Suffolk, Virginia: A northern visitor’s description of the Town of Suffolk (1862)

“Washington Square, looking east,” Edward J. Pollock

“The little town or village is not unlike to Williamsburg, on the Peninsula, in the style of its buildings, but Williamsburg is superior in point of size, and has some finer buildings than Suffolk. The latter place has the advantage of the former by being situated on the Nansemond River, and consequently some considerable trade is now carried on with the Fortress and Norfolk.

The houses are mostly white frame with green window shutters, generally surrounded with shade trees, interspersed with a large bush known as the crepe myrtle. It bears a really beautiful flower, clustered together similar to the lilac. Upon examining the flower, it closely resembles pink crape of the finest quality.

The town is very nearly all situated on the main street, except the upper portion, where there is a cross street, known as Washington Square. All the business of the town is centered in this street. One or two Confederate stores are open, but do not do much business. Before we occupied the place, they sold at least one thousand dollars worth of goods a day. Several army sutlers have opened stores beside them, and by having a better assortment of goods than the Secesh stores, contrive to do all the business. The white ladies will not patronize the Union stores personally, but invariably send their slaves or servants. This morning these stores were crowded with colored folks, making purchases, not a white face appearing in the store except the dealer.

The streets are composed of sand, and the heavy rain last night and this morning makes them hard, the water soaking through the loose soil at once. The main street, from the depot, nearly have way the length of the town, has a row of shade trees planted immediately in the centre, and on the edge of the sidewalk the same, thus forming a shady bower, making this portion of the place quite cool.

The ladies of Suffolk are better bred than a majority of those residing in Norfolk and Portsmouth. They have in no instance insulted our troops. They do not hide behind the blinds and peep at you, as though you had horns and were about to gore them. They keep their proclivities so themselves, and mind their own business.

The first building that presents itself to your view on arriving at Suffolk, is a large Methodist Church, with a fine spire, the whole building being roughly cast of a slate color. It stands on a high eminence. This is the church that our troops, who are so minded, attend on Sundays. In fact, it is the only church open at present.

As the cars stopped, the first person on the platform of the station I met was Captain Charles Bradley, formerly mail agent between Philadelphia and Washington. The Eleventh Pennsylvania Cavalry patrol the streets night and day. Only a portion of this regiment is here. The Scott Life Guard from New York city, for a long time doing duty on the railroad between the Susquehanna river and Baltimore, do the provost duty in town and around the country. All the troops here present a fine appearance; their uniforms are as good as new, and most of those on duty wear white army gloves. The citizens say their behavior is and has been unexceptional, forming quite a contrast with that of the Rebel troops who were formerly encamped hereabouts.

Suffolk boasts of one Savings’ Bank. This concern is situated in a very fine little brick building, plainly, but not genteelly ornamented. It is called the Suffolk Savings’ Bank. Since the commencement of the war their whole business has been the issuing of shinplasters. Speaking of shinplasters, it is laughable to see how the citizens endeavor, when they make change for you, to shove off on to you a lot of Confederate money, and when you tell them that you decline such money, they look at you with astonishment. Our soldiers seem to have cords of Confederate money. Where and how they get it is hard to tell.

Gen. Mansfield has command of the post, and is quartered in one end of the house known as the Centre Hotel. It is, like most of the houses, a large white frame.

The town presents quite a lively appearance this morning. A large number of teams are passing up and down the street, hauling commissary stores that have just arrived up the Nansemond river. A gunboat also arrived.

It has been rumored for some time past that General Huger, with his Rebel hordes, would endeavor to reoccupy this town and surroundings. The troops here do not believe the enemy will attempt it, as our gun-boats could destroy the town in twenty minutes or less time. It would result in no advantage to the Rebels to attempt to retake Suffolk. If the enemy do attempt a diversion here, they will be well received by our troops. Like all cities and towns in Virginia, you do not see any young men about. They are all off to the wars.” – The Philadelphia Tribune

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