I SAW General Lee return to the army after the surrender, his men cheering him and breaking their swords and muskets, and weeping. He was erect on ‘Traveller’ and looked like a man and soldier. I saw the apple tree cut down.
I saw Grant and Sheridan as they rode to visit General Lee. I met several general officers as they passed through our camp, and they behaved with knightly consideration, offering to aid us in any way, and if they had not done it we should have starved. We were paupers, without pocketbooks or country, but we were Confederate soldiers, with a principle and a country which shall yet be.
The most of the Battalion reached Lynchburg and surrendered there. I surrendered the skeleton at Appomattox, some two or three through General Loring. You will find it in the records. I bid good-bye to soldier life. You can imagine my feelings; I cannot describe them. Though whipped out of my boots, they left me the old ragged coat which covered my heart, and the old slouch hat which covered my head, and I venerate them both and was satisfied then, as I am now, that my heart was right, and the next generation of Yankees will think my head was right also.
Having so few men to surrender, we soon received our papers, and, with my parole in my pocket, I was among the first to leave Appomattox. Two others were with me. Glad to get away, we traveled all day at a good gait, passing along the road decaying dead horses, broken wagons, and artillery wheels, and all kinds of army wreckages. We reached the Appomattox River just before dark, and stopped at a neat brick house to see if we could get shelter for the night and something to eat. A rap at the door, after some delay and commotion inside, resulted in the door being opened just a crack and a query as to what we wanted. We told them we were Confederate soldiers, returning from the surrender. They seemed doubtful, but when we assured them that we were truthful, and asked them to look on our uniforms, the door flew open and four or five ladies rushed out and kissed us, weeping, made us happy at their greeting, so honest and earnest, and insisted upon feeding us and waiting on us, satisfied that the surrender, of which they had not heard, had taken place.
It was the house of the Reverend Mr. Parkinson, a Presbyterian preacher, and I think it was about four miles from the High Bridges. They had good cause to be suspicious of us. The night before, a gang of Yankee stragglers had been there, and their outrageous conduct culminated in their demanding from Mr. Parkinson the key of the room in which the ladies had locked themselves. He refused. They threatened him. He was as brave as Julius Cæsar, and still refused. They then saturated the passage floor with kerosene oil (I saw it), and said they would fire it unless the door was opened. He refused, and the women refused, preferring death. Such bravery and courage must have discouraged them, for they did not carry out their threat, but left them. I thought, ‘What shall I find at home, or shall I find anything?’
The next day I left my companions on the Buckingham road, and cut across the country to Amelia C. H. I approached my house from the side through the woods, and as I struck the road leading to the house I saw it standing. I had to pass through the stable lot, and close to the stable. I was surprised to see a chicken, and to hear a horse eating in the stable — an old fellow that I had left as no-account. Looking in the house, I saw not a living soul. But I found them there, and you can imagine what a happy rejoicing we had — what suspense, what agony, they had suffered, and so had I! If ever we felt grateful to God, it was then and there.
Greeting over, I remember my attempt to help Mother cook the next morning. One of those old-fashioned open fireplaces, with a long iron bracket to swing pots on, wood fire, oven top covered with ashes, and sweet potatoes and ash cake cooked in them. All I knew how to cook was black-eye peas and I was in the way, so I acted only as helper in swinging this long iron thing out and hanging the pots on it and then swinging it back.
Fortunately our house was situated so near the road that the marauders must have thought there was no use going there, and none had been there except two claiming to be couriers carrying dispatches to Richmond announcing the surrender. As the surrender had not then taken place, of course, it was a Yankee trick, and they were fed and went on. All of our neighbors had been pillaged and abused. Here I must say in justice to the Yankees that these outrages were perpetrated by stragglers, as they were very strict in their orders to prevent such things and punish severely those who were caught.
A short while after reaching home, the alarm was sounded that two Yankees were coming down the road; and I went out to meet them in my uniform, for I had no other clothes. It was a captain and his orderly. He asked for feed for his horse. Certainly, for though I had sold all forage to the artillery, and cattle to same, the Yankees had run off our men from the forage; and though General Walker had fed me on my own tenderloin steaks, the cattle very wisely concluded, after the wagon train was burned, to return home. The captain was a gentleman — he was from Boston, and happened to know or knew of the people I knew there, and we had a pleasant chat. The dinner bell rang. He arose to go, and said he hoped I did not think he had come to impose upon me for a dinner, for I had asked him to go in. I told him certainly not. The old Virginia custom was, when the bell rang, to ask the visitor to dinner, and I told him also that he would get nothing but bacon and corn bread. Like a gentleman, he accepted.
I then told him I saw that he was a gentleman and could understand; that in addition to my wife there were several ladies, whose husbands were in the army, who had taken refuge there for protection, and that they looked upon a Yankee as an incarnation of the Devil, and he must not be surprised if they did not raise their eyes or talk. They did neither, and so we talked and ate our victuals, and he seemed to enjoy them. We resumed our places on the porch, and soon after doing so he handed me a printed list of supplies, telling me he had orders to distribute them to the destitute on their return from Appomattox. The destitute! The destitute! I was destitute, but they had made me so.
He said, ‘I can give you one beef, one barrel of flour, etc. Take your pencil and mark off what you want.’
‘I have no pencil. I want everything in your line, but will take nothing.’
He seemed surprised that, having nothing but bacon and corn bread, and a precious little of that, I should decline. I told him I was a Confederate soldier on parole, and was not prepared to eat dirt furnished by the United States Army.
My precious little Mary came out about that time, and he took a fancy to her, — he could not help it, — and after playing awhile offered her some money. She shrank from it and would not take it. He expressed surprise that one so young should have that feeling.
I thought so too, but she would not take it.
Afterwards he said in a very gentlemanly manner that individually he would like to lend me fifty dollars, as I had but twenty-five dollars in Confederate money. I declined and he asked why. I told him because I was a Confederate soldier, but not a beggar, and I did not know that I should ever be able to pay it. He asked me if I would lend him a bag, as he thought me incorrigible, since I had also declined to accept a pass to Boston, saying, ‘Brand my rebel uniform “Golgotha.” I may or I may not undertake the journey. I have no other.’
He called up his orderly and gave him some order, and he trotted off with the old Confederate bag, patched and ‘holy,’ and soon returned with it full. As the captain bade me good-bye, and prepared to mount, he told his orderly to put the bag on the porch, and, saluting me in the most courteous manner, he said, ‘Major, there is a bag of coffee; you can manure your land with it or drink it’ — and rode off. I drank it and thought afterwards I was foolish not to have taken everything they offered me, as subsequently they took everything from me which I had not offered them. He was a man, a gentleman, an American. I think his name was Cambridge or Abbot, one of the commissaries of Hancock’s corps.
After this, our troubles commenced; they were almost daily, chiefly from stragglers and of such a nature as not only to worry but to make me desperate. I give you some few instances.
One of my neighbors brought me a note for one hundred dollars gold, signed by another neighbor, for a horse bought from my head man, a Negro named Scott: stolen, of course. When I knew he was in the stable alone, I went to see him. ‘Scott,’ I said, ‘you stole my horse, and sold it to Mr. Rowlett, and old Forgy Graves has given me the note, and you stole two cartloads of corn and carried it to the mill and sold the meal.’ He denied this. I produced the note. He confessed and begged for mercy. I drew my pistol and made this proposition: ‘You can either agree to protect my property from those Yankee stragglers, — and if you do I forgive you your theft, and will give you a horse when these times are over, — or else I will blow your brains out if you are not faithful.’ He accepted the proposition, and promised to protect my property, and I think he tried faithfully to do it.
He had several scuffles with marauders when they tried to steal, and that was almost daily, and one day he came and told me that three of them had overpowered him and carried off three horses. I cut across the field and headed them off in a cut in the railroad and seized the bridle of the lead horse. ‘Let go, you rebel, or I will shoot you!’ ‘Shoot,’ I said, ‘but I will hold on to this horse.’ I knew the cowardly wretch was not going to shoot. Just then an Irishman on foot, passing by, cried out, ‘What are you gintlemen rowing about?’ I said the ‘gintlemen’ were trying to steal my horses. ‘Why don’t you tell the provost marshal?’ ‘I have sent him word.’ Presto! My kind Irish friend and the three rogues, jumping off their horses, took to their heels in the woods, and I led my horses back to the stable.
A great many soldiers returning from the surrender of North Carolina used to stop with us on the journey, whether on foot or horse. On one occasion five or six Yankee stragglers, all on stolen horses, hailed me from the far side of the garden fence, and I went out to see what they wanted. They wanted to stay all night. I told them they could not. They would sleep in the barn. No, they would not. Then they ‘guessed’ they would burn it down, or something of that sort. I asked them to wait a minute, and went in and armed my guests, about the same number as the enemy, and marched them out. I told those fellows we were Confederate soldiers, and they might just as well deploy their skirmishes, for if they did not break that road in three minutes I would open fire on them. They wheeled their horses, and went in a gallop. I notified the provost marshal, and they were captured on the stolen horses about two miles from our house.
One day a large party of horsemen rode through the wheat field in front of the house, planted their headquarters banner, dismounted, and approached the house. I met them with my old uniform on, on the front porch. The general, for such he was, asked me whose house it was, and what was the name on the map; said he was very tired and would like to take a rest. I asked him in the parlor, where there was a sofa, and invited him to take a nap. I went on the porch, where his staff had assembled, and they were very gentlemanly men, and I asked who he was. General Miles, they said; that he had not entirely recovered from a wound he received around Petersburg, and had to rest after a ride. His division had halted in the road for dinner, and immediately went to work to cook it by tearing up my fence rails, which ran by the road for a quarter of a mile, and soon some hundred or so of cattle were turned in the wheat, just then beginning to make a good start for heading.
The general sent for me to come in; one of his staff had been drumming on the piano, and another had a little bare-legged darky named Danne, about five years old, on his back, playing circus. One of them had tapped on my wife’s door, and she had opened it and closed it in his face. The general was lying on the sofa, and I sat in a chair by the window. We had a pleasant chat, until he commenced to chide me, asking me if I was n’t tired of fighting in such a cause, culminating in saying he never saw anything but our backs from the time we left Richmond and Petersburg until we reached Appomattox.
I suppose I must have been mad, and must have asked him in a defiant, mad tone, half Scotch and half Virginian, if he was n’t General Miles, for he raised up and asked me why I asked him. I told him I might have known his back, but never saw his face; that he was lying on that sofa suffering from a wound received in his side at Petersburg from General Mahone, and I happened to be attached to General Mahone’s division, but was not engaged in that fight, and he ought not to chide me. He changed like a gentleman, and said that Mahone had whipped him fairly, and I think he said it was the second time, and that he ought not to have said what he did. He had gotten up and walked to the window, and throwing the blinds open, and seeing the cattle, asked me why I had not driven them off the wheat; and I told him they were not my cattle, and they had just as much right to eat the wheat as the men to burn the fence rails, and I left him and went in the porch again. I had been there some time when a courier came up with a dispatch and went in. I soon discovered there was something up. The general came out, and, standing in the doorway, he handed me a dispatch. It said something about Jeff Davis being captured in woman’s clothes, I remember, by somebody. I read it, and handed it back. ‘What do you think of that?’ he said. I said I did n’t think. ‘You are obliged to think.’ ‘That is one thing the United States Army can’t make me do if I don’t want to.’ ‘Do you doubt about him being captured in woman’s clothes?’ ‘No, I don’t. I know he was n’t.’
Using some emphatic language, and raising himself and his arm still higher, he said, ‘If I had him, I would hang him as high as Heaven, without judge, jury, or court-martial.’ In about ten days he had him in irons at Fortress Monroe. Miles later became the General in Chief of the United States Army.
On one occasion at night my wife went to the basement door to answer some raps, and found several Negro soldiers who demanded something to eat, and alarmed her, she said. I told her it was very galling, but she had better furnish them and prevent a row. We had no servant, so she had to cook something for them and we had no row.
During these troublesome times our dear little Mary was taken sick, and we had just heard of the death of Grandfather Barney in Mobile. Our poor little girl had meningitis, and the doctors had told us that it was only a question of time when she would pass away.
Old Doctor Holcomb, one of our neighbors, had come to see me soon after I got home to ask me a great favor, to lend him my faithful mare, Mary. A reward of $25,000 was offered for his son, James P. Holcomb, and he wanted him to go to Canada. Of course I loaned him the horse, but his son would not go and he brought it back. He used to be my father’s family physician when he lived in Lynchburg. He was a homeopathic. Hearing of Mary’s extreme illness, he came to offer his services, not to interfere with the three doctors who were attending her, and I thanked him and told him, as the others had given her up, neither I nor they had any objections to his trial, and he commenced his treatment. We had no candles and used pine knots for lights. While Mother and I had gone out, Fannie and then little Carrie and Mamie — now Aunt Carrie Borland and Mamie Baugham — would watch our dying child by the flickering light.
I was standing sentinel in the yard to watch for the nightly Yankee prowlers and, on the plea of humanity and death, warn them off. A soldier came looking for something to eat. We had some eggs or something, and declined pay for them. I had told him of our condition — a dying child — no lights at night — nothing for a dying child. An hour or so afterwards that man returned; he had gathered up ends of burned candles, all through the wagon train, and it seemed the greatest pleasure to him to bring them. My heart softened to that man in a greater degree than it had taken the opposite direction against General Miles. I wish I knew his name. To me he was a man, and he furnished the cup of water, but our poor child died.
I had to find someone to make a coffin for her, and then the timber to make it of. We buried her under the bush where she often played, close to our bedchamber, and old Mr. Berkeley buried her. When we moved back to Richmond, we brought her back and placed her at the side of little sister in Holly Wood. Since then Carrie and Norma have been laid beside her, and four such children in one family rarely five and die leaving such a sweet and Christian example.
The Yankees after a while put the railroad in order, and commenced running trains. Their chief delay was crossing the Appomattox. I knew I should starve where I was, and determined to go to Richmond to see what could be done. My twenty-five dollars Confederate money did not pay my way, and as the darkies about the place had accumulated some greenbacks, by selling to the Yankees, I borrowed enough from them to go to Richmond. There was no schedule running of trains, and I went to the station to await the return of one which had gone up the road. While waiting, a servant came with a message from my wife, to hurry home, some soldiers were there. On my way I met another: ‘Please to hurry up.’ At the big gate I met her, and she told me two Yankees were there trying to get Henrietta, our nurse, out of the house.
As I reached the house one was standing in the porch, the other in the yard. They both saluted me, and I asked them what they wanted. The one in the porch, a Dutchman, said he wanted to marry Henrietta. I told him I would send for her and she came out. I said, ‘This man says he wants to marry you; do you want to marry him?’ She said, ‘No.’ ‘Then go back to the nursery.’ And reaching back behind the door, for I was standing on the threshold, I seized a double-barreled shotgun, loaded with buckshot, and, cocking it, gave them to understand that that girl had asked my protection, and, though there were two of them, I would certainly kill one if either of them moved. The Dutchman appealed to the major, to show he was a gentleman. I told them I would kill a major as soon as I would a private, on such an errand, and they must mount their horses and leave before I uncocked my gun, and they went off grumbling.
I immediately went to the dining room, where I had to keep my horse to keep her from being stolen, saddled her, and rode over to Judge Weisiger’s, where the provost marshal or colonel of some Ohio regiment had headquarters. I made my report, adding that the men went off with threats. He asked me if I had taken the oath. I had not. Then he could not furnish me with a guard unless I took it. I told him I was a paroled Confederate soldier, or rebel, if he chose to call it so, and was entitled to protection, but I could not take the oath until the last Confederate surrendered. In the course of conversation, I found out he was the brave fellow that rode the gray horse in the charges at Appomattox, and I expressed my gratification that he was not killed, as I had tried to get the men to kill him. He found out that I was on the bay horse by the barn as they charged, and said I tried to kill him, too. I told him I did not; did not have my pistol, and went through the motions only by snapping my finger at him. We got chummy.
He wanted to give me a written order to shoot either of those men that came on my place. I told him I did not want to kill anybody. He said that was the major of his regiment, the biggest rascal in the United States, and the man — the Dutchman — was his cook; that the major was then under arrest and would be court-martialed very soon, and he would add this to the other charges. The cook, he said, he would put in irons.
We do not know whether it was that night or very soon afterwards that my wife woke me saying that someone was trying to get in the nursery. This adjoined our room, and had a door leading into the yard. I took my pistol and went to the door, when I heard the noise, and the parties outside were either cutting around the lock with a knife or using a brace and bit, I forget which. My pistol was an old-fashioned self-cocking one, and I thought I would shoot through the door low down to disable, but not to kill. The old thing went up all right with a click, but did not come down, and I suppose they heard the noise, for my wife gave the alarm: ‘Here they go! Here they go!’ as she saw them from the front window.
It was a beautiful moonlight night. I went to the front door, seized the double-barreled shotgun, and went out in the yard to get a shot at them as they ran through the wheat field, and I let fly with both barrels of buckshot — they fell or disappeared. The question was, What was to be done? If I had killed them, their mates would kill me. I could not protect my family by remaining, and if I could get on my horse I did not think they could catch me.
We waited until daybreak, and I went out very cautiously to see the result of my shooting. To my delight I found they had played the old soldier, and had wallowed in the wheat; I found no blood, and never trace of them afterwards. We thought it might have been the same major and his cook, but it could not have been if the colonel had carried out his statements, and no doubt he did.
As these exciting scenes diminished we thought we would look for the silver which Father had buried on the approach of the army at night. Before he left he told me where to find it, and Willie and I went to look for it at the place designated. We could not find it in the ravine mentioned, and my wife suggested we take a ramrod and follow the ravine down. We finally struck the tin box which contained it. It was as much as we could do to carry it to the house, and I thought and hoped it must be full of gold, but it turned out to be water, which had soaked in. In the fall we moved back to Richmond, and Cousin Dave Stewart kindly let me use part of his office. It was in the building known since as the Lee House, General Lee occupying the upper part on Franklin Street between 7th and 8th. Though I saw him frequently, I think the last time I saw him was the following summer when we were all on our way to Bedford. When we reached Gordonsville he entered the train from Washington, and took a seat in the front of the car; we were in the rear. He asked the newsboy for a Richmond paper; the boy had none. I sent David with the papers to the General. They had a little chat, and he seemed amused, as we were, at David’s action.
After eyeing him some time David asked: ‘Did you belong to Papa’s company?’ The old General told him he did. He was therefore a member of the Otey Battery.
I was on board the steamship Abyssynia bound for Liverpool in September 1874. I was next to the captain at table. He told me there was a lord on board and at his table, and suggested that we should both guess which one at the table was the man. I designated the man I thought, for I had never seen a live lord, and he another. He asked me why I named that man. I told him because I sat opposite him at breakfast and he had Virginia cantaloupe and drank French brandy, and I thought lords might do that way.
A day or so afterwards I was surprised when the man I had designated as a lord asked me if I was not from Virginia, and introduced himself as Alexander Collis, saying, as I remember so well, ‘Dear old Virginia. Dear old Richmond.’ I remember saying to myself, ‘Alexander Collis! Alexander Collis! The great blockade runner of the Confederacy!’
I had $10,000 invested in one of his ventures. We became acquainted and saw much of each other. I said nothing to him about blockade running, but he told me he had just secured $1,000,000 from the United States for cotton seized after the war and it cost him nearly half of it to gain his suits. He was a most interesting man; had traveled all over the world, a good conversationalist, a cultivated gentleman. One night on deck, surrounded by a group of ladies and gentlemen, he told us of the adventures of a friend and neighbor of his named Shelley, a nephew of the party living on the adjoining place in Scotland, which were so remarkable — as he said, he was then having them published in book form — that I went to my stateroom and made a synopsis of the story.
On arriving in England and mentioning to Norman that I had crossed with Alexander Collis, he told me I had crossed with a grand rascal, and I would never get any of that $1,000,000. He said when in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he had gone to purchase a cargo of meat for the Confederacy, he bought from the son of a commercial agent of the Confederate States. He swindled him out of $6000 by giving forged bills of lading. He went back to Bermuda, but of course the meat never arrived.
Time went along, but not a very long time, when, looking over the Despatch one morning, I saw a cable from London saying that Alexander Collis & Company had failed for a tremendous amount — I think from one and onehalf million to two million dollars — and that a reward of two thousand pounds sterling was offered for the capture of Alexander. Time again went along, and this time a little more rapidly, and one evening in my walk home, by way of Broad Street, in front of the St. Clair Hotel I met a man I knew, but could not spot. It worried me until I got above Murphy’s Hotel, and it flashed across me that it was Alexander Collis. I went back and looked up and down the street.
Several days after, I saw the same man go into Maury’s office, just across the street from mine. I had a vision of getting my two thousand pounds investment liquidated by the two thousand pounds reward. Though he was six feet tall and I a little fellow, I waited at the door. As he passed out, I passed in. ‘Who is that man?’ I asked Mr. Maury. ‘Oh, he is just some Englishman, to get his English money changed to currency.’ ‘It is Alexander Collis,’ I said. ‘Oh, no, it is not. He brought us letters; his name is McNeil.’ ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Why, yes, he is all right,’ and all right he remained for eight years. He was a toast at the Westmoreland Club, pulled the wires for Parsons and Blaine and Beast Butler to work the Alleghany Railroad scheme, built the hotels at the Natural Bridge and at Dover, and in the summer lived in luxury at Grant Peterkin’s place ‘Beauregard’ near the White Sulphur.
He had projected a city just below Manchester, between that place and Whitley. On driving with my friend Ad Williams, who then owned Whitley, he showed me the stobs placed by the surveyor. For some reason he departed. A prominent lawyer, John Dunlap, a personal friend of his, and also of mine, asked me if I knew McNeil. I did not. ‘Do you know Alexander Collis?’ ‘I have met him.’ ‘Do you think McNeil is Alexander Collis?’ ‘I think McNeil looks exactly like Collis, but you are a lawyer; mistaken identity sometimes leads to trouble and I don’t know McNeil.’
A few days afterwards I was traveling to Washington, and when we reached Milford the train from Washington passed us. A friend, a realestate man named Poindexter, sitting behind me said he wished he was on that train, that old ‘Mac’ was on it. ‘Do you know old Mac?’ ‘Who is old Mac?’ ‘Why, McNeil.’ ‘No, I don’t know him.’ Tom Stratton, the conductor, an old Otey Battery boy, said, ‘Don’t they say he is somebody else — Collis, or some such name?’ ‘Oh, no,’ said Poindexter, ‘he is my intimate friend, and he is all right.’
I remarked that I did not know McNeil, but I did Collis, and he was the most interesting of men; on a voyage across the ocean I talked with him. He gave us the adventures of a friend of his named Shelley which were the most remarkable I ever heard. Poindexter wanted to know if I remembered any of them. I scratched my memory and related one. He asked for another, and as I ended it he slapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘By George! I have heard old Mac tell those same stories about himself.’ I told him I was telling what Collis told me; I did not know old Mac.
In less than a week the lawyer and real-estate man told me that Robert McNeil was Alexander Collis. He had lived eight or ten years in Richmond undiscovered, meeting eight or ten people who knew him in London and had business with him. Leaving Richmond, he died a pauper about 1897 or 1898 on Staten Island, New York.