The Civil War In AmericaThe Illustrated London News, vol.41, no.1156, p.111.
July 26, 1862
The thunder of the cannon before Richmond reached me in ominous echoes down the valley of the Mississippi. It was whispered the roar of the Confederate guns rose more defiant than that of the Federal. Rumours of great battles on the Chickahominy came hourly to Memphis through Southern sources, and, though nothing was reliable, yet it was evident the fight for the championship had commenced. I had always felt that my place was before Richmond, and your readers are aware of the cause of my absence from that central point of interest. What I proposed, Mr. Stanton was not disposed should be. However, the manifold blunders and petty jealousies of this official are now producing such grievous results that his downfall is almost certain, and if his removal in disgrace from a position which he has proved himself totally unfit for be considered a satisfaction to those he has injured, why then I, among others, am morally assured of that amount of vengeance, at least. With the probability that his succesor may be more liberal towards English correspondents, and less narrow-minded generally, I have hastened back from the West and await the change in the Administration, which may, perhaps, enable me at the eleventh hour to avail myself of General M'Clellan's invitation to join his head quarters on the James River.
I want your readers to understand one thing, and that is, that I write my impressions from day to day, and if I am misled at the time it is by force of circumstances for which I can scarcely be held responsible; but I can clear up and correct afterwards when I find I have been deceived. In a former letter I mentioned that crowds of refugees from Memphis sought the protection of the Federal gun-boats as they lay off Fort Pillow, and that I learnt from many of them that there was a strong Union element in that city which only awaited the appearance of the flotilla to declare itself. I have since found this not to be the case, and I may say positively that there is more bitterness of feeling evinced towards the North by the Memphians than I ever saw displayed by the Italians to the Austrians. If the entire South is actuated by the same sentiments breathed by the people of south-western Tennessee and Mississippi, why, then I declare the reconstruction of the Union impossible; and, though the North by superior power and resources may eventually conquer the South, she can never hold her in any other way than that which binds Venetia to the Tedeschi. Your readers must understand that I never saw anything of Southern people until I landed at Memphis. A "peculiar institution" of theirs had prejudiced me somewhat against them, and I believed from all I heard that the Secession movement was but skin deep after all, and that the people would willingly return to their allegiance to the Government of the United States if the old flag were carried to their midst and the leaders of the rebellion removed from among them. I have been astounded at the unanimity displayed by all on the one subject of separation. If there be a dissentient here and there, he is a man who has Northern interests, and most frequently he is a German, a sojourner among a strange people. If the South had not been unanimous, how could the movements of their Generals have been kept so secret, and yet all transpiring within the Federal camps be known in the ranks of the Secessionists? If they had had traitors to their cause in their midst, would Corinth have been evacuated in the face of Halleck's immense army without that General being made aware of what was transpiring within three miles of him? Would "Stonewall" Jackson have been allowed to perform that brilliant movement which enabled him to attack M'Clellan's right and form a junction with Lee, while the Federal commanders, over a hundred miles away in the Shenandoah Valley, were trembling in their jackboots at the idea of his momentarily attacking them? I say again, I believe the South to be unanimous, and with this belief my ideas have notably changed as to the future. In Memphis and its immediate neighbourhood I made it my business to mix with all classes and test their loyalty or disloyalty, and, though the stars and stripes floated from the public buildings, and the supremacy of the Federal Government had been asserted by the Federal arms, yet I found but one minute drop of Union oil to pour upon the troubled ocean of Secession: all were clamouring for separation. If, then, such are the sentiments of the entire South, and defeat does not bring them nearer to the Union, what is to be the result of all this bloodshed? A conquered people, writhing in the chains that bind them to their conquerors, seeking every fresh opportunity for outbreak. The civilised world will shortly demand that this wholesale massacre shall cease, and that the temperate counsels of European Governments shall take the place of unskilful Generals, who, while sacrificing the lives of thousands of brave men and deluging this vast continent with their blood, approach no nearer to a solution, but widen the gulf which separates the combatants and embitter the hatred which is daily growing fiercer.
As I have stated at the opening of this letter, my purpose in returning to Washington is, if possible, to reach the army on the James River. Very bad news for the Federalists will reach you by this mail, already, I suppose, anticipated by telegraph, and, though it is evidently the wish to make the best of it, I must caution you against believing in a victory where there was a defeat. At present I know but little about what has latterly transpired in front of Richmond, at least I am scarcely sufficiently posted to go into the matter, and must refer you to the general news. Of one thing there is no doubt, that M'Clellan has been forced to retreat seventeen miles with frightful loss, and yet hypocritical journalists here chant a "Te Deum," and pronounce the movement to have been a masterly piece of strategy. I have still one or two more Mississippi Sketches to send you, and with them I will write more fully and from the best authority as to the actual condition of matters with the army of the Potomac. I have hopes of getting on the spot myself, and shall leave no effort untried to reach the James River, but how I am to achieve my purpose unless the Minister of War relents, I scarcely know. F. V.
Two Engravings in connection with the operations of the Federal flotilla on the Mississippi, from Sketches by our Special Artist, forwarded by the previous mail, are given in this week's Impression at page 105.
The first shows the position of the flotilla before Fort Pillow shortly before the evacuation of that fort by the Confederates. In a letter written in a transport off Fort Pillow, on the 31st of May last, our Special Artist writes as follows respecting the subject of this Illustration :--"Our mortars have been pegging away at Fort Pillow for the last day or two without intermission, and we occasionally get a shell in return. Unfortunately, the Federalists cannot well ascertain the effect of their fire, as all they can see of the fort or its position is simply the rise of the bluff on which it is situated above the bend in the river. The Sketch I send will give a tolerable idea of the relative positions. The national mortar-rafts are placed against the Arkansas shore, immediately under the bank, and half a mile of dense forest lies between them and the winding bed of the river which flows by the fort. The shells are thrown over the trees, the range being calculated by a daily reconnaissance sent to observe the effect of the bombardment; but this reconnaissance is not always successful, for the woods are often filled by Confederate scouts, on which occasions a free fight takes place, knocking everything else on the head."
As regards the second Engraving, which shows Colonel Fitch and the 46th Indiana Volunteers taking at the point of the bayonet the battery of Fort St. Charles, we have the following particulars:--On the 13th of June four of the gun-boats from the flotilla in front of Memphis were dispatched to the White River, Arkansas, 185 miles below, to clear out the cotton-burners and to endeavour to communicate with Curtis. The expedition, on its way up the White River, met with a battery mounted on a bluff, and the gun-boats immediately engaged, the Mound City leading. Unfortunately, a 42-pound shot from the breastwork entered the casemates of the Mound City and burst her steam-drum, scalding 125 persons. The poor fellows, writhing with agony, jumped through the ports into the river, and were there, while shrieking for help, shot down by the rebels. Colonel Fitch, who was on board one of the Union transports, immediately landed, and carried the works at the point of the bayonet. The success of the Union forces was complete, and the Southern artillerymen were shot at their guns.
The Cincinnati Daily Times, in its number for June 28, has the following notice of the arrival in that city of our Special Artist:--"Among the recent arrivals at the Burnet House we are pleased to see the name of Frank Viztelly, Esq., artist and correspondent of the Illustrated London News. This paper, it will be remembered, is one of the few London journals that has taken an unbiased view of our political troubles, and has done not a little toward setting us right before the English people. The numerous life-like sketches and graphic letters from the Army of the Potomac and the Burnside expedition, which have appeared in the pages of the Illustrated London News from week to week during the past year, have been from Mr. Viztelly's pencil and pen. He has just returned from Memphis, having been with the Mississippi flotilla for two months, and purposes joining the army before Richmond in a few days."