The Tragic Conflict: The Civil War and Reconstruction

By William B. Hesseltine | Go to book overview

22
Facts and Opinions in North and South

William H. Russell

Although I have written two letters since my arrival at Charleston, I have not been able to give an account of many things which have come under my notice, and which appeared to be noteworthy; and now that I am fairly on my travels once more, it seems only too probable that I shall be obliged to pass them over altogether. The roaring fire of the revolution is fast sweeping over the prairies, and one must fly before it or burn. I am obliged to see all that can be seen of the South at once, and then, armed with such safeguards as I can procure, to make an effort to recover my communications. Bridges broken, rails torn up, telegraphs pulled down -- I am quite in the air, an air charged with powder and fire.

One of the most extraordinary books in the world could be made out of the cuttings and parings of the newspapers which have been published within the last few days. The judgnents, statements, asseverations of the press, everywhere necessarily hasty, ill-sifted, and off-hand, do not aspire to even an ephemeral existence here. They, are of use if they serve the purpose of the moment, and of the little boys who commence their childhood in deceit, and continue to adolescence in iniquity, by giving vocal utterance to the "sensation" headings in the journals they retail so sharply and curtly. Talk of the superstition of the Middle Ages, or of the credulity of the more advanced periods of rural life; laugh at the Holy Coat of Treves, or groan over the Lady of Salette; deplore the faith in winking pictures, or in a communiqué of the Moniteur; moralize on the superstition which discovers more in the liquefaction of the ichor of St. Gennaro than a chemical trick; but if you desire to understand how far faith can see and trust among the people who consider themselves the most civilized and intelligent in the world, you will study the American journals, and read the telegrams which appear in them. One day the 7th New York Regiment is

WILLIAM H. RUSSELL, The Civil War in America ( Boston, 1861), Letter vii.

"Bull Run" Russell won fame and bitter Northern excoriation for his report, to the LondonTimes, of the panic of the Federal troops fleeing from the Battle of Manassas. As a correspondent, he kept his English readers abreast of developments and aware of the virtues of the Confederate cause.

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