Travels in Wartime
By the time the first volume of Eureka was published it was clear that troublous times lay ahead for the country. The trouble, which had been smouldering for some years, had its origin in the divergent interests of the various states; the northern area being largely given to manufacture while the southern was almost entirely agricultural. They were also divided on the question of slavery, though that did not cause a clear cut line. A crisis was reached when, in a convention of the Southern States held in April, 1861, a resolution was unanimously adopted “That the United States of America is hereby dissolved.” A new constitution was adopted in the South, under the title “The Confederate States of America.”
Most of the Doctor’s work had been done in the south, but his followers were scattered through the divided territories. Richmond, chosen as the Capital of the secessionists, had been the residence of Dr. Thomas for some years, although he had removed to New York, and then to West Hoboken in New Jersey.
The situation was almost as bad as if the believers were citizens of two countries at war, except that both parties spoke the same language. Postal communications were interrupted, and if believers living in the Confederated States were to be kept in touch with the Doctor as their recognised leader (though he himself would not have admitted such a title), it was for him to go to them. He determined therefore to face the risks entailed by a tour through the Southern States. It was bound to be a difficult and dangerous undertaking. The first act of the war took place in April, 1861; in June of that year, Dr. Thomas commenced his journey into the war zone. He gave an account of it in the Herald.
Dr. Thomas left Jersey City in June. At first there were few signs that a state of war existed. He spoke at various places on the way, and nothing untoward occurred until he reached Kentucky.
When he left home he had not purposed visiting Virginia, but while in Kentucky he heard of people travelling to Richmond, and, in view of his association with that city, he determined to go there, though the brethren thought it would be a difficult enterprise. However, having made up his mind, he characteristically stood by his determination, though he obtained letters of introduction to persons of importance in the South.
To avoid any possibility of his sponsors being subjected to trouble for the services they did him, he withheld their names in his account of the journey, and only named those to whom the letters were addressed. These were the Hon. Andrew Ewing, Col. B. Duncan and General Pillow, all of the Confederate armies. The first letter may be reproduced in full; it indicates the esteem entertained for the Doctor by those unaffected by religious animosity. “My friend, Dr. Thomas of New Jersey, wishing to visit Virginia on business connected with his churches, and owing to the troublous times, thinks it would be prudent to make some acquaintance in Nashville; it really affords me pleasure to introduce him to you as a gentleman in every respect. And I will be greatly obliged to you to give him any attention to make his transit through Tennessee safe and pleasant. Dr. Thomas has organised churches in my immediate neighbourhood, and has the esteem and confidence of our whole community.” The other letters spoke of him as “a gentleman worthy of confidence,” and “a gentleman in every way worthy of commendation.” Armed with these letters, the Doctor started on his journey.
Crowded trains, meeting the riff-raff of the Southern armies, and loss of connections combined to make it a trying one though there were humorous incidents, one of which he describes. The cars of the train by which he was to travel were in the depot, and some time before it was due to start he reconnoitred the position and found that the upper third of the car door, which was originally of glass, was open, the glass having been removed, leaving an opening about two feet square. All that was necessary to gain an entrance was what he described as “a gymnastic introduction of the person.” He inserted his valise through the opening, and then, balancing his body on the panel, a little muscular effort enabled him to place his hands on the valise, when all that was seen of the gymnast were “two booted pants peering from the window.” As he remarked “the transfer was effected more quickly than it can be told, for facile est descensus inferno, while an upward movement would have been considerably more difficult and tedious.” This enabled him to escape the crowds waiting for the train at the time of its departure.
When he arrived at Richmond he found it to be a general camping ground for the Confederate armies. Nothing seemed to be thought of except the war. Food was dear owing to diminishing stocks; luxuries were unobtainable; clothes were shabby because patriotism demanded that it should be so.
Notwithstanding the warlike attitude of the people of Richmond Dr. Thomas’ arrival was the occasion for some special addresses, but the attendances were small. One extract from his record of what he said may be quoted: “If Southern and Northern Methodists, Baptists, Campbellites, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Papists, think it fit to blow one another’s brains out, let them do it to their heart’s content, but let no christians mingle in the unhallowed strife.” On the other hand he said, “Pray for all in authority without regard to latitude, longitude, or generation; not that they may be converted, but that their policy may be so providentially over-ruled that the saints may be permitted to lead ‘quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty’.”
Before leaving Virginia the Doctor received a letter from Bro. A. B. Magruder, of whom something has been heard before. As his brother was a general in the Southern army, it was thought that a letter from A. B. Magruder carried by Dr. Thomas might save the latter trouble if any should threaten. Such a letter was therefore written. While on his journey the Doctor was told that the police were looking for him under an Act of the Federal Congress. Soon after he was taken to some Confederate officers who asked if he had seen the Act referred to. He replied that he had, but that it did not apply to him as he was an Englishman. He thought he was entitled to do that, just as Paul used his Roman citizenship for his protection. The officers were somewhat troubled, a lawyer whom they consulted told them that they could do nothing. Though they were not satisfied they did not venture to make an arrest. Finally he told them that the Act under which they threatened him required that the President should issue a proclamation, but no proclamation had yet been made. With this he was allowed to depart, “wishing all sectarian Southern policemen, a hearty, and perhaps, an everlasting farewell.” It is an interesting fact, and in harmony with his general habits in life that he knew the laws better than the officers whose duty it was to carry out its provisions.
Continuing his journey Dr. Thomas called at certain places at one of which was a brother whose son served in the cavalry under General Magruder, but was then on furlough. The son was able to send a copy of the letter previously referred to, to the general, who undertook to forward the Doctor under a flag of truce to the Federal lines, a promise that was carried out.
Arrived at Baltimore he spoke on the Sunday in the meeting-house. From Baltimore he returned to New York after an absence of nearly three months, during which he had passed through various experiences, some almost tragic, some amusing, but all recorded with a sang froid that is quite refreshing.
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