Description of Fort Taylor

 

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Civil War Harper's Weekly, March 2, 1861

The March 2, 1861 edition of Harper's Weekly featured a cover illustration of president elect Abraham Lincoln.  The remainder of the newspaper includes incredible stories on the opening events of the Civil War.  We have posted the newspaper below.  Newspaper Thumbnails will take you to the page of interest.

 

President-Elect Abraham Lincoln

President Lincoln at Astor House

Cummings Point

Cumming's Point

Congressional Business

Jefferson Davis Inauguration Speech

Fort Taylor Description

Fort Johnson

Fort Johnson

Ft. Taylor

Fort Taylor

 

 

 

 

MARCH 2. 1861.]

HARPER'S WEEKLY.

139

the chill December air whistling through the room, for my aunt had refrained from ringing for any one to close the doors, lest she should disturb the last moments of her dying servant.

It was not till the next day that my aunt learned, through the nurse's inquiries in the kitchen, that Minnie had been in the habit of opening the doors (unless the outer one was bolted) by jumping up, putting one paw through the bow, and the other on the thumb-piece of the latch, and then dropping down and leaving the door to swing open of its own accord, or, if necessary, giving it an impetus by squeezing her body into the crack.

It was in this same bedroom, about a year later, that the last proof of my aunt's courage which I propose to relate took place.

My uncle had just returned from Newark, bringing with him a large sum of money, the proceeds of several heavy bills intrusted to him for collection by a client in a neighboring town, who was to call and receive his money on the following day. Meanwhile it was lodged in a secretary standing in the bedroom.

After tea, on the evening of his return, Mr. Apthorpe, having some letters to write, went down to his office, leaving his wife in the sitting-room, singing her baby to sleep.

This pleasant duty accomplished, she stepped softly into the bedroom, and laying the little boy in his crib, drew the coverings over him. But the night was cold, and the tender mother fancied her darling not warm enough, so went to the large clothes-press opening into her bedroom for an additional blanket.

This she found had been placed upon a high shelf, and in the effort to reach it she unconsciously grasped a long cloak hanging near with such force as to bring it to the floor.

Carrying out the blanket and spreading it over her boy, my aunt returned to pick up the cloak, and in stooping to do this saw close beside her the foot and part of the leg of a man whose head and body were still concealed by the garments hanging on the wall, although his retreat had been so materially injured by the fall of the cloak as to lead to his discovery.

My aunt confessed that for a moment her heart stood still, and the song she had been murmuring died upon her lips ; but by the time she had regained her feet she was able to account for the pause by saying, peevishly, aloud,

"There, now, the loop is broken, and I can't hang it up again."

Then, throwing the cloak upon a chest close by, she went carelessly out, leaving the closet door a little ajar.

Standing beside her baby's crib, her back to the door lest the robber should read her face, my aunt considered her position.

My uncle had told her not to expect him home till near midnight. Isaac, the house-boy, had gone to the village on an errand. The nurse had received permission to spend the evening with a friend, and no one remained within except herself and the cook, busy in the distant kitchen.

It would have been easy for my aunt to snatch the baby from his crib and rush out of the house, leaving the robber to quietly collect his booty and escape before she could send anyone to prevent him ; but this course did not satisfy her.

She preferred to remain and guard the property intrusted to her husband's care, even at some risk to her own life.

She, however, considered that the robber, knowing the unprotected state of the house, might reason-ably argue, if she remained alone, that he should run less risk in murdering her, completing his robbery, and escaping before her husband's return, than in waiting for night, when his operations, however carefully carried on, would be liable to arouse Mr. Apthorpe.

Just as my Aunt Marcia reached this point in her argument the baby stirred uneasily, and partially awoke.

Bending over the crib his mother began rocking vehemently, and singing the very same song so abruptly broken off a few minutes before. But though she rocked, and though she sung, the baby grew more and more uneasy ; for his mother, while apparently trying in every way to pacify him, was in reality using every quiet means in her power to arouse him, until at last the little fellow, thoroughly awake, began screaming lustily.

" Poor little darling," said the well-pleased mother, lifting him out of his crib, " does his little stomach ache? Mamma is sure it does, or he never would cry so loud. He shall have a bath."

Stepping to the bell she pulled it gently, and when the cook appeared, said, calmly,

" Molly, I am afraid the baby is very sick. Bring up some hot water for a bath, as quickly as you can."

" Yes, Ma'am," replied the unsuspicious Molly; and in a few minutes mistress and maid had Master Herbert in the water, rubbing and scrubbing him vigorously, while the poor little boy, tired, sleepy, and vexed, repaid their exertions by re-doubled screams.

"Has Isaac come in yet ?" asked my aunt, carelessly, as Molly at last took the baby out of his bath and laid him on his mother's lap.

"Not yet, Ma'am ; but it is nine o'clock, he won't be out much longer."

" I shall send him to the doctor's for some medicine as soon as he does come," remarked my aunt. " The poor child needs something very much."

" Sha'n't I try to put him asleep, Ma'am—you must be very tired ?" asked Molly, longing to es-cape to the kitchen.

" Yes, Molly, I wish you would," said my aunt, who knew full well that nothing would be surer to keep Master Herbert awake than placing him in unaccustomed hands.

So Molly walked and sung, the baby cried and fretted, and my aunt enacted steadily the part she had set herself, until clumping feet upon the garden-walk, and the banging of the back door announced the return of the boy.

" There is Isaac, Molly," said my aunt. " Call

him into the sitting-room, while I write a note to the doctor for what I want."

The cook left the room, and presently returned with Isaac, who stood beside the door while his mistress hurriedly wrote,

"There is a man hiding in my closet, close beside the linen chest. Bring help, and come quickly, for God's sake.

" MARCIA:"

" There, Isaac, take this to Doctor Winslow, and wait for the medicine he is to put up," said my aunt, in a clear distinct voice ; and as the boy left the room she turned carelessly into the bed-room. The next moment, however, she said, quickly,

" There, I didn't give him any money, and Mr. Apthorpe hates to have bills brought in for these little things."

" Won't I run after him, Ma'am ?" asked Molly, offering her the baby.

" No, I'll go—he hasn't left the house," said my aunt, hurrying out.

Isaac indeed was but just opening the back door, when, to his great bewilderment, his mistress over-taking him grasped him fiercely by the arm, and said, sternly,

"Isaac, my life and that of others, depends upon your speed and faithfulness. Take that note to your master as quickly as you can reach him—ask him to read it immediately, and then wait for his orders. If he is not at his office, go to Mr. Benson's or Mr. Pierce's, and ask one of them to read it. Go now—run !"

" There, Molly, you may give me the baby now," said my aunt, cheerfully, as she re-entered the bed-room. You may make up his little bed again, and pick up these things about the room."

Little Herbert, soothed in his mother's arms, soon fell asleep, and before Molly had completed the multifarious tasks assigned her by her mistress, the front door opened sharply, and a moment after, Mr. Apthorpe, followed by two of his friends, appeared at the door of the bedroom, and obeying a nod from my aunt, proceeded without a word to the closet, from whence, after a momentary scuffle and the harmless discharge of the robber's pistol, they dragged a great black-headed ruffian, who scowled defiance on all around, but chiefly on my aunt, whose agency in his capture he evidently suspected.

" Yes, my man," said my Aunt Marcia, coolly answering his menacing stare ; " yes, it was I. I saw you when I came into the closet to pick up the cloak. If you had been wise you would have killed me then, secured the money, and made off at once."

" P'r'aps so; but folks doesn't alluz know wots fer their own good," returned the fellow, sullenly, as he was led away.

 

Here I will pause, not for lack of material, for anecdotes of my Aunt Marcia might be multiplied almost ad infinitum, embracing every period of life, from her eccentric childhood to the kindly old age, which has not yet, thank God ! found its limit.

But I refrain : for enough has been said to prove my proposition, if it be capable of proof; and I end as I began, with the simple assertion that my Aunt Marcia stands at the head of all the brave women whom I ever knew.

SNAKE STORIES.

IT was some weeks before snakes creeped again into my thoughts. This next time I was in the luxurious library of a New York magnate, in a house whose splendor literally blazed in comparison with the starved, impoverished palaces of Genoa, Rome, or Venice. I was in the stripling world, and was with a man at whose bidding the winged messages to Paris or Peru and the Stock Exchange couriers flew " du Peroujusqu'a Rome." There were bronzes on the buffet, and golden clocks to "tick off" Time's account.

My friend Mr. Vanderpump—for he was a Dutch merchant born in a quaint Spanish house in Amsterdam—turning, as he talked to me about snakes, lay in a long red and blue hammock made of aloe thread netted by an Indian of Guatemala, with one leg not ungracefully hanging over its margin—Vanderpump, smoking one of those fiery Trichinopoly cheeroots which have ventilating straws inserted through their centres—harangued me pleasantly about certain deserted gold mines of the Spaniards, which it would take no great time, he said, by dint of Indian tradition, to rediscover; from this subject he wandered on, by many pleas-ant, devious by-paths of converse, to the subject of certain snakes of enormous size supposed to exist in"tarns" or small lakes among a certain range of mountains in South America.

I roused up at this, and prepared to listen. Vanderpump then--rolling round in his hammock, which, stretching from either wall, drooped down and swung within two or three feet of the ground —drew several yards of the colored netting over him as if for warmth, and prepared to pour out upon me his " winged words."

He told me that many Indians and hunters had assured him that they had seen these enormous snakes. They were twice as large as boa constrictors, and were generally discerned bathing themselves in the mountain lakes, where it was supposed they came to feed on the fish. They had, however, never yet been killed or found dead, nor was it known on what they usually fed, or where they lived. He (Vanderpump), being a liberal in science as in politics, saw no reason to doubt that a few specimens of some extinct Pythonic race of serpents might still be existing among those rarely-trodden mountains. Races of animals had died out of particular countries in our own time. The dodo was an instance. Even in the sea-serpent many sensible people retained a belief.

If the boa constrictor, that can battle with a buffalo or an alligator, and swallow a deer, antlers and all, were to become extinct to-day, to-morrow,

but for printed records, there would be people found to deny that such a monster had ever existed. Because a certain creature had not yet been classified by stay-at-home zoologists, that was no proof, he urged, it did not exist. The mammoth was wonderful, and its skeleton had been found ; where-as the backbone of a large snake presents little resistance to the violent extremes of South American climate.

I asked Vanderpump, who I knew had dabbled in medicine, whether, in the course of his South American travels, he had tried to discover new and valuable drugs, and, above all, any specific for snake bites?

He said, oscillating himself with lazy grandeur, that he had ; he had several times in Nicaragua and Guatemala been on the brink of great discoveries. He had once been presented with an herb, which the peons told him was a certain cure for small-pox, but he tried it on one of his own Spanish servants who was ill, and it proved useless. The plant seemed a remedy only to the Indian constitution and in the Indian climate. There was, however, one pulverized herb which the peons used as snuff in cases of low fever, by which he had himself been cured when dangerously ill. Yet he had tried in vain to obtain a specimen of it ; all offers of money were refused. They would not even gather it, except at night, for fear of being seen.

"And why all this precaution, this dog-in-the-manger caution ?"

Because the Indians said that when the white man used one of their medicines it lost all its virtue. It had been so with jalap and with Peruvian bark. They were therefore determined to keep this wonderful diaphoretic and sudatory to them-selves. He dried leaves of every herb and tree he could find in the neighborhood, yet in vain. In all his searches he never discovered a specific against snake bites. On the contrary, so much was a certain sort of snake dreaded there, that, if one was killed, all the people of the neighborhood would go out and solemnly burn the body to ashes, for fear of any life being left in it.

Vanderpump then went on to tell me of his having been once bitten, on the bank of a river, by a snake that had crept into an eel-hole. But this bite ended with a mere slight inflammation, and he supposed that the virus must have been neutralized by the water ; or, more likely, the aggressive snake was a harmless one.

I had not many snake stories of my own experience to exchange with Vanderpump in return; but what I had I told without broidery or lace-work of imagination. I described how an eccentric friend of mine, first an officer, then a clergy-man, and a conscientious man in both capacities, with whom I spent several pleasant summers, used to delight in taming the harmless snakes common in English hedgerows. He kept them by day in his pocket or hat, by night in a bandbox in the room I slept in ; and well I remember the tremendous round and round scramble one morning, when one of them swallowed whole a large frog, which had been shut up with him for his consumption.

From this I harmlessly episoded into an account of a pretty peasant girl in Normandy whom I had seen twine live lizards lightly between the heavy lustrous black folds of her tiara of hair, where they glowed like coils of living emerald. I then (just as coffee came up like so much smoking incense) asked Vanderpump if it was really true that traveling quacks made a living by killing rattlesnakes for their fat ?

He said it was indeed; that snake fat was excellent for sprains and bruises, and had been used in such cases, for centuries, by the Indians.

It was some days after I parted from Vanderpump, and I was on the Mississippi on the hurricane-deck of a first-class racing steamer ; my feet were on planks covered with leaf lead to prevent the wood sparks charring them. Above us and behind us rose the glazed tower of a pilot-house. I was seated on an arm-chair, side by side with my dear friend Captain Vaughan, skipper of a California steamer. From this " coign of vantage" we looked down on the brown turbid river, on the pelicans, and on the brown sand-bars.

The crumbling banks of the great river were mere wrecks of fallen cotton-trees, and here and there were visible the white huts of the " negro quarter" of a cotton plantation. On the long spit of the nearest sand-bar lay a putrid lump which had once been a bullock, and, tumbling over and fighting for it, were swarming masses of turkey buzzards.

Again our converse fell on snakes. Apropos of some remarks on the great floods which are almost periodical on this great fickle river, the captain, bending his astute yet kindly eyes on me, told me how once, during one of those great inundations that reach for miles, when all the stream was alive with drifts of broken steamboats, fallen trees, cot-ton bales, and here and there dead men, he was in a steamboat at Napoleon, at the mouth of the Arkansas River, when a backwoodsman came on board with a huge dead rattlesnake twisted round him. He had found it, he told the marveling passengers, floating on a black locust-tree which the river had undermined and washed down from its banks. These floods, said Vaughan, destroy a great many snakes, and the snakes have a great dread of the floods.

The Captain then went on to describe, when a prairie is on fire, the terror, anguish, and fury of the snakes. Some hunters even said that at those times they bit themselves, and so died before the fire could reach them. They seemed thoroughly conscious of the danger. But this story of their suicide the Captain doubted, because he had him-self once caught a very large rattlesnake, taken it home, and tied it to a suspended washing cord, where it could hiss and move but do no harm, for he had slipped a piece of stick into its mouth and tied it like a bit, with a string behind its head. There he fed and kept it for some days; but the snake, even when it had its head free, never at-tempted to bite itself. As to the popular notion

that in times of danger the mother snake opened its mouth and let the young ones run down into its stomach for shelter, he believed that it merely originated in finding live snakes in the stomachs of others, which had, perhaps, swallowed them for food.

I then inquired of the Captain if he had ever used can de luce for snake bites, and if he knew what it was? He said, smiling, that can de luce was a mere quack name for compound tincture of ammonia, and that, undoubtedly, it was a good thing; but he had known an old slave suck the bites with great success, and with perfect impunity to himself.

I asked the Captain if snakes were gregarious? The Captain—after pointing to an alligator which was just floating past, looking as like a dead tree as a thing well could—went on to say that, though not generally gregarious, he thought several often selected the same places to hibernate: as he himself once had found more than a score under a felled live-oak tree he had to move with a gang of lumberers. He chopped them up with his axe as small as mince-meat in no time, he could tell me! He had also a story of a narrow escape he had had in the lower range of the Rocky Mountains. Here the Captain pulled out his pocket-book and showed me a plan of the place which he had made at the time, as that part of the range had never before been trodden by white man. I put the story in the first person, and try to give it the effect of the Captain's manner:

" I had been," he said, " prospecting all day for minerals, and had found some copper and lead, and some curious sulphur springs of, I believe, a unique kind; and, coming back to my camp, had lit my fire, and cooked some deer meat ; then, quite tired out, looked round to select a convenient and sheltered place on which to sleep. I chose out, at last, a place under a high crumbly-looking rock, not far from my fire, and, loading my rifle, first bandaging the lock and slipping it into my Mackintosh-case to guard it from the damp, I wrapped myself like a mummy in my Mackinaw blanket and lay down under the rock to sleep: intending to rise early and push fast, to overtake my men, who were a day's march ahead looking after bears.

"I had a bad night, for rats or something or other kept passing over me, and half waking me. About the gray of the morning I roused myself from that sort of torpid, paralyzed sense of endurance that a prolonged nightmare throws you in, and rose up oil my elbow to see if my logs were quite burned out, or if there was, perhaps, enough fire left to warm mc some coffee, for the night had been frosty and cold. I looked, and to my horror saw a writhing heap of about thirty rattlesnakes coiled or moving round the brands of my fire. I had been sleeping under a rock which was perforated by their holes, and my fire had drawn them out by its alluring warmth. It was these snakes I had felt moving over me in my long nightmare.

"Loramussy, mister ! How quick I did get on my feet, sure ; and as I ran off, I banged with my rifle right among them, just to give them a sort of parting blessing. But what harm I did to them I never knew, for I did not care much to go back to that hive of rattlesnakes."

Thanking the Captain for his story, I reminded him that, in the prairies, rattlesnakes became gregarious from their habit of occupying the holes of the prairie dogs, first eating their landlords—a most ungenerous return for the shelter afforded them.

The Captain said that deer were very much afraid of the rattlesnakes; but that sometimes an old buck would face them, and leaping on them, crush them by it succession of bounds and jumps. Dogs, too, would sometimes face them, and acquire a habit of seizing them at the back of the head; but, if once bitten, the dogs lost all courage after-ward.

The very same week of this conversation with the Captain, in perusing the Memphis Daily Avalanche, I met with a singular snake story, and as my chapter is necessarily a mere string of beads, and the story is too good to " whistle down the wind," I will tell it here. It had reference to a shrewd Yankee smuggler, who, having lately to pass some prohibited article into Canada, prepared a large box pierced with holes, and divided in two horizontally by a movable tray. Below the tray he placed his tabooed goods, above he coiled a lively rattlesnake, then he locked and corded the whole, and took it boldly to the frontier custom-house.

"Any thing to declare? Any tobacco?" said the custom-house.

"No," said the Yankee ; " only `notions.'" " Open the box," said the custom-house. The Yankee handed the key.

Custom-house opened it with mechanical quickness, and, starting back with a roar at seeing the lifted mischievous, hissing head of the snake, clapped down the lid again, and slammed it with a click. There was no more examination of that box at the custom-house.

FORT TAYLOR, KEY WEST.

IN our last number we published a view of Fort Jefferson, Key West, one of the two forts which command the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico. We now publish, on page 140, a view of Fort Taylor, the other fort, which, like Fort Jefferson, is a work of great strength. Fort Taylor is commanded by Captain Brannan, U.S.A., who was breveted for his gallantry at. Chapultepec, in the Mexican war. Captain Hunt, of the Engineers, is in charge of the construction department. The armament of the fort consists of 178 guns, as follows :

10-inch Columbiads                         6

8-inch Columbiads                          83

42-pounders                                     42

32-pound howitzers    :                   11

24-pound howitzers   .......              36

                                                         178

Captain Brannan has some 76 men, besides laborers, and is confident of his ability to hold the fort against 5000 men.


 

 

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