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A blog of Nineteenth Century history, focusing, but not exclusively, on the American Civil War seen through the prism of personal accounts, newspaper stories, administrative records and global history.
A thousand tales. A miscellany. A maze of historical tangents.

A Capitol View

A Capitol View
Images of 1861 juxtaposed- Union Square, New York vs. Capitol Square, Richmond

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Jaunt up the James V- Lower Brandon and Edward Everett

150 years ago this week the after effects of the raid on Lower Brandon enter the New York Times by way of this rather long missive. . .

THE REBEL PAPERS.; LETTER TO EDWARD EVERETT. Effects of the Bombardment of Petersburgh. What They Think of the Burning of Chambersburgh. THE EXCHANGE OF PRISONERS. MISCELLANEOUS INTELLIGENCE. A Letter to Edward Everett. CHAMBERSBURGH.
From the Richmond Examiner.
To the Hon. Edward Everett, Massachusetts:

SIR: In one of those peregrinations made by you, several years ago, in the Southern States of what was then the American Union, in which you were pleased to instruct the Virginians and others on the subject of the character of GEORGE WASHINGTON, whereof theretofore they had been deplorably ignorant, you visited, if I mistake not, the ancient seat of "Lower Brandon," on the James River, and partook for a season of that elegant hospitality which formerly held sway in its delightful halls and gardens. You may, perhaps, have forgotten your brief sojourn there, and care little to recall it. What you have since written and spoken of the Southern people induces the belief that if you retain any remembrance of the peaceful homesteads in which you were once received as a welcome and honored guest, and of the kind proprietors who greeted you with so much warmth upon the threshold, it is associated only with the wish that these homesteads may be laid waste and these proprietors reduced to beggary.
You will, therefore, be gratified to learn, beyond a doubt, that "Lower Brandon" is a ruin; and, as the journals of civilization, as well in your enlightened and humane City of Boston, as elsewhere throughout the great, glorious and free United States, are not full and circumstantial with regard to the devastations of the Federal troops, you will probably be thankful for some account, from a Virginian, of this latest acheivement of your arms. It is enough for the Northern newspapers to state, in brief, that such a mansion has been pillaged and consumed, so many acres impoverished and reclaimed to the military possession of the Federal Government. Nor do the official reports of your plundering commanders go beyond a general statement of desolation. The Federal General makes it a solitude and calls it a restoration of the Federal authority. He does not descend to the vulgar incidents of spoliation and ravage, nor narrate how he has endeavored to convert his acquired territory into a wilderness.
You may recollect, Sir, the fair lawns across which lay the walk from the river to Brandon mansion. Nowhere, I think, on this continent did the turf wear a richer green, nowhere did the roses display more grace and profusion. The darksome converts which the mocking-bird made musical; the tall elms which looked down upon the quaint old edifice and caught upon their quivering leaves the too fierce heats of the Virginia sun; the trellises of honey-suckles, murmurous with insect life; the ample width of greensward, with here and there a vase overrun with myrtle; all these surroundings gave an indescribable charm to the place, and harmonized with the repose and refinement that dwelt under the rooftree. The visitor saw all around him the evidences of taste and culture, the growth of a century or more of uninterrupted occupancy by the same family.
These lawns, you will be pleased to know, have been despoiled; not the Calypso's Isle of Blennerhassett, in the beautiful river of the West, whose mournful defacement our own WIRT described with so much pathos -- not the festive Villa Borghese, just outside the walls of Rome, when cruel war and Republican rage has shattered its foundation and prostrated its foundations, could have presented a picture of destruction more complete and -- satisfactory. If the owners of "Lower Brandon" were rebels, and upheld the ancient firm of Virginia in the hour of her agony and trial, they have been well repaid in this waste of the grounds they so loved to adorn. The traitorous turf has been cloven and cut up by the hoofs of the Federal cavalry; the rebellious roses may, perhaps, burst forth in their beauty again with the smiling Spring, but it will be only to mock the fallen state of the whole establishment; and every disloyal Dryad that frequented the copses around has been scared away into her native woods.
The Brandon House, as you may or may not remember, was a very crazy, rambling, old-fashioned, age-colored building, that would have been thought shabby in New-York or Massachusetts. Quite unlike the marine villas that sparkle on the heights of Staten Island, altogether different from the superb structures that line the banks on the Hudson and crown the hills around Boston. Not an Italian corridor, not a mullioned window about it. Bricks, small and glazed, brought out in GEORGE the Second's time from England. Rooms rather large and wainscoted, windows low and narrow, fire-places huge, staircases also objectionable as regards economy of space. What furniture these deserted rooms still contained, most of it mellowed by time, was taken out by the Federal cavalry and burned upon the lawn, as was proper. You will likewise approve the tearing down of wainscots, the breaking up the paneling of the doors, and the demolition of the stone pavements of the porticoes. Of the windowpanes, a word.
It had been the habit of the Brandon people to preserve on these fragile tablets the autographs of their visitors for many, many years past. When a party came, in the season of strawberries or in the midst of the Christmas cheer, and made pleasant holiday at Brandon, they were asked to scratch their signatures with a diamond on the panes before their departure. The names of many eminent gentlemen of England, France and the United States, were thus recorded. Your own most illustrious name was there, with the names of MILLARD FILLMORE and MARTIN VAN BUREN. The pretty custom was always honored, and looking over the inscriptions, from the more recent to those of a generation gone by, the past with its dear associations and rosy faces, long missed, but unforgotten, came back upon one in a strange, sudden sort of way, that made the eyes moist and the lips tremulous. Somebody once wrote some verses about these panes, in which the diamonds, and the bright eyes, and the far away festivities of other Christmas seasons were mixed up and made metrical in a truly memorable manner. Well, the window-panes were all smashed. Why, bless you, it was great fun for the hulking cavalrymen to knock them out with the point of their sabres! Que voulez vous!
Among the dwellers in Brandon, at the time of your visit, were a dozen or more graceful ladies and gentlemen in the gay flowing costumes, the ruffles and point lace of that stately period of which Sir ANTHONY VAN DYCK and Sir GODFREY KNELLER have transmitted to it so many charming representatives. There was the Earl of Orrey and Halifax, and Col., the Hon. WM. BYRD, of Westover, Esq.., and the Colonel's fair daughter, Mistress EVELYN, and other historical personages. They had been members of the Brandon household from the beginning, and lived on the walls of drawing-room and dining-room, giving very little trouble to anybody, and passing their time in the hours of daylight in looking placidly down on the good cheer and social enjoyment which belonged to these apartments. There was a tradition that, sometimes in the silent watches of the night, during Christmas time especially, they came down from their frames and held wassail at the board, or danced a minuet de la cour in the ruddy glow of the blazing yule.
Your satisfaction in hearing the details of the Brandon raid may possibly be lessened by the fact that the ladies and gentlemen were not made prisoners by the United States army, having accompanied the living members of the family to Richmond, when they were constrained by a well-founded distrust of Yankee chivalry, to leave their beautiful home and carry their cherished Lares and Penates with them. Ceta incommode. But there is a compensation in the thought that the negroes belonging to this estate, to the number of one hundred or more, were taken off, despite the earnest entreaties and protestations of many of them, and made to accept their freedom at the end of the cowhide and the point of the bayonet, Cela Console
Ah, the negroes! There are some facts connected with those remaining at Brandon since the commencement of the war, and their abduction therefrom, to which I beg to call your attention. The first is, that the owners of them, any time these three years, might easily enough have removed men, women and children from tide water, and transported them to Middle Georgia for security, or sold them at immense prices and invested the proceeds in cotton bonds. The owners did not do this. Not that they were blind to the danger that threatened the estate, not that they were too humane to resort to such measures. Oh, no! They knew nothing of humanity, of course. Humanity has her home in Boston. The promptings of pity, the teachings of tenderness for white or black sorrow, sickness or adversity, all the emotions that belong to what STERNE calls the "sweet sensibility of man's nature," stir not the hearts of slaveholders.
Let us suppose that the Brandon proprietors permitted the negroes to remain on the estate through the stolid inattention to their own interest which characterizes the Virginian -- because they "wern't smart." Be that as it may. Leastways, anyhow, nevertheless, notwithstanding, there the negroes did remain in close, comfortable cabins, each head of his family with his pot au feu and his garden patch to supply the same, and his picaninnies toddling around him, like little patches of shadow in the sunshine, darkly happy, these negroes, dreaming not of disturbance, a picture, as you will say, of degraded domesticity and benighted contentment. One member of the Brandon family -- of the "white folk" I mean -- had remained with them, not so much for the maintenance of discipline as for the preservation of their health, a kind doctor, doing good, as you think, but not for good's sake at all, but from motives purely mercenary, that the "property" might be kept up to a marketable standard of physique -- this "property," look you, which was all along at the mercy of the enemy, and which the owners would not sell even to save it from robbery.
Thus cared for, the Brandon negroes flourished until the Federal cavalry came down like the wolf on the fold and carried off the wooly innocents in a manner quite in keeping with Yankee philanthropy. Some of the negroes went with alacrity, pleased with the idea of "sojer" clothes and military grandeur; others bade adieu to their cabins with an intensity of grief that might have moved even a Black Republican; others again were mutinous, and could only be urged forward by the lash laid on with true Yankee ferocity (see the managerial conduct of "Lagree," a Vermont overseer, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Mrs. H.B. STOWE); and let it be understood that only such were taken, rejoicing or reluctant, as were of sound health and matured strength; the helpless infants, the aged and infirm were left behind.
One poor woman thus deserted, whose children had been torn from her arms, followed the train, howling out a heart-broken appeal that she might be permitted to accompany them. Considering how much maudlin sympathy has been snuffled in Yankee lecture-rooms and printed in Yankee newspapers, for thirty years past, about the cruel separation of black mothers from their children under Slavery, one might suppose that this appeal would have been heeded. It seems not. Her ululation soon became annoying, and this weeping, dusking Rachael was knocked down by a blow on the head from the butt end of a musket, and left senseless bleeding in the road. Thus, while their cabins were left blazing behind them, the freed blacks moved down to the Yankee boats. Poor creatures! did they know what lay before them, they might, indeed, have piteously bemoaned their fate. Many a wretched negro beyond the Potomac now bitterly laments his sad fortune of freedom; day by day the miserable exile, dying of destitution or disease in the crowded cribs of Washington or the squalid purlieus of New-York, gives his latest sigh for "Ole Virginny" --
Et dulces moriens reminiscitur Argos.¹
Such, Sir, was the calamity that overtook "Lower Brandon." It is so far from being an exceptional case, that this country seat was the only one within the enemy's lines that had not been wasted or pillaged at the close of 1863. Exceptional, in this respect, the estate was till BUTLER and Barbarism came together into tide-water Virginia.
Ah, some war-makers of the North will say, telle est la fortune de la querre² -- this is the reward of rebellion, and rebellions are not to be subdued with rose-water. Sad, very sad, we grant, but inevitable. You recollect, they add, what old KASPER told PETERKIN and WILHELMINE in the ballad about the famous victories -- there must be burning cottages and suffering of women and children, and a thousand nameless horrors in the midst of war. Yes, worthy war makers, but for the first time in the history of the world have we seen a people pretending to be civilized, nay, claiming all the civilization of a continent, organizing expeditions for the pure and simple purpose of plunder and destruction, and, instead of seeking to mitigate the miseries of a state of war, doing all they can to aggravate them.
The Brandon business was a wholly gratuitous piece of barbarity. The work of "subjugation" was not assisted by it in the least. The bombardment of Charleston, in like manner, contributes not at all to the weakening of BEAUREGARD, conduces in no degree to the reduction of the place. It is pure diabolism, the gratification of a fell spirit of hatred. Indeed, when we take into account the boasted refinement of the North, and the fiendish malignity with which they have carried fire and sword over Southern fields and into Southern dwellings; when we look at Beast BUTLER, and accept him at the hands of The Atlantic Monthly, as the representative of the culture of Boston, we may well believe that the familiar theory of the Latin poet about ingenious arts was ingenious nonsense, that after all they brutalize manners and convert men into savages.
Oh no, the spoliation of the South is not an unavoidable incident of the war. It is the very object the war has in view. Long ago has the hope of subjugation been abandoned, and this purpose of ruin has become fixed in the breasts of Northern people as the amiable alternative. The children of Massachusetts, Mr. EVERETT, are wiser in their generation than to desolate the fields they expect to divide among themselves, to deface and demolish the dwellings they hope hereafter to occupy. If they believed that the next year or the year after would find them masters of the South, they would take care not to impoverish their future possessions. When GRANT's or BUTLER's lines had fallen in pleasant places, these canny commanders would not have despoiled their goodly heritage. It is the conviction that their tenure is a fleeting one which induces them, in baffled rage, to employ the particular estate in ruining the reversion. The idea is not a new one. It occurred to LOUVOIS when he ordered the devastation of the Palatines. The historian records it as a stain upon the memory of LOUVOIS, as a lasting infamy upon the name of his Minister, that in wanton malice they determined to destroy what they were unable to retain. It was an "atrocious thought," says Lord MACAULAY, but the North now nurses it fondly, and the North has long been, serenely indifferent to the imputation of atrocity.
You will tell me, perhaps, that for one you have not relinquished the hope of subjugation, and, if I am not deceived, you undertook to show, in your discourse at the inauguration of the cemetery at Gettysburgh, that there was nothing in the blood-shed, the life-long hatreds, the wide waste and widowhood, the mutilations that may not be computed, the legacies of revenge for crimes that may not be named, of this Lincoln war, to make reconstruction and a restoration of fraternal feeling impossible. The demonstration must have been grateful to the author of the strife who sat in your hearing. But forebodings of a different kind must have filled your soul three years ago, before the first gun had been sounded, when in Faneuil Hall, (5th Feb., 1861) you invoked the name of Heaven to allow the Southern States to "depart in peace." And if you think the conquest and subjection of eight millions of people a practicable thing -- people who, during these three cruel years, have developed traits of character which have excited the admiration of mankind. It is clear that your views have undergone a most remarkable change since you addressed the noble youth of Amherst College, in the year of grace 1835, on the theme "Education Favorable to Liberty, Knowledge and Morals." In that finished oration (see Everett's Orations and Speeches, vol. first, page 703) I read as follows:

"The degree of force required to hold a population in subjection, other things being equal, is in direct ratio to its intelligence and skill; its acquaintance with the arts of life; its sense of the worth of existence; in fine, to its spirit and character. There is a point, indeed, beyond which this rule fails, and at which even the most thoroughly organized military despotism cannot be extended over the least intellectual race of subjects, serfs or slaves. History presents us with the record of numerous servile wars, and peasant wars, from the days of SPARTACUS to those of TUPAC AMARU and PUGATSCHEF; in which, at the first outbreak, all the advantages of authority, arms, concert, discipline, skill, have availed the oppressor nothing against humanity's last refuge, the counsel of madness, and the resources of despair."
Commending this bit of political philosophy to your serious mediation.
I have the honor to be, sir,
Yours most respectfully,

-New York Times, August 14, 1864

¹ "Remembers his beloved Argos, as he dies."- Virgil

² "Such is the fortune of war"

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