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PUBLISHED MONTHLY AT THREE DOLLARS PER ANNUM-JNO. R. THOMPSON, EDITOR.
RICHMOND, JANUARY, 1855.
SKETCHES OF OUR VOLUNTEER
ALEXANDER KEITH McCLUNG.
indiscriminately raised from among all sorts and onditions of men. The veterans of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma excepted, none of the troops had ever seen a battle, or been under the fire of an enemy's guns. The first important action of the war was about to be ventured, and The battle of Monterey was, in many respects, there were few to rely upon but raw volunteers, the most brilliant and grand which distinguished possessing no qualifications of the soldier beyond our war with Mexico. The engagement at Buena hardihood and courage. During the war of 1812, Vista was perhaps more thrilling and momentous; such forces had not been found to own much stendmore stirring in its details, more important in its iness on the field of battle, and were pronounced effects, and has invested Gen. Taylor with by far to be far less efficient than regular soldiery. It the greatest and most enduring measure of his was before the dark buttresses and frowning forglory. The siege of Vera Cruz and its far-famed tresses of Monterey, that volunteers were first to castle; the bristling navy rolling its thunders be tested as the main reliance for a successful from the bay in concert with the roar of ten thou-ssue. Upon the event, the future plan of consand muskets on land, the imposing array of ducting the war was to be determined. If they regular troops added to the lustrous prestige which should prove to be inconstant under discipline, or garlanded the General-in-Chief, who had been for unsteady in action, drill camps and indefinite demore than twenty years an historical character,lays would be the inevitable consequence, vexaall these may have contributed to throw around tious and even fatal as such might have been. But the affair more of the pomp and circumstance of the test was nobly sustained, and the event gloriglorious war while the fierce battles before the ously illustrated the omnipotence of chivalrous walls of Mexico, coupled with that crowning ac- enthusiasm, as contrasted with mere routine eftion which has made Quitman a hero, and all the forts of duty. But it is proper to suggest that gorgeous associations which come thronging from such a volunteer force, officers and men, had never every fastness and fortification of the ancient im- before been gathered, and it is scarcely to be hoped. perial capital, may lend to the closing scenes of we fear, that such will ever be gathered again. the war a glitter and flourish that will forever Davis, and Bissel, and Hardin, and Campbell, the outshine all that had preceded. But there were Marshalls and their brave compeers, surrounded circumstances connected with the battle of Mon- by impetuous and glowing bands-all under the terey which will hereafter engage a larger share of lead of the heroic Taylor, whose sound common attention, deeper and more searching thought, than sense, mixed with experience and military skill, any or all which we have named. The calm, re-fitted him pre-eminently above all other American flective writer of history is not apt to be seduced generals, to command a volunteer force,—such a from rigid judgment and impartial criticism by muster-roll, thus collected, is the event of centuimposing incident, or to be so incautiously dazzled ries and not of generations. But prominent in as to neglect unadorned merit. While the litera- this martial group, was one whom we have not ry market teems with volumes from stilted eulo- yet named-in connection with whose history the gists-those plethoric and pitiless pets of a shal- above remarks have been made. Alexander K. low constituency, whose brushes blaze ever with McClung, lieutenant-colonel of the first regiment red, whose pages groan ever with redundancies, of Mississippi riflemen, and late ambassador of whose praise is fustian, and whose aims tend solely the United States to the government of Bolivia, is to undue exaltation, regardless of all intrinsic now about forty-one years of age. He is a native worth-notwithstanding the inundation of all such of the State of Kentucky, and is a lineal descenspurious and flimsy excrescences, we still have a dant of the Virginia family of Marshall, so rePrescott, a Bancroft, a Hildreth, and others, whose nowned in connection with the deceased Chief grave, considerate turn of mind, countervails and Justice of the Supreme Court. In his early years corrects all fanciful indulgences. Splendor of he was attached, as Midshipman, to the navy, but appurtenance, the mere fantastic of war, does not in consequence of indisposition, or, as some conalways contribute towards successful results. The tend, in an affair of honor in which he was engainvestment of Monterey showed none of this.ged as principal, he retired with a view to study Most of the invading force had been hastily and law and enter upon its practice. A few years pre
vious to the Presidential campaign of 1840, he re-name before the President as worthy, in the highmoved to the State of Mississippi and settled him- est degree, of favorable consideration, in distribuself in the then young capital. Here he opened an ting the responsible offices appertaining to this office, but, notwithstanding his acknowledged tal-State. Accordingly in the summer of 1841 he ents and decided professional acumen, we have was brought before the Cabinet as an applicant not been able to learn that he took any prominent for the office of Marshal of the Northern District stand at the bar, or transacted any considerable of Mississippi, and promptly received the appointamount of professional business. ment. The Colonel was a resident of the SouthBut the exciting contest of 1840 soon opened ern portion of the State, and we believe he had to him a congenial theatre of action. By his never even visited the section which comprehendown exertions and the liberal aid of his polit- ed the limits and duties of his office. At all events içal friends, a new campaign-paper was estab- he was an entire stranger personally in the Northlished at Jackson, called the True Issue. This ern counties, and his appointment over worthy paper was devoted to the elevation of General competitors at home elicited quite extended comHarrison to the Presidency, and was placed under plaint both from the newspapers and people of the sole editorial management of Col. McClung. the District to which he was assigned. It must It was conducted with an ability, a vigor, and a be admitted frankly that there were other causes dashy raciness which had never been surpassed which operated to spread the discontent which had in the South, and rarely equalled in the Union. met the appointment.
It speedily drew to its subscription list a number At the time in question, and even since, no of eager and admiring readers, whose weekly men- Southern State was as much noted for subservital food was gleaned from its columns, and gained ency to the Bloody Code as Mississippi; and it is an extensive and a commanding influence through- a remarkable fact that few men of talent, up to out the State. Argument, satire, and the most 1844, had ever attained to high position politically withering ridicule, filled by turns the editorial col- who had not fought duels or been engaged in some umns, and seemed to flow from the author's mind desperate affray. It was difficult to get to office with the ease, the continuity, and the sparkle except at the point of the knife, or the mouth of of a mountain rivulet. It was at once perceived the pistol, and in some judicial districts, aspirants and admitted that the young Kentuckian was no for legal and forensic eminence were forced to like ordinary man, and that the intellectual ascendancy hazardous resorts. This proclivity was contagious. which characterized his race was fully and lus-and soon invaded the social and business circles, trously sustained in his person. Hitherto com- while the loafers and idle gentry, especially among paratively unknown, his political foes were now the young, made the duel grounds and the public equally surprised and abashed, as his friends were walks, on the occasion of every fight, so many delighted; and at the great Whig State Conven- arenas for sport. It was almost impossible for tion of that year, and of which such men as Pren- any gentleman, however amiable or cautious, to tiss, and Sharkey, and Guion, were prominent pick his way to eminence, or take part in those members, McClung was appointed to draft the ad- varied amusements ever common in a newly setdress to the people of Mississippi, urging upon tled country, without being subjected to the test them the claims of Harrison and Tyler. It was or trial of arms. Weapons were in everybody's welcomed with lively acclamations, and was more bosom, and everybody counted on the chance of extensively circulated and more generally read, getting into difficulty. The surest road to peace, than any like paper which has ever been published revolting as it may sound, was through the blood in Mississippi. The tone of the address was earn-of an antagonist, and hesitation ever brought proest, patriotic, and stirringly eloquent without be- scription. Great and gratifying has been the ing too declamatory, and the style exhibited the change of latter years, since our citizens have besingular terseness, vigor and grace, which the writer has since reduced to such captivating perfection.
come familiarized by social intercourse, and society has become more discriminative. At the bar and in business, talent and worth hold permanent It is known that the State of Mississippi cast sway, and select messes formed at the saloons and its electoral vote for the Whig candidate, and that restaurants, protect against improper intrusions Harrison and Tyler were triumphantly elected. from adventurers, blacklegs and bullies. But The active and prominent part which Col. Me- among those who had been brought to take up Clung had played throughout the entire long con- with the sanguinary terms of the ancient règime, test, his arduous labors and free expenditures, his was the distinguished subject of this sketch. Poshigh qualifications, and the general appreciation, sessed, to an extreme perhaps, of the courage inof those remarkable abilities he had exhibited and born to his family, and of that chivalry so charbrought to bear with such effect and energy, sug-acteristic of the high-bred Kentuckian, mixed gested to his friends the propriety of carrying his with a sensitiveness deep-seated, and keen, and
fiery as that which belonged to Sir Robert Peel | But in 1841, when he received his appointment himself, Col. McClung is not one likely to court a as Marshal, rumors came ahead of him and slanfitful or questionable peace at the sacrifice of his der and misrepresentation were busy with his instinets. On two occasions, since his residence character. He was freely charged with being in Mississippi, he has felt it to be his duty to meet coarse, rough, and even brutal in his manners, an adversary at the fatal peg, under the stinging ever bent on affrays and bloodshed, indifferent to impression that his honor and pride of character the etiquette and amenities of social intercourse. had been too deeply wounded to be satisfied with and misanthropic in his disposition. It was a less stern arbitrament. Fighting is with him, averred that he had come off conqueror from at when once fixed in mind, no child's play, and least half a dozen personal combats, and sent aught else than a mere means of ostentation and just as many victims to the grave. The coffin display of nerve. He is the last man among all processions of the Jackson Presidential campaign. we have known, who would condescend to seek emblematic of the general, and habitual cruelty notoriety, or to feign a resentment he does not and recklessness of human life, scarcely inspired feel: nor has he ever fought a bloodless duel. He as much horror among quiet citizens as did these has once been severely wounded himself. Both reports which preceded the advent of the newlyof his conflicts in this State resulted in the death appointed Marshal. The men watched for his of his antagonists. The character of the parties coming with the most eager and nervous curiosity, for courage and resolution of purpose, forbade all and the women and little children would gather hope of any other result than death, when once a in groups as the father or brothers came in, to infight had been determined. Every body knew quire as to the arrival of this resurrected Col. that when such men went out fight. that a funeral Blood. When he did arrive, the landlord whose howould follow. The injuries received by the chal- tel he had chosen, received him with profound obeilenger, as he conceived, were such as to require a sance, mortally fearful of receiving at every glance mortal conflict: the temperament of the challeng- of his fierce eye a ball or bowie knife. The boarded was opposed to the conciliatory in presence of ers stared rather than ate, and when he rose to such a foe. All were brave, gallant men, all Ken- return to the sitting room he always had a full tuckians, and all admired for their chivalry and passage and a wide berth. His first appearance many noble qualities. That the high-souled sur- on the streets called every dealer and shopkeeper vivor deplores with all the intensity which be- to his window or door, and as they viewed his longs to a noble heart, that such arbitrament was game figure and proud gait, his bold features and rendered necessary, his friends have never doubt- nonchalant manner, their expression told that they ed; but persuaded as he was that his own life, were reading a confirmation of all they had heard. and what he holds far dearer than life, his hon-"Tom," said a prominent citizen to a servant of or,—was involved in the contest, he may not pos- the hotel who was said to stand in peculiar fear sess any of that soft, conventional hypocrisy of the Marshal, 'why are you so much afraid of which usually impels supple persons to plead re- McClung?" "Ecod, massa," replied the old negro gret for an issue, between which and their own chuckling, "dere's more dan me who's afeard of lives they knew there was no alternative. Good him." men as well as some bad men have always yielded These absurd rumors, superadded to the fact of to the dictates of this so-called code of honor, and his being a non-resident of the District, caused is is not likely that it will ever be abolished. Nor his appointment to be much objected to at first, have we desired to suppress these facts in connex- as we have said. But these impressions were ion with the events belonging to the life of Col. rapidly dispelled as the new Marshal extended his McClung. Facts fairly presented are apt to smoth-acquaintance. Instead of being coarse or offener misrepresentation, and we are content that he, sive he was found to be a gentleman, polished and like many as good and more distinguished char- affable, possessed of a courtliness and urbanity acters who have yielded to the temptation of in-that evoked all the address of which his new dulging this lamentable propensity, shall abide the friends were masters to measure manners with public judgment. him. The disappointment was general as it was
We are not inclined to deny but that these agreeable. Calls and invitations multiplied daily : qualities of Col. McClung, do sometimes take an his fine conversational powers, his rare informaaspect of fierceness wholly at war with his gene- tion, coupled with his reputation for talents, won rous and kindly disposition, especially when he is to him sincere admirers, while his sparkling under excitement. Impetuosity and kindness are qualities as a bon compagnon made him a fastrangely blended in his nature, but all who enjoy vorite in the gay and sport-loving circles. We do his intimate acquaintance know that kindness not mean to intimate that there is about Col. greatly preponderates, and that his friendships, McClung that air of easy access and general faonce formed, are fast, strong, and not easily moved. miliarity which characterized the social intercourse
of the full-hearted Prentiss. His intimacies are cautiously formed and rarely extended. He has very little tolerance for pretension unbacked by merit, and has been known chillingly to repel the familiar advances of such as ventured to presume too far, perhaps, on an acquaintance formed in his moments of mirth and carousal. Among those for whom he has ever cherished esteem and respect, we have never known of his making an enemy, and it is with such that his accomplish-fense for which, maugre his known address and ments shine forth so winningly and instructively. talents, he was wholly unprepared. Nor did this Early in 1845, and before the inauguration of gentleman commit the folly of denying the surthe newly elected President, Col. McClung re- prise by which he had been overtaken, but with a signed his office, after having discharged its du- bold heart, fortified by a full consciousness of ties to the full satisfaction of the government, the right, declared his resolve to abide the record court, the public, and all the parties concerned. which had been so fiercely and ingeniously asAs an officer he was stern, though never impe- sailed, despite the ugly appearance it then prerious; and we have never heard of a single com- sented. The battle was mainly fought out afterplaint as to the manner in which he enforced the wards by these two, and by common consent of judgments of the Court. During the canvass of both parties they were pitted as their respective 1844, his sympathies as a politician were strongly leaders, to whose success the principal efforts of enlisted in favor of Mr. Clay's election to the the canvass should be directed. On the hustings Presidency; but as an office-holder he was scru- the whig champion could not be matched. His pulous to confine his action within the bounds oratorical power and intellectual weight were acprescribed by the administration under which he knowledged equally as they were admired,—alserved. The defeat of his favorite determined though his sagacious rival did not fail to deal promptly his course of conduct. His disposition thrusts, now and then, which proved him worthy is little fitted to sufferance. He threw up his com- of the best steel. At the ballot box, however, the mission rather than await the inevitable changes friends of Col. McClung were overpowered. The which he knew would follow the induction of Mr. decided political complexion of the county, the Polk as President. He was a whig, and his deli-pride of party, and the great popularity of his opcacy of sentiment prompted a conduct which ponent, well merited as worthily bestowed, could would relieve the new administration of all em- not be changed or beaten down; and the distant barrassment or forbearance. Nor do we wish to friends of the whig champion will perhaps be less be understood, in these remarks, as intending to astonished at his defeat when they learn that his cast ny improper reproach on Mr. Polk. Unfor- principal opponent was James Whitfield, late tunately, it seems to be a settled policy with both Governor of Mississippi, then in the full flush of parties, now-a-days, to distribute federal offices popularity which long years had cemented. solely among political friends, and it might be urged as illiberal to charge either with being less tolerant than their adversaries.
by the large majority of two hundred and forty votes, but still his sanguine heart was not abashed. He dashed full against the centre of the opposition with one of those headlong charges which rarely fail of success, and created consternation and dismay in the camp. He unsettled the calmness of his antagonists, and surprised the ablest of the number by a review of his record which took him unawares,-forcing him to a de
But the friends of Col. McClung, if beaten, were not routed. Their leader had driven in the outposts of the enemy, and the ancient citadel of
At this period a new and interesting chapter democracy had been fearfully battered. He had opens in the career of this distinguished Missis-cleaved down prejudices of long standing and sippian. Hitherto he had played a compara-opened a fair field for his successors in future potively obscure and secondary part when named litical contests. He uttered no complaint when in connexion with many of his contemporaries, the result was made known, and bowed with equal He had wielded a large influence by the power of grace and complaisance to the popular verdict: his pen. but his voice had not been heard, and the while his opponents honorably forebore to indulge people only knew him by report. His friends of all jeering exultations. They seemed rather to Lowndes county now resolved to invite him to feel, while contemplating the dismal reduction of the hustings, and in the summer of 1845 he was their ancient majorities, the full force of the exbrought forward as a candidate for the Legisla-clamation attributed to Philip of Epirus, who, ture, at the head of the whig ticket. He accepted after one of his hard-earned conquests over the the nomination, and early in the fall, after his re- Romans, bitterly declared that "one more such turn from a visit to the Northern counties, en-victory would ruin him." As nothing had octered upon an active and a vigorous contest. He curred during the canvass to mar the harmony of was opposed by a veteran and popular ticket, and social intercourse, so afterwards were cordial reencountered a powerful organization. The county lations fully and lastingly recognised. had gone against Henry Clay the year previous
It was on the occasion of the first of the speech