Missouri is a slave State, lying to the west of the Mississippi and to the north of Arkansas. It forms a portion of the territory ceded by France to the United States in 1803. Indeed, it is difficult to say how large a portion of the continent of North America is supposed to be included in that territory. It contains the States of Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, and Kansas, as also the present Indian Territory; but it also is said to have contained all the land lying back from them to the Rocky Mountains, Utah, Nebraska, and Dakota, and forms no doubt the widest dominion ever ceded by one nationality to another.
Missouri lies exactly north of the old Missouri compromise line — that is, 36.30 north. When the Missouri compromise was made it was arranged that Missouri should be a slave State, but that no other State north of the 36.30 line should ever become slave soil. Kentucky and Virginia, as also of course Maryland and Delaware, four of the old slave States, were already north of that line; but the compromise was intended to prevent the advance of slavery in the Northwest. The compromise has been since annulled, on the ground, I believe, that Congress had not constitutionally the power to declare that any soil should be free, or that any should be slave soil. That is a question to be decided by the States themselves, as each individual State may please. So the compromise was repealed. But slavery has not on that account advanced. The battle has been fought in Kansas, and, after a long and terrible struggle, Kansas has come out of the fight as a free State. Kansas is in the same parallel of latitude as Virginia, and stretches west as far as the Rocky Mountains,
When the census of the population of Missouri was taken in 1860, the slaves amounted to ten per cent. of the whole number. In the Gulf States the slave population is about forty-five per cent. of the whole. In the three border States of Kentucky, Virginia, and Maryland, the slaves amount to thirty per cent. of the whole population. From these figures it will be seen that Missouri, which is comparatively a new slave State, has not gone ahead with slavery as the old slave States have done, although from its position and climate, lying as far south as Virginia, it might seem to have had the same reasons for doing so. I think there is every reason to believe that slavery will die out in Missouri. The institution is not popular with the people generally; and as white labor becomes abundant — and before the war it was becoming abundant — men recognize the fact that the white man’s labor is the more profitable. The heat in this State, in midsummer, is very great, especially in the valleys of the rivers. At St. Louis, on the Mississippi, it reaches commonly to ninety degrees, and very frequently goes above that. The nights, moreover, are nearly as hot as the days; but this great heat does not last for any very long period, and it seems that white men are able to work throughout the year. If correspondingly severe weather in winter affords any compensation to the white man for what of heat he endures during the summer, I can testify that such compensation is to be found in Missouri. When I was there we were afflicted with a combination of snow, sleet, frost, and wind, with a mixture of ice and mud, that makes me regard Missouri as the most inclement land into which I ever penetrated.
St. Louis, on the Mississippi, is the great town of Missouri, and is considered by the Missourians to be the star of the West. It is not to be beaten in population, wealth, or natural advantages by any other city so far west; but it has not increased with such rapidity as Chicago, which is considerably to the north of it, on Lake Michigan. Of the great Western cities I regard Chicago as the most remarkable, seeing that St. Louis was a large town before Chicago had been founded.
The population of St. Louis is 170,000. Of this number only 2000 are slaves. I was told that a large proportion of the slaves of Missouri are employed near the Missouri River in breaking hemp. The growth of hemp is very profitably carried on in that valley, and the labor attached to it is one which white men do not like to encounter. Slaves are not generally employed in St. Louis for domestic service as is done almost universally in the towns of Kentucky. This work is chiefly in the hands of Irish and Germans. Considerably above one-third of the population of the whole city is made up of these two nationalities. So much is confessed; but if I were to form an opinion from the language I heard in the streets of the town, I should say that nearly every man was either an Irishman or a German.
St. Louis has none of the aspects of a slave city. I cannot say that I found it an attractive place; but then I did not visit it at an attractive time. The war had disturbed everything, given a special color of its own to men’s thoughts and words, and destroyed all interest except that which might proceed from itself. The town is well built, with good shops, straight streets, never-ending rows of excellent houses, and every sign of commercial wealth and domestic comfort — of commercial wealth and domestic comfort in the past, for there was no present appearance either of comfort or of wealth. The new hotel here was to be bigger than all the hotels of all other towns. It is built, and is an enormous pile, and would be handsome but for a terribly ambitious Grecian doorway. It is built, as far as the walls and roof are concerned, but in all other respects is unfinished. I was told that the shares of the original stockholders were now worth nothing. A shareholder, who so told me, seemed to regard this as the ordinary course of business.
The great glory of the town is the “levee,” as it is called, or the long river beach up to which the steamers are brought with their bows to the shore. It is an esplanade looking on to the river, not built with quays or wharves, as would be the case with us, but with a sloping bank running down to the water. In the good days of peace a hundred vessels were to be seen here, each with its double funnels. The line of them seemed to be never ending even when I was there, but then a very large proportion of them were lying idle. They resemble huge, wooden houses, apparently of frail architecture, floating upon the water. Each has its double row of balconies running round it, and the lower or ground floor is open throughout. The upper stories are propped and supported on ugly sticks and rickety-looking beams; so that the first appearance does not convey any great idea of security to a stranger. They are always painted white, and the paint is always very dirty. When they begin to move, they moan and groan in melancholy tones which are subversive of all comfort; and as they continue on their courses they puff and bluster, and are forever threatening to burst and shatter themselves to pieces. There they lie, in a continuous line nearly a mile in length, along the levee of St. Louis, dirty, dingy, and now, alas! mute. They have ceased to groan and puff, and, if this war be continued for six months longer, will become rotten and useless as they lie.
They boast at St. Louis that they command 46,000 miles of navigable river water, counting the great rivers up and down from that place. These rivers are chiefly the Mississippi; the Missouri and Ohio, which fall into the Mississippi near St. Louis; the Platte and Kansas Rivers, tributaries of the Missouri; the Illinois, and the Wisconsin. All these are open to steamers, and all of them traverse regions rich in corn, in coal, in metals, or in timber. These ready-made highways of the world center, as it were, at St. Louis, and make it the depot of the carrying trade of all that vast country. Minnesota is 1500 miles above New Orleans, but the wheat of Minnesota can be brought down the whole distance without change of the vessel in which it is first deposited. It would seem to be impossible that a country so blessed should not become rich. It must be remembered that these rivers flow through lands that have never yet been surpassed in natural fertility. Of all countries in the world one would say that the States of America should have been the last to curse themselves with a war; but now the curse has fallen upon them with a double vengeance, it would seem that they could never be great in war: their very institutions forbid it; their enormous distances forbid it; the price of labor forbids it; and it is forbidden also by the career of industry and expansion which has been given to them. But the curse of fighting has come upon them, and they are showing themselves to be as eager in the works of war as they have shown themselves capable in the works of peace. Men and angels must weep as they behold the things that are being done, as they watch the ruin that has come and is still coming, as they look on commerce killed and agriculture suspended. No sight so sad has come upon the earth in our days. They were a great people; feeding the world, adding daily to the mechanical appliances of mankind, increasing in population beyond all measures of such increase hitherto known, and extending education as fast as they extended their numbers. Poverty had as yet found no place among them, and hunger was an evil of which they had read but were themselves ignorant. Each man among their crowds had a right to be proud of his manhood. To read and write — I am speaking here of the North — was as common as to eat and drink. To work was no disgrace, and the wages of work were plentiful. To live without work was the lot of none. What blessing above these blessings was needed to make a people great and happy? And now a stranger visiting them would declare that they are wallowing in a very slough of despond. The only trade open is the trade of war. The axe of the woodsman is at rest; the plow is idle; the artificer has closed his shop. The roar of the foundery is still heard because cannon are needed, and the river of molten iron comes out as an implement of death. The stone-cutter’s hammer and the mason’s trowel are never heard. The gold of the country is hiding itself as though it had returned to its mother earth, and the infancy of a paper currency has been commenced. Sick soldiers, who have never seen a battle-field, are dying by hundreds in the squalid dirt of their unaccustomed camps. Men and women talk of war, and of war only. Newspapers full of the war are alone read. A contract for war stores — too often a dishonest contract — is the one path open for commercial enterprise. The young man must go to the war or he is disgraced. The war swallows everything, and as yet has failed to produce even such bitter fruits as victory or glory. Must it not be said that a curse has fallen upon the land?
And yet I still hope that it may ultimately be for good. Through water and fire must a nation be cleansed of its faults. It has been so with all nations, though the phases of their trials have been different. It did not seem to be well with us in Cromwell’s early days; nor was it well with us afterward in those disgraceful years of the later Stuarts. We know how France was bathed in blood in her effort to rid herself of her painted sepulcher of an ancient throne; how Germany was made desolate, in order that Prussia might become a nation. Ireland was poor and wretched till her famine came. Men said it was a curse, but that curse has been her greatest blessing. And so will it be here in the West. I could not but weep in spirit as I saw the wretchedness around me — the squalid misery of the soldiers, the inefficiency of their officers, the bickerings of their rulers, the noise and threats, the dirt and ruin, the terrible dishonesty of those who were trusted! These are things which made a man wish that he were anywhere but there. But I do believe that God is still over all, and that everything is working for good. These things are the fire and water through which this nation must pass. The course of this people had been too straight, and their way had been too pleasant. That which to others had been ever difficult had been made easy for them. Bread and meat had come to them as things of course, and they hardly remembered to be thankful. “We, ourselves, have done it,” they declared aloud. “We are not as other men. We are gods upon the earth. Whose arm shall be long enough to stay us, or whose bolt shall be strong enough to strike us?”
Now they are stricken sore, and the bolt is from their own bow. Their own hands have raised the barrier that has stayed them. They have stumbled in their running, and are lying hurt upon the ground; while they who have heard their boastings turn upon them with ridicule, and laugh at them in their discomforture. They are rolling in the mire, and cannot take the hand of any man to help them. Though the hand of the by-stander may be stretched to them, his face is scornful and his voice full of reproaches. Who has not known that hour of misery when in the sullenness of the heart all help has been refused, and misfortune has been made welcome to do her worst? So is it now with those once United States. The man who can see without inward tears the self-inflicted wounds of that American people can hardly have within his bosom the tenderness of an Englishman’s heart.
But the strong runner will rise again to his feet, even though he be stunned by his fall. He will rise again, and will have learned something by his sorrow. His anger will pass away, and he will again brace himself for his work. What great race has ever been won by any man, or by any nation, without some such fall during its course? Have we not all declared that some check to that career was necessary? Men in their pursuit of intelligence had forgotten to be honest; in struggling for greatness they had discarded purity. The nation has been great, but the statesmen of the nation have been little. Men have hardly been ambitious to govern, but they have coveted the wages of governors. Corruption has crept into high places — into places that should have been high — till of all holes and corners in the land they have become the lowest. No public man has been trusted for ordinary honesty. It is not by foreign voices, by English newspapers or in French pamphlets, that the corruption of American politicians has been exposed, but by American voices and by the American press. It is to be heard on every side. Ministers of the cabinet, senators, representatives, State legislatures, officers of the army, officials of the navy, contractors of every grade — all who are presumed to touch, or to have the power of touching public money, are thus accused. For years it has been so. The word politician has stunk in men’s nostrils. When I first visited New York, some three years since, I was warned not to know a man, because he was a “politician.” We in England define a man of a certain class as a blackleg. How has it come about that in American ears the word politician has come to bear a similar signification?
The material growth of the States has been so quick that the political growth has not been able to keep pace with it. In commerce, in education, in all municipal arrangements, in mechanical skill, and also in professional ability the country has stalked on with amazing rapidity; but in the art of governing, in all political management and detail, it has made no advance. The merchants of our country and of that country have for many years met on terms of perfect equality; but it has never been so with their statesmen and our statesmen, with their diplomatists and our diplomatists. Lombard Street and Wall Street can do business with each other on equal footing, but it is not so between Downing Street and the State office at Washington. The science of statesmanship has yet to be learned in the States, and certainly the highest lesson of that science, which teaches that honesty is the best policy.
I trust that the war will have left such a lesson behind it. If it do so, let the cost in money be what it may, that money will not have been wasted. If the American people can learn the necessity of employing their best men for their highest work — if they can recognize these honest men, and trust them when they are so recognized — then they may become as great in politics as they have become great in commerce and in social institutions.
St. Louis, and indeed the whole State of Missouri, was at the time of my visit under martial law. General Halleck was in command, holding his headquarters at St. Louis, and carrying out, at any rate as far as the city was concerned, what orders he chose to issue. I am disposed to think that, situated as Missouri then was, martial law was the best law. No other law could have had force in a town surrounded by soldiers, and in which half of the inhabitants were loyal to the existing government and half of them were in favor of rebellion. The necessity for such power is terrible, and the power itself in the hands of one man must be full of danger; but even that is better than anarchy. I will not accuse General Halleck of abusing his power, seeing that it is hard to determine what is the abuse of such power and what its proper use. When we were at St. Louis a tax was being gathered of 100l. a head from certain men presumed to be secessionists; and, as the money was not of course very readily paid, the furniture of these suspected secessionists was being sold by auction. No doubt such a measure was by them regarded as a great abuse. One gentleman informed me that, in addition to this, certain houses of his had been taken by the government at a fixed rent, and that the payment of the rent was now refused unless he would take the oath of allegiance. He no doubt thought that an abuse of power! But the worst abuse of such power comes not at first, but with long usage.
Up to the time, however, at which I was at St. Louis, martial law had chiefly been used in closing grog-shops and administering the oath of allegiance to suspected secessionists. Something also had been done in the way of raising money by selling the property of convicted secessionists; and while I was there eight men were condemned to be shot for destroying railway bridges. “But will they be shot?” I asked of one of the officers. “Oh, yes. It will be done quietly, and no one will know anything about it; we shall get used to that kind of thing presently.” And the inhabitants of Missouri were becoming used to martial law. It is surprising how quickly a people can reconcile themselves to altered circumstances, when the change comes upon them without the necessity of any expressed opinion on their own part. Personal freedom has been considered as necessary to the American of the States as the air he breathes. Had any suggestion been made to him of a suspension of the privilege of habeas corpus, of a censorship of the press, or of martial law, the American would have declared his willingness to die on the floor of the House of Representatives, and have proclaimed with ten million voices his inability to live under circumstances so subversive of his rights as a man. And he would have thoroughly believed the truth of his own assertions. Had a chance been given of an argument on the matter, of stump speeches and caucus meetings, these things could never have been done. But as it is, Americans are, I think, rather proud of the suspension of the habeas corpus. They point with gratification to the uniformly loyal tone of the newspapers, remarking that any editor who should dare to give even a secession squeak would immediately find himself shut up. And now nothing but good is spoken of martial law. I thought it a nuisance when I was prevented by soldiers from trotting my horse down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington; but I was assured by Americans that such restrictions were very serviceable in a community. At St. Louis martial law was quite popular. Why should not General Halleck be as well able to say what was good for the people as any law or any lawyer? He had no interest in the injury of the State, but every interest in its preservation. “But what,” I asked, “would be the effect were he to tell you to put all your fires out at eight o’clock?” “If he were so to order, we should do it; but we know that he will not.” But who does know to what General Halleck or other generals may come, or how soon a curfew-bell may be ringing in American towns? The winning of liberty is long and tedious; but the losing it is a down-hill, easy journey.
It was here, in St. Louis, that General Fremont held his military court. He was a great man here during those hundred days through which his command lasted. He lived in a great house, had a body-guard, was inaccessible as a great man should be, and fared sumptuously every day. He fortified the city — or rather, he began to do so. He constructed barracks here, and instituted military prisons. The fortifications have been discontinued as useless, but the barracks and the prisons remain. In the latter there were 1200 secessionist soldiers who had been taken in the State of Missouri. “Why are they not exchanged?” I asked. “Because they are not exactly soldiers,” I was informed. “The secessionists do not acknowledge them.” “Then would it not be cheaper to let them go?” “No,” said my informant; “because in that case we would have to catch them again.” And so the 1200 remain in their wretched prison — thinned from week to week and from day to day by prison disease and prison death.
I went out twice to Benton Barracks, as the camp of wooden huts was called, which General Fremont had erected near the fair-ground of the city. This fair-ground, I was told, had been a pleasant place. It had been constructed for the recreation of the city, and for the purpose of periodical agricultural exhibitions. There is still in it a pretty ornamented cottage, and in the little garden a solitary Cupid stood, dismayed by the dirt and ruin around him. In the fair-green are the round buildings intended for show cattle and agricultural implements, but now given up to cavalry horses and Parrott guns. But Benton Barracks are outside the fair-green. Here on an open space, some half mile in length, two long rows of wooden sheds have been built, opposite to each other, and behind them are other sheds used for stabling and cooking places. Those in front are divided, not into separate huts, but into chambers capable of containing nearly two hundred men each. They were surrounded on the inside by great wooden trays, in three tiers — and on each tray four men were supposed to sleep. I went into one or two while the crowd of soldiers was in them, but found it inexpedient to stay there long. The stench of those places was foul beyond description. Never in my life before had I been in a place so horrid to the eyes and nose as Benton Barracks. The path along the front outside was deep in mud. The whole space between the two rows of sheds was one field of mud, so slippery that the foot could not stand. Inside and outside every spot was deep in mud. The soldiers were mud-stained from foot to sole. These volunteer soldiers are in their nature dirty, as must be all men brought together in numerous bodies without special appliances for cleanliness, or control and discipline as to their personal habits. But the dirt of the men in the Benton Barracks surpassed any dirt that I had hitherto seen. Nor could it have been otherwise with them. They were surrounded by a sea of mud, and the foul hovels in which they were made to sleep and live were fetid with stench and reeking with filth. I had at this time been joined by another Englishman, and we went through this place together. When we inquired as to the health of the men, we heard the saddest tales — of three hundred men gone out of one regiment, of whole companies that had perished, of hospitals crowded with fevered patients. Measles had been the great scourge of the soldiers here — as it had also been in the army of the Potomac. I shall not soon forget my visits to Benton Barracks. It may be that our own soldiers were as badly treated in the Crimea; or that French soldiers were treated worse in their march into Russia. It may be that dirt and wretchedness, disease and listless idleness, a descent from manhood to habits lower than those of the beasts, are necessary in warfare. I have sometimes thought that it is so; but I am no military critic, and will not say. This I say — that the degradation of men to the state in which I saw the American soldiers in Benton Barracks is disgraceful to humanity.
General Halleck was at this time commanding in Missouri, and was himself stationed at St. Louis; but his active measures against the rebels were going on to the right and to the left. On the left shore of the Mississippi, at Cairo, in Illinois, a fleet of gun-boats was being prepared to go down the river, and on the right an army was advancing against Springfield, in the southwestern district of Missouri, with the object of dislodging Price, the rebel guerrilla leader there, and, if possible, of catching him. Price had been the opponent of poor General Lyons, who was killed at Wilson’s Creek, near Springfield, and of General Fremont, who during his hundred days had failed to drive him out of the State. This duty had now been intrusted to General Curtis, who had for some time been holding his headquarters at Rolla, half way between St. Louis and Springfield. Fremont had built a fort at Rolla, and it had become a military station. Over 10,000 men had been there at one time, and now General Curtis was to advance from Rolla against Price with something above that number of men. Many of them, however, had already gone on, and others were daily being sent up from St. Louis. Under these circumstances my friend and I, fortified with a letter of introduction to General Curtis, resolved to go and see the army at Rolla.
On our way down by the railway we encountered a young German officer, an aide-de-camp of the Federals, and under his auspices we saw Rolla to advantage. Our companions in the railway were chiefly soldiers and teamsters. The car was crowded, and filled with tobacco smoke, apple peel, and foul air. In these cars during the winter there is always a large lighted stove, a stove that might cook all the dinners for a French hotel, and no window is ever opened. Among our fellow-travelers there was here and there a west-country Missouri farmer going down, under the protection of the advancing army, to look after the remains of his chattels — wild, dark, uncouth, savage-looking men. One such hero I specially remember, as to whom the only natural remark would be that one would not like to meet him alone on a dark night. He was burly and big, unwashed and rough, with a black beard, shorn some two months since. He had sharp, angry eyes, and sat silent, picking his teeth with a bowie knife. I met him afterward at the Rolla Hotel, and found that he was a gentleman of property near Springfield. He was mild and meek as a sucking dove, asked my advice as to the state of his affairs, and merely guessed that things had been pretty rough with him. Things had been pretty rough with him. The rebels had come upon his land. House, fences, stock, and crop were all gone. His homestead had been made a ruin, and his farm had been turned into a wilderness. Everything was gone. He had carried his wife and children off to Illinois, and had now returned, hoping that he might get on in the wake of the army till he could see the debris of his property. But even he did not seem disturbed. He did not bemoan himself or curse his fate. “Things were pretty rough,” he said; and that was all that he did say.
It was dark when we got into Rolla. Everything had been covered with snow, and everywhere the snow was frozen. We had heard that there was a hotel, and that possibly we might get a bed-room there. We were first taken to a wooden building, which we were told was the headquarters of the army, and in one room we found a colonel with a lot of soldiers loafing about, and in another a provost martial attended by a newspaper correspondent. We were received with open arms, and a suggestion was at once made that we were no doubt picking up news for European newspapers. “Air you a son of the Mrs. Trollope?” said the correspondent. “Then, sir, you are an accession to Rolla.” Upon which I was made to sit down, and invited to “loaf about” at the headquarters as long as I might remain at Rolla. Shortly, however, there came on a violent discussion about wagons. A general had come in and wanted all the colonel’s wagons, but the colonel swore that he had none, declared how bitterly he was impeded with sick men, and became indignant and reproachful. It was Brutus and Cassius again; and as we felt ourselves in the way, and anxious moreover to ascertain what might be the nature of the Rolla hotel, we took up our heavy portmanteaus — for they were heavy — and with a guide to show us the way, started off through the dark and over the hill up to our inn. I shall never forget that walk. It was up hill and down hill, with an occasional half-frozen stream across it. My friend was impeded with an enormous cloak lined with fur, which in itself was a burden for a coalheaver. Our guide, who was a clerk out of the colonel’s office, carried an umbrella and a small dressing-bag, but we ourselves manfully shouldered our portmanteaus. Sydney Smith declared that an Englishman only wasted his time in training himself for gymnastic aptitudes, seeing that for a shilling he could always hire a porter. Had Sydney Smith ever been at Rolla he would have written differently. I could tell at great length how I fell on my face in the icy snow, how my friend stuck in the frozen mud when he essayed to jump the stream, and how our guide walked on easily in advance, encouraging us with his voice from a distance. Why is it that a stout Englishman bordering on fifty finds himself in such a predicament as that? No Frenchman, no Italian, no German would so place himself, unless under the stress of insurmountable circumstances. No American would do so under any circumstances. As I slipped about on the ice and groaned with that terrible fardle on my back, burdened with a dozen shirts, and a suit of dress clothes, and three pair of boots, and four or five thick volumes, and a set of maps, and a box of cigars, and a washing tub, I confessed to myself that I was a fool. What was I doing in such a galley as that? Why had I brought all that useless lumber down to Rolla? Why had I come to Rolla, with no certain hope even of shelter for a night? But we did reach the hotel; we did get a room between us with two bedsteads. And pondering over the matter in my mind, since that evening, I have been inclined to think that the stout Englishman is in the right of it. No American of my age and weight will ever go through what I went through then, but I am not sure that he does not in his accustomed career go through worse things even than that. However, if I go to Rolla again during the war, I will at any rate leave the books behind me.
What a night we spent in that inn! They who know America will be aware that in all hotels there is a free admixture of different classes. The traveler in Europe may sit down to dinner with his tailor and shoemaker; but if so, his tailor and shoemaker have dressed themselves as he dresses, and are prepared to carry themselves according to a certain standard, which in exterior does not differ from his own. In the large Eastern cities of the States, such as Boston, New York, and Washington, a similar practice of life is gradually becoming prevalent. There are various hotels for various classes, and the ordinary traveler does not find himself at the same table with a butcher fresh from the shambles. But in the West there are no distinctions whatever. A man’s a man for a’ that in the West, let the “a’ that” comprise what it may of coarse attire and unsophisticated manners. One soon gets used to it. In that inn at Rolla was a public room, heated in the middle by a stove, and round that we soon found ourselves seated in a company of soldiers, farmers, laborers, and teamsters. But there was among them a general; not a fighting, or would-be fighting general of the present time, but one of the old-fashioned local generals — men who held, or had once held, some fabulous generalship in the State militia. There we sat, cheek by jowl with our new friends, till nearly twelve o’clock, talking politics and discussing the war. The general was a stanch Unionist, having, according to his own showing, suffered dreadful things from secessionist persecutors since the rebellion commenced. As a matter of course everybody present was for the Union. In such a place one rarely encounters any difference of opinion. The general was very eager about the war, advocating the immediate abolition of slavery, not as a means of improving the condition of the Southern slaves, but on the ground that it would ruin the Southern masters. We all sat by, edging in a word now and then, but the general was the talker of the evening. He was very wrathy, and swore at every other word. “It was pretty well time,” he said, “to crush out this rebellion, and by —— it must and should be crushed out; General Jim Lane was the man to do it, and by —— General Jim Lane would do it!” and so on. In all such conversations the time for action has always just come, and also the expected man. But the time passes by as other weeks and months have passed before it, and the new general is found to be no more successful than his brethren. Our friend was very angry against England. “When we’ve polished off these accursed rebels, I guess we’ll take a turn at you. You had your turn when you made us give up Mason and Slidell, and we’ll have our turn by-and-by.” But in spite of his dislike to our nation he invited us warmly to come and see him at his home on the Missouri River. It was, according to his showing, a new Eden, a Paradise upon earth. He seemed to think that we might perhaps desire to buy a location, and explained to us how readily we could make our fortunes. But he admitted in the course of his eulogiums that it would be as much as his life was worth to him to ride out five miles from his own house. In the mean time the teamsters greased their boots, the soldiers snored, those who were wet took off their shoes and stockings, hanging them to dry round the stove, and the Western farmers chewed tobacco in silence, and ruminated. At such a house all the guests go in to their meals together. A gong is sounded on a sudden, close behind your ears; accustomed as you may probably be to the sound, you jump up from your chair in the agony of the crash, and by the time that you have collected your thoughts the whole crowd is off in a general stampede into the eating-room. You may as well join them; if you hesitate as to feeding with so rough a lot of men, you will have to set down afterward with the women and children of the family, and your lot will then be worse. Among such classes in the Western States the men are always better than the women. The men are dirty and civil, the women are dirty and uncivil.
On the following day we visited the camp, going out in an ambulance and returning on horseback. We were accompanied by the general’s aid-de-camp, and also, to our great gratification, by the general’s daughter. There had been a hard frost for some nights, but though the cold was very great there was always heat enough in the middle of the day to turn the surface of the ground into glutinous mud; consequently we had all the roughness induced by frost, but none of the usually attendant cleanliness. Indeed, it seemed that in these parts nothing was so dirty as frost. The mud stuck like paste and encompassed everything. We heard that morning that from sixty to seventy baggage wagons had “broken through,” as they called it, and stuck fast near a river, in their endeavor to make their way on to Lebanon. We encountered two generals of brigade, General Siegel, a German, and General Ashboth, a Hungarian, both of whom were waiting till the weather should allow them to advance. They were extremely courteous, and warmly invited us to go on with them to Lebanon and Springfield, promising to us such accommodation as they might be able to obtain for themselves. I was much tempted to accept the offer; but I found that day after day might pass before any forward movement was commenced, and that it might be weeks before Springfield or even Lebanon could be reached. It was my wish, moreover, to see what I could of the people, rather than to scrutinize the ways of the army. We dined at the tent of General Ashboth, and afterward rode his horses through the camp back to Rolla, I was greatly taken with this Hungarian gentleman. He was a tall, thin, gaunt man of fifty, a pure-blooded Magyar a I was told, who had come from his own country with Kossuth to America. His camp circumstances were not very luxurious, nor was his table very richly spread; but he received us with the ease and courtesy of a gentleman. He showed us his sword, his rifle, his pistols, his chargers, and daguerreotype of a friend he had loved in his own country. They were all the treasures that he carried with him — over and above a chess-board and a set of chessmen, which sorely tempted me to accompany him in his march.
In my next chapter, which will, I trust, be very short, I purport to say a few words as to what I saw of the American army, and therefore I will not now describe the regiments which we visited. The tents were all encompassed by snow, and the ground on which they stood was a bed of mud; but yet the soldiers out here were not so wretchedly forlorn, or apparently so miserably uncomfortable, as those at Benton Barracks. I did not encounter that horrid sickly stench, nor were the men so pale and woe-begone. On the following day we returned to St. Louis, bringing back with us our friend the German aid-de-camp. I stayed two days longer in that city, and then I thought that I had seen enough of Missouri; enough of Missouri at any rate under the present circumstances of frost and secession. As regards the people of the West, I must say that they were not such as I expected to find them. With the Northerns we are all more or less intimately acquainted. Those Americans whom we meet in our own country, or on the continent, are generally from the North, or if not so they have that type of American manners which has become familiar to us. They are talkative, intelligent, inclined to be social, though frequently not sympathetically social with ourselves; somewhat soi-disant, but almost invariably companionable. As the traveler goes southward into Maryland and Washington, the type is not altered to any great extent. The hard intelligence of the Yankee gives place gradually to the softer, and perhaps more polished, manner of the Southern. But the change thus experienced is not great as is that between the American of the Western and the American of the Atlantic States. In the West I found the men gloomy and silent — I might almost say sullen. A dozen of them will sit for hours round a stove, speechless. They chew tobacco and ruminate. They are not offended if you speak to them, but they are not pleased. They answer with monosyllables, or, if it be practicable, with a gesture of the head. They care nothing for the graces or — shall I say — for the decencies of life. They are essentially a dirty people. Dirt, untidiness, and noise seem in nowise to afflict them. Things are constantly done before your eyes which should be done and might be done behind your back. No doubt we daily come into the closest contact with matters which, if we saw all that appertains to them, would cause us to shake and shudder. In other countries we do not see all this, but in the Western States we do. I have eaten in Bedouin tents, and have been ministered to by Turks and Arabs. I have sojourned in the hotels of old Spain and of Spanish America. I have lived in Connaught, and have taken up my quarters with monks of different nations. I have, as it were, been educated to dirt, and taken out my degree in outward abominations. But my education had not reached a point which would enable me to live at my ease in the Western States. A man or woman who can do that may be said to have graduated in the highest honors, and to have become absolutely invulnerable, either through the sense of touch, or by the eye, or by the nose. Indifference to appearances is there a matter of pride. A foul shirt is a flag of triumph. A craving for soap and water is as the wail of the weak and the confession of cowardice. This indifference is carried into all their affairs, or rather this manifestation of indifference. A few pages back, I spoke of a man whose furniture had been sold to pay a heavy tax raised on him specially as a secessionist; the same man had also been refused the payment of rent due to him by the government, unless he would take a false oath. I may presume that he was ruined in his circumstances by the strong hand of the Northern army. But he seemed in no wise to be unhappy about his ruin. He spoke with some scorn of the martial law in Missouri, but I felt that it was esteemed a small matter by him that his furniture was seized and sold. No men love money with more eager love than these Western men, but they bear the loss of it as an Indian bears his torture at the stake. They are energetic in trade, speculating deeply whenever speculation is possible; but nevertheless they are slow in motion, loving to loaf about. They are slow in speech, preferring to sit in silence, with the tobacco between their teeth. They drink, but are seldom drunk to the eye; they begin at it early in the morning, and take it in a solemn, sullen, ugly manner, standing always at a bar; swallowing their spirits, and saying nothing as they swallow it. They drink often, and to great excess; but they carry it off without noise, sitting down and ruminating over it with the everlasting cud within their jaws. I believe that a stranger might go into the West, and passing from hotel to hotel through a dozen of them, might sit for hours at each in the large everlasting public hall, and never have a word addressed to him. No stranger should travel in the Western States, or indeed in any of the States, without letters of introduction. It is the custom of the country, and they are easily procured. Without them everything is barren; for men do not travel in the States of America as they do in Europe, to see scenery and visit the marvels of old cities which are open to all the world. The social and political life of the American must constitute the interest of the traveler, and to these he can hardly make his way without introductions.
I cannot part with the West without saying, in its favor, that there is a certain manliness about its men which gives them a dignity of their own. It is shown in that very indifference of which I have spoken. Whatever turns up, the man is still there; still unsophisticated and still unbroken. It has seemed to me that no race of men requires less outward assistance than these pioneers of civilization. They rarely amuse themselves. Food, newspapers, and brandy smashes suffice for life; and while these last, whatever may occur, the man is still there in his manhood. The fury of the mob does not shake him, nor the stern countenance of his present martial tyrant. Alas! I cannot stick to my text by calling him a just man. Intelligence, energy, and endurance are his virtues. Dirt, dishonesty, and morning drinks are his vices.
All native American women are intelligent. It seems to be their birthright. In the Eastern cities they have, in their upper classes, superadded womanly grace to this intelligence, and consequently they are charming as companions. They are beautiful also, and, as I believe, lack nothing that a lover can desire in his love. But I cannot fancy myself much in love with a Western lady, or rather with a lady in the West. They are as sharp as nails, but then they are also as hard. They know, doubtless, all that they ought to know, but then they know so much more than they ought to know. They are tyrants to their parents, and never practice the virtue of obedience till they have half-grownup daughters of their own. They have faith in the destiny of their country, if in nothing else; but they believe that that destiny is to be worked out by the spirit and talent of the young women. I confess that for me Eve would have had no charms had she not recognized Adam as her lord. I can forgive her in that she tempted him to eat the apple. Had she come from the West country, she would have ordered him to make his meal, and then I could not have forgiven her.
St. Louis should be, and still will be, a town of great wealth. To no city can have been given more means of riches. I have spoken of the enormous mileage of water communication of which she is the center. The country around her produces Indian-corn, wheat, grasses, hemp, and tobacco. Coal is dug even within the boundaries of the city, and iron mines are worked at a distance from it of a hundred miles. The iron is so pure that it is broken off in solid blocks, almost free from alloy; and as the metal stands up on the earth’s surface in the guise almost of a gigantic metal pillar, instead of lying low within its bowels, it is worked at a cheap rate, and with great certainty. Nevertheless, at the present moment, the iron works of Pilot Knob, as the place is called, do not pay. As far as I could learn, nothing did pay, except government contracts.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55