I remember that one day, when he was sunk deep in composition, a negro came and began with grand airs to make a request as delegate from his campaign club. The Printer sat still, his eyes close to the paper, his pen flying at high speed. The coloured orator went on lifting his voice in a set petition. Mr Greeley bent to his work as the man waxed eloquent. A nervous movement now and then betrayed the Printer’s irritation. He looked up, shortly, his face kindling with anger.
‘Help! For God’s sake!’ he shrilled impatiently, his hands flying in the air. The Printer seemed to be gasping for breath.
‘Go and stick your head out of the window and get through,’ he shouted hotly to the man.
He turned to his writing — a thing dearer to him than a new bone to a hungry dog.
‘Then you may come and tell me what you want,’ he added in a milder tone.
Those were days when men said what they meant and their meaning had more fight in it than was really polite or necessary. Fight was in the air and before I knew it there was a wild, devastating spirit in my own bosom, insomuch that I made haste to join a local regiment. It grew apace but not until I saw the first troops on their way to the war was I fully determined to go and give battle with my regiment.
The town was afire with patriotism. Sumter had fallen; Lincoln had issued his first call. The sound of the fife and drum rang in the streets. Men gave up work to talk and listen or go into the sterner business of war. Then one night in April, a regiment came out of New England, on its way to the front. It lodged at the Astor House to leave at nine in the morning. Long before that hour the building was flanked and fronted with tens of thousands, crowding Broadway for three blocks, stuffing the wide mouth of Park Row and braced into Vesey and Barday Streets. My editor assigned me to this interesting event. I stood in the crowd, that morning, and saw what was really the beginning of the war in New York. There was no babble of voices, no impatient call, no sound of idle jeering such as one is apt to hear in a waiting crowd. It stood silent, each man busy with the rising current of his own emotions, solemnified by the faces all around him. The soldiers filed out upon the pavement, the police having kept a way clear for them, Still there was silence in the crowd save that near me I could hear a man sobbing. A trumpeter lifted his bugle and sounded a bar of the reveille. The clear notes clove the silent air, flooding every street about us with their silver sound. Suddenly the band began playing. The tune was Yankee Doodle. A wild, dismal, tremulous cry came out of a throat near me. It grew and spread to a mighty roar and then such a shout went up to Heaven, as I had never heard, and as I know full well I shall never hear again. It was like the riving of thunderbolts above the roar of floods — elemental, prophetic, threatening, ungovernable. It did seem to me that the holy wrath of God Almighty was in that cry of the people. It was a signal. It declared that they were ready to give all that a man may give for that he loves — his life and things far dearer to him than his life. After that, they and their sons begged for a chance to throw themselves into the hideous ruin of war.