Keeping Secrets


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Civil War Harper's Weekly, March 25, 1865

This site features our complete collection of Civil War Harper's Weekly newspapers. This online archive provides unique perspective on the war, and is full of interesting news items and incredible illustrations. This information allows the serious student or researcher to develop a deeper understanding of the important issues leading to and resulting from the war.

(Scroll Down to See Entire Page, or Newspaper Thumbnails below will take you to the page of interest)


Hugh McCullough

Hugh McCullough

Sherman's March

Details of Sherman's March

Slave Conscription



James Harlan

James Harlan


Keeping Secrets

Christian Commission

Christian Commission

Cardinal Wiseman

Cardinal Wiseman

Victory Parade

Victory Parade

Shenandoah Valley

General Sheridan Moving up the Shenandoah Valley









[MARCH 25, 1865.


(Previous Page) Like other portions of the South her cotton and rice fields are overgrown with weeds, and her people are " not at home." An ominous silence pervades her forests and cultivated fields, and we who visit her in this her hour of trial tread lightly over her tainted soil. Her families, of royal blood and illustrious name, who have lived in lordly retirement, and whose sporadic dwellings are scattered over a great surface, at a solemn distance from each other, are fleeing coastward, or to the few remaining localities where rebellion dares to congregate.

" Is your master at home ?" I inquired of an aged female servant, who appeared at the door of a fine mansion, embowered within a beautiful park. " No, massa; he gone away," said she. " Is your mistress within, or any of the family ?" " No, massa." " Why have they left such a charming home such an Eden of beauty ?" said I, as my admiration rose contemplating the surrounding loveliness. "'Spect they's afraid of you Yankees," said she; and therein I found my answer.

Occasionally we meet with a low hovel in some obscure place by the wayside, where Poverty and Ignorance have fraternized and set up a temple. These are the dwelling places of the "poor whites" the most abject, ignorant, and degraded white people it was ever my fortune to see.

It is from such homes as these the bulk of the rebel army is drawn. Without education, without hope of advancement, without ambition, or any of the higher attributes. of manhood, the husbands, tons, and brothers who have sprung from these hovels are the pliant tools of designing men, and are led to fight for treason without a single intelligent idea of the object for which their hands are wised against a beneficent Government. These are the people whom we are to take by the hand, and lift up from the slough of ignorance and apathy, and place their feet on solid ground. They form by far the larger portion of the white population of these States.

A few Southern men, born to wealth and educaional privileges, arrogate to themselves superiority to aught else that wears the human form. They claim to have been

" Made by some other Deity than Nature, That shapes man better,"

and prate loudly of the " Southern spirit," which they say can not be subdued, though it may be over powered for a time. It is the spirit of the few, not of the many; and I may venture to say that by subduing the spirit of the few we may elevate the spirit and character of the many.

The only true conquests those which awaken no regret are those obtained over ignorance. Thus our efforts to put down rebellion may be crowned by a double victory ; victory over those who would destroy the Government, and a victory over the ignorance and degradation of a class bound down by the inherent and natural curse of slavery, as it affects the poor white man who lives in contact with it.

R. H. W.


WITH most persons the art of keeping a secret is at a low enough stage of development. With uncultivated, unrestrained people, a secret is often a burden intolerable to be borne, and this though the secret be one to affect their fame, and even life. We believe half the confessions of gross crime are made, not from remorse, but simply because the criminal can not keep his secret ; he wants a present gratification, and prefers to tell it and die. Once it is out, he may care for the punishment, but is easy about the crime. He has satisfied the want of his soul. But, happily, a secret does not mean, in men's ordinary acceptance, any deep oppressive mystery ; and " keeping secrets" means something quite different from the dissimulation of royal cheaters, or the silence of moody conspirators or breakers of the law. Our relations to secrets are of two kinds. They maybe our own or our friends'. Prudence and favoring circumstances may keep us clear of important secrets of our own, but there is always something which it is wise to keep to ourselves, and most people know something or other about their friends which they must not divulge. Now it is clearly a duty to keep our friend's secret, and it is wisdom to keep our own, but with the majority this is a hard duty. Some, indeed, seem physically incapacitated from observing it. We all know people who can only regard a secret as something to tell. Their precaution is solely engaged in finding a fit depositary ; they regard it as an egg to be laid in some hidden, safe place. And perhaps, if they could be content with one telling, they would not differ so much from their fellows, for very few people can lock a thing that deeply interests and concerns them absolutely in their own breasts ; but with them the yearning to tell continues on them so long as the secret interests themselves. They have no place to keep it in, so they give it in our charge. Their minds are thoroughfares through which they invite any one to pass. All their stock is in the window, and our secret is only hung out with the rest. This mere babbling incontinence of a secret is a different thing. from that love of mystery which tends to much the same result. To be fond of secrets leads, of course, to the manufacturing of them ; it is to be fond, not only of hearing and telling, but of having them. Indeed the impulse to tell and to conceal are in this case kindred ones. People in this state of mind don't much care for any information that is not enveloped in a mystery. Their notion of a pleasant conversation is of telling things that ought not to be told, or of which the tone implies that they ought not to be told; their notion of a compliment is to impart something with the entreaty not to let it go further, Our first introduction to this form of confidence is at once flattering and embarrassing. Our honor and discretion are appealed to with a trust and engaging reliance of which if is anxious work to show ourselves worthy. No doubt gossip gains a great deal in excitement when thus imparted, but in time it becomes a harassment to a tender conscience, which can not for the life of it recall which was particular and which general information, and fears lest what was con

fided under oaths of secrecy should be let come awares. But we come in time to the conclusion that the person who tells his secret from no necessity, but only to amuse himself at the time, can not thus throw the onus of keeping it on our shoulders. He has no right to expect from us more prudence than he has shown ; while a further experience makes it apparent that our friend had only one notion of a tete-a-tete—as an opportunity for telling a secret. A vast number of secrets are current in society in this hunt the slipper form of circulation. Nor does it do to call it a secret no longer. It is a very fair secret, as the world goes, so long as it is not discussed by threes and fours, and so long as the person mainly concerned does not know that it is known. This is the real standing of many religiously kept secrets.

Secrets themselves vary very much in their keeping power. There are secrets which there is no temptation to tell, from the absence in them of certain popular qualities ; there are others so universally interesting or curious, or so congenial to both tellers and hearers, that they have no chance of being kept. Nobody could have kept the secret of Midas's ears. A slave has the blame of letting it out, but if he had waited, the monarch's wisest and most ancient councilors would have whispered it, not to the reeds, but to each other, under the excuse that it was an affair of state ; and if these had got no hint of the wonder, the owner of the ears would have told it himself. It is just one of those peculiarities that can not be borne alone. Even if the perruquier did his part to a miracle, the secret of a wig would never be kept. Wherever the commoner form of curiosity is stimulated, it always gains its end. Thus no matrimonial engagement is ever a secret, even though which is not often the case the principal parties try to keep it one. The secret that is kept best is what people don't care to hear; and even here the possessor is apt to blab, from resentment at the neglect of his mystery.

There are two seasons of peril for an important secret its birth and first reception, and when it is grown old and so familiar that the man's other thoughts have adapted themselves to it. De Quincey gives it as his opinion that, except where a secret is of a nature to affect some person's life, most men would not remember beyond two years the most solemn obligations to secrecy. After a lapse of time the substance of the secret will remain upon the mind, but how one came by it will be forgotten. There are secrets, we know, that never pass the lips of the possessor. There are people with strength of character, fidelity, or an ever present fear, which enables them to live a long life and make no sign of a continually gnawing anxiety. At the best, this is among the greatest trials of temper and disposition. Something about a man is always worse for a mystery. It may be only his manner, if the secret has no guilt in it; but where the secret is caused by some personal fault, the mischief of wrong doing is indefinitely aggravated by absolute brooding silence. Misers and hoarders have their secrets which they seem to have no temptation to tell, and which separate them from humanity, and so have those men whose life is one system of shams and false pretenses. Nothing can look what it is to one of these men guarding some hidden fraud ; the mind becomes so fixed on the thought of preserving a secret which is life and death, that it comes at last to be himself against the world against every person and thing outside his own consciousness. A selfish secret is the worst of all. We read of conspirators and nations of conspirators able, as a body, to keep secrets in the spirit of the solitary impostor, and with a patient vigilance which no temptation or surprise can betray. These are the people who are most remorseless when their time comes. Many secrets are well kept because there is no form of words at hand to tell them in; for whereas some slip out too naturally in the easiest narrative, others are irksome even in thought, from the complications and explanations they would involve. Secrets that are nice to tell have no chance against these. For this reason many very influential secrets of the heart die untold. The story is interesting, and, on some points, tempting to revive; but it would require too much that is not pleasant to set it attractively before the hearer.

The faithful keeper of a secret is not one who thinks of it mainly as such, but as a thing in its own nature, and, for certain reasons, better not told, and who never allows one to be confided to him if he can kindly and fairly avoid it. People who like secrets betray them, to show their own consequence, and to make themselves acceptable. Conscious fidelity has net much chance against the stimulus of showing yourself trusted; for, as Dr. Johnson has it, most men seem rather inclined to confess the want of virtue than of importance. People averse to secrets may be holders of them without being aware ; that is, a thing is often a secret, or not, as it is regarded, for a secret is a thing studiously kept. A wise man may suppress certain things, instinctively and without study, as not fit to be told ; and with such, an innocent secret is safest.

If a man has a weighty secret, it is superfluous to say that he does best to keep it to himself; but if he is not equal to the burden, or if, on other grounds, a confidant is needed, it is not well to fix upon a person naturally silent. Such a one is the most likely of all to blurt out your secret, from mere ignorance of the art of talking. The silent man has nothing he cares to say, and so says nothing; but this is no guarantee when he finds himself in the novel position of having something which he would like to say, and which others would like to hear. People are not taciturn from discretion. A natural easy habit of talking is the best veil for a secret. A good talker knows how to divert suspicion, and to give the conversation the direction he pleases. Persons naturally silent seldom know the right thing to say in an emergency. Neither must a secret ever be told to a person who would look down upon it. Full half the breaches of confidence are perpetrated in mere disdain. Thus husbands and wives betray each other's secrets. The wife tells what the husband lets fall of business, because she does not realize its importance. The husband

betrays his wife and her friends to his familiars, from manly contempt of women's petty mysteries. The only safe confidant apart from high personal qualities is one with some community of interest in the affair itself.


REMEMBER me when long, long years have fled,

When all this past appears a shadowy dream; '   Let me not float, a leaf upon the stream
' Of memory, unwept, forgotten, dead!

Remember me, if far in other lands

When you can look no longer on my face; Do not forget the now oft-sought embrace In clasping other, perchance stranger, hands.

Remember me, if you should win their love,

When you will greet them with a happy kiss;

Remember that my lips were once your bliss; They will not be more thful, time will prove.

Remember me, if sickness rack your frame,

If none can cool your, feverish, aching brow; Think I would soothe you, were I near, as now, And lull you with soft whispers of your name.

Remember me when, smiling; you bestow

A sunny glance on other eyes that shine; Remember, once those smiles were only mine, And ponder, was it well to bid -- . go'

Remember me, if grin should come to shroud Your life in all the misery of woe;

If so-called "friends" should pass you by, and lo ! You find yourself alone in that vast crowd--

Remember use, and then with throbbing heart

Come back and call me to my place of rest;

My old, old home of quiet on your breast--And having come, we two will never part.


" IT is an awful night!" I said, shuddering all over, as I heard the roar of the surf, the hideous wailing of the wind, and the dash of the rain against the window. We lived on the Cape coast, in the prettiest village ever cradled on its silvery sands, or bathed in the blessed sunshine—thrice blessed because of the fearful storms that darkened our horizon at times. My husband was out in the storm ; he was the favorite physician in the village, because he was skillful, never pressed for his pay, and endured stormy nights and other hardships like a good-natured hero.

I could not go to rest this terrible night while Angus was away. He was always my Angus, though he was " the Doctor" to many others. I sat cowering over the fire, with my infant nestled in my lap in all the sweet peace of babyhood, wishing and longing for my husband. My heart was sinking with fear. I was sorry that he was a physician. If he had been a farmer, a teacher, a clerk, a tradesman, or a mechanic, he might have been in his bed now, and so I vainly regretted that what might have been was not. Very foolish I was, like many others. At last I heard his steps, and the outer door opened, and the blast blew him in, as it seemed, and with difficulty he shut the door. He came up stairs, and exclaimed, " Not in bed, Mat-tie ? It is past midnight. Lay that little man away, and make haste after him. You should have been asleep two hours ago."

Angus spoke cheerfully, but there was a tremor in his voice, as if he were frightened, and did not wish me to know it. I looked up at his face. It was pale—as if he were dead.

" What is it, Angus ?" said I.

" What is it ? why, the hardest storm that ever blew great guns on our coast."

" But something troubles you, Angus. Is old Mrs. Pratt going to die?"

" No, not till she is a hundred years old. Make haste, Mattie, and go to bed. Dick will wake and cry presently, and the storm is bad enough without his storming."

I still looked into his pale face, and at that moment a dreadful sound struck my ear. Angus started to his feet.

" You heard it," said he.

It was the gun of a ship driving on the breakers, almost at our very doors ; for we lived close to the sea, and on the most dangerous part of the coast.

" I saw her in a flash of lightning just before I came in," said Angus. " She was driving right on the rocks. Go to bed, Mattie, dear, and I will call John, and go down for Higgins and Dort, and see if any thing can be done."

Higgins and Dort were fishermen, and had boats, and ropes, and a great many things that might be needed in such a time as this.

" Angus," said I, " don't ask me to go to bed. Can I sleep while those poor creatures are in peril? Can I forget that you might be on board that ship?"

My husband called John, our man-of-all-work, again put on his storm garments, and silently kissing me and the baby, he went out. Again the booming 'gun sounded. It was much nearer now, or else the roar of the storm was somewhat hushed. I warmed some milk for my baby, for I knew I was too much frightened to nurse him. He waked hungry, and I fed him. He slept again, and I tried to look out into the pitchy darkness. I heard only the roar and crash of the storm. All is over with the ship, said I to myself. I waited for my husband, and for the morning, and longed to hear again the sound of the gun. I waited in vain for all. The morning seemed indefinitely postponed. It was early autumn, and the weather, though chilly, would not be fatal to the poor sailors, as the cold often is on our terrible shore. Day dawned at last, and when it was light enough I examined the beach with my husband's spy-glass. After a time I made out the ship, wedged in among the rocks, and the waves rising like hills and mountains over and against her. Meanwhile my husband and others were on the shore. I should have been with them but for my baby.

A barrel was sent ashore with a line wedged in at the bung-hole; when this was secured, a hawser was fastened to the line and drawn ashore by means of it. This hawser was drawn away from the break-

ers as much as possible, and firmly secured. One by one the men ventured upon this support. All came safely to the shore but the captain. He was the last to leave the ship, and by some means he lost, or never gained, the support of the hawser, and his lifeless body was thrown ashore at some distance from the point where the men were received. A young man, who had been the last to leave the ship before the captain, was passing to and fro on the beach in an agony of anxiety, when the body was thrown high upon the sand, almost at his feet. With a wild cry he seized upon what had been, a few minutes before, the animated master and pre-server of them all. My husband was beside him. A fisherman brought a 'piece of sail, and they laid the body on it, and four men bore it to our house. The young man gave some directions to the sailors, and then followed the sad cortege. It was a miser-able end of my suspense, but I was relieved. The rescued crew went on to Plymouth, after they had been provided with dry clothing and breakfast by the villagers, who supplied their wants with great kindness, and afterward gathered up their coffee and oranges, as they came' ashore, with as much diligence as if they had been a bill of sale of the cargo.

A strange feeling thrilled through my heart as they brought the captain of the Midas to our house. I did not feel as if a corpse were being borne over our threshold.

"Angus," said I, " he is not dead."

" He is dead, my dear," said my husband, solemnly, at the same time drawing me away from the body.

The men placed their burden gently on the floor, and then they lingered, as if loth to leave.

" His friend and I can do all now," said Angus, very thankfully ; " and, Higgins, you and Dort must go and see if you can't save some of the cargo that will be driving ashore. They will call us pi-rates or Arabs if it is appropriated, as the cargo of the Mary Anne was."

" Men don't consider it stealing to pick up a bag of coffee or a box of oranges on the sea-shore," said Higgins. " They would not take a cup of coffee or a single orange out of a shop for their right hands."

" I know," said Angus ; " but you must tell them that somebody owns that cargo."

" We will see to it," said Dort, and then they all went away.

The young man had held his hand on the captain's heart, in the vain hope to discover warmth or motion.

"Angus," said I, " will you not put him in my bed ? There is a fire in my room, and we must try to bring him to life ; I am sure he is not dead."

Angus seemed out of patience with my unreason-able pertinacity ; still he made a very thorough examination of the body, but failed to discover any signs of life. Then he turned to me, and said, "My dear, I will do every thing just as if I were as sure that he is alive as I am that he is dead."

He called John, and assisted by the young man, whose name was Wilson, they carried the captain to my room, where they took off his clothes, and laid him in my bed. Two women came in. I gave my little Richard to one, and employed the other in preparing the breakfast ; and I devoted myself, with my husband and Mr. Wilson, to the endeavor to resuscitate the drowned man.

We raised the head on pillows at the back of the bed, and let the legs and feet lie over the front side of the bed in a pail of warm water. I laid flannel cloths on the chest and stomach, wrung out of hot water, or hot vinegar, or hot spirits, for I used all in turd, and Angus and Mr. Wilson and John rubbed the apparently lifeless body. All the time I felt sure the captain was alive, and I was impatient that I could not make Angus believe it too.

" My poor Mattie," said he, " the wish is father to the thought."

Mr. Wilson hardly spoke ; he worked incessantly, never stopping to take any thing but some wine and water, when he was nearly fainting with exhaustion. Some of the time he was rubbing the body ; again he was inflating the lungs with the bellows ; and then he was fomenting with the warns flannels and spirits. At the end of six 'hours he sat down, and seemed despairing. He sat with his face buried in his hands, and then he rose, and flung himself on the bed beside the body. He clasped the cold form to his bosom, and exclaimed :

" Oh, my friend! how can I ever tell Annie and Lizzie that I left you to drown !"

Then he wept long and bitterly. My husband led him out of the room.

" It is all over, Mr. Wilson,"said Angus. " Take a morsel of food, and go to bed ; you are worn out; we will do the rest."

While they were gone out I examined, probably for the fiftieth time, the space over the heart. There was a scarcely perceptible warmth. Still it was perceptible. I ran down stairs to tell my husband. He was standing by Mr. Wilson, whose arms hung beside him as if they were palsied.

" There is warmth about the heart," I cried.

Wilson sprang to his feet as if he had been electrified. My husband looked at me with tender reproach, as much as to say, "Your hope is false and foolish ;" but he did not speak, and we went up stairs. He examined the heart with his hand and his ear, and then bade Mr. Wilson do the same, saying, " There is life."

Hope seemed to have animated Wilson with a new life, but my husband would not allow him to do any thing.

" If you will take some toast and wine, then you may work again, Mr. Wilson," said Angus.

I brought the food, and the young man ate, and then they again began their labor of love. The warmth at the heart increased, and then there was a faint fluttering, and in an hour more we were re-warded by the first struggling breath of our patient.

I never saw such joy as that of the young man when he knew that his friend was alive. Soon he was breathing steadily. He was not as much bruised as we had supposed at first, and lie seemed strangely well when he became conscious. He took a cup of hot wine and water, and said :




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