Negro Soldiers Liberating Slaves


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Civil War Harper's Weekly, January 23, 1864

Welcome to our online archive of Harper's Weekly newspapers. During the Civil War Harper's Weekly was the most popular newspaper in the country. Today, the papers serve as an incredible resource for students and researchers interested in learning more about the war.

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William Thackeray

Railroad Annoyances

Negro Soldiers Liberating Slaves


Leland Stanford

William Thackeray

William Makepeace Thackeray





Colored Troops










[JANUARY 23, 1864.



GENERAL WILD'S late raid into the interior of North Carolina abounded in incidents of peculiar interest, from which we have selected a single one as the subject of the illustration on page 52, representing liberation by the negro battalion of the slaves on Mr. Terrebee's plantation. As the reader may imagine, the scene was both novel and original in all its features. General Wild having scoured the peninsula between Pasquotank and Little Rivers to Elizabeth City, proceeded from the latter place toward Indiantown in Camden County. Having encamped overnight, the column moved on into a rich country which was covered with wealthy plantations. The scene in our sketch represents the colored troops on one of these plantations freeing the slaves. The morning light is shining upon their bristling bayonets in the back-ground, and upon a scene in front as ludicrous as it is interesting. The personal effects of the slaves are being gathered together from the outhouses on the plantation and piled, regardless of order, in an old cart, the party meanwhile availing themselves in a promiscuous manner of the Confiscation Act by plundering hens and chickens and larger fowl; and after all of these preliminary arrangements the women and children are (in a double sense) placed on an eminence above their chattels and carted off in triumph, leaving "Ole Massa" to glory in solitude and secession.


THE above is the title which we have given to an illustration on page 53, adapted from an exquisite drawing by Thomas, a well known English artist. The original sketch represents the little girl holding a sprig of mistletoe over her grandfather's head—a Christmas emblem not popularly understood in this country. For the mistletoe we have substituted a miniature flag of the United States, an emblem which will be understood and appreciated by all of our readers. The picture, in every other feature unaltered from its original, will speak for itself both to the eye and heart. Let us hope that another New-Year's may find not only our own households under the flag, but also those of our enemies—turned friends.

[From CHARLES DICKENS'S "All the Year Round."]




ON the twelfth of March, one thousand seven hundred and sixty-seven, Mr. Basil Humpage, merchant and banking-agent, departed from his mansion, shaded by three big elms, in the rural precinct of Jermyn Street, London, and never returned.

It may illustrate his unexampled regularity to mention that, at the expiration of four minutes from the usual time of the merchant's appearance at his office in Cripplegate, the old head clerk turned pale, slid feebly down from his stool, and became temporarily incapacitated from business. He tottered up and down with nervous steps, pausing at every turn, now to gaze half incredulously at the clock, now to peer through the glass partition which shut off his chief's apartment from the general office, as if he thought it less improbable that that gentleman should have shot up furtively through the cellarage than be missing altogether from his place. For it was a well-known fancy of the worthy old merchant, who was frequently before, never after, his time, to loiter about the door, in such a manner that, with the last stroke of nine from the office-clock, he might insert his latch-key, and with a general nod, and a "Good-morning, Middlemiss!" to the head clerk, assume his accustomed seat, and commence the duties of the day.

Although Mr. Middlemiss was not a man given to superstitious fancies, it might certainly seem from his bearing on this occasion that the prophetic whisper which sometimes reaches us—who knows from what remote birth-place?—far outspeeding all rational argument for anxiety, had awakened in him a conviction of misfortune with which his reason refused to contend. At all events, at ten minutes past nine the head clerk summoned his best messenger, usually reserved for hurried and important missions, and dispatched him, on foot indeed, but at double hackney-coach pace, to the house of Three Elms.

We shall get there before him.

Mr. Humpage had risen, that long-remembered morning, at his accustomed hour—half past six. There was nothing remarkable in his demeanor or conduct, except that, on rising, he kissed his wife—a circumstance which that lady attributed to their having had a little tiff overnight. The misunderstanding had not been of a serious character, having reference simply to the question whether Polly-my-Lamb should be condemned to wear frilled pantaloons for six months longer, or pass at once into long short-waisted gowns like her mother's. Sleep had interposed, and left the point undecided.

Polly-my-Lamb was the only child of Basil and Alethea Humpage. The name was of her father's sole invention, but had been adopted, first cautiously, then freely, by the entire neighborhood.

The chocolate was ready at half past seven. Mr. Humpage not appearing, a maid went to his dressing-room door and announced that her mistress was waiting breakfast; to which he returned no answer. Another ten minutes, and maid Kezia went again, knocked, and repeated her message. Still no reply.

Polly-my-Lamb was the next embassador. The maid had met her on the stairs, and begged her to speak to master, as she, Kezia, could not make him hear.

The little girl came flying back, with her violet

eyes swimming in tears—she could hardly tell why; perhaps it was from peeping through the keyhole; perhaps it was because, for the first time in his life, papa had been deaf to the voice of his darling. At all events, he had locked his door, and would make no audible reply. Was he there? Yes, certainly. Nor could he have been seized with any sudden illness; for she had heard his familiar step move steadily across the room, and had further recognized the peculiar creak pertaining to a particular drawer in his dressing-table, as he opened and reclosed it.

Past eight o'clock. It had now become a matter of impossibility for the punctual merchant to eat his breakfast and appear at his office at the accustomed time, and a suppressed alarm began to extend through the household. Even deaf Stephen, the footman-butler, whose great red ears had for the last thirty winters been simply ornamental, and who was in the habit of relying for his knowledge of passing events purely upon his own skill in physiognomy, perfectly understood that something was amiss, and pulled off his coat, with the view, it was surmised, of being in a state of general preparation and armament for whatever might ensue.

A thrilling scream from above brought matters to a crisis below. The shriek was re-echoed by the cook, and although to Stephen she only appeared to yawn, the movement that followed quickly undeceived him. Up flew the whole phalanx, Stephen after. Mrs. Humpage was on her knees at the dressing-room door, knocking, screaming, imploring, in frantic alarm. He had hung himself, she declared, from the clothes-hook on the door. She could hear his boot-heels kicking against it—forgetting, poor lady, that if her suspicions were correct he could hardly be expected to comply with her reiterated requests to open the door. The servants partook of their mistress's impression. Does it seem strange that every body was so suddenly plunged into consternation? Mr. Humpage had been but half an hour longer than common over his dressing. But this was the first infraction of a custom of two-and-twenty years. Self-imposed laws are the best observed. No member of that orderly establishment, if questioned, would have considered any further explanation necessary than that they knew "master's way."

Mrs. Humpage, making an eager gesture which might be interpreted as an order to break in, Stephen the strong, without further ceremony, put his broad knee against the door, which, secured only by a slight catch, yielded instantly.

The first moment sufficed to convince them that no one was in the apartment. The next, Stephen caught his mistress by the arm, and somewhat peremptorily twisted her through the door. His quick sight had managed to sweep in details he did not wish her to be among the first to investigate. With the like determination he induced the other women to quit the room, and then, putting a strong restraint upon his own anxious curiosity, secured the door on the outside, and started off to the police-office in Bow Street as fast as his legs would carry him.

A shrewd and able man was Sir James Polhill, at that time chief magistrate; and he, after receiving a hasty communication from Stephen, dispatched a sturdy individual in top-boots, white neckcloth, and long red waistcoat—called a "runner" because they always walked—to the house of Three Elms.

Isaac Surtees, the constable-runner, subsequently deposed that, from information which had been conveyed to him, and from certain directions he had received (Stephen had reported "Sum'at wrong down our way," and the magistrate had ordered him to "see about it"), he proceeded to Jermyn Street, Saint James's, where he observed a crowd of persons assembled about the door of a house, Number Twenty-seven, by the three great hellems, opposite the public, next the chapel, round the corner, leftanside. There was much excitement in the neighborhood, especially in and about the Three Jolly Counselors, partly owing to what had transpired at Number Twenty-seven, partly to the promiscuous impalement of a little boy—by the trowsers—on the spikes of the hairy, Number Twenty-seven aforesaid. Knocked at the door, and was admitted in the ordinary way. ("Well, man, we don't suppose you got down the chimney," growled the magistrate.) Scraped his shoes. There was a large Tom cat in the passage.

"Get on, officer. You need not be too precise," said the magistrate.

Likewise a door leading to a back staircase, conducting to apartments on the first floor, through a gallery and ante-room, down three steps, and up one, whereby you come to another room, whereof Stephen Gould, the butler, which has lived in the family nigh twenty-three years, and lost his hearing complete in the great fog of 'twenty-seven, produced from the left-hand pocket of his peach-colored velveteen inexpressibles, the key.

The apartment—to condense Mr. Surtees's report —was in much the same sort of confusion a gentleman might make in dressing hastily. The things were thrown about. In the middle of the room was a large pool of blood—other traces being noticeable in a direction toward the window. The sash of the latter was up, one pane broken, and one cut clean out, as if by a practiced hand. Two towels, on which bloody hands had been wiped, lay near the washing-stand, on the floor. But the most significant trace of all presented itself in the shape of a lock, or tuft of grizzled hair—pronounced by Stephen to be his master's—which was picked up, soaked in blood, close beside the window. There was nothing, apart from this, to indicate that a murderous struggle had taken place, nor, indeed, was that compatible with circumstances at a later period deposed to. The murder—if such it was—must have been effected completely and suddenly, by surprise.

The motive? The closest scrutiny failed to establish the fact that any article of value, with one exception, had been taken away. That exception was the merchant's watch: a chronometer worth, as he had been accustomed to declare, one hundred

pounds sterling. Not a drawer, shelf, or cupboard, had been disturbed. Gold and silver money was scattered on the table—a massive gold snuff-box, gold pencil-case, and other things of undoubted value—all these were safe. The outrage, whatever its nature, and by whomsoever perpetrated, had been clearly directed against the person, not the property, of the missing man.

The singularity of the circumstances, even at a period too much marked with desperate crimes, attracted unusual attention. The merchant had been held in high esteem by a very large circle of acquaintance; the magistrate himself, Sir James Polhill, had been of the number of his friends.

After hearing the testimony of the officer Surtees, and one or two other witnesses, Sir James took with him two of his most astute thief-catchers, and went down in person to examine the premises.

The window at which ingress must have been effected was twenty-five feet from the ground. It was at the side of the house fronting the elm-trees, and looked down upon a narrow but well-frequented thoroughfare, faced on the off-side by an iron railing, and leading into Piccadilly.

To believe that through such a window, in broad daylight, a gentleman murderously assailed in the very midst of his family and dependents, could have been either forcibly dragged or secretly smuggled, and borne safely away, was more than the magistrate, familiar with the modus operandi, and the usual hazards of crime, could school his mind to. It seemed absolutely incredible that no alarm should have been given. Presuming that a sudden and well-delivered blow had rendered the victim insensible, how lower and transport away the inanimate body, without exciting the curiosity and suspicion of the passengers, from whose presence the alley was scarcely for a moment free?

Sir James Polhill was leaning from the window, revolving this question in his mind, and wondering, casually, how far a slender leaden water-pipe which passed up to the roof almost within arm's-reach might have been concerned with the burglar's successful entrance, when a squabble of the boys in the foot-way attracted his attention.

A little burlesque of a highly popular ceremony appeared to be in progress.

The smallest urchin of the group, with his elbows pinioned, his hands tied, and a dirty Welsh night-cap half concealing his blubbered face, was lifted on the shoulders of another, by way of ladder, while an amateur Ketch in corduroys endeavored to adjust a fragment of rope round his neck. A fourth performer, with his black, frouzy hair smoothed down over his face, and a sheet of street-ballads in his hand, enacted the part of reverend ordinary.

The juvenile culprit, however, evinced a decidedly impenitent and contentious frame of mind. It was clear that he repudiated the whole proceedings, and now writhed, kicked, and howled to an extent that had already filled the narrow thoroughfare with deeply-interested spectators, who, with an instinctive reverence for the more majestic aspects of the law, offered no interposition whatever.

Annoyed, as well he might be, at this unbecoming travesty of one of our most venerable and cherished institutions, the excellent magistrate shouted angrily to the boys to disperse, making signs, moreover, to one of his rosy-breasted followers, looming in the distance, to scatter the tumultuous assemblage. The condemned urchin was quickly reprieved, and, with the tears undried on his face, was in the act of joining with the executioner and. chaplain in a savage dance round his deliverer, when the latter was seen to pounce upon and recapture him.

After a minute, during which some inquiry of much interest seemed to be proceeding, the officer entered the house, accompanied by the boy, from whose neck he had taken the piece of cord. The boy had been found with it in his hand early that morning, saying that he had picked it up under the window of the dressing-room. It bore at that time fresh marks of blood, and there was a noose at the end, which circumstance had perhaps suggested to the juvenile population of the vicinity the little amusement that had just been interrupted.

There was no reason to doubt the boy's statement. After all, the discovery was of no great moment, suggesting nothing more than a supposition that the cord might have been a portion of that used in lowering the merchant's body. The crime and its perpetrators remained as dark and doubtful as before.

Sir James dangled the rope thoughtfully in his hand, as though weighing an imaginary criminal: "I am much mistaken," he said, "if I do not perceive the print of a black thumb in this."

The officer glanced at his chief, not at the rope, for he understood his meaning.

London—among its other public scandals, tolerated no man knows how or why—was at that period infested by a gang of skilled ruffians, organized and directed by the greatest miscreant of the number, a fellow half-nobleman, half-gipsy, commonly known as "Lord Lob." Touching this title the works of Sir Bernard Burke are silent; neither have we been able to trace in the archives of the Heralds' College the arms and crest of Lob. But there was at that time no question that the credit of having added this unit to the human family was due to the wild and eccentric Earl of Hawkweed, whose protection, for a long time freely afforded, this young villain had alienated by a course of crime.

Seldom, even among the most depraved, can an individual be found who loves guilt solely for the pleasure he experiences in its commission. Human nature, fallen as it is, seems to proscribe purposeless crime. If, however, we may put faith in this robber's recorded history, he must have been an exception to the rule. It was known for certain that he invariably refused to participate in the proceeds of any one of the multitude of nefarious enterprises he planned and helped to execute. These were generally of a lofty, that is to say, impudent range. My lord interested himself in nothing of a low and pitiful character; nothing, in effect, that did not demand both power of combination and hardihood. Victory was worthless without the delight of strategy.

There were the points of a good partisan leader about Lord Lob. Alas! that he had never skirmished against any thing but law and justice, harassed nothing but social order, despoiled no foe but his peaceful fellow-citizens!

The pillage of a bank, an opulent City warehouse, a goldsmith's shop, the waylaying of a distinguished band of travelers, the forging and uttering of notes of startling amount occasionally (by way of change), the running a perfect argosy full of silk and spirits under the very noses of the coast-guard—these were the meanest matters to which Lord Lob's genius would willingly descend.

He had no need of much money. He had wearied of smaller vices. Such poor excesses as drink and play he had abandoned to the young aristocratic bloods of the day; but when he had absolutely not a groat remaining, my lord would quietly saddle his brown pad, and sallying forth on his favorite preserve, the Lincoln road, take the first purse he judged weighty enough for present necessities. To do this at his pleasure was the leader's sole prerogative; all other proceedings of the gang being carried on in concert, and with a common end.

These gentlemen, who had given themselves the name of the "Black-Thumbs," numbered about thirty, seldom more, as it was thought that any larger circle might include a traitor or two; seldom less, for no sooner did the insatiate maw of justice devour a member of the brotherhood than another stepped eagerly into the shoes kicked off at the gibbet. Such casualties, however, were far from numerous, even in those regretted "good old days," when nothing in the range of endeavor was easier than to get hanged; for every well-trained Black-Thumb was adroit as he was daring, and there was, moreover, a law—which being the only one recognized by these worthies, was observed with the more fidelity—that no member of their little commonwealth should imperil his valuable existence in petty individual ventures so long as any greater action was impending.

To their leader one and all were heartily devoted, executing his orders—whatsoever they might be—with that blind and absolute confidence which goes far toward insuring the result it anticipates.

Hence, then, it befell, that whenever any startling outrage, marked with peculiar features, was added to the daily catalogue of crime, suspicion, as a thing of course, fastened upon the dreaded Black-Thumbs, and hence the worthy magistrate believed he saw the impression of these sooty digits in the deed he was investigating.

As yet, he felt, the conclusion was premature, and suggested by the mysterious and motiveless character of the outrage.

What, in the first place, was its real nature?

It must have been one of three things: A planned assassination. An interrupted burglary, with violence supervening. A simple abduction, or kidnapping.

That it was a purposed assassination seemed the least probable of all. The generous, frank old man had not an enemy on earth. It was beyond the pale of likelihood that such a deed should have been attempted under such circumstances, by day, in the victim's own dwelling, when the slightest scuffle must provoke alarm. And then, what murderer would multiply the chances of detection tenfold by seeking to remove the mutilated body?

The theory of an interrupted robbery was surely negatived by the fact that those who carried off the body might with infinitely greater facility have possessed themselves of the money and valuables they came to seek. Such things, it has been stated, were lying about where they could not escape notice, and in the very drawer that had been heard to open and reclose there was found, on examination, a bank-bill of large amount, and twenty-three guineas and a half in gold.

As touching the abductional hypothesis, had the object been the charming little heiress, Polly-my-Lamb, the enterprise, though lawless, were at least intelligible, but what advantage commensurate with the hazard could accrue to the assailants from the possession of the portly person of her excellent father?

After an interview with Mrs. Humpage—a kind but weak-minded woman, whom alarm and anxiety had rendered nearly imbecile—and with Polly-my-Lamb, who looked as white as a lily, but neither wept nor lamented, the magistrate returned to his office in a mood of unaccustomed depression. He endeavored to recall from some important country service an officer named Henry Armour, distinguished no less for his bull-dog courage than the sagacity with which he tracked the coldest scent. Mr. Armour, however, was beyond recall. The game he had been hunting had, for once, given him the slip at Liverpool, and made for North America. Without a moment's hesitation the stanch pursuer had flung a brace of pistols into his valise, and had started in chase by a ship then in the act of clearing out. So, for some months, Henry was not available.

The affairs of the missing gentleman were found to be in perfect order and high prosperity. For the last two or three years, as most of his friends were aware, he had been gradually restricting the sphere of his commercial operations, with the intention of withdrawing altogether from business as soon as practicable. This circumstance greatly facilitated the scrutiny that took place. The result of it went to show that Mr. Humpage had been in a position to retire with a fortune of upward of ninety thousand pounds.

By the time this conclusion was established poor Mrs. Humpage was no longer in a condition to take much interest in the matter. Many months had now passed since her husband's disappearance, and yet her health, whether bodily or mental, showed no symptom of recovering from the shock it had sustained. On the contrary, as hope faded, her feebleness of frame and disturbance of spirit augmented together. She was rapidly sinking into imbecility, and presently conceived an idea that her husband was not only alive, but in his own house, observing, however, some peculiar line of




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