Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Civil War Reminiscences Of General Basil W. Duke, C.S.A.: Part Seven

Cairo, Illinois during the Civil War, looking across the Ohio towards Kentucky

The first man I saw as I stepped into the hotel was a particular friend from St. Louis-Mr. James Casey-one of the truest, warmest-hearted men I ever knew.  He was a brother-in-law, by the way, of Gen. Ulysses Grant.  Grant, when President, appointed him Surveyor of the Port at new Orleans, but at this date "Jim" was a strong secessionist.  His look of amazement and dismay, when he caught sight of me, was almost too much for my gravity.  Although I knew him to be both shrewd and cautious, I was apprehensive that he might say something imprudent; so I approached him and said: "You don't remember me, Mr. Casey, but I am John White.  I live in your native town in Union County, Kentucky."  "I'm very glad to see you, Mr. White," he responded.  "Come up stairs to my room."  We went to is room; he locked the door and asked me why in the name of heaven I had come to Cairo.  He said that the rumour was current in St. Louis that Greene and I had gone South on some embassy, and that Blair would be on the lookout for us.  "Well," I said, "he won't be looking for me here."  Casey replied that among the officers in Cairo were a number of St. Louisians, some of whom would probably recognize me.  I said I would get away as soon as possible, but must first ascertain what sort of inspection was made of north-bound boats, and also write or telegraph Frost.  "You will be arrested," he said, "if you either attempt to write or wire."  "Then you must send a letter for me," I said.  He assured me that he would do so, by a friend who was a river pilot just about to leave for St. Louis.  I subsequently learned that the letter was duly delivered.  I then went to the wharf-boat and witnessed an inspection of one or two cargoes.  The careless and imperfect manner in which it was conducted convinced me that there would be little risk of detection, and that the Swan and her freight could pass in safety. 
I therefore promptly departed for New Madrid, the point at which it had been agreed that I should meet the Swan as she came up the river.  Here I came near being involved in quite serious trouble.  I had to remain at this little place two or three days before the boat arrived, and was, of course, the object of much curiosity, as a stranger always is in a very small town.  I did not realize, as I should have done, the importance of returning consistent answers to the questions propounded me, but whenever any one expressed a desire to know my reason for coming, I gave an explanation, the first that came to me, ingenious enough, perhaps, but generally totally at variance with other responses.  Indeed, discretion is something which the majority of mankind only acquire by experience.  I subsequently had occasion to regret very much my lack of caution and fertility of invention. 
On the second night that I was at New Madrid, fearing that the Swan might arrive during the night and that I might fail to learn it, I concluded to change my quarters from the small hotel at which I had stopped, to the wharf-boat.  I should say in explanation, that in ante-bellum days, old, dismantled steam-boats were frequently used as wharf-boats and the former state-rooms were rudely fitted up for the accommodation of guests, although meals were not furnished.  Quite a large old boat was used for this purpose at New Madrid at the date that I made this visit.  I engaged one of the state-rooms and, instructing the wharf master to awaken me if the Swan came, slipped off my coat and shoes and laid down.  I could not, however, go to sleep, and was pleased when a man came to my room about ten o'clock.  He said that some of my acquaintances were in the bar-room and wished to see me.  I, of course, suspected no danger, and immediately arose, put on my shoes, and leaving my revolver where I had placed it, under the pillow, proceeded to join my friends, as I supposed them to be.  When I passed the door which opened from the saloon into the barroom I saw a man standing by it with a cocked pistol in his hand.  Glancing toward the other door I saw a man, similarly armed, there also.
-The Civil War Reminiscences of General Basil W. Duke, C.S.A.

The above photo comes from a website about the 42nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, which was stationed in Cairo during the Civil War.  The website has a great page about Cairo at the beginning of the war and I recommend that you go take a look at it.  It's good stuff.  

No comments: