SHERMAN'S TRACK AND THE POPULAR FEELING THERE.
[Fnost A SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT.] Washington, January 22, 1866. THE line of fire and desolation carried by General Sherman from Chattanooga to the sea was undoubtedly the deepest and sharpest infliction of the war. Of all the local wounds dealt by the Federal power, this, it might well be supposed, would be the latest to cicatrize, the last to be forgotten. In connection there- fore with the supreme topic of amicable reconstruction, authentic intelligence from those parts of the country which are immediately adjacent to or included in that bitter and conclusive swath is of peculiar interest and value. Where the blow was hardest, is resentment most implacable and deeply seated? Has the crown- ing military success of the war been purchased at the expense of a lasting and most troublesome alienation ? Is the weightiest argument of force to be followed by its usual neutralizing and perplexing consequences? These are important questions, and ones to which thinking Americans, as well as distant yet interested observers, will look with anxiety for replies. It is not, however, at all easy to get them,—that is to say, to get information which is at once comprehensive, dispassionate, and to be depended upon. The remark holds good, whether the information be sought upon the spot or gathered from the testimony of others. Political differences are of so pervasive a character, that you can tell at once from the tone of a witness whether he is a Seward man or a Chase man, whether he is a sup- porter of the President's policy or is an unmitigated " old-line " Democrat. In the one case he will assure you that no negro will work ; in the other, that there is no limit to his ambitious industry. One stoutly declares that the war is not over, that the South, although beaten, is not subdued, that the hatred of Yankee and love of slavery are as rank as ever ; another, that the South cheer- fully accepts the logic of accomplished events, has bidden the "peculiar institution" an unregretful adieu, and only requires that acquiescence on the part of the North in the President's policy which will give it, as before, uncontrolled sway over its internal affairs, to become the happiest and most contented part of the Union. It is greatly to be feared that sincere supporters of Mr. Johnson cannot be trusted to afford evidence in a case where, if the facts were against them, the executive policy must be reversed or overthrown ; and it is but fair that the converse of the proposi- tion should also be admitted. Whenever therefore we can get testimony from any of the few who are at once intelligent, have opportunities for observation, and are not to be classed among either the adherents or opponents of the Administration, who are neither Seward men, Chase men, Johnson men, nor Vallandigham men, which designations will cover with sufficient distinctiveness the various political followings, such testimony possesses an ex- ceptional value. Among a number of Southern letters before me, there is one from a person whom the last sentence fairly de- scribes. You readers may be interested in the observations of an Englishwoman, written, as is apparent, currente calamo, on lately following in the footsteps of General Sherman. It may be well to mention that the lady has been a resident of this country for some years past, and one who, without professing special political views is profoundly interested in its future. I quote from her letter, which is dated Macon (Georgia), January 10:—
"The people we met in the cars, and those we see about the streets here, look something like Californian miners, only with a despondent look, less I think because they are un- happy than because they have never in their lives had any idea of cheerfulness or social enjoyment. Unless he can afford to pay for champagne an American thinks he has no right to laugh, always speaking without reference to New England, where they have a sort of grim humour. There was one poor woman with five children waiting in the station at Chattanooga, a dim vault of a place, with a hole in the wall made by a shell, where the poor creatures had sat up all night waiting till the morning train should come in, and she could beg enough of the passengers to take them all on the next hundred miles, in which she succeeded, and we left her at the next town, preparing to repeat the dismal operation. Then there was a lively little Englishwoman from Iowa, with four outrageous children, whom she scolded in English fashion, and who didn't mind a bit in American fashion, and besides she actually had a guitar in a paste-board case, and a huge em- broidery frame as large as a Kit-Cat portrait, with the usual as- sortment of baskets and bundles, and when we crossed the rivers in flats and toiled down and up the steep embankments on each side, the fate of the guitar and that of the embroidery frame sometimes hung by a thread. Then there was a woman of sense travelling to see the country ; only she talked in a grand way, and wished to see the Ravages of War ! ' Well, Marra,' said a man, if you'll stay here, you'll see nothink else,' which was true enough. And now I tell you, that from Nashville to Chatta- nooga, 151 miles, and from thence to Atlanta, about the same distance, and excepting the railway itself and the block-houses, with which I fell in love, there is nothing to be seen but waste and destruction. The large towns on the road, Marietta and others, had, as we calculated, about one house standing out of five ; but the smaller places, which are more numerous than we expected, and whose names are not down either on map or railway guide, were almost entirely destroyed. Sometimes not one house would be left standing, sometimes one or two, and then the little heaps of bricks or the blackened chimneys told where the rest had been.
The smaller places have everywhere suffered the most, often being destroyed by the horde of camp followers and desperate wretches who afterwards in the famous march bore the name of Sherman's Bum- mers.' We had with us Union and Rebel soldiers who had, one or another, fought over every mile of the ground, so that everything was explained to us, and our journey made doubly interesting, but it waft very mournful. The woods through which we passed from time to time, with heaps of fine trees felled and rotting, were gloomy enough ; then the cotton-fields, their fences gone, and no trace of cultivation but the tiny ridges and the uniformity of the weeds which covered them ; the ruins of the railway all along the track, with the rails looking like dead serpents, black and twisted. When your eyes were tired of counting chimneys and tracing houses, they were bewildered with endless ditches, embank- ments, and forts, themselves already falling into:decay ; then came long stretches where every tree had been cut down to prevent their covering the enemy ; and then—saddest of all—the soldiers' graveyards, so large, so bare, without a tree, without a blade of grass, the graves evenly and closely formed, each with its little piece of wood at head and foot, and so numerous that at Chat- tanooga the four large fields we passed bore a horrible resemblance to the vineyards we had left behind at Cincinnati " But Atlanta was the climax. No one can describe it. The maddest of Californian mining towns, Volcano, for example, where the lead' (gold vein) went through the streets, came into my mind as I looked at it; and then I turned and saw the aim through the doors and windows of a house standing roofless on the hill, and at the groups of chimneys and mounds of bricks, and the comparison failed entirely,—although the new wooden buildings
going up did something to favour it There is one reflec- tion I want to put down, and cannot express strongly enough, which is, how the Southern people wasted their country, how little they did with it in all these years. Here, as in Virginia, I saw not one cellar where a house had been. In these three hundred miles we saw not more than eight or ten country roads, and those were mere tracks. Bridges are unknown ; .where a stream is to be crossed here, as in Virginia, it is always forded. The cornfields are full of stumps. The cotton fields are more carefully treated, but the poor woods, where two trees are felled, and four are broken by their fall, and six are girdled, and eight are left rotting on the ground, are a grievous sight. Here in Macon I burn pine enough to make a pig-stye every morning, and the previous light wood, the pitch pine, which, by the way, is about as dirty to burn as English coals, and plays the mischief with my collars and cuffs, sells for two dollars a cart-load.
" I should say that Reconstruction' was proceeding just as fast as one could expect or desire. Two months ago here in Georgia the planters would take nothing but gold for their cotton ; now they won't have gold, and are taking and spending greenbacks as fast as any people in the country ; and then the travel ! Every hotel, every railway train is full to crowding ; all the men go North to buy goods, all the women to buy clothes and furniture, and Northern people come here to see their friends and relatives. In the cars the two sections did not speak, and some Southern men looked rather gloomy ; but from time to time there was talk meant for the others to hear, and then there was very good-natured com- ment. As — says, the Americans, North and South, always recon- cile themselves to an accomplished fact. I even fancy that I can trace a feeling of relief at being done with slavery. It was, 1 know, to many a heavy care, which yet they feared more than disliked relinquishing. However that may be, they are glad to have passed Christmas, at which time an insurrection was much dreaded ; and now the chief concern is lest in the middle of the summer, when every effort has to be made to secure the crops, the field hands should desert or prove restive. They must run the risk, however. People are preparing to plant on all hands, and an Englishman long resident here told me last night that he was convinced that in six or seven years they would raise as much cotton as ever."
As regards the general treatment of the freedmen by their late masters, in the hypothetical event of the latter being restored to the full control of their internal affairs, that is, by a return to the status quo ante helium, minus slavery, so far as its name is concerned, I cannot believe they are safely to be trusted. Still it is but just to relate incidents, when one hears them, that make the other way. A gentleman writes me, also from the interior of Georgia, and speaking of one of the most noted among the late insurrectionary leaders :—" The war deprived him of more than 700 slaves, but he told me that, out of about 150 of the negroes on one of his places, 120 or 130 had remained, and had contracted with him for the year 1866. He is to feed and clothe them and pay the doctor, and they to get one-quarter of the cotton crop. In addition to this, he has built a church for them and opened a school in the place, and has six teachers and preachers to educate them. He remarked to me, with evident sincerity, ' I mean to do my duty by the negro, and if the experiment fails, it cannot hereafter be said that I am to blame." Similar ace,punts have reached me of the professed intentions of other less conspicuous persons in the same region ; and it must be admitted that they are not indicative of disaffection or of deeply seated resentment. And if such sentiments are so little expressed on the line of the Great March, it is not unreasonable perhaps to assume that they
have no marked existence elsewhere. Democrats and adherents of the President would assure you that such incidents are so many arguments in favour of speedy and liberal re- construction. They would cite such a case as that of the gentleman above referred to, as evidence in behalf of their often repeated dogma that if suffrage be given to the negro, he will infallibly cast it as his late master bids him. This opinion, it need scarcely be said, is freely employed to discourage the advocates of such a measure ; but it is obvious that if sincerely believed in, the opponents of coloured enfranchisement ought, in the interest of partizan success, to become its friends. It is cer- tain that the question will, sooner or later, be brought to a practical issue. The summary test which, during the past five years, has exploded so many half-hearted paradoxes set up in defence of a bad cause is unlikely to be withheld from this one. The joint resolution offered this day in the House by Mr. Steven's from the Committee of Reconstruction will, if carried, put it in the power of the late Confederate States themselves to determine whether they will confer the suffrage on the blacks or submit to diminished representation. In such a case, if their friends or themselves are so safe as they claim to be concerning the direction in which the privilege would be employed, it is not easy to see