The Civil War in AmericaThe Illustrated London News, vol. 38, no. 1093, pp. 563-564.
June 15, 1861
New York, May 24.
My first letter must necessarily be somewhat brief, as the short time I have allowed myself here has been occupied in looking about me and making the few sketches you will receive with this. When I reach the head-quarters of the Federal army I shall make up to your readers the scantiness of the present supply.
But a few days since I was standing on the landing-stage at Liverpool, waiting for the tender to take me on board the fine ocean streamer moored some distance up the stream. Then I had a confused notion of perils to be encountered on a tempest-tossed sea, and, old traveller as I am, used to knocking about the world, I experienced an undefined feeling which may be construed into an acknowledgment of the potency of the vast Atlantic for evil. I recollected the fate of the Arctic, the Pacific, and other steamers; but then, again, I was comforted at the idea of making the voyage in a Cunard ship. This company has never lost a vessel or a life by shipwreck, and their service is performed with a regularity that reflects great credit on the able officers who command the noble fleet—the finest in our merchant navy. It seems now almost like a dream, so gently have I been rocked across the turbulent deep, and, like Jupiter, I have formed an affection for the beautiful Europa, in whose arms I have been safely carried to the far-off land of our cousins. With an officer like Captain Anderson the monotony of a twelve-days' voyage is scarcely perceptible; his resources for the amusement of the passengers were inexhaustible. In addition to being a thorough seaman, Captain Anderson is a savant, and a man to whom all the mysteries of the deep are familiar, and to whom wayside objects are matters of study, and who reads in stones sermons of the mighty past. These digressions will, I am sure, be pardoned me: there are many of your readers who may some day pay a visit to America, and it is as well they should have the benefit of my experience, and so choose the right ships.
On landing at Boston I was surprised at the enthusiasm displayed by the people of the North after what I had heard in England of their apathy. Everywhere the stars and stripes of the Union floated in the breeze, while every man wore a patriotic badge in his buttonhole. Volunteers from all parts thronged the streets on their way down South, and this city of storekeepers and students had become, so to speak, a military colony. Nor is it surprising that a population whose forefathers were the first to assert their independence should rise en masse to preserve the integrity of the Constitution of which their ancestors laid the foundation. Boston was the first to unfurl the national flag, and Boston should be the last to see it hauled down. I have said this town of storekeepers and students. Boston has always been famous for its learning, and may be considered the modern Athens of the United States. Shortly after 1630, the year in which the English Puritans colonised this portion of the American soil, it was enacted that when any township should increase to the number of one hundred families it should set up a grammar-school. This wholesome provision has never been neglected, and schools are as plentiful in Boston now as are bar-rooms in the other cities of the States. In the immediate vicinity of the town is the suburb of Cambridge, devoted exclusively to scholastic purposes, though now its lecture-halls and study-walks are deserted: the student has cast aside his books and begirt him with the sword.
In the cars that took me from Boston to New York I made my first acquaintance with a genuine Yankee. On the seat beside me sat a hard-featured, sallow-complexioned, tobacco-chewing, bright-eyed, shirt-becollared, wide-awake-covered individual, who, as soon as we had quitted the station, commenced a conversation with me. It ran very much as follows:—"I conclude, Sirre, you're a stranger in these parts?" To this I bowed affirmatively. "I guess yer aint been long in the States neither; its an almighty big country, aint it?" Having assured my fellow-traveller of my unqualified approbation of all I had witnessed, there was a short pause, during which he employed himself in cutting from a cake of honeydew a small plug about half an inch square; this went to replace one which he deposited unpleasantly near my feet. Having rolled the new quid into a convenient corner of his cheek, he resumed the interrupted conversation. In short, in the course of half an hour he had imperceptibly pumped me of my name, how long I had been in the States, how long I contemplated staying, where I was going to, and a host of other matters I should never have dreamt of telling. Astounded at this in-
quisitorial proceeding, and becoming aware of it when too late, I could not help remarking to my friend that I thought him an exceedingly clever fellow to have found out all about me, when I really knew nothing whatever of him. I proposed that as I had given him my name, and told him where I was from, that he should do the same by me, so that in the course of my wanderings I might have a chance of renewing the acquaintance, which I hoped would be pleasant to both of us. "Waal, I guess, stranger, there won't be no harm in that; and I'll give it yer all, right away. I'm from down east"—mentioning some place in Maine—"war they prise up the sun with a crowbar every morning. I'm interested in blue noses"—these I afterwards learnt to be a species of potato—"and I conclude, after all, I wunt tell yer my name, consarn it." To this last resolve I objected, and, hoping to draw him out, I hazarded the suggestion that possibly he was ashamed of it. "Ashamed on it, stranger! no I aint. But, as you're a B[r]itisher, I didn't want to go and urt yer feelings. My name is Bunker, Sirre—Bunker-hill, Sirre—war we wallopped yer. Now don't look almighty skeared;" and with this avowal, and more converse, we journeyed on to New York.
I could easily believe myself to be in Paris or some other city devoted to military display, instead of New York, the commercial emporium of the North. From morning to night nothing is heard but the sound of the drum or the martial strains from trumpet and bugle, as regiment after regiment passes on its way to the seat of war throughstreets [sic] crowded with a maddened population. All trade is at a standstill. Store after store down Broadway has been turned into the head-quarters of Anderson's Zouaves , Wilson's Boys, the Empire City Guard, and hosts of corps too numerous or too eccentric in their names for me to recollect. Verily, a cosmopolitan army is assembled here. As one walks he is jostled by soldiers dressed in the uniforms of the Zouaves de la Garde, the Chasseurs à Pied, Infanterie de la Ligne, and other French regiments—so great, apparently, is the admiration of our cousins for everything Gallic. I must confess I should prefer to see more nationality. In justice, however, to the men, I cannot do otherwise than express my unqualified approval of the material out of which the North is to make her patriot army. Many of those I have seen marching through the streets appear already to have served in the field, so admirably do they bear themselves in their new rôles. The very children have become tainted with the military epidemic, and little toddling Zouaves, three and four years old, strut, armed to the teeth, at their nurses' apronstrings. As I write I have a corps of chasseurs composed of all the small boys in the hotel exercising and skirmishing in the corridor outside my room; the shrill words of command from the juvenile Colonel pierce through and through my ears, and distract my attention terribly.
There is not a house that does not display Union colours of some kind; there is not a steeple ever so lofty that is not surmounted by a star-spangled banner; there is not a man nor woman in the city that does not wear a patriotic badge of some kind. It is a mighty uprising of a united people determined to protect their flag to the last. In a future letter I shall enter into the merits of the quarrel, as I may be able to ascertain them, which now divides two branches of the same family.
[Our Special Artist has sent with this letter a batch of Illustrations, one of which, "Reading the War News in the [sic] Broadway, New York, is given on the preceding page. The others are in our engravers' hands, and will appear in future Numbers.]