Prefatory Note. -- The readers of our Papers will bear witness that the Secretary
has not often troubled them with his own writing, preferring that our valuable
space should be filled by other pens.
|As I have been, however, frequently urged by gentlemen, in whose judgment
I have great confidence, to publish a series of papers which shall attempt
a sketch of army life as I saw it, I have decided to yield to their solicitation,
so far, at least, as to present several papers on different phases of the
history of our grand old army. It is for others to say how far it may be
desirable to continue them.
My general design is (while preserving the strictest historic accuracy as
to our great campaigns and battles, bringing out especially the great odds
against which we fought) to draw a series of pictures of the prominent leaders,
and of the private soldiers of that army, showing who they were, what they
were, what they did, and what they said on the march, in the camp, the bivouac,
the hospital, and on the battlefield.
PAPER NO. 1.
EARLY DAYS OF THE WAR.
It was my proud privilege to follow the fortunes of the Army of Northern
Virginia, from Harper's Ferry, in 1861, to Appomattox Courthouse, in 1865.
Entering the service as "high private in the rear rank," and afterward acting
as chaplain in both Stonewall Jackson's and A.P. Hill's corps, I had some
peculiar facilities for seeing and knowing what occurred. Personally acquainted
with Robert E. Lee, J.E. Johnston, Beaureguard, Jackson, Stuart, Ewell, A.P.
Hill, Early, Edward Johnson, Rodes, Pender, Heth, Wilcox, Hampton, Fitzhugh
Lee, W.H.F. Lee, John B. Gordon, Pegram, J.A. Walker, and a large number
of others of our leading officers, I at the same time made it my duty to
know thoroughly the unknown private of the rank and file. I marched with
him along the weary road; I bivouacked with him in the pelting storm; I shared
with him the rough delights of the camp; I joined with him in those delightful
services which proved that Jesus was often in the army with a power rarely
witnessed at home. I went with him into the leaden and iron hail of battle,
and I ministered to him in the loathsome hospital. I saw him in the hour
of victory giving a right royal greeting to his loved and honored chief --
and I saw him when he wept bitter tears, upon being "compelled to yield to
overwhelming numbers and resources."
It will be for me, therefore, a privilege and a pleasure to recall a few
reminiscences of our grand old army, as I saw it, and to give some pen pictures
of it, which I trust will be true to life, of interest to old comrades and
others, and not devoid of historic value.
I will not dwell upon the details of leaving home -- at sundown on the memorable
17th day of April, 1861 -- in obedience to a telegram from the governor of
Virginia, of the ovation along the route to Manassas, Front Royal, Strausburg,
and Winchester to Harper's Ferry, nor of the bloodless victory in the capture
of the armory, arsenal, and an invaluable quantity of arms, machinery, etc.,
which were safely sent to Richmond. The world has rarely seen a more splendid
body of men than the volunteer companies who composed the troops which captured
Harper's Ferry. Among the rank and file were the very flower of our Virginia
men, and, perhaps, half of those who afterwards attained the highest rank
in the Virginia forces were in the rank and file of those brave fellows who
rushed to the frontier at the first tap of the drum.
The gallant gentlemen who at first commanded at Harper's Ferry were totally
inexperienced in the art of war, and there was a great deal of confusion
in the management of affairs, the camps being filled with wild rumors, and
the whole force being frequently turned out on false alarms.
Soon, however, a master hand took the reins -- "Major T.J. Jackson," of the
Virginia Military Institute, having been commissioned Colonel of the Virginia
forces and sent to take command at Harper's Ferry.
This promotion was a surprise, and a grief, to people who only knew Jackson
as a quiet professor in Lexington.
But Governor Letcher knew the story of his brilliant career in Mexico, and
had faith in his soldierly qualities. When his name was presented to the
Virginia Convention for confirmation a member rose and asked "who is this
Major Jackson?" and the delegate from Rockbridge replied, "He is a man of
whom you may be certain that if you tell him to hold a position he will never
leave it alive." I remember that we, too, asked when he first got to Harper's
Ferry, the last of April, "Who is Colonel Jackson?" but during the month
he held the command he showed so clearly that he knew just what he was about
that we were almost sorry when we first heard, the last of May, that the
command had been turned over to that great strategist, General J.E. Johnston.
Frequent guard and picket duty, almost constant drilling (I remember one
Sunday I had made two appointments to preach, but was on drill seven hours
during the day, and was sent on picket that night), and the routine of the
camp kept us very busy, and soon brought comparative order out of the chaos
that had reigned, so that the "Army of the Shenandoah" which Colonel Jackson
turned over to General Johnston was tolerably well armed and equipped, under
fair discipline, and full of fight.
As we stood picket on Maryland Heights, or up and down the Potomac, or as
we turned out to meet a rumored advance of the enemy, we verily believed
that Harper's Ferry was one of the strongholds of the Confederacy and that
our force could maintain it against all comers. My company (the "Louisa Blues,"
Captain H.W. Murray) was one that entered into the organization of the Thirteenth
Virginia infantry, which was to make for itself a reputation second to none
in the service. Our colonel was A.P. Hill, who had won a fine reputation
in the old army, and was one of the most accomplished soldiers with whom
I ever came in contact, who was the idol of his men, and who, by his gallantry
and skill, steadily rose to the rank of Lieutenant General, and fell, mourned
by the whole South, on that ill fated day, at Petersburg, which witnessed
the breaking of his lines and the virtual fall of the Confederacy.
Our Lieutenant Colonel was James A. Walker, who would have graduated first
in his class at the Virginia Military Institute had he not been expelled
for a difficulty with "old Jack." But this difficulty was all forgotten when
Jackson witnessed Walker's splendid courage and marked skill in the field;
and one of the very strongest recommendations given during the war was Jackson's
recommendation for Walker's promotion. He succeeded to the command of the
old "Stonewall brigade;" was terribly wounded at Spotsylvania Courthouse,
but returned to take the command of Early's old division, which he gallantly
led to Appomattox Courthouse. He is now the able and honored Lieutenant Governor
Our Major was J.E.B. Terrill, a brilliant graduate of the Virginia Military
Institute, whose gallantry and skill won for him the Brigadier's wreath and
stars just as he yielded up his brave young life at Bethesda church, in June,
With such leaders, and the splendid material which composed our regiment,
it soon become the pride of its officers and the glory of its humblest private
It was my privilege, while at Harper's Ferry, to see occasionally Captain
Turner Ashby, whose raven locks and soldierly bearing even then attracted
attention, and whose name had become famous when he fell in June, 1862, as
Brigadier General of cavalry, but gallantly leading an infantry charge.
I saw here also Colonel J.E.B. Stuart, who afterwards became the idol of
the army, Colonel E. Kirby Smith, who was to surrender, as General commanding,
the trans Mississippi Department, Major Whiting, who was to win his wreath
and stars and imperishable glory for his brave defense of Wilmington, and
a number of others who are not unknown to fame.
General Johnston at once won the confidence and enthusiastic admiration of
all the troops; but it required all of their love for him to bear with any
patience his decision, that so far from being a "stronghold," Harper's Ferry
was "a complete man trap," and should be evacuated as soon as the machinery,
&c., could be removed.
On the 13th of June, Colonel A.P. Hill, with his own regiment and the Tenth
Virginia, moved back to Winchester, and preparations for the evacuation of
Harper's Ferry were begun at once.
To one of Lee's veterans it is very amusing to recall those days of "holiday"
soldiering at Harper's Ferry, where we were all quartered in houses, where
we drilled in dress uniforms and white gloves, where every private soldier
had his trunk, and each company enough baggage for a small wagon train.
But now we were to become sure enough soldiers. On the 14th, Colonel Hill
was started (with his own regiment, the Tenth Virginia, and the Third Tennessee)
to make a march to Romney, forty three miles west of Winchester, for the
purpose of meeting a reported advance in that direction of his old West Point
chum, McClellan. I well remember the scene on the streets of Winchester,
as we marched through, amid the waving of handkerchiefs by the ladies and
the shouts of the crowd; the hospitality of the good people along the route,
who supplied us with buttermilk and "wheat bread;" the sufferings of the
men, all unused to marching, who soon filled the ambulances and the wagons;
the warm reception we met at Romney by people who hailed us as their
"deliverers," and treated us with the utmost kindness; and the pleasure I
found in relieving blistered feet by resorting to my boyhood habit of going
While at Romney, the Commissary, a young gentleman who had been detailed
for the purpose, reported one day that he could find no beef for that day's
rations. "Very well," said Colonel Hill, "you can report back to your company.
We have no earthly use for a commissary who, in a country like this, cannot
furnish regular rations for the men." Calling for his horse, he rode out
from camp, and was soon seen coming back driving a herd of fine beeves, amid
the enthusiastic shouts of the soldiers: "Colonel Hill is the Commissary
On the night of the 18th of June, Colonel Hill sent two companies of the
Thirteenth Virginia and two of the Third Tennessee to surprise the Federal
garrison and destroy the bridge at New Creek, on the Baltimore and Ohio railroad.
The expedition was a success, 250 of the enemy were put to flight, and when
the detachment returned with two pieces of captured artillery and several
stand of colors, each man was a hero in the eyes of his comrades as well
as his own, and the rest of us felt deep chagrin that we had not belonged
to the chosen band.
It being settled that McClellan would not advance by that route, we were
marched back to the neighborhood of Winchester. Colonel Elzey, of the First
Maryland regiment, was now put in command of our brigade, which was made
to consist of the Thirteenth Virginia, Third Tennessee, Tenth Virginia, and
First Maryland, and we had a season of constant drilling, heavy guard duty,
and rigid discipline.
On the 21st of July, Colonel Jackson had a sharp skirmish at Falling Waters
with the advance of General Patterson's army, in which, with 300 of the Fifth
Virginia regiment, and one piece of artillery (commanded by Captain Rev.
Dr. Pendleton), he kept back, for some time, two brigades of the enemy, and
retired when about to be flanked, bringing off forty five prisoners and indicting
other loss, with a loss on his part of only two killed and six or eight wounded.
General Johnston at once advanced his whole army to Darkesville, six miles
from Martinsburg, where we found Jackson awaiting us, and where, for four
days, we remained in line of battle, and, with a force of not quite 9,000,
threw down the gauge to General Patterson, with his upwards of 20,000. I
mingled freely among the men here, having old college mates in nearly every
command, and I never saw men more anxious to fight being eager to be led
to attack the enemy at Martinsburg when it seemed settled he would not attack
It was while we were at Darkesville that I first came in personal contact
with the afterwards world renowned "Stonewall" Jackson, who was then a modest
Brigadier General of two days' standing. A colporteur (a friend of mine)
had sent me word that he desired permission to enter our lines to distribute
Bibles and tracts. With the freedom with which in our army the humblest private
could approach the highest officer I at once went to General Jackson for
the permit. I have a vivid recollection of how he impressed me. Dressed in
a simple Virginia uniform, apparently about thirty seven years old, six feet
high, medium size, gray eyes that seemed to look through you, light brown
hair, and a countenance in which deep benevolence seemed mingled with
uncompromising sternness, he impressed me as having about him nothing at
all of the "pomp and circumstance of war," but every element which enters
into the skillful leader, and the indomitable, energetic soldier who was
always ready for the fight. Stating to him my mission, he at once replied
in pleasant tones, and with a smile of peculiar sweetness: "Certainly, sir,
it will give me great pleasure to grant all such permits. I am glad that
you came to me, and I shall be glad to be introduced to the colporteur."
Afterward, introducing my friend, Jackson said to him: "You are more than
welcome to my camp, and it will give me great pleasure to help you in your
work in every way in my power. I am more anxious than I can express that
my men should be, not only good soldiers of their country, but also good
soldiers of the Cross." We lingered for some time in an exceedingly pleasant
conversation about the religious welfare of the army, and when I turned away,
with a very courteous invitation to call on him again, I felt that I had
met a man of deep toned piety, who carried his religion into every affair
of life, and who was destined to make his mark in the war.
When, at the expiration of the four days, we were ordered back to Winchester,
the murmurs were both loud and deep, and the beautiful order issued by General
Johnston was scarce sufficient to allay the dissatisfaction at returning
without a fight.
We were then learning our first lessons in war; we became afterwards quite
willing to allow our commander to decide when we should fight.
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Order of Battle