Rollin, Frank [Frances] A.
|CHAPTER XXVI -- EXTRAORDINARY MESSAGES|
THE headquarters of Major. Delany were most desirable and attractive; but it was, at the same time, easy of access to any one contemplating mischief. The parlor, library, museum, and private study, continuously arranged on the first floor from the basement, with glass doors, with outer Venetian blinds, extending from the ceiling to the floor, all opened upon a piazza, supported by massive columns; the parlor being the office of the major, of the major, the library and museum the office of the under clerks, the study at the extreme end of the piazza, the offence of the chief clerk and assistant Captain A. W. Shadd.
The orderlies, seven in number, slept in the middle office, in blankets, while the ground floor beneath was occupied by the housekeeper and attendants.
Early one morning, before he had left his room, a colored gentleman came hurriedly up the front entrance, passing the first sentinel at the outer gate, bearing a dish, which, being partially exposed, showed the fruit it contained. So sudden was his approach upon the faithful orderly, Isaac Weston, who slept in the hall leading to the upper chamber, where slept his commander, that springing to his feet half awakened, he
"I wish to see the major himself", persisted the man. "I've this dish for man."
"I'll take it," replied the orderly.
To this proposition he demurred, saying, "I've a message of importance for hero, and must deliver it myself."
The guards allowed him to remain, to await the major. At intervals he would be seen to approach the window opening on St. Philip Street, in almost cautions manner. This restlessness was attributed by the guards to guilt and anxiety: so fraught with malice and revenge seemed the time and place, that suspicious of the motive of the man, they determined not to permit him to escape
Shortly after this the major appeared, and found his son in conversation with the supposed culprit, who instantly arose at his entrance, requesting a private interview. This was granted; but the orderly, whose faith was not quite established in the integrity of the visitor, persistently kept within call.
As soon as they were alone, the visitor made known his business to him. Said he, "I've come this morning, Major Delany, to impart to you something of great importance. Last night," continued he, "a plot was
"What is the plot?" inquired the major, eagerly. "Don't hesitate to disclose its nature."
"No, sir," replied the visitor; "it is this: they have conspired to associate all the Union officers of rank and command in the city," he whispered.
"You need not fear that," replied the major; "they are not so mad as to attempt such an act, while the brain of every lover of the Union is still fevered with the recent crime at Washington."
"Let me tell you, major," said he, "I believe it. I know the character of the men concerned in it: they are capable of anything against the government. They are the same who encouraged the cruelties of Andersonville--the exposure and starvation at the race course-- the butchery of the colored prisoners by unnecessary amputations at the hospital."
"How they propose to accomplish the business?" asked the major
"They propose," returned he, "to kill General Saxton, on his next arrival here, as soon as he lands; then the black major, next Colonel Beecher, General Hatch, and Colonel Gurney."
"Do you think I regard this more then some angry rebel venting his feelings in words?" asked the major.
"They were really in earnest, and intend all they said," answered the visitor, disconcerted at not being able to arouse the "black major" to the extent of the danger.
"What do you suppose the other officers would be doing, after more than one had been killed?" asked the major.
"It was all to be done at one time; the killing of General Saxton, which would soon be known, to be the signal, then the others would follow"
"Then" replied the major, "you are authorized to impart to them that we are ahead of them, and that the assassination of General Saxton, or any other Union officer in Charleston, will be the signal for putting to the sword the enemies of the Union, and laying the city in a heap of smouldering ruins. I give you this in advance of any advice or instructions from my superior officer, and shall not wait for orders in this case, when they are to be the victims, but shall take all the responsibility following it. I believe in the Napoleonic idea-- ball cartridges first, and admonitions after."
The gentleman left soon after, satisfied that he had discharged his duty.
Strange to say, eleven persons came that day, each in confidence, with the same information. So attached were the people to him, that it is known that a party of ladies actually waited on him, endeavoring to persuade him not to leave his quarters. For their interest in him he expressed his obligations, and reminded them that it was the duty of an officer to go at all times where his services were needed, and added that those who were plotting had more at stake than they against whom the plot was formed, and in the event of attempting, it nothing could save the city.
Not giving full credence to this report, it was received
If the major had been awake at a late hour a few nights after these admonitions were given to him, he would, perhaps, have had cause to treat this report with more attention then he gave it; but the affair being told to him, it had not the same effect as it would have had if he had witnessed it
In front of the piazza of his residence was a space of shrubbery and flower garden, a high fence dividing the place from a Hebrew Synagogue: for concealment it was admirably accepted. It happened about midnight a rustling was heard in the shrubbery; then steps were heard stealthily approaching the piazza when simultaneously, as it were faces were seen reconnoitering through the glass door of each apartment, the heads being distinctly seen. Their appearance was as suddenly followed by a rush towards the piazza by the vigilant sentinels. The intruders leaped from the porch, and in an instant the fence being scaled, eluded pursuit. Search was made on the premises, but no traces remained to give a single claw to their designs
There was no sleep to the inmates of the quarters for the remainder of the night, though the major was not informed of this singular affair until the following morning.
A battalion of four hundred and fifty strong, being under command of acting Captain Shadd-- and no veteran troops could have been better disciplined to meet
There appeared, shortly after, as though there was some motive attached to the visit at the major's quarters. The fires of resentment were still smouldering in their hearts; the Washington tragedy was not sufficient to extinguish it. For it is well known in Charleston that but a few evening after the occurrence at the major's quarters, Colonel Gurney's became the object of a more bold and impudent intrusion.
It was related by an interested party, as well as published in one of the journals of the city, on the next day, that while Colonel Gurney was seated in the conversation with his lady, about eleven P. M, a party of five men, dressed in the navel uniform of United States officers, entered the apartment The spokesmen of the party entered abruptly, and, on inquiring for the colonel, was answered by him, who in turn demanded of the intruders their errand.
"We have come with a message for you to report to the admiral, in person, at Hilton Head," said one.
"Report to the admiral, in person, at Hilton Head! "exclaimed the astonished colonel. "What means all this? Why these officers? I am then to consider myself under arrest, I suppose
"You are sir," was the reply.
"You will allow me time to prepare a valise," said the colonel. His lady here interposed, expressing a
At the publication of this, the major's being at the same time everywhere the subject of grave comment, an intense excitement was created through the colored community especially. This was as the breeze upon the surface of our sea, so recently disturbed and all still unsettled; the swells could be observed with threatening approaches to the shore.
Fortunately these were stayed. So pressing were the inquirer, in crowds, as it were, at the quarters of the major, seeking advice for action, that positive orders were given by him decidedly against any overt act by the freemen.
If these suspicious visits were carried further, the military headquarters in the city were peculiarly situated to meet such emergencies. While they were separately commanded and under different influences, they were at the same time Equidistant from each other and admirably adapted to meet any emergency.
For instance, the city was divided into two military districts, running north and south with Calhoun Street centrally, at right angles; Colonel Gurney, commanding the 127th New York Volunteers at corner of Meeting and George Streets, west side; Colonel Beecher, commanding the 35th United States Colored Troops, corner of Charlotte and Meeting Streets, east side; Major
The first three commands formed the extreme angle of an equilateral triangle, with Colonel Hutchins in the center; Major General Hatch occupied a portion of a medial line, intersecting the east side of the triangle equidistant between Colonel Gurney and Major Delany.
The interests of the commands seemed equally fortunate and providential, adventitious for the welfare of the people and protection of the city, with Colonel Gurney commanding white northern troops, Colonel Beecher black southern troops, Major Delany's troops incomplete, Colonel Hutchins waiting for a command with Major General John P. Hatch over all.