The End of an Era: Ii. The Surrender of Johnston
EIGHT miles of brisk riding carried me beyond the flotsam and jetsam of the army of northern Virginia. I was alone in the meadows on the north of the Appomattox River. The sun shone brightly, and under the wooded bluffs upon the opposite bank of the narrow stream the little valley up which my route led was warm and still. The dogwood was beginning to bloom ; the grass near the river banks was showing the first verdure of spring ; the willows overhanging the stream were purpling and swelling with buds. A cock grouse among the laurels was drumming to his mate, and more than once I heard the gobble of the wild turkey. Behind me, in the distance, were sounds of artillery ; from time to time our guns opened to hold the enemy in check, or he, pursuing, availed himself of some eminence to shell our retreating masses. In due season the designated ford was reached. The little mare, her neck and flanks warm but not heated with exercise, waded into the stream up to her knees, and, plunging her nose into the water, quenched her thirst. A gray squirrel, startled from a hickory near the ford, ran out upon a limb, swung himself to another tree, and scampered away through the sunlight and the shadows to gain his castle in the hollow oak upon the hillside. In a neighboring cedar, a redbird (cardinal grosbeak), warmed by the sunlight, uttered the soft call with which he wooes his mate in springtime.
How peaceful, how secluded, how inviting to repose, seemed this sheltered nook! It was hard to realize what a seething caldron of human life and human passion was boiling so near at hand. I needed rest. It was Friday, and since I left Clover Station, Wednesday night, I had slept but three hours. Oh, the heartache of those last eight miles of travel, with time to reflect in solitude upon what I had seen ! The hopeless, quiet dignity of General Lee, the impassioned desperation of my father, were present like a nightmare. The shattered idols of boyish dreams lay strewn about me on the road along which I had been traveling. I had seen commands scattered and blasted which, until now, had represented victory or unbroken defiance. I had beheld officers, who, until yesterday, had impersonated to my youthful ardor nothing but gallantry, demoralized, separated from their commands, and with all stomach gone for further fighting. Ever and again my thoughts went back to the brave troops through whose ranks I had ridden the night previous, in search of General Lee; and then my pride rose afresh. Yet in my heart I knew that they were but a handful to resist the armies of Grant; that the army of northern Virginia was a thing of the past ; that its surrender was only a question of a few days at furthest ; and that the war was virtually ended. Then would come the sickening thought, so eloquently expressed by my father, that every man thenceforth killed was a noble life literally thrown away. And, knowing my father as I did, I felt that it was more than likely he would be one of those to fall; for his counsel was not the counsel of a coward. His courage and spirit of defiance were still unbroken. His proudest testimonial is that recorded concerning his conduct on the retreat by Fitzhugh Lee, who, in describing it, declared that, until the order of surrender went forth at Appomattox, he fought with the fervor of youth, and exposed himself as unhesitatingly as when he was fall of hope at the opening of the war.
Alone, torn by these bitter thoughts, patriotic and personal, exhausted by two days and nights of excitement and fatigue, and contemplating with no pleasant anticipations seventy miles of hard riding before me, I gathered my reins, touched the flank of my horse, and resumed my journey. The country south of the Appomattox was wooded and somewhat broken. The roads led between “ hogback ” hills, as they are called. I drew out my brierwood pipe and consoled myself with a smoke ; for among my other military accomplishments I had acquired the habit of smoking.
I was taking it easily, and was riding “ woman fashion,” to rest myself in the saddle. The mare moved quietly forward at a fox trot. I felt sure I was well ahead of the flanking column of the enemy. Of a sudden my ear caught the sound of a human voice. It was distant, — a singsong note, resembling the woodland “ halloo ” we often hear. For a moment I thought it might be the voice of a darky, singing as he drove his team along. But it ceased, and in its place I heard, in a direction which I could not determine, sounds like falling rain, with heavy drops distinctly audible in the downpour. I recognized the sound.
When we were studying Virgil, our tutor delighted to take up those lines of the Æneid wherein the poet describes the footfall of many horses as the cavalry approaches : —
Quadrupedante putrem sonitu quatit ungula campum.”
After reading them he would look around and ask, “ Eh ? don’t you hear the very sound of the horses’feet in the words?” Well, of course we did not, and Parson Dudley thought we were trifling young cubs not to see the beauty of Virgil’s verbal horseplay. Still, the words stuck, and I often repeated them afterward. Now, who would have imagined that the little Latin I had acquired, partly a priori and partly a posteriori, would one day serve to aid in escaping capture ? I listened. I repeated : “ Quadrupe — dantepu — tremsoni — tuquatit — ungula — campum,” I said to myself : “ That sound is the sound of cavalry. That voice was the voice of command. Which way shall I go ? ”
“ Plague take you, be quiet! ” I said to the mare, slapping her impatiently on the neck; for at that moment she lifted her head, pointed her ears, and, raising her ribs, gave a loud whinny. By good luck, almost at the same instant the sound of clashing cymbals and the music of a mounted band came through the forest. The hostile forces were but a few hundred yards away. As I soon learned, they were moving on a road leading to the ford, but entering the road that I was traveling just beyond the spot where I first heard them. The hill on my left ran down to a point where the advancing column was coming into the road on which I was. The summit of the hill was covered by a thick growth of laurel and pine. I sprang from the saddle, led the mare up the hillside, tied her, and, reflecting that she might whinny again, left her, ran along the hillcrest as near to the enemy as I dared go, lay down behind an old log, covered myself with leaves and bushes, and was within a hundred yards of the spot which the enemy passed. I could see them from behind the end of my log.
“ Hurrah ! Hurrah ! ” they shouted, as the band played Johnny Comes Marching Home. They were elated and full of enthusiasm, for the Johnnies were on the run, and the pursuit was now little more than a foot race. The band struck up Captain Jenks of the Horse Marines, as they swept on to the ford, walking, trotting, ambling, pacing, their guidons fluttering in the spring breeze. “ Hurrah ! Hurrah ! Hurrah! ” How different was the cheering from the wild yell to which I was accustomed ! I lay there, with my pistol in my hand, watching them, really interested in contrasting their good equipment and their ardor with the wretched scenes that I had left behind. A wild turkey hen, startled from her nest near the roadside, came flying directly up the hill, alighted on the further side of the log behind which I was lying, and, squatting low, ran within three feet of my nose. Peering into my face with frightened eyes, she gave a “ put! ” of amazement and sheered off. I convulsively clutched my pistol to shoot her. No, I did not shoot. I had reasons for not shooting. But I am sure that this was the only wild turkey that ever came within range of my weapon without receiving a salute.
The cavalcade swept by, and did not suspect my presence. When all was still again, hurrying back to the filly, I mounted, rode down to the forks of the road, took the one that led westward, and galloped away. I felt sure, from the rapidity with which I had traveled, that this must be the advance of the enemy, and I resolved to take no further risks. I was right, for I saw no more Union troops. Late that afternoon, in Charlotte County, I passed the plantation of Roanoke, once the home of John Randolph. It looked desolate and overgrown.
“Oh, John Randolph, John, John!” thought I, as I rode by, “ you have gotten some other Johns, in fact the whole breed of Johnnies, into a peck of trouble by the governmental notions which you left to them as a legacy. By the way, John,” changing into a merrier vein, “ I wish some of those thoroughbreds you once owned were still in your stables ; my gallant animal is nearly done for by the murderous pace of the last six hours.” Neither the spirit nor the horses of John Randolph responded, either to maintain his principles or to supply me a fresh mount from the skeleton stables, and I rode on.
I reached the Episcopal rectory at Halifax Court House after midnight. My brother Henry was the minister. He was a glorious fellow, who, if he had not been a preacher, would have made a dashing soldier. I hammered upon the door, and he came down. I was now only twenty miles west of my post at Clover Station. I had visited him several times while I was quartered there, but since the evacuation of Richmond he had heard nothing from any of us, although he had made many inquiries, for me particularly.
When I told him of my last three adventures, he looked me over, and, seeing how red my eyes were, said that he was afraid I was drunk. “Not much,” I replied ; “ but if you have anything to eat and to drink, get it out quickly, for I am nearly famished. You may think I am drunk, Henry, but come out and look at the mare. Probably you will think she has the delirium tremens.” He was soon dressed, and we went out to minister to the faithful brute.
She stood with head hung low, her red nostrils distending and contracting, her sides heaving, her knees trembling, her flanks roweled and red, the sweat dripping from her wet body. Poor little Tulip (that was her name), I had not done it wantonly. I was performing a duty of life and death.
“ You cannot ride her to Danville,” said Henry, who was a good horseman.
“ No, of course not. I came after your bay horse.”
Henry loved his mare, and under other circumstances he would not have listened to such a proposition ; but patriotism overcame him, and he simply answered, with a sigh, “ Very well.”
I count it a creditable episode in my life that I took off my coat, tired as I was, and gave Tulip a good rubbing down, and fed her and bedded her, bless her game heart!
“ You cannot go forward at once,” Henry urged, when we returned to the house. He started a fire in the dining room and placed an abundance of cold victuals and drink upon the table, and his pretty young wife entered to hear the war news.
“ Well, I thought I might, but blamed if I don’t believe I 'm forced to take a rest,” I replied. “Will you have your mare saddled and me waked at daybreak ? ”
It was so arranged, and after I had eaten like a glutton, I lit a pipe and tried to stay awake to answer Henry’s eager questions ; but I fell asleep in the chair, and the next I knew he was leading me by the arm up to a large bedroom, the like of which I had not seen for many a day. Tumbling into bed, I knew no more until he roused me at daybreak, fed me, put me on his mare, and said a “ God bless you ! ” I went off sore and reluctant, but soon limbered up and grew willing, as his horse, fresh and almost as good as Tulip, strode gallantly on to Danville.
“ Man never is, but always to be blest.” I was envying preachers, and thinking what a good time Henry was having ; and he, poor fellow, had spent the night striding up and down the floor, bemoaning the hard fate which had made him a non-combatant.
It was about eight o’clock in the evening of Saturday, April 8, 1865, when the hoofs of my horse resounded on the bridge which spans the Roanoke at Danville. I do not recall the exact distance traversed that day, but it was enough for man and beast. I had a good comfortable ride. Henry had filled my saddlepockets with excellent food, and two flasks of coffee made by him, while I slept, from a precious remnant that he had preserved for the sick of his congregation. He was a prince of hospitality and common sense. He had liquor, and was no blue-nose ; but he said that he would give me none, for the double reason that I seemed to like it too well, and that, in case of protracted effort, it was not so reliable a stimulant as coffee.
The lights of Danville were a welcome sight. The town was crowded with people, the result of the recent influx from Richmond. Riding up Main Street to the principal hotel, I learned that Mr. Davis was domiciled at the home of Major Sutherlin, and thither I directed my course. The house stands upon Main Street, near the crest of a steep hill. As I approached, I saw that it was brilliantly illuminated. A sentry at the yard gate challenged me. I announced my name, rank, and mission, and was admitted. At the door, a colored man, whom I recognized as the body servant of the President, received me. In a few moments Burton Harrison appeared, giving me a kindly greeting, and saying that the President and his Cabinet were then holding a session in the dining room, and desired me to enter and make my report. I laughed, drew forth the short note of General Lee to Mr. Davis, and remarked that my dispatches were for the most part oral.
I felt rather embarrassed by such a distinguished audience, but Mr. Davis soon put me at ease. In his book he mentions my coming, but, after the long interval between 1865 and the time at which it was written, he had forgotten, if indeed he ever knew, that I had been sent by him to General Lee. Probably he never learned what name General Walker inserted in the blank order that Mr. Davis sent, when he requested the former to detail an officer to communicate with General Lee. At any rate, I was the first person who had brought him any direct news from General Lee since his departure from Richmond.
Those present, as I remember them, were, besides the President and Burton Harrison, Mr. Benjamin, General Breckinridge, Secretary Mallory, Secretary Reagan, perhaps General Bragg, and several others whom I did not know or do not recall. They sat around a large dining table, and I stood at the end opposite Mr. Davis. He was exceedingly considerate, requested me to make my report, which I did as briefly as possible, and then asked me a number of questions. When he had done examining me, several others of the party made inquiries. One thing I remember vividly. Somebody inquired how many efficient troops I thought General Lee had left. I was prepared for this question to the extent of having tried to conjecture. In doing so, I had assumed that at the time he started from Petersburg he had nearly one hundred thousand men. That was the popular impression. With this in my mind as a basic figure, I believed that his army had dwindled to one third of its number when it left Petersburg, and so I ventured the opinion that he might still have thirty thousand effective men, although I was cautious enough to add that Mahone’s and Field’s divisions were the only two that I had seen which seemed to be intact and to have preserved their organization. When I said thirty thousand, I thought I detected a smile of sad incredulity on several faces ; and I have often wondered since how much that statement detracted from the weight attached to my report in other respects.
One question I answered as I felt. “ Do you think General Lee will be able to reach a point of safety with his army ? ”
“ I regret to say, no. From what I saw and heard, I am satisfied that General Lee must surrender. It may be that he has done so to - day. In my opinion, Mr. President, it is only a question of a few days at furthest, and if I may be permitted to add a word, I think the sooner, the better ; for, after seeing what I have seen of the two armies, I believe the result is inevitable, and postponing the day means only the useless effusion of noble, gallant blood.”
I am sure none of them had heard such a plain statement of this unwelcome truth before. I remember the expression of face — almost a shudder — with which what I said was received. I saw that, however convinced they might be of the truth of it, it was not a popular speech to make.
Mr. Davis asked me to remain. He said that he wished to talk with me further. While I was waiting for him in the hallway, Major Sutherlin, who had known me from childhood, beckoned to me and asked, “ Are n’t you hungry after your ride ? ”
I grinned. I was always hungry then.
“ Jim,” quoth the major, “ see if you can’t get something for the lieutenant to eat.”
Jim went out, hut in a few minutes returned, and, bowing, invited me into a butler’s pantry. He apologized for the place, and explained that the house was so crowded he had nowhere else to spread the repast. He had provided milk, corn coffee, butter and rolls, and cold turkey. I said, “ Jim, shut up. You know I am not used to as good as this.” With that I tossed off a glass of milk, swallowed a cup of coffee, and, opening my haversack, tumbled the butter and rolls and turkey legs into it, and buttoned it up. Jim stood there, highly amused at the short shrift I made of his feast, and remarked, “You’s a fustclass forager, ain’t you, lieutenant ? ” “ Yes,” I responded. “You must keep fire in the box, Jim, if you want the engine to run. Now I’m ready for the President.”
I slipped back into the hallway, and sat down to wait until the President should call me. In a little while the conference broke up, and he came to the door. “ Now, lieutenant, I ’ll see you,” and he led the way into the drawing room; there we had a long talk, I going more into details.
At the close of our conversation, he sat for some time peering into the gloom outside, and finally broke the silence by saying : “ You seem to know the roads. Do you feel equal to another trip ? ”
“Assuredly,” I answered. “I now have a relay of horses, and am more than glad to serve in any way I can.”
“ Very well,” said he. “ Leave your horse in Major Sutherlin’s stable, so that it will be well fed, and report for orders to-morrow morning at eight o’clock.”
I took the mare to the stable. It looked so inviting that I clambered up a ladder to the loft, opened my haversack, enjoyed Major Sutherlin’s food, placed some hay under me and drew some over me, and had a glorious night’s rest.
When I reported next morning, the President did not ask at what hotel I was stopping. I received my return dispatches, and I set forth to rejoin General Lee. Apprehending the probability of my capture, Mr. Davis gave me a brief letter of credentials, and said that I would explain his wishes.
Upon the same day that General Lee surrendered at Appomattox (April 9) I reached Halifax Court House on the return trip. My brother Richard was there, with his own horse and the horse that my father had lent the wounded man. They had been cut off at Sailors’ Creek and forced southward. The enemy, flanking General Lee, had advanced by moving at least ten miles beyond Sailors’ Creek, thus rendering it impossible for them to rejoin General Lee except by going through the Union lines. My brother was greatly perplexed concerning the course he should pursue, and after we had discussed the matter, he resolved to leave one of the horses and to go back with me. Monday morning we resumed the journey ; and that afternoon we met the first of our men, who, paroled at Appomattox the day before, were mournfully wending their way homeward.
Upon hearing of the surrender, we turned back toward Danville to report to President Davis the failure of my mission. On arriving there, we learned that he had left the place, and gone to Greensboro, North Carolina. From the paroled men we met we ascertained that our father was safe. We resolved to join Johnston’s army. After leaving Danville, two days’ ride brought us to Greensboro, and there we found Johnston’s forces. We reported to Major-General Carter Stevenson, commanding a division of infantry. General Stevenson was a Virginian, one of the few in that army. A cousin of ours was on his staff. The army was bivouacked in and about the town of Greensboro, awaiting the result of negotiations for its surrender. Men and officers alike understood this, and there was a general relaxation of discipline.
We were among the first to arrive from Lee’s army. General Stevenson gave us a cordial welcome. We told him we had not been captured, and had come to serve under him. He asked us what we wished to do. We replied that we were ready to serve in any capacity in which we could be useful ; I added facetiously that I was not much of a lieutenant, anyhow, and none too good for a private. On our way we had seriously discussed the formation of a command composed of officers of Lee’s army who had escaped from the surrender. Inviting us to make his headquarters our home until something definite was concluded, General Stevenson said, with a smile, that he feared we had jumped out of the frying pan into the fire, and that Sherman and Johnston were already conferring about a cessation of hostilities. I must describe one of the conferences as General Johnston himself narrated it, many years afterward.
One cold winter night about 1880, Captain Edward Harvie, of General Johnston’s staff, invited me to join him in a call upon the general, who was then living in Richmond. Harvie was one of his pets, and we were promptly admitted to his presence. He sat in an armchair in his library, dressed in a flannel wrapper, and was suffering from an influenza. By his side, upon a low stool, stood a tray with whiskey, glasses, spoons, sugar, lemon, spice, and eggs. At the grate a footman held a brass teakettle of boiling water. Mrs. Johnston was preparing hot Tom-and-Jerry for the old gentleman, and he took it from time to time with no sign of objection or resistance. It was snowing outside, and the scene within was very cosy. As I had seen him in public, General Johnston was a stiff, uncommunicative man, punctilious and peppery, as little fellows like him are apt to be. He reminded me of a cock sparrow, full of self-consciousness, and rather enjoying a peck at his neighbor.
That night he was as warm, comfortable, and communicative as the kettle singing on the hob. He had been lonesome, and he greatly enjoyed both the Tom-and-Jerry and the visitors. Harvie knew how to draw him out on reminiscences, and we spent a most delightful evening. Among other things he told us an episode of the surrender, under promise that we should not publish it until after his death.
Johnston had known Sherman well in the United States army. Their first interview near Greensboro resulted in an engagement to meet for further discussion the following day. As they were parting, Johnston remarked: “ By the way, Cumps, Breckinridge, our Secretary of War, is with me. He is a very able fellow, and a better lawyer than any of us. If there is no objection, I will fetch him along to-morrow.”
Bristling up, General Sherman exclaimed : “ Secretary of War ! No, no ; we don’t recognize any civil government among you fellows, Johnston. No, I don’t want any Secretary of War.”
“ Well,” said General Johnston, “ he is also a major-general in the Confederate army. Is there any objection to his presence in the capacity of majorgeneral ? ”
“ Oh! ” quoth Sherman, in his characteristic way, “ major-general ! Well, any major-general you may bring I shall be glad to meet. But recollect, Johnston, no Secretary of War. Do you understand ? ”
The next day, General Johnston, accompanied by Major-General Breckinridge and others, was at the rendezvous before Sherman.
“ You know how fond of his liquor Breckinridge was ? ” added General Johnston, as he went on with his story. “Well, nearly everything to drink had been absorbed. For several days Breckinridge had found it difficult, if not impossible, to procure liquor. He showed the effect of his enforced abstinence. He was rather dull and heavy that morning. Somebody in Danville had given him a plug of very fine chewing tobacco, and he chewed vigorously while we were awaiting Sherman’s coming. After a while the latter arrived. He bustled in with a pair of saddlebags over his arm, and apologized for being late. He placed the saddlebags carefully upon a chair. Introductions followed, and for a while General Sherman made himself exceedingly agreeable. Finally some one suggested that we had better take up the matter in hand.
“ ‘Yes,’ said Sherman; ‘ but, gentlemen, it occurred to me that perhaps you were not overstocked with liquor, and I procured some medical stores on my way over. Will you join me before we begin work ? ’ ”
General Johnston said he watched the expression of Breckinridge at this announcement, and it was beatific. Tossing his quid into the fire, he rinsed his mouth, and when the bottle and the glass were passed to him he poured out a tremendous drink, which he swallowed with great satisfaction. With an air of content, he stroked his mustache and took a fresh chew of the tobacco.
Then they settled down to business, and Breckinridge never shone more brilliantly than he did in the discussions which followed. He seemed to have at his tongue’s end every rule and maxim of international and constitutional law, and of the laws of war, — international wars, civil wars, and wars of rebellion. In fact, he was so resourceful, cogent, persuasive, learned, that, at one stage of the proceedings, General Sherman, when confronted by the authority, but not convinced by the eloquence or learning of Breckinridge, pushed back his chair and exclaimed : “ See here, gentlemen, who is doing this surrendering, anyhow ? If this thing goes on, you 'll have me sending a letter of apology to Jeff Davis.”
Afterward, when they were nearing the close of the conference, Sherman sat for some time absorbed in deep thought. Then he arose, went to the saddlebags, and fumbled for the bottle. Breckinridge saw the movement. Again he took his quid from his mouth and tossed it into the fireplace. His eye brightened, and he gave every evidence of intense interest in what Sherman seemed about to do.
The latter, preoccupied, perhaps unconscious of his action, poured out some liquor, shoved the bottle back into the saddlepocket, walked to the window, and stood there, looking out abstractedly, while he sipped his grog.
From pleasant hope and expectation the expression on Breckinridge’s face changed successively to uncertainty, disgust, and deep depression. At last his hand sought the plug of tobacco, and, with an injured, sorrowful look, he cut off another chew. Upon this he ruminated during the remainder of the interview, taking little part in what was said.
After silent reflections at the window, General Sherman bustled back, gathered up his papers, and said: “ These terms are too generous, but I must hurry away before you make me sign a capitulation. I will submit them to the authorities at Washington, and let you hear how they are received.” With that he bade the assembled officers adieu, took his saddlebags upon his arm, and went off as he had come.
General Johnston took occasion, as they left the house and were drawing on their gloves, to ask General Breckinridge how he had been impressed by Sherman.
“ Sherman is a bright man, and a man of great force,” replied Breckinridge, speaking with deliberation, “ but,” raising his voice and with a look of great intensity, “ General Johnston, General Sherman is a hog. Yes, sir, a hog. Did you see him take that drink by himself ?”
General Johnston tried to assure General Breckinridge that General Sherman was a royal good fellow, but the most absent-minded man in the world. He told him that the failure to offer him a drink was the highest compliment that could have been paid to the masterly arguments with which he had pressed the Union commander to that state of abstraction.
“ Ah! ” protested the big Kentuckian, half sighing, half grieving, “ no Kentucky gentleman would ever have taken away that bottle. He knew we needed it, and needed it badly.”
The story was well told, and I did not make it public until after General Johnston’s death. On one occasion, being intimate with General Sherman, I repeated it to him. Laughing heartily, he said : “ I don’t remember it. But if Joe Johnston told it, it’s so. Those fellows hustled me so that day, I was sorry for the drink I did give them,” and with that sally he broke out into fresh laughter.
While these scenes were being enacted Johnston’s army lay about Greensboro, and I saw a great deal of the men and the officers. I will not attempt a comparison between its personnel and that of Lee’s army. I was a prejudiced observer, and such comparisons can produce no good results. But I am free to say, from what I saw, then and thereafter, of Sherman’s army, that I believe it was a better army than that of General Grant. If Lee’s army and Sherman’s had come together when they were at their best, the world would have witnessed some very memorable fighting. The spirit of General Johnston’s men was much finer than, under the circumstances, anybody would have expected. They were defiant, and more than ready to try conclusions with Sherman in a pitched battle. Many expressed disgust and indignation when the surrender of the army was announced. An epidemic of drunkenness, gambling, and fighting prevailed while we were waiting for our final orders. Whatever difficulty General Breckinridge may have experienced in procuring liquor, the soldiers seemed to have an abundance of colorless corn whiskey and applejack, and the roadsides were lined with “ chuck-a-luck ” games. The amount of Confederate money displayed was marvelous. Men had it by the haversackful, and bet it recklessly upon anything. The ill temper begotten by drinking and gambling manifested itself almost hourly in free fights.
During this period of waiting came the news of the assassination of Mr. Lincoln. Perhaps I ought to chronicle that the announcement was received with demonstrations of sorrow. If I did, I should be lying for sentiment’s sake. Among the higher officers and the most intelligent and conservative men the assassination caused a shudder of horror, at the heinousness of the act and at the thought of its possible consequences ; but among the thoughtless, the desperate, and the ignorant it was hailed as a sort of retributive justice. In maturer years I have been ashamed of what I felt and said when I heard of that awful calamity. However, men ought to be judged for their feelings and their speech by the circumstances of their surroundings. For four years we had been fighting. In that struggle all we loved had been lost. Lincoln incarnated to us the idea of oppression and conquest. We had seen his face over the coffins of our brothers and relatives and friends, in the flames of Richmond, in the disaster at Appomattox. In blood and flame and torture the temples of our lives were tumbling about our heads. We were desperate and vindictive, and whosoever denies it forgets or is false. We greeted his death in a spirit of reckless hate, and hailed it as bringing agony and bitterness to those who were the cause of our own agony and bitterness. To us, Lincoln was an inhuman monster, Grant a butcher, and Sherman a fiend.
Time taught us that Lincoln was a man of marvelous humanity, Appomattox and what followed revealed Grant in his matchless magnanimity, and the bitterness toward Sherman was softened in subsequent years. But, with our feelings then, if the news had come that all three of these had been engulfed in a common disaster with ourselves, we should have felt satisfaction in the fact, and should not have questioned too closely how it had been brought about. We were poor, starved, conquered, despairing ; and to expect men to have no malice and no vindictiveness at such a time is to look for angels in human form. Thank God, such feelings do not last long, at least in their fiercest intensity.
The army moved westward to a place named Jimtown, since dignified as Jamestown. There we were all paroled. We received one dollar and fifteen cents each. Of this, one dollar was in Mexican coin. I cut my initials upon my dollar, but it was stolen from my pocket the next day. We were ready to disperse to our homes. Our headquarters were in a tent.
A notorious character was Michael Dugan, commonly called “ Mike.” He was the man of all work for General Stevenson and his staff. Picketed near our tent were a pair of mules which belonged to our headquarters wagon. Michael Dugan, indulging a taste for spirituous liquors not uncommon with gentlemen of his nationality and station in life, and impelled thereto by depressed feelings resulting from the inglorious ending of his military career, had not drawn a sober breath for a week. He had, in fact, a horse bucket full of colorless North Carolina corn whiskey, from which he regaled himself with a tin cup at all hours of the day and night. He sometimes became entangled in the tent cords, sometimes fell headlong into or out of the tent. In an animated discussion with a teamster, in like condition with himself, he had been nearly brained with a pair of mule hames whirled like a flail. Mike was a plucky fellow, and, fearing his wrath, his adversary, Rogers, had fled the camp. For several days Mike had rambled about, muttering to himself: “ Oi 'll kill Rogers. Bedad, and Oi ’ll kill him. Oi ’ll kill him if I have to follow him to Tennessee.” We were constantly anticipating that something would happen to Mike. The day before our departure something did happen. A party of us, seated in the tent, around a blanket spread upon the ground, were playing draw-poker. Of a sudden a heavy body struck the tent, and nearly carried away its fastenings. Rushing out, we found Mike lying there, unconscious, and bleeding profusely. A mule, tethered to a tree hard by, stood patient, passive, with head hung low and drooping ears. We did not for a moment suspect the mule. We lifted Mike gently, placed his head on a McClellan saddletree, chafed him, plied him with some of his favorite beverage, and about the time we were despairing of resuscitating him his eyes opened slowly.
“ Byes, am I dead ? ” he asked.
“ No, no, indeed, old boy; you ’re all right,” said we ; for Mike, in spite of his failures, was a brave soldier, and much beloved.
In a plaintive, tremulous voice he began : “ Oh, byes, do-an’t let me die. Ye know Oi’m not afeard to die. I was wid Floyd at Fort Donelson. I was wid Abbert Seedney Johnson at Shiloh, and Pimberton at Vicksburg. I was wid Pat Cleburne at Franklin, and Joe Johnston at Atlanta, and Hood at Nashville. Go ask them, byes, if Mike was afeard. But save me now, byes ! Oh, it is too ha-a-a-a-rd to be kicked to death by a - mule, the day after the surrinder ! ”
No amount of sympathy for Mike could repress the hilarity which this remarkable speech evoked, and the story was known to half the army within twenty-four hours. It was repeated as showing the saddest possible fate which could befall a Confederate soldier.
That night we had our last army fright. By some means a rumor had become prevalent that certain officers had distributed among themselves bolts of valuable cloth far beyond their own needs, leaving the soldiers ragged. The men formed bands, declaring they would ransack the officers’ wagons and have this cloth. A friendly fellow brought us the news that one of these parties was approaching to search General Stevenson’s headquarters wagon. Major Reeve, of the staff, indignant at such an accusation, but more indignant at the proposed insult to his commanding officer, swore he would die rather than submit to such ignominy. He called upon us to defend our manhood. Of course we were ready. Armed only with our swords and revolvers, we were deployed by him behind trees. It was moonlight. We could see the raiders coming through the woods. When within thirty yards they halted. Major Reeve, who was as gallant as he was impetuous, challenged, and asked what they wanted. A leader replied. “ Are you men soldiers of Stevenson’s division ? ” inquired Reeve. On learning that they were, he proceeded to deliver an address which, for eloquence, pathos, and defiance, was as fine as anything I ever heard.
He reproached them for thinking for an instant that such a base rumor could be true. He reminded them of the days when he had led them, and they were touched by his references to their common struggles and common sufferings. He asked them what General Stevenson or any of his staff had ever done to deserve this distrust or justify this degrading search. Finally, he told them that if they still persisted, but one course was left to us, and that was to die at the hands of our own men rather than submit tamely to such dishonor. We who were deployed behind the trees felt that we were in a ticklish place. Reeve was exalted by his own oratory. We were trying to count the number of our assailants. For a moment after he finished speaking there was dead silence, a very awkward silence. Then a voice shouted, “ Three cheers for Major Reeve ! ” They were given with a hearty good will, followed by cheers for everybody. The marauders broke, crowded around Reeve, and hugged and wept over him, and we sneaked back to the tent, much relieved that this particular phase of the war was over.
The next day the army of the Tennessee dissolved. To every point of the compass its officers and men dispersed. Our course was directed to Danville. We did not encounter any Union forces until we approached that place. Then we saw mounted Union pickets outlined against the sky, at the top of the hill. They looked just as we had often seen them before. It was hard to realize that they would not fire upon us, and gallop away to give the alarm. It was equally hard to realize that we should soon pass them and be within the Union lines. In we went, giving and receiving salutes. For the first time we were in the midst of a body of Union soldiers. What we felt then is not important.
A week later, having been to Halifax to return to her owner the finest mare I ever bestrode, I boarded a train for Richmond, the brass buttons on my uniform covered with black, a fit badge of mourning for the dead Confederacy. The cars were crowded with Union soldiers and negroes flocking to the towns. The bearing of the Union officers and soldiers toward Confederates was, with few exceptions, extremely civil and conciliatory. One fellow was so kind that after he had offered me money, which I refused, he slipped it into my pocket with a card, saying, “ This is not a gift, but a loan, and when you are able you can return it to me.” I did subsequently return it, but never forgot his delicate attention.
The bridges across the James at Richmond had all been destroyed. Our train stopped at Manchester, opposite Richmond. Thence we were compelled to proceed to the city by way of a pontoon bridge thrown across the river at the lower end of Mayor’s Island. At the Manchester terminus we found a number of improvised vehicles, — wagons, ambulances, etc., — with improvised drivers, too, seeking passengers to carry over the bridge. These drivers were in many instances my old army comrades. One of them was Colonel George -, a former schoolmate, not five years older than myself, a man of the highest social standing, a young soldier of distinguished gallantry, who a month before had commanded one of the best regiments in Lee’s army. It was pathetic, the sight of those army boys, with their war horses converted into teams, trying to earn an honest penny to feed the folks at home. I saw George stand at the rear of the ambulance that he drove, open the door, collect the fares from the sleek Union commissaries and quartermasters who patronized him, mount his box, and drive away as humbly as if that business had been, and was to be, his lifelong occupation.
It was fortunate for our boys that the negroes, who until now had done this class of work, were so elated by their freedom that they had performed no sort of labor since the evacuation. They had thronged to the city, but not for work. The weather was warm, and they were living in all kinds of makeshift habitations, ofttimes in the ruins of burned buildings, procuring food from the Freedmen’s Bureau, and spending their time in the Capitol Square, where the older ones shouted and sang for hours, and the children played at games.
I was too poor to indulge in the luxury of a ride, and young and strong enough to walk to town. Slinging our knapsacks, a party of us walked across the pontoon, lifting our eyes from time to time to the grinning ruins before us. It was past noon ; the day was warm, and the sun was bright. It revealed, without concealing anything from us, the complete destruction of the business portion of the town. Through these ruins we wended our way.
The hand of reconstruction was already stretched forth. Men were engaged in pulling down walls and cleaning bricks. Already mortar beds had been built in the streets, puddlers were at work, and, where work had progressed far enough, foundations were being laid anew. The streets were already burdened with lumber for joists and woodwork, and every evidence was given of a rebuilding of the town. Nearly all the laborers were white men. Many of them I knew well: men of as good social position as my own ; soldiers come home and resolved not to be idle, but to work for an honest living in any way in which they could make it. Sitting in the sun with their trowels, jabbing away in awkward fashion at their new and unaccustomed tasks, covered with dust and plaster, they were the same bright, cheerful fellows who had learned to labor in that state of life to which it had pleased God to call them, just as they had been willing followers, in sunshine and in storm, of their beloved Lee. At night, with their day’s wages in their pockets, they would go home, change their clothing, take a bath, and associate with their families, — not at all ashamed of their labors, but making a joke of their newly discovered method of earning a sustenance. With all the hardship of such unaccustomed work, it was the best and most comfortable and least dangerous employment that they had been engaged in for years. Richmond rose from her ashes, and soon became, in great part by their efforts, a more beautiful city than ever before.
Passing through the business portion of the town, we reached the residential section, which was still intact. The trees were in full leaf. They cast their deep shadows everywhere, and a Sabbath stillness pervaded the streets, strangely in contrast with the air of busy life always presented when Richmond was the crowded and beleaguered capital. Few men and no women were upon the streets. Business had not been resumed, and the presence of Union soldiers and great numbers of negroes made women cautious about venturing forth unattended.
I had no home. The nearest approach to one was that of my brotherin-law, Dr. Garnett. There my mother and an unmarried sister were, and thither I repaired. My father, as I learned, had not returned to Richmond. Eliza, our faithful servant, whose kinspeople resided in Philadelphia, had made a short visit to that place, and among other things had brought back civilian clothes for me. They had been bought by Philadelphia relatives, who knew me only as an eighteen-year-old boy, and the clothes were of the style worn by Philadelphia cousins of my own age. In my room I found a civilian’s attire laid out for me, and I proceeded to divest myself of my uniform. For the first time in two years and eight months I appeared in citizen’s dress. The sensation was peculiar. The lightness and softness of the cloth was delightful, but the sack coat and the straw hat made me feel bobtailed and bareheaded; and when I looked in the glass, instead of confronting a striking young officer, I beheld a mere insignificant chit of an eighteen-year-old boy. Nothing brought home to me more vividly the fact that the stunning events of the last month had ended the career on which I had started, and that I had received a great setback in manhood. This feeling was emphasized when some one startled me by asking where I was going to school.
The house had a broad veranda. That evening we sat upon it, after tea, quiet and sad, but enjoying the refreshing air and sense of peace. On the opposite side of the street lived a family consisting of a mother and several handsome daughters. They had been such ardent Confederates that they had been sent out of Alexandria into the Confederate lines by the Union commander. That they were still loyal Confederates we never had reason to doubt until we saw a party of young Union officers ride up, followed by their orderlies. We felt sure they had come to arrest the occupants of that house. Imagine our surprise, therefore, when, in a few moments, we saw the lights go up in the drawing rooms, and discovered that this was a social call. One of the girls was soon banging away on the piano and singing to her admirers. The voices of hilarity, the sounds of mirth and music, horrified us. We looked upon the conduct of those girls, in making merry, singing, playing, and receiving the attentions of Union officers, as grossly indelicate, heartless to our dead and to us, and treason to their Confederate comrades. It was years before they regained social recognition in the community. Their faithlessness to the lost cause chilled my heart, and was a fresh reminder that the cause was dead.
That night I tossed upon my bed, reflecting on the past, contemplating the present, speculating as to the future. The next morning I arose, and before breakfast I wrote my will as follows : —
I, J. Reb., being of unsound mind and bitter memory, and aware that I am dead, do make, publish, and declare the following to be my political last will and testament.
1. I give, devise, and bequeath all my slaves to Harriet Beecher Stowe.
2. My rights in the territories I direct shall be assigned and set over, together with the bricabrac known as State Sovereignty, to the Hon. JRT-, to play with for the remainder of his life, and remainder to his son after his death.
3. I direct that all my shares in the venture of secession shall be canceled, provided I am released from my unpaid subscription to the stock of said enterprise.
4. My interest in the civil government of the Confederacy I bequeath to any freak museum that may hereafter be established.
5. My sword, my veneration for General Robert E. Lee, his subordinate commanders and his peerless soldiers, and my undying love for my old comrades, living and dead, I set apart as the best I have, or shall ever have, to bequeath to my heirs forever.
6. And now, being dead, having experienced a death to Confederate ideas and a new birth unto allegiance to the Union, I depart, with a vague but not definite hope of a joyful resurrection, and of a new life, upon lines somewhat different from those of the last eighteen years. I see what has been pulled down very clearly. What is to be built up in its place I know not. It is a mystery ; but death is always mysterious. AMEN.
I read this will at the breakfast table. It amused the family, but with me it was no joke. I was dead. Everything that I had ever believed in politically was dead. Everybody that I had ever trusted or relied upon politically was dead. My beloved state of Virginia was dismembered, and a new state had been erected out of a part of her, against her will. Every hope that I had ever indulged was dead. Even the manhood I had attained was dead. I was a boy again, a mere child, —precocious, ignorant, conceited, and unformed. I had set my heart and soul upon the career of a soldier. What hope was left for that ? The night’s reflections had made all these things clear as never before. Boy as I was, I felt it as keenly as did the embittered Moor when, in his agony, he exclaimed : —
That make ambition virtue ! O, farewell!
Farewell the neighing steed, and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, the ear - piercing fife,
The royal banner, and all quality,
Pride, pomp and circumstance of glorious war!
And, O you mortal engines, whose rude throats
The immortal Jove’s dread clamours counterfeit,
Farewell! Othello’s occupation’s gone ! ”
In hopelessness I scanned the wreck, and then — I went back to school.
In June, 1865, a boy named John Sargent Wise, a visitor at the home of his uncle, General Meade, in Philadelphia, was a witness of the triumphant return of the armies of the Union. He was regarded as such a mere child that he was not invited to the table when company came, but dined with the other children in the nursery. A little later, he sat in overalls and a straw hat fishing near the shores of the blue Chesapeake. In September he was sent to school. In October he was playing furiously on the scrub nine of his college baseball team.
It is incredible that this stripling was the same person as the young officer whose observations and career have been chronicled in these pages. Nor is it more difficult now for the reader than for the writer to realize that this narrative is aught but a dream.
John S. Wise.