The Civil War in AmericaThe Illustrated London News, vol. 40, no. 1129, p. 120.
The Slidell and Mason affair having been satisfactorily disposed of, and the army of the Potomac still being confined to its lines, I have determined to accompany General Burnside's expedition to some unknown point down in Dixie, and here I am with five others in a cabin six feet nothing listening to the leadsman as he chants in monotonous tones "By the deep seven," feeling inch by inch for the channel through a fog that confines the prospect to a fathom or so of steaming water round the vessel. But before I proceed any further with a description of my voyage I will recur to one or two items connected with my sojourn in Washington, which may be disposed of briefly.
Of course the absorbing topic till within the last twelve days was the probable ground the American Government would take in reference to the demand of England for the surrender of Slidell and Mason. When I last wrote matters bore an exceedingly bellicose appearance, and I for one looked upon a war between the two countries as not improbable; in fact so much was I impressed with its possibility that I intimated to a highly respectable "coloured pussun" who takes in washing_that I should require my linen home immediately, ready to pack up. However, "L'homme propose et Dieu dispose" and this time though Jonathan proposed doing a great deal that, was shocking and terrible to English ears, he has finished by doing the right thing at last; and so I suppose we may bury the hatchet and smoke the calumet of peace.
Well, as diplomatic relations had not been broken off between the Court of St. James's and the White House, I assisted to swell the crowd of anything but swells who went to pay their respects to the President on New-Year's Day. The diplomatic corps were first in making the morning call de rigueur; then followed the officers of the army and navy; and the mobility, with whom I was, came last, getting but a feeble shake from the exhausted Presidential hand and arm. The Sketch that I have forwarded (engraved on page 119) will give your readers a notion of the disposition of the scene. The President stands close by one of the entrances to the reception-room, having next to him the Officer of Public Works, who is placed between himself and Mrs. Lincoln; the Secretaries are slightly in the rear. The visitors pass directly in front of the Chief of the State, and each appears to consider it imperative on him to endeavour to squeeze the nails out of the president's fingers, who, by-the-by, appears to have a pleasant word for everybody, and especially addresses himself to the ladies and children. The whole affair lasts about six hours, and during this time every one remains on foot, making more tedious and tiring a ceremony that at any time, or under any circumstances, must he a disagreeable one. I presume that what I saw on the occasion was all right; but it appeared to me that scarcely sufficient respect was shown to the Head of the Government by many of those who attended the levée. This idea especially suggested itself by the appearance of a considerable portion of the company, not so much on account of their fashion of dress as the neglect of their persons. Surely tidiness and cleanliness are not opposed to republican institutions; and it would have added to the President's satisfaction had some of the "bunches of fives" been less incrusted with the "free soil of America." The lion of the reception was Judge Harney, from the territory of New Mexico, who appeared in a full hunting costume of deerskin, attracting everybody's attention by his picturesque ensemble. Indeed, he tells me that no other garments are to be obtained on the plains, and that he adjudicates thus robed, with a rifle on his knee.
New Year's Day is celebrated with great enthusiasm by the Americans generally. The custom which requires the ladies of a family to keep open house for all gentlemen who choose to call grew up in New York, which city is said to have imported it from Amsterdam, the mother city. From New York, as a centre, it was widely diffused over the United States, and from private circles it soon spread, in a modified form, into public life. In the United States the theory that men in official position are the servants of the people is rigidly acted upon. Hence it because the fashion for the Mayor of a city to receive his "friends" on this day—the said friends including every male inhabitant of the city. In like manner the Governor of the State was held to the obligation to "receive" at the State capital. Proceeding one degree higher, the President of the nation falls in with the same ceremony. The President's reception, as before stated, is divided into in parts—first, a special reception of the diplomatic corps in the forenoon, and at noon a general reception of the public of both sexes, to enjoy the honour of a shake of the hands with, or a bow from, the chief "public functionary" of the Union, and the highest embodiment of the Sovereignty of the people. But to go back to the starting point.
For some time, as you are aware, there has happened scarcely anything of importance on the Potomac, and my residence in the neighbourhood of head-quarters staff has been productive of subjects of but little interest, with the exception of the fights at Ball's Bluff, Drainsville, and some odd picket engagements. Now the Burnside expedition appears to me the only bellicose entertainment at present on the cards, and its proportions are infinitely greater—at least, as far as I can glean at present—than the one which went to Port Royal. I have reason to suppose its destination is to some important point on the Southern coast. However, I will not attempt to prognosticate, as everything at present is kept a profound secret from all but the General in command and the chief naval officer. Rely on it, you will hear from me by the first chance I have of sending to you if the Confederates do not succeed in sinking the ship on which I am on board. At present I must close; the fog is clearing up, we are entering Hampton Roads, and this short note has to go on board the return steamer, which is leaving immediately for Baltimore.