A Run by Rail from Washington to St. LouisThe Illustrated London News, vol. 40, no. 1146, p. 540.
May 24, 1862
(From our Special Artist and Correspondent.)
My last letter, or rather statement, which explained the peculiarity of my position on the Potomac, having, as it were, been mustered out of the service by a special order from the War Department, also acquainted you with my intention "to couch a pencil" in the ranks of the army in the Far West. There, in all conscience, I should nd [sic] field enough for the exercise of my profession—where battles, not petty skirmishes of advanced pos s [sic] posts , but good, honest, sledge-hammer fights with wholesome bills of mortality, were the order of the day, and, forming myself into a "pen and and pencil brigade," with my feuille de route in my pocket in the shape of a railway ticket, I "skeedadled" from the capital of the dis-United States. Oh! how many times since starting have I bemoaned the extent of this "Almighty big country"!
Those who know the low-backed seats of the American cars will readily sympathise with me in my three days and three nights of railroad travelling. But, after all, that's nothing, bless you! Why, in times of peace, if you want to go from Portland, in Maine, to New Orleans, you have the privilege of hissing and screaming along at the rate of thirty miles an hour for over a week. Oh, then, perhaps some one will say, "Why didn't you take a sleeping·car?" Well, I didn't because I object to be packed away on a narrow ledge with fifty or so perspiring individuals redolent of travel-soiled garments, the stale odour of masticating and fumigating tobacco, and most of them objecting to the opening of the ventilators. Now, I am not by any means one of those who are continually elevating their proboscis at the notion of a foreign substance getting between the wind and their nobility; but I confess I should prefer travelling in a cleanly and Christianlike manner, as a decent individual ought on payment of a reasonable sum, instead of being herded into a caravan with a set of men who comport themselves more like wild beasts than human beings. I do not, in writing thus, intend to offend the great American people; but there are occasions on which they show such a passionate love for a certain goddess that, as Mark Tapley observes, it leads to taking liberties with her. At Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, we had to change carriages and wait some time for the train that was to take us on to Pittsburg [sic] Pittsburgh . A gentleman in one of the Government offices had asked me on leaving Washington to take under my protection his brother's wife going to join her husband, a naval officer, at Cairo. To this I cheerfully assented; our route was the same, and the extent of the attentions required of me were scarcely more than what any gentleman would offer to a lady travelling unescorted. And very necessary, indeed, were these attentions to her, as it so happened, even in a country where it is proudly stated no woman need fear insult when journeying alone. But to return to our muttons. At Harrisburg we found waiting in the station the "hardest crowd" it has been my fortune to meet with in the States—the real, genuine rowdy article which I had often heard of but had really never seen. There were a hundred or so of Susquehanna raftsmen, grouped about in the ticket office, in every, conceivable position, and dressed in all kinds of inconceivable fashions, the favourite style appearing to be a slouched hat, rough flannel shirt of gorgeous pattern, and bedtick trousers, tucked into high boots. None of these gentlemen were remarkable for cleanliness, preferring to lounge at length on the quid-becushioned floor, and all busily employed masticating and expectorating to such an extent that the boards appeared to be literally covered with penny pieces. All about their neighbourhood lay the result of their previous labours in the shape of what looked marvellously like any quantity of Liliputian [sic] ship swabs. Placing my charge in the ladies' waiting-room, I lit a cigar and strolled about on the platform, watching for the advent of the Pittsburg [sic] train, which eventually heralded its approach far away in the dark night with a bellow from its steam "cow" that startled the echoes from every surrounding hill. On it came—huge, undefinable, a black mass—with a great glare of fire in front. In another moment it forged slowly past me, tolling as it were a death knell from the engine-bell and associating in my mind spectral tableaux of horrible collisions and mangled dead. But a noisy rush of the raftsmen soon brought me back to the realities of my position, and hastening to my companion we made an effort to reach the ladies' car. Vainly I exerted all my strength; it was insufficient to protect her from the brutal crowding of the ruffianly crew; they swayed and surged, expectorated and blasphemed utterly regardless of my expostulations and appeals to them on her behalf. At last I caught the conductor's eye, and pointing to my charge made another desperate effort to reach the steps on which he stood. After a liberal amount of elbowing on my part, and a stubborn resistance on his, of the assailants who wished to take forcible possession of that one particular car, I succeeded in passing my companion to him, and springly [sic] quickly after her placed her in the only vacant seat that remained, taking my stand by its side. "All aboard!" cried the conductor, below [sic] went the "cow," and away we sped. Your readers are most of them, no doubt, familiar with the peculiar arrangements of an American railway-train. All the carriages communicate by a door at each end, and if a traveller is so disposed he may vary the monotony of the journey by moving from one extremity of the train to the other. Foiled in their first effort to obtain ingress into the ladies' car (somewhat more comfortable than the others), and finding but room elsewhere, the raftsmen now came trooping to make a second attempt. The conductor expostulated and stood in the doorway, but the pressure soon displaced him. Two gentlemen and myself stood somewhat further on in the passage way, determined to hold our own to the last; but fortunately those who obtained admission did not come beyond the vacant space round the stove. Content, apparently, with having penetrated so far, they commenced a system of annoyance, unmanly and unworthy of men of whatever condition they might be. "S-a-a-a-y, Oby! Guess, we could find good fixins among they gals." Here followed a coarse laugh and anything but harmonious concert, all joining in the chorus of
"Oh, Saul! Cal'c'late they don't like our crowd; guess, they'd better varmoose; 'taint perlite to keep gentlemen standing," to which suggestion Saul expressed his unqualified approval; had it been qualified somewhat, it would hardly have been so offensive to ladies' ears. Another grand chorus—
Rake her down, Sal,
Foot it to the banjo,
Rang a dang a dang a dang,
Keep the game alive, oh!
"S-a-a-a-y, Mister! reckon you've got a standing ticket" (spit): this was addressed to me. "Guess, you travel on an elevated principle" (spit). It is impossible for me to describe the deliberate drawling manner in which this was said, or the exquisitely juicy fashion in which the observation was punctuated. For hours this kind of thing was kept up, and numerous were the remarks made and songs sung that were totally unfit for a woman to listen to. But what could we do? We in our minority were entirely at the mercy of the mobocracy, and all that the two or three gentlemen present with thyself could hope for was to protect the ladies from more positive insult. Luckily, this ruffianly crew were going no further than Tyrone, and I am sure there was not one among us who did not wearily count the miles till we thankfully left them at their destination. Now, this kind of thing does not happen every day, perhaps; but still, equality travelling continually exposes quiet, respectable people to similar annoyances, and I am sure, from what I have heard, there are hundreds of Americans who would delight to see the system changed.
Oh, we'll ride upon a railroad, railroad, railroad,
Oh, we'll ride upon a railroad
Bound upon a spree !
At daylight we were puffing up the échelles of the Alleghany [sic] Mountains winding round the ledges on the face of the rock in a most intricate and remarkable manner. Below, on the off side, we could look down on the pine woods, dwarfed by the height we had obtained, while now and then an opening in the mountains would display to us the lovely valley through which we had come, and whose beauties had been lost in the hours of darkness. There sped the Susquehanna, lightly draped in a mantle of mist, which was gradually disappearing in wreathy, rose-tinted columns, as the sun shone out from above the hills. Jotted about the banks and on the rising ground were the substantial homesteads of the German farmers, and far, far beyond stretched dark green forests, so dark that they became almost black in the fleeting veil of night. Another abrupt turn, and the scene was changed; we were entering a gorge, and frowning masses of granite threatened to crush us as we thundered along beneath them. Now
Page 541we were in the wildest portion of Pennsylvania. Rocky pinnacles rose on every side, partially clothed in a rough garment of pine. Turbulent watercourses hissed and boiled in their beds as though they writhed and rebelled against our intrusion to these solitudes. For miles the mountainous character of the landscape remained unchanged; and when at last we emerged from its portals of granite we found ourselves rolling into the busy, smoky, anvil-clanging, chimney-spired town of Pittsburg [sic] , the forge of the United States. Here we had thirty minutes allowed us for dinner before taking a fresh track through Ohio and Indiana, and, hungry and exhausted, we rushed from the cars, anxious to secure something before all should have disappeared, for eating in America is done on the high-pressure system, especially at the railway restaurants. But, ah, confusion! two rival niggers sprang towards me as I alighted on the platform, each manipulating a gong with might and main. "Step dis way, boss; elegant dinner for fifty cents. Clar de track, you black nigger (to his rival), and let de gembleman fetch young missus along." Regardless of my coloured brethren, whom I left hurling their stage thunder at each other, I forced my way through the ravenous crowd, dragging after me my companion, and, securing two chairs, we brought two additional knives and forks to bear upon the already fast-disappearing viands. I have now been in America some time, but as yet I am no match for my Transatlantic friends at the dinner-table: the celerity with which they ship their supplies is incredible, and their bill of lading is assorted. There went the bell, and I had scarcely decided yet what I would take, though but little remained but a few battered remnants of each dish, and, like Lazarus, I was compelled to satisfy myself with the crumbs from the table.
Our journey now lay through a most beautiful and highly-cultivated district of Ohio. On each side of the line were rich parterres of spring wheat, with just the necessary amount of uncleared land to give character to the country. To the left runs the swollen Ohio River, with stern-wheel steamers snorting impatiently at their almost unsuccessful efforts to stem the rapid current. Little smiling villages and townships burst upon us like sparkling opals from the emerald woods, and everything denoted a prosperous and well-conditioned State. As we advanced into the more unsettled districts we found ourselves surrounded by dense forests, but even here the sound of the woodman's axe and the little open patch, with neat log hut, showed the chosen site of a future farm. Vastly different was the appearance of Indiana, through which we were speeding the next morning at daylight. Impenetrable swamps choked with dank and rotten timber sent up their fetid breath under the rays of the rising sun. Scant and of miserable exterior were the villages through which we rushed, while the separate settlements bore unmistakable signs of a poor soil or ill-cultivated land. But soon we were at Chicago, where a few hours' rest was grateful to at least two travel-worn and dust-bepowdered people.
Chicago is quite a miniature Liverpool in its way. Canals and docks intersect one portion of the city, and these are crowded with the sauciest-looking schooners and most eccentric of steamers, gorging and disgorging the produce of the West. Verily, this West appears to me to have a mighty destiny in store for it. With its lakes and that main artery of America, the Mississippi, throbbing with increased vitality through its States, it seems to grasp with each hand the North and the South; and who shall predict the future result of the war which is now being waged between the opposing sections of this giant people, who threescore years ago was the youngest-born of the family of nations—the birth, as it were, of a day—and who are now developing their energies and revolutionising the theories of the Old World? and who, I ask, shall predict the result of this servile war—for servile war the Abolitionists are making it? The America of the past can never again be the America it has been. The West has given its thousands of sturdy pioneers to swell the ranks of the Federal army, and to its stalwart battalions are due the victories which have restored the prestige of the Government; but how long will the West be content to sacrifice the choicest of her sons and the commerce which is necessary to her? Will she not—proud of her achievements in the field—turn to the East and North and taunt them with their shortcomings? Will she not—disgusted with the hungering after contracts of the North-eastern States and crippled in her own resources, removed as she is from the commerce of the Atlantic seaboard—turn eventually in bitterness from the strife and carve out a new destiny for herself, seeking her fortunes with the broad streams of the Mississippi and Ohio as an outlet to the riches with which her bosom teems? As yet I have seen comparatively little of the West; but that little has suggested the substance of the foregoing remarks. Already the very people who placed the present Executive in power are voting democratic tickets at the elections of their State officers, and what all this may eventuate in others more profound than myself may determine—will there be a further dismemberment of this cruelly-distracted country? But pardon me this digression; these speculations are probably but idle ones, though I have heard many here express sentiments that would give colouring to what I have written.
Again the deep bellow of the "bull-gine" was heard, and we rattled out of the Chicago dépôt on to a causeway built 100 yards from the shore and running parallel with the stately marina of the town. On our left stretched the broad expanse of Lake Michigan, dotted far and wide with the white wings of swiftly sailing schooners and the gracefully curling columns of gauzy vapour from the busy little tug-boats. As I looked on the calmly placid waters my thoughts were carried back to a certain dark night in the year 1860. A proud steamer cleaves her way rapidly through the surrounding gloom; sounds of merriment and the careless laugh of insouciance come from her brilliantly-lit cabins. But then comes another sound—a fearful crash, followed by one loud shriek of agony and despair—the steamer has gone, and with her in that deep plunge she has buried the happiness of many families, and left a bitter grief that the waters of oblivion can never heal. On that dark night a gentleman whom I knew was hurried, with his eldest son, in the midst of a well-deserved prosperity to an unlooked-for doom, and this Journal, that owes its present proud position to his energy and enterprise, lost its founder, and hosts of artists and literary men a friend. Again I ask your readers to pardon me for digressing, but this painful reminiscence of a cruel misfortune has forced itself unwittingly from my pen.
In another hour we were entering the endless plains of Illinois, the prairie lands—so marked a feature of this continent. There they stretched, broad and expansive, thousands of Salisbury plains massed into one great area of gently-rolling verdure. At intervals, to vary this continual monotony of space and sky, we would startle the quiet of some little town, a settled island, as it were, in a dried-up inland sea, bringing down the inhabitants in eager groups after the Chicago papers. It so happened they contained the lists of the killed Illinoisians at the battle of Pittsburg Landing; and more than one anxious old man I saw bury his face in his hands as we sped rapidly onwards: thus did we leave misery in our track, striking down in grief many who were anxious for our coming. But what was that which disturbed me from my uneasy slumbers the next morning at daybreak? The train was almost stationary, and a rushing sound of water beneath the carriages betokened something unusual. We were in the midst of a submerged forest, and the line, though eight feet above the level, had two feet of Mississippi water on it. Slowly we moved along, the cowcatcher in front of the locomotive throwing off the drifting trunks of trees, and after ten weary miles at a creeping pace, with fires nearly extinguished, we rolled on to the levée at Cairo. The quantity of water accumulated there now would astonish even Martin Chuzzlewit and his friend Mark Tapley—the only dry land for a dozen miles round being the aforesaid levée, which threatened at any moment to give way, and make a new channel for the Mississippi (now twenty-five miles broad from the flood) through the valley of Eden. On the day of my arrival General Pope, with his division from New Madrid, paused here on his way to Pittsburg Landing, where he was moving to reinforce General Halleck in front of Corinth. The Sketch forwarded with this shows his transports ranged along the levée, and also the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers indicated by the line of submerged forests. [This Illustration will appear in a future number.]
The General in command at Cairo having referred me to the headquarters of the Western department at St. Louis for permission to join the forces on the Tennessee, I am now here waiting a reply from General Halleck to the request I have preferred through the authorities left in charge. Every hour may bring me an answer, and, should it be favourable, which I have every reason to hope it will be, I shall leave immediately for Pittsburg Landing, arriving in time, I hope to witness the decisive battle impending between the two mighty armies arrayed against each other.
More of Cairo and St. Louis in my next. At present I must close to save the mail.