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The Civil War in America

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The Civil War in America
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Author(s): William Howard Russell
Date Published: 2013/01
Page Count: 196
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-033-8
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-032-1

The first ‘Warco’s’ view of the great Civil War in America

The author of this book, William Howard Russell, is renowned as the ‘first modern war correspondent.’ Even though his first experience of war reporting was in 1850 during conflict between Prussia and Denmark, Russell, an Irishman, first came to wider recognition as a ‘Times’ newspaper correspondent through his coverage of the Crimean War in 1854. His dispatches from the Crimea became massively influential because, for the first time, the public were able to read about the realities of life and death on campaign and on the field of battle. This earned Russell the antipathy of the command structure, but the affection of the troops, for his honesty and candour, his generosity and sociable nature. His words inspired Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole to create proper medical care facilities for British troops which transformed the nature of military medical care in the British Army. Russell witnessed the most significant actions of the war, including the charge of the Light Brigade, and it was he who brought the phrase ‘the thin red line’ into the English language. The Indian Mutiny erupted in 1857 and Russell travelled to the sub-continent arriving in time to witness the final recapture of Lucknow. In 1861 the next great story was ‘breaking’ across the Atlantic, so Russell sailed to the United States to report on the American Civil War. His writings on the war to restore the Union are particularly interesting because Russell provided a non-partisan view combined with a wealth of experience in the observation of conflict and an ability to report it in well crafted journalistic copy. This is a book about war, but it is also a valuable collection of journalistic writing from an early master of the profession. There were many famous war correspondents after Russell but he was the first of his kind. His influence on the reporting of foreign affairs cannot be overestimated and that makes this book invaluable for military historians and those interested in the development of journalism.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

On my return to the schooner I observed that the small houses on the side of the long sandy beach were filled with men, many of whom were in groups round the happy possessors of a newspaper, and listened with the utmost interest to the excited delivery of the oracular sentences. How much of the agony and bitterness of this conflict—nay, how much of its existence—may be due to these same newspapers, no man can say, but I have very decided opinions, or rather a very strong belief, on the subject. There were still more people around the various bar-rooms than were attracted even by the journalists. Two of our companions were on board when I got back to the quay. The Mobile gentlemen had gone off to Pensacola, and had not returned to time, and under any circumstances it was not probable that they would be permitted to land, as undoubtedly they were no friends to the garrison or to the cause of the United States.<br>
Our skipper opened his eyes and shook his rough head when he was ordered to get under way for Fort Pickens, and to anchor off the jetty. Up went the flag of truce to the fore once more, but the ever-watchful sentry, diverted for the time from his superintendence of the men who were fishing at our pier, forbade our departure till the corporal of the guard had given leave, and the corporal of the guard would not let the fair Diana cast off her warp till he had consulted the sergeant of the guard, and so there was some delay occasioned by the necessity for holding an interview with that functionary, who finally permitted the captain to proceed on his way, and with a fair light breeze the schooner fell round into the tideway and glided off towards the fort. We drew up with it rapidly, and soon attracted the notice of the lookout men and some officers who came down to the jetty.<br>
We anchored a cable’s length from the jetty. In reply to the sentry’s hail, the skipper asked for a boat to put off for us. “Come off in your own boat.” Skiff of Sharon! But there was no choice. With all the pathos of that remarkable structure, it could not go down in such a short row. And if it did? Well, “there is not a more terrible place for sharks along this coast,” the captain had told us incidentally en route. Our boat was inclined to impartiality in its relation with the water, and took quite as much inside as it could hold, but we soused into it, and the men pulled like Doggett’s Badgers, and soon we were out of shark depth and alongside the jetty, where were standing to receive us Mr. Brown, our friend of yesterday, Captain Vogdes, and Captain Berry, commanding a United States battery in the fort.<br>
The soldiers of the guard were United States regular troops of the artillery, wore blue uniforms with brass buttons and remarkably ugly slouched hats, with an ornament in the shape of two crossed cannons. Captain Vogdes informed me that Col. Moore had sent off a reply to my letter to the fleet, stating that he would gladly permit me to go over the fort, but that he would not allow anyone else, under any circumstances, whatever, to visit it. My friends were, therefore, constrained to stay outside; but one of them picked up a friend on the beach, and got up an impromptu ride along the island.<br>
The way from the jetty to the entrance of the fort is in the universal deep sand of this part of the world; the distance from the landing place to the gateway is not much more than two hundred yards, and the approach to the portal is quite unprotected. There is a high ramp and glacis on the land side, but the face and part of the curtain in which the gate is situate are open, as it was not considered likely that it would ever be attacked by Americans. The sharp angle of the bastion on this face is so weak that men are now engaged in throwing up an extempore glacis to cover the base of the wall and the casemates from fire.<br>
The ditch is very broad, and the scarp and counterscarp are riveted with brick-work. The curvette has been cleared out, and in doing so, as a proof of the agreeable character of the locality, I may observe, upwards of sixty rattlesnakes were killed by the workmen. An abattis has been made along the edge of this part of the ditch—a rough inclined fence of stakes and boughs of trees. “Yes, Sir; at one time when those terrible fire-eating gentlemen at the other side were full of threats, and coming to take the place every day, there were only seventy men in this fort, and Lieut. Slemmer threw up this abattis to delay his assailants, if it were only for a few minutes, and to give his men breathing time to use their small arms.”<br>
The casemates here are all blinded, and the hospital is situated in the bomb-proofs inside. The gate was closed. At a talismanic knock it was opened, and from the external silence we passed into a scene full of activity and life, through the dark gallery which served at first as a framework to the picture. The parade of the fort was full of men, and at a coup d’œil it was obvious that great efforts had been made to prepare Fort Pickens for a desperate defence. In the parade were several tents of what is called Sibley’s pattern, like our bell tents, but without the lower side wall, and provided with a ventilating top, which can be elevated or depressed at pleasure.<br>
The parade ground has been judiciously filled with deep holes, like inverted cones, in which shells will be comparatively innocuous; and, warned by Sumter, everything has been removed which could prove in the least degree combustible. The officer on duty led me straight across to the opposite angle of the fort. As the rear of the casemates and bomb-proofs along this side will be exposed to a plunging fire from the opposite side, a very ingenious screen has been constructed by placing useless gun platforms and parts of carriages at an angle against the wall, and piling them up with sand and earth for several feet in thickness. A passage is thus left between the base of the wall and that of the screen through which a man can walk with ease.<br>
Turning into this passage we entered a lofty bomb-proof, which was the bedroom of the commanding officer, and passed through into the casemate which serves as his headquarters. Colonel Harvey Brown received me with every expression of politeness and courtesy. He is a tall, spare, soldierly-looking man, with a face indicative of great resolution and energy, as well as of sagacity and kindness, and his attachment to the Union was probably one of the reasons of his removal from the command of Fort Hamilton, New York, to the charge of this very important fort. He has been long in the service, and he belonged to the first class of graduates who passed at West Point after its establishment in 1818. After a short and very interesting conversation, he proceeded to show me the works, and we mounted upon the parapet, accompanied by Captain Berry, and went over all the defences.<br>
Fort Pickens has a regular bastioned trace, in outline an oblique and rather narrow parallelogram, with the obtuse angles facing the sea at one side and the land at the other. The acute angle, at which the bastion toward the enemy’s batteries is situated, is the weakest part of the work; but it was built for sea defence, as I have already observed, and the trace was prolonged to obtain the greatest amount of fire on the sea approaches. The crest of the parapet is covered with very solid and well-made merlons of heavy sand-bags, but one face and the gorge of the bastion are exposed to an enfilading fire from Fort M’Rae, which the colonel said he intended to guard against if he got time.<br>
All the guns seemed in good order, the carriages being well constructed, but they are mostly of what are considered small calibres now-a-days, being 32-pounders, with some 42-pounders and 24-pounders. There are, however, four heavy columbiads, which command the enemy’s works on several points very completely. It struck me that the bastion guns were rather crowded. But, even in its present state, the defensive preparations are most creditable to the officers, who have had only three weeks to do the immense amount of work before us. The brick copings have been removed from the parapets, and strong sand-bag traverses have been constructed to cover the gunners, in addition to the “rat-holes” at the bastions.<br>
More heavy guns are expected, which, with the aid of a few more mortars, will enable the garrison to hold their own against everything but a regular siege on the land side, and so long as the fleet covers the narrow neck of the island with its guns, it is not possible for the Confederates to effect a lodgement. If Fort M’Rae were strong and heavily armed, it could inflict great damage on Pickens; but it is neither one nor the other, and the United States officers are confident that they will speedily render it quite untenable.
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