here was an entire week of panic and confusion, during which millions of dollars’ worth of property was lost to the Southern Confederacy, and wantonly destroyed, all of which might have been quietly and safely removed, had the panic-stricken leaders been able to maintain their equanimity in the face of a vague and unauthentic rumor that, the enemy were near at hand. Comment upon such management is unnecessary in these columns — it can be heard loud and unsparing from every month in the land.”
Sunday morning a small advance of Gen. BUELL’s column arrived and took possession of Edgefield, a small town opposite Nashville. Nothing was done until Monday evening, when Gen. BUELL arrived at Edgefield, and was immediately visited by a Committee from Nashville, headed by Mayor CHEATHAM. The hour for a formal interview was fixed at 11 A.M. Tuesday, before which time Gen. NELSON arrived with his column on transports, accompanied by the gunboat St. Louis.
At the appointed hour the Mayor and some ten citizens waited on Gen. BUELL and surrendered the city, receiving assurances that the liberty and property of all citizens would be sacredly respected.
The interview passed off pleasantly, and resulted in the issuing of the following proclamation by the Mayor:
The Committee representing the City authorities and the people have discharged their duty by calling on Gen. BUELL, at his headquarters in Edgefield, on yesterday. The interview was perfectly satisfactory to the Committee, and there is every assurance of safety and protection to the people, both in their persons and in their property. I, therefore, respectfully request that business be resumed, and all our citizens, of every trade and profession, pursue their regular vocations.
The County Elections will take place on the regular day, and all civil business be conducted as heretofore; and the Commanding General assures me that I can rely upon his aid in enforcing our police regulations. One branch of business is interdicted — the sale or giving away of intoxicating liquors. I shall not hesitate to invoke the aid of Gen. BUELL in case the recent laws upon this subject are violated.
I most earnestly call upon the people of the surrounding country, who are inside of the Federal lines, to resume their commerce with the City, and bring in their market supplies, especially wood, butter and eggs, assuring them that they will be fully protected and amply remunerated.
Feb. 26, 1862. Mayor.
Of course, FLOYD, PILLOW & Co., long ere the National troops had possession, were long miles away from the vicinity of Nashville. No prisoners, save one, were captured, and no stores of any amount, as the latter were all taken possession of by the mob.
There were a large number of guns in the city, but they were either spiked, thrown in the river, or placed on the bridges before they were tired. The two gunboats, alluded to in the Banner, extra, were also partially burned, and sunk close by the railroad bridge, but fortunately not in a position to interfere with navigation. Several line steamers were captured, the rebels leaving in such a hurry that they had not time to burn them. Among them were the Pink Varrble, Gen. Anderson, G.W. Hillman, J.H. Baldwin, Charter, B.M. Runnion, W.V. Baird and two others. About half of them are side-wheelers and first-class boats. The Baldwin was captured yesterday. She had been somewhere up the river, and not knowing the important changes which had occurred in Nashville during her absence, came unsuspiciously into the National net, and was taken.
I have spent a good deal of time to-day in conversing with the citizens, and found but little Union sentiment. Men asserted that they were not [???] of the United States, — didn’t want any protection from the Government, and in several cases even refused to sell any goods to the soldiers or officers. One man said he was a Union man, but never had dared say so for fear of being hung; another said the only two nights’ sleep he had had in weeks were since the arrival of the National army. Another individual assured me with a very haughty air, that there were no Union men in Nashville except among mechanies and laborers; no gentlemen; he said, were anything but Secessionists, or rebels, if I liked the term any better.
The fact is, that the masses have been so lied to and misled about the purposes of the Government, that they listen with incredulity to the assertion that we do not come for the purpose of stealing their “niggers,” and other properly. As soon as their minds are disabused of these and kindred lies, they will be prepared to return to their first love — the Union. They admit that our troops behave in a manner as entirely unexceptionable as it is unexpected. Hence it may be inferred that this belief will ripen, ere long, into a substantial loyally.
At present an air of gloom hangs heavily over the whole city. The stores are closed almost without exception, and the inhabitants gather in sullen knots to talk over the now order of things. One thing, they all agree upon; and that is that the destruction of the Suspension and Railroad bridges was a most cowardly and wanton outrage upon the city. This wholesale destruction when compared with the manner in which the National troops disabled, without destroying, the bridges on the Tennessee, invites a comparison between the two forces, that must result favorably to the latter.
Gen. GRANT and Staff came up here to-day from Clarksville, and spent several hours in looking around the city. Among others whom they called upon was Mis. POLE, the widow of JAMES R. POLK, formerly President of the whole United States. The residence of the relict of the late President is a handsome brick mansion, on a fine street, and shows by her surroundings that she is a woman of taste. A large yard lies between the street and the house, which is filled with clumps of the trim and elegant cedar, stately magnolias, all green as in Summer, while here and there daffodils and other plants have pushed forth their leaves and flowers with all the richness and beauty of a Northern midsummer. In one corner, surrounded by emblematic evergreens, is a tasteful, costly tomb, beneath which sleeps the once powerful chief of a then united nation.
Mrs. POLE is a well-preserved lady of perhaps 50 years of age. She received her visitors courteously, but with a polished coldness that indicated sufficiently in which direction her sympathies ran — she was simply polite and ladylike; in no case patriotic. While site discreetly forebore to give utterance to any expression of sympathy for the South, she as rigidly avoided saying anything that might be construed into a wish for the success of the Government. She hoped, she said, that the tomb of her husband would protect her household from insult and her property from pillage; further than this she expected nothing from the United States, and desired nothing.
Soon after this her visitors left, satisfied that Ephraim was joined to his idols, and might as well be “let alone.” As the widow is of more than ordinary intelligence, and owes the ample fortune which smooths the declivity of her old age to the Government, it is somewhat strange that she should be at once so blindly ignorant of the true character of the present war, and so ungrateful.
The ladies of Nashville — that is, the few of them who have not struck for the warmer and less Yankee-haunted portions of Dixie — are, of course, as full of treason as they are in occasional cases of loveliness. I have seen only two cases of women who are loyal, and both of these are among what might be called the “lower walks” of social life. One of these was a barearmed, bareheaded female that issued from a shanty on the bluffs as we passed along the front of the city, and commenced waving her hands wildly up and down, at the same time tetering violently on her toes, like some devotee before the altar of an Aztec idol. She continued this demonstrative but original welcome, till a couple of other females issued from the same shanty, and forcibly carried her indoors. It may be suspected that her loyal recognition sprang rather from whisky than patriotism — a suspicion that my own mind is not altogether free from, as I have carefully reflected upon this singular and almost isolated case of Union feeling.
The other case was also that of an Irish lady, and seemed more the result of genuine loyalty than of stimulants. As Gen. GRANT and Staff were riding through the city, a woman rushed out from a house and throwing up her hands in the style adopted by cruel parents when they say “Bless you, my children,” in fifteen-cent novels, exclaimed: “God bless ye, gintlemen! Success go wid ye! Arrah, git in, there, ye thafe, and don’t be boderin’ the life out o’ me!” The last remark, I may say, was accompanied by a resounding slap, and was addressed to a dirty-faced gossoon that thrust his unkempt head beyond the doorway — and not, as may be surmised, to the Illinoisian hero. The youth set up one of those vigorous howls so peculiar to offended juvenility, and amid a chorus of slaps, blessings and the roars of the suffering infant, the General turned a corner and disappeared.
A little further, and the party passed slowly by a costly carriage, out of one of whose windows was thrust the head of an elegantly dressed lady. She was giving some directions to the liveried darkey that held the reins; but looking up as the party passed, she caught sight of the Federal uniforms. With a “baugh!” as if she had swallowed a toad, she spat toward the ground, and with a contemptuous and expressive grimace of disgust upon her features, drew in her head, and threw herself back in her carriage Quite possibly such movements are the very height of Southern breeding — further North, in the land of Yankees and wooden clocks, a woman who would perpetrate an act of the kind, under similar circumstances, would be regarded — well, to use a convenient everyday expression, as “no better than she should be” — a somebody closely akin to, if not the identical scarlet feminine spoken of in Revelations.
Occasionally I met other specimens of Nashville ladies, who, in many cases supposing me to be a soldier, from the possession of a blue overcoat, described upon meeting a wide semicircle of avoidance, swinging, as they did so, their rotundant skirts with a contemptuous flirt far out, as if the very touch of a blue coat would be contamination. And then the angle at which the noses of the naughty darlings went up, and the extent to which their lips and eyes went down, were not the least interesting portion of these little by-plays, and assisted materially in showing the exquisite breeding of these amiable demoiselles.
A more cynical observer than myself would, perhaps, assert that all this flirting of dresses was mainly gotten up for the better display of pretty ankles, and that those to whom nature had not been kind in this respect, were among those who omitted from then performance, to give their rustling silks the outward sweep. Possibly this view may be true, but I will not be uncharitable enough to indorse it.
It is not probable that our soldiers will allow these evidences of disdain to affect them to any great extent. At present, there are but few ladies in town: hundreds have fled in horror from the approach of the ruthless Hessians of the North; other, unable to leave, have put triple bars before their doors and windows, and hide at once their fears and beauty behind these protections. In view of these facts, those who now wander through the streets are not formidable as to number, and they will, doubtless, soon become, to some extent, civilized.
The rebels had stores here in unlimited quantities, none of which they were able to take away. All, after several days of riot, which, in terror, almost exceeded the three days in Paris in ’48, were divided among, or rather seized by, the mob. There were, in addition to the food, several hundred barrels of whisky, the heads of which were knocked in, and the contents allowed to mingle with the waters of the Cumberland.
About 100 of our prisoners, who were captured by the rebels at Donelson, were found at this place upon the arrival of our troops — all of them were either sick or wounded. That they were glad to once more find themselves among friends will not be doubted.
It is not known precisely to what point the enemy is retiring, but it is generally believed that they are concentrating at Chattanooga, in this State. I doubt very much their making any more stands of any magnitude at any point where they can be reached by gunboats. “We can whip you even-handed,” said a Fort Donelson prisoner to me, “on land, but d — n your gunboats!”
The water is very high in the Cumberland River; higher, in fact, than it has been in many years. This has favored the gunboats, and to their prestige we owe much in gaining Nashville so easily. Said a citizen an hour since — “I think the Old Monster has sent this high water on us; if it hadn’t been for that, the gunboats couldn’t have come up, and you wouldn’t have got Nashville without a big fight!” Doubtless this is pretty much so. The ground around Nashville is broken and covered with timber, and could have been defended for weeks by a determined moderate sized army.
No movements of great importance need be anticipated at this place within a short time. Gen. SMITH’s Division has reached here from Clarksville, and has taken quarters in the suburbs of the city. Several skirmishes have taken place between our pickets and guerrilla parties of the enemy, but it is believed that no considerable force of the enemy is within fifty miles of Nashville.