The Spirit of Old West Point

(1858-1862)

V

XVI

THE BEGINNINGS OF STRIFE

THE first step that was taken by any one of the states of the South down the stairway of their tragic fate, was taken by South Carolina; and she took it so promptly that it gave the appearance of having been premeditated, and the opportunity welcomed. For the ballots of the North were barely counted before she proceeded speedily to carry out the threats which she had repeatedly made for over thirty years. With what looks now like the veriest delirium, she vauntingly withdrew from the Union ; and then, as if the smell of blood were already in her nostrils, she began frenziedly to organize military forces. It need not be said that each mad step she took was noted by the country with almost bated breath. But at no other place, save Annapolis, was her course followed with more absorbing and painful interest than at West Point, and especially by the cadets from the South. For her tempestuous movements were full of forebodings to them ; this I know, for my Georgia roommate could think or talk of but little else.

Discussion over the issues of the past now died down. Nor was there any question of the responsibility for the peril to which the country was drifting. The noise of South Carolina had hushed those questions for us all. But for my roommate and his fellow Southerners it had raised another, — one much more serious for him and for them. It meant at last a dismal alternative — either to stand by the government, or to obey the commands of states in revolution. Shall they yield to the natural pleas of home and blood, or shall they meet the eye of that thoughtful face called Duty ?

I cannot think of those days or of my friends of the South, haunted as they were by a spectre which no casuistry could bar out, most of them later to climb the hill of old age and poverty with the Past lying below them in the shadow of Defeat, — I cannot think of all that without seeing West Point suddenly take on the mysterious background and fated silence of the scenes of the Greek tragedies. But thank God! over the voices of the Furies I hear Athene pleading for Orestes.

And now, through the creative atmosphere of the analogy, the upper, overarching West Point breaks more visibly; and I behold, as it were, its fountain of Truth, its hearth of Courage, its altar of Duty, and its temple of Honor, and those spiritual messengers that evermore try to lead every cadet in the way of the service of man and the state.

South Carolina did not secede formally till the 20th of December, 1860; but on the 19th of November, owing doubtless to information from home, one of her sons handed in his resignation, — Henry S. Farley, of my class. He was the first member of the corps to withdraw. He had very red hair, never forgot that he was a South Carolinian, and in his first encampment with us had beguiled its misery by reading Plutarch’s Lives. Four days after his departure James Hamilton of his state resigned—we always called him “Little Jim ” in contradistinction to Frank Hamilton of Ohio of our class. He was small, had open blue eyes, very black hair, and was liked by every one.

There was rather an interesting incident connected with a call I made on his wife in Culpeper, Virginia, during the war. In the fall after Gettysburg, while the Confederate army was lying between the Rappahannock and the Rapidan, Meade suddenly put the Army of the Potomac iu motion and crossed the Rappahannock; whereupon Lee hurriedly withdrew behind the Rapidan. But the advance of our cavalry was so prompt that Mrs. Hamilton and the wives of several of the Southern officers were unable to get away with their army. A few days after our arrival in Culpeper, Frank Hamilton rode over to my quarters and in the course of his visit told me that Mrs. “Jim” was in town, and proposed that we should call on her.

She was staying at the house of one of the leading citizens, and our approach up the walk to it I think must have been noted, for the manner of the colored servant who answered our knock indicated that he had been directed sourly to “go and see what those two young Yankees want.” We told him we understood that Mrs. James Hamilton was staying there, that we were her husband’s West Point classmates and would like to pay our respects to her. With some natural embarrassment for us all, Mrs. Hamilton entered the room; but she was young and we were young, and the natural feelings of youth soon overcame all embarrassment on her part or on ours.

In the course of the call, without any ulterior thought, one of us asked where and with whom her husband was serving. In reply she said inadvertently that he had gone off with Longstreet, and then, with a flush, added, “Oh, I don’t know where he is now.”The interesting fact of all this is that she had unwittingly disclosed what up to that time was wholly unknown to us, that Longstreet’s corps had gone to help Bragg at Chickamauga, — a movement of mighty significance in its results, and one which, had it been resorted to oftener, might have made a difference in the fortunes of the Confederacy.

When I got back to Meade’s headquarters I told the provost marshalgeneral, General Sharpe, what I had heard. He listened with the greatest interest and said, “Well, that confirms it then,” referring to a report that had reached him through the secret service.

I have often wondered, as memory has recalled this incident, and her young, sweet, smiling face has come into view again, where the channel of life ran for her and “Little Jim;” I hope there was many a band of sunshine across it; above all as it wound through the cypresses of their dearly loved and ill-starred Confederacy.

If these pages should be read by any old Confederates of Lee’s army, I think I can hear more than one of them muttering to himself, “Well, those Yankees got out of Culpeper that fall a great deal faster than they went in.”

And that is true; we certainly got out of there one night right smartly when we heard Lee was heading to get between us and Washington.

I have passed through Culpeper, Manassas, and Brandy Station but once since the war. On that occasion, among the cloud of memories that came back as my eye through the car window fell on the fields I knew so well, was the call I made on the young wife of my West Point friend.

Before the end of the year all the cadets from South Carolina, three from Mississippi, and two from Alabama had resigned; although Mississippi and Alabama did not follow South Carolina until early in January of 1861. Among the three from Mississippi was Joseph Koger Dixon of mv class (the o in his name he pronounced as in “over”). In one of the incidents connected with his resignation I have always seen a little trickle of humor as well as a real bit of history.

To appreciate the former it will be necessary to imagine — but kindly I hope — a youth with stubbly light hair and high cheek bones, and without an affectation in the world. Such was Joseph Koger Dixon, who rarely turned from the blackboard to recite without having in the mean time unconsciously but thoroughly chalked his naturally serious face. And now, with only kindly feeling and respect for his memory, I must confess that his wrinkled brow, Mississippi pronunciation, habitual troubles with mathematics, chalk illumination, and chiseling look at the instructor when hopelessly mixed in a demonstration,always amused me. It is for the same reason, I suppose, that one boy has never yet seen another break through the ice, stumble headlong over a stick, or say, “yes, ma’am ” to his male teacher, without grinning and oftentimes howling with delight. However all that may be, when, on his return from the telegraph office, Christmas Eve, Roger announced to us with his habitual seriousness that he had sent in his resignation in the following terms, —

“ West Point, New York, December 24, 1860. To the Governor of Mississippi: The war is begun. I leave tomorrow. Joseph Roger Dixon,” there was a broad smile on the face of every one of us.

As a matter of fact, as we all know, the war did not begin till the following April; but in Joseph Koger’s mind, apparently it was under way that Christmas Eve of 1860, under way while “halls were dressed in holly green,” bells in steeples were ringing and fires on hearths were blazing over the birth of the Prince of Peace “And they shall call his name Emmanuel.”

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”

As I recall the wan faces I saw in many a field hospital, the lone chimneys and Virginia homes burning, the awful, heart-sinking spectacle of our prisoners as they landed from Belle Isle and Andersonville, the packed Confederate graveyard at Rock Island, over whose lonely, billowy mounds my eye traveled pensively more than once; when I recall the savage butcheries of the war — what a contrast with the Christmas Eve of 1860, the last time for four years when the song of peace on earth and good-will toward men was sung !

I cannot but think that through the yearning mysterious power of old-time and long-time affection, the tones of the old North bell in Boston, of Trinity of New York, of St. Michael’s of Charleston, of St. James of Richmond, were carried southward and northward, meeting over Mount Vernon that Christmas night, and that tears were in them as they blended and died away over the fields of Virginia.

Besides Dixon from Mississippi, there was John W. Lea who resigned on December 11. He belonged to Custer’s and Mordecai’s and Farley’s class, the one just ahead of our own, and was known throughout the corps as “Gimlet” Lea. At the battle of Williamsburgh on May, 1862, he was severely wounded and was taken prisoner. Custer, who had distinguished himself in the engagement, did all he could for his unfortunate classmate before he moved on with the army. When McClellan was withdrawing three months later from the Peninsula, after his disastrous campaign, Custer, who was then on his staff, asked permission to go out and see his old West Point friend. He found Lea at the house of his fiancée, who had met her future husband for the first time as he lay in the hospital. Now their wedding was set to take place the coming week, but Lea was so anxious that Custer should be present and be his best man that it was decided to have the wedding the following evening. This was such an interesting event in itself and throws besides so much light on the nature of West Point friendship, that I will let the light-hearted and gallant Custer give his account of it as it appears in a letter to his sister: —

“I was at the residence of the bride long before the appointed hour. Both” — referring to the bride and her cousin Maggie, the bridesmaid —“ were dressed in white with a simple wreath of flowers upon their heads. I never saw two prettier girls. Lea was dressed in a bright, new rebel uniform trimmed with gold lace; I wore my full uniform of blue. The minister arrived, and at nine we took our places upon the floor. L. made the responses in a clear and distinct tone. The bride made no response whatever except to the first question; she was evidently confused, though she afterwards said (laughing) that she neglected to respond purposely so as to be free from any obligations.”

After the ceremony and greetings, he goes on, “Every one seemed happy except the young lady who had been my partner on the floor. She kissed the bride and sat down crying. Lea, observing this, said, ‘Why, Cousin Maggie, what are vou crying for ? There is nothing to cry about. — Oh, I know. You are crying because you are not married; well, here is the minister and here is Captain Custer, who I know would be glad to carry off such a pretty bride from the Confederacy.’

“She managed to reply, ‘Captain Lea, you are just as mean as you can be.'”

On the way out to supper Custer observed banteringly to the bridesmaid that he could not see how so strong a secessionist as she could take the arm of a Union officer. She replied, “You ought to be in our army.”

“I remained with Lea, or rather, at his father-in-law’s house, for two weeks, and never had so pleasant a visit among strangers. Cousin Maggie would regale me by singing and playing on the piano, ‘My Maryland,’ ‘Dixie,’ ‘For Southern Rights, Hurrah,’ etc. We were all fond of cards and would play for the Southern Confederacy. When doing so Lea and I were the only players, while the ladies were spectators. He won, every time, when playing for the Confederacy, he representing the South, I the North. Lea has since been exchanged and is now fighting for what he supposes are his rights.”

Custer is buried at West Point; I think the ashes of Lea should be brought back and laid at his side. And when the casket landed at the wharf from the New York boat, some one should lay a Confederate flag over it and two white wreaths, one for the bride and one for the bridesmaid. And then to the music of the band that he had marched after so often —I’m sure his soldier clay will keep step — he should be borne to the beautiful, restful West Point cemetery. I can see the stars and stripes instinctively dipping as the coffin passes the flagstaff, for the love of two cadets whose West Point friendship the bitterness of war could not destroy is too precious a thing to be forgotten.

Among those who resigned in December, 1860, was Cadet Charles P. Ball of Alabama, a member of Custer’s, Cushing’s, and O’Rorke’s class. For a while he was an aid on General Hardee’s staff, and finally, after distinguished service at Vicksburg and elsewhere, was made colonel of the 12th Alabama Cavalry. Ball was one of those rare young men who carry with them the fascinating mystery of promise; a power which lies in silence, a steady, friendly eye, and that majesty which lights the face where there is absolute self-control; in other words, where nature has written leadership. He was popular, stood high in his studies, and was first sergeant of Co. A, — the preliminary step to the first captaincy, which is the most enviable position in the corps for a soldier. When he set off for home — after bidding the battalion goodby with manifest feeling — a number of his classmates bore him on their shoulders to the wharf.

Late one night, while on my way from Montgomery to Atlanta just after the war, the ramshackle train stopped at one of the lonely stations then in the sparsely settled, wooded country. Ball, still in Confederate gray, entered at the forward end of the dimly-lighted car in which I was practically alone. As soon as he recognized me, he quickened his step down the aisle and met me with such unaffected cordiality that in a moment the car seemed to glow with new lamps. I had not known him at all well at West Point. Moreover, the war had been so long and fiercely fought, the disappointment and desolation of the South so full and heavy, the future, once so bright, now offering nothing but a struggle with poverty, that had he merely bowed and passed on, I should not have felt hurt; for I realized how much there had been to embitter and put out the fires of friendship.

Well, as I said before, there was new light in the car as he sat down and entered into conversation as though we had not been fighting, but had had some pleasant and old experience together. He inquired in the kindliest way, not only for those who had borne him on their shoulders, the present Brigadier-General J. P. Farley and others, but for all his classmates and friends. Once, after quite a pause, his eye meanwhile gazing out of the window through which the primeval woods were gloomily and transiently visible, he said, “Well, Sehaff, how happy those days were at old West Point! ”

Had he, during those silent moments, been listening once more to Bentz’s bugle ?

Morning was breaking when I parted with him at some little station near Loachapoka.

I wonder whether, in case the South had conquered the North, in case I had had to make my way home in rags, say from Gettysburg, only to find as I came in sight of the old farm that not a rail was to be seen dividing the leaning fields; that there was nothing left of the old homestead but a pair of lone chimneys, the old hearth yawning black and vacant whose fires had played so often on happy faces; to find that not a sheep nibbled up the slope towards the old oak stub where the little pigeon hawk had built, and that even the old dog who used to dig so faithfully for me at the muskrat holes, was gone, — I wonder, if such a sight had greeted me as greeted so many Southerners, whether I would have met Ball as Ball met me! Would I have shown so much of the magnanimity of the soldier and gentleman ? I doubt it.

XVII

BREAKING OFF

It is not my desire or ambition to enter the field of the history of the war between the states. For many years, bands of laborers, all faithful and some brilliant, have toiled in it early and late. But that we may see West Point as it was, it must be viewed against the background of contemporary events.

As has been already noted, South Carolina seceded on the 20th of December. On the 26th, after night had fallen, Major Robert Anderson, a graduate and Kentuckian, disturbed by the threatening attitude of local military companies, carried his command from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter, Charleston Harbor. The next day, with colors in hand, he gathered his little garrison about the flagstaff. Then, uncovering and kneeling, he called on the chaplain to lead in prayer. It is said that the chaplain thanked God for their safe arrival in Sumter, and closed with an appeal of deep earnestness that peace and good-will might prevail throughout the land. When the prayer was over, the major rose from his knees and ran the colors up; and his old regulars cheered as the flag unfurled at the top of the mast. What exultation there must have been that day among the flags as one after another from fort and garrison, war vessel and West Point, hailed Sumter.

The North, which had stood with knitted brow while South Carolina challenged the sovereignty of the country and saw Buchanan meeting her vain-glorious pretensions with sighs, now broke out into a loud, steel-clanging cheer as they saw the Kentuckian’s loyalty and pluck.

But the roar of that Northern cheer had hardly died away when the Gulf States fell in behind Carolina. Mississippi seceded on the 9th of January, 1861, Florida on the 10th, Alabama on the 11th, Georgia on the 19th, Louisiana on the 26th, and Texas on February 1. Then there was a pause; no state broke from the ranks of the Union for over two months.

Meanwhile all eyes were turned on the Old Dominion, and very naturally. For Virginia had been looked up to with love and veneration by all her sister colonies; and she was especially dear also to a great portion of the early settlers of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois who had passed their childhood within her borders. They were proud of her history. Moreover, all the territory of their homes, all the land north of the Ohio, now the heart of the country, she had ceded with her customary amplitude to the government. She had been the guide, defender, counselor, and friend of all.

I don’t believe the world will ever know the suffering and the anguish of the high-minded old Commonwealth. She had rocked the Union in its cradle; she had contributed Washington, Jefferson, Patrick Henry, the Lees and Masons, to steer it through the dangers of war, and John Marshall to lead it on, on, up through weakness, inexperience, and trial, to a proud height. In her sorrow she called for a Peace Conference, in the hope that war might be averted. It met in Washington on February 4. On the same day, in Montgomery, Alabama, delegates from the seceded states met to form a Confederacy. The Peace Conference adjourned the 27th without accomplishing anything; the convention at Montgomery launched the Confederacy.

It is perfectly obvious now that the Peace Conference was doomed to failure. Let no time be wasted in seeking for the reasons. They lie deep in the nature of man, in the difference between aristocracy and the masses, in the arrogance of the former and the latent hate and jealousy of the latter, in the irreconcilable animosity between Freedom and Slavery, and above all, in that inexorable march which the world calls Civilization. But we, who were in the midst of the events themselves, could not see things as we see them now. We resorted to the usual means: petitions bearing the names of thousands were sent to Washington, imploring Congress to save the country from war, — one of them had the names of fourteen thousand women on it. To give us back our old time love for each other, prayers went up morning, noon. and night, from around firesides North and South; and on many a tongue was the language of David: “Give us help from trouble; for vain is the help of man.”

But the cloud of war was over us and it was too late to avert our trials.

On the 4th of March, 1861, Lincoln, born in a cabin, untutored by school or college, a listener to voices now from the shore of thought, now from the heights of our better natures, classmate of Patience and Humor’s boon companion, was inaugurated President. No message was ever looked forward to as was his, nor with such anxiety. It rose calmly and firmly to the level of the situation, and I doubt if a Southerner can now read it and find a substantial reason for interpreting it as threatening a single right of a state in the Union. It closed with the wellknown and oft-quoted appeal which, notwithstanding its familiarity, I will repeat once more, because it holds that immortal quality which lifts the heart and spreads the wings of the imagination:—

“Physically speaking, we cannot separate. ... In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourself the aggressors. . . . We are not enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Notwithstanding this pacific message, look where you would, the sky was growing darker. Virginia was straining at her mooring, for the waves of rebellion were rising. All now depended on her; but her anchors still held, their flukes deep in the heart of the Union.

Massachusetts, however, with that foresight for which she has ever been famous, was getting her troops ready for war; and day by day,to North and South, the conflict became more and more visible and inevitable.

What was going on meanwhile in the upper, overarching West Point I do not know; but I have no doubt there was seriousness in the open face of Honor when she met Duty and Courage at the latter’s hearth. Down in the little battalion of cadets we were only vaguely conscious of the nation’s crisis; though to be sure, to those of us who had Southern roommates, every little while it drew near enough to be dimly apparent. So far as we could read the countenances of the officers over us, all was going well. Daily routine went on its way with drums, rollcalls, and recitations; the examination that is always held at the beginning of the year was as relentlessly rigorous as ever. During the release from quarters, when the recitations of the day ended, some would take a stroll around Flirtation Walk — beautiful and solemnly elevating, as through trees and from open spaces the eye fell on the river in the fading light of day, the snow-covered, skyward-leaning landscape and the worshiping hills — all waiting in religious peace, for the coming of the night — how I should love to ramble along it once more! — a few would go over to the aspiring silence of the library; a small number, poor victims of athletics, would wrestle with parallel bars, etc., in the gymnasium; but the larger number would congregate in the fencing-hall and dance to music by members of the band. How often I sat with Comly — for dancing was not one of our accomplishments — and watched the mazing couples, Rosser and Pelham, “Cam” Emory and Ames, Chambliss and Hoxton, Kent and Beaumont, Haines and Cushing, Deering and Gillespie, Dupont and Farquhar, and many, many others! Yes, that was the way we were passing the time in that January of 1861, on the verge of the Civil War.

Among the names I have just mentioned is that of Beaumont, whose ever sunny disposition brought cheer into West Point life. The last time I saw him was in Virginia during one of the campaigns; he was riding by with a column of cavalry. I am sure, to all who served with him, the mention of his name will recall his happy, kindly, dark eyes, and many a gleaming camp-fire. I hope that the reference to this pastime will bring back figures of dear friends to all the living, as it has brought them back to me. And I am sure also that as in their minds they go from the dancing hall to the quarters on those midwinter nights, they will see the light in the guard-room across the area, and officers of the day, with red sashes, plumed hats, and cheeks tinted with the dawn of youth, will step out of the dusky post.

What a flock of memories perch on that Commandant’s office! How often every graduate (save the very good ones) has had to ascend the stairs, not always in a hopeful or prayerful mood, rap on the door, and meet the stony gaze of the colonel before whom lay the report for violations of discipline! Glorious old Records of ’58 to ’62, bearing our names in various reports at all too frequent intervals! I trust you are having a good time in your dreams among the archives. And notwithstanding that we mutually detested each other, yet I believe that when the jar of the seacoast battery recalls the battalion of those four years, you would like to see “excused” written after every one of our delinquencies.

There was one delinquency, recalled at this moment, one which never appeared on the Records, but which brings back that old “area” so associated with the fussiness of military life that I own to a feeling of satisfaction in recording its mortification, —for it was strewn with chicken feathers.

The feathers belonged to a buff rooster, the property of Lieutenant Douglas, whose quarters and garden lay below my window in the 7th, and below Custer’s, who lived in the tower room of the 8th Division. We enjoyed seeing chanticleer as he led his little flock proudly around the garden after the vegetables were harvested, and hearing him crow defiantly from the top of the fence to all the roosters down the line of the professors’ quarters. And many and many a time at night, too, he brought to our minds the roosting flocks in the willows and locusts at home. But he crowed too often. Custer slipped down one night, took him from his perch, and later he was in a kettle boiling over the gas burner, his feathers on an outspread newspaper. When the feast was over, the one delegated to dispose of the feathers was not careful as he carried them off, and the result was that the next morning there was a string of yellow buff feathers from the 8th Division clear across the “area.”

This delinquency, not recorded in the Military Academy’s records (but I guarantee that this reference to it will recall the area strewn with the feathers), helped to break the routine, offering a pleasant relief and contrast at a time when clouds hung dark and passions were stirring deep. West Point has had many a character to deal with; but it may be a question whether it ever had a cadet so exuberantly boyish, one who cared so little for its serious attempts to elevate and burnish, or one on whom its tactical officers had their eyes so constantly and unsympathetically searching as Custer. And yet how we all loved him; and to what a height he rose!

The fate of Lieutenant Douglas’s rooster in that January of 1861 is not, I acknowledge, of great historic importance in the life of West Point, nor is the claim made that it has anything to do with the Civil War.

But who that has ever followed a wood road along the windings of a brook, up the steep side, say, of one of the Berkshire hills, has not stopped to look down with kindly interest where a partridge has wallowed or parted with a feather in the dust; has not loitered to catch a glimpse through the low second-growth beeches of a hermit thrush or some shy, elusive chewink, while time has gone by unheeded ?

On the 23d of January, 1861, Beauregard of Louisiana, then a major of engineers, later so prominent as a general in the Confederacy, a small, dapper man with noticeably olive complexion and French features, relieved Major Delufield as superintendent of the Academy. On the 28th, five days later, and before the post was formally turned over to him, Beauregard was relieved by order of the Secretary of War, and Delafield resumed command.

There were many surmises concerning the reasons for this summary action on the part of the Secretary. But the one founded on the doubt of his loyalty seems to me the most probable; for the stream of resignations pouring in to the War Department would naturally raise the question of the loyalty of every Southern army officer.

In view of what took place during his short occupancy as the head of West Point, his removal was amply justified, although in all probability the Secretary was without specific knowledge of the incident I am going to relate. A cadet from Louisiana, which, as already stated, had seceded, went to the hotel where Beauregard was then staying and consulted him as to whether he should resign or not. When the cadet returned to the barracks his roommate asked, “What did he tell you to do ? ”

“He said, ‘Watch me; and when I jump, you jump. What’s the use of jumping too soon?’”

The cadet’s roommate, a Southerner whose career has been one of honor and great service to his country, observed, “What a thing for the Superintendent to say! ” And so say I.

Upon receipt of the order relieving him, Beauregard departed. And, as he passed the light battery, the library, and the chapel with all of its heroic associations, on his way to the wharf, is it unkind to wonder whether he heard any Hail and Farewell! from his old Alma Mater? On the 8th of February he “jumped.” In less than thirty-five days after leaving West Point he was in command at Charleston; and, by his order, on the 12th of April, the shot was fired which opened the war.

His career in the army of the South brings into view that relentless band, the cold-eyed children of Nemesis who execute their mother’s decrees; and one of those decrees was uttered, I think, when he put his foot on West Point with his heart made up to desert the country — “Beauregard, you shall win no permanent glory.” He fought three battles of grave importance: at Bull Run he failed to reap the fruits of victory; at Shiloh, Fate intervened against him; and the dissipation of one of his division commanders cost him complete victory at Drury’s Bluff. Contention characterized the end of his days. And now while the stars of his fellow-generals are burning so brightly in the Confederate galaxy, his, which has always been alone, is dimming.

The day after his departure — or, should I say, desertion — there was another departure from West Point. The path in this case led where stars do not dim and where the last days of old age are not wearied by contention. At reveille on the 31st, Griffin’s trumpet sounded the advance of the West Point battery, and the heroic old battery, every gun a personal friend, set off for the field of glory. How my heart lifts as I recall the scene as we gathered in front of the barracks! Over the library the fading moon lay pale in the outstretched arms of the elms; and the open, immortal eyes of the east were full of dawn, as the dear old guns rolled by. Three cheers broke for the West Point battery. And out of its granite heart the stern, battlemented barracks threw them off well —over the plain and up into the folds of the crimsoning flag — over the plain and off into the hills. Proud morning, proud and glorious ending! We followed them with warm eyes till they turned toward the west gate, Griffin riding with a firm and loyal heart at the head.

Good-by, old battery! We know that Revolutionary Fort Putnam watched you from her height with pride,and thatevery laurel blooming around her ruins flushed and waved its boughs as you wound out and on.

“Good-by till we meet again!” shouted back the guns. It was not until the Wilderness that we did meet. Oh, I do not know why it is; but my heart beats so loudly, and there is a mist gathering over the paper — perhaps it hears the guns again.

During the month of January there were only two resignations: Wofford of South Carolina and Felix H. Robertson, swarthy “Comanche,” of Texas. But February had barely begun before a number resigned. Among them was Williams of Tennessee, known as “Susan,” and John O’Brien, a son, I believe, of the graduate, Captain O’Brien, distinguished in the Mexican War and referred to in one of the stanzas of “Benny Havens.” I believe this is the first time I have mentioned this old West Point song and it brings back many memories. While in neither its poetry nor its music was it much of a song, yet time had consecrated it, and we sang it with fervor, now in our quarters, and now in the twilight of camp.

One night in 1863, when we were moving to Mine Run on what is known as the Mine Run Campaign, the head of the column of light batteries — with whose commander, the well-known and truly gallant William Montrose Graham, I was serving as a temporary aide — halted on the verge of the steep banks of the Rapidan, owing to some trouble at the pontoon bridge below us. The river, mentioned so often in the histories of the war, had cut at this point a narrow and deep valley, and on that late autumn night, level from bank to bank through the timbered hills, lay a dense gray mist suffused with the light of a moon waning to its last quarter. Well, some one struck up the old song, and it was taken up from battery to battery, and it sounded sweetly as the notes rose and fell and died away through the still woods.

The willows, the oaks, and the elms were in their fresh early green when for the first and the only time I saw Benny Havens. He was bent and his hair was snowy white; he was in shirt sleeves and wore a scarlet vest. The Hudson, his boyhood companion, ran close by his humble door and, with a music of its own and a song older than “Benny Havens,” was flowing on to the sea. He died in 1877, May 29, aged 89 years. I trust that Benny Havens and every cadet who ever “ran ” it to his cheering are sleeping well. For the sake of days gone by I hope the editor of the Atlantic will admit the last three stanzas of the old song.

From the courts of death and danger, from Tampa’s deadly shore,
There comes a wail of manly grief, “ O’Brien is no more ; ”
In the land of sun and flowers his head lies pillowed low,
No more he’ll sing “Petite Coquette,” or Benny Havens, oh !
Oh ! Benny Havens, oh ! Oh ! Benny Havens oh!
So we ’ll sing our reminiscences of Benny Havens, oh !
To our comrades who have fallen, one cup before we go,
They poured their life-blood freely out probono publico ;
No marble points the stranger to where they rest below,
They lie neglected far away from Benny Havens, oh !
Oh ! Benny Havens, oh ! etc.
When you and I, and Benny, and all the others, too,
Are called before the “ final board ” our course of life to view,
May we never “ fess”1 on any point, but straight be told to go
And join the Army of the Blest at Benny Havens, oh !
Oh ! Benny Havens, oh ! etc.

Few more graceful or more popular or more polished men than O’Brien have worn the cadet uniform.

Besides the foregoing, who resigned in early February, was “Ned” Willis, already mentioned, and Barrow of my class, both from Georgia. I have often wondered what became of the latter. He was a roommate, I believe, at one time of that other classmate, James Deering of Virginia, who was mortally wounded at High Bridge a few days before Lee’s surrender. Meanwhile resignations of officers, old and tried, were still pouring in, at Washington, from the army and navy. It must have looked dark for our country; and it is not strange that the President’s heart grew heavy. The following order attests the state of his mind and his effort to arouse the loyalty of the people by appealing to their veneration for Washington: —

Headquarters, Military Academy,
West Point, New York,
February 21st, 1861.

Orders No 2.

In compliance with the proclamation of the President of the United States, the Officers and Professors on duty at this Post, will assemble at 11:30 A. M. on the 22nd instant in the Chapel, to commemorate the birth of Washington, and to listen to the friendly counsels, and almost prophetic warnings, contained in his “ Farewell address to his Countrymen.”

All Academic duty will be suspended at 11 A. M., and at 11:30 the Companies of Cadets with side arms only, accompanied by the Band, will be marched to the Chapel for the purposes before mentioned.

By order of Colonel Bowman:
EDWD. C. BOYNTON,
Captain & Adjutant.

When the hour came the column was formed by platoons. The late Fitzhugh Lee, in command of Co. A, the late Major-General Alexander McD. McCook of B, Robert Williams of C, and the late Major-General Hazen of our company, D; the commandant, the iron-hearted John F. Reynolds, killed at Gettysburg, in command of the battalion. With the band playing we marched to the little chapel, where all the professors, their families, and the officers on duty in full uniform, had gathered. Our side arms consisted of a belt and bayonet. A feature of the army officer’s uniform at that time was the dignified and imposing epaulettes. Perhaps it is due entirely to early association, perhaps to a boy’s admiration or to the impression left on a youthful mind by the pictures of the death of Nelson and Wolfe and many other heroes, at all events the brilliant epaulettes suggest much more stateliness than the insignificant knots and badges of to-day. But after all it really makes no difference to the graduates whether there are knots or epaulettes on their shoulders; the country may feel sure that by their courage they will honor whichever badge the government decrees they shall wear.

On arrival at the chapel the colors were advanced to the altar, and the band filed up to its usual place in the choir loft. I have taxed my memory over and over again — and made inquiries from many of my friends of that day — to recall, if possible, who read the address, and to revive the impressions left by it; but in vain. For some reason only faint tinges here and there in the canvas of our memories are left of that reverent ceremony.

But the other night, while I sat late and alone before a wood fire (the ancestors of the oak burning softly on the hearth heard the guns of the Revolution from Dorchester Heights), I read the Farewell Address of Washington for the first time since I heard it on the 22d of February, 1861, in the little chapel. And I must say that as I came to some of its passages, passages like this: “It is of infinite moment that you shall properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness — that you should cherish a cordial, habitual and immovable attachment to it; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts,” — I wondered what was their effect as they fell on the ears of Fitzhugh Lce, Field, and all the other Virginians and Southerners then debating whether or not they would throw in their fortunes with the Confederacy.

While I pondered the situation, with its intense historic and personal interest, the Confederacy mounted the stage at Montgomery; the life of the country once more hung in the balance; and the very air of the room was filled with the foreboding of that day. Before my pondering vision dark phantasmal scenes one after another grew and spread; and when on the point of dissolving into ultimate gloom the interior of the little chapel suddenly appeared, filled with a heavenly light. There we were again, cadets blooming in youth, officers, and sage professors. The reader is progressing with the Farewell Address, and now comes one of the appealing passages, and I lift my eye to the walls where hang the tablets bearing the names of the Revolutionary generals; and behold! faces begin to appear in the shields. The first is that of the youthful Hamilton, a member of Washington’s military family; and now one after another they all become alive, Greene and Lincoln and the Lees and Morgan. Oh, they hear their great leader’s voice once more, and they know from its tones that there is peril for the country they love! The grave cannot hold them back, they burst through the marble of the tablets and rally loyally to his standard. And now what is breathing through the colors that were won at Saratoga and on the plains of Mexico ? for their folds begin to creep. They too have heard the trumpet and are freshening, ready to swirl on the field again, — even the brass guns near them in the wall have roused from their years of dreaming slumber and are turning on their trunnions.

But look at the superbly figurative painting over the chancel. What significant movement is that of the Roman soldier ? Southerners, see how he grasps the sword for the defense of the state, and look at that resolute face. (I saw Grant’s face at Spottsylvania when three lines of battle were moving up under Upton, and it wore that same look.) And lo! the tears are streaming down the cheek of Peace as the olive branch trembles in her hand. And what is stirring the stars in the sky over her ? Do they hear and see a procession ? Yes, from the deep spaces back of the sphere of the world comes the song of “Peace on earth, good will toward men;” and now appears a glorified procession of winged creatures bearing the beautiful countenances of angels. The stars make way. Three abreast they waft downward to the left, and three abreast to the right to make the circuit of the sanctuary. At the door they meet and move up over the battalion. What breadth of “gladsome wing,” what raptured brows, what imperishable coloring; what girdles, what wavering robes of light, what unconscious grace of movement! Finally, what vivified images of the heart’s longing for eternal beauty! Behold, the genius of the Republic has joined them, and she has wreaths in her hand, and as they pass Reynolds, one falls on him. And now they hover over the boys in gray while wreaths swirl lovingly down on Kirby, O’Rorke, Cushing, Sanderson, Woodruff, and many others. Oh! little chapel, they may level you to the earth, they may supplant you with a structure of imposing solemnity, but you have been the tabernacle of West Point where the glory that shines about her has had its splendor!

After the ceremony there was a holiday for the rest of the 22d. It was the custom on that day, and it may be so still, for the full band to take the place of the drum corps at tattoo. When the hour came, it formed as usual near the morning gun and set out across the plain toward barracks, playing Washington’s March. The band was large and its prevailing instruments were brass, pouring forth their tones, now with high defiant clearness, now with resounding depth, and now with lamenting pathos.

It was a soft, heavily clouded night, and when the band was drawing near, itsnotes becoming clearer and clearer as it advanced across the plain, a number—in fact almost every one — in D Company gathered at the open windows fronting the area. Just before the band passed under the elms which front the barracks it struck up the “ Star-Spangled Banner,”and came swinging proudly through the Sally Port. I never have heard such a burst of music as at that moment, when it cleared the granite arch. Had Duty, Honor, and Courage, had old West Point herself and every Revolutionary ruin called to the spirits, “Go, join the band and breathe our love for the land into every note! Go, for the sake of Peace! Go, for the sake of the impulsive, generous-hearted South itself! Go, for the hopes of the world!”

I was at a window on the third floor of the 8th Division, with Custer, Elbert, and possibly Sanderson. In the room across the hall were a number of Southerners, and immediately below them on the second floor were Rosser, Young, and possibly Faison and Thorton. Across from them was Dresser of Massachusetts and others. Every room fronting the area was aglow, every window up and filled with men. With the appearance of the band at the Sally Port a thundering cheer broke, and, upon my soul! I believe it was begun at our window by Custer, for it took a man of his courage and heedlessness openly to violate the regulations.

But the cheer had barely struck the air before the Southerners followed it with a cheer for “Dixie.” Our 7th and 8th Divisions formed an ell, so that from them the rear of the four-storied barracks, the Sally Port and its battlemented towers, were in full view, and a cheer from our quarter for “Dixie” raked the entire line. Beyond the Sally Port, in A and B Companies, were the majority of the Northerners; and they flung back a ringing cheer for the stars and stripes; and so cheer followed cheer. Ah, it was a great night! Rosser at one window, Custer at another. A few years later they faced each other again and again in cavalry battles; and when poor Custer lay at last on the Big Horn, Rosser, then in the employ of the Northern Pacific Railroad, was among the first to volunteer to go to his rescue.

I have written the close of this chapter on the afternoon of the 22d of February, 1907, forty-six years after the day whose events I have tried to record. I am conscious of deep feeling; and perhaps I ought more than once in this chapter to have drawn both curb and snaffle, as one scene after another has broken on my mind; but I hope the day with all of its patriotic associations, and all the sacred memories that have gathered about it, will mellow the critical spirit of my readers.

(To be continued.)

  1. “ Fess,” a contraction of confess, — that the cadet at recitation knows nothing about the subject; in other words, complete failure.